8. The Khilafa of Banu Umayya in al-Andalus

a 8. The Khilafa of Banu Umayya in al-Andalus

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

Title: The Khilafa of Banu Umayya in al-Andalus

Author: Abdalhakim Andersson

Publication date: 20/10/2012

The Khilafa of Banu Umayya in al-Andalus

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

As-salamu alaykum. Welcome to the History of the Muslims Programme of the MFAS. This is the first 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 Umayyad lineage and its importance for the history of Islam did not end end in year 132/750 when the caliphate in Syria collapsed and was taken over by the ‘Abbasids, who established their authority from the new capital in Baghdad. Only a few years after the ‘Abbasid takeover and the subsequent massacre of the Umayyad family, one descendant managed to escape and secure the rule of al-Andalus. His name was ’Abd ar-Rahman ad-Dakhil, the grandson of Hisham ibn ‘Abd al-Malik, and in 139/756 he established an amirate in al-Andalus that would later transform into the Umayyad caliphate with its capital in Cordoba. But it was not until year 317/929 that the eighth Umayyad amir of al-Andalus proclaimed himself khalifa and instigated what appeared to be a restoration of the Umayyad authority that had been lost to the ‘Abbasid dynasty some two hundred years earlier, albeit in a new geographical and historical context. However, the historical development behind the second Umayyad caliphate and the claims it articulated to legitimate authority is far more complicated. The immediate threat from the Isma’ili dynasty of the Fatimids in North Africa along with internal conflicts and divisions, were only a few of the factors contributing to the transition from amirate to caliphate.

The actual caliphate did not last for more than a century before disintegrating into the so-called muluk at-tawa’if or petty kingdoms and finally disapearing in 422/1031, but its place in history is significant for several reasons. In this lecture, we will examine of how the western Umayyads established their authority, claimed caliphal legitimacy and promoted their rule. By looking at the development from amirate to caliphate, both politically and ideologically, the aim is also to shed light on other general political, religious and socio-economic features of Andalusian history, both before and after the caliphate. The foundation of the caliphate will be examined by looking at various factors, including the pre-Islamic background and the demography of the Iberian Peninsula as well as the internal and external challenges that faced the Umayyad dynasty at the time. Additionally, questions concerning the establishment of the Maliki madhhab in al-Andalus, the great scholarly development in the various sciences of Islam, the architectural tradition, the political centralisation and other significant trends that accompanied western Umayyad rule will be examined in relation to the strategies of caliphal authority.

Historical background

Before examining the establishment of the caliphate, however, a brief overview of Islam in al-Andalus from the first openings onwards is necessary. After the death of the Umayyad khalifa ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan in year 86/705, al-Walid ibn ‘Abd al-Malik took over the caliphate in Damascus. It was during his reign that al-Andalus was conquered after persistent jihad around year 92 to 94 (711-713), under the command of Tariq ibn Ziyad, the mawla of the North African governor Musa ibn Nusayr. Most of the peninsula was thereby incorporated in the Umayyad caliphate under the name al-Andalus, while the regional capital was located in Cordoba. The early political situation under Umayyad governance appears to have been turbulent, partly due to the great distance to the centre of the caliphate in Syria. The governors of al-Andalus were in fact appointed by the governor of Ifriqiya, rather than the khalifa in Damascus. Nevertheless, Islam was firmly established in the peninsula, although it naturally took a few hundred years until at least half the population had become Muslims.

Most of those participating in the opening were Berbers, although the minority of Arabs among them enjoyed certain privileges. This first wave of Muslims became known as al-Baladiyyun, because they settled all over the new territories and became landowners. Generally, the Arabs were assigned to the south and east, while the Berber settlers mostly spread across the west and centre. The number of Arabs increased after the North African Berber rebellions in 122/740 when the initially defeated Umayyad troops from Damascus went to al-Andalus, many of whom later contributed to establish the Umayyad amirate on the peninsula. These revolts showed that the Muslim community was dynamic, but still split into factions by internal conflicts. The ‘Abbasids were never able to retain authority over the North African regions and consequently, al-Andalus was taken over by ‘Abd ar-Rahman ad-Dakhil who defeated the local rulers in 139/756, while other dynasties took over in North Africa.

The Umayyad, or in some ways the Madinan-Syrian, tradition was thereby transmitted westwards by ‘Abd ar-Rahman ad-Dakhil. His leadership contributed to many governmental, social and organisational reforms, which laid the foundation of the later caliphate. After his death, he was succeeded by descendants of his Umayyad lineage. In the same way as the previous Umayyads in Syria, the ‘Abbasids in Baghdad and the Fatimids in Mahdia and Cairo, a dynasty was created from the very first ruler. He was succeeded by his son Hisham and then his grandson al-Hakam, both of whom successfully upheld the authority of the amirate. The latter is also known for introducing the Maliki madhhab as the source for official fatwas instead of the madhhab of Imam al-Awza‘i that had been official school of al-Andalus. It was during this era that Cordoba developed into one of the foremost centres of knowledge and culture in Europe and the Islamic world, although the political authority of the some of the later amirs declined in the same way as the ‘Abbasid authority declined in the east. At the same time, the amirate was challenged by both internal conflicts and external enemies such as Christians in the north, Vikings along the coasts and the Fatimid dynasty of North Africa. It was in relation internal and external challenges that the eighth amir of al-Andalus, ‘Abd ar-Rahman III, articulated his claim to caliphal legitimacy.

The foundation of the khilafa

The caliphal claim

When ‘Abd ar-Rahman, given the title an-Nasir li-Din’illah, proclaimed himself khalifa in 317/929, the Umayyads had ruled al-Andalus as an amirate for more than a century and a half. He became amir in 300/912, after around thirty years of conflicts and rebellion which  had limited the Umayyad authority to Cordoba and its immediate surrounding regions. For almost two decades, ‘Abd ar-Rahman fought with his troops in order to restore the territorial sovereignty of the Umayyad dynasty. After defeating Banu Hafsun and other insurgent groups, ‘Abd ar-Rahman consolidated his authority with practical measures such as strengthening the army and refining organisation of the administration. He was then presented as the restorer of slam and the unifier of the Muslims in al-Andalus, which soon led him to declare himself amir al-mu’minin and identify his authority with the prominent khulafa of the past. 

The new khalifa adopted various strategies in order to legitimise his authority, which appear to have received public recognition from the vast majority of his subjects. By political and administrative reforms, along with ideological and symbolic manifestations of his rule, ‘Abd ar-Rahman formed his dawla according to all the expected standards set by the previous caliphates. The claims to caliphate were conveyed and demonstrated by battles, ceremonies, scholarship, architecture, dynastic lineage, city-building and other cultural expressions. Since the beginning of the amirate, the Andalusian amirs had refrained from using caliphal titles and prerogatives, although they did not support or formally acknowledge the ’Abbasid dynasty in the East. Rather, they recognised khilafa as a Muslim obligation and saw themselves most befitted to fulfil it, but still refrained from proclaiming a caliphate. The first issue that we are going to examine is therefore why ‘Abd ar-Rahman stepped forward to proclaim himself khalifa. This will be done by looking at various internal factors and external challenges that might have underpinned the decision to declare an independent caliphate.

Internal challenges

Prior to the openings, the Hispano-Roman population of al-Andalus had been ruled by the Visigoths for two centuries and many of them were Christian. There was also a small Jewish community that welcomed the new Muslim rulers because of the threats they had experienced under the Visigoths. After the opening, the Jews and Christians became ahl adh-dhimma and lived under Muslim protection with the obligation of jizya. It is generally considered that it was not until the fourth/tenth century that the majority of the population had become Muslim and thereby the Muslims were not only dominant politically, but also in terms of numbers. The Andalusian society nevertheless consisted of a variety of peoples and religions living together, and the main internal challenges in fact came from among the Muslims themselves. With the memory of the Berber rebellions still lingering on, conflicts often arose between Arabs and Berbers because of the demographic situation and the resentment to the élite Arab culture with its economic inequalities. In the same way as conflicts had arisen among the Arabs and local populations during the Umayyad caliphate in Syria, similar tendencies appeared in the late Andalusian amirate. The conflicts among the population furthermore increased because of the independence of certain provinces under the rule of small dynastic families and the weakened central authority with the Umayyads, limited to the region around Cordoba. The reign of ‘Abd ar-Rahman’s father, ‘Abdullah ibn Muhammad, was disrupted by continuous wars between Arabs, Berbers and population groups of mixed origin, referred to as al-muwalladun. It was not until the latter part of the reign of ‘Abd ar-Rahman III, after almost two decades of warfare, that the population of al-Andalus were united when he defeated various uprisings and restored Umayyad authority. 

The dramatic demonstration of his re-extended power and military strength provided a foundation for the transition to a caliphate, demonstrating authority to both the population and the dynasty themselves. Moreover, the fact that the majority of the population now were Muslims not only provided an important social and religious context for the caliphal claim, but might also have inspired the decision to unite the Muslims of the peninsula. It was then supported by the majority of the ‘ulama of al-Andalus, who all gave bay’a to khalifa. The transformation from amirate to caliphate – with all its ideological and political manifestations – can thus be seen as a response to the challenges that faced the Umayyad dynasty and an attempt to protect the establishment of Islam by the most powerful Muslim institution, the caliphate.

The ‘Abbasids and the Fatimids

The decision not to declare a caliphate until after more than one century and a half of Umayyad rule indicates that the caliphate was not a reaction to the ‘Abbasid dynasty in the east. However, the disintegration of the ‘Abbasid caliphate, along with the long-standing disagreements between the Umayyad and ‘Abbasid dynasties, certainly impacted on the decision to establish a caliphate and on the political strategies the Umayyads adopted. The ’Abbasid inability to upheld a strong caliphate might also have been a reason for the strong support that the western Umayyad caliphate received. However, the main challenge and catalyst for the revival of the caliphate in this new geographical and historical context was probably the rise of the Fatimid dynasty of North Africa form year 296/909 onwards. 

The Fatimid caliphate was established in the Tunisian city of Mahdia twenty years before ‘Abd ar-Rahman proclaimed himself khalifa, around the same time as he took over the amirate. In accordance with their Isma’ili doctrine, they claimed legitimacy through decent from ‘Ali and Fatima of the ahl al-bayt. They later moved their capital from Mahdia to Cairo, while elaborating their own system of law and belief, which spread over North Africa. The Fatimids’ military expansion over North Africa thereby constituted an immediate threat to the amirate of al-Andalus, politically as well as ideologically. 

The correlation between the rise of the Fatimid dynasty and the establishment of a caliphate in al-Andalus indicates that the challenge from the Fatimids was the primary catalyst for the caliphal proclamation, although the universal claims might have symbolically challenged the ‘Abbasids as well. However, the Umayyads do not seem to have reacted against the ‘Abbasids in the east, but rather against the Fatmids in order to protect the din of Islam against their political and ideological expansion. The next area to examine is therefore the strategies that were adopted in order to establish caliphal authority and counter the challenges that faced the western Muslim community. Although the active promotion of the caliphate and its legitimacy was expressed through a variety of forms, three examples have been chosen here for closer examination, which will also provide an understanding of the broader historical context of the western Umayyad caliphate. These are (1) the emphasis on the Madinan madhhab of Imam Malik; (2) the historiographical tradition of al-Andalus; and (3) the monetary, architectural and ceremonial expressions of authority. 

The establishment of caliphal authority

Madina and the Maliki madhhab 

Although the Maliki madhhab had been known in al-Andalus from the very time of Imam Malik (d. 179/795), it was not recognised as the primary madhhab until the third amir, al-Hakam ibn Hisham, ordered all official fatwas to be issued according to the fiqh of Imam Malik. That was a transition from the fiqh of the great Syrian faqih, ‘Abd ar-Rahman al-Awza’i (d. 157/774), which had previously been the main school of the region since its opening, although the formation of distinctive madhhabs as we know it might not yet taken place. The transition from Syrian to Madinan fiqh was, however, rather natural due to the close relationship between the two traditions, which can be illustrated by Qadi ‘Iyad’s words in Tartib al-Madarik, where he narrates that the ‘Abbasid khalifa Al-Mahdi told Malik, “Write a book that I will make the community adopt.” Then Malik said to him, “As for the region, i.e. Maghrib, I have spared you it. As for Syria, al-Awza’i is there. As for the people of Iraq, they are the people of Iraq.”

The main reason for the change to the Maliki madhhab at the time of al-Hakam I was that numerous western ‘ulama travelled to Madina to study with Imam Malik, after which they returned and transmitted his fiqh. Thus the madhhab of Imam Malik was preferred and established in the west by early scholars such as Ziyad ibn ‘Abd ar-Rahman (d. 193-94/808-09) and Yahya ibn Yahya al-Laythi (d. 234/848), who transmitted directly from Imam Malik himself. Another important reason for the adoption of the Maliki school also was al-Hakam’s personal preference for Imam Malik himself, whose reputation had spread far and wide within the regions of Islam and particularly in the West. The Maliki madhhab was thus established long before the caliphate, but its legal, political and scholarly expressions matched the attempt of the caliphal authority to restore the original Madinan society and protect the Muslim community from the aforementioned challenges. It provided a clear rejection of the Isma’ili Fatimids and a unified practice of Islam that never existed in the ‘Abbasid caliphate, despite the attempts of some khulafa to impose uniformity of belief and practice. Already from the time of the first khalifa, ‘Abd ar-Rahman III, the Malik madhhab was upheld by the central authorities and the strong emphasis on the Madinan tradition continued as a distinctive feature of the caliphate under his successors.

The historiographical tradition of al-Andalus

The historiographical tradition that developed during the caliphate might not have been significant immediately for consolidating Umayyad authority, but it does reflect the self-understanding of the dynasty and the views of the leading Muslim historians at the time. Similarly to the ‘Abbasids and the Fatimids, the western Umayyads regarded history in its various forms as an important medium for promoting and establishing legitimacy. It is well-known that historical disciplines were far less prestigious than the other sciences of Islam – including fiqh, hadith and tafsir – and that most prominent scholars naturally turned to these core sciences of the din. The most valuable historical transmission and understanding might therefore often provided by fuqaha, muhaddithun and mufassirun, but here we do not only look at the historical past but also the past-as-history. An examination of the history produced by Umayyad historians in relation to the caliphal claims of the dynasty is useful in order understand how the Umayyads perceived their past and turned it into a history that legitimised their authority.

Some of the historians active under the Umayyad caliphate were Ahmad ar-Razi (d. 344/955), ‘Isa ar-Razi (d. 379/989), ‘Arib ibn Sa‘id (d. 370/980) and the poet Ibn ‘Abd Rabbihi (328/940) who all worked closely with the dynasty and supported their interests. The most famous historians, however, are probably Ibn al-Qutiyya (d. 367/977), known for the Tarikh Iftitah al-Andalus, and Ibn Hayyan (d. 469/1076), who lived through the collapse of the caliphate and strongly supported the Umayyad dynasty in the face of its disintegration. In fact, Ibn Hayyan al-Qurtubi is regarded as one of the greatest Muslim historians and his main work, the ten volume al-Muqtabis fi Tarikh al-Andalus, is still one of the most important historical sources of Muslim al-Andalus. It also reflects his views of the Umayyads as restorers of Muslim unity and societal order, although from a somewhat later perspective, as he lived in the context of the ta’ifa kingdoms.

The historians generally affirmed the western Umayyads’ claims to have restored the caliphate of their Umayyad predecessors in Damascus before the ‘Abbasid takeover. They thereby emphasised the historical continuity and uninterrupted sequence of Umayyad rule, stretching back far beyond both the Fatimids and the ‘Abbasids. Historians also linked the situation in al-Andalus to the early history of Islam and celebrated the prominence of both the Umayyad dynasty and the Muslims of al-Andalus since its opening. 

The new dynasty was presented as defenders of the integrity of Islam – according to the Qur’an and the early community represented by the Maliki madhhabagainst the deviant Fatimids, the weak ‘Abbasids and the disunited al-Andalus right before the caliphate. Jihad in order to defend and expand the lands of Islam also became an important theme connecting the Andalusian Umayyads to their Syrian ancestors, known for their expansion of Dar al-Islam in all directions. The historical emphasis on the revival of jihad also contrasted the Umayyad dynasty to the increasingly powerless ‘Abbasids in Baghdad. But since much of the caliphal claims were directed against the Fatimids, the westerns Umayyads were presented as the inheritors not only of the Syrian Umayyads, but also of the khulafa ar-rashidun and thereby as protectors of the sunna of the Prophet, salla’llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. Many of these historical claims were affirmed by later historians, even after the collapse of the second Umayyad caliphate, which would give the western Umayyad dynasty a very different reputation from their eastern predecessors.


Architecture, coinage, monuments and ceremonies

Other aspects of the caliphal claim of the dynasty were architectural development and ceremonial activities. The new khalifa promoted his authority by devoting enormous resources to architecture and other means of demonstrating his power, as well as to the unity of the Muslim community of al-Andalus. Similarly to ‘Umar ibn al-Khattab’s confirmation of  Mu’awiya’s ijtihad of adopting royal strategies and military display as governor in Syria, ‘Abd ar-Rahman found it necessary to support his caliphal claims with the most efficient means available to achieve acceptance from the Muslim population and to respond to external challenges from the Fatimids, the ‘Abbasids and the Christians. 

Thus the Umayyad dynasty displayed their power by spending great resources on the pomp of the court and public ceremonies, but also on minting caliphal coins and establishing an advanced administrative organisation, reminiscent of the reforms of their Umayyad ancestor, ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. No gold dinars had been struck in al-Andalus since the fall of the Umayyad caliphate in Syria; only silver dirhams were produced during the time of the amirate. The decision of ‘Abd ar-Rahman to produce coins – dinars and dirhams bearing the khalifa’s name and title – was a major demonstration of his authority. Gold dinars had been associated with strong caliphal power since the time of ‘Abd al-Malik and, along with the silver and copper coins in circulation, they took the message of Umayyad authority into the hands of all people transacting within the territories of al-Andalus, while international trade conveyed the message further.

The most famous architectural achievement was the establishment of a new palace-city outside the capital of Cordoba, named Madinat az-Zahra. The palace-city became a statement of power and a symbol of the centralised rule of ‘Abd ar-Rahman, even though some have argued that it was built as a defensive refuge after defeat in a battle against the Christians at al-Khandaq, north of Toledo. Construction was completed during the reign of al-Hakam, forty years after construction began, but ‘Abd ar-Rahman nevertheless held audiences in its majlis and used it as his caliphal centre. The construction of Madinat az-Zahra has to be understood in relation to cities built under both the ‘Abbasids and the Fatimids. In 145/762, al-Mansur, the second khalifa of Banu al-‘Abbas, founded his residence and palace-city, Madinat as-Salam, which later became the core of the city of Baghdad. Then a century and a half later, the first Fatimid ruler, ‘Abdullah al-Mahdi Billah, established the city of al-Mahdia outside Qayrawan, which remained the capital of the dynasty until the move to Cairo. The establishment of Madinat az-Zahra can thus be seen as a response to these previous palace-cities and an architectural demonstration of Umayyad authority against the challenges of the ‘Abbasids and the Fatimids.

From the time of ‘Abd ar-Rahman III onwards, public ceremonies, elaborate court protocols and other symbolic strategies were also adopted by the Umayyad dynasty, and they  were similar to ceremonies that took place in both ‘Abbasid and Fatimid dawlas. Again, the Umayyad khulafa saw the necessity of supporting their caliphal claims and responding to their external rivals by adopting the strategies of their enemies for their own sake. Ceremonies, poetry, architecture and other symbolical manifestations were regarded as necessary strategies in their politics of power. They were therefore used by the Umayyad dynasty to achieve acceptance among their own population, while at the same time opposing external rivals. Ceremonial and architectural pomp continued under the subsequent khulafa, but when political and socio-economic prosperity decreased, it rather contributed to the gradual disintegration of the western Umayyad caliphate until it finally reached its end only a century after its foundation. 

The end of the caliphate

The caliphate slowly collapsed in the aftermath of al-Hakam’s decision to appoint his 10-year-old son, Hisham, as khalifa in 365/976. In reality, rule went to al-Mansur ibn Abi Âmir, who slowly gathered enough support from immigrant Berber tribes among others to maintain his political power. Although succession was later restored after this temporary intervention, the decision of al-Hakam to appoint the young Hisham as khalifa meant that caliphal authority was transferred from the khulafa to advisors, administrators and other officials. The khalifa thereby more and more lost his authority, as was the case with the ‘Abbasids in the east, while gradually taking on a symbolic and liturgical function, since social influence and political power decreased. Towards year 398/1008, civil wars had reduced the caliphate to a marionette government that allowed the various ta’ifa kings to establish their independent kingdoms. The muluk at-tawa’if officially replaced the Umayyad caliphate of Cordoba in 422/1031 when the last khalifa, Hisham ibn Muhammad, was deposed. However, the tradition that had originally been established, with a strong emphasis on the Maliki madhhab and its Madinan transmission, continued in al-Andalus under the supervision of many generations of prominent ‘ulama in the various sciences of Islam. They gave al-Andalus the historical reputation of a great scholarly tradition and that continued during the subsequent dynasties of al-Murabitun and al-Muwahidun who yet again united the Muslims of al-Andalus for periods until Granada fell into the hands of the Christians towards the end of the ninth/fifteenth century.

Concluding remarks

The main questions discussed in this lecture were how the Umayyad caliphate of al-Andalus was established, which strategies the dynasty used to articulate its authority and what the relations were between these historical developments and other tendencies within law, scholarship, historiography, architecture and so forth. By examining the internal and external challenges behind the decision to establish a caliphate, it has been made clear that the reasons behind the claims first and foremost was to protect the integrity of the din of Islam against challenges such as the Fatimid dynasty. Other catalysts were the weakened rule of the ‘Abbasid khulafa, the threat from Christians in the north and internal divisions among the Andalusian population right before the caliphate. Thus for the western Umayyads there was never any question of revolution or radical political, social or religious change. Rather, they sought to restore the unity of the Muslim community of al-Andalus and to defend the Muslims against various internal and external threats at the time. This is, however, only an overview of one of many interesting aspects to be studied regarding the Umayyad caliphate in al-Andalus, but hopefully it can serve as an introduction and provide some historiographical perspectives that might prove useful when approaching its history.

That brings us to the end of today’s lecture. For those interested in more details about the issues discussed in this lecture, I recommended Janina Safran’s The Second Umayyad Caliphate: The Articulation of Caliphal Legitimacy in al-Andalus (2001), although it is not included in the obligatory literature of this course. The subject of our next lecture is the early history of the Osmanli khulafa and our recommendation is to prepare yourself by reading the first chapters of Prof. Maksudoglu’s Osmanli History and Institutions (2012) or alternatively Halil Inalcik’s History of the Ottoman Empire (1973) or Ahmed Akgunduz’s Ottoman History - Misperceptions and Truths (2011). Thank you for your attention. As-salamu alaykum.


92-94/711-713 Opening of al-Andalus by Tariq ibn Ziyad

122/740 Beginning of Berber rebellions in North Africa

132/750 End of the Umayyad khilafa in Syria

139/756 ‘Abd ar-Rahman ad-Dakhil establishes the amirate of al-Andalus

296/909 Beginning of the Fatimid dawla in North Africa

300/912 ‘Abd ar-Rahman III becomes amir of al-Andalus

317/929 ‘Abd ar-Rahman III proclaims himself khalifa

350/961 al-Hakam II becomes khalifa

365/976 Al-Mansur takes over in the name of the 10-year old Hisham II

398/1008 Muhammad II, the grandson of ‘Abd ar-Rahman, deposes Hisham II and becomes khalifa.

399/1009 Sulayman II

400/1010 Hisham II restored as khalifa

402/1012 Sulayman restored as khalifa

407/1017 ‘Abd ar-Rahman IV

407-414/1017-1023 The Umayyad dynasty interrupted by Banu Hammud

414/1023 ‘Abd ar-Rahman V

415/1024 Muhammad III

416/1026 Hisham III

422/1031 End of the khilafa

898/1492 Fall of Granada