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Islamization of the Silk Road Research Paper

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Updated: Apr 1st, 2020

The Silk Road linked the Mediterranean, China, and Asian minor; it enhanced the civilization process among the three regions. Apart from its economic purposes, the Silk Route played key social functions. This road was widely known as “the network roads” since it acted as a key trading route for material goods. Even though Buddhism was the key religion in the region, other religions such as Judaism, Christianity, as well as Islam spread along the busy route (Aydin par. 2).

Clans in the Arab peninsula declared their allegiance for Islam despite the dominance of Buddhism. The spread of Buddhism began before the 3rd century B.C. with the Buddhist missionaries as the main agents in spreading their beliefs and practices in China. The spread of Christianity along the Silk Road began around 432 A.D. with the Nestorian church spreading Christian beliefs along the Silk Road. Islam, on the other hand, witnessed a significant number of new converts during the eighth century.

So massive was the conversion that followers went on to destroy significant symbols of Buddhism, such as artworks, stupas, and wall paintings (Aydin par. 5). To ensure complete submission to the Islamic religion, Muslims banned iconography; at the same time, temples, statues, and stupas were abandoned, destroyed, and buried in the sand. The Chinese government supported the initiative by banning all foreign religions, such that by the 15th century, several areas in Central Asia had adopted the Islamic beliefs.

Islamization of the Silk Road had three key motives, namely, political factors, economic motives, and assimilation. Political factor was one of the intentions for the spread of Islamic teachings in the wider Central Asian region (Silk Road – Introduction par. 5). With the full support of the government, it became very easy to spread the government’s rule. It was difficult to go against or refute the government’s regulations. The economic factor was also a key factor that enhanced the Islamization process along the Silk Road.

Conducting business as a Buddhist attracted numerous bureaucratic procedures as compared to trading as a Muslim. Local businesspersons treated Muslims better than they treated Buddhists traders (Religions par. 8). Assimilation made it possible for most traders to convert to Islam, instead of facing prosecution. Even though ancient histories have it that the spread of Islamic beliefs along the Silk Road began by the mid of the seventh century, the process actually started a century later.

There were confusions in the interpretation of the word ‘Islam’ to mean submission. Muslims used the word ‘Islam’ to mean the submission of a community to the authority of another community; it did not mean the spread of their beliefs. This confusion in the submission made scholars believe that the process of Islamization began in the mid of the 7th century. Muslim communities in the region acquired the submission of their neighboring Arab clans.

This resulted in the spread of Islam past the Arab peninsula. The submission process created harmonious living among the communities that occupied the Silk Road. Muslims avoided acts of aggression against their neighbors by 630 AD (Silk Road – Introduction par. 2). Such moves made Muslim clans to expand their territories past the Arab peninsula into Egypt, Syria, and Mesopotamia. Some clans readily welcomed the Muslim Arabs, as they believed that the visitors were the liberators.

After conquering a vast region, Muslims went ahead to set up their own governments, such that by the 660s, an Islamic government had already come up in Damascus. Apart from the Umayyads, the Islamic dynasty, there were also other kingdoms under the governorship of Muslim dynasties. Islamization along the Silk Road began at the start of the 8th century. Earlier, Muslims termed their faith as al-din-‘Arab and made no attempt to convert non-believers (Wilkinson 192).

The intense beginning of territorial conquest past the Arab peninsula halted the spread of Islam across racial and class differences. Along the Silk Road, Muslims ensured that their religion prevailed by imposing on non-Muslims bearable amount of taxes. The non-aggression nature motivated non-Muslims to be converted to Islam; Muslims allowed the elites to join the ruling group.

To ensure continued loyalty among the conquered groups, Muslim traders along the Silk Road identified key talents for administration. In connection to the tapping of talents, they went on to adopt the Sassanian model to create an inclusive government in order to absorb local people in posts of ministers (Wilkinson 207).

Trade along the Silk Road also facilitated the spread of Islam in the region. From Chang’ an to the expansive regions in the east, Arab merchants moved freely to spread the Islamic beliefs. The Mongols invaded this region of Asia, proclaiming the beliefs of Islam; they became tolerant or sympathetic to other religions. The move made many nationalities and religious groups, such as Daoism, Christianity, Confucianism, and Judaism, to settle in China, and went ahead to engage in the trade along the Silk Route.

Nishapur was a city that provided shelter to different religious and ethnic groups; it remained the center of governmental power in Eastern Asia. Since it accommodated diverse ethnic groups, it was a major cultural and political epicenter. Located on the central Iranian plateau, the Islamic City acted as the main commercial route from Egypt to Iran, China, and Transoxiana. Nishapur is situated in Khorasan province, northeastern Iran.

After being found in the 3rd century, the city went on to grow to prominence in the 8th century (Bulliet 59). However, numerous invasions in the 13th century, as well as earthquakes destroyed the city. During the medieval period, Nishapur was famous for being home to numerous religious scholars.

The city had several names, such as economic center, and religious center. Its strategic location along the Silk Road made it an attractive city for different nationalities from Turkey, Iran, Syria, Iraq, and the Mediterranean Sea. The city had factories that could manufacture stone vessels, metals, and glasses (Allan par. 3).

During the era of Caliphate Umar, Muslims effortlessly conquered the city of Nishapur. At the time, Ahnaf Ibn Qais went on to be the chief commander of the Muslim army. In response, Nishapur’s inhabitants opted not to resist the Muslims’ conquest, as they received tribute in return for surrendering (Wilkinson 273). After capturing the neighboring areas, the Arab Muslims moved swiftly to control the four sectors of Nishapur.

The four Persian chiefs reacted by closing the gates to keep the Muslims at bay. After some days, the chiefs disagreed amongst themselves; the situation opened a path for negotiation with the Muslims. With the promise of granting immunity, the Muslims took full control of the city.

In order to thump their religious beliefs along the Silk Road, the Muslims went on to gain control of Arghian, Khaf, Ashland, and Push (Bulliet 74). Even though the other Persian chiefs of the three states refused to collaborate with the Muslims, their decision to use divide and rule tactics helped the Muslims to spread their beliefs in the city. In this process, they promised goodies and tributes in return for the collaboration.

The region also engaged in sales of textile products; Islamic merchants, while on their way to western Eurasia, also ensured that they spread their belief systems to people who they came across (Kroger 127). At the end of the trading activities along the Silk Route, some remnants of Muslim merchants moved to China. Currently, they are the Hui community with an approximate population of 6 million (Szostak par. 9).

Apart from the religious influence on the traders, Islamic medical and scientific progress also had important effects on the Silk Route traders. The coincidence of the times of Islamic trade and medical knowledge was an added advantage to the Islamization of the Silk Road. For instance, while trading in the region, Muslims took with them knowledge on astronomy and medicine, such as urine culture and wound healing.

The Islamization of the Silk Road did not solely take the religious perspective. Muslims ensured that their music and art became global brands. The Muslims were able to realize commercial success from their artistic works (Echolls par. 4). Islamic music was not left behind in the Islamization of the mighty trade route; holy men used songs and chants to convert non-Muslims at different points in the Silk Route. The multifaceted approaches made Islam overshadow Buddhism, which had been a dominant religion in the region.

The trans-Eurasian trade altered the religious beliefs of the people along the Silk Route; the traders went on to construct mosques and shrines in order to proclaim their own religious beliefs. Even though Buddhism was the first religion to find its way into the busy trade route, Islam overpowered Buddhism with its non-aggression approaches.

The Silk Road contributed to massive cultural exchange between the West and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) (Silk Road – Introduction par. 12). The road was the main “cultural bridge” for the European and Asian communities who took part in the trans-Eurasian trade.

The Silk Road provided Arab Muslims with a great opportunity to spread their beliefs to the Chinese and other traders. Numerous Islamic devotees came from Quanzhou and Guangdong Province of the Tang Dynasty; this enhanced the impact of Islam on the spiritual lives of the Chinese. Aside from spreading religious teachings, the Silk Road made the West receive Chinese products, such as lacquers and porcelains. The Chinese also received several Western commodities like cucumbers, carrot, jewelry, and pomegranates.

Therefore, the Islamization of the Silk Road entailed different activities, which touch on religious beliefs, sales of products, artworks, and music. So determined were the Muslims that they ensured that the dominant Chinese accepted their beliefs (Sardar par. 7). They also moved swiftly to counter the teachings of the Buddhists in order to ease the trading process with other merchants.

The flexible nature of the Islamic religion with other religions like Judaism and Christianity made it easy for traders from the two religious groups to convert easily. Notably, the three religions believe in the existence of one God, as well as teachings of the Old Testament.

Works Cited

Allan, James. Nishapur: metalwork of the early Islamic period. Web.

Aydin, Mahmut. Religions of the Silk Road: Premodern Patterns of Globalization – Book Reviews. 2011. Web.

Bulliet, Richard. The patricians of Nishapur; a study in medieval Islamic social history. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1972. Print.

Echolls, Taylor. Islam’s Influence on the Silk Roads. 2009. Web.

Kroger, Jens. Nishapur: glass of the early Islamic period. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1995. Print.

Religions. 2012. Web.

Sardar, Marika. Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. 2013. Web.

Silk Road – Introduction. 2000. Web.

Szostak, John. The Spread of Islam along the Silk Route. Web.

Wilkinson, Charles Kyrle. Nishapur: pottery of the early Islamic period. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1973. Print.

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