1902 Encyclopedia > Mohammedanism (Islam) > Commerce and Manufactures in the Muslim World

(Part 14)


Commerce and Manufactures in the Muslim World

With an empire so vast as that of the Moslems, we may easily conceive how extensive their commerce and industry must have been. Commerce had at all times been held in honor by the Arabs. Long before the days of Mohammed, the Koraish annually sent caravans, laden with all the products of Yemen, into Syria. Maritime commerce also was already flourishing in Chaldaea in the 5th century of our era. The city of Hira was frequented by ships coming from the Red Sea, from India, and even from China. Obolla was the emporium for the merchandize of India. It was principally thither that teakwood was brought, which served for the construction of ships and houses. Thus the Arabs, when they conquered Chaldaea, found maritime commerce in full activity there, and took advantage of it. Under the ‘Abbasids, Basra supplanted Hira and Obolla, and became the principal port. The history of Sindibad (Sinbad the Sailor) shows how active foreign commerce was under the ‘Abbasids, and with what courage the Arab sailors confronted danger. Moslem colonies were established all along the coasts of Persia and India, and Moslem voyagers did not fear to venture as far as the China Seas. On the West, the commercial movement was not less active. Caravans laden with the products of Spain left Tangier, traversed the whole of Northern Africa, and reached Syria, Arabia, and Mesopotamia. Others passed through Asia Minor, Armenia, Persia, Khorasan, and Turkestan, as far as the frontiers of China, while the route of others again was along the eastern coast of Africa, whence they brought back ivory and black slaves. Thus the silks of China, and the spices, camphor, steel, and precious woods of India, were poured into the empire, while the Moslem exported their glass, their dates, their cotton stuffs, their refined sugar, and their wrought tools, to those countries. The manufacture of glass was an industry of old standing among them. The glass of Syria was celebrated, and we know that flint-glass and enamels were also made at Baghdad. Dates were cultivated principally in the neighborhood of Basra, and also in Persia and Khusiztan. Refined sugar also came from the coast of Persia. As regards steel, the manufacture of armor and weapons was the speciality of the people of ‘Irak, of Bahrain, of ‘Oman, and of Yemen. The Syrians had the credit of forging excellent sword-blades. In Syria too were made mirrors of polished steel. The weaving of various stuffs formed an important branch of industry. The striped stuffs of Yemen, and the tissues of Baghdad, Heart, Tawwaj, and Fasa, enjoyed a high repute. Damascus was renowed for the silk fabrics which have taken their name from that city. The silks of Yemen, of Egypt, and of Cufa, had also a high reputation. Tunis produced gauze, and muslim figures with gold. Egypt manufactured brocade, Armenia supplied satin. The carpet manufacture under the Caliphs had already reached the excellence which it has maintained to our own days. At that time the carpets most valued came from Farsistan and Tabaristan. Jewellery and trinkets found numerous outlets, as may be supposed. This traffic was principally carried on in the east by the Jews.

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