The Mongols and the Islamic World: From Conquest to Conversion – JACKSON (THT)

JACKSON, Peter. The Mongols and the Islamic World: From Conquest to Conversion. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2017. p. Resenha de: IGMEN, Ali. The History Teacher, v.52, n.3, p.527-529, may., 2019.

It is an intimidating if not impossible task to review Peter Jackson’s book, The Mongols and the Islamic World: From Conquest to Conversion. First and foremost, Jackson is one of the founders of the study of the Mongol, and Central Eurasian history in general. The second reason is the encyclopedic breadth of this book, which may be regarded as is an extensive accompaniment to his seminal 2005 book, recently published in second edition, The Mongols and the West. Jackson begins his book by referring to the new corrective scholarship that does not focus solely on the destructive force of the Mongol invasions with a clear statement that he is “concerned equally to avoid minimizing the shock of the Mongol conquest” (p. 6). He also acknowledges the superior siege technology of these “infidel nomads” as opposed to the urbanized societies of Central Eurasia (p. 6). His book tells the story of these infidel masters over the Muslim subjects, mostly from the view of the latter, especially because Jackson examines the role of Muslim allies, or client rulers of the Mongols. One of the main goals of this book is its emphasis on the Mongol territories in Central Asia as opposed to more extensively studied Jochid lands (the Qipchaq khanate or the Golden Horde) and the Ilkhanate. Despite this particular goal, Jackson makes sure we do not forget about Chinggis Khan’s offspring such as Qubilai Khan, who ruled lands as far away as China.

Jackson’s book investigates how the Mongols came to rule such large Islamized territories in such a short time. It also examines the sources, including the wars between Mongol khanates and the extent of destruction of the Mongol conquest, while describing their relationships between the subjugated Muslim rulers and their subjects. The introductory chapter on Jackson’s sources provides detailed information on the writings of mostly medieval Sunni Muslim authors along with two Shī’īs, refreshingly relying on those who mostly wrote in Persian and Arabic, including the newly discovered Akhbār-i mughūlan by Qutb al-Din Shīrāzī (p.145), as opposed to Christian and European travel accounts.

The book is divided into two parts: the first part explores the Mongol conquest to ca. 1260, and the second covers the period of divided successor states with an epilogue that elaborates on the long-term Mongol impact on the Muslim societies of Central Eurasia as late as to the nineteenth century. Although the intricate if occasionally dense first part on the conquest is necessary, educators like myself will find it most useful. It is intriguing to learn about the extent of interconnectedness of the conquered Muslim societies in Eurasia and their Mongol rulers, while understanding the limitations of commercial, artistic, and religious exchanges.

We also learn about the strategic regional Muslim leaders’ relations with the Mongol conquerors. The account of the evolution of the linguistic conversions makes the story even more fascinating. The negotiations between those local rulers who kept their thrones and the Mongol victors tell a more interesting story than the existing accounts of Mongol despotism. The case in point is Jackson’s discussion of the potential of Muslim women in gaining agency under the Mongol rule. Jackson’s analysis of the extent of the repressive laws and taxes provide possible new explanations of the Mongol rule. Furthermore, his analysis of the relationship between the Tājīk bureaucrats and the Mongol military seemed particularly enlightening to me, who is interested in the dynamics of civilian and military interactions. Jackson points out that “the fact that civilian and military affairs were not clearly differentiated added to the instability,” referring to the late thirteenth-century Ilkhanate era (p. 412). The final two chapters complicate the Islamization processes in the Mongol successor states, explaining the lengthy and sporadic nature of conversions.

Without giving away Jackson’s conclusions on Islamization, I can say that he provides a highly nuanced history that challenges any linear and teleological accounts of the Mongol conquest of the Islamic lands. In addition to the breadth and wealth of information, Jackson’s book is generous to the scholars of the Mongols, including younger scholars such as Timothy May. The mostly thematic character of the book results in a shifting chronology, which assumes that the readers possess some previous knowledge of this complex history. Most of the book provides an insight to the intricate history of Mongol politics in conquered lands. The exquisite maps, images, chronologies, and glossary make the book more legible to those readers who may pick it up without prior knowledge of this history. The particular military strategies, coupled with the political intrigue of the Mongols led to a fusion of Muslim, Mongol, and other indigenous cultures, not always destroying what existed before the conquest. Peter Jackson’s book is a worthy reflection of this sophisticated history that is suitable for advanced and graduate students and scholars who possess the basic knowledge of the Mongol conquest and Islamic societies and cultures of the region.

Ali Igmen – California State University, Long Beach.

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