Arab and Muslim Dynasties to 750 CE

The Early Caliphate:  The Rashidun Caliphate or Rightly Guided Caliphs.   

 Click on this map from Patterns of World History, OUP   Map of the Arab Conquests and Expansion 622 to 750 CE

The great political problem was the dynastic succession of the early Islamic empire.  There were early rivalries between the Ansaris, those who were based in Medina and the areas into which Islam expanded, and the Muhājirūn, the original companions of Muhammad, who had allegiances with the Quraysh in Mecca.  This rivalry led to disagreements over the selection of leadership of the umma.
The first choice for succession was Abū Bakr who was chosen over the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law, ‘Ali  b. Abu ‘Ali  Ṭalib. The title of Caliph or khalīfa (the full title is khalīfat rasūl Allāh, - successor to the Apostle of God)  was granted to the first four leaders known collectively as the Rashidun Caliphate, or the rightly guided caliphs.  Abū Bakr was the father-in-law of Muḥammad through the marriage of Aisha.  Abū Bakr soon approved an expedition that had been planned to invade Syria. This laid the foundation for expansion outward from the Arabian peninsula. 

Abu Bakr and the Ridda Wars

After the prophet Muhammad's death in 632 CE / 10 AH, the initial choice of a successor to leadership of the Muslim community was given to Muhammad's  father-in-law, Abu Bakr.  He would be called the khalifa  or caliph, the "successor."  One of the first political problems confronting Abu Bakr was  the refusal of some former allies  to refuse to pay a new tax that had been implemented by the Prophet Muhammad.  Interestingly, in some sources this was referred to as a poor tax, but in other sources or This led to a series of military campaigns in which Abu Bakr defended Medina and sought to enforce the payment of this new tax.  This led to the "Ridda Wars" that affected Western Arabia during his reign (Donner, 2008, p. 30). 

Expansion into Syria (633-636) 

Abu Bakr also ordered the expansion into Syrian territory and as ealy as 633 CE / 2 AH, Muslim armies were entering the Syrian frontier.  It is at the Battle of Yarmuk in 636 CE, that we find the description by al-Waqidi  in his Futuh al-Sham (Conquest of Syria), of Khawla bint Al-Azwar’s heroic deeds as a woman soldier, in which she leads her fellow women in an escape from a Byzantine prison camp, and later fights her way through the Byzantine army lines to help free her husband in the fight leading to Damascus.   

The Second Caliph Umar (ruled from 634-644)

Abu Bakr died only two years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad.  The next caliph ‘Umar was selected  by Abu Bakr’s will ‘Umar who completed the conquest of Syria and an early expansion into Iraq and Iran where Muslim forces attacked the Sassanian armies.   By about 639 CE, Muslim armies had also crossed the Sinai peninsula into the Nile Delta, and by 642 they had conquered or controlled most of Egypt, including the town of Fustat (later renamed as Cairo).   As in Syria, there were few battles for Egypt, and it is likely that the Muslim system of rules and ethics that favored trade, markets and an expanded sense of community and equal recognition of its members favored its ease of expansion and acceptance.   Another common historical explanation for the success of the spread is the zeal and charismatic appeal of the new Muslim community and the believers in spreading the message of Islam.  Among the policies instituted by ‘Umar was his tolerance for other religions, and his stipulation that they could retain their religious practice if they paid a special tax known as the Jizya tax.  This combined with the military organization and pragmatic policies of the new Muslim community probably account for the success of the early Muslim expansion. 
Umar's assassination by a Persian slave led to another problem of succession and in standing with precedent Uthman was chosen.  He was another relative of the Prophet Muhammad, an early convert to Islam, and member of the original Meccan community and member of the Quraysh tribe.  Uthman's role as part of the early emigrants who fled to Abyssinia or Ethiopia in around 615 CE, is interesting.  Ibn Ishaq states that he was successful as a merchant there but was called back to support the fledgling Muslim community back in Mecca, where he returned to lend his support. 

Taxation and Revenue for the early Muslim State:

It is also during this period we find the beginnings of a Bayt al-Mal (an institution for revenues) that was used to collect taxes derived from the following sources. 
Kharaj:  a tax on agricultural land.  
Jizyah:  was a tax on non-Muslim subjects or dhimmis. 
Ushr:  was a religious tithe or contribution that Muslim landowners would pay, at a lower rate than non-Muslims. This obligation was in addition to the customary Zakat or charitable contribution that Muslims were expected to make. Together these helped to finance the treasury of the new state. 
Another type of tax was levied on trade from other countries, especially areas outside of Muslim control.  This seems to have been a reciprocal tax as Muslim merchants were often charged fees or a tax when they sold or traded goods in those countries. 

A Chronology of The Rightly-Guided Caliphs (“Rashidun”):  The First Four Caliphs

We’ve reached the half-way point of the Rashidun caliphate – so let’s take  quick look at their years of rule and order of succession:
Abu Bakr (632-34)
‘Umar (634-44)
‘Uthman (644-56)
‘Ali (656-61)
Figure 8 Geneaological Chart of Prophet's Family and Rashiddun Caliphs

Uthman 3rd Caliph 644-656 CE

Umar's assassination by a Persian slave led to another problem of succession and in standing with precedent Uthman was chosen.  He was another relative of the Prophet Muhammad, an early convert to Islam, and member of the original Meccan community and member of the Quraysh tribe.  Uthman's role as part of the early emigrants who fled to Abyssinia or Ethiopia in around 615 CE, is interesting.  Ibn Ishaq states that he was successful as a merchant there but was called back to support the fledgling Muslim community back in Mecca, where he returned to lend his support. 
It is 'Uthman who is credited with ordering the compilation of the Quran. 
'Uthman, the third caliph  was assassinatedin 656  at his house in Medina  following a protest siege by dissidents over grievances that began over policies in the newly acquired lands of Egypt. 

Caliph Ali (ruled 656-661) The Fourth and Last  of the Rashiddun Caliphs

Ali’s succession to the Caliphate was a natural choice for those seeking appointment of a caliph who had been a close companion of the Prophet as well as being his son-in-law.  However, Ali’s choice of siding with those who were seeking settlements of the Islamic community in Iraq, led him to favor locating a new capital at the new town of Kufa in Iraq. Almost immediately Ali was faced with dissent from numerous fronts.  When he sought to negotiate with the Damascus based Muslim community, this seemed to have alienated a number of Iraqi based Muslims who dissented.  These dissenters were later to called and recognized as the Kharijites, or (outsiders), so-called because they did not accept the appointment of the Caliph on the basis of lineage or family ties, as in the case of Ali, nor claims to be related to or from the Quraysh in the Hejaz.  For the Kharijites, it was important to select the new Caliph on the basis of character and proven moral and observant practices and belief, in other words on virtue.  This created difficulties with the Muslim community that had expanded into Syria and Damascus, as well as those who remained back in the Hejaz in Arabia.  Finally, the fourth Caliph, Ali was assassinated in 661, when the outbreak of a civil war, called the First Fitna over the expansion into the lands of Iraq and the settlement of Kufa in Iraq, led to serious confrontations.  It was a Kharijite, from a  group of dissenters in the region of Iraq who assassinated Ali in 661.

Umayyad Damascus    Expansion of Islam into Egypt, North Africa and Andalusia in Spain   

With the assassination in Iraq of the Fourth Caliph Ali (ruled 656-661 CE), by a Kharijite dissenter , Muawiya became the main leader of the Muslim community and established what is called the Umayyad dynasty at its capital in Damascus.  The Umayyads ruled from about 660 to 750 in Damascus until the Abbasids overpowered them.  Thereafter, a faction of Umayyads survived and ruled in Andalusian Spain. 
The shift of the capital to Damascus signaled a major shift in the socio-economic base of the young Islamic state, for Syria was a predominantly agricultural region that was more integrally located within the crossroads of Mediterranean and Mesopotamian cities, produce and trade.  With a higher population base, it also meant a greater source of revenues and a stronger base for the state and society. 
On the origins of Islam, various approaches are taken. The Islamic conquests are also interpreted in several ways, some emphasize the movement of Arab armies fused with Islamic values (Kennedy, 2007, pp. 363-375).    The Caliphate represents a central and culminating period for studies of early Islamic history.  The Dome of the Rock (Haram al-Sharif) and the Great Mosque of Damascus  were prominent symbols of the architectural splendor of the Umayyad Dynasty and the spread of Islam and Arab culture from the 1st/7th century to the 2nd/8th Century.   After the rise of Islam as a major religion and the establishment of the early Caliphate, we find the establishment of the Umayyad Dynasty as Islam’s first empire. 

The First Fitna or Civil War:  Sunni  and Shia:  Religious Sectarian Groups as a Historical Problem


The First Fitna or Civil War (656-661) arose from the problems of succession following the Third Caliph Uthman’s assassination after an uprising in Kufa in Iraq that year.  Upon his death Ali became the 4th caliph.  Ali’s rise to the caliphate led ot the first civil war in the new community.  ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib (ruled 656-61) was of the Quraysh tribe and was a cousin of the Prophet Muhammad and married to his daughter Fatima.  However he was opposed by Uthman’s family and supporters who disputed the validity of ‘Ali’s election.  When ‘Ali relocated the capital to Kufa in Iraq it created a conflict for the power base remaining behind in Medina and the Hejaz.  While ‘Ali established his base in the new center of Kufa, an opposition camp arose at Basra to its South.  After ‘Ali defeated the Basra opposition a new opposition movement from Damascus led by the Syrian governor Mu’awiya ibn Abi Sufyan, a relative of the late Uthman led a march against ‘Ali’s forces.  While ‘Ali agreed to a negotiated truce at the Battle of Siffin, a few months later he was murdered in 661 while at prayer in Kufa.  This first civil war or fitna is also viewed as ending the first phase of expansion based around the charismatic leadership that characterized the Rashiddun Caliphs (Donner, 2008, p. 41).  The collective sense of mission that early Muslims experienced was compromised by struggles within the Arab community, between a Meccan based or derived elite and those in the new lands who sought greater share in power.  The murder of the third Caliph ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan in 656 opened up a fissure or split among the Muslim community.  Although the Muslim insitutions were intact, these rivalries over succession between the ‘Ali the Fourth Caliph and Mu’awiya who opposed them led to a division of military forces. 
Thereafter Mu’āwiya ibn Abī Sufyān (ruled 661-680) claimed power and relocated the capital to Damascus in Syria which begins the Umayyad Dynasty (Hourani, 2002, p. 25). 
Of the early caliphs, it is Mu’āwiya who ruled 661-680, and ‘Abd al- Malik ibn Marwān, who ruled from 685-705, had the longest reigns in this period in which the development of an Islamic state and empire is formed.  x
The history of the Shiite branch of Islamic practice arises from the problem of succession following the Prophet Muhammad’s death.  Those who followed the succession through Muawiya and the Umayyad Dynasty based in Damascus were opposed  by two other groups of Muslims who were based in the East in Iraq. 
For much of the remainder of Islamic history, there is less evidence of confrontation between Sunni and Shia.  Although Muslim visitors to each other’s area of practice may have voiced or held their own preferences and opinions, such differences did not lead to open clashes or violence.  Instead for most of Islamic history there exists a tolerance of coexistence between Sunni and Shia Muslims. 
Much of this changed in the last decades of the 20th century, where the war between Iran and Iraq in the 1980s led to open conflict and for the plight of Shi’ite communities in Iraq who were singled out for retaliation by Saddam Hussein’s regime following the 1991 Gulf War.  This separation between Sunni and Shia was accelerated and spread in the last several decades where the system of rivalry between  Shia governed Islamic states like Iran have competed with Sunni oriented Arab governments.  The current crisis of the civil war in Syria comes to mind as a reflection of this problem as the Syrian regime favors the privileging of minority Alawi and Shi’ite groups against Sunni proponents. 

The Second Fitna or Civll War and the Origins of the Sunni-Shi’ia Schism

While Mu’awiya established his new Umayyad dynasty in Damacus, there was still a major political challenge and potential shift in regional power that came from the Kharijites and ‘Ali’s family who remained based in Iraq and sought the reestablishment of the caliphate.  The Kharijites were a dissident group that had withdrawn their support for ‘Ali after his negotiation of the truce at Siffin in 661.  The Kharijites sought a degree of autonomy in both political power and in theology and had a base of support in and around Basra in Southern Iraq.  The Kharijites held that only the Imam or Caliph should be chosen based on virtue, not family relations.  This probably put the Kharijites at odds with both the new Umayyad dynasty in Syria and the remnants of ‘Ali’s family and its supporters who were based at Kufa.  In about 685  Husayn the second son of ‘Ali was killed in a fight at Karbala in Iraq.  Husayn’s death there is commemorated as the Day of Ashura  by followers of Shii’sm, the shi’at  ‘Ali or devoted followers of the late Caliph. 

Umayyad Consolidation to 750 AD

The rapid westward spread of Islam from Arabia into Egypt, the entire span of North Africa and into Andalusia in Spain is one of the remarkable transitions of history.  Very few outright battles were needed during this expansion from the late 7th to mid 8th century.     The Umayyads based themselves in the Eastern Mediterranean, around the key cities of Jerusalem and Damascus, both important trading and commercial cities in the Byzantine Empire that preceded the rise of Islam.  This expansion represented a geographic shift in Islamic and Arab culture moving beyond its core in the Hijaz region of Arabia.  While the message of Islam brought an important religious message and ideology, it also was convenient to the development of a moral system and ethical values convenient to the merchant and agrarian based economies of the Eastern and Southern Mediterranean (Islamic Art in the Mediterranean, 2000, p. 15).  This has been developed further in the studies by Mahmood Ibrahim and others (Ibrahim, 1990) (Rodinson, 1966).  
Following the defeat of ‘Ali’s descendants and supporters, the Ummayyads consolidated their base of power in Syria and the Levant.  They developed a system of domain over agricultural lands in which the state and the elite claimed control in a manner similar to that which the Romans and Byzantines had asserted before them.  The system of preferential or lower tax rates for Muslims also prevailed and provided incentive for growing support over time from newly converted Muslims.  As occurred in the early years of the Rashiddun Caliphate, the tolerant policy toward non-Muslims allowed for a system of cooperation and relative stability in towns and cities under Umayyad rule. 
Under the rule of ‘Abd al-Malik (ruled 685-705) the Umayyad Caliphate or Dynasty expanded from its capital in Damascus.  ‘Abd al-Malik is credited with ending the Second Civil War or Fitna by force.  His reign inaugurated administrative reforms to create a centralized empire, including a regular army.  Arabic became the official administrative language as well as the language of religious practice and institutions.  The Umayyads also established a state with recognized institutions of finance and administration with a regulated currency.  It was during this successor, Caliph Al-Walid I, (ruled 705-715) that the Great Mosque of Damascus was begun.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Mongol Empire and aftermath 1218-1747 For the history of the Central Asian steppe peoples prior to the rise of the Mongols in the 12 t...