After the death of Prophet Muhammad, there were several Islamic Dynasties. In this essay I am going to briefly explain each of these dynasties.
The Rightly Guided Caliphs
The first dynasty after the Prophet, the Ummah (the community) elected four of the closest Companions to the Prophet. Abu Bakr, Umar, Uthman, and Ali were chosen to be the successors or Caliphs. They were known as the Rightly Guided Caliphs. You can think of them as the most able apprentices. They ruled the Islamic state of Medina and defended it. Abu Bakr was a caliph for only two years before his death in 634 CE. He was then succeeded by Umar who created a Council of six senior Companions to elect the next Caliph in 644 CE, which was fitting as he was assassinated that year. The Council then elected Uthman to be the next Caliph. Uthman was a Caliph for 12 years before being assassinated as a result of a conspiracy. The Council then elected Ali to be the next Caliph. Ali was then assassinated five years later.
All four Caliphs spread the message of Islam and defended Islamic communities, sometimes through war, and expanded the reach of Islam from northern Africa to the Middle East to Persia (modern day Iran). It was during the reign of Umar that Jerusalem was captured by the Muslims in 638 CE. For the first time in over 500 years, the Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem. Jews had been expelled by the Romans in 70 CE.
The Umayyad dynasty was founded by Mu’awiyah, a Companion of the Prophet. After the death of Mu’awiyah, his son was appointed to succeed him, effectively replacing the governance by principle of consultation to a dynastic (monarchy) rule. The Umayyads lasted for 89 years before being succeeded by the Abbasids.
In 732 CE, the Umayyads were defeated at the Battle of Tours by the Franks in modern day France; this is regarded as a decisive battle. If the Muslims had won, they would have continued to conquer the rest of Europe.
In that time, the Umayyads were known for their military skills, architecture, and the minting of the earliest silver and gold Islamic coins. They also introduced Arabic as the main language in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and Persia. They had expanded the Islamic empire, in the west from North Africa to modern day Spain and Portugal (then called Al Andalusia), and in the east to modern day Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz was the great-grandson of Umar ibn al-Khattab, the second Rightly Guided Caliph. Umar was one of the best Umayyads and was known as the Fifth Rightly Guided Caliph because of his fairness and kindness.
In 750 CE, the last Umayyad Caliph, Marwan II, was killed by the Abbasids marking the end of the Umayyad dynasty and the start of the Abbasids.
The Abbasid dynasty took over the Umayyads in 750 AD. It lasted 508 years.
Under the Abbasid caliph, Abdallah al-Ma’mun, mathematics, medicine, astronomy, algebra, geometry, trigonometry and optics were developed.
Harun al-Rashid ruled for 23 years (786 CE – 809 CE). Those years were known as the golden age of the Abbasid dynasty. In his reign he worked to establish political stability and economic success.
The Abbasids had a golden age of learning from 750 CE to 945 CE. Until the twenty-third Abbasid caliph, al-Mustakfi, was forced to abdicate in favor of the effective ruler of Iraq, Buyid ruler Mu’izz al-Dawla Ahmad. Mu’izz kept the Abbasids as mere figureheads.
From 945 CE to 1258 CE, the Abbasids struggled to get their power back but never reached the height they once held. In 1258 CE, they fell to the Mongol invasion lead by Genghis Khan’s grandson Hulegu Khan. Hulegu then established the Ilkhanid Dynasty that favored Buddhism and Nestorian Christianity for about 40 years.
The Mamluk dynasty was originated from a Turkish military household. In 1250 CE, they gained power by taking control of Egypt and Syria from the Ayyubids. The Mamluks lasted 267 years (1250-1517).
Unlike the Abbasid dynasty, the Mamluks were a warring dynasty. They never had a golden age of education or learning.
The most notable battle that the Mamluks fought was The Battle of Ayn Jalut (in modern day Palestine) in 1260 CE. They defeated the Mongols who had wiped out the Abbasid dynasty. This battle is marked as one of the great turning points in history. If the Mongols had won they might have continued to conquer all of North Africa and Europe.
In 1517 CE, the Ottoman conquest through Syria and Egypt put an end to Mamluk dynasty.
The Ottomans, the Safavids, and the Mughals
The Ottoman Empire lasted 641 years (1281 CE – 1922 CE). They emerged from what is modern day Turkey and started to gain power in 1357 CE as they started to expand into Europe.
The Ottomans also created a force within their army called the Janissaries (like the modern day Marines). These were forcefully-recruited young Christian boys (from the ages of 10 – 12), converted them to Islam, and then trained them for battle. For some poor families of conquered lands, it was a road out of poverty for their children.
In 1453 CE, the Ottoman Turks conquered Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) in their defeat of the Byzantine Empire. They continued the expansion of their Empire into Europe. In 1683 CE, the Ottomans Turks lost to the Holy Roman Empire in The Battle of Vienna. Since then, they never could regain their power and in 1922 CE, the Ottomans finally collapsed due to the expansion of European powers post-World War I.
Meanwhile, The Safavid Empire had been established in the east in modern day Iran and Afghanistan. The Safavid Empire lasted 221 years (1501 CE – 1722 CE). They were a Turkic dynasty and they were supporters of the arts. During their time paintings, carpets, textiles, ceramics, and architecture were considered great accomplishments.
Another Muslim Empire at about the same time, the Mughal Empire (descendants of the Mongol invasions), the Mughals lasted 332 years (1526 CE – 1858 CE). They ruled most of modern day India and Pakistan.
During the height of the Mughal Empire, a man named Shah Jahan ruled. He loved his wife Mumtaz Mahal more than anything in the world. When she passed, he built the Taj Mahal as a tomb for her. When Shan Jahan died he was also buried there.
In 1857 CE, British Indian soldiers revolted against the British rule in India (the Sepoy Uprising). The British then attacked Delhi and ended the Mughal Empire.
The Start of a New Empire
By 1900 CE, nine European empires and Chinese empires ruled over 80% of the once great Muslim Empires. Only 20% of the Muslims lived in the remaining Muslim states: the Ottoman Empire, Persia, the Arabian Peninsula, Morocco, and Afghanistan. During World War 1, the British and the French signed a treaty agreeing to split the lands that the Ottoman Empire once owned.
In 1924 CE, the 600-year old Ottoman dynasty was exiled from Turkey, marking the end of all Muslim Empires.
In this essay, you can see how Islam grew and spread from a small community in the Arabian desert to multiple empires that spread from Spain to Indonesia, and contributed to science, arts and trade. By the end of World War I, all Muslim empires had disintegrated. From them emerged, many Muslim majority nations none of which are leading powers in the world. Indeed, many Muslim majority nations are among the poorest in the world in 2020. The golden age of Islam is long past.
Muslims now look forward to the Second Coming of Jesus to a world governed by God’s commandments.