7. Bani al-‘Abbas II

7. Bani al-‘Abbās II



بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم وصلى الله على سيدنا محمد وعلى ءاله وصحبه أجمعين وسلّم




Title: Bani al-‘Abbās II

Author:  Abdassamad Clarke

Publication date: 26th Dhi’l-Qa‘dah 1433/13th October 2012

Assalamu alaykum. Welcome to the Muslim History Programme of the MFAS. This is the seventh of 12 sessions which make up the History of the Khalifas module. The lecture will last approximately 40 minutes during which time you should make a written note of any questions that may occur to you for clarification after the lecture. 


Bani al-‘Abbās – the Descendants of al-Mu‘taṣim

The further we get in our history from the Messenger of Allah @ and the Companions, the more important it is to remind ourselves of how we got to where we are. The Companions and the Arabs of the peninsula took the dīn out into the world, intending to take it to the whole world.1 But the demands of the newly acquired provinces, their administration and education, the challenges of the emergence of sects and other claimants to power, external threats from the humbled but unbeaten Roman Empire based in Constantinople and other forces, and their own miscalculations all led to the collapse of the power of Bani Umayyah and the emergence of Bani al-‘Abbās as the new khilāfah. In other words, they emerged in response to an emergency or to exceptional circumstances. We note only Carl Schmitt’s maxim: “Sovereign is he who decides on the exception.”2 

Ironically, now that we have a family that is ensconced in power precisely because of the family they belong to, we also see the workings out of their family dynamics.

Although there are elements that look like kings and emperors everywhere there are other elements that are specific to the Abbasids and a source of strength. Thus while European monarchy was endangered by disappearance into senility through its desperate attempts to preserve a blue-blood line, the Abbasid khalifahs are almost without exception the sons of slave women from all over the known world, thus enriching the line’s DNA in every generation.

The early jihad carried on with the purpose of bringing a Divine dīn to the world came to an end when it came up against the seemingly impregnable fortress of Constantinople, the barbarian power of the Franks under Charles Martel, the Chinese empire (even though the Muslims thoroughly beat the forces of the Tang Dynasty in the only historic clash at the Battle of Ṭalās 134AH/751CE) and against the Khazar living north of the Caucasus where the first war was fought in early 30/650 and ended with the defeat of the Muslims led by ‘Abd ar-Raḥmān ibn Rabī‘ah at Balanjar (32/652).

Civil Society and Culture

With a lessening of the stress on the importance of taking the dīn to the world, the Abbasids – if we use this term not only for the ruling élite but for the ummah at that time – begin to look inwards, and that has many positive results most particularly in the clarification and elaboration of knowledge of the dīn, and the flowering of culture and civilisation, two concepts that stem from roots linked etymologically, the former to cult with its meanings of worship and cultivation, and the latter to civil society – as opposed to fighting and warfare – with its inherent overtones of both politics and courtesy.

The Turks

However, they extended the outward realm in one substantial dimension. Al-Mu‘taṣim (218/833-227/842), who is the head of the dynasty that now stretches before us right up until its end and the handing over of the khilāfah to the Osmanlı in Istanbul, moves his capital to Samarra, north of Baghdad and closer to what is today called ‘Turkey’, in order to avail of the Turks who had migrated westwards from their homeland in Asia as new troops to substitute for the Khurasanis who were lost to the khilāfah as the price of the fourth fitnah, the civil war between al-Amin and al-Ma’mūn. The inclusion of the Turks in the army is also admission of new peoples to the dīn and to the dawlah. Their entrance is at first unruly and they, in combination with the various forces within the dawlah, sometimes contribute substantially to, or even create, dynastic struggles with their fratricides and patricides. The Turks will in time themselves become distinguished dynasties, among them the Seljuqs who will dominate the khilāfah as sulṭāns for a period, the Mamluks of Cairo and of course, the Osmanlı dawlah.

The Sulṭān 

A fateful step is taken just a decade after al-Mu‘taṣim by al-Wāthiq (227/842-232/847) who, in 228/843, appoints one of the Turks, Ashnās, as the sulṭān, and in the future it will often be a real issue to try and understand who is actually in power, the khalifah or the sulṭān, but the answer is usually simple: the sulṭān. And the khalifah effectively retires to a role, on occasion, more akin to a pope. However, later powerful figures will pull the khilāfah back from this brink.

The Zanj

Other key elements of the age announce themselves early on: the Zanj rebellion, named after the races of East Africa who had been enslaved and who apparently worked, unusually for Muslim slavery, on plantations in Iraq. Yet, this rebellion is headed by one who names himself Muhammad ibn ‘Alī, and who tries unsuccessfully to convince people of his shi‘ah pretensions and, having failed in that, manifests his true colours: he is a type of khawārij. The movement displays many of the typical marks of the khawārij: ignorance, indiscriminate slaughter of all and sundry, but lacks the extreme piety of that group.

The ‘Mahdī’

Then almost immediately upon the suppression of this movement, the next appears: ‘Ubaydullāh ibn ‘Ubayd emerges in the Yemen claiming to be the Mahdī. He calls himself ‘Abdullāh ibn al-Ḥusayn ibn Aḥmad ibn ‘Abdullāh ibn Muḥammad ibn Ismā‘īl ibn Ja‘far thus claiming to be a descendant of Fāṭimah ü. Al-Bāqillānī says that his ancestry is from the Persian Majūs (Zoroastrians) and few people of knowledge seriously accept the claim of the Fāṭimiyyīn to sharīf ancestry, but it is a call he persists in for eight years in the Yemen. Then he goes on Hajj and meets Hajjis from Kutāmah who are of the Amazigh3, and moves west with them to the Maghrib which becomes the base of his power and of the establishment of a dynasty that will have much impact on the Muslims.

Al-Qarāmiṭah (Carmathians)

Then there are even more trials. A group known in English as the Carmathians appear in 278/891 in Bahrain, not the island known by that name today but one of the powerful Arab kingdoms facing that island on the mainland, and they endure for almost  a century until 370/981. In Arabic they are the Qarāmiṭah. As-Suyūṭī calls them mulḥidūn which encompasses deviating from the right course, disputing, and despising. Modern Arabs use the same word for atheists. As-Suyūṭī says that they denied the need for ghusl after sexual relations, considered wine ḥalāl, added “and Muḥammad ibn al-Ḥanafiyyah is the Messenger of Allah” to the adhān  and said that there are only two days to fast in the year both of them on pre-Islamic Persian religious festivals, and that the Bayt al-Maqdis is the qiblah to which the Hajj should also be made. 

The Ismā‘īlīs

What should be noted about the Fāṭimiyyīn and the Qarāmiṭah is that they both derive from the Ismā‘īlī line of shi‘ism and are bāṭinīs. The essence of that philosophy is that they deny the outward meaning of the revelation, although they are often content to leave the ẓāhir as an ‘exotericism’ for which they supply the bāṭin ‘esoteric’. Not accidentally perhaps, historians of Freemasonry find surprising similarities between the two groups.

The Buwayhids

In 333/945, eleven hundred years ago, a ruler from Persia called Aḥmad ibn Buwayh, after establishing his power base there, seizes the sulṭānate in Baghdad, and to all intents and purposes the khilāfah has itself become shi‘ah.

The Bāṭinīs and Taṣawwuf

With respect to our continuing theme of ‘the best man’ versus ‘the optimum man’ politically, the bāṭinī groups undoubtedly considered an aspect of the best man to be his spirituality, which includes his kashf ‘unveiling of spiritual realities’ but they went so far in this direction that they were willing to consider unveilings that flagrantly contradicted the revelation. It is clear that the danger of such a philosophy is: when does unveiling cross over and become revelation? Yet throughout this era there had been a vibrant spiritual activity which was in harmony with and in submission to the revelation and the sharī‘ah, that of the movement whose major figure was Imām al-Junayd (221-97). I do not mention it here arbitrarily but because the bāṭinī movement wreaks such havoc politically that it must be that there is great political significance to this other quiet movement. They are not ‘quietist’ because these men are not withdrawn from the world but are a part of the age and its concerns. 

The Fāṭimiyyūn

While the Qarāmiṭah have a limited life-span, during which they undoubtedly wreak much havoc, making off with the Black Stone itself at one point, which they also manage to break into several pieces, yet the Fāṭimiyyīn are destined to move from strength to strength, first establishing a capital in Mahdiyyah on the coast of Tunisia, from which they rule the entire north Africa, finally taking Cairo itself, which is to be their capital, making further inroads so that they have rulership of much of Shām, East Africa, Hijaz and Makkah and Madīnah, and even on occasion wielding power in Baghdad. Their existence extends from 296/909–566/1171 CE. Thus for a substantial part of the life of the Abbasid dawlah, the Fāṭimiyyīn are the dialectical opposite that almost overwhelms them, depriving them of the West and underscoring the Eastern ‘Oriental’ nature of the Abbasid dawlah. 

Analysis

So let us hazard something here: in our fourfold analysis that posits 

a. a best man thesis as exemplified often in our story by Ahl al-Bayt claimants, 

b. an optimum political man thesis, as originally exemplified by the Umayyad claimants,

c. the impatience of pious ignorance and arrogance, as exemplified by the khawārij and 

d. the quiet retreat from conflict of the people of knowledge, 

that when Bani al-‘Abbās road the riding beast of ‘the best man’ into the camp of the ‘optimal man’ and overthrew the Umayyads they necessarily had to become what they had overthrown, because the position itself demands the optimal man politically.

The Abbasids are the continuation of the Umayyads in every way even down to their alienation from the Alids and persecution of them. Thus, by adopting the role of the politically optimal man, they leave open the candidacy of the ‘best man’ and that is promptly taken up by the Ahl al-Bayt generally and then specifically by the Fāṭimiyyīn. Their dynasty, however, being in reality just another political dynasty, is limited by the natural life-spans of dynasties which extends to three or four generations. Meanwhile, yet another faction of the Ismā‘īlis will later weave its way back and forwards in some of the more extreme manifestations of the time: the Ḥashshashīn or Assassins will threaten the lives of all the actors in the Crusades and then be silenced forever by Hulagu Khan and the Mongols.

The Crusades

This takes us to the eve of the Crusades. We saw before how the first jihad came up against the martial spirit of the Franks under Charles Martel and how after the defeat at the battle of Tours/Poiters 114/732, the Muslims slowly retreated back over the Pyrenees to al-Andalus,4 known to us today as Spain. Thus with the establishment of more settled borders between Islam and Christendom, and with Constantinople a seemingly impenetrable barrier to the North West, and the route to the North through the Caucasus barred by the Turkic Khazars, Europe is left to simmer and to brew an identity that is not just ‘not Muslim’ but a specifically European kind of Christianity different from the other ‘Oriental’ Christianities such as that the Romans in Constantinople or of the almost completely ‘heathen’, in their eyes, Christians living throughout the Muslim lands and in many ways seeming to them almost indistinguishable from Muslims. 

The Normans and Primogeniture

Then an element is mixed in this otherwise quite parochial mix and that is Viking blood which comes in via the Norse who have settled in Normandy, the Normans. Very quickly they take the British Isles (458/1066) and even Muslim Sicily (453/1061–484/1091). But they have several serious issues. First, they have adopted the practice of inheritance by primogeniture. Adam Smith, in his book An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, explains the origin of primogeniture in Europe in the following way:

[W]hen land was considered as the means, not of subsistence merely, but of power and protection, it was thought better that it should descend undivided to one. In those disorderly times, every great landlord was a sort of petty prince. His tenants were his subjects. He was their judge, and in some respects their legislator in peace and their leader in war. He made war according to his own discretion, frequently against his neighbours, and sometimes against his sovereign. The security of a landed estate, therefore, the protection which its owner could afford to those who dwelt on it, depended upon its greatness. To divide it was to ruin it, and to expose every part of it to be oppressed and swallowed up by the incursions of its neighbours. The law of primogeniture, therefore, came to take place, not immediately indeed, but in process of time, in the succession of landed estates, for the same reason that it has generally taken place in that of monarchies, though not always at their first institution.5

The Other Sons

This system may have had its logic but it had its inherent weaknesses and that we can call the ‘second and third son problem’. In a culture not known for its meek character or for its celibacy, what does one do with the disinherited second and third sons? If you keep them at home, you can expect all sorts of trouble. The answer worried a lot of people greatly until Pope Urban (ca. 434/1042 – 29 July 492/1099) solved it with his call for the First Crusade (489/1096–492/1099). The hidden and shadowy part of the Crusades is the role of the Italian bankers who bankrolled the Crusaders. Thus financed by usurious loans and driven by the need to find their fortunes elsewhere and not cause trouble at home, the motley crew of adventurers, ne'er-do-wells, down and outs, and pious pilgrims worked their way towards Jerusalem, first despoiling the Jews of Europe and then the Jews and the Christians of the Holy Land. 

The Sack of Constantinople

A later Crusade, the Fourth, sacked Constantinople itself in 600/1204, whose cries for help had reputedly launched the Crusades in the first place,6 a sack from which it never recovered. Sir Steven Runciman, historian of the Crusades, wrote that the sack of Constantinople is “unparalleled in history”.

“For nine centuries,” he goes on, “the great city had been the capital of Christian civilisation. It was filled with works of art that had survived from ancient Greece and with the masterpieces of its own exquisite craftsmen. The Venetians ... seized treasures and carried them off to adorn ... their town. But the Frenchmen and Flemings were filled with a lust for destruction. They rushed in a howling mob down the streets and through the houses, snatching up everything that glittered and destroying whatever they could not carry, pausing only to murder or to rape, or to break open the wine-cellars ... . Neither monasteries nor churches nor libraries were spared. In St Sophia itself, drunken soldiers could be seen tearing down the silken hangings and pulling the great silver iconostasis to pieces, while sacred books and icons were trampled under foot. While they drank merrily from the altar-vessels a prostitute set herself on the Patriarch’s throne and began to sing a ribald French song. Nuns were ravished in their convents. Palaces and hovels alike were entered and wrecked. Wounded women and children lay dying in the streets. For three days the ghastly scenes ... continued, till the huge and beautiful city was a shambles. ... When ... order was restored, ... citizens were tortured to make them reveal the goods that they had contrived to hide.7

But wait! What is this movement in essence? Why, it is the classical picture of the khawārij: extremely pietistic, yet easily condemning others as infidels and easily resorting to slaughter in an appalling manner. 

Nevertheless, this incursion into the ummah will still accomplish something of the duty that the Muslims owe the world just as in the case with the Turks: because these invaders, in spite of everything, do take something back with them. Along with the booty, and the cultural artefacts and the pleasure in the sophisticated living of the Arabs, they bring back an aroma. They may also have brought back some of the Common Law.8 And they will come back for more. But that is subject for another time.

The Khilāfah

And the khilāfah itself has now settled down into a sort of routine. Mostly it is divided into petty kingdoms with some nominal acknowledgement of the khalifah, but certainly no monetary or military support. Thus, we understand the failure of the Muslims as a whole to respond to this incursion, for it is Kurds, Nur ad-Din Zengi, Shirkuh and the more famous Salah ad-Din al-Ayyubi who take up the challenge and see it through, and for their pains they too become a dynasty. During it there occurs the reign of a majestic khalīfah, al-Muqtafī (530/1136–555/1160), one of the periods of strength that light up this long epoch, but nevertheless the khilāfah, the ummah cannot react as a whole. A part takes up the challenge.

Wazīrs – Administrators

What is the structure of things at this point? We had seen before the tip of an iceberg in our tale of the Barmakīs. An ancient family who before Islam had been administrators and who after Islam are splendid administrators. They understand something vital that the monarchs do not: revenues and balance sheets. The monarchs are more concerned for lavishing dinars on poets for a fine couplet, but where do those golden dinars come from? The wazir knows the answer and he makes it his business to ensure a steady supply. But of course, much as the khalīfah has a need for those dinars the various subsidiary amirs also have needs, and it is not too surprising that after some time, they will find ways not to send the dinars to the khalīfah, and thus the integrity of  the ummah is broken and each dynasty has its own vortex of funds in which the dinars circulate without reaching the khalīfah. And that, coupled with the failure to supply fighting men to the centre, is workable but it means that the ummah does not think and act like a whole, but each part thinks and acts on its own behalf.

The Mothers and Fathers of the Khalīfahs

Similarly, with dynastic inheritance, the mothers of the children of the khulafa quite naturally want their own particular son on the throne and if they are particularly charming or engaging, their husbands want very much to please them, not to mention the blindness of fathers to their own sons’ merits and demerits, and this will result in quite addle-headed young men being placed in situations of responsibility that they are certainly not up to, while much more competent men languish in dungeons or in remote provinces plotting to regain their throne, at the cost of the march of armies and the clash of arms and the death of peoples.

Loss of Responsibility

Clearly what has been lost in this picture by all concerned is the sense of responsibility for the inheritance of the dīn and its transmission to the human race. Sometimes there are attempts at some of that but, for example, one noble man, al-Muhtadī (255/869-256/870) eager to emulate ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz does so in copying ‘Umar’s zuhd and piety but not in his polity and restoration of the fiqh. He does not last very long, and although neither did ‘Umar he did actually accomplish a great deal in a very short time.

All of this comes to a head in the next phase, after the Crusaders have been sent home. There is nothing that could prepare anyone for what happens next. 

The Tatār (Mongols)

The khilāfah at this point, after a period of power and might under a majestic khalifah, an-Nāṣir li Dīni’llāh (1180–1225), has after some time with his brothers aẓ-Ẓāhir and al-Muntaṣir, through various palace and dynastic intrigues fallen into the hands of a man, al-Muntaṣir’s son al-Musta‘ṣim, who would rather play and entertain himself, while his uncle Khafājī had openly stated his desire to go and thrash the Tatār.

Out of the East, in a very short period of time, this new force emerges and quite ruthlessly they sweep through straight to the West devastating everything on their way: the Tatār, known to us as the Mongols. Energised and united by a most remarkable man, Genghis Khan, a man convinced that he has a destiny before Heaven to rule Earth – all of it – they sweep westwards. Their war on the Muslims is moreover not a war against Allah, but, in their eyes, the war OF Allah to punish the Muslims because they have betrayed Islam, which they articulate quite clearly. Quickly, they gather from the populace before the butchery, the learned, the pious, the artists and craftsmen and then put the rest to the sword.

They take Baghdad, according to most of the historians with the connivance of a treacherous shi‘ah wazir called al-‘Alqamī who wishes with their help to erect a shi‘ah dawlah, although the Tatār’s own Muslim historian repudiated that. Nevertheless, he did serve them for some short period in a way as a kind of humiliated wazir, dying shortly afterwards. But the Tatār roll the khalifah in a rug, in order not to ‘spill his blood’, and trample him to death.

The End of the Abbasids

Ibn Juzayy says in his al-Qawānīn al-Fiqhiyyah:

“…then al-Musta‘ṣim, and he was the last of them. He was killed in Baghdad in 656. The number of their khulafa was thirty-seven and the period of their rule was 524 years.”

And here the story ends, according to most historians, except that one coda is the entry into Islam before the end of a century of groups of the Tatār and then more and more and more. 

But this is the end of the Abbasid dawlah. There are few survivors of the carnage wreaked. One Abbasid escapes to Sham and is proclaimed khalifah, and another to Cairo where he is acclaimed khalifah, and then the former submits to the latter and to all intents and purposes, there is now a khalīfah in Cairo, except that few historians count him as such. Why? Because the khalifahs are simply highly honoured, and sometimes not so highly honoured, prisoners of the Mamluk dynasty. What has died is the very idea of an Abbasid khilāfah, that particular mystique and semi-sacred ambience that surrounded them has simply died. Except for a few diehards in Egypt such as as-Suyūṭī who live the myth through to the very end. But surprisingly, as-Suyūṭī, who lives right to the very end of the Cairo branch – there are only two more after him – comes to inhabit a world with a very reduced horizon. In spite of his living to the end of the 15th Christian century he makes no mention in his history either of the fall of Granada in 897/1492, which most historians recognise as an epochal loss, or the much earlier fall of Constantinople to the Muslims in 857/1453, a transition that the Muslims had striven earnestly for for almost eight centuries.

So inescapably after all the vicissitudes of the Abbasids, their alternating between being impotent papal figures dominated by their wives, families, sulṭāns and their wazirs, and genuinely powerful figures such as one of the very last, an-Nāṣir, we come to the first interregnum in our history at the end of the Abbasids until the beginning of the Osmanlı khilāfah.

The Osmanlı Dawlah and Khilāfah

The Osmanlı dawlah can be considered to have begun from the date 1289 when  the khuṭbah was delivered in their name and du‘ā made for them in it.9

The Osmanlı had begun to speak about themselves as khulafa and their capital as Dār al-Khilāfah: “When Sultân Murâd sent a Nâme-i Hümâyûn (letter) to the sovereign of the Qaraman Emirate on the first of Rabî‘ Thâni 767/16.12.1365, he referred to his capital Bursa as Dârukhilâfet (Seat of the Khilâfate).”10

World-changing Developments

In this interregnum, several things happened that would change the course of the world forever. At the fall of Granada, the last Muslim outpost in Andalus, in 1492, Christopher Columbus came with a proposal to Ferdinand and Isabella, a proposal designed to circumvent the Osmanlı dawlah, which straddled the world’s trade routes to the Far East, the wealth of China and India. He would sail West in order to get to the East. He was not destined to do that, but the discovery of what they called the New World was to release new supplies of gold and silver to currency-starved Europe that would lift it out of the poverty it had fallen into, and with the new tools of banking and leverage would translate that very substantial ‘real’ wealth into fantastic sums of ‘virtual’ wealth that are today still multiplying to an unimaginable extent.

Almost at the same time, and driven by similar motives, Vasco da Gama would sail East but the long way, around the Cape of Good Hope. When he did that, the Venetian stock market would collapse because they knew that their traditional caravan trade route, the Silk Route, was now redundant when compared to the speed and capacity of the great ships of Spain and Portugal. And similarly, the Osmanlı dawlah was deprived of the income from the trade that had crossed their domains, something that would affect their latter centuries substantially.

The Osmanlı Khilāfah

Careful as the Osmanlıs are to pay heed to the form, in 923/1517 – after conquering Egypt with the approval of the ‘ulamā’ who give a fatwa on the basis of it being legitimate to fight the Mamluks because of their having allied themselves with the hostile Safavid shi‘ah dynasty of Iran – Selim I receives the last Abbasid al-Mutawakkil in Istanbul and he transfers the khilāfah to him and to the House of Osman. Thus, as was the case at the time when both ‘Abdullāh ibn az-Zubayr and ‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwān laid claim to the khilāfah, neither party were considered fully established until he was the sole khalīfah, which happens in 1517 with the capitulation of the last Abbasid to Selim in Istanbul.


That brings us to the end of today’s lecture. I recommend that you continue to study Jalal’ud-Din as-Suyuti’s Tarikh al-Khulafa (Eng. “History of the Caliphs”) pp. 372-547 and and as support for the whole course, Chapter III of Ibn Khaldun’s Muqaddima on the power issues involved. The subject of our next lecture is “The Khilafa of Banu Umayya in al-Andalus” but there is no particular recommended reading for that. Thank you for your attention. Assalamu alaykum.

Timeline of Bani al-‘Abbās 

Al-Muntaṣir  861-862 (247-248)

Muḥammad Abū Ja‘far Abū ‘Abdullāh ibn al-Mutawakkil ibn al-Mu‘taṣim.

Now that al-Muntaṣir sits on the throne through the troops’ murder of his father, he is of course beholden to them and very quickly comes to a sticky end at the hands of his doctor, according to as-Suyūṭī.

Al-Musta‘īn   862-866 (248-251)

Abū al-‘Abbās Aḥmad ibn al-Mu‘taṣim ibn ar-Rashīd

250/864:   Zaydī state in Ṭabāristān

Zayd was the son of ‘Alī Zayn al-‘Ābidīn ibn al-Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib ô. He took up arms against Hishām ibn ‘Abd al-Malik and was defeated in battle and died on the 2nd of Safar in 120 or 122 AH (740 CE). Zayd recognised both Abū Bakr and ‘Umar. His Musnad collection of hadith is regarded as ṣaḥīḥ.

251/866:   Musta‘īn flies from Samarra, deposed and later murdered. Aḥmad ibn Ṭulūn, later the Turkish ruler of Egypt for the Abbasids, is asked to slay him but answers, “By Allah, I will not slay the sons of the khalifahs.” 

Al-Mu‘tazz  866-9 (251-5)

Muḥammad or az-Zubayr Abū ‘Abdullāh ibn al-Mutawakkil ibn al-Mu‘taṣim ibn ar-Rashīd

252/867-879  Ṣaffārid rule in Sistan, named after its founder who was a coppersmith (ṣaffār), in the east of Persia and much of present-day Afhganistan and Baluchistan etc. 

253/868: Aḥmad ibn Ṭulūn rules in Egypt (868-883). This is the beginning of an Egyptian dynasty. Note that each dynasty represents a loss of revenue and talent, not just merely in the military sense. What dynasty gains in defining its own power and wealth it also loses with its proportionate loss of the ability to be apart of a great polity an ummah united.

255/869 After various palace intrigues and familial treacheries, al-Mu‘tazz is forced by rebels to abdicate and is killed.

Al-Muhtadī  869-70 (255-6)

Muḥammad Abū Isḥāq – also Abū ‘Abdullāh – ibn al-Wāthiq ibn al-Mu‘taṣim ibn ar-Rashīd. He is referred to as ‘the good’. He endeavoured to lead a life of taqwā in emulation of ‘Umar ibn ‘Abd al-‘Azīz. However, he inherited a situation in which he had little actual power, and in which factions of his Turkish troops had a power struggle with each other, and he ultimately perished in the conflict.

Zanj uprising 869-883 (255-270). The Zanj were East Africans who had been taken in slavery to Iraq, and unusually for slaves were not domestic but employed in labour-intensive plantations. As we will see later, this was probably not a slave rebellion or even an ‘African’ rebellion.

256/870 Al-Bukhārī dies.

Al-Mu‘tamid 870-92 (256-79)

Abū al-‘Abbās or Abū Ja‘far Aḥmad ibn al-Mutawakkil ibn al-Mu‘taṣim ibn ar-Rashīd. He had been in prison when al-Muhtadī was killed, and was taken from there and made khalifah. He made his brother al-Muwaffaq bi’llāh ruler in the East and made his son Ja‘far his successor and gave him the government of Egypt and the West, calling him al-Mufawwaḍ ila’llāh. Then he give himself up to enjoyments.

The Zanj rebellion grew out of hand; they took Basra and slaughtered enormous numbers of people. However, there appear to have been other elements to it, and it was led by one ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad a claimant to being sharif, which no one accepts. But the very fact of his raising that standard is curious. Then he reveals his true colours: he is a khawārij who is anti-khilāfah. 

270/884 al-Muwaffaq and his forces succeeded in killing ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad, the leader of the Zanj, and putting an end to the insurrection after 14 years. These terrible events are succeeded by a plague.

In that year, a claimant to being the Mahdī, ‘Ubaydullāh ibn ‘Ubayd, began his career in Yemen continuing until 278/891. 

873 The Ṣaffārids finish off the dynasty of Ṭāhir ibn al-Ḥusayn who had obtained Khurasan under al-Ma’mūn.

871-899 Alfred the Great of England

260/874: death of al-Ḥasan al-‘Askarī, the putative 11th imam of Twelver shi‘ah

Birth of Imām Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ash‘arī

271/885 Hārūn ibn Ibrāhīm al-Hāshimī was appointed to take charge of superintendence of the market and he told the people of Baghdad to employ the copper flous coins which they did reluctantly and under pressure, but soon gave them up so that the initiative had to be abandoned.

278/891: Qarāmiṭah state established at Bahrain

Al-Mu‘taḍid 892 –902 (279-289)

He is a majestic and ruthless khalīfah and is the one who restores some of the power of the khilāfah. 

894: The Rustamid khawārij become the vassals of Spain.

898: The Qarāmiṭah sack Basra,  

c.880-911 High point of Viking raids in Europe

c.900 Woodblock printing of books in China, Japan, and Korea

Al-Muktafī 902-908 (289-295)

Al-Muqtadir 908-932 (295-320)

“Al-Muqtadir bi’llāh had to borrow 30,000 dinars on the first of every month from two Jewish bankers to pay the infantry in Baghdad.”11 “IbnTaghri Birdi, the author of an-Nujām az-Zāhirah, writes that in 296/908 al-Muqtadir bi’llāh, the Abbasid caliph, made the enrolment of Jews as bankers."

908:   End of the Saffarid rule, annexation of their territories by the Samanids.

909: ‘Ubaydullah overthrows the Aghlablids and founds Fatimid rule in North Africa.

910 Foundation of Cluny

297/910 Imām al-Junayd dies. 

911 Normandy granted to Vikings

928: Ziyarid rule in Tabaristan.

929: The Qarāmiṭah sack Makkah and carry away the Black Stone from the Ka‘bah.

931: Deposition and restoration of al-Muqtadir.

Al-Qāhir 932-934 (320-322)

He was deposed

Ar-Rāḍī 934-940 (322-329)

936: By coup Ibn Rā’iq becomes the Amir al-Umara.

936-973 Otto the Great of Germany

324/936 Death of Imām Abū al-Ḥasan al-Ash‘arī

326/938 Another coup in Baghdad 

Al-Muttaqī 940-944 (329-333)

942: Ibn Rā’iq recaptures power.

943: Another coup. Al-Muttaqī is forced to seek refuge with the Hamdanids. 

944: Al-Muttaqī is blinded and deposed

Al-Mustakfī   944-945 (333-334)

333/945 The Buwayhids capture power and become the sulṭāns. Deposition of al-Mustakfī.

Buwayhids 945-1055 (334-447)

945 Buwayhids capture power..

 c.950 Foundation of the Kievan state of the Rus.

Al-Muṭī‘ 946–974

951: The Qarāmiṭah restore the Black Stone to the Ka‘bah.

968: Byzantines occupy Aleppo.

969: The Fāṭimiyyīn conquer Egypt.

972: Buluggin ibn Ziri founds the rule of the Zirids in Algeria.

973: Shia/Sunni disturbances in Baghdad; 

        power captured in Baghdad by the Turkish General Subuktgin.

Aṭ-Ṭā‘ī 974–991

976: Buwayhid Sultan Izz ud Daula recaptures power with the help of his cousin Azud ud Daula.

978:   Death of the Buwayhid Sultan Izz ud Daula, power captured by Azud ud Daula. 

         The Hamdanids overthrown by the Buwayhids.

979: Subkutgin becomes the Amir of Ghazni.

370/981  End of the Qarāmiṭah rule in Bahrain.

987 Capetian dynasty in France

c.988 Byzantine conversion of Russia to Christianity

Al-Qādir 991–1031

998: Mahmud becomes the Amir of Ghazni. 

999  End of the Samanids.

1005: Mahmud captures Multan and Ghur.

1008: Mahmud defeats the Rajput confederacy.

1019: Conquest of the Punjab by Mahmud Ghazanavi.

Al-Qā’im 1031–1075

1036: Tughril Beg is crowned as the king of the Seljuks.

1040: Battle of Dandanqan, the Seljuks defeat the Ghazanavids

Murabitun come to power in North Africa.

1047: The Zirids in North Africa repudiate allegiance to the Fatimid and transfer allegiance to-the Abbasids.

1054 Beginning of Schism between Roman and Eastern Orthodox Churches 

1055: Seljuq Tughril Beg overthrows the Buwayhids.

1056 Henry IV – Holy Roman Empire

1057: al-Basasiri recaptures power in Baghdad, deposes Al Qa'im and offers allegiance to the Fatimid Caliph.

1059: Tughril Beg recaptures power in Baghdad, al Qa'im is restored as the Caliph.

Seljuqs 1055-1092 (447-485)

1065 Niẓām al-Mulk, the wazir of Alp Arslan the Seljuq ruler, institutes the first of many madrasahs in Baghdad.

1066  Norman conquest of England

1071: Battle of Manzikert, the Byzantine emperor taken captive by the Seljuqs.


Al-Muqtadi 1075–1094

470/1078 Birth of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī.

Al-Mustazhir 1094–1118

1095: The first crusade.

1099: The crusaders capture Jerusalem.

Post Seljuq 1092/485

Al-Mustarshid 1118–1135

1127: Imad ad-din Zangi establishes Zangi rule In Mosul.

c.1140-1260  Translation of Aristotle's works into Latin

Ar-Rashīd 1135–1136

Al-Muqtafī 530/1136–555/1160

1144: Zangi captures Edessa from the Christians, second crusade

1148: End of Zirid rule in North Africa.

c.1150 Gunpowder used in weapons in China

1152-1190  Frederick I (Barbarossa) of Germany

1154-1189 Henry II of England

Al-Mustanjid 1160–1170

561/1166 Death of Shaykh ‘Abd al-Qādir al-Jīlānī

Al-Mustaḍī’ 1170–1180

1171: End of the Fāṭimiyyīn. Salahu'd-din founds the Ayyubid dynasty in Egypt.

1174: Salahu'd-din annexes Syria.

1175: Ghurids defeat the Ghuzz Turks and occupy Ghazni.

571/1176 Birth of Abū al-Ḥasan ash-Shādhilī

An-Nāṣir 1180/575–1225 (b.553

A substantial and majestic figure who genuinely restores some of the power of the khilāfah.

1186: Ghurids overthrow the Ghaznvids in the Punjab.

1187: Salahu'd-din wrests Jerusalem from the Christians, third crusade.

1193: Death of Salahu'd-din

1194: Occupation of Delhi by the Muslims. End of the Seljuk rule.

1202 Arabic numerals in Europe

1207 Chinghiz Khan leader of Mongols

1209 Albigensian Crusade in France

606/1210 Beginnings of the Tatār movement.

1211: End of the Ghurid rule, their territories annexed by the Khwarzam-Shahs.

1212: End of Muwahhid rule in Spain..

1215 Magna Carta

Aẓ-Ẓāhir 1225–1226

Al-Mustanṣir 1226–1242

Al-Musta‘ṣim 1242–1258

1245: The Muslims reconquer Jerusalem.

1251 Mongke Grand Khan of Mongols

656/1258: The Tatār sack Baghdad and trample the khalīfah al-Musta‘ṣim to death wrapped in a carpet.

656/1258 Death of Shaykh Abū al-Ḥasan ash-Shādhilī.

Foundation of the Osmanlı dawlah

668/1289 The first khutbah of Jum'a was recited in the name of Osman Gazi in Karajahisar…. the Bayram (îd) khutbah was recited at Alaeddin Mosque, in Sultan Öyüğü (today's Eskişehir) which was given by the Selchuqi Khalifah to Osnan Gazi as a gift.

Assumption of khilāfah by the Osmanlı 

767/1365 When Sultân Murâd sent a Nâme-i Hümâyûn (letter) to the sovereign of the Qaraman Emirate on the first of Rabî‘ Thâni 767/16.12.1365, he referred to his capital Bursa as Dârukhilâfet (Seat of the Khilâfate)

Formalisation of the Osmanlı khilāfah

923/1517: The Osmanlı army crosses the Sinai desert, defeats the new Mamluk Sultan Tomanbai at the Battle of Ridaniye and Battle of Cairo and conquers Egypt. The Sharif of Makkah presented keys to the cities of Makkah and Madinah to Selim I and is declared their hereditary ruler. Al-Mutawakkil, the last Abbasid caliph, formally surrenders the title of khalīfah to Selim I.



1 This involved jihad; would Islam have survived for five minutes in the world of the Romans and the Persians without a sword? Modern people promote the ‘idea’ of universal peace but then wage universal war to that end, or in the witty phrase of Harry Elmer Barnes in his examination of Roosevelt’s foreign policy: Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace. http://archive.org/details/PerpetualWarForPerpetualPeace

2  Political Theology.

3 Commonly known as Berber, this is however the name given them by the Romans who meant by that ‘barbarians’. They know themselves as Amāzīgh.

4 With the shrinking of Muslim rule during the Reconquista, the name Andalusia came to be used only for the very south of the country around Granada, Cordoba and Seville.

5HN.psu.edu  Smith, Adam (1776), Penn State Electronic Classics edition, republished 2005, p.312-313

6 The the original cause triggering the First Crusade was a request for assistance from Byzantine emperor Alexios I. Komnenos.

7 Steven Runciman, A History of the Crusades, Cambridge 1966 [1954], vol 3, p.123.

8 George Makdisi, Legal History of Islamic Law and English Common Law: Origins and Metamorphoses, “The Guilds of Law in Medieval Legal History: An Inquiry into the Origins of the Inns of Court.”

9 I am grateful to Prof. Mehmet Maksudoğlu for this information from his email of the 14th October 2012.

10 Maksudoğlu, Mehmet 2011. Osmanlı History and Institutions, p.61. Ensar Kitab, Istanbul.

11 Journal of the Institute of Bankers in Pakistan - Vol. 34 - p9.

07A • Muslim History 1 • History of the Khalifas • Lecture 7 • Banu al-‘Abbas II • 13.10.12 from The Muslim Faculty on Vimeo.