Review: Book revisits the Mongol Empire that changed Eurasia forever

Updated 17 February 2019
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Review: Book revisits the Mongol Empire that changed Eurasia forever

BEIRUT: They swarmed through deserts, steppes and mountains across Central Asia, killing, plundering, bringing fear and death to all who opposed them. Great cities fell: Aleppo, Baghdad, Damascus, Delhi, and Kabul. The Mongols changed the map of Eurasia forever.

Recently republished in paperback, Timothy May’s “The Mongol Empire” is part of a major series of books on the history of the Islamic world from the University of Edinburgh.

May provides a much-needed global perspective on Mongol rule, and its impact on Islam itself: Mongol converts represented a staggering increase in the number of Muslims in the world at the time, and their conquest only fueled the spread of the religion. Three further Islamic empires, meanwhile, would rise from the Mongol’s eventual disintegration. 

But unlike the Ottoman, Fatimid and Seljuk empires, the Mongols were not majority Muslim; indeed, one of the great strengths of the four great “Khanates” was the tolerance of religious freedom they extended to their subjects.

The greatest Khan, Temujin, was crowned Genghis Khan, Ruler of the Universe, in 1206. In his late thirties, he was a brilliant warrior and commanded a vast army famed and feared for its superb horsemanship and remarkable archery. Cunning and opportunistic, he allegedly proclaimed: “I am the punishment of God. If you had not committed great sins, God would not have sent a punishment like me upon you.”

When he died in 1227, Genghis Khan ruled an empire the size of a continent, from China to Europe. History shows that it is easier to build an empire than preserve it, and the fate of his successors proved even the Mongol Khans were no exception.

The Mongols left virtually no written record of their empire, but their legacy lasts to this day. During their rule, they not only facilitated trade, offering merchants protection, status, and tax-exemption, but actively encouraged the use of the East-West trade routes later known as the fabled Silk Road, linking China, India, Europe and the Middle East. 


Curious foreigners get rare chance to sample Emirati culture

Updated 19 May 2019
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Curious foreigners get rare chance to sample Emirati culture

DUBAI: No question was off limits for curious tourists and foreign residents of Dubai wanting to learn more about Emirati culture and the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Emiratis make up less than 10% of those living in Dubai, the most populated emirate in the seven-emirate United Arab Emirates federation, making it hard for foreigners to meet them.
Dubai goes to great lengths to market itself as open to different cultures and faiths as the Middle East’s financial, trade and leisure center, and a government cultural center is inviting visitors to find out more about Emirati life.
“There are no offending questions,” said Emirati Rashid Al-Tamimi from the Sheikh Mohammed Center for Cultural Understanding.
“How do you worship, what is the mosque, why do you wear white, why do women wear black ... is everybody rich in this country?“
Emirati volunteers gathered at a majlis — the traditional sitting room where the end-of-fast iftar meal is served at floor-level — were asked about dating and marriage, what they think of Dubai’s comparatively liberal dress codes for foreigners, and aspects of the Muslim faith.
“We learn from them, they learn from us. (Foreigners) have been here a long time and I feel they see themselves as Emiratis, and we are proud that they do so,” said Majida Al-Gharib a student volunteer.
Visitors broke the day’s fast with dates and water, before sampling Emirati cuisine, including biryani and machboos rice and meat dishes.
Seven-year-old Anthony from Poland, who goes to school in Dubai, said he came to find out more about the breaking of the fast meal because many of his friends at school do it.
2019 has been designated the Year of Tolerance in the United Arab Emirates and there is a minister of state for tolerance.