Umayyad dynasty

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The Umayyad dynasty (Arabic : بَنُو أُمَيَّةَ, romanized: Banū Umayya, lit.  'Sons of Umayya') or Umayyads (الأمويون), were the ruling family of the Muslim caliphate between 661 and 750 and later of Islamic Spain between 756 and 1031. In the pre-Islamic period, they were a prominent clan of the Meccan tribe of Quraysh, descended from Umayya ibn Abd Shams. Despite staunch opposition to the Islamic prophet Muhammad, the Umayyads embraced Islam before the latter's death in 632. A member of the clan, Uthman, went on to become the third Rashidun caliph in 644–656, while other members held various governorships. One of these governors, Mu'awiya I, fought the First Muslim Civil War in 661 and established the Umayyad Caliphate with its capital in Damascus, Syria. This marked the beginning of the Umayyad dynasty, the first hereditary dynasty in the history of Islam, and the only one to rule over the entire Islamic world of its time.


The Sufyanid line founded by Mu'awiya failed in 683 and Umayyad authority was challenged in the Second Muslim Civil War, but the dynasty ultimately prevailed under Marwan I, who founded the Marwanid line of Umayyad caliphs. The Umayyads drove on the early Muslim conquests, including North Africa, Spain, Central Asia, and Sindh, but the constant warfare exhausted the state's military resources, while Alid revolts and tribal rivalries weakened the regime from within. Finally, in 750 the Abbasid Revolution overthrew Caliph Marwan II and massacred most of the family. One of the survivors, Abd al-Rahman, a grandson of Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik, escaped to Muslim Iberia (al-Andalus), where he founded the Umayyad Emirate of Córdoba, which Abd al-Rahman III elevated to the status of a caliphate in 929. After a brief golden era, the Caliphate of Córdoba disintegrated into several independent taifa kingdoms in 1031, thus marking a definitive end to the Umayyad dynasty.


Pre-Islamic origins

The Umayyads, or Banu Umayya, were a clan of the larger Quraysh tribe, which dominated Mecca in the pre-Islamic era. [1] The Quraysh derived prestige among the Arab tribes through their protection and maintenance of the Ka'aba, which at the time was regarded by the largely polytheistic Arabs across the Arabian Peninsula as their most sacred sanctuary. [1] A certain Qurashi tribesman, Abd Manaf ibn Qusayy, who based on his place in the genealogical tradition would have lived in the latter half of the 5th century, was apparently charged with the maintenance and protection of the Ka'aba and its pilgrims. [2] These roles passed to his sons Abd Shams, Hashim and others. [2] Abd Shams was the father of Umayya, the eponymous progenitor of the Umayyads. [3]

Umayya succeeded Abd Shams as the qāʾid (wartime commander) of the Meccans. [4] This position was likely an occasional political post whose holder oversaw the direction of Mecca's military affairs in times of war instead of an actual field command. [4] This proved instructive as later Umayyads were known for possessing considerable political and military organizational skills. [4] Historian Giorgio Levi Della Vida suggests that information in Muslim traditional sources about Umayya, as with all the ancient progenitors of the tribes of Arabia, "be accepted with caution", but "that too great skepticism with regard to tradition would be as ill-advised as absolute faith in its statements". [3] Della Vida further asserts that since the Umayyads who appear at the beginning of Muslim history in the early 7th century were no later than third-generation descendants of Umayya, the latter's existence is highly plausible. [3]

By circa 600, the Quraysh had developed trans-Arabian trade networks, organizing caravans to Syria in the north and Yemen in the south. [1] The Banu Umayya and the Banu Makhzum dominated these trade networks and developed economic and military alliances with the nomadic Arab tribes that controlled the northern and central Arabian desert expanses, gaining them a degree of political power in Arabia. [5]

Opposition to Islam and adoption of Islam

When the Islamic prophet Muhammad, a member of the Banu Hashim, a politically weaker and less wealthy clan of the Quraysh related to the Banu Umayya through their shared ancestor, Abd Manaf, began his religious teachings in Mecca, he was opposed by most of the Quraysh. [6] [7] He ultimately found support from the inhabitants of Medina and relocated there with his followers in 622. [8] The descendants of Abd Shams, including the Umayyads, were among the principal leaders of Qurashi opposition to Muhammad. [9] They superseded the Banu Makhzum led by Abu Jahl as a result of the heavy losses that its leadership incurred fighting the Muslims at the Battle of Badr in 624. [10] An Umayyad chieftain, Abu Sufyan, thereafter became the leader of the Meccan army that fought the Muslims under Muhammad at the battles of Uhud and the Trench. [9]

Abu Sufyan and his sons, along with most of the Umayyads, ultimately embraced Islam toward the end of Muhammad's life, following the Muslim conquest of Mecca. [9] To secure the loyalty of certain prominent Umayyad leaders, including Abu Sufyan, Muhammad offered them gifts and positions of importance in the nascent Muslim state. [9] He installed another member of the clan, Attab ibn Asid ibn Abi al-Is, as the first governor of Mecca. [11] Though Mecca retained its paramountcy as a religious center, Medina continued to serve as the political center of the Muslims. Abu Sufyan and the Banu Umayya relocated to the city to maintain their growing political influence. [12]

Following Muhammad's death in 632, a succession crisis ensued and nomadic tribes throughout Arabia that had embraced Islam defected from Medina. [13] Abu Bakr, trusted by the Ansar and the Muhajirun (Muhammad's initial supporters from Medina and Mecca, respectively) as one of Muhammad's oldest friends and earliest converts to Islam and accepted by the late converts from the Quraysh as a native Meccan who assured their influential role in state matters, was elected caliph (paramount political and religious leader of the Muslim community). [14] Abu Bakr showed favor to the Umayyads by awarding them a prominent role in the Muslim conquest of Syria. He first assigned the Umayyad Khalid ibn Sa'id ibn al-As as commander of the expedition, then replaced him with four commanders, among whom was Yazid, the son of Abu Sufyan, who owned property and maintained trade networks in Syria. [15] [16]

Abu Bakr's successor, Caliph Umar (r. 634–644), though he actively curtailed the influence of the Qurayshi elite in favor of Muhammad's earlier supporters in the administration and military, did not disturb the growing foothold of Abu Sufyan's sons in Syria, which was all but conquered by 638. [17] When his overall commander over the province, Abu Ubayda ibn al-Jarrah, died in 639, he appointed Yazid governor of its Damascus, Palestine and Jordan districts. [17] Yazid died shortly after and Umar installed his brother Mu'awiya in his place. [18] Umar's exceptional treatment of Abu Sufyan's sons may have stemmed from his respect for the family, their burgeoning alliance with the powerful Banu Kalb tribe as a counterbalance to the influence of the Himyarite tribes who entered the Homs district during the conquest or the lack of a suitable candidate at the time, particularly amid the plague of Amwas which had already killed Abu Ubayda and Yazid. [18]

Empowerment by Caliph Uthman

Uthman ibn Affan, a wealthy Umayyad merchant, early convert to Islam and son-in-law and close companion of Muhammad succeeded Caliph Umar upon the latter's death in 644. [19] Uthman initially kept his predecessors' appointees in their provincial posts, but gradually replaced many with Umayyads or his maternal kinsmen from the Banu Umayya's parent clan, the Banu Abd Shams: [20] Mu'awiya, who had been appointed governor of Syria by Umar, retained his post; al-Walid ibn Uqba and Sa'id ibn al-'As were successively appointed to Kufa, one of the two main garrisons and administrative centers of Iraq; and Marwan ibn al-Hakam became his chief adviser. [20] Though a prominent member of the clan, Uthman is not considered part of the Umayyad dynasty because he was chosen by consensus (shura) among the inner circle of Muslim leadership and never attempted to nominate an Umayyad as his successor. [21] Nonetheless, as a result of Uthman's policies, the Umayyads regained a measure of the power they had lost after the Muslim conquest of Mecca. [21]

The assassination of Uthman in 656 became a rallying cry for the Qurashi opposition to his successor and cousin of Muhammad, Caliph Ali ibn Abi Talib of the Banu Hashim. [22] The Qurashi elite did not hold Ali responsible, but opposed his accession under the circumstances of Uthman's demise. Following their defeat at the Battle of the Camel near Basra, which saw the deaths of their leaders Talha ibn Ubayd Allah and al-Zubayr ibn Awwam, both potential contenders of the caliphate, the mantle of opposition to Ali was taken up chiefly by Mu'awiya. [22] Initially, he refrained from openly claiming the caliphate, focusing instead on undermining Ali's authority and consolidating his position in Syria, all in the name of avenging Uthman's death. [23] Mu'awiya and Ali with their respective Syrian and Iraqi supporters fought a stalemate at the Battle of Siffin in 657. [24] It ultimately led to an indecisive arbitration, which ultimately weakened Ali's command over his partisans, while raising the stature of Mu'awiya as Ali's equal. [25] As Ali was bogged down combating his former partisans, who became known as the Kharijites, Mu'awiya was recognized as caliph by his core supporters, the Syrian Arab tribes, in 659 or 660. [26] When Ali was assassinated by a Kharijite in 661, Mu'awiya took the opportunity to march on Kufa where he ultimately compelled Ali's son Hasan to cede caliphal authority and gain recognition from the region's Arab tribal nobility. [26] As a result, Mu'awiya became widely accepted as caliph, though opposition by the Kharijites and some of Ali's loyalists persisted, albeit at a less consistent level. [27]

Establishment of caliphate in Damascus

The reunification of the Muslim community under Mu'awiya's leadership marked the establishment of the Umayyad dynasty. [27] Based on the accounts of the traditional Muslim sources, Hawting writes that

... the Umayyads, leading representatives of those who had opposed the Prophet [Muhammad] until the latest possible moment, had within thirty years of his death reestablished their position to the extent that they were now at the head of the community which he had founded. [27]


In the early 7th century, prior to their conversion to Islam, the main branches of the Umayyads were the A'yas and the Anabisa. [4] The former grouped the descendants of Umayya's sons Abu al-As, al-As, Abu al-Is and al-Uways, all of whose names shared the same or similar root, hence the eponymous label, "Aʿyās". [4] The Anabisa, which is the plural form of Anbasa, a common name in this branch of the clan, gathered the descendants of Umayya's sons Harb, Abu Harb, Abu Sufyan Anbasa, Sufyan, Amr and Umayya's possibly adopted son, Abu Amr Dhakwan. [4]

Two of the sons of Abu al-As, Affan and al-Hakam, each fathered future caliphs, Uthman and Marwan I, respectively. [4] From the latter's descendants, known as the Marwanids, came the Umayyad caliphs of Damascus who reigned successively between 684 and 750, and then the Cordoba-based emirs and caliphs of al-Andalus (Muslim Spain), who held office until 1031. [4] Other than those who had escaped to al-Andalus, most of the Marwanids were killed in the Abbasid purges of 750. However, a number of them settled in Egypt and Iran, where one of them, Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani, authored the famous source of Arab history, the Kitab al-Aghani . [4] Uthman, the third Rashidun caliph, who ruled between 644 and 656, left several descendants, some of whom served political posts under the Umayyad caliphs. [4] From the Abu al-Is line came the politically important family of Asid ibn Abi al-Is, whose members served military and gubernatorial posts under various Rashidun and Umayyad caliphs. [4] The al-As line, meanwhile, produced Sa'id ibn al-As, who served as one of Uthman's governors in Kufa. [4]

The most well-known family of the Anabisa branch was that of Harb's son Abu Sufyan Sakhr. [28] From his descendants, the Sufyanids, came Mu'awiya I, who founded the Umayyad Caliphate in 661, and Mu'awiya I's son and successor, Yazid I. [29] Sufyanid rule ceased with the death of the latter's son Mu'awiya II in 684, though Yazid's other sons Khalid and Abd Allah continued to play political roles in the caliphate with the former being credited as the founder of Arabic alchemy. [29] Abd Allah's son Abu Muhammad Ziyad al-Sufyani, meanwhile, led a rebellion against the Abbasids in 750, but was ultimately slain. [29] Abu Sufyan's other sons were Yazid, who preceded Mu'awiya I as governor of Syria, Amr, Anbasa, Muhammad and Utba. [29] Only the last two left progeny. [29] Another important family of the Anabisa were the descendants of Abu Amr, known as the Banu Abi Mu'ayt. [29] Abu Amr's grandson Uqba ibn Abu Mu'ayt was captured and executed on Muhammad's orders during the Battle of Badr for his previously harsh incitement against the prophet. [29] Uqba's son, al-Walid, served as Uthman's governor in Kufa for a brief period. [29] The Banu Abi Mu'ayt made Iraq and Upper Mesopotamia their home. [29]

Family tree of Umayyad rulers

   Uthman ibn Affan (Rashidun Caliph, 644–656)
   Umayyad Caliphs of Damascus (661–750)
   Umayyad Emirs of Córdoba (756–929)
   Umayyad Caliphs of Córdoba (929–1031)

See also

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Umayyad dynasty
Cadet branch of the Quraysh
Rashidun Caliphate as elective caliphate Caliphate dynasty
661 – 6 August 750
Succeeded by
Abbasid dynasty
Preceded by
Umayyad dynasty as caliphal dynasty
Ruling house of the Emirate of Córdoba
15 May 756 – 16 January 929
Emirate elevated to Caliphate
New title
Ruling house of the Caliphate of Córdoba
16 January 929 – 1017
Succeeded by
Hammudid dynasty
Preceded by
Hammudid dynasty
Ruling house of the Caliphate of Córdoba
1023 – 1025
Succeeded by
Hammudid dynasty
Preceded by
Hammudid dynasty
Ruling house of the Caliphate of Córdoba
1026 – 1031
Caliphate dissolved
into Taifa kingdoms