The Arabian peninsula

  December 08, 2021   Read time 1 min
The Arabian peninsula
Arabia was the first home of Islam: Mecca was the place of the shrine and the spiritual focus of the new religion, whilst Medina was the city of the Prophet and of the first Islamic community.

But already in the first civil war of succession it was clear that the Hijaz had forfeited its role as the political centre of Islam. The capital of the Arab Empire of the Umayyads became Damascus in Syria, an old provincial centre, whose administration continued to function almost without break, and whose new government with its reliable army controlled and continued to control the situation in Egypt and in Iraq as long as the privileged position of the Arabs themselves was maintained.

The second civil war (683–92) was unleashed in an attempt by the anticaliph Abdallah ibn al-Zubayr in Mecca, with the help of the tribes of Arabia and in league with tribes which had wandered to the Upper Euphrates, to turn the clock back: to restore the primacy of Mecca and of the Meccan aristocracy and to enforce the territorial demands of the tribes who had fought the conquests; this attempt clashed with the dynastic claims of the Umayyads and with their policy of compromise between the sedentary tribes – allies of the occupants – and the Bedouin invaders. The successful counter-coup (684 at Marj Rahit north of Damascus) was a crucial turning point; the victory of the urban government over the tribalism of the peninsula and the partisan interests of the tribes led to a permanent victory for Islam and for the Arabic language outside Arabia.

Control of the holy cities in the Hijaz remained a requirement of caliphal authority, but the leading political role of Arabia was played out. The peninsula, above all in the south, became a backwater of heterodoxy, of the Kharijites and Ibadites, the Zaydiyya and the Carmathians. In the eighteenth century a religious movement, that of the Wahhabis, laid the foundations for the power of the ål Saeed, the dynasty which rules there to this day.