Thursday, January 26, 2012

Abu Muslim Al-Khurasani (700-755), The Best Abbasid General

Abu Muslim Abd Rahman ibn Muslim Khorasani or al-Khurasani (Persian: ابومسلم خراسانى, Arabic: أبو مسلم عبد الرحمن بن مسلم الخراساني‎, c. 700 – 755) was a Abbasid general of Persian origin, who led the first major and organized liberal movement against the Umayyad dynasty.

Abu Muslim was born in the city of Balkh in the state of Khorasan. He still after more than 1200 hundred years remain to be a legendary and highly respected revolutionary figure. There are different accounts of his origin and background by different sources but the definite truth is that he was an ethnic Tajik of the state of Khorasan which was dominated by Tajiks at the time. It was during his imprisonment for anti Umayyads activities that he met the Abbasid imam who was also briefly incarcerated in 741. The Abbasid imam were set out to overthrow the Umayyad dynasty so taking advantage of the situation Abu Muslim sided with Abbasids and led to numerous revolts in Khorasan that eventually led to the demise of Umayyad dynasty.

Abu Muslim was an energetic and capable leader who overcome the initial resentment caused among Arabs by his non-Arab origin. He very well took advantage of deep social division and anti Arab, and freedom seeking sentiments in Khorasan. He recruited from various discontented and dispossessed social groups and created a coalition of rebellious Arabs and Khorasanians.

On June 15, 747, Abu Muslim raised the banner of revolution and the revolt quickly spread throughout Khorasan and to other provinces. The revolt eventually led to the overthrow of Umayyad caliph and the last Umayyad caliph, Marwan II was defeated and killed in 750. Abu Muslim was the leading factor in defeat of Umayyads and rise of Abbasids. As as-Saffah became the first Abbasid caliph in 749, Abu Muslim was given the governorship of Khorasan in reward for his services. The Abbasids still depended on him on all affairs of the state specially the military and political affairs.

The Abbasids were basically enthroned and to a great extend influenced by Abu Muslim as he was a leading politician, powerful military leader and a very popular figure in many provinces specially among non-Arabs. As Abu Muslims's power and popularity grow the Abbasids became more and more suspicious of him specially that he was inclined to separate Khorasan from the rest of Abbasid states.

Al Mansur the second Abbasids Caliph was in fear of Abu Muslim's ever increasing popularity. After having Abu Muslim quell an uprising by the uncle of Al Mansur, stripped away the governorship of Khorasan from him. When Abu Muslim arrived at his invitation to his court, al Mansur treacherously put him to death and in this way eliminated a potential rival for the throne and the possibility of losing the province of Khorasan.

The unavenged and cowardly murder of Abu Muslim, a legendary hero among Khorasanians, inspired many later uprising against Abbasids.

There was an Arab by the name Sharikh ibn Shaikh in Bukhara, who wanted to spread Shia Islam firmly and oppose anyone against him. Soon, he got the support of several local rulers and many local people.

When this news reached Abu Muslim (Khorasani), he along Ziyad ibn Salih came there to find out what the details, and soon they got involved in a fight. Abu Muslim fought against them for 37 days with no victory, everyday Abu Muslim's side was losing soldiers and several were taken as prisoners. After that, all of a sudden Sharikh ibn Shaikh died, and his supporters started to crumble & fear, but they were still hostile. The rebellion was eventually crushed and most of the Shia supporters were hanged.

Abu Muslim was a major supporter of the Abbasid cause, having met with their Imam Ibrahim ibn Muhammad in Mecca, and was later a personal friend of Abu al-'Abbas Al-Saffah, the future Caliph. He observed the revolt in Kufa in 736 tacitly. With the death of the Umayyad Caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik in 743, the Islamic world was launched into civil war. Abu Muslim was sent to Khorasan by the Abbasids initially as a propagandist and then to revolt on their behalf. He took Merv in December 747 (or January 748), defeating the Umayyad governor Nasr ibn Sayyar, as well as Shayban al-Khariji, a Kharijite aspirant to the caliphate. He became the de facto Abbasid governor of Khorasan, and gained fame as a general in the late 740s in defeating the peasant rebellion of Bihafarid, the leader of a syncretic Persian sect that were Mazdaism. Abu Muslim received support in suppressing the rebellion both from purist Muslims and Zoroastrians. In 750, Abu Muslim became leader of the Abbasid army and defeated the Umayyads at Battle of the Zab. Abu Muslim stormed Damascus, the capital of the Umayyad caliphate, later that year.

His heroic role in the revolution and military skill, along with his conciliatory politics toward Shia, Sunnis, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians, made him extremely popular among the people. Although it appears that Abu al-'Abbas trusted him in general, he was wary of his power, limiting his entourage to 500 men upon his arrival to Iraq on his way to Hajj in 754. Abu al-'Abbas's brother, al-Mansur (r. 754-775), advised al-Saffah on more than one occasion to have Abu Muslim killed, fearing his rising influence and popularity. It seems that this dislike was mutual, with Abu Muslim aspiring to more power and looking down in disdain on al-Mansur, feeling al-Mansur owed Abu Muslim for his position. When the new caliph's uncle, Abdullah ibn Ali rebelled, Abu Muslim was requested by al-Mansur to crush this rebellion, which he did, and Abdullah was given to his nephew as a prisoner. Abdullah was ultimately executed.

Relations deteriorated quickly when al-Mansur sent an agent to inventory the spoils of war, and then appointed Abu Muslim governor of Syria and Egypt, outside his powerbase. After an increasingly acrimonious correspondence between Abu Muslim and al-Mansur, Abu Muslim feared he was going to be killed if he appeared in the presence of the Caliph. He later changed his mind and decided to appear in his presence due to a combination of perceived disobedience, al-Mansur's promise to keep him as governor of Khorasan, and the assurances of some of his close aides, some of whom were bribed by al-Mansur. He went to Iraq to meet with al-Mansur's in Madain in 755. al-Mansur proceeded to enumerate his grievances against Abu Muslim, who kept reminding the Caliph of his efforts to enthrone him. Against al-Muslim were also charges of being a zindiq or heretic. al-Mansur then signaled five of his guards behind a portico to kill him. Abu Muslim's mutilated body was thrown in the river Tigris, and his commanders were bribed to acquiesce to the murder!

His murder was not well-received by the Kurds, particularly not by the residents of Khorasan and Kurdistan, and there was resentment and rebellion among the population over the brutal methods used by al-Mansur. He became a legendary figure for many in Persia, and several Persian heretics started revolts claiming he had not died and would return; the latter included his own propagandist Ishaq al-Turk, the Zoroastrian cleric Sunpadh in Nishapur, the Abu Muslimiyya subsect of the Kaysanites Shia, and al-Muqanna in Khorasan. Even Babak claimed descent from him.

At least three epic romances were written about him:
  • Marzubānī, Muḥammad ibn ʻImrān, Akhbār shuʻarāʾ al-Shīʻah
  • Muḥammad ibn Ḥasan, Abū Ṭāhir Ṭarsūsī, Abū Muslimʹnāmah
  • Zidan, Jorji, Abu Muslim al Khorasani