The Legacy of Genghis Khan
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The Mongols and Islam
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The Mongols were practitioners of shamanism, in which a shaman mediates between humans and the spirit world. As they transformed from nomadic warriors to leaders of a great empire they came into close contact with other religions and systems of beliefs among the diverse peoples whom they now ruled, including Buddhism, Confucianism, Christianity (mainly Eastern sects), and Islam. Initially the Ilkhanids, the Mongol rulers of Iran, seem to have continued in their ancestral shamanistic practices while maintaining an open attitude toward other religions.

In 1295, however, Islam became the official state religion under the Ilkhan Ghazan (reigned 1295–1304). While most people in Iran at this time were Sunni Muslims, the Shi‘ite branch of Islam (whose adherents recognize ‘Ali and his descendants as the rightful successors to the Prophet Muhammad) held sway in some regions. At least one Ilkhanid ruler—Ghazan’s brother and successor Öljeitü (reigned 1304–16)—converted to Shi‘ism. Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, also obtained significant popularity; Sufis, in fact, had first led the Ilkhanids toward Islam, and several Sufi orders acquired substantial influence and wealth in this period.

As in other Islamic lands, the construction of mosques and other religious buildings (including their decoration, furnishings, and accouterments), was the responsibility of the ruler and the prerogative of high court officials.

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2Mihrab Tile


Mihrab Tile
Tent Mosque detail
4   Calligraphy detail
5   Candlestick detail
6   Qur'an Stand detail
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