Muslim conquest of Transoxiana

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Muslim conquest of Transoxiana
Part of the Muslim conquests
Transoxiana 8th century.svg
Map of Transoxiana and Khurasan in the 8th century
Date Between 7th century and 8th century
Location Transoxiana, Turkestan, Central Asia

Muslim victory

Umayyad Caliphate
Abbasid Caliphate (after Umayyad period)

Türgesh Kaghanate
Göktürk Empire[1]
Tibetan Empire[2]

Sogdian rebels[3]
Transoxianian allies
Tang dynasty China (only fighting against the Tibetans)[1]
Commanders and leaders
Qutayba ibn Muslim[4]
Muslim ibn Sa'id  
Junayd ibn Abd al-Rahman al-Murri
Sawra ibn al-Hurr al-Abani
Sa'id ibn Amr al-Harashi
Asad ibn Abd Allah al-Qasri
Nasr ibn Sayyar
Suluk Khagan[5]
Ghurak  Surrendered
al-Harith ibn Surayj
Kapagan Khan[1]
Bilge Qaghan
Kul Tigin

The Muslim conquest of Transoxiana or the Arab conquest of Transoxiana[6] was the conquest of Transoxiana, a part of Central Asia that includes all or parts of modern-day Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, by the Muslim Arabs as part of the Muslim conquests of the 7th and 8th centuries.

Battles between Muslims and Turks

As a corollary to the Muslim conquest of Persia, the Muslims became neighbors of the city states of Transoxiana. Although Transoxiana was included in the loosely defined "Turkestan" region, only the ruling elite of Transoxiana was partially of Turkic origins whereas the local population was mostly a diverse mix of local Iranian populations.[7] As the Arabs reached Transoxiana following the conquest of the Sassanid Persian Empire, local Iranian-Turkic and Arab armies clashed over the control of Transoxiana's Silk Road cities. In particular, the Turgesh under the leadership of Suluk, and Khazars under Barjik clashed with their Arab neighbours in order to control this economically important region.

Umayyad–Turgesh Wars

Part of Transoxiana was conquered by Qutayba ibn Muslim between 706 and 715 and loosely held by the Umayyads from 715.

Suluk's aim was to reconquer all of Transoxiana from the Arab invaders, his war being paralleled, much more westwards, by the Khazar Empire. In 721 Turgesh forces, led by Kül Chor, defeated the Caliphal army commanded by Sa'id ibn Abdu'l-Aziz near Samarkand. Sa'id's successor, Al-Kharashi, massacred Turks and Sogdian refugees in Khujand, causing an influx of refugees towards the Turgesh. In 724 Caliph Hisham sent a new governor to Khorasan, Muslim ibn Sa'id, with orders to crush the "Turks" once and for all, but, confronted by Suluk, Muslim hardly managed to reach Samarkand with a handful of survivors after the so-called "Day of Thirst".

A string of subsequent appointees of Hisham were defeated by Suluk, who in 728 took Bukhara and later on still inflicted tactical defeats such as the Battle of the Defile upon the Arabs. The Turgesh state was at its apex, controlling Sogdiana and the Ferghana Valley. By 732, two large Arab expeditions to Samarkand managed, if with heavy losses, to reestablish Caliphal authority in the area; Suluk renounced his ambitions over Samarkand and abandoned Bukhara, withdrawing north.

In 734 an early Abbasid follower, al-Harith ibn Surayj, rose in revolt against Umayyad rule and took Balkh and Marv before defecting to the Turgesh three years later, defeated. In winter 737 Suluk, along with his allies al-Harith, Gurak (a Turco-Sogdian leader) and men from Usrushana, Tashkent and Khuttal launched a final offensive. He entered Jowzjan but was defeated by the Umayyad governor Asad at the Battle of Kharistan. Next year, Suluk was murdered by his general with Chinese support. Then in 739 the general himself was killed by the Chinese and the Chinese power returned to Transoxiana.

Battles between Göktürk Empire and Umayyad Caliphate

The Göktürks also had campaigns against the Arab Muslims.[1] By 705, the Göktürks had expanded as far south as Samarkand and threatened Arab control of Transoxiana.[1] Following Qutaiba's campaigns and Gurek's surrender, the Göktürk Empire sent forces down to the Transoxiana in order to help their Transoxian allies. According to Arab sources the forces were led by Kapagan, Bilge and Tegin.[8] The Göktürks clashed with the Umayyad Caliphate in a series of battles (712-713) in which the Arabs again emerged as victors.[1] The main factor of Göktürk failure was rebellions inside the empire and growing Chinese threat from the East.

Last battles

The last major victory of Arabs in Central Asia occurred at the Battle of Talas (751). The Tibetan Empire was allied to the Arabs during the battle against the Chinese Tang dynasty.[9][10][11][12][13] Because the Arabs did not proceed to Xinjiang at all, the battle was of no importance strategically, and it was An Lushan's rebellion which ended up forcing the Tang out of Central Asia.[14][15] Despite the conversion of some Karluk Turks after the Battle of Talas, the majority of Karluks did not convert to Islam until the mid-10th century, when they established the Kara-Khanid Khanate.[12][13][16][17][18][19]

Turks had to wait two and a half centuries before reconquering Transoxiana, when the Karakhanids reconquered the city of Bukhara in 999. Denis Sinor said that it was interference in the internal affairs of the Western Turkic Khaganate which ended Chinese supremacy in Central Asia, since the destruction of the Western Khaganate rid the Muslims of their greatest opponent, and it was not the Battle of Talas which ended the Chinese presence.[20]

Arab views of the Turks

Medieval Arabs recorded that contemporary Turks looked strange from their perspective and were extremely physically different, calling them "broad faced people with small eyes".[21][22]

Medieval Muslim writers noted that Tibetans and Turks resembled each other and often were not able to tell the difference between Turks and Tibetans.[23]


The process of islamization of local peoples was slow during the Umayyad Caliphate period, but it became more intensive during the following Abbasid period. The Umayyads treated non-Arab peoples as second class citizens and did not encourage conversions,[24] therefore only few Soghdian commoners converted to Islam during their rule.[25] However, during the Abbasid period non-Arabs gained an equal status and as a result, Islam began spreading across Central Asia.

However, the Arab conquest did not mark the end of Buddhism or Chinese influence in the region. The Buddhist Qara Khitai Khanate conquered a large part of Central Asia from the Muslim Kara-Khanid Khanate in the 12th century. The Qara Khitai also reintroduced the Chinese system of Imperial government, since China was still held in respect and esteem in the region among even the Muslim population,[26][27] and the Kara-Khitans used Chinese as their main official language.[28] The Kara-Khitan rulers were called "the Chinese" by the Muslims.[29]

The Muslim conquest led to the spread of the Persian language in Transoxiana, where it is known as the Tajik language and its speakers are known as Tajik people.

Writings about China

Muslim writers like Marwazī and Mahmud Kashghārī had more up to date information about China in their writings. China was called by the Turks after the Toba rulers of the Northern Wei, and was pronounced by them as Tamghāj, Tabghāj, Tafghāj or Tawjāch. India introduced the name "Maha Chin" (greater China) which caused the two different names for China in Persian as "chīn" and "māchīn" (چين ,ماچين), corresponding to Arabic ṣīn and māṣīn (صين ماصين). The two terms originally referred to, respectively, Southern and Northern China, but later the definition switched and the south was referred to as "Machin" and the north as "Chin". Tang China had controlled Kashgar since the Anxi protectorate's "Four Garrisons", and this led writers like Kashghārī to place Kashgar within the definition of China (Ṣīn). Yugur (yellow Uighurs or Western Yugur) and Khitai or Qitai were all classified as "China" by Marwazī while he wrote that Ṣīnwas was bordered by Maṣīn.[30] Another spelling was "Mahachin".[31]

Muslim writers like Marwazī wrote that Transoxania was a former part of China, retaining the legacy of Tang Chinese rule over this area. Muslim writers viewed the Khitai, the Gansu Uyghur Kingdom and Kashgar as all part of "China" culturally and geographically with the Muslim Central Asians retaining the legacy of Chinese rule in Central Asia by using titles such as "Khan of China" (تمغاج خان) (Tamghaj Khan or Tawgach) in Turkic and "the King of the East in China" (ملك المشرق (أو الشرق) والصين) (malik al-mashriq (or al-sharq) wa'l-ṣīn) in Arabic for the Muslim Kara-Khanid rulers and their Karluk ancestors.[32]

The title "Malik al-Mashriq wa'l-Ṣīn" was bestowed by the Abbasid Caliph upon the Tamghaj Khan, the Samarkand Khaqan Yūsuf b. Ḥasan. Thenceforth, the title Tamghaj Khan appeared in coins and writings, continuing to be used by the Eastern and Western Kara-Khanid rulers: the Kara-Khitan's usage of Chinese items such as coins, writing system, tablets, seals, art products like porcelein, mirrors, jade and other Chinese customs aimed to appeal to the local Central Asian Muslim population, who regarded Central Asia as former Chinese territories and viewed links with China as prestigious.

"Turkestan" and "Chīn" (China) were identified with each other by Fakhr al-Dīn Mubārak Shāh with China being identified as the country where the cities of Balāsāghūn and Kashghar were located.[33]

Although in modern Urdu "Chin" means China, this term referred to Central Asia in Muhammad Iqbal's time, which is why Iqbal wrote that "Chin is ours" (referring to the Muslims) in his song "Tarana-e-Milli".[34]

Aladdin, an Arabic Islamic story which is set in China, may have been referring to Central Asia.[35]

In the Persian epic Shahnameh Chin and Turkestan are regarded as the same entity, and the Khan of Turkestan is called the Khan of Chin.[36][37][38]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 Göktürk Empire
  2. Christopher I. Beckwith (1993). The Tibetan Empire in Central Asia: A History of the Struggle for Great Power Among Tibetans, Turks, Arabs, and Chinese During the Early Middle Ages. Princeton University Press. pp. 108–121. ISBN 0-691-02469-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Dani 459.
  4. René Grousset (January 1970). The Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia. Rutgers University Press. pp. 117–. ISBN 978-0-8135-1304-1.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
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  6. Barthold 11.
  7. Barthold 82.
  9. Bulliet & Crossley & Headrick & Hirsch & Johnson 2010, p. 286.
  10. Bulliet 2010, p. 286.
  11. Chaliand 2004, p. 31.
  12. 12.0 12.1 Wink 2002, p. 68.
  13. 13.0 13.1 Wink 1997, p. 68.
  14. ed. Starr 2004, p. 39.
  15. Millward 2007, p. 36.
  16. Lapidus 2012, p. 230.
  17. Esposito 1999, p. 351.
  18. Lifchez & Algar 1992, p. 28.
  19. Soucek 2000, p. 84.
  20. Sinor 1990, p. 344.
  21. "The Turks of the Eurasian Steppes in Medieval Arabic Writing", in : R. Amitai, M. Biran, eds., Mongols, Turks and Others: Eurasian Nomads and the Sedentary World. Leyde, Brill, 2005, pp. 222-223.
  22. Reuven Amitai; Michal Biran (2005). Mongols, Turks, and Others: Eurasian Nomads and the Sedentary World. Brill. p. 222. ISBN 978-90-04-14096-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  23. André Wink (2002). Al-Hind: The Slavic Kings and the Islamic conquest, 11th-13th centuries. BRILL. pp. 69–. ISBN 0-391-04174-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. The Spread of Islam
  25. Grousset
  26. Biran 2012, p. 90.
  27. Biran 2012, p. 90.
  28. Pozzi & Janhunen & Weiers 2006, p. 114.
  29. Biran 2005, p. 93.
  30. Michal Biran (15 September 2005). The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World. Cambridge University Press. pp. 98–. ISBN 978-0-521-84226-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  31. Cordier, Henri. "China". The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 3. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1908. 14 Sept. 2015 <>.
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  33. Michal Biran (15 September 2005). The Empire of the Qara Khitai in Eurasian History: Between China and the Islamic World. Cambridge University Press. pp. 102–. ISBN 978-0-521-84226-6.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  34. See also, Iqbal: Tarana-e-Milli, 1910. Columbia University, Department of South Asian Studies.
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  37. the heroines of ancient persia. CUP Archive. pp. 86–. ISBN 978-1-00-128789-8.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  38. Bapsy Pavry Paulet Marchioness of Winchester (1930). The Heroines of Ancient Persia: Stories Retold from the Shāhnāma of Firdausi. With Fourteen Illustrations. The University Press. p. 86.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>