Islam: The Successors

Islam: The Umayyads and Abbasids

724 to 961 A.D.

Introduction: Muhammed was born around 570 AD to a family of the Quraysh clan, the ruling tribe of Mecca, an important trading city in north-western Arabia. He was orphaned early in life but around 590 he entered the service of a widow called Khadijah, operating trading caravans to the north. He subsequently married Khadijah, with whom he had two sons -who did not survive- and four daughters.

Some time around 610, he began to retire to a cave on Mount Hira, near Mecca. During one of these visits he heard the voice of the Angel Gabriel. Over a period of time, God's message to mankind was revealed to Muhammed, first and foremost the supremacy of God as the creator of man and the source of all knowledge.

Muhammed began to preach about what he had learnt. Society in Mecca at the time was polytheist and it's rulers did not take kindly to his message. On 16th July 622 after negotiations with representatives of the small town of Yathrib, later to be called Medina, Muhammed gathered his followers together and moved there. This event was known as the "Hijra" and the Muslim calendar began on this date. In the West, Islamic dates are indicated by "A.H." (Anno Hijra) to distinguish them from the Christian "A.D."

Before his death in 632 AD, Muhammed and his followers had captured Mecca and occupied the west coast of the Arabian peninsular, setting the scene for the amazing conquests of the next few years.

On the death of Muhammed, by general agreement with his followers, 'Abu Bakr was elected to succeed him. He was the first Kalifa (Caliph in English), which means successor (to Muhammed) or deputy (to God). He was followed in 634 AD by 'Umar. He was succeeded in 644 AD by 'Uthman. 'Uthman was murdered in 656 AD by the followers of 'Ali, who was installed as Caliph. These followers of 'Ali became known as shi'atu 'Ali, or Shi'ites, the name of a major sect of Islam, still a major force today. The orthodox mainstream Muslims are known as Sunni. These first four leaders were known as the "Rightly Guided Caliphs".

The Umayyads, headed by Abu Sufyan, were a merchant family of the Quraysh tribe centred at Mecca. They had initially resisted Islam, not converting until 627 AD, but subsequently became prominent administrators under Muhammad and his immediate successors. Following the murder of 'Uthman civil war ensued, and although 'Ali was initially triumphant, eventually Abu Sufyan's son Mu'awiyah, then governor of Syria, emerged victorious establishing himself as the first Umayyad caliph.

The Umayyads were considered too secular and discontent erupted into major revolts in Syria, Iraq, and Khorasan (745-746 AD). In 749 AD, Abu al-'Abbas as-Saffah, was proclaimed as caliph who thereby became first of the Abbasid dynasty. Al-Mansur (754-775 AD) constructed a new Abbasid capital, Baghdad.

In 711 A.D. Arab conquest had reached Spain, the Visigoths were defeated, and by 713 the Muslims had reached Narbonne in France. In 756, 'Abd al-Rahman, grandson of the Umayyad Caliph, Hisham, became the ruler in Spain, in defiance of the Abbasid Caliph.

List of rulers and dynasties

Click on image for more details and history
Umayyad Caliphate
Yazid II
102-106 AH (720 AD - 724 AD)
Umayyad Caliphate
AH 105-125 (724 AD - 743 AD)
Umayyad Caliphate
Anonymous Arab-Byzantine
Circa 680-690 AD
Arab Persia
Arab Governors of Tabaristan
784 AD / 168 AH
Abbasid Caliphate
Saffah (Abu el-abbas)
AH 133-137 (750 AD - 754 AD)
Abbasid Caliphate
136-158 AH, 754-775 AD
Abbasid Caliphate
136-158 AH, 754-775 AD
Abbasid Caliphate
Mahdi ("right guided")
AH 159-169 (775 AD - 785 AD)
Abbasid Caliphate
Harun al Rashid, ("the orthodox")
AH 170-194 (786 AD - 809 AD)
Abbasid Caliphate
Al Qahir
AH 320-322 (932 - 934 AD)
Aghlabids (N. Africa)
Ibrahim II ibn Ahmad
261-289 AH/ 875-902 AD
Umayyads of Spain
Abd al Rahman III
300-350 AH (912-961 AD)
Nasr II b. Ahmad
301-331 AH (913-942 AD)
Habbarid (Amirs of Sind)
'Abd al Rahman
c. 950 AD

Umayyads and Abbasids
Islam: The Successors