The Mongol invasion and the occupation of substantial part of the lads of Islam east of Mashriq produced a break in the region’s geopolitics. A number of books and studies have been published on the Mongol domination in Inner Asia and Iran, but the Mongol threat on the Levant has been dealt with only by R. Amitai (Professor at the Hebraic University of Jerusalem), a prominent specialist of this issue and the author of Mongols and Mamluks: The Mamluk – Ilkhanid War, 1260-1281 (Cambridge, 1995). In the present volume that author has gathered his article on the Mongols as seen by the Mamluks, according to three great themes: “Institutions and Historiography” (four articles); “The Conversion of the Mongols to Islam” (three articles); and “The War against Mamluks” (nine articles). We shall deal here only with the domains covered by the Central Eurasian Reader and omit the third part devoted to the confrontations between Ilkhans and Mamluks in Syria, despite the importance of all the author’s contributions, made easily accessible by the publication of this volume of reprints.
In “Turko-Mongolian Nomads and the Iqta‘ System in the Islamic Middle East (ca. 1000-1400),” R. Amitai reconstructs the history of this institution from the Saljuq period onwards. This system was a means of retribution of a regular army of mamluk soldiers (153). Conversely, the Mongols did not adopt it systematically, since their army was composed of elements of varied origins (Uighur, Khitan, Chinese, and Mongol). The iqta‘ is rarely mentioned before the reign of Ghazan Khan. Still, it would be useful to qualify the information brought in this field by Rashid al-Din, since he is our almost unique primary source on Ghazan Khan’s reforms. It is public knowledge that the great chronicler’s intention was to sketch an image of Ghazan Khan as the restorer of Islam in Iran. The Mongols showed reluctant to insert in their administrative system certain norms of their subjects’ cultures. The reduction of the resort to iqta‘ may have been the result of the aversion of the Mongol ruling élite to the political norms in force in their onquered territories. It must also be underlined that this practice was very different from those of the invaders.
In the two following articles (“New Materials from the Mamluk Sources for the Biography of Rashid al-Din” and “Al-Nuwayri as a Historian of the Mongols”), R. Amitai also demonstrates the utility and richness of Mamluk chronicles. He relies in particular on al-Nuwayri (d. 733/1333), an author well informed on the Mongols thanks to the contacts that he could establish with Mongol elements in the Persian Ilkhanate. R. Amitai insists on his personal vision of the Mongols, different from that of the Mamluk ruling élite (for instance Baybars al-Mansuri, d. 725/1325). Moreover, Mamluk sources bring a vision different from that of Persian sources, often less precise and more partial. Through this short insight into the historiography, one can observe that information was circulating in spite of a context of conflict. In “Ghazan, Islam, and Mongol Tradition: A View from the Mamluk Sultanate” and “Sufis and Shamans: Some Remarks on the Islamisation,” R. Amitai follows the genesis, the evolution and the peculiarities of the Mongols’ conversion to Islam in Iran. Ghazan Khan’s conversion was an event of primary significance for the Mongol ruling class. The author of these two studies introduces two aspects of the Ilkhan’s conversion. First, he stresses its political aspect, and the ruler’s will to obtain support of his Muslim subjects in his struggle for power against his rival Baidu. Ghazan Khan was also seeking after more independence from the Mongol Great Khan.
Then R. Amitai also underlines the “syncretic” aspect of this conversion, since Ghazan Khan continued to maintain several Mongol traditions and customs ― a fact largely reflected in Mamluk sources. Islam as it was practiced by the Ilkhan was largely contested by Muslim theologians like Ibn Taimiyya, for naming only him. R. Amitai shares with other scholars the opinion that Sufis played an active role in the conversion of Turkic populations in Inner Asia, than of the Mongols. (In the Arab poetry of the Mamluk period, Ghazan Khan is often represented as a faqir.) On the contrary, the author rejects the idea of a similarity between Sufis and shamans ― which is sometimes formulated as a factor of the Mongols’ Islamisation. In all, this volume of reprints opens a new vision on the Mongols, their political practices, their adoption or rejection of the institutions of their conquered countries, the issue of their conversion to Islam, Mongol culture seen from the Mamluk side, and the essential contribution of Mamluk sources.