Article

Abbasid Caliphate

Letizia Osti

in Islamic Studies

ISBN: 9780195390155
Published online August 2012 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195390155-0218
Abbasid Caliphate

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The Abbasid dynasty ruled the central and eastern Islamic lands, at least nominally, and headed the Sunni Muslim community for five centuries from its capital Baghdad. The Abbasid claim to the caliphate was based on kinship with the Prophet through his uncle al-ʿAbbas (hence the name). For that reason they restored a truly Muslim government. The first Abbasid caliph, Abu al-ʿAbbas al-Saffah, replaced the Umayyad Marwan II in 132ah/749 ce; the surviving members of the Umayyad family fled to al-Andalus, where they ruled the Islamic West for the next six centuries. The last Abbasid caliph, Abu Ahmad al-Mustaʿsim, was killed during the Mongol sack of Baghdad in 656 ah/1258 ce. By that time the political significance of the Abbasids had long been greatly reduced. The caliph, while retaining his religious authority, had lost a large part of his political and military influence. The caesura between the periods of prosperity and decadence is conventionally identified with the appointment of the military governor of Wasiṭ, Ibn Raʾiq, to the newly minted office of amir al-umaraʾ (chief commander) in 324 ah/936 ce, which made him the de facto ruler in Baghdad. Some of the most famous caliphs in history, such as Harun al-Rashid and al-Maʾmun, were Abbasids, and their times are considered the golden age of the Muslim Empire. The foundations of practices that survived into later times were laid down under the Abbasids, for instance, armies made up of slave soldiers (mamluk) and standard administrative practices.

Article.  7442 words. 

Subjects: Islam

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