Abu Muslim

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Abu Muslim
Persian: ابو مسلم خراسانی
Abbasid silver dirham in the name of abu Muslim struck at Marv in AH 132 (749-50), The David Collection, Copenhagen (36241672762).jpg
Abbasid silver dirham in the name of Abu Muslim struck at Merv in AH 132 (749-50)
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) or Behzādān Pour Vandād Hormozd (بهزادان پور ونداد هرمزد) born 718/19 or 723/27, died in 755),[1] was a Persian[2][3] general in service of the Abbasid dynasty, who led the Abbasid Revolution that toppled the Umayyad dynasty.

Origin and name[edit]

According to the Encyclopedia 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]

According to some sources, he was born in Sar-e Pol Province of present-day Afghanistan to a Tajik family.[5][6]

Shia activist and missionary activity in Khurasan[edit]

He grew up at Kufa,[1] where he served as a slave and saddler[citation needed] of the Banu Ijil 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.[7]

By 737 he is recorded among the followers of the ghālī ("extremist, heterodox") al-Mughira ibn Sa'id.[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, Ibrahim ibn Muhammad, 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.[8] 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.[8] 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.[9]

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.[10][11][12]

Abu Muslim and the Abbasid Revolution[edit]

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.[13]

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 inventorize 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-Mansur 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.[14] 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.


The sincerity of the Islamic beliefs of Abu Muslim have been called into question especially in light of his close relations with the mobad Sunpadh.[15] After, his success in Gorgan, there is an account of a tribesman being able to get through to the Abbasid line and carry news of the destruction of the Umayyads by shaving his beard, tying a kusti and pretending to be a Zoroastrian (tassabbaha bi'l-majus).[16] It has also been recorded that Abu Muslim had been commanded to kill all Arabic speakers in Khorasan.[16]

Despite his assistance in crushing Behafarid's heresy, Abu Muslim has not been remembered favourably by the Zoroastrian Orthodoxy in Middle Persian. Both the Zand-i Wahman yasn and Zaratosht-nama rebuke Abu Muslim.[17]


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.[14] He became a legendary figure for many in Persia, and several Persian heretics started revolts claiming he had not died and would return;[14] 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.[18]


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]

Further reading[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 "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 Khurasani, Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1, ed. Alexander Mikaberidze, (ABC-CLIO, 2011), 23.
  6. ^ Florian Illerhaus: "Haschimitische Propaganda. Bedingungen für den Erfolg der abbasidischen Revolution" (German). Munich, 2011. ISBN 978-3-640-80572-3
  7. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 123–126.
  8. ^ a b Kennedy 2004, p. 125.
  9. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 125–126.
  10. ^ Shaban 1979, pp. 134–136.
  11. ^ Hawting 2000, pp. 107–108.
  12. ^ Sharon 1990, pp. 43–45.
  13. ^ Universalis, Encyclopædia. "ABBASIDES". Encyclopædia Universalis (in French). Retrieved 28 June 2019. Abu Muslim déclencha l'opération en 747 et la victoire fut acquise à la bataille du Grand Zâb en 750.
  14. ^ 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
  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.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  16. ^ a b Richard G. Hovannisian; Georges Sabagh; Iḥsān Yāršātir (19 November 1998). The Persian Presence in the Islamic World. Cambridge University Press. pp. 64–65. ISBN 978-0-521-59185-0.
  17. ^ 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.
  18. ^ Malikov Azim. The Cult of Abu Muslim and His Companions in Central Asia: Variants of Mythologization in Etnograficheskoe Obozrenie №3, 2020, pp.141-160