The First Dynasty of Islam

This history by G R Hawting (School of Oriental and African Studies, London) of the Umayyad Dynasty, who seized power in 661 after Ali, the last of the Rashidun (“rightly-guided” caliphs, the immediate successors to the Prophet), was murdered, and who reigned from Damascus amid various uprisings and rebellions until they were overthrown in 750, checks all the right boxes in terms of facts and details. All the players are here, with their tribal affiliations and cross-alliances, and (in so far as is known) where they lived and when and where they met in battle. This makes, especially towards the end, as the tensions became more bitter and the fighting more frequent, for a hotpot of more-or-less interchangeable black-and-white names vibrating and colliding and bouncing off each other, without any sense of who they really were beyond the affiliations of their equally abstruse tribal alliances. So now I know, with some allowance for impenetrability, what happened, but I don’t really understand who these people were, how they lived, what they were about, or what they achieved. It would have been nice, for example (the text is only 119 pages) to have learned something about art or architecture or lifestyles ; as it is, such massive accomplishments as the Dome of the Rock (which gets a couple of sentences for the value as a source text of the inscriptions on its dome) or the Ummayad Mosque are barely even mentioned. No doubt the author was hampered by the poverty of the source material, but even so, something less dry surely must remain to brighten up these 89 years?

So, concise bare bones informational value, yes; otherwise, this is a really boring book.

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