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Reinterpreting al-Walid b. Yazid.

Al-Walid b. Yazid (r. 125-126/743-744) is arguably the most vilified member of the Umayyad dynasty. He had the distinction of being the last universally recognized Umayyad caliph, since none of his successors--Yazid b. al-Walid, who deposed him in 126/744, Yazid's brother and successor Ibrahim, and Marwan b. Muhammad, who sought to avenge al-Walid--gained widespread obedience. Despite the obvious flaws of his detractors and other contemporaries, it was al-Walid who became the caricature of Umayyad depravity, impiety, and licentiousness. Later Arabic sources often used al-Walid to represent the evils of his age, amplifying his faults while overlooking his contributions to the development of early Islamic thought. Modern scholars have, for the most part, been content to accept uncritically the image of al-Walid presented in the sources. A closer reading of these sources, however, reveals that behind the often salacious details of al-Walid's deviance lies a more complex and influential leader who represented both the culmination of Umayyad conceptions of religious authority and the starting point for later 'Abbasid political theory.

The pages that follow offer a reevaluation of al-Walid and his influence on the formative period of Islamic thought, underscoring his importance and illustrating the pitfalls of selectively accepting caricatures of the Umayyads in later Arabic sources. To begin, an examination of the traditional view of al-Walid in the Arabic historical sources and of the manner in which their perspective has been incorporated into modern works on early Islamic history is essential. This is followed by a careful examination of al-Walid's influence on early Islamic religious doctrine that highlights the sophistication of his religious thought. Next, al-Walid's well-publicized vices must be explored and placed in their proper Umayyad context. Consequently, the impetus behind opposition to his rule must then be reconsidered. Finally, al-Walid's impact and the implications of his complicated character for modern historians will be examined.


The principal Arabic sources for information about al-Walid b. Yazid, namely, al-Tabari's Ta'rikh al-rusul wa-l-muluk, al-Baladhuri's Ansab al-ashraf, and Abu l-Faraj al-Isfahani's Kitab al-Aghani, present slightly different images of al-Walid. (1) They share two traits in common, however. All present al-Walid as a deviant (though the details of his deviance vary), and all rely almost exclusively on al-Mada'ini as their source for material about al-Walid's reign and his demise. Their manipulation of al-Mada'ini to suit their own narrative ends illustrates the degree to which historians who portrayed themselves as mere compilers shaped the material they assembled. It is also a reminder of how crucial al-Mada'ini's works must have been and how much more complete modern visions of early Islamic history might be if his writings were extant. I have offered a thorough discussion of these authors' manipulation of al-Mada'ini elsewhere, and will provide only a brief summary here. (2)

In general, al-Tabari minimizes al-Walid's moral failings and focuses instead on his clumsiness in managing tribal rivalries. He presents al-Walid as a victim of tribal feuds that were exploited by members of the Umayyad aristocracy. (3) Al-Baladhuri chooses the opposite approach and emphasizes the extent of al-Walid's moral depravity and the popular objection to his behavior. (4) Al-Isfahani also emphasizes al-Walid's immorality, but only because it provides the impetus for much of his prolific poetry. (5) While it is clear that al-Baladhuri condemns al-Walid's behavior, al-Isfahani revels in it, at least implicitly. All three authors portray al-Walid negatively, but they do so in slightly different ways, despite their reliance on the same source.

Later historians predominantly followed al-Tabari's interpretation of al-Walid, though they typically did so in a more abbreviated fashion. Even Ibn 'Asakir, who almost never relied on al-Tabari for the Umayyad period, included a lengthy quotation in his biography of al-Walid. (6) As the discussion below will illustrate, there are alternatives to the al-Tabari/al-Mada'ini narrative, but they are deeply hidden and appear only in much later sources.

Modern scholars have been content to accept the image of al-Walid as a troubled deviant who either ignored his duties as caliph or harnessed his power exclusively for the pursuit of pleasure and/or revenge. This rather simplistic portrait of al-Walid is compatible with the sources from which it is drawn and is remarkably consistent in modern works on the Umayyads. In The Arab Kingdom and Its Fall, the first comprehensive Western history of the Umayyads, Julius Wellhausen relied heavily on al-Tabari, as his portrait of al-Walid reflects. He dwelt on al-Walid's bad behavior and his apparently lack of seriousness, and also emphasized his cruelty to his foes. (7) He allowed no possibility that al-Walid might have played a positive role. Instead, he summarized his character as follows: "On the whole, Walid II only played with his power. ... He was distinguished by a foolish, frothy sense of power." (8) Francesco Gabrieli offered a somewhat different interpretation of al-Walid, in part because he complemented his reliance on al-Tabari with extensive citations from al-Isfahani. The result is Gabrieli's portrayal of al-Walid as a tragic figure who was severely damaged by his dysfunctional relationship with his uncle and predecessor Hisham b. 'Abd al-Malik, whose long reign al-Walid greatly resented. (9) While Gabrieli tried to offer some explanation for al-Walid's shortcomings, he still accepted the conclusion that al-Walid was a hopeless drunk who cavorted with singing girls and poets and who lacked the basic competence to rule the empire. In his analysis of Umayyad poetry, Regis Blachere acknowledged al-Walid's artistic influence, but also labeled him as indifferent to religion and dominated by his love of pleasure, women, and wine. (10) Dieter Derenk, who added al-Baladhuri to his repertoire of sources, presented basically the same image of al-Walid. (11) Robert Hamilton, in the most recent work specifically dedicated to al-Walid, followed suit, describing al-Walid as being "as ill-equipped for the office [of caliph] as could be imagined: a pleasure-seeking idler, weak in will, uninterested and incompetent in public affairs, and irresolute even in pursuit of his own pleasure." (12) Robert Hillenbrand amplified this assessment; in addition to noting that al-Walid was "indifferent to orthodox religion," he called him "the most dedicated playboy of the age," and even speculated about his "somewhat schizophrenic personality." (13) G. R. Hawting, while underscoring the complex forces at work in bringing down the Umayyads, described al-Walid as "a fluent poet with a reputation for loose living and lack of respect for Islam." (14) Hugh Kennedy simply dismissed al-Walid as "negligent." (15) Modern scholarship as a whole has discarded al-Walid as a disastrously flawed figure who suffered from alcoholism, impiety, incompetence, or some fatal combination thereof.

While the Arabic sources offer plenty of material to confirm that al-Walid was morally challenged and that his reign ended in disaster, there is also ample evidence to present a more sophisticated image of al-Walid. Simply accepting the salacious stories about him as evidence of his general inadequacy creates a distorted picture of al-Walid's reign and the reasons for his demise. A closer reading of the sources makes clear that al-Walid was intellectually gifted and that he had a well-developed vision of his role as caliph, which he buttressed with solid theological foundations.

His actions in the immediate aftermath of Hisham's death suggest that he had a firm grasp of the steps he needed to take to consolidate power and that he had planned to ensure that his rivals did not outmaneuver him. He had agents in place to seize the treasury and to confine potential foes. (16) He then arranged for increases in stipends and for provisions to be made for the poor and infirm. (17) While these actions do not stand out as extraordinary, they are not the actions of a man who did not take his duties seriously. Al-Walid clearly had adequate mechanisms in place to orchestrate his rise to power, despite opposition. Indeed, later rulers in the 'Abbasid era would pursue precisely the same policies to secure smooth caliphal transitions. Even before Hisham's demise, al-Walid's actions reveal both his intellectual rigor and his clear conception of the nature of caliphal power, as the discussion below will illustrate.


Despite his alleged indifference to matters of religion, al-Walid was actually quite prolific in his discussions of religious matters, at least by Umayyad standards. While his predecessor Hisham provided patronage for prominent religious scholars, such as al-Zuhri (d. 124/742) and al-Awza'i (d. 157/774), and sought their advice on matters of state and religious policy, the sources preserve scant references to Hisham's own views on key issues, despite his long reign and his reputation for stern piety. By contrast, al-Walid appears to have been less reserved in expressing his own religious views. His letter designating his sons as his successors, analyzed in detail by Patricia Crone and Martin Hinds, is the longest, most thorough exposition on the khalifat Allah doctrine extant from the Umayyad era. (18) Al-Walid's letters protesting Hisham's efforts to remove him from the line of succession include significant religious material as well. (19) Some of his voluminous poetry also addresses theological topics. A careful reading of these sources, as well as numerous shorter comments that appear in al-Tabari and other sources, makes it possible to reconstruct al-Walid's religious views, which were surprisingly lucid, particularly given his reputation for insobriety.

Al-Walid, like other Umayyad caliphs, was a proponent of the doctrine of predestination. In one of his letters to Hisham, protesting Hisham's efforts to isolate him from his companions, al-Walid argues that God has ordained his succession and determined his lifespan and his sustenance, and that none other than God could alter these (fa-qad sabbaba Allah li min al-'ahd wa-kataba li min al-'umr wa-qasama li min al-rizq ma la yaqdira ahdun duna Allah). He then invokes God's decree (qadar Allah) specifically. (20) In the letter, he uses a typical predestinarian argument to warn Hisham that efforts to remove him from succession would be futile since they would constitute resistance to God's will. In his letter appointing his sons as heirs, he makes essentially the same argument: God had decreed that the caliphs would rule and resistance would be pointless. (21) In his rhyming sermon (khutba), discussed in more detail below, he refers to God as al-qadir al-fard, the only One Who decrees, and warns again of the absurdity of resisting God's will. (22)

While these statements make clear that al-Walid believed that God decreed that he would rule and that nothing could change his destiny, they do not reflect the staunchly determinist viewpoint of the Jabrites. Al-Walid's warnings about the consequences of disobedience suggest that his audience, even Hisham, has the capacity to choose whether to obey, but that this choice will only affect their own fate and not the larger course of events. Al-Walid's statements suggest that there were gradations of predestinarian thought and that, while resistance to God's will was possible, it was doomed to fail. (23) In contemplating al-Walid's viewpoint on the free will/predestination debate, it is important to note the posthumous praise he offered Hisham for his persecution of the Qadarite advocates of human free will. He went so far as to label Hisham's exile of Qadarite leaders to the island of Dahlak as the best thing his hated uncle had ever done. (24) He clearly found the Qadarite opinion that the caliphs were themselves accountable for their actions to be anathema. As the statements above make clear, al-Walid believed that God determined each caliph's reign, his reward, and, implicitly, his policies. Others might be responsible for their obedience or rebellion, but the caliph was merely doing God's will, even when he viciously crushed his opponents. The obvious inconsistencies in his position reflect both an Umayyad obsession with obedience and the immaturity of predestinarian doctrines at this stage of the debate over free will.

Al-Walid was more concerned with, and more consistent in, defining the basis for his own power as caliph. As was pointed out, he is most closely associated with the articulation of the khalifat Allah doctrine, but he also formulated a second basis for his authority by proclaiming himself a nasih while also making allusions to a third foundation for his power by calling himself a nadhir. The khalifat Allah doctrine was retained by 'Abbasid rulers later, but his more nuanced (and in some ways more audacious) claims to authority found no champions after his death.

The khalifat Allah doctrine is carefully outlined in al-Walid's letter designating his sons' succession and has been thoroughly discussed by later scholars. What follows is essentially a summary of Patricia Crone's and Martin Hinds' explanations. (25) Al-Walid's letter divides history into an era of prophets and an era of caliphs. Prophets delivered messages from God to instruct His creation about proper faith and behavior. Caliphs had a different task, namely, ruling over God's creation and implementing the instructions God had delivered through His prophets. Since Muhammad represented the end of prophecy, a new age began with his death. Crone and Hinds argue quite persuasively that caliphs, as understood by al-Walid, were not subordinate to the prophets, but were their equals, facilitating God's will on earth. Coupled with this elevation of the caliphs, al-Walid also demanded complete obedience from the general public. The caliphs were God's terrestrial representatives and the populace at large could not resist them without also defying God. This tidy division of history into an age of prophets and a subsequent age of caliphs is not without complications. In particular, past prophets such as Adam and David, who were also described as caliphs, muddle the chronological divide. However, al-Walid opted not to address this concern in his enunciation of the khalifat Allah doctrine. (26)

While earlier caliphs proclaimed themselves khalifat Allah, only al-Walid expounded at length upon the doctrine supporting the title. Other caliphs simply accepted the designation and its implications, leaving it to loyal servants like al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf (d. 95/714) and Khalid al-Qasri (d. 126/744) to assert that the caliph was equal to or even superior to the Prophet. (27) The fact that al-Walid did not rely upon advisors to articulate his religious views is particularly important. Crone and Hinds point out that one of the implications of the khalifat Allah doctrine is that it leaves no room for religious scholars to act with authority: "Khalifat Allah is a title which, if taken seriously, leaves no room for 'ulama': if God manifests His will through caliphs here and now, there is no need to seek guidance from scholars who remember what a prophet had said in the past." (28) In contrast to his predecessors, al-Walid did not surround himself with religious scholars. Instead, he reserved his patronage for poets and formulated his religious pronouncements himself. Even the venerable al-Awza'i, who famously deemed that the era of right guidance ended with the murder of al-Walid, retired to Beirut after the death of his patron Hisham. (29) While he supported al-Walid, the new caliph had no need for his advice, arguably because al-Walid was confident in his own authority as God's deputy.

In addition to his articulation of the khalifat Allah doctrine, al-Walid introduced other theological foundations for his authority over the community. In several instances, he referred to himself not as khalifat Allah, but as a nasih. These references appear in poetry attributed to al-Walid and offer an interesting complement to the khalifat Allah doctrine. The discussion that follows will argue that al-Walid invoked the title of nasih to arrogate to himself additional quasi-prophetic powers and to reinforce the urgency of obedience to God's chosen leader. Al-Isfahani preserved a rhyming khutba in which al-Walid's conception of the nasih is most clearly articulated. The text of the poem, as edited by Gabrieli, appears below along with this author's tentative translation: (30)




















(1.) Praise be to God the patron of praise/I praise Him in ease and in exertion

(2.) It is He from Whom I seek help in distress/and He Who has no partner

(3.) I witness in the world and what is beyond it/that no god other than He is god

(4.) He has no partner in His creation/kings have yielded to His dominion

(5.) I witness that the religion is that of Ahmad/those who opposed him were not rightly guided

(6.) and that he was the messenger of the Lord of the Throne/the One Who decrees, the Singular One, the Powerful One, the One who grasps firmly

(7.) He sent him among His creation as a warner/and with the book as an admonisher and a bringer of good news

(8.) God reveals by this the religion/we were made before our polytheism

(9.) Whoever obeys God, he has hit the mark/whoever disobeys Him or His messenger, he will fail

(10.) There is the Qur'an, right guidance, and the right path having/remained after the Prophet passed away

(11.) as if after he passed away, he were with you alive and sound/still being among you

(12.) Truly, you who come after, if you fall/from his direction or stray from his manifest way

(13.) Do not leave my counsel, for I am a sincere counselor/verily, take notice the true way is clear

(14.) He who fears God finds the outcome of fearing God/on the day of reckoning to be leading to right guidance

(15.) Verily, obedience is the best of deeds/I deem the sum of pious behavior as having entered into it

(16.) Fear hell, my brothers perhaps/the day of encounter you will know what gladdens you

(17.) It has been said in the proverbs, if (perchance) you know/so take advantage of this if you are sensible

(18.) What one sows, he will harvest one day/and what one sends ahead in the way of righteousness for that he will be praised

(19.) So ask forgiveness of your Lord and repent/take notice, for death is close at hand among you.

In the Kitab al-Aghani, al-Isfahani presented al-Walid's rhyming khutba with an unremarkable isnad amid a series of anecdotes about al-Walid's exploits. The only readily identifiable link in the isnad is 'Ubaydallah b. Sa'id al-Zuhri, who was a Baghdadi who served as a qadi in Isfahan and died in 260/873. The report indicates that the khutba was written in his book, but does not identify the work. Nor is it possible to identify 'Ubaydallah b. Sa'id's sources, who are merely noted as 'Umar and his ('Umar's) father. The text has been published, without commentary, by Francesco Gabrieli, who also noted a second source for the poem in a Tunis manuscript by al-Safadi, which had only slight variations. The khutba is the longest of Gabrieli's collection of 102 poetry fragments attributed to al-Walid. Despite this, Gabrieli did not discuss this particular poem in his article. He was apparently more interested in al-Walid's tragic, sometimes comic, love life than in his attempts at preaching.

The sermon itself is in the form of a nineteen-line poem in the rajaz meter. Al-Walid purportedly composed it extemporaneously when he decided to give a Friday khutba. Al-Isfahani gives the poem's context without indicating when or where the sermon was uttered. Instead, he explains that al-Walid was traveling with his drinking companions (ashabuhu 'ala l-sharab) when they reminded him that it was Friday. He bragged that he would give a khutba in verse, ascended the minbar, and recited his impromptu poetic homily.

The peculiar circumstances of the khutba's composition and the fact that it appears in al-Isfahani rather than in more thoroughly mined sources such as al-Tabari, has apparently led modern scholars to overlook this potential artifact of Umayyad religious thought. (31) Despite its dubious context, the poem does contain important doctrinal insights. As mentioned above, it invokes God as al-qadir al-fard and includes the same combination of predestinarian themes and demands for obedience found in al-Walid's letter appointing his sons as successors.

More intriguing is his reference to himself as a nasih (1. 13) in the sermon. The term nasih has a dual meaning. In most instances it refers to a counselor, guide, or source of advice. In the Qur'an, however, it refers more specifically to one who brings a warning from God. The term appears at least four times in al-Walid's poetry. Two of these references appear in his love poetry. In a poem to Umm Sa'id, he asks if any messenger or one on the path of the nasih (min rasulin aw sabil nasihin) had informed her of his love. (32) In a second love poem, which al-Walid apparently composed just before Hisham's death, the nasih issues a rebuke to Salma, the object of his perpetual unrequited love, for her refusal to see him. (33) While neither of these references is specifically religious, it is important to note that in the first al-Walid associates the nasih with the rasul, and in the second the nasih brings rebuke rather than benevolent advice. Al-Walid clearly understands the term nasih in its Qur'anic sense rather than its mundane sense. This understanding of the term is essential to grasp the significance of the two remaining poetic references.

In his rhyming khutba, al-Walid distinguishes between the Prophet and the nasih. After urging obedience to God, he turns to the Prophet, emphasizing that the Qur'an, right guidance (al-huda), and the right path (sabil) remain after the Prophet as his legacy (literally, as though he were still alive and well among you after he had passed away: ka-inna lamma mada ladaykum hayyun sahihun la yazalu fikum). (34) Al-Walid then instructs those who come after to follow him, the nasih, and returns to warnings about the consequences of disobedience. These few lines of poetry circumscribe the influence of the Prophet by emphasizing that the Qur'an and his guidance are all that remain of him. This is consistent with the conclusion of the age of prophecy that was a central tenet of the khalifat Allah doctrine. However, the new age in al-Walid's rhyming khutba is the age of the nasih rather than the caliph.

Given al-Walid's role in the articulation of the khalifat Allah doctrine, it is initially puzzling that he would not refer to himself consistently as khalifat Allah and would instead invoke another Qur'anic reference to legitimize his authority. It is tempting to argue that his appeal to multiple Qur'anic bases for his legitimacy suggests that the khalifat Allah title was not yet firmly entrenched, or that the rhyming khutba occurred before his accession to the caliphate, forcing him to find another title to differentiate himself from Hisham in that particular context. However, neither of these possibilities is tenable. Crone and Hinds have painstakingly shown that the sources contain examples of virtually every Umayyad caliph being referred to as khalifat Allah, and al-Walid's letter represents a maturely developed statement of the doctrine itself. (35) Moreover, the term nasih does not appear frequently as an alternative title. Instead, only al-Walid invoked it. Nor is it possible that this was a term al-Walid used only prior to his own accession to the caliphate, since the fourth poetic reference, discussed in more detail below, appears in a short poem he recited just before his retreat to al-Bakhra' to face his own death. (36)

To understand why al-Walid invoked the mantle of the nasih alongside the khalifat Allah title, I will begin with Qur'anic references to the term nasih and its related verbal forms. The term appears most frequently in Sura 7 (al-A'raf). Here the prophets Hud and Salih are described as nasihs, while Noah and Shu'ayb use the verb nasaha to describe their warnings. The story of Noah is, of course, familiar. After His people fail to heed Noah's admonition to return to monotheism, God sends the flood to destroy their society while sparing only Noah and his family. The other three prophets brought similar warnings to Arab peoples and were similarly rejected. Hud admonished the people of 'Ad, Salih warned the tribe of Thamud, and Shu'ayb brought his warning to the people of Madyan. In each instance the people rejected their nasih and God ultimately destroyed them by means of a storm or an earthquake, sparing the nasih and those who heeded him. In Qur'anic usage, then, the nasih is one who delivers a warning from God and is rejected by his audience. As a consequence, the community faces God's wrath in the form of a cataclysmic disaster.

It is this image that al-Walid seeks to invoke by his use of the term nasih. His rhyming sermon makes this particularly clear. Therein he follows his assertion that he is a nasih with a call to obedience and a warning about divine punishment. His intended implication is that failing to follow him will bring eschatological consequences of the caliber suffered by 'Ad and Thamud. In the short poem he recites before going to al-Bakhra', he includes an allusion to these prophets as well when he says he will bare his head and turn to face the evil-doers. (37) Here al-Walid is making a subtle reference to Hud's decision to stand with those who rejected him and await their inevitable doom, in contrast to Salih and Shu'ayb, who turned away from those who spurned them. In Sura 7, the nasihs either watch God's destruction descend or turn away. In his poem before going to al-Bakhra', al-Walid voices his decision to face his foes when God's wrath meets them.

In the Qur'an, khalifas and nasihs serve different functions and enjoy different kinds of power. God granted His khalifas dominion over temporal matters. The two exemplary khalifas in the Qur'an are Adam and David. God granted them power over His creation and did not withdraw His appointment despite these men's egregious sins. Al-Walid implicitly invoked their legacy when he faced his own death, telling his accusers that God had permitted him the various sins they accused him of committing. (38) If God allowed Adam and David their sins, doubtless more severe than al-Walid's drinking and womanizing, his opponents could not hold him to a different, higher standard. The Qur'anic khalifas were arguably sinful, yet they retained their authority and God's blessing and their communities survived, even flourished, under their rule.

By invoking the Qur'anic nasihs, who served a different function and embodied a different type of authority, al-Walid attempted to arrogate to himself yet another form of power. He asserted his temporal authority over the community by claiming the legacy of David and Adam as khalifat Allah, but when faced with opposition to his rule, he suggested that his power extended beyond the temporal world and that those who defied him would face the fate of 'Ad and Thamud. Al-Walid's use of the term nasih does not detract from the khalifat Allah as a foundation for legitimacy. Instead, it enhances it with an additional category of divinely inspired power.

It is important to note two aspects of al-Walid's arguments to understand his ultimate doctrinal agenda. First, his argument supporting the khalifat Allah doctrine is essentially parallel to that in his rhyming khutba proclaiming himself a nasih. The age of prophecy has passed, since Muhammad was the seal of the prophets, and a new, post-prophetic age has begun. The rulers of this new age were equal to, or even superior to, the prophets who preceded them. Second, al-Walid (and most likely other Umayyad caliphs) wanted to claim for himself as much prophetic power as possible without crossing the blasphemous line of actually calling himself a prophet. Thus the titles of khalifat Allah, claiming the power of the prophets Adam and David, and of nasih, arrogating the power of Noah, Salih, and Hud.

Al-Walid made additional, more subtle attempts to associate himself with prophetic power as well. For instance, in his rhyming khutba, he refers to Muhammad as a nadhir, one who brings a warning. (39) The term nadhir appears frequently in the Qur'an in reference to Muhammad and other prophets, including Noah and Moses. (40) These nadhirs were sent by God to warn their communities to abandon error. Al-Walid gives himself the same title in a short poem composed during his feud with Hisham. (41) While he does not specifically call himself the Prophet's equal, he clearly infers as much. These and other examples suggest that al-Walid chose his words carefully to articulate a doctrinal basis for his absolute, divinely inspired authority.

His explication of the khalifat Allah doctrine and his attempt to introduce a corresponding doctrine of the nasih offer evidence that al-Walid was a sophisticated religious thinker and not merely a drunken playboy. The arguments he presents reveal his intimate knowledge of the Qur'an and of earlier religious history. They also demonstrate a deliberate, systematic approach to building foundations for his own absolute authority. Moreover, unlike his predecessors, the sources make clear that these artifacts are al-Walid's own creations. Much of the poetry discussed appears in the sources as extemporaneous compositions, indicating that the ideas therein were al-Walid's own and that he had contemplated their implications and interconnections beforehand. In short, these documents indicate that al-Walid was something of a serious religious scholar and not merely a frivolous hedonist.

The authenticity of these reports is, like all material from the Umayyad period, open to speculation. Crone and Hinds, following earlier scholars, have accepted the authenticity of al-Walid's letter based on elements of its content (the lack of hadith references in particular) and on their inability to conceive of anyone who might forge such a document. (42) The same arguments can be applied to al-Walid's rhyming khutba. There is nothing in its content to suggest a later 'Abbasid provenance and the argument it makes is more subtle than one would expect in a false attribution. If some later 'Abbasid poet were composing works to ascribe heretical doctrines to Umayyad figures, he surely could have devised something more outrageous than this poem. Indeed, the most offensive aspect of the poem is the context al-Isfahani attached to it. It is entirely possible (though impossible to prove definitively) that the context was fabricated later in an effort to find an appropriate home for the poem in the Kitab al-Aghani. The suggestion that al-Walid could give a rhyming sermon while on a drinking binge, or that he did not know what day it was, complements his irreverent image while magnifying his poetic talent. Any other context, fabricated or real, would have required that the poem and the doctrine it proposed be taken more seriously. The consistency between the doctrines advocated in the poem and the letter also suggest a single author, despite their appearance in different genres of literature drawn from widely divergent sources lacking any sign of shared provenance.

If the poem and the letter are indeed authentic, al-Walid should have been remembered as an important contributor to the development of Islamic theories of government. The absolutist vision he articulated was consistent with the views of later caliphs, with the exception of the interregnum of Yazid b. al-Walid, whose Qadarite alternative was as short-lived as his caliphate. The doctrine al-Walid espoused combined absolute authority with a demand for absolute obedience from the community. Both the khalifat Allah doctrine and its corollary expectation of obedience survived the revolution to be adopted by the 'Abbasids as well. It is important to understand why al-Walid does not receive credit for articulating these views so clearly.


Virtually every conceivable vice has been attributed to al-Walid in later Arabic sources. Consequently his hedonism became the focus of most modern discussions of al-Walid as well. Most of the stories of al-Walid's moral failings center on the unholy trinity of wine, women, and poetry, all of which he relished, particularly in combination. These stories are entertaining and sometimes outlandish, but they also provide the basis for accusations of frivolity in both classical and modern sources. Al-Tabari begins his account of the reasons for al-Walid's murder with a summary of al-Walid's vices, which included drinking, hunting, associating with libertines (fussaq), and pleasure-seeking in general. Al-Tabari mercifully opts to spare his readers the shocking details, lest he make his book too long. (43) Al-Baladhuri, citing al-Mada'ini, proclaims that al-Walid's first priority upon acceding to the caliphate was to marry his beloved Salma, implying that affairs of state were subordinate to affairs of the heart. (44) Judgments like these have led modern scholars to conclude that al-Walid was simply a wanton playboy.

In addition to his celebrated hedonism, al-Walid's cruelty toward his opponents stands out in the sources. The discussion below will illustrate that al-Walid's cruelty and hedonism, while more brazen than most, were not terribly shocking by the standards of the time. Indeed, there were others who matched or surpassed him in most of his vices.

Complaints about al-Walid's cruelty focus on his treatment of certain Umayyad princes after his accession to the caliphate. In particular, he imprisoned two of Hisham's sons, Yazid and Sulayman, and further humiliated Sulayman by flogging him and shaving his beard and hair. (45) Both had been enemies of al-Walid before his accession and campaigned to persuade their father to remove al-Walid from succession. Both later became early supporters of Yazid b. al-Walid's rebellion as well. Al-Walid also humiliated and imprisoned two of Hisham's uncles, Muhammad and Ibrahim, sons of Hisham b. Isma'il al-Makhzumi, who had joined Sulayman and others in advocating a change in succession. (46)

Al-Walid's treatment of Khalid al-Qasri, the governor of Iraq for much of Hisham's reign, stands out as disturbingly cruel and unjust. According to al-Tabari, al-Walid turned Khalid over to his enemy Yusuf b. 'Umar in exchange for fifty million dirhams. Yusuf, who had succeeded Khalid as governor of Iraq, suspected that Khalid had embezzled much of the treasury and had been trying for years, even during Hisham's reign, to interrogate Khalid to determine what had become of the missing funds. Yusuf proceeded to torture Khalid to death without extracting any answers from him. (47) In al-Tabari's narrative, Khalid's death inspired a variety of poetic laments and rekindled old tribal feuds, in addition to shocking the community at large. (48)

Khalid was a powerful and fiercely independent figure. He had been a vocal opponent of Hisham's efforts to eliminate al-Walid from the line of succession and to elevate his own son, Maslama, to heir apparent. (49) He also scoffed at al-Walid's decision to name his own minor sons, al-Hakam and 'Uthman, as his heirs. (50) At the same time, however, Khalid rejected accusations about al-Walid's immoral behavior, dismissing them as hearsay. (51) He also refused to participate in a plot to assassinate al-Walid if he attempted a pilgrimage to Mecca after he became caliph. Instead, he warned the caliph of the plot against him, prolonging his life for a few months. (52)

An alternative narrative of Khalid's demise connects al-Walid's decision to turn him over to Yusuf to the aborted plot to assassinate the caliph. Ibn 'Asakir reports that al-Walid was determined to revive his earlier plans (discussed in more detail below) to lead the pilgrimage and use the Ka'ba as a drinking venue with his companions. He had been forced to abandon this dream during his pilgrimage exploits as heir apparent a few years earlier and, apparently, he still thought drinking at the Ka'ba was a grand idea. (53) Upon hearing of al-Walid's plans, a group of men plotted to kill him to prevent his intended indiscretions. They attempted to persuade Khalid al-Qasri to join the conspiracy, but he refused to do so. He did, however, promise not to reveal them to al-Walid. Instead, he somewhat vaguely warned al-Walid that it would not be safe for him to complete the pilgrimage. Al-Walid, not surprisingly, immediately suspected a plot and demanded that Khalid reveal details. When Khalid, bound by his promise to the conspirators, refused to divulge more, al-Walid threatened to send him to his enemy Yusuf b. 'Umar. Ultimately, Khalid kept his oath, al-Walid carried out his threat, and Khalid was tortured to death by Yusuf b. 'Umar. (54)

In addition to allegations of unjustly imprisoning and torturing prominent men, al-Walid was also accused of violating their women. He allegedly took a slave girl belonging to the family of al-Walid b. 'Abd al-Malik (his deceased uncle) and refused to return her, despite the pleas of his cousin 'Umar b. al-Walid. (55) Vague accusations that he had debauched the mothers of his father's sons (ummahat awladi abihi) were also leveled against him. (56) It is not clear which of Yazid's women his son took as his own. Robert Hamilton has suggested that the accusation refers to Sallamat al-Qass, the renowned singer whom Yazid had spurned for her sister Hababa, another of his singing girls. During al-Walid's caliphate, she reappeared after decades of seclusion to walk alongside al-Walid in the funeral procession for the poet Ma'bad b. Wahb, for whom she sang a memorable lament. (57) The fact that this accusation appears only after al-Walid was caliph supports Hamilton's conclusion. However, there is no record of her producing a son for Yazid and it is remarkable that such a famous performer apparently passed some twenty years in al-Walid's household without drawing the attention of Hisham or any of al-Walid's other detractors.

These accusations of cruelty and mistreatment of Umayyad elites occupy a central place in narratives of al-Walid's demise. However, al-Walid's treatment of his opponents was not extremely sadistic by Umayyad standards. Nothing al-Walid did to his opponents compares to earlier acts of cruelty by Umayyad rulers. Indeed, Khalid al-Qasri was particularly gifted in arranging painful executions for his own enemies. For instance, when he captured the Qadarite al-Ja'd b. Dirham, he delayed his execution until 'id al-adha and substituted al-Ja'd for the sacrificial lamb while publicly mocking him for not believing that God had spoken to Abraham to prevent the similar sacrifice of his son. (58) On another occasion, he ridiculed the 'Alid rebels al-Mughira b. Sa'id and Bayan b. Sam'an, then bound them to bundles of tarsoaked reeds and immolated them. (59) Other Umayyad leaders were equally sadistic toward their foes. The well-known stories of Yazid b. Mu'awiya playing with Husayn b. 'Ali's severed head or of al-Hajjaj b. Yusuf"s treatment of recalcitrant Kufans make al-Walid's cruelty seem almost mundane. (60)

In the context of the times, al-Walid's imprisonment and humiliation of those who advocated his removal was a prudent act, designed to secure his accession. The alternative narrative of Khalid al-Qasri's death makes even his most celebrated act of cruelty a necessary response to a threat of assassination. It is also important to note that, in his confrontation with his enemies at al-Bakhra', these acts of cruelty are absent from the list of offenses his foes recite. His interlocutors do not demand vengeance for Khalid al-Qasri or freedom for Hisham's sons. (61) Instead, they focus exclusively on his libertine behavior.

Al-Walid's drinking habits were legendary and few stories about his activities lack wine, women, poets, and other vices. Al-Tabari and others include a story in which al-Walid and a companion spent an entire night drinking, during which the singing girls served him a total of seventy cups of wine. (62) Al-'Umari also includes a series of reports of al-Walid's habitual forays to the monasteries near Damascus to drink and carouse in relative privacy. (63)

The most notorious tale of his alcoholic excesses centers on his disastrous attempt to lead the pilgrimage in 116/735. This was traditionally a prestigious task that allowed the heir apparent to be seen by the public in a position of honor and religious authority. Ideally, the future caliph would use this opportunity to gain favor with the people by dispensing gifts to the poor and providing for the needs of the pilgrims. When Hisham assigned al-Walid the responsibility of leading the pilgrimage, al-Walid engaged in elaborate preparations for the event, though his plans for the journey and the subsequent rituals in Mecca were unconventional to say the least. Hisham had hoped that al-Walid's pilgrimage duties would separate him from his drinking companions and encourage him to lead a more pious life. Instead, his drinking companions accompanied him and assisted in planning for the event. Al-Walid's pilgrimage caravan included ritually unclean hunting dogs as well as wine and singing girls, of course. In addition, he ordered a giant tent to be made so that he could place it over the Ka'ba itself, enabling him to sit in the shade and enjoy his wine, transforming the holy shrine into a drinking venue. Al-Walid's plans shocked even his drinking companions, whom Hisham mistakenly considered the source of his corruption, and it is they who intervened to dissuade him from turning the Ka'ba into a party tent. (64) Even without his tent, al-Walid managed to spend much of the pilgrimage in a stupor. Some reports even indicate that his inebriation forced him to rely on a servant to complete his ritual requirements in leading the observances in Mecca.

Another tale of al-Walid's drunken excesses centers on the construction of a special bath at his desert palace, which included a pool filled with wine alongside the main bath. Al-Walid apparently swam in and drank copious quantities from this unorthodox vessel of wine. In one anecdote, he had to be pulled from the pool after imbibing a near-fatal dose of wine. (65) Robert Hamilton has located this ingenious wine-bath at Khirbat al-Mafjar, a palace in the Jordan valley, providing solid archeological evidence to support this spectacular story. (66) Other archeological sites associated with al-Walid, particularly his hunting lodge at Qusayr 'Amra, also evoke scenes of drunken revelry. (67) The construction of the wine-bath at Khirbat al-Mafjar as well as accounts of al-Walid's celebration of his accession to the caliphate are evidence that he continued his drunken ways after he became caliph as well. (68)

Stories of al-Walid's womanizing, not surprisingly, often accompany tales of his drinking bouts and frequently involve effusive poetry and song as well. Al-Walid's extensive repertoire of love poetry includes appeals to the affections of numerous women, some anonymous, others named but otherwise forgotten in the sources. Most of these stories are devoid of details and have been preserved largely to provide context for his love poetry. Even his relationship with Sallamat al-Qass, his father's famous singing girl, is left to the imagination. Indeed, the only comments al-Walid made toward Sallama were to praise her singing, not her beauty. (69)

He reserved his most prolific poetry output for Salma bt. Sa'id, the object of his long unrequited love. The story of al-Walid's obsession with Salma became the basis for a whole genre of later poetry about futile love affairs. Before his accession to the caliphate, al-Walid was married to Umm 'Abd al-Malik bt. Sa'id, a descendant of 'Uthman b. 'Affan, the first Umayyad caliph. Al-Walid then fell madly in love with his wife's sister Salma. He concocted a plan to divorce Umm 'Abd al-Malik and sought her father's approval to marry Salma instead. His uncle the caliph Hisham heard of al-Walid's plans from his own wife, yet another sister of Salma. He scolded her father, asking if he would have al-Walid swap one of his daughters for another, and shamed him into forbidding the marriage. Despite this defeat and, according to some reports, Salma's failure to requite his love, al-Walid's obsession with Salma continued. A number of stories of the antics to which he resorted in his efforts to woo her appear in al-Isfahani, providing context for the poetry Salma inspired. In one report, al-Walid went to her father's home where he unsuccessfully attempted to gain access to her quarters disguised as an olive oil peddler. He merely caught a glimpse of his beloved (which inspired more poetry) and was spurned by Salma and her servants, who exclaimed that they had no need for his oil (la hajatun bina ila zaytika). (70)

Al-Walid had no choice but to await Hisham's death to fulfill his desire for Salma, whose father surely could not refuse him once he was caliph. According to al-Mada'ini, his first priority upon becoming caliph was to marry Salma (lam yakun lahu himmatun illa tazawwaja Salma). (71) Al-Walid's romantic frustrations did not end with Hisham's death, since legal complications related to Salma's divorce delayed their marriage. The sources do not explain the nature of the legal obstacle, or even name the party whom Salma was divorcing, but some of the legal scholars argued that this unspecified problem would make the marriage inconsistent with existing law. More significantly, they reminded al-Walid that he was the imam and that if he married her under such circumstances, the people would take it as sunna and emulate him. In essence, they reminded al-Walid that marrying Salma under these circumstances would change Islamic marriage law. Their response is particularly important, since it suggests that members of the community granted the caliph's actions normative force, despite al-Walid's checkered moral history. (72) It is also significant that in this instance al-Walid was careful to ensure that he followed (and thereby confirmed) existing marriage practices, in contrast to his other reckless acts. His restraint delayed his nuptials and caused al-Walid great heartache, since Salma died a mere forty days after al-Walid finally married her. (73) Al-Walid's tragic love affair became the basis for a variety of later poetry celebrating his love and lamenting his loss.

While al-Walid's affairs of the cup and of the heart provided great amusement for later commentators, particularly poets, they were not as outrageous as they seem at first glance in an Umayyad context. Al-Walid was not the only Umayyad ruler who had a hedonistic side. (74) Indeed, al-Walid learned most of his habits from his father, who was a celebrated patron of poets and singing girls, including Sallamat al-Qass and her sister Hababa. Earlier Umayyad caliphs, among whom Sulayman and even 'Umar b. 'Abd al-'Aziz, were accused of excesses. (75) Even the household of the stern, austere Hisham was not immune to temptations. When Hisham demanded that al-Walid renounce his right to succession after the pilgrimage debacle of 116/735 in favor of Hisham's own son, Maslama, al-Walid responded by pointing to Maslama's own flaws in a celebrated short poem:
 Oh you who ask about our religion/we follow the religion of Abu Shakir
 (Maslama) We drink the wine both straight and mixed/sometimes warm and
 sometimes chilled. (76)

Indeed, memories of parties with Maslama and his loyal defense of al-Walid in the face of Hisham's insults spared Maslama the fate of his brothers. Maslama seems to have acquired his taste for wine from his mother, Umm Hakim, whose other son Yazid was one of al-Walid's most vocal opponents. She reportedly had a special wine cup that could hold several pints, which she routinely emptied. The cup itself reappeared in 'Abbasid times, stripped of its jewels but not of its fame. Al-Walid composed an ode to Umm Hakim's cup in which he lampooned Yazid, claiming she had borne a fool for a child because she was drunk when she gave birth to him. (77) Other members of the Umayyad household, as well as the general public, appeared to share al-Walid's love of wine, singing girls, and poetry, since these industries thrived throughout the Umayyad period.

It is important to ask, then, why al-Walid is the only Umayyad ruler to be singled out for such severe condemnation for what appears to be typical Umayyad behavior. The answer lies in the degree to which al-Walid reveled in habits that other elites kept relatively hidden from public view. Even his father Yazid had a sense of discretion about his own drunken exploits. Al-Walid clearly saw no point in such restraint. His festive pilgrimage plans in particular could only be carried out in plain view for all to see. While much of his revelry occurred in the privacy of desert palaces and hunting lodges, some of his exploits were more public. He did not separate his public persona from his private pleasures. Instead, unlike earlier Umayyad caliphs, he displayed his sins boldly, even proudly, for all to see.

More important than his public flouting of moral norms was his defense of his behavior. He mocked those who chided him for immorality. He even claimed a right to behave badly. His final confrontation with his foes at al-Bakhra' is instructive in this regard. There he reminded his besiegers of the beneficial policies he had undertaken, namely, the increase in their stipends, the suspension of some taxes, and the provisions he had made for the poor and infirm. In response, Yazid b. 'Anbasa, the spokesman for the mob, dismissed his beneficial policies and offered a short litany of his immoral acts: drinking, debauching the mothers of his father's sons, his contempt for God's commands, and his violation of sacred ordinances. (78) It is important to note that his accusers do not criticize his actions as a ruler or object to his treatment of his opponents among the Umayyad aristocracy. Instead, they focus solely on his immorality. It is also important to note the absence of abuses committed against members of the Umayyad family from the list of his sins. Al-Walid's response to these accusations is significant as well. He tells Yazid b. 'Anbasa that God has given him dispensation for his actions. (79) Rather than denying his immoral actions or minimizing their severity, al-Walid defiantly invoked his God-given right to partake in such activities.

His defense, or rather his refusal to defend himself, reflects the consistency of his vision of his role in the community. As caliph, he considered himself to be equal to or greater than the Prophet himself. (80) He was the khalifat Allah, the nasih, the nadhir. His actions were ordained by the omnipotent God and could not be challenged by his followers. While in retrospect his attitude appears to manifest unbridled hubris, it was consistent with the implications of the doctrine of caliphal power he espoused. God's representative on earth did not answer to moralizing 'ulama', to other members of his family, and certainly not to angry mobs at the gates.


Al-Walid b. Yazid had no shortage of enemies. Rivalries within the Umayyad aristocracy, which had festered under the sometimes heavy yoke of Hisham's long reign, fragmented the core of the caliphal family. Hisham's own reluctance to allow al-Walid to succeed him, combined with the very real possibility that al-Walid's own lifestyle could vanquish him at any moment, encouraged speculation, and in some cases conspiratorial plots, about alternative succession scenarios. Al-Walid's own bitterness toward Hisham and some of his supporters, along with his desire for revenge against those who engaged in attempts to supplant him as heir apparent, aggravated already present tensions considerably.

Several members of the Umayyad family, particularly Hisham's sons, had legitimate grievances against al-Walid. Khalid al-Qasri's heirs, too, had cause to seek revenge against al-Walid, though they do not appear at all in the final episodes of al-Walid's reign. Members of the Umayyad family were torn over how to proceed. Al-'Abbas b. al-Walid b. 'Abd al-Malik, the patriarch of the family, foresaw the calamity that would ensue if his kinsmen acted against al-Walid, and sought to dissuade them. The arguments he made were both practical and doctrinal. He warned of impending bloodshed and of the severity of al-Walid's revenge. More importantly, he argued that God would destroy them for violating their oath to al-Walid. (81) This assertion reflects the doctrine of absolute caliphal authority espoused by al-Walid. Despite their concerns about al-Walid's actions, his detractors were required to accept his leadership and obey, since his reign was ordained by God. Resistance to God's will would bring certain doom.

If prominent members of the caliph's family were firmly convinced that obedience to their insolent kinsman (with whose sins they were intimately familiar) was obligatory, surely the populace at large could not easily be persuaded to abandon their oaths. The larger public had not suffered al-Walid's wrath. Conversely, his policies would likely have been a welcome change after decades of Hisham's stinginess. After all, he had increased stipends, provided relief for the poor and infirm, and even lifted some taxes. There was no practical reason for anyone outside the narrow circle of al-Walid's foes to demand his ouster.

To remove al-Walid from power, his opponents had to undermine the doctrinal basis for his power and construct a new vision of the caliphate. Yazid b. al-Walid's embrace of the Qadarites provided him with a religious justification for overthrowing al-Walid. The Qadarites had been an active force in opposing the Umayyads for decades, as evidenced by Hisham's persecution of Ghaylan al-Dimashqi and other Qadarite leaders. (82) The nature and extent of the Qadarite movement have been subject to much speculation. Their embrace of the doctrine of human free will was incompatible with al-Walid's absolutist vision of the caliphate and with his assertion that God had ordained even his most outrageous actions. Yazid's rhetoric makes clear that they were a crucial part of his movement and that a Qadarite conception of the caliphate was a precondition for removing al-Walid.

Yazid's accession speech provides an outline of the Qadarite doctrine of the caliphate and demonstrates his radical departure from traditional Umayyad conceptions of leadership. (83) Modern scholars have focused their attention on the practical policies he articulated in the speech, namely, his determination to abandon long campaigns and expensive infrastructure projects, to understand economic and political tensions in Umayyad society. (84) However, the real significance of the speech lies in its religious content. After denying his own personal ambition and calling for government according to the Qur'an and the sunna of the Prophet, he described the offenses al-Walid had committed. The litany is short and vague, accusing al-Walid of making the forbidden licit and of denying the Qur'an and judgment day, along with other innovations (bid'a). In the final section of his speech Yazid unequivocally rejects al-Walid's conception of the caliphate to justify his murder. Yazid asserts that obedience is owed exclusively to God. Obedience to a human ruler cannot entail disobedience to God. He concludes that a caliph who disobeys God deserves to be killed.

The contrast between Yazid's assertion of caliphal accountability and al-Walid's conception of the caliphate could not be more stark. The doctrine of authority al-Walid pronounced in both his letter and his khutba left no room for accountability to his followers. He was the khalifat Allah, the nasih, the nadhir, God's representative on Earth. It was he who pronounced God's will and demanded obedience to it. His actions, even his sins, were ordained by God. Yazid, on the other hand, was promising to answer to the mob.

The sincerity of Yazid's embrace of the Qadarite position has been the subject of much speculation. He is sometimes portrayed as a clever, ambitious sophist who stirred up the pious in order to overcome his lineage and achieve power. (85) The false claim of equal lineage to al-Walid that he includes in his accession speech reflects his insecurity, as does his assertion of descent from a qaysar and a khaqan. (86) Once in power, he drifted quickly toward more traditional conceptions of power. For instance, in the letter he sent to announce his appointment of Mansur b. Jumhur as governor of Iraq he again justifies the overthrow of al-Walid, whom he labels the enemy of God, but this time he credits God with killing al-Walid. (87)

Regardless of Yazid's true motivations, it is important to recognize that the rallying point for the overthrow of al-Walid was the rejection of his autocratic doctrine. Al-Walid expanded the parameters of caliphal authority under the khalifat Allah doctrine to their logical extremities, while adding additional justifications for his power as well. Not only was he destined to rule as God's caliph, he was also a nasih, a source of divine guidance and warning. His lifestyle was what God had willed for him. Those who rejected him would face cataclysmic punishment from God, just as 'Ad, Thamud, and others had. It was not just al-Walid's sins that offended; others drank, womanized, and behaved badly as well. It was the theology that he used to justify his behavior that was particularly odious to the pious.

It is in the doctrinal context that the drama of al-Walid's death scene becomes important. The parallels between accounts of 'Uthman's death and al-Walid's are quite striking. Both are killed by angry mobs while reading their Qur'ans. Both were accused of immoral behavior and both faced demands that they either reform or abdicate their position as caliph. Both refused to accept the will of the mob, insisting that their behavior was allowed by God who had appointed them as caliphs.

The significance of the parallels in their death narratives is hard to grasp. Given that they derive from different sources, 'Uthman's story coming predominantly from al-Waqidi and al-Walid's from al-Mada'ini, they cannot be one author's literary device to knit together the beginning and end of the Umayyad dynasty. It is possible that elements of the parallel were devised by al-Walid himself and that he chose to face his inevitable fall by emulating 'Uthman. After all, he was a clever and flamboyant character. However, even he could not have controlled the circumstances that led to his death or have orchestrated the nature of the confrontation so neatly.

The similarity in the stories of their demise suggests that al-Waqidi, al-Mada'ini, and other earlier chroniclers had come to a consensus about certain aspects of the Umayyad regime and its first and last caliphs. It is important to note that a number of sources treat al-Walid as the last Umayyad caliph and 'Uthman as the first. For instance, Abu Zur'a describes al-Walid's successors (Yazid, Ibrahim, and Marwan) as emirs instead of caliphs. Al-Baladhuri calls Yazid and Ibrahim emirs as well, though interestingly he honors Marwan b. Muhammad as a caliph. (88) The chroniclers cannot have been unaware of the numerological significance of al-Walid's status as the twelfth Umayyad caliph either. (89) The parallels in their death narratives symbolize the closure of the dynasty's cycle. They also illustrate the dominant theme running through the entire Umayyad period, namely, the question of caliphal authority. The theory of the caliphate expounded by al-Walid and 'Uthman was essentially the same. God appointed the caliph and obedience was expected, regardless of how improper the caliph's actions might seem. Al-Walid articulated this theology in a more nuanced and sophisticated way, in his letter of appointment and in his invocation of the nasih. The allusions to 'Uthman in the narrative of his death underscore that the theological tension surrounding al-Walid was nothing new. While al-Walid's arguments were more forceful and his sins more shocking, his conception of the caliphate was essentially the same. The contrast between Medina and al-Bakhra' cannot have escaped the chroniclers either. The dynasty was born in the verdant oasis and died in the bleak Syrian desert. The fact that the Umayyads ultimately suffered the fate of other communities who failed to heed the direction of their nasihs could even be understood as vindication for al-Walid.


The failure of later scholars to recognize al-Walid as a theological force in early Islam and to acknowledge the extent to which his murder was motivated by doctrinal disagreements has resulted in a diminished understanding of his influence on religious doctrine. His principal doctrinal contribution, namely, his articulation of the khalifat Allah doctrine, survived despite his demonstration of its negative implications. Later 'Abbasid leaders returned to the doctrine al-Walid espoused, though none gave him credit for its formulation. (90)

By contrast, the doctrines espoused by the Qadarites enjoyed a shorter popularity. While the doctrine of free will was later adopted and explained in more detail by the Mu'tazilites, Yazid's concept of caliphal accountability did not gain much support. Indeed, even Yazid seems to have backpedaled when his own appointment of his brother as heir sparked protests. It is, of course, not at all surprising that later caliphs preferred doctrines advocating their absolute authority to alternatives demanding that they answer for their actions.

Al-Walid's invocations of the nasih and the nadhir as supplementary bases for caliphal authority did not find advocates in later generations. In fact, he seems to have been the only caliph to claim these titles. There could be many explanations for the failure of these two titles to catch on. The presence of a nasih implies that the community is on the wrong path and requires chastisement and correction. The negative judgment of previous caliphs implicit in the adoption of this title would have been problematic in instances of smooth succession. Perhaps after the 'Abbasid revolution, the warnings of further turmoil the nasih brought were not welcomed by a war-weary polity. It is also possible that the proliferation of titles and honorifics during the early 'Abbasid period left no room for the nasih or the nadhir. In any case, the theory of the nasih, arguably al-Walid's boldest claim to absolute power, did not survive his death.

Muslim scholars faced a dilemma in dealing with al-Walid. By the time the chronicles of al-Tabari and others were written, the Qadarites and their Mu'tazilite successors were out of vogue and Yazid and his followers were not highly regarded. However, the prolific stories of al-Walid's degenerate ways made it difficult to defend him against his heretical foes. The confusion evident in al-Tabari's narrative of these events illustrates the difficulty he faced in describing a battle in which core religious concepts were contested, but in which neither side stood out as an attractive protagonist. (91) In addition, scholars who were al-Walid's contemporaries appear to have stayed on the sidelines in his struggle with the Qadarites. For example, the fiercest opponent of the Qadarites during Hisham's reign, al-Awza'i, simply disappears after Hisham's death. He retired to Beirut, only to be heard from again during the 'Abbasid revolution. (92) Al-Walid's immoral reputation made it difficult for scholars who supported his doctrines to come to his aid. Their silence further obscures al-Walid's influence on early Islamic thought.

Modern scholars have too readily accepted the image of al-Walid painted by his detractors in the Arabic sources. Many have suspended the skepticism they bring to the sources when they confront stories of al-Walid's wanton ways. Consequently, al-Walid's influence has been overlooked in modern scholarship. It is, of course, inherently risky to accept the positions attributed to any Umayyad figure by the Arabic sources at face value, since the views ascribed to them have often been projected back and represent later assumptions about the nature of the fallen regime. However, the long, theologically significant pieces ascribed to al-Walid, namely, his letter and his rhyming khutba, are unlikely candidates for false attribution. First, they appear in widely disparate sources, yet present compatible doctrinal positions. Second, the fact that they present palatable doctrines makes them unusual candidates for forgery. Why would someone want to attribute acceptable theological positions to a rogue like al-Walid? If the intent were to defame al-Walid further, more objectionable doctrines would be required. If the intent were to show that the khalifat Allah doctrine was an Umayyad invention, a more representative Umayyad caliph would be a better mouthpiece. If the intent were to discredit the khalifat Allah doctrine by associating it with al-Walid, a less coherent, more scandalous explanation of the doctrine would have been needed. As for the theory of the nasih, there appears to have been no later debate about this concept. Why would a later author formulate a viable doctrine that had no currency and project it onto al-Walid? Why would the poet/forger bother to ensure that this stillborn doctrine was compatible with the khalifat Allah theory?

The apparent veracity of these reports about al-Walid requires that modern scholars re-evaluate their conclusions about al-Walid. He cannot be dismissed as a drunken playboy or a reckless failure as caliph. Instead, despite his obvious faults, he was theologically literate and formulated doctrinal foundations for even his most egregious actions. While he may have been the Umayyad family's most pernicious sinner, he may also have been their most competent religious thinker.

(1.) Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari, Ta'rikh al-rusul wa-l-muluk, ed. M. J. de Goeje, 15 vols. (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1879-1901); Ahmad b. Yahya al-Baladhuri, Ansab al-ashraf, 25 vols. (Damascus: Dar al-Yaqaza al-'Arabiyya, 1996); Abu l-Faraj al-Isfahani, Kitab al-Aghani, 17 vols. (Cairo: Wizarat al-Thaqafa wa-l-Irshad al-Qawmi, 1963-1970).

(2.) Steven C. Judd, "Narratives and Character Development: Al-Tabari and al-Baladhuri on Late Umayyad History," in Ideas, Images, and Methods of Portrayal: Insights into Classical Arabic Literature and Islam, ed. Sebastian Gunther (Leiden: Brill, 2005), 209-26.

(3.) Ibid., 215.

(4.) Ibid., 212-14.

(5.) Ibid.

(6.) Ibn 'Asakir, 'Ali b. al-Hasan, Ta'rikh madinat Dimashq, 80 vols. (Beirut: Dar al-Fikr, 1995), 63: 337-44. Regarding Ibn 'Asakir's use of al-Tabari, see Steven C. Judd, "Ibn 'Asakir's Sources for the Late Umayyad Period," in Ibn 'Asakir and Early Islamic History, ed. James E. Lindsay (Princeton: Darwin Press, 2001), 93-95.

(7.) Julius Wellhausen, The Arab Kingdom and Its Fall, tr. M. Weir (London: Curzon Press, 1973), 350-54.

(8.) Ibid., 354.

(9.) Francesco Gabrieli, "Al-Walid ibn Yazid: Il califfo e il poeta," Rivista degli studi orientali 15 (1934): 4-6.

(10.) Regis Blachere, "Le prince omayyade al-Walid [II] Ibn Yazid et son role litteraire," Analecta (Damascus: IFEAD, 1975), 381. Previously published in Melanges Gaudefroy-Demombynes (Cairo: IFAO, 1935), 103-23.

(11.) Dieter Derenk, Leben und Dichtung des Omaiyadenkalifen al-Walid ibn Yazid: Ein quellenkritischer Beitrag (Freiburg: Klaus Schwarz, 1974).

(12.) Robert Hamilton, Walid and His Friends: An Umayyad Tragedy (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1988), 63.

(13.) Robert Hillenbrand, "La Dolce Vita in Early Islamic Syria: The Evidence of Later Umayyad Palaces," Art History 5 (1982), 10, 16, 28.

(14.) G. R. Hawting, The First Dynasty of Islam (Carbondale: Southern Illinois Univ. Press, 1987), 91.

(15.) Hugh Kennedy, The Prophet and the Age of the Caliphates (London: Longman Press, 1986), 112-13.

(16.) al-Tabari, 2: 1752-53.

(17.) Ibid., 1754.

(18.) al-Tabari, 2: 1756-64; Patricia Crone and Martin Hinds, God's Caliph: Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1986), 116-26.

(19.) al-Tabari, 2: 1746-50; al-Baladhuri, 7: 483-85.

(20.) al-Tabari, 2: 1746; al-Baladhuri, 7: 483; al-Isfahani, 7: 13.

(21.) al-Tabari, 2: 1758; Crone and Hinds, 120.

(22.) al-Isfahani, 7: 57-58; Gabrieli, 44.

(23.) Crone and Hinds also note that al-Walid does not adopt a strictly Jabrite view. See Crone and Hinds, 116-18.

(24.) al-Tabari, 2: 1777-78; al-Baladhuri, 7: 517.

(25.) al-Tabari, 2: 1756-64; Crone and Hinds, 26-29, 116-26.

(26.) Crone and Hinds do not address this problem either.

(27.) Crone and Hinds, 27-29.

(28.) Crone and Hinds, 21.

(29.) al-Shafi'i, Kitab al-Umm, 7 vols. (Cairo: Dar al-Sha'b, 1903), 7: 320; Joseph Schacht, The Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950), 75.

(30.) The Arabic text is taken from Gabrieli, 44, who made minor emendations to the text that appears in al-Isfahani, 7: 57-58. The translation is my own. I thank Wolfhart Heinrichs for his kind suggestions for correcting egregious errors in my initial translation. Any remaining errors and ineloquence are mine.

(31.) Hillenbrand mentions the khutba, but does not comment upon it. Hillenbrand, 14.

(32.) Gabrieli, 56; al-Isfahani, 7: 41.

(33.) Gabrieli, 61; al-Isfahani, 7: 39; anon., Kitab al-'Uyun wa-l-hada'iq, ed. de Goeje, in Fragmenta historicum arabicorum (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1869), 120. The Kitab al-'Uyun offers only a partial citation, but does include the context.

(34.) Gabrieli, 44; al-Isfahani, 7: 57-58 (11. 9-13).

(35.) Crone and Hinds, 5-11.

(36.) al-Tabari, 2: 1796; al-Baladhuri, 7: 527; al-Isfahani, 7: 21; Gabrieli, 49.

(37.) Ibid.

(38.) al-Tabari, 2: 1800; al-Baladhuri, 7: 529; al-Isfahani, 7: 80.

(39.) Gabrieli, 44: al-Isfahani, 7: 57-58 (1. 7).

(40.) For examples of Muhammad as a nadhir, see Q 7:188; 11:2; 15:89; 22:49; 29:50; 32:3; 33:45; 34:28; 35:23; 38:70; 46:9; 48:8; 67:26. For Moses, see Q 17:105. For Noah, see Q 11:25; 26:115; 71:2.

(41.) Gabrieli, 54; al-Tabari, 2: 1745; al-Baladhuri, 7: 482; al-Isfahani, 7: 10.

(42.) Crone and Hinds, 116-17.

(43.) al-Tabari, 2: 1775.

(44.) al-Baladhuri, 7: 498.

(45.) al-Tabari, 2: 1776; Kitab al-'Uyun, 130; al-Baladhuri, 7: 515.

(46.) al-Tabari, 2: 1768, 1742; Hamilton, Walid, 136-37.

(47.) al-Tabari, 2: 1812-22.

(48.) Ibid., 2: 1822-25.

(49.) Ibid., 2: 1743.

(50.) al-Tabari, 2: 1776-77; Kitab al-'Uyun, 131; al-Baladhuri, 7: 516.

(51.) al-Tabari, 2: 1776-77; Kitab al-'Uyun, 131; al-Baladhuri, 7: 516.

(52.) al-Tabari, 2: 1778; Ibn 'Asakir, 16: 162, 63: 335.

(53.) Al-Walid's initial pilgrimage plans are detailed in al-Tabari, 2: 1741-42. See below for further discussion.

(54.) Ibn 'Asakir, 16: 162, 63: 335.

(55.) al-Tabari, 2: 1776; Kitab al-'Uyun, 131; al-Baladhuri, 7: 515.

(56.) al-Tabari, 2: 1777, 1800; al-Baladhuri, 7: 515, 529; al-Isfahani, 7: 80.

(57.) Hamilton, Walid, 132-33.

(58.) al-Dhahabi, Mizan al-i'tidal fi naqd al-rijal, 4 vols. (Cairo: 'Isa al-Babi al-Halabi, 1963), 1: 399; Ibn Kathir, al-Bidaya wa-l-nihaya fil-ta'rikh, 14 vols. (Cairo: Matba'at al-Sa'ada, 1932), 9: 350.

(59.) al-Dhahabi, 4: 162.

(60.) See, for instance, al-Tabari, 2: 380-83, 863-67.

(61.) al-Tabari, 2: 1799-1800; al-Baladhuri, 7: 529.

(62.) al-Tabari, 2: 1811-12; Kitab al-'Uyun, 129; al-Isfahani, 7: 11-12.

(63.) Ibn Fadl Allah al-'Umari, Masalik al-absar fi mamalik al-amsar (Cairo: Dar al-Kutub al-Misriyya, 1924), 1: 353, 355-56; Yaqut, Mu'jam al-buldan, ed. Wustenfeld (Leipzig, 1866-73), 2: 696-97; Blachere, 388; Hamilton, Walid, 89-91.

(64.) al-Tabari, 2: 1741-42; al-Baladhuri, 7: 476; Khalifa Ibn Khayyat, Ta'rikh (Najaf: Matba'at al-Adab, 1967), 377.

(65.) Hamilton, Walid, 35-42; al-Isfahani, 3: 93-96.

(66.) Hamilton, Walid, 13-46; idem, "Who Built Khirbat al-Mafjar?" Levant 1 (1969): 61-67; idem, "Khirbat al-Mafjar: The Bath Hall Reconsidered," Levant 10 (1978): 126-38.

(67.) Garth Fowden, Qusayr 'Amra: Art and the Umayyad Elite in Late Antique Syria (Berkeley and Los Angeles: Univ. of California Press, 2004), esp. 81-82; Hillenbrand, 13.

(68.) Hamilton, Walid, 133-36; al-Isfahani, 7, 15-24.

(69.) Hamilton, Walid, 132-33.

(70.) al-Baladhuri, 7: 486; al-Isfahani, 7: 28-29.

(71.) al-Baladhuri, 7: 498.

(72.) Regarding the normative value placed on Umayyad practice, see Schacht, Origins of Muhammadan Jurisprudence, 190-213.

(73.) al-Baladhuri, 7: 485-90, 498-500; al-Isfahani, 7: 24-36. The sources do not adequately explain the nature of the complications involving Salma's divorce. They suggest that she needed to marry and subsequently divorce another man (al-Walid chose a nephew for this role) before marrying al-Walid. A later marriage to a former spouse is the only legal circumstance that would require an intervening marriage. However, nothing in the various versions of the story suggests that al-Walid was successful in marrying Salma at any previous time.

(74.) For a fairly complete list of Umayyad reprobates, see Hillenbrand, 13.

(75.) Kennedy, 105-7.

(76.) al-Tabari, 2: 1742; al-Isfahani, 7: 4; al-Baladhuri, 7: 477; Gabrieli, 46; Hamilton, Walid, 92.

(77.) Hamilton, Walid, 92-94.

(78.) Al-Baladhuri adds homosexuality to the list: al-Baladhuri, 7: 536.

(79.) al-Tabari, 2: 1799-1800; al-Baladhuri, 7: 536; al-Isfahani, 7: 139.

(80.) Crone and Hinds, 32-33.

(81.) al-Tabari, 2: 1784-88; al-Baladhuri, 7: 519; Kitab al-'Uyun, 133-34.

(82.) Regarding the persecution of the Qadarites, see Josef van Ess, Anfange muslimischer Theologie (Beirut: Orient-Institut, 1977); idem, "Les Qadarites et la Gailaniya de Yazid III," Studia Islamica 31 (1970): 269-86; Steven C. Judd, "Ghaylan al-Dimashqi: The Isolation of a Heretic in Islamic Historiography," International Journal of Middle East Studies 31 (1999): 161-84.

(83.) al-Baladhuri, 7: 542-43; al-Tabari, 2: 1834-35; Ibn Khayyat, 382-83; Kitab al-'Uyun, 455-56.

(84.) For earlier studies of Yazid's speech, see Wellhausen, 366-67; Crone and Hinds, 63-64; M. A. Shaban, Islamic History: A New Interpretation, vol. 1, A.D. 600-750 (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1971), 156-57; Josef van Ess, Theologie und Gesellschaft im 2. und 3. Jahrhundert Hidschra (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1991), 1: 86-88; Khalid Yahya Blankinship, The End of the Jihad State: The Reign of Hisham ibn 'Abd al-Malik and the Collapse of the Umayyads (Albany: State Univ. of New York Press, 1994), 225-30.

(85.) See Wellhausen, 362.

(86.) Yazid's mother was a Soghdian woman, allegedly a princess, while al-Walid's mother was descended from Abu Sufyan, the father of the caliph Mu'awiya.

(87.) al-Tabari, 2: 1845; al-Baladhuri, 7: 545-46; Crone and Hinds, 126-28.

(88.) Abu Zur'a, Ta'rikh Abi Zur'a al-Dimashqi (Damascus, 1981), 196; al-Baladhuri, 7: 474ff.

(89.) The chroniclers would surely have been familiar with the reference to the twelve water springs provided for the twelve tribes for Moses in Q 2:60. They would also have encountered the twelve-part cycles in the signs of the zodiac and the months of the year, and perhaps even (by al-Baladhuri and al-Tabari's time) the twelve Shi'i imams.

(90.) Crone and Hinds, 13-17.

(91.) For a more complete discussion, see Judd, "Narrative," 209-26.

(92.) Steven C. Judd, "Competitive Hagiography in Biographies of al-Awza'i and Sufyan al-Thawri," JAOS 122 (2002): 25-37.


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