The Arab empire did not originally accept the principle of inherited dynastic succession for its Caliphs, but instead
relied on election by consensus. As there was frequently no consensus, the rule of Caliphs often ended in assassination.
Uthman was assassinated. Ali of the Hashim
clan, a cousin of
Muhammad became Caliph, but was
challenged. Ali was victorious over Aisha, the widow of Muhamad and her allies Talha and Zubeir, two of the companions
of the prophet at the battle of the Camel in 656. However, Muawiyah, son of the assassinated Uthman, accused Ali of
complicity in the assassination of Uthman and of harboring his assassins. The battle of Siffin was to decide the issue,
but it was stopped for mediation. The Kharijites were dissatisfied with the mediation and broke with Ali. Ali defeated
them at the Battle of Nahrawan in 659, but Ali was assassinated in 661, opening the way for Muawiyeh to claim the
Caliphate. He moved the capital to Damascus.
It is probably impossible to judge the Umayyad rule objectively because they had angered both the
Ulema, the religious scholars who kept most
of the records and made religious decisions, and the non-Arabs. Their story is told mostly through the voice of the
Abbasids who overthrew them. They were despised for a long time by both by
Shia Muslims because they allegedly suppressed
the Caliphate as a religious institution and ruled in effect as secular kings. The original branch of the Umayyads
founded by by Mu'awiyya, the Sufaynid branch, was wiped out in 684 by Marwan, who founded the Marwanid branch.
The Umayyad's succeeding in Arabizing their empire, establishing Arabic
as the language of administration as well as the language of religion. Because of their vigorous expansionist policy and
Arab orientation, they are often the role models of Arab nationalists.
The Umayyad empire apparently suffered from over-rapid expansion which produced several difficulties. 1) It was
difficult to maintain proper communications and swift availability of armies throughout the width of this huge empire.
2) While religion called for the desirability of conversion, those who converted were no longer subject to special
taxes. The loss of revenue was intolerable to the Umayyad rulers, causing some caliphs to continue the taxes on non-Arab
converts or discourage conversion. 3) Non-Arab converts,
Mawali, were held in contempt, giving rise to
friction. 4) The empire had
to be fueled by constant military expansion to produce new booty and slaves. However, by about 730, it had begun to
reach the nether limits of its resources in terms of conquest. Charles Martel defeated the Muslims at the Battle of
Tours in 732. In the east, there were constant revolts as well in the reign of Hisham.
The rivals of the Umayyad, the Hashimiyah, organized resistance which began about 716. It culminated in a revolt,
under a black banner of Abu Muslim and Abu el Abbas. The latter was proclaimed Caliph in 749 and defeated the last
Umayyad Caliph, Marwan II, in 750 at the battle of the Zab. However, the Umayyad continued to control parts of the
empire outside Baghdad and Umayyad Caliphs ruled in Cordoba in al-Andalus
(Spain) until the eleventh century CE.
Synonyms and alternate spellings:
Further Information: See History of Islam and the Arabs