The Abbasid and Umayyad Dynasties
In the early founding years of Islam the Muslim population was governed by the Prophet Muhammad until his death. He alone made all rulings, decisions, strategic planning with the aid of the divine revelations he received from God and acted as judge and jury to his followers should any problems arise. From his youth and beyond he was known to everyone as being an honest trustworthy person, but as he approached old age and near death his community was faced with the problem of who will guide them and preside over them once Muhammad was gone. After the passing of the Prophet control over the Muslim population was passed on to the four rightly guided Caliphs Abu Bakr, Omar, Uthman, and Ali. During the reigns of Uthman and Ali much strife occurred and the collective Muslim community started to branch off into different sects. By the time of Ali’s death the inner turmoil had sealed the fate that there would be no rightly guided caliphs to succeed him.
Uthman had established his cousin Muawiyah as the governor of Syria during his reign as Caliph which gave Muawiyah a path to gain leadership after the deaths of Uthman and Ali. In the year 661 Muawiyah was awarded the honor of becoming the next Caliph, he then set up his home and government body in Damascus and declared that his Umayyad dynasty was the ruling body over all Muslims through courts, military, religious officials and political administrators. As the first Muslim dynasty the Umayyad’s curbed the threat of someone from outside their family coming into power by setting up a system where leadership would be passed on to male members of the family. By using their military regime they moved through Europe, North Africa and Spain spreading Islam as they went and eventually expanded into India and China. During the reign of the Umayyad Dynasty around 90 percent of their societies population remained no Muslim, this was due to the discriminatory hierarchy that they had created that gave the most privileges to Muslim Arabs, then a step down was non-Arab Muslims, followed by persons of other religions who were not slaves, and then at the bottom of the totem were the slaves. The Umayyad’s faced opposition when their people became divided by some followers wanting equality for all and others viewing Arabs as being above everyone else, this combined with opposition by two of Muhammad’s grandsons caused the Umayyad regime to weaken and crumble. As the revolts started to become stronger a major disagreement was met when non-Arab Muslims wanted equal social status was given to Muslims who were not Arab, even Umayyad princes who were born to mothers who were not Arab were discriminated against and removed from the possibility of ever being rulers. All of these difficulties combined and set the stage for Muhammad the grandson of Al-Abbas and his supporters who rejected the racial discrimination of the Umayyad Empire revolted against the Umayyad’s, slaughtering many of them and overthrowing their government and empire.
In 750 the Abbasids, who were descendants of Muhammad’s uncle arose to power became the second Islamic dynasty. The Abbasid Empire built Baghdad into a marvelous stronghold with extravagant palaces and mosques and made Iraq into a thriving economy with much trade and agriculture including irrigation systems that could produce crops up to twice a year. They revolted against Arab dominance in favor of the Quranic teaching that everyone is equal regardless of ethnic origin but, although they stressed equality and treated their Christian and Jewish citizens with much respect their system was not perfect and levied a tax on all non-Muslims and also taxed converts to Islam and on days that they felt like exercising their power enforced rules on converts and non-Arab Muslims that contradicted their quest for equality. During their reign an “Arabization” process also went underway in which all citizens regardless of their social status, ethnic origin, or religion utilized the Arabic language and became more unified. Much interest was placed on education, arts, and sciences and time was spent translating them into Arabic so that they could facilitate the spread of knowledge. The thriving Abbasid Empire after reigning or hundreds of years met its downfall when successive events such as revolts and assassination attempts by the Shia population, invasions by other military forces including the Turks, and Mongols, disintegration of agricultural infrastructure including the wonderful irrigation systems that had been destroyed by invaders.
The two Empires shared many things in common besides their faith in Islam including both empires initially being built on the teachings of the Quran and prophet Muhammad by not resorting to Bedouin style ruling for personal gain but to work towards a better community for all citizens. Both were of Arab ethnic origin and were the descendants of the Prophet Muhammad’s Quraysh tribe and followed Sunni Islam, although the Abbasid’s had some Shia supporters that they tolerated and then eventually cut ties with. They also shared a taxation process that was levied on non-Muslims and Muslim converts that flourished as both dynasties became more wealthy and extravagant from the money of their subjects, in the case of the Umayyad caliphs as one succeeded another the level of taxes were raised so that they may achieve more monetary gain. Both also suffered from having persons in charge that were more concerned with their personal gain that in turn caused their whole dynasties to suffer at the expense of the citizens.
Throughout the years that these two dynasties reigned each had had their strengths and weaknesses. One of the main differences between the Umayyad and Abbasid regimes is the time period each reigned, the Umayyad’s enjoined only around 100 years of rule while the Abbasid’s enjoying nearly 500 years of power suffered an interruption by Mongol invaders and then resumed power again for a few more years. They also focused on different areas while expanding their empires, the Umayyad’s put a lot of interest in conquering areas around the Mediterranean Sea while the Abbasids focused more on Iran as well as Iraq and surrounding countries. Women also had different lifestyles within the two dynasties, in the Umayyad Dynasty women did not have to wear the veil and enjoyed a lifestyle that was more public oriented as opposed to the Abbasid Empire who preferred women to be more modestly dressed with a veil and secluded from the public giving way to the concept of the harem. The willingness to accept converts into Islam was also a major difference, the Umayyad’s had a disdain for converts and treated them as a lower class than those who were born to Muslim Arab families which caused the Muslim population to not grow as much as it did under the Abbasids who readily accepted Muslim converts into their community and thus the number of converts to Islam grew rapidly and flourished under their rule. Another interest that varied greatly between the two dynasties was the Umayyad quest for military power and expansion which the Abbasids countered with the expansion of arts, knowledge, and medicine which is also another reason why the Abbasid Empire was able to last longer. While the Umayyad’s kept their focus on giving the best treatment and best jobs to only Arab Muslims the Abbasid’s practiced religious tolerance chose to employ the best individuals they could find regardless of ethnic background or religion as merchants, traders, and scholars. Through their advancement in translating literature from Greek they were able to spread ancient texts that would aid in the formation of the European Renaissance .