Abu Abdallah Muhammad ibn Abdallah al-Mansur (Arabic: أبو عبد
الله محمد بن عبد الله المنصور; 744 or 745
– 785), better known by his regnal name al-Mahdi (المهدي, "He
who is guided by God"), was the third
Caliph who reigned from
775 to his death in 785. He succeeded his father, al-Mansur.
1 Early life
3 Cultural and Administrative Aspects of his Reign
Al-Mahdi was born in 744 or 745 AD in the village of Humeima
(modern-day Jordan). His mother was called Arwi, and his father was
al-Mansur. When al-Mahdi was ten years old, his father became the
Abbasid Caliph. When al-Mahdi was young, his father, the
Caliph al-Mansur, needed to establish al-Mahdi as a powerful figure in
his own right. So, on the east bank of the Tigris, al-Mansur oversaw
the construction of East Baghdad, with a mosque and royal palace at
its heart. Construction in the area was also heavily financed by the
Barmakids, and the area became known as Rusafa.
When he was 15-years-old, a-Mahdi was sent to defeat the uprising of
Abdur Rahman bin Abdul Jabbar Azdi in Greater Khorasan. He also
defeated the uprisings of Ispahbud, the governor of Tabaristan, and
Astazsis[verification needed] , massacring more than 70,000 of his
followers in Khorasan. These campaigns put Tabaristan, which was only
nominally within the caliphate, firmly under
Abbasid control. In
762 AD, al-Mahdi was the governor of the
Abbasid Caliphate's eastern
region, based in Ray. It was here that he fell in love with
al-Khayzuran and had several children, including the fourth and fifth
future Caliphs, al-Hadi and Harun al-Rashid. Around 770 AD (153
AH), al-Mahdi was appointed as Amir al-hajj.
Al-Mahdi's father, Al-Mansur, died on the hajj to
Mecca in 775. The
throne then passed to Al-Mansur's chosen successor, his son Al-Mahdi.
According to Marozzi, "[it] was, by the standards of the future,
blood-soaked successions of the
Abbasid caliphate, a model of order
Al-Mahdi, whose nickname means "Rightly-guided" or "Redeemer", was
proclaimed caliph when his father was on his deathbed. His peaceful
reign continued the policies of his predecessors.
Rapprochement with the
Alids in the
Caliphate occurred under
al-Mahdi's reign. The powerful
Barmakid family, which had advised the
Caliphs since the days of Abu al-‘Abbās as viziers, gained even
greater powers under al-Mahdi's rule, and worked closely with the
caliph to ensure the prosperity of the
Al-Mahdi reigned for ten years. He imprisoned his most trusted vizier
Ya'qub ibn Dawud. In the year 167 AH/ 783 AD, al-Mahdi instituted an
official inquisition which led to the execution of alleged Zindiq
(heretics). He was fond of music and poetry and during his caliphate
many musicians and poets received his patronage and he supported
musical expression and poetry across his dominion; accordingly, his
Ibrahim ibn al-Mahdi (779–839) and his daughter ‘Ulayya bint
al-Mahdī (777-825) were both noted poets and musicians.
In 775, a Byzantine envoy, Tarath, travelled to
Baghdad to convey the
congratulations of the Byzantine emperor to
Al-Mahdi on his accession
to the throne. Tarath was so pleased with the hospitality he received
that he offered to put his engineering knowledge to use and build a
mill that would generate annual profits, of 500,000 dirhams, equal to
the cost of its construction. On completion, the envoy's forecast
proved to be correct, and so, delighted,
Al-Mahdi ordered that all
profits should be given to the envoy, even after he left Baghdad. It
is believed this continued to his death, in 780.
In 777 AD (160 AH) he put down the insurrection of Yusuf ibn Ibrahim
in Khurasan. In the same year al-Mahdi deposed
Isa ibn Musa as his
successor and appointed his own son
Musa al-Hadi in his place and took
allegiance (bayah) for him from the nobles. In 778 AD (161 AH), he
subdued the rebellion of Abdullah ibn Marwan ibn Muhammad, who was
leading the Umayyad remnant in Syria.
Al-Mahdi was poisoned by one of his concubines in 785 AD (169 AH).
Dirham of Al-Mahdi, 166 AH, Kirman, silver 2.95 g.
Cultural and Administrative Aspects of his Reign
The cosmopolitan city of
Baghdad blossomed during al-Mahdi's reign.
The city attracted immigrants from Arabia, Iraq, Syria, Persia, and
lands as far away as
Afghanistan and Spain.
Baghdad was home to
Hindus and Zoroastrians, in addition to the growing
Muslim population. It became the world's largest city.
Al-Mahdi continued to expand the
Abbasid administration, creating new
diwans, or departments: for the army, the chancery, and taxation.
Qadis or judges were appointed, and laws against non-Arabs were
Barmakid family staffed these new departments. The Barmakids, who
were of Persian extraction, had originally been Buddhists. Their
short-lived Islamic legacy would count against them during the reign
of Harun al-Rashid.
The introduction of paper from China (see Battle of Talas) in 751 had
a profound effect.
Paper had not yet been used in the West with the
Arabs and Persians using papyrus and the Europeans using vellum. The
paper related industry boomed in
Baghdad where an entire street in the
city center became devoted to sale of paper and books. The cheapness
and durability of paper was vital element in the efficient growth of
Al-Mahdi had two important religious policies: the persecution of the
zanadiqa, or dualists, and the declaration of orthodoxy. Al-Mahdi
focused on the persecution of the zanadiqa in order to improve his
standing among the purist Shi'i, who wanted a harder line on heresies,
and found the spread of syncretic Muslim-polytheist sects to be
Al-Mahdi declared that the caliph had the
ability, and indeed the responsibility, to define the orthodox
theology of Muslims to protect the umma against heresy.
great use of this broad, new power, and it would become important
during the 'mihna' crisis of al-Ma'mun's reign.
Wikisource has original works written by or about:
^ a b "The
Abbasid Caliphs During the Lifetime of Imam Reza (A.S.)".
Imam Reza Network. Retrieved 10 December 2016.
^ Marozzi, pp. 21–2
^ Toyib, p. 36
^ Kennedy, Hugh (2004). "The True
Caliph of the Arabian Nights".
History Today. 54 (9).
^ Marozzi, pp. 25–6
^ Hilary Kilpatrick, ‘Mawālī and Music’, in Patronate and
Patronage in Early and Classical Islam, ed. by Monique Bernards and
John Nawas (Leiden: Brill, 2005) pp. 326-48.
^ Marozzi, p. 25
al-Masudi. The Meadows of Gold, The Abbasids. transl. Paul Lunde and
Caroline Stone, Kegan Paul, London and New York, 1989.
Marozzi, Justin. Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood. Penguin Books,
Abbasid Caliphate. School of Art and Social Sciences,
National Open University of Nigeria, 2011.
Cadet branch of the Banu Quraish
Born: ? Died: 785
Caliph of Islam
775 – 785
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