The Islamic World to 1600
One of Mu'awiya's first tasks as caliph was to reorganise the administration of the Islamic empire, so as to avoid the discontent among the conquered peoples that had led to the civil war of the previous four years. He divided the empire into manageable provinces, and appointed a governor to each one. He also took measures to ensure the military participation of as many of the empire's nomads as possible, since being unaccustomed to subjugation, they were usually the most difficult group to control. Mu'awiya believed that the army was the best place for such people. The caliph also moved the capital of the new dynasty to Damascus, in Syria, and in many ways this move signalled the end of Arabia's primacy in the Islamic world. The holy cities of Mecca and Medina remained important for religious reasons, but the administrative core of the empire never again returned to Arabia.
Before he died in 680, Mu'awiya caused a significant disturbance in the empire by naming his son, Yazid, as his successor. The ensuing controversy stemmed from the fact that the caliphate had traditionally been an elected office, an aspect of their leadership that the Muslims treasured, because it kept their empire from becoming an autocratic monarchy, a trait they detested in the Byzantine Empire. No one was able to prevent Yazid's succession, but he was not a popular leader, and he reigned for only three years. During that time, a crucial event in Islamic history occurred when the Shi'ites again vied for the caliphate. This time the rebellion's leader was Ali's second son, Husain, whose subsequent death at the Battle of Karbala, in Iraq, is still commemorated by Shi'ite Muslims today.
|Battle of Karbala|
Great Mosque at Damascus, Syria, built by Umayyad caliph Walid I between 709 and 715
The premature death of Yazid in 683 was closely followed by that of his only son and heir. After working to legitimise the practice of hereditary succession, the Umayyads now found themselves without a direct heir to the caliphate. A succession struggle ensued but an Umayyad cousin, Marwan, won after several months of strife. The Umayyads thus fought off the first challenge to their dynasty, and although Marwan died soon after, his son, Abd al-Malik, went on to rule for 21 years, until his death in 705.
From Yazid's hereditary succession in 680 until 692, a second civil war raged throughout the Islamic empire. The first civil war in the Islamic world had occurred between 656 and 661, during the struggle between Ali and Mu'awiya for the caliphate. The focus of the second civil war was the mawali, or non-Arab Muslims. The mawali, mostly Persians who had converted to Islam, were led by a man named Mukhtar. The mawali challenged the authority Arabs held in the Islamic empire and sought to elevate themselves from the second-class status imposed by the Arabs. After many years of fighting, Abd al-Malik's forces prevailed over the mawali, and in 692 an era of peace was ushered in.
The long reign of Abd al-Malik, from 684 to 705, brought about many administrative changes in the Islamic empire. Foremost among these changes was the decision to establish Arabic as the language of administration, finally eliminating the Greek and Persian that had been retained since the Islamic conquest of Byzantine and Sassanid lands. As well, coins were stamped with Arabic words and symbols, replacing the Christian and Zoroastrian symbols that had previously adorned Islamic coins. Finally, the Umayyad dynasty under Abd al-Malik succeeded in pulling the Islamic empire together into a coherent state, eliminating the remnants of the Arabs' nomadic lifestyle that had existed before the coming of Islam.
|Examples of Umayyad coins|
In 705 Walid I succeeded his father, Abd al-Malik, as caliph and oversaw much of the empire's territorial expansion. He also left a legacy still in existence today: the Umayyad Mosque he built in Damascus. Walid I (705-715) and his successors, Suleyman (715-724), and Hisham (724-743), were all competent statesmen who advanced the administrative capabilities of the rapidly expanding Islamic empire, which had doubled in size since 680. These territorial conquests will now be examined in further detail.
|Proceed to Umayyad Territorial Expansion|