In the previous article, we tackled the life and death of Pope John IV, after which we wrote about the fourth Abbasid Caliph, namely, Mussa al-Hadi as well as al-Fadl bin Salih and Ali bin Soliman (who were Egypt’s proconsuls during his reign). Bin Soliman was named by Harun al-Rashid as his successor after taking over following the latter’s brother Mussa al-Hadi’s death.
Harun al-Rashid (Aaron the Just) [170-193 Hijri ]-[786-809 A.D.]
Harun al-Rashid succeeded his brother al-Hadi as caliph. It was then that he hurried to Baghdad to find that matters had already settled down: for Khazim bin Khuzayma, a commander, besieged Ja’far bin al-Hadi’s house, forcing him to give up the caliphate to his uncle. Indeed, historians write that Ja’far said to the people, “I do hereby acquit anybody from his pledge of allegiance to me.” As such, Harun al-Rashid became Caliph unconditionally. He was one of the most famous rulers whose tenure is one of history’s golden ages.
Historians wrote about al-Rashid’s piety, his love for the poor, military adeptness, and bravery in commanding his armies. Moreover, he was a wise, strict ruler. Despite his kingdom’s vastness, he knew the nitty-gritty of its affairs. Due to his care for the welfare of his subjects, his age was one of security and justice. Likewise, he established several schools and colleges, paved roads, built bridges, hospitals, orphanages, and homes for the disabled. He supported literature as well. Thus, writers and thinkers became multitudinous. Prosperity prevailed. As such, Harun al-Rashid’s name was very much honored amongst writers and historians especially in the West. Al-Rashid moved his court and government to Ar-Raqqah to monitor Syria and be close to the Byzantine Empire which threatened his borders.
The Alawites came back to the scene during al-Rashid’s tenure. Hence, Yahya bin Abdullah bin al-Hassan constituted a threat to the Abbasid Caliphate. In fact, his principality was to extend from the land of the Daylamites to the Caspian Sea. He attracted sages. Al-Rashid dispatched Al-Fadl bin Yahya, the Barmakid to negotiate with him. He made it, and the bin al-Hassan came to terms with the Caliph. However, al-Rashid was soon to become disconcerted with bin al-Hassan and imprisoned him.
Yahya had a brother called Idris who fled to Morocco and spread his principles there, to become a ruler duly. He started mobilizing an army to snatch Africa from the Abbasids. Subsequently, Al-Rashid sent him Soliman bin Jarir who played the physician and poisoned sick Idris. Idris’s followers, however, supported his son, Idris II. Therefore, Morocco remained under the Idrisids. Al-Rashid failed to retrieve it.
Likewise, the Khawirij (Outsiders) revolted in several parts of the State, which most famous revolution was that led by al-Walid bin Tarif al-Shaybani who conquered Nusaybin, having killed its ruler. After he had become well-established, al-Rashid sent him one of his great commanders who killed him. Yet, Leilah, al-Walid’s sister led his followers. She was a beauty and a poet as well. Due to her ability to provoke rebels, she was called the Muslims’ Joan of Arc! She fought al-Rashid’s troops until his commander enticed her to surrender eventually.
Caring for His Subjects:
Harun al-Rashid appointed Eissa bin Mahan proconsul of Khorasan. The latter, however, was unjust. He was after accumulating wealth. He became so unfair that the people of Khorasan complained to Al-Rashid who instantly went to investigate the matter, and summoned him. Bin Mahan denied all the charges, offered the Caliph lots of money and gifts, which made him win the man’s sympathy. However, when the Caliph made sure of his injustice, disloyalty and great wealth, he deposed him and confiscated his wealth which was moved on 1500 camel backs!
Some revolutions broke out in Africa. Subsequently, al-Rashid dispatched one of his great commanders to overcome it. After that, Ibrahim bin al-Aghlab requested that he rule Africa, and that it become heritable, having pledged to pay forty thousand dinars annually. At that time, the State’s cash, one-hundred thousand dinars, was sent over from Egypt. This made Al-Rashid approve of bin al-Aghlab’s request, making the rule heritable by his family solely, provided that the forthcoming Caliph approve of this. As such, Africa became independent, and the Aghlabid State was established in Cyrene.
As far as the State’s external affairs are, during al-Rashid’s tenure, are concerned, it is worthy to point out that several wars broke out between the State and the Byzantine Empire. This took place after Empress Irene had violated the terms of the convention made during al-Mahdi’s tenure. Thus, wars took place between them from 175 to 192 Hijri (corresponding to 797-808 A.D.) Al-Rashid was all victorious. Yet, the Byzantine Empire restarted fighting in 198 Hijri (814 A.D.) Al-Rashid could not resume the battle because he was facing Rafi’ bin al-Layth’s rebellion in Khorasan.
As for Emperor Charlemagne, he was on good terms with al-Rashid. They used to exchange presents. The Emperor dispatched messengers and ambassadors to Al-Rashid for several reasons, such as: protecting Christians heading to Jerusalem, either for pilgrimage or trade. Likewise, Charlemagne requested al-Rashid’s support in overthrowing the Byzantine Emperor.
Al-Rashid named his son Mohammed al-Amin heir apparent, to be succeeded by his brother Al-Ma’mun, then al-Qassim who he called Al-Mu’taman. After that, he divided the State amongst them, entitling the east, namely, Khorasan, Rey, up to Hamedan to Al-Ma’mun, the west, namely, Morocco, Egypt and the Levant to Al-Amin, and Al-Jazeerah, the Militarisms like Antioch (which were close to the enemies’ territories) and the capitals like Tayzin to Al-Mu’taman. Historians, however, criticized this division, asserting that it was the root of evil and sedition. One poet wrote:
The monarch so meek made a decision so ill:
Of making division his wish and will.
Thus he did animosity instill
Entitling each a lake and a hill.
The Barmakid Dynasty:
The Barmakid dynasty made its debut in the State’s affairs during al-Rashid’s tenure. Originally Persian, the Barmakid (Barmecide) dynasty was established by Pramukh, a Zoroastrian priest. After Islam had entered Persia, Pramukh’s siblings embraced it and supported the Abbasid State’s call. After the Abbasids had been well established as rulers, Khalid, the eldest Barmakid then, became a minister at Abu al-Abass’s court. During Al-Mansur’s tenure, he became proconsul of Persia, then Mosul. He was wise. He died during al-Mahdi’s tenure. He had a son called Yahya who al-Mahdi chose to be his son Harun’s mentor. This he did faithfully and diligently. Moreover, he continued to support al-Rashid during al-Hadi’s tenure. So much so, that al-Hadi was about to kill Yahya bin Khalid, the Barmakid, had he not died.
When al-Rashid became caliph, he appointed Yahya chief minister, delegated the affairs of the State to him and gave him the seal of the State: for he trusted the man. Al-Rashid told Yahya, “I hereby appoint you to see to my subjects’ affairs, a responsibility that I pass unto you. Do what you think is right. Appoint whoever you choose, and dismiss whoever you choose. Manage matters the way you think is right.” Yahya was lenient and good-natured. He had five sons who were became high-ranking officials during al-Rashid’s tenure. They were so good that they were praised by their contemporary writers and poets. When Al-Amin was born, his father entrusted him to Fadl bin Yahya to be his mentor, after which he appointed him proconsul of Khorasan.
Harun al-Rashid liked Fadl’s brother, Ja’far, best, which is why he sent him to the Levant to subdue a riot that broke out amongst the Arab tribes there. Having succeeded at this, al-Rashid appointed Ja’far proconsul of Egypt. Yet, he kept him close and entrusted to him the mentorship of his son, Al-Ma’mun. After that, Ja’far became his chief minister. His story was as follows… Stories never end in “Beautiful Egypt”.