Abd al-Malik

Abd al-Malik (646-705) was the ninth caliph of the Arab Empire and the fifth caliph of the Umayyad dynasty. He overcame the dissidents in the Second Civil War and reorganized the administration of the Islamic Empire.

The son of Marwan I, Abd al-Malik was born in Medina and lived there until he was forced to leave in 683 at the beginning of the Second Civil War. In this war the rule of the reigning Umayyad family was challenged by Abdullah ibn-az-Zubayr from Mecca. Marwan I was proclaimed caliph in Damascus in 684 and secured his position in Syria and Egypt before his assassination in 685.

Abd al-Malik succeeded to the caliphate in a difficult situation. Shiite rebels occupied much of Iraq, and there were also troubles in Syria. To free his hands, Abd al-Malik made a truce with the Byzantine emperor in 689. He then attacked Iraq, but it was not until 691 that the Zubayrid army there was defeated. A year later Mecca fell after a siege to Abd al-Malik's general al-Hajjaj, and Abdullah ibn-az-Zubayr was killed. The empire remained disturbed, and three separate revolts by men of the Kharijite sect were not quelled until 697. The final pacification was largely effected by al-Hajjaj, governing Iraq and the lands to the east from Al Kufa, but his severity provoked many wellborn Arabs of Iraq to revolt under Ibn-al-Ashath from 701 to 703.

With the restoration of Umayyad rule over the empire it became possible once again to mount campaigns on the frontiers. Abd al-Malik achieved little in Central Asia, Afghanistan, and Anatolia, but in North Africa the Byzantines were defeated, Carthage was occupied in 697, and a base was established at Kairouan; thus the way for the Arab advance to Morocco and into Spain was prepared.

In administrative matters Abd al-Malik took the important step of making Arabic the official language of Islam. He also unified fiscal and postal administration, eliminating the local systems that had been retained in the provinces conquered from the Byzantine and Persian empires. Similarly, he discouraged the use of Byzantine coinage that carried the emperor's likeness, and he struck golden dinars and silver dirhems inscribed with passages from the Koran. These measures made the Arab Empire more definitely Islamic and helped to counteract the divisive influence of tribalism. Abd al-Malik began the building of the magnificent Dome of the Rock at Jerusalem on the site of the Jewish Temple. Through the efforts of al-Hajjaj an improved way of writing the Koran with vowel marks was first developed during Abd al-Malik's reign.


Further Reading on Abd al-Malik

There is no work no Abd al-Malik in English. The sources for the events of his reign are studied in detail in Julius Wellhausen, The Arab Kingdom and Its Fall (1902; trans. 1927). There are brief accounts in such works as Carl Brockelmann, History of the Islamic Peoples (1939; trans. 1947), and Philip K. Hitti, History of the Arabs (1940).