The Ummayad Caliphate

The Umayyad Caliphate was the second major Islamic government to be established after the death of our beloved Master the Holy Prophet Muhammad saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him". The Empire was ruled by the Banu Umayya or the Umayyad Dynasty from 661 to 750 CE. The dynasty established the Empire under the rule of Hazrat Mu’awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them", who was the governor of Ash-Shams, Syria, before the form of the empire which came to be known as ‘the Umayyad Caliphate.’

Banu Umayyah

The Banu Umaiyyah is a prominent tribe from the Quraish of Mecca and descendant of Umaiyya ibn Abdi Shams. The Banu Umaiyyah have been a long-time rival of the Banu Hashim, the tribe of the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him". Their rivalry started during the time of Hashim ibn abd Manaf. Abdu Manaf ibn Qusai, who was the most capable man among his brothers, managed to acquire the common rule of the Quraish. He had 4 sons: Abdu Shams, Muttalib, Hashim and Nawfal, who were all born with their father’s intelligence and abilities. This led them to seek the custodianship of the Ka’ba from their uncle. In the end, Hashim received the custodianship of the tasks of providing water (Siqayah) and provision for poor pilgrims (Rifadah) during the Hajj. Hashim fulfilled his tasks by providing water and provision in a generous way. The Quraish assigned the Abdu Manaf the task of conducting foreign relations with the Romans and the Prince of Ghassanid who then sent Hashim to conclude a treaty. This further granted eminence and success to Hashim which caused Umaiyyah bin Abdi Shams to show signs of jealousy towards him. Thus, he attempted to compete with Hashim in terms of generosity but ended up being the target of mockery among the Quraish. Umaiyya became furious and ended up challenging Hashim to a trial to see who is superior. At first, Hashim preferred to avoid the challenge but ended up accepting it after the Quraish made is it so that the loser shall lose fifty black-eyed camels and be exiled from Mecca for ten years. A Khuza’ite soothsayer oversaw the competition and declared Hashim to be the victor. Then Umaiyya lost fifty camels and remained in Syria during his period of exile.

Rise to Power

This is where the enmity between the tribe of the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" and the Banu Umaiyyah started. One prominent figure among the Banu Umayyah was the third Caliph of the Rashidun Caliphate – Hazrat Uthman ibn Affan raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them". During the Caliphate of Hazrat Ali raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them", a war broke out named the Battle of the Camel after which any dispute between him and the companions was resolved. However, the dispute between him and Hazrat Mu’awiyah raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" remained, which caused the Battle of Siffin.


During the Caliphate of Hazrat Ali raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them", there was a rebellious group known as the Khawarij who thought that a Caliph should not be obeyed and that they should instead be ruled according to the verdict of the Muslim majority. Their view was that only Allah can solely rule the Muslims.

Before the matter between Hazrat Ali raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" and Hazrat Mu’awiyah raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" was settled a group from among the Khawarij thought that it would be better if both of them were to be killed. The individual who attacked Hazrat Mu’awiyah (ra) only managed to lightly injure him. But, on the other hand, the individual sent to kill Hazrat Ali raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them"managed to severely injure him while he was about to stand up to lead the morning prayer.


After the death of Hazrat Ali raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them", Hazrat Amir Mu’awiyah raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" – the Governor of Syria – managed to seize power and form the Umayyad Empire. He shifted the capital from Mecca and Medina to Damascus.

Hazrat Mu’awiyah raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" emerged victorious after a series of events between 656 and 661 when the Arabs were disunited and hostile to each other. This period is known by the historians as ‘the Great Fitna’ or ‘the First Fitna,’ after which the Umayyad caliphate was formed. After this, three major sects of Islam merged: Sunnis, Shias and Kharijites.

Sufyanid Peropd

The first ruler of the Empire, as mentioned above, was Hazrat Mu’awiyah ibn abi Sufyan raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them". He was from the Sufyanid branch of the Umayyah tribe.


The popular opinion in Iraq was that Hazrat Ali’s raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" son, Hazrat Hassan raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them", should become the Caliph. Instead of forming an army and fighting Hazrat Hassan raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them", Hazrat Mu’awiyah raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" made a deal with him – that he should drop his claims of Caliph and spend his life in Mecca worshipping God and as a scholar.


Growing up in Mecca and seeing how his father ruled over the Quraish led Hazrat Mu’awiyah raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" to control the Empire as if it was an Arab tribe in pre-Islamic Arabia. The government he created was closer to a Monarchy than a Caliphate i.e. he gave up the modest lifestyle of the first four Caliphs for a more royal one like the leaders of the Roman Empire. During his rule, he further expanded the Muslim empire.


The lands under the rule of the Umayyad dynasty were mainly divided in four territorial divisions; Syria and Mesopotamia (Jazira) which were under the direct rule of the King; Egypt and North Africa; Kufa and its eastern territories; and Basra and its eastern territories. Each of these regions, except for the ones directly under the rule of the King, had a governor called the Amir. The political system was flexible where sometimes an Amir was appointed as the governor of two territorial divisions or just a subprovince. The Amir was responsible for things like collecting taxes, distributing the soldiers’ pay and leading prayers. They represented the King who was the political and religious leader of the Muslims. They had no military of their own, only the tribesmen over whom they had power and a small police force (Shurta).


This was so that they could not have the manpower to cause disruption in the Empire.


The heart of the Empire was Syria where the capital Damascus was located. It wasn’t the richest nor the most populous region but was really important because of Hazrat Mu’awiyahra’s rule before the establishment of the Empire.


Another important region was Iraq which was the richest province. Its fertile lands were the source of its riches. Apart from that, there is also the region of Khurasan and Egypt, which were really important.


Before his death, Hazrat Mu’awiyah raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" appointed his son Yazid as the next ruler and demanded that his allegiance be pledged. This was a new innovation that hadn’t been seen before the Umayyad dynasty. Yazid had never met the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" thus he was not blessed by his holy light. Furthermore rumours started spreading about his sinful life. In consequence, many started supporting the idea that Imam Husain raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" , the younger brother of Hazrat Hasan raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" who had passed away, should be appointed as the Caliph.


Hazrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" has said that scholars have not considered the Umayyad dynasty as a true Islamic Caliphate because of this aforementioned innovation. The narrations of history and Hadith do not support this idea. Hazrat Mu’awiyah raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" was led to introduce this innovation on the basis of erroneous advice. Furthermore, most prominent companions of the Holy Prophet raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" who were alive didn’t support this decision. Hence when Hazrat Mu’awiyah raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" passed away most companions did not accept Yazid as their leader in their hearts and Imam Husain raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" and Hazrat Abdullah bin Zubair raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" went as far as to contest to his leadership. At last, this led to the martyrdom of Imam Husain raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" and Hazrat Abdullah bin Zubair raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" during the life of Yazid. Thus, after the Caliphate of Hazrat Ali raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" a system of kingship was introduced and a true Islamic Caliphate only reappeared after the demise of the Promised Messiah (as).


After the death of Hazrat Imam Hussain raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them", opposition movements were formed during the rule of Yazid. This was bound to happen as he had caused the martyrdom of the grandson of the Holy Prophet (sa). In Mecca, Hazrat Abdullah ibn al Zubair raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them", son of a companion of the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him", denounced Yazid. To counter the revolt of ibn al Zubayr and that of Medina, Yazid sent a Syrian army to Hijaz. He defeated the people of Medina at the battle of Harra in 683 and made them take oaths of allegiance to him. It is said that he also plundered the town of the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" which is one of the major crimes charged against the Umayyad dynasty.


Then the army marched forth and reached Mecca which was besieged after Abdullah ibn al Zubair raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" refused to surrender. During the siege, the Ka’bah was badly damaged after it caught fire. Before the end of the siege, news came that Yazid passed away. It seemed that the Umayyad lost their power after the death of Yazid when a young man who had no interest in governing was chosen as his successor, who only ruled for a few months until he also died. Afterwards Abdullah ibn al Zubair raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" declared himself as the Caliph and gained control over Iraq, Egypt and some parts of Syria. But the Umayyad somehow gained back their power thanks to Marwan, cousin of Hazrat Amir Mu’awiya raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them", and his son Abdul Malik and expelled Abdullah from Mecca in 692. During the next few decades, there was a rapid military expansion and economic growth.

Marwanid Empire

After the rise of Marwan in 684, every King of the dynasty was directly a descendant of him. The period during which they ruled is called the Marwanid period.


While the Zubayrids were still in power, Abdul Malik started the construction of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. It is not clear as to why he built it. Some speculate that he built it so that Muslims can perform pilgrimage instead of Mecca and Medina which was under the rule of Abdullah ibn al Zubayr. But this was only a temporary measure because if not, it would directly go against one of the five pillars of Islam. Others think that it was only to assert dominance over the Christians living there. The place where it was built was significant to Muslims, Christians and Jews due to the fact that rock under the Dome was part of an Ancient Jewish Temple and was considered as the centre of the world.


Apart from that, Abdul Malik brought a reformation in administration and coinage. Al-Masjid An-Nabawi (sa) and the Mosque of Damascus were other monumental buildings developed by the Umayyads; both constructed by Al Walid, the successor of Abdul Malik.

Al Walid was succeeded by three caliphs during a short period; first Sulayman (715-717), then Umar II (717-720) and then Yazid II (720- 724). Yazid II was followed by Hisham (723-743) who was the last son of Abdul Malik. They were chosen as a successor during the lifetime of their predecessor.


During the beginning of the 8th century, the Empire expanded in the East and the West, in Northern India, central Asia, and Spain. The Byzantine capital was also attacked during the time of Sulayman but it was without success.


Musa ibn Nusayr, the governor of Maghreb, sent an army under Tariq ibn Ziyad to Spain in 711. Tariq established a camp in a mountain known as Jabal Tariq or in English, Gibraltar; from where he sent parties throughout the south of Spain. By the time an army came to the South to fight the Muslims, Tariq had gathered an army of around 10,000 soldiers from North Africa. At the Battle of Guadalete, Tariq’s army crushed the opposing army led by Roderic who was himself killed during the battle. Then his army advanced and by 715, Tariq and his superior, Musa, brought the vast majority of the peninsula under the Umayyad rule. Muslims further advanced until they reached the south of France in the 720s. But further expansion to the North of France was unsuccessful.


The Empire was not only gaining power in North Africa and Spain but simultaneously, it was expanding in the Indian subcontinent. When the King of Sindh, Raja Dahir, refused to release some Muslim captives, the Umayyads were incentivised to further expand the Empire. An army of 6,000 Syrian soldiers under the leadership of a young man named Muhammad ibn Qasim was sent by the governor of Iraq to the Indian subcontinent in 711, the same year that Tariq ibn Ziayd was sent to Spain. The Muslims, who gave the promise of religious freedom, faced little resistance as they marched forth. The Muslims and the locals finally met Dahir along the Indus River where they defeated the Sindhi army and killed Dahir. Dahir brought elephants to the battle but they were no match for the flaming arrows of the Muslims. During the next few months, ibn Qasim crushed the remaining opposition and established Muslim rule in Sindh. The Muslims granted the Buddhists and Hindus religious freedom as they did with the Jews and Christians elsewhere in the Empire. Many of the early Muslims in the Indian subcontinent were Buddhists and lower caste members who liked the fact that Islam treats everyone equally. With the expansions of the Empire in the 700s, it became the largest empire in the world during that time.

Downfall

The rapid and vast expansions of the Umayyad Empire resulted in a majority of the population being non-Muslim in a Muslim Empire. It is estimated that in the 700s, around 10 percent of the population was Muslim. The non-Muslims comprising people of the Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Buddhist and Zoroastrian faiths were allowed religious freedom and an exemption from military service in exchange for payment of the jizya. On the other hand, Muslims only paid a land-tax and zakat, the sum of which is lower than the jizya. The jizya was lower than the taxes during the pre-Islamic governments but it still led to people becoming Muslim to avoid paying the jizya. To counter this, the law was changed so that all new converts shall continue paying the jizya. At that time, most Arabs had already accepted Islam and only non-Arabs were becoming Muslim. In consequence, it seemed like the Arabs were exempt from paying the jizya whilst their non-Arab brothers still had to pay it. This goes against the teachings of equality in Islam.


Many attempts to overthrow the Umayyad dynasty have been made but they ultimately failed. In the end, when the Empire was facing too much opposition, it is the Abbasids who overthrew the Umayyads and established their rule which lasted for centuries.


The Abbasids are descendant of the paternal uncle of the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" named Hazrat Abbas ibn Abdul Muttalib raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them". His son, Hazrat Abdullah raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" is also a major figure in Islamic History. It is said that the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" prayed for Hazrat Ibn Abbas raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" that may God grant him understanding of religion and the ability to interpret the Holy Qur’an. As a result, Hazrat Ibn Abbas raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them" is frequently mentioned as an authority concerning the interpretation of the Holy Qur’an. The Abbasids are also part of the Banu Hashim, the clan to which the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" belonged.


During the life of Hazrat ibn Abbas raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them", the tribe seemed to have little interest in politics. It was only after he passed away in 687-8 that the family developed such ambitions. The Abbasids moved to Syria during the end of the 7th century and remained loyal to the Umayyads as it was an order by Hazrat Ibn Abbas raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them". Before they moved, it is said that they were very close to Muhammad ibn al-Hanifiyya, a son of Hazrat Ali raabbreviation for "May Allah be pleased with him/her/them". The Abbasids justify their claims by saying that his son, Abu Hashim, gave them the right to rule.

The right given to them by a descendant of Hazrat Ali (ra) and the fact that they were closer to the Holy Prophet saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" than the Umayyads legitimised their claims to rule. During the mid-700s, the Abbasids gained support from many groups in the Empire; the non-Arabs who were promised a more equal society, the pious men who were promised a government more accordant with the teachings of the Holy Prophet  saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him", and those who believed that the rulers should belong to the Holy Prophet’s saabbreviation for "Peace be upon him" family.


In the end, they caused many revolts that caused the collapse of the Empire. One by one, the different regions of the Empire accepted the rule of the Abbasids, while the remaining Umayyads were captured and executed. The last ruler, Marwan, tried to create an army in Egypt to re-establish the Empire but eventually failed. One member of the family, a teenage named Abdur Rahman, managed to escape and reached al Andalus, where the rule of the Umayyads was established for almost 300 years, far from the Abbasid Empire. Nevertheless, in the East, the Empire had met its end

Disclaimer

This article was originally published in the Annual Printed Edition of Majallatul Jamia

Picture of Tahauddin Khandaker

Tahauddin Khandaker

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