The  Fall of Baghdad (1258 C.E)

By 1251 the horsemen of the steppe were united once again, under the authority of three brothers, grandsons of Genghis Khan: Mongke, Kubilay and Hulegu. It was the ambition of the third, who had settled in Persia, to conquer the entire Muslim east to the shores of the Mediterranean, perhaps even to the Nile. Initially interested in philosophy and science, a man who sought out the company of men of letters, he was transformed in the course of his campaigns into a savage animal thirsting for blood and destruction. His religious attitudes were no less contradictory. Although strongly influenced by Christianity, his mother, his favourite wife, and several of his closest collaborators were members of the Nestorian church, he never renounced Shamanism, the traditional religion of his people. In the territories he governed, notably Persia, he was generally tolerant of Muslims, but once he was gripped by his lust to destroy any political entity capable of opposing him, he waged a war of total destruction against the most prestigious metropolises of Islam.

His first target was Baghdad. At first, Hulegu asked the Abbasid caliph, al-Mutasim, the thirty-seventh of his dynasty, to recognize Mongol sovereignty as his predecessors had once accepted the rule of the Seljuk Turks. The prince of the faithful, overconfident of his own prestige, sent word to the conqueror that any attack on his capital would mobilize the entire Muslim world, from India to north west Africa. Not in the least impressed, the grandson of Genghis Khan announced his intention of taking the city by force. Towards the end of 1257 he and, it would appear, hundreds of thousands of cavalry began advancing towards the Abbasid capital. On heir way they destroyed the assassin’s sanctuary at Alamut and sacked it’s library of inestimable value, thus making it for impossible for future generations to gain any in-depth knowledge of the doctrine and activities of the sect. When the caliph finally realized the extent of the threat, he decided to negotiate. He proposed that Hulegu’s name be pronounced at Friday sermons in the mosques of Baghdad and that he be granted the title sultan. But it was too late, for by now the Mongol had definitely opted for force. After a few weeks of courageous resistance, the prince of the faithful had no choice but to capitulate. On the 10th of February 1258 he went to the victor’s camp in person and asked if he would promise to spare the lives of all the citizens if they agreed to lay down there arms. But in vain. As soon as they were disarmed, the Muslim fighters were exterminated. Then the Mongol horde fanned out through the prestigious city demolishing buildings, burning neighbourhoods, and mercilessly massacring men, women, and children- nearly eighty thousand people in all. Only the Christian community was spared, thanks to the intercession of the Khan’s wife. The prince of the faithful was himself strangled to death a few days after his defeat. The tragic end of the Abbasid caliphate stunned the Muslim world. It was no longer a matter of a military battle for control of a particular city, or even a country: it was now a desperate struggle for the survival of Islam.


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