The Mongols practiced shamanism in their homeland, but they were also tolerant of other religions. In fact, many of them practiced Nestorian Christianity, Buddhism, and Taoism in the past. The great Genghis Khan’s conquest of Central Asia and Iran opened the door for their conversion to Islam. The Mongols later embraced Islam when they pushed further into Western Asia. Their conversion to Islam is recorded on the Biblical Timeline Poster with World History during 1235 AD.
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From Shamanism to Islam
The Mongols (just like other Turkic peoples) believed in and worshipped the Sky God Tengri. They believed that their Khan (supreme leader or king) was Tengri’s representative on earth. The Mongol khans were tolerant of people who practiced other religions, but they also demanded respect from those that they ruled.
Nestorian Christianity and Tibetan Buddhism had arrived in Mongolia many years before. The Franciscan missionary William of Rubruck himself visited the Mongolian capital in 1254. He saw churches and temples in the city. The Mongols would later convert to Islam after they conquered a large part of Central and Western Asia.
In 1258, a large army led by Hulagu Khan marched into Baghdad and demanded the submission of the Abbasid caliph al-Musta’sim. He refused to submit, and it resulted in the disastrous Siege of Baghdad in 1258. Many of Baghdad’s people were killed in the siege, and from then on, the Mongols ruled a large part of West Asia. When Hulagu died, the Ilkhans (subordinate khans) took over and ruled Persia. Meanwhile, two other Mongol khanates such as the Golden Horde and the White Horde ruled other areas.
Berke, Genghis Khan’s grandson, was said to be the first of the Mongol rulers who converted to Islam. Another Ilkhan Mongol ruler named Ghazan converted to Islam in 1295. All Ilkhan rulers of Persia from then on were Muslims. Ghazan conquered Aleppo four years later, but they were defeated by the Mamluks in Syria during 1303.
Relations between the Mongols and the Muslims improved when the Mongols of the Golden Horde converted to Islam with the help of the Mamluk ruler. Some of them also travelled to Egypt in the early years of the fourteenth century and converted to Islam. Later on, all three of the Mongol khanates embraced Islam except for the Yuan Dynasty of China who practiced Buddhism. The Mongols who stayed in their homeland remained as worshipers of Tengri, while others remained as Christians or Buddhists.
Picture By Rashid-al-Din Hamadani – Cropped from File:HulaguAndDokuzKathun.JPG, Public Domain, Link
Hodgson, Marshall G. S. The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977.
Roberts, J. M., and Odd Arne. Westad. The History of the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.
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