(ISLAMIC EMPIRE and DISINTEGRATION – continued)
Berber tribes had taken advantage of Islam's civil war by attacking Arab enclaves in North Africa. In 689 they overran the Muslim outpost at Kairawan and massacred the retreating Muslims. Then in 694, after he had defeated Zubayr and ended the civil war, Malik sent his Syrian army against the Berbers and against Constantinople's hold on Carthage and Tunis. From the harbor at Tunis Constantinople's navy fled to Sicily. European landowners also fled. Then Malik's military overcame Berber resistance, Malik's forces capturing the legendary Berber warrior queen, Kahinah, who had long been an obstacle to Arab imperialism in North Africa.
In 699 the Muslims extended their rule in North Africa as far west as Tangier. Some Berbers superficially converted to Islam and about twelve thousand of them joined the Arab army. Europeanized North Africa, which had been extensively Christian and tied to the Roman Empire, would now reorient itself toward Islam and to trade and expansion south into western Africa. Islam's navy moved into what had been Constantinople's ports, from which they would threaten Europe.
In the year 700, Islam was poised for more expansion. And just as Romans had not foreseen the change that empire would bring to their city, the conquering Arabs continued to ignore the change that would accrue from their conquests. The caliph in Damascus was pursuing a policy of maintaining the identity of the conquerors by keeping them segregated from the conquered, including the conquered who had converted to Islam. But, by the year 700, non-Arab Muslims outnumbered Arab Muslims. And despite resistance from Arab leaders, non-Arab Muslims were destined to become a greater force within Islam.
In the early 700s Islam's caliph in Damascus sent his Syrian army to consolidate his power in Mesopotamia. And elsewhere Islam's expansion continued. In response to the plundering of Arab ships by pirates near the mouth of the Indus River, the Muslims launched an expedition with six thousand horses and equal number of camels, through southern Persia and into the southern Indus Valley. Muslim armies from Khurasan went northeast, overrunning the cities of Bukhara and Samarkand and further northeast to what is now China's border. In 711, from around Tangier, an army of about seven thousand Berbers and three hundred Arabs crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and began a conquest of Spain, made easy by disunity there. Spanish towns opened their gates to the conquerors, and Jews welcomed them as liberators.
The new caliph from 715, Sulaiman, saw absurdity in Islam having conquered from Spain to China while nearby Constantinople had not yet been conquered. He believed that victory over that city – Byzantium and its empire – would bring an end to the prolonged and exhausting campaigning. In 716 he sent his army and navy to begin another siege at Constantinople. The great city was imperiled again. A general named Leo the Isaurian put the city's defenses in order. Sulaiman's forces were unable to penetrate Constantinople's fortifications. A shorter and more direct route to the heart of Europe than through Spain was thereby blocked. Sulaiman left his forces just outside Constantinople, and there they continued to wear down and to grow weaker. Angry, while on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Sulaiman invited his courtiers to try their swords on four hundred persons recently captured during the fighting at Constantinople, and the courtiers beheaded them as Sulaiman looked on. Sulaiman consoled himself with food and women. Then suddenly he died, and his rule passed to another Umayyad – his cousin Umar II.
Copyright © 2009-2011 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.