Omayyad Governance—pros & cons

Golden Mein:

Last week, we dealt with Omayyad governance partly, apart from relating the rise of Abbasids. In the ascendance of Caliphs, while as republicanism was in vogue in the ascendance of Khulfia-e-Rashideen—the first four rightly guided caliphs, dynastic succession became the norm as Omayyads assumed power with Damascus as the power center. There were other obvious flaws apart from Arabic custom of tribal senior taking over the leadership, rather than the norm of eldest son succeeding the father—the norm adopted in dynastic successions, worldwide. While as, the Arabic norm would and did work in Arabic tribal settings, for a vast empire, a changing dynastic order did create problems. As already spelt out, only four Omayyad caliphs were succeeded by sons, some wanted their sons to succeed them but couldn’t do it, due to Arab tribal customs. Unregulated succession created governance deficits, recorded by historians of repute.
At the pinnacle of governing mechanism, apart from Diwan-e-Khatam, the office of royal decrees, Diwan-ul-Khiraj [department of finance] was Diwan-ul- Rasail [office of correspondence] the office that received communications from provincial governorates. The office could be compared to general department in the present administrative set-up.  Diwan-e-Khatam could well be compared to present day cabinet secretariat, where decisions taken by the cabinet are communicated to various administrative levels, though it could be said that decrees in caliphate set-up was Caliph’s decision, while as cabinet decisions convey collective judgment of the cabinet. In the caliphate era of Khulfia-e-Rashideen, the caliphate decision was based on Shoura-e-Bainahum [mutual consultation] thus had a democratic ring. Diwan-ul-Khiraj [department of finance] has been compared by Ameer Ali in his History of Saracens to Board of Land tax. Another Diwan was Diwan-ul-Musttaghilat [Board of Miscellaneous Revenue]. Two subordinate offices of Diwan-ul-Khiraj dealt with police [Shurtah in Arabic] and Jaiash [army].
The armed forces recruitment was mandatory for Arab born subjects of Islamic caliphates. They would join their legions [Junds] for mandatory training. During active service they were on regular salaries, and in periods of disengagement from active service, they would remain in reserves and draw a lower amount. Apart from the land army, the development of fleet in Omayyad period led to the creation of office of Ameer-ul-Bahr [Admiral] and with Arabs controlling the Mediterranean apart from the Red sea, development of a fleet assumed added importance, especially following the conquest of Spain and Southern France.
Omayyad architectural plans, though influenced by Roman and Persian architecture soon developed a distinct Saracenic architecture. It is related that Arabic love for their desert designs of arching and doming of palm grooves reflected in distinct Saracenic architecture. In town planning, Arabs held on to their clannish past, hence in towns there were tribal quarters, wherein a particular tribe would set up their own houses, their own shopping malls, mosques and ensure that there is a watchmen [Haris] to watch egress and ingress [outgoing and incoming]. In times of trouble, the gates would be shut and inmates confined to their quarters.
The palaces of Omayyads were marked for their distinct style with ornamental walls, beams of highly carved Indian teak wood—painted and gilt. They have been recorded in history as painted palaces [Mankusha in Arabic].  Elaborately laid courtyards and tree lined lawns, the fountains made these palaces a charming sight, as stands recorded in Arabic and western chronicles of Omayyad era. It is related that other Omayyads took cue from Green Palace [Kasr-ul-Khazra] of Ameer Muwiyah. Building-up Damascus gathered pace in the caliphate of Walid-I. And Damascus became one of the most beautiful cities in the world. The city had six distinct gates, marking entry points from various destinations in the Islamic caliphate. It was elaborately guarded. In fact all the major townships of the caliphate were fortified. The love of building was not confined to Damascus. It is related that Hurr—an Omayyad prince who was governor of Mosul for eleven years build a college, a caravanserai, and his own residence—all of which were places of exquisite beauty [Ameer Ali—History of Saracens—page: 192].
As is so well known in East, these palaces had Diwan-e-Aam and Diwan-e-Khas, while as Diwan-e-Aam was meant for general audience, Diwan-e-Khas was secluded quarter for Caliphs interaction with royals and nobles. The Omayyad royals would be seated to the right of caliph and the nobles to the left. It stands related that it was during Omayyad period, when the Byzantine custom of Harem was introduced with eunuchs guarding the quarters meant for women. The famed chronicler, Ameer Ali is insistent that Harem—the secluded quarter is neither Arab nor Muslim in essence. The desert Arabs never ever had such secluded quarters. Hence, it is wrong to ascribe Harem to Muslims, as most of the western scribes feel tempted to repeat time and again.
Notwithstanding bringing in the Roman and Persian customs into Islamic realm like the Harem, there are historically related tales of some remarkable women who stamped their authority on the affairs of state. Wife of Walid-I, who was sister of Omar-II having heard of Hajaj ibn Yusuf telling the caliph of not paying heed to her advice, decided to summon him, he was made to wait. As the royal consort walked in, she hardly took notice of Hajaj paying respects, and then started recounting his acts of omission and commission—the human rights abuses while conducting the business of the state in the viceroyalty of Iraq. Arab chronicles are full of tales of valorous Arab woman, virtuous, too. The saintly Rabia-al-Basri is a legend in Islamic lore, as widely renowned and respected, as another famed name from Basra,  the famed scholar—Hasan-al-Basri, who also is related to have put in his great works during the Omayyad period.
While some caliphs of Omayyad dynasty strictly observed the prescribed Islamic norms, there are reports of some indulging in drinking. The song and the music did make its way into Omayyad courts, and there were periods of licentiousness. The drunks in the streets might have made movement difficult for fair gender, and some historians like Ameer Ali label it as a cause of seclusion of women. In the social realm, Islamic or otherwise, it is an accepted fact that unsafe streets lead to seclusion of women.

Water supply of Damascus and Mosul has been much commented upon and commended, especially of Damascus with its canals and aqueducts. The water supply has stood the test of times. It was so abundant, as to allow a fountain in the courtyard of every house in Damascus. Other pros in governance like development of an Islamic mint and regulating police and postal services have already been recorded.
Yaar Zinda, Sohbat Baqi [Reunion is subordinate to survival]

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