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Bilad al-Sham (Arabic بلاد الشام, the country of Syria), in English usually referred to as Syria, was a Rashidun, Umayyad and later Abbasid Caliphate province, incorporating former Byzantine territories of the Diocese of the East, organized soon after the Muslim conquest of Syria in the mid-7th century, which was completed at the decisive Battle of Yarmouk.
At the time of the Arab conquest of the Rashidun, the region had been inhabited mainly by local Aramaic-speaking Monophysite Christian peasants (like the Mardaites and Byzantine Christians or Melchites), Ghassanid and Nabatean Arabs, as well as minorities of Jews, Samaritans and Ismaelite Itureans. The population of the region did not become predominantly Muslim and Arab in identity until several centuries after the conquest.
Following the Muslim conquest, Syria was governed for twenty years by Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan of the Banu Umayya, who developed the province as his family's powerbase. Relying on Syrian military support, Muawiyah emerged as the victor in the First Fitna and established the Umayyad Caliphate. During Umayyad times, al-Sham was divided into five junds or military districts. They were Jund Dimashq, Jund Hims, Jund Filastin and Jund al-Urdunn. Later, Jund Qinnasrin was created out of part of Jund Hims. Under the Umayyads, the city of Damascus was the capital of the Islamic Caliphate and Syria formed the Caliphate's "metropolitan" province; likewise, the elite Syrian army, the ahl al-Sham, formed the main pillar of the Umayyad regime.
Syria became much less important under the Abbasid Caliphate, which succeeded the Umayyads in 750. The Abbasids moved the capital first to Kufa and then to Baghdad and Samarra in Iraq, which now became the most important province. The mainly Arab Syrians were marginalized by Iranian and Turkish forces who rose to power under the Abbasids, a movement which also expressed itself on a cultural level. Under Harun al-Rashid (r. 786–809), the northern parts of the province were detached to form a new jund, called al-'Awasim, which served as a second line of defence against Byzantine attacks, behind the actual frontier zone of the Thughur.
From 878 until 905, Syria was under the effective control of the Tulunids of Egypt, but Abbasid control was re-established soon thereafter. It lasted until the 940s, when the province was partitioned between the Hamdanid Emirate of Aleppo in the north and Ikhshidid-controlled Egypt in the south. In the 960s, much of northern Syria was conquered by the Byzantine Empire under Nikephoros II Phokas and Aleppo became a Byzantine tributary, while the southern provinces passed to the Fatimid Caliphate after its conquest of Egypt in 969. The division of Syria into northern and southern parts would persist despite political changes until the Mamluk conquest in the late 13th century.
The term etymologically means "land of the left hand", referring to the fact that for someone in the Hejaz facing east, north is to the left (so the name Yemen correspondingly means "land of the right hand"). Sham comes from the Arabic consonantal root shin-hamza-mim ش ء م (referring to unluckiness, such as that traditionally associated with the left), as seen in alternative Arabic spellings such as شأم and شآم. There is no connection with the name of Shem son of Noah (which appears in Arabic as sam سام, with a different initial consonant, and without any internal glottal stop consonant), as is sometimes assumed.
Geographical / political meaning 
Bilad al-Sham (also transliterated Bilad-ush-Sham, Cham under French influence etc.) can be used as a general name for the whole Levant or "Greater Syria" region (without special reference to the early historical caliphal province). The region is sometimes defined as the area that was dominated by Damascus, long an important regional centre — in fact, the Arabic word al-Sham الشام standing on its own can refer to the city of Damascus.
See also 
Aigle, Denise, ed. (2012). Le Bilād al-Šām face aux mondes extérieurs. La perception de l'Autre et la représentation du Souverain [Bilad al-Sam face to outer worlds. The perception of the Other and the representation of the Sovereign] (in French) (1st ed.). ISBN 978-2-35159-197-0. Retrieved January 8, 2013.