Iranian History/The Abbasids

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In 747, the Abbasids, a Hashemite tribe rose in rebellion against the Umayyads and deposed them, killing the Umayyad Caliph. The Abbasids captured the throne and established the Abbasid Caliphate. They shifted the capital from Damascus to Baghdad from where they ruled till the 10th century AD.

Establishment of the Abbasid Caliphate

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In 747, the Abbasids rose in rebellion against the Umayyads in order to capture the throne and realize their age-old claim to the leadership of the Arab world by virtue of their being descendants of Muhammad's yongest uncle Abbas. They received the ardent support of the Persians, Jews, Christians and Egyptians. The Persians participation in the rebellion , in particular, was enormous and had it not been for the overwhelming support of the Persians which the Abbasids received they would not have been able to capture the throne.

In 750, matters became so serious that the Umayyad Caliph Marwan II was forced to take note. He led a large Umayyad force into Iraq to strike the rebelling Abbasids. But despite the disparity of numbers, the Umayyad forces were overwhelmed at the Battle of the Zab on January 25, 750. Marwan fled to Egypt where he was captured and killed. Abu al-`Abbās `Abdu'llāh as-Saffāh ibn Muhammad, an Abbasid, became the Caliph of the Islamic world establishing the Abbasid dynasty.

As Saffah

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Abu al-`Abbās `Abdu'llāh also known as As Saffah or "The Slaughterer" was the first Abbasid Caliph. He put an end to the practice of discrimination against non-Arabs initiated by the Umayyads and recruited freely from amongst the Jews, Nestorian Christians and Persians. Moreover, he shifted the capital from Damascus to Baghdad (which was nearer to the Persian heartland) making it the centre of arts and learning. Education was also encouraged, and the first paper mills, staffed by skilled Chinese prisoners captured at the Battle of Talas, were set up in Samarkand.

Abu al Abbas earned the epitheth "The Slaughterer" due to cruel punishment he handed over to the Umayyads. Due to his anti-Umayyad pogroms, they were almost extinguished, with the exception of Abd Ar Rahman I who fled to Spain and established Umayyad rule over Al Andalus.

As Saffah died of smallpox on Jun 10, 754, after a reign of four years. He was succeeded by his brother Al Mansur.

Al Mansur

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Al mansur a brother of As Saffah ascended the throne in 754 and ruled till 775. In 762, he established the royal residential complex of Madinat As Salam in Baghdad.

In 755, Al Mansur ordered the assassination of Abu Muslim whom he perceived as a serious threat to his power. According to Shiite sources, the scholar Abu Hanifa an-Nu'man was imprisoned by al-Mansur and tortured. He also had Imam Malik, the founder of another school of law, flogged.

During the reign of Al Mansur, there was general tolerance for non-Arab subjects of the Empire.Censorship for Persian works of literature was removed. The era of persecution of non-Arab populations which had characterized Umayyad rule had long since come to an end and Persian arts and sciences were held in high esteem. This led to the growth of a literary movement known as the Shu'ubiya. Al Mansur is also credited with having established the House of Wisdom in Baghdad. The Abbasid Caliphate supported conversions as a result of which whole communities of non-Muslims embraced Islam. The proportion of Muslims in the Empire doubled from 7% in 750 to 15% in 775.

Al-Mansur died in 775 on his way to Mecca to make hajj. He was buried somewhere along the way in one of the hundreds of graves that had been dug in order to hide his body from the Umayyads. He was succeeded by his son, al-Mahdi.

Al Mahdi

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Al Mahdi ascended the throne on the death of his father Al Mansur in 775. The reign of Al Mahdi is marked with general prosperity. Baghdad grew into a big and prosperous city.The city attracted immigrants from all of Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Persia, and lands as far away as India and Spain. Baghdad was home to Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Zoroastrians, in addition to the growing Muslim population. It became the world's largest city outside China. It was also the centre of the Empire's paper-manufacturing industry.

Al Mahdi's reign is also remembered for the persecution of the zanadiqa, or dualists and the protection of the orthodoxy. Al-Mahdi declared that the caliph had the ability – and indeed, the responsibility – to define the orthodox theology of Muslims, in order to protect the Muslim ummah against heresy.

Al Mahdi died in 785 and was succeeded by his son Al Hadi.

Al Hadi

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Al Hadi succeeded Al Mahdi in 785 and ruled for about an year. He was renowned for his openness and simplicity. There was a rebellion in Medina in which Husayn ibn Ali ibn Hasan declaredf himself Caliph but this rebellion was crushed by Al Hadi but one Idris escaped from the battlefield and established the Idrissi state in Morocco. Al Hadi also had to face a Kharijite rebellion and a Byzantine invasion but he dealt with them efficiently.

Harun Al Rashid

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Harun Al Rashid ascended the throne in 786 and ruled till 809. He was the greatest monarch of the Islamic Empire.

Harun Al Rashid was born in Tehran to Al Mahdi, the third Abbasid Caliph and an Yemeni slave girl called Al Khayzarun. Hārūn became caliph when he was in his early twenties. On the day of accession, his son al-Ma'mun was born, and al-Amin some little time later.

It was under Hārūn ar-Rashīd that Baghdad flourished into the most splendid city of its period. Tribute was paid by many rulers to the caliph, and these funds were used on architecture, the arts and a luxurious life at court.

In 796, Harun Al Rashid moved his capital from Baghdad to the town of Ar Raqqah located in the middle Euphrates due to security reasons. In 798, he threw the minister Yahya ibn Khalid in jail and killed his son Jafar in order to counter the rising influence of the Barmakids.

During the later part of his reign, he invaded the Byzantine Empire with an army of 95,000 Arabs and Persians. Harun defeated the Byzantine general Nicetas and marched upon Chrysopolis in Turkey. Chrysopolis is located in the vicinity of the Byzantine capital Constantinople. Empress Irene, the ruler of the Byzantine Empire submitted and agreed to pay yearly tribute to the Abbasids. The Abbasid Caliphate was at the zenith of its power.

Islam's Golden Age

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Harun Al Rashid's reign is universally regarded as the golden age of the Islamic Caliphate. His reign saw the flowering of Islamic culture and civilization. Many foreign books were translated into Arabic during this period. The most popular amongst them was the Arabian Nights which was actually an anthology of Persian and Indian tales translated into Arabic. The Persian translations of the Panchatantra too were translated into Arabic during this time.

Harun gave great encouragement to learning, poetry and music. He was a scholar and poet himself and whenever he heard of learned men in his own kingdom, or in neighboring countries, he invited them to his court and treated them with respect. The name of Hārūn, therefore, became known throughout the world. At Tabari (v. 30 p. 313) refers to the physician Mankah coming from India to treat Harun. Harun had diplomatic relations with China and with Charlemagne.

Al Amin

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Al Ma'mun

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Al Mutasim

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Al Wathiq

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Al Mutawakil

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Al Muntasir

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Al Must'ain

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Abbasid Society

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The Barmakids

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The Barmakids were descended from one Barmak who was a high-priest of a Hindu/Buddhist temple of the same province. However, the latter seems to be most probable as Nowbahar could easily be a corruption of the Buddhist monastery of Nava-vihara (which gave name to the modern-day Afghan province of Nagarhar). Barmak is regarded as a corruption of Pramukh, the Sanskrit word for "head priest". Historian Andre Clot too agrees with the fact. He says that they "came from Khorasan, but their roots were Buddhist, not Zoroastrian"

In the early part of the eighth century, Barmak settled in Damascus and converted to Islam. However, the fortunes of the Barmaks rose only after the replacement of the Umayyads with the Abbasids. The Barmakids greatly benefitted by the policy of tolerance followed by the Abbasids. Khalid, the son of Barmak became the Prime Minister or Wazir of Al Saffah, the first Caliph of the Umayyad dynasty. His son Yahya aided Harun Al Rashid in capturing the throne and rose to power as the most powerful man in the Empire. The Barmakids were remarkable for their majesty, splendor and hospitality. They are even mentioned in the some stories of the Arabian Nights.