Islamic History Podcast 3-4: Caliphs And Kings

Islamic History Podcast 3-4: Caliphs And Kings

دمشق التاسعة واﻷربعين سنة هجرية

Damascus, 49 AH

“Will the people accept this?” Muawiyyah asked.

“It’s not without precedence,” replied Mughirah ibn Shubah, the governor of Kufah.

Not too long ago, Muawiyyah had considered dismissing Mughirah. He was getting older, was always complaining of fatigue, and there were whispers that he wanted to resign.

But this idea he brought to Muawiyyah was intriguing. Was it possible? Could it be done?

Muawiyyah would not have any problem with this plan in either Syria or Egypt. Both provinces had once been part of the Eastern Roman Empire and were used to the idea.

Furthermore, Muawiyyah was beloved in Syria and the people there would go along with anything he said.

But the rest of the empire might not follow so easily.

Iraq would definitely take some work. Fortunately, he had Mughirah in Kufah and Ziyad ibn Abihi in Basra. Between the two of them, they should be able to bring Iraq along.

But there may be resistance in Arabia, the spiritual center of the empire, and the birthplace of Islam.

The Arabian Peninsula was still home to several companions and their children.

There was Hassan and Husayn, the sons of Ali. Also, Abdullah bin Umar, Abdullah ibn Zubayr, Abdullah ibn Abbas, and many others.

In order for Muawiyyah to make this plan work, he had to talk quietly, move slowly, and act wisely.

He wrote out a letter and handed it to Mughirah with orders to pass it on to Ziyad ibn Abihi. Muawiyyah would need both men to begin working on this immediately.

A few weeks later, he received Ziyad’s response.

Ziyad said he was in favor of the idea, but agreed they must be careful. Ameerul Mumineen was in good health, he wrote, and they still had many years to put their plan into action.

Ziyad promised to talk with the nobles and chiefs of Basra. He had a certain influence over them and was sure he could get them to go along with the idea.

Muawiyyah knew that Ziyad’s “influence” was just another word for intimidation.

The letter cautioned Muawiyyah about his son’s reputation. Perhaps Ameerul Mumineen should send the young man on a few military expeditions to prove his strength and courage.

Muawiyyah rolled up the parchment, and thought about his governor’s advice. It was true, his son was spoiled and had never tasted any true hardships. Perhaps it was time to send him to the Romans.

قسطنطینية التاسعة واﻷربعين سنة هجرية

Constantinople, 49 AH

The ship rocked violently as Yazid ibn Muawiyyah approached the walls of Constantinople. This was the most famous and magnificent city in the world. If Yazid could capture it for his father, he would be revered like the old warriors he’d heard so many stories about.

But as the Muslim fleet drew closer to the city, the prospects of victory looked dim. Though inexperienced in battle, Yazid realized this was a near impossible task.

Constantinople was built on a small peninsula jutting into the Bosporus Strait separating Europe from Asia. Surrounded by water on three sides, a naval assault was the only option.

The outer walls were the biggest Yazid had ever seen. Some of the ramparts were over one hundred feet high. Behind the outer walls, there was a second ring of walls, just as formidable as the first. The Muslims would have to breach both sets of walls before facing the full might of the Roman military.

Yazid would have to rely on the experience of the men under his command. Many of them were much older than he was and had amazing pedigrees.

The most important figure was Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari. Abu Ayyub was an old man, but everyone treated him with great respect. He was among the first Ansars to accept Islam and among those who invited Prophet Muhammad to Medina.

No one actually expected Abu Ayyub to participate in the fighting. But they hoped Allah’s blessings would follow the old Sahabah to Constantinople and bring the Muslims victory.

Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari was the oldest companion in Yazid’s force, but he wasn’t the only one. His command included illustrious names such as Ibn Abbas, Ibn Umar, and Ibn Zubayr.

“Incoming!” someone yelled.

The Romans welcomed the Muslims with catapults and arrows. Large boulders soared over the high stone walls and splashed harmlessly into the sea behind the Muslim fleet.

“That was just to set their aim,” said Yazid’s captain. “The next volley is going to bite.”

Sure enough, another wave of boulders flew through the air and crashed in and amongst the Muslim ships. Most missed but a few hit their marks. They blasted holes into the wooden ships and pulverized the unfortunate soldiers below deck.

The captain ordered his men to row faster. The closer they got to the walls, the less effective the catapults would be.

Most of the fleet made it safely to the shores of Constantinople. Yazid held his shield over his head and led a mad dash across the beach as the Romans showered them with arrows.

Yazid and his soldiers pressed tightly against the high stone walls. For now, they were safe from arrows and somewhat safe from stones. Yazid’s sappers began hastily drilling into the side of the wall.

But the Romans had been defending Constantinople for centuries. They had more defensive tools than arrows and stones.

One of the sappers screamed in agony as his clothes went up in flames. Yazid glanced up at the wall and saw a strange, white liquid creeping down the sides.

Greek fire. A devilish concoction the Romans had that allowed them to literally pour fire on their enemies.

Yazid shook his head. No wonder Constantinople had not been captured in over four centuries.

دمش خمسون سنة هجرية

Damascus, 50 AH

Within a year, things were beginning to look good for Muawiyyah.

In Kufah, Mughirah ibn Shubah had convinced most of the chiefs to accept Muawiyyah’s plan. Mughirah was a Sahabah and for the most part, enjoyed a good relationship with the people of Kufah.

In Basra, Ziyad ibn Abihi also reported success. The people of Iraq offered very little resistance when he “encouraged” them to accept Yazid.

Mughirah died later that year and Ziyad ibn Abihi became the governor of Kufah and Basra. By this time, all of Iraq had professed their acceptance of Muawiyyah’s plan.

In Damascus, Muawiyyah was doing his part.

Muawiyyah ordered an attack on Constantinople and appointed his son as the overall commander. The young man had never been in battle, but Muawiyyah made sure to include several experienced veterans.

The invasion was an utter failure. Yazid’s forces suffered heavy losses and never even breached the outer walls. Old Abu Ayyub Al-Ansari was one of the many casualties of that battle and had been buried beneath the ramparts of the city.

But it wasn’t a complete loss. It did help boost his son’s reputation.

Muawiyyah had a more difficult time convincing Yazid to change his ways.

His son grew up wealthy and privileged in a cosmopolitan city with a Christian mother. Except for his pilgrimages to Arabia, Yazid knew nothing of the harsh, desert life Muawiyyah grew up in.

Yazid loved hunting and poetry and expensive trips. He attended parties with alcohol and music and singing girls. He enjoyed the finer things of life such as silk and rich food.

Muawiyyah convinced Yazid to cut back on these activities, but he never fully gave them up.

Muawiyyah was still concerned about Arabia. In Syria, they loved him. In Iraq, they were afraid of Ziyad ibn Abihi.

But things were different in the Hijaz.

The Hijazis were much more religious and generally did not cause problems for Muawiyyah.

But he knew they did not love him there. They did not accept Muawiyyah because he deserved to be Caliph. They accepted him because there was no other choice.

The Hijazis did not fear their leaders like the Iraqis and did not blindly follow them like the Syrians. As the custodians of the Kaaba and the fountainhead of Islam, they expected to have a say in who would be the next Caliph.

Muawiyyah did not expect the Hijazis to rise up in revolt. They did not have the manpower nor the inclination to do such a thing.

But he could expect resistance from them.  They had made it clear that shura should be utilized to choose Muawiyyah’s successor.

Muawiyyah did not care for Shura. Engaging in consultation and discussion was great for making day to day decisions. But it was not a good way to choose the leader. The Arabs may have had good intentions, but Muawiyyah was convinced that monarchies were more stable.

Besides, everyone else was doing it. The Romans, the Persians, the Abyssinians. They all had monarchies and it seemed to work well for them. Why should the Arabs be any different?

There was nothing in the Quran forbidding a monarchy. The Prophet did not prohibit it. So why did the Muslims act like the only way to choose a leader was with shura?

In fact, none of the previous Caliphs were chosen by shura. The closest was Uthman and they saw how that turned out.

No, Muawiyyah thought shaking his head. The Arabs needed a king. They could not handle choosing their own leader. They may not agree with him now, but they’d thank him later.

شمال أفريقيا خمسون سنة هجرية

North Africa, 50 AH

Ever since the days of Umar ibn Al-Khattab, the Muslim presence in North Africa was limited to Egypt. There had been a few attempts to expand this territory, but nothing of lasting significance.

Show Notes

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Links related to this episode

3-2: Ziyad And Basra

2-15: Kufah And Quran

2-17: Murder And Chaos

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