Friday, November 5, 2010

The Prophet's Legacy (Quraish)

It would be a huge oversight to ignore the place of Islam in this study of Dynastology. Of all the dynasties that have lasted through the ages, none has been more divided than that of the family of Muhammad, the Prophet of Islam.

Banu Hashim (The House of Hashim)
Muhammad receiving his vision from the angel, Gabriel
The family of Muhammad was known as the Quraish tribe, and it became prominent in the late 6th century around the trading city of Mecca on the Red Sea. Muhammad's clan was known as the Banu Hashim after his great-grandfather, Hashim, who was the patriarch and founder of the subsequent dynasty. In a strange twist, Muhammad was a dead-end dynastically, because he only left one surviving daughter, Fatima, behind when he died in 632 CE. Luckily, Fatima married back into the family, and this very fact helped create the largest divide in Islam to this day.

Muhammad was very successful in spreading his message across Arabia, and his expansive and influential family was one of his best tools. Naturally, his death signaled a transition toward rule by a dynasty. From the very start, dynastic quarrels began to affect Islam and divide it between two camps:

The Rashidun (Rightly-Guided) Caliphs
The first four Caliphs (successors) of Islam were non-hereditary. Rather, they were elected from among the members of Banu Hashim for the position. Abu Bakr was the father-in-law and a relative of Muhammad and was chosen as the first Caliph. Another father-in-law and relative, Umar, came next. Uthman, a third cousin of Muhammad and possible son-in-law through a short-lived daughter, was the third Caliph. Unlike the other two Caliphs, Uthman was a part of Banu Umayya, a clan descended from Umayya, the older brother of Hashim. All three of these people helped expand the Islamic Empire begun by Muhammad, while also centralizing the Islamic teachings into books such as the Quran. The non-hereditary nature of the Caliphate followed tribal traditions from southern Arabia, but conflicted with the feelings of another group of individuals, descended from the last Rashidun Caliph, Ali. The supporters of the Caliphate became known as the Sunni and they are the larger and more Orthodox branch of Islam.
Rashidun Caliphate, c. 650

The Imamate of Ali
Ali, 1st Shi'a Imam and 4th Rashidun Caliph
Ali was the last Rashidun Caliph, but to the Shi'a, or the "followers of Ali", he was the first Imam. He was a devoted follower of Muhammad who married Fatima, one of Muhammad's daughters. He was also a member of the Banu Hashim and a first cousin to the Prophet. This placed him in a very privileged category, so much that even today he is recognized by both Shi'a and Sunni Muslims as sharif, or a descendant of Muhammad. As caliph, Ali was persecuted and attacked and eventually assassinated. His son and successor, Hasan, was to become the next Caliph, but trickery and deception lost him the title before he was ever formally endowed with it. Thus the Imamate developed separately from the Caliphate, with the descendants of Ali leading the Shi'a branch of Islam, and the Caliphs leading the Sunni branch. Over time, divisions arose within the ranks of the sharif and Shi'a Islam split into ever smaller parts. The one thing that binds them all together is their mutual descent from the Prophet, but many things keep Shi'a Muslims different not just from the Sunni, but from each other.

The Twelvers
Today, the largest branch of Shi'aism is the Twelvers (85%). They believe that the twelfth Imam went into hiding and will return during the End Times to help Jesus and the other prophets defeat Satan. Throughout much of Islam's history, Twelverism was not prominent, but today it is practiced primarily in Iran and Iraq, the two strongholds of Shi'aism, partially because it is where the original imams lived and preached.

The Zaydi or Fivers
The earliest rivals of the Twelver Shi'a were the Zaydi, followers and descendants of Zayd, brother of the fifth Twelver imam. The Zaydi recognize Zayd as the true fifth imam. They are the most tolerant of the Shi'a sects and the closest to the Sunni religious practices. Today, Yemen contains the largest Zaydi population and it is not ascendant in any other region. The only prominent dynasty descended from the Zaydi were the Idrisids of Morocco who briefly overthrew the Ummayad Caliphs of Córdoba and claimed the title of caliph themselves during the 10th century. The emphasis of the Zaydi was on the constant presence of the imam, in contrast to the hidden nature of the Twelver imam. Thus the Imams of Yemen, claiming descent from a son of Hasan, ruled Yemen continuously until 1962 when they were overthrown and Yemen became a republic.

The Ismailis or Seveners
Another rival sect of Shi'aism developed when a group recognized the elder brother of the seventh Twelver imam as their imam. Thus began the historically most important Shi'a group, the Ismailis, named after the founder, Ismail. The Ismailis rose to prominence when they challenged the Abbasid Caliphate in North Africa and established the Fatimid Caliphate in opposition to it. The Fatimids became the only Shi'a to establish a Shi'a empire and place a hereditary claim on the caliphate. The Fatimids ruled Egypt from 909 until 1171, and during their tenure, they eventually captured the rest of North Africa and even Mecca, Medina and much of Palestine. The empire slowly fell apart as first Turks then Crusaders ate away at its eastern flanks, while Moors from the east retook North Africa. The Fatamid Empire's lasting achievement was damaging the Abbasid Caliphate so much that they were never able to fully recover.
Fatimid Caliphate, c. 950
Aga Khan IV, 49th Imam of the Nizari Ismaili Shi'a
The Ismaili did continue, although at a reduced capacity. The largest branch of the Ismaili, the Nizari, continued using the city of Alamut as their base of operations. They developed a group of highly skilled warriors called Hashashin (Assassins) who would covertly kill rivals (see Prince of Persia). Eventually Alamut was overtaken by the Ilkhanate and the Ismaili were forced to spread throughout the Islamic world, never to centralize again. Three different branches of Ismaili developed: the Nizari, the Mustaali, and the Druze. Each is unique in that it claims a different Fatamid caliph as its last common imam. Today, the Nizari are by far the largest Ismaili sect and are ruled by the 49th Nizari Imam (which includes all the Fatamid Caliphs), Aga Khan IV. Aga Khan is a respected secular and religious leader who has been knighted by numerous foreign governments, was born and raised in Switzerland, and is almost as famous in Islamic countries as the Dali Lama is in Buddhist ones.

Other Hashimite families
Although the families themselves practice Sunni Islam, there are numerous families in the world today who claim descent from Muhammad through his daughter, Fatima. The Hashimite dynasty of Jordan (and once Iraq and the Hejaz) are the most prominent in world affairs, but the royal family of Morocco also claims Hashimite descent. Indeed, most people who claim the title Imam can at least claim to be descended from Ali, since it is a requirement of being an imam, much like being a Levite was a requirement of being a Jewish priest. Thus, there are a great many people today that may well be descended from the many descendants of Ali and Fatima.

The Sunni Caliphate
Soon after Ali's death, the Caliphate took a very different turn that it never reversed from. Until the 16th century, the caliphs remained members of the Quraish tribe and thus were related distantly by blood and more closely by marriage to Muhammad and the first four caliphs. A succession of two different families of the Quraish tribe ruled Sunni Islam until the Ottoman Turks of Anatolia finally captured the last caliph and took the title for themselves.

The Ummayad Caliphate
The first family were known as the Ummayads and, if that name sounds familiar, they were descended from a brother of Uthman, one of the Rashidun Caliphs. Muawiyah I was the first ruler of the Ummayad dynasty, despite being the second Ummayad caliph. Ali's son, Hasan, was to be proclaimed caliph in 661 CE, but Muawiyah convinced the people to elect him to the title instead. The Ummayads set up their base of operation at Damascus and ruled the caliphate for a hundred years, from 661 until 750 CE. Islam reached its farthest extent into western Europe during this time, eventually threatening even Paris before being pushed back by Charles Martel. In the east, the Ummayads pushed the borders of Islam across Afghanistan and into the Indus River Valley, eventually conquering or converting what today is most of Pakistan.
Umayyad Caliphate, c. 750

The dynasty is separated into three parts: the Sufyanids, the Marwanids, and the Spanish Marwanids. The Sufyanids were the first three caliphs and descended from the brother of Uthman. They ruled the Caliphate until 684 when the last caliph died. After that time, the power base transitioned to the Marwanids, founded by the fourth Ummayad caliph, Marwan I. The dynasty faced some tough opposition from other relatives, including the descendants of Ali and the grandson of Abu Bakr. Once the family troubles were mostly overcome, the Ummayads focused their attacks on Constantinople, a place that would be the focus of Muslim sieges for centuries to come. Problems developed again between the families of the Quraish tribe, and the House of Abbas, a member of Banu Hashim, became the Ummayads' chief rival. In 750, the last Ummayad caliph of Damascus was killed in battle. The majority of the family was killed by the Abbasid conquerors, although one son fled to Spain.

That son, Abd ar-Rahman I, established an emirate at Córdoba in Spain around the year 756. He and his sons ruled from Córdoba for 250 years in direct opposition to the Abbasid caliphs in Baghdad. In 929, Abd ar-Rahman III proclaimed himself Caliph, further antagonizing the Abbasids and the Fatimids. Córdoba was under constant threat from the "legitimate" caliphates of North Africa and from the reconquista Christian forces from northern Iberia. The caliphate was for a short time – 1016 until 1023 – overthrown by the Hummudid dynasty of Morocco, which descended from the Shi'a Idrisid dynasty. The Ummayads returned and ruled for another eight years before Iberia finally fell to pieces in what is today known as the taifa period. This period lasted in some form or another until the Catholic forces of Ferdinand II and Isabella I conquered the Kingdom of Grenada in 1492, ending the last trace of Muslim rule in western Europe.

The Abbasid Caliphate
The Abbasids descended from Muhammad's uncle, Abbas, and slowly rose to prominence as the Ummayads fell from favor among the Sunni Muslims. To win support, the Abbasids converted to Shi'aism to win the support of the Shi'as, only to return to Sunni Islam once they defeated the Ummayads. Almost immediately after defeating the Ummayads, the Abbasids spread their empire further. They ventured into Central Asia, defeating Tang Chinese forces at the Battle of Talas. The Chinese slaves brought back to Baghdad built the first paper mills in the west. The Abbasids relocated the Caliphate capital from Damascus to Baghdad to better centralize their power. In addition, the Abbasids replaced Arab bureaucrats with Persian ones, changing the face of Islam in many ways over the next centuries. The Golden Age of Islam reached its height under the Abbasids, as culture, literature, philosophy, science, and technological advances all brought the Caliphate far beyond all other world powers. But even during its height, the roots of the Abbasids' demise were being planted.During the 800s and 900s, small emirates began seeking autonomy from the centralized Caliphate. One by one, groups broke off from the Caliphate, recognizing the caliph over religious matters but ignoring his secular demands. The Seljuks of Persia were the first to overtake the Caliphate, forcing the Abbasids to rule through a conquering power. But the bigger problem was the Mamluks, slaved soldiers of Turkish origin who had taken over Egypt by defeating the Fatamids. Ultimately, the Mamluks proved to be the salvation for the Abbasid Caliphate, since Hulagu Khan sacked Baghdad in 1258, forcing the Abbasids to flee. While the Ilkhanate established itself in Iraq and Persia, the Abbasids settled down as religious leaders in Mamluk-controlled Cairo, where they remained until the Ottoman Conquest of Egypt in 1519. The last caliph of the Quraish tribe was Al-Mutawakkil III, who continued in his position as caliph until 1543, when he died and the titles passed to the Ottoman Sultans.
Abbasid Caliphate, c. 850

No other Quraish clan was recognized as caliph after the fall of the Abbasids, and today, the majority of the Quraish clan claims are by Shi'a groups or those descended from Shi'a groups. As an interesting aside, the Córdoban caliphs married a number of Christian princesses, and a few Christian princes married Córdoban brides, meaning that the blood of the Quraish clan runs through many Europeans as well as Arabs and North Africans. Indeed, due to the vast number of children produced by Muhammad's descendants and his relatives, it is highly likely that most people in the western world can claim Quraish descent.

Unfortunately today, there is no centralized Arab state from which interpretations of law could come forth. Instead, Muslim states are scattered throughout the world, with some still ruled by those who claim direct descent from Muhammad. Although the actual genealogies may be fictive, there is little doubt that their claim is correct. Thus the Prophet's eternal legacy is being, quite possibly, one of the most likely common ancestors for most of humanity. Now that is a strange thought indeed.
Quraish Tribe Family Tree with Ummayaad and Abbasid Caliphs

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