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The Ottomans and the Mughals Empire

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  • Category: Islam

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The Ottomans and the Mughals are two of the greatest and most powerful civilizations of the modern period. Their moments of glory in the sixteenth century represent high points in human creativity and art. They built empires, which were the largest and most influential of the Muslim empires of the modern period, and their culture and military influence extended into Europe. Most of the triumphant moments of the two empires came during the reigns of Suleyman I the Magnificent in Ottoman Empire and Akbar the great Mughal. Just as the reigns of these two leaders marked highpoints in the growth of their empires, their deaths marked starting points for the decline of their great empires.

Under the rule of Suleyman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire reached its zenith. Beginning in 1520 when Prince Suleyman became the sultan and running for 46 years until his death in 1566, there was a true Ottoman Renaissance underway. During his reign, Suleyman doubled the area of the Ottoman territories that he inherited from his father, creating a multi-national, multilingual empire. Building on the conquests of his father, the Sultan Suleyman established a great city of Istanbul, a remarkably efficient military machine, a huge empire, and an impressive culture. Suleyman himself was instrumental in creating and running a successful empire through the administrative and military forces he established.

His military empire extended to the east and west, and extended well into the heart of Europe itself. His conquests were so impressive that he made the Europeans know fear as they had never known it from any other Islamic state. Like most other non-Europeans, Suleyman fully understood the consequences of European expansion and saw Europe as the principle threat to Islam. Responding to an aggressively expanding Europe. Suleyman himself not only invaded Europe to destabilize it, but he also pursued a policy of helping any Muslim country threatened by European expansion. It was this role that gave Suleyman the right, in the eyes of the Ottomans, to declare himself as supreme Caliph of Islam. As the only one successful at protecting Islam from the unbelievers, he was revered not only as the protector of Islam, but the deserving ruler of Islam, as well.

Since Suleyman maintained sovereignty over most of Islam’s holiest cities, he declared himself the new caliph, or successor to Muhammad. This role demanded that Suleyman also see to the integrity of the faith itself and to root out heresy.

While he was a brilliant military strategist and a cunning politician, he was also a collector of arts. Suleyman undertook to make Istanbul the center of Islamic civilization. He began a series of building projects, including bridges, mosques, and. The blue mosque that he built is considered among the greatest architectural triumphs of Islam and possibly the world. These projects represent a unique genius in dealing with nearly overwhelming engineering problems. Under Suleyman, Istanbul became the center of visual art, music, writing, and philosophy in the Islamic world.

Like Suleyman, Akbar himself contributed to the success of the Mughal Empire and chiefly through the establishment of a successful administrative structure. Unlike his luckless father Humayun, Suleyman exercised a powerful and cunning warrior’s mind to expand his empire to include all of northern India. Beyond his role as an effective conqueror, Akbar was a keen administrator who developed a centralized government that delegated tasks to powerful bureaucracies. But above all, he is perhaps best known for recognizing the importance of tolerance, which was paramount to his dynasty’s long term government. A ruling class of Muslims could only last as long as its Hindu subjects felt they were given the opportunities and respect necessary to assure their own success. Therefore, Akbar removed the tax on Hindus, despite the traditional mandate of Islam to tax non-believers, and invited religious scholars, including Hindus, Jews, and Christians, to debate with him personally in his private room, often late into the night. Akbar’s wives were also of different religious backgrounds, each marriage thus a strategic union that would allow India’s several faiths to feel that they too were a part of the royal household.

Over time, Akbar’s fascination with religion grew to almost an obsession when he fashioned his own faith, called Din-i-Ilahi. Din-i-Ilahi was a mix of the other religions Akbar had studied during those late-night debates. He borrowed what he saw as the best components of each and blended them into a religion that became Din-i-Ilahi. The new faith, however, never caught on among the Hindus and Muslims outside of his court. Despite this failure, Akbar continued to support religious tolerance among his people.

Just as the golden age of the Mughal and Ottoman empires was marked by the charisma of Suleyman and Akbar, their deaths marked the beginning of the decline of those empires. In Suleyman’s case, while Ottoman culture flourished during the reign of Selim II, Suleyman’s son, the power of the state, internally and externally, began to crumble after the death of Suleyman. The decline was due to two factors: the decreased vigilance of the Sultan over the functions of government and their consequent corruption, and the decreased interest of the government in popular opinion.

When the Ottomans abandoned the practice of killing all rivals to the throne, they began to imprison them. The Sultanate chose the individuals who had been imprisoned for decades and then trained and educated like the Janissaries -Christians recruited from the local population in Balkans, converted to Islam, and trained as soldiers or administrators- in a system called devshirme in order to find talented men for eventual placement in military or administrative positions. This system led to the growth of the power of a bureaucracy liable to corruption. The decline in the Ottoman Empire was also considerably determined by the increasing expansion of the European powers. In the 19th century, the last century of the empire, the principle factor in Ottoman decline was the hyper-aggressive expansion of European colonial powers. Thus, the Ottoman Empire began its slow transformation under Selim II, the son of Suleyman.

In a way similar to Suleyman’s, the successors of Akbar were not as competent as Akbar in ruling the dynasty, a factor that led to the collapse of the Mughal Empire after his death. After succeeding to the throne, his son, Jahangir, began to weaken the empire as the throne fell under the influence of one of his wives. Also, since this empire was a collection of many regions held together by the central government, the decline of the empire began when the rural areas with its own set of rules started to dominate the central authority. More, even, than in the case of the Ottoman Empire, the European presence affected the Mughals. Eventually, the expansion of European power took over the Mughals.

In every empire during the modern period, each of them was gifted with a great leader that made a development to his kingdom. For instance, in French with King Louis IV, or the great Ieyasu shogunate in Japan, or Sultan Suleyman and Akbar in these two muslim empires; each of these great men made the empire to reach its height and advance more than before their reign. However, usually after they died and their successors rose to the throne, these new leaders intended to change the culture and administration that were already well establish; thus, it affect the society and the government that led to the decline of the empire, just like these two muslim empires. A glorious moment in each empire was always marked by the great leader, whom the society will always remember as their honest and great leader.

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