Umayyad Dynasty was the first great Muslim dynasty to rule the Empire of the
Caliphate (661–750 AD), sometimes referred to as the Arab kingdom (because
of the secular nature of the Umayyad state).The advent of Umayyad rule set in
motion a process of continued expansion and centralization of authority that
would transform the Islamic community from an Arab shaikhdom into an Islamic
empire whose rulers were dependent on religion for legitimacy, and on the
military for power and stability. Thus, we can simply apply that under Umayyad
rule realism was very much exhibited in terms of extending their power as
war/conflict was unavoidable and a grave reality, yet liberal approach was
adopted in substance to consolidate their rule emphasizing the notions of
morality and cooperation within state.
Following the death of Prophet Muhammad in 632 AD, the Arab had taken on
two mighty empires of the ancient world – those of Byzantium and Persia. Syria
636 AD, Iraq 637 AD, Mesopotamia 641 AD, Egypt 642 AD, and Persia 651AD fell
at the hands of the Muslims. Two processes of slow acculturation were set in
motion: Arabization (through language transfer) and Islamization (through
religious conversion). Countries like Egypt underwent both processes, eventually
becoming both Arab and Muslim. Persia, on the other hand, underwent mainly
Islamization without becoming Arab country, by linguistic definition. In
subsequent centuries other parts of Asia were also Islamized without becoming
Arab countries. The range is from Afghanistan to Indonesia, from Asia Minor to
large parts of Indian subcontinent. In time Islam became the most widespread
religion in Asia.
Islam’s future revival expansionism was however, Europe. In this ambition Islam
was partially and temporarily triumphant. In AD 711, the Muslims crossed with an
army from North Africa into Spain and defeated the Visigoth king Roderick. By
715 Muslims had either captured or indirectly controlled the main cities of Spain.
Narbonne in the south of France was also occupied. Spain became a province
of the Islamic empire, controlled for a while from Damascus under the Umayyad
Dynasty. Islam inspired by new universalism, sought to take over the world in the
name of God. Its ambition outstripped both its power and its means of
communication, but a global mission was never the less attempted.
The entire structure of Umayyad government was based upon three pillars that
were tax collection, military and political affairs as well as religious
administration. Each of the three branches was further divided into different
departments, offices and branches. The whole empire under Umayyad was
subdivided into different provinces as well. Each province had a head namely
governor- appointed by the Khalifah. All the affairs of the province were
managed by the governors. Under the Umayyad, Islam expanded rapidly to
various parts of the world. Umayyad brought numerous reforms and changes to
their government in order to improve the governance and administration.
The accomplishments of the Umayyads were indeed remarkable. Damascus
became an even greater imperial capital than it had been under Byzantine
rule. Umayyad rulers developed a strong centralized dynastic kingdom, an Arab
empire. The more advanced government, institutions, and bureaucracy of
Byzantium were adopted and adapted to Arab Muslim needs. Native civil
servants and ministers were retained to guide and train their Muslim masters.
Islamic belief and values constituted the official norm and reference point for
personal and public life.Umayyad rulers relied on Islam for legitimacy and as a
rationale for their conquests. Caliphs were the protectors and defenders of the
faith charged with extending the rule of Islam. The basis of Umayyad unity and
stability was the establishment of an Arab monarchy and reliance on Arab, in
particular Syrian, warriors. But once conquest was made Umayyads seem to be
fairly uninterested in religious questions or the religious obligations of their
position then—it is rather as secular and secularizing rulers that their interest and
greatness lied in further.
However wrong their political camp may seem, the Umayyads are depicted as
acting in a wise social manner toward their followers. As rulers, they are shown
looking after the financial needs of their followers sufficiently, and this policy
helps the Umayyads forestall a possible cause for troops to defect to opposing
camps. Al-Mansir laments his lack of such loyal followers as much as he laments
his own inability to supply his followers as steadily as the Umayyads supplied their
Centralization and militarization of the state resulted in an increasingly
autocratic and absolutist government supported and protected by its military.
Though the Umayyads had done what was pragmatically necessary, since the
Arabs had not had the institutions and trained personnel required for empire
building, their critics believed that the Umayyad system of incorporating the
indigenous bureaucracy of the conquered lands inevitably produced an un
Islamic society based more on the command of the caliph than the command
of God. The problem was epitomized by the application of Islamic law. Law,
they argued, should provide the blueprint for Muslim society. Yet, conquest and
empire had introduced a diversity of cultures, lifestyles, and customs. The
differing customary laws of Medina, Damascus, Kufa, and Basra, coupled with
the caliph’s decision and his judges’ ability to settle disputes on the basis of their
own discretion, resulted in a confused and often contradictory body of laws.
Umayyads, however, adopted models of kingship from surrounding peoples.
They separated their court from the Muslim community and surrounded
themselves with wealth and ceremony. This was a model of leadership based on
the idea that authority was vested in super-normal individuals, a radically
different turn of events in the Muslim world. This model, however, is what kept the
new empire together. While nomadic and sedentary Arabs were completely
accustomed to the tribal patriarchal model that the early caliphs followed,
subject populations only understood authority as it was vested in a powerful and
distant monarch. Under the Umayyads, then, the caliphate became something
much closer to a monarchy rather than a tribal or religious leadership.
During this rule Islamicizationwas immensely coupled with Arabicization.
Conversion was not forced on conquered peoples; however, since non
believers had to pay an extra tax and were not technically citizens, many
people did convert for religious and non-religious reasons. This created several
problems, particularly since Islam was so closely connected with being Arab—
being Arab, of course, was more than an ethnic identity, it was a tribal identity
based on kinship and descent. As more and more Muslims were non-Arabs, the
status of Arabs and their culture became threatened. In part to alleviate that
threat, Arabic was instituted as the only official language of the empire.
As the Muslim territory continued to expand, the population became more
diverse, forever coloring the mosaic that is the Muslim world. Islam continued to
spread — from China and Russia to North Africa and Spain — crossing cultural
and linguistic boundaries to unite people into a common faith community.
Politically, they created a large empire and an administrative structure to go
along with it. This allowed trade and culture to flourish as traders, intellectuals,
and artists travelled freely and safely, geminating ideas and creative works.
However, it is clear that the military forces were the object of rational fiscal
procedures designed to keep them paid and supplied; we must accept, then,
that by the early eighth century A.D., at the latest, the state maintained a
standing force for defense and, perhaps, other functions and that these forces
were carefully organized and not merely haphazard or ad hoc complements of
The Umayyad took proper care about the rights of minorities under their rule as
per the teachings of Islam. They also took proper care about the rights of
women. Umayyad was also known as their contribution to Education, many
famous researchers and educationist were born under the rule of Umayyad.
In the first years of the empire the administration was fairly decentralized and
Greeks and Copts held many major bureaucratic positions. Muslim judges
(qadis) were appointed but they dealt only with the Muslim population. The
majority non-Muslim population retained their own communal systems. But,
under Abd al-Malik (r. 685–705), the Umayyad empire became more highly
centralized. Provincial governors were appointed to administer the far-flung
territories but when the caliphs were weak and central control lessened; these
governors often became political powers in their own right.
The conquered peoples were expected, in principle, to carry on essentially in
their old ways, maintaining their old religious allegiances. But it was not many
generations before the majority of the urban population insisted on adopting
Islam, and even those who did not do so tended to use Arabic as a common
medium of culture. The Muslim empire had been based on a pastoralist military
force, but that force had been led by urban merchants whose outlook was not
incompatible with that of the mercantile elements in the conquered lands. In
any case, in marked contrast to other pastoralist empires, the one created by
the Arabs stayed in one piece and endured; and, as the Arabs were assimilated
into the regional population, they did not adopt the local languages and
religious systems but instead were able to impose their own language and
allegiance on the various peoples they had conquered.
Since the death of Imam Ali (Prophet Mohammed’s cousin and the fourth
“Rightly Guided Caliph”), not a single state that emerged in the Arab World has
been Islamic. None had a legislative structure based exclusively on Quranic
jurisprudence; none was ruled by a leader who was selected based on a
theological basis; and all were conspicuously based on national, tribal, or
familial foundations, with Islam only an overarching frame of reference.Thus the
Umayyads’ ruling scheme in a nutshell can be viewed as, first grab power
militarily, then, uphold the notion that the state is “Islamic” and next, ensure the
recognition and obedience though not necessarily the approval of the most
venerable (and famous) of the Islamic scholars of the age. Afterwards, rule as
you please without any serious regard to Islamic jurisprudence, principles, or
The rapid geographic expansion and conquests brought the rise of new centers
of power and wealth, the influx of “foreign” ways, and greater social
stratification. The very success of the Umayyad Empire contained the seeds of its
downfall. With wealth and power came corruption and abuse of power,
symbolized by the new lifestyle of its flourishing, cosmopolitan capital and the
growth of new cities. This was accompanied by the infiltration of new ideas and
practices. The strengths that came with acculturation were offset, in the eyes of
some, by innovations that were seen as undermining the older Arab way of life.
Alongside the disaffected Kharijites and Alids, a host of other critics sprang up
who contrasted an idealized Medinan Islamic community with the realities of
UNESCO, 1998. History of Civilizations of Central Asia.[online] United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization 7 place de Fontenoy, 75352 Paris 07 SP ISBN 92-3-103467-7. Available at:
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