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In the middle ages, Muslims established some powerful empires.

They conquered vast land and shown considerable advancement in arts, science and culture.

There were lots of Muslim philosophers and scholars born.

What is the single most important reason that was responsible for the decline of their Golden Age?

In other words, why did they fail to sustain their Golden Age?

Edit N.B. Please emphasize on "Muslim Golden Age".

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Your question is broad and ambiguous in terms of "powerful empire". There were multiple Islamic empires during the period you speak of. –  talonx Apr 26 '12 at 9:11
    
OK. I corrected. Also see the edit. –  BROY Apr 26 '12 at 9:17
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Which golden age? Rashidun? Abbasid? Mali/Songhai? Ottoman? Timurid? Ottoman Empire was extremely powerful and influential, and survived into the industrial era, but was weakened centuries before dissolution. –  Muz Aug 27 '13 at 8:13
    
@Muz ..... en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamic_Golden_Age –  BROY Aug 28 '13 at 5:58
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Ah, Abbasid then. The accepted answer is probably off then, and the other answer about the pressure of invasions and internal politics/fragmentation is more accurate. Accepted answer is still good if you treat the Rashidun/Muhammad era as the golden age, like some scholars do. –  Muz Aug 28 '13 at 17:44
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2 Answers

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The decline of the "Muslim Golden Age" was due to multiple factors that are commonly associated with the decline of most major empires. Much of what was to blame for the decline was a condition referred to as imperial overreach. This is a condition where an empire which has undergone rapid expansion is unable to maintain control over the various territories it quickly acquired. This is typically because the political state in question has been unable to complete the long and costly process of incorporating a new group of peoples with their own culture and political customs.

This is definitely true of the Islamic empire which rapidly expanded during the reign of the first caliphs to succeed Muhammad, the Rashidun or "rightly guided caliphs". The meteoric rise of the Islamic empires can be seen in just the rule of one caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab, who in a mere decade managed to conquer all of the Sassanid empire and two-thirds of the Byzantine empire. The very quick incorporation of sub-Saharan Africa, Arabia, Persia, and much of Spain left little time or ability for the caliphates to incorporate much of the very diverse territories they converted or conquered.

Another unique problem with the Islamic caliphates were their reliance on the figure of Muhammad. The farther removed from the prophet temporally, the less united the ummah was. This lead to a multiplication of sects such as the Shia Muslims, whose loyalty to the prophets offspring rather than the accepted caliphate (to whom the sunni, or traditionalists faction supported) only compounded the pressure on the caliphate by the strain of overreach. This overreach was also visible in its more traditional forms by the rise of the Mamluk slave armies to political prominence and the fracture of the Abassid caliphate into multiple dynasties of varying degrees of independence.

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Actually would say they weren't too reliant on Muhammad. Muhammad's conquests were split up into the Ridda Wars after his death, but the unification under Abu Bakr was proof that they could survive and thrive without Muhammad. The Abbasid Empire was also quite culturally stable, had incorporated its conquests into its customs, didn't suffer so much from overreach. I don't know what the term is, but Abbasid's collapse seems to be more because someone holding a lot of power for a long period of time will have many internal political entities trying to grab a share of that power. –  Muz Aug 27 '13 at 8:19
    
I kind of disagree with this analysis. Muhammad died in 632, and the "meteoric rise" happened during Umar's reign (634-644) but the Caliphate regained stability long after that, after incorporating all new territories. The Umayyad Caliphate lasted until 750, and the Islamic Golden Age (which the OP asked about) persisted until the Mongolian conquest in 1258. –  Fitri yesterday
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The biggest reason for the decline was the Mongol invasion. The Siege of Baghdad in 1258 effectively ended the 500 year old Caliphate. Many people were killed outright, estimated around 2 million, plus the entire area was laid to waste, notably destroying the irrigation and canal system, causing continuing hardship.

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How many other empires did the Mongols bring down? –  BROY Apr 26 '12 at 13:03
    
+1. Not sure its right, but its a good argument and the timing is roughly there. –  T.E.D. Apr 26 '12 at 13:39
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Also most of the Islamic golden age was driven by Persians - so although the Abbasid empire stretched to Spain - the cultural elite were very focused on Baghdad. –  none Apr 26 '12 at 15:23
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I don't think this answer is entirely correct. From my understanding the decline was already underway prior to the Mongol invasion. There was a great deal of internal strife between various actors, such as the Shia Muslims and the Mamluks. The way I see it the initial conquest and development of the Muslim empire was due to a powerful uniting force of Islam and a credible leadership in the "rightly guided caliphs". Over time the authority of the caliphs was weakened due to the distance from Muhammad and the development of regional power centers and movements to fill the vacuum. –  BrotherJack Apr 27 '12 at 18:49
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@BrotherJack - The question was for the single most important reason. I agree that there was internal strife in the Islamic empire. These would have brought a gradual decline. The lack of leadership may have allowed the Mongols to invade and destroy the region as completely as they did. –  jfrankcarr Apr 27 '12 at 21:27
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