Who Were The Umayyads?

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Even when the Umayyads came into power, Mecca was still considered to be the holy city for the Islamic faith, although the ruling clan chose to operate in Damascus within the confines of Syria. The Umayyad dynasty was characterized by caliphs whose intent was to create a bureaucracy that would tie all the areas under their rule into one instrument. Their system was not one based on the faith of the Islam or the desire to convert people to that religion, but rather one with an Arab heritage. At this juncture Muslim Arabs, were elite within this society. They filled the ranks of the military and government positions. As such they extracted a portion of the loot acquired through their conquests. They were only taxed for the sake of giving to the poor or needy. The Umayyads instituted a system to retain these Muslims away from the general populace on their own. They did not want them to spread their religious values or marry with other cultures because they did not want Islam to spread. One of their main goals was to keep conversion to an absolute minimum. This was not because they revered their own religion, but because Christians and Arabs where taxed and the Muslims were not. Therefore, the Umayyids, who were definitely a society that appreciated the finer things in life, did not want the numbers of Muslims to increase because their revenue would diminish. Their behavior was based solely on money and their acquisition of it.

Unfortunately for the Umayyads, this philosophy could not be successful forever. Interaction between those people within their empire of differing religious faiths was inevitable, but the number of converts or malawis continued to be quite small (World History Project, nd). The malawis, however, since they still were required to pay taxes and could not obtain powerful positions in the military or the administration of the Umayyad empire would flock to the ranks of movements seeking to remove the Umayyads from power. There were also many social divisions that were quite pronounced during the Umayyad empire. Muhammad had actually expanded and enhanced how women were expected to behave as well as what rights they received. He accomplished this by promoting the sanctity of marriage and treating his wives and daughters exceptionally well. This was not something that transpired before his arrival on the scene as the pre-Islamic era was characterized by random sexual encounters rather than strong marital relations. Muhammad also forbade adultery and truly espoused the concept of husband and wife, although Muslim men were allowed to have more than one wife, while a woman could only have one husband. The woman, however, had a say in who would become her husband and a man could only marry as many women as he could afford to keep. Muhammad also advanced the rights of women to when it came to receiving property after the death of a family member and a bride price was paid directly to the bride rather than her father. These circumstances were a dramatic shift from the era prior to Muhammad when women were often treated as chattel and men felt no need to remain loyal to their wife (Oxford Islamic Studies, 2014).

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Muhammad was quite strident in his belief that women and men were equal. His female family members were prominent members of the community and even rode into war. Women of that era were often not hiding behind a veil and very active politically and socially. In fact, during the Umayyad empire, Muhammad’s teachings about the equality of the sexes continued in much the same vein. Women could not be prayer leaders but they were scholars, involved in the law, were business owners and other kinds of leaders. Therefore, women during this period were very independent and cultured. They did not hide behind the veil (World History Project, nd).

The Umayyads transition from not upholding the tenets of the Muslim faith and pursing a lifestyle that was filled with avarice, luxury and material pleasures ultimately proved to be their undoing. Many Muslims and Malawi felt they were not a legitimate ruling party because they seemed to embrace Arab ideals rather than Muslim ones. For instance, the royal harem became increasingly large, the taxes levied were heavier, many warriors received no monetary compensation for the spoils of the war and the Umayyad rulers lounged around in marble palaces with great feasts and fancy gardens. They dressed expensively and followed the policy of “only the best.” This type of behavior was in stark contrast to the teachings of Muhammad, for Muslims were to life the simple life and abstain from the pursuit of material pleasures for self-endowment. As the Umayyads increasingly behaved in an Arab fashion, unrest amongst their citizens grew and this is what led to their downfall. Actually, the Umayyads were utterly disposed of by the Abbasids because of their sloth, greed and gluttony. They were invited to a reunion feast with the Abbasids and killed while enjoying food and wine. Although they were a Muslim sect, the Umayyads acted, ruled and behaved like Arab rulers. It is ironic because Islam is what brought them power and not adhering to its principles was ultimately their undoing. It is actually pretty fascinating upon some rumination on the topic for the Umayyads behaved in ways they had rejected prior to their conversion to Islam and rather than wanting to spread their religions which has nearly almost always been the case throughout history, they felt a successful empire was only available through suppressing it. They were onto to something as it did work for them awhile, but it appears that Islam has always been interwoven with many issues of the same nature and circumstance.

  • Epic World History (2014) “Umayyad Dynasty” Web. Retrieved on September 22, 2014
  • Jewish Virtual Library. (2014) “Islam: The Umayyad Caliphate” Web Retrieved on September 22, 2014
  • Oxford Islamic Studies Online. (2014) “Umayyad Caliphate” Web. Retrieved on September 22, 2014
  • Portland State University. (2014) “Lesson I: History of the Abbasid and Umayyad Dynasties” Teaching Tools. Web. Retrieved on September 22, 2014
  • World History Report Project. (Nd) “The Arab Empire of the Umayyads.” Web. Retrieved on September 22, 2014

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