Abu al-Abbas al-Maʾmūn ibn Hārūn al-Rashīd (Arabic: أبو
العباس المأمون; September 786 – 9 August 833) was
Abbasid caliph, who reigned from 813 until his death in
833. He succeeded his brother al-Amin after a civil war, and was also
known for his role in the
Mu'tazilism controversy, and the resumption
of large-scale warfare with the
Abbasid civil war
3 Internal strife
4 After arrival in Baghdad
5 Wars with Byzantium
6 Al-Ma'mun's reign
7 Personal characteristics
9 See also
11 Further reading
12 External links
The future al-Ma'mun was born in
Baghdad on the night of the 13 to 14
September 786 CE to
Harun al-Rashid and his concubine Marajil, from
Badghis. On the same night, which later became known as the "night of
the three caliphs", his uncle al-Hadi died and was succeeded by
Ma'mun's father, Harun al-Rashid, as ruler of the Abbasid
Abbasid civil war
Main article: Fourth Fitna
In 802 Harun al-Rashid, father of al-Maʾmūn and al-Amin, ordered
that al-Amin succeed him, and al-Ma'mun serve as governor of Khurasan
and as caliph after the death of al-Amin. In the last days of Harun's
life his health was declining and saw in a dream Musa ibn Jafar
sitting in a chamber praying and crying, which made Harun remember how
hard he had struggled to establish his own caliphate. He knew the
personalities of both his sons and decided that for the good of the
Abbasid dynasty, al-Maʾmūn should be caliph after his death, which
he confided to a group of his courtiers. One of the courtiers, Fadl
ibn Rabi' did not abide by Harun's last wishes and convinced many in
the lands of
Islam that Harun's wishes had not changed. Later the
other three courtiers of Harun who had sworn loyalty to Harun by
supporting al-Maʾmūn, namely 'Isa Jarudi, Abu Yunus, and Ibn Abi
'Umran found loopholes in Fadl's arguments, and Fazl admitted Harun
had appointed al-Maʾmūn after him, but, he argued, since Harun was
not in his right mind, his decision should not be acted upon.
Al-Maʾmūn was reportedly the older of the two brothers, but his
mother was a Persian woman while al-Amin's mother was a member of the
Abbasid family. After al-Rashid's death in 809, the
relationship between the two brothers deteriorated. In response to
al-Ma'mun's moves toward independence, al-Amin declared his own son
Musa to be his heir. This violation of al-Rashid's testament led to a
succession struggle. al-Amin assembled a massive army at
'Isa ibn Mahan at its head in 811 and invaded Khorasan, but
Tahir ibn al-Husayn
Tahir ibn al-Husayn (d. 822) destroyed the army
and invaded Iraq, laying siege to
Baghdad in 812. In 813
al-Amin was beheaded, and al-Maʾmūn became the undisputed Caliph.
There were disturbances in
Iraq during the first several years of
al-Maʾmūn's reign, while the caliph was in Merv. On 13 November 815,
Muhammad ibn Ja'far al-Sadiq (Al-Dibaj) claimed the Caliphate for
himself in Mecca. He was defeated and he quickly abdicated asserting
that he had only become caliph on news that al-Ma'mun had died.
Baghdad led to the formation of neighborhood watches.
In A.H. 201 (817 AD) al-Ma'mun forced
Imam Reza to move from Madina to
Imam Reza, the Eighth descendant of Muhammad, was named his
heir. This was not easily accepted by the
Abbasid leaders but was
widely seen as a political move by al-Ma'mun since he was fearful of
the widespread sympathy towards the Ahl al-Bayt. Al-Ma'mun's plan was
to keep watch over
Imam Reza. However, his plans did not succeed due
to the growing popularity of Ali Al-Rida in Merv. People from all over
the Muslim world traveled to meet the prophet's grandson and listen to
his teachings and guidance.
After a debate
Al-Ma'mun had set up with the greatest scholars of the
world's religions to humiliate the Imam, the victorious
Al-Ma'mun that his grand vizier, Fazl ibn Sahl, had not been informing
him of everything. In Baghdad, the people believed that al-Maʾmūn
was unseated, because of rumors spread by Fazl ibn Sahl. Because of
this the people of
Baghdad were giving their allegiance to al-Mamun's
uncle Ibrahim ibn Mehdi.
Al-Ma'mun set out for
Baghdad on 12 April
818. At Tus, he stopped to visit his father's grave.
troubled by the widespread support for the prophet Muhammad's
Imam Reza, and the betrayal of his grand vizier. With the
aim of gaining
Abbasid support and the establish of a new base for his
rule in Baghdad,
Al-Ma'mun went on to depose of Ali Ar-Rida by
administering poison, and arranging the murder of Fazl ibn Sahl. On
the last day of Safar in 203 AH,
Imam Reza died.
Imam Reza was buried
beside Al-Ma'mun's father Hārūn al-Rashid. Following the death of
Imam Reza a great revolt took place in Khurasan, Persia. Al-Ma’mun
tried to show himself innocent of the crime but for all he did, he
could not get himself acquitted and prove his innocence.
After arrival in Baghdad
Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari states that al-Ma'mun entered
11 August 819 (v. 32, p. 95). He wore green and had others do so.
Informed that compliance with this command was despite popular
opposition to the colour, on 18 August he reverted to traditional
Abbasid black. While
Baghdad became peaceful, there were disturbances
elsewhere. In A.H. 210 (825–826) Abdullah ibn Tahir al-Khurasani
Egypt for al-Ma'mun freeing
Alexandria from Andalusians and
quelling unrest. The Andalusians moved to
Crete where al-Tabari
records their descendants were still living in his day (see Emirate of
Crete). Abdallah returned to
Baghdad in 211 Hijri or (826–827 C.E.)
bringing defeated rebels with him.
Also, in 210 h / 825–6 C.E. there was an uprising in
Qum sparked by
complaints about taxes. After it was quashed, the tax assessment was
set significantly higher. In 212 Hijri or 827–828 C.E., there was an
uprising in Yemen. In 214 (829–30) Abu al-Razi who had captured one
Yemeni rebel was killed by another.
Egypt continued to be unquiet.
Sindh was rebellious. In 216 (831–832) Ghassan ibn 'Abbad subdued
it. An ongoing problem for al-Ma'mun was the uprising headed by Babak
Khorramdin. In 214 Babak routed a Caliphate army killing its commander
Muhammad ibn Humayd.
Wars with Byzantium
By the time al-Maʾmūn became Caliph, the
Arabs and the Byzantine
Empire had settled down into border skirmishing, with
Arab raids deep
Anatolia to capture booty and Christians to be slaves in the
Abbasid Caliphate. The situation changed however with the rise to
Michael II in 820 AD. Forced to deal with the rebel Thomas
the Slav, Michael had few troops to spare against a small Andalusian
invasion of 40 ships and 10,000 men against Crete, which fell in 824
Byzantine counter offensive in 826 AD failed miserably. Worse
still was the invasion of
Sicily in 827 by
Berbers of Tunis. Even so,
Byzantine resistance in
Sicily was fierce and not without success
Arabs became quickly plagued by internal squabbles. That
Arabs were expelled from
Sicily but they were to return.
Byzantine embassy of John the Grammarian in 829 to Ma'mun
(depicted left) from Theophilos (depicted right)
Michael II died and was succeeded by his son Theophilos.
Theophilos experienced mixed success against his
Arab opponents. In
830 AD the
Arabs returned to
Sicily and after a year-long siege took
Palermo from their Christian opponents and for the next 200 years they
were to remain there to complete their conquest, which was never short
of Christian counters. The
Al-Ma'mun meanwhile launched an
Anatolia in 830 AD.
Al-Ma'mun triumphed and a number of
Byzantine forts were taken; he spared the surrendering Byzantines.
Theophilos did not relent and in 831 captured Tarsus from the
Muslims.The next year, learning Byzantines had killed some sixteen
Al-Ma'mun returned. This time some thirty forts fell
to the Caliphate forces, with two
Byzantine defeats in Cappadocia.
Theophilos wrote to Al-Ma'mun. The
Caliph replied that he carefully
Byzantine ruler's letter, noticed it blended
suggestions of peace and trade with threats of war and offered
Theophilos the options of accepting the shahada, paying tax or
Al-Ma'mun made preparations for a major campaign, but died
on the way while leading an expedition in Tyana.
Al-Ma'mun's relations with Byzantines are marked by his efforts in the
translation of Greek philosophy and science.
scholars of many religions at Baghdad, whom he treated magnificently
and with tolerance. He sent an emissary to the
Byzantine Empire to
collect the most famous manuscripts there, and had them translated
into Arabic. As part of his peace treaty with the Byzantine
Al-Ma'mun was to receive a number of Greek manuscripts
annually, one of these being Ptolemy's astronomical work, the
Al-Ma'mun conducted, in the plains of Mesopotamia, two astronomical
operations intended to determine the value of a terrestrial degree.
The crater Almanon on the moon is named in recognition of his
contributions to astronomy.
Al-Ma'mun's record as an administrator is also marked by his efforts
toward the centralization of power and the certainty of succession.
The Bayt al-Hikma, or House of Wisdom, was established during his
reign. The ulama emerged as a real force in Islamic politics during
al-Ma'mun's reign for opposing the mihna, which was initiated in 833,
four months before he died.
The 'mihna', is comparable to Medieval European inquisitions in the
sense that it involved imprisonment, a religious test, and a loyalty
oath. The people subject to the mihna were traditionalist scholars
whose social influence was uncommonly high.
Al-Ma'mun introduced the
mihna with the intention to centralize religious power in the caliphal
institution and test the loyalty of his subjects. The mihna had to be
undergone by elites, scholars, judges and other government officials,
and consisted of a series of questions relating to theology and faith.
The central question was about the createdness of the Qur'an, if the
interrogatee stated he believed the
Qur'an to be created, rather than
were coeternal with God, he was free to leave and continue his
The controversy over the mihna was exacerbated by al-Ma'mun's sympathy
Mu'tazili theology and other controversial views. Mu'tazili
theology was deeply influenced by Aristotelian thought and Greek
rationalism, and stated that matters of belief and practice should be
decided by reasoning. This opposed the traditionalist and literalist
Ahmad ibn Hanbal
Ahmad ibn Hanbal and others, according to which everything
a believer needed to know about faith and practice was spelled out
literally in the
Qur'an and the Hadith. Moreover, the Mu'tazilis
stated that the
Qur'an was created rather than coeternal with God, a
belief that was shared by the
Jahmites and parts of Shi'a, among
others, but contradicted the traditionalist-
Sunni opinion that the
Qur'an and the Divine were coeternal. The fact that the Mu'tazili
school had its foundations in the paganism of
disenchanted a majority of Islamic clerics.
During his reign, alchemy greatly developed. Pioneers of the science
Jabir Ibn Hayyan
Jabir Ibn Hayyan and his student Yusuf Lukwa, who was patronized
by Al-Ma'mun. Although he was unsuccessful in his attempts regarding
the transmutation of gold, his methods greatly led to the
patronization of pharmaceutical compounds.
Al-Ma'mun was a pioneer of cartography having commissioned a
world map from a large group of astronomers and geographers. The map
is presently in an encyclopedia in Topkapi Sarai, a Museum in
Istanbul. The map shows large parts of the Eurasian and African
continents with recognizable coastlines and major seas. It depicts the
world as it was known to the captains of the
Arab sailing dhows which
used the monsoon wind cycles to trade over vast distances (By the 9th
Arab sea traders had reached Guangzhou, in China). The maps
of the Greeks and Romans reveal a good knowledge of closed seas like
the Mediterranean but little knowledge of the vast ocean expanses
Although al-Mahdi had proclaimed that the caliph was the protector of
Islam against heresy, and had also claimed the ability to declare
orthodoxy, religious scholars in the Islamic world believed that
al-Ma'mun was overstepping his bounds in the mihna. The penalties of
the mihna became increasingly difficult to enforce as the ulema became
firmer and more united in their opposition. Although the mihna
persisted through the reigns of two more caliphs, al-Mutawakkil
abandoned it in 848. The failure of the mihna seriously damaged
Caliphal authority and ruined the reputation of the office for
succeeding caliphs. The caliph would lose much of his religious
authority to the opinion of the ulema as a result of the mihna.
The ulema and the major Islamic law schools became truly defined in
the period of al-Ma'mun and Sunnism, as a religion of legalism, became
defined in parallel. Doctrinal differences between
Sunni and Shi'a
Islam began to become more pronounced. Ibn Hanbal, the founder of the
Hanbali legal school, became famous for his opposition to the mihna.
Al-Ma'mun's simultaneous opposition and patronage of intellectuals led
to the emergence of important dialogues on both secular and religious
affairs, and the Bayt al-Hikma became an important center of
translation for Greek and other ancient texts into Arabic. This
Islamic renaissance spurred the rediscovery of Hellenism and ensured
the survival of these texts into the European renaissance.
Al-Ma'mun had been named governor of Khurasan by Harun, and after his
ascension to power, the caliph named Tahir as governor for his
military services in order to assure his loyalty. It was a move that
al-Ma'mun soon regretted, as Tahir and his family became entrenched in
Iranian politics and became increasingly powerful in the state,
contrary to al-Ma'mun's desire to centralize and strengthen Caliphal
power. The rising power of the
Tahirid dynasty became a threat as
al-Ma'mun's own policies alienated them and his other opponents.
The shakiriya, which were to trigger the movement of the capital from
Samarra during al-Mu'tasim's reign, were raised in
al-Ma'mun's time. The shakiriya were military units from Central Asia
and North Africa, hired, complete with their commanders, to serve
under the Caliph.
Al-Ma'mun also attempted to divorce his wife during his reign, who had
not borne him any children. His wife hired a Syrian judge of her own
before al-Ma'mun was able to select one himself; the judge, who
sympathized with the caliph's wife, refused the divorce. Following
al-Ma'mun's experience, no further
Abbasid caliphs were to marry,
preferring to find their heirs in the harem.
Al-Ma'mun, in an attempt to win over the Shi'a
Muslims to his camp,
named the eighth Imam, Ali ar-Rida, his successor, if he should
outlive al-Ma'mun. Most Shi'ites realized, however, that ar-Rida was
too old to survive him and saw al-Ma'mun's gesture as empty; indeed,
Ali ar-Rida who then died in 818. The incident
served to further alienate the Shi'ites from the Abbasids, who had
already been promised and denied the Caliphate by al-'Abbas.
Abbasid empire grew somewhat during the reign of al-Ma'mun. Hindu
Sindh were put down, and most of
absorbed with the surrender of the leader of Kabul. Mountainous
regions of Iran were brought under a tighter grip of the central
Abbasid government, as were areas of Turkestan.
Shortly before his death, during a visit to
Egypt in 832, the caliph
ordered the breaching of the
Great Pyramid of Giza
Great Pyramid of Giza looking for
knowledge and treasure. He entered the pyramid by tunneling into the
Great Pyramid near where tradition located the original entrance. The
resulting passage, which was later named the "Robbers' Tunnel" is the
path along which tourists enter the pyramid today.
Al-Tabari (v. 32, p. 231) describes al-Ma'mun as of average
height, light complexion, handsome and having a long beard losing its
dark colour as he aged. He relates anecdotes concerning the caliph's
ability to speak concisely and eloquently without preparation, his
generosity, his respect for
Muhammad and religion, his sense of
moderation, justice and his love of poetry.
Ibn Abd Rabbih in his Unique Necklace (al-'iqd al-Farid), probably
drawing on earlier sources, makes a similar description of al-Ma'mun,
whom he described as of light complexion and having slightly blond
hair and a long thin beard and a narrow forehead.
Al-Tabari (v.32, pp. 224–231) recounts how
sitting on the river bank telling those with him how splendid the
water was. He asked what would go best with this water and was told a
specific kind of fresh dates. Noticing supplies arriving, he asked
someone to check whether such dates were included. As they were, he
invited those with him to enjoy the water with these dates. All who
did this fell ill. Others recovered, but
Al-Ma'mun died. He encouraged
his successor to continue his policies and not burden the people with
more than they could bear. This was on 9 August 833.
Al-Ma'mun died near Tarsus. The city's major mosque (Tarsus Grand
Mosque), contains a tomb reported to be his. He was not succeeded by
his son, Al-Abbas ibn al-Ma'mun, but by his half-brother, al-Mu'tasim.
Apology of al-Kindy
House of Wisdom
Al-Fadl ibn Sahl
Sahifah of al-Ridha
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(Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1999), pp. 51–58.
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Wikisource has original works written by or about:
(in English) Al-Mamum: Building an Environment for Innovation
Berggren, Len (2007). "Maʾmūn: Abū al‐ʿAbbās ʿAbdallāh ibn
Hārūn al‐Rashīd". In Thomas Hockey; et al. The Biographical
Encyclopedia of Astronomers. New York: Springer. p. 733.
ISBN 978-0-387-31022-0. (PDF version)
Born: 786 Died: 833
Caliph of Islam
813 – 9 August 833
Caliphs of Baghdad
Ibrahim ibn al-Mahdi[B]
Abdallah ibn al-Mu'tazz[B]
Caliphs of Cairo
[B] indicates ephemeral caliphs recognized in the city of
ISNI: 0000 0000 7986 0652