Islamic Studies The Umayyads
Abdulhadi Alajmi
  • LAST REVIEWED: 02 July 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 25 May 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0151


The study of Umayyad history (661–750 CE/41–132 AH) is one of the most important subjects of Islamic history and overall human history. The students of this period are often amazed at the awesome military achievements of the empire and the period in which it occurred. The Umayyads reached westward to Spain and eastward to Indonesia in less than forty years after they came to power. What type of political arrangement did the Umayyads have to be able not only to experience this rapid military expansion but also to maintain political control over the newly acquired lands? How was it possible for a family of Arab descent connected to other Arab tribes to gain the legitimacy, secular or religious, necessary for maintaining control over a large non-Arab and even non-Muslim population? Finally, how was the empire able to establish a reliable tax system to finance its military operations as well as architectural building activities? These are the questions that Western scholars often try to answer when dealing with the Umayyads. The problem remains that, as a rule of thumb, a history student would often like to find primary sources written about the subject. Our case here is very difficult. The Arabic sources dealing with the Umayyads are secondary material written by scholars hostile to the dynasty and living under the Abbasid regime, which in itself carried out a revolution and eventually toppled the Umayyads. Given the nature of these historical sources, one must raise the question of whether a reliable understanding of the period will ever be possible. As a result, scholars often pursue this period carefully by trying to answer the above questions.

General Overviews

This section includes general references about the history of the Umayyad Caliphate. Students lacking previous knowledge of the subject should find these works very valuable. Kennedy 1986 and Wellhausen 1927 are classic in the field; students should refer to these as general sources about early Muslim history. Hawting 1987 and Hawting 2002 are more focused on Umayyad history, and thus students are encouraged to deal with them after reading Kennedy 1986. Donner 1998 is even more focused than the above works and deals with some specific issues, such as the authenticity of the Quʾran and rebuttal of the skeptic hypothesis. Landau-Tesseron 1992 is designed for more advanced students in the field, since it deals with the translation of early sources. Students should not start with this reading. Marín-Guzmán 2004 is very advanced, requires a significant background in the field, and therefore is suitable only for advanced students.

  • Donner, Fred. Narratives of Islamic Origins: The Beginnings of Islamic Historical Writings. Studies in Late Antiquity and Early Islam 14. Princeton, NJ: Darwin, 1998.

    This work deals with ways Muslim scholars during the Umayyad regime began writing down Islamic traditions. This work is very valuable for its rebuttal of claims about the nonauthenticity of the Quʾran and other written traditions.

  • Hawting, G. R. The First Dynasty of Islam: The Umayyad Caliphate A.D. 661–750. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987.

    This book provides a basic description of Umayyad rule, how it dealt with its military, diwān (treasury department) and taxation, the issue of mawālī (Arab and non-Arab clients), and the overall conception of legitimacy. This book is a blueprint for students of early Islamic history.

  • Hawting, G. R. “Umayyads.” In The Encyclopaedia of Islam. CD-ROM edition. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill, 2002.

    This important article describes the Umayyad dynasty as reflected in Muslim sources and Western scholarship. It is a necessary reading for the students of early Islamic history.

  • Kennedy, Hugh. The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphate: The Islamic Near East from the Sixth Century to the Eleventh Century. History of the Near East. London and New York: Longman, 1986.

    This general work provides a starting point for students interested in Islamic history who lack previous knowledge of the subject.

  • Landau-Tasseron, Ella. “The Waning of the Umayyads: Notes on Tabari’s History Translated, vol. XXVI.” Islam 69 (1992): 81–109.

    This translation of the history of al-Ṭabari’s section on Umayyad decline is a valuable book for students aiming to account for early narrations compiled by Muslim historians on the subject.

  • Marín-Guzmán, Roberto. “Arab Tribes, the Umayyad Dynasty, and the ʿAbbāsid Revolution.” American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences 21.4 (2004): 57–96.

    This general work speaks about the Arab tribes’ role in the Umayyad era and their connections to the Abbasid revolutions.

  • Wellhausen, Julius. The Arab Kingdom and Its Fall. Translated by Margaret Graham Weir. Calcutta: University of Calcutta, 1927.

    This very important work is more extensive than a simple summary; it provides the basis on which Western scholarship has understood the history of Islam. It is a must-read for all students of Islamic history.

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