The Abbasid empire is the second empire of note in the spread and development of Islam. The Abbasids conquered the Umayyad dynasty, which ruled the Islamic world from Damascus in Syria, and moved the center of Islamic power into Baghdad, built by the Abbasids as their capital. During the period of Abbasid rule, lasting from 750 to 1258, the Islamic world was infused with influences from Persian culture that supplanted Islam's Arab culture.
The Abbasid were essentially a rebel force that overthrew the Umayyad rulers based in the Syrian capital, Damascus. The Umayyads saw Islam as strictly a religion for Arabs, and treated converts to Islam and any non-Arab Muslims as second-class citizens. Those who opposed the ruling elite named their movement after al-Abbas, who was the Prophet Muhammad's uncle. They not only disagreed with this view of Islam, they didn't want the Umayyads to have so much political power. The Abbasids took leadership from the Umayyads, moved the power center of the Islamic world away from its Arab roots and started a new political power base in Baghdad, a city they built for this purpose. The Abbasid rulers encouraged the spread of Islam and the creation of a global community of believers. The Abbasid dynasty also encouraged intellectual growth and, as a result, created what is referred to as the golden age of Islam.
Arts and Science
In addition to encouraging the spread of Islam, the Abbasid rulers promoted intellectual developments in Islamic culture. Baghdad became a center of learning and the Abbasids were quick to build on the academic advances made by the Persians in the fields of mathematics, medicine and philosophy. Skills in arts and crafts, such as calligraphy, ceramics and paper-making, also advanced and further established the Islamic world as a beacon of enlightenment.
The religion of Islam went through rockier times than Islamic culture during the Abbasid reign. This was largely due to the conflict between Shi'a and Sunni Muslims, which started after the death of the Prophet Muhammad. The Shi'a thought Muhammad's son-in-law Ali should lead Islam, and the Sunni thought the leader should be Muhammad's close friend Abu Bakr. The Sunni formed the majority, but the Shi'a minority in Persia managed to retain an influence in regional areas that the Abbasid rulers couldn't control. This conflict contributed to the downfall of the Abbasid empire because it eventually led to an erosion of the Abbasid's political power, according to the Encyclopedia Iranica. Later conquerors, the Saffavids, made Persia an entirely Shi'a country.
Decline and Fall
During the 10th century, Abbasid rule over the Islamic world started to fracture. Egypt and other north African countries, as well as the caliphate in southern Spain, asserted their independence from the Abbasids. The empire was losing political authority; only spiritual and cultural leadership remained, which the Abbasids managed to hold onto until the Mongols ended the Abbasid empire in 1258 when they took control of Baghdad.
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