One of the milestones in Turkish history was the acceptance of Islam by the Turks. Notwithstanding the fact that the first encounter between the Turks and the Arabs, who following the death of Prophet Muhammad in 632 were making their way to different parts of the world to spread their religion, resulted in warfare, the antagonism soon was replaced by friendly relations and from the tenth century onwards the Turks gradually began to accept Islam. The similarities between Islam and the previous religious belief of the Turks, called Tengrianism, first and foremost the fact that both were based on monotheistic principles, were factors accelerating this process of religious shift. Additionally, even before the acceptance there already prevailed a sense of Islam among the Turks, since small groups of Turks, having managed to infiltrate into Islamic states to occupy important posts within their armies, never cut their ties with their brethren.
As important as the acceptance of Islam that started to shape and re-organize the Weltanschauung of the nomadic Turks was the role played by them within the broader Islamic world and their contribution to Islamic civilization. Following the inclusion of the Turks into the Islamic world, the armies of nearly all the Islamic states became either composed of Turkish soldiers or were under the command of Turks. Islam emerged from its beginnings as a challenge to dominant power structures, adding a new dimension to prevailing religious confrontation. The Islamic armies acquired control over a vast area as a result of subsequent conquests, though all the Islamic states were under threats of various sorts, stemming from internal as well as external dynamics. Consequently, the Turks, who were known for their organizational skills and warfare capabilities, were welcomed by all the Muslim dynasties and they acquired a crucial role in protecting Islamic states. Soon this role was taken on by the newly founded Turkish states, such as was the case of the Anatolian Seljuks who defended the Islamic realm from Crusader attacks.
The Turks acceptance of and contributions to Islam, on the other hand, were by no means limited merely to the geography of Central Asia and the Near East. From the times of the first Turkish-Islamic state on the shores of the İdil (Volga River), namely the Bulgar Khanate, Desht-i Kipchak, stretching from Karakurum in the East to Hungary in the West, has been a place where various states were established by different Turkish and Mongol dynasties of the steppe. Uygur and Karluq Turks, in the course of the tenth and eleventh centuries, moved further to the south and west, thus completing the Islamization of Turkestan, where soon two other Turkish states were established, the Karakhanids and Ghaznavids. The first phase of another achievement of the Turks initiated by the Oguz resulted in the formation of the Great Seljuk Empire, which dominated over a vast area from China to the Mediterranean Sea. Seljuk rule over Turkestan, Iran, the Middle East and Anatolia has been regarded by many historians as the second triumph of Islamic civilization, since the political struggle between the Abbasid and Umayyad dynasties had already destroyed the unity of the Islamic realm and the stability of the region.
Another event of vital importance in Turkish history was the conquest of Anatolia. The most decisive step of this conquest was the Turkish victory in the Battle of Manzikert (1071) against the forces of the Byzantine Empire. Consequently, thousands of Turkish clans arrived in Anatolia in their tents (i.e. with their families), having a deep Ghaza spirit that would have broader implications for the Muslim as well as Christian world. As mentioned before, the rapid Turkification of Anatolia in the twelfth century and the loss of the Holy Lands caused a long-lasting struggle between the Anatolian Seljuks and the Crusaders that would have broad consequences for what we call today the Middle East.
After 1243, it was the Mongols who managed to destroy Anatolian Seljuk authority over Anatolia. The so-called Mongol storm, however, resulted in the formation of new Turkish states in different regions, the most important of which is the Ottoman state that replaced the Seljuks in Anatolia. Additionally, there emerged the Ulus of Batu, the Golden Horde, in Desht-i Kipchak; the house of Chagatai in Turkestan; and later, the house of Hülagü in Iran, all turning into important Turkish-Islamic empires, controlling vast regions and ruling over differing peoples. By the end of the fourteenth century, while in Anatolia the small Ottoman Beylik was developing into a mighty state, in Turkestan the state of Emir Timur was controlling the whole of Turkestan, Persia, Desht-i Kipchak and the Caucasus. Timurs reign has been called the Golden Age of Turkestan by historians since a huge accumulation of wealth, culture and science in these regions listed above was realized due to his steady rule.
The Turkish contribution to Islamic civilization, on the other hand, is another crucial issue to be focused on. While the Turks adopted many institutions of such Muslim states as the Abbasids and Samanids, they at the same time preserved certain features of their pre-Islamic political, social and economic organization, thus creating a new type of state system with unique features throughout the Islamic world known today in academic circles as the Turkish-Islamic synthesis. Töre, for instance, determining the conduct of daily life among the ancient Turks, soon merged with Islamic law (Sharia). Additionally, the division of political and religious realms was a purely Turkish contribution to Islamic political culture, since in the Turkish understanding of socio-political structures, the sultan derived his power from his political position instead of his religious preferences. Within this political and social atmosphere great Turkish thinkers and/or scientists such as Farâbî, Ibn Sînâ, Ahmet Yesevî, Bîrunî, Mahmud of Kashgar and Yusuf Has Hacib produced their masterpieces. In 1055, upon the suggestion of Tuğrul Bey, this secular approach was officially recognized by the Abbasid Caliph as well. However, it was the role of women in Turkish political culture that caused a revolutionary change in Muslim societies. Among ancient Turks the hatuns, wives of Turkish kaghans, were as competent as the kaghans in pursuing political affairs. They could attend official ceremonies, had the right to receive and send ambassadors and could join the meetings of kurultays, the political assemblies. All of these rights of ancient Turkish women had important implications for women of Muslim Turkish states.
In academic circles today the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries are labeled as the Golden Age of Turkish Civilization. While Turkish states in different parts of the world, the Ottomans in the Balkans and Anatolia, the Safavids in Iran and the Caucasus, Timurids and Baburids in Turkestan and India, the Crimean, Kazan, Astrakhan, the Kasim and Sibir khanates in Desht-i Kipchak were undergoing their most glorious days in culture and the arts, the Turks unique combination of pre-Islamic artistic features and Islamic notions provided peerless and brilliant examples in literature, architecture and the fine arts. The cultural interaction among the Turks has never been so vigorous and lively as it was in this period.