It was mentioned previously that Imam al-Baqir (‘a) lived contemporaneously with 5 of the Umayyid caliphs. We will mention the particularities of each during their time of rule and their administration of the society. This will make evident the social and political conditions and circumstances which Imam al-Baqir (‘a) lived in during his life.
Walīd ibn ‘Abd al-Malik
Walīd ibn ‘Abd al-Malik was the first contemporary caliph during the time of Imam al-Baqir (‘a). The period of the caliphate of Walīd was a period of the victory and conquest of the Muslims over their opponents. During this time, the territory which the Umayyid government had control over, increased from both the east and the west. Since his caliphate occurred in a period where calm prevailed in the Muslim nation, Walīd was able to take up where the previous caliphs had left off and make considerable gains in terms of battle and conquest. The lands under Walīd’s dominion expanded from both east and west; he was able to conquer parts of India, as well as Kabul, Kashgar, Tūs, and various other territories. He even pushed in to Andalusia, and the army of the Andulusians were defeated by the Muslims (under the command of Mūsā ibn Nusayr; thus Andulusia was added to the list of Muslim territories as well.
Sulaymān ibn ‘Abd al-Malik
The period of the caliphate of Sulaymān ibn ‘Abd al-Malik was short in duration; it lasted approximately 3 years. During the early period of his caliphate, Sulaymān showed much flexibility; he opened the doors to the prisons of Iraq (whom Ḥajjāj ibn Yūsuf had filled to the brim with innocent people) and released thousands of individuals. He also removed the tax agents of Ḥajjāj, and nullified many of the oppressive measures which were in place.
Sulaymān’s initiative in freeing innocent prisoners in Iraq was one of his early actions. Unfortunately, he changed his methods and reversed many of them completely. He began engaging in actions of personal vengeance and engaged in oppression and various criminal behaviors. He also began to support certain tribes over others. He put the tribe of Muḍarā under pressure and supported their tribal rivals (Qaḥṭānī). He also killed some of the heads of the army, as well as some of the notable personalities of the time. Mūsā ibn Nusayr and Ṭāriq ibn Zīyād, champions of the victory of Andalusia, were also shown disfavor and exiled.
The compiler of the text ‘The History of Political Islam’ has written: ‘Sulaymān would treat his governors in various different ways. He would pay attention to some of them, while plotting to eliminate others. Sulaymān had enmity towards individuals such as: Muḥammad ibn Qāsim, the governor of India, Qutaybīyah ibn Mūslim, the governor of Transoxiana, and Mūsā ibn Nusayr, the governor of Andalusia.’ All of Sulaymān’s animosity and enmity were based on his own personal whims and tribal rivalries.
Sulaymān ibn ‘Abd al-Malik was a man who was especially avaricious, gluttonous, pleasure seeking, and loved opulence and luxury. He would eat an amount which several people would ordinarily eat and his journeys were always colorful and displayed luxurious airs. He would wear very flashy clothing, which were expensive and had designs embroidered in to them. He would engage in so much excess, that he would not even allow his servants and butlers to approach him with ordinary clothing; they were forced to wear embroidered and colorful clothing. This love of extravagance and splendor soon went beyond the palace gates; it began to permeate throughout the cities of the Muslim nation, and the wearing of extravagant clothing was soon a common occurrence amongst the common people of Yemen, Kūfah, and Alexandria.
‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-ʿAzīz
Although the will of ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwān (the father of Sulaymān) stated that the successor to Sulaymān would be his brother Yazīd ibn ‘Abd al-Malik, this was later changed. When Sulaymān took ill and knew that he would soon die, he chose ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-ʿAzīz as his successor.
‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-ʿAzīz was immediately faced with the troubled situation of the masses, and was witness to the waves of rage and enmity which the people expressed towards the Umayyid government. From the beginning of his caliphate, he acted with an attitude of appeasement towards the deprived and oppressed masses; in his directives to his governors and representatives throughout the Muslim nation, he wrote the following: ‘The people are afflicted with difficulties and various strains; they are victims of oppression and the religion has been enacted amongst them in an irregular manner. Previous oppressive governors and representatives, through their regulations and changes, have concentrated less on enacting the people’s rights and on acting with moderation and goodness towards them; they have taken the people to the very edge.
Therefore, the past must be compensated for and these types of actions must be stopped. Henceforth, whenever someone wishes to go to the Ḥajj pilgrimage, you must give them their stipend from the public treasury sooner, so that they can depart on their journey. Until you have consulted with me, none of you has the right to punish anyone, or cut off their hand, or to hang them from the gallows.’
The Struggle against Corruption and Discrimination
In addition to this, after strengthening and stabilizing his government, ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-’Azīz put up all of the horses and quadrupeds of the caliphate for immediate auction, and he then deposited the money from their sale in to the public treasury. He then ordered his wife Fāṭimah (the daughter of ‘Abd al-Malik) to return all of her jewelry, wealth, and expensive gifts back to the public treasury; these were all things which her father and brother had gifted to her from the public treasury. Fāṭimah was warned that if she could not do such a thing, then she should leave the house. Fāṭimah obeyed and returned all of the jewelry and ornaments which belonged to the public treasury.
After returning the money that had been hoarded in the public treasury, he took back the money that the Ummayads had accumulated for themselves unjustly and he also stopped the public cursing of Imam ‘Alī (‘a), which had been turned in to a religious tradition by that time. Fadak was also returned to the Banī Hāshim and the prohibition of recording the prophetic traditions was lifted (it is perhaps for this reason that Imam al-Baqir (‘a) called him the noble one from the Banū Ummayad). Due to all of these reforms, his rule did not last more than two years.
Yazīd ibn ‘Abd al-Malik
After the death of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-ʿAzīz, Yazīd ibn ‘Abd al-Malik succeeded the caliphate. Yazīd was a pleasure seeking, sensual, and reckless individual who was not concerned with the religious or ethical precepts of Islam. The period of his rule is counted as being one of the darkest periods during the rule of the Umayyids; in addition, nothing of importance came about during his caliphate.
Ibn Qutaybah Daynāwarī has written: ‘Initially, Yazīd was liked by the Quraysh (due to his deceitful behavior which caused them to think of him as a worthy person). If he had behaved in the same manner as ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-ʿAzīz, then the people would have similarly accepted and welcomed him. Unfortunately, he acted in a manner contrary to what was expected when he reached the reins of power; in essence, he continued the behavior of his brother Walīd. His behavior soon raised a wave of hatred from the Muslims against him; this went on to the point that the people decided to depose him from the caliphate. Yazīd paid so little attention to the rights and wishes of the people that even a group of the Quraysh and a number of the Umayyids protested against his actions.
Instead of responding to the criticism of the people and changing his ways, he only increased the harshness of his government’s actions against the people; he ended up accusing a group of the Qurayshī notables and elders of upsetting the public order, rebellion, and of planning a coup. He ordered his uncle Muḥammad ibn Marwān to arrest them and place them in prison. This group ended up imprisoned for a period of 2 years, until Ibn Marwān had them killed through the use of poison.
In addition to this group, Yazīd arrested another group from the notables of the Quraysh (30 individuals), and after fining them a great deal, he confiscated their possessions, wealth, and real estate. They were subject to torture and exiled to various points of Syria and other areas, and they lived in poverty and indigence. Yazīd did not suffice with even these actions; he ordered that all the people who had any contact with them were to be hung on the charge of collaboration with rebels and anti-governmental forces.
The early Umayyid caliphs would fill their times of leisure with hearing news of war, stories of brave acts of the past Arabs, and verses of poetry. During the time of the Umayyids (such as Yazīd ibn ‘Abd al-Malik), these things were replaced with singing, dancing, and various types of gambling.
Hishām ibn ‘Abd al-Malik
Hishām was miserly, crude, audacious, tyrannical, merciless, as well as an eloquent individual. He eagerly engaged in accumulating wealth and land, and during the time of his caliphate, some of the industries present in the Muslim nation flourished. Since he was a cold hearted individual and did not care much for the people, life became rather difficult for the masses. This lack of emotion and feeling also affected the population in a negative manner and they began to reflect these qualities in turn. The custom of doing good works and cooperating with others ceased to be acted upon, and this reached a point where the people did not really care for one another, nor did they attempt to help each other with their problems and issues.
The Influence of Corrupt and Deviant Individuals
Sayyid Amīr ‘Alī, the famous scholar and historian, has described the social and political conditions in the society of that time in detail. He has described the behavior and actions of Hishām in the following words: ‘With the death of Yazīd the second, the caliphate reached his brother Hishām. Hishām took hold of the caliphate during a time when he was able to quell domestic rebellions and upheavals, and also to quench the fires of foreign wars. During this time period, the central government was threatened by the Turkmens and Khazārs from the north. From the East, the leaders of the Abbasids were quietly plotting the beginning of the destruction of the Umayyids and the establishment of their own caliphate. Inside the interior of the country, the masses were angry, and the flames of the Khawārij, who were courageous and warrior spirited, were blazing.
In these internal and external conflicts, the best youths of the Arabs were being killed. Internal politics and personal grudges were also taking their toll. Due to the previous caliph’s blind reliance on his governors and local advisors, these positions had fallen to an unworthy and selfish group of individuals. Due to these individuals, the people’s ire had been raised, and the masses were disgusted with the situation at hand.
During these important times, the Muslim society was in need of a helping hand to save the government from its course of destruction. There is no doubt that Hishām was better than the previous caliph (Yazīd). During the time of Hishām, the governmental system was purified of many impure individuals, and a more sober poise was adopted in place of the previous frivolous and capricious attitude.
Still, the severity and raw treatment of Hishām reached the point of harshness, and his frugality gave him a name as a miser. He also had some behavioral shortcomings, which made the situation even worse: he was an individual who was despotic, skeptical, shortsighted, trusting of no one, and pessimistic. In order to neutralize the plots that were hatched against him, he engaged in deceptive behavior, and spied on various groups of people. He also was quick to believe things about others, and with one doubtful thought, he would kill the best people from the Muslim nation. This excess in pessimism caused a series of short lived nominations and removals in various governmental posts, and these later proved to have very negative consequences for Hishām and his rule. 
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