The First Dynasty of Islam: The Umayyad Caliphate A.D. 661-750

The First Dynasty of Islam: The Umayyad Caliphate A.D. 661-750

The First Dynasty of Islam: The Umayyad Caliphate A.D. 661-750

The First Dynasty of Islam: The Umayyad Caliphate A.D. 661-750

Synopsis

The Umayyad period was a crucial one for the development of Islam and Islamic culture. At the beginning of the ninety years of Umayyad rule over the Middle East, the region had only recently been conquered by the Arabs, and there is little unambiguous evidence about the development of Islam at that time. By the time the dynasty was overthrown, the Arabic languages and culture had made substantial progress among the many non-Arab conquered peoples, many of the religious and social features that we recognize as distinctly Islamic had begun to crystallize, and large numbers of the subject peoples had entered Islam.

Hawting provides an introductory survey of the period of the Umayyad dynasty. The historical evidence is often susceptible to widely differing interpretations. While the author is not mainly concerned here with analysis of the sources, he does provide some discussion of them and the problems associated with using them. He discusses the continuing debate about the place of the Umayyads in Arab and Islamic history, a debate that continues to produce heated argument.

Excerpt

In the summer or autumn of ad 661, Mu'awiya b. Abi Sufyan, governor of Syria since 639 and already acclaimed by his Syrian followers as caliph (khalifa), religious and political leader of the Muslim state, entered the Iraqi garrison town of Kufa. in historical tradition this event is seen as bringing to an end a bitter period of civil war among the Arabs, achieving the reunification under one ruler of all the territories conquered by them, and initiating the caliphate of the Umayyad dynasty of which Mu'awiya was the founder. the dynasty was to rule for 90 years or so until its overthrow and replacement by that of the 'Abbasids in 749-50.

The Umayyad dynasty was the first to emerge in the Middle Eastfollowing the conquest of the region by the Arabs, a conquest which had begun in the 630s and was still continuing for much of the Umayyad period. Apart from this fact, however, what was the importance of the period of Umayyad rule, a period which in its details is often complex and confusing, and how has it traditionally been regarded by Muslims in relation to the history of Islam? the answer to the first part of this question is provided by discussion of the two concepts of islamisation and arabisation, referring to two related but essentially distinct historical processes.

Islamisation

The term 'islamisation' refers both to the extension of the area under Muslim rule and to the acceptance of Islam as their religion by peoples of different faiths, but in the Umayyad period the question is further complicated by the fact that Islam itself was developing from its still to us not completely understood origins into something approaching the religion with which we are familiar. One should not imagine that Islam as we know it came fully formed out of Arabia with the Arabs at the time of their conquest of the Middle East and . . .

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