What was significant about the umayyad period? How did the umayyads change islam? Who started the umayyad caliphate?
1. Muawiyah and the Establishment of the Umayyad State
After the martyrdom of Ali the Muslims pledged allegiance to his eldest son Hasan. Some important residential areas, especially Egypt, which was under the control of Ali were captured by Muawiyah. Hasan, selected as the caliph after Ali, renounced his caliphate after six months and pledged his allegiance to Muawiyah with some conditions. Hasan (r.a.) saw that it would be best for the community come to an agreement with Muawiyah by considering the existing community structure and disposition. The year of the political unity, which was achieved by the devotion and efforts of Hasan is called “the year of congregation” (am al-jamaah) (41/661). In this way, the Islamic world, that had been divided into two states for more than five years unified under the governance of Muawiyah. After the establishment of the Umayyad state, Damascus became the new capital.
a. The Features of the State established by Muawiyah
Muawiyah, the governor of Damascus, prepared and provoked the people of Syria against Ali on the grounds to take the blood revenge of Uthman (r.a.) and thus went into a political struggle. And he also prepared a legitimate ground for his political struggle with `Amr ibn al-`As’s trick at the incident of arbitration. From that time on, Muawiyah gained strength and began to establish the Umayyad sultanate.
The Umayyad state was born as a result of the tribal tendency (of the Umayyads) and the success of their supporters. Muawiyah and his cadre strengthened their government and turned their attention towards the “Arabism” tendency in order to overcome the tribal influence. According to many historians, they eventually established an Arab state.
They tended to a status of “Arab superiority” that pleased all tribes in order to prevent tribal oppositions. They kept non-Arabs out of the government. The protectionism included first the Umayyad family, then the tribe and at last the Arab community. It did not go beyond this.
Whereas Islam was a call for equality among the Muslims. This call of Islam became the main foundation and the resistance point against the Arabism of the Umayyads. That was the point that the non-Arabs (Mawalis) relied upon in their opposition. However, some of the movements that fought against the Umayyads did not do their opposition in the name of Islam but for different views and aims they had.
One of the features of the established Umayyad state was the initiation of the hereditary system in the government. The sultanate period began and the caliphate started to pass from father to son.
In spite of many negative features of the Umayyad state, Islam spread across wide lands during their power.
b. The Military Expeditions over Byzantine
Muawiyah established a strong army and fleet. This was why, he did not hesitate to attack on Byzantine. The fleet laid siege to Istanbul in 669 under the command of Sufyan ibn ‘Awf. During this siege, Khalid ibn Zayd (Abu Ayyub al-Ansari), one of the close friends of our Prophet (peace be upon him), was martyred and buried by the city walls.
In 674, the Umayyad powers surrounded Istanbul again and kept the siege for seven years. The most threatening thing for the Arabs was the “Greek fire”. With this chemical, the Byzantines were able to burn the warships or to prevent the Arab troops from coming closer.
Umayyads who failed the siege of Istanbul conquered Rhodes on their way back to Damascus. They also organized overland expeditions to Byzantine. Muawiyah, who established the “ghazwa” system in Anatolia, created a strengthened route along the Northeastern borders. He also established many headquarters along these fortified areas. The fight against the Byzantines continued constantly.
c. The Military Campaigns in the East and West
Uqba ibn Nafi, one of Muawiyah’s famous commanders, was appointed for the conquest of North Africa (Ifriqiyah) which was divided into three countries: Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco. After conquering Tunisia, Uqba founded the city of Kairouan in 670. It is famous that Uqba ibn Nafi who conquered North Africa and felt the joy of the spreading Islam in those lands, rode his horse towards the Atlantic Ocean and said: “Dear Lord! If this sea did not stand in front of me, I would spread your religion to far more lands.”
The Umayyad commander, who was sent to the East, reached with his army up to the Middle Asia. They even crossed the Amu Derya River, conquered Khorasan, and made expeditions to Bukhara. Afterwards they turned towards East, entered Afghanistan and arrived to Kabul.
2. The Incident of Karbala
When the Umayyad state was established, the supporters of Ali, the Zubairis and Kharijites initiated a propaganda claiming that the Umayyad caliphate was not legal. Some people preferred to obey the Umayyad authority in order to protect the unity of Muslims.
Muawiyah, who died in 680, appointed his son Yazid to his place. At the time, the Hashemite leader Hussein lived in Medina. He was in Mecca when Muawiyah died. Many people in the ever-growing city Kufa, which hosted people with various views, adopted the caliphate of Yazid. The people of Kufa constantly invited Hussein to come to Kufa and to accept people’s allegiances. After various preliminary investigations, Hussein set off to Kufa together with his kith and kin in 680 toward the end of September.
Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad, who was infamous with his cruelty, received the news of Hussein’s coming. He sent an outpost force under the command of Hurr ibn Yazid al Tamimi to intercept Hussein. Hurr had very bad intentions but after he met Hussein, he witnessed that Hussein was an honest man with good intentions, so he joined him instead of fighting against him.
After Hurr joined Hussein’s side, Ubaydullah sent an army with 3000 men under the command of Umar ibn Sa‘d. Umar who sent an envoy to Hussein who had established his military quarters in Karbala asked him to surrender. Hussein responded his request saying that he sought peace, but was treated unjustly and badly although he did not harm anyone. After that, Umar expressed that he felt very sorry for the situation, but he had to capture him because of his obedience to his commanders. He continued saying that if Hussein declared his loyalty to the caliph, he would let Hussein and the people with him go.
Hussein knew that Yazid was not a competent person to be the caliph of the Muslims. If he submitted Yazid, he would not only lose his honor but also abuse the believers’ trust and love who loved him for being the Prophet’s grandchild. He said to Umar:
“That is a matter between me and Yazid. Let me go to meet Yazid by myself and I will talk with him about this matter. If the orders you have received are hindering me to go there, let me to go back to Medina. But if your commanders do not approve this, let me to go with my family to Khorasan. Then I will be out of these countries.”
Umar who was under the pressure of both sides pondered Hussein’s proposals and thought how to solve the issue. However, Shimr ibn Dhil-Jawshan, one of his commanders, led to a tension by describing Umar’s peaceful attitude as cowardice.
The battle began on October 10, 680. There were about a hundred men on Hussein’s side and there was a big imbalance between two sides. Still Hussein’s kinsmen and his brave men manifested an extraordinary heroism. One by one all of his nephews and children were martyred in the fight. Hussein left the bodies of his martyred kinsmen next to the tents. When it was midday, he prayed, talked to his family and went to his last battle.
Hussein was not going to be the first one who attacked. At first, no one from the other side dared to attack the Prophet’s grandson. Finally, soldiers who were provoked by Shimr’s derisions and insults united and attacked them. Hussein fought a heroic and epic battle, but it was impossible for him to win a victory against such a huge army of the enemies. He was wounded and fell from his horse. He was crushed under the feet of Iraqi soldiers’ horses, and then he was decapitated. Together with the rest of Ahl al-Bayt, his blessed head were sent to Yazid.
Yazid did not seem to be very happy with these events. Ali, one of Hussein’s sick sons, survived. Yazid apologized to him and expressed repeatedly that he was not responsible for this disaster. He said that Ubeydullah’s troops exceeded the commands given to them, but no one believed Yazid. After this incident, the division of Muslim community into two sects, namely the Shiites and the Sunnis, became certain.
3. The Period of the Rise of the Umayyads (The Periods of Abd al-Malik I and Al-Walid I)
a. Internal Disturbances and their Resolution:
The Hejaz region never leaned towards Yazid’s caliphate, but especially after the incident of Karbala, the troubles increased more.
Abdullah ibn Zubair, Aisha’s nephew and Abu Bakr’s grandchild (may Allah be pleased with them), was another hero who revolted against the Umayyad Sultanate. He proclaimed his caliphate and after a short time, the Hejaz region and Southern Arabia accepted his claim, but Yazid’s commander Muslim ibn Uqba defeated Abdullah’s forces near Medina in 683. After this, they plundered Medina. Then, Yazid’s troops that followed Abdullah surrounded Mecca. They did not hesitate to throw stones and round shots to the city, which they could not capture.
After the death of Yazid’s son Muawiya II, the caliphate passed to Marwan ibn Hakam (683-685). He continued to fight against Abdullah ibn Zubair and partially suppressed the rebellions in Syria and Iraq. After his demise, his son Abd al-Malik became the caliph (685-705).
The Umayyad state grew up and rise after Abul Malik ascended to power. The expansion of the state continued during the period of the caliph Walid who came after him (705-715). Many places were conquered and importance was attached to the organization in the state. However, the conflicts in the country did not completely finish. Many measures were taken and efforts were spent to solve the problems.
b. The Capture of Mecca by the Umayyads:
Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, one of Abd al-Malik’s commanders, was appointed to capture Iraq and Hejaz, which were governed by Abdullah ibn Zubayr, to annex them to the lands of country.
Hajjaj who surrounded Mecca oppressed the people, but the Meccans bravely resisted. Abdullah ibn Zubair fought to the end in the battles. Even though Abdullah and the Meccans fought heroically, they were defeated by Hajjaj’s predominated army. By Hajjaj’s command, Abdullah was decapitated and his head was sent to Damascus.
Along with Mecca, other fortresses of Hejaz were also captured. Thereafter, the people of Yemen were forced to surrender. Those who did not like the new administrators moved to the West borders or to remote regions of Khorasan. They continued their open-secret struggle against the Umayyads there.
c. The conquests in Anatolia, Caucasus and North Africa:
Abd al-Malik’s sultanate was filled with many conquests. The Muslim armies in the North continuously protected the borders against Byzantine. However, the Byzantine emperor, who knew about the struggle between the Muslims in the country, did not hesitate to send armies across the border. For a while, Muslims fought a defensive war along the border, and then they entered into Anatolia. Especially during the period of Walid l, many cities and places in the East, Middle and South Anatolia were conquered under the leadership of the commanders such as Maslamah ibn Abd al-Malik.
Walid who became happy with Maslamah’s successes in Anatolia removed his uncle from the office of governorship of Jazeera province, i.e. Mosul, and appointed Maslamah to its governorship.
The borders of northern Mosul were under the attack of the Turks. Maslamah, who wanted to prevent this, moved to Azerbaijan and Caucasus. He captured the places up to the city Bender (711). When Maslamah was in the Azerbaijan and Caucasus, Amr ibn Walid, one of his nephews, came up to Istanbul fronts.
Musa ibn Nuayr, who was appointed by Walid I as the governor of Ifriqiya, proceeded up to the Atlantic Ocean in order to have the Berbers surrender. Thus, in 709-710 he ruled the entire North Africa.
After a while, Musa ibn Nusayr sent his commander Tariq ibn Ziyad to Spain. In 710 Tariq went out for an expedition. One year later, he crossed Ceuta (Gibraltar) again and moved into Spain. As soon as he passed across the strait to Spain, he made his ships burned and showed his soldiers his determination about the conquest.
Muslims defeated the king Roderick’s forces that opposed them. From that moment on, the whole Spain was going to be conquered.
d. The Conquests in Transoxiana and Turkestan
Hajjaj sent his commander `Abd ar-Rahman ibn Muhammad to the Kingdom of Kabul that refused to pay taxes although they accepted the Islam. `Abd ar-Rahman went to Kabul and subdued the government.
On the other hand, Qutayba ibn Muslim was sent across the river Amu Darya. Qutayba conquered Balkh, Bukhara, Samarkand and its surrounding area. Later on, he went towards Harzam and annexed Khiva. In 713, they moved beyond Bukhara and restrained Farghana. Thus, Transoxiana was conquered.
Qutayba arrived at the Chinese borders when he conquered Qashqar, which is located in the Eastern regions of Turkestan. Qutayba’s actions caused the Chinese emperor to be alarmed. He sent ambassadors and various gifts and made a peace agreement with Qutayba (715).
One of the activities that Hajjaj initiated during the period of Walid I was the expedition to Indian. Muhammad ibn Qasim, who was sent to India with a huge army, achieved important victories. Many places were conquered and taxes were imposed on the Indian princedoms.
e. The Innovations in the State Organization
The Sultan Abd al-Malik (685-705) carried out many innovations in administrative, social and economic fields. Above all, he minted coins in his name for the first time in the Muslim world. Before his era, the coins of other states had been in circulation and even minted in the Muslim world. In this context, there had been coins minted during the period of Caliph Umar (r.a.) and every province had its own minting houses. Abd al-Malik who demonetized all of them minted new coins from gold and silver in place of them. Another fundamental change done by Abd al-Malik took place in the field of language. In the Government Assemblies (Diwans), he banned speaking in Coptic language in Egypt, Greek in Damascus and Persian in Iraq, and ordered Arabic to be spoken in place of these languages. Moreover, he established the postal service and regulated the tax system.
Walid I, was a kind and generous ruler. During his period, it can be observed that there were improvements especially in architectural works. He also founded educational and medical institutions (hospitals). He made an effort to establish the superiority of the rule of law and to secure the justice.
f. The Final Periods of the Umayyads
After the death of Walid I, his brother Suleiman ascended to the rule (715-717). He was an incapable person. One of the untimely acts done during his period was the very costly and unsuccessful siege of Istanbul. An observable political development took place in Spain. Its governor, al-Hurr ibn Abd ar-Rahman, passed the Pyrenees and entered into France.
Umar ibn Abdulaziz who became caliph in 717-720 distinguished from other Umayyad rulers by his righteousness, faith, strive, and sense of justice. In a short time, he gained the approval of the Muslims because of the various achievements he managed in the county. There had been a custom to revile against Ali (r.a.) at the Friday sermons since the time of Muawiya, but this custom was abolished by Umar ibn Abdulaziz. Certain properties used to be reserved for the Prophet’s (pbuh) family during the period of Umar ibn Khattab and Umar ibn Abdulaziz ensured to give the same properties to the Prophet’s (pbuh) family again. He removed some of the high taxes that were taken from the non-Muslims. He strived to establish equality among the community and to lead a modest life. Because Umar ibn Abdulaziz was like his grandfather Umar ibn Khattab in justice and administration, he was called Umar II.
g. The Collapse of the Umayyads
- The most important reason for the collapse of the Umayyads is the revival of the bygone sense of tribalism in the community. The dependence of military system on tribalism and caliphs’ and governors’ being a part of tribal conflicts fueled the tribal contentions. Those people’s manipulation of the opposing tribes for their personal greed for power led the community to be divided into the Northerners and Southerners (or Mudaris-Yemenies).
- The Umayyad state was an Arab state. This fact started to be felt among the community after the period of Muawiya. It was practiced as a strict nationalism in the following years. They discriminated the non-Arab Muslims. This affected the non-Arab Muslim’s approach and led them to hate the Arabs and the state. The non-Arab factors which we call mawali played the key role as it is observed in the collapse of the Umayyad state.
- Some of the Umayyad caliphs had a life style which can be regarded as scandalous and the caliphs didn’t earnestly attend themselves to the state affairs because of their addiction to amusement. Especially the idea that they were alienated from the basic principles of Islam was a matter continuously kept on the agenda by the adversary groups.
- The revolts of popular commanders like Abdullah ibn Zubayr, Ibn al-Ash’ath, Al-Harith ibn Surayj and Yazid ibn al-Muhallab, especially the revolt of Ali’s followers and the Kharijites weakened the power of the state.
It was asked to one of the prominent member of Umayyad family, who knew the history of the state very well that: What is the reason for the collapse of your sultanate? He replied: “We enjoyed our time and oppressed the community instead of investigate their situation and care about them. Thereon they abandoned their hope of our justice and started to desire to get rid of us. They mistreated our taxmen and dissociated from us. Thus our lands devastated and our treasures emptied. We have trusted our viziers and governors but unfortunately, they preferred their own interests instead of those of the state. They did things without asking us and hid them from us.”
h. Major Events of the Umayyad Period:
- The Siege of Istanbul: The Umayyads laid siege on Istanbul on two occasions (668–674), but they achieved no result.
- The Incident of Karbala (680): is the incident, in which Ali’s younger son Hussein who did not accept Yazid’s caliphate and those who accompanied him were massacred at Karbala. This sad incident led the division of Muslim world into two groups as Sunnis and Shiites.
- The Conquest of North Africa: Umayyad troops under the command of Uqba ibn Nafi conquered the whole North Africa and reached up to the Atlantic Ocean.
- The Conquest of Hispania/ The Battle of Guadalete: In 711, the troops under the command of Tariq ibn Ziyad crossed the Straits of Gibraltar and entered into Spain. They encountered the Visigoths at the place called Cadic. They won the battle by killing King Roderic. Spain was conquered in a short time with the support of the reinforcement of Musa ibn Nusayr. Muslims called Spain as “Andalusia.”
- Battle of Poitiers: The Umayyads crossed over the Pyrenees Mountains under the leadership of Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi, in 732. The Franks under the leadership of Charles Martel won the battle against the Umayyads at Poitiers. This defeat stopped the political and military expansion of the Muslims in West Europe.
- Military Expeditions in Anatolia, Caucasus, Transoxiana and Turkestan: The Umayyads organized expeditions over Anatolia against Byzantine and captured some cities. As a result of military expeditions over Caucasus, Transoxiana and Turkestan, they also captured some other places. The Turks resisted against the Umayyads for about a century. The Arabs captured, plundered and destroyed places like Beykent, Bukhara, Samarkand and Fergana. The Turks who adapted to live free resisted against living under the domination of the Arabs.
- During the period of Abdul Malik, Arabic was accepted as the official language and the first Islamic Arab Money (Dinar) was coined.
- The movement that began with the Abu Muslim Khorasani’s revolt spread in a short time, and the Umayyad State came to an end with the defeat and killing of the last Umayyad caliph Merwan II.