What were the political differences between the Umayyad and the Abbasid Dynasties?

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The death of Muhammed's son-in-law, Ali, split the Muslim world. The Ummayad dynasty restored stability by force, while the followers of the previous rulers, the relatives of Muhammed, considered the Ummayad illegitimate. The former formed the basis of Sunni Islam and the latter of Shiite Islam.

The Ummayad were pragmatic...

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The death of Muhammed's son-in-law, Ali, split the Muslim world. The Ummayad dynasty restored stability by force, while the followers of the previous rulers, the relatives of Muhammed, considered the Ummayad illegitimate. The former formed the basis of Sunni Islam and the latter of Shiite Islam.

The Ummayad were pragmatic imperialists, greatly extending their empire by military conquest. Their invading armies were finally halted and repelled from central France in the 8th century. They modeled their political administration on the East Romans and used the in situ Roman administrators and representatives of the people to collect taxes from the majority Christian populations they now ruled over. Arabic was made the new imperial language, weights and measures were standardized, and the Roman-style portraits of Arab rulers on Islamic coinage were eventually replaced with Arabic script. They built many of the earliest Islamic monuments to their new political power and religion by fusing contemporary Roman architectural forms with Persian glazed decorative tiles and Arabic Kufic script for surface decoration. Shiite Muslims and their non-Arab subjects criticized their political administration for discriminating in favor of ethnic Arabs and for imposing un-Islamic taxes (against Sharia law) on new Muslim converts (Muwali). The Abbasid criticized the hereditary Ummayad rulers for calling themselves khalifat Allah or “deputy of God” instead of khalifat rasul Allah “successor of the messenger of God,” as had been Islamic tradition. Non-elite women in the Ummayad caliphate were allowed greater freedom than under their Abbasid successors.

The Ummayad Arab elite did not emphasize conversion to Islam (a political cum religious system). Neither did the later Abbasid, who dropped Arab supremacy in order to appeal to Persian and other converts of non-Arab ethnicity. The Abbasid strategy paid dividends in winning numerous converts to Islam, whereas the Ummayad relied primarily on military conquest and subjugation by force. The Ummayad conquests subjugated three-quarters of the Mediterranean East Roman empire, giving them a focus on sea-born trade from their Syrian capital at Damascus. The Abbasid empire had its capital at Baghdad and consequently had more of a land-based political administration and trade.

The Abbasids used Persian discontent at the Ummayad Arab discrimination to form one part of the basis of their political revolt, and, upon its success, the Abbasid empire took on a much greater Persian cultural influence characteristic of Shiite Islam. Abbasid political legitimacy rested on a claim that one of the descendants of Ali had transferred the right to rule to the Abbasid family (named for Abbas, the uncle of Muhammed). This political propaganda emphasized their claim to the legitimate right to rule the Muslim world. The Abbasid empire is characterized less by militaristic conquest than by the cultural flowering that took place as converts to Islam translated their knowledge of their Persian, Hindu, and Greek cultures into Arabic and centers of learning flourished. Political administration and taxation was handled by Muslim governors and military rulers, although non-Muslims still played a role interfacing with the majority Christian subjects. The empire was taken over internally by the Seljuk Turks who inherited the Persian cultural influence, but it later returned to the earlier political tradition of militaristic imperial expansion.

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he Umayyad and Abbasid dynasties, and the empires they managed, were in large part defined by the times and contexts of their creation.

The Umayyad Caliphate (661–750) was the second caliphate (after the Rashidun) founded after the Prophet's death (632), and many of the political dynamics during its existence reflected the growing influence of Islam and Arabic power at the time. Freedom of religion was broadly allowed, and the first caliph, Muawiya I, even took a Christian wife (Maysun bint Bahdal), possibly to enjoy the support of the Syrian Orthodox Church. The Umayyads expanded their empire deeper into Central Asia, Northern Africa, Pakistan and, eventually, southern Spain. The capital's location was more stable than in the Abbasid Caliphate, moving only twice from Damascus to Haran (744) and from there to Cordoba (756) to serve as a capital in exile when the Abbayids came to power.

The Abbasid dynasty was a much longer-lasting power in the region, lasting from 750 until their final absorption into the Ottoman Empire in 1517. Their influence never reached as far west as Morocco or Spain, as these remained under Umayyad influence before the latter was re-integrated into Christian Europe. Some of this political fracturing was due to the inter-ethnic strife between Arabs and the Persian population, who were beginning to take on prominent positions in the empire's growing bureaucracy. The capital of greatest duration was Baghdad, and it was here that the famous Abbasid flourishing of science, philosophy, and the arts—known as the Islamic Golden Age—took root.

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