Islam and Medieval Eastern Europe
47th Meeting of the PIAC, Cambridge 2004
Islam made an effort first to convert Eastern Europe from the great world religions from the Mediterranean. The conversion brought by the military successes of the invading Muslim army through the Caucasus in 737 was temporary, as they forced the Khazar ruler to embrace Islam, but later he adopted Judaism. The new Muslim dynasty, the Abbasids promoted commerce instead of conquest and it created prosperous trade between the Caliphate and Eastern Europe. The Muslim merchants formed colonies in the towns of the Khazar empire in the Caucasus and on the lower Volga during the 9th century. The success of the new policy was continued by the Samanids of Transoxania, who connected the trade relations with the Islamization of the neighbouring Turkic speaking peoples. The conversion of the Oghuz and Qarlugs was so effective that new Muslim dynasties, i. e. Seljüks and Qarakhanids came into being transforming the history of the Muslim East. The Islamization reached also Eastern Europe. in 922 the ruler of the Volga Bulghars embraced Islam officially from Baghdad and the retinue of the Khazar ruler was recruited from the Muslims of Khorezm in the 10th century and after the collapse of the empire, the ruler restored his power only through Islamization after 965. The Samanids made effort to convert the Kievan Rus’ and the Pechenegs, but they were not successful. Parallel with the process of extending Christianity to East, which included the adoption of Christianity by the Hungarian, Polish, Bohemian kings and the ruler of the Kievan Rus’, the Samanids converted the Volga Bulghars and Khazars to Islam. There was a harsh competition between the two religions in the 10th century. The Volga-Kama and the lower Volga were the centres of Islamic civilisation in Eastern Europe in the 11–13th century. The Mongols conquering Eastern Europe formed the Golden Horde. As the capitals of the Golden Horde was on the lower Volga, the traditional territory of Islam, first Berke then Özbeg embraced Islam, which made Islam state religion among the nomads of Eastern Europe.