Reasons for the Abbasid Revolution
Considered as the first major military and political upheaval in the Muslim and Arab world, the Abbasid Revolution brought a number of changes in both religion and the Arab social system. First, it had an impact on the development of Arab and Islam history, as it saw the destruction of one major dynasty (The Ummayads) and coming in of another (The Abbasids). The most obvious reason for the revolution was to depose the Umayyad Caliphate, which appears to have forgotten the Prophets teaching on the rule of law. However, it is arguable that there were several social, cultural, religious, and political reasons for the Abbasid Revolution, which took place between 747CE and 750 CE (Hugh 324).
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First, for a long time, the Abbasid family claimed that they were the legitimate rulers of the Empires by virtue of tracing their origins to the Prophet’s uncle Al-Abbas. The Abbasid family, therefore, felt disrespected for their non-involvement in the running of the caliphate. Al-Abbas, their ancestor, was the Prophet’s younger uncle and, by traditions, he would have been the rightful heir of the caliphate. Therefore, this belief motivated the Abbasid Family to organize a military intervention with the belief that they were legally justified to claim the empire.
Secondly, tribal divisions were evident was part of the history of the empire. The northern tribes were in constant disagreement with the southern tribes due to socio-economic disputes. For instance, the Northern tribes claimed the rights to land ownership, which was greatly opposed by the southern tribes. The Umayyad rulers made one important error in their rule- they granted numerous privileges to the northern tribes at the expense of the southerners, especially with respect to land rights, exemption from taxation, and political positions. The southern tribes, from where the Abbasid Family belonged, felt largely marginalized and discriminated. Very few were appointed to political and military positions. They were supposed to pay taxes and had no rights to land ownership. Therefore, they opposed both the Umayyads and Mudar. They fought fiercely against their enemies both in Khurasan and in Iraq. Their ability to organize large and strong military forces led to the collapse of the Umayyads and the rise of the Abbasid Caliphate.
Thirdly, apart from involving the southern tribes, the Abbasids were able to influence other tribes and groups against the Umayyads. For instance, they were able to influence other warring groups such as the Mawali by promising to work with them in the new regime. Apart from the Middle East, the Abbasids were successful in persuading other groups such as the al-Andalus in North Africa against the caliphate.
Thirdly, the religious divisions between the Shia and the Sunni Muslims were a major cause of the Umayyad defeat by the Abbasid family. The Muslim world was divided into two groups since the death of the Prophet. Each group claimed to be the true religion based on their origins. The division was largely political rather than religious, which resulted from the debate on who should have succeeded the Prophet as the leader of the Ummah. The Shi’s felt that they were the rightful leaders of the Ummah by virtue of their origin (they originated from Shi at Ali, the prophets’ uncle). On the other hand, the Sunnis believed that they were the rightful rulers of the Ummah because they originated from the Prophet through the Prophet’s daughter Fatimah. However, by the time of the Abbasid Revolution, these differences had escalated and changed into a long-term struggle to control the religion as well as the Arab empire.
In fact, the hatred between the two groups had increased to the extent of involving military invasions against each other. The Abbasids were largely in support of the pro-Shiite movements, who had been against the Umayyad. It is worth noting that the Umayyads were Sunnis, and there was no way they could exert political and economic control on the Shia groups without resistance. Constant rebellion from the Pro-shi groups was common in the Umayyad caliphate but was generally weak. The caliphate would use their influence on the Sunnis and tribal groups to crash these rebellions. However, the Abbasids used this opportunity to launch an onslaught against the Umayyad rulers. First, they were aware that several pro-shite groups and tribal chiefs who felt sidelined in the running of the empire were ready and willing to participate in weakening the Umayyad Caliphs (Hugh 314). What these groups wanted was merely a centralized organization and control to invade the kingdom. The Abbasids grasped the opportunity to influence and incite these groups against the Sunnis and the caliphate. Therefore, the revolution was not only political but also religious and socioeconomic in nature.
From the analysis, it is clear that the Abbasid revolution had a number of both direct and indirect causes. While it is evident that the Abbasids were interested in bringing down the regime to claim their rights to the throne, also other social and economic issues contributed to the fall of the Umayyads. For instance, their inability to involve all groups and tribes in their ruling was a grave mistake because it gave the Umayyads ad added advantage since they were able to influence the marginalized groups. In addition, the exemption of some northern tribes and other forms of social and economic favors explains the weaknesses with the Caliphs and the opportunities available for the Abbasids.
Hugh, Kennedy. The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates: The Islamic Near East from the Sixth to the Eleventh Century. London, UK: Pearson/Longman, 2004. Print.