Monday, August 25, 2014

The Umayyads: Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan

From the chaos brought by the death of Shias and Sunnis, a new caliphate rose. From the brutal murder of Caliph Uthman and the disintegration of order during the reign of Caliph Ali, Governor Muawiya from Damascus fought hard in order to establish a new caliphate from the ashes of the previous Rashidun caliphate. The Umayyad Caliphate was the result of Muawiya’s efforts. And from the foundation that Muawiya established, his successors would develop it to create one of the largest empires that the world had ever seen. Considered a part of the greatest caliphs of the Umayyad, Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan would cement the caliphate in the world by war and by reforms.

With the death of the first Umayyad Caliph, Muawiya, the Umayyad Caliphate faced trouble from all fronts. In the north, from its capital, Damascus, the Byzantine Empire laid waiting and poise to avenge their defeats during the previous decades in the hands of the Muslims. In the east, in Iraq, the Shia Muslims supporting Ali and his sons were rebelling against the Umayyad with Kufah as there center. Alongside of the Shias, Kharjites were also positioning themselves in the area of Iraq. In the southeast, in Arabia, Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr fortified himself in Mecca and proclaimed himself as a caliph. Moreover, a confederation of northern Arab tribes was also in revolt. Besides open revolt, stability of the caliphate was also challenged within Damascus. From the death of Caliph Muawiya, in just five years, three successive caliphs came to power.

Stability and longevity of rule only appeared in 685. Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan took over the caliphate from his father, who was murdered by his own wife. Born in 646, he was in his forties when he became the caliph. During the beginning of his reign he successfully cemented himself as the Umayyad caliph. After his consolidation of power, he needed to solve each problem one by one. Military option was not yet practical as his forces would be recovering from the wars they fought before. He first solved the problems in his north, the Byzantines. He pacified the Byzantines through diplomacy. He agreed to pay tributes to Constantinople in 689 and 690 in exchange of its respect of the territories of the Muslims. With his first problem solved, the Byzantines pacified, he then began to devise a plan to expand his power and authority all over the Muslim lands.

Luckily for al-Malik, al Zubayr managed to finish one of his problems. At the start of his reign in 685, the Shia rebels followed a radical man named Mukhtar. Mukhtar did not get along with the Umayyads. But he also wasn’t well received by al-Zubayr in Mecca. Al-Zubayr saw Mukhtar as a greater threat than al-Malik. His forces were fit to fight than the battle weary Umayyad. As a result, he sent his brother in 687 to crush Mukhtar’s rebellion. The campaign was successful and al-Zubayr then controlled Iraq as well. And so, al-Malik had another problem finished, but another problem became stronger.

In 690, al-Malik began his campaign to unite the whole Muslim world under his rule. After his army became ready, he captured Egypt, a country that had fertile soil and vast resources enough to sustain a military campaign. And from Egypt he launched a campaign against al-Zubayr. In 691, Umayyad forces struck a victory at the Battle of Dayr al-Jathaliq thanks to his general al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf. On the following Al-Malik along with al-Hajjaj launched an invasion of Arabia. And in 692, they successfully surrounded al-Zubayr’s headquarters at Mecca. A siege was launched. During the siege, al-Malik made a burdening decision to bombard the city even at the cause of hitting the holy Kaaba. The destruction of Kaaba was the price for the fall of al-Zubayr. The last of his major problems was finish.

Military campaigns were not finish after the fall of al-Zubayr. Al-Hajjaj led a campaign to clear out Arabia of the Kharajites. Descent in Iraq were also present, and al-Hajjaj was sent there to serve as a governor and maintained peace there with efficient authoritarian style of government. Under al-Malik’s caliphate, Muslim armies marched across all directions. In the east, Umayyad armies marched through Iran, stopping only at the borders of China, capturing major cities of Bukhara and Samarkand. His forces also marched to India, capturing regions of Baluchistan, Sind, and Punjab. In the west, his forces marched through North Africa, which would later be a launch pad to Spain and Europe.

Al-Malik was renowned as well for other developments and progress. It was under him that the construction of the Dome of the Rock at the foundations of Solomon’s Temple began. It was an act to venerate where Mohammad landed during the night journey.

He also launched a major administrative reform. In the past, the local languages were used in administration. From Greek, to Persian, to Hebrew, different language were used to conduct business in the government. But al-Malik wanted to centralize the control of the empire in order to prevent any disintegration in the future. Also he wanted to make administrating the empire more efficient by removing language barriers. As a change, al-Malik decided to make Arabic the official and only language of governance throughout the Empire. This became difficult to impose as the Arabic language was complex. Persians for example had a hard time to adopt Arabic. Arabic as language of administration was not fully implemented until the Abbasid caliphate.

Another, major centralization measure that al-Malik was in coinage. Back then, different types of coins circulated across the empire. From those of the Byzantines, to those circulated by the Persian Sassanid, numerous coins of different designs were used as legal tenders. In order to centralize the whole empire, he ordered the issuing of an official currency. Under his rule, the gold Dinar and silver Dirham began to circulate in 690’s. The first designs of the coins had the image of al-Malik sitting in a throne. However, because of issue of imagery and idolatry, it was replaced with the Shahada. But the implementation of the coinage was difficult. In local trade, local currencies continued to prevail. But with the official currency, trade between different parts of the empire became easier.

Other efforts of al-Malik included the establishing of a postal service called barid. It was to make sure that Damascus would always be updated with the situation from other corners of the Umayyad Empire. Postmaster were appointed to different parts of the empire which were given the task to update the caliph with the developments within their jurisdiction.

Al-Malik’s reign saw the consolidation and expansion of the Umayyad’s control and influence. He centralized the empire around Damascus with his administrative and currency reforms. He also cemented the dynasty by destroying those who challenge their rule. The reign of al-Malik ended in 705, being succeeded by his son, al-Walid. His son continued the expansion of the empire.   

See also:

Choueiri, Y. (ed.). A Companion to the History of the Middle East. Massachusetts: Wiley-Blackwell, 2008. 

Goldschmist, A. A Concise History of Middle East. Colorado: Westview Press, 1983.

Gordon, M. The Rise of Islam. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2005.

Hitti, P. History of Syria, including Lebanon and Palestine. New Jersey: Gorgias Press, 2004.

Meri, J. (ed.). Medieval Islamic Civilization: An Encyclopedia. New York: Taylor & Francis Group, 2006.

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