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Umayyad Caliphate - 656-750

Mu'awiyya I 661-680
Yazid I 680-683
Mu'awiyya II 683-684
Marwan I 684-685
Abd al-Malik 685-705
al-Walid I 705-715
Sulayman 715-717
Umar  II 717-720
Yazid II 720-724
Hisham 724-743
al-Walid II 743-744
Yazid III 744
Ibrahim 744
Marwan II 744-750
The conquest of Mecca had been of the greatest importance to the Prophet, not only because Islam thus obtained possession of this important city with its famous sanctuary, but above all because his late adversaries were at last compelled to acknowledge him as the Envoy of God. Among these there were many men of great ability and influence, and he was so eager to conciliate them or, as the Arabic expression has it, " to mellow their hearts " by concessions and gifts, that his loyal helpers (Ansar) at Medina became dissatisfied and could only with difficulty be brought to acquiesce in it. Mahomet was a practical man; he realized that the growing state needed skilful administrators, and that such were found in much greater number among the antagonists of yesterday than among the honest citizens of Medina.

The most important positions, such as the governorships of Mecca and Yemen, were entrusted to men of the Omayyad house, or that of the other Koreishitc families. Abu Bekr followed the Prophet's example. In the great revolt of the Arabic tribes after the death of Mahomet, and in the invasion of Irak and Syria by the Moslems, the principal generals belonged to them. Omar did not deviate from that line of conduct. It was he who appointed Yazld, the son of Abu Sofian, and after his death, his brother Moawiya as governor of Syria, and assigned the province of Egypt to Amr-ibn-el-Ass.

It is even surprising to find among the leading men so few of the house of Hashim, the nearest family of the Prophet. The puzzled Moslem doctors explain this fact on the ground that the Hashimites were regarded as too noble to hold ordinary administrative offices, and that they could not be spared at Medina, where their counsel was required in all important affairs. There is, however, a tradition in which Ali himself calls the Omayyads born rulers. As long as Omar lived opposition was silent. But Othman had not the strong personality of his predecessor, and, although he practically adhered to the policy of Omar, he was accused of favoring the members of his own family - the caliph belonged himself to the house of Omayya - at the expense of the Hashimites and the Ansar. The jealousy of the latter two was prompted by the fact that the governorship and military commands had become not only much more important, but also much more lucrative, while power and money again procured many adherents. The truly devout Moslems on the other hand were scandalized by the growing luxury which relaxed the austere morals of the first Moslems, and this also was imputed to Othman.

As the power of the house of Omayya developed itself, there arose against it an opposition, which led in the first place to the murder of Othman and the Caliphate of Ali, and furthermore, during the whole period of the Omayyad caliphs, repeatedly to dangerous outbreaks, culminating in the great catastrophe which placed the Abbasids on the throne. The elements of this opposition were of very various kinds: (i) The old-fashioned Moslems, sons of the Ansar and Afohajir, who had been Mahomet's first companions and supporters, and could not bear the thought that the sons of the old enemies of the Prophet in Mecca, whom they nicknamed tolaqil (freedmen), should be in control of the imamate, which carried with it the management of affairs both civil and religious. This party was in the foreground, chiefly in the first period. (2) The partisans of Ali, the Shi'a (Shi'ites), who in proportion as their influence with the Arabs declined, contrived to strengthen it by obtaining the support of the non-Arabic Moslems, aided thereto, especially in the latter period, by the Abbasids, who at the decisive moment succeeded in seizing the supreme power for themselves. (3) The Kharijites, who, in spite of the heavy losses they sustained at the hands of Ali, maintained their power by gaining new adherents from among those austere Moslems, who held both Omayyads and Alids as usurpers, and have often been called, not unjustly, the Puritans of Islam. (4) The non-Arabic Moslems, who on their conversion to Islam, had put themselves under the patronage of Arabic families, and were therefore called maula's (clients). These were not only the most numerous, but also, in virtue of the persistency of their hostility, the most dangerous.

The largest and strongest group of these were the Persians, who, before the conquest of Irak by the Moslems, were the ruling class of that country, so that Persian was the dominant language. With them all malcontents, in particular the Shi'ites, found support; by them the dynasty of the Omayyads and the supremacy of the Arabs was finally overthrown. To these elements of discord must be added:-(1) That the Arabs, notwithstanding the bond of Islam that united them, maintained their old tribal institutions, and therewith their old feuds and factions; (2) that the old antagonism between Ma'adites (original northern tribes) and Yemenites (original southern tribes), accentuated by the jealousy between the Meccans, who belonged to the former, and the Medinians, who belonged to the latter division, gave rise to perpetual conflicts; (3) that more than one dangerous pretender - some of them of the reigning family itself - contended with the caliph for the sovereignty, and must be crushed. It is only by the detailed enumeration of these opposing forces that an idea can be gained of the heavy task that lay before the Prince of the Believers, and of the amount of tact and ability which his position demanded.

The description of the reign of the Omayyads is extremely difficult. Never perhaps has the system of undermining authority by continual slandering been applied on such a scale as by the Alids and the Abbasids. The Omayyads were accused by their numerous missionaries of every imaginable vice; in their hands Islam was not safe; it would be a godly work to extirpate them from the earth. When the Abbasids had occupied the throne, they pursued this policy to its logical conclusion. But not content with having exterminated the hated rulers themselves, they carried their hostility to a further point. The official history of the Omayyads, as it has been handed down, is colored by Abbasid feeling to such an extent that readers can scarcely distinguish the true from the false.

An example of this occurs at the outset in the assertion that Moawiya deliberately refrained from marching to the help of Othman, and indeed that it was with secret joy that he heard of the fatal result of the plot. The facts seem to contradict this view. When, ten weeks before the murder, some hundreds of men came to Medina from Egypt and Irak, pretending that they were on their pilgrimage to Mecca, but wanted to bring before the caliph their complaints against his vicegerents, nobody could have the slightest suspicion that the life of the caliph was in danger; indeed it was only during the few days that Othman was besieged in his house that the danger became obvious. If the caliph then, as the chroniclers tell, sent a message to Moawiya for help, his messenger could not have accomplished half the journey to Damascus when the catastrophe took place. There is no real reason to doubt that the painful news fell on Moawiya unexpectedly, and that he, as mightiest representative of the Omayyad house, regarded as his own the duty of avenging the crime. He could not but view Ali in the light of an accomplice, because if, as he protested, he did not abet the murderers, yet he took them under his protection. An acknowledgment of Ali as caliph by Moawiya before he had cleared himself from suspicion was therefore quite impossible.

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Page last modified: 05-07-2011 02:59:35 ZULU