Order, Disorder and the Umayyad Caliphate | More Expansion, 689 to 717 CE | The Pro-Peace Caliph, Umar II
Power for the Abbasids and Death for Umayyads, 720-50 CE | The Abbasids, a Golden Age and Disintegration to the Fall of Baghdad
As always there were unintended consequences. Muhammad the Prophet's followers launched their imperialism intending to be an elite caste garrisoned in the conquered areas keeping guard or order and enforcing taxation. It was the policy of the early caliph to disturb the conquered as little as possible, so long as they paid their taxes. There was no interest in converting the conquered to Islam. In the interest of order they left the social and religious order of the conquered in tact – social order and religious authority having some connection. But also there were the old landowners, chiefs and headmen, and the conquering Muslims left them with their authority in the villages, subservient, of course, to the conquerors – a method of imperial administrations that was ages old. For the sake of order, the caliphate sent governors to the conquered areas to oversee the collection of taxes and to supervise the distribution of pay to the occupying Arab warrior elite.
Problems with this order of things in the conquered area were developing. It was a question of maintaining an elite through segregation versus integration, with segregation being historically difficult and diffusions common.
But a bigger problem concerning order came within the Muslim community. It was the old problem of succession, and more civil war – boring for a reader in its repetition but dramatic for the participants.
In the late 670s the aging caliph Mu'awiyah nominated as his successor the son of his favorite wife, a Christian. That son was Yazid, and the nomination was confirmed by the consultative body Mu'awiyah had created from leaders of the Arab tribes. Helping Yazid's succession was his having been a heroic figure in the assault against Constantinople, and perhaps also some bribery.
Mu'awiyah died in 680, and a few prominent people were among those who did not accept his son's succession. One opponent was Abdullah ibn Zubayr from Medina. He had a following among those who disliked Umayyad rule and resented the shift of power from Medina to Damascus. Also opposed to Yazid were three men who believed that if power were to pass from father to son they had more right to rule than did Yazid. One was the eldest surviving son of Ali, a man by the name of Hussein. Another was the son of the former caliph Abu Bakr. The third was the grandson of the former caliph Umar (Omar). Moreover there was opposition to Yazid from those who believed that he was insufficiently pious.
In Kufa, supporters of Hussein invited him to make their city his capital, and they offered to fight for him. Hussein left Mecca and led a small band of relatives, his harem and a horde of followers that included some Bedouin tribesmen. Yazid sent a force of Syrian troops toward Kufa. Hussein was warned that a battle against the Syrians was hopeless. His Bedouin supporters abandoned him, leaving him with just seventy fighting men. The Syrians and Hussein met at the city of Karbala twenty-five miles northwest of Kufa. Hussein was determined to die fighting. One by one his warriors, including two of his sons and six brothers, were slaughtered, as was Hussein.
The heads of Hussein's men were sent as trophies to Damascus. Hussein's head was returned to be buried with his body at Karbala. Hussein became a Shia martyr. At Karbala the Shia built their holiest of shrines. And into modern times the day of Hussein's death would be commemorated as a day of grief.
In Medina and Mecca, Zubayr won additional support from those outraged by the deaths in Muhammad's family. Yazid tried reconciliation, but those from Medina who visited Yazid denounced upon their return the godless luxury they had found in Damascus. Yazid sent 12,000 Syrian troops against Medina and conquered the city in August, 683. Many nobles of the Quraysh tribe were annihilated in the process, and the surviving leaders of Medina's rebellion were executed.
The rebellious Zubayr had relocated in Mecca, and there he was recognized as leader. For two months, beginning in September 683, Yazid's army besieged Mecca. Rocks from catapults fell into the sacred Kaaba. To the horror of believers, the Kaaba caught fire, burned to the ground, and the sacred Black Stone split and fell from its socket. Then in November the leader of Yazid's army learned that Yazid had died. The leader of the Syrian forces offered Zubayr his allegiance and the caliphate if he would promise to take no vengeance regarding previous warfare and if he would rule from Damascus. Zubayr refused the latter condition. The Syrians then lifted their siege and returned to Syria, where conflict erupted over who was to be Yazid's successor.
Yazid was succeeded by his son, a sickly nineteen-year-old, who died a few weeks later, leaving no successor to the Umayyad dynasty. Zubayr won support across much of Arabia, while the senior member of the Umayyad clan, Marwan, took power for the Umayyads. A great battle was fought in 684 at Marj Rahit, a little to the east of Damascus, the Syrian army winning and allowing Marwan to hold on to power in Syria. Marwan extended his rule through Palestine to Egypt, persuading Arab tribesmen in Egypt to change their support from Zubayr to himself. Then on May 7, 685, after nine months as caliph, Marwan died of plague, which had been ravaging Syria and Mesopotamia.
Marwan was succeeded by his son, Malik. The civil war raged for seven more years, until 692, when the Syrian army killed Zubayr and overran Mecca. Malik was caliph for twenty years, and more than any preceding caliph he ruled by force of arms rather than consensus.
Copyright © 2009-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.