A Passing Nightmare

Muslim Lecturer on the Siege of Baghdad

About a month ago, I came across this video of a Muslim lecturer speaking on the Siege of Baghdad of 1258 at an event that seems to be called “Changing the World through Dawah” (link above). I encourage you to watch the video before reading my post.

Since then I have been thinking about and questioning the historical facts presented by the lecturer and his “between-the-lines” message. Unfortunately, I have not been able to find the original source, the full lecture, the lecturer’s background, nor the nature of the event (but I have a guess).  If you are so resourceful as to find them, I praise you, and please let me know.

The barbarism of Mongol soldiers depicted by the lecturer is no surprise to me. We, modern-day Mongolians, are taught about this barbarism from an early age. I suspect this is so, because the available historic texts were all written by Chinese scholars or Western merchants. So there is little room for bias to delude us from our historically barbaric nature. The Khan would send a messenger to a city offering the ruler to peacefully concede to Mongol rule or refuse and taste the wrath of Mongols. The Abbasid Caliph Al-Musta’sim refused to acquiesce to the demands Munkh Khan, ruler of the Mongol Empire at the time, and sent the messenger’s head back to the Mongols. Naturally, Munkh Khan ordered Khulegu Khan to subjugate the Abbasid Caliphate and its capital in Baghdad. One of Munkh Khan’s demand was of course for the Caliphate to pay an annual tribute to the Ilkhanate (resources were important then too). To siege a city because they refused to submit to your rule and pay an annual tribute is undoubtedly insane by current moral standards. Physical warfare and violence were more commonplace back then. So I do not dispute every Mongol soldier killed at least a dozen of the Caliphate soldiers and residents. (I did find it surprising 1) women and children were killed; in most other attacks, women and children who were shorter than an ox cart wheel were spared; and 2) a woman was part of the Mongol army. I will have to consult Google on these two points soon.) Perhaps we were particularly cruel in the Siege of Baghdad, because of the repeated resistance from the Abbasid Caliphate and their neighbours.

What I did find debatable is the lecturer’s intended message. When I first watched this lecture, it seemed evident he is saying the Mongol Empire targeted and was particularly cruel to the Abbasid Caliphate, because they were Muslims. I got this impression, because he highlights the word “Muslim” each time he says it. Reader, please let me know if this was not your first impression. I wanted to write this post to note the Mongols were equally barbaric in their attacks of China, Russia, Europe, and the Middle East. The Siege of Baghdad went to the violent extent that it did, because the Caliph refused to give in after several battles and continued to defy Khulegu Khan. Had another king, prince, or ruler put up such resistance in the face of the Ilkhanate, they too would have gotten a taste of our barbarism. One positive aspect of the Mongol Empire was that we welcomed all religions (so long as the people agreed to be subjected to Mongol rule). In fact, Khulegu Khan later converted to Islam and was buried in modern day Iran.

After a month of pondering, I wonder if the lecturer identifies as a Muslim so strongly as to not refer to the victims of our barbarism as the Abbasids or the Middle Easterners or any other non-religious identity. And not being religious, I do not understand identifying with a religion as strongly as this lecturer does. I’m not sure I ever want to.

Needless to say, it is saddening Mongols destroyed all Baghdadi libraries, including the House of Wisdom, and with them all scientific knowledge Muslims had gathered from across the world. It is disturbing this siege was a strong contributing factor in ending the Islamic Golden Age. It is disconcerting to see my ancestor listed alongside Nero and Hitler by Bertrand Russell.