's Ancient Civilizations of the World/Rise of the Abbasids

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The Abbasid Revolution[edit | edit source]

The lineage of the Abassids and their relation to the prophet Muhammad

The Abbasid dynasty ruled the Islamic Caliphate from 750 to 1258 CE, one of the longest Islamic dynasties in history. In addition, for most of its early years, the Caliphate stretched out to become one of the largest empires in the world. This brought the Islamic world in contact with China and India in the east and Byzantium in the west, cultures from which they could adapt and synthesize ideas.

The Abassids led a revolution against the preceeding Umayyad Dynasty of Damascus, as their rule became increasingly disliked. The Umayyads encouraged the growning enmity through their favoring of Syrian Muslims over other members of the Caliphate, as well as their ill-treatment of newly-converted Mawali. Persians, many of whom were mawali and shi'ite (who believed that the only true rulers should come from Muhammad's family) joined the Eastern Arabs who took exception to the Umayaad preferential treatment of Syrians.

The Abassids united this coalition of mawali, eastern Arabs and Shi'ites and began a revolution against the Umayyads in Persia. The Abassids won the support of Shi'ites by claiming that they were descended through Muhammad's uncle Abbas. Although not the preferred lineage through Ali, it was good enough a reason to support the movement against the Umayyads.

The Abassid army, under the leadership of the Persian general, Abu Muslim, secured enough victories that in 748, the leader of the Abassids, Abul `Abbas al-Saffah, entered the city of Kufa and declared that he was the new Caliph. Unnerved by this upstart, in 750 the Umayyad Caliph Marwan II lead his armies against the Abassids at the battle of Zab near the Tigris River. Marwan II was defeated, deposed and quickly after executed. The Abassids assured that they would face no further competition from the Umayyads by capturing Damascus and slaughtering the remaining members of Umayyad's family (except for one who was to continue the dynasty in Spain).

The Early Abassids[edit | edit source]

Once in power, it became apparent that the Abassids would continue many of the policies of the Umayyads. The unpopular practive of hereditary control continued and Shi'ites soon felt alienated by the Abbasid championing of Sunni orthodoxy. Shi'ites would be subjugated and even the Persian general responsible for Abassid victory, Abu Muslim, was executed for being a threat. That being said, the Abassids were generous to Persian mawali and, in fact, the Abassid court was heavily influenced by the legacy of Persian civilization and culture. Even the choice to make the new city of Baghdad (founded 762 CE) the capital of the Abassid court reveals much about the orientation towards Persia. Not only was Baghdad in the "center" of the Islamic world, it was built not very far from the old Persian capital of Ctesiphon. With the encouragement and patronage of the Abassids, Baghdad grew to become the largest city of the world. The Persian culture which the Umayyads attempted to suppress, thrived along with art, science and poetry. From the Chinese, the Abassids gained knowledge of paper making, allowing the spread of literature and knowledge easier than ever before.

As Saffah[edit | edit source]

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[edit | edit source]

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 lo0ng 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 in 775, and later by his grandson Al Hadi in 785.

Harun Al Rashid and Islam's Golden Age[edit | edit source]

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.

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.

Attribution[edit | edit source]

"Iranian History: The Abbasids" (Wikibooks)