Thursday, March 31, 2005

Tales of the caliphs: ‛Abd al Malik, builder of the Dome of the Rock

‛Abd al-Malik, son of Marwān I, was caliph from 685-705.  As Hans Küng writes in Der Islam (2004), "this Umayyad caliph showed himself to be so much a capable politician, administrator and field marshal that he was almost called the second founder of the Umayyad dynasty." Though he and his successor son Walīd I were regarded as presiding over a period of reform, "The caliphate under ‛Abd al-Malik becomes considerably more autocratic, more hierarchical and more bureaucratic."

‛Abd al-Malik's regime faced the task of regaining control of the rebellious provinces and thereby bringing the second Muslim civil war to an end.  This he accomplished through his general al-Hağğāğ ibn Yūsuf, who Küng describes as being "as fearless as he was feared (but not cruel)."

Additional expansion in north Africa also marked ‛Abd al-Malik's rule.  Allying with the Berber tribes there, the caliph was able to tak Carthage from Byzantium in 697.

‛Abd al-Malik also undertook to Arabize the Muslim empire, which he saw as being also the an Islāmization, as well.  Part of his program involved establishing a special Islāmic currency for the empire, which used Muslim symbols rather than the Christian ones that appeared on the old Byzantine currency.  The Arab dinar would eventually become a leading currency in international trade, as Küng observes.

Arabic was instituted as the official imperial language to be used in court and official documents.  For a time, this required the retention of many Christians in the bureaucracy to translate Greek and Persian documents into Arabic.  But it led the way to Arabs eventually taking over those roles.

Part of the effect of this was to transform Arabic through the influence of Greek and Persian.  Küng writes, "Classical Arabic now becomes spoken only on ceremonial occasions."  It became a literary language, preserved especially in the famous Bedouin poetry.  This also meant that the classical Arabic of the Qur'ān started to sound old-fashioned, so that for the general public it was often "only vaguely understood - similarly to Latin in the medieval Church of Italy or Spain."

In addition, more distinctively Islāmic themes were introduced into art, a process carried on further by Walīd I.  The greatest artistic heritage left by ‛Abd al-Malik is the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem (al-Quds is the Arabic name for the city).  Küng writes that the most recent research has shown conclusively that the Dome of the Rock stems from ‛Abd al-Malik's time, not that of ‛Umar as has sometimes been asserted.  It was not originally built as a mosque, but rather as a monumental structure.  Küng asks:

For what purpose?  In order to make it very clear to the entire world, here at the most holy place, on the bare rock of Mount Moriah, where according to tradition the sacrifice in which God required Abraham to offer his son is supposed to have taken place: [that] Islām stands in direct connection with the tribal father of Jews and Christians.  Yes, Islām has priority, because it renewed the original religion of Abraham against Jewish and Christian falsifications.

The inscriptions at the Dome of the Rock proclaim the unity of God, and name Jesus as the servant of God (consistent with Islāmic belief), not the Son of God as Christians understand him.

Another reason for the construction of the Dome was that ‛Abd al-Malik  wanted to elevate the status of Jersusalem as a holy city in Islām in order to reduce the prestige of Mecca and Medina as pilgrimage cities.  This was connected with his desire to reduce the influence of rival clans from those two holy cities.  Küng notes that he even considered relocating the sacred shrine at Mecca to Damascus.

In the years following ‛Abd al-Malik's caliphate, the Muslim empire continued to expand into what is today Uzbekistan, into India and into the Iberian peninsula.  Of the latter, Küng writes, "The 'pérdida de España,' the loss of Spain, caused a trauma in the Christian Occident that in part continues to have effects until today (the danger of a 'green flood from Africa to Europe'?)"  Green in that sense stand for Islāmic.

‛Abd al-Malik's caliphate was followed by those of Walīd I (705-715) and Sulaimān (715-717).

See also Index to Posts on Hans Küng's Der Islam

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