198-218 A.H.   /   813-833 A.D.

Mam'un persuaded by Fadl to stay at Merv, 198 A.H. 813 A.D.

AL-MA'MUN had no affinity to the debauchee. We nowhere read of any revelries like his brother's, nor indulgences at variance with the teaching of Islam. On the contrary, his life was commendable, and his reign, if we except certain flagrant cruelties, not only illustrious, but just. Singularly susceptible to influences about him, and loving the East as much as he disliked the West, Al-Ma'mun now made the fatal mistake of holding on at Merv, where he fell blindly under the mastery of Al-Fadl, his Wazir, and embraced the dogmas of the 'Alid persuasion,—dogmas not only hateful at the Capital, but dangerous to the stability of his throne. Hence trouble in prospect for Bagdad, and for the Empire at large.

Tahir supplanted by Hasan, brother of Fadl.

Not long after Bagdad had been taken, the local troops and populace rose upon Tahir for the murder of their favourite Caliph, and the banishment of Zubeida with her two grandsons to Mosul; but after a few days, pacified by gifts, they returned to order. Tahir continued at the head of affairs, till Al-Ma'mun sent Al-Hasan ibn Sahl, at the instance of his brother Al-Fadl, as Viceroy to supersede him;—a doubly unfortunate step,—alienating as it did Tahir, and arousing antagonism throughout the older provinces which feared the floodtide of Persian interest.

Rebellion of Nasr in Asia Minor

First, Nasr ibn Shabath, an Arab chieftain, faithful to the memory of the late Caliph, took up arms to avenge his fall, and, followed by a host of Arabs, seized on the country between Aleppo and Sumeisat. Tahir, sent to oppose him,


but sick at the course events were taking, entered without heart on the contest, and, after some unsuccessful battles, retired. Thus Nasr for many years dominated the border­lands of Asia Minor, while Tahir, in charge of Syria and Mesopotamia, remained spiritless and inactive at Ar-Rakka.

Rebellion of Abu Saraya at Kufa and Basra, 199 A.H. 814 A.D.

In the following year a more dangerous rebellion was headed by Abu's-Saraya, a notable adventurer, who, beginning as brigand, soon raised a great following, and having gained possession of Al-Kufa, there set up as its ruler a descendant of 'Ali. The fickle city, ready at any moment to rise in favour of the house of 'Ali, and, like others, displeased at the Caliph falling under Persian influence, went entirely over to Abu's-Saraya, who also gained possession of Al B­asra and great part of Al-'Irak, beating back army after army sent against him from Bagdad. He even coined money in the name of his 'Alid protégé and sent envoys of the same stock throughout Arabia and elsewhere.

Defeated by Harthama and slain, 200 A.H. 815 A.D.

At last, Bagdad itself was threatened, and the Viceroy in alarm sent for Harthama, who, vexed like Tahir with the state of affairs, had retired into seclusion. Harthama soon changed the scene, drove Abu's-Saraya back into Al-Kufa, and besieged him there. The Kufans, tired of the Pretender and his marauding followers, gave them no further counten­ance, and so Abu's-Saraya effected his escape with 800 horse. Pursued over the Tigris, he was taken prisoner and carried before Al-Hasan the Viceroy, who sent his head to Al-Ma'mun, and had the body impaled over the bridge at Bagdad. His career was thus, after ten months, cut short but it was some time before Al-Basra and Arabia settled down. The 'Alid governors of Abu's-Saraya committed great atrocities in various quarters,—to such an extent indeed that one earned the name of "the Butcher," and another that of "the Burner."

Pilgrimage, Dhu'l-Hijja, 199 A.H.

At Mecca, his upstart envoy attempted to head the pilgrimage, and the ceremonies ended in great disorder. The golden linings of the Ka'ba and its treasury were plundered, and the brocaded covering torn down and divided amongst the insurgents.1 A rival Caliph was even

1 Al-Kindi, the contemporary Christian apologist, tells us that 'Othman's exemplar of the Kor'an, deposited in the Ka'ba, was burned in the conflagration which he says took place at this time.—Apology, S.P.C.K., p. 75.


set up, who continued to rule there for a time, but eventually submitted himself to Al-Ma'mun and was pardoned.

Harthama's journey to Merv, 200 A.H.

Harthama having subdued this rebellion returned to Nahrawan without visiting the Viceroy. There he received orders from the Caliph to take up the government of Syria and Arabia. But he resolved first to go direct to Merv, and there warn Al-Ma'mun of the critical state of things which his Wazir was hiding from him, and that the West would speedily slip from his grasp, unless he made an early return to Bagdad. But Al-Fadl, anticipating Harthama's errand, poisoned his master's mind against him. It was near the end of the year before he reached Merv which, fearing lest the Wazir should conceal his errand, he entered with martial music.

Received angrily by Ma'mun, xi. 200 A.H. June, 816 A.D.

Apprised thus of his arrival, the offended Caliph summoned him at once to his presence, and covered him with reproaches for not more speedily and effectively suppressing the rebellion of Abu's-Saraya. As the general opened his lips to make explanation and deliver his warning, the bodyguard rushed upon him, fiercely buffeted him on face and body, and hurried him off to prison, where he shortly died of his injuries, or (as popularly believed) was put to death by Al-Fadl.

His death.

So perished, the victim of cruel ingratitude, this great captain who had fought for the empire from Africa to Khorasan, and to whom in great part Al-Ma'mun owed success over his faithless brother.

Rising at Bagdad, 200 A.H.

The fate of Harthama, a favourite in the West, caused fresh excitement in Bagdad. The troops rose against Al-Hasan, and abused him as the tool of his brother Al-Fadl, "the Magian and son of a Magian." After three days' fighting, Al-Hasan, driven from the city, took refuge in Al-Medain, and eventually retired to Wasit. Continual encounters ensued for many months, but without material result.

Hasan flies to Wasit. Beginning of 201 A.H.

Meanwhile confusion prevailed at Bagdad; and the unfortunate city was for a time at the mercy of bands of robbers, which committed all kinds of spoliation and excess.

Peace restored to Bagdad, x. 201 A.H.

But the better class of citizens at last banded themselves together, and outnumbering the rabble, held them in check; while two chief men, respected for their wisdom and probity, were placed at the head of affairs. Al-Mansur, son of the Caliph, Al-Mehdi, was offered the throne. He declined, but agreed to conduct the government in the name of Al-Ma'mun.


Towards the close of the year, weary of the struggle, the leaders at Bagdad came to terms with Al-Hasan, the Viceroy who published an amnesty, promising six months' pay to the troops, and the people their allowances according to their stipendiary roll. Things were settling down on this footing, when the Capital was again thrown into confusion by an act of inconceivable infatuation on the part of Al-Ma'mun.

Ma'mun proclaims 'Ali ar-Rida heir-apparent, ix. 201 A.H. 817 A.D.

This was no less than the adoption by the Caliph of 'Ali, surnamed Ar-Rida ("the well pleasing"1), the eighth Imam of the Shi'a or party of 'Ali, who was summoned to Merv and, though twenty-two years older the Caliph himself, proclaimed heir-apparent. The Wazir, no doubt, persuaded his subservient master that this was the likeliest means of putting an end to the 'Alid insurrection in the West. At an earlier period, a coalition between the houses of 'Ali and Al-'Abbas might possibly have been successful. It was now an idle dream; and at the present moment when the two factions were arrayed against each other in strife implacable, the act was one of suicidal folly. Thus the edict went forth throughout the Empire that allegiance was to be sworn to 'Ali ar-Rida as next in succession to the throne; and the more publicly to mark this new departure, the national dress was changed from 'Abbasid black to Shi'a green. Towards the end of the year, Al-Hasan received from his brother command to proclaim and carry out this order, which fell like a thunder-bolt upon the Capital. The Shi'a were feared and hated there, and the 'Abbasids at court felt the blow as aimed at the very existence of their dynasty.

Bagdad revolts.

All rose in rebellion ready to depose Al-Ma'mun and choose another Caliph in his stead. Al-Mansur no longer opposed the measure; and so on the last Friday of the year, instead of prayer for Al-Ma'mun as reigning sovereign, Ibrahim, brother of Al-­Mansur, was saluted Caliph; and shortly after the oath of fealty taken in his name.

Ibrahim proclaimed Caliph, 1 i. 202 A.H. July 20, 817 A.D.

It is the same Ibrahim whom we have already met in the moonlight scene by the Tigris. He was the son of Al-Mehdi by an African slave-girl; proficient in music, song, and poetry, he altogether lacked strength

1 That is, "the one chosen as such from amongst the Prophet's descendants."—Ibn al-Athir.


for the difficult position which he now assumed, and which with difficulty he held for two years.

Bagdad and 'Irak in rebellion, 202-203 A.H.

Al-Hasan, Al-Ma'mun's viceroy, was thereupon obliged again to retire to Wasit, and fighting was renewed between the Imperial troops and those of the Usurper. Al-Hasan, thinking to gain over Al-Kufa with its Shi'a proclivities, appointed as its governor a brother of 'Ali ar-Rida; and it is significant of the caprice of that fickle city, and the hopelessness of the new coalition, that, while ready to receive him as a purely 'Alid leader, they would hear nothing of him as the Persian representative of Al-Ma'mun; and so fighting went on there as elsewhere. While the West was in this state of turmoil, a fresh and startling change took place at Merv.

Mam'un's eyes opened 202 A.H. 817-818 A.D.

Al-Ma'mun's eyes at last were opened. The first to tell him the truth, strange to say, was 'Ali ar-Rida himself. Things had gone on from bad to worse since his adoption the year before. He ventured now to warn the Caliph that his Wazir was hiding from him the truth; that the people of Al-'Irak held him to be either half-witted or bewitched; and that between Ibrahim and the 'Alids the empire was slipping from his hands;—Al-Hasan, the Wazir's brother, was hurrying the West to ruin, while Tahir, who might have righted the vessel in the storm, was thrust neglected into Syria. A body of leading men, guaranteed against the resentment of the Wazir, confirmed the facts, and advised Al-Ma'mun's return at once to Bagdad, as the only safety for the Empire. This, they added, was the loyal errand of Harthama, had his Master but listened to him two years before.

Sets out for Bagdad, viii. 202 A.H. Feb., 818 A.D.

Al-Ma'mun, now convinced that the insurrection was due to his own subservience to Al-Fadl, and his Shi'a teaching, gave orders for his Court to march towards the Capital. Arrived at Sarakhs, Al-Fadl, who had vented his displeasure against the informers, was found murdered in his bath. A reward was offered for the assassins; but these asserted that they had done what they did by command of the Caliph. They were executed nevertheless, and their heads sent to Al-Hasan with a letter of condolence on the death of his brother, and the promise that he should succeed to the vacant office. Al-Ma'mun further showed his attachm­ent to Al-Hasan by contracting a marriage with his


daughter Buran, a child then of ten years of age; but the bridal ceremony did not take place for another eight years. About the same time he gave one of his own daughters in marriage to 'Ali ar-Rida who was now fifty-four years of age, and a second to 'Ali ar-Rida's son, thus to all outward appearance cementing his alliance with him. A brother of 'Ali ar-Rida was also nominated to the high office of presiding at the annual pilgrimage.

Death of 'Ali ar-Rida, ii. 203 A.H. August 818 A.D.

Shortly after this another unexpected event took place. In his progress westward, Al-Ma'mun rested in the autumn for a while at Tus. There 'Ali ar-Rida died suddenly of a surfeit of grapes, and Al-Ma'mun buried him by the side of his father. The world was startled by this death, following so rapidly on that of Al-Fadl; and the report went forth that the grapes had been poisoned by Al-Ma'mun. Our annalist (it may be for decency's sake) says he does not believe it; and, indeed, the favour shown to the deceased, and the marriages just mentioned, make against the dark impeachment. On the other hand, 'Ali and Al-Fadl were the two insuperable obstacles in Al-Ma'mun's way, and by their disappearance the Gordian knot was solved. And so, while in a letter to Al-Hasan he lamented the death of 'Ali, the Caliph at the same time wrote to the citizens of Bagdad saying that as 'Ali, against whose accession they had been so bitter, was gone, nothing was now left to prevent their returning to their loyalty. Though this advance met with but an unceremonious answer, the cause of Al-Ma'mun began to be canvassed there with some success. Meanwhile, Ibrahim, by his weak and harsh administration, was alienating even the few friends remaining. His troops made no head against the Caliph's; and Al-Medain, where he had been holding his court, fell into their hands. During the winter months, things went from bad to worse with him; and as the captains of Al-Ma'mun closed in upon the Capital, the chief men, one after another, went over to them. At last, about the end of the year, these gained possession of the city.

Flight of Ibrahim, xii. 203 A.H. June, 819 A.D.

Ibrahim escaped into hiding, after an ignoble reign of close on two years. For eight years he was lost sight of, but was at last apprehended by the police, walking abroad at an untimely hour of the night in female disguise. He offered his costly ring as a bribe, but that only revealed


his birth; and he was carried an object of ridicule in woman's attire to the court of the Caliph. "Bravo!" cried Al-Ma'mun; "is it thou, Ibrahim?" He appealed for mercy; and it was granted, for it was the time of the bridal ceremony with Buran, and she made intercession for him. Ibrahim celebrated the royal clemency in a poem which is much admired. On its being recited before him, Al-Ma'mun was greatly pleased, and exclaimed in the words of Joseph to his brethren:—"There shall be no reproach on you this day; God forgiveth you: He is the most merciful of the merciful ones!"1

Ma'mun enters Bagdad, ii. 203 A.H. August, 819 A.D.

While the Capital was being recalled to its allegiance, Al-Ma'mun advanced slowly, halting as he journeyed to secure complete restoration of order before his entry. At Jurjan he remained a month, and a week at Nahrawan, whither the members of the royal house, captains and chiefs of state came out to bid him welcome; and Tahir also, by invitation, from Ar-Rakka. So advancing, he entered Bagdad early in 204 A.H. The edict still held for green, and so the people at the first dressed accordingly. Al-Ma'mun, however, having invited his Court to make known their requests, the first favour preferred by Ta hir was that black might be reverted to. The Caliph graciously acceded, and bestowed dresses of honour in that colour upon his Courtiers. Indeed, the advent of Al-Ma'mun, after the long rebellion, was conspicuous for the total absence of retaliatory measures. Al-Fadl ibn ar-Rabi', in hiding ever since Al-Amin's death, and 'Isa, Wazir of Ibrahim, who had both thrown all their influence into the opposite cause, were now readmitted to favour. The whole attitude of Al-Ma'mun was, on this occasion, generous and forgiving.

Tahir viceroy in East, 205 A.H. 820 A.D.

Tahir was appointed governor of Bagdad, and his son 'Abdallah, equally distinguished, left to succeed him at Ar-Rakka. But whether suspicious of Tahir's ambitious aims, or (as is also said) his presence reminding him of his brother's sad death, Al-Ma'mun now conceived an aversion to him. Tahir, aware of it, prevailed on the Wazir to propose him for the viceroyalty of the East, where a strong hand was needed. Why, if suspicious of his fidelity, Al-Ma'mun consented to appoint him to so great a charge, is

1 Sura xii. 92.


not clear. We are told that a confidential eunuch accom­panied him with secret orders to administer poison if ever he should swerve from loyalty. After ruling successfully for two years, Tahir, as had been feared, showed signs of insubordination. At the weekly service, he dropped the Caliph's name from its place in the accustomed prayer, substituting for it some vague petition for guidance.

His death, 207 A.H. 822 A.D.

The Master of the Post (an office everywhere charged with such duty) immediately reported the alarming incident to the Court; and the next day's despatch, awaited with anxiety by Al-Ma'mun, brought the expected tidings of Tahir being found dead in his bed. The circumstances of his viceroyalty are singular and obscure, and his opportune decease justifies the suspicion of foul dealing. Still more singular, the name of Tahir remained so great, that, imputation of disloyalty notwithstanding, the viceroyalty of the east was continued in his family.

Tahir's character.

Tahir is famous not only as a soldier and a ruler, but also as a generous patron of learning and poetry. A letter addressed to his son on being appointed to Meso­potamia, in which are embodied instructions on all the duties of life, social and political, is justly regarded a model, not only of perfect writing, but of culture and precept. As such the Caliph so greatly admired it, that he had copies multiplied and spread all over the empire. Tahir, we have seen, was called from his dexterity in the field, Dhu'l­ Yaminein, "He of the two right hands"; he had also but one eye, so that a hostile poet said of him:—"O thou Ambidexter, thou hast an eye too little and a hand too much," signifying that he was a brigand who should lose a hand.1

Tahirid family hold government of Khorasan

His eldest son, 'Abdallah, being engaged in the west, Al-Ma'mun appointed his brother Talha to succeed. At the same time he sent his Wazir to see to the establishment of a loyal and efficient administration. The Wazir so deputed crossed the Oxus and waged a successful campaign in Central Asia. On leaving, he received from Talha a purse of three million pieces, and his secretary 500,000; such was the lavish fashion of the day.

Nasr the 'Alid was, up to this time, still in rebellion on

1 The penalty in the Kor'an for robbery. His letter is given at length by Ibn al-Athir,—occupying eleven pages of the printed edition, vi. 257 ff.


the Western frontier. Tahir, when in Syria, had of purpose carried on operations languidly against him.

End of Nasr's rebellion. 210 A.H.

But 'Abdallah on succeeding his father, attacked him more vigorously, and drove him into an impregnable fortress on the borders of Asia Minor, from whence, after a five years' siege, he was induced to submit himself to the Caliph; and his return to Bagdad as a loyal subject was celebrated with great rejoicings. But a party of malcontents, who had been in hiding with Ibrahim ever since his deposition, now sought to create a diversion against Al-Ma'mun by sundering the bridge of boats as the procession carrying Nasr approached.

Cruel treatment of rebels.

Headed by Ibn 'Aisha, a relative of ­the royal house, they were seized and treated with singular cruelty by Al-Ma'mun, who had the leader exposed in the palace court under a burning sun for three days, then scourged, and with several of his companions put to death. His body was impaled in public, the first instance of one of royal blood being so treated. The Caliph may have had reason for the execution of these conspirators; but it was rare for him to resort to such inhuman practices. Ibrahim himself was also arrested about this time, but, as we have seen, freely pardoned.

Ma'mun's marriage to Buran, ix. 210 A.H. Jan., 826 A.D.

In the same year Buran, now eighteen years of age, was married to Al-Ma'mun. Her father Al-Hasan celebrated the occasion with a magnificence truly Oriental, at his country residence near to Wasit. Thither flocked the Court and its surroundings in great splendour; Zubeida too, and the grandfather of the bride, who on the marriage night showered a heap of pearls upon the bridegroom, which, gathered up by his command to the number of 1000, were bestowed upon Buran. Invited to ask for any special favours, she obtained grace for Ibrahim, and leave for Zubeida to go on pilgrimage. The bridal chamber was lighted with candles of costly ambergris, and Zubeida arrayed the bride in a robe of priceless pearls. Al-Ma'mun spent a fortnight in this brilliant company, and Al-Hasan, to mark his gratitude for the royal favour, spent fabulous sums in presents to all around.1 Balls of musk were cast amongst the crowd who rushed about to catch them. In each was the name of an estate, slave-girl, steed, or other prize, which

1 Tradition speaks of sums amounting to a million sterling.


fell to the lot of him who caught it. Dresses of honour were conferred on all, and so this festival, unparalleled in its magnificence, came to an end. To make amends for all that he spent, the Caliph placed the revenues of certain provinces at Al-Hasan's disposal for a year. Such were the vast fortunes that fell in these days to the lot of men in power. Buran survived her husband over fifty years.

Insurrection in Egypt, 200-210 A.H.,

Egypt had been long the scene of chronic revolt, aggravated by the inroad of adventurers from Spain who joined the insurgents and for several years held Alexandria. 'Abdallah, to whose charge it belonged, while engaged with Nasr in the north, was unable to turn his arms in that direction.

put down, 212 A.H.

He now attacked the rebels and suppressed the insurrection. The adventurers took ship for Crete, which now (210 A.H.) fell into the hands of the Muslims. About this time also Sicily fell under the Aghlabid arms (though it took two generations to complete the conquest), which further ravaged lower Italy, and as a maritime power dominated the shores of the Mediterranean all around. It was not till August, 846 AD. (231-232 A.H.) that they appeared before the walls of Rome. But over these western lands the Caliphate now had little power.

Babek's rebellion, 201 A.H. 816 A.D.

'Abdallah, having reduced Egypt, was now employed against the brigand Babek. This famous freebooter arose in the beginning of the century, and was for twenty years the terror of the northern provinces of the Caliphate. He professed strange doctrines, as transmigration, incestuous marriage,1 and other tenets of the Eastern mystics. He was followed by multitudes, and held the difficult country towards Azerbijan. One after another he routed the Imperial forces, which sometimes were cut entirely to pieces in the mountain passes through which they sought to pursue the ­enemy.

Unsucessfully attacked, 214 A.H.

'Abdallah, now sent to the attack, had hardly the opportunity of crossing arms with him; for an outbreak occurring just then at Nisabur, he was called away to Khorasan, where he remained as viceroy. The Muslim army being also now engaged with Greece, Babek was left for a time alone.

For sixteen years there had been an armed peace between

1 Hence called from a Persian term Khurramiya, or Voluptuaries. He is mentioned by Al-Kindi as the scourge of the empire.—Apology, p. 46.


the Empire and the Caliphate. Even the rebellion of Thomas, the rival of Michael the Amorian, did not lead the Muslims to invade Asia Minor.

Asia Minor i. 215 A.H. March, 830 A.D.

But, no doubt, the reason of this was that Thomas had been crowned by the Patriarch at Antioch in Syria, and, had he succeeded in becoming Emperor, would have been a vassal of Al-Ma'mun. What made Al-Ma'mun, in the later years of his reign, take the field in person, which he had never done before, and renew the war with the Greeks, may have been that they had made common cause with Babek on the confines of Armenia. However that may be, early in the year 215 A.H., Al-Ma'mun set out from Tarsus, and from thence led a successful campaign against the Emperor Theophilus. On the way he received Mohammad, son of 'Ali-ar-Rida, gave him in marriage the daughter to whom he had been affianced thirteen years before, and accorded them leave to settle at Medina.

Further campaigns there, 216-217 A.H.

There followed in the two succeeding years a second and a third invasion of Asia Minor, and likewise an expedition to Egypt, which was again disturbed;—all three campaigns commanded in person by Al-Ma'mun.

Ma'mun commences foundation of Tyana citadel.

At the close of his life, Al-Ma'mun was still in the vicinity of Tarsus, returning from his last campaign against the Greeks. To hold them the better in check, he had begun the foundations of a grand military settlement at Tyana, which had been already occupied in 806 A.D. by Harun, but abandoned, 70 miles north of Tarsus. The plan was laid out by Al-Ma'mun himself. The walls, three leagues in circumference, were pierced by four gates, each to be guarded by a strong fortress. Artificers were gathered from all quarters of the empire; and the Caliph, on return­ing, left his son Al-'Abbas to carry on the work. This martial ardour, emulating even that of Harun, and coming, as it did, at the close of an otherwise pacific life, is a remarkable trait in the changeful character of Al-Ma'mun.

The Sabians.

As Al-Ma'mun passed through the ancient city of Harran on his third and last campaign against the Byzantines, he noticed people with long hair and tight-fitting coats. These, were none other than Syrian pagans who continued to carry on the religion of their ancestors undisturbed by the advent of Christianity or of Islam until about the year 830 A.D. They were now offered the choice of Islam or the sword;


but they escaped from this dilemma, by protestilig that they were Sabians—a sect recognised by the Kor'an. Under this name many of them continued to practise their old heathen rites.

Ma'mun visits Damascus.

On these expeditions he repeatedly visited Damascus and gave princely donations to the chief families residing there, and also to the Syrian poets who sang his praises, for he was bountiful even to extravagance. But he had no love for the people of Syria; and when asked to regard them with the favour wherewith he regarded the Persians, he was not slow in recounting their misdeeds and disloyalty towards his dynasty. At the Great Mosque of Damascus he was shown a rescript from the Prophet with his seal, which he pressed to his eyes in reverence, and shed tears upon.

Ma mun's Persian proclivities, 211 A.H. 826 A.D.

In point of fact, Ma'mun never shook off the prejudices acquired in Persia, the country of his mother and his wife, nor with them his 'Alid proclivities. In the later years of his reign there was evolved from these a remarkable (though by no means rare) combination of free-thought and intoler­ance. In some matters indeed the liberality of Al-Ma'mun was singularly wide. Thus a few years previously, he abolished the ban imposed by his predecessors on the favourable mention of Mu'awiya or any of the Umeiyad "Companions"; and even to Christians liberty of discussion on the comparative claims of the Gospel and Islam was allowed.1 But the Persian predilections which he all the time entertained, inclined him at last zealously to canvass the doctrines of the liberal-minded if free-thinking Mo'tazila.2 He surrounded himself at the same time with theologians

1 E.g. the Apology of Al-Kindi could only have been possible under a Mo'tazili court like Al-Ma'mun's.

2 That is Seceders. Their principal doctrines were the following: (1) Free-will, in contrast to the orthodox Determinism—good works are from God, evil works from man. Hence they are also called Kadariya, as opposed to Jabriya. (2) The Kor'an is not uncreated, otherwise there would be a sacred Eternal. (3) God will not be visible to mortal eye on the Day of Resurrection. Cf. the heresy of Pope John XXII. (4) Muslims guilty of deadly sin are to be counted as neither Muslims nor non-Muslims, but as occupying an intermediate position. The school may have been a spontaneous growth within Islam, or a result of the study of Greek philosophy or of the teaching of John of Damascus.


and divines of all the schools, and had discussions in his presence on such abstract doctrines as man's relation to the Deity, and the nature of the Godhead.

Heterodox views on Kor'an, Freewill, etc., 212 A.H.

In the end he avowed his conversion to certain tenets opposed to the orthodox faith. Amongst these he held Freedom of the Will in place of Predestination; and that the Kor'an, though inspired, was "created," in place of the hitherto undisputed tenet that it is "uncreate and eternal." He also declared his belief that, after the Prophet, 'Ali was the chiefest of mankind; on which dogma is also built up the divine Imamate, or spiritual leadership vested from time to time in some member of the house of 'Ali. Hence also it began to be taught that, "apart from the Kor'an and tradition, there might be other infallible sources of divine guidance." The Kor'an itself was explained allegorically, and difficulties besetting the orthodox, such as offended reason or cramped the growth of society, thus easily evaded.1 With advancing years the conviction of Al-Ma'mun in respect of the Kor'an being an emanation in time, led to the unfortunate resolve to impose this view by pains and penalties, on his subjects.2

Enforce his views with intolerance and cruelty, 218 A.H. 833 A.D.

When on his last campaign in Asia Minor, he sent a mandate to the governor of Bagdad to summon the leading Doctors, and having tested them on that vital doctrine, to report their answers to him. At this inquisition, held repeatedly, most quailed under the process and confessed. Some stood firm, among whom was Ahmed ibn Hanbal (founder of the Hanbali school), who was ordered to be conveyed in chains to the Caliph's camp. We are told of threats, even of death, against two of these; and twenty others who refused to confess were sent under escort to await at Tarsus the return of the Caliph from the wars; but on

1 It was easy thus to justify, for example, the use of wine and temporary marriage (Mut'a). The latter, by which conjugal contract can be entered into for a limited period, is still a tenet of the Shi'a; but is justly reprobated by the orthodox. As regards wine, though we nowhere hear of Al-Ma'mun's being given to its indulgence, it certainly was handed round in golden beakers at his marriage with Buran; and other occasions are mentioned by Weil.

2 One of his arguments was this syllogism; God created all things; the Kor'an is a thing: therefore the Kor'an is created. Also such passages as (Suras xii. 2 and xli. 2) "We have sent down or ordained for thee a Kor'an in the Arabic tongue," etc. "Yes," replied the defendant, "it may have been sent down or ordained, but not created."


the way tidings were received of his death. Such cruel intolerance dims the lustre of Al-Ma'mun's later years.1

Development of science and literature

For his reign was without question a glorious one, ushering in, as it did, the palmy days of literature, science, and philosophy. He was himself addicted to poetry, and once struck a poet with amazement who, on reciting an original piece of a hundred stanzas, found the Caliph readily "capping" every verse as he went along. At his Court were munificently entertained men of science and letters, poets, physicians, and philosophers. Besides philo­logists and grammarians, it was the age also of the collectors of tradition, such as the great Bokhari, and of historians, as Al-Wakidi2 to whom we owe the most trustworthy biography of the Prophet; and of Doctors of the law, as Esh-Shafi'i and Ibn Hanbal.3 Moreover Jews and Christians were welcome at the Court not only for their own learning, but as versed both in the Arabic tongue and in the language and literature of Greece. The Monasteries of Syria, Asia Minor, and the Levant were ransacked for manuscripts of

1 Curiously enough, in a later passage under the reign of the orthodox Mutawakkil, Ibn al-Athir traces the Mo'tazili doctrines by tradition to Labid the Jew, who bewitched Mohammad, taught that the Old Testament was created, and spread the Zindiki creed. It is more likely to have been an offshoot of the Buddhist and Zoroastrian teaching of India and Central Asia, or a Muslim offset to the Christian Logos.

2 Mohammad Ibn 'Omar died 207 A.H. and his Secretary, who wrote from his master the famous biography, was one of those had up before the Inquisition just mentioned on the question of the Kor'an. [The biography of Ibn Ishak is older than that of Al-Wakidi, and according to the general opinion more trustworthy.]

3 Founders of two out of the four great schools of law. The other two were Abu Hanifa (d. 150) and Malik (d. 178). The school of Abu Hanifa prevails throughout the Turkish Empire, the Malikite in North Africa outside of Lower Egypt, whilst that of Ibn Hanbal survives in Central Arabia amongst the Wahhabis, and that of Esh-Shafi'i prevails in Egypt, Southern India, and elsewhere. A fifth school, that of the Ibadites in 'Oman and at Mzab in the Sahara, is actually the oldest of all. The Persians are of course Shi'ites. There is no material diverg­ence in doctrine between the four,—merely matters of ritual. For example, the Hanifites are taught to say Amen softly, and forbidden in adoration to raise the hands to the ears, to pray with the legs apart, or to fold their hands across the breast. Our Indian fellow-subjects are much exercised on these trivial points. See judgment of the Privy Council, reported in The Times, February 23, 1891.


the Greek philosophers, historians, and geometricians. These, with vast labour and erudition, were translated into Arabic; and thus the learning of the West was made accessible to the Muslim world. Nor were their efforts confined to the reproduction of ancient works; in some directions they extended also to original research. An Observatory, reared on the plain of Tadmor, furnished materials for the successful study of astronomy and geometry. In other walks of literature, we have books of Travel and History, and, above all, of Medicine; while much attention was paid to the less practical, but more popular, branches of astrology and alchemy. It was through the labours of these learned men that the nations of Europe, then shrouded in the darkness of the Middle Ages, became again acquainted with their own proper but forgotten patrimony of Grecian science and philosophy.

Ma'mun's reign brilliant and just;

Al-Ma'mun was undoubtedly upon the whole a ruler at once just and mild. Repeated change in views and sentiment, both political and religious, was due partly to Persian training and affinity, partly to a yielding nature which made him unduly subject, as in the case of Al-Fadl, to personal influence. He cannot be acquitted of acts of capricious violence, some of which are just as cruel as those which stain the memory of his predecessors. One instance of singular inhumanity I should not omit. Abu Dulaf, a brave and noble Arab, was chief of the principality of Hamadan, where his family held a high repute. Having taken the side of Al-Amin, he was unwilling after his fall to bow before Al-Ma'mun, and so retired to his Persian home.

certain caprice and cruelty notwithstanding

A blind poet composed a beautiful but extravagant panegyric, lauding his friend as the first of the Arabs, which so irritated Al-Ma'mun, as if aimed in depreciation of ­himself, that he had the poet cruelly put to death. Abu Dulaf himself shortly after surrendered, and his honorable reception is extolled as an act of grace on the Caliph's part which cannot, however, affect our judgment of his heartless criminality towards the blind poet.1 For the rest, even

1 According to a grand-nephew of the Caliph, who tells the story, the verse which offended Al-Ma'mun was to the effect that "every Arab entering the lists of glory must borrow his nobility from Abu Dulaf," which Al-Ma'mun thought to be a slight upon himself. The blind poet


leaving out of account the dark imputations as to the death of Al-Fadl and 'Ali ar-Rida, we have still the cruel treatment of Ibn 'Aisha, as well as the fate of Harthama and Tahir, to both of whom he owed so much; and lastly his bitter intolerance towards victims of the barbarous Inquisition. But considering the length of his reign and his magnanimous attitude towards the rebels of Bagdad, the balance must incline to the verdict of leniency and moderation in a Caliphate which, taken as a whole, is one of the most brilliant in the history of Islam.

Death of Ma'mun, vii. 218 A.H. August, 833 A.D.

Al-Ma'mun was eight-and-forty years of age, when death overtook him near Tarsus. It was a hot autumn day, and he sat with his brother Abu Ishak on the bank of a mountain stream, in the clear cool flood of which they laved their feet. "Come," said he to the companion who tells the story, "come, see how refreshing to the limbs are these limpid waves. All that we want is but a dish of dates to make the moment perfect!" Just then a mule was heard approaching with a burden of that very fruit. Two baskets full of the choicest dates, fresh gathered from the tree, were brought. They partook plentifully of them, with draughts also of the delicious icy water. As they arose, all three were struck with a burning fever. It was Al-Ma'mun's last illness. The fever gained rapidly; and finding his end to be near, he had a rescript drawn up for all the Provinces, proclaiming his brother Abu Ishak successor, under the title of Al-Mo'tasim.1 Then he gave minute instructions as to his own funeral and grave, direct­ing

excused the obnoxious verse by saying that of course he regarded the Caliph as altogether beyond the range of comparison. Al-Ma'mun then said he would execute him not for that verse, but for another verse, in which he ascribed divine attributes to a mortal, whereupon his tongue was cut out and the poet died a miserable death. The narrator is a son of Al-Mutawakkil, who reversed the policy of Al-Ma'mun. Weil holds it to be a well grounded "historical fact"; but it is not given in the annals of the day; and one would be glad to question it as, at the least, greatly exaggerated.

I should also mention that under the year 200 A.H., i.e., while Al-Ma'mun was yet in Merv, I find the entry: "Al-Ma'mun in this year slew Yahya, because he called out to him—‘O thou Caliph of the Unbelievers.’" There is no further explanation given.

1 He who maketh his refuge in the Almighty."


that none should at it weep or mourn. Calling his brother, he especially enjoined upon him, along with other admonitions for a religious life and just administration, to enforce the right teaching which he held as to the origin of the Kor'an and other doctrines of Islam, and to hasten back to Al-'Irak. He left him also an ill heritage in his love for the employment of a Turkish praetorian guard. So passed Al-Ma'mun away, and was buried at Tarsus, having reigned twenty years, besides the five preceding, during which he held at Merv the government of the East.

The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]
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