AL-MUKTADIR AL-KAHIR, AND AR-RADI
295-329 A.H. / 907-940 A.D.1
WE return to the story of the Caliphate.
The stand made during the last three reigns to stay its downward progress at last came to an end. There remains little now to tell, but a weary and ungrateful history of weakness, misfortune, cruelty, and shame. And there being nothing either attractive or instructive, the remainder will be briefly told. At the same time many names famous in the world of literature and science fall under this and the preceding reigns. Among the best known are: Ishak ibn Honein ibn Ishak, the physician and translator of Greek philosophical works into Arabic (d. 911 A.D.): Abu Bekr ibn Zakariya ar-Razi, best known in Europe as "Rhazes" (d. 923 or 932 A.D.); Al-Battani, the astronomer, "Albategnius" (d. 929 A.D.); and the families of Thabit ibn Kurra of Harran and of Bokht-Yishu'.
Al-Muktafi, being confined for several months to his sick-bed, intrigue had been for some time busy as to his successor. The choice lay between his minor brother whom the Caliph himself favoured, and a son of Al-Mo'tazz. The Wazir, hoping for the more thorough subservience of the minor carried his appointment. Though but thirteen years of age, this boy assumed the title of Al-Muktadir, "Mighty by the help of the Lord," a sad misnomer; for even in manhood he was but a weak voluptuary in the hands of women of the Court, and of their favourites. His five-and-twenty years'
1 The great history of Tabari comes to an end at the year
302 A.H. = 914-915 A.D. From this point the best authorities are Ibn al-Athir (d.
1232-1233 A.D.) and the lately published Ibn Miskawaih (d. 1030 A.D.).
1 The great history of Tabari comes to an end at the year 302 A.H. = 914-915 A.D. From this point the best authorities are Ibn al-Athir (d. 1232-1233 A.D.) and the lately published Ibn Miskawaih (d. 1030 A.D.).
reign is the constant record of his thirteen Wazirs, one rising on the fall, or on the assassination, of another. Few weeks elapsed before the first Wazir was murdered by conspirators who placed Ibn al-Mo'tazz upon the throne. But Munis, commander-in-chief, stood by his boyish Sovereign; and the Pretender obtaining no support in the city, was with his followers slain.
There had been war now for some years between the Muslims and the Greeks in Asia, with heavy loss for the most part on the side of the Muslims, of whom great numbers were taken prisoners. The Byzantine frontier, however, began to be threatened by Bulgarian hordes; and so the Empress Zoe sent two ambassadors to Bagdad with the view of securing an armistice, and arranging for the ransom of the Muslim prisoners. The embassy was graciously received and peace restored.1 Munis was deputed to pacify the border, and carried with him a sum of 120,000 golden pieces for the freedom of the captives. All this only added to the disorder of the city. The people, angry at the success of the "Infidels" in Asia Minor and at similar losses in Persia, cast it in the Caliph's teeth that he cared for none of these things, but, instead of seeking to restore the prestige of Islam, passed his days and nights with slave-girls and musicians. Uttering such reproaches, they threw stones at the Imam, as in the Friday service he named the Caliph in the public prayers.
Some twelve years later, Al-Muktadir was a second time subjected to the indignity of deposition. The leading courtiers having conspired against him, he was forced to abdicate in favour of his brother Al-Kahir, but, after a scene of rioting and plunder, and loss of thousands of lives, the conspirators found that they were not supported by the
1 There are traditional accounts of the marvellous
grandeur of the reception, and fairy-tales of its surrounding; curtains of gold,
gorgeous carpets, thousands of eunuchs, pages, elephants, lions, etc. The description
also of a marvellous tree, with branches of gold, and birds of silver. "The leaves
of various colours move as the wind blows, while the birds pipe and sing." Of course
there is fancy in the tale, but it also shows that in proportion as the ruler and
his retinue fell from virtue into depravity and vice, the surroundings would rise
into every kind of wanton grandeur and excess. See R. Asiatic Society's
Journal, January 1897, pp. 35-45.
1 There are traditional accounts of the marvellous grandeur of the reception, and fairy-tales of its surrounding; curtains of gold, gorgeous carpets, thousands of eunuchs, pages, elephants, lions, etc. The description also of a marvellous tree, with branches of gold, and birds of silver. "The leaves of various colours move as the wind blows, while the birds pipe and sing." Of course there is fancy in the tale, but it also shows that in proportion as the ruler and his retinue fell from virtue into depravity and vice, the surroundings would rise into every kind of wanton grandeur and excess. See R. Asiatic Society's Journal, January 1897, pp. 35-45.
troops; and so Al-Muktadir, who had been kept in safety by Munis, was again placed upon the throne. The finances, always straitened, fell after this outbreak into so wretched a state that, spite of ruthless confiscation and resumption, nothing was left with which to pay the city guards.
A quarrel, stimulated by their rival demands arose between the cavalry and infantry; the latter worsted, were most of them massacred, and the rest driven from the city. Things became so bad that Munis, thwarted by the Wazir of the day in all attempts at reform, retired, and with his followers took up his residence at Mosul. Al-Muktadir at last invited Munis to return, who loyally answered the call. But the foolish Caliph, as he drew near to Bagdad, was persuaded by his favourites, who dreaded the return of the Caliph's faithful supporter, to change his mind, and instead of welcoming him as his friend, to go forth with his guards against him.
And so, clad in the Prophet's mantle, girt about with the sword Dhu'l-Fakar and holding the royal sceptre, the wretched Muktadir issued from his palace, and was slain outside the city gate.
The long reign of this miserable Caliph had brought the Empire to the lowest ebb. External losses were of secondary moment; though even so, Africa was lost, and Egypt nearly. Mosul, under chiefs of the Hamdan line had thrown off its dependence, and the Greeks could make raids at pleasure on the helpless border. Yet in the East there still was kept up a formal recognition of the Caliphate, even by those who virtually claimed their independence; and nearer home, the terrible Carmathians had been for the time put down. In Bagdad, Al-Muktadir, the mere tool of a depraved and venal court, was at the mercy of foreign guards, which, commanded for the most part by Turkish and other officers of strange descent, were ever and anon breaking out into rebellion. Thus, abject and reduced, twice dethroned, and at the last slain in opposing a loyal officer whom he had called to his support, it is no wonder that the prestige which his immediate predecessors had regained was lost, and that the throne became again the object of contempt at home, and a tempting prize for attack from abroad. The people also were demoralised. Bagdad was no longer the centre
of a vigorous population that might defend, and at times even govern, themselves. Contending in wild factions, they could redden the streets with blood, as they fought now over the interpretation of a text, and now, with the Hanbalis rising in tumult over the remains of the great Tabari, denounce him as a heretic, and refuse his remains the rites of burial.1 But as for manhood, virtue, and power, these had altogether vanished.
On the death of Al-Muktadir, the loyal Munis, whose only object in returning had been to restore security to his master, now wished to place his son upon the throne. But the courtiers, afraid that he might revenge his father's death upon them, chose rather in his stead the late Caliph's brother Al-Kahir, already mentioned as having for a few days held the Caliphate; and he proved a more miserable ruler even than Al-Muktadir. With an outward affectation of piety, he went to every excess of cruelty and extortion. He even tortured the mother of Al-Muktadir and his sons and favourites, to squeeze from them the treasures amassed during the late reign. Many fled from the tyrant's grasp.
Conspiracies were rife at Court; and to anticipate the machinations of the treacherous Caliph, Munis and his friends endeavoured to place him under restraint, and failing in the attempt, resolved to dethrone him. The plot, however, came to light; and the opposite faction having gained over the guards by bribes, imprisoned the conspirators and appointed a new generalissimo (Amir al-Umara, as he was now called) in Munis' room.
The Caliph caused his wretched nephew, who was to have succeeded, to be immured alive;
and the faithful Munis with his followers was, on the guards rising in his favour,
beheaded. Al-Kahir, thus relieved from immediate danger, broke out into such tyranny,
equally against friend and foe,
1 The verse that caused the uproar was simple enough:
"Peradventure the Lord will raise thee up unto a noble place." The contention of the Hanbalis
was that Mohammad was here promised a place near the throne in heaven; while the others
held that it referred to the rank of intercessor, and hence the heated strife. As to
the historian Tabari, the Hanbalis were angry, because in his history he had not noticed
Ibn Hanbal among the great jurists of Islam. At-Tabari, b. 224 A.H.; d. 310 A.H.
His friends had to bury him secretly by night in his own house.
1 The verse that caused the uproar was simple enough: "Peradventure the Lord will raise thee up unto a noble place." The contention of the Hanbalis was that Mohammad was here promised a place near the throne in heaven; while the others held that it referred to the rank of intercessor, and hence the heated strife. As to the historian Tabari, the Hanbalis were angry, because in his history he had not noticed Ibn Hanbal among the great jurists of Islam. At-Tabari, b. 224 A.H.; d. 310 A.H. His friends had to bury him secretly by night in his own house.
as to render his rule unbearable. A fresh conspiracy was set on foot, and the besotted Caliph, overcome at night by wine, was attacked in his palace.
Refusing to abdicate, his eyes were blinded, and he was cast into prison. Eleven years after he was liberated, and might then be seen led about a wretched mendicant in beggar's dress and wooden sandals; sad contrast to his high-sounding title, Al-Kahir biíllahi, "Victorious by the grace of God," and meet type of the fallen Caliphate.
The seven years' reign of Ar-Radi son of Al-Muktadir, who followed, was but a succession of misfortune. Praised for his piety, he became the mere tool of the chief minister of the day. It would be unprofitable to detail the intrigues of his Court, or the treachery by which even the few provinces still remaining around the Capital fell into the hands of his professed servants. The authority of the Caliph, indeed, excepting in an uncertain and intermittent way, extended hardly beyond the precincts of the city. After one Wazir had been imprisoned by his enemies, and another had absconded in disgrace, Ar-Radi, being without resources, fell into the hands of an able but cruel ruler, Ibn Raik, for whom he created the post of Amir al-Umara (Amir of the Amirs), who held so absolutely the reins of government that his name was conjoined with the Caliph's in the public prayers. To enable him to combat the provincial governors, who began to raise their heads in revolt all around, Ibn Raik called to his aid Bajkam, a chief from the Deilem, with his Turkish horde. But after two years the intrigues and machinations of this wretched band became intolerable.
The cruelties perpetrated are hardly credible. Becoming jealous of Bajkam, Ibn Raik designed to supplant him; on which Bajkam, hastening from his camp, entered the city in force.
Ibn Raik disappeared; and in his room Bajkam became Amir al-Umara. Taking the Caliph in his train, he next year attacked the Hamdanid prince at Mosul, and gained advantage over him. But in his absence Ibn Raik, emerging from hiding at the head of a body of Carmathians, for these were now drafted into the Caliph's army, seized the Capital.
This obliged Bajkam to hurry back, and leave the Hamdanids independent as
before. Indeed, it was only to them that the Caliphate now owed the defeuce of the northern border, which otherwise would have been at the mercy of Grecian inroad. Ibn Raik, on the approach of Bajkam, tendered submission, and receiving pardon, was given the government of Syria and Northern Mesopotamia. But for these he had to contend with Ibn Toghj, the governor of Egypt and founder of the Ikhshidid dynasty.
Like others, appointed from Bagdad to the charge of Egypt, this officer had set up as independent sovereign, and ruled there, himself and his successors, for a quarter of a century.1 After some fighting Ibn Raik was able to come to terms with the Ikhshidid, and so retained his command in the north.
A new enemy had meanwhile appeared in the East, the Persian Shi'ite house of Buweih, which in a few years was to be supreme in Bagdad. The Buweihids were sons of Buweih, a prince in the hill-country of the Deilem, and leader of a Turkish horde, engaged now on one side and now on the other, in the wars between the Samanids and the 'Alid rulers on the Caspian shore. Freed at last from such service, the sons, tempted like other adventurers of the day, turned their arms southward, and took possession of Fars.
Bajkam, alarmed at their progress, now took the field, and was on the point of gaining advantage over them, when he had to hurry back because of the treachery of one of his captains, who in his absence threatened Bagdad. And so the Buweihids were left for a time, to consolidate their conquests all around.
Regarding Bagdad during this reign, we are chiefly told of the heated outburst of fanaticism and intolerance that still prevailed. The Hanbalis, supported by popular sen≠timent, carried things with a high hand. Forcing their way into private dwellings, they overthrew everything not in strict conformity with their tenets, emptied vessels of wine wherever found, broke in pieces musical instruments, pried into the details of trade and commerce, and set up in fact a kind of inquisition. Thus a professor of the Shi'a creed, for holding transmigration, was impaled and eventually burned alive. A famous doctor also was badly handled for
1 Ikhshid was the title of the princes of Ferghana,
one of whom took service under Al-Mo'tasim, and was grandfather of Ibn Toghj.
1 Ikhshid was the title of the princes of Ferghana, one of whom took service under Al-Mo'tasim, and was grandfather of Ibn Toghj.
affirming some various readings of the Kor'an, of no apparent moment in themselves; and, notwithstanding that he submitted written recantation, had to fly Bagdad lest he should be torn in pieces by the angry mob.
Ar-Radi died at the age of thirty-three. He is commonly spoken of as the last of the real Caliphs; the last, our annalist tells us, to deliver orations at the Friday service, hold assemblies to discuss with philosophers and divines the questions of the day, or take counsel on the affairs of State; the last to distribute largess among the needy, or interpose to temper the severity of cruel officers. And yet, with all this he was the mere dependent of another. To outward appearance, indeed, in the weekly presidency at the Great Mosque; in the formal, though it might be but empty, sanctioning of successions in the executive; and in the semblance of a certain courtly ceremonial, he might still be taken for the Caliph. But beyond the shadow, there was little left at home. And abroad, even less. The East was gone; Africa and Egypt also, with great part of Syria and Mesopotamia; Mosul independent; Arabia held by Carmathians and native chieftains; even Al-Basra and Wasit in revolt. The advance of the Greeks was stayed only by the brave Hamdanid prince Seif ed-Daula (Sword of the Dynasty), the friend of Al-Mutanebbi. What was there but the Capital; and there, how little!
Ar-Radi was the last of the Caliphs whose poetry has been preserved. The remains, both in sentiment and cadence, are of a high order. "In them," Weil writes, "Ar-Radi gives expression to deep religious feeling, and to his sense of the instability of human greatness, and the transitoriness of all things here below; sentiments of which the tale of his Successor, and indeed his own surroundings, offer so apt an illustration."
Al-Kufa, as we have seen, was no longer a source either of danger or of material support. Gradually decaying ever since the transfer of the court to Bagdad, it had lost the power to disturb by its factious outbreaks the affairs of State, and, in point of fact, is seldom mentioned now.
The Caliphate: Its Rise, Decline, and Fall [Table of Contents]
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