Al-Mansur

Al-Mansur, Almanzor or Abu Ja'far Abdallah ibn Muhammad al-Mansur (712–775; Arabic: ابو جعفر عبدالله ابن محمد المنصور) was the second Abbasid Caliph. He was born at al-Humaymah, the home of the 'Abbasid family after their emigration from the Hejaz in 687–688. His father, Muhammad, was a great-grandson of 'Abbas; his mother was a Berber woman [G.R. Hawting [http://www.britannica.com/ebc/article-9050628 "Mansur, al-.". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica Online. 20 Apr. 2007] ] . He reigned from 754 until 775. In 762 he founded as new imperial residence and palace city Madinat as-Salam, which became the core of the Imperial capital Baghdad.

Al-Mansur was concerned with the solidity of his regime after the death of his brother, Abu'l `Abbas, who later become known as-Saffah (the bloodshedder). In 755 he arranged the assassination of Abu Muslim. Abu Muslim was a loyal freed man from the eastern Iranian province of Khorasan who had led the Abbasid forces to victory over the Umayyads during the Third Islamic Civil War in 749-750. At the time of al-Mansur he was the subordinate, but undisputed ruler of Iran and Transoxiana. The assassination seems to have been made to preclude a power struggle in the empire.

Al-Mansur certainly saw himself as universal ruler with religious and secular authority. His victory against Nafs az-Zakiya, a Shiite rebel in Southern Iraq and in the Arabian Peninsula further alienated certain Shiite groups. They had been hoping that an 'Abbasid victory would restore the caliphate to the Imamate, and that the rule of the "Al Muhammad", the family of the prophet would begin. But many were disappointed.

During his reign, literature and scholarly work in the Islamic world began to emerge in full force, supported by new Abbasid tolerances for Persians and other groups suppressed by the Umayyads. Although the Umayyad caliph Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik had adopted Persian court practices, it was not until al-Mansur's reign that Persian literature and scholarship were truly appreciated in the Islamic world. The emergence of "Shu'ubiya" among Persian scholars occurred during the reign of al-Mansur as a result of loosened censorship over Persian nationalism. "Shu'ubiya" was a literary movement among Persians expressing their belief that Persian art and culture was superior to that of the Arabs; the movement served to catalyze the emergence of Arab-Persian dialogues in the eighth century. Al-Mansur also founded the House of Wisdom in Baghdad.

Perhaps more importantly than the emergence of Persian scholarship was the conversion of many non-Arabs to Islam. The Umayyads actively tried to discourage conversion in order to continue the collection of the jizya, or the tax on non-Muslims. The inclusiveness of the Abbasid regime, and that of al-Mansur, saw the expansion of Islam among its territory; in 750, roughly 8% of residents in the Caliphate were Muslims. This would double to 15% by the end of al-Mansur's reign.

Al-Mansur died in 775 on his way to Mecca to make "hajj." He was buried somewhere along the way in one of the hundreds of graves that had been dug in order to hide his body from the Umayyads. He was succeeded by his son, al-Mahdi.

According to Shiite sources, the scholar Abu Hanifa an-Nu'man was imprisoned by al-Mansur and tortured. He also had Imam Malik, the founder of another school of law, flogged. (Ya'qubi, vol.lll, p.86; Muruj al-dhahab, vol.lll, p.268-270.)

Character

Al-Masudi in Meadows of Gold recounts a number of anecdotes that present aspects of this caliphs character. He tells of a blind poet on two occasions reciting praise poems for the Umayyads to one he didn't realize was this Abbasid caliph. Al-Mansur rewarded the poet for the verses. Al-Masudi relates a tale of the arrow with verses inscribed on feathers and shaft arriving close to al-Mansur. These verses prompted him to investigate the situation of a notable from Hamadan unjustly imprisoned and release him. There is also the account of the foreboding verses al-Mansur saw written on the wall just before his death.

A very impressive aspect of this caliph's character is that when he died he left in the treasury six hundred thousand dirhams and fourteen million dinars.

Other stories reflect more negatively on Mansur's character. His perfumer, Jamra, related a particularly unsettling story in regard to Mansur's treatment of the Alids. According to Jamra, while Mansur was leaving for what would be his last pilgrimage, he left his daughter in law, Rita, with a keys to his storerooms but with instructions to under no circumstances open a certain door until she was sure he was dead. When he passed, Rita and her husband, Muhammad ibn Mansur al-Mahdi rushed excitedly to this special store.

In 2008, MBC 1 had depicted the life and leadership of Al-Mansur in a historical series aired during the holy month of ramadan.

Notes

Bibliography

Mas'udi, "The Meadows of Gold, The Abbasids," transl. Paul Lunde and Caroline Stone, Kegan Paul, London and New York, 1989

Kennedy, Hugh, " When Baghdad Ruled The Muslim World," Cambridge, Da Capo Press, 2004


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