The age of Imam Abu Ja'far al-Jawad (a.s) was one of the brightest and most wonderful Islamic ages. It was distinguished by its scientific rise and intellectual development. Muslims and other than Muslims remained living for generations and centuries on the tables of the intellectual and scientific treasures that had been established in that age.
We have to talk-in brief- about the aspects of the life in the age of Imam al-Jawad (a.s). Studying that age has become inevitable for researchers because it uncovers the dimensions of personality, leads to its intellectual sides and all its other sides.
The cultural life in that age is considered as one of the most prominent aspects of life in all the Islamic ages at all. Cultural movements have flourished, sciences have spread widely, institutes have been established, public libraries have spread everywhere and people came to seek knowledge eagerly.
Nicholson says, ‘The vast area of the Abbasid State, its abundant wealth and the prosperity of trade had a great influence on the cultural renaissance that the East had never witnessed before until it seemed that all people from the caliph to the meanest person in the society had suddenly become students seeking knowledge or at least assistants to literature.
During the reign of the Abbasid State, people traveled through three continents looking for sources of knowledge to come back to their countries like bees carrying with them honey to the eager students. Then, they classified, by virtue of their great efforts, what they had got in books that they were like the encyclopedias of today which had the greatest favor on conveying these modern sciences to us in a way unexpected before..’1
The cultural centers at the time of Imam al-Jawad (a.s) were:
Yathrib (Medina) was one of the most important scientific centers in that age. The school of Ahlul Bayt (a.s) had been established there and included the best jurisprudents and narrators who made every effort to record the traditions of the infallible imams of Ahlul Bayt (a.s) for these traditions were as the spirit and essence of Islam. In Yathrib, the school of Successors had also been established. It was a jurisprudential school that took jurisprudence from the traditions narrated by the Prophet’s companions or due to opinion and analogy.
Kufa came after Yathrib in its importance. The great mosque in Kufa was one of the most important Islamic institutes and schools. Many seminars were held in this mosque. The general sphere of study was on the Islamic sciences such as jurisprudence, tafsir (interpretation of the Qur’an), Hadith and other branches.
Kufa had adopted the Alawite doctrine and its school was interested in the knowledge of Ahlul Bayt (a.s). Al-Hasan bin Ali al-Washsha’ said, ‘I have seen in this mosque (the mosque of Kufa) nine hundred sheiks each saying: Ja’far bin Muhammad (as-Sadiq) has told me so- and-so…’2
It was not only jurisprudence that was dealt with in the school of Kufa, but also grammar was studied and taught. In Kufa, a school of grammarians had been established. From the famous scholars of this school was al-Kisa’iy, whom ar-Rasheed (the Abbasid caliph) had entrusted to teach his two sons al-Ameen and al-Ma’moon. Worth mentioning is that grammar has been established by Imam Ali (a.s). It was he who had classified the bases and rules of Arabic grammar.
Basra was a very important center of grammar. The first one who had established the base of the school of Basra was Abul Aswad ad- Du’ali, the disciple of Imam Ali (a.s). This school competed with the school of Kufa. The grammarians of Basra were called (people of logic) to be distinguished from the grammarians of Kufa. One of the most prominent scholars of this school of grammar was Seebwayh the Persian who had written a book called “the book of Seebwayh” that is the maturest book in Arabic. De Beaur3 says, ‘If we look at the book of Seebwayh, we shall find it a mature work and a great effort. Later scholars have said it must be a fruit of cooperative efforts of scientists like the Canon of Avicenna.’4
As Basra was a field for grammar it was a school of Tafsir, one of whose prominent ulama was Abu Amr bin al-Ala’. It was also a school of prosody whose bases had been established by al-Khalil bin Ahmed the author of “al-Ayn” which was the first dictionary in the Arabic language.
Baghdad had flourished with many scientific and cultural movements. Institutes and schools had spread everywhere and nothing was easier than knowledge which had been at hand to everyone. Baghdad had not specialized in a certain branch of knowledge like the other Islamic centers, but it had all sciences besides all kinds of arts. Baghdad had been the greatest scientific center in that age.
Students from all sides of the worlds came to it seeking knowledge. (Augustan Le Bon) says, ‘Scientists, artists and men of literature from all nations and countries; Greeks, Persians, Copts and others came to Baghdad and made it the center of culture in the world.’ Abul Faraj al-Isfahani said that al-Ma’moon was often alone with philosophers. He liked their company and felt pleased with their discussions though he knew that people of knowledge were the choice of Allah from among His creatures and the elite of His people.5
From among the sciences of the Qur’an, there are:
This branch of knowledge studies the recitation of the Qur'an. It has been found in seven ways and each way is ascribed to a reciter. From the famous reciters in the Abbasid age were Yahya bin al-Harith ath- Thimari (d.154 AH), Hamza bin Habib az-Zayyat (d.156 AH), Abu Abdurrahman al-Muqri (d. 213 AH) and Khalaf bin Hisham al- Bazzaz (d. 229 AH).6
It is the interpretation of the Holy Qur'an and explaining its meanings. The commentators of the Holy Qur'an had two ways in their interpretations.
The first is the interpretation due to the transmitted sayings of the Prophet (a.s) and the infallible imams. This is the way that has been followed by most of the Shia commentators like in Tafsir al-Qummi, Tafsir al-Askari and Tafsir al-Burhan. Their evidence on that is that the infallible imams were singled out with the knowledge of the Qur'an as it was in its reality and fact.
Imam Abu Ja'far al-Baqir (a.s) says, ‘No one can claim that he has (the knowledge of) all the Qur'an; its esoteric and apparent knowledge except the guardians.’7 There are many evidences proving that we must refer to the infallible imams in interpreting the Qur'an.
Sheikh at-Toossi says, ‘Interpreting the Qur'an is not possible except by relying on the true traditions of the Prophet (a.s) and the infallible imams whose sayings are evidence like the Prophet’s.’8
The second is the interpretation due to opinion that is to rely on the reasonable accounts related to approval. The interpreters of the Mu’tazilites and other sects have followed this kind of interpretation and did not pay any attention to the sayings of the infallible imams concerning the interpretation of the Qur'an. They depended in their interpretations on that which they approved reasonably.
Anyhow, the first school of Tafsir due to the transmitted traditions was at the time of Imam Ali (a.s) who was the first interpreter of the Qur'an and from whom Abdullah bin Abbas and other great companions took interpretation. The infallible imams (a.s) paid too much attention to the Tafsir of the Qur'an through their lectures on interpretation, the reasons behind the revelation of the Qur’anic verses and the merit of reciting the Qur'an.
Hadith is one of the most important sources of the Islamic legislation. The Hadith is the traditions transmitted from the Prophet (a.s) or the infallible imams whether their sayings, doings or their approving of others’ sayings or doings. It is called the Sunna.
The Shia were the first who had written down the traditions and the infallible imams (a.s) encouraged their companions to do that. Abu Basir said, “Once, I went to Abu Abdullah (as-Sadiq) and he said, ‘What prevents you from writing down traditions? You shall not memorize them until you write them down. Some people from Basra have just left now. They asked about some things and wrote down the answers.’
The companions of Imam ar-Ridha’ (a.s) had written down all the true traditions in big volumes which were the first collections of the Shia that were the base for the four collections of the three sheikhs.9
From the most distinct sciences that had prevailed in that age and all the Islamic ages was Jurisprudence which explained to people their obligations and their responsibility before Allah in following these obligations during their lives. The care for studying jurisprudence was more than it for other sciences.
The infallible imams of Ahlul Bayt (a.s) had a great role in establishing their jurisprudential school from which great jurisprudents and ulama had graduated such as Zurara, Muhammad bin Muslim, Jabir bin Yazeed al-Ju’fi and other great ulama. These jurisprudents recorded all what they had heard from the infallible imams (a.s) in their books which were about four hundred ones and then they were edited and collected in the four famous books to which the Shia jurisprudents refer in deriving the legal verdicts.
This activity of seeking and learning jurisprudence eagerly was not limited to the Shia, but all the Islamic sects took much care of that.
The branch of Usool10 had been established by Imam Abu Ja'far al- Baqir (a.s). Ijtihad and the deriving of the legal verdicts depend on this science which was studied widely in that age.
Grammar played an important role in the Abbasid age. Its studies were a point of argumentations. In the palaces of the caliphs meetings were held for this matter and sharp disputes took place between grammarians. Many famous scholars had specialized in this science at the head of whom were al-Kisa’iy, al-Farra’ and Seebwayh. This branch of knowledge had been established by Imam Ali (a.s), the pioneer of knowledge and wisdom in the earth.
From the studies prevailing in that age was theology. Theology means the defending of one’s religious beliefs through scientific proofs. This art had been established by the infallible imams of Ahlul Bayt (a.s) and then some of their disciples specialized in it. At the head was the great scholar Hisham bin al-Hakam and from the famous Sunni theologians were Wasil bin Ata’, Abul Huthayl al- Allaf, Abul Hasan al-Ash’ari and al-Ghazali.
Medicine developed widely in the Abbasid age and the Abbasid kings encouraged people to study it. They gave prizes and great monies to those specialized in medicine like the physician Gibril bin Bakhtsho’ an-Nasrani.
From the sciences that got great attention in that age was chemistry. Jabir bin Hayyan, the pride of the Arabic East, had specialized in this branch and received his information from Imam as-Sadiq (a.s), the thinking mind of humanity. It was he who had established this science.
In addition, civil engineering, architecture and astronomy were spread and prevailing in the age of Imam al-Jawad (a.s). Hundreds of books had been written on these sciences, some of which were lost and some are still kept in the bookcases of the world libraries.
From the aspects of the development of the cultural life in that age was the interest in translating books from foreign languages into Arabic. Translated books were on medicine, mathematics, astronomy, philosophy and politics. The head of the divan of translation was Hunayn bin Is~haq. Ibn an-Nadeem had mentioned
many of these translated books in his book al-Fihrist. Ibn an-Nadeem said, ‘Between al-Ma’moon and the king of Rome there were correspondences. Once, al-Ma’moon wrote to the king of Rome asking his permission to send him what he would choose from the ancient sciences kept in the country of the Romans. The king responded to him after he had refused at first. Then, al-Ma’moon sent some men, from among whom were al-Hajjaj bin Matar, Ibnul Batriq, Salim the chief of Baytol Hikma (the house of wisdom) and others, to Rome. When they came back carrying with them scientific books, he ordered them to translate the books into Arabic and the books were translated.’11
These translated books helped the Arabic intellect to grow and participated in the development of sciences in the Islamic countries.
The Abbasid government had established in Baghdad schools and institutes to teach the Islamic branches of knowledge and other sciences. About thirty schools had been established in Baghdad and each of them was more wonderful than a wonderful palace. The greatest and more famous one was an-Nidhamiyya School.12
Many libraries had also been established in Baghdad such as the library of Baytol Hikma, to which ar-Rasheed had conveyed his private library and added to it the books his father al-Mahdi and grandfather al-Mansor had gathered. During his reign, al-Ma’moon asked the emir of Sicilia for some scientific and philosophical books. When the books arrived, he took them to the library of Baytol Hikma. He also brought many books to this library from Khurasan. Whenever he heard of a book, he brought it to this library. This library was the richest one in the world which researchers and students always referred to. It was still so until when the Mongols attacked and occupied Baghdad. They destroyed the library with all its books and so the Islamic world had lost its greatest heritage.
From the signs of the cultural and civilizational development in that age was that al-Ma’moon had ordered to draw a map of the world which was called (as-Sorah al-Ma’moniyya-the Ma’mooni picture). It was the first map of the world that had been drawn in the Abbasid age. Al-Ma’moon had also ordered to build an observatory. It was built in ash-Shamasiyya, a quarter in Baghdad.13
In this prosperous, scientific sphere Imam al-Jawad (a.s) was the pioneer of the cultural movement. Scholars and scientists gathered around him ladling from the springs of his knowledge and asking him about the minutest questions in philosophy and theology and they got satisfactory answers from him.
The political life at the time of Imam Abu Ja'far al-Jawad (a.s) was ugly and absolutely critical not only to Imam al-Jawad (a.s), but also to all Muslims. The umma had been afflicted with violent waves of seditions and troubles. Before talking about those events, we find it is necessary to talk about the system of the rule in the Abbasid age and some other matters that have a relation with the subject.
The system of the Abbasid rule was the same as the Umayyad rule. It did not change. Nicholson described it as a despotic rule and that the Abbasids had an absolute rule over the nation like that of the Sasanian kings before them.14
The rule was run due to the desires and fancies of the Abbasid kings and their emirs paying no attention to the Islamic law. Their administrative, economical, and political conducts had deviated from what Islam had legislated.
The Abbasid kings were arbitrary with the affairs of Muslims. They imposed on them a terroristic rule with no mercy or kindness that was too far from the Islamic caliphate which had been legislated to spread justice, equality and truth between people.
The Islamic caliphate with its original principle did not submit to any rule of heredity or nepotism or tendencies and fancies. Islam had fought all these things and considered them as facets of corruption and intellectual backwardness to Muslims. Islam had established the caliphate on noble values, high ideals and the power to run the affairs of Muslims justly. Whoever had these qualities would be qualified to undertake this serious position on which the safety and happiness of the nation depended.
As for the Shia, they saw that the caliphate was the right of the infallible imams of Ahlul Bayt (a.s) not because they were the close relatives of the Prophet (a.s), but because of their excellences, virtues and talents that no one other than them had ever had.
However, the Abbasids considered hereditary in the rule as the firm base for them to deserve the caliphate because they were the cousins of the Prophet (a.s). They spent great monies on the media to spread that among people. Mercenaries hastened towards the Abbasids by defaming the Alawids15 and announcing that the Abbasids were worthier of the Prophet (a.s) than his progeny.
Historians say that Abban bin Abdul Hameed was exiled by the Abbasids because of his loyalty to Ahlul Bayt (a.s). He went to the Barmakids16 asking them to intercede for him with Harun ar-Rasheed. They said to him that there was no way to that except that he would say in his poetry that the Abbasids were the heirs of the Prophet (a.s) and worthier of the caliphate than the Alawids. He responded to them and composed a poem on that. When he recited the poem before ar- Rasheed, ar-Rasheed was so pleased. He was satisfied with Abban and gifted him with much money.
When the Abbasids kept to the hereditary system of rule, they did many things unusual, strange and against the advantage of the nation. They entrusted their children with the caliphate while they were not adult yet. Ar-Rasheed entrusted his son al-Ameen with the caliphate while he was five years old and to his son al-Ma’moon when he was thirteen years. They deviated from the principles of Islam that the position of the caliphate must be trusted to one who should be wise, experienced and well-qualified besides his experience in running all the affairs of the nation. They appointed more than one person in the position of the heir apparent at the same time which would separate the nation and destroy its unity. Ar-Rasheed had trusted the caliphate to both of his sons al-Ameen and al-Ma’moon that made them, later on after their father’s death, fight each other and involve the nation in bad crises and dangerous seditions that we shall discuss in the next chapters.
From the most important bodies in the Abbasid state was the vizierate. It was, in most cases, a vizierate of authorization that the caliph authorized his vizier to run all the affairs of his state while he occupied himself with amusement, play and insolence. Al-Mahdi, the Abbasid caliph, had appointed Ya’qob bin Dawod as his vizier and entrusted him with all the affairs of his subjects and he turned to pleasures. Ar-Rasheed had made Yahya bin Khalid al-Barmaki his vizier and given him absolute authority and he turned to his pleasures and lusts, and his red nights in Baghdad witnessed on that.
Yahya ran the affairs of the vast state due to his tendencies. He spent great monies on the poets who praised him. He possessed buildings and gardens that yielded millions of dinars and that was the reason which made Harun ar-Rasheed throw him into prison, kill his son Ja’far and confiscate all their properties.
Al-Ma’moon set his vizier al-Fadhl bin Sahl free to do in the state whatever he liked. He became extremely wealthy through plundering and taking bribes.
The nation suffered misfortunes and ordeals during the times of these viziers. They were the striking force over the public. The caliphs used them as means to subject the people, plunder their wealth and force them to do what they did not will.
The viziers were liable to rage and revenge from people because of the injustice and oppression they committed. Di’bil al-Khiza’iy17 had advised al-Fadhl bin Marwan, a vizier of the Abbasids, and recommended him to do good and be kind to people. He had mentioned to him as examples three of the viziers who had had the same name as his and preceded him in this position; al-Fadhl bin Yahya, al-Fadhl bin ar-Rabee’ and al-Fadhl bin Sahl. When they were unjust and oppressive, they met wrath and revenge.
From the strange events of treason that those viziers had committed was that in one day al-Khaqani, the vizier of al-Muqtadir Billah, had appointed nineteen supervisors on Kufa and taken bribe from each one of them.18 Many such scandals and bad deeds were committed by those viziers of the Abbasids.
Perhaps, one of the most prominent events at the age of Imam al- Jawad (a.s) was the great sedition that had taken place between al- Ameen and al-Ma’moon and caused a war between them and cost the Muslims too much bloods just for that each of them wanted to be the caliph although they were brothers. Before we talk about these events, we refer, in brief, to some aspects of al-Ameen.
Al-Ameen had no any good quality that might make him fit to this important position in Islam (the caliphate). Historians had unanimously mentioned that he had no any noble quality. Ar- Rasheed, his father, had entrusted him with the caliphate out of the influence of his wife Lady Zubayda.
Al-Ameen disliked knowledge and despised the ulama. He was illiterate not knowing reading and writing.19 Since he was so, then how did his father ar-Rasheed entrust him with the caliphate?
He was weak-willed. He had been entrusted with the rule over the vast state and could not manage the affairs or be successful in his policies. Al-Mas’oodi, the historian, says about him, ‘He was of bad conduct and unintelligent. He followed his fancies, ignored his serious affairs, relied on others in the important matters, and trusted in disloyal ones.’20 Al-Kutubi described him by saying, ‘Vice was so easy to him so that he followed his fancy and desires and did not think of his end. He was very stingy in food and did not care when he would sit or with whom he would drink.’21
There is no doubt that good thinking and intelligence are from the conditions that must be available in one who would rule over the Muslims.
He hid himself from the public, from his family, his emirs and officials and despised them. He turned to amusement and singing and entrusted the affairs of his state to his vizier al-Fadhl bin ar-Rabee’ who acted after his desires and tendencies.
Once, Isma’eel bin Subayh, who was favorite by al-Ameen, said to him, ‘O Ameerul Mo’mineen, your leaders, soldiers and the public of your subjects began mistrusting you and doubting your hide from them. You may sit for some time in a meeting and let them come to you because this will calm them down and make them give up their illusions.’
Al-Ameen responded to him and sat in his royal court. Poets came and recited their poems. Then he got in al-Khuraqah and left to ash-Shamasiyya. Knights on their horses stopped in rows at the banks of the Tigris. Foods and treasures were carried with him. Al-Khuraqah was a ship in the shape of a lion. People had never seen a scene more beautiful than that. Abu Nu’as, the poet, was with him in the ship to drink with him and recite him poetry.
These were some of al-Ameen’s features giving us a conception that he was insignificant person spending his time on his pleasures and lusts and paying no attention to the affairs of the Islamic state.
Al-Ameen assumed the caliphate on the day when his father ar- Rasheed died. When everything became stable to him, he deposed his brother al-Ma’moon and made his son, who was a baby in the cradle, as his heir apparent and called him an-Natiq bil Haqq. He sent to the Kaaba a messenger to fetch him the book of the covenant which his father had hung in the Kaaba and in which he had written that the position of the heir apparent would be for al-Ma’moon after al- Ameen. When the covenant was brought to him, he tore it. He did so according to the suggestion of al-Fadhl bin ar-Rabee’ and Bakr bin al-Mu’tamir as historians say.
When al-Ameen deposed his brother al-Ma’moon from the position of the heir apparent and informed him of that officially, he appointed Ali bin Eesa to lead an army against al-Ma’moon. He gave him ties of gold and said to him, ‘Tie al-Ma’moon and do not kill him until you bring him alive to me.’ He gave him two million dinars. When al-Ma’moon knew that, he announced himself as Ameerul Mo’mineen. He stopped sending the land tax to al-Ameen, removed his name from the flag and from the dirhams and dinars, and announced his disobedience against him.
He appointed Tahir bin al- Husayn and Harthamah bin A’yun at the head of an army to fight against al-Ameen. The two armies met in ar-Riyy in a violent war where rivers of bloods were shed. Finally, the army of al-Ma’moon won the battle and the leader of al-Ameen’s army was killed and all their baggage and weapons were taken. Tahir bin al-Husayn wrote to al-Fadhl bin Sahl, the vizier of al-Ma’moon, informing him of this victory. He said in his letter, ‘I write to you while the head of Ali bin Eesa is in my lap and his ring is in my hand, and praise be to Allah the Lord of the worlds.’
Al-Fadhl bin Sahl came to al-Ma’moon, greeted him and called him as the caliph. He told him about the victory of his army. When al- Ma’moon was certain of victory, he sent to Tahir, the general leader of his army, gifts and monies, thanked him too much for that and ordered him to march to occupy Iraq and do away with his brother al-Ameen.
The armies of al-Ma’moon moved to occupy Baghdad under the leadership of Tahir bin al-Husayn. They blockaded Baghdad and the blockade lasted for a long time until the signs of civilization in Baghdad were destroyed, poverty and wretchedness prevailed, criminals and wicked people assassinated good people, plundered the properties and violated the women. Then, a group of good people gathered under the leadership of a man called Sahl bin Salama and stood against those wicked people with weapons and drove them out of Baghdad.22
Anyhow, Baghdad faced great losses and destruction because of this great sedition. It lost many of its people. The armies of al-Ma’moon marched to surround the palace of al-Ameen and defeat his forces. The army of al-Ameen could not stand against the armies of al- Ma’moon that had high morale besides the weapons and equipments they had.
In the middle of that ordeal al-Ameen was busy with amusement and play. Historians said that he was fishing with some of his servants among whom was Kawthar whom al-Ameen was fond of. The news of the defeat of his army and the blockade of his palace came to him but he was indifferent. He said, ‘Kawthar has fished three fishes but I have fished just two.’ The vanguard of al-Ma’moon’s army attacked al-Ameen and killed him. His head was taken to Tahir bin al-Husayn who set it on a spear and recited the Qur’anic verse, (O Allah, Master of the Kingdom! Thou givest the kingdom to whomsoever Thou pleasest and takest away the kingdom from whomsoever Thou pleasest).23
The disagreement between al-Ameen and al-Ma’moon was the most important political event in that age.
From among the political events in that age was the caliphate of Ibrahim al-khalee’ (the dissolute) who had left no kind of debauchery unless he committed it. He was drunk most of his times. The Abbasids had appointed him as their caliph out of their spite and hate against al-Ma’moon. Bad people and people of play and singing had paid homage to him expecting money from him but he procrastinated in giving them and when it was so long, they surrounded his palace. Then, one of his men came out telling the mob that the caliph had no money. One of the funny people got up and said, ‘Let our caliph come out to us to sing three songs for the people in this side and three songs for the people in that side and this will be their gift…’24
Di’bil the poet had mocked him in some verses of poetry describing him with the ugliest qualities and saying that his Holy Book was his lute. (Ruster Stein) says, ‘He had no talents of a ruler but he was a man of a nice tact interested in music and singing.’25
Al-Ma’moon with his armies marched towards Baghdad to do away with the rebellion of Ibrahim. When Ibrahim knew about that, he fled and all those whom he trusted in their support fled. Ibrahim remained hidden in Baghdad with his fear and fright. When al-Ma’moon arrested him, he forgave him and set him free because he had no any political weight to be feared.
One of the greatest public revolts that had taken place at the time of Imam Abu Ja'far al-Jawad (a.s) was the revolt of Abu as-Saraya that defended the fateful matters of all the Muslim peoples. The revolt invited to Imam ar-Ridha’ (a.s) of the progeny of Prophet Muhammad (a.s) who were the hope of the oppressed and deprived. The revolt was about to do away with the Abbasid state. Most of Muslim countries responded. Abu as-Saraya through his intelligence and experience could bring some of Imam Musa al-Kadhim’s sons and make them leaders in his army that made masses of people support and join this revolt enthusiastically.
However, al-Ma’moon through his political talents could defeat this movement. He brought Imam ar-Ridha’ (a.s) to Khurasan and forced him to accept the position of heir apparent. Doing so, he showed to people that he was Alawid in thought. He was kind to the Alawids and instructed all the bodies of his government to defame Mo’awiya and to prefer Imam Ali (a.s) to all of the Prophet’s companions. Thus, people thought al-Ma’moon as a Shiite. In this cunning way he could win the events and put out the flame of the revolt.
These events and revolts that took place at the time of Imam al- Jawad (a.s) showed that the political state was not stable.
No Muslim doubted that Ahlul Bayt (a.s) had the right and were worthier of the caliphate than the Abbasids. The Abbasids themselves did not find that they were the people of the caliphate as long as the Alawids were there. They unanimously paid homage to the Alawid leader Muhammad Thunnafs az-Zakiyya. They gathered together with the Alawids in al-Abwa’. Salih bin Ali got up to say, ‘You are the men to whom the eyes of people extend. Allah has gathered you in this place. Agree on paying homage to one of you and separate everywhere and pray Allah to make you succeed and win victory…’
Al-Mansor ad-Dawaniqi (the later-on Abbasid caliph) invited people to pay homage to Muhammad Thunnafs az-Zakiyya whom all the Islamic movements supported at that time. Al-Mansor addressed people by saying, ‘What for do you deceive yourselves? By Allah, you know that people do not bow their necks or respond to anyone more than to this young man-he pointed at Muhammad bin Abdullah…’
People said, ‘By Allah, you are true. We know this.’
The Alawids and the Abbasids began paying homage to Muhammad. From among the people who paid homage were Abul Abbas as- Saffah and Abu Ja'far al-Mansor. The most enthusiastic one in serving and flattering Muhammad was al-Mansor ad-Dawaniqi. He led his (Muhammad’s) camel and leveled his clothes and said, ‘He is the Mahdi of us, Ahlul Bayt.’26
The homage of al-Mansor to Muhammad was out of hypocrisy. One day, Uthman bin Muhammad az-Zubayri was brought to al-Mansor27 as captive after the failure of the revolt of Muhammad Thunnafs az- Zakiyya. Al-Mansor shouted at him, ‘O Uthman, you have rebelled against me with Muhammad…’
Uthman, who mocked at life and was indifferent to death, replied as a freeman, ‘I and you had paid homage to him in Mecca; I carried out my homage and you broke your homage…’
These words were like a thunderbolt on the head of this tyrant. He abused Uthman and Uthman replied with the same and then the tyrant ordered Uthman to be killed and he was killed.28
The Abbasid had unanimously paid homage to Muhammad Thunnafs az-Zakiyya but they broke their homage and killed Muhammad and all his companions of the Alawids.
The Abbasids had seized the authority from the Alawids. They instructed their propagandist at the beginning of the revolt to invite to Imam ar-Ridha’ (a.s) and to deceive the masses cunningly that the caliphate was the right of Ahlul Bayt (a.s) and no one else had a share in it. For the sake of this aim, Muslims sacrificed their dear souls and properties. Muslims believed and were certain that no one would save and free them from the oppression and injustice of the Umayyads except Ahlul Bayt (a.s), the people of justice and truth.
Mir Ali says, ‘The word of Ahlul Bayt (a.s) was the magic that united the hearts of the different classes of people and gathered them around the black banner…’29
The Abbasids hid under this shed that united passions and feelings and began repeating the same mottos the masses announced that there would be no ruler over the Muslims except Imam ar-Ridha’ of the Prophet’s progeny. The nation set out in its way destroying the forts of the oppressors and annihilating their propagandists and armies. When the victory came, the Abbasids crept to the throne and occupied the position of Ahlul Bayt (a.s) and robbed the efforts of the masses.
The hopes of Muslims were disappointed when the Abbasids assumed the leadership of the nation. Nothing of the Umayyad policies changed. Oppression came back and the door of injustice was wide open again.
Dr. Ahmed Mahmod Subhi says, ‘…but that high example of justice and equity that people expected from the Abbasids became an illusion. The violence of al-Mansor and ar-Rasheed and their greediness, and the oppression of the sons of Ali bin Eesa and their playing with the wealth of the Muslims reminds us of al-Hajjaj, Hisham, and Yousuf bin Umar ath-Thaqafi. Resentment spread among all people after Abdullah as-Saffah30 and also al-Mansor had begun their rules with shedding the Muslims’ blood so excessively in a way that had not been seen before.’31
The poets of that age had described the disappointment of the Muslims and the loss of their expectations under the Abbasid rule. Sadif, the poet, says,
“We hope our intimacy comes back,
after separation, enmity and grudge,
and the state, whose leaders’ rule on us like the rule of idolaters,
When al-Mansor, the tyrant, heard these verses, he wrote to his governor Abdussamad to bury the poet alive and he did.32
The wishes and expectations of the Muslim peoples had collapsed and their dreams turned into mirage. The Abbasid rule was based on tyranny and oppression and the rulers were athirst for shedding bloods. The political life during the Umayyad reign might be much better than that of the first Abbasid age. The Umayyads had virtues that al-Mansor ad-Dawaniqi had not any as Imam as-Sadiq (a.s) said.
Most of the Abbasid governments persecuted the Alawids officially and openly and treated them with absolute severity and violence. The Alawids faced torture that they had never faced during the Umayyad rule. The first one who had opened the door of evil and severe punishment against the Alawids was the Pharaoh of this Umma; al-Mansor ad-Dawaniqi33 who said, ‘I have killed from the progeny of Fatima34 one thousand or more and left their master and guardian Ja’far bin Muhammad (as-Sadiq).’35
He was the keeper of the wardrobe of the heads of the Alawids which he had left to his son al- Mahdi to fix his rule. That wardrobe included heads of children, young and old men from the Alawids.36 This dissolute had kept these heads until his afterlife to present them as a gift to their grandfather Prophet Muhammad (a.s)! Woe unto him on the Day of Resurrection!
It was he who had put the masters of the Alawids in his horrible prisons until bad smells killed them and he tore down prisons on some of them until they died. This tyrant blood shedder had committed all kinds of massacres against the Alawids. They suffered during his rule horrible kinds of torment and punishment that were beyond description.
As for Musa al-Hadi, the other Abbasid caliph, he did worse than al- Mansor. He was the man of the event of Fakh which was not less than the event of Kerbala in its terrible scenes. This blood shedder had committed crimes in this event that were incomparable. He had ordered to kill the children and the captives. He kept on chasing the Alawids and killed whomever he caught. But the days of this tyrant lasted no long until Allah killed him.
And as for Harun ar-Rasheed, he was not less than his predecessors in his enmity towards Ahlul Bayt (a.s) and in persecuting them. He said, ‘Until when shall I be patient with the progeny of Abu Talib? By Allah, I will kill them and kill their followers and I will do and do!’37 It was he who had imprisoned Imam Musa bin Ja’far for many years and then inserted poison to him until he died in his prison. Ar- Rasheed did his best in oppressing the Alawids and burdening them.
During his reign the Alawids suffered not less than what they had suffered during the days of al-Mansor.
When al-Ma’moon was the caliph, he cancelled the chase against the Alawids, assigned dues to them and took care of them. However, it did not last long because after he had assassinated Imam ar-Ridha’ (a.s), he began again chasing and oppressing them as his predecessors had done.
Anyhow, the greatest political problem by which Muslims had been tried was the oppression against Ahlul Bayt (a.s). They suffered hunger to a degree that al-Qassim bin Ibrahim cooked dead animals because of his poverty and neediness.38 Many misfortunes had afflicted Ahlul Bayt (a.s) at that period and of course, they caused great sorrow and distress to Imam al-Jawad (a.s).
Perhaps, one of the most complicated political problems that Muslims had been tried with in that age was the problem of (the creation of the Qur'an) which caused seditions and misfortunes to the nation.
Al-Ma’moon put forth this question in 212 AH and tried the ulama with it terribly. Whoever did not believe in al-Ma’moon thought would be imprisoned, exiled or killed.39 He forced people to believe in his thought through subjection and punishment.
This question is considered as one of the most dangerous events that had happened in that age. Philosophers and theologians have explained and clarified its ambiguities. In order to avoid expiation, we shall not talk about this matter in details.
Islam has always tried the best with its rulings to develop and flourish the economical life of people. Islam considered poverty as a destructive disaster that must be removed. Islam has bound rulers and people in charge to try their best to improve the general economy of the nation, to increase the income of individuals and to spread ease and luxury among people so that Muslims would be away from corruption and deviation which resulted from poverty and deprivation undoubtedly. Islam had made it impermissible for the rulers and people in charge to spend the wealth of the nation on other than the advantage of Muslims and prohibited them from having a hold on this wealth for themselves, their relatives and companions.
Nevertheless, the Abbasid rulers contradicted the orders of Islam and took people as their slaves and the wealth of the Muslims as theirs. They spent the wealth of the nation on their pleasures and amusements caring neither for Allah nor for His people. This bad policy caused many crises to the general economy. The society had divided into two classes; the first class of the too wealthy people who had nothing to do save enjoying pleasures and amusements and the other class was of the laboring people who worked in agriculture and other industries and suffered hardships for the sake of those wealthy masters in order to get a bite from the tables of those masters. The result of this imbalance in the economical life was the loss of stability in both political and social life.40 Here we talk in brief about some sides of the economical life in that age.
The income of the Islamic state during the Abbasid age where Imam al-Jawad (a.s) lived was very great. Ibn Khuldon mentioned that the land tax at the reign of al-Ma’moon was about 400 million dirhams.41
The wealth was so abundant to a degree that money was not counted but was weighed. The wali of al-Mu’tassim (the Abbasid caliph) on Rome had counted the land tax of that country and found it less than three millions. Al-Mu’tassim wrote to him blaming, ‘The land tax of the worst village on which the worst of my slaves are is more than that of your land.’42
Unfortunately, this great wealth was not spent on the development of Muslims but the greatest part of it was spent on pleasures and lusts. This great wealth reflected the life of luxury Baghdad witnessed at that age as reflected in the stories of (A Thousand and One Night).
At that time, people strove to collect wealth by all means whether lawful or unlawful. Wealth had been the criterion of men’s values. People panted for collecting wealth in any means without refraining from unlawfulness or vices. Cheating and deception were the best means of collecting monies.43
Plentiful wealth had been accumulated near some people especially in Baghdad which was the capital of the Islamic nation. A class of capitalists, who owned a great wealth, was found in Baghdad. Basra also had a big class of wealthy people who had abundant monies for Basra was the port of Iraq and the important commercial center that connected the East with the West. It received the trades of India and the islands of the eastern seas. Therefore, Basra was called “the land of India” and “the mother of Iraq”.44
From the lavish expenditure and wasting in the wealth of Muslims was that when al-Ma'moon had spent great monies on his marriage with Lady Pouran. He had given her one million dinars as dowry. Her father al-Hasan bin Sahl had stipulated that al-Ma'moon should perform the wedding in his (the pride’s father’s) village lying in Fam as-Sulh and al-Ma'moon had responded to him. When al-Ma'moon wanted to marry, he traveled to Fam as-Sulh. He scattered on the army that was with him one million dinars. There were thirty thousand young and old male servants and seven thousand maids with him. The army that was with him included three hundred common soldiers and one hundred knights.
Al-Hasan bin Sahl, the bride’s father, slaughtered for his guests about thirty thousand sheep, sixty thousand chickens, four hundred cows and four hundred camels. People called that invitation as “the invitation of Islam”.
But the fact is that Islam is free from such irresponsible behaviors. Islam has prohibited spending from the treasury of Muslims on anything that has no advantage for the Muslims.
When al-Ma'moon married Pouran, small balls of ambergris were scattered from above the roof of al-Hasan bin Sahl’s house. People disregarded these balls at first. Then, a man from above the roof called out, ‘Whoever got a ball let him open it and he will find a piece of paper inside it. Whatever is written in the paper will be his.’ People opened the balls and found small papers in them. Some of them had prizes of one thousand dinars, some of five hundred dinars and so on until one hundred dinars. Some of them had a prize of a horse, some had ten silk garments, five garments, a male servant, or a maid. Whoever got that piece of paper went to the divan and received that which had been written in it.45 He had spent on the leaders of his army only about fifty million dirhams.46
When the moment of wedding came, Pouran was seated on a mat of gold. Then, al-Ma'moon with his aunts and some Abbasid women came in to her. Al-Hasan bin Sahl scattered above the heads of al- Ma'moon and his wife three hundred pearls each of them weighing one weight. No one stretched his hand to pick any. Then, al- Ma'moon asked his aunts to pick them and he himself picked one, but one of the Abbasid women took it from him.
Al-Hasan bin Sahl and al-Ma'moon had spent these great monies on that marriage and all those monies were from the treasury of the Muslims where Allah had ordered to be spent to improve the people’s life and to remove poverty and wretchedness.
When Harun ar-Rasheed got married to Lady Zubayda, he made an invitation that no one like it had ever taken place in Islam. The gifts he gave were uncountable. Gold vessels were full of silver coins and silver vessels were full of gold coins besides musk and ambergris.47 This was the wasting and lavishness that Islam had prohibited in order to save the general economy of the nation.
The Abbasid kings gifted the monies of the Muslims to the singers, songstresses, their servants and agents. Once, Ibrahim bin al-Mahdi the Abbasid sang a song to the caliph Muhammad al-Ameen and he gave him three hundred million dirhams. Ibrahim found them too much for him and said, ‘O my master, would that you have ordered twenty million dirhams!’ The caliph said, ‘Is it but the land tax of just one village?’48 One day, Ibn Muhriz sang a song before ar- Rasheed who was affected by the song and gave one hundred thousand dirhams to the singer. He gave the same to the singer Dahman al-Ashqar.49 When al-Mahdi became the caliph, he distributed all that which was in one of the wardrobes of the treasury among his servants50 besides many many gifts and donations that were given from the treasury which had been ordered to be spent on vital projects to develop the nation.
Instead of that the Abbasids would build and develop the nation and improve the economy, they turned greedily to possess maids and exaggerate in buying them. Beautiful maids were brought to Baghdad from all points of the world; from Abyssinia, Rome, Georgia, and hybrid Arab women from Medina, Ta’if, Yamama and Egypt who were eloquent and quick-witted.51 Ar-Rasheed had about two thousand maids and al-Mutawakkil had about four thousand maids.52
One day, ar-Rasheed visited the Barmakids and when he wanted to leave, their maids went out and stood in two rows like an army. They were singing and playing lutes and tambourines until the last gate of the palace.53
The mother of Ja’far al-Barmaki had one hundred female slaves each wearing dresses and jewels different from the other.54 Possessing maids in such great numbers was the result of abundant wealth accumulated near the people of this capitalist class that they did not know how to spend it.
The Abbasid kings diversified in building their palaces. They built huge palaces that no one had ever seen like them anywhere. They built in Baghdad the palace of al-Khuld to be like the Garden of al- Khuld that Allah had promised the pious of. From the great buildings was the palace that al-Ameen had built. Historians said it was too white gilded with pure gold and azurite. It had great gates with shining gold nails on which there were precious jewels. It was furnished with red rugs as had been dyed with blood. It had pictures and statutes of gold with ambergris and camphor.55
Ja’far al-Barmaki had spent on the building of his house about twenty million dirhams. People diversified in building palaces and lavishness and luxury in that age were to a degree that many of the doors of houses in Baghdad were made of gold where the majority of the nation suffered hunger and deprivation.
The palaces of the Abbasids were furnished with the most precious and splendid furniture in the world. Historians said that Lady Zubayda had chosen a carpet having pictures of animals and birds of all kinds made of gold and the eyes of those animals and birds were from corundum and other precious stones. It was said the she had spent on making this carpet about one million dinars.56 Her other furniture was made of gold inlaid with jewels and precious stones, others of ebony and sandalwood with gold and all kinds of silk. She used candles of ambergris and put on shoes inlaid with jewels and gems.57
As for the meetings of the Barmakids, they were amazing. When ar- Rasheed attended the meetings of the Barmakids, and while he was between gold vessels and silk sofas and maids strutting in silk and jewels, receiving him with good perfumes which he did not know what they were, he imagined that he was in Paradise between beauty, jewels and perfumes.58
As a result of the lavishness and luxury of the Abbasids, they had established in their palaces small factories to manufacture cloths called Dar at-Tiraz. The officer in charge managed the affairs of workers, tools and salaries.59
Due to the development of civilization kinds of foods and meals became various. Tayfor mentioned that once Ja’far bin Muhammad al-Antaki had lunch with al-Ma'moon and three hundred kinds of food were put on the table.60 Because of the various kinds of food, their teeth decayed and so they fixed them with gold as treatment.61
The Abbasid kings and their viziers had left wealth after them that could not be counted.
The stingy tyrant al-Mansor ad-Dawaniqi had left wealth that he had robbed from Muslims about 600 million dirhams and 14 million dinars.62 He had accumulated these great monies in his treasuries and left poverty and wretchedness to prevail over all the Islamic countries.
He had left about 900 million dirhams.63
She was ar-Rasheed’s mother. She had left after her death about one million and sixty thousand dirhams.64
He was one of the viziers of al-Ma'moon. He had left after his death about eight million dirhams. They informed al-Ma'moon of that in a piece of paper and he wrote on the paper, ‘This is little for one who worked for us and his service to us was long. May Allah bless them for his children.’65
Most of these monies had been robbed from the Muslims or from the treasury and spent in ways that had no any advantage for the Muslims or the nation.
Most of the Abbasid caliphs lived a life of amusement, diversion and debauchery without remembering Allah or the afterlife. They spent their lives with pleasures, lusts and trivial play and singing.
Ahmed bin Sadaqa said, ‘I went to al-Ma'moon on the day of as- Sa’anin.66 There were twenty Roman maids before him. They were in silk and had gold crosses in their necks and leaves of palm and olive in their hands. Al-Ma'moon said, ‘O Ahmed, you have composed some verses on these maids. Come on! Sing them!’ Ahmed began singing and al-Ma'moon kept on drinking while the maids were dancing before him.67
Books of history and literature are full of the stories of their amusement, play, debauchery, libertinism and their inadvertence to the affairs of Muslims.
They played backgammon and chess. The bred doves and exaggerated in their prices.68 They made cocks and dogs quarrel as a kind of play and games.69 They practiced gambling which spread even in the saloons of the poor. 70
Unfortunately, singing, play and debauchery reached even to some orators who were required to be pious and devout. Al-Khateeb al- Baghdadi said about the orator Muhammad bin ad-Dhaw’ that he was not reliable for people to take knowledge from him because he drank wine and practiced adultery openly. Abu Nu’as, the poet, visited him in Kufa in the house of a vintner called Jabir.71
Beside the life of diversion and debauchery that people lived in the age of Imam al-Jawad (a.s), there was another group of people who turned to asceticism and left the pleasures of life aside. From these people was Ibrahim bin al-Adham who had left the life of luxury and turned to the obedience of Allah. He often recited,
‘Take Allah as your friend,
and leave people aside.’
Ma’rof al-Karkhi and Bishr bin al-Harith were also from the famous ascetic people at that time.
Of course, the call to asceticism had come out of the excessive diversion, debauchery and libertinism of the Abbasid kings and the capitalist class and their not refraining from what Allah had prohibited.
- 1. Tareekh al-Islam (History of Islam), vol.2 p.322.
- 2. The Life of Imam Musa bin Ja’far, vol.1 p.82.
- 3. He might be De Beauvoir.
- 4. The History of Philosophy in Islam, p.39.
- 5. The Civilization of the Arabs, p.218.
- 6. Al-Ma’arif, p.230-231, al-Fihrist, p.42-45.
- 7. At-Tibyan, vol.1 p.4.
- 8. The Life of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir, vol.1 p.181.
- 9. The introduction of al-Muqni’ wel Hidayeh, p.10.
- 10. Usool is the main principles and bases of religion.
- 11. Al-Fihrist, p.339.
- 12. Rihlat (the travel of) Ibn Jubayr, p.208.
- 13. Asr (the age of) al-Ma’moon, vol.1 p.375.
- 14. Ittijahat ash-Shi’r al-Arabi (courses of the Arabic poetry), p.49.
- 15. The progeny of Imam Ali bin Abu Talib (s).
- 16. A priestly family of Iranian origin who achieved prominence in the 8th century as scribes and viziers to the Abbasid caliphs.
- 17. A Shia poet who defended Ahlul Bayt (s) through his poetry and situations.
- 18. Tareekh at-Tamaddun al-Islami (history of Islamic civilization), vol. 4 p.182.
- 19. As-Sulook li Ma’rifat Duwal al-Mulook (the way to know the states of kings) by al-Maqrizi, vol.1 p.16.
- 20. At-Tanbeeh wel Ishraf, p.302.
- 21. Uyun at-Tawareekh, vol.3 p.212.
- 22. Ittijahat ash-Shi’r al-Arabi, p.73.
- 23. Uyun at-Tawareekh, vol.3 p.211.
- 24. Al-Aghani by Abul Faraj al-Isfahani.
- 25. Britannica, Islamic Encyclopedia, vol.1 p.140.
- 26. Maqatil at-Talibiyeen.
- 27. After being the caliph of the Abbasid.
- 28. Tareekh ibnul Atheer.
- 29. Ruh al-Islam (the spirit of Islam), p.308.
- 30. The first Abbasid caliph.
- 31. Nadhariyyat al-Imama (the theory of imamate), p.381.
- 32. Al-Umdah by ibn Rashiq, vol.1 p.75-76.
- 33. Tareekh al-Khulafa’ (the history of the caliphs) by as-Sayoti, p.261
- 34. The daughter of the Prophet (s).
- 35. Al-Adab fee Dhil at-Tashayyu’ (literature in the shadow of Shiism), p.68.
- 36. Tareekh at-Tabari, vol.10 p.446.
- 37. The Life of Imam Musa bin Ja’far, vol.2 p.47.
- 38. Al-Hada’iq al-Wardiyya (flowery gardens), vol.2 p.220.
- 39. Asr (the age of) al-Ma’moon.
- 40. Al-Idarah al-Islamiyya fee Izz al-Arab (Islamic administration in the glory of the Arabs), p.82.
- 41. Muqaddimat ibn Khuldon, p.179-180.
- 42. Ahsan at-Taqaseem by al-Maqdisi, p.64.
- 43. The introduction of al-Bukhala’ (the stingy), p.24.
- 44. Ibid.
- 45. Tareekh at-Tabari, vol.7 p.149, Tareekh ibnul Atheer, vol.4 p.206.
- 46. Tazyeen al-Aswaq (decorating the markets) by al-Antaki, vol.3 p.117.
- 47. Al-Islam wel Hadhara al-Arabiyya (Islam and the Arabic civilization).
- 48. Ibid.
- 49. Al-Mustatraf, p.182-184.
- 50. Tareekh Baghdad, vol.5 p.393.
- 51. Hadharat (civilization of) al-Islam, p.98.
- 52. Al-Aghani, vol.9 p.88.
- 53. Hadharat al-Islam fee Dar as-Salam, p.96.
- 54. Al-Jahshiyari, p.246.
- 55. Tabaqat ash-Shu’ara’ (classes of poets) by ibnul Mu’tazz, p.209.
- 56. Hadharat al-Islam, p.95 as quoted from al-Mustatraf, p.96.
- 57. Ibid.
- 58. Hadharat al-Islam, p.96.
- 59. Muqaddimat ibn Khuldon, p.267.
- 60. Tareekh Baghdad by Tayfor, p.36.
- 61. Social and economical organizations (at-Tandhimat al-Ijtima’iyya wel Iqtisadiyya) by Salih Ahmed, p.177.
- 62. Umara’ ash-Shi’r al-Arabi (emirs of Arabic poetry), p.45.
- 63. Ibid.
- 64. Islam and the Arabic Civilization, vol.2 p.230.
- 65. Ibid., p.231.
- 66. A feast of the Christians.
- 67. Al-Aghani, vol.19 p.138.
- 68. Hayat al-Haywan (life of animals), vol.3 p.91.
- 69. Al-Aghani, vol.6 p.75.
- 70. Hayat al-Haywan, vol.5 p.115.
- 71. Al-Awraq, p.61.