4. Banu Umayya I: From Mu‘awiya to ‘Abd al-Malik

4. Banu Umayya I: From Mu‘awiya to ‘Abd al-Malik

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد وعلى ءاله وصحبه أجمعين وسلّم

Title: Banu Umayya from Mu‘awiya to ’Abd al-Malik (40-73/661-692)

Author: Abdalhakim Andersson and Aisha Bewley

Publication date: 22/09/2012

Banu Umayya I: From Mu‘awiya to ‘Abd al-Malik (40-73/661-692)

Assalamu alaykum. Welcome to the History of the Muslims Programme of the Muslim Faculty of Advanced Studies. This is the fourth of 12 sessions which make up the History of the Khalifas module. The lecture will last approximately 40 minutes during which time you should make a written note of any questions that may occur to you for clarification after the lecture. The following lecture is based on lecture notes that Hajja Aisha Bewley prepared, but since she is not able to deliver them, I have reworked her notes slightly and will present that today.


In the previous lecture, we concluded with the khilafa of al-Ḥasan ibn ‘Alī that lasted for six months before he agreed on transferring the leadership to Mu‘awiya ibn Abi Sufyan thereby realising the words of the Prophet, sallallahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, that, “This son of mine is a master. Perhaps Allah will make peace between two great parties of the Muslims through him.” It was in the year 41 AH (661) – later known as ‘am al-jama‘a (“The Year of Community”) – that Mu‘awiya entered Kufa and was given bay‘a as khalifa in the presence of both al-Hasan and al-Husayn. Then al-Hasan retired to Madina and the capital of the khilafa was relocated to the ancient world city of Damascus. It is from this new centre in the heart of Bilad ash-Sham that this series of lectures today will continue. 

Mu‘awiya ibn Abi Sufyan 40-60 AH (661-680)

When Mu‘awiya became khalifa, he had many years of political experience from his time as governor in Syria. As Qadi Abu Bakr ibn al-‘Arabi concludes, there were many sahaba who were more entitled to the leadership than him, but Mu‘awiya had certain qualities that made him fit for leadership over the Muslims, indicated by the fact that ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab “had united all of Syria under him and singled him out for that, when he saw his good conduct, his undertaking to guard the heart and barricading the ports, putting the army in order, attacking the enemy, and managing the people.” The new centre in Damascus meant the khilafa was not only tied to one of the geo-politically most important regions, but also to the most organised and loyal army of the time, which Mu’awiya had build up during his time as amir.

The Muslims hoped that with the Umma united under Mu‘awiya, there would be an end to the fitna that had continued unabated since the murder of ‘Uthman. There was, however, intense debate about whether the person with the best qualities and virtues should be khalifa or the one with the actual power (sultan), an issue which later resurfaced with al-Husayn and on many other occasions in the history if Islam. Mu‘awiya himself recognised other people's worth in comparison to himself and he said in a khutba: 

O people! I am not the best of you. Those who are better than me include ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar and other excellent men. But it may be that I am the one who will be the most useful in ruling for you and the most harmful of you to your enemy and the one to give you the most abundance.

In short, the Umayyads held that khilafa was more about political power and, at the time, Mu‘awiya represented a power that enabled the Muslims to unite the community inwardly and uphold the strength of the dawla outwardly. As Ibn Khaldun makes clear regarding the beginning of the khilafa of Banu Umayya in Kitab al-‘Ibar:

Banu ‘Abd Manaf of Quraysh had bodies of numbers and nobility. No one opposed them from the other clans of Quraysh. The two sub-divisions (fakhidh) of them, Banu Umayya and Banu Hashim, were together a tribal community (hayy) tracing their genealogy to ‘Abd Manaf. Quraysh recognised that and asked them to assume leadership over them. However, Banu Umayya were more numerous than Banu Hashim and had more men, and power lies only in great numbers. As the poet said, “Power is only by great numbers.”1 

However, the recurring tendency to fragmentation after unification had been going on for some time and Mu‘awiya managed to put an end to it. ‘Ali had already noticed that this process was taking place and, during the shura appointed to choose a khalifa after ‘Umar, he had refused to accept being khalifa unless he were allowed some leeway in ruling which went beyond the very limited authority of the first two khulafa. Allegiance was then given to ‘Uthman when he agreed to the terms he was presented with. No one had ‘Ali's insight into the dangers inherent in the situation, which developed already during the time of ‘Uthman.

As we will see in examining the history of the leaders after the first khulafa rashidun, the tendency to fragmentation always occurs and it is only countered by a charismatic figure or by imposition of sheer power. Mu‘awiya is an exception because he stopped it by sheer political skill and a judicious use of power. Al-Hasan could not have done it because he did not have adequate control over the Kufans around him where fragmentation was at its peak. He stated that this was one of the reasons for withdrawing in favour of Mu‘awiya. Mu‘awiya reconciled many of the Muslims who had been fighting one another through his generosity and fairness, and resumed the futuh which had been interrupted by the fitna. During his rule, he had no rivals and he also managed through fine diplomacy to balance the tribal rivalries which later destroyed Umayyad authority. He did, however, recognise of the change in the form or rule and once gave a khutba to the people of Madina, saying:

I desired the way followed by Abu Bakr and 'Umar, but I was unable to follow it, and so I have followed a course with you which contains fortune and benefits for you despite some bias, so be pleased with what comes to you from me even if it is little. When good is continuous, even if it is little, it enriches. Discontent makes life grim.

Mu’awiya continued to hold deputations from the provinces and the tribes, and consulted these assemblies as much as possible, asking for their counsel, meeting with them, and accepting their criticisms. An outside observer, the Greek historian Theophanus, called him a  protosymboulos, "a first among equals" which is what he also called ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab. The later fixation on Mu'awiya as a king, in the sense of an absolute monarch or despot, has to be attributed to the backdating of things that happened later. The fact is that to counter fragmentation, the situation required a stronger centre than had existed before. The change in terms of governmental policies was inevitable.

Mu'awiya also paid close attention to the financial administration of the government and made good use of the natural resources available. He made organisational reforms and improved the diwans and the postal service (al-barid) among other things, which enabled a more central control or supervision of the provinces. Moreover, he paid a lot of attention to agriculture, especially in the Hijaz and saw to it that uncultivated land was brought into cultivation. He carried out irrigation works, sank wells and built dams in Madina, Makka and Ta'if. We also find the later Umayyads concerned with such projects, which was strategically important since it also prevented revolts resulting or being intensified by shortage of food.

The organisation at the time of Mu‘awiya consisted of the khalifa at the top, and under him amirs and ashraf, which were tribal leaders who provided a link between the government and the tribesmen. He did, however, not rely on the old aristocracy, but looked for merit and loyalty in those governors he appointed. Many of his prominent governors were not even Qurayshi, let alone Umayyad. There were few Khawarij uprisings against him, possibly due to the fact of his balanced rule and approach which did not allow them to muster support locally. He is also known for creating the first Muslim navy from the seafaring Syrians and Egyptians, which was a task that he had begun already as governor during the time of ‘Uthman and that enabled the futuh to continue by sea. 

The most important regions at the time of Mu‘awiya were the Hijaz, Syria, Egypt, and North Africa, along with the eastern regions of Kufa, Basra and Khorasan. The centre of authority was located in Damascus and the khalifa was directly in command over Syria and al-Jazira. The importance of Syria was not primarily due to its prosperity and great population, since other regions were both richer and more populous. Rather, Syria was the place where Mu‘awiya had been governor for almost fifteen years since the time of ‘Umar, which had equipped him with loyal support from local authorities and the population. He had also been responsible for the development of its governmental organisation and had for years built the Syrian army during the jihad against Byzantium. The military power was in fact one of the most important sources of authority for the Umayyads. Moreover, the ancient traditions of the Syrian lands with its nearness to ancient world civilisations have been mentioned by historians as reasons for the significance of Syria.

The historical importance of the province of Iraq is well known and at the time of Mu’awiya, it was probably the richest and most prosperous region due to its beneficial climate and the agricultural opportunities along its river valleys. It also became a military centre for the eastern expansion of Islam, with garrison town such as Kufa and Basra. The populations in these cities, however, consisted of a variety of peoples, tribes, races, religions, sects and philosophical traditions, which made them melting-pots of cultural exchange and, at the same time, sources of opposition and sectarianism.

Another important province was Khorasan in the far northeast, which was both politically and geographically dependant on Iraq. In fact, Khorasan and Kufa were the initial locations for the uprisings that later toppled Umayyad rule. The tensions which existed in Iraq were often carried over into Khorasan where they tended to increase unchecked among both the settling Arabs and the non-Arab mawali population, since it was more difficult for the khulafa in Damascus to control due to the vast distances and the looser ties in comparison to North Africa and Arabia. 

Egypt and North Africa were also significant provinces; militarily as the centre of the western expansion, geopolitically at the heart of the Mediterranean and economically with the fertile areas along the Nile that not only provided food for Egypt, but also other regions such as al-Hijaz. 

In all these mentioned provinces, Mu‘awiya was very careful in choosing the local amirs responsible for matters such as jihad, leading the people in prayer, collecting taxes, supervising markets, appointing officers and upholding order according to the law in general. As for the collection zakat, jizya and kharaj, Mu‘awiya and the early Umayyads – in the same way as the Romans before them – relied on local élites to maintain social and economic order in the opened regions, while providing a steady stream of tax income to the bayt al-mal. Thereby Mu‘awiya used pre-existing bureaucracy to collect taxes and maintain the administrative documentation, although certain adjustments were made according to the legal regulations of the Shari’a. This practice of adopting pre-existing socio-economic structures for the public benefit of the Muslims – which previously had characterised the reigns of ‘Umar and ‘Uthman – thus continued under Mu‘awiya.

Towards the end of his life, Mu‘awiya decided to appoint his son, Yazid, as successor and, after twenty years of unity, new problems arose when Mu‘awiya died in year 60 AH (680 AD). Mu‘awiya himself had foreseen that there would be problems and knew where those problems lay, which was the reason for his decision. Only twenty years had passed since the fitnat al-kubra and Mu‘awiya’s aim was to preserve order and avoid another fitna within the Umma. That, he reasoned, required the Syrian army, and the only person they would follow was Yazid. To avoid a scramble for power after his death, Mu‘awiya made the people give bay‘a to Yazid while he was still alive. Of course, as we know, the scramble for power still occurred. 

Regardless of the reasons and justifications of the appointment, dynastic succession and its royal strategies indicated that the Muslims now had taken over as the main power in the region after the former Byzantine and Persian empires. The principle of the khalifa being succeeded by his son or appointing a successor among his own people would then consistently be practised by the Umayyads – in the east and in the west – as well as by the subsequent dynasty of Banu al-‘Abbas. But while the succession outwardly manifested the authority of the Muslims over the former world powers of Byzantium and Persia, it also marked the beginning of serious internal problems that would lead up to the second fitna. 

Yazid ibn Mu‘awiya 60-63 AH (680-683)

When Yazid took over the leadership, the tensions that Mu‘awiya had managed to control were released. This time, the trouble would not only arise from eastern regions around Iraq, but also from the very heart of the community in the Hijaz. The relations between Yazid and some of the prominent sahaba, including al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali and ‘Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr, also worsened rapidly. Although Yazid initially was given bay‘a by the majority of the Muslims, his leadership was rejected by a small but influential group of Muslims, represented by al-Husayn and ‘Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr in al-Hijaz. Part of this was also based on Madinan disapproval of the lifestyle in Syria, which seemed to them decadent and increasingly remote from the sunna of the previous khulafa.   

First al-Husayn was encouraged by others to revolt. Steadier heads, like ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar, advised him not to do so. Most of those who encouraged him did not accompany him and those who had invited him to revolt in Kufa deserted him. This was to become a pattern in later Shi‘a uprisings. The Kufans would invite a candidate to revolt, promise support and then disappear when the time came to fight. Although the resulting tragedy had important ramifications, it was politically ineffective. His support evaporated and his party was massacred at Karbala in year 61 AH (680 AD). 

Around the same time, Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr began to set up a counter-khilafa in Makka. He did, however, not formally proclaim himself as khalifa until Yazid had died, instead staying in Makka and denouncing him. Here we have the tension developing between conflicting views of the nature of khilafa. Very generally, the Umayyads emphasised that the khalifa was a sultan of political power, and the opposing view emphasised that he was an imam, and had a spiritual role as well. The level of that spiritual authority thereby became a source of intense disagreement. The main opposition to Yazid came from the Madinans who revolted. That this was a ‘revolt’ against the recognised authority is clear from the account in Sahih al-Bukhari:

Nafi‘ said, "When the people of Madina deposed Yazid ibn Mu‘awiya, Ibn ‘Umar gathered his retinue and children and said, 'I heard the Prophet, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, say, "A banner will be set up for every traitor on the Day of Rising." We gave allegiance to this man in accordance with the allegiance to Allah and His Messenger, I know of no treachery worse than giving allegiance to a man in accordance with the allegiance to Allah and His Messenger and then undertaking to fight him. If I learn that any of you have deposed him or pursued this matter, it will be a separation between me and him."

The Madinans expelled the governor, gave allegiance to one of themselves, and laid siege to the Umayyads in Madina, including Marwan ibn al-Hakam. Some reports say that they also attacked the mawali of Quraysh. Their reasons seem to be based on rumours that then became accepted as fact. At the same time, ‘Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr further mobilised his forces in Makka and his sphere of authority now included many regions of Iraq and southern Arabia, as well as parts of Syria and Egypt. Because of the different revolts against the Umayyads – including opposition from the Khawarij – Yazid sent an army to quell the uprising in the Hijaz, which led to the Battle of al-Harra in the summer of 63 AH (683) in which Madina was sacked and a vast number of Ansar killed. Madina thereafter lost much of its political centrality and was never the same again. The Umayyad general, Muslim ibn ‘Uqba, was ill and died soon after the attack on Madina. His successor continued on with his army in order to deal with Ibn az-Zubayr and laid siege to Makka. Then after three years of rule, Yazid died suddenly and the Syrian army withdrew.

Mu‘awiya ibn Yazid 63-64 AH (683-684)

The death of Yazid thereby opened up for the culmination of the second fitna, since his son and successor, Mu‘awiya ibn Yazid, lacked the necessary experience of leadership and never enjoyed enough authority within the Umma. His personal integrity might also have led to his decision to avoid the political turmoil and hand over the leadership to others. Soon after the succession, the 21-year-old Mu‘awiya – who also suffered from ill health – abdicated and died shortly after. As the historians relate, he never stood before his people nor did he lead them in prayer, since his khilafa only lasted forty days, although some people say two or even three months. He was the last of the khulafa from the lineage of Abu Sufyan. During the power struggle after Yazid’s death, the Umayyads were gradually pushed back towards the northern parts of Arabia and even lost much of their authority over Syria. Not until the final years of the actual collapse of the Umayyad rule was the authority in Syria threatened in the same way as after the death of Yazid ibn Mu‘awiya.

Marwan ibn al-Hakam 64-65 AH (684-685)

The death of Yazid and his son, Mu’awiya, created a leadership vacuum and the Umayyads began to look elsewhere for potential successors. After some confusion, Marwan ibn al-Hakam – from the Abu’l-‘As branch of Banu Umayya – became the representative of the Umayyads in year 64 AH (684 AD). It was a pure power struggle and no one had any real justification as to why they should be the ruler, but Marwan appears to have been given precedence due to his governmental experience and strong support. This dynastic line of Banu Marwan was then to last until the fall of Umayyad rule and was thereafter re-instated in al-Andalus by ‘Abd ar-Rahman ad-Dakhil and his descendants. At the time of Marwan, the Muslim community was divided into two camps, where both Marwan in Damascus and Ibn az-Zubayr in Makka proclaimed themselves Amir al-Mu’minin and were recognised as khalifas. 

The political turmoil of the second fitna did, however, involve more groups than these two. In particular, the Khawarij were still active, and an extreme proto-Shi‘a, al-Mukhtar ibn Abi ‘Ubayd, set up a movement in Iraq in support of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya, another son of ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib, but Muhammad actually wanted nothing to do with it. Al-Mukhtar had initially offered his support to Ibn az-Zubayr, but when Ibn az-Zubayr refused to appoint him as governor, he rebelled against him in Kufa. This was the first time that the mawali played a prominent role in such risings. Al-Muthar also proclaimed that Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya was the Mahdi and, after his death, the Shi’a idea of a leader temporarily going into occultation was introduced. 

As for the Khawarij revolt, it was at this time somewhat a return to the Ridda wars, because it was the tribe Banu Hanifa who were the source of leadership of the movement. Banu Hanifa had never offered allegiance, properly speaking, and wanted their independence from any Syrian authority. When Ibn az-Zubayr rejected their terms, they turned on him as well. The Banu Hanifa then allied itself with the Khawarij. So it was not a proper Khawarij revolt, but joined interests which served each side. Otherwise the Khawarij themselves would never have been so powerful. Various strategies were adopted by both the Zubayrids and the Umayyads to stop the Khawarij. For instance, the Umayyad leader, al-Muhallab ibn Abi Suffra made a deal that those who helped against the Khawarij would have three years of revenue for every province they recovered for Basra.

In the midst of all these uprisings – particularly weakening side of ‘Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr in Makka and his brother Mus’ab in Iraq - the Syrian army was reinforced under the command of Marwan ibn al-Hakam. By the victory in a battle at Marj Rahit east of Damascus in year 64 AH (684), the Syrian authority was re-established in some of the most crucial regions. The Umayyads then took back Egypt and limited the authority of Ibn az-Zubayr to al-Hijaz and Iraq, where Mus’ab still struggled with various Khawarij and proto-Shi’a movements. 

At this point, however, Marwan died and was succeeded by his son ‘Abd al-Malik. The disagreements were such that in year 68 AH (688) during the hajj, there were four distinct groups each camped apart from one another and representing or claiming to represent: Ibn az-Zubayr, Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya, the Khawarij leader Najda, and ’Abd al-Malik of Banu Umayya. When al-Mukhtar was killed, however, the fight was just between the Umayyads and Ibn az-Zubayr. The Khawarij, at least in respect of their main force, were looking for local autonomy rather than total power. 

‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan 65-86 AH (685-705)

It was during the time of ‘Abd al-Malik that the second fitna culminated once and for all. While ‘Abd al-Malik increased his authority, ‘Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr gradually lost more and more of his support in Iraq, where both the Khawarij and the proto-Shi’a movements had turned against him. In fact, ‘Abd al-Malik himself led the Syrian army in battle against one of his closest childhood friends, Mus’ab ibn az-Zubayr, and in year 72 AH (691), the Umayyad army defeated the Zubayrid forces of Iraq at the battle of Dayr al-Jâthlîq. Then ‘Abd al-Malik sent al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf with an army to invade Makka. For six and a half months, the army of al-Hajjaj besieged Makka and bombarded the city from catapults and other siege engines until Ibn az-Zubayr was eventually killed in year 73 AH (692). After the defeat of Ibn az-Zubayr, ‘Abd al-Malik consolidated Umayyad authority and stability was restored within the Umma. That year also became known as ‘am al-jama‘a (”The Year of Community”), similarly to the beginning of the khilafa of Mu‘awiya ibn Abi Sufyan. 

We thereby end this lecture in the same way as it began, with political unification of the Muslim community under a strong central authority. In the following lecture, we will further examine in detail the important khilafa of ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan and the khulafa succeeding him – including four of his sons and ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-’Aziz among others – until the collapse of Umayyad rule at the time of the last khalifa, Marwan ibn Muhammad, the grandson of Marwan ibn al-Hakam.

For further reading relating to this lecture, I recommend Hajja Aisha Bewley’s Mu‘awiya: Restorer of Muslim Faith, the relevant passages from Qadi Abu Bakr’s ibn al-’Arabi’s al-’Awasim min al-Qawasim (Eng. ”Defence Against Disaster”) and the parts of Ibn Khaldun’s al-Muqaddima that deal with questions such as bay‘a, khilafa, dynastic succession, institutions of the dawla, transformation from khilafa to mulk (kingdom) and so forth. 

Recommend preparatory reading for the upcoming lecture is Jalal’ud-Din as-Suyuti’s Tarikh al-Khulafa (Eng. “History of the Caliphs”) about the Umayyad khulafa from ‘Abd al-Malik to Marwan ibn Muhammad. Also, the aforementioned passages from al-Muqaddima will be beneficial for the more theoretical perspective on the development during Umayyads times from ‘Abd al-Malik onwards. Another book that deals with the decline of the Umayyad rule after the death of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-’Aziz, for those who want an in-depth study of that, is Khalid Yahya Blankinship’s The End of the Jihad State: The Reign of Hisham ibn ‘Abd al-Malik and the Collapse of the Umayyads (1994). 

Thank you for your attention. Assalamu alaykum.

Appendix 1:
Banu Umayya I: From Mu’awiya to the early years of ‘Abd al-Malik

Mu'awiya 40-60 / 661-680

40/661 ‘Am al-Jama’a (“The Year of Community”)

44/664 Afghanistan opened

44/664 Raids on Sicily

49/669 Hasan ibn 'Ali dies 

50/670 Openings in North Africa (Ifqiqiya), Qayrawan founded by ‘Uqba ibn Nafi’

54/674 Rhodes captured

57/677 Siege of Constantinople 

58/678  ‘A’isha dies

Yazid ibn Mu‘awiya 60-63 / 680-683

61/680 Karbala, Ibn az-Zubayr in Makka

63/683  Battle of al-Harra

Mu’awiya (II) ibn Yazid 63-64 / 683-684

‘Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr 64-73 / 684-692

64/684 Khalifa in Makka 

65-67/685-687 Shi'ite rebellion of Mukhtar in Iraq

67/687 Battle between al-Mukthar and the Zubayrids in Kufa

72/ 691 Battle of Dayr al-Jathliq

72/692 Kufa falls to ‘Abd al-Malik

Marwan ibn al-Hakam 64-65/684- 685

64/684 Battle of Marj Rahit 

‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan  65/685 - 86/705

65-67/685-687 Al-Mukhtar in Iraq

72/691 Battle of Dayr al-Jathliq

72/692 Kufa recaptured by ‘Abd al-Malik

73/ 692 Defeat and death of Ibn az-Zubayr

73 / 692 ‘Am al-Jama’a (“The Year of Community”)

Appendix 2: Lineage of the khalifas of Banu Umayya

1 Ibn Khaldun, Tarikh, Vol 3, p. 2.