III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > B. The Middle East and North Africa, 500–1500 > 1. The Rise and Expansion of Islam, 610–945 > d. The Abbasid Caliphate and Its Breakup
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
d. The Abbasid Caliphate and Its Breakup
For a complete list of the Abbasid caliphs, see Appendix III.  1
ABU AL-ABBAS AL-SAFFAH, FOUNDER OF THE ABBASID DYNASTY. The first Abbasid ruler, a descendant of the Prophet's uncle al-Abbas, was proclaimed caliph publicly in the mosque in Kufa on Nov. 28, 749, just months before the forces of the Abbasid Revolution brought a final end to Umayyad rule. His regnal title, al-Saffah, “the Shedder of Blood,” announced his promise to avenge the Shi’ites and Abbasids killed by the Umayyads. He set up the initial Abbasid capital at Kufa.  2
Abbasid forces triumphed over the Chinese at the Battle of Talas in central Asia (See 747). Chinese papermakers were captured after this largely symbolic victory. Paper manufacture then spread westward throughout the Islamic world, and factories were founded in Baghdad (c. 800), Egypt (c. 900), Morocco (c. 1100), and Spain (c. 1150). The advent of readily available paper increased the rate of manuscript production throughout the Islamic world.  3
AL-MANSUR consolidated Abbasid authority, turned the troops of Khurasan—the mainstay of his support—into a professional army, and created a highly centralized bureaucracy that employed many mawali. The opening of this new avenue of social mobility was one aspect of the general improvement in the status of non-Arab converts to Islam. The new policy speeded up the process of conversion, especially in Iran, where the estimated Muslim population increased from 8 percent in 750 to some 80 percent in 950. Some tensions remained between Arabs and Iranians, and they prompted a court-centered literary movement called the Shu’ubiyya, which championed the Persian language and Iranian cultural values above those of the Arabs. The pre-Islamic Iranian ideas promoted by the Shu’ubiyya shaped Arabic literature, Abbasid court ceremony, and notions of kingship and social hierarchy.  4
Abu Muslim, the former leader of the Abbasid Revolution in Khurasan, was killed by order of the caliph, who feared his power in the province.  5
Revolt of Sunpadh (Sinbad) in Khurasan. Sunpadh was a Zoroastrian who preached that Abu Muslim had not died, but would return again in the company of the Islamic Mahdi, or redeemer, to institute a reign of justice. He fomented rebellion in the cities of Nishapur, Rayy, and Qum.  6
c. 757
Death of Ibn al-Muqaffa, a Zoroastrian convert to Islam who became a secretary in the Abbasid administration and translated many works from Pahlavi (Middle Persian) into Arabic, including the famous fables Kalila wa Dimna.  7
THE MIDRARID DYNASTY. Centered in Sijilmasa in Morocco, the dynasty was founded by Midrar (Sam'un ibn Yazlan), a Khariji Muslim and Zanata Berber from Meknes, after a revolt against the Abbasid governor of Qayrawan. The Midrarid state signaled that the egalitarian message of Kharijism continued to appeal to Berber groups who resented Arab elitism and discrimination. The capital of Sijilmasa was founded during the reign of Abu Mansur al-Yasa (790–823), who consolidated the dynasty's territory. He married one of his sons to the neighboring Rustamid dynasty to ensure peaceful relations. Sijilmasa became a major point on the gold trade route with Sudan and attracted refugees from Muslim Spain (c. 818) as well as Jews interested in commercial opportunities. The Midrarids sided with the Umayyads of Spain, along with other Zanata Berber groups, but were vanquished by Fatimid forces in the 10th century.  8
Muslim armies destroyed parts of the Chinese city of Canton.  9
THE RUSTAMID DYNASTY. The second Khariji state in North Africa was founded by an Iranian Muslim named Ibn Rustam, who had come to North Africa to serve as the Abbasid governor of Qayrawan (758–61). He won Zanata Berber military backing and founded his own theocratic state, where he took the title of imam and ruled as both a spiritual and a political authority. The Rustamid state was significant as a center of Khariji scholarship and was a focus of allegiance for other Khariji communities scattered throughout North Africa. The capital of Tahert attracted many Khariji Muslims from Iraq and flourished as a northern point on the trans-Saharan trade route. The Rustamids failed to organize an effective army and lost Tahert to the Fatimids in 909. The survivors escaped to the southern oasis of Wargala. Kharijism has survived to the present day in the oasis of Mzab, on the island of Jerba, and in Jabal Nafusa.  10
FOUNDATION OF BAGHDAD, the new Abbasid capital, by al-Mansur. This first truly Islamic imperial city, situated 18 miles north of the Sassanian capital of Ctesiphon, was designed on a circular plan and was known as the City of Peace (Madinat al-Salam). Canals were dug to make the site accessible to both the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Riverine access to Baghdad attracted traders from as far away as China, India, and northern Europe. By the 9th century, the city's population had reached more than 300,000.  11
Unsuccessful revolt of the Shi’ite Muhammad ibn Abdallah, known as the Pure Soul (al-Nafs al-Zakiyya), in Medina. His brother Ibrahim led an uprising in Iraq in Feb. 763 that briefly captured Basra and Wasit but was soon thereafter quashed by Abbasid troops.  12
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.