This short paper analyses how Umayads used religion to legitimize and expand
its rule. The policies of the Umayads dynasty created stratification among
different social groups to collect revenue as well as military force for the
expansion of their rule along with enjoying unprecedented elite life style. There is
plenty of literature especially written by Muslim authors who are apologetic to
defendant the centralized, discriminatory form of governance. This created at
least a few prominent social groups: a) Non-Muslims under the Muslim Rules (a
class with political, social and economic disadvantages), Non-Arab Muslims (a
class with social and political disadvantages) and Arab Muslims but Non
Umayads (a class with political disadvantages). This social stratification, on
ethno-religious lines, by Umayads policy of governance caused its rise as well its
This short study have following research objectives: a) to review the role of
religion in establishment and expansion of the “Caliphate” of Umayads during
the period of 661 to 750 and b) to explore thecauses of comparative lower
status as citizen of Non-Arab Muslims as well as Non-Muslims than the Arab
Muslims and its implications. The article tries to explain a) what was the role of
religion in legitimization, establishment and expansion of the “Caliphate” of
Umayads during the period of 661 to 750? and b) why were of Non-Arab Muslims
as well as Non-Muslims practically given lower status comparative to Arab
Muslims during this Period?At the very outset it is hypothesized that a) if astate
uses religious identity to legitimize, establish and expand its role then the same
identity may be used against its upheaval and b) if the policies of a government
stratify the people into different social groups for its benefit then this stratification
could emerge as a counter force to topple the government. The study is
qualitative based mainly on secondary sources. A couple of interviews with the
religio-historian scholars were also conducted to substantiate the secondary
data. The data sources are mainly books, research papers and maps including
online material on the subject. The analysis of data is based on the structure of
society taking as antecedent variable, the use of religion to legitimize the use of
power as independent variable and its impact on world politics as dependents
variables. The fundamental unit of analysis is social classes within the states.
There may be some intervening variables those are the out of scope of this short
Umayads: A Caliphate or Dynasty
The history of Muslim rulers, specifically, of “Caliphate” of Umayads- the period
of expansion of territory under Muslim rulers, i.e. Umayads dynasty the most
commonly known, is perhaps the most contested and controversial in the entire
history of Islam. Divergently conflicting ideas and perspectives one may find for
use of religion to “legitimize” the authority of the rulers as well of the state.
Western and many Muslim scholars avoid to use the term “Caliphate” for
Umayads considering it “dynasty” of tyrannical rulers that abused the authority
in the name of religion. The eminent scholar, though controversial for some sects
of Muslims, Modudi explained vividly how the institution of Caliphate turned into
dynasty at the hands of Umayads rulers and deviated from the early tradition of
Islamic system of rising to power at the cost of culminating the freedom of
speech, freedom of judiciary, establishment of government through consensus
(among elders of the tribes or notables) and by giving rise to ethnic
bias(Modudi, 1966). Modudi was vigorously replied on the questions and
allegations he raised on the founder of Umaya’ds rule, i.e. Mu’aviya. A
contrasting concept about Mu’aviya in particular and bout Umayads in general
is presented in (Iqbal, 2005). The very title of book suggests that it is apologetic in
subject. Similarly, the allegations of deviation from original Islamic concepts of
Shora and Freedom of speech was denied vehemently by various other
contemporary Muslim authors. TaqiUsmani considered, “that allegation on
Mu’aviya of ending the freedom of expression is grave cruelty …” and quoted
many instances in favour of his view(Usmani, 2011). Most of the Muslim authors,
particular who wrote in Arabic or Urdu languages, analyzed the persona of the
Muslim rulers by diminishing the boundaries between the characteristics of a
Muslim and a ruler, hence idealized them as “Muslim rulers” that legitimized their
very act as ruler. Comparatively, on a limited scale seems written critically by
Muslim authors on the subject of Umayyad policy with othersstates and more
emphasis is given on the personal characteristic of the rulers. Mu’aviya snubbed
the Kharjities at the beginning, and then focused on starching state-boundaries
to Kharasan, Turkastan, Samarqand and Bukhara. The author of “Hukmran e
Sahaba”wrote that the Umayads fought wars with other state and reached to
India, Rome and Byzantine territories but the author sneakily escapes from
answering questions like how these states responded, what sources were utilized
to conquer these territories except praising the valorous and vigorous persona of
the Muslim rulers-cum-fighters of the era (Ghazanfar, 1998).
The other perspective of Islamic tradition, was mostly conveyed by the
traditionalist authors, who were well converse with Christian and Islamic
traditions as well of profound know of the world. The notable among them
include Rene Guenon, FrithjofSchuon, Titus Burckhardt and Martin Lings
(Lumbard, 2007). A contemporary Islamic scholar Akram Diya al Umari is very
critical on the authors who used apologetic approach to share a point of view
that “military expeditions as having been launched in defence of the Arabian
Peninsula against the incursion of the Roman and Persians”. The author says that
whatever “God has legislated in Islam, be it Jihad or anything ….” is absolutely
right and need not to be apologized; hence validates any Muslim rulers’
incursions into a foreign territory to “order good and prohibit evil” (Umari, 1989).
The expansion of Muslim state to the territories beyond Arabian Peninsula during
Umayads rule brought cultural assimilation to Arab-Islamic civilization, though
Umayad upheld their ‘traditional Arab aristocratic position’; but this was
defended religiously, considering it the part of religion, by many Muslim authors.
“People often speak of Arabic, Persian, or Turkish Islam ….. in reality there is only
one Islam, but with local coloring related to the ethnic, linguistic, and cultural
traits of different people…”(Nasr, 2004). Thus, it becomes difficult to find
impartiality and scientific objectivity in the literature written on the history of
Muslim rulers as, often, interpret the facts in accordance with her/ his pre
conceived notions. To analyze the role of religion in legitimization, establishment
and expansion of the rule of Umayads during the period of 661 to 750 and to
find the causes of comparative lower social status of Non-Arab Muslims as well
as Non-Muslims, that ultimately became the cause of the downfall of Umayyad
dynasty, R. Stephen Humphreys perhaps provides a laudable framework for
inquiry (Humphreys, 2003).
To separate the development of Islam as an ideology and the emergence of
Muslim state institutions like the caliphate, military, social services, law and
education seems complex during the early time of Prophet or Rightly Guided
Caliphs as the head of the state is also head Islamic thoughts and character. But
this becomes distinguishable during the Umayads period when the subjects (not
citizens) of the state under the rule of a Muslim are treated discriminately.
Consider, for instance, the assuming of Structuralism that “individuals can be
grouped into identifiable collectivities or classes which might be said to have
‘concrete’ interests” and it is the structure, be it political, social or economic, the
guides the behaviour of individuals in a society (Steans, et al., 2010).On this line
of reasoning one may find the connection between the politics of Umayad,
their use of religion as tool for legitimacy and stratification among different
Social Stratification during Umayads Rule:
Undoubtedly, the external face of Umayads Muslim state, that extended their
rule to Iraq, Syria, Palestine and Egypt, portrayed centralized governance
system and strong military might. This power centralization and standing army of
Umayads, overpowered the Persian as well as to large extent Byzantine empires.
At state level one may find the strong bureaucratic system, influenced from the
expertise of both overpowered empires-sometimes much superior empires that
Arabs- but at societal level fragmentation and stratification among different
classes is evident. The new master in the defeated territories of Persia and
Byzantine were comparatively flexible and tolerant. The key focus of these “new
rulers” were to collect a poll tax (jizya). These protected ones (dhimmi) were
exempt from service in military, but indirectly their contribution in shape of shape
of jizya were contributing to economic strength of the state, the from Realists
perspectives, ends up with military strength and contributes for balance of
power. Umayads were at best in revenue collection in prior history of Muslim
rulers. For example the findings of a German research Whan Creamer, regarding
the noticeable income of only Iraq province only(Hameedullah, 2011), can be
quoted to explain the matter more:
Income (in Dirham)
Umar, The second Caliph 644 AD 120,000,000
IbnZiad (Appointed governor of
680 100, 000,000
Umar bin Abdul Aziz 705 18,000,000
IbnHabira 717 120,000,000
Yousaf bin Umar 720 100, 000,000
Thus instances are there, that to avoid such taxation many dhimmi, converted
to the religion of “new masters” but even they were considered comparatively,
socially less important than the Arab Muslims. The three option offered, before
the time of Umayads, to the subjects of conquered territories, i.e. a) accept
Islam and enter into Muslim community to get the equal rights and duties, b)
accept Muslim rule and pay Jaziya, and in return get protected from, ironically,
any other external aggression, c) or fight if not ready to accept the
aforementioned to options, were ignored that contributed to the discontent
among the different segments of society(Espoito, 1988). On the other hand new
convert Muslims were also contributing to military power of Umayad by
participating in the “holy Jihad” that brings booty here along with the promised
reward in the life hereafter.
This created at least a few prominent social groups: a) Non-Muslims under the
Muslim Rules (a class with political, social and economic disadvantages), Non
Arab Muslims (a class with social and political disadvantages) and Arab Muslims
but Non-Umayads (a class with political disadvantages). Thus the Umayads Tribe
considered them as better than any other class and enjoyed ethnic, economic
and political supremacy. This line of reasoning convinces that Umayads diverted
back to the pre-Islamic era traditions.
On the basis data and arguments presented is seems that both hypotheses
seem positive. As Umayads used religion to legitimize and strength their rule but
within a century the era of grate expansion of a powerful dynasty comes to an
end with the power of social stratification, created through ethno-religious
identities. The very ethno religious factor contributed to their fall.
Different regional as well as social groups fought against Umayads’ policy to
maintain Arab and/or Umayad-Arab hegemony and strategy of non
assimilation (Shaban, 1971). Kharjitis stern policy again Umayads-adopted as a
consequence of the assassination of Caliph Usman and power struggle
between Mu’aviya and Caliph-, the grievance of Alids-deep rooted in the
tragedy of Kufa where Ali’s son Hussain was assassinated by the Yazeed (son of
Mu’aviya)-, the emergence of a Sufi class disenchanted from the Umayads
aristocratic and discriminatory ruling life style, all contributed to question the
legitimacy of Umayads rule on the basis of the of religion. This inner structure of
the society contributed in both, the rise and fall of Umayads dynasty that
expanded into foreign territories by exploiting religion in various manners.
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