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(ISLAMIC EMPIRE and DISINTEGRATION – continued)

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ISLAMIC EMPIRE and DISINTEGRATION (2 of 5)

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More Expansion, 689 to 717 CE

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 Arabs.

After the caliph Malik defeated Zubayr and the civil war ended, war resumed between the Muslims and Constantinople. The caliph, Malik, beginning in 694, turned his attention Islam's advance westward across North Africa. He 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 captured the legendary Berber warrior queen, Kahinah, who had long been an obstacle to Arab imperialism in North Africa.

In 699 the Arabs extended their rule in North Africa as far west as Tangier. Arab imperialism had been launched with the intention of being an elite caste garrisoned in conquered areas. There had been no interest in converting the conquered to Islam. The Arabs left local landowners, chiefs and headmen as authorities in their villages, subservient of course to the conquerors – an ages-old method of imperial administration. And for the sake of order, Islam's caliph 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.

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 caliphs in Damascus had been 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 would become a greater force within Islam.

In the early 700s, Caliph Malik sent his Syrian army to consolidate his power in Mesopotamia. The last years of Malik's life were generally peaceful. His reign since 685 came to an end with his death in 705, and was succeeded by his son, Al-Walid. Walid has been described as continuing the effective rule characteristic of his father and as having developed a welfare system, built hospitals, educational institutions and measures for the appreciation of art.

While Constantinople's empire was on a road of diminution, Walid continued the conquests that took Islam's empire to its farthest extent in the east. 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 an equal number of camels, through southern Persia and into the southern Indus Valley. Muslim armies stationed in 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 in North Africa, an army of about 7,000 Berbers and 300 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.

Four years later Al-Walid died, at 46, with stability allowing his younger brother, Sulayman, the former governor of Palestine, to become the new caliph. Sulayman, saw absurdity in Islam having conquered from Spain to China while nearby Constantinople had not yet been conquered. He believed that victory over Byzantium would end 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. Sulayman'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. Sulayman left his forces just outside Constantinople, and there they continued to wear down and to grow weaker. Angry, while on a pilgrimage to Mecca, Sulayman invited his courtiers to try their swords on four hundred persons recently captured during the fighting at Constantinople, and the courtiers beheaded them as Sulayman looked on. Sulayman consoled himself with food and women. Then suddenly, in he died, and his rule passed to another Umayyad – his cousin Umar II.

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