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Umayyad ?

Umayyad Definition

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Umayyad Caliphate
الخلافة الأموية Al-Ḫilāfat al-ʾUmawiyya (Arabic)
←   ←   ← 661–750 →   →


The Umayyad Caliphate at its greatest extent.
Capital Damascus (661–744) Harran (744–750)
Capital-in-exile Córdoba (756–1031)
Languages Arabic (official) – Coptic, Greek, Persian (official in certain regions until the reign of Abd al-Malik) – Aramaic, Armenian, Berber language, African Romance, Georgian, Turkic, Kurdish
Religion Islam
Government Caliphate
 -  661–680 Muawiya I
 -  744–750 Marwan II
 -  Muawiya becomes Caliph 661
 -  Defeat and death of Marwan II by the Abbasids 750
 -  750 CE (132 AH) 13,400,000 km² (5,173,769 sq mi)
 -  750 CE (132 AH) est. 34,000,000 
Currency Gold dinar and dirham
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Caliphate خِلافة
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The Umayyad Caliphate (Arabic: الخلافة الأموية‎, trans. Al-Ḫilāfat al-ʾumawiyya) was the second of the four major Islamic caliphates established after the death of Muhammad. This caliphate was centered on the Umayyad dynasty (Arabic: الأمويون‎, al-ʾUmawiyyūn, or بنو أمية, Banū ʾUmayya, "Sons of Umayya"), hailing from Mecca. The Umayyad family had first come to power under the third caliph, Uthman ibn Affan (r. 644–656), but the Umayyad regime was founded by Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan, long-time governor of Syria, after the end of the First Muslim Civil War in 661 CE/41 AH. Syria remained the Umayyads'' main power base thereafter, and Damascus was their capital. The Umayyads continued the Muslim conquests, incorporating the Caucasus, Transoxiana, Sindh, the Maghreb and the Iberian Peninsula (Al-Andalus) into the Muslim world. At its greatest extent, the Umayyad Caliphate covered 5.17 million square miles (13,400,000 km2), making it the largest empire the world had yet seen, and the fifth largest ever to exist.

At the time, the Umayyad taxation and administrative practice were perceived as unjust by some Muslims. The non-Muslim population had autonomy; their judicial matters were dealt with in accordance with their own laws and by their own religious heads or their appointees, although they did pay a poll tax for policing to the central state. Muhammad had stated explicitly during his lifetime that each religious minority should be allowed to practice its own religion and govern itself, and the policy had on the whole continued. The welfare state for both the Muslim and the non-Muslim poor started by Omar had also continued. Muawiya''s wife Maysum (Yazid''s mother) was also a Christian. The relations between the Muslims and the Christians in the state were good. The Umayyads were involved in frequent battles with the Christian Byzantines without being concerned with protecting themselves in Syria, which had remained largely Christian like many other parts of the empire. Prominent positions were held by Christians, some of whom belonged to families that had served in Byzantine governments. The employment of Christians was part of a broader policy of religious tolerance that was necessitated by the presence of large Christian populations in the conquered provinces, as in Syria. This policy also boosted Muawiya''s popularity and solidified Syria as his power base.

The rivalries between the Arab tribes had caused unrest in the provinces outside Syria, most notably in the Second Muslim Civil War of 680–692 CE and the Berber Revolt of 740–743 CE. During the Second Civil War, leadership of the Umayyad clan shifted from the Sufyanid branch of the family to the Marwanid branch. As the constant campaigning exhausted the resources and manpower of the state, the Umayyads, weakened by the Third Muslim Civil War of 744–747 CE, were finally toppled by the Abbasid Revolution in 750 CE/132 AH. A branch of the family fled across North Africa to Al-Andalus, where they established the Caliphate of Córdoba, which lasted until 1031 before falling due to the Fitna of al-Ándalus.

  • 1 Origins
  • 2 History
    • 2.1 Sufyanids
    • 2.2 First Marwanids
    • 2.3 Hisham and the limits of military expansion
    • 2.4 Third Fitna
    • 2.5 Abbasid Revolution
  • 3 Umayyad Administration
    • 3.1 Provinces
    • 3.2 Government workers
    • 3.3 Currency
    • 3.4 Central diwans
      • 3.4.1 Diwan al-Kharaj
      • 3.4.2 Diwan al-Rasa''il
      • 3.4.3 Diwan al-Khatam
      • 3.4.4 Diwan al-Barid
      • 3.4.5 Diwan al-Qudat
      • 3.4.6 Diwan al-Jund
  • 4 Social Organization
    • 4.1 Non-Muslims
  • 5 Legacy
    • 5.1 Historical significance
    • 5.2 Theological opinions concerning the Umayyads
      • 5.2.1 Sunni opinions
      • 5.2.2 Shi''a opinions
      • 5.2.3 Bahá''í standpoint
  • 6 List of Umayyad Caliphs
  • 7 See also
  • 8 References
  • 9 Further reading
  • 10 External links

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According to tradition, the Umayyad family (also known as the Banu Abd-Shams) and Muhammad both descended from a common ancestor, Abd Manaf ibn Qusai, and they originally came from the city of Mecca. Muhammad descended from Abd Manāf via his son Hashim, while the Umayyads descended from Abd Manaf via a different son, Abd-Shams, whose son was Umayya. The two families are therefore considered to be different clans (those of Hashim and of Umayya, respectively) of the same tribe (that of the Quraish). However Muslim Shia historians point out that Umayya was an adopted son of Abd Shams so he was not a blood relative of Abd Manaf ibn Qusai. Umayya was later discarded from the noble family.

While the Umayyads and the Hashimites may have had bitterness between the two clans before Muhammad, the rivalry turned into a severe case of tribal animosity after the Battle of Badr. The battle saw three top leaders of the Umayyad clan (Utba ibn Rabi''ah, Walid ibn Utbah and Shaybah) killed by Hashimites (Ali, Hamza ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib and Ubaydah ibn al-Harith) in a three-on-three melee. This fueled the opposition of Abu Sufyan ibn Harb, the grandson of Umayya, to Muhammad and to Islam. Abu Sufyan sought to exterminate the adherents of the new religion by waging another battle with Muslims based in Medina only a year after the Battle of Badr. He did this to avenge the defeat at Badr. The Battle of Uhud is generally believed by scholars to be the first defeat for the Muslims, as they had incurred greater losses than the Meccans. After the battle, Abu Sufyan''s wife Hind, who was also the daughter of Utba ibn Rabi''ah, is reported to have cut open the corpse of Hamza, taking out his liver which she then attempted to eat. Within five years after his defeat in the Battle of Uhud, however, Muhammad took control of Mecca and announced a general amnesty for all. Abu Sufyan and his wife Hind embraced Islam on the eve of the conquest of Mecca, as did their son (the future caliph Muawiyah I).

Expansion of the caliphate under the Umayyads:   Expansion under Muhammad, 622–632   Expansion during the Rashidun Caliphate, 632–661   Expansion during the Umayyad Caliphate, 661–750

Most historians consider Caliph Muawiyah (661–80) to have been the second ruler of the Umayyad dynasty, even though he was the first to assert the Umayyads'' right to rule on a dynastic principle. It was really the caliphate of Uthman Ibn Affan (644–656), a member of Umayyad clan himself, that witnessed the revival and then the ascendancy of the Umayyad clan to the corridors of power. Uthman placed some of the trusted members of his clan at prominent and strong positions throughout the state. Most notable was the appointment of Marwan ibn al-Hakam, Uthman''s first cousin, as his top advisor, which created a stir among the Hashimite companions of Muhammad, as Marwan along with his father Al-Hakam ibn Abi al-''As had been permanently exiled from Medina by Muhammad during his lifetime. Uthman also appointed as governor of Kufa his half-brother, Walid ibn Uqba, who was accused by Hashmites of leading prayer while under the influence of alcohol. Uthman also consolidated Muawiyah''s governorship of Syria by granting him control over a larger area and appointed his foster brother Abdullah ibn Saad as the Governor of Egypt. However, since Uthman never named an heir, he cannot be considered the founder of a dynasty.

In 639, Muawiyah I was appointed as the governor of Syria after the previous governor Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah died in a plague along with 25,000 other people. To stop the Byzantine harassment from the sea during the Arab-Byzantine Wars, in 649 Muawiyah I set up a navy manned by Monophysite Christian, Copt and Jacobite Syrian Christian sailors and Muslim troops. This resulted in the defeat of the Byzantine navy at the Battle of the Masts in 655, opening up the Mediterranean.

Muawiyah I was a very successful governor and built up a very loyal and disciplined army from the old Roman Syrian army. He also befriended Amr ibn al-As who had conquered Egypt but was removed by Uthman ibn al-Affan.

The Quran and Muhammad talked about racial equality and justice as in the The Farewell Sermon. Tribal and nationalistic differences were discouraged. But after Muhammad''s passing, the old tribal differences between the Arabs started to resurface. Following the Roman–Persian Wars and the Byzantine–Sassanid Wars, deep rooted differences between Iraq, formally under the Persian Sassanid Empire, and Syria, formally under the Byzantine Empire, also existed. Each wanted the capital of the newly established Islamic State to be in their area. Previously, the second caliph Umar was very firm on the governors and his spies kept an eye on them. If he felt that a governor or a commander was becoming attracted to wealth, he had him removed from his position.

Early Muslim armies stayed in encampments away from cities because Umar feared that they might get attracted to wealth and luxury. In the process, they might turn away from the worship of God and start accumulating wealth and establishing dynasties. When Uthman ibn al-Affan became very old, Marwan I, a relative of Muawiyah I, slipped into the vacuum, became his secretary, slowly assumed more control and relaxed some of these restrictions. Marwan I had previously been excluded from positions of responsibility. In 656, Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr, the son of Abu Bakr, the adopted son of Ali ibn Abi Talib, and the great grandfather of Ja''far al-Sadiq, showed some Egyptians the house of Uthman ibn al-Affan. Later the Egyptians ended up killing Uthman ibn al-Affan.

After the assassination of Uthman in 656, Ali, a member of the Quraysh tribe and the cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad, was elected as the caliph. He soon met with resistance from several factions, owing to his relative political inexperience. Ali moved his capital from Medina to Kufa. The resulting conflict, which lasted from 656 until 661, is known as the First Fitna ("civil war"). Muawiyah I, the governor of Syria, a relative of Uthman ibn al-Affan and Marwan I, wanted the culprits arrested. Marwan I manipulated everyone and created conflict. Aisha, the wife of Muhammad, and Talhah and Al-Zubayr, two of the companions of Muhammad, went to Basra to tell Ali to arrest the culprits who murdered Uthman. Marwan I and other people who wanted conflict manipulated everyone to fight. The two sides clashed at the Battle of the Camel in 656, where Ali won a decisive victory.

Following this battle, Ali fought a battle against Muawiyah, known as the Battle of Siffin. The battle was stopped before either side had achieved victory, and the two parties agreed to arbitrate their dispute. After the battle Amr ibn al-As was appointed by Muawiyah as an arbitrator, and Ali appointed Abu Musa Ashaari. Seven months later, in February 658, the two arbitrators met at Adhruh, about 10 miles north west of Maan in Jordon. Amr ibn al-As convinced Abu Musa Ashaari that both Ali and Muawiyah should step down and a new Caliph be elected. Ali and his supporters were stunned by the decision which had lowered the Caliph to the status of the rebellious Muawiyah I. Ali was therefore outwitted by Muawiyah and Amr. Ali refused to accept the verdict and found himself technically in breach of his pledge to abide by the arbitration. This put Ali in a weak position even amongst his own supporters. The most vociferous opponents in Ali''s camp were the very same people who had forced Ali into the ceasefire. They broke away from Ali''s force, rallying under the slogan, "arbitration belongs to God alone." This group came to be known as the Kharijites ("those who leave"). In 659 Ali''s forces and the Kharijites met in the Battle of Nahrawan. Although Ali won the battle, the constant conflict had begun to affect his standing, and in the following years some Syrians seem to have acclaimed Muawiyah as a rival caliph.

Umayyad Caliphate in 750

Ali was assassinated in 661 by a Kharijite partisan. Six months later in the same year, in the interest of peace, Hasan ibn Ali, highly regarded for his wisdom and as a peacemaker, and the Second Imam for the Shias, and the grandson of Muhammad, made a peace treaty with Muawiyah I. In the Hasan-Muawiya treaty, Hasan ibn Ali handed over power to Muawiya on the condition that he be just to the people and keep them safe and secure, and after his death he not establish a dynasty. This brought to an end the era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs for the Sunnis, and Hasan ibn Ali was also the last Imam for the Shias to be a Caliph. Following this, Mu''awiyah broke the conditions of the agreement and began the Umayyad dynasty, with its capital in Damascus.

After Mu''awiyah''s death in 680, conflict over succession broke out again in a civil war known as the "Second Fitna". After making every one else fight, the Umayyad dynasty later fell into the hands of Marwan I, who was also an Umayyad.

Syria would remain the base of Umayyad power until the end of the dynasty in 750. However, this Dynasty became reborn in Cordoba (Al Andalus, today''s Portugal and Spain) in the form of an Emirate and then a Caliphate, lasting until 1031 AD. Muslim rule continued in Iberia for another 500 years in several forms: Taifas, Berber kingdoms, and under the Kingdom of Granada until the 16th century.

In the year 712, Muhammad bin Qasim, an Umayyad general, sailed from the Persian Gulf into Sindh in Pakistan and conquered both the Sindh and the Punjab regions along the Indus river. The conquest of Sindh and Punjab, in modern day Pakistan, although costly, were major gains for the Umayyad Caliphate. However, further gains were halted by Hindu kingdoms in India in the battle of Rajasthan. The Arabs tried to invade India but they were defeated by the north Indian king Nagabhata of the Pratihara Dynasty and by the south Indian Emperor Vikramaditya II of the Chalukya dynasty in the early 8th century. After this the Arab chroniclers admit that the Caliph Mahdi “gave up the project of conquering any part of India.”

During the later period of its existence and particularly from 1031 CE under the Ta''ifa system of Islamic Emirates (Princedoms) in the southern half of Iberia, the Emirate/Sultanate of Granada maintained its independence largely due to the payment of Tributes to the northern Christian Kingdoms, which from 1031 began to gradually expand south at its expense.

Muslim rule in Iberia came to an end on January 2, 1492 with the conquest of the Nasrid kingdom of Granada. The last Muslim ruler of Granada, Muhammad XII, better known as Boabdil, surrendered his kingdom to Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, the Catholic Monarchs, los Reyes Católicos.

History Sufyanids
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Muawiyah''s personal dynasty, the "Sufyanids" (descendants of Abu Sufyan), reigned from 661 to 684, until his grandson Muawiya II. The reign of Muawiyah I was marked by internal security and external expansion. On the internal front, only one major rebellion is recorded, that of Hujr ibn Adi in Kufa. Hujr ibn Adi supported the claims of the descendants of Ali to the caliphate, but his movement was easily suppressed by the governor of Iraq, Ziyad ibn Abi Sufyan.

Muawiyah also encouraged peaceful coexistence with the Christian communities of Syria, granting his reign with "peace and prosperity for Christians and Arabs alike", and one of his closest advisers was Sarjun, the father of John of Damascus. At the same time, he waged unceasing war against the Byzantine Roman Empire. During his reign, Rhodes and Crete were occupied, and several assaults were launched against Constantinople. After their failure, and faced with a large-scale Christian uprising in the form of the Mardaites, Muawiyah concluded a peace with Byzantium. Muawiyah also oversaw military expansion in North Africa (the foundation of Kairouan) and in Central Asia (the conquest of Kabul, Bukhara, and Samarkand).

Following Muawiyah''s death in 680, he was succeeded by his son, Yazid I. The hereditary accession of Yazid was opposed by a number of prominent Muslims, most notably Abd-Allah ibn al-Zubayr, son of one of the companions of Muhammad, and Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of Muhammad and younger son of Ali. The resulting conflict is known as the Second Fitna.

In 680 Ibn al-Zubayr fled Medina for Mecca. Hearing about Husayn''s opposition to Yazid I, the people of Kufa sent to Husayn asking him to take over with their support. Al-Husayn sent his cousin Muslim bin Agail to verify if they would rally behind him. When the news reached Yazid I, he sent Ubayd-Allah bin Ziyad, ruler of Basrah, with the instruction to prevent the people of Kufa rallying behind Al-Husayn. Ubayd-Allah bin Ziyad managed to disperse the crowd that gathered around Muslim bin Agail and captured him. Realizing Ubayd-Allah bin Ziyad had been instructed to prevent Husayn from establishing support in Kufa, Muslim bin Agail requested a message to be sent to Husayn to prevent his immigration to Kufa. The request was denied and Ubayd-Allah bin Ziyad killed Muslim bin Agail. While Ibn al-Zubayr would stay in Mecca until his death, Husayn decided to travel on to Kufa with his family, unaware of the lack of support there. Husayn and his family were intercepted by Yazid I''s forces led by Amru bin Saad, Shamar bin Thi Al-Joshan, and Hussain bin Tamim, who fought Al-Husayn and his male family members until they were killed. There were 200 people in Husayn''s caravan, many of whom were women, including his sisters, wives, daughters and their children. The women and children from Husayn''s camp were taken as prisoners of war and led back to Damascus to be presented to Yazid I. They remained imprisoned until public opinion turned against him as word of Husayn''s death and his family''s capture spread. They were then granted passage back to Medina. The sole adult male survivor from the caravan was Ali ibn Husayn who was with fever too ill to fight when the caravan was attacked.

Following the death of Husayn, Ibn al-Zubayr, although remaining in Mecca, was associated with two opposition movements, one centered in Medina and the other around Kharijites in Basra and Arabia. Because Medina had been home to Muhammad and his family, including Husayn, word of his death and the imprisonment of his family led to a large opposition movement. In 683, Yazid dispatched an army to subdue both movements. The army suppressed the Medinese opposition at the Battle of al-Harrah. The Grand Mosque in Medina was severely damaged and widespread pillaging caused deep-seated dissent. Yazid''s army continued on and laid siege to Mecca. At some point during the siege, the Kaaba was badly damaged in a fire. The destruction of the Kaaba and Grand Mosque became a major cause for censure of the Umayyads in later histories of the period.

Yazid died while the siege was still in progress, and the Umayyad army returned to Damascus, leaving Ibn al-Zubayr in control of Mecca. Yazid''s son Muawiya II (683–84) initially succeeded him but seems to have never been recognized as caliph outside of Syria. Two factions developed within Syria: the Confederation of Qays, who supported Ibn al-Zubayr, and the Quda''a, who supported Marwan, a descendant of Umayya via Wa''il ibn Umayyah. The partisans of Marwan triumphed at a battle at Marj Rahit, near Damascus, in 684, and Marwan became caliph shortly thereafter.

First Marwanids
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Marwan''s first task was to assert his authority against the rival claims of Ibn al-Zubayr, who was at this time recognized as caliph throughout most of the Islamic world. Marwan recaptured Egypt for the Umayyads, but died in 685, having reigned for only nine months.

Marwan was succeeded by his son, Abd al-Malik (685–705), who reconsolidated Umayyad control of the caliphate. The early reign of Abd al-Malik was marked by the revolt of Al-Mukhtar, which was based in Kufa. Al-Mukhtar hoped to elevate Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah, another son of Ali, to the caliphate, although Ibn al-Hanafiyyah himself may have had no connection to the revolt. The troops of al-Mukhtar engaged in battles both with the Umayyads in 686, defeating them at the river Khazir near Mosul, and with Ibn al-Zubayr in 687, at which time the revolt of al-Mukhtar was crushed. In 691, Umayyad troops reconquered Iraq, and in 692 the same army captured Mecca. Ibn al-Zubayr was killed in the attack.

Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem

The second major event of the early reign of Abd al-Malik was the construction of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Although the chronology remains somewhat uncertain, the building seems to have been completed in 692, which means that it was under construction during the conflict with Ibn al-Zubayr. This had led some historians, both medieval and modern, to suggest that the Dome of the Rock was built as a destination for pilgrimage to rival the Kaaba, which was under the control of Ibn al-Zubayr.

Abd al-Malik is credited with centralizing the administration of the Caliphate and with establishing Arabic as its official language. He also introduced a uniquely Muslim coinage, marked by its aniconic decoration, which supplanted the Byzantine and Sasanian coins that had previously been in use. Abd al-Malik also recommenced offensive warfare against Byzantium, defeating the Byzantines at Sebastopolis and recovering control over Armenia and Caucasian Iberia.

Following Abd al-Malik''s death, his son, Al-Walid I (705–15), became caliph. Al-Walid was also active as a builder, sponsoring the construction of Al-Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina and the Great Mosque of Damascus.

A major figure during the reigns of both al-Walid and Abd al-Malik was the Umayyad governor of Iraq, Al-Hajjaj bin Yousef. Many Iraqis remained resistant to Umayyad rule, and to maintain order al-Hajjaj imported Syrian troops, which he housed in a new garrison town, Wasit. These troops became crucial in the suppression of a revolt led by an Iraqi general, Ibn al-Ash''ath, in the early eighth century.

Coin of the Umayyad Caliphate, based on a Sassanian prototype. Copper falus, Aleppo, Syria, circa 695.

Al-Walid was succeeded by his brother, Sulayman (715–17), whose reign was dominated by a protracted siege of Constantinople. The failure of the siege marked the end of serious Arab ambitions against the Byzantine capital. However, the first two decades of the eighth century witnessed the continuing expansion of the Caliphate, which pushed into the Iberian Peninsula in the west, and into Transoxiana (under Qutayba ibn Muslim) and northern India in the east.

Sulayman was succeeded by his cousin, Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz (717–20), whose position among the Umayyad caliphs is somewhat unique. He is the only Umayyad ruler to have been recognized by subsequent Islamic tradition as a genuine caliph (khalifa) and not merely as a worldly king (malik).

Umar is honored for his attempt to resolve the fiscal problems attendant upon conversion to Islam. During the Umayyad period, the majority of people living within the caliphate were not Muslim, but Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, or members of other small groups. These religious communities were not forced to convert to Islam, but were subject to a tax (jizyah) which was not imposed upon Muslims. This situation may actually have made widespread conversion to Islam undesirable from the point of view of state revenue, and there are reports that provincial governors actively discouraged such conversions. It is not clear how Umar attempted to resolve this situation, but the sources portray him as having insisted on like treatment of Arab and non-Arab (mawali) Muslims, and on the removal of obstacles to the conversion of non-Arabs to Islam.

After the death of Umar, another son of Abd al-Malik, Yazid II (720–24) became caliph. Yazid is best known for his "iconoclastic edict", which ordered the destruction of Christian images within the territory of the Caliphate. In 720, another major revolt arose in Iraq, this time led by Yazid ibn al-Muhallab.

Hisham and the limits of military expansion

The final son of Abd al-Malik to become caliph was Hisham (724–43), whose long and eventful reign was above all marked by the curtailment of military expansion. Hisham established his court at Resafa in northern Syria, which was closer to the Byzantine border than Damascus, and resumed hostilities against the Byzantines, which had lapsed following the failure of the last siege of Constantinople. The new campaigns resulted in a number of successful raids into Anatolia, but also in a major defeat (the Battle of Akroinon), and did not lead to any significant territorial expansion.

North gate of the city of Resafa, site of Hisham''s palace and court.

From the caliphate''s north-western African bases, a series of raids on coastal areas of the Visigothic Kingdom paved the way to the permanent occupation of most of Iberia by the Umayyads (starting in 711), and on into south-eastern Gaul (last stronghold at Narbonne in 759). Hisham''s reign witnessed the end of expansion in the west, following the defeat of the Arab army by the Franks at the Battle of Tours in 732. In 739 a major Berber Revolt broke out in North Africa, which was subdued only with difficulty, but it was followed by the collapse of Umayyad authority in al-Andalus. In the Caucasus, the confrontation with the Khazars peaked under Hisham: the Arabs established Derbent as a major military base and launched several invasions of the northern Caucasus, but failed to subdue the nomadic Khazars. The conflict was arduous and bloody, and the Arab army even suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Marj Ardabil in 730. Marwan ibn Muhammad, the future Marwan II, finally ended the war in 737 with a massive invasion that is reported to have reached as far as the Volga, but the Khazars remained unsubdued.

Hisham suffered still worse defeats in the east, where his armies attempted to subdue both Tokharistan, with its center at Balkh, and Transoxiana, with its center at Samarkand. Both areas had already been partially conquered, but remained difficult to govern. Once again, a particular difficulty concerned the question of the conversion of non-Arabs, especially the Sogdians of Transoxiana. Following the Umayyad defeat in the "Day of Thirst" in 724, Ashras ibn ''Abd Allah al-Sulami, governor of Khurasan, promised tax relief to those Sogdians who converted to Islam, but went back on his offer when it proved too popular and threatened to reduce tax revenues. Discontent among the Khurasani Arabs rose sharply after the losses suffered in the Battle of the Defile in 731, and in 734, al-Harith ibn Surayj led a revolt that received broad backing from Arabs and natives alike, capturing Balkh but failing to take Merv. After this defeat, al-Harith''s movement seems to have been dissolved, but the problem of the rights of non-Arab Muslims would continue to plague the Umayyads.

Third FitnaFresco from the palace of Qusayr Amra, possibly built by Al-Walid II, depicting a concubine. Umayyad harems maintained concubines trained in vocal arts and dance.

Hisham was succeeded by Al-Walid II (743–44), the son of Yazid II. Al-Walid is reported to have been more interested in earthly pleasures than in religion, a reputation that may be confirmed by the decoration of the so-called "desert palaces" (including Qusayr Amra and Khirbat al-Mafjar) that have been attributed to him. He quickly attracted the enmity of many, both by executing a number of those who had opposed his accession, and by persecuting the Qadariyya.

In 744, Yazid III, a son of al-Walid I, was proclaimed caliph in Damascus, and his army tracked down and killed al-Walid II. Yazid III has received a certain reputation for piety, and may have been sympathetic to the Qadariyya. He died a mere six months into his reign.

Yazid had appointed his brother, Ibrahim, as his successor, but Marwan II (744–50), the grandson of Marwan I, led an army from the northern frontier and entered Damascus in December 744, where he was proclaimed caliph. Marwan immediately moved the capital north to Harran, in present-day Turkey. A rebellion soon broke out in Syria, perhaps due to resentment over the relocation of the capital, and in 746 Marwan razed the walls of Homs and Damascus in retaliation.

Marwan also faced significant opposition from Kharijites in Iraq and Iran, who put forth first Dahhak ibn Qays and then Abu Dulaf as rival caliphs. In 747, Marwan managed to reestablish control of Iraq, but by this time a more serious threat had arisen in Khorasan.

Abbasid Revolution Main article: Abbasid RevolutionThe Caliphate at the beginning of the Abbasid revolt, before the Battle of the Zab.

The Hashimiyya movement (a sub-sect of the Kaysanites Shia), led by the Abbasid family, overthrew the Umayyad caliphate. The Abbasids were members of the Hashim clan, rivals of the Umayyads, but the word "Hashimiyya" seems to refer specifically to Abu Hashim, a grandson of Ali and son of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya. According to certain traditions, Abu Hashim died in 717 in Humeima in the house of Muhammad ibn Ali, the head of the Abbasid family, and before dying named Muhammad ibn Ali as his successor. This tradition allowed the Abbasids to rally the supporters of the failed revolt of Mukhtar, who had represented themselves as the supporters of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya.

Beginning around 719, Hashimiyya missions began to seek adherents in Khurasan. Their campaign was framed as one of proselytism (dawah). They sought support for a "member of the family" of Muhammad, without making explicit mention of the Abbasids. These missions met with success both among Arabs and non-Arabs (mawali), although the latter may have played a particularly important role in the growth of the movement.

Around 746, Abu Muslim assumed leadership of the Hashimiyya in Khurasan. In 747, he successfully initiated an open revolt against Umayyad rule, which was carried out under the sign of the black flag. He soon established control of Khurasan, expelling its Umayyad governor, Nasr ibn Sayyar, and dispatched an army westwards. Kufa fell to the Hashimiyya in 749, the last Umayyad stronghold in Iraq, Wasit, was placed under siege, and in November of the same year Abu al-Abbas was recognized as the new caliph in the mosque at Kufa. At this point Marwan mobilized his troops from Harran and advanced toward Iraq. In January 750 the two forces met in the Battle of the Zab, and the Umayyads were defeated. Damascus fell to the Abbasids in April, and in August Marwan was killed in Egypt.

The Great Mosque of Córdoba in Spain, built by Banu Umayya

The victors desecrated the tombs of the Umayyads in Syria, sparing only that of Umar II, and most of the remaining members of the Umayyad family were tracked down and killed. When Abbasids declared amnesty for members of the Umayyad family, eighty gathered to receive pardons, and all were massacred. One grandson of Hisham, Abd ar-Rahman I, survived and established a kingdom in Al-Andalus (Moorish Iberia), proclaiming his family to be the Umayyad Caliphate revived.

Previté-Orton argues that the reasons for the decline of the Umayyads was the rapid expansion of Islam. During Umayyad period, mass conversions brought Persians, Berbers, Copts, and Aramaics to Islam. These mawalis (clients) were often better educated and more civilised than their Arab masters. The new converts, on the basis of equality of all Muslims, transformed the political landscape. Previté-Orton also argues that the feud between Syria and Iraq further weakened the empire.

Umayyad Administration

One of Muawiya''s first tasks was to create a stable administration for the empire. He followed the main ideas of the Byzantine Empire which had ruled the same region previously, and had three main governmental branches: political and military affairs, tax collection, and religious administration. Each of these was further subdivided into more branches, offices, and departments.


Geographically, the empire was divided into several provinces, the borders of which changed numerous times during the Umayyad reign. Each province had a governor appointed by the khalifah. The governor was in charge of the religious officials, army leaders, police, and civil administrators in his province. Local expenses were paid for by taxes coming from that province, with the remainder each year being sent to the central government in Damascus. As the central power of the Umayyad rulers waned in the later years of the dynasty, some governors neglected to send the extra tax revenue to Damascus and created great personal fortunes.

Government workers

As the empire grew, the number of qualified Arab workers was too small to keep up with the rapid expansion of the empire. Therefore, Muawiya allowed many of the local government workers in conquered provinces to keep their jobs under the new Umayyad government. Thus, much of the local government''s work was recorded in Greek, Coptic, and Persian. It was only during the reign of Abd al-Malik that government work began to be regularly recorded in Arabic.

CurrencyCoin of the Umayyad Caliphate, based on a Sassanian prototype, 695.A coin weight from the Umayyad Dynasty, dated 743, made of glass. One of the oldest Islamic objects in an American museum, the Walters Art Museum.Golden coin of the Umayyad Caliphate, Iran

The Byzantine and Sassanid Empires relied on money economies before the Muslim conquest, and that system remained in effect during the Umayyad period. Pre-existing coins remained in use, but with phrases from the Quran stamped on them. In addition to this, the Umayyad government began to mint its own coins in Damascus (which were similar to pre-existing coins), the first coins minted by a Muslim government in history. Gold coins were called dinars while silver coins were called dirhams.

Central diwans

To assist the Caliph in administration there were six Boards at the Centre: Diwan al-Kharaj (the Board of Revenue), Diwan al-Rasa''il (the Board of Correspondence), Diwan al-Khatam (the Board of Signet), Diwan al-Barid (the Board of Posts), Diwan al-Qudat (the Board of Justice) and Diwan al-Jund (the Military Board)

Diwan al-Kharaj

The Central Board of Revenue administered the entire finances of the empire. It also imposed and collected taxes and disbursed revenue.

Diwan al-Rasa''il

A regular Board of Correspondence was established under the Umayyads. It issued state missives and circulars to the Central and Provincial Officers. It co-ordinated the work of all Boards and dealt with all correspondence as the chief secretariat.

Diwan al-Khatam

In order to check forgery, Diwan al-Khatam (Bureau of Registry), a kind of state chancellery, was instituted by Mu''awiyah. It used to make and preserve a copy of each official document before sealing and despatching the original to its destination. Thus in the course of time a state archive developed in Damascus by the Umayyads under Abd al-Malik. This department survived till the middle of the Abbasid period.

Diwan al-Barid Main article: Barid (caliphate)

Mu''awiyah introduced postal service, Abd al-Malik extended it throughout his empire, and Walid made full use of it. The Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik developed a regular postal service. Umar bin Abdul-Aziz developed it further by building caravanserais at stages along the Khurasan highway. Relays of horses were used for the conveyance of dispatches between the caliph and his agents and officials posted in the provinces. The main highways were divided into stages of 12 miles (19 km) each and each stage had horses, donkeys or camels ready to carry the post. Primarily the service met the needs of Government officials, but travellers and their important dispatches were also benefitted by the system. The postal carriages were also used for the swift transport of troops. They were able to carry fifty to a hundred men at a time. Under Governor Yusuf bin Umar, the postal department of Iraq cost 4,000,000 dirhams a year.

Diwan al-Qudat

In the early period of Islam, justice was administered by Muhammad and the orthodox Caliphs in person. After the expansion of the Islamic State, Umar al-Faruq had to separate judiciary from the general administration and appointed the first qadi in Egypt as early as 23H/643AD. After 661AD a series of judges succeeded one after another in Egypt under the Umayyad Caliphs, Hisham and Walid II.

Diwan al-Jund

The Diwan of Umar, assigning annuities to all Arabs and to the Muslim soldiers of other races, underwent a change in the hands of the Umayyads. The Umayyads meddled with the register and the recipients regarded pensions as the subsistence allowance even without being in active service. Hisham reformed it and paid only to those who participated in battle. On the pattern of the Byzantine system the Umayyads reformed their army organization in general and divided it into five corps: the centre, two wings, vanguards and rearguards, following the same formation while on march or on a battle field. Marwan II (740–50) abandoned the old division and introduced Kurdus (cohort), a small compact body. The Umayyad troops were divided into three divisions: infantry, cavalry and artillery. Arab troops were dressed and armed in Greek fashion. The Umayyad cavalry used plain and round saddles. The artillery used arradah (ballista), manjaniq (the mangonel) and dabbabah or kabsh (the battering ram). The heavy engines, siege machines and baggage were carried on camels behind the army.

Social OrganizationIvory (circa 8th century) discovered in the Abbasid homestead in Humeima, Jordan. The style indicates an origin in northeastern Iran, the base of Hashimiyya military power.

The Umayyad Caliphate exhibited four main social classes:

  • Muslim Arabs
  • Muslim non-Arabs (clients of the Muslim Arabs)
  • Non-Muslim free persons (Christians, Jews, and Zoroastrians)
  • Slaves
  • The Muslim Arabs were at the top of the society and saw it as their duty to rule over the conquered areas. Despite the fact that Islam teaches the equality of all Muslims, the Arab Muslims held themselves in higher esteem than Muslim non-Arabs and generally did not mix with other Muslims.

    The inequality of Muslims in the empire led to social unrest. As Islam spread, more and more of the Muslim population was constituted of non-Arabs. This caused tension as the new converts were not given the same rights as Muslim Arabs. Also, as conversions increased, tax revenues from non-Muslims decreased to dangerous lows. These issues continued to grow until they helped cause the Abbasid Revolt in the 740s.


    Non-Muslim groups in the Umayyad Caliphate, which included Christians, Jews, Zoroastrians, and pagan Berbers, were called dhimmis. They were given a legally protected status as second-class citizens as long as they accepted and acknowledged the political supremacy of the ruling Muslims. They were allowed to have their own courts, and were given freedom of their religion within the empire. Although they could not hold the highest public offices in the empire, they had many bureaucratic positions within the government. Christians and Jews still continued to produce great theological thinkers within their communities, but as time wore on, many of the intellectuals converted to Islam, leading to a lack of great thinkers in the non-Muslim communities.

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    The Umayyad caliphate was marked both by territorial expansion and by the administrative and cultural problems that such expansion created. Despite some notable exceptions, the Umayyads tended to favor the rights of the old Arab families, and in particular their own, over those of newly converted Muslims (mawali). Therefore they held to a less universalist conception of Islam than did many of their rivals. As G.R. Hawting has written, "Islam was in fact regarded as the property of the conquering aristocracy."

    During the period of the Umayyads, Arabic became the administrative language. State documents and currency were issued in the language. Mass conversions brought a large influx of Muslims to the caliphate. The Umayyads also constructed famous buildings such as the Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem, and the Umayyad Mosque at Damascus.

    According to one common view, the Umayyads transformed the caliphate from a religious institution (during the rashidun) to a dynastic one. However, the Umayyad caliphs do seem to have understood themselves as the representatives of God on earth, and to have been responsible for the "definition and elaboration of God''s ordinances, or in other words the definition or elaboration of Islamic law."

    The Umayyads have met with a largely negative reception from later Islamic historians, who have accused them of promoting a kingship (mulk, a term with connotations of tyranny) instead of a true caliphate (khilafa). In this respect it is notable that the Umayyad caliphs referred to themselves not as khalifat rasul Allah ("successor of the messenger of God", the title preferred by the tradition), but rather as khalifat Allah ("deputy of God"). The distinction seems to indicate that the Umayyads "regarded themselves as God''s representatives at the head of the community and saw no need to share their religious power with, or delegate it to, the emergent class of religious scholars." In fact, it was precisely this class of scholars, based largely in Iraq, that was responsible for collecting and recording the traditions that form the primary source material for the history of the Umayyad period. In reconstructing this history, therefore, it is necessary to rely mainly on sources, such as the histories of Tabari and Baladhuri, that were written in the Abbasid court at Baghdad.

    Modern Arab nationalism regards the period of the Umayyads as part of the Arab Golden Age which it sought to emulate and restore. This is particularly true of Syrian nationalists and the present-day state of Syria, centered like that of the Umayyads on Damascus. White, one of the four Pan-Arab colors which appear in various combinations on the flags of most Arab countries, is considered as representing the Umayyads.

    Theological opinions concerning the Umayyads Sunni opinions

    Many Sunni scholars agree that Muawiyah''s family, including his progenitors, Abu Sufyan ibn Harb and Hind bint Utbah, were both opponents of Islam and particularly of the prophet Muhammad until the Conquest of Mecca. Their tribe caused much transgression among the Arab aristocracy of that period and ultimately Muawiyah abolished the Rashidun Caliphate after the death of Ali and established a dynasty.

    Sunni scholars criticize the Umayyads for imposing the Mawali system of servitude against the interests of non-Arab Muslims and converts to Islam. Converts to Islam were treated as "second class citizens" by the ruling Arab elite - they continued to pay the tax required of nonbelievers and were excluded from government and the military until the end of the Umayyad Caliphate.

    Sunni opinions of the Umayyad dynasty after Muawiyah are dim, viewing many of the rulers as sinners and the cause of great tribulation in the Ummah. For example, in the section concerning Quran 17:60 in the exegesis by al-Suyuti entitled Dur al-Manthur, the author writes that there exist traditions which describe the Umayyads as "the cursed tree". There are some exceptions to this. For example, Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz is praised as one of the greatest Muslim rulers after the four Rightly Guided Caliphs.

    Only one Umayyad ruler (Caliphs of Damascus), Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz, is unanimously praised by Sunni sources for his devout piety and justice. In his efforts to spread Islam he established liberties for the Mawali by abolishing the Jizya tax for converts to Islam during his efforts to undo the wrongdoings of his fore-bearers, which eventually led to internal hostilities within the dynasty that ultimately led to his poisoning in the year 720.

    Shi''a opinions

    The negative view of the Umayyads by Shias is briefly expressed in the Shi''a book "Sulh al-Hasan". According to some sources Ali described them as the worst Fitna.

    Bahá''í standpoint

    Asked for an explanation of the prophecies in the Book of Revelation (12:3), `Abdu''l-Bahá suggests in Some Answered Questions that the "great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads," refers to the Umayyad caliphs who "rose against the religion of Prophet Muhammad and against the reality of Ali".

    The seven heads of the dragon is symbolic of the seven provinces of the lands dominated by the Umayyads; Damascus, Persia, Arabia, Egypt, Africa, Andalusia, and Transoxania. The ten horns represent the ten names of the leaders of the Umayyad dynasty; Abu Sufyan, Muawiya, Yazid, Marwan, Abd al-Malik, Walid, Sulayman, Umar, Hisham, and Ibrahim. Some names were re-used, as in the case of Yazid II and Yazid III, which were not counted for this interpretation.

    List of Umayyad CaliphsGenealogic tree of the Umayyad family. In blue: Caliph Uthman, one of the four Rashidun Caliphs. In green, the Umayyad Caliphs of Damascus. In yellow, the Umayyad emirs of Córdoba. In orange, the Umayyad Caliphs of Córdoba. Abd Al-Rahman III was an emir until 929 when he proclaimed himself Caliph. Muhammad is included (in caps) to show the kinship of the Umayyads with him. Caliph Reign
    Caliphs of Damascus
    Muawiya I ibn Abu Sufyan 661–680
    Yazid I ibn Muawiyah 680–683
    Muawiya II ibn Yazid 683–684
    Marwan I ibn al-Hakam 684–685
    Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan 685–705
    al-Walid I ibn Abd al-Malik 705–715
    Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik 715–717
    Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz 717–720
    Yazid II ibn Abd al-Malik 720–724
    Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik 724–743
    al-Walid II ibn Yazid 743–744
    Yazid III ibn al-Walid 744
    Ibrahim ibn al-Walid 744
    Marwan II ibn Muhammad (ruled from Harran in the Jazira) 744–750
    Emirs of Cordoba
    Abd al-Rahman I 756–788
    Hisham I 788–796
    al-Hakam I 796–822
    Abd ar-Rahman II 822–852
    Muhammad I 852–886
    Al-Mundhir 886–888
    Abdallah ibn Muhammad 888–912
    Abd ar-Rahman III 912–929
    Caliphs of Cordoba
    Abd ar-Rahman III, as caliph 929–961
    Al-Hakam II 961–976
    Hisham II 976–1008
    Muhammad II 1008–1009
    Sulayman ibn al-Hakam 1009–1010
    Hisham II, restored 1010–1012
    Sulayman ibn al-Hakam, restored 1012–1017
    Abd ar-Rahman IV 1021–1022
    Abd ar-Rahman V 1022–1023
    Muhammad III 1023–1024
    Hisham III 1027–1031

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