Islamic political thought/The Umayyad Caliphate

From Wikiversity
Jump to navigation Jump to search


LESSON TITLE: The Umayyad Caliphate

OPR: To be determined OFFICE PHONE: To be determined


  • Aslan, Reza. No god but God.: From the Prophet to the Present.
New York: Routledge, 2001.
  • Gordon, Matthew S. The Rise of Islam. Westport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.,
  • Hawting, G.R. The First Dynasty of Islam: The Umayyad Caliphate AD 661-750. 2nd ed.
New York: Routledge, 2000.


  1. Identify characteristics and nomenclature of deez nutz regarding the justification of rule, type of political establishment, and role of religious authority versus secular authority.
  2. Identify key thinkers and movements of the period and their tion to the evolution of Islamic political thought.

METHOD OF INSTRUCTION: Lecture/Student-based discussion

TIME: 1 hour 50 minutes

PERIOD 1: The Beginnings of the Umayyad Caliphate, The Great Fitna, Abd al-Malik, ‘Islamization,’ ‘Arabization,’ the Third Civil War, and the Rise of the Abbasids

OBJECTIVES: To understand general concepts about the following issues:

  1. The Umayyad Beginning
  2. The Great Fitna (the First Civil War)
  3. Patrimonial/Monarchial Rule
  4. ‘Islamization’
  5. ‘Arabization’
  6. Issues of Leadership and Authority



The Umayyad Beginnings[edit | edit source]

Regarding the many tribal groups which claim Ishmael as their ancestor, the Quraysh, would be one of the most influential in early Islamic history. A sub-group of the Quraysh, the Umayyad family would create an Islamic empire which would have lasting repercussions which still plague current intra-Muslim relations. The Quraysh, who had originally settled in Mecca, took over control of the Ka’ba, an ancient sanctuary that was a key pilgrimage spot for early polytheistic religions in Arabia. ‘Abd Manaf, the first of the Umayyads, would beget twin sons, ‘Abd Shams and the other Hashim (Hawting 22). Hashim’s line of descendants would include the Prophet Muhammad and his son-in-law and cousin ‘Ali (Hawting 22). By 624 CE the Umayyads are one of the leading families of opposition to Muhammad. The leadership of Abu Sufyan, the leader of both the Umayyad family and pagan opposition to Muhammad, would be used later as an aggravating circumstance against the Umayyad Caliphate by their opposition (Hawting 23).

The Great Fitna (the first civil war)[edit | edit source]

The Great Fitna (trial, temptation) was largely due to disagreement over caliphal authority and legitimacy in the wake of the Uthman rule. After Uthman’s assassination, Ali ibn Abi Talib would finally be approached to take up the position as caliphate. Having been passed up twice by Abu Bakr and Uthman, Ali hesitantly accepted the role. As the new caliph, and under the title of Amir al-Mu’manin, “Commander of the Faithful,” he declared amnesty to all of those who took part in the assassination of Uthman, especially those residing in Medina. Furthermore, ‘Ali removed large numbers of Uthman’s cronies from their posts as amirs, allowing qualified local leaders to once again to govern. Opposition to ‘Ali was spearheaded by A’isha, the widow of the Prophet Muhammad, who charged ‘Ali with the responsibility for Uthman’s death. Though not necessarily believing that Ali had been the culprit of Uthman’s demise, she used this instance to mount an attack upon the position of caliphate envisioning the placement of a close ally.
The Battle of the Camel (the Fitna) in 656 CE, which ended with ‘Ali as the victor, led to the exile of A’isha to Medina and the rising opposition by Umayyad Governor of Syria, Mu’awiya ibn Abi Sufyan. Mu’awiya would gain the support of Egypt’s governor Amr ibn al-As; with this political backing the pro-Syrian forces would proclaim Mu’awiya their caliph. The rival between Ali’s caliphate and Mu’awiay’s claim to leadership would become be end with Ali’s murder by a Khariji assassin in 661 CE. After intimidating the rest of Ali’s followers in southern Iraq, including his eldest son as-Hasan, Mu’awiya could establish himself within the role of caliph with geographical dominance throughout Arabia.

Patrimonial/Monarchial Rule[edit | edit source]

The Umayyad Caliphate would put into effect a type of governmental system which would mimic monarchial rule. This system of government, patrimonialism, is a system of government in which the ruler regards his state as his benefice, and the population under his rule is his clients. Furthermore, the powers he has been endowed with are his alone, to be without intervention from others. Abd al-Malik would restore the practice of hereditary succession in passing on the responsibilities of rule. At the same time monarchical ideas native to conquered Iran began to be supplanted into Arabo-Islamic practices; the Umayyads started to express the Imamate in a monarchial view in religious writings. It was during this period that the caliphs began to refer to themselves as the “Deputy of God” and “as of the Prophet.” Under this title the Caliph would claim the responsibility of reviewing and creating Religious Law. The caliphs during this period added their perspectives to all aspects of Shari’a.

“Islamization” and “Arabization”[edit | edit source]

This process relates to the expansion of territory under Muslim control and adoption of the Muslim faith by those subjects under Islamic governance. The formation of the present Islamic culture was a process of interaction between Arabs and the peoples they conquered; the Umayyad period was a key period of expansion and development of the Islamic faith. During this period, the formation of what would be the class of religious scholars to form the backbone of Sunni Islam. Additionally, it was during this period that, in opposition to the Umayyad, that Muslim scholars sought to find the true form of Islam; this movement was usually at odds with the Umayyad rule, with claims that the Umayyads were impious and displayed un-Islamic behavior. When the Umayyads first came into power the boundaries of their empire were no further west than Libya and no further east than Iran. By the end of the Umayyad Caliphate, the empire would span throughout North Africa and southern and central Spain and as far east as central Asia and northern India. In the areas conquered by the Umayyads, at first many their subjects who were non-Muslim had not accepted Islam, yet by the end of the period large numbers of the empire’s subjects began to identify themselves as Muslim.
Arabization refers to the spread of the Islamic culture through the use of the Arabic language in areas subjected the Arab rule, of which the Umayyads greatly expanded upon. This process is associated with Islamization, yet is a distinct process of interaction between Arabs and non-Arabs. In the process of non-Arabs adopting Arabic, the linguistic mannerisms of the non-Arabs prior language transfers over into the newly acquired Arabic and leads to the creation of differing dialects depending the region or previous language in use. There have been some sources that suggest that Jewish communities began to utilize the Arabic language by the 7th century CE. The eventual adoption of Arabic became most apparent in Syria, Iraq and Egypt, yet Persians and Berbers of North Africa though accepting the language for religious utilization, continued to actively use their own languages for day to day affairs.

Issues of Leadership and Authority[edit | edit source]

The early-Islamic debates over authority were not only related to political leadership yet also over the issue of who should rule the umma. Three movements appeared during the Umayyad caliphate in response to the differing concepts of how leadership should progress since the death of the Prophet: the Kharijis, Shi’a, and proto-Sunnis. The Kharijis contended that political authority should be based on merit allowing any free, male, adult Muslim the ability to become an imam of the umma. Going against the traditions of the Umayyad and followers of ‘Ali, the Kharijis did not believe in hereditary succession. Additionally, they argued that once a leader was in office and proved to be unworthy, he should be removed from office; this view of political accountability was not a widely held view. The Shi’a would take up the claim that only members of the Prophet’s family, with special emphasis on ‘Ali’s hereditary line, could attain the status of imam. Lastly, the Sunni movement, which would not reach full swing until the 11th century, which by then would make up a majority of Muslims, developed in opposition to the other aforementioned movements of Khariji and Shi’a. Since their true beliefs would not be completely discernible until later, their founding as a movement and as a body of individuals would be considered proto-Sunni until considerable evolution in the post-Umayyad period.
Resource type: this resource contains a lecture or lecture notes.
Action required: please create Category:Islamic political thought/Lectures and add it to Category:Lectures.