By Anatoly M. Khazanov
Comparative Studies in Society and History, Vol. 35, No. 3 (1993)
Introduction: This essay compares the two greatest conquest movements of pre-modern times, the Arab and the Mongol, which resulted in the creation of world empires, and analyzes the importance of religion in these events. This attempt is hardly in the mainstream of current cultural anthropology, which does not encourage much comparative study of historical societies separated in time and space. Nonetheless, perhaps this comparison will facilitate a better understanding of some serious conceptual problems that both of these conquests pose for anthropologists and historians. The fact that the Arab society had a strong nomadic component and the Mongol society was firmly based on pastoral nomadism makes this comparison even more interesting.
The preconditions of these conquests bear some remarkable similarities. The internal situation in Arabia in the second half of the sixth and in the beginning of the seventh centuries was very complicated. At that time Arabian society was under stress then; after all, new religions do not emerge in times of tranquility and prosperity. So, in discussing the origin of Islam one should take into account conditions in the whole peninsula. For this reason alone, it is difficult to agree with Aswad that the emergence of the Islamic state in Arabia resulted from a struggle between the nomadic and the sedentary people in the Medina oasis. The emergence of a state capable of uniting Arabia was definitely not a response limited to a local situation in Mecca and Medina.
Even less convincing are the arguments of Ibrahim, who, apparently under the influence of vulgar Marxism, links the rise of Islam and the Islamic state with the emergence of a mercantile society in Mecca and views the Arab expansion as the means by which merchants consolidated their political ascendancy.