After Muhammad’s death, Islamic communities were organized and ruled under a politico-religious system known as caliphates. Succession wars amongst Mohammed’s followers culminated in the rise to power of Mu’awiyah. As a member of the Umayya clan, Mu’awiyah was the culmination of the clan’s absorption into Islam. Ironically, the Umayya clan was initially regarded as a rival to Mohammed’s own movement. The clan would later become a string allay to Islam, eventually becoming a part of Islam’s political structure. As the fifth caliph, Mu’awiyah would oversaw a rapid expansion of Islam’s political and economic interests in the Middle East, South Asia and the Mediterranean. He based his empire’s political structure on the byzantine and Persian models and oversaw bureaucratization of the caliphate’s function. Nevertheless, the Umayyad Caliphate treated conquered peoples as second class citizens. Indeed, newly converted Muslims were hardly considered for political posts. Persian citizens were especially displeased at the favoritism shown to Muslims of Syrian descent. Additionally, Shiite Muslims regarded the Umayya clan as undeserving to hold leadership over Muslims, given that they were not Mohammed’s descendants. Further, the ruling class’s lavish lifestyles angered common citizens. With time, these grievances led to rebellion against the Umayyas. Led by the Abbasids the people overthrew the Umayyan clan and installed a new ruling class. This marked the beginning of the Abbasid caliphate.
Like the Umanyyan clan, the Abbasids originated from Mecca. The Abassid’s, however, claimed rightful rule over the caliphate on account of their descent from Mohammed’s uncle, Abbas ibn Abd al-Muttalib. After a series of rebellion that claimed, Abadalla overthrew the reigning Umayyan caliph and installed himself as the new ruler. The Abassids immediately reversed some of controversial decisions that had made the Umayyans lose the caliphate’s support. The caliphate’s capital was immediately relocated to Baghdad from Damascus. This marked a significant change in the caliphate’s attitudes towards newly converted Muslims. The Persia-located capital now acknowledged the incorporation of Mawalis into Islam as equal citizens. Nevertheless, the revolution was short lived as the Abassids consolidated power. The unpopular system of hereditary leadership remained, disregarding the alliance with the Shiites’s who wanted the leadership for themselves. The Shia believed that the caliphate’s problems would only be solved by installing a direct descendant of Ali as ruler (Kennedy 297). Such a ruler would have the divine authority to interpret the Koran and instill Islamic values in the kingdom. The Abassids perceived these beliefs as a threat to their own rule and proceeded to forge an alliance with the Sunnis. They enforced further subjugation of Shiite Muslims, angering those who had supported the Abassid rebellion. In this regard, the new dynasty was almost indistinguishable from the Umayyans.
The Abassids instituted a system of absolute authority under sharia law. Though they treated Muslim converts as equal citizens they were cruel to non-Muslim citizens, forcing many to convert by force. This was unlike the Umanyyans who allowed non-Muslim citizens to live in relative peace, albeit as second class citizens. Indeed, the Umanyyan dynasty derived great benefit from having the “people of the book” reside in the empire. This is because a higher tax was levied on non-Muslims, essentially commercializing their religious status. Though the Abassids continued to levy these taxes, thy pursued an aggressive conversion campaign. Many Jews and Christians converted to enjoy the benefits of equal citizenship provided by the Abassid dynasty.
Under the Abassid caliphate, there was an increased emphasis on education.it was during this caliphate that the golden age of Islam was realized. As ruler, Harun al-Rashid oversaw huge advances in knowledge on the arts and the sciences. The caliphate took advantage of its large size to enhance research in mathematics, philosophy and other arts using knowledge accumulated by Egyptian, Persian and Greek civilizations. Harun’s successors continued this knowledge-intensive policy, supporting artists and scholars by providing an enabling environment for learning and research. Consequently, Bagdad became the center of learning in the world during the Abassid caliphate. The empire became known as a political and economic power that prioritized enlightenment among its subjects. This was in sharp contrast to its predecessor, the Umayyan Empire which paid scant attention to the value of knowledge acquisition among subjects.
Even though the Abassid’s continued many of the Umayyan Empire’s systems of rule, they were far more effective in their governance. They streamilied the beurocrcy to foster trade and governance and created new trade routes. These trade routes connected the empire and boosted trade. Indeed, it was during the Abassid’s reign that trade truly flourished. Fuelled by aggressive growth in the arts, Bagdad became the center of trade in hand crafted items. The guild system was used by middle class traders who controlled the trade just as they had during the Unayyan dynasty. Under this system
The architectural contribution of the Umayyan caliphate were mainly derived from Byznatine and Sasanid methods. Though the Umayyans would innovate many aspects of their architectural artwork, many of their buildings they built bore Byznatine and Sasanid signatures. Umanyyan architecture was characterized by intricate decorations that bore many Islamic motifs. In desert regions the Umayyan dynasty constructed fortified structures that were protected by a ring of walls and towers. Within the forts, the Umayyans would construct a bathhouse, a castle and a mosque. Many of these structures were built using timber form Syrian forests, mud and baked bricks. These mosaics are still seen in many buildings that remained across the former caliphate. The Abassids, on the other hand, were influenced by Persian and Central Asian styles of construction. Nevertheless, Abassid architectural designs still bore the hallmarls of Sasanid design. Many of the caliphate’s cities were designed on large landscapes with matching monuments. The empire’s architecture was characterized by rounded piers and numerous supporting columns. With regards to architectural artwork the Abassid introduced innovative designs that made a deliberate attempt to avoid the depiction of animals and plants. This was a marked shift from Umayyan designs. The Calipahte’s artwork was appreciate by many Muslims and, as a result, spread rapidly throughout the empire.
In my opinion, the Abassid Empire had a far greater impact on Islamic civilization than its predecessor. The empire’s use of knowledge was quite impressive, with much of the knowledge acquired during this age still influencing learning today. The Abassid Empire gained the support of its conquered citizens, enhancing the spread of Islam across North Africa and South Asia. Further, the Abassid’s artwork continues to decorate many Islamic installations today due to its perceived adherence to Islamic law. The Abassid’s system of rule continues to influence many modern theocracies. This is partly due to the fact that this caliphate was far more efficient than the Umayyan dynasty.
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