Abbasid Caliphate الدولة العباسية

Abbasid Caliphate الدولة العباسية

Dynastic rulers of the most dazzling Empire ever produced on the earth from the second to the seventh Islamic century. The foundations of this dynasty were laid when the descendants of ‘Abbas B Abd Al-Muttalib, uncle of the Muhammad, seized the office of Caliph in 131 H, earlier held by the Umayyads. Between Abu `Abbas al-Saffah in 132 H, the first of the series, and Musta`sim billah in 656 H, the last of them, some 37 Caliphs of the dynasty ruled over the empire. It was Hulagu Khan, the grandson of Genghis Khan (1227 CE) who entered Baghdad triumphant and put a partial end to the caliphate.

The second dynasty of the `Abbasids ruled Egypt. Starting with Al-Muntansir Billah (659 H) to al-Mustamsik Billah (923 H), the dynasty produced 20 Caliphs. In 923 H (1517 CE), the last of this branch of the `Abbasids was deposed by Sultan Saleem, the Caliph of the `Uthmani dynasty, who brought Egypt and Syria under his control.

By exploiting certain questionable religio-political ideas, helped by the social unrest of the early Empire, incorporating certain Iranian religious ideas familiar to the newly converted, and directed by agents in Kufa (a stronghold of Shi`i sympathies in Iraq), they seized power in 132 H/ 750 CE They were helped greatly by the able Iranian propagandist, Abu Muslim al-Khurasani, who worked tirelessly and intelligently to bring the `Abbasids to power, subjugating the eastern provinces for the new regime, and later expanding the Islamic territory in the east. His propaganda found the greatest response among the half-Islamized Iranian inhabitants of the old eastern Persian Empire, Khurasan. In this territory, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism, Mazdakism, Manichaeism, Nestorian Christianity and other religious sects had been living together peacefully but now in political discontent. Here, in 129 H/ 747 CE, local revolts were raised that called for an Imam of the Prophet’s family to lead the Muslims, but the hidden agenda (or the hope of many of the supporters) was to install one of the descendants of `Ali Ibn Abi Talib. The call grew into a general rebellion of all disaffected elements in the Umayyad Empire. But when it succeeded with the overthrow of the Umayyad, it was the head of the `Abbasid House – Abu al-`Abbas al-Saffah – who was installed as Caliph in 132 H. Very ably, he rooted out the Umayyads in every province, failing only with Spain.

Once in power, the `Abbasids had to deal with, and give equal footing in the government to, those differing groups and interest-lobbyists that had cooperated to give them the victory.

The new regime’s power was consolidated under al-Mansur, brother and successor of al-Saffah. The irony is that Abu Muslim Khurasani was treacherously killed in 137 H (on suspicion of sedition) and his closest followers crushed. This made the Shi`is hostile to the new regime, which led them to rebel against the dynasty throughout its history. Succeeding ‘Abbasids resorted to repression, while also trying out the carrot, though to little effect.

Abbasid Caliph Mansur constructed a new capital on the Tigris, naming it Madinat al-Salam, but popularly known as Baghdad, after an earlier village on that site. It was at the junction of several trade routes, and soon became an unmatched center of civilization. With the establishment of the ‘Abbasid dynasty, the Islamic polity underwent transformation from an Arab kingdom to a Muslim Empire where all elements of the society, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, received their share of power, influence and wealth.

It was Mansur who constructed a new capital on the Tigris, naming it Madinat al-Salam, but popularly known as Baghdad, after an earlier village on that site. It was at the junction of several trade routes, and soon became an unmatched center of civilization.

With the establishment of the `Abbasid dynasty, the Islamic polity underwent transformation from an Arab kingdom to a Muslim Empire where all elements of the society, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, received their share of power, influence and wealth. Mesopotamia was the economic basis of the empire, which had been the seat of earlier multi-racial Middle Eastern empires. The skills and traditions of the conquered peoples, particularly of converted members of the Sassanians who proved excellent as bureaucrats, were freely and skillfully employed. The Islamic religion and the Arabic Language gave their distinctive imprint to this richly endowed civilization. The Arabs lost their exclusive right to rule the Islamic empire, losing with it the various material advantages. Able non-Arabs were accepted as equals to Arabs, as the criteria was Islam, not Arab origin. The cultural brilliance of the `Abbasids was attained under Harun al-Rashid, (786–809 CE), and his son al-Ma’mun, (d. 833 CE), unique not merely for its material achievements, but also artistic and spiritual.

However, during subsequent period when the court was shifted to Samarra, a new royal city north of Baghdad, the Caliphs became virtual prisoners of the elite corps they had formed from Central Asian Turkish slaves. Local rulers began to assert themselves in the provinces, and a slave uprising of Africans devastated lower Iraq. The Caliph’s authority was reasserted, but during the long reign of al-Muqtadir (908–32 CE) the central administration of the empire began to weaken because of the corruption and internal rivalries. In 909 CE the Isma`ili Sh`is established the caliphate ‘of the Children of Fatima’ in Tunisia (capital at Cairo from 969–1171 CE). From 945 to 1055 CE, the `Abbasids at Baghdad were mere puppets of the Buwayhid dictators and Persian Shi`is of the ‘Twelver’ sect. From 1055 to 1194 CE they were under the patronage of sultans of the Seljuks. The latter were Turkish chiefs whom the `Abbasids had invited to rid them of the Buwayhids but who became their overlords. The Seljuks were Sunnis. Nevertheless, until the `Uthmani Khilafah, the `Abbasi Khilafah, retained its awe and respect. Until recent times many a ruler in the Muslim world from Morocco to Philippines sought Baghdad’s endorsement or blessings, even if it was no more than a formality.



See related articles