Exclusive Sneak Peek at the Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought — Syria

The Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought is the first reference to Islamic political thought from the birth of Islam to today. Comprehensive, authoritative, and accessible, the Encyclopedia provides much-needed context for understanding contemporary politics in the Islamic world and beyond. In this exclusive excerpt, Gerhard Böwering, Professor of Religious Studies and Islamic Studies at Yale University, details the political and social development of Syria:


Syria (Shăm, ”the left- handed region,‘ when one faces the rising sun in the Arab heartlands) falls naturally into an eastern mountain range along the Mediterranean with its major cities of Damascus and Aleppo and into a western section with a plain of steppes and deserts. Prior to the Muslim conquest, Syria had been a wealthy Roman province (64— 300), with Antioch as its capital, and had continued to ‡ourish in its golden age during the Byzantine period (300— 634). Conquered by Muslim Arab forces in 635— 36, Syria be-came the center of the Arab Empire under the Umayyad dynasty, with Damascus as its seat of government (658— 750). During the flrst phase of the Abbasid Empire (750— 945), with Baghdad as the seat of the caliph, Syria lost its central position to Iraq, became the principal Muslim province bordering on the Byzantine Empire to its north, was drawn into tribal con‡icts between southern and northern Arabs, faced attempts by Muslim rulers of Egypt to extend their hegemony over its territory, and became the theater of com-peting Sunni- Shi’i in‡uence. During the second phase of Abbasid rule (945— 1258), Syria initially experienced a period of renaissance under local dynasties, foremost among them the Shi’i dynasty of the Hamdanids ruling from Aleppo, at the same time coming under the increasing in‡uence of the Isma’ili Fatimid dynasty, which sought to extend itself from its base in Cairo, the capital of its counter-caliphate. With the Sunni revival patronized by the Turkic Seljuq sultans after their takeover of Baghdad in 1055, Syria soon came under the control of Seljuq atabegs (tutors), among them the Turkic Zengids of Aleppo and the Kurdish Ayyubids of Damascus. The Ayyubid Saladin brought Fatimid rule to an end in 1171 and de-feated the Crusaders at Hattin in 1187, thereby restoring Jerusalem to Muslim control and flrmly establishing Sunni rule over Syria.
At the time of the Mongol invasions of the Iranian lands that brought the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad to its end in 1258, the Mamluks succeeded to the rich heritage of the Ayyubids in both Egypt and Syria after having definitively arrested the Mongol advance westward in 1260 at the Battle of ’Ayn Jalut. For its part, Syria flourished under Mamluk rule as a land of prosperity and a center of learning but was dealt a harsh blow by Tamerlane’s invasion in 1401, which devastated Aleppo and Damascus. Thereafter Syria’s culture declined, and the country was conquered in 1516 by the Ottoman Turks, who had established themselves in Anatolia and the Balkans and had conquered Constantinople in 1453, renaming it Istanbul and taking it as the capital of their expanding empire. Under the Ottomans, Syria continued for three centuries as a province ruled by Turkish pashas, administrators appointed by the Ottoman sultans, while much of local urban politics was dominated by the powerful influence of prominent Arab families, such as the ’Azms.

View the rest of the Princeton Encyclopedia of Islamic Political Thought excerpt here: Syria