Umayyad Caliphate

627 Jan 1


Mecca Saudi Arabia

During the pre-Islamic period, the Umayyads or "Banu Umayya" were a leading clan of the Quraysh tribe of Mecca. By the end of the 6th century, the Umayyads dominated the Quraysh's increasingly prosperous trade networks with Syria and developed economic and military alliances with the nomadic Arab tribes that controlled the northern and central Arabian desert expanses, affording the clan a degree of political power in the region. The Umayyads under the leadership of Abu Sufyan ibn Harb were the principal leaders of Meccan opposition to the Islamic prophet Muhammad, but after the latter captured Mecca in 630, Abu Sufyan and the Quraysh embraced Islam. To reconcile his influential Qurayshite tribesmen, Muhammad gave his former opponents, including Abu Sufyan, a stake in the new order. Abu Sufyan and the Umayyads relocated to Medina, Islam's political centre, to maintain their new-found political influence in the nascent Muslim community.

Muhammad's death in 632 left open the succession of leadership of the Muslim community. The Muhajirun gave allegiance to one of their own, the early, elderly companion of Muhammad, Abu Bakr, and put an end to Ansarite deliberations. Abu Bakr was viewed as acceptable by the Ansar and the Qurayshite elite and was acknowledged as caliph (leader of the Muslim community). He showed favor to the Umayyads by awarding them command roles in the Muslim conquest of Syria. One of the appointees was Yazid, the son of Abu Sufyan, who owned property and maintained trade networks in Syria.

Abu Bakr's successor Umar (r. 634–644) curtailed the influence of the Qurayshite elite in favor of Muhammad's earlier supporters in the administration and military, but nonetheless allowed the growing foothold of Abu Sufyan's sons in Syria, which was all but conquered by 638. When Umar's overall commander of the province Abu Ubayda ibn al-Jarrah died in 639, he appointed Yazid governor of Syria's Damascus, Palestine and Jordan districts. Yazid died shortly after and Umar appointed his brother Mu'awiya in his place. Umar's exceptional treatment of Abu Sufyan's sons may have stemmed from his respect for the family, their burgeoning alliance with the powerful Banu Kalb tribe as a counterbalance to the influential Himyarite settlers in Homs who viewed themselves as equals to the Quraysh in nobility or the lack of a suitable candidate at the time, particularly amid the plague of Amwas which had already killed Abu Ubayda and Yazid. Under Mu'awiya's stewardship, Syria remained domestically peaceful, organized and well-defended from its former Byzantine rulers.

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Last Updated: : Sat Jan 13 2024