Trade in the Islamic Empire

The Islamic Empire’s great endeavors and developments in trade proved to be a major benefit to the Muslims, as well as to the rest of the world. International trade increased and maintained expansion of the empire. Materials for manufacturing purposes, luxuries, and food were in great demand and supply among the people. The flow of products taken in for sale at the lowest possible prices improved the revenue of merchants, bettered the speed of import, and advanced the influence of traders internationally. Major countries such as India and China exported pepper, spices, valued stones, fine cloth, and ceramics to the Muslims, in exchange for coral ivory, and textiles. The Vikings and the Russians also traded luxurious furs, slaves, and wax in exchange for Muslim-produced textiles and metal goods. Besides these valuables, the Arabs were famous for also exporting items such as war armaments, refined sugar, and paper with merchants of Iranian, Turkish, Jewish, and African descent.

These merchants used several ingenious ways of travelling through the hot, arid desert. Trade routes were fairly common and an efficient way to reach the destinations. Important trade routes were along the southern Mediterranean coast connecting Spain and Morocco with Egypt and Syria. One of the greatest of the trade routes followed in northeastern Iran from Baghdad to Nishapur and to Central Asia and China from there.

Sea trade was soon developed as well, following the death of Prophet Mohammad (SAW) in 632. Caravan routes revealed where the ports were utilized. One of the more popular roads connected the Red Sea and the Sea of Suez with the Nile system in the Mediterranean and formed a southern road that led from Adulis in Ethiopia to Aydhab and Quseir to Qus, north of Aswan. Although many major trading routes were through or by the coastal port cities, the cities in turn were frequently connected to widespread internal trade networks. To enhance trade by sea, Muslim merchants also managed to create colonies along the Indian coast and into China and even entered Korea and Japan.

In addition to the complex routes devised and used by merchants, a significant aspect was the means of transportation. Merchants carried mostly all goods on camels that moved in large caravans over extraordinarily lengthy distances. For short distances, the use of mules and donkeys were widely renowned. Arabs found an advantage in breeding, renting, and selling camels. Camelback transport seemed more inexpensive and resourceful than transportation by cart. Although camels were considered optimal for travel, they were the least of the concerns when merchants faced the desert.  Water was a prized factor of the Muslim market. Engineers, caliphs, and common water carriers advocated methods for guaranteeing sufficient water supply such as travelers being taught how to carry and conserve their water rations.

After the time of the earliest Umayyad caliphate, Arab and non-Arab Muslim merchants traded with non-Muslim Iranians, Indians, Africans, Asians, and Europeans. Many of these people converted to Islam, while others were noteworthy traders in the Islamic commercial network. For example, the conversion to Islam for the Turkish people during the 10thcentury ended up in the formation of new land trade routes to the Islamic Empire. The Bulghars of Volga started to practice Islam in 921 after their associations with Samanid Merchants and witnessing the demonstration of the religion. A group of Muslim merchants called the Karimis organized most of the trade on the Indian Ocean. They guaranteed the excellence of goods they carried and sold, made large profits, sponsored rulers, and had the benefit of security from them on land and sea. The nakhoda, or the ships these merchants used, were owned by them, but not run by them. Most sailors were not slaves, rather free men. These Karimis not only were beneficial in the cause of safe trade, but also stood as a symbol of the strict, yet sophisticated guarding and transporting system to assure the best service towards other merchants among them.

Near the Indian Ocean, traders exchanged a wide variety of products such as spices, gold, silver, copper, salt, iron, and timber. After the 13th century, even horses were imported by India from Syria and Arabia. Trade in finished goods such as colored cotton textiles, heavy silks, household accessories, and war equipment made of metal, and highly ornamented furniture from the Middle East was also prominent in India. Even special stones from South Arabia, coral from the Red Sea, pearls from the Persian Gulf, African ivory, and Chinese porcelain were significant due to their wide spectrum of varieties. As for comestibles, imported food included sugar, candy, and oils. A wide range of spices were also used for food flavoring, as dyes for coloring textiles, or even for medicinal purposes.

During a period called the “Green Revolution,” new crops were introduced to farmers after irrigation was required in the dry Middle East. Oranges, bananas, watermelons, and other fruits, in addition to rice, eggplant, and cotton were the first crops to be introduced as the irrigation system was revived. Some annual crops included wheat, chickpeas, beans, and emmer. Sugarcane replaced the famous honey as a sweetener for common foods. In the Islamic world, Cotton grew to be one of the most valuable fiber crops. This ancient irrigation system was so ingenious that they are still traced back from the time period itself. The use of underground canals, or qanats, captured ground water from within the Earth with a much more efficient way of carrying it over long distances.

The Empire flourished and was known for its trade in knowledge, and Muslims considered it among the most valuable of all possessions. To a large extent, the religious, scientific, and philosophical knowledge that the Islamic world spread was due in part to the books that merchants transported along the land routes of Dar al-Islam. Since every major marketplace contained booksellers, merchants and pilgrims sought after books containing philosophy, mathematics, and technological advances.

Further contributions by the Arabs include the Financial Coinage System. During the time period of Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik, coins of gold, silver, and copper were minted. The dinar became the major coinage after African gold was imported into Muslim lands from 661 to 750. The silver dirhams were later introduced at mints in Iraq and Iran. Bankers during in the Islamic Empire weighed payments using a balance and coin weights. They seldom counted coins, if deemed necessary, though the gold dinars and silver dirhams’ relationships were not determined, since the market itself changed the values – according to the daily supply and demand, the prices of both varied from day to day. Eventually, in the monetary system, gold was considered the most significant element. Gold played such an important role during the Empire, that surviving artifacts are countless. From weaponry, to luxury items, ceramics, pottery, and metal works, these were the most prominent pieces discovered during “The Golden Horde.” The trade routes of the Golden Horde are among the most important and famous trade routes ever discovered.

The trade system and economy of the Islamic system is considered a magnanimous step towards the modern economy we know today, and comprises of the base for so many achievements towards progress. Considering the aspect on an international level, the Islamic Empire never fails to impress when it comes to ingenious inventions and discoveries, constant triumphs over perils, and an infinite amount of perseverance.