05 June 2015

Islam in Western Afro-Eurasia

In order to expand its empire, the Muslim world’s methods of conquest differed by region, subtly addressing each’s nuances with new tactics. Thus, in Spain and western Africa in the centuries after 1000 CE, while Islamic forces conquered Spain, the Islamic merchants slyly infiltrated western Africa. Additionally, as Islamic Spaniards generally subjugated, the newly converted Muslims within western Africa rarely followed suit. Nevertheless, Islam’s proliferation admitted both societies into the global network of Islamic trade and education, stimulating new innovations in each society.
While Islam initially spread throughout Spain by military conquest, Islam’s popularity gradually grew in western Africa due to the newfound economic potential within the Islamic market. In Spain, for example, the Umayyad Caliphate conquered Spain between 711 and 788; by 1000, nearly 75 percent of all al-Andalus citizens converted to Islam, replacing their Christianity with a similar, monotheistic faith. However, western Africa’s Islamic growth was mostly without military influence; the Islamic merchant class primarily aided conversions, penetrating western African society with the promises of more economic potential and a God transcendent of their animist delusions. The stark differences in Islamic approaches towards Spain and western Africa may be attributed to each’s unique government; while Spain presented a conventional government for Islamic militaries to overthrow, western African kingdoms never maintained comparable power over both urbanists and ruralists of their areas, forming difficulties in spreading any doctrine. In both societies, Islam flourished, its introductions may foreshadow differences of its manifestations.

While in Spain, Muslims primarily subjugated their counterparts, in western Africa, a religious hierarchy never formed. In Spain, for example, beginning with al-Mansur’s anti-Christian policies (981-1002), many Muslims ransacked churches, humiliated priests, stole Christians’ wealth, and forced them into ghetto-equivalent neighborhoods. Nevertheless, unlike the systematic Muslim privilege in Spain, in western Africa, minus select economic advantages of Islam, equality was generally widespread. In fact, while Arabic dominated Spain, it never fully reached an acme within western Africa. Even Ibn Battuta noted “new Islam” in western Africa, scrutinizing alternative, equal gender roles. These drastic differences in Islam’s manifestation stem from each’s original government; while Spain’s empire already controlled the area’s religion, western African kingdoms never experienced such authority, specifically over their ruralist peoples. Thus, while more traditional Islam proliferated within a fairly homogeneous Spain, the mere communicative disadvantages within western African societies were catalysts for an alternative, regional Islam.

Although Islam’s introduction and manifestation differed in Spain and western Africa, Islam still joined both societies with the Islamic world, augmenting their trade-based and intellectual potential. Carrying the fruition of the Silk Road and the Indian Ocean across the Mediterranean, the Islamic trade system connected Spain and western Africa with the eastern world. Furthermore, with established universities throughout the Middle East, the Islamic world presented newfound scholarship, from deciphering classical texts to innovating in astronomy and mathematics. Arguably, the Islamic world could only function so well economically and academically because of its cultural diversity, making conquering new western societies just as integral to its sustained empire as impactful to western Afro-Eurasia.

Although the Muslim conquest of Spain and western Africa largely differed in its initial execution and the proliferation of Islamic ideals, both techniques admitted each society into the Islamic world, augmenting each civilization’s trade-based and academic potential irreversibly altering western afro-Eurasia forevermore.

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