The Effects of the Islamic Expansion on Indian Ocean Trade
The period of 650-1000 CE is of great significance to developing Indian Ocean trade. In this essay I will present case studies of material and written evidence to provide a profound insight as to how the Islamic Expansion affected Indian Ocean trade.
Wink (1990, 7) states that, “up to the 11th century, the Muslims penetrated the countless kingdoms of al-Hind only as traders”. A century after the prophet’s death, the Islamic rule had expanded from Spain to India and the Far East. I believe an expansion of that size would most certainly have had an effect on trade and exchange of ideas. Moreover, Chaudhuri (1985, 36) is confident that the Arab conquests politically integrating Egypt, Syria, Iran, and North Africa established a zone of economic consumption, creating new market demands. Not only did the Islamic expansion form a commercial boost, but also provided safer trade routes, an outcome of the commercial law protection and judicial rights which were governed Islamic leaders.
In fact, by the 10th century, there is clear evidence of maritime expansion as a result of the spread of the Islamic lifestyle, Arab ships and merchants sailing to China, as I shall further explore below.
Material Evidence of Indian Ocean trade with the Islamic world:
In 1998, a shipwreck was discovered north of the Tanjung Pandan port on the Island of Belitung (figure 1), Indonesia, and was excavated by a German explorations company. This shipwreck presents a great deal of evidence to show the extensive trade between the Islamic world and the Far East. The location of the shipwreck alone is an indication of the maritime routes of trade between nations at the time.
Michael Flecker looks at the characteristics of the ship, identifying it as of Arab or Indian origins, “the hull planks were stitched together, with no sign of wooden dowels or iron fastenings” (2001, 336). Vosmer analyzes this technique, further justifying the mounting with a bolting joint between the beam and the planking and finally stitching the hull would construct a really robust structure (2001, 131). Figure 2 below shows what the stitching technique would have looked like.
View of the forefoot, showing the stitching holes plugged with putty.
Source: Vosmer 2011, 120.
Through-beams, which were discovered later, and the identification of wood samples supported the Flecker’s theory of the ship being of Arab or Indian. He does, however, comment on the difficulty of differentiating between Arab and Indian ships as a result of inter-influence across the Arabian Sea. He draws similarities between the structures of the ship to that of a batil qarib still in use off the Omani coast, which was intended for light travel (2001, 336 - 339). A successful technique, still being used in the construction of Omani boats might be an indicator that this ship is actually of Arabic origins.