Journal of Earth Sciences and Geotechnical Engineering

The first Century of Islam and the Question of Land and its Cultivation (636-750 AD)

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  • Abstract

    The new era after the fall of the Sasanian Empire, which is marked by the Muslims dominion over Iraq, as part of the Islamic Empire. It was only two years after the death of the Prophet Mohammad that the real efforts to spread Islam outside the Arabian Peninsula were made during the reign of the second Khalifah ‘Umar ibn al- Khattab. The Arabs at that time pushed their way forcefully into Iraq, and almost simultaneously into Syria (Bilad al- Sham) and caused the total collapse of the Sassanians Empire and the occupation of large part of the Roman Empire. The Islamic troops that invaded Iraq settled with their families in new towns, which they had built as encampments. Basrah and Kufa were the first of these towns and followed later on by Wasit. The locations of these cities and the further steps taken in their development are described here. Basrah being at some distance from Shatt- al Arab and the Euphrates had no water supply and therefore two large canals, the Ubulla canal and al- Ma’qal canals, which were excavated on the orders of ‘Umar himself, brought water to it. The policy adopted in the following years was to grant the lands around Basrah freely to wealthy Muslim investors who should reclaim these lands and excavate irrigation canals for their cultivation. This was known as the qati’as system of land ownership, which resulted in a boom in agriculture in the area. The treasury had benefitted from the tax imposed on these lands and their yield, which was called (Karaj). The same qati’a system was practiced in Kufa but to lesser extent than around Basrah as most of the land was already cultivated and owned by people who did not resist the Muslims conquest and therefore they were entitled to keep their lands against payment of another type of tax. The only lands that were granted as qati’as were those, which had belonged to the Persian Crown or owned by Persians who had left after the conquest. The lands in this area mostly belonged to the He’rians who had their capitol al- Hira, close to Kufa and their kingdom was a vassal kingdom under the Sassanians. In the other case, of the city of Wasit the third Islamic city to be built in Iraq, established by al Hajjaj. He was the governor of Iraq during the Islamic Umayyad dynasty rule (661- 750). The town he had built was on the right bank of Tigris in the rich district of Kaskar south of Misan .It was renowned for its fertility and good agriculture. Nevertheless its lower part had been flooded by the famous flood of the 629 AD late in the Persian empire timeline in which the Tigris River had abandoned its eastern course (present day course) and ran in a new western course on which Wasit later on was built. The Hajjaj who  ruled for 20 years during the Umayyad period therefore had the opportunity of reclaiming large tracts of the land around Wasit and  large areas adjacent to the Great Swamp (Batayih) in which he also gave many of the qati’as grants to investors in the same way as was done before in Basrah. Generally, Hajjaj who was very much occupied in quelling revolts and mutinies had also the time to oversee maintenance works of existing canals and dig many more of them. Iraq, during this period and for a long time, which followed, became as wealthy as it used to be during the high time of the Sassanids, and its canal networks functioned well while its fertile and fluvial land supported flourishing agriculture and generated large revenue to the treasury (Bait al- Mall). All the time during the Islamic era until the fall of Baghdad in 1258 AD Iraq was called al- Sawad land, which came from the dark color of the extensive cultivations, farms and lush green orchards of palm trees and fruits as they appeared on the horizon. Al Sawad as defined by the contemporary Muslim scholars extended from Hulwan (Qasir e- Shirin) to Haditha in the north to the tip of the Gulf and Qadisiyya on the edge of the desert in the South.

    Keywords: Islamic Era, Khalifah, Umayyad, Iraq