…fall of Omayyads

Golden Mein:

We are getting nearer to the end of Omayyad caliphate, as Yazid-III a son of Walid-I took charge in 744 A.D/126 A.H. From the licentiousness of Walid-II to the puritanism of Yazid-III, it was a welcome change. It did not however last, the Caliph lasted just six months. Even the short period did not insulate him from raging rebellions from inhabitants of Hems and Palestine—Hems very much within Syria and Palestine not far away from the center of caliphate. Though these rebellions were combated, Marwan holding charge of Armenia did not take the oath of allegiance. He marched towards Syria; the Caliph Yazid-III conceded the viceroyalty of the provinces held by him and his father. Ceding power appeased Marwan. Next Nasr—deputy governor of Khorasan rose in revolt, as did Abdul Rehman against Hanzala in the western theater of caliphate. Before these revolts in east and west could be combated, Yazid-III died. He was succeeded by his brother—Ibrahim. A historical query however stands on his being called formally a caliph. While some did call him a caliph, others called him Ameer simply—not a caliph.

Ibrahim, as per historical accounts ruled for 2 months and 10 days. Marwan, as soon as he heard of Yazid-III’s death started towards Syria and met the forces of Ibrahim at a place between Bablek and Damascus. In a day long battle, superior battle staying power of Marwan’s troops held the day. Trained in holding at bay the Byzantines and Turkish rebels, they held the edge over mainly Himyarite troops of Ibrahim. Marwan carried the day, Ibrahim was killed. Marwan’s revolt initially was propagated to be restore caliphate to sons of Walid, who had been held prisoners by Ibrahim. They were killed and in the ensuing anarchic state, Wald’s family exhumed the body of Yazid—III and impaled it. It is related that Yusuf—formerly of Iraq viceroyalty, held prisoner was killed by a son of Khalid. Khalid, it may be remembered had been handed over to Yusuf by Yazid-III and he had executed him. While these reprisals and counter-reprisals followed, Marwan walked into the capital. And was installed as caliph—the last of Omayyad caliphs.

Marwan’s caliphate lasted six years [744—750 A.D] and it spelt the end of Omayyad caliphate.  In spite of his other likable attributes, Marwan-II could not rise above the ethnicity based conflict between Modharites and Himyarites. He had confronted Ibrahim’s Himyarites with Modharites, hence his victory and gain of caliphate led to Modharite ascendance and Himyarite persecution. Otherwise, historians underline Marwan’s simplicity of manner and approach. Down to earth, he is related to have done away with his privileges by sharing with troops in his command, whatever they would be provided with. For doggedness of his approach, he has been called ‘al-Himar’[donkey]. It needs to be explained that in Arabic lore, donkey is not visualized as the beast of burden is viewed in other cultural settings. It stands as noted—related to a person dogged in approach, steadfast in carrying the burden of others.

Masudi, the famous chronicler notes of Marwan-II, “Marwan’s fanatical attachment to his family against Yemenites detached the later from his side to the advantage of Abbasside propaganda, and at last brought about those circumstances which passed the power fro sons of Omayya to those of Hashim. Later this rivalry led to the invasion of Yemen by Mann, son of Zaidah, who, in his fanaticism for the Modharites, massacred the Yemenites, and broke up the ancient alliance which united Himyar and Modhar. It led to sanguinary reprisals by Okba in Bahrain and Oman against Modharite tribes settled in these provinces”. Masudi’s account sums up the times, and where Marwan-II failed to keep up the social fiber woven so delicately. The fiber, in the weaving of which the ancient peers of Arabia had provided a hand, chiefly the Prophet of Islam [pbuh] as he tied in brotherhood [Muwakhat]  the Meccan migrant [Mahajir] mainly Modharite and the Medinite helper [Ansar] mainly Himyar of Yemeni origin.

Omayyads mostly could no maintain this delicate equation, using populace of one or the other of these ethnicities in settling inter-Omayyad feuds, or in using their officials, leaning on men of one or the other of these ethnicities, such as the Modharite Hajaj ibn Yusuf, his adversaries—Himyarite Muhallab, or between Himyarite—Khalid al-Qasra and his adversary Yusuf—the Modharite. This upset the delicate balance woven over generations of interaction. Marwan-II’s partisan role favouring Modharites outright without maintaining a semblance of equity between two premier ethnicities was another nail in the coffin of Omayyad rule.

Nasr, his able deputy governor of Khorasan, an ageing Modharite, tried his best to control the province and contain the growing Abu Muslim led rebellion. Khorasan was the epicenter of Abbasid bid for power, which was being made with an assertion of the rights of Ahl-e-Byat [the house of the Holy Prophet (pbuh)] the bid being inclusive of Alids [the house of Syedena Ali (RA) and Syeda Fatima (RA)]. The Himyarites of Khorasan followed the general trend in opposing the Modharite Nasr, who was otherwise able in governance. In spite of his efforts, he could not hold the forte for long. And he was hampered, with no help coming from the center of caliphate.

Marwan-II with his stretched out forces could not have been of help, even if he could comprehend the growing trouble in east of the caliphate. He was in the midst of facing the Khawarij insurgency in Iraq and Hejaz. Khawarij for a time controlled these provinces. The zeal of Khawarij while admired and acclaimed by many a historian, as well as their zest for establishing a just rule, could never attain sustaining power. They would be up one day, and down the day next. Long term planning continued to be their drawback, their short term ascendance now and then notwithstanding.

Other rebellions against Marwan-II emerged in Hems and Palestine. He also made the strategic mistake of settling in his favoured location in Harran, leaving the day to day administration to his sons—Abdul Malik and Abdullah. He is related to have been advanced in years on taking over the caliphate at sixty plus, though quite energetic. Devoted to historic studies of ancient past, and discussing often the subject with companions, he remained nevertheless short of historical sense. Apart from failure to comprehend and contain inter-Arab ethnic feelings, his failure to strike a balance between Arabs and non-Arabs—mainly Persians in Islamic fold stays recorded as yet another of his many failures. Persians though they were high in numbers in administrative and financial services hardly found space amongst higher echelons of military services or in power corridors. Marwan-II also could not wholly retain the Syrian base—the mainstay of Omayyad power.

With the list of his failures climbing that ultimately led to end of Omayyad Caliphate, Abu-Muslim leading the Abbasid bid for power was exploiting all his weaknesses and converting them into his strength.

Next week, inshallah, we may study Abu-Muslim and his campaign, before commencing our study of fascinating Abbasid Caliphate of Baghdad.

Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]

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