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Asia Minor

The most extensive province of the Eastern Roman Empire abutting the Islamic territory must be considered in the light of its history in the post-Islamic period as well as the nature of relations between the Muslims and the Byzantine government. The advent of Islam in the 7th century AD, in Arabia, on the southeastern flank of the Byzantine territory, and its transformation into a major politico-religious power greatly impacted the Eastern Roman Empire. The political and military conflicts between the Arab Muslims and the Christian Byzantines laid the groundwork for the gradual penetration of Islam into Roman territories, especially in Asia Minor, a process which continued up until the mid 9th century AH (15th cen. AD) and which culminated in the fall of the Byzantine state and the complete Muslim domination of Asia Minor. 

The date of the first introduction of Islam into Asia Minor is not clear, however, the first Arab incursions into the region must have started from the 1st century AH, without any religious or political consequences. 

With the conclusion of the wars of riddah in 12 AH (633 AD), a military expedition, headed by `Amr b. `As, Yazid b. Abi Sufyan and Sharhabil b. Hasanah, was dispatched by Abu Bakr to Syria, among the most important of Roman provinces. Sergius, the governor of Palestine, was dealt a crushing defeat in the battle joined in the region of `Arbah, after which the battle of Yarmuk, in 15 AH, sealed the fate of Syria, which became a Muslim province and the base from which attacks were launched against the Byzantine territory, including Armenia, Georgia and, especially, Asia Minor. 

Muslims Arabs intended on gaining a foothold in the Byzantine territory targeted the strategic locations in the Mediterranean region. For instance, Mu`awiyah’s objective in invading Cypress, in 27 or 28 AD, was to turn it into a base for future attacks on Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire. In 32 AH (653 AD), `Uthman placed Mu`awiyah in charge of an army which invaded the Byzantine territory and marched up to the strait at Constantinople. Upon his accession as caliph, Mu`awiyah built a navy aimed at engaging the Byzantine state. Though, at the outset, he concluded a peace treaty with the Roman emperor and agreed to pay tribute, later, he reneged on his promise and embarked on military operations against the Byzantine territory, especially Asia Minor. 

According to Ya`qubi, in the period 41 – 59 AH (661 – 679 AD), Muslims conducted numerous seasonal campaigns against the Byzantine cities. Two major expeditions were dispatched by Mu`awiayah aimed at conquering Constantinople. The first campaign, in 49 AH (669 AD), was led by Yazid b. Mu`awiyah, which spent the winter in Calcedonia, on the Asian side across from Constantinople. It is reported that the members of Yazid’s army were the first Muslims to lay eyes on the Roman capital. 

Yazid’s expedition included a number of the Companions, such as Ibn `Abbas, Ibn `Umar, Ibn Zubayr and Abu Ayyub Ansari. The last-mentioned died during the battle and was buried at the foot of the city’s fortifications. The island of Rhodes was also captured, in 53 AH (673 AD), during the reign of Mu`awiyah and was used by Muslims for agricultural activities. 

In the period 54 – 60 AH (674 – 680 AD), several seasonal campaigns were carried out in Asia Minor. The first Muslim success was the conquest of the island of Arwad (Cyzicus), near the coast Asia Minor, which was then made into a base for the siege of the Byzantine capital, which was repelled by the Romans who defended the city through their use of Greek fire. Though, after Mu`awiyah, the Arab navy abandoned their activities in the Bosporus and the Aegean Sea, summer campaigns (sing. sa’ifah) by Muslims continued unabated. The most important of these campaigns took place in 97 AH (716 AD), when Sulayman b. `Abd al-Malik dispatched his brother, Muslimah b. `Abd al-Malik, at a head of an army intent on capturing Constantinople. Muslimah’s huge army, including hundreds of vessels laid siege to the city, which lasted thirty months during which the Muslims engaged in agriculture in the adjoining areas and Muslimah built a mosque. The betrayal of Ilyun Mar`ashi, who was the Muslim army’s guide and who later became the king of the Romans, the famine and the cold weather, the relentless attacks by the Bulghars, and the death of the caliph and the orders to return combined to cause the Muslim army to bring to an end the last serious Muslim attempt at capturing the capital of the Roman Empire. During this period, the stalwart resistance put up by the Jarajimah, Christian insurgent allies of the Romans, was the main factor in preventing the spread of Islam in Asia Minor. 

In the `Abbasid period, Madhi was the first to resume attacks on Asia Minor. In the Jamdi al-Akhar of 165 AH (January 782 AD), he dispatched his son, Harun, at the head of a huge army, to the Byzantine territory. Harun succeeded in capturing a number of Roman provinces until he reached the Bosporus (the Gulf of Sea). Aghsatah, or according to some reports Irene the wife of Ilyun, sued for peace and offered to pay tribute, which met with Harun’s consent. However, the succeeding Roman emperor, Nicephorus, refused to pay tribute. Harun came to Asia Minor from Riqqah and occupied Harqalah. After him, Ma’mun marched into the Byzantine territory, in 218 AH (833 AD), and laid siege to `Amuriyyah, to which he intended to bring Bedouin Arab immigrants. He also entertained the thought of establishing himself in Constantinople, which explains his rejection of a peace offer by the Byzantine emperor; though, he died in the meantime without having made any progress. In 223 AH (838 AD), the Romans engaged in retaliatory activities and ravaged Zabtarah. At the same time, the `Abbasid Mu`tasim marched toward the Byzantine territory and burned the city of `Amuriyyah, which was among the strongest of the Byzantine cities. Henceforward, Muslim attacks on Asia Minor became confined to scattered raids carried out in various seasons of the year. 

The internal weakness of the Islamic government throughout the 3rd and 4th centuries AH, and the formation of minor and major states within the caliphal realm, came to affect the foreign relations of the Islamic state. Among these subsidiary governments mention must be made of the Hamdanids who joined their own battles with the Byzantines. Sayf al-Dawlah Hamdani fought the Romans for some twenty years. At one point, he advanced up to Mar`ash, where he erected a border fortification intended to serve as a base for his future raids into Asia Minor. Though, Sayf al-Dawlah gained very little from his military activities against the Romans, he, none the less, served to prevent the enemy from launching attacks on the Islamic territory. No serious battles took place during the 4th century AH, though some border fortresses would change hands from time to time. 

Up until the 7th century AH (13th cen. AD), the Muslim and Byzantine territories were separated by natural borders, i.e. the Taurus and Anti-Taurus Mountains. Alongside this border were built fortifications commonly referred to as thughur, from Malatiyyah (Malatia), on the shores of Euphrates, to Tartus, on the coast of the Mediterranean. These fortresses, whose possession alternated over time, were divided into the two categories of Jazri thughur, located in the north and devoted to the defense of Jazirah (northern Mesopotamia), and Syrian thughur, located in the southeast. Among the strategic points along this border reference may be made to Malatiyyah, Musayyisah, Zabtarah, Mar`ash, a region which later came to be known as Haruniyyah, Kanisah and `Ayn Zurba, the modern-day Anazarbah near the town of Adana. The conquest of these regions, with their developed and populated cities, brought them into focus and imparted them with an Islamic color. At times, cities also sprang in various parts of the region. 

In all these cities, Muslims constructed mosques, cisterns, schools and other religious and public buildings. They turned major Christian churches into mosques and built bridges, which included Jasr al-Walid over the Seyhan River, in Adana. 

Tartus was the biggest city in Asia Minor to come into the possession of the Muslims, who used it as a military base for attacks against the Romans. The city had two stone walls and its inhabitants were renowned for their military skills. It is reported that some one hundred thousand soldiers were stationed there and Muslim fighters congregated in its garrison from all across the Islamic territory in order to take part in action against the Romans. The city was also a focus of attention of `Abbasid caliphs, such as Mahdi and Harun. It appears that by the 4th century AH (10th cen. AD) Muslims were permanently stationed in many of these thughur and that the Lamus River, referred to by the Arabs as Nahr al-Lamus, demarcated the border where Muslim and Christian prisoners were exchanged. 

Owing to the existence of natural borders between the Byzantine and the Islamic territories, crossings for military or commercial purposes were made through a number of passes, the most important of which included Darb al-Hadath, which continued north from Mar`ash, to Ilbistin (Elbistan), and Kilikiyah, which led to Istanbul via a major highway. 

It appears that the incessant wars between the Muslims and the Byzantines and the conquest of the border cities, on the one hand, and the commercial ties and their concomitant cultural exchanges, on the other hand, facilitated the spread of Muslim influence in Asia Minor. These types of relationships, the internal strife within the Byzantine state, and, finally, the appearance on the scene of Muslim Turkic tribes in the 5th century AH (11th cen. AD) combined to open a fresh chapter in the history of Asia Minor and its process of Islamization. According to Babinger, these Turks were in fact the Saljuks who easily defeated the Byzantines and, while coming into possession of their heritage, brought to culmination the establishment of Islam in the new territory. 

In fact, it may be claimed that at a time when the Islamic world was faced with internal crises as well as external threats the Saljuks succeeded in breathing new life into the body of Islamic culture and civilization, while restoring its political unity. 

Among the greatest achievements of the Saljuks was their conquest of Asia Minor, which was the cradle of many peoples of various civilizations as well as a bridge connecting three continents. The first invasion into Asia Minor by the Turkmen took place in 409 AH (1018 AD) and was more in the nature of a reconnaissance mission. Later, eminent Saljuk sultans settled a great number of Turkmen in Anatolia as a major countervailing force against the Byzantines. However, the major Saljuk migration took place after the battle of Malazgerd (Manzikert), where, in the Dhi ’l-Qa`dah of 463 AH (July 1071 AD), Alp Arsalan defeated the Eastern Roman Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes. These Turkmen immigrants were in fact the first pioneers and defenders of Islam in Asia Minor, who, taking advantage of the chaotic conditions of the Byzantine state, spread their influence throughout Anatolia, all the way to the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean. The social and demographic makeup of Asia Minor was gradually transformed, a development which resulted in profound religious and cultural changes which have come to be construed as a popular reception of the Islamic message. Prior to the victory at Malazgerd, the Saljuks had captured the capital of Armenia, Ani, and had put an end to the rule of the Buqrati dynasty. Following Malazgerd, the leader of Arp Arsalan’s army, defeated the Roman commander, Isaac Comnenus, in 464 AH (1072 AD), and advanced up to the Sakarya River. Around the same time, the emperor, John Ducas appealed to Urtuq Beg for assistance in putting down a series of domestic revolts, a development that brought the Islamic army to the Gulf of Izmit, the nearest city to the capital of the empire. Some time later, after the death of Alp Arsalan, Qutlumish captured the city of Konya, in Anatolia, and moved on to Izniq (Nicaea), which he chose as his capital, the first step in the establishment of the Saljuk dynasty of Anatolia. The conquest of Nicaea, which occupied a special place in the Christian world, was among the most important events of the 5th century AH (11th cen. AD). 

The conquests of the cities of Adana, Tartus, Manisa and `Ayn Zurba by the Saljuks, made a major contribution to the Muslim influence in Asia Minor, and prompted the `Abbasid caliph to recognize the government of Sulayman by awarding him the khal`at and manshur (investiture). The establishment of a Saljuk government in Asia Minor prompted Christian governments to come up with ways to stand up to this new source of threat. Thus, Michael VII appealed for assistance to Pope Gregory VII and expressed his consent with regard to a unification of the Orthodox and Catholic churches. The latter, on his part, called the kings of Europe to a fight against the Muslims, a move which prepared the ground for the Crusades. 

As a result of the Crusades, the Saljuks and Muslims were forced to abandon the city of Nicaea, after twenty five years, and established their capital at Konya. The Saljuks of Asia Minor ruled over the region, as the defenders of Islam, for some two hundred years, during which time they continued to expand their realm, so much so that by the 8th century AH the bulk of Asia Minor was part of the Islamic territory. The vast extent of the Saljuk lands may be perceived by an examination of its division by Qilich Arsalan among his children. 

At the time of the expansion of Saljuk territory in Anatolia, three border regions came to attract the attention of Muslim ghazis. These regions, which abutted the territories of the Eastern Roman Empire, included Kilikiyah (modern-day Chokhoroway) or Mulk al-Sawahil, in the south, with its centers of `Ala’iyyah and Antaliyyah; in the north, i.e. alongside the coast of the Black Sea, the Byzantine empire of Trabzon, Simarah, Samson and Bafra, on the eastern shores, and Qastamuni and Sinope, in the west; and, finally, the western border region, with its cities of Qarah Hisar Dawli (Afyun Qarah Hisar), Kutahiyyah and Denizli, which extended from Qastamuni to the Gulf of Makri. In the Saljuk period, these provinces were governed by princes who were the representatives of the sultan, while serving also as the military commanders of their respective regions. These considered themselves as ghazis, or crusaders for the sake of Islam, who fought the infidels and the Byzantines, thus, their jurisdictions were referred to as the provinces of the ghazis. In addition to Muslims, these provinces housed people of other religions who had fled the tumultuous lands of the east and sought refuge in the safety of the Islamic territory. Owing to the existence of cultural differences, the cities in these provinces were transformed into major cultural centers. The majority of the Christian inhabitants of Anatolia remained faithful to their religion, while there were some who chose the path of conversion to Islam. The administrative systems of the provinces were run by Muslims, while Sufism continued to gain in popularity. Throughout this period, Islam remained the dominant religion and culture of the region. Thus, the 200-year reign of the Saljuks may be considered as a period of rapid expansion of Islam in Anatolia, an observation borne out by the Islamic monuments of the Saljuk era scattered throughout the region. 

With the coming of the Mongols into Asia Minor and their defeat of the Saljuks at Kusah Dagh, in 641 AH (1243 AD), the latter’s territory fell into the hands of emirs who previously took orders from them and who were among the Turkmen who had migrated to Anatolia from Turkistan. These had settled in Byzantine territory after entering into agreement with Orthodox priests, and had set up their own emirates. These included Qarman, in the vicinity of Konya and Armanak; Girmiyan, in the northeast around Kutahiyyah and Denizli; Aydin, near Izmir in the southwestern Anatolia; Mintshah, in the border regions of the southwest, including the cities of Mughla, Balat and Milas; and in other parts of Asia Minor, such as Sarukhan, Ashraf, Qarasi and Dhu ’l-Qadr. All these emirates ruled with strong autonomy and played a crucial role in the consolidation of the Islamic culture as well as in the Islamization of Asia Minor. There exist numerous mosques, schools, hospitals, recitation houses (dar al-qurra’) and the like throughout the Anatolian region dating back to the period of these emirates. The Ottomans comprised the smallest of these emirates. There has been much speculation about their ethnic background. What may be asserted with a reasonable degree of certainty is that their progenitor, Ertughrul, had come to Anatolia and entered the service of the Saljuks, where he was given a fief in the region of Sogut, on the Byzantine border. His son, Osman, the founder of the Ottoman dynasty, engaged in territorial expansion and fighting with the Christian fief-holders of the region, with the aid given him by the Byzantine state. After consolidating his powerbase, Osman attacked Nicaea and, benefiting from the influence of Shaykh Adah Bali, established himself as the chief of the ghazis. He went on to carve himself an independent emirate, extending from Iski Shahr to the regions of Nicaea and Bursa, and came into much fame. After him, his son, Orkhan (Orhan) minted his coin and read sermon as an Islamic ruler. He assisted other emirs in their wars against the infidels and added to the Muslim territories in the region. Babinger is of the opinion that this tribe had converted to Islam prior to their arrival in Asia Minor. The Ottomans, who had become deeply affected by the teachings of the Sufis, followed in the footsteps of the Saljuks in terms of the Islamization of Asia Minor, and contributed to the expansion of Sufi orders, such as Mawlawiyyah and Bektashiyyah, through their construction of zawiyahs, khanaqahs and other religious endowments. 

In the first half of the 8th century AH (14th cen. AD), the Ottomans advanced through Asia Minor towards the Sea of Marmara and captured a major part of the Iznik peninsula and the coastal areas of the Gulf of Izmit. Next, they conquered the city of Izmit (Nicomedia), Iskutari, and the emirate of Qarasi, as well as the southern shores of the Sea of Marmara, after which they prepared themselves for the crossing into Europe. 

The conquest of Nicaea, the second largest city in Byzantium, in 731 AH (1331 AD), by Orkhan, the second Ottoman emperor, left Constantinople and its surrounding areas as the only territory still in possession of the Byzantine state. During the reigns of Murad I and Bayezid I (Yildrin, i.e. the Thunderbolt) the Ottoman territories in Europe underwent expansion. Upon his accession to power, Bayezid moved to lay siege to Constantinople and to recruit troops from among the Christian youth (Devsirme) of the occupied territories in Europe, and to engage in missionary activities to promote Islam. His victories in the Balkans won him the title of “the Commander of Islam” and prompted Muslims to pour into Asia Minor from all over the Islamic territory in order to serve him. Around the same time, Bayezid pressured the Byzantine government to set up an Islamic court in Constantinople, with a presiding Muslim judge, as well as to create a Muslim neighborhood, with seven hundred houses and two mosques. In a move designed to spread Muslim culture, Sultan Mehmed I replaced Greek with Turkish and Persian as official languages and strengthened brotherhood societies which served as vehicles for the consolidation of Islamic faith in the Ottoman realm. 

In the reign of Murad II, the Byzantine emperor, John VIII Palaeologus, in a move to secure the support of Europe, declared the churches of Rome and Constantinople as united and himself pledged membership in the Church of Rome. This action, however, aroused the ire of the people of Constantinople who preferred the sovereignty and tolerance of Islam over the religious bias of the Roman Church. Finally, the long cherished dream of the Ottomans became a reality during the reign of Mehmed II when on the 25th of Rabi` al-Awwal 857 AH (April 5, 1453 AD) the conquest of Constantinople marked the eventual fall of the Byzantine state and opened a new chapter in the history of Asia Minor. Muslims from all walks of life, who considered the campaign as a jihad, came to Istanbul, which fell on the 20th of Jamadi al-Awwal 857 AH (May 29, 1453 AD). With the conquest of Istanbul the call to prayer (adhan) resonated across the erstwhile center of Byzantine power where Muslims stood to perform the Friday prayer. Henceforward, the entire Asia Minor came to be viewed as one of the most important centers of the Islamic world, a status which endured until the fall of the Ottoman state in 1918 AD and the abolishment of the caliphate in 1924 AD.

* source: Dianat , Aliakbar "Islam Entry" The Great Islamic Encyclopedia. Ed. Kazem Musavi Bojnourdi.Tehran: The Center of Great Islamic Encyclopaedia , 1989-, V.8 , pp.541 - 545

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