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Marwan (623–685 C.E.)

MARWAN (623–685 c.e.)

Marwan b. al-Hakam b. Abi al-˓As, Abu ˓Abd al-Malik, the eponym of the Marwanid branch of the Umayyads, reigned for several months in 684 and 685 c.e. He was one of the Companions of Muhammad and the cousin of ˓Uthman b. ˓Affan (r. 644–656), the third caliph of Islam. Marwan was appointed secretary to ˓Uthman during his caliphate because of his knowledge of the Qur˓an and became the caliph's closest advisor. He probably encouraged the caliph to compile the Qur˒an. Much of Marwan's wealth came from the rich plunder he obtained during an expedition to North Africa, which he invested in properties in Medina. Despite objection from many Medinans, Marwan influenced ˓Uthman to appoint his brother, Harith b. Hakam, to oversee the market of Medina.

Marwan was viewed as an ambitious man and his influence on the caliph was generally regarded as negative. When Egyptian malcontents negotiated a political settlement with ˓Uthman, Marwan is believed to have written a letter ordering the execution of the Egyptians concerned. It was the discovery of this letter by the Egyptians that led to ˓Uthman's being besieged and murdered in his home in 656. This event is remembered as "the battle of the house," or yawm al-dar. Marwan was wounded while trying to protect ˓Uthman. He later fought in the Battle of the Camel with ˓A˒isha against ˓Ali, for ˓Ali would neither investigate nor punish the murderers of ˓Uthman. Later, Marwan swore allegiance to ˓Ali, but joined the ranks of Mu˓awiya when ˓Ali was murdered. He was appointed governor of Medina by the caliph Mu˓awiyya b. Abi Sufyan (r. 661–680), and served in this capacity from 661 to 668 and again from 674 to 677.

Mu˓awiyya was succeeded by his son, Yazid, who died in 683, followed by Yazid's son, Mu˓awiya II, who died a few months later. Meanwhile, the hostility provoked by Yazid during his brief caliphate, which saw the death of Husayn b. ˓Ali, the battle of the Harra (a stronghold in Medina), and the onslaught against Mecca, had brought ˓Abdullah b. al-Zubayr great popularity. Al-Zubayr was acclaimed caliph of the region extending from the Hijaz (a region in western Saudi Arabia) to Iraq. The Umayyads were thus forced to look beyond the Sufyanid family for a leader.

At this point, frustrated by inadequate leadership, tribal loyalties that had been submerged by the uniting forces of Islam emerged once again. The faction led by Ibn Bahdal, chief of the Kalbi clan, proclaimed Marwan caliph, while the faction led by al-Dahhaq b. Ways al-Fihri supported Ibn al-Zubayr. When the two factions met at the battle of Marj Rahat it was Marwan who won the day

Marwan immediately consolidated his position: He married Fakhita bt. Abi Hashim, the widow of Yazid, vowing that the latter's son, Khalid b. Yazid, would be his successor. Once appointed caliph, however, he first replaced Egypt's Zubayrid governor with his son, ˓Abd al-˓Aziz. Then, reneging on his promise to Fakhita, he named his eldest son, ˓Abd al-Malik, heir to the caliphate. Finally, having defeated Mus ab˓b. al-Zubayr, the brother of his rival caliph in Mecca, he sent his general, ˓Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad, to capture Iraq.

Marwan died in 685, murdered by his wife, Fakhita, before Iraq was taken. His son, ˓Abd al-Malik (r. 685–705), successfully consolidated the Umayyad caliphate under the Marwanid banner.

See alsoCaliphate ; Succession .


Dixon, A. A. The Umayyad Caliphate 65–86/684–705. London: Luzac, 1971.

Hawting, Gerald. The First Dynasty of Islam. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987.

Madelund, Wilferd. The Succession to Muhammad. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Kennedy, Hugh. The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates. London: Longman, 1986.

Rizwi Faizer

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