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Reviewed by:
  • The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals
  • Cengiz Sisman
The Muslim Empires of the Ottomans, Safavids, and Mughals. By Stephen F. Dale. New Approaches to Asian History. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010. 362 pp. $84.00 (cloth); $31.99 (paper).

Since Marshall Hodgson's seminal works on the role of Islam in world history in the 1960s, students of Middle Eastern and Islamic studies have been increasingly conscious of the importance of integrating Islamic history into global history. Between the eighth and eighteenth centuries, Islamicate polities served as major conduits connecting a diverse population spanning the globe from the Java islands in Southeast Asia all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. It is true that the decline of the Abbasid caliphate during the thirteenth century irrevocably changed politics and religion throughout the Islamic world, but shared religious, legal, economic, and mystic discourses and networks unified this post-Abbasid, post-Crusade, and post-Mongolian world. Needless to say, it is through the annual pilgrimage to Mecca by Muslims from all over the world that new networks started to emerge. For example, a Muslim traveler from Andalusia during the fourteenth century sojourning to the Far East had no problem crossing an ethnically, linguistically, and politically vast area.

The significance and legacy of these intricate networks of people and ideas, and the impact on the modern world, are still not adequately appreciated in scholarly circles. Especially with the Orientalist and Eurocentric assumptions of a supposed decline of Islamic civilizations after the thirteenth century, the post-Mongolian Islamicate world is still a lacunae in the historiography and needs to be studied in a much wider context. A cursory look at Muslim polities during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries would show us that innovations in architecture, military technology, and the papermaking industry played an important role in creating centralized bureaucracies that mirror the large modern empires. Today, most historians would agree that the "rise [End Page 174] of Europe" can be attributed to major innovations in Eurasian societies and these polities.

In the past few decades, several scholars have attempted to compare the major Muslim polities and empires, especially the Ottomans (1299-1918), the Safavids (1501-1739), and the Mughals (1501-1758) in the context of global history. Stephen F. Dale, a distinguished professor of South Asian and Islamic history at Ohio State University, took up the daunting task of writing a comparative book on these three remarkable Muslim empires and contextualizing them in world history. His pioneering work is a significant achievement, because he examines these three "culturally related and commercially linked" empires together in chronologically ordered chapters, instead of dealing with them in separate chapters.

These three empires have been characterized as "agrarian," "traditional," "patrimonial-bureaucratic," "gunpowder," or "early-modern" empires in the existing literature, and Dale rightly problematizes these characterizations. Dale uses the term "patrimonial-bureaucratic" with some reservation in his analysis, because "it describes a real and important functional aspect of all the three states at various times in their histories" (p. 5). And from the outset, he avoids reducing Muslim empires to religious entities only by stating that "Muslim empires were not just Muslim but also empires" (p. 3).

Dale opens the book with a long chapter on the history of the pre-Mongol Islamic world where he shows the common political, cultural, and economic grounds for the subsequent empires. By invoking the legacies of the Abbasids, Chingizids, Temurids, Fatimids, Saljuqks, and the Delhi sultanates, he skillfully connects the pre- and post-Mongolian worlds. He then devotes the remaining seven chapters to a wide range of issues that look at the rise of these empires, matters of legitimacy, their economies and cultures, their golden ages, and periods of decline and reform. The book has twenty-two illustrations, eighteen maps, dynastic lists, a glossary, and a very useful index.

Given the fact that the author's expertise lies in Central and South Asian studies, the sections on these regions are expectedly stronger than his coverage of the Safavids and the Ottomans. As an eminent economic historian, he does a superb job in demonstrating the importance of the connected economies of Eurasia. A particularly important case in...


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