(ISLAM, POWER and EMPIRE – continued)
(click to enlarge) (Wikipedia Commons)
The Umayyad Mosque in Damascus built during Mu'awiyah's reign as caliph. It replaced the Christian basilica of Saint John the Baptist, which had replaced the Roman Temple of Jupiter, which had replaced the temple dedicated to Haddad, the Aramean god of thunder. Muslims and Christians agreed to partition the church between them, and began to perform their rituals side by side. For 70 years Christians and Muslims prayed in the same structure.
Mu'awiyah or someone of his clan bribed Ali's son to give up his claim as caliph. This for the time being ended the challenge for the caliphate from the Hashimites. Mu'awiyah shifted his rule from Medina to the city of Damascus in Syria, ending forever Arabia's primacy over Islam. But Arabs were free to move into areas that their armies had conquered, changing the demography of the Middle East forever.
From Damascus, Mu'awiyah posed as a champion of Islam, but unlike Ali he claimed no religious authority. His rule in Damascus rested on the loyalty of Christians and Syrian Arabs, most of whom had lived in Syria for centuries and were accustomed to state authority – unlike Arab tribesmen. Mu'awiyah's influential financial counselor was a Christian, and his favorite wife was both a Christian and an Arab. Mu'awiyah was ruling over an integrated Syria, where Christians and Muslims sometimes worshiped together.
Mu'awiyah tried to rule the empire with more of the concern for agreement of an old sheik (chieftain). He met with members of the nobility regularly at his palace. He received delegations from the provinces in order to accept complaints and smooth over differences between tribes. He displayed mild composure and self-control. He used persuasion and compromise, managing the empire through capable governors and maintaining personal relations with local leaders.
Mu'awiyah's fellow Umayyad clan members bribed and cultivated the friendship of various sheiks, whom they made responsible for the behavior of their people. Criticized for the gifts he distributed, Mu'awiyah replied that civil war would cost more. He gave Arabs participation in rule by creating a council of sheiks as a consultative body with local executive powers, and he created another consultative body representing tribes. He wanted to replace kinship ties with identity to the broader Islamic community. He also surrounded himself with splendor and ceremony in an effort to increase the prestige of his office, taking as his model Constantinople's emperors.
Mu'awiyah re-established the taxes that had been paid to the central treasury by the provinces, and he saw to it that they were collected regularly. In the area around Medina and Mecca he supported projects that improved methods of agriculture. He reorganized his army, abandoning tribal units and modeling the army instead on Constantinople's armies. At his army's core were Christians, Muslims, Syrian Arabs and Yemenites. And he began building a new navy.
The end of civil war within Islam made further expansion of Islam possible, and Mu'awiyah and the Umayyads began to extend their empire, beginning with raids from Egypt westward across the Mediterranean coast of North Africa. Constantinople's emperor sent a force across the Mediterranean to defend what he thought was still his territory, and, in 664, the Muslims defeated them in a limited engagement. Constantinople's army withdrew, but Constantinople's officialdom and navy remained in North Africa – the navy stationed at Tunis. And there, Latin speaking people remained from Roman times. Pursuing his war against Constantinople, in 668 Mu'awiyah sent his navy north to Constantinople, and in the spring of 669 he began a siege there. In 670 the Muslims built a military colony at Kairawan, near Tunis – the first attempt at colonizing rather than merely raiding west of Egypt. The Berbers indigenous to the area were hostile toward the colony and, in response to Berber attacks, Muslim warriors from Kairawan began making assaults against them.
In 671 Mu'awiyah resettled fifty thousand families in Khurasan – families from the old garrison towns of Kufa and Basra in Mesopotamia, where support for Ali had been strong. From Khurasan, Arab men were obliged to join annual expeditions across the Oxus River into the Turkish east, from which they returned only during winter months. These expeditions brought booty to the Arabs and extended Umayyad rule in Transoxiana, where principalities became Arab protectorates. In 672 the Muslims took control of the island of Rhodes, which they used as an base of operations in their continuing war against Constantinople. In 674 they took the island of Crete. Meanwhile the siege of Constantinople was going poorly. In 674 Mu'awiyah sent a greater force against it, but Constantinople's fortifications were too strong, and in 677 Mu'awiyah abandoned the project and made peace with Constantinople.
The Formation of Islam: Religion and Society in the Near East, 600-1800, by Jonathan P Berkey, 2003
In Search of Muhammad, by Clinton Bennet, 1998
The History of Medieval Islam, J J Saunders, Barnes and Noble, 1965 (available in full online)
Quest for the Historical Muhammad, edited by Ibn Warraq, Prometheus Books, 2000
"The Coming of Islam." Chapter Five in Worlds at War, by Anthony Pagden, 2008
No god but God, Reza Aslan, 2005
Islam the Religion and the People, by Bernard Lewis and Buntzie Churchill, 2008
The Monotheists, by F E Peters, 2003
Ancient Persia: from 550 BC to AD 650, by Josef Wiesehofer, 2001
Islam and Research, sources for medieval Islam
Copyright © 2007-2013 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.