Mighty Wind of Islam ~ Book II~ The Caliphate Years~The Blossoming Time of Islam

Charlotte Solarz

Expansion of Islam during the Caliphate Period

Book I ~ Pre-Islam and Birth of Islam — Years of the Prophet’s Presence

Book III ~ The Golden Years of Islam — The Challenges to Islam

Book II ~

The Caliphate Years — The Blossoming Time of Islam

Ch. 1


The Four “Well Guided Caliphs”

. Aftershocks upon the Passing of the Prophet Muhammad

. The Problem of Succession to the Prophet

Caliphs “The Four Rightly Guided”

. Abu Bakr

. Umar (Omar)

. Uthman (Osman)

. Ali

Islam in Shock — The Prophet is Dead!

Year: 632 C.E. Immediately upon the Prophet’s death a great cry from the apartment of the Prophet went out. The crowds gathered nearby the Prophet’s quarters heard the cry, and immediately knew the best-beloved of their hearts, the Messenger of God had ascended. There was hushed shock. Abu Bakr went to the apartment of his daughter and uncovered the shroud over the forehead of the Prophet and kissed His blessed forehead three times. Abu Bakr was soon aroused by an especially mournful wailing. It was Umar. Knowing that the steadfastness of the Muslims was at stake, Abu Bakr wished to quell emotional demonstrations of grief. He admonished Umar, and reminded him of a verse of the Qur’an that forbids crying for the dead.

Then Abu Bakr hurried to the Mosque. He ascended the pulpit of the mosque and spoke before the grief stricken congregation gathered there: “Whoever worshiped the person of Muhammad, let him know that Muhammad hath died; and whoever worshiped God, let him know that God doth not die. Muhammad was the Messenger of God, and other Prophets too, before Him, left this world. Muhammad has gone from our midst; but keep your faith in Him and worship God. Should you rebel and break your faith, the loser will not be God.” The crowd, and although feeling bereft and rudder-less quietly dispersed.

But there was palpable undercurrent of unease over the lack of any apparent inheritor of succession.

The Ansar of Medina met together. The Ansar were agitated for questions of the correct action to take. And this was due to the fact that there was no will or testament left by the Prophet to clarify to whom the Muslims should turn to as their leader. The Ansar of Medina, who having been named “Helpers” by the Prophet justified their right to leadership on the basis of that title. The Muhajarun, of the Meccan Quraysh line, as being the prophet’s clan, acknowledged the Ansar of Medina for their sacrificial support, and with earnestness to stem the crisis, gave praise to their hosts the Ansar. Even so, in a brief span of time the Meccans reconsidered their sublimation to the authority of the Ansar. Soon the Muhajarun noisily and stubbornly held to the psychology of being in a superior position to leadership for being of the clan and tribe of the Prophet.

And though there was no question that Ali, being related to Muhammad, had common claim to leadership: first, because of having those customary rights of lineage to the Prophet, and second, because of having been directly pointed to as favored by the Prophet, on noted occasions — so this is where the expectation for a successor to Ali’s was widely expected.

But, ‘Ali was not popular. Three of the trusted leadership most close to Muhammad: Abu Bakr, Umar, or Abu-Ubaddah, were each more respected and more loved than Ali.

Then there is this adherence to the “Saddle Sermon,” story — to this day the Shi’ah point out several remarkable occasions where Ali had been singled out by Muhammad as his chosen successor. Shi’ah belief has it that the Prophet upon his return from Mecca, on his last hajj (pilgrimage), the Prophet stopped and called his followers to listen to him. He piled up enough saddles to rise higher so as to be heard and gave what is called, “The Saddle Sermon.” The story is that this happened at an oasis where Muhammad, after the sermon, asked His followers to pledge loyalty to Ali. It is said that all gathered there put their hands on the hand of ‘Ali to signify loyalty to ‘Ali, just as Muhammad bade them to. There is, however, apparently, no confirming record of this story of the saddle sermon that has surfaced from Sunni scholars, but is within Shi’ah history to this day.

More perplexed guessing came based on the occasion of the time close to the passing of the Prophet. A short time after the Prophet’s return to Medina, the Prophet had requested some writing materials. Umar cried out that Muhammad was delirious and unable to dictate anything further. So, Muhammad passed on into his heavenly abode without any further guidance from Him. Now questions arose after the Passing of the Prophet, and one was: “Why did He ask for the materials to write?” “Was He meaning to change the succession from Ali?” Furthermore, “Were Ali to succeed the Prophet’s position in familial succession to the Prophet, was this best for the faith of Islam?” And the grief-stricken leadership ventured: “Maybe it was not.”

Abu-Bakr was a man of wisdom who knew the perils three claims for the leadership of Islam could lead to; so with two of the most respected leaders, Umar and Abu-Ubaddah, Abu-Bakr called a meeting. Meanwhile, Ali, as Muhammad’s next of kin, was attending to the funeral arrangements of the Prophet. And so the question of Ali’s stepping up into the void left by the Prophet brought fretful concern. Abu-Bakr was of the opinion that Ali was too young and inexperienced to lead the faithful. There were clans among both Muhajirun and the Ansar who were plainly hostile to Ali. So before a large gathering, Abu Bakr called for a vote, asking the faithful to choose either Umar or Abu-Ubaydah. Umar protested being put in such a position. He said that Abu-Bakr was his choice. He was closest to the Prophet. Then Umar moved to Abu-Bakr and pledged loyalty by placing his hand upon the hand of Abu Bakr, and likewise did Abu-Ubaydah.

And immediately the crowds standing by rushed to Abu-Bakr with overwhelming assent for the leadership of Islam by Abu-Bakr by electing him to the office of Caliph. Medinites (the Ansar) and Meccanites (the Muhajirun) pulled together at this crucial moment of crisis in a show of solidarity. This was most fortunate!

And where did that leave Ali? Along with his compatriots, just as the others pledged to Abu Bakr, so did he. He, too, placed his hand on Abu-Bakr’s, signifying his fealty. As voiced today by sympathetic analysis: “It was the supreme necessity of preventing schism and preserving the unity of Islam.”[4]That is to say, it was in the highest duty-bound ethic of Ali to protect the unity of Islam. Unity took precedence over any claim of rightful authority.[5]Ali, to whom the Prophet Himself asked the Muslim faithful for their loyalty pledge stepped aside for the sake of the unity of Islam. As adopted and only living male heir of the prophet, Muhammad, now deceased, he held the title, “Imam.”

“The Rightly Guided” Caliphate

Abu’ Bakr, the first Caliph

Islam was in raw vulnerability. Abu Bakr had to fulfill his pledged loyalty to hold together the Cause of his beloved companion and his prophet. And, Abu Bakr, as Caliph, was dedicated to follow the lead of his Prophet to guide the widely spread and disparate of background new Muslim faithful. How formidable the task on this first caliph’s shoulders! He consulted with his close advisers as to what they must do.

Abu Bakr, called for resuming the march to Tabuk. This is the prophet’s late aborted attempt upon a city where hostile Arabs, holding to their polytheism, conducted raids into the Muslim Syrian Hejaz.

Back, under the guidance of the Prophet, previously, the problem of Tabuk had been a threat to Medina that was left unsolved by the prophet’s death. Then while Muhammad was still alive, there had been alarms of Arab success against Muslim defenders of the Syrian border. The loss of these skirmishes are what started rumor mongering in Medina. Rumors spoke of a Roman contingent seeking to be allied with Arabs’ for a mutual assault on Islam. And in Medina, there was this element of uncertainty being stirred — moreover, outright ambition to thwart the new Cause from within the gates of Medina. Against such a whirlwind of dissembling and threat to Medina the prophet called for a decisive response. But his call for righteous defense against Tabuk, necessary as it was, came in the hot dry season of September. And the call to arms did not pull the response for numbers needed. With troops that did answer the call the columns proceeded to Tabuk with the baffled prophet . He pushed his troublesome troops onward, and berated them for lagging. Perhaps as they progressed the difficulties of winning Tabuk were clearly formidable. Most interestingly, on his way he stopped for rest at the Monastery of St. Catherine’s where the Prophet issued the famous Achtiname laying out his law for protection of Christians and what belongs to them. [] But for Tabuk, the plan was aborted, and the Prophet turned back to Medina just days prior to His passing. This story is is the back drop of unfinished business of Tabuk after the passing of the Prophet.

So the first of acts as Caliph, Abu Bakr was this muster of new fresh troops, re-formed under Abu Bakr who came together and ventured out of the Hejaz toward Tabuk. (But)…This first foray of proving the continuance of God’s will and favor upon the Muslims — this intended proof to the polytheists and the Byzantines was a disaster. Under Abu-Bakr, the Muslim forces failed to accomplish Tabuk as its own. Nevertheless, the way to unite Muslims in common cause had become clearer with this military start of noble purpose (jihad) by the first Caliph, Abu Bakr.

CAMPAIGNS to EXPAND ISLAM —Jihad, meaning: “Defense” but against what?

The days under Prophet Muhammad brought vast gains of territory for Islam and astounded the powers of the day. The challenge of monotheism and universal brotherhood, with new law for advancement of societies had been brought by Muhammad’s deputized diplomats to all sides who did not “have ears to hear.” Why?

The Sassanid stronghold, with its mild Zoroastrian (religious) aspect was not pursuing military conquest for religious conversion, more rather for gaining territorial expansion, and all the accouterments of wealth offered with gained dependencies; and Byzantine, motivated by that same ambition, with added zealous religious eagerness to “save souls” for the church. Two powerful forces, for each its own motive equally unabashed in hostility to Islam. Similarly so were the polytheistic Arab clans and tribes a canker sore, for wanting to keep to themselves the life that was theirs. So Islam, “by will of God,” must prove its mandated place —by force of defensive strength when deemed necessary, protective in undertakings, in a most challenging environment of aggressive hostility against Islam. These were the forces striving to blot out the upstart Muslims who dared claim a divine mission that was to bring the pagans and rebels, the doubters, deniers and the nay-sayers an expanded submission to one God. The way to achieve this was not going to be easy!

These first days of the first caliphate continue with earliest bursts of defense of Islam directed toward the hostile Sassanian Empire and the Eastern Church (Byzantine). Abu Bakr with stellar loyalty to his prophet proved capable as leader, and through his leadership extended the vision of keeping the ranks united in common purpose. Abu Bakr set up campaigns that were to prove successful though most were seen after his life was spent. His years as caliph were short. He died after just two years of office.

Umar: Succession to Abu-Bakr

Now, we return to the theme of “succession.” Just over two years had passed after Abu Bakr’s election to the office of Caliph when Abu Bakr died. On his death bed, he appointed Umar as his successor. This appointment was accepted by the body politic, but attentive historians note that the method of Umar’s having been selected (so quickly) deviated from the way Abu Bakr had been elected by a body of the select. The way of selection according to many disregarded Muhammad’s sermon where He had pointed toward lineal leadership succession to Ali. So the point of the comparison by scholarly analysis is that Abu-Bakr had disregarded Muhammad’s own call to pledge to Ali. At the passing of Muhammad, Abu Bakr, instead, called for election, and Bakr won; yet subsequently at Abu Bakr’s imminent death, Abu Bakr by-passed elective process and in a totally new manner of succession, appointed his successor.

For unified governance of Islam what crises each new era suffered in the absence of a covenanted process of selection of successors! During the age of the caliphs, successors always had detractors which hinted at the start of future fractures within Islam. But we must observe that similar issues arose during the evolution of Christianity, including sects, apostasies and heresies that took centuries to sort out, still serving to separate Christians into its hundreds of bundled sects. Taking a long view, we can see a reincarnation of human events played out in one identity crises after another, to recall the confusion following the crucifixion of Christ, and a little more than 500 years later a repeated pattern of the chaos with political jockeying in settlement of form for guidance by way of the caliphate after the passing of Muhammad! Yet, thinking: could these shocks represent a slow process toward an inevitable refinement of principles of unity ultimately, in some future, accepted by all religions as the will of God for reconciliation of His diverse world family — with Structure, a House, so to speak, based on justice — and in a state of fearlessness, would this then produce a universal welcome of order to be for the first time well established?


From the Qur’an in translation by J.M. Rodwell — Surah 30

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

ELIF. LAM. MIM.1 THE GREEKS have been defeated2

In a land hard by: But after their defeat they shall defeat their foes,

In a few years.3 First and last is the affair with God. And on that day shall the faithful rejoice

In the aid of their God: He aideth whom He will; and He is the Mighty, the Merciful.

It is the promise of God: To his promise God will not be untrue: but most men know it not.

They know the outward shews of this life present, but of the next life are they careless.

Have they not considered within themselves that God hath not created the Heavens and the Earth and all that is between them but for a serious end, and for a fixed term? But truly most men believe not that they shall meet their Lord.

Have they never journeyed through the land, and seen what hath been the end of those who were before them? Mightier were they than these in strength; and they broke up the land, and dwelt in it in greater numbers than they who dwell there now; and their apostles came to them with proofs of their mission: and it was not God who would wrong them, but they wronged themselves.

Surah 30, called “Surah-i-Rum” here refers literally to the fall of Christian Byzantium head of church in Syria upon conquest by the Muslim forces. Rum meant Rome, but was, in this context, the new Rome set up by Emperor Constantine. The surah (surat) implies also the call to righteous jihad for the protection of Islam, with assurance of victory by the will of God, (one meaning of Islam) to successful ascendance Islam over old order.

Caliph Umar ~

Byzantium in the pocket of Islam’s Cloak

Umar was just and capable as Caliph. He despised the cruelty of one of his generals, General Khalid, in his bloody conquest of war in Syria. So Umar as Caliph replaced this general with Abu-Ubaydah. But Ubaydah, leading his army, was unable to catch up with this General who battle-stormed through Syria, right through the opened gates of Byzantium Damascus! For Christian Byzantium, the defeat and loss of Damascus was humiliating. The emperor Heracleus fled by ship to Constantinople and sadly bid his city farewell for he knew it was lost forever to the Muslim forces.[2]

Under the guidance of Caliph Umar, the few set-backs would turn into recovery. In an example of this following situation: his Muslim General Amr (Amr Ibn al- ‘As) had won Syrian Alexandria, from the Byzantines who had wrested the city from the Sassanians. Alexandria, a highly desirable port city stunningly beautiful for its long classic era, its long prestigious history, now won under General Amr for Islam, without even a battle. But then, four years later the grandson of Heraclius sent General Cyrus to bring Alexandria back into the Byzantine Empire, successfully restoring the city to the Christian fold. And indeed, Alexandria was recaptured by the Christian Cyrus, because General Amr’s and his forces had absented Alexandria to tend to other conquests.[1] But the Muslims soon won back Alexandria when General Amr returned with heavy reinforcements. Amr himself would later bring to Islam a shameful chapter in its history, and it is a story you will find under the section regarding Imam Caliph Ali’s tenure. On the subject of the General Amr, his son Amr II, is blamed by the West in a way that discredits Islam shockingly — but unfairly. He is accused for the sacking and burning to char and rubble the marvelous library at Alexandria. [3]But in fact it was Theodosius the Great who ordered this desecration of this famous library to stamp out what he under misdirected Christian zeal believed to be pagan thought.

Early campaigns under Caliph Umar saw the great cities of Antioch as well as Alexandria, be claimed for Islam. Egypt and Syria heretofore under the Eastern Church, with their Copts and their Jacobites also came under Muslim rule. But the people and their officers were willing and eager to submit; they welcomed the Muslim armies because they hated the Byzantine Governor, General Cyrus. Umar’s mandate to the generals and administrators given seats in the new territories that bore the standard of Islam shows a pious command: Umar’s general instructions to his officers were:

“Remember, I have not appointed you as commanders and tyrants over the people. I have sent you as leaders instead, so that the people may follow your example. Give the Muslims their rights and do not beat them lest they become abused. Do not praise them unduly, lest they fall into the error of conceit. Do not keep your doors shut in their faces, lest the more powerful of them eat up the weaker ones. And do not behave as if you were superior to them, for that is tyranny over them.” [4]

And, for the Persians, the glory days of the Sassanid Empire had but seven years left to remain. Muslim armies, in this time frame gained for Islam the whole of Mesopotamia. By 641, C.E. Yazdigird III fled to the uplands of Persia but was murdered in the highlands of Iraq while frantically trying to regroup his forces.

Within this time frame, the Muslim forces also had closed in upon Jerusalem, the city of the vision-visitation of Muhammad, known as “the Mi'raj, the “Night Journey.

Prior to gaining Antioch and Alexandria Jerusalem came into Muslim control. Jerusalem had been under a weak Christian Syrian administration, and Muslim generals under Umar thought Jerusalem to be incapable of withstanding the onslaught of the Muslim armies. No help of reinforcement was coming to the Patriarch Sophronius there, So Jerusalem was ripe for sacking by the Muslims. The Patriarch Sophronius sent word that he would surrender to no one but Umar; and so the Caliph, precisely for that pledge of surrender rode into Jerusalem and went straight to the patriarch’s palace. Umar expressed to the Patriarch the wish to visit places sacred to the Christians. Upon this request, the surprised Patriarch escorted Umar to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. When it came time for prayer, per Islamic law, the patriarch invited the Caliph Umar to pray inside. But Umar refused. He politely demurred, saying that if he prayed inside, the Muslims would claim the church for their own. So he prayed on the porch, or as some traditions state, he tossed a stone to the ground and prayed there. The Church has remained there, protected now by the Israeli government, and is a place of pilgrimage for the various Christian sects.

At the threshold of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem

Jerusalem was now under Islam by the Caliph Umar; the golden ring of righteous claim is Jerusalem for Islam. Having Jerusalem to govern comes from Muhammad’s revelation as having been there. Muhammad (Qur’an, Surah of the Night Journey Surah 17…”GLORY be to Him who carried his servant by night 2 from the sacred temple of Mecca to the temple 3 that is more remote, whose precinct we have blessed, that we might shew him of our signs! for He is the Hearer, the Seer.) That the Prophet had been in vision (or literally/actually by angels) carried to the remote Temple which was taken to be none other place than Jerusalem. The victory of gaining territory for the glory of Islam goes to the soldiers entering it upon its surrender. And the soldiers, as custom had it for victors to gain booty and bring down to rubble all former glory was to be had by the vanquishers — But, to these “victors” over Jerusalem the caliph Umar set a clear admonition with this covenant of just and equitable occupation:

“This is the protection which this servant of God, Umar the Ruler of the believers, has granted to the people of Jerusalem. The protection is for their lives and properties, their churches and their crosses, their sick and healthy, and for their co-coreligionists, nor shall they be demolished, nor any injury be done to them, nor shall their properties be injured in any way. There shall be no compulsion for these people in the matter of religion, nor shall any suffer any injury on account of religion. Whatever is written here is under the covenant of God, and the responsibility of his Messenger. of the Caliphate. of the believers, and shall be good as long as they pay [tax] for their defense.” (Hadith)

Consistently for all gains Umar was a genius as setting up the administration of the out-posts with real hands-on presence and delegation of management of all affairs, done without self aggrandizement. He dressed, ate, housed himself almost as a pauper, without show. But he was strong as caliph, keeping his governors and officers on their best behavior.

Umar had tried to convince Abu Bakr to compile the Quran into a single book.[49] This was something not done during the time of Muhammad.” And this was the reason Abu Bakr as caliph was reluctant to initiate. But there was a terrible battle when the loss of some of the most respected reciters of the Qur’an perished, and this brought the question of a compilation of the sacred verses of the Qur’an into a text. In those days there were few who could read and write. So the skills that were most highly prized came right out of the long standing Arab tribal tradition of poetry reciting as mentioned earlier. The versions of verse that had been enscribed were scattered and a search for them offically began. The crisis of need would come to a head. There must be a gathering of the Prophet’s Revelation: the Qur’an. It may have been begun through Umar’s foresight, as some say; but the completion of this immense project was unfinished business.

Third Caliph Uthman ~ the Umayyad Caliphate in the Seats of Power ~ The Qur’an is set in form, cover to cover, under the eye of Caliph Uthman

Then, Arabs started quarreling among themselves, jockeying for position. And in this unfortunate environment, Umar was murdered, struck down by a slave who may have been an advocate of the Imam Ali as Imam/Caliph. [4]Before his death, Umar had indicated that his successor should be elected from among six leaders of the Qurayysh tribe from Mecca. This was yet another method of selecting the highest post for a Muslim! The six leaders pre-selected by Umar met and from among them selected the next Caliph of the house of Umayyad. Thus Uthman became the third Caliph, and to quote an eminent Arabic historian, this proved the “ruin of Islam.” Uthman in his office as Caliph was self- serving and awarding positions of leadership according to his favored Umayyad identity. In other words, nepotism prevailed under Uthman. And this is how it began for a long line of Umayyad Caliphs.

Uthman’s Caliphate lasted until 656 C.E. A look at the map displayed show the extent of Islamic gains in territories during his Caliphate, which are indeed impressive. However, the credit for these successful campaigns was due to his generals’ capacities, for the third Caliph’s rule was arbitrary and hesitant.[5]

Since Uthman, in poor judgement, chose his favored to govern, the result was corruption. The list of undoing all that Umar had established just goes on. There soon came a rebellion against him which he unwittingly brought upon himself for a treachery discovered. This treachery came from ‘Uthman’s closely placed advisor, (Marwan) who used the Caliphate’s seal to call for an ambush and beheading of a delegation coming with grievances to Uthman. The plot was discovered. So, after discovering the written order under the seal of Caliph Uthman, this delegation about to approach the Caliph with their petitions was naturally extremely agitated! They appealed to Ali, who upon hearing their complaint went directly to Uthman and spoke:

The Imam Ali’s Words:

“The people who are behind me have made me their envoy and mediator between thee and them. By God I do not know what to tell thee. I know nothing of which thou canst be ignorant. Neither can I guide thee to anything which is not known to thee. …Thou didst keep company with the Messenger of God as we kept company with him, Neither the Son [Umar] of al-Khattab was better placed to act righteously, because thine is a closer kinship to the Messenger of God. To thee was given His daughter to wedlock, whereas theirs was not this bounty. Then, beware, beware of thy station, and take heed thereof. … Then know thou that of God’s servants the best in His sight is a just leader, well guided, who guideth well... Verily traditions and precepts that are right are evident and have signs to indicate them. And innovations are discernible and have signs to indicate them. And the worst of men in the sight of God is that leader who is tyrannical and misguided, by whom people are misguided, he who effaceth the accepted precept and reviveth the discarded innovation. For I did hear the Messenger of God, upon whom and His House be peace, say: ‘On the Day of Resurrection, they shall bring forth the tyrannical ruler, bereft of helper and plea, and him shall they cast into the fire of hell, there to remain wandering as wandereth the millstone, then to be enclosed in its depths.’ I abjure thee by God not to be that leader who needs to be slain amongst this people, by the reason of which the gateway shall be opened upon conflict and contention in their midst, which shall endure until the Day of Resurrection, and that which pertains unto them shall be concealed from the people, and mischief shall persist amongst them; wrong they shall not distinguish from right, and buffeted they shall be by storms. Take care not to be subservient to Marwan, the son of al-Hakam, lest he beguile thee and move thee whichever way he wisheth, thou who art crowned by age and advancing years.”[ ]

Despite Ali’s judicious warning, Marwan’s relentless self-seeking guile succeeded in creating tensions that weakened Uthman’s position further. All this while, Imam Ali’s eldest son Hasan was by Ali’s direction at the side of Uthman acting on behalf of the Imam, counseling Uthman to hold the reins of the Caliphate with firm grip and to stem the “tide of hostility” pitted against Uthman, then 82 years old. But Hasan could not influence the ambitious Marwan. The underhanded opposition fed by Marwan turned into open rebellion with demands made upon Uthman to step down from the Caliphate. But he declined all pressure put upon him to abdicate, whereupon Egyptian forces besieged Uthman’s living quarters. The Egyptians rushed Uthman, daggers in hand, and stabbed him as he read and recited his Qur’an. In such a perfidious manner was Uthman assassinated. Uthman’s wife, a Jacobite Christian convert to Islam, tried to protect him and lost fingers in her attempt. Marwan, though wounded, escaped. []

This event had consequences that reach right to the present day. The pronouncement by a respected Arabic historian that this bloodletting of the Caliph brought to Islam troubles from which it would never recover, is predicated on that very incident. For it “flung the door wide open to dissension”.[6]It was predicted at this time that by Muslim’s own folly Muslim will be leagued against Muslim for bloodletting and terror.

That which is the most magnificent legacy for Caliph Uthman is his collection of the Revelations — in sum total, from the four Qur’ans then extant and having collated its Surahs (Verses) revealed by the Prophet and organized them into the form the Qur’an is yet read right to this day. Most scholars postulate that “Umar’s greatest achievement from a religious perspective was the compilation of the Qur’an. Giving credit to Uthman for this most significant accomplishment is not totally agreed upon today, but generally understood to be his crown. The Qur’an is a holy book in hand, complete for the first time. Today, it is the Qur’an, more than the Prophet who receives status as singularly revered. Muhammad was its voice, a conduit as it were. He was the Apostle of God!

One thing very clear to all succeeding generations is that for the issue of right to lead Islam, there simply is no delineation of successorship in the Qur’an, not by election or appointment or hereditary claim. Of course this “lack” as we might describe must be taken of itself of divine design, in that we know, accept and assert that the Prophet was divinely guided. Being the chosen of God and God’s Apostle, Reciter and Warner, the Prophet made no mistakes. The lack of clarity of leader selection had a foresight that is far and beyond human reckoning.

What happened to Uthman (to return to the topic of Uthman) is as Ali had warned: The Caliph Uthman was deserted by his companions and murdered by the Egyptian rebels under stealth of night. His wife a Christian convert to Islam, (Na’ila) tried to protect him but could not, even losing part of her hand in the process of trying to save the caliph. Uthman was fatally stabbed. He perished and the world under Islam was in turmoil.

4th Caliph — the Imam Ali

Imam Ali was living in Kufa,(Iraq) quietly living apart from the politics of Damascus. The Imam held himself apart from the chaotic deliberations that sorted out the choice of the next successor to the Caliphate. When he was approached for the vacated seat of caliph Ali replied:

“O people! Leave me and choose someone other than me. That which faces me is an undertaking fraught with grave issues: hearts will waver, minds will falter, horizons will be dimmed, the right path will be obscured. And know this that if I respond to your call I shall command you according to my own lights. I shall not give ear to anything which may be said, nor shall I heed any rebuke. If you pass me over and have another man to command you I shall be as one of you, and it might be that I shall listen to him and obey him more readily than you. It is better for you that I be your counselor than your ruler.”

But their pleas finally were successful, and Ali took his place as fourth Caliph. He officially assumed this position in the Mosque of his Muhammad, his father(by adoption) where the congregation heard the new Caliph say:

“When the Messenger of God passed away, people decided that Abu-Bakr should be their caliph, and then Abu-Bakr gave the caliphate to Umar who followed his path, and when his own time came Umar chose six men that they might take counsel. They conferred the caliphate upon “’Uthman, but he acted in a manner that made you repudiate him, and he was besieged and slain. Then you came to me and called me. Indeed I am one of you. What profiteth me profiteth you and what weigheth upon me weigheth upon you. God indeed joined you to righteousness but mischief raised its head like a dark night. None can withstand this ordeal save those who are well-fortuned and who know the truth thereof. Verily I guide you in the way of your Prophet. If you remain firm at my side I will keep you in the ways that He ordained. And God is the best of helpers. My worth in the sight of the Messenger of God, after His passing, is the same as it was in His lifetime. Then, do what you are told to do, and refrain from what you are forbidden to do. Do not be rash, and tarry until I have expounded matters unto you. We have reason to abhor anything which is abhorred. And God above us in His Heaven is the All-Knowing. Verily, I was reluctant to rule over the people of Muhammad until you all agreed upon it, because I heard the Messenger of God say: ‘Whosoever takes hold of the government of this people after Me, I stand at the place of judgment and angels will open the book wherein his deeds are recorded; if found to have been just God will grant him salvation, and if found to have been a tyrant, he will be cast away.”

As brilliant and honest and pure as was Ali in his position as caliph, he was immediately made the target of Damascus. Uthman’s familial appointees to office, that is, the favored hangers-on of the deceased caliph Uthman were quickly discharged of their position by the Imam Ali, newly seated as Caliph. Relieved from office were the politically favored as well as corrupt governors who had been placed in their positions through the nepotism of Uthman.

By this time within Islam a contentious sect (school) rose called “The Reciters” This group lay the base for a fanaticism that would arrive in time as hard shell, namely the “Pietists” that held to memorization of the Qur’an as being salvation. [8] They threw their support for Mu’awiyah as did A’isha!

Most surprisingly, A’isha, Muhammad’s widow, the daughter of Abu Bakr betrothed to Muhammad while still a child, and who cradled the dying Prophet at His death, leagued against Ali! She complained loudly over the murder of Uthman. By capitalizing on feelings of unfinished business over Uthman’s murder, the deposed governors[9]conspired together with other agitated leagues and deepened the rift; and it became Muslim against Muslim — to the point for Call to Battle! Her demand of retribution to the murder of Uthman by the accusation of Ali of being behind the murder of Uthman created the climate for battle. As described previously, the battle was quickly decided in favor of Ali’s forces, and A’isha, present at the battle scene, was escorted back to her apartment in Medina by Ali’s orders, under the care of a trusted confederate and shown every respect.

But rebellion was stoked by those seeking to place themselves above the new caliph Ali, and the rank and file in the realm were dismayed and confused. Still, many were pledged to Ali willing submission to his rank being rightfully his and stayed close to ‘Ali in total support.

The ranks of the rebellious quartered themselves under the leadership of the vainglorious Mu’a’ wiyah whose ambitions and deceits held no restraint. The same General Amr (Ibn al-’As) who had secured the port city of Alexandria in the days of the Caliphate of Umar who since, as his due reward for the victory, had become the governor of Egypt and was behind Mu’a’wiyah, encouraging his ambitions.

Mu’a’wiyah screamed for avenging Uthman’s murder, implicating Ali, even though he had no cause to accuse ‘Ali. Mu’a’wiah made headquarters in Damascus to show his disdain of Ali being caliph, whose base was then in Kufah. Mu’’a’wiyah indicated no intention of submitting to Ali as caliph in Kufah. Faced with this situation, Ali, the Imam Caliph was obliged to try to repair breaches brought by Mu’a’wiyah’s dissembling implications among the ranks of Muslims. To do this Ali’s emissaries were sent to Damascus to Mu’a’wiyah to make bids for Mu’a’wiyah’s acceptance of Ali as caliph. These diplomatic entreaties were refused, Mu’a’wiya wanted to do battle.

To avoid battle, Ali challenged Mu’a’wiyah to meet him alone on a battle field. The victor, be it either Mu’a’wiah or Ali, out of the consequence of their own personal battle would decide the outcome for the caliphate. This was Ali’s attempt to avoid unthinkable bloodshed between fellow Muslims. But, Mu’a’wiyah refused this challenge. And so his army engaged in battle, with the army of Ali.

In battle, Mu’a’wiyah’s forces were scattered, to the point of defeat and they withdrew, as Mu’a’wiyah sent an envoy to Ali to “negotiate. Losses were heavy for both armies. What Mu’a’wiah proposed was a subterfuge sent to Ali, and it came by way of a group called the Pietists who formalized aspects of the prayers Qur’an. The Pietists were led to the Caliph’s camp by Mu’a’wiah’s soldiers who had speared the Qur’an and raising the holy Book aloft, they rode into the Imam’s camp. They sought to set up arbitration set up between Mu’a’wiyah and the Imam.

The Caliph-Imam Ali, sought to reason with the Pietist delegation[10], and spoke to them saying: “I am the living Qur’an amongst you; these men who now come to you with copies of the Holy Book raised on their spears have been sent by conspirators; they have no regard for truth and the command of the Qur’an and their sold objective is to gain time for their nefarious designs. Do not be deceived by them.” They became more adamant in demanding arbitration to settle the question of rightful leadership of the Caliphate.

Then this thunderbolt: his own forces agreed with the Pietists! Many argued with Ali for arbitration.

Of course to accept arbitration would indicate that the position of the Imam Caliph Ali was open for debate. This should have been “unthinkable!” And it must have been crushingly disappointing to Ali that his own loyalists were not mature enough to grasp the pitfalls of bringing into the formalities of hereditary claim such questions of debating successor-ship. The counselors with Ali of that day were not spiritually mature to grasp the inviolability of successor-ship for maintaining unity in Islam. Of course, the Imam knew this to be a deadly, even unlawful precedent. In retrospect, humankind has had to have this lesson of disintegration through its own immaturity in order to evolve to accept on faith its given divinely assigned successor-ship to achieve that pre-destined unity that will fulfill the original Covenant God made with humankind to that era of peace.

So, for the sake of calm, Ali formed a truce with Mu’awiyah to be valid for one year. The year over, Mu’awiyah took his armies into Arabia and sacked both Mecca and Medina and raised terror all the way to Yemen! Ali sought to stop the terror and establish peace. But, the Reciters deemed Ali as infidel, and replied to the caliph Ali’s with a mantra, “The government is God’s, not thine, Ali!” Out of those battles, a number within the forces withdrew and formed their own faction, called “the outsiders” or, “Khajarites.” These Khajarites had their own theology that did not accept either Mu’awiyah or Ali! The outsiders met and planned for the assassination of both Mu’awiyah and the Imam.

The attempt on Mu’awiyah failed. But Ali, “the just, the most compassionate, the most eloquent” fell to the poisoned sword on a winter’s dawn, suffering a fatal wound that was as much a blow to Islam as it was to the Imam.

“Calamity!” Is the Shi’ah view of this history because this is how the House of Umayyad became seated in Damascus. The amalgamation of disparate tribes forged into a brotherhood of faith by willing submission by close adherence to the Prophet’s Teachings, led through the first three “right guided caliphates into the succession of the Imam Ali was dissolved. At that hour of Imam-Caliph Ali’s assassination, the true faith was fractured. And the sacred Law bonding brotherhood between the wild tribes of desert Arabia fell into parts like broken glass. Thence forward Islam ever evolves as kaleidoscopic, not one faith, whole, but a faith of many parts! Not so different from the occurrence of splits for Christianity, but that is a different book. Mu’awiyah from the house of the Umayyah remained in Damascus, Islam’s capital city. Seated now by this coup began the Umayyad Caliphate years — for good or ill.

Moque of Uqba (Tunisia) original built 670 CE present Mosque dates 9th Cent.


Give retrospect a moment now to allow how the Umayyad power based its claims. It was in the time when the Prophet was sending emissaries to the kings that Muhammad took for his wife Umm Halibah. Umm Halibah, was welcomed in this betrothal for her kinship came from the House of Umayyah. Such an arrangement further cemented ties with the Umayyah. Doing this brought the house of the quarrelsome Umayyah branch of the Qurraysh Tribe politically closer — Qurraysh to the Umayyah — with the Umayyah ambitions whetted opportunistically more for power than for spiritual conversion. That would prove to be the outcome, although the purpose of the marriage was evidence of living proof intended as an indication of leaving the tribal identity to gain a wider cohesion of inter-tribal allegiance to one supreme faith.

House of Umayyah

As stated earlier, the 1st Caliph Abu Bakr on his death bed appointed his heir to the Caliphate: Umar. So Islam came under the banner of Umar, as 2nd Caliph. Umar conducted affairs for Islam from the new capital, Damascus. And, for some years until 686 CE, Muslim armies from Damascus, (Syria) descended on the plains of Iraq, and won over those lands. The once mighty armies of the Sassanid Dynasty’s were totally displaced or absorbed into the Muslim armies. And Persia came under Islam in the time of the Caliph Umar, with the capital then in Medina.

So, in this manner Islam became ascendant over the former Sassanian domain and likewise under similar thrusts involving conversions and submission to Islam the standards of a mighty Islam flew over distant, widely spread apart territories. The coming Golden Age of Islam was but a dawning light which for such gains of lands — so distant from the capital Damascus — would call for the caliphate to quickly set up outposts of military might to the outer regions to preserve and strengthen gains.

As Muslim forces absorbed vast and widely distanced lands under caliphates of Umar, then Uthman, and then by the ruthless, but capable Caliph Mu’awiyah, Islam’s Empire building progressed from caliphate to caliphate. With few set-backs, Islam rose ascendant over all territories that lasted until 750 CE when civil war within Islam brought down the caliphate of Damascus. What was to happen is that new leadership will replace the seat of power away from Syria, moving the seat of the Caliphate to to Baghdad, Iraq . How that happened in the process of that change is what is so telling about Islam’s history and its reaches into today’s current crises.

A description of those conquests of the first 90 years of the heroic years of Islam, in summary, included the borders from the Negev desert to Syria to the Iberian Peninsula (Spain). Islam claimed a vast nearly six million square miles of conquered lands. Conversion to Islam strengthened the power of Islam most importantly. But, also the story of Islam for its spirit and divine guidance was in its inner workings of the early Caliphs, hosting Christians, Jews and tribal non-Muslim adherents who were welcomed deep inside the inner circle of the caliphate as advisers, ambassadors, merchants. And all, whether Muslim or non-Muslim all were well treated. just as the Prophet had made clear for their safety of subjects to be within the protection of their Muslim governors, and no forced conversions for any — man or woman, even as a wife of a Muslim.

“No compulsion is there in religion. Rectitude has become clear from error. So whosoever disbelieves in Idols and believes in God has laid hold of the most firm hande, unbreaking; God is All hearing, All-knowing.” Surah ii 257 (A.J.Arberry)

The in-gathering of converts into Islam is described:

During early period, mass conversions brought Persians, Berbers, Copts, and Aramaics to Islam. That these mawalis (clients) were often better educated and more civilized than their Arab masters will prove a test to the Arabs. However, the new converts, brought into Islam on the basis of equality of all Muslims, is to transform the political landscape.

Likewise did the new religion of Islam bring to tribes as well as former empires a radically new Muslim identity even to the distant, proud people of the region of Fars (Persia). As the Qur’an inspired a sincere reflection of faith toward a new embrace of brotherhood, did the Middle-Eastern regions see Zoroastrians, Christian Copts, Tribal Berbers, Semites and Georgians, the outer desert and high plateau pagan nomads — those who historically were untouched by monotheistic faiths — align with a larger concept of unity of Islamic brotherhood that drew multitudes into Islam and out from ties of clan and tribe and polytheism.

The early Caliphs were true to the Prophet Muhammad’s Message of brotherhood and professed allegiance to but one God a weld of solidarity for the Muslims leaving behind whatever formerly were those identities. Muslims welcomed the new clients —or Malawi — and what to today is seen as true inclusiveness was what won the hearts of new converts, and vastly enlarged the ever-widening borderlands of Muslim territories.

The test of submission to the Qur’an’s fundamental inclusiveness, that welding of brotherhood having no overlords belonging to a class falsely made elite was a test to be visited upon the Arab administers of Islam! This is of course a familiar test to Christianity as well.

After the murder of the Imam Ali, a loyal group rallied to Hasan, Ali’s eldest son. But they were a weak and an almost ostracized population, so Hasan formally abdicated to Mu’awiyah, the usurper Caliph. Mu’awiyah moved the capital city to Damascus to Medina, for it had been by his own doings turned into rubble. Hasan then moved to Medina to be near to the tomb of his Grandfather. Mu’awiyah remained Caliph as long as he lived. His tenure was marked by broken promises and vicious and unmerciful forays. His intelligence was keen, and he had great administrative abilities, but his ambitious heart was dark. The Ummayad’s underlying hate for the Imamate was revealed by the Umayyad’s deliberate desecrations made holy to Islam by the Prophet. Mu’ahwiyah brought to the pulpit a daily curse to the name of Ali, and holy sites were despoiled.[1]


A Perfidy that Sets-Up Umayyad Power for 70 years: A Tragic Story that Memory Will Not Let Go!

An event of great importance occurred in this period, (around 680 C.E.) out of which Islam was rocked, shattering the unified structure of Islam right to the present day. Ali, the rightful Caliph and leader of Islam, had been killed by a sword thrust from forces out of General Amr’s Egyptian front. Hasan, the eldest son of Ali, had abdicated by treaty to Mu’awiyah. This left Hasan’s brother, Husayn, as a perceived threat to the powers now in transition of Caliph from Mu’awiyah to his eldest son Yazid. There were enough supporters of the House of Ali in Mecca to worry the Ummayad Caliphate now in power in Damascus.

Though the House of Ali factions in Mecca and its environs clamored for Husayn[2] (or: “Hussein”) to assume his rightful heritage as Caliph, Husayn did not wish to force this issue because of the treaty his brother Hasan had made with Mu’awiyah. But when Mu’awiyah died,[3] the constraint which the treaty had put upon Husayn was nullified. Mu’awiyah’s successor to the Caliphate was Yazid who had been set up to succeed Mu’awiyah in such a way that assured that the future succession to the Caliphate would be of Ummayad an inherited post, just as kings typically pass on their thrones to their eldest sons. And ironically just at the

Muslim communities of the vast plains in the region of Iraq viewed this type of succession as a rejection of the very fundamentals of Islamic laws as put forth by Muhammad. Reaction was virulent! Thousands sent petitions to Husayn to assume his rightful post . Husayn sent a delegation to Kufa (also Kufah) that included his son, Muslim, to ensure their favorable support which seemed favorable. The Umayyad Caliph (Yazid) then ordered a replacement to the governorship of Kufa — a man who acted quickly by ruthlessly decapitating both Muslim and his companion delegate. After that, in Kufa, the support of Husayn evaporated. Kufa’s loyalists to the House of Ali were stunned into a fearful silence.

The Umayyad leadership consulting in Kufa set demands that Husayn either publicly submit to the Caliph Yazid or be taken prisoner. Husayn would not accept either choice. Husayn chose to leave Mecca to avoid desecration of the Ka’bah and to be among his loyalist supporters. Husayn expected that he would be murdered, and was certain that vengeful acts of wreckage of the holy site would be carried out. So Husayn left Mecca, and headed toward Kufa. When Husayn was on the plains with some lightly armed supporters traveling along with family and children, Husayn learned that his son Muslim and a cousin, who had been sent to in Kufa, as deputies of Husayn were decapitated![4] With sheer determination born of essential dignity he continued on toward toward Kufa. The Ummayad Caliphate armies marched after Husayn with the intention to cut him off before he and his followers gained access to the city gates.

Yazid’s Ummayad Caliphate forces leagued against Imam Husayn asddressing them on the plains of Karbila, 680 C.E

Husayn hoped in vain for reinforcements from Kufa, but his former supporters, terrorized by the replaced governor, barely whispered their support. At this point, the general from Mecca reached Husayn and stopped him from getting closer to Kufa. This army then cut off Husayn’s access to the Euphrates River, and the precious water source. Famously, the Imam ventured out in appeal to the forces to permit the women and children to move away from the battle field. That failed. Then the Imam vowed that any who wished escape while there was yet any chance to survive would not be considered as unfaithful should they desire to return to their homes. All those urged by the Imam for the safety of leave-taking chose to stay.

It even came to pass that a band of soldiers aligned against the Imam had a change of heart to be engaged in warfare against the Prophet’s grandson, and these soldiers turned their horses and joined the camp of the Imam and stayed to protect him.

When Husayn could see the armies coming, he knew his death was imminent. Gathering his supporters about him, Husayn offered them their release from duty. “ Our Shi’ah [of Kufa] have deserted us,” he told them. “Those of you who prefer to leave us may do so freely and without guilt.”[5] No one turned away. To try to protect the women and children who [6]had accompanied Husayn, Husayn appealed to the huge Ummayad army to spare them and to deal with him alone. His plea was rejected. When it came time for prayer, He spoke to both sides as their rightful leader, but to no avail. So there, in the plains of Karbila, in the year 680 C.E. (year 61 A.H.) month of October, (Muharram) came the time of reckoning, and loss, the horror of which is mourned every year since by the Shi’ah populations.

Battlefield at Karbila — The Defeat of the Imam Hysayn

As the day of fighting progressed, many members of the cherished House of The Prophet perished, almost to the last one of Husayn’s own family. Ali II, Husayn’s son was not killed, for he was ill and out of harms’ way. At sunset Husayn was in his tent with a spear point in his jaw and his infant child, also spear-wounded, in his arms. Shamr, the chief of the Ummayad warriors, screamed at his hesitant warriors who showed reluctance to shed the blood of the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. Shamr ordered them to complete their mission. So, thirty warrior’s swords rained down upon Husayn and all members who were with him. The cavalry horses trampled the remains to such a point of being unrecognizable. Only his severed head was preserved as a souvenir boast of this most bloodthirsty, perfidious act done for a vain show of power and vengeance.[7]Likewise in this manner were the followers of the Imam decapitated to parade the gruesome prizes to the populace back in Damascus.

Meanwhile the soldiers were all over the fields, mutilating the dead, picking up booty and rounding up the children and women and others left alive to drive them as captives into their capital city of Damascus, which was a long desert trek of great hardship. These acts depict universal baseness and utter depravity that passions stir up in the roar of war.

“In a distant age and climate,” says renowned historian Edward Gibbon, “the tragic scene of the death of Hosein [sic] will awaken the sympathy of the coldest reader.” [8] Different accounts of this horrific event represent points of view that are sympathetic with either side. Yet each accounting brings a same sense of tragedy, a tragedy that is yet to heal.

The severed heads were displayed in Damascus, the capital city of the Umayyads. The children, women, and those who had somehow escaped the sword were pushed about on that city’s streets. And the crowds gathered to cheer the gruesome scene. Husayn’s son Ali, had survived, and with dignity managed the give and take between him and the Ummayads headed by Caliph Yazid. further exacerbated the rift between the Caliphate apologists and the Imam’s devotees.[9] H.M. Balyuzi’s Muhammad and the Course of Islam quotes the words that took place when this display of his father’s head was paraded in Damascus: Damascene crowds shouted at the young Ali: “You are seceders. You have put yourselves outside the pale!” To their accusations Ali replied:

Nay, by God, we are His servants who believed in Him and His proofs. Through us the gladsome visage of Faith was revealed and the signs of the merciful God shone forth.The people sneered: “Did you not forbid what God made lawful’ did you not make lawful what God forbade? “ Ali Answered: “ Nay, we were the first to follow the commandments of God. We are the root of this Cause and its origin. We are the sign of God, His word amidst mankind.”[10]

Yazid received the delegation that had held the head of Husayn. To his credit, Yazid wept. But to maintain the security of the region he kept his strong-armed Governor-General in Kufa, (that same General who ordered Muslim, Husayn’s son to be beheaded). Yazid exiled the heir-son Ali to Medina. Once Ali came to Medina the Muslims learned of the events that had taken place on the plains of Karbila, and arose in an absolute uproar of fury against Yazid as Caliph. Yazid’s delegation sent to arbitrate could not quiet the fury of the Medinites. Up-rise would certainly not be tolerated by the Umayyad Caliph and Yazid swiftly dispatched an army of immense strength to Medina. The rebels of Medina went out to meet the Syrians but were routed. Indeed, sheer desecration of the city of the Prophet took place. Even the Mosque of the Prophet was leveled and became a stable yard. The horrors of raping and pillaging in this holy city were so complete as to bring the Caliph Yazid, and his general the epithets of “butcher.”[11]

The Umayyad armies did go on to Mecca, and pursued total destruction of the Ka’bah. This perfidy was to express the overriding power of the caliphate even over House of the Prophet as brought to its summit through the Qurayysh Tribal lineage. The Syrian forces hurled stones so heavy that the Ka’bah collapsed, and then the roof caught fire. “Nothing remained undefiled.”[12]

Yazid was dead by age thirty eight having ruled as Caliph for just forty-four months. The next years brought shifting allegiances and changes of Caliphs within Umayyad claims. These allegiances were accompanied by fratricidal wars: armies raised by one faction against armies raised by the powers threatened. Nonetheless, in counter-point, the Umayyad Caliphate continued to extend the Islamic empire to a size larger than ever before in history.



[1] Balyuzi MCI 172

[2] Ibid 170

[3] Ibid 172. 173

[4] Umar Wikipedia

[5] Ibid 173

[6] Ibid 177

[8] Ibid 185

[9] Ibid 177

[10] MCI Reference: Balyuzi MCI 186) (Note: The Pietist, or Reciter Faction” is interesting to think about within a contemporary context. This theology of reciting the Qur’an — cover to cover to prove sanctity is yet to this day a faction within Islam! But we Westerners should consider also that Christendom likewise has its own pietists, the Monatists and the Donatists.)

At this point, to ferret a little more context behind the time where this narrative had progressed to the then future Umayyad period in Islam, is to pull back in to this narrative the thread of Chroses II the Sassanian king who was murdered by his son at the time of the civil war around Ctesiphon, the capital of Sassanian Empire. This news of Chroses’ murder reached back to Medina and the Prophet.

[1] Balyuzi, Muhammad and the Course of Islam, pp 186–197

[2] The Shi’ah Muslims in Kufa called upon Imam Husayn to assume leadership

[3] Balyuzi, MCI, p. 193

[4] Balyuzi, MCI p. 194

[5] Balyuzi, Muhammad and the Course of Islam, p 195

[6] Images from Google Imam image search

[7] The severed head of the wronged Imam was eventually returned to be placed with the body in a grave in Karbala. Karbala has been for centuries one of the three holiest places for Shi’ah Muslims, and a place for annual pilgrimage. The annual rite of flagellation is to keep in mind the betrayal, martyrdom and dishonorable desecration of the body of Imam Husayn.

[8] Gibbon: The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, vol v pp. 462–3.” (ref. pp 194–96 Balyuzi — Muhammad and the Course of Islam)

[9] Annual 10th day of Muharram Shi’ah observance of the shame of Karbila by the Ummayad (Shi’ah)

[10] Balyuzi, MCI, p 196

[11] Balyuzi, MCI p. 197

[12] Ibid, p. 198


Caliphs of Umayyad Period

Leaving the four “Rightly Guided Caliphs’ to their glorious history, the mighty wind forges ahead. By 680 C.E. the Umayyads were well consolidated. But the Umayyads had — in the matter of practice — control of Islam as a Faith for Arabs, consigning non-Arab Muslims to lesser status, just the opposite of the charter of faith the Muhammad had brought. Through His station as the Apostle of God, Muhammad had taught and welded together all tribes under the single banner of Islam allowing no superiority of class or status to lord over any of its membership. So outsiders (non-Arabs) suffered under the yoke of the Umayyad dynasty, and they fomented in their frustrations and waited and built their numbers in the more remote areas distant from Damascus.

Supporters of the House of Ali mostly lived in and around Kufa, keeping themselves aloof from the power of the Umayyad Caliphate. Those loyalist Kufites, remember, are the ones who had been in support of Husayn before the battle at Karbila and then who wavered after the horror of the Imam’s son, Muslim was decapitated. But, since the time of the death of Yazid, the Shi’ah loyalists of Kufa would meet secretly, waiting for the opportunity to assert themselves in behalf of the House of Ali, for they were ashamed of having deserted Husayn before the battle at Karbala, and recommitted themselves to the task of the restoration of succession of Caliph to the Imamate.

For the sake of brevity but feeling a need to be inclusive to all the caliphates under the Umayyad loyalites here is a very brief summary.

Summation: The Umayyad Caliphs — from 661 to 750 C.E. [image: map with advancement of empire under different caliphates]

1. Mu’awiyah (661–80)

2. Yazid I (680–663)

3. Mu’awiyah II (683 -84)

4. Marwan I (684–85)

5. ‘Abdu’l-Malik (685–705)

6. Al-Walid I (705 -15)

7. Sulayman (715–17)

8. Umar (717–20)

9. Yazid II (720–24

10. Hisham (724–43)

11. Al-Walid II (743_44)

12. Yazid III (744)

13. Ibraham (744)

·14. Marwan II al-Himar (744–50)

Prior to the Umayyad caliphs, attention was given to the first four caliphs, termed, as noted,“the Rightly Guided Caliphs,” though the Imam Ali is not consistently given the designation of Caliph by the Sunni, the Imam Ali is counted as being the 4th Rightly Guided Caliph in other histories. What follows below is a capsule summary of events given over to each of the Caliphs after the 4th Umayyad Caliph, Marwan I:

5. Abdu’l-Malik (685–705): This was the Time of Terror for non-Arabs. Under the tyranny and swords of Caliph Abdul-Malik, over 120,000 deaths occurred in Iraq, Arabia and Persia. A rebel faction arose from Persia (Kabul) and sought to overthrow the 5th Caliph. Although this attempt failed, it was the first threat that the Caliphate was seriously threatened by. The expansion continued, however for meanwhile North Africa was brought under the Islamic standard. Morocco, was brought under the Islamic banner and became a base for the armies looking across the Atlantic toward the European continent. Byzantine Christendom was “swept” out of Africa. Abdu’l-Malik was to date the most capable administrator and he consolidated Islam. “He created departments of state, appointed officials to conduct them and introduced a system of accounting in Arabic for the exchequer and other governmental records”[1]. Under Abdu’l-Malik the nationhood of Islam became an identity. The state had become independent of any part of the non-Islamic world, even the non-Arabic world. But Abdu’l-Malik’s unrelenting focus was “Arabism”, and this aroused the animosity of the Persians as well as other malawi of client states.

6 . Al-Walid (705 -15): Under Caliph Al-Walid. was the high-point of the Umayyad Caliphate. Colonial borders extended from Northern Africa to Egypt to the Rock of Gibaltar, where Jabal Tariq, the Berber, former slave, was expedition commander. Tariq became very well known for military success, where he became master of the entire peninsula’s kingdom of the Goths. Spain was under the hated monarch Roderick and did not put up heavy resistance to the forces led by the Berber warrior-general Tariq. Tariq’s Berber bearings did him no upgrading in status however among the Arabists in Damascus. He was sent off after winning the strait for Islam to a remote part of the empire. The story about why the arrival of the Muslim armies was so successful in the Iberian (Spanish) peninsula is waiting to be told, and it is just ahead a bit.

7. Sulayman, (715–17): No major changes.

8. Umar (717–20): Known as “Umar the Just,” the Caliph Umar brought to Islam a reinvigorating righteousness. He ended the taxes posed upon the Muslims who were not Arabic. He put an end to the ritual of cursing ‘Ali, the first Imam and the fourth Caliph. Umar’s military ventures brought into the Islamic fold Narbonne in France. Due to the loss of taxes, however, the Arabs reacted bitterly to their loss of cash flow and the taxes were reimposed under the next Caliphs to follow.

9. Yazid II (720–24) No major changes.

10. Hisham (724–43) Both Yazid II and Hisham were sons of Abdu’l-Malik. The Caliph Hisham brought stability, partly by watching the income ledgers very closely! During his reign, the incursion of Islamic forces into Europe was stopped by the Franks, and the shrinking of the Islam nationhood began. The Muslim armies, made up of Berbers and other increasingly disenfranchised Muslims, were less inclined to serve their master Arabs. In Damascus, however, Hisham was actually crowned King. He built beautiful palaces so he could visit the widely spread empire in a manner befitting princes and nobility of Europe.

11. Al-Walid II (743–44) was a drunk. His own father shuddered at the prospect of Al-Walid’s becoming Caliph, but all pledges of support had been given prior to the Caliph Hirsham’s death to Yazid II, and so it was that Al-Walid II became Caliph. An uprising led by Yazid III the son of Walid I soon ended Al-Walid’s Caliphate.

12. Yazid III (744) was a far better ruler but there was a division between the Umayyads as to who should rule, and his life was over, murdered, after just six months of rule.

13. Ibrahim, (744) was the brother of Yazid III. Marwan II was eager for the rulership, however, and mustered enough troops from Damascus that Ibrahim had to flee for his life. After some time in exile, Ibraham returned to Damascus and pledged his support to Marwan II.

14. Marwan II al-Himar (744–50) Marwan, “The Ass”, the name “ass” signifies that he was stubborn, and renowned for his commitment to a campaign. His ascension to the center of power was a cause for rebellion in Persia, to which the Khajarites (“seceders”)[2] joined. Hatred of the Ummayads was so great that the Khajarites overcame their disgust with other factions of Muslims in Persia who had been waiting for the Ummayad Caliphate to show weakness. The unlikely allies met Marwan’s armies head on Marwan’s armies were victorious in battle, but the elderly Marwan II let his advantage go, by returning to Damascus and failing to press the battle to a more decisive victory.

Campaigns of the Umayyads The territories gained by Muslim conquests during the years of Umayyad rule included chunks of Asia, Hirat, Kabul and Bukhara. In North Africa, Muslim armies extended their domain to the Atlantic. A look at the map shows the extent of territories gained from the Caliphate of Mu’awiyah, (661–80) through fourteen Umayyads, the last being Marwan II al Himar, (744–50).

(See H.M. Balyuzi — Muhammad and the Course of Islam


Expansion of Islam Under Umayyad Caliphate Era

3. Imams

At the same time of the Ummayad Caliphate successions are the parallel successions of the Imamate. Here, noted briefly, are the successions and events associated with six of the 12 Imams who were the legitimate heirs as descendents to the Prophet:

The Imams: Summary of the Imam lineal descendants of Muhammad from 4th up to the 6th Imam

4th Imam: Ali II (712) son of the martyred Imam Husayn, removed his relationship with the running of Islamic affairs, was termed “ the Immaculate Leader,” (Imam by definition is one who leads the congregation in prayer) and at his death bequeathed the Imamate to

5th Imam, Muhammad, (known as al-Baqir) ~ 734 C.E. Lived his life in seclusion in Medina, and at his death passed the mantle of Imam to

6th Imam: Jafar as Sadiq (734). Imam Jafar known as “Jafar the Truthful” Jafar was highly esteemed and won the hearts of a great many Muslims. Highly respected for his scholarly capabilities; Imam Jafar did not encourage Zayd, the son of the fourth Imam, to rebel after he sought redress from the Caliph Hisham. Zayd’s allies comprised of the “notoriously fickle malcontents of Kufah”, (Kufa), were thus aroused to fight against the forces in Damascus. But it ended with the slaying of Zayd and the pursuing and beheading of his young son. A sect rose up after the Umayyads’ ill- treatment of Zayd the members of this sect are called Zaydis, and they reside to this day in Yemen. The fourth fifth and sixth Imams lived their lived in the environs of Medina and took no part in the affairs of state issuing from Damascus and the Umayyad Caliphate, so as not to stir rebellion. They served purely as spiritual guides. There will be five more Imams before the eleventh disappears into the famous occultation. Later this will be explained.

Then, Upon Caliph Hisham’s death-bed,(it was rumored that he was poisoned), Hisham designated successor to the Caliphate the great- grandson of Abbas who as the Prophet’s uncle seemed to reverse the Umayyad’s exclusive domination of leadership and a declaration of sympathy to the idea of succession being from direct lineage with the Prophet.

But it could not happen. The Umayyads did not recognize this non-Umayyad. So built the ultimate challenge to the Umayyad power become more than ever the storm cloud looming on the horizon. Forces of revolt were steadily being built upon the strengthening of numbers and rising passions of non-Arab Muslims.

These forces are going to join up with other factions who by the thousands would come to finish off this first century of domination by the Umayyad house.



[1] Ref.Balyuzi, Muhammad and the Course of Islam, 205

[2] Khajarites were zealots revering Abu Bakr and Umar as rightful caliphs and seeking to assassinate all others. In the course of time, the Khajarites became divided and ventured from “atrocity to atrocity” …”Remnants of their fanatic methods exist today with the Ibadi sect of Uman. (Oman). see p. 186 MCI

[3] Ibid, p. 211

[4] Note: Of course, time tests every strength gained! With these territorial conversions came increasingly difficult relationships with a distant capital power base in Damascus. The Arabs held the power base of administration tight to their fists which brought discontent and a severe test of the fundamental Islamic tenet of brotherhood. There was wonderment of the value of loyalty. And back into Persia (Fars) where the proud Persians increasingly chaffed at the increasing political control the Umayyad power in Damascus had over their lives for a creeping watchfulness by the Umayyad territorial governors who officiously were looking for any apparent sliding back into “heathen” ways of old. The Zoroastrian heritage was under heavy handed obliteration by the Umayyad over-seers as “pagan- heretic.” Familiar? Rome was doing the same thing at the same time among the Christians.


Chapter 4.

Forces of Fury come to Damascus — The Abbasid Challenge and a New Caliphate forms that will seat itself in Baghdad.

Abbas — House of Hashim — by lineage, an Ambitious Uncle

The ferment rising out of foreign domination of the faithful that would build into rebellion should be predictable. And yes, it did happen with a bloody transition to the Abbasid Era that paradoxically brings on the subsequent emergence of the Golden Age, and this is a fascinating tale to tell. The Umayyad led purges (of infidels) similar to the old ways of the Christian Church with beheadings and burnings at the stake putting to death even the families of the condemned were out of hand give to demonstrate the slide from the divine commands of forbearance. The Persians in the lands where the Sassanid Empire had once flourished and their allies were meeting and grumbling under the yoke of the Arab colonizers. Likewise Khurasan, and Arabs even, and the Malawi or non-Arabs leagued and finally, under the flags of the black standard in a force well over 10,000 were able to defeat the Umayyad forces and force the Umayyads to surrender and deposed Caliph Marwan to wander the rest of his days.

So the horror of that perfidy by the Umayyad Caliph calling for the Imam’s head in Damascus brought against the Damascus leadership a long memory that played into discontent and rising up of non-Arabs, that is, the Clients (Malawi) separated by label as being lesser, second class to Arabs. The factions joined tounite in rebellion against the Umayyad Caliphate. Of course there were other complaints that built up and amassed the malcontents, and at the right time for action the Abbasids brought together these factions into such an army that the coup, though bloody, was accomplished with relative ease. There was a genius leader amidst these forces; he was Abu Muslim and worthy of mention for his part played to unite a vast,wide extreme of passions, both theologically and geographically into one onslaught against the perceived tyranny of the Umayyad Caliphate carries awe that is not forgotten to this day. He is to have an unfortunate ending, however.

The Shi’ah faction’s dream was to see the return of the House of Ali to its rightful claim to Caliphate/Imamate leadership of Islam. And the lineage of the uncle Abbas — House of Abbas, to Muhammad the Prophet, girded up hope for a descendant to be Caliph, and the Shi’ah loyalist cause vindicated. However, the Abbas’ call to arms against the Umayyads was a hypocritical ruse that, while Abbas to his own ambition allowed that ferment against the Umayyad to use it for all it was worth was only a vaporous dream soon cut asunder. When the Umayyads in Damascus surrendered, becoming past history, (for a hundred years) the victorious Abbas, referred commonly as Abu al-Abbas, called the Shi’ah Loyalists to the Mosque of the Prophet and stunningly called for a swearing of allegiance to the House of Abbas! Thus were the hopeful Shi’ah betrayed again. The House of Abbas’ spoilers of House of Ali brazenly revealed their ambitious intent to gain for the the House of Abbas control of all the domains of Islam by assuring the Umayyads the diplomatic intent to share the responsibilities of total Islamic domains. So what that means is that Abbas’ alignment with Sunni over the Shi’ah faction was to secure position to be seen clearly the victor.

Next, Abu al Abbas (known also as “Saffa” The Shedder of Blood) swiftly engaged in exterminating potential rivals, mainly pursued out from the ranks and leaders of the Abbasid onslaught in Damascus! . So much blood was let that the gentle poet Attar expressed longing for the Umayyads to return to power for the more disciplined way of the Umayyads! The great consolation for the battle-worn was that they were free of Arab domination, and their new Caliph was, all said and done, and balanced, was for his ruthlessness a brilliant consolidator of power.

Baghdad on the Banks of the Tigris

4. al-Manṣūr — Islam in Bloom

After Abbas, the seat of the Abbasid Caliphate came to Abbas’ brother, al-Manṣūr. Likewise, did Abbas’ brother, al-Manṣūr, take a hard glance at the remaining leadership in the battles against the Umayyad, especially the charismatic hero figure, Abu Muslim.

It was Abu Muslim who, as pointed to earlier, with power of persuasion had called the many factions –the loose outlying factions of Islam — those leagues of the dissatisfied within the wide ranged empire. Abu Muslim called them to come to the aid of the wrongfully insulted and to regain what had been so wrongfully usurped. He was as popular and beloved as he was capable in leadership.

But Abu Muslim was too highly visible. His popularity was magnified by his success with the over-throw of the Umayyad Caliphate… and this would be seen as a threat to the setting up of the new Abbasid order. So when Abu Muslim was murdered it was and still is presumed that al-Manṣūr directed his murder.

Likewise, horrifyingly, did Al-Manṣūr move against innocent Imam descendants of the House of the Prophet. History has records of al-Manṣūr’s blatant acts of disrespect to the House of Ali, and how these acts marked the darkest deed that ironically inaugurated the greatest period of Islam’s power!

This most perfidious deed of Al-Manṣūr’s was his “dogged pursuit” to the death (as they sought refuge from allies) of brother descendants of Imam Hasan, the 2nd Imam after Ali. The respected and well- beloved descendants of 2nd Imam Hasan, , that is, Zakiyyih (The Pure Soul) and Ibrahim were innocents, having kept aloof of the politics between Umayyad and Abbasid contentions. Yet, nevertheless the brothers of the House, were cut down and thus, eliminated from any potential popular uprising to restore the House of Ali at the expense of the House of Abbas.

Al-Manṣūr further rocked the Shi’ah faction when he acted in his position as new Caliph to make new alliances with Sunni generals and governors. Sunnah (Sunni) “The People of Tradition” were what remained in Damascus after the Umayyad demise. Of course Al-Manṣūr was looking to absorb the armies and to assume domain over the vast territories of the Umayyad Empire. So, politically, it was sheer canniness by the Abbasid Caliph Al-Manṣūr to broadcast his preference for the Sunni way of managing the political affairs of Islam. The Umayyad Sunni factions had fallen in battle to the Abbasids, and now needed assurances of no drastic change in form. Everything Al-Manṣūr did politically self-served Al-Manṣūr in behalf of Abbasid Dynastic ambitions.

Al-Manṣūr brought the world of Islam to new kind of greatness, but to him also goes the blame for the deepening the cleavage between the “legitimist” Shi’ah and the Sunni “defenders of the consensus”

Al-Manṣūr was undaunted by criticism. He moved forward swiftly.

And, despite these bloody beginnings, Manṣūr is credited with the genesis, the birth of the great Abbasid Golden Age period.

Upon the Abbasid ascendancy to power, the Abbasid Caliph’s first priority was to identify its power base as Sunni. With the Sunni majority the empire expanded mightily through conquest. Armies were pulled out of the Berber tribes, likewise fighters like the Kurdish Turks. The Turks were “wild” and ruthless. But Caliph Al-Al-Manṣūr’s achievements were not based simply upon military power.

As Manṣūr became Caliph, he immediately searched for a new seat for the Caliphate. He wanted to make a new Capitol for a new Caliphate — to have the old vestiges of former powers, especially the Umayyad, swept away and made fresh, and al-Mansūr found what he was looking for in Baghdad, “the City of Peace.”His most lasting monument is the great city of Baghdad.

So, in 762 C.E., al-Manṣūr deliberately set out to create a beautiful city and called in city planners, engineers, and the finest artisans. The decision to build Baghdad was a statement by al-Manṣūr that “the Abbasids had come to stay.”

It was significant that he considered taking some material for the construction of Baghdad from the ruins of Ctesiphon, the capital of the last native Iranian dynasty. …, [Baghdad was] developed by al-Manṣūr under the influence of Iranian ideas in an attempt to provide a more stable basis for ʿAbbāsid rule.


C. The Flowering of Islam — Abbasid Period

The Great Abbasid Empire Baghdad, “The City of Peace” Listing of Outstanding Achievements of this Period of Islamic Civilization


Life in the new capitol was vibrant in all its aspects: culture thrived; intellectual life was stimulated. More than 500,000 inhabitants came to live within and around Baghdad with improved advantages of a grandeur lifestyle than ever known before.

It was the rich Persian culture that softened with an elegant touch the Islamic culture of the Abbasid Period. The Abbasid Period established fundamental patterns of philosophical approaches of Islamic worship, intellectual achievements, and architecture of what we think of as identifiable Islam today. The arched dome for halls enabling large audience gatherings within structures was unheard of abroad. The engineering of such structures was mastered upon the arrival of Arabs and their employment of the skilled Persian builders and it soon became typical form for Mosques.

Sasanian Arch (dome) ruins

And what was distinctly Persian as compared to Umayyad eclectic classlessness about this period was the hierarchical developments of Islam, the collusion between state (Shah/Court life) and religion (Caliph/mulla-scholar life) that came to represent grandness and opulence coming into the Abbasid Era. The fretting in behalf of the House of the Prophet and the validity of Imamate as successor to rule Islam was replaced with the sense pf participating, especially for adding a courtly and intelligent presence, that resembled a more comfortable Islam with a caliphate “in the neighborhood” so to speak.

Appreciate that decades earlier, Islam had made its way into the Fars region under the Arabic military power of the Umayyads. But the foreignness of Arabic domination had eventually alienated the Farsi Muslim faithful. The wisdom of al Mansur was to use familiar social and religious structures to be integrated, to be Mosques for worship of God by the faithful Muslims. Thus Zoroastrian fire temples turned into Mosques. And Mosques took on a new look that showed the influence of the Persians.

Fire Temple of the Zoroastrians and Tower of the Dead incorporated into Mosque - Abbasid Period

The Abbasid utilized their classical Persian glory time with a welcome spirit. The pure Islamic core was of openness and acceptance of former identities, weaning them into the fold — or accepting as taxed citizens the unconverted and their traditional way of worship, as Jews, Christians or Zoroastrians. Muslims lived alongside other sects or off-shoots of pagan cults as were known then. The Persians from the link of the Sassanid Era were proud of a hierarchy that held their culture together. The people were less easy with a concept of inter-linkage with the clans and tribes of distant places. Persian niceties were integrated that brought more comfort of acknowledgement and place within the new faith.

Characteristically for the Persian pride , the Persians kept their cultural icons, and as the elite and citizenry of the region accepted Islam, Islam became integrated with Persian identity, even though the theological Shi’ah- Sunni heaven was cleft asunder. . Al Mansur was intent upon making all things new. How else could the period being now ushered be truly justified?

A new glory day was within the reach of a new Abbasid dynasty!

Dar es Salam (the Abode of Peace) is Baghdad (in Persian)

Al Mansur, wanting a capital city, looked favorably upon a small village close to the old capital city and the Tigris River, the still beautiful city of Ctesiphon. He called this site, Dar es Salam, but what held for name was its name Baghdad. And so it was to be Baghdad. New construction of mosques and palaces and structures were needed to serve the growing populace was turning the former quiet village into the bustling new capital city of Baghdad. And needs of growth gave rise to a class of city planners and developers who in turn eagerly sought out the most capable engineers and craftspeople. The search for artisans from every quarter of Islam’s domains — Muslim or non-Muslim — was not new. Its practice actually dated back to the Umayyad Dynasty in concerted draw of outsiders to bring knowledge of the ages to Damascus. They received more laudatory inclusion than the Muslims of the outer territories however, and the vitality of this concept under the Umayyads had been less inclusive for its less favored Malawi. As with a great shaft of light beaming to earth, the Abbasid era was fresh, inclusive. Indeed, the most marvelous aspect of the second century of Islam forward for seven centuries ahead was how the Caliphs initially brought into the world of Islam cultural wellsprings from Jewish, Classic Greek, Byzantine, Egyptian, Persian, and Indian endeavors.

One example of this transition time was how cleverly the Abbasids made use of former structures. Upon the overthrow of the Umayyads, the Abbasids, once having secured their position within Mesopotamia (present day Iraq) could make use of Farsi-built fire temples. These Zoroastrian temples were familiar and to their liking, with round domes that expanded the interior space into Abbasid mosques serving the needs of community worship very well. This is but one example of the flux between classic Iranian influence with the Islamic structures that of itself became identified as Islamic architecture.

4. Caliph, Hurun Ar Rashid, the Great Administrator

Islam and progress— Geographically Islam gains by conquest. But what 
“conquest” means here is lands gained under the mandate of the Caliphate. Provinces that submitted their administration to be overseen from Baghdad were under no forced religious conversion. The borders were expanded to include territories came generously by converted, willing lords and chiefs, but also entered the fold of Islam by defeat of the lords and kings and tribal chiefs who had made their hostility to Islam clear. Conquest carries a virile presence when it presents itself to a kingdom or province previously dominated by deniers and challengers to the power God had given to Islam.

But the most noteworthy progress rockets forth with the Caliph who took his seat of the Caliphate in 800 C.E. This would be the fifth Abbasid Caliph, Hurun Ar Rashid. Unlike the dark-ages that had in this same time enshrouded the western world; the Muslim world was about to catapult into the most geographically encompassing, advanced civilization ever seen anywhere in the world.

Harun Rashid 5th Abbasid Caliph

Even so, the old challenges of various uprisings met the Caliph Harun Rashid. First, the Caliph became uneasy over the disgruntled followers of the Imams for their over-zealous turbulence within Shi’ah ranks as they were breaking up into even further factions. To settle down the Shi’ah rebelliousness, Harun put under arrest an Imam newly ascended to his title by virtue of lineage to the Prophet. As the Imam arrived to the prison gate he lost his life at the hand of an assassin. This was certainly Harun’s doings, an act that stains the genesis of Islam’s ascent into glory under Caliph Harun Rashid.

Terrible as that was, the Caliph Harun Rashid showed capacities for leadership that directly pulled the period of the Abbasid caliphate into heights unparalleled.

How he dealt with the Christian Byzantine emperor is indicative of Rashid’s capabilities. Because, his next challenge came with the insolent refusal of the Byzantine emperor to pay the “tribute” tax to the Muslim Caliph. The emperor had the nerve to demand that what tax had been paid in previous years be returned! Caliph Harun al Rashid, sent his great forces right to the emperor’s gates, quickly defeating and humiliating the Christian emperor in Byzantium. Splendid riches in booty, slaves, and even a broadening of the borders for Islamic jurisdiction came with the Caliph’s victory. Nonetheless, there was no wish to extend the fight to Constantinople because Harun had no quarrel with the Christians. He and the Emperor Charlemagne had already exchanged gifts as signatory toward mutual “respect” and under agreements, shared balance of powers.

Time out: Let’s look at Europe and the Middle East in this same time:

A great irony in comparing the Middle-East to the Western world for the Middle Ages era is that the flowering Islamic Civilization consciously sought the outstanding achievements of earlier Hebrew, Egyptian, Chinese, Greek, Achaemenid, Sassanian, and Indian civilizations! Prophet Muhammad’s sermons preached the expansion of Islam geographically, but also expansion in the more abstract realms of mind and spirit. “Seek knowledge, even unto China” had the Prophet revealed and is recorded for all time. To caliphate-supported scholars, the light of translations revealed the classic works of philosophy, science, and the arts. All that had been preserved of the classic era sciences and arts was life itself to a very intellectually thirsty Islamic population. And there was full support for regiments of interpreters with scribes rending into Arabic what accumulated knowledge would surely benefit the Islamic world. And advancing these academic disciplines to higher planes was right on the heels of learning.

It is in contrast with the Holy Roman Empire’s Power over the Western world in parallel times. Because at the same time, as Islam was rising, Europe, in contrast, remained strangled in the Dark Ages . To be sure, in Europe, of course, there was no shortage of geniuses, brilliant minds, and the sincerely faithful. So what stifled their leading the efforts for a brilliant civilization?

Scholastic research was vetted through the Scholastic System set up by the Catholic Church. But, such support for thinkers in the classic times could not be dependable. The Pope, or highly ranked ecclesiastics as well as the titled gentry class, that is, the “established” who supported the intellectuals in their pursuit of knowledge would shift, succumb to pressures; lose favor; die; all which meant, directly in parallel fashion, that the former assistance for livelihood abruptly ceased. One, like the genius Galileo, whose treatise advocated the Copernican heliocentric concepts of the earth revolving around the sun, brought fury to the Church, and a papal inquisition cast Galileo as one “vehemently suspected of heresy”[1]. Consequently Galileo languished intellectually under various degrees of imprisonment and censure, right to his death. Likewise, this was the life of another great genius, Roger Bacon, whose works were vast, who predicted the airplane, [2] who published, taught, and was well received as long as his patron was in power! But, thanks to politics, favor turned into persecution! [3]And he too was placed in a condition of house arrest, till the end of his days.

Moreover, this long period of the “Dark or Middle Ages” period[4] in the European world was said to be“dark” for the incapacity of maintaining civil stability and order, with travel outside walled-in feudal fortresses extremely dangerous. Disease of plagues and fevers rampaged the societies from lack of sanitary fundamentals, where laboring for the lords was unrelievedslavery- from childhood to death, and education was nonexistent for all except for the ruling elite!

[1] Finocchiaro, Maurice A. (1989). The Galileo Affair: A Documentary History. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. ISBN 0–520–06662–6.

[2] Frederick Mayer. A History of Educational Thought. 2nd edition, Columbus, Ohio: Charles E. Merrill Books, Inc, 1966, pp 500–501.

[3] ibid

[4] Scholars give various time spans, generally agreeing that the Middle-Ages or Medieval Era also referred to as the Dark Ages spans from 550 C.E, to 1485 or 1550 C.E.,depending on where you are.

Meanwhile in the Islamic World:

In the Islamic society, however , advancement or progress was achieved high above the conditions of those times in Europe. And this light shone brightly for more than a half a millennium, ultimately giving Europe its Renaissance to bring to an end the Middle Ages. Slaves there were, but those servants who were bright were favored throughout the annals of Islam and the freed slaves became courtesans, poets, musicians, military counsels to their lords, well beloved and renowned.

So while, the Prophet-Messenger Muhammad’s sermons preached the expansion of Islam geographically, He also preached expansion in the more abstract realms of mind and spirit. The Scriptures of Islam provide Revelation to urge pursuit of all branches of knowledge with fervor. For example: “Pursue knowledge from whatever quarter it is, “even unto China!” So spoke the Prophet Muhammad as revealed in a verse held sacred yet today.

Kurdish (Turk) javelin warriors of Samarra ~Abbasid Era

It was in this spirit that the caliphate generously supported scholars, and in Baghdad built the first House of Wisdom where translators strenuously pursued copying the classic works of philosophy, science, and particularly the healing arts from all quarters of the civilized world. Translators from every corner of the civilized world where all works had been preserved of the classic sciences and arts was life itself to a very intellectually thirsty Islamic population.

It is Islam that is destined to awaken Europe out of its lethargy!

Scholars gathered to learn and teach

Let us now consider a sampling of the amazing achievements in this Era and appreciate the magnificent progress under the Abbasid Caliphate.

Contributions through Islam to Civilization ~

Once stability of life is assured a civilization always prospers. Sheer human urge is to refine style and lift up the standards of knowledge. Muslim Caliphs, of the Abbasid through the Andalusia Periods of Islam, (7th Century through the 1400’s) were inspired directly by the Prophet’s words: “Seek knowledge from the cradle to the grave!” and, “The ink from the pen of the scholar is more worthy than the blood of a martyr.” “He who leaves his home in search of knowledge walks in the path of God.” “Are they equal: those who know and those who know not? ” , Caliphs of this Golden Age of Islam vied one with the other for distinction to achieve the most divine and prosperous civilization.

The pages ahead open for a quick and abbreviated summary tour through the Abbasid Era’s Flowering of Islam:

  1. Algebra
Algebra (Algorism) described

Al- Kharazmi, (name tranliterated in Europe was “Algorism”) was Persian, living in Baghdad, 820 C.E. His pioneering work in astronomy made a great contribution to the field, but his contribution to the field of mathematics was revolutionary! He was the originator of the use of “zero” (sefr: “empty” ) which totally opened up the field of calculations for new branches of mathematics heretofore unheard of: Algebra, (al Jabr) and Trigonometry, both plane and spherical.

2. Architecture brought from Sassanid Era into use as Mosque — Baghdad

Palace in Baghdad dates originally from the Abbasid Period

This Mosque below represents a new adaptation of Islam to Persians in the Abbasid Period. It has been suggested by scholars that this form represented a nod to the hierarchical way of Persian social organization. It became the wish of the leadership within this Persian influenced land to have a kingship royalty in a partnership with Islamic caliphate and its branches, (Church and State co-joined).

Mosque of Samarra (1st Capital of the Abbasid Caliphate)

“The Friday mosque, for all its magnificence provided by the caliphs purse, the Mosque served as the center of a self- perpetuating class of religiously minded people, while the ever more splendid palaces became the centers of secular power in which the caliphs and their governors were increasingly removed from the people they ruled” .

3. Engineering ~ A engineering feat most extraordinary is Water in the Saudi Desert… A Brilliant System still having practical use since 803 CE — Water Canal System, ordered into existence by Zubaida, wife of Caliph Harun Al Rashid of the Abbasid Caliphate.

One of the engineering wonders of the Abbasid Period is Ain Zubaida. Ain Zubaida is a symbol of the magnificent legacy of a unique historical water project, built during the eighth century, exactly in AD 801 and named after its founder, Zubaida Al-Abbasi, the wife of the Islamic Caliph Haroon Al-Rasheed. Zubaida was a memorable lady who lived in Baghdad from AD 760 to 820.

Zubaida’s Well Resevoir for Mecca

Ain Zubaida is such a brilliant water system with its fantastic engineering feat that it is still survived after 1200 years. Preservation and rehabilitation of this historical heritage is given utmost importance at a project run by a unit at King Abdulaziz University, Jeddah.

Professor Abu Rizaiza, a Professor in Civil Engineering, College of Engineering and Principal Investigator of the Project of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz for the Rehabilitation of Ain Zubaida, gave glimpses of his extensive scrutiny of the engineering works of Ain Zubaina.

Historical background of the Ain Zubaida Water System

Zubaida, wife of the Caliph, Al Rashid performed Hajj (Pilgrimage) in Mecca. She realized an overwhelming need for wholesome water which would benefit especially the Holy Places. She decided to supply these areas with fresh drinking water. Upon her return to Baghdad, she contacted engineers and briefed them regarding her decision to supply these areas with water. After in-depth studies and research, the engineers explained that the project would be extremely expensive. Her response, quick and straightforward, indicated that people’s lives were of higher value. The engineers designed a brilliant project. They carried out further studies for the construction of an integrated system for collecting, transporting, storing and distributing water around the Holy Ka’bah and its environs.

The cost of the project was one million dinar pounds, the equivalent of a piece of gold weighing approximately 10 grams, or $30.50 per gram today. The project took ten years to complete. As a result of such great efforts and tremendous engineering feats, the project has survived to the present day, with large sections still operating efficiently.

4.Astronomy –

The first astronomical texts that were translated into Arabic were of Indian and Greek and perhaps Persian origin. The most notable of the texts was Zij al-Sindhind, an 8th-century Indian astronomical work that was translated by Muhammad ibn Ibrahim al-Fazari and Yaqub ibn Tariq after 770 C.E. under the supervision of an Indian astronomer who visited the court of Caliph Al-Mansur in 770. Another text translated was the Zij al-Shah, a collection of astronomical tables (based on Indian parameters) compiled in Sasanid Persia over the previous two centuries. Fragments of texts during this period indicate that Arab scholars adopted the sine function (inherited from India) in place of the chords of arc used in Greek trigonometry.[12] The use of zero enabled the mathematicians of Baghdad to calculate percentages for the first time.

825–1025 C.E. Astronomical research was greatly supported by the Abbasid caliph al-Mamun through The House of Wisdom. Baghdad and Damascus became the centers of such learning centers. The caliphs endowed the scholars financially and gave the work they did formal prestige.

Brass globe the Astronomers of the Abbasid Period devised

This brass globe served both as a map of the heavens, as viewed from outside the starry sphere, and as a precision tool for making astronomical calculations. Engraved on its surface are various coordinate lines, constellation figures, and Arabic inscriptions. The stars are made of embedded bits of silver. The globe is hollow and was cast in one seamless piece. It was originally set in a cradle of rings, which depicted the horizon and other astronomical circles.

The first major Muslim work of astronomy was Zij al-Sindh by al-Khwarizmi in 830. The work contains tables for the movements of the sun, the moon and the five planets known at the time. The work is significant as it introduced Ptolemaic concepts into Islamic sciences. This work also marks the turning point in Islamic astronomy of establishing independent scholarly research. Hitherto, Muslim astronomers had adopted a primarily translated approach to the field, and learning already discovered knowledge. Translated was the almost forgotten Archimedes of Syracuse (Ancient Greek: Ἀρχιμήδης) (c. 287 B.C.. — c. 212 B.C.) who was a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer. His work was lifted out of obscurity and delved into by the Abbasid scholars.

Astronomers of the Abbasid period compiled astrological tables, the naming of stars and their constellations, (Betelgeuse, (Bayt al Jawza), The Flyer, Scorpion) just to name a few. This was the beginning of a new way for scientific study. It supports scientific inquiry, and represents the best use of human endeavor even though it begins with wrong assumptions! The early ideas of astronomy were derived from the classical Greek Ptolemy and writings of Aristotle that the earth was center of the universe. Earth Centrism, as this is called, was sanctioned by the Church in Rome, and the problems this theory posed took a few centuries to be safely exposed!

5. Calligraphy, a high art from the Abbasid Period forward;

Abbasid Calligraphic Art example

Islamic Calligraphic Art Under the Rule of the Abbasid Dynasty

Calligraphic examples show the Kufic Style of Calligraphy The angular Kufic script is moderated by the roundness of several letters that look like large black dots, their inner blank spaces reduced almost to a needlepoint. The colored marks are an aid to the reader.

6. Ceramic Arts –Lusterware” a tin glaze (from China) predates the Abbasid period but was brought into and enhanced the ceramics of the Abbasid period. The metallic look gave extra opulence to the vessels.

Monochrome ceramics painted in luster often include stylized human figures. In this example — outstanding for its originality and skill of execution — the lively caricature-like quality of the seated man holding a beaker and flowering branch is enhanced by the two birds that hold fish in their beaks but look like they are kissing.

7. Mosaic Arts - a picture or design made with small pieces of colored material such as glass or tile, stuck onto a surface.)

Mosaic tiles in such a fashion adorned floors, ceilings, and walls for the beautification of the Mosque interiors as well as exterior

8 . Pharmacy (Healing Arts and Medical Science)

Pharmaceutical Science is Search for Cures and Diagnosis under Abbasids

Leaf from an Arabic translation of the Materia Medica of Dioscorides (“The Pharmacy”), dated 1224 Colors and gilt on paper — Iraq, Baghdad School

This folio (9.5” x 12”) is painted in the lively and appealing style of the Baghdad School: bright colors, sprightly figures in contemporary local dress, and a balanced, bilaterally symmetrical composition. The neutral color of the leaf itself, which serves as the background, reinforces the two-dimensionality of the picture

The search for cures was within the Prophet’s own dual classification of sciences, i.e., “the science of religions and the science of human bodies”. And medical science was a high priority for the Caliph Marwan. The Christian physician Galen’s writings of the 2nd Century C.E. as well as the writings of the famous first of the Greek physicians, Hippocrates writings were sought after and brought to Baghdad to be made good use of. A Persian Jew named Masarjawayh gained full support and favorable status as he translated a book on medicine from Syriac into Arabic, the first of a long line of translations that opened the way for the advent of Islamic civilization”

Christian Nestorians had a large physician membership. The Nestorians who had been persecuted by the Roman Church found refuge in the court of the Caliph. The Nestorian physicians were welcomed as choice immigrants and in time the science of medicine and the arts of healing became integrated into the Abbasid culture.

During the rise of the Abbasid reign, diseases such as small pox and measles were being identified.. Further, medical diagnosis included “alchemy” and a new discipline to make analysis based on scientific analysis through laboratory techniques. This, heretofore, had not been thought of as method to understand or treat health issues. Likewise the first development of hospital institutions for the sick was inaugurated among the Muslims of the southwest corner of Iran. The hospitals (“bimaristans”) were further embellished under the famous Saladin in Cairo during the coming Fatimid Caliphate. They had for the first time special wards for particular needs: ophthalmology wards, orthopedic wards, wards for the sufferers of fever, even mental afflictions. Pharmacies were well equipped and skilled physicians attended the ill. Achievements in medicine enlightened the Western world centuries later through study of the Arabic medical achievements translated into Latin.

Caliph Rashid was particularly eager to understand everything about healing arts. He had physicians brought to the capitol for their knowledge and set them up for translating treatises on healing and treaties on illness diagnosis into Arabic. Rashid put the teams of scientists to work together with the Persian court physicians. Then, Under Caliph al-Mamun a Nestorian Christian. (Masawayh) on “Hygene”, and “diatetics”, and another Christian, Johannitius, an inventor of medical terms and the translator for the Arabs the philosophical concept of the Hippocratic Oath.

9. Agriculture

Important advances in agriculture were also made in the time of the Abbasid Caliphate. The Abbasids preserved and improved the ancient network of wells, underground canals, and waterwheels, introduced new breeds of livestock, hastened the spread of cotton, and, from the Chinese, learned the art of making paper from hemp, a singular key, to the revival of learning in Europe in the Middle Ages.

The Golden Age of the Abbasid Era also, little by little, transformed the diet of medieval Europe by introducing such plants as plums, artichokes, apricots, cauliflower, celery, fennel, squash, pumpkins, and eggplant, as well as rice, sorghum, new strains of wheat, the date palm, and sugarcane.

This Age also, little by little, transformed the diet of medieval Europe by introducing such plants as plums, artichokes, apricots, cauliflower, celery, fennel, squash, pumpkins, and eggplant, as well as rice, sorghum, new strains of wheat, the date palm, and sugarcane.[1]

[1] Islam and Islam History on Arabia and Middle East

Pumpkin Abbasid Agricultural refinement
Abbasid rice fields w/development of new irrigation method

10. Navigation and Travel –

Early Navigation Map (South on top!)

During the Islamic Golden Age, extended oceanic travel to distant lands, China, India, and other places expanded trade routes taken by ships during the subsequent Fatimid Age. (See map, on p. 113 and on p.134.) Recall that at this time the civilized world — Eastern as well as Western (Europe) had the conviction that the earth was flat.

Dhow, a ship of the Abbasid Period

11. Paper making — The use of paper slowly spread from China and India into the Muslim world in the eighth century C.E., arriving in Spain (and then the rest of Europe) in the 10th century C.E. Made from hemp or else bark from the mulberry tree, paper was cheaper and easier to manufacture than parchment which was then used. The paper was less likely to crack than papyrus, and could absorb ink, making it ideal for making records and making copies of the Qur’an. “Islamic paper makers devised assembly-line methods of hand-copying manuscripts to turn out editions far larger than any available in Europe for centuries” It was from Islam that the rest of the world learned to make paper from linen.

Paper Making Abbasid Era

12. Libraries

Another extremely important aspect of this great period of Islamic civilization was the great library attached to the House of Wisdom in Baghdad through the patronage of the Caliph Mamun.[6] It was fully equipped with manuscripts, books, and brilliant teachers which drew subsidized students from every quarter of the civilized world. Princes of Europe came to Baghdad for their education. The House of Wisdom library established itself as a desirable mark of civilization, consequently grew in fame, and was copied by Caliphs thereafter in places such as: Shiraz, Bukhara, also Marv and Kharazm, Cairo and Fustat, in Moorish Spain. There, the most superb library was established in Cordova, housing 400,000 volumes and a catalogue in 44 volumes.[7] Libraries then spread throughout the Islamic world adding to Islam’s splendor. This is an Islamic distinction. No other world culture was so enamored of libraries for their elite scholars.

13. Music

Music,a most remarkable influence before before and after the Islamic Golden era, was reinvigorated the earliest days of the Abbasid Caliphate under the great Harun al Rashid. The royal Court received musicians with great, maybe over much, enthusiasm. Sadly the good times became too much for the atmosphere of calling the revival of culture to be that of pure spiritual renaissance. Debauchery had flaunted itself to an immodest degree in this (wilting) Period for the pleasure of some time among the higher placed in the court, keeping separated from the caliphate. Still, there were worthy contributors among the development and refining of musical instruments, the poets and the troubadours that mark this time period.

Court musicians Abbasid Era

Ziryab ~A young freed African slave, known as Blackbird, or, Ziryab. (actually Abu al-Hasan ‘Ali ibn Nafi’) was invited by the Shah (king) to play and sing before him in Baghdad. “Blackbird studied music under the famous singer and royal court musician Ishaq al-Mawsili” there in Baghdad. Blackbird so favorably impressed the Shah, that Blackbird’s teacher was told to prepare Blackbird for a splendid court future for Blackbird. This startling attention by the Shah toward al-Mawsili’s student stirred jealousy; so with threats, Mawsili sent Blackbird away. In his early exile, Blackbird returned to his African home, but within a few years he was drawn to the city of Cordoba in Andalusia(Spain), then showing signs of becoming a center of culture and a better environment for Blackbird. So we will hear more of the genius of Ziryab, “Blackbird” in the next period of Islam’s great Golden era of prosperity. Blackbird brought so much into the flowering and golden age of Islam that he returns to the narrative later…In Andalusia.

Sunni Islam was to, even as early as the Abbasid time, and more vehemently later, discredit music as an acceptable expression. There is no condemnation of music in the Qur’an to give this form of art any justification for censure, and musicians, ever creative in their own forte, will find their livelihood sought for in the future Andalusia of the Great Golden Period. Music was to became in the cities of the Iberian Peninsula or Andalus, the vibrant center for musicians. Refer ahead , to this Andalusia period for more details.

14. Philosophy: Al-Kindi translator for school of Greek Classissist Plato, and an Aristotleian earthcentrist protagonist.

“Abu Yusuf Ya‘qub ibn Ishaq Al-Kindi (ca. 800–870 CE) was the first self-identified philosopher in the Arabic tradition. He worked with a group of translators who rendered works of Aristotle, the Neoplatonists, and Greek mathematicians and scientists into Arabic. Al-Kindi’s own treatises, many of them epistles addressed to members of the caliphal family, depended heavily on these translations, which included the famous Theology of Aristotle and Book of Causes and Arabic versions of works by Plotinus and Proclus. Al-Kindi’s own thought was suffused with Neoplatonism, though his main authority in philosophical matters was Aristotle. Al-Kindi’s philosophical treatises include On First Philosophy, in which he argues that the world is not eternal and that God is One, disputing the Trinitarian concept of Christian theology. He also wrote numerous works on other philosophical topics, especially psychology (including the well-known On the Intellect) and cosmology. Al-Kindi’s work in mathematics and the sciences was so extensive, that he was known in both Arabic and the Latin centers for his writings on astrology.”

15. Physics

Al-Kindi undoubtedly influenced Roger Bacon 400 years after al-Kindi’s scholarly works were translated. Furthermore, music was one of al-Kindi’s fascinations for which he applied mathematical theory. He postulated that sound itself is of “waves” received by the ear. The Greek word, “music” was made Arabic, as “Musiqi”. Kindi and his associate in science invented new instruments devised. In another field of Kindi’s perceptions, he postulated that light and time are infinite. This idea “rested” long until the era of 20th Century physicist Albert Einstein in the 1920’s! Aristotle, whose earth centric astronomy, (belief that earth is the center of the universe) was acceptable to Rome’s Christian theologians, who accepted the classic Greek (Ptolemy to Aristotle) science of the day so, subsequently in the Abbasid period likewise earth centrism was received well in Abbasid’s House of Wisdom. Fair to say, not every development of knowledge stands the tests of time, but the atmosphere of learning was fertile, and supported by the forces of all Islam through their adherence to the Prophet’s Revealed Teachings of the Qur’an.

16. Carpets. From the ancient Achaemenid(“Fars” or Persian)period and well through the Golden Age, a place of honor must be set to the artisans of the splendid Persian carpets. The hand woven intricately designed carpets’ fame and marketability had grown beyond the Middle-Eastern borders to be adorning the palaces of Europe as well as all structures built that bespeak the pride of the Flowering and Golden Ages of the Islamic world.

Palace Carpet

As for the ageless continuity of the Persian Carpet: The Persian carpets were part of the trade that brought great wealth to the Persians since the Achaemenid and Sassanian Eras into the Abbasid and future world in trade to contemporary times. Such carpets as seen here were prized by royalty and the wealthy from all corners of the trade routes called, “The Silk Road”, as well as shipping passages traveled in those times.

Note: “By the sixth century, [in the Great Sassanian Era] C.E, Persian carpets of wool or silk were renowned in court circles throughout the region. The Bahârestân (spring) carpet of Khosrow I (Chroses I) was made for the main audience hall of the Sassanid imperial Palace at Ctesiphon in the Sassanid province of Khvârvarân (in present-day Iraq). It was 450 feet long and 90 feet wide and depicted a formal garden. With the occupation of the Sassanid capital, in the 7th century CE, the carpet was taken by the Arabs, cut into small fragments and divided among the victorious soldiers as booty.” — From the yarn fiber to the colors, every part of the Persian carpet is traditionally handmade from natural ingredients over the course of many months. (Persian Carpets Wikipedia article)

Byzantine Scholars welcomed by the Abbasid Caliph “Best of Enemies” is caption for this! Note the bearded Christian returning to report to his Pope or King the progressive scholarly works.

Abbasid Era Dims ~Light and Shadows

The Turks of Samarra, and Trouble ~ The Early Fatamids of East Africa ~ The Fall of the Abbasid Caliphate ~ The Fatamid Caliphate

Abbasid Caliphate Falls

To get the narrative to Islam’s Golden Age which came out of Andalusia,representing in its way,the culmination of the flowering under the Abbasid Era we time-travel, passing through several epochs, each with several distinctive imprints upon the fortunes of Islam. But cutting to the chase, the final big impact blow to the Abbasid era comes from the Turks, those warriors who had been quarantined, garrisoned near Baghdad in Samara.

The Turks

It was the Turks that gave the Abbasid power its hardest “hit.” These were fearsome warriors the Abbasid third Caliph, Al Mahdi (775 C.E) conscripted. Caliph Mahdi imported the Turks purposely for their ruthless methods in warfare. Because the warriors were considered by the citizens of Baghdad to be rough and unruly, as ruffians, they were moved to Samara, which was at first a city of barracks to house the soldiers. . But as time rolled on, riches won through war booty were brought back to the barrack city. This booty of riches was used to build a city of such grand splendor so as to draw the admiration of the entire Islamic world. Of course the splendor of Samara became a rival in its relationship with Baghdad! Nevertheless, the capable caliphate was able to keep the Turks of Samara subject to Baghdad as long as the caliphate was powerful. And the Abbasid caliphate was able to keep the balance with the aggressive Turk soldiers. But, the time came when the Turk officers of Samara found the Baghdad Caliphate vulnerable, and brought rebellion against the very caliphate that had originally sought their indentured services.

Abbasid Caliph Al Mutawakkil sat as ruler. Mutawakkil was pleasure-seeking, arbitrary and cruel. The response by the Turks of Samara to the caliph’s capricious rule was to rise up against him. So the “wild Turks,” having grown tired of subjection to Baghdad, much less to a caliph so incompetent, entered Baghdad in rebellious mood, routed out the caliph, and by the daggered hand of the Turkish General himself, the arrogant Caliph Al Mutawakkil was assassinated. And that left the vulnerable Sunni Abbasids’ residing in Baghdad without any Sunni security, support, or structure. But the throne emptied was to be filled and welcomed. It would be the Fatimids riding in to Baghdad from Syria to fill the void of taking Islam to even higher status in concert with the Turks there to keep things under the Fatimid wrap.

The Turk rebellion effectively decimated the Abbasid capabilities to rule the empire. So we leave the Abbasids and their fine place in history as having initiated the Flowering-Glory of Islam with gratitude and admiration.

And it was at the juncture of the loss of Baghdad to the Fatimids that the remaining hold-outs in Damascus defined their relationship with their tradition and their Muslim identity in Islam as Sunnah, or Sunni.


The Impact of Islam, in the making! Next: The Great Fatimid Era

Fatimid Era Ewer
Citadel Fatimid Period

The Fatimid Caliphate

The Fatimids of Syria were welcomed by the Turks to claim Baghdad as their own. The Fatimids generously rewarded rebel Turks of Samara with high posts of governance of Baghdad along with favored status. And likewise, high-placed nobles of the Shi’ah sect were favored, for the Fatimid claim of rightful lineage to the Prophet put the two theological sympathies closer together as well as being politically prudent. Regardless, with the rebellion of the Turks of Samara, the Abbasid Caliphate never fully recovered. Caliphs of the next 300 years were essentially puppets of the Fatimids, with Baghdad a rather insignificant Fatimid outpost.

And so, to introduce “Fatimid:” You may recall, the name “Fatimid” alludes to the Prophet’s daughter, Fatimih, who was also wife of Ali, the first Imam. She was and is revered as the archetype woman for Islam, as is Mary the holy mother of Jesus for the Christians. The Fatimids, as described,[1] claimed lineage to the grandson of the sixth Imam, Isma’il. The Fatimids, thus, were Isma’ili claimants of the right to the caliphate. Of course this claim alarmed the Sunni caliphate, an alarm that lasted for the next 200 years.[2] Sunni scholar-jurists would assemble together and study the Fatimid Ismaili “pedigree” and, based on volumes of difficult-to-follow rebuttal, they consistently, vehemently denied the Fatimid claim. Sunni jurists pronounced the claim of lineage a complete hoax and the Fatimids heretic infidels.[3] The claim of lineage to Imam Isma’el is to this day considered to have been a ruse meant to lead the faithful away from the true faith. The refutation of rightful claim still stands.

Be that as it may, a Turk general became ruler of Egypt where, in Cairo, he built mosques at least one of which that has survived the ages to present times. The Fatimids, from their former base in northern Africa, had come into Egypt, took it from Al Andalus emirate, and secured a foothold there. Cairo became the seat of the Fatimid caliphate that managed a benevolent and permissive relationship with their puppet Baghdad caliphate. [4]

Indeed, the Samara Turks’ rebellion that unseated Caliph Al Mutawakkil brought upon the Baghdad caliphate its dying gasps. Even though from that point forward, caliphs had brief spurts of restored strength, the power and prestige of the Abbasid caliphate never recovered. Caliphs were positioned according to ease of being managed by a controlling class of wealthy traders whose powers were much like the feudal lords and barons with their fiefdoms in Europe at that time.

The Turks overtook the Abbasid Sunni Caliphate, Andalus, the peninsula now marked as Spain was by loss of the protection of the Abbasid Sunni loyalties obliged to co-exist with the Fatimid power base. Being loyal to Sunni, the rising emirate in Andalus kept aloof of the Fatimids. Sunni jurisprudence did not accept the Fatimid claim of lineage to the Prophet, so how much less did the Sunni emirs agree to the Fatamid claim of “rightful” Caliphate. But, in spite of all that, with the generally benevolent nature of the Fatimids, the characteristic of Fatimid rule in the long run of its 200 years was to co-exist equitably with the Emirs [6]of Andalus.

The Fatimid Caliphate

C.E. 909 to 1171 was when the Fatimid power was ascendant. The Fatimid era is included in historical accounting for the Golden Era of Islam. It arose from the Fatimid challenge to the Abbasid Caliphate. The Fatimids, (at first) were loyalists to the House of Ali through his wife, Fatimih, daughter of Muhammad, hence the name, “Fatimid”.

The Fatimid Era brought Islam additional honors and challenges as well! The Fatimid military forces expanded territories through the method of conquest. The northern region of Africa provided a force of warriors that was indeed formidable. So formidable were these battles that the former balance of powers agreed between Rome and the Caliphate’ was shaken. The Christian Pontiff’s defenses against Muslim threats to protect the Christian boundaries became the precursor to future Crusades.

Yet, for all this, in contrast is the surge of creativity that burst forth in this same period. The Fatimid Period brought eternal Islamic admiration for its contribution to the arts, including a new musical form that reflects African Berber vitality. The Fatamid Ismailis progressed the cause of Islam to one of the highest positions of stardom that the world had ever seen.

Cairo, Egypt was the Fatimid Capitol. The Fatimids were in power for 300 years, and their story has to pause to be completed within the next great phase for Islam: the Andalusian Era, or the Golden Age of Islam.

Dinar gold coin Fatimid Period

Fatimid dynasty ascendant In the tenth to twelfth centuries, comprised an area including present-day Algeria, Tunisia, Sicily, Egypt, and Syria. The era enhanced the lives particularly of those who became by ambition “royalty” Palaces were built and European style court life organized itself around the Caliph head of state. Arts flourished. And trade was between distant points.

Cairo, Egypt was the Fatimid Capitol. ~ Professor Dr. Nazeer Ahmed[17] (Wikipedia), writes a succinct summary about the Fatimid Period.

“The confluence of several historical developments helped the Fatimid movement. In the 9th century, the consolidation of vast territories in Asia, Africa and Europe led to an enormous increase in trade. Prosperity ensued. Great cities sprang up and older towns grew larger. The movement of the rural population to the cities, in search of protection from marauding tribesmen, assisted the urbanization process. Conversion to Islam was taking place at a rapid pace both in Asia and North Africa and the new Muslims found refuge in the cities from the pressure of their kinsmen who had not yet converted. …Colonies established by Muslim merchants existed as far away as Malabar in India, Zanzibar in Africa and Canton in China. Brisk trade stimulated the demand for manufactured goods such as brass work, gold jewelry, silk brocade, fine carpets and iron and steel products. Guilds arose in the urban centers, organized around specific trades and skills.” [18]

The Fatimid movement brought together artisans’ guilds to further Islam’s ideals of splendor, beauty and certainly, commerce. The sea routes of trade brought the goods to new markets.

There is more to add for the Fatimid Era and that will come in the next section, Book 3.

Fatimid Era Opened the Seas for more Extensive Trading than ever before

Time out! Might this be a good time to interrupt the Mighty march toward the Golden Age of Islam as it takes off in its grandeur in Andalusia? We pause to consider the aspects of what Muslims predominantly know but we do not: (1) Sects or “Schools” of Islam, covering why do Sunni and Shi’ah try to dim each other’s lights?(2) And a brief mention about other schools whose points of view bear on today’s world significantly, and (3) a condensed glossary of the hierarchical titles in Islam.

Just as the Prophet interrupted his trek back to Medina from Mecca we could take a break that sets the record straight.

Schools or Sects in Islam Representing this Period

In order to appreciate the textured richness of Islam as a faith it is helpful, first, to get acquainted with its schools or sects. Particularly, to draw attention to the two major sects of Islam: Sunni and Shi’ah. The reason for this review is that the splits in theological philosophy regarding proper selection of successor did, as we saw, present itself practically upon the deathbed of the Prophet of God and the implications of this divergence forge ahead into the present generation.

The moderate Muslims, and they of course are the majority of Muslims, within this faith of 1.6 billion adherents who eschew issues of Sunni versus Shi’ah, especially the urbanized, educated Muslims.The majority of the Muslim world accept Abu-Bakr as the first legitimate Caliph. Sunnah means tradition. Sunni Muslims believe that their leaders are those rulers who receive acceptance by their followers. The fate of Caliphs who transgress should be left to the Day of Judgment.

a. Shi’ah

b. Sunni

c. Zaydis

d. Mu’tazilite

e. Ashari School

f. The Brotherhood Fraternity (Ikhwan as Safa )— Brethren of Purity or Sincerity

g. Suffism

a. Sunni:Sunni (Sunnah) means Traditionalist. This was where the leadership of Caliph was voted upon by selected delegates or congregation; likewise the method could be where the previous Caliph dying, appointed his successor; and another way for Sunni to become a successor could be by claiming right, and thereby win the seat of the calipahte.

Sunni then, in geography and numbers is the dominant branch. It has endured by shifting its emphasis according to personality, capability, and likewise the location and relocation of the Sunni Caliphate. Sunni has continued to shift emphasis and claim to the world as being diversified parts of a whole.

Apart from the general perception quoted above from Sunni (Sunnah) theologians, the above description though true is over-simplified. Stating, as we have earlier, that by the formalities of selecting each caliph there is a nuanced reality from the earliest days when Islam was establishing traditional structure under the Umayyad Caliphate. The means of selection were inconsistent. Caliphs set in to replace the preceding Caliph were sometimes voted upon by selected delegates — but in other situations selection was by a larger congregation of Muslims; likewise, another means of caliph selection also occurred when the previous Caliph died. that if he appointed and made known his appointed successor; and yet another way for Sunni to become a successor could be by an ambitious leader claiming right, and thereby coup win the seat of the caliphate. And some claims won for caliph succession were based upon lineage. “Tradition” of selection was not set, perforce, but arbitrary, according to the situation at hand.

b. Shi’ah: The term, “Shi’ah” (Shia) means “faction.” The use of “Shi’ah’ to denote a a section of Islam was not used at first. Moreover, Shi’ah theologically means “legitimist”taken to mean those who uphold the right of the descendant of the Prophet to rightful leadership of governing Islam. But this specific definition that defines Shi’ah was not formally the center-point of Shi’ah theology until late in the 2nd Century AH. The title, Imams is what the direct descendants of the Prophet were called. As for Shi’ah, for a while, supporters of the House of Abbas were known as Shi’ah as well. To complete the story of the Imamate, a summary of the lives is accessed at the end of this digression.

One point further to note is that these two branches, Shi’ah and Sunni were not defined as separate branches until the Khajarites stirred resentment against their Arabic subjugation. The Khajarites first supported Ali, but Ali himself had pledged loyalty to Mu’awiyah to preserve — above all things — the unity within Islam, just as his father the Prophet Muhammad had always preached. The subsequent disaster in Karbila with the beheading of Husayn created such a mass wave of sympathy within Islam’s following together compounded the long memory of loyalty to the wronged Imam Ali at the hand of the fickle Khajarites who turned against Ali for their own theology. Thus, “Shi’ah” Islam at this point of the narrative is politically nascent though present; Shi’ah has had degrees of intensity in being its own sect of Islam throughout the next centuries of Islam’s evolution. But Shi’ah Islam began with the disaster of the Khajarite murder of the Imam Ali, and rose and ebbed according to fortune.

A succinct clarifer for summing up the fundamental difference between Sunni and Shi’i’ Islam comes from Moojan Momen “An Introduction to Shi’i’ Islam” p147

“The Sunnis and Shi’is are basically in agreement with each other over the nature and function of prophethood. The two main functions of the Prophet are to reveal God’s law to men and to guide men towards God. Of these two functions, the Sunnis believe that both ended with the death of Muhammad, while the Shi’is believe that whereas legislation ended, the function of guiding men and preserving and explaining the Divine Law continued through the line of Imams.”[36]

c Zaydis: The origin of the Zaydis came after the Caliph Hasham’s armies brought down Zayd, the cousin of the 6th Imam, and murdered Jafar, and then Zayd’s son as he unsuccessfully sought refuge.. The Zaydis are considered a Shi’ah sect.And their relationship with today’s Iran is derived from the sympathy for the House of ‘Ali, the Shi’ah branch. The Zaydis flourished for almost 100 years but is now confined to Yemen.

d. Mu’tazilite: The questions of orthodoxy versus free will, or reclusive meditative worship versus action in worship, each had their own supporters or “schools” within Islam.. The “Mu’tzailites” were free thinkers who espoused humankind’s outward expressions of free-choice.[1] The Mu’tazilites expressed the thesis that God is transcendent, has no limit, and is the Creator of all. They called themselves the People of Justice and Unity.” These dissertations were being developed in the intellectual and spiritual era of Imam Jafar. The Mu’tazilites argued that any claim of co-equalality with God is “making partners with God”, and pronounced that claim to be an abhorrent assumption for Muslim belief. By Mu’tazilities the Qur’an is seen as a creation of the Divinity, and this has been an undercurrent of a big contrast of thinking between Christian and Islam. Said they: “the Qur’an is holy and sacred.” Going from there: the prophet is fallible alsthough a conveyor of the divine. These two teachings are the basis for Mu’tazilites though as a school, are no longer a movement within Islam. But their teachings are integrated within evolved schools of Islam. While initially it took in the intellectuals and the poets — the free thinkers as they were — in time they argued among themselves, split, and even became hardened to severity in approach as Ashari entered the scene bringing a choking literalism. The Sufi poets and musicians sprung from the Mu’tazilite School but under pressure from the glare and wrangling beginning to spoil the original free tone, left Baghdad for (Spain) for a warm reception by the Emirate in Andalusia!

e. Orthodox Ashari: Opposing the Mu’tazilite School is The Orthodox Ashari school which taught that the Qur’an was the “uncreated” and that the attributes of God are co-equal with God. The Orthodox are literalists, so that, when the Qu’ranic verse reads that a person will see the face of God, those words are understood literally. “The Ashari blighted both mind and spirit”, is how the Ashari School is described by author H.M.Balyuzi. [2] Today’s orthodoxy and fanatacism has roots and specific allusions are made to the Ashari movement, now unforturnately nostalgically lauding its piety and reviving its fury with all things “unIslamic.” In our very time we are having to find some way to answer the tone of the Ashari preaching a literalism that forced their interpretation going so far as to say that as the Qu’ran verse is that you will “meet God”, it means you will come face to face with God. Literally.

f. The Brethren

This society formed to dedicate their efforts in promotion of all fields of scholarship, including music and ethics; all things that civilization require; their vision was a counter balance to the Orthodox rigidity of the Ashari School. The Brethren by the same name still has a legacy of association, but it is a secret society.

Although deemed heretical by the orthodox Ashari Muslim School, teh Brethren and other independent sympathetic intellectuals and free-thinking Muslims came together under various names, one of which was called “The Brethren.” This latter association adds this descriptive, “Sincere and Pure Brethren” who practiced scholarship in an hierarchical recognition of degrees of cultural attainment as true civilization requires. In reading this one thinks of the secret society of FreeMasons, and their long roots into the pre-Christian Gnosticism. Membership into the Brethren included Ismaili’s in the Fatimid Era, Shiites, poets, Gnostic Manichaeans, (a sect that combined Christian and Zoroastrian (Mazdan) belief) and it may be said that the influence wielded by the society of Brotherhood, and its very survival was due to its emigration to Spain, (rather to say: Al Andalus). Its secrecy makes it a mysterious Islamic movement within Syrian and Egyptian Islam today, but contemporary Brethren claim roots to this 10th Century Era.


g. Suffis: Suffis, owing its tour de force to Greek Classic Hellenism, laid claim for their school to a renowned thinker of the same period, (Hasham), under the wing of the Imam Jafar. Sufi poets, musicians and dancers such as the Whirling Dervish made the Sufi movement very distinct in Islam. Sufism will be given more attention ahead, for it’s greatest flowering comes in the period called “The Golden Age of Islam”. Andalusia: that is after the Berber general Tariq Ibn Ziyad was commissioned by Umayyad Caliph Walid I and conquered totally all of the peninsula held by the Visigoths. The presence of Islam was to take immediate root on the land in an enthusiastic welcome to all the bright stars of Islam held under its Turkish quasi Fatimid yoke.The Sufis together with so many of the intellectuals of Baghdad and Samarra dashed to Grenada. This was to be: The Great Leap Forward.”

Whirling Dervish Dancers ~ Sufi School

Summary Graphic of Sects in Islam as we see Today:

Imam — The House of the Prophet’s Direct Descendants

There is history and drama for the Imamate from the time of the first sixth Imams which was discussed earlier, through to the eleventh Imam. Certainly more could be written about the Imams after the martyrdom of Husayn and then his two sons both murdered, but I spare you, and give you a capsule for the stories are all sadly similar.

The twelve Imams, as numbered by traditional designation of most Shi’ah followers is the accepted number of Imams, (in Sunni theology as well). The last of the twelve, according to a Shi’ah faction, called The Twelvers, held that this twelfth Imam had gone into occultation, (disappearance without death). Upon His “return”, He will be the Qa’im (He who arises), (Shi’ah) also, the Mihdi, that is “the Rightly Guided,” who is to emerge in the fullness of time when righteousness will prevail. This is the expected Time of the End, also referred to as “Ma’ad” and “The Day of Judgment”. These names, Qa’im and Mihdi are in both Shi’ah and Sunni theologies regarding the Expected Resurrection.

Other Sects within Shi’ah branch of Islam rise to gain their foothold in Islamic “Schools.” The Twelvers’ School is one branch of Islam that still has a theological presence heard about yet today.

The Twelvers built their theology upon the tradition that the young Imam Hassan disappeared into a cave. One can assume the young Imam took refuge in the cave in order to survive, for all the Imams had been murdered or isolated by the time of the life of this Imam Hassan. Soon after Imam Hassan was named caliph as yet a child, he was never to be seen in public again. To maintain the Imamate leadership for the Muslims, the Imam Hassan received, (as time passed) four “deputies” who would convey to the faithful the Hidden Imam’s directives. Affairs were managed for some time in this manner during this time, which is called, “The Short Occultation,” or disappearance. Finally, the fourth deputy of the hidden Imam disclosed that the Hidden Imam Hassan had died. There could be no more deputies to the Imam. Thus began what is theologically termed “The Long Occultation” which will end on “The Day of Judgment”, “the end of time, which is only known by God,” as the theology is described.

Sunni “Return

Many Sunni schools speak of a return of Christ as foretold in the scriptures of the old and new Testaments. The Sunni view of “Return” is most often expressed as an expectation of the Messianic return of Christ, (Jesus) who will be under the wing of Islam upon His Return.

There are other schools which play their parts in the ebb and flow of time throughout the period that gets covered here, and included as the narrative progresses.

Rank in Islam: (Titles of Leadership)

Some of the more common Islamic terms:

1. “Ayatollah” a respected leader higher in rank than Imam in Shiite Islam, is purely contemporary nomenclature. It indicates the status of governor.

2. “Imam” — Shi’ah and Sunni similarly have imams with similar function. In contemporary definition, an Imam is a recognized scholar who interprets Islamic law, and dispenses the authoritative word in Islamic jurisprudence. In other words, a “judge.”In Sunni the use of the title“Imam” is different than Shi’ah. Their use of the term is “for the founders of the four schools of Sunni jurisprudence.” In these latter days, has come a change of Islamic messianic ( that is, the “Return of the 12th Imam in the fullness of time”) expectation, therefore, a cooling of perception of any latter day arising of the expected Imam, and, likewise, a down-playing of the former recognition of a possible Day of Judgment. With this the title of “imam” is become one who is fundamentally authoritative as a scholar on Islamic law.

Consequently, there are many imams, throughout the Islamic societies, whose position is one who being of high honor leads prayers in mosques.

3. “Mulla” or “Mullah” — The mulla is a cleric, a theologian and judge. Generally, the more contemporary usage of “mulla”or “mullah” for Muslim recognition to leadership in Islam is not as highly ranked as Imam, although he is also defender of the laws of Islam, provides guidance in affairs and conducts sermons from the mosque’s pulpit. A mulla is one who has (and expects) community respect. Islam purports not to have a priesthood class, but there definitely is rank-hood. Mosque and State are combined.

4. Caliph — Temporal and Spiritual leadership for Umayyad, Abbasid, and Andalus Eras.

5. The title of Amir or Emir (see Book 3)came to be integrated with the story of time in the Golden Age of Islam. The amir wielded real temporal power with support of the Sunni Umayyad base of power in Damascus.This served as a stabilizing spiritual reference for populations’ unified identification within Islam. The Emirate is still a term of temporal power by nations and its governance within sections of Islamic Statehood.

6. Sultanate — Ottoman Era — the Sultanate spread Islam in the Ottoman Era through preserving and expanding the borders that would have contained Islam. And their schools throughout the Islamic world defined the philosophical or may we say, various “spiritual” emphasis's. The madras or school would be where Islamic scholars, and the mullas, (leaders who sermonize on Fridays from the pulpit) were each in their own realm minding the business of Islam. This subject is dealt with in the next, Book 3.


Actually, these seeming competitive schools, as divisive as they are, have their counterparts of various branches, sects, and “schools” in Christianity as well as in Judaism. But that is for another book! Suffice it to remember: for within the development of religion, there rises a new level of civilization in each epoch, each claiming Name of their Founder: Moses/Judaism; Christ/Christianity; & Muhammad/Islam. And certainly more! The epochal turmoil and holy wars carried on throughout recorded time certainly record each to their own history of catastrophe.

Graphic Assist — comparative schisms — Christianity

Yet this turmoil, being human, formulated is less for faith than power, may be amazingly working out God’s plan for humanity’s continuing evolution of the human spirit and social progress. Shall progress be made possible by humankind facing history’s human foibles, reaching toward a nobler human definition? Politics may be pursuing their plan of conquests, mayhem, and even dark purpose. Yet, there are ages’ poets and seers, singing the Divine, toward an inevitable Plan of God it would seem. This is that which inspires virtual forward progress to create a continuum of cohesion we humans either unconsciously or purposefully enable.

We can discern the growth of social inclusiveness evolving from units of tribal identities to units of city-state identity to that of national unity, paralleling the eras of Moses, Christ, and Muhammad. Therefore, we see that in spite of these bloody conflagrations that come with each age that ever greater degrees of divine will always manage to burst through the rubble afterward. This is what lights up hope for the world; it’s what one could find in analyzing global history. Social evolution is the miracle of each age. Each age brought by each chosen Messenger of God having its own miracle. Finding such a common Cause enables the seeker to find a universal continuous thread of advancement, even in spite of it all!

[1] Ibid, p 228

[2] Balyuzi MCI, 266