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    The split between the two forms of Islam was already in the process of forming upon the death of the Prophet Muhammad. Muhammad had constructed around himself not only a potent new religious movement but also a powerful young state called the Ummah (the "Community" for lack of a better translation). Belonging to the Islamic faith also meant belonging to the Ummah, which was governed by its own laws and had many of its own institutions. In his own lifetime, Muhammad had ruled the Ummah through what sociologists call "charismatic authority", a term coined by Max Weber that is defined as "resting on devotion to the exceptional sanctity, heroism or exemplary character of an individual person, and of the normative patterns or order revealed or ordained by him". Hence, Muslims believe Muhammad ruled because he was uniquely chosen and endowed by God as the exemplar of all humanity, giving him a unique (though not perfect or infallible) ability to govern humanity. This was a holistic form of governance because the Prophet did not simply deliver God's words (what became the Holy Qur'an), nor did he simply pronounce upon court cases and create laws. He did all those things, but he also presented in his own person the embodiment of the best that humanity could aspire to. He was fully human, but the finest, most pious example that humans would ever produce.

    Amid the upheaval in the Islamic world following Muhammad’s death, the Umayyad Caliphate lasted for less than a century, but in that time it managed to become one of the most influential of the major caliphates established following him. Its official existence was from 661-750, and the rulers were the male members of the Umayyad dynasty, roughly translated from Arabic as the “Sons of Umayyah”. Its primary base of power was in Syria following the creation of a dynastic, hereditary rule headed by one of Syria’s long-lasting governors, Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan.

    Like the other caliphates around that time, the Umayyads existed in a constant state of internal struggle and external conflict. Battles over succession, especially over which lineages possessed the more legitimate claim to power, plagued the early years of the caliphate in Syria. The most significant were the First Muslim Civil War in 661 and the Second Civil War in 680. The official right to become caliph passed between branches of the Umayyad clan, but Syria and Damascus continued to be the main seats of power even as the kingdom expanded to include the Iberian Peninsula, the Transoxiana, the Maghreb, and Sindh.

    The Umayyad Caliphate became renowned for being a center of authoritarian power, education, and cultural development. The population was multiethnic and consisted of local peoples conquered throughout Africa, Europe, and Asia, including regional Christians and Jews. At its greatest extent, the empire extended over an area of 4,300,000 sq. miles, with over 33,000,000 residents. It was one of the largest known empires in history, even considering modern developments, and a precursor to the Golden Age of Islam.

    It remains a subject of modern debate how to best understand the Umayyads, but there is no doubt they were one of the most influential of the early medieval empires and paved the way for future Islamic caliphates to wield impressive amounts of influence throughout the Middle East. The Umayyad Caliphate: The History and Legacy of the Second Islamic Kingdom Established After the Prophet’s Death chronicles the caliphate’s life and accomplishments, and the massive impact it left on the world; you will learn about the Umayyad Caliphate like never before.

    ©2020 Charles River Editors (P)2020 Charles River Editors

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