The Significance of the Hijrah (622 CE)

The Significance of the Hijrah (622 CE)

Submitted by Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed

The Hijrah kindled the light of hope in the hearts of the early Muslims who set a shining example for all Muslims, in every generation, to emulate.

God says in the Quran:

“Those who believe, and have emigrated, and have struggled in the way of God with their possessions and their lives are greater in degree with God; and those, they are the triumphant.

Their Lord gives them good tidings of mercy from Him and beatitude; for them shall be gardens wherein is enduring bliss, therein they shall abide forever. Surely with God is a tremendous reward.” (At-Tawbah 9: 20-2)

The significance of hijrah (the migration of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) from Mecca to Madinah in 622 CE) is not limited to Islamic history or to Muslims. The hijrah not only reshaped – socially and politically – the Arab Peninsula, but also had its impact on worldwide civilizations.

Throughout the history of Islam, the migration was a transitional line between the two major eras, regarding to the message of Islam; the era of Makkah and the era of Madinah. In its essence, this signified a transition from one phase to another, as follows:

– Transition, which is most significantly for early Muslims, to the phase in which Islam was not only the act of worship, but a way of life. This was encompassing (surrounding) politics, economy, social interactions and every other aspect of life. This was the first time when Islam was looked upon as a comprehensive religion.

– Transition from a position where Muslims represented a small group of people, surrounded by enemies and threatened by death, to the position of a regional power with a strong central leadership. This was one that was surrounded by a large number of followers and allies.

– Transition from being a simple Islamic group of believers, to being the Islamic nation. This was an organized Islamic state, with a central leadership and other organizations.

Transition of Da’wah from regionalism, in which the focus was only on Quraysh and the tribes surrounding Makkah, to the phase of universalism. This is where the Muslim State began reaching out to Persia, Egypt, and the Byzantine Empire.

– Transition from the position of weakness, where the non-believers of Makkah – particularly the people of Quraysh- humiliated, tortured and killed Muslims, to the position of security. This is where Muslims were allowed to defend themselves and were able to defeat their adversaries.

– Transition from spreading Islam through individual Da’wah (inviting others to Islam) to the spreading of Islam through institutionalized Da’wah, initiated the state.

Hijrah, the Turning Point in Islamic History

Hijrah (Immigration to Madinah), no doubt, kindled the light of hope in the hearts of the early Muslims who set a shining example for all Muslims, in every generation, to emulate.

Hijrah, in essence, is a process of transfer to a better situation. It is not meant to find a comfortable place where one would relax and stop endeavor (attempt). Rather, it is a search for an environment more favorable to continuous and constructive effort. Immediately after reaching Madinah, the Prophet undertook an all-embracing process to establish a faithful and strong society. This is a significant aspect and important lesson to learn from hijrah.

Hijrah was one of the most important events in the history of Islam. It is for this reason the Caliph Omar adopted hijrah date to calculate years. Muslims chose hijrah as the focal point to reckon their chronology.

In physical terms, hijrah was a journey between two cities about 200 miles apart, but in its grand significance it marked the beginning of an era, a civilization, a culture and a history for the whole mankind. Islam progressed not only from the physical hijrah, but because Muslims took hijrah seriously in all its aspects and dimensions.

When Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) immigrated from Makkah to Madinah, he did not just transfer his residence or take shelter in another city, but as soon as he arrived in Madinah he began the transformation of that city in every aspect:

– Masjid (Mosque): The Prophet first established a Mosque to worship God. He himself worked in carrying the stones and building that small, humble but most powerful structure. That was the beginning, but soon other mosques were established in Madinah.

– Brotherhood: He established brotherly relations between the Muslims who migrated from Makkah and the residents of Madinah who helped the Prophet and his companions. What was important was to have good relations between Muslims. They should have their brotherhood on the basis of faith, not on the basis of tribes as they used to have prior to Islam.

– Intercommunity and Interfaith Relations: Prophet Muhammad also established good relations with other communities living in Madinah. There was a large Jewish community as well as some other Arab tribes who had not accepted Islam. The Prophet prepared a covenant for relations between these communities.

– Water System in the City: The Prophet asked the companions to dig wells in different parts of the city. It is mentioned that more than 50 wells were opened in the city of Madinah and there was enough clean water for everyone.

– Agriculture and Gardening: The Prophet encouraged the companions to cultivate the land and make gardens. He told them that anyone who would cultivate any dead land, would own it. Many people started working and cultivating and soon there was enough food for everyone.

– Poverty Eradication: In a short period of time it happened that there were no poor people in Madinah. Everyone had enough food and shelter and the Prophet used to give gifts to coming delegations.

– Safety, Security, Law and Order: Madinah became the safest city in the world. There were very few incidents of theft, rape, drunkenness or murder and they were immediately taken care of.

In short, the hijrah teaches that wherever Muslims go, they should bring goodness to that land. Muslims should work for both moral and material goodness of the society.

Did Other Prophets Perform Hijrah?

A hijrah was not something special for Prophet Muhammad. Rather, other Prophets emigrated before Prophet Muhammad. Yet, the hijrah of Prophet Muhammad differed from those of other Prophets because it was not intended as a flight from torture but as the beginning of the Islamic state. The eminent Muslim scholar, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, states the following:

Most of Allah’s Messengers, if not all, emigrated. However, their emigrations differed from that of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). For example, Prophet Abraham (peace be upon him) emigrated, as related in the Quran: {And Lot believed him, and said: Lo! I am a fugitive unto my Lord. Lo! He, only He, is the Mighty, the Wise} (Al-`Ankabut 29: 26). In another verse, God says: {And he said: Lo! I am going unto my Lord Who will guide me} (As-Saffat 37: 99). So, Prophet Abraham migrated from place to place till he settled at a town in Palestine, where he was then buried. That town, Al-Khalil Ibrahim, (Hebron) is now named after him.

Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) also emigrated before he was assigned with the divine mission. He fled from Egypt after he had mistakenly killed an Egyptian. He sought God’s forgiveness for that, and a man advised him to get out of Egypt in order to escape people’s revenge. God says: {And a man came from the uttermost part of the city, running. He said: O Moses! Lo! the chiefs take counsel against thee to slay thee; therefore escape. Lo! I am of those who give thee good advice. So he escaped from thence, fearing, vigilant. He said: My Lord! Deliver me from the wrongdoing folk} (Al-Qasas 28: 20-1)

On the other hand, the hijrah of Prophet Muhammad was not only to escape temptation and torture of his people. It was the starting point to establish the Muslim nation, a new Muslim community based on Islam, the universal divine message that calls for morality and human rights. That was the very purpose of Prophet Muhammad’s hijrah to Madinah, and he performed his role as best as possible. He put the foundation of a sound Muslim community and established the best nation ever created.Then Prophet Moses went to a country called Madyan, where he married the daughter of a righteous man (Prophet Shu`aib, peace be upon him) and stayed with him for ten years. Throughout that period, Moses had no divine mission. He lived as a righteous man, a good husband, and a generous son-in-law; however, he had no prominent role to perform. That is to say, Prophet Moses had emigrated for fear of revenge. He said, as related in the Quran: {Then I fled from you when I feared you, and my Lord vouchsafed me a command and appointed me (of the number) of those sent (by Him)} (Ash-Shu’ara’ 42: 21).

What Is the Hijrah Calendar?

Muslims measure the passage of time using the Islamic (hijrah) calendar. This calendar has twelve lunar months, the beginnings and endings of which are determined by the sighting of the crescent moon. Years are counted since the hijrah, which is when the Prophet Muhammad migrated from Makkah to Madinah (approximately July 622 CE).
The Islamic calendar was first introduced by the close companion of the Prophet, Omar ibn Al-Khattab. During his leadership of the Muslim community, in approximately 638 CE, he consulted with his advisors in order to come to a decision regarding the various dating systems used at that time. It was agreed that the most appropriate reference point for the Islamic calendar was the hijrah, since it was an important turning point for the Muslim community.
After the emigration to Madinah, the Muslims were able to organize and establish the first real Muslim “community,” with social, political, and economic independence. Life in Madinah allowed the Muslim community to mature and strengthen, and the people developed an entire society based on Islamic principles.
The Islamic calendar is the official calendar in many Muslim countries, especially Saudi Arabia. Other Muslim countries use the Gregorian calendar for civil purposes and only turn to the Islamic calendar for religious purposes.
– Lunar Months Each Year
The Islamic year has twelve months that are based on a lunar cycle. God says in the Quran: {The number of months in the sight of Allah is twelve (in a year) – so ordained by Him the day He created the heavens and the earth….} (At-Tawbah, 9:36).
{It is He Who made the sun to be a shining glory, and the moon to be a light of beauty, and measured out stages for it, that you might know the number of years and the count of time. Allah did not create this except in truth and righteousness. And He explains His signs in detail, for those who understand} (Yunus, 10: 5)
And in his final sermon before his death, the Prophet Muhammad said, among other things: “With Allah the months are twelve; four of them are holy; three of these are successive and one occurs singly between the months of Jumada and Sha’ban.” (Al Bukhari)
Islamic months begin at sunset of the first day, the day when the lunar crescent is visually sighted. The lunar year is approximately 354 days long, so the months rotate backward through the seasons and are not fixed to the Gregorian calendar.

The months of the Islamic year are:

1. Muharram (“Forbidden” – it is one of the four months during which it is forbidden to wage war or fight)

2. Safar (“Empty” or “Yellow”)

3. Rabi’ Awal (“First spring”)

4. Rabi’ Thani (“Second spring”)

5. Jumada Awal (“First freeze”)

6. Jumada Thani (“Second freeze”)

7. Rajab (“To respect” – this is another holy month when fighting is prohibited)

8. Sha’ban (“To spread and distribute”)

9. Ramadan (“Parched thirst” – this is the month of daytime fasting)

10. Shawwal (“To be light and vigorous”)

11. Dhul-Qi’dah (“The month of rest” – another month when no warfare or fighting is allowed)

12. Dhul-Hijjah (“The month of Hajj” – this is the month of the annual pilgrimage to Makkah, again when no warfare or fighting is allowed).

The Abbasid Revolution

The Abbasid Revolution

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

The Abbasid revolution was the first major military-political upheaval in the Muslim world, which resulted in the destruction of one dynasty and its replacement by another. The lessons from that revolution are as valid today as they were in the year 750.
Civilizations decay from within. External factors are mere occasions that provide the coup de grace for a civilization. Muslim history is no exception. The primary causes for the marginalization of Muslims in world history are internal. If one were alive in the year 740, one would see a Muslim empire extending from Paris to Lahore. Yet, within this enormous edifice, mighty forces were gathering momentum that would shake the empire to its very foundation. The question before a student of history is: what destroyed the internal cohesion of the Muslims?
In the historical context, faith embraces all human activity, including religious beliefs, economics, sociology, politics, statecraft, administration, science, art and culture. It is this all-embracing aspect of Islamic faith that is called Tawhid and a civilization that is based upon it is a Tawhidiccivilization. Most Muslims today have reduced Tawhid to a single dimension—namely, belief in God—and have largely neglected its all-embracing dimensions.
The Omayyads fell from grace because they had departed from theTawhidic civilization as it was founded by the Prophet and practiced by the first four Caliphs. The Omayyads were able soldiers, some were consummate politicians (Muawiya, Waleed I), one was pious and noble (Omar bin Abdul Aziz) but most were ruthless, impious and cruel. We will catalogue the most obvious of the deficiencies in their rule.
1. The Omayyads were unsuccessful in establishing the legitimacy of their rule. The issue of succession and legitimacy of rule arose immediately after the death of the Prophet. Elsewhere in these series, we have shown how Abu Bakr (r) was elected the Caliph after the Prophet, and also the turbulent circumstances surrounding the election of Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) to the Caliphate after the assassination of Uthman (r). By the year 740, there emerged multiple positions on the issue of succession after the Prophet. It is necessary to understand the more important of these because such understanding puts the rise of the Abbasids in perspective. More importantly, it helps us understand the historical context for some of the divisions that have rocked the Muslim world through the centuries and continue to rock it today. The issues are complex and what we present is but a brief summary.
2. The election of Abu Bakr (r) to the Caliphate was not unanimous. Ibn Khaldun records a conversation between Ibn Abbas andAbu Bakr (r), which clearly shows that the former believed Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) to be the rightful heir to the Prophet. The differences appear in greater clarity after the assassination of Omar ibn al Khattab (r) and at the meeting of the Shura committee constituted by Omar (r) to elect a successor. The majority view accepted not only the Qur’an and the Sunnah, but also the ijma (consensus) of the Companions. This was the opinion adopted by supporters of Uthman (r). The supporters of Ali (r) held that the chain of authority flowed from the Qur’an, Sunnah of the Prophet and by delegation from the Prophet to Ali ibn Abu Talib (r). Those who accepted the latter position were called Shi’i-at-Ali or Shi’ Aan e Ali (partisans or party of Ali (r)).
From an internal Arab perspective, the differences arose from the conflicting claims of Bani Hashim and Banu Umayyah to the leadership of the community. Ali (r), a cousin of the Prophet, belonged to Bani Hashim. Muawiya as well as his progeny belonged to Banu Umayyah. After the Battle of Siffin and the tragedy of Karbala, there was no love lost between these two tribes. The Umayyads kept a close watch on the leadership of Bani Hashim and at times treated them with harshness, indeed cruelty.
The majority opinion which accepted the chain of political authority from the Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet and the ijma (consensus) of the Companions, later crystallized into the orthodox Sunni position. Politically, this implies acceptance of the Caliphates of Abu Bakr (r), Omar (r), Uthman (r) and Ali (r) as a legitimate expression of the collective will of the Companions. This view was championed through the centuries by the Turks, the Moghuls and by successive dynasties in North and, Spain, Malaysia and Indonesia. The position is accepted today by approximately ninety percent of Muslims in the world. The minority opinion, which accepted the chain of authority from the Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet and by delegation from the Prophet to Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) and his successor Imams was championed by the Safavids of Persia (1500-1720) and is designated the Shi’a position. About ten percent of the Muslims today subscribe to this position.
By the year 750, the Shi’a position had undergone further divisions. After the martyrdom of Hussain at Karbala, the mantle of leadership fell to his son Zainul Abedin, also known as Ali ibn Hussain. Repression from the Omayyads was heavy. Therefore, Zainul Abedin turned his attention to spiritual matters and to building the community from within. The absence of political activism was unacceptable to some of his followers who looked for a more activist leader. Zainul Abedin’s son Zaid took up the challenge. Encouraged by a promise of help from the people of Kufa, he took on the Omayyads in battle. True to their historical perfidy, the Kufans abandoned Zaid and he fell in battle. His martyrdom created the Zaidi branch among Shi’a Muslims. The Zaidis believe in the Caliphate of Abu Bakr (r), Omar (r) and Ali (r) and in the Imamate of Hassan, Hussain, Zainul Abedin and Zaid. They reject the Caliphate of Uthman (r). In history, their primary contribution was the spread of Islam from Oman to East Africa and their resistance to Portuguese incursions in the 16th century.
A second schism took place amongst Shi’ Aan e Ali after the fifth Imam, Ja’afar as Saadiq. His eldest son Ismail predeceased him. Therefore, Imam Ja’afar appointed his second son Musa Kazim as the Imam. But a section among the Shi’as refused to accept the Imamate of Musa Kazim and insisted on the Imamate of Ismail. This group is called the Ismailis. They are also referred to as Fatimids because of their lineage from Fatima (r), beloved daughter of the Prophet. The Fatimids played a pivotal part in Islamic history in the 9th and 10th centuries when they occupied Egypt, North Africa, Hejaz and Palestine. It was the Fatimids who made a serious attempt to conquer Italy in the 10th century and it was they who bore the first brunt of Crusader attacks on Jerusalem in the 11th century. It was their military challenge that strengthened the Omayyad rule in Spain in the 10th century and brought the Seljuk Turks to the defense of the orthodox Caliphate in Baghdad (10th, 11th and 12th centuries). They were finally displaced by Salahuddin Ayyubi towards the end of the 12th century.
For clarity, we summarize here the spectrum of beliefs among Muslims. The Sunnis believe in the Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet and accept the ijma of the Companions. This means acceptance of the first four Caliphs namely, Abu Bakr (r), Omar (r), Uthman (r) and Ali (r) as the rightly guided Caliphs (Khulfa-e-Rashidoon). The Ithna-Asharis believe in the Qur’an, the Sunnah of the Prophet and accept the Imamate of twelve Imams, namely, Ali (r), Hassan, Hussain, Zainul Abedin, Muhammed Baqir, Ja’afar as Saadiq, Musa Kazim, Ali Rada, Jawwad Razi, Ali Naqi Hadi, Hasan Askari and Muhammed Mahdi. The Sabayees (seveners) believe in the first seven Imams. The Fatimids believe in the Imamate of the first six Imams and of Ismail. The Ithna-Ashari, the Fatimids and the Sabayees are collectively referred to as Shi’a. Some historians also refer to them as Alavis. The Zaidis are intermediate in their beliefs between the Sunnis and the Shi’as. They believe in the Imamate of the first four Imams and of Zaid bin Ali and also in the Caliphate of Abu Bakr (r) and Omar (r) but not of Uthman (r). We must emphasize that all Muslims believe in the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet and disagree only in the historical unfolding of Islam in the matrix of human affairs. Like the branches of a mighty tree, the various schools of Fiqh shade the Muslim Ummah and Islamic history would not be the same without any of them.
During the time of Imam Ja’afar, yet another schism took place, which had a profound and lasting impact on Islamic history. Not satisfied with the political quietude of Imam Ja’afar, some supporters of Bani Hashim looked elsewhere for leadership. They found a leader in Muhammed bin Hanafia, a son of Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) from one of his marriages after the death of Fatima(r). This is the beginning of the non-Fatimid branch of the Alavis. After Muhammed bin Hanafia, his son Abu Sulaiman Abdullah became the Imam but he was poisoned by the Omayyad Caliph Sulaiman. As he lay dying, Abdullah looked around for someone from his family to pass on the Imamate. As no one from his immediate family was available, he found a Hashimite, Muhammed bin Ali Abbas, in a nearby town. Muhammed bin Ali Abbas was a grandson of Abbas, uncle of the Prophet. Thus, through a twist of historical circumstance, one branch of the Imamate passed from children of Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) to the children of Abbas. This branch is referred to as the Abbasids. It was the Abbasids who established their Caliphate in the year 750 and ruled from Baghdad the vast Islamic Empire for more than five hundred years until the Mongols destroyed Baghdad in 1258.
Muhammed bin Ali Abbas was a tireless worker for the Abbasid cause and established a network of supporters throughout Iraq, Persia, Khorasan and in areas that today lie in the Central Asian republics of Turkmen, Kyrgyz, Tadzig and Uzbek peoples. After Muhammed, his son Ibrahim became the Imam. As the Abbasid movement, centered on the claim that the Caliphate belonged to Bani Hashim of which the Abbasids were a branch, gained momentum, so did the repression from the Omayyads. The Omayyad Caliph Marwan had Ibrahim arrested, put in jail and finally killed by forcing his head into a sack of boiling lime. Before his death, Ibrahim managed to communicate with his brother Abul Abbas Abdullah and appointed him the Imam. Abul Abbas vowed to take revenge on the Omayyads for the cruel death of his brother and as we shall see later, he accomplished this with a vengeance.
The ideological basis for Abbasid rule was not provided until a generation after they gained power. It was Caliph Mansur, who provided this ideological basis in 770 in response to a question from a Kharijite. According to this position, since the Prophet left no sons and lineage passes from father to son, the children of Fatima(r) had no claim to succession. Accordingly, succession had to be through the male progeny of the Prophet’s uncle Abbas.
There was yet another position on the Caliphate which was politically important at the time of the Abbasid revolution but which lost its vigor in later centuries. That was the position taken by the Kharijites who maintained that the Caliphate should be open to all Muslims, whether Arab or non-Arab and should not be the privilege only of Omayyads or Hashemites. This seemingly democratic position always remained at the fringe of the Muslim body politic because of the violent and cruel ways of the Kharijites and their extremist demands.
Thus it was that in the year 740, as the storms gathered on the horizon for a revolution, the body politic of the Muslims was rent asunder by conflicting claims to the Caliphate and Imamate. The Banu Omayya were in power but that power was increasingly challenged by Bani Hashim through the Abbasids. The Abbasids had inherited their legitimacy from the Alavis (or Shi’ Aan e Ali) through an accident of history. But the Alavis were themselves divided between Zaidis, Fatimids (sixers), Sabayees (seveners) and the Ithna-Asharis (Twelvers).
The Omayyads had thrust themselves into the political process during the Caliphate of Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) and had consolidated their rule after his assassination. Even though they radically changed the Caliphate from electoral consensus to dynastic rule, the Omayyads championed the orthodox Sunni position out of political necessity. But they could not suppress the claims of Bani Hashim or of Shi’ Aan e Ali. Except for Omar bin Abdul Aziz, no Omayyad made a serious attempt to reconcile the differences among the Muslims. Confrontations continued, leading to continuous warfare against the Kharijites and sporadic but violent clashes with Shi’ Aan e Ali as manifested in the great tragedy of Karbala. The Omayyads were always vulnerable to charges that they had usurped power from the house of the Prophet. This was their weak political flank and this is precisely the ideological direction from which the Abbasid movement attacked them.
3. During the 92 years of Omayyad rule, there was a paradigm shift fromTawhid to the dinar. The rulers forgot that Islamic rule was a divine trust and its primary function was to transmit the message of Tawhid. It was this transcendence that had carried the mujahids (from the root word j-h-d, to struggle) from Hejaz to the outskirts of Paris and the banks of the River Indus. This transcendence was lost during the Omayyad period. The Omayyads became a dynasty just like other dynasties in Asia or Europe with their focus on riches and power. The rulers became tax collectors so that they could sustain their palaces in Damascus. They lost their spiritual claim to leadership. Where faith is weak, a civilization declines. When spirituality is lost, political rule must of necessity be sustained at the point of the blade. This is what happened with the Omayyads. Their rule became increasingly repressive and had to be sustained by increasing brutality. It would be unfair to single out the Omayyads for this behavior. The Islamic body politic lost its bearing after the first four pious Caliphs and has only on occasions risen to the task of Divine trusteeship. As an illustration, most of the Muslim rulers in the Indian subcontinent during the 13th to 17thcenturies discouraged conversion to ensure that their tax revenues would not decrease. As a result, after five centuries of Muslim rule, only a quarter of the population of Hindustan had accepted Islam.
4. The Omayyads forgot the fraternal message of Islam and treated the new converts with disdain. Often, the converts were forced to pay the Jizya even after they had accepted Islam. It was against such discrimination that Imam Abu Haneefa (who lived through the Abbasid revolution) fought. In one of his dictums Abu Haneefa said: “The belief of a newly converted Turk is the same as that of an Arab from Hejaz”. But the Omayyads resented such reforms and Imam Abu Haneefa was jailed for his activism. In Khorasan and Persia, the Arabs held most of the higher positions in the armed forces and in the upper echelons of government. The result was racial division and social fragmentation. As conversion increased, the center of gravity shifted to the newly converted Persians and the Turks, who were kept away from the privileges of power. The social structure increasingly looked like an inverted pyramid with a small privileged Arab minority at the apex of power. The material for social revolution took root and it was only a matter of time before the pyramid was toppled.
5. The corruption that started from the top filtered down to the provincial governors and the petty officials. The cruelty and ruthlessness of Hajjaj bin Yusuf is proverbial. Instead of promoting officials on the basis of capability and integrity, as was the case during the Caliphate of Omar ibn al Khattab (r), or on the basis of examination and merit as was the case in the contemporary Tang dynasty of China, the Omayyads chose their governors and officials on the basis of loyalty to the rulers. The brutality of the governors was viewed as an asset in maintaining the conquered territories under control. Damascus, in essence, lost touch with the far-flung provinces, a fact that was exacerbated by the rudimentary communications of the day. So, when a determined challenge to Omayyad rule surfaced in far-away Khorasan, the response from the palaces of Damascus was slow, feeble and disjointed.
6. The Omayyads lost the ability to foster cohesion in society. Instead, they became partisans in the tribal squabbles of fellow Arabs. In pre-Islamic Arabia, the Arabs were hopelessly divided along tribal lines and often fought pitched battles against other tribes. One of the major tribal divisions was between the Muzruis (the northern Arabs) and the Yemenis (the southern Arabs). The Prophet had healed this crack and united the tribes into a common brotherhood. But during the Omayyad period, this schism resurfaced with renewed intensity. The Omayyads were supported by the Muzruis. Thanks to Omayyad blunders, the Yemenis became their enemies. The architects of the nascent Abbasid revolution exploited this division.
7. Lastly, it is the view of Ibn Khaldun that the Omayyads had become city dwellers and had lost the resilience of desert Arabs. The corruption of city life destroys the primal asabiyah (cohesion based on tribal loyalty), which Ibn Khaldun requires as the building block of civilizations. Surrounded by the opulence of Damascus, the later Omayyad rulers could hardly understand the drive, energy, enthusiasm and pristine faith of their desert forefathers. In other words, it was time for the Omayyads to leave the stage of history.
The Abbasids succeeded in every department that the Omayyads failed in. They were led by an outstanding leader, championed a popular cause, fielded brilliant generals and displayed a Machiavellian instinct for exploiting the weakness of their opponents.
The key figure in this revolution was Abu Muslim Khorasani. Abu Muslim was a man almost made for the hour. He was a Persian, born in Isfahan and therefore had impeccable credentials of birth with the exploited Persian majority. He grew up in Kufa and early in life acquired a dislike of Arab haughtiness and their superiority complex. Abbasid propaganda was active in small cells in Iraq and Abu Muslim received his early indoctrination from the Abbasid Dayee (one who invites people towards a doctrine), Eesa bin Musa Siraj. His intelligence and capability caught the attention of Eesa and he was introduced to Imam Muhammed bin Ali. The Imam saw the potential in this young man and in due time, appointed him Chief Dayee for the province of Khorasan. It was the year 744.
Khorasan was seething with discontent. The legacy of Omayyad excesses had created extreme bitterness among the local population. Unfair taxation had fostered dislike of the Arabs among the Persians. The Arabs were divided among themselves along tribal lines. Capable men and scholars were either silenced by the Omayyads or they withdrew from public life. In this atmosphere, Abbasid propaganda for the rights of the Hashemites and of Ahl-al Bait found an extremely positive reception. The Alavites supported the Abbasids as the best opportunity to overthrow the hated Omayyads and perhaps establish the rule of the house of Ali (r) and Fatima(r). The common man had toiled too long under the oppressive maltreatment of Omayyad officials and prayed for deliverance.
Khorasan was governed at the time by Nasr bin Sayyar, a Mazrui (northern) Arab and a capable, loyal Omayyad supporter, but an old man of eighty who suffered from the same parochial approach to politics as his benefactors in Damascus. He took sides in a local quarrel between the Yemeni and Mazrui Arabs and had the chiefs of one of the tribes, Ali Kirmani, murdered. This alienated Kirmani’s followers and they became bitter enemies of the Omayyads. Attempts were made to patch up these inter-Arab differences, but Abu Muslim was successful in preventing a rapprochement between the two Arab tribes through shrewd political maneuvering.
With the Arabs at loggerheads with each other, Abu Muslim made his move. Word was passed through the enormously effective underground cells that the 25th of Ramadan was to be a day of mourning in honor of the Imams who had been killed by the Omayyads. On the appointed day, the people of Khorasan hoisted black flags and an uprising began. The color black was later to become the color of the Abbasid emblem. The city of Merv was quickly overrun. Nasr appealed to Marwan for help. But, as happens at decisive moments in history, several critical events took place simultaneously and the Omayyads were hemmed in. There was a serious uprising of the Kharijites in Mecca and Madina. As he was busy suppressing this uprising, Marwan ordered the governor of Iraq to render assistance to Nasr. By the time the Iraqis arrived at the borders of Khorasan, it was too late. Abu Muslim had overrun the entire province of Khorasan and his resources in men and material had enormously increased. The Iraqis had no chance. They were routed.
It was about this time that Imam Ibrahim was cruelly murdered by Marwan, by having his head stuffed in a leather sack filled with boiling lime. This murder as well as its cruelty added fuel to the fire. Abul Abbas Abdallah became the new Imam and vowed revenge for the murder of his brother Ibrahim. Events moved rapidly. Abu Muslim had at his service some of the ablest generals of this era, among them Kahtaba bin Shabib, an Arab from Madina and Khalid bin Barmek, a Persian. Kahtaba pursued Nasr southwards towards Isfahan. Nasr died while fleeing. Hassan, a son of Kahtaba, laid siege to Nahawand, while Kahtaba himself defeated a relief force headed by Marwan’s son Abdallah on the plains of Karbala (749). Kufa, the capital of Iraq, fell without further resistance.
The people of Kufa were summoned to the Jamia Masjid of Kufa. Abu Muslim, who had deftly forged unity between the disaffected Persians, Yemeni Arabs, the Abbasids and the Alavis and had carefully kept at bay competing claims to the Imamate and Caliphate, gave an impassioned speech in which he proclaimed that the usurper Omayyads had been overthrown by the might of the people. Whatever claims the Omayyads had to the leadership of the community had been forsaken by their impiety and oppression. It was now time to elect a new Imam and Caliph and there was no one better than Abul Abbas Abdallah who met all the criteria of the Imamate and the Caliphate. Abu Muslim thus nominated Abul Abbas as the first Abbasid Caliph in Kufa on the 13th of Rajab, 132 AH or the 25th of November, 749 and the Abbasid era began.
Marwan was finally alarmed at these developments and advanced towards Iraq with an army of 120,000. Marwan was an able soldier, but he was also impulsive and headstrong. Opposing him was an Abbasid army of 100,000 led by Abdullah bin Ali and the able general Abu Ayun. The two armies met on the banks of the River Zab in Iraq near the village of Kushaf on the 25th of January 750. The impulsive Marwan built a bridge across the river and advanced to meet the enemy, a tactical error that allowed him no chance to retreat. The Abbasids, impelled by a sense of grievance and revenge, charged. Fate intervened. While Marwan was dismounted, his horse ran away without him. When they saw the horse without its rider, Marwan’s troops assumed that he had been killed. It was a complete rout. Marwan fled towards Mosul but that city would not open its gates to him. He continued his flight westward towards Damascus, trying to raise another army. But the Abbasids were in hot pursuit. Abdullah bin Ali followed him from city to city. Damascus was stormed and captured in April 750. Marwan crossed into Egypt and reached Fustat (modern Cairo). Abdullah bin Ali sent his brother Saleh and General Abu Ayun after him. Marwan thought of invoking the help of the Christian Byzantines but was dissuaded from this effort by his lieutenants who would have nothing of external interference in this civil war. At last he was cornered in an abandoned monastery on the west bank of the River Nile. Undaunted, he charged, sword in hand, ready to offer combat and was slain by a lance hurled by an Abbasid soldier. Thus perished the last scion of the mighty Omayyads. Marwan was an able soldier. Had destiny been more kind to him, he might have excelled as a ruler. But he came upon the stage of history at time when he had zero chance to show his metal.
The Abbasids lived up to their vow to take revenge on the Omayyads. A reign of terror was let loose. The Omayyad men were hunted like rabbits and slaughtered. Only old men, women and children were spared. The bones of the Omayyad rulers (except those of Omar bin Abdul Aziz) were dug up and burned. In Damascus, Abdullah bin Ali, coaxed eighty of the Omayyad princes to dinner on the pretext of amnesty. As the princes sat down, they were tied with ropes, wrapped in carpets and clubbed to death.
But just as old trees die and in their wake new ones crop up from their seeds, old dynasties die and in their place new ones emerge. As the Omayyad princes were hunted from place to place, three of them reached the River Euphrates. Upon hearing the news of an amnesty, two of them turned back and were captured and killed. But one valiant prince, Abdur Rahman I, threw himself into the river. Undaunted by the swift current, he swam across and after years of travel incognito, arrived in Spain. There, he was received with favor by the remnants of the Omayyads and founded the Omayyad dynasty in Andalus. It was this dynasty that was to grow in later centuries to be the beacon of culture and learning in Europe. Under Abdur Rahman’s lineage Andalus was to become a crown jewel of Islamic civilization.

The Battle of Tours

The Battle of Tours

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

It was a decisive battle that marked the utmost reach of one civilization and the beginning of the advance of another. In the year 732, Muslim armies reached the farthest extent of their penetration into northern Europe and after the Battle of Tours, pulled back to the south. The Latin West stopped the Muslims and embarked on a counter offensive of its own.
The Battle of Tours must be understood in its historical context. In the 5thcentury, France, as did most of Western Europe, was overrun by barbaric Gothic (Germanic) tribes. The term barbaric means these tribes did not have a higher culture. But they did have a strong commitment to their tribes and their race (The term that Ibn Khaldun uses is Asabiyah). This commitment fostered cohesion and enabled them to overrun the Roman Empire. (Race, as a strong element in European political movements shows up even in our own times, for instance in the policies of Nazi Germany). The Visigoths (western Germans) overran Spain and southern France. The Ostrogoths (eastern Germans) captured Italy and the western reaches of the Adriatic Sea (today’s Croatia and Slovenia). The Franks, another Germanic tribe, consolidated their hold on Gaul (central and northern France).
It was into this medley of barbaric kingdoms that the Church of Rome injected itself as a civilizing force. By the 6th century, the Goths had settled down in the conquered areas as landlords, taxing and exploiting the local population. The church established a series of monasteries throughout Western Europe and entered into a working relationship with the landlords and the strongmen. An agreement was reached between the ruling Visigoths of Spain and the Latin Church in the year 565, whereby the Church offered administrative support to the throne in return for freedom to preach the new faith. But the only administrative structure that the Church had to offer at that time was fiefdom and it was imposed on Spain as well. The local political structure of the church revolved around the abbeys and the monasteries, which levied their own taxes in return for dispensing ritual rites. In time, the abbeys and monasteries became rich and their power grew in proportion to their wealth. In many areas, the strongest forts were those around monasteries and abbeys, because it was only the Church that could afford the cost of such construction. Political and military power was shared between the Church, the landlords and the military strongmen, each of whom levied their own taxes on the peasants, impoverishing them.
Just as the history of northern Europe hinges on the Germanic peoples, the history of the Maghrib hinges on the Berbers. The Berbers, a sturdy, resilient and handsome race of people inhabiting the Atlas Mountains, had been subdued by Uqba bin Nafi in his advance towards the Atlantic Ocean. But periodic uprisings continued for more than a century and repeated expeditions were required to contain the uprisings. It was not until the 9thcentury that the Berbers finally settled down and themselves became the bearers of the Islamic banner. There is a direct correlation between the advance of Muslim armies into Europe and the restlessness of the Berber peoples. When the Berbers were quiet, Muslim armies advanced. Whenever there was an uprising in the Maghrib, the advance either stopped or regressed. Once again, this fact reinforces our thesis that the primary driver in Islamic history has been its internal dialectic.
The invasion of France has to be understood against this background. Southern France was a part of the Visigoth territories and forays into France were an extension of the campaign against the Visigoths. The first incursion was made during the reign of Caliph al Walid and was successful in subduing Sorbonne and Lyons (713). A second raid made in 714 captured Normandy. After consolidatin). An expedition in 731 under Anbasa bin Saheem extended Muslim dominions beyond Carcasonne; but Anbasa was killed during this campaign. After Anbasa, Abdur Rahman bin Abdullah was appointed the governor of Spain. He crossed the Pyrenees in the spring of 732 after careful preparations. The first Frankish resistance came from the Duke of Achetain near the port of Borden. The Duke was defeated and Borden was captured. After subduing all of southern France, Emir Abdur Rahman turned north and on the plains of Tours, near the modern city of Paris, he met the Frankish chief Charles Martel. Martel was the illegitimate son of Pepin II, another German chief who controlled northeastern France. In the fateful Battle of Tours, Martel had the support of neighboring Frankish and German chiefs. The Frankish infantry, armed with hammers and long scepters, stood its ground against the Muslim cavalry. Emir Abdur Rahman himself led the charge, but fell in combat on the second day of the battle. With their Emir fallen, the Muslim armies withdrew under the cover of night having lost more than 100,000 men in the battle.
This was the last major incursion of Muslims into northern Europe, but their inability to mount another offensive had more to do with the uprising of the Berbers in North Africa and the Abbasid Revolution (750) in far away Central Asia, than with the prowess of Frankish Chiefs. Muslim military power was at the limit of its reach. Their supply lines were over-extended and their troops were restive after a long campaign.
However, the retreat at Tours did not stop the Muslim advance elsewhere in Europe. Muslim presence continued in southern France for over a century. In 734, the Muslims captured Arles, St. Remy, Avignon and reoccupied Lyons and Burgundy. Successful raids were conducted on the western (Atlantic) coast of France throughout the 8th and 9th centuries. In the year 889, Muslims established a presence in western Switzerland, which lasted almost two centuries. During the reign of Abdur Rahman III of Spain, Fraxinetum, Valais, Geneva, Toulon and Great St. Bernard were captured and reinforced (939-942). The victorious armies then swung around Lake Geneva in 956 and established themselves in the mountain passes leading into Italy.
Thereafter, Muslim military power began to decline. The primary reason for this decline was the civil wars in Spain, which ultimately led to the disintegration of the Umayyad Caliphate in Spain in the year 1032 and the establishment of petty principalities often fighting each other with the help of Christian princes. The Berbers in the Maghrib were always restless. The hold of the Abbasid Caliphate over North Africa waned with the rise of the Aghlabids (808) and gradually disappeared under the hammer of tribal uprisings. The Fatimids rose from the dust of the Aghlabids, consolidated their hold on North Africa and cemented it with the conquest of Egypt (969). Ideological and military battles raged among the Fatimids based in Cairo, the Abbasids based in Baghdad and the Umayyads based in Cordoba. Taking advantage of this mayhem, Christian armies ejected the Muslims from southern France, Italy and the Mediterranean islands during the early Crusades (1050).
The Battle of Tours was a defining moment in global history. The inability of Abdur Rahman to defeat Charles Martel ensured that Western Europe would remain Christian. Internal squabbles were soon to consume the Muslims and they were never able to mount a serious offensive at Western Europe again.

The Conquest of Sindh

The Conquest of Sindh

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

The conquest of Sindh, located in today’s Pakistan, happened in stages. During the Caliphate of Omar ibn al Khattab (r), Muslim armies approached the coast of Makran, but Omar (r) withdrew the troops in response to reports of a harsh and inhospitable terrain. Emir Muawiya subdued eastern Afghanistan and the Northwest Frontier areas. However, it was not until the reign of Walid I (705-713) that much of what is today Pakistan was brought under Muslim rule.
From pre-Islamic times, there was a brisk trade between the eastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula and the western coast of India and Sri Lanka. Ships rode the eastern monsoons to the coast of Malabar and Sri Lanka to pick up spices and returned home riding on the western monsoons. Spices were in great demand throughout West Asia, North Africa and southern Europe and transactions were extremely profitable. This trade continued to thrive and expand with the advent of Muslim rule in West Asia and North Africa. It was through these merchants that Islam was first introduced into Kerala in southwestern India and Sri Lanka, located near the tip of India.
Sindh was notorious for its pirates in those times. These pirates would wait in ambush for merchant ships on the coast of Sindh and would raid them for booty. In the fateful year 707, these pirates attacked one of the Muslim merchant ships sailing back from Sri Lanka to the Persian Gulf. The men, women and children on board the ship were captured and taken inland to Sindh, where the Raja imprisoned them.
Hajjaj bin Yusuf Saqafi was the Omayyad governor of Iraq. When reports reached him of this incident, he wrote to Raja Dahir demanding that the captives be released and the responsible pirates punished. Dahir refused. This refusal set the stage for the onset of hostilities. It was the responsibility of the Caliphate to protect its citizens and to fight against injustice no matter what quarter it came from. Hajjaj bin Yusuf had that responsibility as a governor representing the Caliph. He sent an expedition under Ubaidullah bin Binhan to free the captives but Ubaidullah was defeated and killed in combat by troops of the Raja.
Determined that the provocations meet an appropriate response, Hajjaj dispatched an army of 7,000 seasoned cavalrymen under Muhammed bin Qasim Saqafi. Muhammed bin Qasim was only a young man of seventeen but was one of the most capable generals of the era. Paying attention to detailed planning, he sent heavy assault engines and army supplies by sea while the cavalry advanced by land through Baluchistan.
The success of an assault requires that the offensive weapons be superior to the defensive weapons. By the year 700, the Muslims had improved upon the various engines of war they had encountered in their advance through Persia, Byzantium and Central Asia. One specific assault engine was the minjanique, a catapult that could throw large stones at enemy forces and fortifications. The catapult, as a weapon of war, was in use in China as early as the 4th century. Muslim engineers made two specific improvements on the Chinese design. First, they added a counterweight to one end of the cantilever, so as to harness the potential energy of the counterweight as the catapult was let go. Second, they mounted the entire mechanism on wheels so that the lateral reaction of the throw did not reduce the range of the machine. The minjaniques could project rounded stones weighing more than two hundred pounds over distances greater than three hundred yards. Persistent pounding by such large stones could bring down the sturdiest walls in the forts in existence at that time.
After capturing Panjgore and Armabel, Muhammed bin Qasim advanced towards the port of Debal, which was located near the modern city of Karachi. The Raja of Debal closed the city gates and a long siege ensued. Once again, the means for offensive warfare proved to be more powerful than the means for defense, enabling the Arab armies to continue their global advance towards military and political centralization. As was the pattern with Arab conquests, the minjaniques threw heavy projectiles at the fort and demolished its walls. After a month, Debal fell. The local governor fled and the Muslim prisoners who had been held there were freed.
From Debal, Muhammed bin Qasim continued his advance to the north and east. All of Baluchistan and Sindh fell including Sistan, Bahraj, Kutch, Arore, Kairej and Jior. Raja Dahir was killed in the Battle of Jior. One of his sons, Jai Singh resisted Muhammed bin Qasim at the Battle of Brahnabad, but he too was defeated and had to flee. Muhammed bin Qasim founded a new city near the present city of Karachi, built a mosque there and advanced northwards to western Punjab. Multan was his target. Gour Singh was the Raja of Multan. His large army was reinforced by contingents from neighboring rajas. The Indians excelled in static warfare with armored elephants and foot soldiers but these were no match against swift, hard hitting cavalry. Realizing the advantage enjoyed by Muhammed bin Qasim’s cavalry in mobile warfare, the Raja locked himself in the fort of Multan. A siege ensued. Once again the technology of minjaniques proved decisive. The heavy machines destroyed the fort and the raja surrendered. Multan was added to the Arab empire in the year 713.
The conquest of Sindh brought Islamic civilization face to face with the ancient Vedic civilization of the Indo-Gangetic Plains. In later centuries, there was much that Muslim scholarship would learn from India—mathematics, astronomy, iron smelting-to name but a few subjects. (Muslim scholarship has focused more on the interaction between Islam and the West and has neglected the interaction between Islamic civilization and the East. This is a surprise considering that until the 18th century, there was little that the West had to offer the more advanced Islamic civilization. The flow of knowledge was almost always from Islam to the West. By contrast, the Muslims learned a great deal from India).
Soon, the borders of the Omayyad Empire extended to the borders of China and the Muslims acquired a great many advanced technologies from the Chinese, including the processing and manufacture of silk, porcelain, paper and gunpowder. The Prophet himself said: “Seek knowledge even onto China”. The addition of what is today Pakistan consolidated an empire extending from the Pyrenees to the Indus and the Gobi desert. This vast empire was now rubbing elbows with the ancient civilizations of India and China. From this vantage point, the Muslims were in a superb position to absorb, transform and develop knowledge from Persia, Greece, India and China.
Muhammed bin Qasim was eager to continue his advance into northern and eastern Punjab but events in far away Damascus overtook events in Pakistan. Caliph Walid I died in 713. In the ensuing political turbulence, Muhammed bin Qasim was summoned back to Iraq, just as Musa bin Nusair was summoned from Spain at about the same time.
After the death of Caliph Walid I, the end of Muhammed bin Qasim was even more tragic than that of Musa bin Nusair. Muhammed bin Qasim was a nephew of Hajjaj bin Yusuf, also known as Hajjaj the Cruel, the governor of Iraq. The new Caliph Sulaiman had a personal dislike of Hajjaj but Hajjaj died before Sulaiman could punish him. So, Sulaiman turned instead against Hajjaj’s relatives. Muhammed bin Qasim was dismissed and sent back to Iraq. The new governor of Iraq, Saleh bin Abdur Rahman hated Hajjaj because the latter had killed Saleh’s brother. But since Hajjaj had died, Saleh also turned against Hajjaj’s relatives. Muhammed bin Qasim was arrested and sent to prison for no fault but that he was a nephew of Hajjaj. In prison, Muhammed bin Qasim was blinded, tortured and killed. Thus ended the life of two of the most brilliant generals of the 8th century.
The fate of Musa bin Nusair and Muhammed bin Qasim is a lesson of historical importance. With the ascension of Muawiya, legitimacy of rule was no longer by consent of the masses; it was by force. Sultan after sultan arose and established himself by dictate or by virtue of inheritance from soldier-conquerors. When a ruler was competent and just, as happened with Omar bin Abdul Aziz, the common people enjoyed some freedoms. When he was a tyrant, as happened with Sulaiman bin Abdul Malik, the people suffered. Since the period of the first fourCaliphs, Muslims have not shown an institutional capability to evolve and nourish their political leadership from among the masses. When the body politic throws up its first echelon of leadership, the tendency has been to destroy that leadership, unless the leader survives through shrewd maneuvering or ruthless imposition. This inability to cultivate and nourish political leadership from the bottom up has defined the limits of Muslim power and in a broader sense, the achievements of Islamic civilization. The survival of potential leaders has always depended on the whims of the despot at the top or of his local political cronies.
A second lesson from the tragic deaths of these two outstanding generals is that the internal dialectic of the world of Islam has defined the limits of its reach. Having completed the conquest of Spain, Musa bin Zubair was ready to launch an invasion of France when he was called back. He might well have succeeded in this goal because there was as yet no strong leader into resist a determined assault. By the time the Muslims did come around to venture into central France, Gaul had a strong leader in Charles Martel and the Muslims were forced to turn around at the Battle of Tours (737). Similarly, Muhammed bin Qasim had successfully penetrated the Indian defenses in the IndusRiver basin. Given a green signal from Damascus and Kufa, he might well have extended the dominions of the Caliphate into the Gangetic plains. This was not to be. Mohammed bin Qasim was called back from Multan just as he prepared to launch a major thrust beyond the Indus River. Northern India remained in Rajput hands for the time being. It was not until the victory of Mohammed Ghori at the Battle of Panipat (1191) that the Muslims captured Delhi. In both cases, it was the internal turmoil in the Muslim body politic that was the determining factor in the arrest of the Muslim advance.

The Conquest of Spain

The Conquest of Spain

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

The conquest of Spain was the beginning of a new era in world history. It was the first interaction of Islamic civilization with the Latin West. For centuries, Muslim Spain was a beacon of knowledge to a European continent that was shrouded in the stupor of the Dark Ages. It was Spain, along with southern Italy, that was destined to act as a conduit for learning to the West. It played a central role in the reawakening of Europe.
The very name Andalus conjures up images of a bygone golden age of a brilliant civilization. Spain, as Andalus is known today, is situated in the northwestern corner of the Mediterranean. It is a peninsula, bound to the west by the Atlantic Ocean and to the east by the Mediterranean Sea. To the north the Pyrenees Mountains separate it from France and the rest of Europe. To the south the narrow Straits of Gibraltar connect the waters of the Atlantic with the Mediterranean. Geographically, it is a part of the Mediterranean world, although topographically, the rugged mountains of the Peninsula make it more a part of North Africa than southern Europe.
The Atlantic Ocean had arrested the westward advance of Muslim armies. But the narrow straits separating Morocco from Spain were not wide enough to stop their inexorable march northward into Europe. They were propelled by the vision of a world order wherein tyranny was abolished and freedom of religion guaranteed. The early Muslims considered Tawhid(meaning, a God-centered civilization) to be a Divine trust and the establishment of Divine patterns on earth, a mission. Neither the ocean nor the desert was an insurmountable barrier in their drive to establish a just order on the globe.
Faith was the driver for centralization of power during the first centuries of Islamic rule, just as today economics is the driver for centralization of power in the world. Faith cements civilization, advances knowledge and brings prosperity. Absence of faith destroys civilization, fosters ignorance and invites poverty. When the human soul is motivated by faith, nothing in this world—not greed, nor passion nor even glory—can detract it from the single-minded pursuit of a higher goal. People with faith work together and create civilizations. It is only when faith is weak that greed and passion win, co-operative struggle becomes impossible and civilization crumbles.
In the 5th century, the Visigoths conquered Spain and established a kingdom there with Toledo as their capital. Not noted for their skills in administration and statecraft, the Visigoth monarchs invited the Latin Church in 565 to manage the affairs of state. In return, the church obtained official sanction to propagate its faith. The economic condition of the Spanish peasant improved little under this arrangement because he was now subject to double taxation, one from the despotic monarchs and the other from the local monasteries. The rich lived in opulence while the farmers suffered abject poverty. The condition of the Jews was even worse. They were precluded from owning land and prohibited from openly practicing their religion. When they protested, the Church came down hard on them. In 707, when the Visigoth king Vietza slackened in the persecution of the Jews, the clergy promptly deposed him and installed a playboy army officer, Rodriguez, as the new king. The Jews were forced into slave labor and their women condemned to servitude.
The contrast between Spain and North Africa at the beginning of the 8thcentury was as marked as it can be between two geographically adjacent areas. The Muslims had arrived on the scene with a new creed and a new mission, preaching the freedom of man and justice before the law. The openness of the Muslims was not unknown in Spain and many of the serfs and the Jews had escaped and found a new home in Maghrib al Aqsa (Morocco).
North Africa was seething with vibrant energy. The Berber revolts had been overcome. The Berbers were enlisting in the Muslim armies with the newfound zeal of faith. In Damascus, Waleed I had ascended the Omayyad throne. A skillful administrator and shrewd statesman, he had successfully crushed a rebellion in far-away Khorasan and had even outmaneuvered the Chinese emperor into a stalemate in Sinkiang. Waleed is known in history as the Emir who gathered around himself the most capable generals of any Omayyad. Noteworthy among these generals were Muhammed bin Qasim (the conqueror of Sindh and Multan), Qutaiba bin Muslim (the conqueror of Sinkiang), Musa bin Nusair and Tariq bin Ziyad (conquerors of Spain). The Omayyad governor of the Maghrib, Musa bin Nusair, waged a constant struggle with the Visigoths for the control of Maghrib al Aqsa (The western frontier, today’s Morocco). One by one, the Visigoth strongholds on the Mediterranean had been captured. Only Ceuta remained under Visigoth control and Count Julian, a Visigoth deputy, governed it.
It was customary among the Visigoth nobles to send their daughters to the royal palace so they could learn the etiquette of the court. In accordance with this custom, Count Julian sent his daughter Florinda to the court in Toledo. There, the profligate Rodriguez raped her. Julian was outraged and sought to take revenge on Rodriguez for this act of dishonor. Besides, Julian’s wife was the daughter of Vietza, whose throne Rodriguez had usurped. At this time, the area around Ceuta was governed by Tariq bin Ziyad, a deputy of Musa bin Nusair. Julian traveled to Kairouan to confer with Musa and ask him to invade Spain and humble Rodriguez. The timing was right. Musa ordered Tariq to cross the straits with a contingent of troops.
According to Ibn Khaldun, there were three hundred Arab and 10,000 Berber troops in the army of Tariq bin Ziyad. The towering rock near which Tariq landed is called Jabl al Tariq, the mountain of Tariq ( in English Gibraltar), and the straits separating North Africa from Spain are called the Straits of Gibraltar. Tariq was an outstanding soldier, a brilliant general, a man of faith and determination. He burned the boats that had brought his forces across the straits and extolled his men to march forward in the name of Tawhid or perish in the struggle. A skirmish ensued with the local Visigoth lord, Theodore Meier, in which the latter was soundly defeated. The year was 711.
Rodriguez heard of the invasion and collecting a force of 80,000, advanced to meet the Muslim force. Tariq called for reinforcements and received an additional contingent of 7,000 cavalrymen under the command of Tarif bin Malik Naqi (after whom Tarifa inSpain is named). The two armies met at the battlefield of Guadalupe. The Muslims were fighting to establish a just political order whereas the Visigoths were fighting to protect and preserve an oppressive scheme. The Arabs were superior in the art of mobile warfare. They were superb horsemen and had mastered the art of rapid enveloping movements in their advance from the desert across Asia and . The Visigoths were accustomed to fighting in static, fixed positions. There was no contest. Even though the Muslims were outnumbered, the Visigoths were cut to pieces. Rodriguez was slain in battle.
The defeated Visigoths retreated towards Toledo, the ancient capital of Spain. Tariq divided his troops into four regiments. One regiment advanced towards Cordoba and subdued it. A second regiment captured Murcia. A third advanced north towards Saragossa. Tariq himself moved swiftly towards Toledo. The city surrendered without a fight. Visigoth rule in Spain came to an end.
Meanwhile, Musa bin Nusair landed in Spain with a fresh contingent of Berber troops. His first advance was towards Seville. The defenders closed the city gates and a long siege ensued. The offensive capability of the Arabs, backed by military engineering and technology, was superior to the defensive capabilities of the Visigoths. Musa had brought his Minjaniques (machines) with him, which threw heavy projectiles at the city ramparts demolishing them. After a month, the city surrendered. The Umayyad armies now fanned out across the Spanish peninsula. In rapid succession, Saragossa, Barcelona and Portugal fell one after another. The Pyrenees was crossed and Lyons France was occupied. The year was 712.
Musa was ready to continue his drive into France and Italy. But in the meantime, CaliphWaleed I fell ill in Damascus. In the power struggle that ensued, Musa was called back to take his oath to the next Caliph Sulaiman. Musa appointed his son Abdel Aziz as the Emir of Spain, left another son Abdallah in charge of North Africa and hastened to the Umayyad Capital. During their conquest of Spain, the Muslims had captured an enormous amount of booty. Musa was eager to hurry up and bring the conquered booty to Walid I so that the dying Emir would appreciate the services rendered by Musa. Meanwhile, Sulaiman, the heir-apparent, wrote to Musa to slow down his return so that by the time the war booty arrived in Damascus, Walid I would be dead and the booty would belong to Sulaiman. However, Musa, out of courtesy to the dying Emir, did not oblige Sulaiman. He arrived before Walid died. Sulaiman was very upset at losing his chance to claim the war booty. So, when he ascended the throne, he stripped Musa of all rank, accused him of misappropriating war funds and reduced him to stark poverty. Musa lived the rest of his life as a beggar, half blind and at the mercy of public charity.
The Jews and the peasants in Spain received the Muslim armies with open arms. The serfdoms were abolished and fair wages were instituted. Taxes were reduced to a fifth of the produce. Anyone who accepted Islam was relieved of his servitude. A large number of Spaniards became Muslim to escape the oppression of their former masters. The religious minorities, the Jews and the Christians, received the protection of the state and were allowed participation at the highest levels of the government.
Spain, under Muslim rule, became a beacon of art, science and culture for Europe. Mosques, palaces, gardens, hospitals and libraries were built. Canals were repaired and new ones were dug. New crops were introduced from other parts of the Muslim empire and agricultural production increased. Andalus became the granary of the Maghrib. Manufacturing was encouraged and the silk and brocade work of the peninsula became well known in the trading centers of the world. Andalus was divided into four provinces and efficient administration was established. Cities increased in size and prosperity. Cordoba, the capital, became the premier city of Europe and by the 10th century had over one million inhabitants.

Omar bin Abdul Aziz

Omar bin Abdul Aziz

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

Islam, meaning surrender to the Will of God, is an eternal idea. Muslims assert that it is the pristine faith of mankind, subscribed to by the first created humans, Adam and Eve and confirmed by the Messengers of God, including among others, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammed. Islam throws a challenge to the community of believers to create a society “enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong and believing in God”. Islamic history is a perpetual struggle to meet this challenge in the matrix of human affairs. This struggle is continuous and relentless. Muslims through the centuries have struggled to rediscover the fountain from which the Prophet drank. The corruption that surfaces with time is challenged time and again and a corporal attempt is made at a renewal of faith. Hence, revivalist movements in Islam provide benchmarks from which subsequent historical events can be measured and understood.
Omar bin Abdul Aziz, also known in history as Omar II, was the first revivalist Emir in Islamic history. After Muawiya, the character of the Caliphate changed and dynastic rule was established. The corruption of the Omayyads reached its crescendo with Karbala. The Omayyads built lavish palaces, surrounded themselves with servants and maids, accumulated enormous estates, treated the public treasury as their privy purse and lived like princes and kings. There was no accountability for their wealth or for their actions. The populace had no say in the affairs of the state. The Caliph was not nominated nor could he be questioned. The people were there merely to obey the strongman, pay taxes and serve in the armed forces.
Omar bin Abdul Aziz became the Emir by a coincidence of history. When the Omayyad Emir Sulaiman (714-717) lay on his deathbed, he was advised that he could earn the pleasure of God by following the example of the early Caliphs and nominating someone besides one of his own sons as the next Emir. He therefore dictated in his will that Omar bin Abdul Aziz, a distant cousin, was to succeed him and Omar bin Abdul Aziz was to be followed by Yazid bin Abdul Malik. Omar bin Abdul Aziz was a man of polish and experience, having served as the governor of Egypt and Madina for more than twenty-two years. He had been educated and trained by a well-known scholar of the age, Saleh bin Kaisan. Before his accession to the Caliphate, Omar bin Abdul Aziz was a dashing young man, fond of fashion and fragrance. But when he accepted the responsibilities of Caliphate, he proved to be the most pious, able, far-sighted and responsible of all the Omayyad Emirs.
Indeed, Omar bin Abdul Aziz set out to reform the entire political, social and cultural edifice of the community and to bring back the transcendental values that had governed the Islamic state in its infancy. He started by setting a good example in his own person. When news reached him of his nomination to the Caliphate, he addressed the people, “O people! The responsibilities of the Caliphate have been thrust upon me without my desire or your consent. If you choose to select someone else as the Caliph, I will immediately step aside and will support your decision”. Such talk was a breath of fresh air to the public. They unanimously elected him.
Omar bin Abdul Aziz discarded his lavish life style and adopted an extremely ascetic life after the example of Abu Dhar Ghifari, a well-known companion of the Prophet. Abu Dhar is known in history as one of the earliest mystics and Sufis in Islam who retired from public life in Madina during the period of Uthman (r) and lived in a hermitage some distance away from the capital. Omar bin Abdul Aziz discarded all the pompous appendages of a princely life–servants, slaves, maids, horses, palaces, golden robes and landed estates–and returned them to the public treasury. His family and relatives were given the same orders. The garden Fidak provides a good example. This was a grove of palms owned by the Prophet. The Prophet’s daughter Fatima (r) had asked for this garden as an inheritance but the Prophet had declined saying that what a Prophet owned belonged to the whole community. Fatima(r) had pressed her claim before Abu Bakr (r) but Abu Bakr (r) had denied the request saying that he could not agree to something that the Prophet had not agreed to. After the Caliphate of Ali (r), Fidak had been made a personal estate of the Omayyads. Omar restored Fidak to the public treasury, as a trust for the whole community.
The Omayyads had no accountability to the treasury. To support their lavish life styles, they collected enormous taxes from Persia and Egypt. They compelled traders to sell them their merchandise at discount prices. The Emir’s appointees received gifts of gold and silver in return for favors. Omar reversed the process. Omar abolished such practices, punished corrupt officials and established strict accountability.
Some Omayyad officials, drunk with power, mistreated the conquered peoples. Oftentimes, their property was confiscated without due process of law. Contrary to the injunctions of the Shariah, even though people in the new territories accepted Islam, they continued to be subject to Jizya. Those who refused to pay the taxes were subject to harsh punishment. Omar abolished these practices and ensured fairness in the collection of taxes. Gone was the oppression of Hajjaj in Iraq and Qurrah bin Shareek in Egypt. The populace responded with enthusiastic support of the new Caliph. Production increased. Ibn Kathir records that thanks to the reforms undertaken by Omar, the annual revenue from Persia alone increased from 28 million dirhams to 124 million dirhams.
Following the example of the Prophet, Omar bin Abdul Aziz sent out emissaries to China and Tibet, inviting their rulers to accept Islam. It was during the time of Omar bin Abdul Aziz that Islam took roots and was accepted by a large segment of the population of Persia and Egypt. When the officials complained that because of conversions, the jizya revenues of the state had experienced a steep decline, Omar wrote back saying that he had accepted the Caliphate to invite people to Islam and not to become a tax collector. The infusion of non-Arabs in large number into the fold of Islam shifted the center of gravity of the empire from Madina and Damascus to Persia and Egypt. As we shall elaborate in later chapters, this development had far reaching consequences during the Abbasid revolution (750) and the evolution of the schools of Fiqh (760-860).
Omar bin Abdul Aziz was a scholar of the first rank and surrounded himself with great scholars like Muhammed bin Kaab and Maimun bin Mehran. He offered stipends to teachers and encouraged education. Through his personal example, he inculcated piety, steadfastness, business ethics and moral rectitude in the general population. His reforms included strict abolition of drinking, forbidding public nudity, elimination of mixed bathrooms for men and women and fair dispensation of Zakat. He undertook extensive public works in Persia, Khorasan and North Africa, including the construction of canals, roads, rest houses for travelers and medical dispensaries.
Omar bin Abdel Aziz was the first Caliph to commission a translation of the Qur’an from Arabic into another language. Upon the request of the Raja (king) of Sindh (in modern day Pakistan), Omar bin Abdel Aziz had the Qur’an translated into the ancient Sindhi language and had it sent to the Raja (718 CE). To put this event into historical context, this was within ten years of the conquest of Sindh and Multan by Muhammed bin Qasim and the conquest of Spain by Tariq and Musa.
Omar bin Abdul Aziz was also the first Emir to attempt a serious reconciliation of political and religious differences among Muslims. Since the time of Muawiya, it had become customary for khatibs to insult the name of Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) in Friday sermons. Omar bin Abdul Aziz abolished this obnoxious practice and decreed instead that the following passage from the Qur’an be read instead: “God commands you to practice justice, enjoins you to help and assist your kin and He forbids obscenity, evil or oppression, so that you may remember Him” (Qur’an, 16:90). It is this passage that is still recited in Friday sermons the world over. He treated Bani Hashim and the Shi’as with fairness and dignity. He even extended his hand to the Kharijites. According to Ibn Kathir, he wrote to the Kharijite leader Bostam, inviting him to an open discussion about the Caliphate of Uthman (r) and Ali (r). He went so far as to stipulate that should Bostam convince him, Omar would willingly repent and change his ways. Bostam sent two of his emissaries to the Caliph. During the discussions, one of the emissaries accepted that Omar was right and gave up Kharijite extremism. The other went back unconvinced. Even so, the Caliph did not persecute the man.
Omar bin Abdul Aziz was the first Muslim ruler who moved his horizons from external conquests to internal revival. He recalled his armies from the borders of France, India and the outskirts of Constantinople. There were few internal uprisings and disturbances during his Caliphate. Islam had momentarily turned its horizons on its own soul, to reflect upon its historical condition and replenish its moral reservoir. Faith flourished, as it had during the period of Omar ibn al Khattab (r). It is for these reasons that historians refer to Omar bin Abdul Aziz as Omar II and classify him as the fifth of the rightly guided Caliphs, after Abu Bakr (r), Omar (r), Uthman (r) and Ali (r).
But greed does not surrender its turf to faith without a battle. The reforms of Omar II were too much for the disgruntled Omayyads and the rich merchants. Omar II was poisoned and he died in the year 719, after a rule that lasted only two and a half years. He was thirty-nine years old at the time of his death. And with him died the last chance for Omayyad rule.

Karbala

Karbala

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

Karbala was the last breath of the age of faith. Very few historical events have shaped the language, culture, music, politics and sociology of Muslim peoples, as has Karbala. Languages such as Swahili and Urdu that were born a thousand years after the event relate to it as if it happened yesterday. A laborer in Kuala Lumpur reacts to it with the same immediacy as a qawwal in Lahore or a professor in Chicago. Karbala is a noun, an adjective and a verb all at once. Indeed, Karbala marks a benchmark in Islamic history and a central hinge around which the internal dialectic among Muslims revolves.
Until the assassination of Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) the issue of succession to the Prophet had been decided through mutual consultation. Abu Bakr (r), Omar (r), Uthman (r) and Ali (r) (the Khulfa e Rashidoon as Muslims generally refer to them) drew their legitimacy from the consent of the people. The process was inherently democratic. Abu Bakr-as-Siddiq (r) specifically forbade the nomination of his own son as the Caliph after him, thereby avoiding dynastic rule. Omar ibn al Khattab (r), in his last will, nominated a council of six of the most respected Companions to choose his successor. The Companions were cognizant of the pitfalls of dynastic succession and the excellence of rule by consultation and consent. Theirs was the age of faith. The mission of the first four Caliphs was the creation of a just society, enjoining what is noble, forbidding what is evil and believing in God. In this struggle, they took extraordinary pains to ensure that their immediate families did not profit from their privileged positions.
Muawiya bin Abu Sufyan changed this process. Upon the advice of Mogheera bin Shoba, he nominated his eldest son Yazid as his successor. This was an historical benchmark. Rule by consent requires accountability. Rule by a strongman requires force without accountability. The nomination of Yazid destroyed the requirement for accountability. After Muawiya, Muslim history would produce sultans and emperors, some benevolent, others despotic. Some would declare themselves Caliphs, others would hobnob with Caliphs, marrying their daughters and offering them exorbitant treasures as gifts, but their rule was always the rule of a soldier. The transcendence of the rule of Tawhid and the accountability that went with it came to an end with the assassination of Ali (r).
Muawiya had wasted no time in extending his hold on the territories formerly held by Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) and Hassan ibn Ali. Iraq was in the juggernaut of Muawiya’s police force, so the Iraqis had no choice but to accept the imposition of Yazid. The province of Hejaz (which is a part of Saudi Arabia today and includes the cities of Mecca and Madina) was another matter. Respected personages such as Hussain ibn Ali, Abdullah bin Zubair, Abdullah bin Omar, Abdullah bin Abbas and Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr opposed the idea of a dynasty as contrary to the Sunnah of the Prophet and the tradition of the first Caliphs. To convince them, Muawiya himself traveled to Madina. A meeting was held but there was no meeting of the minds. Not to be deterred by this defiant rejection, Muawiya came out of the meeting and declared that the five had agreed to take their oath of allegiance to Yazid. According to Tabari and Ibn Aseer, Muawiya openly threatened to use force if his proposition was not agreed to. The ammah(general population) gave in. Only later was it discovered that the rumor of allegiance of the “pious five” was a ruse.
Muawiya died soon thereafter (680) at the age of seventy-eight and Yazid ascended the Umayyad throne. One of his first acts was to order the governor of Madina, Waleed bin Uthba, to force an oath of allegiance from Abdullah bin Zubair and Hussain ibn Ali. Sensing the imminent danger to his life, Abdullah bin Zubair left Madina for Mecca under cover of darkness and took refuge in the Ka’ba, where he would presumably be safe from Yazid’s troops. Hussain ibn Ali consulted with his half-brother Muhammad bin Hanafia and moved to Mecca as well.
Those Companions of the Prophet and other Muslims, who believed that Ali (r) was the rightful Caliph after the Prophet were called Shi’ Aan e Ali (the party of Ali (r), which explains the origin of the term Shi’a. The term Sunni is of later historical origin). As is recorded by Ibn Kathir and Ibn Khaldun, these Companions were not entirely satisfied when Abu Bakr (r) was elected the Caliph. However, to maintain the unity of the community they supported and served Abu Bakr (r), Omar (r) and Uthman (r). When Hassan(r) abdicated in favor of Muawiya, many amongst Shi’ Aan e Aliwithdrew from politics. While maintaining no animosity against the power structure, which was almost always hostile to them, they accepted the spiritual leadership of Ali’s (r) lineage.
Kufa had been the capital during the Caliphate of Ali ibn Abu Talib (r) and members of Shi’ Aan e Ali were numerous in Iraq. Hussain ibn Ali received insistent letters from the notables of Kufa inviting him to Iraq and to accept their allegiance to him as the Caliph. As a first step, Hussain sent his cousin Muslim bin Aqeel on a fact finding mission. Muslim bin Aqeel arrived in Kufa and set up residence in the house of a well-wisher, Hani. The supporters of Hussain thronged this residence, so Muslim sent word to Hussain encouraging him to migrate to Kufa.
Meanwhile, Yazid dispatched Ubaidullah bin Ziyad, commonly known as Ibn Ziyad, the butcher of Karbala, to apprehend Muslim bin Aqeel and stop the incipient uprising. Ibn Ziyad arrived in Iraq and promptly declared that those who would support Yazid would be rewarded and those who opposed him would have their heads cut off. Greed and fear of reprisals did their trick. The Kufans made an about-turn and abandoned Muslim. He was attacked and executed by forces of Ibn Ziyad. Before his death, Muslim sent word to Hussain that the situation in Kufa had changed and that he should abandon the idea of migrating there. By this time, Ibn Ziyad’s forces had cut the communications of Hussain’s supporters, so the second message from Muslim never reached Hussain.
Unaware of the ground situation in Kufa, Hussain started his move from Mecca to Kufa in 680 with his supporters and well-wishers. On the way, news arrived that Muslim had been killed. According to Ibn Kathir, Hussain wanted to turn back but the demand for qisas (equitable retribution) from Muslim’s brothers prevented him. He did inform his entourage of the developments and urged those who wanted to return to do so. All but the very faithful, mostly members of the Prophet’s family, left him.
Undaunted, Hussain ibn Ali moved forward and was stopped by a regiment of troops under Amr bin Sa’ad at Karbala on the banks of the River Euphrates. A standoff ensued, negotiations took place and Amr bin Sa’ad communicated this to Ibn Ziyad in Kufa. But Ibn Ziyad would accept nothing short of capitulation and Hussain’s explicit baiyah (oath of allegiance) to Yazid. Sensing that Amr bin Sa’ad was reluctant to commence hostilities against the Prophet’s family, Ibn Ziyad recalled him and replaced him with Shimr Zil Jowhan. Shimr, a man without moral compunctions, surrounded the Hussaini camp and cut off the supply of water. The final confrontation came on the 10th of Muharram. (Muharram is the first month of the Islamic calendar and the date is mentioned here because the 10th of Muharram has come to occupy a special place in Muslim history). Hussain, the soldier of God, who had drunk from the lips of the Prophet and who would not submit to the tyranny of Yazid, arranged his seventy two men in battle formation, advanced and met the forces of darkness. Each of the men was cut down and at last, the grandson of the Prophet also fell. His head was cut off and sent to Kufa where Ibn Ziyad mistreated it in the most abominable manner and paraded it through the streets. The ladies and surviving children in Hussain’s entourage were safely escorted back to Madina by some well-wishers. It was the year 680.
More Muslim tears have been shed for the blood of Hussain ibn Ali than any other martyr in Islamic history. Hussain’s martyrdom provided Islam with a paradigm for selfless struggle and sacrifice. For hundreds of years, generations would rise, invoking the name of Hussain ibn Ali, to uphold justice and to fight against tyranny. For some Muslims, it was the defining moment in Islamic history.
Hussain stood for faith and principle in the face of tyranny and coercion. In the person of Hussain, faith held its head high against the sharpness of the tyrant’s blade. Hussain was the embodiment of the Qur’anic teaching that humankind is born into freedom and is to bow only before the Divine majesty. Freedom is a trust bestowed upon all men and women by the Creator; it is not to be surrendered before the oppression of a mere mortal.
Karbala imparted a new meaning to the term struggle. Humankind must strive with patience and constancy in the face of extreme adversity. Comfort and safety are not to be impediments in the higher struggle for the rewards of the hereafter. Hussain did not give up his struggle even though he was abandoned by the multitudes that had offered him support. He did not surrender while facing insurmountable odds.
History is a jealous and demanding consumer. Time and again, it demands the ultimate sacrifice from the faithful, so that faith may renew itself. Karbala was a renewal of faith. Islam received an eternal boost from the sacrifice of Hussain ibn Ali. Faith had triumphed even while the sword had conquered.
Before Karbala, Shi’ Aan e Ali was a religious movement. After Karbala, it became both a religious and political movement. As we shall see in later chapters, the echoes of Karbala were heard again and again throughout Islamic history and imparting to it a directional momentum that persists even in contemporary affairs.
So great was the shock from Hussain’s martyrdom, that even Yazid sought to distance himself from the tragedy. Ibn Kathir reports that when he heard of the events of Karbala, Yazid wept bitterly and cursed the actions of Ibn Ziyad. But when we view the sum total of Yazid’s actions and his personal character, these were nothing but crocodile tears of a tyrant.

Muawiya

Muawiya

Contributed by Prof. Dr. Nazeer Ahmed, PhD

Summary: The civil wars marked a watershed in Islamic history. The curtain fell on the age of the Khulfa e Rashidoon (Rightly Guided Caliphs). Shi’a-Sunni sectarianism, which runs like a giant fault line across Islamic history, surfaced. The border between Persia and Syria was hardened at the Euphrates River. The convulsions gave birth to the Kharijites and their brand of extremism. For these reasons, Muslim historians refer to the civil wars as “fitnatul kabir” (the great schism).
With the assassination of Ali ibn Abu Talib (r), the curtain fell on the age of faith in Islamic history. The Prophet founded a civilization wherein faith was supreme. Abu Bakr (r), Omar (r), Uthman (r) and Ali (r) strove to build upon the foundation laid by the Prophet. Never has there been a time in history as there was for the first forty years after the Hijra. For a brief moment, faith in the transcendence of God ruled supreme over the blade of the soldier and the wealth of the merchant. Madina was the capital of the largest empire the world had known but the rulers walked on earth like mendicants, with the fear of God in their hearts and the vision of the hereafter in their souls.
Even as the faith of Islam spread across the vast continents of Asia and Africa, it was challenged by the power of wealth. The vast treasures of Persia, accumulated over centuries of imperial rule, presented a temptation that some Arabs could not resist. The struggle between faith and wealth surfaced during the period of Uthman (r) and consumed his Caliphate. Ali (r) waged a valiant battle to extinguish the flames of greed and power, but the fire consumed him too. And out of the ashes arose the dynastic rule of the Umayyads.
Emir Muawiya was the first soldier-king in Islamic history. With him, the Islamic body politic came under the sway of dynastic rule. The pattern established by him persisted until the 18th century when the merchants of Europe supplanted the Muslim soldier-kings of Asia and Africa. An outstanding soldier, a shrewd politician and an able administrator, Muawiya fought Ali (r) to a standstill and declared himself the Caliph in 658. As soon as Ali (r) was assassinated (661) Muawiya made preparations to invade Mecca, Madina and Iraq. Hassan ibn Ali had been elected the Caliph in Kufa and he marched forth with a force of 12,000 Iraqis to meet Muawiya. But the Iraqis proved unreliable allies and deserted before the battle started. At the Treaty of Madayen (661), Hassan abdicated the Caliphate in favor of Muawiya in return for general amnesty and an annual stipend of 200,000 dirhams. He retired to Madina to live there as a great teacher and imam. The abdication brought to an end the first phase of the civil wars that began with the assassination of Uthman (r). It also consolidated the power of Muawiya over all Muslim territories.
With the Treaty of Madayen, power passed from Bani Hashim of the Quraish to Banu Omayya, another branch of the Quraish. In pre-Islamic days, the Bani Hashim were the custodians of the Ka’ba whereas the Banu Omayya were rich merchants and were responsible for the defense of Mecca. In modern language, the Bani Hashim were the priests, whereas the Banu Omayya were the merchants and soldiers. Prominent members of Banu Omayya (such as Abu Sufyan) were bitterly opposed to the mission of the Prophet in the early days of Islam but had embraced the new faith after the conquest of Mecca (628). The Prophet had sought to weld together the two tribes under the transcendence of Islam. The newfound unity survived through the Caliphate of Abu Bakr (r) and Omar (r). But with the Caliphate of Uthman (r), himself an Omayya, the old rivalry surfaced again. As we have pointed out, certain members of Banu Omayya took advantage of the pious and retiring nature of Uthman (r) and grew enormously wealthy. This development opened Uthman (r) to charges of favoritism and ultimately led to his assassination. In the ensuing chaos, Ali (r) had been nominated the Caliph, but Muawiya who was an Omayyad, demanded qisas (retribution) for Uthman’s blood before he would accept the Caliphate of Ali (r). Ali (r) was politically too weak to do this and Muawiya deftly exploited this weakness to incite the Syrians against Ali (r) and wage war against him (the Battle of Siffin).
History repeats itself. Divisions among humankind based on tribes, nations and race resurface time and again. The Banu Omayya, who were merchants and soldiers in pre-Islamic years, benefited enormously from the conquered gold of Persia. Bani Hashim, on the other hand, tried to keep the Islamic community focused on the rugged simplicity of Islam. The third Caliph Uthman (r) was an Omayyad and a pious, shy, retiring aged man. The power of wealth asserted itself during his time and those who were in a position to exploit this wealth, namely the merchant-soldier class of Banu Omayya, did so. When Ali (r), a Hashimite, tried to redirect the flow of history towards the pristine purity of Islam, faith collided with greed; the civil wars ensued pitting Banu Omayya against Bani Hashim. The first phase of the civil wars ended with the triumph of the merchant-warrior and the abdication of the rule of faith. An era ended and a new era began.
The civil wars also gave birth to the Kharijites. As we have pointed out, these were disgruntled men who walked out of Ali’s (r) camp when he accepted arbitration with Muawiya. Their position, though it was couched in democratic terms, was extremist. They sought to justify their misguided position that Ali (r) had compromised his faith. They also maintained that the Caliphate should be open to any capable Muslim, not just the Quraish. Their methods were bloody and they let loose a merciless reign of terror, indiscriminately killing men, women and children. Both Ali (r) and Muawiya waged war against them. Although defeated time and again, the Kharijites resurfaced in Islamic history as a recalcitrant group for five hundred years. In the 14th century, they gave up their violent ways and settled down in North Africa. Some historians, among them the great Ibn Batuta who traveled through North Africa in 1330-1334, relate them to the Ibadis who are known for their devout poetry in praise of the Prophet.
The civil wars had arrested the explosive advance of the Muslim armies. With the civil wars at bay, the advance resumed. Muhlab bin Abi Safra captured the frontier areas of modern Pakistan. Saeed bin Uthman captured Samarqand and Bukhara in Central Asia. Uqba bin Nafi raced across North Africa to the Atlantic Ocean. It was this famous general, who upon reaching the ocean urged his horse forward until it could advance no further and then turning towards the sky declared: “O God! Had this ocean not interrupted me, I would have reached the farthest corners of the earth to extol Thy Name”. This exclamation captures in a nutshell the motivation for early Muslim conquests. Faith was the propulsive force that provided this momentum. Islam had taught the Muslims that humankind was born into freedom and that a human ought to bow down before God and no one else. The struggle of the early Muslims was to establish a world order wherein only the name of God was extolled and men and women were freed from bondage to false gods or tyrants who acted as if they were gods.
The most memorable accomplishment of Emir Muawiya was the building of a strong navy to break the stranglehold of the Byzantine Empire in the eastern Mediterranean. A navy was built and Jandab bin Abi Umayyah was appointed Emir ul Bahr, source of the English word Admiral. Rhodes and other islands in the eastern Mediterranean were captured and in 671, Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine Empire, was besieged. The siege lasted several months. Byzantine defenses were strong and the Greeks were well versed in the use of naphtha (“Greek fire”), a precursor to modern day napalm. As the siege prolonged, there was an outbreak of cholera aboard the ships and the Muslims had to break off the engagement. It was during this siege that a companion of the Prophet, Abu Ayyub Ansari died and was buried beneath the ramparts of the Fort of Constantinople. Located within modern day Istanbul, the tomb of Abu Ayyub is one of the chief attractions of that beautiful city.
Emir Muawiya was a soldier and he paid special attention to the armed forces. He encouraged innovations in military technology. It was during the reign of Muawiya that Muslim engineers invented the “Minjenique” (machine) to propel large stones onto enemy ramparts. He modernized the army, introducing specialized units for desert combat and snowy terrains. New forts were built. Muawiya was the first ruler to mint coins with Arabic inscriptions, displacing Byzantine and Persian coins, thereby reasserting the fiscal independence of the Muslim state. The city of Kairouan was founded in the Maghrib. Administrative record keeping was systematized. Old canals were re-excavated and new ones dug. The police force was strengthened and the postal system, which was created by Omar ibn al Khattab (r) for military use, was now opened to the public.
Muawiya bin Abu Sufyan was a Companion of the Prophet and on several occasions the Prophet used his services as a scribe of the Qur’an. In this capacity he is respected by all Muslims. It is his role as a historical figure where differences arise. While his accomplishments were noteworthy, he is also known as the Emir who condoned the cursing of Ali bin Abu Talib (r) in public, a practice abandoned fifty years later by the Caliph Omar bin Abdel Aziz (719). Most regrettably, Muawiya imposed his tyrant son Yazid on Islamic history.