Islamic Caliphate Flags
A caliphate is the Islamic form of government representing the political unity and leadership of the Muslim world. The Caliph's position is based on the notion of a successor to the Islamic prophet Muhammad's political authority. According to Sunnis, a Caliph is ideally a member of the Quraysh tribe elected by Muslims or their representatives; and according to Shia Islam, an Imam descended in a line from the Ahl al-Bayt.
From the time of Muhammad until 1924, successive and contemporary caliphates were held by various dynasties, including the Rashidun (the first four caliphs after Muhammad), the Umayyads (Damascus & Córdoba), the Abbasids (Baghdad), the Fatimids (Cairo), and finally the Turkish Ottomans (Istanbul).
According to tradition, the Umayyad family (also known as the Banu Abd-Shams) and the Islamic Prophet Muhammad both descended from a common ancestor, Abd Manaf ibn Qusai. Muhammad descended from Abd Munaf via his son Hashim, while the Umayyads descended from Abd Munaf via a different son, Abd-Shams, whose son was Umayya. The two families are therefore considered to be different clans (those of Hashim and of Umayya, respectively) of the same tribe (that of the Quraish). However Shia historians point out that Umayya is an adopted son of Abd Shams so he didn't have blood relation with Abd Manaf ibn Qusai. Umayya was later discarded from the noble family.
The Umayyads and the Hashimites were bitter rivals. The rivalry stemmed from the initial opposition of Abu Sufyan ibn Harb, the grandson of Umayya, to Muhammad and to Islam. Abu Sufyan sought to exterminate the adherents of the new religion by waging a series of battles. However, he eventually embraced Islam, as did his son (the future caliph Muawiyah I), and the two provided much-needed political and diplomatic skills for the management of the quickly expanding Islamic empire.
Most historians consider Caliph Muawiyah I (661-80) to have been the second ruler of the Umayyad dynasty, as he was the first to assert the Umayyads' right to rule on a dynastic principle. Caliph Uthman (644-56) was also descended from Umayya, and during his time had been criticized for placing members of his family within political positions. However, since Uthman never named an heir, he cannot be considered the founder of a dynasty.
The origins of Umayyad rule date back to the assassination of Uthman in 656. At this time Ali, a member of the Hashim clan and a cousin of Prophet Muhammad, became the caliph. He soon met with resistance from several factions, and moved his capital from Medina to Kufa. The resulting conflict, which lasted from 656 until 661, is known as the First Fitna ("time of trial").
Ali was first opposed by an alliance led by Aisha, the widow of Muhammad, and Talhah and Al-Zubayr, two of the Companions of the Prophet. The two sides clashed at the Battle of the Camel in 656, where Ali won a decisive victory.
Following the Battle of the Camel, Muawiyah, who had become governor of Syria, accused Ali of harboring the assassins of Uthman and demanded that they be handed over. The armies of Muawiyah and Ali met at the Battle of Siffin in 657. For reasons that remain obscure, the battle was stopped before either side had achieved victory, and the two parties agreed to arbitrate their dispute. Both the terms and the result of the arbitration, however, are subjects of contradictory and sometimes confused reports.
Following the battle, a large group of Ali's soldiers, who resented his decision to submit the dispute to arbitration, broke away from Ali's force, rallying under the slogan, "arbitration belongs to God alone." This group came to be known as the Kharijites ("those who leave").
In 659 Ali's forces and the Kharijites met in the Battle of Nahrawan. Although Ali won the battle, the constant conflict had begun to affect his standing, and in the following years some Syrians seem to have acclaimed Muawiyah as a rival caliph.
Ali was assassinated in 661, apparently by a Kharijite partisan. Muawiyah marched to Kufa, where he persuaded a number of Ali's supporters to acclaim him as caliph instead of Ali's son, Hasan. Following his elevation, Muawiyah moved the capital of the caliphate to Damascus. Syria would remain the base of Umayyad power until the end of the dynasty in 750 AD. However, this Dinasty reborn in Cordoba (Al Andalus, today's Portugal and Spain) and lasted there for another 800 years in several forms (Emirate, Caliphate, Taifas, and as Kingdom of Granada till the 17th century AD, within Portuguese and Spanish borders).
Abdul Rahman Al Ummayd, was a surviving grand-son of the last Caliph of Damascus (the 10th Caliph of the Islamic Empire) Following the Westerm migration of Islam, in 756 AD, Abdul Rahman Al Andalus was made the 1st "Emir of Cordoba", after the battle of Wadi Kabeer (today's Gualdalquivir) against Yusuf, the 22rd Berber Wally of Al Andalus. The Berbers then retreated to North Africa, but later created movements such as the Al-Moravids and the Al-Mohads, who tried to recover the Southern parts of Al Andalus, several times during the the 14th and 15th centuries AD, but were shortly after expelled. A descendent of the Emir of Cordoba, separated Al Andalus (todays' Portugal and Spain) from Baghdad and changed its title to "Caliphate of Cordoba". In the rest of the Islamic world, following the assassination of the 10th Caliph of Islam, who had ruled from Damascus (in 750 AD), a new (Abbasid) Caliphate was established in Baghdad by Shi'a Moslems who conquered the Umayyad's power centre in Damascus.
The Islamic conquest of the Christian Visigothic kingdom in the eighth century (begun 710–12) had extended over almost the entire peninsula (except major parts of Galicia, the Asturias, and the Basque Country). By the thirteenth century all that remained was the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada, to be conquered in 1492, bringing the entire peninsula under Christian leadership.
During the later period of its existence and particularly from 1031 AD under the Ta'ifa system of Islamic Emirates (Princedoms) in the southern half of Iberia, the Emirate/Sultanate of Granada maintained its independence largely due to the payment of Tributes to the northern Christian Kingdoms which began to gradually expand south at its expense from 1031.
The Umayyad Caliphate in Iberia came to an end on the 2 January 1492 with the conquest of Granada. The last Muslim ruler of Granada, Muhammad XII, better known as Boabdil, surrendered his kingdom to Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile, the Catholic Monarchs (los Reyes Católicos). This event marked the end of Muslim rule in Iberia, and the end of the last Umayyad Caliphate.
Muawiyah also encouraged peaceful coexistence with the Christian communities of Syria, and one of his closest advisers was Sarjun, the father of John of Damascus. At the same time, he waged unceasing war against the Byzantine Empire. During his reign, Rhodes and Crete were occupied, and several assaults were launched against Constantinople. Muawiyah also oversaw military expansion in North Africa (the foundation of Kairouan) and in Central Asia (the conquest of Kabul, Bukhara, and Samarkand).
Following Muawiyah's death in 680, he was succeeded by his son, Yazid I. The hereditary accession of Yazid was opposed by a number of prominent Muslims, most notably Abd-Allah ibn al-Zubayr, son of one of the Companions of the Prophet, and Husayn ibn Ali, grandson of the Prophet and younger son of Ali. The resulting conflict is known as the Second Fitna.
In 680 Ibn al-Zubayr and Husayn fled Medina for Mecca. While Ibn al-Zubayr would stay in Mecca until his death, Husayn decided to travel on to Kufa to rally support. However, an Umayyad army intercepted and routed his party at the Battle of Karbala.
Following the death of Husayn, Ibn al-Zubayr, although remaining in Mecca, was associated with two opposition movements, one centered in Medina and the other around Kharijites in Basra and Arabia. In 683, Yazid dispatched an army to subdue both. This army suppressed the Medinese opposition at the Battle of al-Harra, and continued on to lay siege to Mecca. At some point during the siege, the Kaaba was badly damaged in a fire. The destruction of the Kaaba became a major cause for censure of the Umayyads in later histories of the period.
Yazid died while the siege was still in progress, and the Umayyad army returned to Damascus, leaving Ibn al-Zubayr in control of Mecca. Yazid was succeeded at first by his son, Muawiya II (683-84), but he seems never to have been recognized as caliph outside of Syria. Two factions developed within Syria: the Confederation of Qays, who supported Ibn al-Zubayr, and the Quda'a, who supported Marwan, a descendant of Umayya via Wa'il ibn Umayyah. The partisans of Marwan triumphed at a battle at Marj Rahit, near Damascus, in 684, and Marwan became caliph shortly thereafter.
Marwan was succeeded by his son, Abd al-Malik (685-705), who reconsolidated Umayyad control of the caliphate. The early reign of Abd al-Malik was marked by the revolt of Al-Mukhtar, which was based in Kufa. Al-Mukhtar hoped to elevate Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah, another son of Ali, to the caliphate, although Ibn al-Hanafiyyah himself may have had no connection to the revolt. The troops of al-Mukhtar engaged in battles both with the Umayyads (in 686, at the river Khazir near Mosul: an Umayyad defeat) and with Ibn al-Zubayr (in 687, at which time the revolt of al-Mukhtar was crushed). In 691 Umayyad troops reconquered Iraq, and in 692 the same army captured Mecca. Ibn al-Zubayr was killed in the attack.
The second major event of the early reign of Abd al-Malik was the construction of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Although the chronology remains somewhat uncertain, the building seems to have been completed in 692, which means that it was under construction during the conflict with Ibn al-Zubayr. This had led some historians, both medieval and modern, to suggest that the Dome of the Rock was built to rival the Kaaba, which was under the control of Ibn al-Zubayr, as a destination for pilgrimage.
Abd al-Malik is credited with centralizing the administration of the caliphate, and with establishing Arabic as its official language. He also introduced a uniquely Muslim coinage, marked by its aniconic decoration, which supplanted the Byzantine and Sasanian coins that had previously been in use.
Following Abd al-Malik's death, his son, Al-Walid I (705-15) became caliph. Al-Walid was also active as a builder, sponsoring the construction of Al-Masjid al-Nabawi in Medina and the Great Mosque of Damascus.
A major figure during the reigns of both al-Walid and Abd al-Malik was the Umayyad governor of Iraq, Al-Hajjaj bin Yousef. Many Iraqis remained resistant to Umayyad rule, and al-Hajjaj imported Syrian troops to maintain order, whom he housed in a new garrison town, Wasit. These troops became crucial in the suppression of a revolt led by an Iraqi general, Ibn al-Ash'ath, in the early eighth century.
Al-Walid was succeeded by his brother, Sulayman (715-17), whose reign was dominated by a protracted siege of Constantinople. The failure of the siege marked the end of serious Arab ambitions against the Byzantine capital. However, the first two decades of the eighth century witnessed the continuing expansion of the caliphate, which pushed into Spain in the west, and into Central Asia and northern India in the east.
Sulyaman was succeeded by his cousin, Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz (717-20), whose position among the Umayyad caliphs is somewhat unique. He is the only Umayyad ruler to have been recognized by subsequent Islamic tradition as a genuine caliph (khalifa) and not merely as a worldly king (malik).
Umar is honored for his attempt to resolve the fiscal problems attendant upon conversion to Islam. During the Umayyad period, the majority of people living within the caliphate were not Muslim, but Christian, Jewish, Zoroastrian, or otherwise. These religious communities were not forced to convert to Islam, but were subject to a higher tax burden. This situation may actually have made widespread conversion to Islam undesirable from the point of view of state revenue, and there are reports that provincial governors actively discouraged such conversions. It is not clear how Umar attempted to resolve this situation, but the sources portray him as having insisted on like treatment of Arab and non-Arab (mawali) Muslims, and on the removal of obstacles to the conversion of non-Arabs to Islam.
After the death of Umar, another son of Abd al-Malik, Yazid II (720-24) became caliph. Yazid is best known for his "iconoclastic edict," which ordered the destruction of Christian images within the territory of the caliphate. In 720, another major revolt arose in Iraq, this time led by Yazid ibn al-Muhallab.
The final son of Abd al-Malik to become caliph was Hisham (723-43), whose long and eventful reign was above all marked by the curtailment of military expansion.
Hisham established his court at Resafa in northern Syria, which was closer to the Byzantine border than Damascus, and resumed hostilities against the Byzantines, which had lapsed following the failure of the last siege of Constantinople. The new campaigns resulted in a number of successful raids into Anatolia, but also in a major defeat (the Battle of Akroinon), and did not lead to any significant territorial expansion.
Hisham's reign furthermore witnessed the end of expansion in the west, following the defeat of the Arab army by the Franks at the Battle of Tours in 732. In 739 a major Berber Revolt broke out in North Africa, which was subdued only with difficulty.
Hisham suffered still worse defeats in the east, where his armies attempted to subdue both Tokharistan, with its center at Balkh, and Transoxiana, with its center at Samarkand. Both areas had already been partially conquered, but remained difficult to govern.
Once again, a particular difficulty concerned the question of the conversion of non-Arabs, especially the Sogdians of Transoxiana. Ashras ibn 'Abd Allah al-Sulami, governor of Khorasan, promised tax relief to those Sogdians who converted to Islam, but went back on his offer when it proved too popular and threatened to reduce tax revenues. In 734, al-Harith ibn Surayj led a revolt on behalf of the Sogdians, capturing Balkh but failing to take Merv. After this defeat, al-Harith's movement seems to have been dissolved, but the problem of the rights of non-Arab Muslims would continue to plague the Umayyads.
Hisham was succeeded by Al-Walid II (743-44), the son of Yazid II. Al-Walid is reported to have been more interested in earthly pleasures than in religion, a reputation that may be confirmed by the decoration of the so-called "desert palaces" (including Qusayr Amra and Khirbat al-Mafjar) that have been attributed to him. He quickly attracted the enmity of many, both by executing a number of those who had opposed his accession, and by persecuting the Qadariyya.
In 744, Yazid III, a son of al-Walid I, was proclaimed caliph in Damascus, and his army tracked down and killed al-Walid II. Yazid III has received a certain reputation for piety, and may have been sympathetic to the Qadariyya. He died a mere six months into his reign.
Yazid had appointed his brother, Ibrahim, as his successor, but Marwan II (744-50), the grandson of Marwan I, led an army from the northern frontier and entered Damascus in December of 744, where he was proclaimed caliph. Marwan immediately moved the capital north to Harran, in present-day Turkey. A rebellion soon broke out in Syria, perhaps due to resentment over the relocation of the capital, and in 746 Marwan razed the walls of Hims and Damascus in retaliation.
Marwan also faced significant opposition from Kharijites in Iraq and Iran, who put forth first Dahhak ibn Qays and then Abu Dulaf as rival caliphs. In 747 Marwan managed to reestablish control of Iraq, but by this time a more serious threat had arisen in Khurasan.
The movement that overthrew the Umayyad caliphate was known as the Hashimiyya, and led by the Abbasid family. The Abbasids were themselves members of the Hashim clan, the ancient rivals of the Umayyads, but the word "Hashimiyya" seems to refer specifically to Abu Hashim, a grandson of Ali and son of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya. According to certain traditions, Abu Hashim died in 717 in Humeima in the house of Muhammad ibn Ali, the head of the Abbasid family, and before dying named Muhammad ibn Ali as his successor. This tradition allowed the Abbasids to rally the supporters of the failed revolt of Mukhtar, who had represented themselves as the supporters of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya.
Beginning around 719, Hashimiyya missions began to seek adherents in Khurasan. Their campaign was framed as one of invitation (dawah), and was rather vaguely worded: they sought support for a "member of the family" of the Prophet, without making explicit mention of the Abbasids. These missions met with success both among Arabs and non-Arabs (mawali), although the latter may have played a particularly important role in the growth of the movement.
Around 746, Abu Muslim assumed leadership of the Hashimiyya in Khurasan. In 747 he successfully initiated an open revolt against Umayyad rule, which was carried out under the sign of the black flag. He soon established control of Khurasan, and dispatched an army westwards. Kufa fell to the Hashimiyya in 749, and in November of the same year Abu al-Abbas was recognized as the new caliph in the mosque at Kufa.
At this point Marwan mobilized his troops from Harran and advanced toward Iraq. In January of 750 the two forces met in the Battle of the Zab, and the Umayyads were defeated. Damascus fell to the Abbasids in April, and in August Marwan was killed in Egypt.
The victors dishonored the tombs of the Umayyads in Syria, sparing only that of Umar II, and most of the remaining members of the Umayyad family were tracked down and killed. One grandson of Hisham, 'Abd al-Rahman, survived and established a kingdom in Al-Andalus (Moorish Iberia), proclaiming his family to be the Umayyad Caliphate revived.
Previté-Orton argues that the reasons for the decline of the Ummayads was the rapid expansion of Islam. During Ummayad period, mass conversions brought Persians, Berbers, Copts, and Aramaics to Islam. These mawalis (clients) were often better educated and more civilised than their Arab masters. The new converts, on the basis of equality of all Muslims, transformed the political landscape. Previté-Orton also argues that the feud between Syria and Iraq, further weakened the empire.
According to one common view, the Umayyads transformed the caliphate from a religious institution (during the rashidun) to a dynastic one. However, the Umayyad caliphs do seem to have understood themselves as the representatives of God on earth, and to have been responsible for the "definition and elaboration of God's ordinances, or in other words the definition or elaboration of Islamic law.
During the period of the Umayyads, Arabic became the administrative language. State documents and currency was issued in the language. Mass conversions brought a large influx of Muslims to the caliphate. The Umayyads also constructed famous buildings such as the Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem, and the Umayyad Mosque at Damascus.
The Umayyads have met with a largely negative reception from later Islamic historians, who have accused them of promoting a kingship (mulk, a term with connotations of tyranny) instead of a true caliphate (khilafa). In this respect it is notable that the Umayyad caliphs referred to themselves, not as khalifat rasul Allah ("successor of the messenger of God," the title preferred by the tradition) but rather as khalifat Allah ("deputy of God"). The distinction seems to indicate that the Umayyads "regarded themselves as God's representatives at the head of the community and saw no need to share their religious power with, or delegate it to, the emergent class of religious scholars.
In fact, it was precisely this class of scholars, based largely in Iraq, that was responsible for collecting and recording the traditions that form the primary source material for the history of the Umayyad period. In reconstructing this history, therefore, it is necessary to rely mainly on sources, such as the histories of Tabari and Baladhuri, that were written in the Abbasid court at Baghdad.
Modern Arab nationalism regards the period of the Umayyads as part of the Arab Golden Age which it sought to emulate and restore. This is particularly true of Syrian nationalists and the present-day state of Syria, centered like that of the Umayyads on Damascus. White, one of the four Pan-Arab colors which appear in various combinations on the flags of most Arab countries, is considered as representing the Umayyads.
Sunni opinions of the Umayyad dynasty after Muawiyah are typically dim, viewing many of the rulers as sinners and the cause of great tribulation in the Ummah. For example, in the section concerning Quran 60:17 in the exegesis by al-Suyuti entitled Dur al-Manthur, the author writes that there exist traditions which describe the Umayyads as "the cursed tree". There are some exceptions to this -- Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz is commonly praised as one of the greatest Muslim rulers after the four Rightly Guided Caliphs.