After Ali's murder in 661, Muawiyah--the governor of Syria during the
early Arab conquests, a kinsman of Uthman, and a member of the Quraysh
lineage of the Prophet--proclaimed himself caliph and established his
capital in Damascus. From there he conquered Muslim enemies to the east,
south, and west and fought the Byzantines to the north. Muawiyah is
considered the architect of the Islamic empire and a political genius. Under
his governorship Syria became the most prosperous province of the caliphate.
Muawiyah created a professional army and, although rigorous in training
them, won the undying loyalty of his troops for his generous and regularly
paid salaries. Heir to Syrian shipyards built by the Byzantines, he
established the caliphate's first navy. He also conceived and established an
efficient government, including a comptroller of finance and a postal
Muawiyah cultivated the goodwill of Christian Syrians by recruiting them
for the army at double pay, by appointing Christians to many high offices,
and by appointing his son by his Christian wife as his successor. His
sensitivity to human behavior accounted in great part for his political
success. The modern Syrian image of Muawiyah is that of a man with enormous
amounts of hilm, a combination of magnanimity, tolerance, and
self-discipline, and of duha, political expertise-- qualities
Syrians continue to expect of their leaders. By 732 the dynasty he founded
had conquered Spain and Tours in France and stretched east to Samarkand and
Kabul, far exceeding the greatest boundaries of the Roman Empire .Thus,
Damascus achieved a glory unrivaled among cities of the eighth century.
The Umayyad Muslims established a military government in Syria and used
the country primarily as a base of operations. They lived aloof from the
people and at first made little effort to convert Christians to Islam. The
Umayyads administered the lands in the manner of the Byzantines, giving
complete authority to provincial governors.
In the administration of law, the Umayyads followed the traditions set by
the Hellenistic monarchies and the Roman Empire. The conqueror's law--in
this case Muslim law (sharia)-- applied only to those of the same faith or
nationality as the conquerors. For non-Muslims, civil law was the law of
their particular millet (separate religious community, also called
milla); religious leaders administered the law of the millet. This
system prevailed throughout Islam and has survived in Syria's legal codes.
During the 89 years of Umayyad rule, most Syrians became Muslims, and the
Arabic language replaced Aramaic. The Umayyads minted coins, built
hospitals, and constructed underground canals to bring water to the towns.
The country prospered both economically and intellectually. Foreign trade
expanded, and educated Jews and Christians, many of them Greek, found
employment in the caliphal courts, where they studied and practiced
medicine, alchemy, and philosophy.