Arabs had been changing from a tribal and clan orientation to a more urban or cosmopolitan outlook. What had been Arab military (garrison) centers were becoming cities. Arabs in conquered territories were abandoning their old role as occupation soldiers and working at civilian occupations. Arabs Muslims were mingling with non-Arabs Muslims. Those Having converted to Islam were adopting the Arab language.
Umar II (caliph 717–20) favored integration. He established laws toward equality between Arab and non-Arab Muslims, and he sought reconciliation with the Shi’a – while holding to a policy of discrimination regarding Christians and other non-Muslims.
He also gave up on a twenty-year effort to conquer the city of Constantinople. He had sent nearly a thousand ships to that effort, but the ships had been defeated the Constantinople's weapon: Greek fire." The siege of Constantinople ended in 718. For Islam the war had been a costly effort. Writes Wikipedia:
The financial strain of equipping and maintaining the expedition caused an aggravation of the fiscal and financial oppression which had already aroused such dangerous opposition. The destruction of the fleet and army of Syria at the sea walls of Constantinople deprived the regime of the chief material basis of its power". (Lewis 2002, p 79. Quoted by Wikipedia, "Siege of Constantinople (717–718)")
Umar II tried to address economic grievances. He disbanded his harem and began practicing frugality. He made his wife give her jewelry to the public treasury. He gave up on extending Islam's empire.
The succession to the caliphate of his younger brother Yazid II didn't help. He enjoyed luxury and pursued pleasure. He reversed Umar's reforms and returned to a policy of economic inequality and segregation between Muslim Arabs and non-Arabs Muslims. Mesopotamians, Berbers, Egyptians, and Shia who did not want a return to the old ways were embittered. Under Yazid, anti-Umayyad groups began collecting influence.
In 743 – two caliphs later – imperial expansion was favored again. And the new caliph, Walid II, has been described as a shallow man who neglected rule, who spent much of the state's money and pursued pleasures that included drink and debauchery at his desert retreats. In 744 he assassinated and succeeded by his son, Yazid III, favored by military generals. Later that same year, Yazid died of a brain tumor. The governor of Armenia, a member of the Ummayad clan, arrived in Damascus with an army of his own and assumed power. In December 744 he became Marwan II.
Marwan II tried to enforce his rule across the empire. The frustrations of non-Arab Muslims were made worse by their seeing themselves as belonging to an older and more highly developed cultural tradition than that of the Arabs. Outside of Syria, Arabs and non-Arabs were still attending different mosques. In some towns an Arab might be ostracized by his fellow Arabs if he were seen walking with a non-Arab Muslim.
Some Muslims in the empire believed the Umayyads had strayed too far from Muhammad's teachings. A rebel army of Arab and non-Arab Muslims, benefitting from a strength provided by integration, marched from Khurasan (in eastern Persia) toward Damascus, picking up support along the way. A descendant of the paternal uncle of Muhammad was declared caliph. Abbas promised a new era of concord, happiness and rule that was just and in strict accordance with God's law. Succession was again decided by violence, and the rebel army was victorious. Marwan fled south through Palestine and into Egypt, where he was overtaken and beheaded. Damascus and other Syrian cities and towns fell to the rebel army without much of a struggle. The graves of the Umayyad caliphs were opened and their corpses burned – except for the pious Umar II, still seen by many as a good caliph.
The Abbas family dynasty was to be known as the Abbasids. Their capital was Baghdad. They gave prominence in state affairs to Islamic theologians and to experts in Islamic law. They built a skilled bureaucracy and professional army, manned largely by those who had helped the Abbasids to power. Much of the military was Persian. At the Abbasid court were Persian refinement and urbanity. There were also Persian titles, Persian wives, mistresses, wines and Persian garments – while Arabic remained as the language of Islam. In the holy cities of Medina and Mecca, asceticism remained an ideal, but luxury and the pursuit of pleasure were fact.
Going into the 800s, Islam was having its "golden age." There were caravans overland to India and China. Muslim traders dominated the Mediterranean Sea, and the Indian Ocean was becoming a great trade route. Muslim traders and mariners were spreading their language and religion to Southeast Asia. In the 800s in Guangzhou China were Arab, Persians and Jewish Merchants who had voyaged there on Muslim ships. Muslim merchants made it as far north as Korea. At Baghdad's docks and wharves were hundreds of ships: warships, trading vessels including Chinese junks and pleasure boats. It was the time fictionalized in the adventures of Sinbad the Sailor in A Thousand and One Nights drawn from reports of actual voyages made by Muslim merchants.
But without the radical reform of establishing democracy (bourgeois or otherwise) the problem of succession remained. The Abbasids failed to fundamentally change the course of Islamic civilization. No protection of rights of individuals was written into law. The Abbasids were at least as autocratic as the Umayyads. They suppressed their former allies, the Shi'a and Khorasani. They surrounded themselves with pomp and shielded themselves from the public by a wall of officials and eunuchs. The Abbasids increased the centralization of power. The level of democracy within tribes that had existed under the Umayyads diminished.
And there was the problem of extent of Islam's empire – the same problem faced by Rome's emperors and that inspired their creation of co-emperors. Co-emperors were about to rise within Islam's empire. Islam was about to have three caliphs, but they were hostile to one another. One was in Spain. One was centered in Egypt by the 1200s. The one in Baghdad considered itself as the only legitimate one. In the 900s, the caliphate there has lost influence and royal functions to military leaders. The Buyids, who were Shi'ites, seized power over Baghdad in the 940s, and they ruled central Iraq for more than a century before being overthrown by the Seljuq Turks. Another Shi'ite dynasty came to power in northern Iraq, leading to a tremendous expansion of Shi'a influence. The Abbasid caliphs became mere figureheads and were overrun by the Mongols in 1260.
The Arabs, like the Romans had been swallowed by their empire and their empire had disintegrated.
CONTINUE READING: Authority for the Wealthy, Tribulation for the Peasants
Copyright © 2016 by Frank E. Smitha. All rights reserved.