Unit Essay the Influence on Islam on other Societies during the Middle Ages
As civilizations have evolved, they have become increasingly interconnected, which has led to human concepts expanding and mixing with other ideas and cultures. Islam saw widespread expansion throughout the world and coexisted alongside many other religious and cultural groups. Due to this, it began to have small influences on the various cultural and religious ideas in the empires and populations it spread to. As Islam became more interconnected with other cultures, it led to several effects and improvements on societies, which is evident in the writings of Kabir, Mirabai, and Celebi.
One of the regions and cultures that Islam had a significant influence on was in India. As Islamic ideas spread and intermixed with Indian society, the effects of these cultural changes became evident in their literature. Muslim-born poet Kabir practiced Islam but lived in a predominantly Hindu society. In many of his texts, he attempted to compare and even synthesize the ideas of these two wildly different religious groups. much of his work attempted to synthesize the ideas of these two groups.
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In his texts, Kabir raises many questions that criticize society and religion as a whole, such as when he states “”I’m in despair. Which is greater? The Pilgrim station, or Hari’s devoted slave?”” (Kabir 92). In this instance, Kabir is asking people of religion if they’re true pilgrims to their beliefs, or if they blindly follow that which they believe. This is a concept that can be applied to practices of both religions, however, as a Muslim, Kabir presented this from his religious point of view.
India was deeply ingrained with religious beliefs, as the entire society was founded on the hierarchical caste system, and Hindu beliefs had been in practice in the region for thousands of years. As an Indian citizen, Kabir encourages people to not be slaves to the beliefs of society, but rather to find for themselves if their beliefs come as a result of true desire and devotion. This is a concept that seems would resonate more highly with members of lower castes in Indian society.
Hindu’s observed the idea of the caste system, which stated that all members of society would be placed in a social class where they would live and serve for the entirety of their current life. Many members of the lower castes began to look towards “”The Islamic message of universal brotherhood, introduction of equality in society, rejection of caste system and untouchability, opposition to idol-worship and the idea of oneness of God threw up a powerful challenge to the upholders of Hinduism.
With the gradual march of time, this molded the Hindu mind and fostered the growth of liberal movements by some saints and reformers”” (Das 8). Ultimately, Islamic influence as a whole would be responsible for dividing the region between Hindus and Muslims and reshaping the demographics of their society for centuries to come.
One of Islam’s greatest influences on Indian society was due to the Bhakti Movement. The Bhakti Movement was a spiritual and social movement that occurred among Hindu reformers. It envisioned a path to spiritual salvation based on love, devotion, and surrender to God, which came as a result of the influence and adaptation of Islamic ideas.
Many of these concepts can be seen throughout this movement, a few of which are conveyed in the writings of Mirabai, a princess, prominent societal figure, and reformer. Mirabai began her life born as an aristocrat and was eventually married to a price. However, she was unable to give up the worship of her family deity, Krishna, for the deity of her husband’s family. Lacking the desire to abide by the traditional cultural and societal customs, the princess became a devoted worshiper of Krishna.
Rather than becoming a simple devotee, however, Mirabai sought to develop a relationship with her God, a deep spiritual connection. She considered Krishna to be her divine lover, as on multiple occasions calls “”Darling, come to visit me, give me a vision of yourself– I can’t live without you… Distressed, distraught, I wander night and day, our separations gnawing at my heart”” (Mirabai 99-100). Mirabai gave up all the comforts of her life in order to seek her supposed relationship with God, and wandered northern India, singing and dancing to her spirit lover.
As she traveled, she acquired a large population of followers from various parts of the country, as she represented a symbol of equality, independence, and individuality. Mirabai “”…did not recognize social and caste barriers and adopted the cobbler/untouchable Sri Guru Ravidas as her guru. She broke many social norms”” (Alston 14). The princess found support among these lower social classes as she embraced and advocated for the newfound Islamic ideas of equality. As a symbol and leader of The Bhakti Movement, Mirabai was representative of the opinions of many in society, as they embraced ideas of Islamic influence, and pushed their society to make progressive change.
While Islam had many significant effects on Indian society, its expansion westward saw it have prominent influences in western culture as well. This is evident in Celebi’s Book of Travels. Celebi was an entertainer, muezzin, and courier who recorded his travels throughout the Ottoman empire in his journals. Throughout his texts, there are many examples of him witnessing the effect of the expansion and influence of Islam on cultures indigenous to regions not previously under Ottoman control.
In his travels to Vienna, Austria, for example, Celebi found many examples of Islamic influence on the material culture and architecture of the region. The traveler first encounters “”…captives of the nation of Muhammad sitting on stools, with white turbans, and Bosnian fur hats… some infidels came and loosened the Muslim captives’ belts… and took all their clothes. Then, they stuck a key like one for a clock mechanism in the armpit of each of them and turned it around and immediately these Muslim captives’… stopped moving… I realized that these were all clock mechanisms if wound up”” (Celebi 73).
Not only did Muslim influence affect the architecture of these mechanical statues, but the technology could very well have been a result of Islamic development of mathematics and mechanics. Also, in Vienna, Celebi observed the St. Stephen Church, that “”On its highest tip there is a golden sphere… when Sultan Suleyman besieged Vienna in the year 936, he could not bring himself to fire his cannons at this steeple, thinking that ultimately this would be a minaret for the call to Muslim prayer at a Muslim temple”” (Celebi 75).
This is yet another example of Muslim influence on material culture of European culture and “”Stress must be laid first of all on architecture and urbanism, all the more so as certain European cities of south-east were founded (or experienced full bloom) in this period, while those already existing clearly submitted to Ottoman’ influence””( Popovic and Rashid 178). The influx in the foundation and bloom of more cities in south-eastern Europe seems to come as a direct result of the prosperity brought these cities by the extensive network of Islamic trade routes. This seemed to be the case with the city of Vienna, and that the city had seen Muslim influence on its architecture and economy even prior to becoming included in the Ottoman Empire.
Although powerful regions such as India and Europe once had independent, established cultures, the expansion of Islam carried with it influence that mixed Muslim concepts into those it interacted with. The connections between these societies and the resulting effects on society are evident in the literature of the time, as Islamic ideas obviously influenced religious, social, architectural, and countless other aspects of societies.
It seems that no matter how great or powerful a civilization or religious group is, it’s impossible to become completely isolated and stand apart from others. Inevitably, human cultures and concepts will spread and intermingle with one another, belief systems will change, and societies will continue to become connected in an increasingly globalized world.