Abbasid Caliphate

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The Abbasid Caliphate or Abbasid Empire was a large Islamic empire under the Abbasid dynasty ( Arabic العبّاسيّون, DMG al-'Abbāsiyyūn ), who replaced the Umayyads in the government of the caliphate in 750 . The Abbasid caliphate, like that of the Umayyads and later the Ottomans, was recognized by almost all Sunnis . The name of the Abbasids goes back to al-ʿAbbās ibn ʿAbd al-Muttalib , an uncle of the Prophet Mohammed . The family belongs to the Hashimite clan . The Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad ended in 1258 with the conquest of Baghdad by the Mongols and the execution of the caliph al-Musta'sim .

The Abbasid dynasty continued through appointments by the Mamluk sultan Baibars . As a result, there was an Abbasid replacement caliphate in Cairo, which was received by the Mamluks and formally transferred the realpolitical exercise of power to the Mamluks and received only less recognition among Muslims outside the ruled area. With the conquest of Cairo by the Ottomans in 1517, the Abbasid dynasty was finally ended. After several migration movements, Abbasids now live mainly in Palestine .

The Abbasid domain around 850

Causes of the change of dynasty

The Abbasid caliphs came to power through an insurrection against the Umayyads, which many Muslims considered to be too secular at the time. The latter represented rather the old Arab Meccan aristocracy . This is why the transition from the Umayyads to the Abbasids is seen by some scholars as a “conservative revolution” or “Abbasid revolution”. There is consensus that with the beginning of Abbasid rule not only a change of dynasty took place, but also a number of other changes.

The proto- Shiite group from Kufa , the Hashimiyya, played a decisive role in the success of the Abbasid revolution . The propaganda slogans, which were mainly spread by traders and controlled by the Abbasids from their exile in Humaima, were deliberately formulated ambiguously. For the uninitiated, the slogan was: "Everything for the home Hashim!" Only anti-umayyadisch, but additionally for the initiated with regard to the successor Abu Haschims as a carrier of the Imamate to read than what the family head of the Abbasids wanted to gain advantage.

Abū Muslim's real name and origin remain a mystery, but he was certainly sent to Khorasan by the Abbasids from Kufa . From 747 he led the revolt against the Umayyads in Merw / Khorasan and contributed to Abu 'l-Abbas as-Saffah , a descendant of Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet Mohammed, becoming caliph.

The insurgents were mainly drawn from the Persian and Iranian population, who were dissatisfied with the rule of the Arab nobility: Compared to the Arabs , Persians, even if they had become Muslims, were treated as second-class citizens and were treated as members of an ancient one Cultural nation but over influence in the economy. Since among the Umayyads only those people were allowed to hold important offices who could prove a direct Arab origin and belong to an Arab clan, many elite members in Persia and Syria felt disadvantaged. By promising to allow every Muslim, regardless of origin, access to important posts, the Abbasids quickly gained support. The Abbasid Empire has therefore sometimes been referred to as the “Islamic Empire”, in contrast to the “Arab Empire” of the Umayyads.

After the occupation of Mesopotamia , Abu l-Abbas was proclaimed caliph in Kufa in 749 , thus establishing the Abbasid dynasty. In 750 the Abbasids broke the last resistance of the Umayyads under Caliph Marwan II in the Battle of the Great Zab in Northern Iraq . A single Umayyad prince escaped the following massacre of the Umayyads to al-Andalus , where he was named Abd ar-Rahman I das in 756 Founded the Emirate of Cordoba . While Andalusia was slipping away from them, the Abbasids were able to assert the newly acquired Transoxania against the Chinese in the Battle of the Talas in 751 .

Consolidation of power and insurgency

Abu 'l-Abbas as-Saffah died in 754. His brother and successor al-Mansur , whom many see as the actual founder of the Abbasid dynasty, had Abu Muslim murdered in 755 and organized the state as a Persian / Iranian empire. In contrast to the Umayyads, the Abbasids relied primarily on Iranians and later on the Turks for their rule . In 762 he began building Baghdad , which he made the capital because of its convenient location. The administration was organized sparingly and effectively, completely centralized in the hands of the caliph and secured by a system of informers. A rebellion by the Hasanid Muhammad an-Nafs al-Zakīya in the Hejaz was forcibly suppressed in 762.

Al-Mansur's successor al-Mahdi (775–785) began building a magnificent court, with the Sassanids as godfathers, who had ruled Persia in late antiquity and were still considered a model for legitimate monarchical rule. The Umayyads were soon far surpassed by al-Mahdi in wasting state money on representation. This overstrain in the tax system resulted in the farmers becoming indebted. There was rural exodus and religious and social unrest (North Africa from 767, Egypt 789, 793, Syria 796, Tabaristan under the Aliden Yahya up to 792, Khorasan under al-Muqanna up to 796, in Azerbaijan , Sistan and Kirman ). The riots were difficult to quell for the caliph's troops as all major decisions had to be made in Baghdad.

Under Hārūn ar-Raschīd (786-809) the development initiated by his predecessors reached its climax. As a caliph he was mediocre, but the vizier of the Persian Barmakids ensured the stability of the empire. Nevertheless, after the loss of al-Andalus (756), control of the Maghreb was also lost, when the Idrisids , Rustamids and Aghlabids gained de facto independence from the caliphate.

After Harun's death in 809, power was divided between the brothers al-Amin (in Baghdad) and al-Ma'mun (in Merw). But already in 810 there was an armed conflict between the two, which al-Ma'mun, the son of a Persian mother, won in 813. When an Aliden uprising broke out again a short time later in Iraq and Arabia, al-Maʾmūn tried to unite the Abbasid and Alid lines by proclaiming the Husainid ʿAlī ibn Mūsā ar-Ridā as his successor in March 817 . In Baghdad, however, the Abbasid princes who had been excluded from the line of succession revolted and set up a counter-caliph. The dispute between Al-Maʾmūn and the Iraqi Abbasids could only be resolved after ʿAlī ar-Ridā died in September 818. In 819 the Baghdad Counter-Caliph abdicated, and al-Maʾmūn made a solemn entry into Baghdad. In the period that followed, however, there were still numerous uprisings, such as 816 to 837 in Azerbaijan under Babak and 840 in Tabaristan .

Economy and culture

spiral minaret of Samarra , built under al-Mutawakkil , is one of the most important architectural monuments of the Abbasid period

Despite constant power struggles and revolts, the Abbasid Empire saw unique economic expansion in the late 8th and early 9th centuries that resulted in the development of a thriving urban culture . People of all professions settled in the new economic centers, the wealthy and the government were caught in a speculative fever. This was followed by a building fever that led to the construction of new palaces, markets and residential areas.

There was also trade, which benefited from a common language, religion and nationality. Flows of goods with enormous profits, accompanied by banking transactions, marked this time. Even an average cloth dealer could leave a legacy of up to 1000 dinars . In addition, according to their self-assessment, merchants paid taxes at the time, so they paid far too little. Agriculture stabilized during this time through the development of new areas of land with the help of irrigation systems, the draining of swamps and the subsequent cultivation of products such as sugar cane , dates, oranges and cotton .

However, the flourishing urban culture led to social problems in Muslim society. Somebody had to work out the money that would fuel economic expansion. The problem remained with the farmers. The tax farmers like to set the taxes arbitrarily, which they also had to be paid in advance. The taxes that the Christians had to pay were also hard collected (see the chronicle of Pseudo-Dionysius of Tell Mahre for these reprisals ). Many tax farmers made common cause with merchants who bought up the crops: the farmers were paid far too little and the profit was then shared. The government in Baghdad immediately stopped such people when they complained, but that was not enough because Baghdad was far away.

During the early Abbasid period, the importance of fiqh experts and the norms they developed also increased significantly . The caliph filled both the Qādī office of the capital and the relevant offices in the various provinces with such legal specialists.

After al-Maʾmūn had resettled in Baghdad in 819, he devoted himself mainly to promoting science until his death in 833. Around 830 he founded the House of Wisdom ( bait al-ḥikma ) for this purpose . At that time, the Muslims took over the scientific heritage of ancient Greece and developed it further. Theologians of the rationalistic Muʿtazila movement had a strong influence on the ruler and led him to use the mihna shortly before his death , a kind of inquisition to pursue deviating teachings, which was primarily directed against the traditional scholars. This religious policy was continued under his two successors, Mu'tasim (833-842) and al-Wāthiq bi-'llāh (842-847), but under al-Mutawakkil (847-861) there was a Sunni reaction.

Decline of power

After al-Ma'mun, his brother al-Mutasim (833-842) ruled . Two conspiracies induced him in 836 to build a new capital, Samarra , and to set up a Turkish bodyguard, the Mamluks . In the following years the influence of this guard on the caliphs grew. Mu'tasim's successor al-Mutawakkil was murdered by her in 861 at the instigation of his own son.

Powerless caliphs took turns in similar revolts. A caliph fled to Baghdad and was besieged there in 866 and later executed. In addition there was the internal breakup of the empire. The army consumed half of the state's revenue and demanded secure sources of money, which is why Ma'mun had already started a personal fiefdom to his deserving general Tahir (in Khorasan). In the following years it became common to give such fiefs ( iqta ) to Turkish military leaders, who soon ruled their lands as independent feudal princes.

The de facto disempowerment of the dynasty

Because of the decline of the central power, the Tahirids in Khorasan, the Saffarids in Sistan and the Tulunids in Egypt recognized the Abbasids only nominally on coins and in Friday prayers as caliphs and otherwise pursued an independent policy. Around 900 the caliphs still ruled Iraq, western Iran , Syria and, at times, Egypt. In 945 the Iranian Buyids took over secular power in Baghdad and limited the position and function of the caliph to the office of a spiritual leader of Islam. The Buyids were followed in 1055 by the Turkish Seljuks under Toghril-Beg as patrons of the caliphate. With the fall of the Seljuks from around the middle of the 12th century, the caliphs al-Muqtafi (1136–1160) and an-Nasir (1180–1225) were able to strip away the foreign protectorate and restore their worldly power and authority in what is now Iraq, Just at a time when the Mongols under Genghis Khan were beginning to build their world empire .

The Abbasids among the Mamluks in Cairo

After the conquest and destruction of Baghdad in 1258 by Hülegü , who executed the last ruling caliph al-Mustasim , the Abbasid caliphate in the heartland of the empire became extinct. However, the Abbasid prince al-Mustansir II , a cousin of the last caliph, managed to escape to Egypt, where the Mamluk sultan Baibars, who had just come to power, installed him as the next caliph. After al-Mustansir's death, Baibars installed the Abbasid al-Hakim I as caliph. The Abbasids only served to legitimize the rule of the Mamluks and had no political influence. Only al-Mustain (1406-1414) was able to achieve short-term political power in 1412 when he was proclaimed Sultan of Egypt, but was deposed in the same year.

The last Abbasid caliph al-Mutawakkil III. (1508–1516, again in 1517) was finally brought from Cairo to Istanbul after Egypt had been conquered by the Ottoman Sultan Selim I and the Mamluk Sultanate had been eliminated , where his trace was lost in the following years (by 1543 at the latest). Since the 19th century the Ottomans have been complaining that the caliphate had passed from the Abbasids to the Ottomans with the conquest of Egypt in 1517. At least the sultans of the 16th century had obviously adopted titles similar to caliphs.

The Abbasids today

The remnants of the dynasty initially escaped to the Arabian Peninsula and later immigrated to what is now Jordan . They stayed in the Balqa region until the middle of the 17th century, where they were expelled to Palestine by an Ottoman army as part of a suppressed revolt. The main areas of collection are Gaza , Ramla , Safad and Salfit . The main branches are al-Ghusain  /الغصين / al-Ġuṣain in Gaza and Ramla, al-Abbasi  /العباسي / al-ʿAbbāsī in Safad, Shurrab  /شُرّاب / Surrāb in Gaza and al-Hawtari  /الحوتري / al-Ḥautarī in Salfit and in the region of Nablus . Each branch also has several sub-branches and branches.


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  1. Illerhaus: Hashimite Propaganda. 2011.
  2. Rolf Palm: The Saracens. World empire of faith and sword. Econ-Verlag, Vienna et al. 1978, ISBN 3-430-17343-4 , p. 274 f.
  3. ^ Illerhaus, Hashimite Propaganda. 2011, pp. 9-11.
  4. The name Abu Muslim Abd ar-Rahman ibn Muslim al-Khorasani is a battle term (cf. Sharon: Black Banners. 1983, pp. 203 f.).
    For the posting of Abu Muslims by the Abbasid-controlled Haschimiyya see: Christel Matthias Schröder (ed.): The religions of humanity. Volume 25: Islam. Volume 1: W. Montgomery Watt , Alford T. Welch: Mohammed and the early days, Islamic law, religious life. Kohlhammer, Stuttgart et al. 1980, ISBN 3-17-005428-7 , p. 152.
  5. Cf. Baber Johansen : Contingency in a Sacred Law. Legal and Ethical Norms in the Muslim Fiqh (= Studies in Islamic Law and Society. Vol. 7). Brill, Leiden et al. 1999, ISBN 90-04-10603-0 , p. 3.
  6. ^ Richard Hartmann : On the prehistory of the Abbasid sham Chalifates of Cairo . In: Treatises of the German Academy of Sciences in Berlin. Philosophical-historical class . No. 9 , 1947.