Abu Muslim

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Abu Muslim
ابومسلم خراسانی
"Abu Muslim chastises a man for telling tales," Folio from the Ethics of Nasir (Akhlaq-e Nasiri) by Nasir al-Din Tusi. Copy created in Lahore between 1590–1595
Unknown birth name, possibly Behzadan, or Ibrahim

718/19 or 723/27
Known forAbbasid Revolution
TitleAbbasid governor of Khurasan
PredecessorNasr ibn Sayyar (as Umayyad governor)

Abu Muslim Abd al-Rahman ibn Muslim al-Khurasani (Persian: ابومسلم عبدالرحمان بن مسلم خراسانی; born 718/19 or 723/27, died 755) or Behzādān Pour Vandād Hormozd (بهزادان پور ونداد هرمزد)[1] was a Persian[2][3] general who led the Abbasid Revolution that toppled the Umayyad dynasty, leading to the establishment of the Abbasid Caliphate.

Little is known about Abu Muslim's origins, but by early 740s he had been in contact with Abbasid agents and in around 745 he was sent to Khurasan. In 747, Abu Muslim initiated open revolt against Umayyad rule and quickly took Merv. He gradually strengthened the Abbasid control over Khurasan, and was appointed governor of the province following the establishment of the Abbasid regime in 750. Wary of Abu Muslim's rising influence and popularity, the second Abbasid caliph al-Mansur ordered his death. He was executed before the caliph in Al-Mada'in in 755 on charges of heresy.

Origin and name[edit]

According to the Encyclopædia Iranica, "sources differ regarding his original name and his origin. Some make him a descendant of Gōdarz and of the vizier Bozorgmehr and call him Ebrāhīm; some name him Behzādān, son of Vendād Hormoz (Persian: بهزادان پور ونداد هرمزد); and others relate him to the Abbasids or to the Alids. These suggestions are all doubtful".[1] He was most likely of Persian origin,[4] and was born in either Merv or near Isfahan.[1] The exact date is unknown, either in 718/9 or sometime in 723/7.[1]

Shia activist and missionary activity in Khurasan[edit]

He grew up at Kufa,[1] where he served as a slave and saddler[5] of the Banu Ijl clan.[4] It was there that Abu Muslim came into contact with Shia Muslims.[4]

Kufa at the time was a hotbed of social and political unrest against the ruling Umayyad dynasty, whose policies favoured Arabs over non-Arab converts to Islam (mawālī) and were thus perceived to violate the Islamic promises of equality. The luxurious lifestyles of the Umayyad caliphs and their persecution of the Alids further alienated the pious.[1] This rallied support for the Shi'a cause of rule by a member of the family of Muhammad, who would, as a God-guided imām or mahdī, rule according to the Quran and the Sunnah and create a truly Islamic government that would bring justice and peace to the Muslim community.[6]

By 737 he is recorded among the followers of the ghālī ("extremist, heterodox") al-Mughira.[4] These activities landed him in prison, from where he was liberated in 741/2 by the leading Abbasid missionaries (naqāb, sing. naqīb) on their way to Mecca.[4] He was introduced to the head of the Abbasid clan, Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Abdallah, who in 745/6 sent him to direct the missionary effort in Khurasan.[4]

Khurasan, and the Iranian eastern half of the Caliphate in general, offered fertile ground for the Abbasids' missionary activities.[1] Far from the Umayyad metropolitan province of Syria, Khurasan had a distinct identity. It was home to a large Arab settler community, which in turn had resulted in a large number of native converts, as well as intermarriage between Arabs and Iranians.[7] As a frontier province exposed to constant warfare, the local Muslims were militarily experienced, and the common struggle had helped further unify the Arab and native Muslims of Khurasan, with a common dislike towards the centralizing tendencies of Damascus and the exactions of the Syrian governors.[7] According to later accounts, already in 718/9 the Abbasids had dispatched twelve naqāb into the province, but modern scholars are sceptical of such claims, and it appears that only after the failure of the Revolt of Zayd ibn Ali in 740 did the Abbasid missionary movement begin to make headway in Khurasan. In 745, the Khurasani Qahtaba ibn Shabib al-Ta'i travelled west to swear allegiance to Ibrahim ibn Muhammad, and it was with him that Abu Muslim was sent east to assume control.[8]

When Abu Muslim arrived in Khurasan, the province was in turmoil due to the impact of the ongoing Umayyad civil war of the Third Fitna, which had re-ignited the feud between the Yaman and Qays tribal groups: the numerous Yamani element in the province opposed the longtime governor, Nasr ibn Sayyar, and sought to replace him with their champion, Juday al-Kirmani. Al-Kirmani led an uprising against Ibn Sayyar, and drove him from the provincial capital, Merv, in late 746, with the governor fleeing to the Qaysi stronghold of Nishapur.[9][10][11]

Abu Muslim and the Abbasid Revolution[edit]

Abbasid silver dirham in the name of Abu Muslim struck at Merv in AH 132 (749–50)

He took Merv in December 747 (or January 748), defeating the Umayyad governor Nasr ibn Sayyar, as well as Shayban al-Khariji, a Kharijite aspirant to the caliphate. He became the de facto governor of Khurasan, and gained fame as a general in the late 740s in defeating the rebellion of Bihafarid, the leader of a syncretic Persian sect that was Mazdaist. Abu Muslim received support in suppressing the rebellion both from purist Muslims and Zoroastrians. In 750, Abu Muslim became leader of the Abbasid army and defeated the Umayyads at Battle of the Zab.[12]

Rule of Khurasan and death[edit]

After the establishment of the Abbasid regime, Abu Muslim remained in Khurasan as its governor.[4] In this role he suppressed the Shi'a uprising of Sharik ibn Shaikh al-Mahri in Bukhara in 750/1,[4] and furthered the Muslim conquest of Central Asia, sending Abu Da'ud Khalid ibn Ibrahim to campaign in the east.[4]

His heroic role in the revolution and military skill, along with his conciliatory politics toward Shia, Sunnis, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians, made him extremely popular among the people. Although it appears that Abu al-'Abbas al-Saffah trusted him in general, he was wary of his power, limiting his entourage to 500 men upon his arrival to Iraq on his way to Hajj in 754. Abu al-'Abbas's brother, al-Mansur (r. 754–775), advised al-Saffah on more than one occasion to have Abu Muslim killed, fearing his rising influence and popularity. It seems that this dislike was mutual, with Abu Muslim aspiring to more power and looking down in disdain on al-Mansur, feeling al-Mansur owed Abu Muslim for his position. When the new caliph's uncle, Abdullah ibn Ali rebelled, Abu Muslim was requested by al-Mansur to crush this rebellion, which he did, and Abdullah was given to his nephew as a prisoner. Abdullah was ultimately executed.

Relations deteriorated quickly when al-Mansur sent an agent to inventory the spoils of war, and then appointed Abu Muslim governor of Syria and Egypt, outside his powerbase. After an increasingly acrimonious correspondence between Abu Muslim and al-Mansur, Abu Muslim feared he was going to be killed if he appeared in the presence of the Caliph. He later changed his mind and decided to appear in his presence due to a combination of perceived disobedience, al-Mansur's promise to keep him as governor of Khurasan, and the assurances of some of his close aides, some of whom were bribed by al-Mansur. He went to Iraq to meet al-Mansur in al-Mada'in in 755. Al-Mansuor proceeded to enumerate his grievances against Abu Muslim, who kept reminding the Caliph of his efforts to enthrone him. Against Abu Muslim were also charges of being a zindiq or heretic.[13] al-Mansur then signaled five of his guards behind a portico to kill him. Abu Muslim's mutilated body was thrown in the river Tigris, and his commanders were bribed to acquiesce to the murder.


Abu Muslim's eventual downfall and execution on charges of heresy have contributed to doubts cast on the sincerity of his Islamic faith. In particular this includes his close relationship with the mobad Sunpadh and his repeated praise of Zoroastrianism.[14][15]

Following his successful campaign in Gorgan, there is a report of a tribesman being able to bypass Abu Muslim's line and relay news of the Umayyad's destruction by shaving his beard, donning a kushti, and pretending to be a Zoroastrian (tassabbaha bi'l-majus), which suggests his ranks were of Zoroastrian origin.[16] Furthermore, there are records indicating that Abu Muslim planned to execute all Arabic speakers in Khorasan.[16]

In the Siyāsatnāmeh, al-Mulk emphasized that Abu Muslim had a talent for appealing to Zoroastrian revivalism.[17]

Whenever he was alone with Zoroastrians, he would say, 'According to one of the books of the Sasanians which I have found, the Arab empire is finished. I shall not tum back until I have destroyed the Kaba, for this has been [wrongly] substituted for the sun; we shall make the sun our qibla as it was in olden time' [17]

Despite his assistance in crushing Behafarid's heresy and the possibility of his own Zoroastrian sympathies, Abu Muslim has not been remembered favourably by the Zoroastrian Orthodoxy in the Middle Persian tradition, as both the Zand-i Wahman yasn and Zaratosht-nama censure Abu Muslim.[18]


His murder was not well received by the residents of Khurasan, and there was resentment and rebellion among the population over the brutal methods used by Al-Mansur.[13] He became a legendary figure for many in Persia, and several Persian heretics started revolts claiming he had not died and would return;[13] the latter included his own propagandist Ishaq al-Turk, the Zoroastrian cleric Sunpadh in Nishapur, the Abu Muslimiyya subsect of the Kaysanites Shia, and al-Muqanna in Khurasan. Even Babak claimed descent from him.[citation needed]

There are different variations of legends about Abu Muslim and forms of his worship in Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan. Depending on particular local traditions, some local saints are legitimized through an imaginary connection with Abu Muslim.[19]


At least three epic romances were written about him:

  • Marzubānī, Muḥammad ibn ʻImrān, Akhbār shuʻarāʾ al-Shīʻah
  • Muḥammad ibn Ḥasan, Abū Ṭāhir Ṭarsūsī, Abū Muslimʹnāmah
  • Zidan, Jorji, Abu Muslim al-Khurasani

See also[edit]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Yūsofī 1983.
  2. ^ Bahramian, Ali; Sajjadi, Sadeq; Bernjian, Farhoud (2008). "Abū Muslim al-Khurāsānī". In Madelung, Wilferd; Daftary, Farhad (eds.). Encyclopaedia Islamica. Brill Online. doi:10.1163/1875-9831_isla_COM_0113. Abū Muslim al-Khurāsānī was a famous Persian dāʿī (missionary) and commander (ca. 100–137/ca. 718–754).
  3. ^ Encyclopedia.com Archived 30 August 2019 at the Wayback Machine "c. 728–755, Persian leader of the Abbasid revolution."
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h i Moscati 1960, p. 141.
  5. ^ "Abu Muslim | Biography, History, & Facts | Britannica". www.britannica.com. Archived from the original on 12 January 2023. Retrieved 12 January 2023.
  6. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 123–126.
  7. ^ a b Kennedy 2004, p. 125.
  8. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 125–126.
  9. ^ Shaban 1979, pp. 134–136.
  10. ^ Hawting 2000, pp. 107–108.
  11. ^ Sharon 1990, pp. 43–45.
  12. ^ Universalis, Encyclopædia. "ABBASIDES". Encyclopædia Universalis (in French). Archived from the original on 27 June 2019. Retrieved 28 June 2019. Abu Muslim déclencha l'opération en 747 et la victoire fut acquise à la bataille du Grand Zâb en 750.
  13. ^ a b c Goldschmidt, Arthur (2002), A concise history of the Middle East, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, pp. 76–77, ISBN 0-8133-3885-9
  14. ^ Babayan, Kathryn; Babayan, Associate Professor of Iranian History and Culture Kathryn (2002). Mystics, Monarchs, and Messiahs: Cultural Landscapes of Early Modern Iran. Harvard CMES. ISBN 978-0-932885-28-9.
  15. ^ Frye, Richard N. (Richard Nelson), 1920-2014. (1979). Islamic Iran and Central Asia (7th–12th centuries). London: Variorum Reprints. ISBN 0-86078-044-9. OCLC 5823821.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ a b Richard G. Hovannisian; Georges Sabagh; Iḥsān Yāršātir (1998). The Persian Presence in the Islamic World. Cambridge University Press. pp. 64–65. ISBN 978-0-521-59185-0. Archived from the original on 15 April 2023. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  17. ^ a b al-Mulk, Niẓām (2002). The Book of Government, Or, Rules for Kings: The Siyar Al-Muluk, Or, Siyasat-nama of Nizam Al-Mulk. Psychology Press. p. 207. ISBN 978-0-7007-1228-1.
  18. ^ Daryaee, Touraj (1 January 1998). "Apocalypse Now: Zoroastrian Reflections On the Early Islamic Centuries". Medieval Encounters. 4 (3): 188–202. doi:10.1163/157006798X00115. ISSN 1570-0674. Archived from the original on 8 May 2021. Retrieved 29 October 2020.
  19. ^ Malikov Azim. The Cult of Abu Muslim and His Companions in Central Asia: Variants of Mythologization in Etnograficheskoe Obozrenie №3, 2020, pp. 141–160


Further reading[edit]