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The rise and fall of the medieval Islamic Empire - Petra Sijpesteijn & Birte Kristiansen


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In the 7th century CE, the prophet Muhammad united the people of the Arabian Peninsula through the formation of Islam. Over the next 30 years, caliphs conquered vast areas beyond Arabia, including their mighty neighbors the Persians and Byzantines. But an empire this vast was at risk of conflict and fracture. Petra Sijpesteijn and Birte Kristiansen detail the rise and fall of the Islamic Empire.

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The Islamic Empire was one of the biggest World empires and a cosmopolitan epicenter in which many traditions including Greek, Byzantine, Persian, Arab and Indian merged into an entirely new culture.

This period in history was central in the formation of ideas and the development of material culture. Additionally, the Islamic empire effectively connected Asia, Africa, and Europe. In a way, the Islamic Empire presented what might be considered a precursor of today’s globalism. Today’s understanding of Islam, as well as a much larger scope of knowledge, has been shaped by the events that took place in the Medieval Islamic World. And yet, this part of world history is often underrepresented in western curricula, which tend to take a Eurocentric approach.

The story that is often told in primary and secondary education is that there was the classical period of the Greeks and Romans, then a thousand-year gap in which all advancement basically came to a standstill, as the terms “Middle Ages” and “Dark Ages” suggest, which was followed by the Renaissance when the world finally ‘started moving’ again. This is a falsification of history: the thousand-year gap never existed, not even in Europe, but certainly not if you take a wider view of world history into consideration.

The medieval world was entwined with the period before and after, and the Islamic Empire serves as the missing link in that incorrect view of history.

If you would like to know more, consider taking the MOOC (massive open online course) “The Cosmopolitan Medieval Arabic World.” It’s free!

And of course, many interesting books are available. Here are some online resources and a bibliography:


MOOC: The Cosmopolitan Medieval Arabic World
Mouse and Manuscript
Khan Academy
MOOC: Christian-Muslim Relations\
Leiden Islam Blog
Access to Mideast and Islam Resources
Podcast: The Abbasid History Podcast

In Print:

Peter Frankopan. The Silk Roads. A New History of the World. (London: Bloomsbury, 2015).

Emily Selove. Baghdad at the Centre of a World, 8th-13th Century: An Introductory Textbook. (Fargo: Theran Press, 2019).

Ira M. Lapidus, A History of Islamic Societies, 2e ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).

Bernard Lewis. The Middle East: 2000 Years of History from the Rise of Christianity to the Present Day. (London: Phoenix, 1995).

Hugh Kennedy. When Baghdad Ruled the Muslim World: The Rise and Fall of Islam's Greatest Dynasty. (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo Press, 2005).

Robert Irwin. Night & Horses & the Desert: An Anthology of Classical Arabic Literature. (London: The Penguin Press, 1999).

Amira K. Bennison. The Great Caliphs: The Golden Age of the ʿAbbasid Empire. (London: I.B. Tauris, 2009).

Muhammad M. Ahsan, Social Life Under the Abbasids. (London/New York: Longman, 1979).

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Meet The Creators

  • Educator Petra Sijpesteijn, Birte Kristiansen
  • Director Elahe Baloochi, Farid Mahmoodi
  • Narrator Safia Elhillo
  • Storyboard Artist Farid Mahmoodi
  • Animator Farid Mahmoodi
  • Compositor Farid Mahmoodi
  • Art Director Elahe Baloochi, Farid Mahmoodi
  • Illustrator Elahe Baloochi, Fateme Mohiti
  • Composer Stephen LaRosa
  • Sound Designer Stephen LaRosa
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Producer Anna Bechtol
  • Associate Producer Abdallah Ewis
  • Editorial Director Alex Rosenthal
  • Editorial Producer Elizabeth Cox
  • Script Editor Soraya Field Fiorio
  • Fact-Checker Charles Wallace

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