Umayyad

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.

Umayyad

Umayyad (ōōmä´yäd), the first Islamic dynasty (661–750). Their reign witnessed the return to leadership roles of the pre-Islamic Arab elite, and the rejuvenation of tribal loyalties. The Banu Ummaya constituted the higher stratum of the pre-Islamic Meccan elite. Having entered into an agreement with Muhammad in 630, they succeeded in preserving their economic influence, and gradually reintegrated into the political power structure. The assassination of Uthman, the third caliph, and a member of the Ummaya, presented the dynamic Ummayad figure of Muawiya the opportunity to challenge the otherwise troubled rulership of Ali. With the death of Ali, Muawiya succeeded in establishing himself as the caliph, making Damascus the capital of the Islamic empire. His efforts concentrated on strengthening his rule by entering into a truce with the Byzantines, renewing tribal alliances and securing the succession of his son Yazid. With the death of Muawiya in 680, Yazid faced the opposition of Husein, the son of Ali. The resistance and subsequent martyrdom of Husein at Karbala in a battle where the Ummayad forces outnumbered him and his partisans is the focus of the central yearly Shiite observance of Ashura. Yazid also faced further resistance in the Hijaz (today Saudi Arabia), led by Abdallah ibn az-Zubayr. With his death, the caliphate was transfered to the Marwanid branch of the Banu Ummaya. Abd al-Malik succeeded in consolidating Ummayad rule, and proceeded with a series of administrative reforms including the conversion of the bureaucracy from Greek to Arabic, and the minting of new currency. This consolidation set the stage for the renewal of territorial expansion in Asia and Africa under Walid I (705–15), and the increased military pressure against Byzantium under Sulayman (715–17). Sulayman's successor, Umar II (717–20) unsuccessfully attempted to reverse the course of tribal-based politics in an effort to restore the Islamic political ideal of transcending partisanships. His successors, Yazid II (720–24), Hisham (724–43), and Walid (743–44) pursued the tribal-based territorial conquests. The expansion of the Islamic empire led to the emergence of a substantial class of non-tribal Muslims (mawali), who became the base from which anti-Ummayad movements drew their supporters. The most notable of these movements was the Abbasid, which eventually succeeded in toppling the last Ummayad caliph, Marwan II, in 750. A branch of the Ummayad family, led by Abd ar-Rahman ad-Dakhil, was able to reach Cordoba and to reestablish Umayyad rule (780–1031) in Muslim Spain.

See G. R. Hawting, The First Dynasty of Islam (1986).

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