Repeated invasions from the Mongols, first led by Genghis Khan, weakened the Abbasid caliphates. Where did the invaders come from?
Starting about 850, Abbasid control over the rest of the empire fragmented. In Egypt and elsewhere, independent dynasties ruled states that had been part of a unified empire. As the caliph's power faded in some regions, Shiite rulers came to power. Between 900 and 1400, a series of invasions added to the chaos.
In the 900s, Seljuk Turks migrated into the Middle East from Central Asia. They adopted Islam and built a large empire across the Fertile Crescent. By 1055, a Seljuk sultan, or ruler, controlled Baghdad, but he kept the Abbasid caliph as a figurehead. As the Seljuks pushed into Asia Minor, they threatened the Byzantine empire. The conflict prevented Christian pilgrims from traveling to Jerusalem, leading Pope Urban II to call for the First Crusade in 1095.
In 1216, Genghis Khan led the Mongols out of Central Asia across Southwest Asia. Mongol armies returned again and again.
In 1258, Hulagu, the grandson of Genghis, burned and looted Baghdad, killing the last Abbasid caliph. Later, the Mongols living in central and southwest Asia adopted Islam as they mingled with local inhabitants.
In the late 1300s, another Mongol leader, Timur the Lame, or Tamerlane, led his armies into the Middle East. Though he was a Muslim, Tamerlane's ambitions led him to conquer Muslim as well as non-Muslim lands. His armies overran Southwest Asia before invading Russia and India.
The Mongols' physical destruction of Baghdad brought an end to the city's glories. But even with the end of the Arab caliphate, Islam continued to expand from West Africa to South and Southeast Asia.
The end of the last Arab caliphate meant the loss of Islamic influence on government. Muslims at times faced persecution while Christians in the region had increased status. The conversion of Mongol rulers to Islam helped restore influence to Muslims. Mosques rose up throughout the empire.
By the late 1200s, the Arab empire had fragmented. Independent Muslim caliphates and states were scattered across North Africa and Spain, including the Mamluk state in Egypt and Syria, while a Mongol khan ruled much of the Muslim Middle East. After five centuries, Dar al-Islam—the world of Islam—was as politically divided as the Christian world.