WI No Sacking of Baghdad?

Before the arrival of the Mongols, Baghdad was the centre of Muslim power and influence, having a population of approximately one million residents. Despite being the capital of the waning Abbasid Caliphate the city was still rich and cultured.

Then, in 1258, the Mongols sacked it. Anywhere from 100,000 to one million inhabitants were massacred and the city was sacked and burned. The Grand Library of Baghdad, containing countless precious historical documents and books on subjects ranging from medicine to astronomy, was destroyed. Grand buildings that had been the work of generations were burned to the ground. Hulagu Khan, the leader of the attack, had to move his camp upwind of the city, due to the stench of decay from the ruined city. Baghdad remained depopulated and in ruins for several centuries.

But what if the sacking never took place? What if, instead of Baghdad, the Mongols decided to target a less important city such as Basra or Mosul? How would this affect scholarly learning with an intact Library, and similarly how would the lack such a strong sign of strength mean for resistance further west?

What do you think?
 
Well, depending on the POD, a surviving Baghdad might help to prevent much of the decline of Muslim scholarship that took place after the Mongol conquests. Before the Mongols, the Islamic world was the most advanced place on earth culturally and scientifically. The invasions of the Mongols (and their successors such as Timur) helped to send it into a permanent decline its never really come out of. Aside from the sheer destruction, the trauma of the Mongol invasions helped to create a "siege mentality" in the Muslim world, and it became much less open philisophically to new ideas. Emphasis on science decreased, the ulama (clerics) became much more controlling and much more conservative-the famous "closing of the gates of ijtihad" (the idea that society was so far removed from the time of Muhammad that no one could use independent reasoning to interpret the Quran anymore) dates from around this time. If you come up with a POD that makes the Mongol invasions less destructive (say, the Song in China start a war with the Mongols much earlier than OTL, so Genghis Khan is occupied conquering them and never invades central asia), the Muslim world might keep its leading position vis-a-vis Europe for a few more centuries, with profound effects on world history.
 
Well, depending on the POD, a surviving Baghdad might help to prevent much of the decline of Muslim scholarship that took place after the Mongol conquests. Before the Mongols, the Islamic world was the most advanced place on earth culturally and scientifically. The invasions of the Mongols (and their successors such as Timur) helped to send it into a permanent decline its never really come out of. Aside from the sheer destruction, the trauma of the Mongol invasions helped to create a "siege mentality" in the Muslim world, and it became much less open philisophically to new ideas. Emphasis on science decreased, the ulama (clerics) became much more controlling and much more conservative-the famous "closing of the gates of ijtihad" (the idea that society was so far removed from the time of Muhammad that no one could use independent reasoning to interpret the Quran anymore) dates from around this time. If you come up with a POD that makes the Mongol invasions less destructive (say, the Song in China start a war with the Mongols much earlier than OTL, so Genghis Khan is occupied conquering them and never invades central asia), the Muslim world might keep its leading position vis-a-vis Europe for a few more centuries, with profound effects on world history.
That is only if you assume Baghdad was the only center of Muslim scholarship... which it wasn't. And the signs of the decline had appeared much earlier, in Spain, for example, after the conquest of the Almohad Dinasty in 1147. This artificial divide of "pre-1258" and "post-1258" makes little sense...
 
FreeRepublic is something of an extreme reactionary site, so I'd take anything from it with a grain of salt.
 

wormyguy

Banned
The FreeRepublic article does have something a point - though I would moderate it by mentioning that very little original thinking came out of Christian Europe either simultaneously to the Islamic "Golden Age" or lack of it, and that just as in the Islamic world, religion hindered and did not help progress in the sciences and philosophy.

EDIT: And I know it was shortly after 9/11, but the comments under it honestly scared me.
 
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That is only if you assume Baghdad was the only center of Muslim scholarship... which it wasn't. And the signs of the decline had appeared much earlier, in Spain, for example, after the conquest of the Almohad Dinasty in 1147. This artificial divide of "pre-1258" and "post-1258" makes little sense...
My POD was that Genghis Khan never attacks Persia, thus saving not only Baghdad but also Samarkand, Bukhara, Merv, and all the other centers of Islamic scholarship that Genghis Khan put to the torch. (Genghis Khan only went to war with Persia when he did because the Shah rather stupidly declared war on him by killing his ambassadors. If you have, say, the Song Emperor do something like that instead of the Persian Shah, then Genghis Khan is going to be occupied with them for a while and might never attack the Muslim world).

I wasn't saying the the Mongols were the sole cause of the decline of Muslim scholarship, but the destruction of basically every Muslim center of learning east of Cairo played a part in it. If that doesn't happen, the decline might be less abrupt (though it will probably still happen at some point).
 
The FreeRepublic article does have something a point - though I would moderate it by mentioning that very little original thinking came out of Christian Europe either simultaneously to the Islamic "Golden Age" or lack of it, and that just as in the Islamic world, religion hindered and did not help progress in the sciences and philosophy.
No he doesn't. His argument seems to be that since Islamic intellectual achievements drew on earlier Greek and Persian work, than they weren't authentically Islamic. I find this to be a rather silly argument-every intellectual in existence cannot help but draw on the work of those who came before him. Islamic scientists and mathematicians did preserve a lot of Greek and Persian work, and also made a lot of their own advances in mathematics, medicine, and science (to quote the most obvious example-if you take an astronomy class, you'll notice that all the stars have Arabic or Persian names. Guess where early astronomy came from. Also, guess where the "al" in "algebra" comes from, and what language the guy who invented it spoke). Also, he says these advances came "in spite of Islam"-you could just as easily make that claim about scientific advances in the Christian world. A lot of the Enlightenment was actually a rejection of religious Christian influence in favor of scientific rationalism.

Oh, and its quite obvious just from reading the article that the guy has a far right agenda (if the fact that it comes from a wingnut site like FreeRepublic didn't clue you in). He basically admits to hating multiculturalism and the Islamic religion. I don't know how reliable you can call stuff like that.
 
The trouble with the so-called Islamic "Golden Age" is that it follows a reverse path if you compare it to the Christian Civilization. It begins under very tolerant rulers and acceptance and ends in religious mysticism and stagnation. After the year 1000, the real live and interesting centers of islamic culture lie in areas not controlled by the Abbasids (Spain, Maghreb, Egypt, Iran). Reason above revelation is not an evolutionary concept but a very early one, easy to destroy by the later islamic theologians. Images are highly used by the Ummayads but dissapear under the later dinasties. Etc. Etc.

Also, we should consider the fact that behind the term "Islamic culture" there is a very solid difference between Arabian, Maghrebian, Cordoban or Persian culture. The Persians, for example, have more use for Sassanid imagery than Coranic one. The Mongolian invasion actually is a big help in achieving the predominance of Persian culture in the Middle East and until the 1450s Persia remains an important cultural center of Islam.
 

Wolfpaw

Banned
Here's a rather good quote describing the impact the sack of Baghdad had on the Islamic world by Prof. Steven Dutch:

"Iraq in 1258 was very different from present day Iraq. Its agriculture was supported by canal networks thousands of years old. Baghdad was one of the most brilliant intellectual centers in the world. The Mongol destruction of Baghdad was a psychological blow from which Islam never recovered. Already Islam was turning inward, becoming more suspicious of conflicts between faith and reason and more conservative. With the sack of Baghdad, the intellectual flowering of Islam was snuffed out. Imagining the Athens of Pericles and Aristotle obliterated by a nuclear weapon begins to suggest the enormity of the blow. The Mongols filled in the irrigation canals and left Iraq too depopulated to restore them."
 
The trouble with the so-called Islamic "Golden Age" is that it follows a reverse path if you compare it to the Christian Civilization. It begins under very tolerant rulers and acceptance and ends in religious mysticism and stagnation. After the year 1000, the real live and interesting centers of islamic culture lie in areas not controlled by the Abbasids (Spain, Maghreb, Egypt, Iran). Reason above revelation is not an evolutionary concept but a very early one, easy to destroy by the later islamic theologians. Images are highly used by the Ummayads but dissapear under the later dinasties. Etc. Etc.
Yes, I would say thats a pretty good discription of what bought the Islamic Golden age to an end. However, the fact that the Islamic Golden age ended, as all golden ages do, doesn't negate the fact that it existed, and was a great period of human achievement.

Also, we should consider the fact that behind the term "Islamic culture" there is a very solid difference between Arabian, Maghrebian, Cordoban or Persian culture. The Persians, for example, have more use for Sassanid imagery than Coranic one. The Mongolian invasion actually is a big help in achieving the predominance of Persian culture in the Middle East and until the 1450s Persia remains an important cultural center of Islam.
Not sure about that. The unified Abbasid Caliphate was a thing of the past by Genghis Khan's time. Persia was ruled by the Turkic Khwarazm dynasty, who probably would have overseen a flowering of Persian culture had Genghis Khan not obliterated all of Persia's current centers of learning and de-populated large parts of the country.
Also, Persian culture had started to become influential in the Middle East long before the Mongols. Back when the Abbasids actually ruled most of the Muslim world, many Persians rose to high positions in their government (including Vizier) and exerted a large degree of influence on Abbasid culture (the name "Baghdad" for the Abbasid capital city may even have come from Persian), and the heavily Persian-influenced Seljuk Empire had come and gone (ruling much of the Middle East east of Egypt in its heyday).

Here's a rather good quote describing the impact the sack of Baghdad had on the Islamic world by Prof. Steven Dutch:

"Iraq in 1258 was very different from present day Iraq. Its agriculture was supported by canal networks thousands of years old. Baghdad was one of the most brilliant intellectual centers in the world. The Mongol destruction of Baghdad was a psychological blow from which Islam never recovered. Already Islam was turning inward, becoming more suspicious of conflicts between faith and reason and more conservative. With the sack of Baghdad, the intellectual flowering of Islam was snuffed out. Imagining the Athens of Pericles and Aristotle obliterated by a nuclear weapon begins to suggest the enormity of the blow. The Mongols filled in the irrigation canals and left Iraq too depopulated to restore them."
Yes. And Samarkand, Bukhara, Nishapur, and the other cities of Khorosan (Persian central Asia) got much the same treatment. It was said that the Mongols massacred the people of Nishapur so thoroughly that not even the dogs were left alive. Genghis Khan had a marked dislike for cities, and managed to be as destructive towards some of them as he possibly could without having a nuclear bomb.
 
Not sure about that. The unified Abbasid Caliphate was a thing of the past by Genghis Khan's time. Persia was ruled by the Turkic Khwarazm dynasty, who probably would have overseen a flowering of Persian culture had Genghis Khan not obliterated all of Persia's current centers of learning and de-populated large parts of the country.
Also, Persian culture had started to become influential in the Middle East long before the Mongols. Back when the Abbasids actually ruled most of the Muslim world, many Persians rose to high positions in their government (including Vizier) and exerted a large degree of influence on Abbasid culture (the name "Baghdad" for the Abbasid capital city may even have come from Persian), and the heavily Persian-influenced Seljuk Empire had come and gone (ruling much of the Middle East east of Egypt in its heyday).
This is what I'm actually saying. If you're gonna invent a point in time when the Islamic Civilization has its biggest hiccup, it's not the Baghdad sacking (which was a great city but no longer an important cultural hub), but the conquest of Persia, and, in particular, the sacking of the Transoxiana cities. This is of course only true for Persia; in Cordoba the Almohads had already destroyed the integrity of its culture, as they have done in most part of Maghreb; the Mameluks were virtually a culturally desert, if you don't get obsessed with the 1001 Nights series. The only interesting area still capable of original thought was Persia; in most other areas, the Islamic Culture had become a poor, unfortunate religious movement, quick to repress the sole real intellectual of the area.

And the Turks weren't even better. Persia, as a whole, paradoxically got two more centuries of almost free thought because of its Mongolian masters. While the Seldjuks were only interested in raising Sunni awereness and supress heresies, Mongols were at first completely areligious, turning later into culture-obsessed blood-thirsty conquerors like Timur.

Another problem I raised several weeks to another fellow, interested in Islamic culture. Chronicles were quick to point out the existence of thousands of great libraries, from Cordoba to Samarkand, almost as big as the Library of Alexandria. 1000 years later... we have virtually nothing of their kind. Created by an enlightened ruler, those libraries were destroyed as quickly as they were put together by the later, more-Orthodox sultans and emirs. The Islamic Medieval Culture begins its existence by treasuring the works of infidels and pagan writers and ends by burning even the books of Islamic followers.
 
This is what I'm actually saying. If you're gonna invent a point in time when the Islamic Civilization has its biggest hiccup, it's not the Baghdad sacking (which was a great city but no longer an important cultural hub), but the conquest of Persia, and, in particular, the sacking of the Transoxiana cities. This is of course only true for Persia; in Cordoba the Almohads had already destroyed the integrity of its culture, as they have done in most part of Maghreb; the Mameluks were virtually a culturally desert, if you don't get obsessed with the 1001 Nights series. The only interesting area still capable of original thought was Persia; in most other areas, the Islamic Culture had become a poor, unfortunate religious movement, quick to repress the sole real intellectual of the area.

And the Turks weren't even better. Persia, as a whole, paradoxically got two more centuries of almost free thought because of its Mongolian masters. While the Seldjuks were only interested in raising Sunni awereness and supress heresies, Mongols were at first completely areligious, turning later into culture-obsessed blood-thirsty conquerors like Timur.

Another problem I raised several weeks to another fellow, interested in Islamic culture. Chronicles were quick to point out the existence of thousands of great libraries, from Cordoba to Samarkand, almost as big as the Library of Alexandria. 1000 years later... we have virtually nothing of their kind. Created by an enlightened ruler, those libraries were destroyed as quickly as they were put together by the later, more-Orthodox sultans and emirs. The Islamic Medieval Culture begins its existence by treasuring the works of infidels and pagan writers and ends by burning even the books of Islamic followers.
As to the first part of your reply, my POD was to save all of the Islamic world, including Central Asia, from the Mongol sacking by having them turn elsewhere.

Also, off the top of my head, I can think of three writers-Nizam al-Mulk (the Seljuk's Grand Vizier, who built universities and wrote several important political works), Omar Khayyam, and Jamal al-Din Rumi, who lived after 1000 AD. I think saying that Islamic culture suddenly stopped after that date is a bit much.
 
As to the first part of your reply, my POD was to save all of the Islamic world, including Central Asia, from the Mongol sacking by having them turn elsewhere.

Also, off the top of my head, I can think of three writers-Nizam al-Mulk (the Seljuk's Grand Vizier, who built universities and wrote several important political works), Omar Khayyam, and Jamal al-Din Rumi, who lived after 1000 AD. I think saying that Islamic culture suddenly stopped after that date is a bit much.
All persian, and they did not owe to Baghdad nothing.

Now, this raises an interesting point. What is Islamic Culture? Let's look at it from our own Christian perspective. A Christian writer is Abelard; yet Chretien de Troyes is not a Christian writer, but a writer that believes in Christianity and uses it in his works which aren't specific religious writings.

I find that people misuse the word Islamic Culture. If we refer to its religious meaning, most of its fundamental writers cannot be considered as part of it. Omar Khayyam would have been executed as an heretic and Rumi was a Sufi that managed to create a sect later accepted in the mainstream Sunnism. The poets from Harun al-Rasid's times were more indulgent with wine than with faith; Ferdowsi writes a great poem in which he applauds the pagan empire of the Sassanid and hints that the arab conquest was really a plague upon the people of Iran.

If we refer to its meaning as an era in which intellectuals were free to pursue theories, wrote books without being murdered etc., the era was at its end by the 1100s. After that, few islamic writers managed to exit the perverted cycle of Islamic religious thought (perverted in the sense that religious meaning became an objective by itself, not just a side-symbolism). The great cultural hub that was Cordoba was dead by the year 1150, all thanks to the Orthodox Almohads. Egypt, which was a center of science during the Fatimids, embarked on its anti-crusader Jihads and in the process killed all resemblence of a true intellectual life.

Persia suffered during the Mongol invasions, no doubt about it. But the same Persia was suddenly ruled by khans that did not give two cents on Islam. The 13th-14th century is the great age of Persian poetry. We also have the Samarkand-based astronomy or timurid architecture... Persia did not die in 1258 because it was still alive. The rest of the Islam was dead by that year so it wouldn't have mattered anyways...
 
All persian, and they did not owe to Baghdad nothing.

Now, this raises an interesting point. What is Islamic Culture? Let's look at it from our own Christian perspective. A Christian writer is Abelard; yet Chretien de Troyes is not a Christian writer, but a writer that believes in Christianity and uses it in his works which aren't specific religious writings.

I find that people misuse the word Islamic Culture. If we refer to its religious meaning, most of its fundamental writers cannot be considered as part of it. Omar Khayyam would have been executed as an heretic and Rumi was a Sufi that managed to create a sect later accepted in the mainstream Sunnism. The poets from Harun al-Rasid's times were more indulgent with wine than with faith; Ferdowsi writes a great poem in which he applauds the pagan empire of the Sassanid and hints that the arab conquest was really a plague upon the people of Iran.

If we refer to its meaning as an era in which intellectuals were free to pursue theories, wrote books without being murdered etc., the era was at its end by the 1100s. After that, few islamic writers managed to exit the perverted cycle of Islamic religious thought (perverted in the sense that religious meaning became an objective by itself, not just a side-symbolism). The great cultural hub that was Cordoba was dead by the year 1150, all thanks to the Orthodox Almohads. Egypt, which was a center of science during the Fatimids, embarked on its anti-crusader Jihads and in the process killed all resemblence of a true intellectual life.

Persia suffered during the Mongol invasions, no doubt about it. But the same Persia was suddenly ruled by khans that did not give two cents on Islam. The 13th-14th century is the great age of Persian poetry. We also have the Samarkand-based astronomy or timurid architecture... Persia did not die in 1258 because it was still alive. The rest of the Islam was dead by that year so it wouldn't have mattered anyways...

Lets see...Ibn Rushd, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Battuta, Nasr al-Din Tusi, Ibn al-Nafis...all renowned scholars from the Islamic World (and mostly Arab, I might add) who lived after 1000.

I actually tend to agree with you on a lot of broad points-culture in the Islamic world did decline after the 11th century due to the increased influence of religious fundamentalists (something I always remember when I look at whats been happening in America over the past 20 or 30 years...), and this was greatly facilitated by the Mongol conquests and Crusades, not only by their destructiveness but by the inward-looking traditionalism they greatly accelerated (but did not start) and which the Islamic world has never really managed to overcome since.

That said, I think you're a little harsh-Islam was "dead"? All cultural advances were made "in spite of religion"? I don't think statements like that can be justified. Remember, a lot of the science we take for granted was made in spite of the Catholic Church. Islam has its fundamentalists, but they're no worse than Christianity's (just, unfortunately, more influential).
 
Lets see...Ibn Rushd, Ibn Khaldun, Ibn Battuta, Nasr al-Din Tusi, Ibn al-Nafis...all renowned scholars from the Islamic World (and mostly Arab, I might add) who lived after 1000.

I actually tend to agree with you on a lot of broad points-culture in the Islamic world did decline after the 11th century due to the increased influence of religious fundamentalists (something I always remember when I look at whats been happening in America over the past 20 or 30 years...), and this was greatly facilitated by the Mongol conquests and Crusades, not only by their destructiveness but by the inward-looking traditionalism they greatly accelerated (but did not start) and which the Islamic world has never really managed to overcome since.

That said, I think you're a little harsh-Islam was "dead"? All cultural advances were made "in spite of religion"? I don't think statements like that can be justified. Remember, a lot of the science we take for granted was made in spite of the Catholic Church. Islam has its fundamentalists, but they're no worse than Christianity's (just, unfortunately, more influential).
I might seem a bit harsh but secular Golden Age Islam was indeed dead by 1258. It was a process that started with the Almohads, crusades and the Sufism movement. Yeah, we have plenty of interesting intellectuals after this but the few reasonable thoughts that popped in their heads were considered as an act of courage, not normality.

I would say that the intellectuals of the Ummayad Age (most of them remained unknown throughout the history) had a more important role than we usually are inclined to accept. They took from the pagan and Christian books sensitive issues and courageous theories, they were not afraid to place their religion under the scrutinizing eye of reason, they accepted non-believers as medics, scientists, architects, they adapted the Sassanid and Christian imagery to their political system.
 
What caused Egypt to be that cultural desert? Serious question.
I'm not a specialist but I have a few thoughts...

It's weird, for example, how the Fatimids, a fundamental theocracy at its beginnings, managed to maintain and even enrich the intellectual life of Egypt. Many say it was because the early rulers wanted to show that their version of Islam is better than the opulent yet "heretical" Sunny Baghdad. Some say it was a simple result of stability that followed the year 969 and that Fatimids were marginally essential in retaining such a vibrant, intellectual life.

One thing is clear, though: the Crusades marked the beginning of the decline. Saladin was the last Egyptian ruler truly interested in something other than warfare or power-politics (even though he was the best in both), but by his time the only great thinkers of Cairo were foreigners, mostly from Cordoba or Maghreb. Of course, this is not always true. The second part of the 1001 Nights was certainly written down in Mameluk Egypt, with Baibars becoming a better version of Harun al-Rashid...
 
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