A painting showing Tamerlane defeating the Sultan of Delhi in 1397–98The first Muslim conquests began in the lifetime of the Prophet Mohammed (570–632). His successors conquered vast territories in the Middle East and North Africa, and created an empire extending from Spain and Portugal in the west to the Indian subcontinent in the east. The caliphate founded by Mohammed's successors (caliph is from an Arabic word khalifah meaning "successor"), known as the Rashidun caliphate, was taken over by the Umayyad dynasty, and later by the Abbasid dynasty. After the caliphates gradually split apart and fell, other Muslim dynasties rose. Some of them grew into empires. After the collapse of Mongol rule over Islamic lands in central and western Asia in the 14th and 15th centuries, three new Islamic empires grew to prominence: the Ottoman Empire in Anatolia (modern-day Turkey), the Safavid Empire in Persia (modern-day Iran) and the Mughal Empire in India. At their height, these three empires covered much of the Islamic world, from North Africa, through the Middle East to the southern tip of India.
The Ghaznavid dynasty was founded by Turkish peoples living in Persia (present-day Iran). They were mamluks: slaves of the Samanids, a Persian dynasty who had, in the late 9th century, taken over from the Abbasids as rulers of a region that included much of present-day Iran, Afghanistan and Central Asia. The first Ghaznavid was the former slave, Sabuktigin, who rose to inherit the region of Ghazna in 977. Both Sabuktigin and, after 997, his son Mahmud conquered lands from the Samanid Empire. The Ghaznavid Empire, as it came to be called, expanded as far as the Amu Darya River in the north, the Indus River in the east and the city of Hamadan in the west.
A painting showing Sultan Mahmud of Ghazni and his courtMahmud's rule was a golden age: he brought great wealth to his capital city, Ghazni, from raiding expeditions to northern India. At its height, Ghazni (today a city in Afghanistan) was a centre of Arabic learning. Despite a well-trained army of Turkish and Afghan soldiers and fearsome war elephants, later Ghaznavid rulers proved unable to hold on to their lands. By 1040 the Seljuks had taken over their Persian territories and a century later another Muslim dynasty, the Ghurids, gained their lands in the east.
Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques or Protector of the Two Holy Cities, is a royal title that has been used by many Muslim rulers, including the Ottoman sultans, and in modern times, the kings of Saudi Arabia. The title refers to the ruler taking the responsibility for guarding the two holiest mosques in Islam: Al-Haram Mosque in Mecca and the Prophet's Mosque in Medina, both of which are in modern-day Saudi Arabia.
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