By the early eighteenth century, the Ottoman Empire was in decline. The weak rulers of the empire left the way open for power struggles among officials, religious experts, and Janissary commanders. Provincial administrators and landholders conspired to drain revenue from the central treasury. The general economy suffered from competition with the West as imported goods ruined local industry. European rivals took advantage of Ottoman weakness. The Austrians pushed the Ottomans from Hungary and the northern Balkans. Russia expanded into the Caucasus and Crimea. The subject Christian peoples of the Balkans challenged their rulers: the Greeks won independence 1830, and Serbia won independence in 1867.
European military assaults and diseases destroyed existing civilizations. African and Asian civilizations were able to withstand the early European arrival, but the latter’s continuing development by the end of the eighteenth century made them dominant. The subordinate civilizations reacted differently. Some retreated into an idealized past; others absorbed ideas from their rulers. The various efforts at resistance did not all succeed. Some civilizations survived; others collapsed.
The leaders and thinkers of the Islamic world were divided about how to reverse decline and drive back Europeans. They argued over a spectrum ranging from a return to the past to the adoption of Western ways. By the nineteenth century, the Arabs under the weakened Ottoman Empire were exposed to the danger of European conquest. The loss of Islamic territory to the Europeans engendered a sense of crisis in the Middle East.
The Muslims had faced the threat of the West since the Middle Ages. Muslims shared many aspects of culture with Judeo-Christian and Greek tradition; their civilization had contributed to the rise of the West. The Muslims had many centers to defend; the fall of the Ottoman Empire did not mean the end of Islamic independence. They had time to learn during the long Western advance. Muslims could cling to the truths of Islam and survive as a people,