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Before Islam
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Arab decline
     The hidden centuries

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The hidden centuries: 12th - 19th century

For a long while, beginning in the late Middle Ages, the Arabs play a less prominent role in the Middle East than has been the case in the early centuries of the caliphate. In the 12th century the defence of Islam against the crusaders is led not by an Arab but by a Kurd, Saladin. The caliphate in Baghdad, long under the effective control of the Seljuk Turks, is brought to a brutal end in the 13th century by the Mongols. The entire region of the Middle East is overrun by the Ottoman Turks in the early 16th century.

The Arabic language remains central to Islam, because the Qur'an must always be studied in its original divinely inspired form. But the Arabs as a group are excluded from their previously central role in Muslim affairs.


A measure of this change can be seen in the contemporary words for Muslims in the languages of outsiders. They are known either as Saracens (the term used by the crusaders, the original meaning of which in uncertain) or as Moors - people from Morocco, reflecting the importance in medieval Europe of the Berber dynasties in Spain.

Not until the 20th century, with the collapse of the Ottoman empire, will the Arabs recover the dominant position in the Middle East which was theirs in the first centuries of Islam.


Continue the story of the Arabs with the First World War.


This History is as yet incomplete.


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