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The Umayyad Dynasty

  • The Umayyads were the first among the great Dynasties that ruled the Islamic world.
  • Its rule lasted close to 90 years(660-750 C.E)
  • It derived its name from Ummaya bin Abd Shams, a great grand father of Muawwiya who was the first Caliph of the Dynasty.
  • The clans of Hashim and Umayya had been competitors since the time of the Prophet and had constantly tried to out do each other both in leadership and trade.
  • When the Prophet was alive, most of the Umayyads embraced Islam and become great supporters of the Prophet.
  • Among such supporters was Muawwiya bin Abu Sufyan.
  • However, the Umayyads were still awaiting an opportunity to take the leadership from their arch rivals.
  • This happened during the time of Ali as a Caliph when Muawwiya refused to step down as a governor of Yemen leading to the battle of Siffin.
  • Muawwiya greatly advanced and won the support of all the Syrian prompting him to call for the cessation of Syria.
  • Upon the death of caliph Ali (RA), the people of Kufa supported his son Hassan to succeed him.
  • However, Hassan could not prevail due to the superiority of Muawwiya and the military support he had.
  • Hassan therefore opted to resign and Muawwiya assumed the reigns of power, thus becoming the first caliph of the Umayyad dynasty.

Reasons for the Rise of the Ummayad dynasty

  • Ancient rivalry between the Banu Hashim and Banu Umayya. One of the characteristics of pre- Islamic era was clan rivalry which was as a result of struggle for leadership and management of resources. The rivalry between the two clans (Banu Hashim and banu Ummaya) once again emerged with each clan trying to clinch the leadership of the Muslim Nation.
  • Failure of Caliph Ali (RA) to bring to book the murderes of Caliph Uthman (RA).Caliph Uthman was from the Ummayyad clan therefore the Bannu Ummayya called for murderers’ punishment as it was the tradition of the Arabs.
  • Shifting of the Muslim headquarters from Makkah to Syria by Mu’awiyah and Madina to Kufa by Ali.
  • Death of Uthman and the calls for his avange led to disunity in the Muslim nation. The supporters and the clan of Umayya continued to challenge Ali (RA) to punish the murderers.
  • Constant revolts faced by Caliph Ali (RA) weakened his army e.g the Battles of Siffin, Battle of the Camel and Nahrawan. After the Battle of Siffin the arbitration process which declared Muawwiyya as the winner brought more instability.
  • The results of the Battle of Siffin leading to division among Muslims. Arbitration during this battle greatly divided the camp of Ali and Mu’awiyah eventually emerging strong. It led to the emergence of Khawarij movement that contributed to the weakening of Sayyidna Ali (RA).
  • Refusal of Muawwiya to step down as the governor of Syria ignited the battle of Siffin. As he had been appointed by Uthman who had been placed by his clan member in more influential post in the government
  • Muawwiya took an advantage of the large and fertile Syrian district to strengthen his army and win support from the Syrians.
  • Unity among the Umayyads to give support to Mu’awiyah as their caliph. This is because during the reign of Caliph Uthman, the Ummayyad clan had enjoyed maximum priviledges.

Umayyad Administration

  • When the Umayyad took over the leadership of the Islamic empire, there were several changes that happened in both the administration and the leadership style.
  • One of Mu’awiyah'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 department
    • Tax collection department
    • Religious administration.
  • Each of these was further subdivided into more branches, offices, and departments to form a very stable administration.

Features of the Umayyad administration

  • The caliph was supreme the leader of the empire and this position became hereditary.
  • The empire was sub divided into various regions comprising of Syria-Palestine, Basra- Persia, Yemen- South Arabia, and Kufa- Iraq among others.
  • Each region had a govenor appointed by the Caliph to serve in the best interest of the caliph.
  • The Umayyads established a Monarchy that served the best interests of the Arabs.
  • They established a well trained army to defend the state from any attacks and give security to the caliphs. The army was divided into five bodies: The center, two wings, and the van guard (fore front) and the rear guard.
  • The Umayyad had a judiciary system with a systematic way of appointing judges succeeding each other. The judiciary had courts of justice managed by Muslim Ulamas (Scholars). All religious issues were resolved and addressed by these Muslim scholars.
  • The revenue department was lead by a special officer appointed by the caliph. All the income from the kharaj (land tax), jizya (poll tax), zakat, customs and duty were kept by this department. However, the expenses of the local administration were met from the local income.

Decline of the Umayyad

  • Even though the Umayyad became a very successful empire for a period of ninety years, it was unable to outwit the many opposing groups and internal challenges they faced.
  • Finally, the Umayyads had to bow and leave the leadership of the empire.

Reasons that led to the decline of the Umayyad Dynasty:

  • Some Umayyad caliphs and Governors imposed very tough and inhumane policies to their subjects and the opposition. This caused rebellion from the people. For example, Al hajjaj bin Yussuf at one time laid a siege on the Kaaba after being prevented to perform Hajj he bombarded Makkah and attacked the pilgrims.
  • Internal conflicts. In addition to the almost continuous challenge presented by various groups, the Umayyads faced difficulties from fellow Arabs, due to class differences. Groups like the Alid’s and the Abassids felt that they had the right to the leadership of Islam.
  • The ruling class had acquired great wealth from its territorial gains, and its luxurious lifestyle contrasted with the poverty faced by many of the empire's subjects. Most people therefore agitated for a change in the management of the state affairs.
  • Succession disputes among the ruling family led to division of power and struggle to attain leadership.There were disagreements and fights among family members over who had the right to inherit especially when some Caliphs appointed two successors. This happened during the time of al- Walid and Suleiman. This led to a series of Palace coups which disrupted the leadership in the last years of the dynasty.
  • Harshness of the rulers to members of other religions resulted in social unrest and demonstrations for freedom in the empire.
  • Natural catastrophe such as prolonged drought, outbreak of epidemic diseases like cholera.
  • Misuse of state fund especially by the caliphs who loved pomp and luxury. This led to bankruptcy of the state.
  • Conflict arose between the Arab and non Arab army men since the Umayyad caliphs were not giving pension to the non Arab army men.
  • Negligence of state duties by some of the caliphs gave the opposition a chance to re-establish and fight the Umayyads.
  • Vastness of the empire. The Umayyads had conqured a very large area that was challenging for one caliph to manage. This led to revolts and calls for cessation by some of the states.
  • Deviation of some caliphs from the teachings of the Qur’an and Sunnah made the religious leaders to oppose the Dynasty.
  • Dishonesty and lack of sincerity from some of the governors who were advancing their own selfish interests. They concentrated on gaining political popularity and wealth at the expense of state responsibilities.
  • Union of all opposition to fight the dynasty. The Alids, Shia and Fatimids agreed to work towards the goal of removing the Ummayyads from the leadership. This group, led by descendants of the Prophet’s uncle, Abbas, called for the Abbasids to succeed in overthrowing the Umayyads.
  • External attacks from the Byzentines and the Romans weakened the army of the Umayyads thus giving the opposition an upper hand over them. These attacks weakened the defence of the Umayyads.
  • The army become idle thus engaging in indiscipline activities and could not defend the stae from external attacks.
  • Domination of the Arabs over the non Arabs in the running of the affairs of the state brought inequality. This caused tension and social unrest as the non Arab Muslims became rebellious to the ruling class.

Achievements of the Umayyads

  • Wide expansion of the Muslim empire to parts of North Africa, Asia and Europe.
  • They consolidated the Muslim empire and maintained peace after a series of social unrest.
  • They established a strong, well trained and efficient army to protect the Dynasty.
  • The department of registry was introduced to keep records of all people and population census started by Umar bin Abdul aziz.
  • Muawiyya built the first Muslim navy.
  • They constructed a ship building factory at Akka along the Syrian Coast.
  • Abdul Malik bin Marwan made Arabic the official language of the state.
  • The civil administration was well structured with improved postal services and regularized taxation.
  • Social amenities like schools, hospitals, roads, canals, and bridges were constructed to improve infrastructure.
  • Arabic culture was developed. Architecture and gold decoration taking center stage. The caliphs encouraged poetry, horse racing and hunting.
  • Urban centers developed with the formation of new towns and cities e.g. Merv, Sistan.

Selected Umayyad Rulers

Muawiyya bin Abi Sufyan (661-680 C.E)

  • Muawiyya bin Abi Sufyan was the founder of the Umayyad dynasty in 661 C.E.
  • The Umayyad house was one of the major clans of the Quraysh tribe.
  • Muawiya was the son of Abu Sufyan, the leader of the Abd Shams clan.
  • Most of the members of Abd Shams clan had rejected Muhammad's Prophetic mission until the conquest of Makka in 630 C.E.
  • Muawiya and his father were among those enemies who were reconciled to Islam during the conquest of Makkah.
  • Muawiya then served as one of Prophet Muhammad's scribes.
  • At the time of the rightly guided caliphs, Muawwiya served in various key positions.
  • During the caliphate of Abubakar (RA), he served in the Muslim army sent against the Byzantines in Syria.
  • Caliph Umar appointed him as the governor of Damascus.
  • During the time of Uthman bin Affan, he appointed members of his clan to various positions of leadership.
  • Muawiya bin Abi Sufyan was appointed the governor of Syria and north-western Iraq.
  • Upon the accession of Ali to the Caliphate; he asked all the governors who had been appointed by Uthman to step down.
  • Muawiya refused to pay allegiance to him but rather with the support of the Syrians, announced himself a caliph after the battle of Siffin.
  • In the same year, following the death of Ali, he gained control of Egypt and then formally established himself as caliph.
  • Ali's eldest son, Hassan, who briefly succeeded his father, was persuaded to abdicate his position in favour of Muawwiya.
  • Muawiya consolidated his power over this region by building up a strong army.
  • He effectively launched both land and sea attacks against the Byzantines.
  • With Muawiya's accession, the seat of the caliphate was moved to Damascus.
  • Having secured the loyalty of the Syrian tribes, Muawiya reconciled with the Iraqi tribes by adopting the traditional council of notables where each tribe was represented by its leader.
  • These councils linked to the caliph through his governors, who were form his kinsmen.
  • However, this arrangement was not sufficient in itself to administer a growing empire.
  • To solve this problem, Muawiya made use of Byzantine administrative structures, the key positions of which were held by Christians who in some cases came from families that had served the Byzantine government. Muawiyah also encouraged peaceful coexistence with the Christian communities of Syria granting his reign with "peace and prosperity for Christians and Arabs alike".
  • Muawiyya had a special unit of body guards who moved with him form the palace to the mosque or whenenver he had state functions.
  • Before Muawiya's death in 680 C.E, he appointed his son Yazid as his successor; this move established hereditary succession as the norm for the caliphate.
  • Although he secured allegience to Yazid before his death, resistence to his appointment manifested itself upon Yazid's accession.

Achievements of Muawiyya

  • Muawiya is credited with the creation of specialized bureaus, known as diwans, to increase the centralization of the government. They included; Diwan al-Kharaj (the Board of Revenue), Diwan al-Rasa'il (the Board of Correspondence), Diwan al- Khatam (the Board of Registry), Diwan al-Bard (the Board of Postal services), Diwan al-Qudat (the Board of Justice) and Diwan al-Jund (the Military Board)
  • The capital of the Muslim empire was transferred from Makkah and Madina to Damascus.
  • He established 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 expeditions into Anatolia beginning in 672 C.E which resulted in an unsuccessful three-year seige of Constantinople (674-677 C.E).
  • He retained the administrative structures left by the Byzantines and Persians but consolidated his authority by appointing kinsmen to key posts.
  • He constructed a gigantic palace called the Green Palace of Damascus.

Yazid bin Muawiyya (680-683 C.E)

  • Muawiyya bin Abu Sufyan was in favour of his son, Yazid to become his immediate successor.
  • He wanted to pass over the caliphate to his immediate descendants and moreso retain the aristocracy of the Banu Umayyad.
  • He started campaigning for his son’s succession.
  • He approached his most devoted followers and was able to convience them since they they wanted to retain the solidarity of Muslims.
  • Representatives from various provinces such as Damascus and HIjaz soon started pledging allegiance to the succession offer of Yazid.
  • However, Makka and Madina received the Muawiyas request with mixed reactions due to the ancient rivalry between the Banu Hashim and Banu Umayyad.
  • Despite this resistance, Muawiyya decided to use force and material bribes.
  • He finally succeeded in making Yazid his successor.
  • After his accession, Yazid was confronted with several rebellions.
  • The first was that of Husayn, son of Caliph Ali (RA), the grandson of the Prophet (PBUH), which occured at Karbala in 680 C.E.
  • This encounter had adverse effect to the Muslim ummah.
  • Let us now look at the tragedy of Karbala.

The tragedy of Karbala

  • After the death of Hassan, the people of Kufa requested Hussein, his brother to take over the caliphate with their support.
  • Hussein then sent his cousin Muslim bin Aqil to verify if their claims of supporting him were true.
  • When the news reached Yazid he sent Ubaidullah bin Ziyad, ruler of Basrah, with the instruction to prevent the people of Kufa from rallying behind Hussein.
  • Ubaidullah bin Ziyad managed to disperse the crowd that had gathered around Muslim bin Aqil and arrested him.
  • When Muslim bin Aqil realized the intention of Yazid was to prevent any support from the Kufans, he requested a message to be sent to Hussein to prevent his immigration to Kufa.
  • The request was denied and Ubaidullah bin Ziyad, under the command of Yazid, killed Muslim bin Aqil.
  • Hussein then decided to travel on to Kufa with his family.
  • There were 200 people in Husayn's caravan, many of whom were women including his sisters, wives and daughters and children.
  • Hussein and his family were intercepted by Yazid’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.
  • The sole adult male survivor from the caravan was Ali ibn Hussein who was with fever to too ill to fight when the caravan was attacked.
  • The women and children were taken as prisoners of war and led back to Damascus to be presented to Yazid.
  • They remained imprisoned until the public turned against Yazid when they learnt of Husayn's death.
  • They were then granted freedom back to Madina.
  • Madina had been home to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) and his family, including Husayn, word of his death and the imprisonment of his family led to a large opposition movement.
  • In 683 C.E, Yazid dispatched an army consisting mainly Christians to subdue the revolt.
  • The army suppressed the opposition from Madinaat the Battle of al-Harrah; the Holy Grand Mosque in Medina was severely damaged.
  • Yazid's army continued on and laid siege to Makkah, where Ibn al-Zubayr had taken refuge.
  • At some point during the siege, the Holy Kaaba was badly damaged in a fire.
  • However, during the siege news arrived that Yazid had died.
  • Doubts about his successor prevented a speedy resolution to the conflict and the Umayyad General suspended the operations.
  • The Umayyad army returned to Damascus, leaving Ibn al-Zubayr in control of Makkah.
  • Although Yazid was a dissolute ruler, he attempted to continue his father's administrative and military policies.
  • He reformed the tax system and improved the irrigation system in the surroundings of Damascus.
  • Yazid's son Muawiyya II initially succeeded him but seems to have never been recognised as caliph outside of Syria.

Achievements of Yazid bin Muawiyya

  • He reformed the financial system of his government by regulating the collection of Jizya (poll tax)
  • He improved the Agricultural sector by developing the irrigation system using the Damascus Oasis.
  • Infrastructure was greatly improved in the empire.
  • He strengthened the military defence of Syria.

Downfall of Yazid bin Muawiyya

  • Yazid just like his father, started as a vibrant, focused and determined ruler.
  • However, later own he changed his character and indulged in unIslamic practices.
  • He became very unscrupulous and cruel to his enemies.
  • He was neither pious nor just in making rulings.
  • He engaged in luxurious life full of festivities and entertainment.
  • He preferred hunting using dogs, drinking wine, dancing, listening to Music and playing sports rather than performing his state functions.

Abdul-Malik bin Marwan (685-705C.E)

  • He was born in 26 A.H at a time when Uthman bin Affan was the Caliph.
  • He became the Caliph after the death of his father Marwan bin al Hakam in 685 AD.
  • The early reign of Abd al-Malik was marked by the revolt in Kufa led by Al Mukhtar, who had hoped to elevate Muhammad ibn al- Hanafiyyah, another son of Ali, to the caliphate.
  • The troops of al-Mukhtar engaged in battles with the Umayyads at the river Khazir but were defeated.
  • In 691A.D, Umayyad troops re-conquered Iraq, and in 692 the same army captured Makkah.
  • Abdul Malik represented a new spirit to the Umayyad dynasty.
  • He had to face many foes and it was through courage, determination and wise policies that he was able to suppress the revolts.
  • He expanded the empire to North Africa through his commander and Governor to Africa, Musa bin Nusayir.
  • He was more pious than any of his predecessors.
  • He treated the religious leaders and scholars with respect.
  • Through his respect to Madinan people, he was able to win their support and they abandoned their earlier opposition to the Umayyads.
  • He supervised state affairs very closely and helped in advancing the religious rites.
  • He died in 705 C.E after 20 years of rule and was succeeded by his son, Al Walid.

Achievements of Abdul Malik bin Marwan

  • It is during his reign that the empire broke from following the ways of its Byzantine and Persian predecessors, and instead developed its own unique character that would define Islamic states from then on.
  • Abdul Malik emphasized the importance of Islam to the state, and claimed the role of leader of Muslims, as well as leader of the empire.
  • He used state money to build mosques, and also constructed one of the most important buildings in Islam such as the Dome of the Rock.
  • He expanded the Islamic empire to North of Africa.
  • He increased the number of units of the postal services and made them more efficient.
  • Under Abdul Malik, the government of the caliphate abandoned the use of Greek and Persian language among its officials. All records were to be kept in Arabic, which became not only the primary language of religion (since the Qur’an was written in Arabic) but also the primary religion of government.
  • He encouraged poetry and rewarded poets with the intention of using them to propagate his rule.
  • Abd al-Malik also began minting the first coins with Islamic motifs and inscriptions on them.
  • Previously, the caliphate had taken over the Byzantine and Persian mints and produced coins based on their models. Under Abd al-Malik, completely new coins were made, inscribed with text from the Qur’an, emphasizing that the Islamic Empire was not a continuation of Byzantine or Persian rule, but a new state based on Islam.

Umar bin Abdul Aziz (717-720 C.E)

  • He was the son of Abdul Aziz ibn Marwan and Ummu Asim Layla bint Asim, who was the grand daughter of the second caliph, Umar al-Khattab.
  • He was born in 682 C.E in Halwan, a village of Egypt.
  • He memorised the Holy Qur’an at a young age then his father sent him to Madina to study Islamic Sciences and Akhlaq.
  • He stayed in Madina until when his father died in 704 C.E.
  • His uncle, Abdul Malik bin Marwan then asked him to come back to Egypt where he took care of him.
  • He married Fatima, who was the daughter of Abdul Malik, Umayyad Caliph and the sister of two successive Umayyad Caliphs, Al-Walid and Sulaiman.
  • During the caliphate of Al- Walid, Umar bin Abdul Aziz was appointed the Governor of Madina.
  • Unlike other autocratic governors, Umar chose to be consultative.
  • He therefore formed an advisory council immediately on arrival in Madina.
  • It comprised of ten eminent Muslim jurists and notables of the city of Madina.
  • He would always ask for their advice before making any decisions.
  • They also kept a close eye over his subordinates.
  • During his two years as the Governor of Madina, he repaired and expanded the Mosque of the Prophet (PBUH).
  • He also beautified the Holy cities with public structures and improved the suburban roads leading to Madina.
  • Umar's leadership was beneficial to all classes of people and he was always ready to promote the welfare of the people, whom he governed.
  • Infact, it was during his time as a Governor that a large number of refugees from Iraq who were groaning under the oppression of Hajjaj Bin Yusuf emigrated to Madina for safety.
  • Caliph Sulaiman Bin Abdul Malik took over the caliphate from his brother Al-Walid. He had great respect for Umar Bin Abdul Aziz’s leadership and after consulting his advisor, Rajaa ibn Haytaa, he nominated him as his successor.
  • Upon his death, the mantle of Caliphate fell upon Umar Bin Abdul Aziz who reluctantly accepted it.
  • His first act after assuming office was the restoration of properties confiscated by the Umayyads to their rightful owners.
  • He chose to lead a simple life and distance dhimself from pride associated with the previous caliphs.
  • He devoted his time to serve his people.

Changes that Umar bin Abdul Aziz brought:

  • He asked his family members and relatives to return all the property they had earned unlawfully to the public treasury.
  • He gave to the Baitul Maal the wealth he had inherited.
  • He sold the the horses of the royal family and deposited the money in the baitul maal.
  • He asked his wife to give all her jewellery and other valuable presents she had received from her father and brothers to the baitul maal, which she did willingly.
  • He chose to live in the tents as ordinary people and left the palace for the family of Suleiman.
  • He restored the possession of the garden of Fadak which had been appropriated by Marwan during the Caliphate of Uthman, to the descendants of the Prophet (SWT)
  • He dismissed all the Governors who had been cruel to their subjects.
  • He urged his subject to publicly discuss religious matters without fear.
  • He allowed his people to break their oath of allegiance to him, if he wavered from the path of Allah (SWT).
  • His short rule was noted for great democracy and healthy activities in the Dynasty.

  • In general, he laid great stress on compensating the victims of illegal extortion in any form.
  • The house of Umayyads that had been used to luxuries at the expense of the common man, revolted against this just but revolutionary step.
  • They bitterly protested against the disposal of their age-long properties.
  • His administration of impartial justice went against the interests of the Umayyads who were accustomed to all sorts of licences and could hardly tolerate any check on their unbounded freedom.
  • The Umayyads then plotted against the life of this virtuous member of their clan.
  • A slave of the Caliph was bribed to administer a deadly poison in his food.
  • The Caliph having felt the effect of the poison sent for the slave and asked him why he had poisoned him.
  • The slave replied that he was given one thousand dinars for the purpose.
  • The Caliph deposited the amount in the public Treasury and freeing the slave asked him to leave the place immediately, lest anyone might kill him.
  • He died in 719 C.E. at the age of 36 at the place called Dair Siman near Hams.
  • His martyrdom plunged the Islamic world into gloom.
  • He was buried in Dair Siman on a piece of land he had purchased from a Christian.
    The short rule of Umar Bin Abdul Aziz was like an oasis in a vast desert.
  • It was the brightest period in the 91-year Caliphate of the Umayyads.
  • Though short lived, it had transformed the outlook of the State.
  • His reign witnessed several achievements.

Achievements of Umar bin Abdul Aziz

  • Under his instructions a population census was taken on the diverse nationalities, races and creeds, inhabiting the state.
  • A survey of the entire peninsula including those of her cities, rivers, seas and mountains was made.
  • He improved Agriculture by carrying out a survey on the nature of the soil; varieties of products as well as mineral resources available. He asked his Governors to encourage their people to carry out farming and would repossess any land untilled for three years.
  • A number of bridges in southern Spain were constructed and repaired.
  • All over his vast empire thousands of public wells and inns were constructed.
  • Charitable dispensaries were also opened to assist the poor.
  • A spacious Friday Mosque was built at Saragossa in northern Spain.
  • The Buit-ul-Maal (Public Treasury) was used for the sake of the poor Muslims. He ended the misappropriation that was done by the Umayyads.
  • He reformed the taxation and made adequate arrangements for easy realization of taxes. He reduced the taxes for the non Muslims and the Muslims were exempted from paying taxes.
  • He paid special attention to the prison reforms and instructed his General of Prisons to make weekly inspection of jails. Every prisoner was given a monthly allowance and proper seasonal clothing. Education of the prisoners led to their reformation.
  • Umar Bin Abdul Aziz was very kind and just towards the non-Muslims and he made no distinction between the Arabs and non Arabs.
  • He set a code of conduct for the rulers where justice was the measure for good administration. Any ruler who was unjust was dismissed.
  • The postal services were made more efficient and accessible for the public.
  • He forbade unpaid labour and raised the salaries for the workers as an incentive for hard work.
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