Umayyad Dynasty

Umayyad Dynasty

The Umayyad Dynasty (661-750 CE), the first dynasty to take the title of Caliphate, was established in 661 CE by Muawiya (l. 602-680 CE), who had served as the governor of Syria under the Rashidun Caliphate, after the death of the fourth caliph, Ali in 661 CE. The Umayyads ruled effectively and firmly established the political authority of the Caliphate, rebellions were crushed with brute force, and no quarter was given to those who stirred uprisings.

They ruled over a large empire, to which they added vast newly conquered areas such as that of North Africa (beyond Egypt), Spain, Transoxiana, parts of the Indian subcontinent, and multiple islands in the Mediterranean (but most of these were lost). Although the empire was at its ever largest size during their reign, internal divisions and civil wars weakened their hold over it, and in 750 CE, they were overthrown by the Abbasids (r. 750-1258 CE, a rival Arab faction who claimed to be descended from the Prophet's uncle Abbas).


Muawiya was a cousin of Uthman; he refused to settle for anything less than the execution of his kinsman's assailants.

After the death of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad (l. 570-632 CE), Abu Bakr (r. 632-634 CE, a senior companion of the Prophet) took the title of the Caliph, hence forming the basis of the Islamic Caliphates (intermittently: 632-1924 CE). Abu Bakr was the first of the four initial caliphs referred collectively by the mainstream Sunni Muslims as the Rashidun Caliphs, while the Shia Muslims only consider the fourth one of these, Ali (a close companion and son-in-law of the Prophet), the sole legitimate candidate for the Caliphate.

In the Rashidun period, the armies of Islam launched full-scale invasions into Syria, the Levant, Egypt, parts of North Africa, the islands of the Greek archipelago, and the whole of the Sassanian Empire. These conquests were initiated by Abu Bakr and successfully carried on by his successors Umar (r. 634-644 CE) and Uthman (r. 644-656 CE). Uthman, however, was not a strong ruler and was murdered in his own house by rebels in 656 CE. His death marked the breaking point in the history of the Islamic empire: his successor Ali (r. 656-661 CE) was pinned between handling a disintegrating realm and people insisting that justice be served to his dead predecessor.

Ali was faced with opposition, most notably from the governor of Syria, Muawiya (l. 602-680 CE). Muawiya was a cousin of Uthman; he refused to settle for anything less than the execution of his kinsman's assailants. Civil war erupted, the First Fitna (656-661 CE), which ended with Ali's murder at the hands of an extremist group called the Kharjites. These zealots had made an attempt on Muawiya's life as well, but the latter survived with only a minor injury.

Muawiya I

Muawiyya's (r. 661-680 CE) lineage is referred to as the Sufyanids (after his father Abu Sufyan), or sometimes as Harbites (after his grandfather Harb). He was a shrewd politician and a strong diplomat who preferred bribery to warfare. He convinced Hasan (l. 624-670 CE), the son of Ali, who had succeeded him in Kufa, to abdicate in his favor in exchange for a high pension. However, when he felt that someone posed a threat to his rule, he would take no risk and have them killed. The death of Hassan in 670 CE, who is said to have been poisoned by his wife, is often linked with him by Muslim historians, alongside that of many other supporters of Ali.

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His 20-year reign, from his capital at Damascus, was indeed the most stable one that the Arabs had seen since the death of Umar, and his administrative reforms were just as excellent, such as the use of a police network (Shurta), personal bodyguards for his safety, diwans (for local administration, just as Umar had established) among others. He initiated campaigns in parts of modern-day Pakistan and Afghanistan and, in the west, all the way to the Atlantic coast of Morocco. He managed to regain territories lost to the Byzantines, but most of his gains were reversed after his death, owing to internal unrest.

Yazid I & the Second Fitna

Problems started when Muawiya appointed his son Yazid (r. 680-683 CE) as his successor. The Arabs were not accustomed to dynastic rule and so Yazid's accession was met with much resentment, most notably from Husayn ibn Ali (l. 626-680 CE), Hasan's younger brother, and Abdullah ibn Zubayr (l. 624-692 CE), who was the son of a close companion of Prophet Muhammad.

Today Yazid is remembered as perhaps the most negative figure in Islamic history.

In 680 CE, Husayn, convinced by the people of Kufa, marched to Iraq, intending to gather his forces and then attack Damascus. Yazid, however, put a lockdown on Kufa and sent his army, under the command of his cousin: Ubaidullah ibn Ziyad (d. 686 CE) to intercept Husayn's force. The two parties met in Karbala, near the Euphrates, where Husayn's army – some 70 combatants (mostly family members and close associates) made a heroic stand and were all brutally massacred and Husayn beheaded. This sparked the second civil war of Islamic history – the Second Fitna (680-692 CE).

Yazid then ordered another army to attack the Medinans, who had rebelled due to their disgust over Yazid's character and actions; this culminated in the Battle of al-Harra (683 CE), where opposition was crushed. In the aftermath of the battle, according to some sources, Medina was subjected to plunder, pillage, rape, and murder. The Syrian army then proceeded to Mecca, where Abdullah had established his own realm. The city was besieged for several weeks, during which the cover of the Ka'aba (Islamic holy site) caught on fire. Though Yazid's army retreated to Syria after their leader's sudden death (683 CE), the damage done by Yazid's army left an indelible mark in the hearts of the Muslims. Abdullah continued his revolt for another decade, claiming the title of Caliph (r. 683-692 CE) for himself; he earned the fealty of Hejaz, Egypt, and Iraq – while his opponents were barely in control of Damascus after their sovereign's death.

Today Yazid is remembered as perhaps the most negative figure in Islamic history. His son Muawiya II (r. 683-684 CE) was proclaimed caliph after his death, but the sickly youngster wanted no share in his father's ill actions. He died just a few months later in 684 CE, bringing an end to the Sufyanid rulers. Apart from Damascus, the whole of the Umayyad realm had been tossed into chaos.

The Marwanids

Marwan ibn Hakam (r. 684-685 CE), a senior member of the Umayyad clan and a cousin of Muawiya, took over, with the promise that the throne would pass on to Khalid (Yazid's younger son) upon his death. He had no intention of keeping this promise; now the empire was in the hands of the Marwanids (house of Marwan), also known as Hakamites (after Marwan's father Hakam). Marwan recaptured Egypt – which had revolted and joined the Zubayrid faction. But he could not contain Abdullah's revolt, as he died just nine months after assuming the office (685 CE). This task now fell upon the shoulders of his brilliant son, Abd al-Malik (r. 685-705 CE).

In 685 CE, Al Mukhtar (l. 622-687 CE), started a revolt in Kufa and joined hands with Abdullah against the Umayyads. Al Mukhtar systematically hunted down all those who were involved in Husayn's murder. An army sent by Abd al-Malik under Ubaidullah (the general from Karbala) was crushed by the combined forces of the Kufans and Zubayrids; the defeated general was put to the sword.

He then declared his wish to establish an Alid Caliphate, using one of Ali's sons (although not from Fatima), Muhammad ibn al-Hanaffiya (l. 637-700 CE). This led to his parting ways with Abdullah who had claimed the Caliphate for himself from Mecca. Abd al-Malik then waited as his rivals weakened each other. In 687 CE Al Mukhtar was killed by Zubayrid forces during the siege of Kufa. Although Al Mukhtar died there and then, his revolt ultimately led to the evolution of Shi'ism from a political group to a religious sect.

With the threat in Kufa neutralized, Abd al-Malik shifted his attention towards Mecca: he sent his most loyal and ruthless general, the governor of rebellious Iraq, Hajjaj ibn Yusuf (l. 661-714 CE) to subjugate his rival. Although Abdullah stood no chance against Hajjaj's mighty army, he refused to surrender and died sword in hand in 692 CE; the war was over.

Although he has not escaped the criticism for Hajjaj's cruel deeds, Abd al-Malik is credited for bringing stability and centralization to the empire, Most notably he Arabized the whole of his dominion, which in time helped the propagation of Islam; he also established official coins for his empire.

The construction of the Dome of Rock in Jerusalem took place under his canopy (691-692 CE); it is conceivable that this was to balance his position against Abdullah, who at that time was in control of the Ka'aba. It was also during his reign that all of North Africa, including Tunis, was conquered (by 693 CE) for good. The local Berbers, who accepted Islam, would become vital in carrying it all the way to Spain during the reign of his son.

Al Walid & Conquest of Spain

After Abd al-Malik's death, his son Al Walid I (r. 705-715 CE) assumed the office who pushed the boundaries of his empire even farther. Hajjaj continued to extend his influence over his sovereign; two of his protégés – Muhammad ibn Qasim (l. 695-715 CE) and Qutayba ibn Muslim (l. 669-715 CE) were successful in subjugating parts of modern-day Pakistan and Transoxiana, respectively.

Muslim conquest of Spain started in 711 CE when a Berber named Tariq ibn Ziyad landed on the Iberian Peninsula on a mount that bears his name today: Gibral-Tar. He defeated a numerically superior army led by Gothic king Roderic (r. 710-712 CE) at the battle of Guadalete (711 CE), after which, the land simply lay still for him to take.

Musa ibn Nusayr (l. 640-716 CE), the governor of Ifriqiya (North Africa beyond Egypt) reinforced Tariq with more men and the duo had conquered most of Al Andalus (Arabic for Spain – the land of the Vandals) by 714 CE. Musa was on the verge of invading Europe through the Pyrenees, but at that fateful moment, for reasons not clear to historians, the Caliph ordered both of them to return to Damascus.

Expansion Halted

Walid had tried to nominate his own son as his successor, instead of his brother Sulayman, who was his successor by their father's covenant; naturally, Sulayman refused to let go of his claim. Walid died before he could force his brother into submission, and Sulayman (r. 715-717 CE) assumed the office; his brief reign was an abject failure. Sulayman had nothing but contempt for the late Hajjaj and released many people who had been held captive in Hajjaj's prisons.

However, the dead governor's subordinates faced the full wrath of the new Caliph; Sulayman had many of the empire's dauntless generals and talented governors killed, as most of them had been handpicked by the aforementioned. Sulayman then turned his attention towards Constantinople and sent a massive force to conquer the Byzantine capital in 717 CE. This venture was a costly and humiliating defeat, the damage was permanent and irreversible, halted expansion, moreover, it was the first major setback against the Byzantines. Nearing his death, Sulayman realized that his own sons were too young to succeed him, he nominated his pious cousin Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz.

Umar II (r. 717-720 CE) managed to rule for only three years as he was poisoned by his own family because of his unwavering stance on justice and on Islamic principles. This quality of his, supplemented by many of his admirable actions such as stopping public cursing of Ali, facilitating conversion and halting attacks on peaceful neighboring empires, has earned him much posthumous fame as he has often been dubbed as the fifth Rashidun Caliph.

He stopped all military expeditions, knowing that the internal state of the empire needed to be improved before anything else. He had also entered negotiations with the non-Arab Muslims (Mawali – in Arabic), who had opposed and resented Umayyad rule (since they had been violently repressed). Had he been given enough time, there was a fair enough chance that he might have succeeded, and the Abbasids might have never gained enough support against the Umayyads from Mawalis and Shia Muslims (of the Eastern Provinces).

Umar's successor, Yazid II (r. 720-724 CE), another son of Abd al-Malik, proved to be no better a ruler than the first one to bear his name. Whilst he was busy fondling with his favorite concubines in his harem, his ineffective governors had lost all control of the empire. Fortunately for the Umayyads, he died just four years after assuming control.

Restoration of Order

Yazid's brother and successor, Hisham (r. 724-743 CE) had inherited an empire torn apart by civil wars and he would use all of his energies and resources to bring the kingdom out of this tumult. A strong and inflexible ruler, Hisham reinstated many reforms that had been introduced by Umar II but discontinued by Yazid II.

Some of his military expeditions were successful, others not so much: a Hindu revolt in Sindh (a province in modern-day Pakistan) was crushed, but a Berber revolt broke out in the western parts of North Africa (modern-day Morocco) in 739 CE. The Berbers had been stirred up by the fanatical teachings of Kharijite zealots (a radical and rebellious sect of Islam) and caused a great deal of damage, most notably, the deaths of most of the Arab elites of Ifriqiya at the Battle of Nobles (c. 740 CE) near Tangier. Attempts to crush the rebellion did not even come close to complete the objective, but the disunited Berbers soon disintegrated (743 CE) after they failed to take the core of Ifriqiya, the capital city of Qairouwan, but Morocco was lost for the Umayyads.

Al Andalus had also descended to anarchy, but Hisham was successful there. Under an able general named Abd al-Rahman al-Ghafiqi, the province was restored to order but further expansion into Europe was checked after the defeat at the Battle of Tours (732 CE) against the Franks under Charles Martel (r. 718-741 CE).

Third Fitna

After Hisham's death in 743 CE, the empire was brought to a civil war. Walid II – a son of Yazid II ruled from 743-744 CE, before being overthrown and killed by Yazid III (d. 744 CE) – a son of Walid I. This sparked the Third Fitna (743-747 CE), the third civil war in Islamic history as many tribes had also started revolting against the establishment amidst the chaos. Yazid III died just six months later and was succeeded by his brother Ibrahim who only managed to rule for two months before being overthrown by the elderly Marwan II (r. 744-750 CE) – a grandson of Marwan I.

Umayyad rule ended with Marwan's death but Abd al-Rahman carried on his family's hold on Spain.

Marwan II was a strong military commander but lacked diplomatic skills, instead he crushed the uprisings with brute force and brought an end to the Third Fitna in 747 CE. However, the Abbasids (an Arabian faction that claimed to be descendants of the Prophet's uncle: Abbas), had gained the support of the people of Khurasan (in Iran). His empire was not in a state to face a large scale uprising; his army was exhausted after years of warfare, the failing economy did not allow him to recruit more troops, and ineffective governors failed to realize the gravity of the Abbasid threat until it was simply too late.

End of the Umayyads

The Abbasids showed no mercy to the Umayyads; all male members were slain, a surviving few retreated to their hideouts. Umayyad graves in Damascus were dug out and their remains torn apart and burnt – except for Umar II, whose grave was spared because of his reputation. Then the Abbasids invited all of the surviving members to dinner on the pretext of reconciliation but, when they were seated at the table, at the signal of the new Caliph, assassins entered the room and clubbed them to death. Abd al-Rahman I, a grandson of the able Hisham, survived the horrible fate of his kinsmen, he managed to escape the Abbasids and made a perilous journey across the empire and landed in Al Andalus, where he formed the Emirate of Cordoba in 756 CE, which rivaled the Abbasid realm in elegance and grandeur.


The Umayyads were the first dynasty to take over the institute of Caliphate, transforming it into an inheritable title. They were responsible for bringing centralization and stability to the realm, and they also continued the swift military expansion of the empire. However, the Umayyads also had their fair share of wrongdoings and flaws that cost them their reputation. Yazid I committed horrendous crimes against the house of Ali and the people of Medina and Mecca – to this day, he remains the most hated person in Islamic history. This hatred is especially well pronounced among Shia Muslims because of the massacre of Husayn and his forces at Karbala in 680 CE (this event is commemorated annually through the festival of Ashura by the Shias).

Yazid's actions have been extended over to the whole dynasty, and since most of the Umayyad caliphs were more or less secular and led luxurious lives (save a few such as Umar II and Hisham), they were viewed as being godless by pious Muslims of their time. Contemporary historians tend to glorify them while many Muslim historians (but not all) tend to demonize them. Despite their many flaws, the Umayyads were effective rulers and made notable contributions not only to the empire but - perhaps unintentionally, with the Arabization of the empire - to Islam itself.


In the year 622, the followers of the prophet Muḥammad were forced to leave the Middle Eastern city-state of Mecca, ultimately settling two hundred miles away in the city of Medina–which, like Mecca, is in modern-day Saudi Arabia. What followed was an eight-year war between the two cities that polarized the Arab world, as many tribal leaders converted to Islam in order to avoid conflict with Muḥammad’s army and followers.

By 630, the Prophet’s forces took Mecca, but two years later Muḥammad fell ill and died. The Muslims had been held together by Muḥammad’s teachings and by the belief that he was the true prophet of God. At the time of his death, however, Muḥammad had not selected an heir, nor given instruction as to how the faith should proceed after his demise.

The remaining Muslim leaders created the position of caliph to fill the power vacuum in the growing Islamic empire. The first four caliphs, later known as the rashidun, were all selected from among Muḥammad’s male relatives, chosen by a consensus of Muslim leaders. The reign of the third caliph, ʿUthmān ibn ʿAffān (d. 656) ended with his assassination, leaving the empire in civil war, and placing last of the rashidun caliphs, ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib (c. 600–661) in conflict with ʿUthmān’s cousin, Muʿāwiyah I (c. 602–680), the governor of Damascus.

Muʿāwiyah’s supporters fought ʿAlī’s to a standstill, and finally ʿAlī decided to accept arbitration to settle the dispute. This displeased many of the more extreme elements in ʿAlī’s government, who considered seeking arbitration tantamount to heresy. Ali was assassinated, and Muʿāwiyah became the fifth caliph, and the first of the Umayyad dynasty. Muʿāwiyah made Damascus the new capital of the Islamic empire. Besides offering significant political and military support for the caliph, Damascus was set in a fertile countryside that could sustain a royal court, a growing government bureaucracy, and an active army. A new ruling group consisting of military officials and tribal chiefs emerged, and the leading families of Mecca and Medina, in Islam’s distant birthplace, grew less important. Followers of Islam built great mosques in cities throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and later in Cordoba, Spain. Intended to meet the needs of ritual prayer, they also served as meeting places for the community to gather and discuss public issues.

Umayyad caliphs and their officials attempted to impose uniform policies throughout the empire, but eliminating local customs was difficult due to the great distances and cultural differences. At the same time, some conquered peoples became intent on imposing their own ideas on representatives of the ruling caliphs. These attempts gained momentum toward the end of Umayyad rule.

History of the emergence of the Umayyad Dynasty and its decline

The Umayyad dynasty began in 41 H / 661 AD, this was a Muslim government that emerged after the leadership of Khulafa al-Rasyidin. The Umayyad government was formed in Damascus since the events of the tahkim during the Siffin war. The war was waged to avenge the death of Usman bin Affan.

This war was originally going to be won by Ali’s saiyyidina group but after reading the situation and feeling that he would lose, Muawiyah immediately proposed to Ali’s side to return to the way of Allah.

During the tahkim incident, Muawiyah’s technique made Sayyidina Ali helpless, and finally Sayyidina Ali’s party suffered political defeat.

Meanwhile, on the other hand, Muawwiyah had the opportunity to become caliph and a king. This is a governmental system that has changed the electoral system from the beginning, which was elected by deliberation for consensus to become an electoral system by monarchy or kinship.

Darri here began the emergence of various understandings in terms of theology and even three group forces had emerged at the end of Ali’s reign, namely Shia, Khawarij, and Muawiyah.

Latas, who was the founder of the Umayyad dynasty? The Umayyad dynasty was founded by Muawiyah bin Abu Sufyan bin Harb. The name of this dynasty was associated and attributed to Umayyah bin Abd Shams bin Abdu Manaf. So, Muawiyah was not only the founder of this dynasty but also as its first caliph.

Muawiyah being caliph is viewed negatively by contemporary historians because he gained power through the civil war, namely the Siffin war. However, from the other side, Muawiyah is a person whose soul collects the qualities of a ruler, administrator and politician.

During the Umayyad Khilafah there were other caliphs who were very influential at that time, including Al Walid bin Abdul Malik Umar bin Abdul Aziz.

In the power of Al Walid bin Abdul Malik, Islam spread to mainland Spain which was spread by Thoriq bin Ziyad. The Islamic Khilafah was so rich that they promoted infrastructure development such as building mosques, and factories and wells.

Of the mosques that were built at that time, some of the famous ones are the Al-Amawi Damascus Mosque, the Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and expanding the Nabawi mosque in Madinah al-Munawwarah. At this time Islamic civilization began to develop.

There was also the caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz, he was known as an honest and just and wealthy man. However, after serving as caliph he chose to live simply. He is not only known as an honest and fair person but is popular with the breadth of his knowledge, especially in the hadiths.

During the time of the Caliph Umar bin Abdul Aziz, the idea emerged for the first time to collect various hadiths of the Prophet Muhammad that were still scattered on the hadiths of hadith scholars. A work of his was also able to reconcile disputes between the Amamiyah, Khawarij and Shia sects.

The period of the Umayyad caliphate cannot be denied that there were very many advances in various sectors, both in politics, science and economics.

The expansion and development of Islam was extraordinary until that time Islam developed to the land of Africa and Spain. Not only the expansion of Islam, but also the physical development in various bisang with their beautiful building designs and also the construction of public facilities that had never been built before. But at this time all of these things were fixed for the benefit of society.

The Umayyads also made Mecca and Medina at that time the cities where music, songs and poetry were developed. Iraq is the city of Basrah and Kufa is the city of knowledge. Meanwhile, the city of Marbad, a suburb in Damascus, turned into a beautiful gathering place for Muslim philosophers, poets, scholars and scholars.

Among the sciences that were experiencing rapid progress at that time were Arabic, hadith science, qiro’at, fiqh and even geography.

However, it turned out that these developments and advances later disappeared and disappeared due to the emergence of a group that felt that they were not satisfied with Umaayyah’s service. This group is Khawarij, Shi’ah and non-Arab or Mawali Muslims.

It is not clear what was the reason for the change in the caliphate, the strong suspicion is that they were dissatisfied with the leadership of the Umayyads. In addition, it is also considered that there is no intention to maintain peace. So the two sides continued to churn and taper.

There is also another thing, the luxurious royal family makes the burden of the country even heavier and ultimately difficult to bear. Moreover, the killing of the caliph Marwan bin Muhammad by the Abbasid army was a sign that the Umayyad dynasty in Damascus was soon to end.

List of Umayyad Dynasty Rulers, 661-750, 756-929

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The Civil War and the Rise of the Umayyad Dynasty

The first Muslim dynasty created by the Umayyads after the First Muslim Civil War lasted from 661 to 750 AD and made a significant influence on the early Islamic community. Most importantly, the Umayyads’ rule transformed the community into the most powerful empire at the time. The Umayyad dynasty witnessed an incredible expansion of the Islamic empire and built an efficient governmental structure. Despite all the perspectives the Umayyad dynasty offered to the Islamic community, it was supposed to fall because of its weaknesses such as inability of the caliphs to deal with the opposition and problematic taxation among others. The history of the First Muslim Civil War and the rise of the Umayyad dynasty reflect cultural, political and religious changes within the Islamic society at the time.

The Umayyad family came to power after the ending of the First Fitna, or the First Muslim Civil War. In fact, the Umayyads came to power with the rule of Uthman ibn Affan, the third caliph, for the first time. However, Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan established his family’s rule and founded the Umayyad Dynasty only at end of the First Muslim Civil War. The conflict was caused by Muawiya, who doubted Ali’s leadership. According to John L. Esposito (n.d.), many Muslims believed that Ali, who was the fourth caliph and a cousin and son-in-law of Muhammed, had a holy right to be the Prophet’s successor. Ali’s supporters wanted the family of the Prophet to rule the Islamic community. However, Ali’s rule was interrupted by the First Fitna and revolts. Two opposition movements challenged his authority (Esposito, n.d.). The first movement was led by the Prophet’s widow, Aisha the second one was led by Muawiya, who was the governor of Syria at the time (Esposito, n.d.). The fourth caliph’s failure to find and punish Uthman’s killers was the main reason for these revolts. Uthman, Muawiya’s uncle, was murdered by unknown Muslims who did not like that the third caliph concentrated power in the hands of the Umayyads (The Sailor Foundation, n.d.). The governor of Syria demanded the hanging of the assassins, but Ali rejected their demand. At the beginning of the civil war, Ali crushed the revolt headed by Aisha. According to Esposito (n.d.), the Battle of the Camel “marked the first time a caliph had led his army against another Muslim army.” However, the fourth caliph did not stop at this point. In 657, Ali led his army against Muawiya. Esposito (n.d.) explains that Muawiya’s people, who faced the defeat, “raised Qurans on the tips of their spears and called for arbitration according to the Quran, crying out, ‘Let God decide.’” As a result, the arbitration gave no certain answer as neither Ali nor Muawiya won. Ali’s supporters were disappointed at the fourth caliph for his failure to defeat the enemy. Muawiya continued to be the governor of Syria and even extended his rule to Egypt (Esposito, n.d.). After Ali’s death in 662, Muawiya “laid successful claim to the caliphate, moving its capital to Damascus and frustrating Alid belief that leadership of the community should be restricted to Ali’s descendants” (Esposito, n.d.). At the beginning, Muawiya had very little chances to become the leader of the Islamic community. However, “his skill and intellect, combined with a lot of luck, enabled him to build the first Muslim dynasty” (The Sailor Foundation, n.d.). Therefore, even though the governor of Syria was not Muhammad’s descendant, he became the fifth caliph. Thus, as Muawiya established the Umayyad dynasty, he ended the “golden age” of Muhammad and the rule of the Rightly Guided Caliphs.

Under the rule of the Umayyad family, the caliphate was transformed into an absolute monarchy. As a result, the dynasty refused from a religious leadership. The first Umayyad caliph, Muawiya, changed the way of selecting caliphs. Before that, the caliphate, that consisted of powerful tribal leaders elected the caliph. In fact, the Umayyads were the first rulers of the Islamic Empire who decided to transfer their power among the members of their family mainly from father to son. Muawiya made the caliphate recognize Yazid, his son, as the next caliph (Hooker, n.d.). Richard Hooker (n.d.) explains that “technically, Yazid was still elected in reality, he was selected by his father to succeed him.” Thus, the Umayyad caliphate became a hereditary monarchy under the rule of the Umayyad dynasty.

However, some researchers find the Umayyads’ practice of passing power from father to son to be controversial. Hooker (n.d.) states that the fact that the caliphate became a monarchy aroused opposition to the Umayyad dynasty among many Muslims. The opposition viewed monarchy as “a fundamental perversion of the religious and social principles of Islam” (Hooker, n.d.). Moreover, it later created a conflict that led to the Second Civil War and the fall of the dynasty. Nevertheless, the Umayyads’ practice of passing power from father to son gave Muslims a sense of stability.

In contrast to previous caliphs, the Umayyad dynasty was not very religious and did not obtrude Islam on the citizens of the Islamic empire. According to Islamic History (n.d.), in the first years of Islam, the mission to spread the Prophet’s religion was an important part of the Islamic rule. The Umayyads allowed Christians and Jews to keep their faith. However, many of them converted to Islam of their own free will.

Despite the lack of religious character in his rule, Muawiya proved to be a brilliant and effective leader who created a solid ground for his dynasty. During his rule, the Islamic empire witnessed twenty years of peace. Moreover, Muawiya solidified Islamic control over both Iran and Iraq (Hooker, n.d.). Most importantly, the fifth caliph was an effective administrator. According to Hooker (n.d.), Muawiya “embodied fully the Arabic virtue of hilm, or ‘leniency,’ and generously forgave even some of his worst enemies.” In addition, the Umayyad dynasty made a number of changes in the Islamic government. For instance, the fact that the government adopted Byzantine administrative and financial systems can be considered as the most significant of them (Hooker, n.d.). According to the Sailor Foundation (n.d.), Muawiya gave Christians, the former Byzantine officials in particular, positions in the Islamic empire’s government and used their experience in ruling the provinces. Thus, Muawiya brought important changes to the Islamic empire and proved his effectiveness as a leader of the nation.

Even though Muawiya was a good administrator, he and other Umayyads did not manage to deal with the opposition properly or solve the conflict with it. When Muawiya died in 680, Ali’s partisans “resumed a complicated but persistent struggle that plagued the Umayyads at home for most of the next seventy years” (Islamic History, n.d.). In addition, the Umayyad caliphate suffered from problems caused by territorial expansion and multiculturalism (Tucker, n.d.). Moreover, the dynasty made many enemies because it served their own interests and the interests of the privileged Arab families (Islamic History, n.d.). Thus, Beth Davies-Stofka (n.d.) explains that the Umayyad caliphate collected lower taxes from the ruling class, whereas poorer population and non-Muslims were obliged to pay higher ones. Even though the rule of the Umayyad dynasty lasted no longer than 90 years and faced many problems, it left a distinct mark on the Islamic culture.

In fact, the Umayyads’ monarchy had a significant influence on the Islamic culture. Hooker (n.d.) states that the Islamic artistic culture is deeply rooted in the Umayyad dynasty. According to Ghazi Bisheh (2010), the Umayyad dynasty constructed such famous buildings as the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Umayyad Mosque of Damascus among others. Most notably, during their rule, Arabic became an administrative language within the empire.

Therefore, the history of the First Muslim Civil War and the rise of the Umayyad dynasty reflect cultural, political and religious changes that occurred within the Islamic society at the time. Even though the Umayyads first came to power with Uthman, it was Muawiya who established the dynasty after the First Muslim Civil War. Ali’s failure to find and punish Uthman’s killers caused revolts headed by Aisha and Muawiya that led to the First Fitna. After Ali was murdered, Muawiya gained power and became the fifth caliph even though Muawiya had almost no chances to become the leader of the Islamic community compared to Mohamed’s relatives. However, Muawiya skills and intellect helped him to build the first Muslim monarchy. The Umayyads demonstrated themselves as good administrators however, they failed to solve the problem with opposition. Despite the fact that the rule of the Umayyad dynasty lasted for less than a century, they had a great influence on the Islamic culture.

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Umayyad Dynasty - History

Umayyad, also Omayyad, first great Arab Muslim dynasty of caliphs (religious and secular leaders) founded by Muawiyah I in 661 and lasting until 750. Uthman ibn Affan, a member of the prominent Umayyad family of Mecca, had been elected to the caliphate in 644 to succeed Umar I, but his weakness and nepotism resulted in rebellion and he was murdered in 656. Uthman was succeeded by Ali, son-in-law of the prophet Muhammad and chief of the legitimist party, which believed that only a member of Muhammad’s family could rightfully hold the caliphate. However, Muawiyah I, governor of Syria and first Umayyad caliph, revolted against Ali and, supported by Amr, the conqueror of Egypt, gained the advantage. Hailed as caliph at Jerusalem in 660, Muawiyah I was in complete control soon after the assassination of Ali the following year. Under Muawiyah I the capital was changed from Medina to Damascus. Muawiyah I developed an administrative system modeled after the Byzantine Empire and before his death in 680 had secured the throne for his son, thus putting the state on a dynastic basis. Conquest was begun again with an offensive on all fronts. Under Muawiyah I and his Umayyad successors, Muslim control of the Mediterranean region was completed. The Arabs, led by a fierce North African Berber army commanded by Tariq, crossed from North Africa and eventually conquered Spain in the east they met no effective opposition until they had passed the borders of India. They were stopped in the west by the Franks under Charles Martel and by the Byzantine Empire, which repulsed an attack on Constantinople early in the 8th century.

Under the Umayyad dynasty, political and social ascendancy remained in the hands of a few Arab families from Mecca and Medina. This caused the Muslim population, which had grown enormously as the empire expanded, to become increasingly discontented, especially since the Umayyads had found it necessary to increase their income from taxation. Lands were now taxed without regard to religion, and Muslims were exempt only from personal taxes. Opposition centered in Persia where there was continued opposition to Syrian domination and where the legitimists allied themselves with the Abbasids, who claimed descent from Abbas, the uncle of the prophet Muhammad. The Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads in 750, killed the caliph, Marwan II, and gained the caliphate for themselves. Members of the Umayyad family were located and slain, except for Abd-ar-Rahman I, who escaped to Córdoba, Spain, in 756 to rule as an independent emir. The Abbasids moved the capital of the empire eastward to a new city, Baghdād, which they founded on the Tigris River.

Islamic History

| A brief chronology of Islam | The Rightly Guided Caliphs| The Umayyads| Islam In Spain| The 'Abbasids| The Golden Age| The Seljuk Turks| The Crusaders| The Mongol and The Mamluks| The Legacy| The Ottomans| The Coming of the West|

With the death of Ali (may Allah be pleased with him), the first and most notable phase in the history of Muslim peoples came to an end. All through this period it had been the Book of God and the practices of His Messenger - that is, the Qur'an and the Sunnah - which had guided the leaders and the led, set the standards of their moral conduct and inspired their actions. It was the time when the ruler and the ruled, the rich and the poor, the powerful and the weak, were uniformly subject to the Divine Law. It was an epoch of freedom and equality, of God-consciousness and humility, of social justice which recognized no privileges, and of an impartial law which accepted no pressure groups or vested interests.

After Ali, Muslims agreed to give the caliphate to Muawiya (may Allah be pleased with him). Muawiya tried to continue on the same way as The Rightly-Guided Caliphs (may Allah be pleased with them), but he was ruling a different generation of people.

Umayyad Dynasty - History

Soon after Ali’s death, Mu’awiyah (mooh-AH-wee-YAH), the leader of the Umayyads, claimed the caliphate. Most Muslims, called the Sunnis (SOOH-neez), came to accept him. But a minority of Muslims, known as the Shi’ah (SHEE-ah), or “party” of Ali, refused to do so. They believed that only people directly descended from Muhammad through his daughter Fatima and son-in-law Ali should be caliph. The schism between the Sunnis and Shi’ah lasts to this day.

Mu’awiyah put down a revolt by Ali’s supporters. He held on to the caliphate. He also founded the Umayyad dynasty. In 661, the Umayyads moved their capital to Damascus, Syria. From there, the caliphs ruled the huge Muslim empire for close to 100 years.

Slowly, the lands of the Muslim empire took on more elements of Arab culture. Muslims introduced the Arabic language. Along with Islam, acceptance of Arabic helped unite the diverse people of the empire. In addition, Arabs took over as top officials. People bought goods with new Arab coins. While it was not policy to force conversion to Islam, some non-Muslims began to embrace the new faith for a variety of reasons. These included personal belief in the message of Islam and social pressure to join the people of the ruling group.

The Muslim empire continued to expand. The Umayyad caliphs sent armies into central Asia and northwestern India. In 711, Muslim armies began their conquests of present-day Spain. However, at the Battle of Tours in 732, forces under the Frankish king Charles Martel turned the Muslims back in France. This battle marked the farthest extent of Muslim advances into Europe, outside of Spain.

Muslims held on to land in Spain, where Islamic states lasted for almost 800 years. Muslims in Spain built some of the greatest cities of medieval Europe. Their capital city, Cordoba, became a center of learning where Muslim, Jewish, and Christian scholars shared ideas. Through their work, Muslim culture made important advances in arts, science, technology, and literature.

Umayyad Caliphs in Syria

Muʿāwiyah ibn Abī Sufyān, 661–680

Yazīd ibn Muʿāwiyah, 680–683

Muʿāwiya ii ibn Yazīd, 683–684

Marwān ibn al-Ḥakam, 684–685

ʿAbd al-Malik ibn Marwān, 685–705

al-Walīd ibn ʿAbd al-Malik, 705–715

Sulaymān ibn ʿAbd al-Malik, 715–717

ʿUmar ibn ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, 717–720

Yazīd ii ibn ʿAbd al-Malik, 720–724

Hishām ibn ʿAbd al-Malik, 724–743

al-Walīd ii ibn Yazīd ii, 743–744

Yazīd iii ibn al-Walīd, 744

Marwān ii ibn Muḥammad, 744–750

Early Islamic World

The Umayyad Caliphate was one of the most powerful and expansive of the Islamic Caliphates. It was also the first of the Islamic dynasties. This meant that the leader of the Caliphate, called the Caliph, was typically the son (or other male relative) of the previous Caliph.

The Umayyad Caliphate ruled the Islamic Empire from 661-750 CE. It succeeded the Rashidun Caliphate when Muawiyah I became Caliph after the First Muslim Civil War. Muawiyah I established his capital in the city of Damascus where the Umayyads would rule the Islamic Empire for nearly 100 years. The Umayyad Caliphate was brought to an end in 750 CE when the Abbasids took control.

Map of the Islamic Empire

What lands did it rule?

The Umayyad Caliphate expanded the Islamic Empire into one of the largest empires in the history of the world. At its peak, the Umayyad Caliphate controlled the Middle East, parts of India, much of North Africa, and Spain. Historians estimate the Umayyad Caliphate had a population of around 62 million people, which was nearly 30% of the world's population at the time.

The Umayyads modeled their government after the Byzantines (Eastern Roman Empire) who had previously ruled much of the land conquered by the Umayyads. They divided the empire into provinces that were each ruled by a governor appointed by the Caliph. They also created government bodies called "diwans" that handled different government agencies.

The Umayyads made several important contributions to the Islamic Empire. Many of their contributions had to do with unifying the large empire and the many cultures that were now part of the empire. These included creating a common coinage, establishing Arabic as the official language throughout the empire, and standardizing weights and measures. They also built some of the most revered buildings of Islamic history including the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem and the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus.

Dome of the Rock
Source: Wikimedia Commons

As the empire expanded, unrest among the people and opposition to the Umayyads increased. Many Muslims felt that the Umayyads had become too secular and were not following the ways of Islam. Groups of people including the followers of Ali, non-Arab Muslims, and the Kharjites began to rebel causing turmoil in the empire. In 750, the Abbasids, a rival clan to the Umayyads, rose to power and overthrew the Umayyad Caliphate. They took control and formed the Abbasid Caliphate which would rule much of the Islamic world for the next several hundred years.

One of the Umayyad leaders, Abd al Rahman, escaped to the Iberian Peninsula (Spain) where he established his own kingdom in the city of Cordoba. There the Umayyads continued to rule portions of Spain until well into the 1400s.

Watch the video: History of The Umayyad Caliphate. Casual Historian. Islamic History