UMAYYADS, the first Muslim dynasty (661-750)

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Arnold Yasin Mol

UMAYYADS, the first Muslim dynasty (661-750)

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UMAYYADS, the first Muslim dynasty (661-750)

The Umayyad house was one of the major clans of the Quraysh tribe. Technically, Uthman, the third "Righteous Caliph", was the first Umayyad caliph. During his tenure (644-655), he appointed members of his clan to various posts; in particular, Muawiya b. Abi Sufyan was given the governorship of Syria. Upon the accession of Ali to the caliphate, Muawiya refused to pay him allegience, and in 658 the Syrians acknowledged Muawiya as caliph. That same year he gained control of Egypt; following Ali's death in 661, he subdued Iraq and then formally established himself as caliph.

The first line of Umayyads were the Sufyanids (descendants of Abu Sufyan) who ruled from 661- 684. Under Muawiya (661-680) the capital of the Muslim empire was transferred to Damascus. He is credited with raising a highly-trained army of Syrian soldiers which was used to expand Muslim authority east into Khorasan and west into North Africa. Muawiya also led excursions into Anatolia beginning in 672 which culminated in an unsuccessful three-year seige of Constantinople (674-677). He retained the administrative structures left by the Byzantines and Persians but consolidated his authority by appointing kinsmen to key posts. Before his death, Muawiya secured allegiance to his son, Yazid, thus introducing dynastic succession to Muslim rule.

Yazid's reign (680-683) was marked by rebellions led by Husayn b. Ali at Kerbala and Ibn al- Zubayr at Mecca, both of whom refused to recognize Yazid's authority. Upon the death of Muawiya II (683-684), civil war broke out between two Arab factions, the Qaysites and the Kalbites, the latter of whom supported the candidacy of Marwan b. al-Hakam. His ascendance to the caliphate in 684 established the Marwanid line of Umayyad caliphs. As he died a year later, the task of reunification was placed in the hands of his son, Abd al-Malik.

During Abd al-Malik's reign (685-705), order was gradually restored to Iraq and Arabia; Ibn al-Zubayr, who had taken advantage of the civil war in Syria to extend control into Iraq, was defeated in 692. Arabic was made the official language of administration, and Byzantine coins were replaced with a new Islamic-style coinage. Under his sons, Walid I (705-715) and Sulayman (715-717), the empire expanded westward to Morocco and Spain, and eastward to Transoxiana. Constantinople was beseiged, again unsuccessfully, for one year (717-718). This period also marks the building of several grand palaces and the famous Umayyad mosque in Damascus.

With the death of Sulayman, power was transferred to his cousin Umar b. Abd al-Aziz (717-720). He enacted fiscal reforms which placed all Muslims, Arab and non-Arab (mawali), on equal footing. His successor, Yazid II (720-724), caused a renewal of the hostilities between the Qaysites and the Kalbites by openly favoring the the former. During Hisham's long reign (724-743), the Muslim empire reached the limits of its expansion. Discontent with the Umayyad regime manifested itself with the rebellion of Zayd b. Ali in 740, while Berber revolts in North Africa that same year effectively cut off what is today Morocco and Spain from Umayyad rule. Under Hisham's successors, Walid II, Yazid III, and Ibrahim, a series of rebellions paralyzed the caliphate: Kharijites seized Kufa, and feuds between the Qaysites and Kalbites errupted.

The last Umayyad caliph of Syria, Marwan II (744-750), attempted to restore order, but by this time the Abbasid revolutionary movement had gained momentum in the eastern provinces of the empire. In 749 Abu al-Abbas al-Saffah was proclaimed the first Abbasid caliph; the Umayyads were massacred in 750. Only one Umayyad, Abd al-Rahman, escaped: he fled to Spain where he established the dynasty of the Umayyads of Cordoba.
The Arab Conquest in Central Asia, H.A.R. Gibb, London 1932
The Arab Kingdom and Its Fall, J. Wellhausen, Calcutta 1927
The Cambridge History of Islam, ed. P.M. Holt, Ann K.S. Lambton, and Bernard Lewis
The Encyclopaedia of Islam, first and second editions
The First Dynasty of Islam, G.R. Hawting, London 1986
God's Caliph, P. Crone and M. Hinds, Cambridge 1986
The Umayyad Caliphate, A.A. Dixon, London 1970
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