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Q4. Discuss the nature of division in Islam? What were the reasons for the decline of Ottoman Empire?

Soon after Mohammed’s death in 632 C.E., the Islamic world suffered a religious/political schism that still constitutes the major divide among Muslims. The main reason for this is that because of theocratic (Government ruled by religious authority) nature of Islam that combines religion and politics, where religious law rules state and society.

A split arose over succession of  Mohammed; between followers of Abu Bakr, one of Mohammed’s first converts, and Ali, the prophet’s son-in-law. Abu Bakr (632-634) was chosen over Ali, followed by Umar (634-44) and Uthman from Umayyad clan.  Ali could get a chance to become Khalifa only after Uthman’s death.  However, Muawiya led Uthman’s Umayyad relatives in revolt and killed Ali. Muawiya founded the Umayyad dynasty (661-750) in his place.

Many Muslims believed Mohammed had designated that only his descendants should rule as imam (he who walks in front or guides).  This became the basis of the Sunni-Shi’ite split.

In 680 C.E., a revolt by Ali’s son, Husayn, was put down when he and seventy other members of his family were massacred in Iraqi city, Karbala, making this the Shi’ites’ holiest city after Mecca and Medina.

Twelvers, the dominant branch of Shi’a Islam, believe that Ali, his two sons, Hasan and Husayn, and a succession of nine of Husayn’s descendants are the Twelve Imams. Many Shi’ites believe the twelfth and last of these imams, Muhammed ibn al-Hassan, is still alive and hidden by God until his chosen time, when he will return as the mahdi (rightfully guided one) with Jesus to restore just rule to the earth.

Shia is the shortened form for Shiatu Ali, meaning followers of Ali, while Sunni comes from Ahl as-Sunnah meaning “people of the example (of Muhammad) and the community”. Shi’ites believe the imams possess supernatural knowledge directly from God and thus are infallible.  Sunnis reject this claim. there are various splinter groups, such as the Ismailis and Zaydi (Fivers) who believe in a different line of succession for the imams.  Both Shi’ites and Sunnis revere the Quran as the revealed word of God. Today, Sunnis make up about two-thirds of the Muslim world, but Shi’ites predominate in Iran, Iraq, and Lebanon.

The major Shi’a ritual is Ashura, the commemoration of the death of Husayn. Other practices include pilgrimages to shrines of Ali and his relatives.

The Alawi of Syria and Lebanon are considered to be a branch of Ismaili Shi’ism, as is the Druze (Lebanon) religion, which originated in Fatimid Egypt. Druze, Ismailis and Alawi share beliefs in emanations of God, in supernatural hierarchies, and in the transmigration of souls. Dawoodi Boharas in India are also Ismaili Shi’ites.

Ibadism is neither Sunni nor Shia, (though they are also followers of Ali) and exists today mainly in Oman, East Africa, the Mzab valley in Algeria, the Nafus mountains of Libya, and Jerba island in Tunisia.

In the course of history, Islam diverged into numerous schools and sects with different approaches and philosophies ranging from fierce and puritanical schools such as the Wahhabi of Saudi Arabia to tolerant and spiritualistic Sufi practitioners.


The Ottoman Empire (1300 to 1922 A.D.) was the one of the largest and longest lasting Empires in history inspired by Islam. It replaced the Byzantine Empire as the major power in the Eastern Mediterranean. The Ottoman Empire reached its height under Suleiman the Magnificent (reigned 1520-66), when it expanded to cover the Balkans and Hungary, and reached the gates of Vienna. At its peak it included: Turkey, Egypt, Greece, Eastern Europe, Northern Africa, parts of Arabia.

Why was the Empire successful?

Ottoman Empire was Highly pragmatic, taking the best ideas from other cultures and making them their own

There were many reasons why the Ottoman Empire was so successful: Politically administration was based on centralized Islamic ideology in administration and organization structure, with smooth transfer of power, created alliances and mergers but ruthless in suppressing dissensions. Its army followed warrior code with ideal of increasing Muslim territory through Jihad.

They Encouraged loyalty from other faith groups, and their slave based army expertly used gunpowder as military tool.

What were the reasons for the decline of Ottoman Empire?

By the time Turkish Empire’s expansion declined due defeat at the Battle of Lepanto (1571) it covered territories spread over three continents.

Internally after Suleiman’s death, the later sultans were less capable and corruption became a major problem coupled with management of the massive size of Empire. Turks made few new conquests after 1565 and, as a result, gained no significant new revenues and plunder.

Externally, the Portuguese circumnavigation around Africa to India had opened a new spice route to Asia and Turks lost their monopoly on the spice trade.  Another factor which led to decline of economy of Turkish Empire was growth of Spanish Empire in the Americas that was bringing a huge influx of gold and silver to Europe, causing inflation during the 1500’s,which was hurting the empire’s revenues, led to serious economic decline.

Militarily Ottoman’s techonological advantage stagnated while European armies were constantly upgrading their artillery and firearms.  Guarding large frontiers was expensive which drained the empire of even more money. Turkish found themselves increasingly at a disadvantage when fighting against European armies.

By the 1800’s, social and economic delay would earn it the uncomplimentary title of “The Sick Man of Europe”.

Finally, the shock of World War I destroyed the Ottoman Empire completely, breaking it into Middle Eastern nations as Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel.

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