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Harun al-Rashid of Abbasid Dynasty
Caliph of Baghdad
Persian miniature depicting Hārūn ar-Rashīd.
Reign 14 September 786 - 24 March 809
Born March 17, 763(763-03-17)
Birthplace Rayy / close to modern Tehran, Iran
Died 24 March 809 (aged 46)
Place of death Tus, present day Mashhad, Iran
Father Muhammad ibn Mansur al-Mahdi
Mother Al-Khayzuran

Hārūn al-Rashīd (Arabic: هارون الرشيد‎; also spelled Harun ar-Rashid; English: Aaron the Upright, Aaron the Just, or Aaron the Rightly Guided; March 17, 763 – March 24, 809) was the fifth and most famous Abbasid Caliph. He was born in Rayy, near Tehran, Iran, and lived in Baghdad, Iraq and most of his reign was in Ar Raqqah at the middle Euphrates.

He ruled from 786 to 809, and his time was marked by scientific, cultural and religious prosperity. Art and music also flourished significantly during his reign. He established the library Bayt al-Hikma ("House of Wisdom").[citation needed]

Since Harun was intellectually, politically and militarily resourceful, his life and the court over which he held sway have been the subject of many fictional tales: some are factual but most are believed to be fictitious. An example of what is known to be factual is the story of the Clock that was among various presents that Harun had delightfully sent to Charlemagne. The presents were carried by the returning Frankish mission that came to offer Harun friendship in 799. Charlemagne and his retinue deemed the clock to be a conjuration for the sounds it emanates and the tricks it displays every time an hour ticks. Among what is known to be fictional is the famous The Book of One Thousand and One Nights containing many stories that are fantasized by Harun's magnificent court, and even Harun al-Rashid himself. The family of Barmakids which played a deciding role in establishing the Abbasid Caliphate declined gradually during his rule.

Contents

Life

Hārūn was born in the Tehran province of Iran. He was the son of al-Mahdi, the third Abbasid caliph (ruled 775–785), and al-Khayzuran, a former slave girl from Yemen and a woman of strong personality who greatly influenced affairs of state in the reigns of her husband and sons.

Hārūn was strongly influenced by the will of his mother in the governance of the empire until her death in 789. His vizier (chief minister) Yahya the Barmakid, his sons, and other Barmakids generally controlled the administration.

The Barmakids were a Persian family that had become very powerful under al-Mahdi. Yahya had aided Hārūn in obtaining the caliphate, and he and his sons were in high favor until 798, when the caliph threw them in prison and confiscated their land. Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari dates this in 803 and lists various accounts for the cause: Yahya's entering the Caliph's presence without permission, Yahya's opposition to Muhammad ibn al Layth who later gained Harun's favour, Jafar's release of Yahya ibn Abdallah ibn Hasan whom Harun had imprisoned, the ostentatious wealth of the Barmakids and the alleged romantic relationship between Yahya's son and Harun's sister Abasa.

The latter allegation is specified in the following tale; Hārūn loved to have his own sister Abbasa and Jafar with him at times of recreation. Since Muslim etiquette forbade their common presence, Hārūn had Jafar marry Abbassa on the understanding that the marriage was purely nominal. Nonetheless, the two consummated the marriage. Some versions have it that she entered Jafar's bedroom in the darkness, masquerading as one of his slave girls. A child given secret birth was sent by her to Mecca but a maid, quarrelling with her mistress, made known the scandal. Hārūn, while on a pilgrimage in Mecca, heard the story and ascertained that the tale was probably true. On his return shortly after, he had Jafar executed, whose body was despatched to Baghdad, and there, divided in two, impaled on either side of the bridge. It stayed there for three years, when Harun, happening to pass through Baghdad from the East, gave command for the remains to be taken down and burned. On the death of Jafar, his father and brother were both cast into prison.

This romantic story is highly doubted by Ibn Khaldun and most modern scholars.[1] The main reason for this story to be wrong is that Harun ur Rashid was a very pious person, and considered mixed gathering as un-islamic and un-ethical. Therefore, the letting her own sister to meet Jaffar is illogical and out of question. The fall of the Barmakids is far more likely due to the fact that Barmakids were behaving in a manner that Harun found disrespectful (such as entering his court unannounced) and were making decisions in matters of state without consulting him first.

In the year 170 A.H./ 786 A.D., al-Hadi tried unsuccessfully to depose Harun al-Rashid as his successor and instead appoint his young child Jafar as his successor. In the same year al-Hadi was poisoned by his mother Khizaran in a plot hatched by his brother Harun al-Rashid and his vizier Yahya bin Khalid Barmaki. The night al-Hadi was killed, Harun al-Rashid became the caliph and on the same night al-Mamun was born who later became the caliph and al-Mamun martyred Imam Reza (A.S.) in the year 203 A.H./ 818 A.D.

Hārūn became caliph when he was in his early twenties. On the day of accession, his son al-Ma'mun was born, and al-Amin some little time later: the latter was the son of Zubaida, a granddaughter of al-Mansur (founder of the city of Baghdad); so he took precedence over the former, whose mother was a Persian slave-girl. He began his reign by appointing very able ministers, who carried on the work of the government so well that they greatly improved the condition of the people.

Julius Köckert's painting of Harun ar-Rashid receiving the delegation of Charlemagne.

It was under Hārūn ar-Rashīd that Baghdad flourished into the most splendid city of its period. Tribute was paid by many rulers to the caliph, and these funds were used on architecture, the arts and a luxurious life at court.

In 796 the Caliph Hārūn decided to reign his court and the government to his father like he did before Ar Raqqah at the middle Euphrates. Here he spent 12 years, most of his reign. Only once he returned to Baghdad for a short visit. Several reasons might have influenced the decision to move to ar-Raqqa. It was close to the Byzantine border. The communication lines via the Euphrates to Baghdad and via the Balikh river to the north and via Palmyra to Damascus were excellent. The agriculture was flourishing to support the new Imperial center. And from Raqqa any rebellion in Syria and the middle Euphrates area could be controlled. Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani pictures in his anthology of poems the splendid life in his court. In ar-Raqqah the Barmekids managed the fate of the empire, and there both heirs, al-Amin and al-Ma'mun grew up.

Due to the "Thousand -and-One Nights" tales Harun al-Rashid turned into a legendary figure obscuring his true historic personality. In fact, his reign initiated the political disintegration of the Abbasid caliphate. Syria was inhibited by tribes with Umayyad sympathies and remained the bitter enemy of the Abbasids and Egypt witnessed uprisings against Abbasids due to mal-administration and arbitrary taxation. The Umayyads had been established in Spain in 755 A.D., the Idrisids in the Maghrib(Morocco) in 788 A.D., and the Aghlabids in Ifriqiya(Tunis) in 800 A.D. Besides, unrest flared up in Yemen, and the Kharijites rose in rebellion in Daylam, Kirman, Fars and Sistan. Revolts also broke out in Khurasan. He waged many campaigns against the Byzantines.

For the administration of the whole empire he fell back on his mentor and long time associate Yahya bin Khalid bin Barmak. Rashid appointed him as his vazier with full executive powers, and, for seventeen years, this man Yahya and his sons, served Rashid faithfully in whatever assignment he entrusted to them. But Harun al-Rashid in 187 A.H. brutally eliminated all the members of Barmakid family.

Al-Rashid appointed Ali bin Isa bin Mahan as the governor of Khurasan. He tried to bring to heel the princes and chieftains of the region, and to reimpose the full authority of the central government on them. This new policy met with fierce resistance and provoked numerous uprisings in the region. A major revolt led by Rafeh bin Layth was started in Samaqand which forced Harun al-Rashid to move to Khurasan. He first removed and arrested Ali bin Isa bin Mahan but the revolt continued unchecked. Harun al-Rashid died very soon when he reached Sanabad village in Toos and was buried in the summer palace of Humaid bin Qahtabah, the former Abbasid governor in Khurasan, situated near the Sanabad village in the Toos region.

Harun al-Rashid was bitterly opposed to the Sayyids and the Shi'ites and carried the annihilation of them during his reign. Harun was the second Abbasid Caliph to destroy the tomb on the holy grave of Imam Husain (A.S.) in Karbala. The most serious and heinous crime of Harun was the martrydom of Seventh Shi'ite Imam Musa bin Jafar (A.S.) after torturing the Holy Imam (A.S.) in various prisons for a lengthy period of 14 years. He imposed heavy taxes on farmers, traders and artisans. He maintained 4000 slave-girls and concubines to entertain him.

Al-Rashid virtually dismembered the empire by apportioning it between his two sons al-Amin and al-Ma'mun. Very soon it became clear that by dividing the empire, Rashid had actually helped to set the opposing parties against one another, and had provided them with sufficient resources to become independent of each other. After the death of Harun al-Rashid civil war broke out in the empire between his two sons al-Amin and al-Ma'mun.

Both Einhard and Notker the Stammerer refer to envoys travelling between Harun's and Charlemagne's courts, amicable discussions concerning Christian access to the Holy Land and the exchange of gifts. Notker mentions Charlemagne sent Harun Spanish horses, colourful Frisian cloaks and impressive hunting dogs. In 802 Harun sent Charlemagne a present consisting of silks, brass candelabra, perfume, balsam, ivory chessmen, a colossal tent with many-colored curtains, an elephant named Abul-Abbas, and a water clock that marked the hours by dropping bronze balls into a bowl, as mechanical knights — one for each hour — emerged from little doors which shut behind them. The presents were unprecedented in Western Europe and may have influenced Carolingian art.

When the Byzantine empress Irene was deposed, Nikephoros I became emperor and refused to pay tribute to Harun, saying that Irene should have been receiving the tribute the whole time. Then Harun became angry and said "O you! the son of infidel ! You will soon see my answer". Harun took his army to the gates of Rome and bombarded the city with Catapault's. After seeing the fire power of Harun's army, Nikephoros bent his knees and asked forgiveness. Nikephoros was punished by ordering him to pay double the tribute his territory was paying before. Harun made the pilgrimage to Mecca several times, e.g. 793, 795, 797, 802 and last in 803. Tabari concludes his account of Harun's reign with these words: "It has been said that when Harun al-Rashid died, there were nine hundred million odd (dirhams) in the state treasury.

In 808, Harun went to settle the insurrection of Rafi ibn Leith in Transoxania, became ill and died. He was buried under the palace of Hamid ibn Qahtabi, the governor of Greater Khorasan, Iran. The location later became known as Mashhad ("The Place of Martyrdom") because of the martyrdom of Imam Reza in 818.

Al-Masudi's Anecdotes

Al-Masudi relates a number of interesting anecdotes in The Meadows of Gold illuminating the character of this famous caliph. For example, he recounts (p. 94) Harun's delight when his horse came in first, closely followed by al-Ma'mun's, at a race Harun held at Raqqa. Al-Masudi tells the story of Harun setting his poets a challenging task. When others failed to please him, Miskin of Medina succeeded superbly well. The poet then launched into a moving account of how much it had cost him to learn that song. Harun laughed saying he knew not which was more entertaining, the song or the story. He rewarded the poet.[2]

There is also the tale of Harun asking Ishaq ibn Ibrahim to keep singing. The musician did until the caliph fell asleep. Then, strangely, a handsome young man appeared, snatched the musician's lute, sang a very moving piece (al-Masudi quotes it), and left. On awakening and being informed of this, Harun said Ishaq ibn Ibrahim had received a supernatural visitation.

Harun, like a number of caliphs, is given an anecdote connecting a poem with his death. Shortly before he died he is said to have been reading some lines by Abu al-Atahiya about the transitory nature of the power and pleasures of this world.

Timeline

  • 763: Hārūn is born on March 17, the son of Caliph al-Mahdi and the Yemeni girl al-Khayzuran.
  • 780: Hārūn is the leader of military expeditions against the Byzantine Empire.
  • 782: Hārūn is leader of a military campaign against the Byzantine Empire reaching as far as the Bosporus. A peace treaty is signed on favourable terms. Harun receives the honorific title ar-Rashīd, named second in succession to the caliphal throne and also appointed governor of Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
  • 786: September 14: Hārūn's brother al-Hadi dies under mysterious circumstances — it was rumoured that his supportive mother al-Khayzuran was responsible. Hārūn becomes the new caliph and makes Yahya the Barmakid his Grand Vizier - but al-Khayzuran exercised much influence over the politics.
  • 789: al-Khayzuran dies , leaving more of the effective power in the hands of Hārūn.
  • 791: Hārūn wages war against the Byzantine Empire.
  • 795: To prevent Shiite rebellions, Hārūn imprisons Musa al-Kazim, the Shiite imam.
  • 796: Hārūn moves the Imperial residence and the government from Baghdad to ar-Raqqah.
  • 799: Hārūn orders Sindi ibn Shahiq to poison the 7th Shiite Imam Musa al-Kazim, causing the death of the Shiite leader in prison, four years after having been imprisoned by Hārūn.
  • 800: Hārūn appoints Ibrahim ibn al-Aghlab governor over Tunisia, making him a semi-autonomous ruler in return for substantial yearly payments.
  • 802: Hārūn gives two albino elephants to Charlemagne as a diplomatic gift.
  • 803: Yahya dies, and even more of effective power comes in the hands of Hārūn.
  • 805: Harun defeats Emperor Nikephoros I Logothetes at the Battle of Krasos
  • 807: Hārūn's forces occupy Cyprus.
  • 809: Lead 5 expeditions against Abdurrahman Ad-Dakhil in Cyprus, wins the first battle in the north of Cyprus. Attacked by Ali An-Zabuhn while praying on Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, received injuries to his eyes. He died on November 30 after being injured for 1 day.

Hārūn is widely considered the greatest of the Abbasid caliphs, presiding over the Arab Empire at its political and cultural peak. Consequently, Islamic literature (the work of ibn Kathir, for example) has raised him to the level of an ideal figure, a great military and intellectual leader, even a paragon for future rulers to emulate. His best-known portrayal in the West, in the stories of the Thousand and One Nights, has little basis in historical fact, but does show the mythic stature he has attained over time.

Popular culture and references

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Literature

  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem which started

    One day Haroun Al-Raschid read
    A book wherein the poet said
    Where are the kings and where the rest
    Of those who once the world possessed?

  • O. Henry uses this character in his theme "Turning the tables on Haroun al Raschid"
  • Alfred Tennyson wrote a poem in his youth entitled Recollections Of The Arabian Nights. Every stanza (except the last one) ends with "of good Haroun Alraschid".
  • Harun al-Rashid was a main figure and character throughout several of the stories of some of the oldest versions of the 1001 Nights
  • Hārūn ar-Rashīd figures throughout James Joyce's Ulysses, in a dream of Stephen Dedalus, one of the protagonists. Stephen's efforts to recall this dream continue throughout the novel, culminating in the novel's fifteenth episode, wherein some characters also take on the guise of Hārūn.
  • Harun al-Rashid is also celebrated in the 1923 poem by W.B. Yeats "The Gift of Harun al-Rashid".
  • Harun al-Rashid is noted in Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita by the character Korovyov.
  • A story of one of Harun's wanderings provides the climax to the narrative game of titles at the end of Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler (1979). In Calvino's story, Harun wanders at night, only to be drawn into a conspiracy in which he is selected to assassinate the Caliph Harun-al-Rashid.
  • The two protagonists of Salman Rushdie's 1990 novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories are Haroun and his father Rashid Khalifa.
  • Harun al-Rashid, as portrayed in 1001 nights is used as a role-model for the character Jinny Hamilton, the young heiress to the solar system-wide Conrad empire, in Spider Robinson's novel Variable Star.
  • In the Science Fiction "Sten" novels, by Allan Cole and Chris Bunch, the character of the Eternal Emperor uses the name "H.E.Raschid" when incognito; this is confirmed, in the final book of the series, as a reference to the character from Burton's translation of One Thousand Nights and a Night.
  • One of the characters in Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder novel "Even the Wicked" is a controversial tenured African-American professor of economics at Queens College whose name-change, from Wilbur Julian to Julian Rashid, "represented of his admiration for the legendary Haroun-al-Rashid."

Films

Comics

  • The comic book The Sandman features a story (issue 50, "Ramadan") set in the world of the Arabian Nights, with Hārūn ar-Rashīd as the protagonist. It highlights his historical and mythical role as well as his discussion of the transitory nature of power. The story is included in the collection The Sandman: Fables and Reflections.
  • Haroun El Poussah in the French comic strip Iznogoud is a satirical version of Hārūn ar-Rashīd.
  • The graphic novel Dschinn Dschinn by Ralf König has as its backstory the delegation from Harun bringing gifts to Charlemagne.
  • He appears in Doraemon long story, Dorabian Night when Doraemon and his friends first came to Baghdad

Games

  • In Quest for Glory II, the sultan who adopts the Hero as his son is named Hārūn ar-Rashīd. He is often seen prophesizing on the streets of Shapeir as The Poet Omar.

Other

Future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, when he was a New York Police Department Commissioner, was called in the local newspapers "Haroun-al-Roosevelt" for his habit of lonely all-night rambles on the streets of Manhattan, surreptitiously catching police officers off their posts. (Harun al-Rashid is said in the 1001 Nights to have wandered Baghdad at night dressed as a merchant in order to observe the lives of his subjects).

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ See the translator's note on page 215 of at Tabari v. 30.
  2. ^ Al-Masudi, The Meadows of Gold, p. 94.

References and further reading

  • al-Masudi, The Meadows of Gold, The Abbasids, transl. Paul Lunde and Caroline Stone, Kegan paul, London and New York, 1989
  • al-Tabari "The History of al-Tabari" volume XXX "The 'Abbasid Caliphate in Equilibrium" transl. C.E. Bosworth, SUNY, Albany, 1989.
  • Clot, Andre (1990). Harun Al-Rashid and the Age of a Thousand and One Nights. New Amsterdam Books. ISBN 0941533654. 
  • Einhard and Notker the Stammerer, "Two Lives of Charlemagne," transl. Lewis Thorpe, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1977 (1969)
  • John H. Haaren, Famous Men of the Middle Ages [1]
  • William Muir, K.C.S.I., The Caliphate, its rise, decline, and fall [2]
  • Theophanes, "The Chronicle of Theophanes," transl. Harry Turtledove, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1982
  • Norwich, John J. (1991). Byzantium: The Apogee. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.. ISBN 0-394-53779-3. 
  • Zabeth, Hyder Reza (1999). Landmarks of Mashhad. Alhoda UK. ISBN 9644442210. 

External links

Harun al-Rashid
Born: 763 Died: 809
Sunni Islam titles
Preceded by
Al-Hadi
Caliph of Islam
786 – 809
Succeeded by
Al-Amin

Harun al-Rashid of the Abbasid Dynasty
Caliph of Baghdad
depicting Hārūn al-Rashīd.]]
Reign 14 September 786 – 24 March 809
Born 17 March 763(763-03-17)
Birthplace Rayy / close to modern Tehran
Died 24 March 809 (aged 46)
Place of death Tus, present day Khorasan
Buried Tus, present day Mashhad
Predecessor Abu Abdullah Musa ibn Mahdi al-Hadi
Successor Muhammad ibn Harun al-Amin
Father Muhammad ibn Mansur al-Mahdi
Mother Al-Khayzuran bint Atta


Hārūn al-Rashīd (Arabic: هارون الرشيد‎; properly spelled Harun ar-Rashid; English: Aaron the Upright, Aaron the Just, or Aaron the Rightly Guided) (17 March 763 – 24 March 809) was the fifth and most famous Abbasid Caliph in Iraq. He was born in Rayy in Iran, close to modern Tehran.

He ruled from 786 to 809, and his time was marked by scientific, cultural and religious prosperity. Art and music also flourished significantly during his reign. He established the library Bayt al-Hikma ("House of Wisdom").[citation needed]

Since Harun was intellectually, politically and militarily resourceful, his life and the court over which he held sway have been the subject of many tales: some are factual but most are believed to be fictitious. An example of what is known to be factual is the story of the clock that was among various presents that Harun had delightfully sent to Charlemagne. The presents were carried by the returning Frankish mission that came to offer Harun friendship in 799. Charlemagne and his retinue deemed the clock to be a conjuration for the sounds it emanates and the tricks it displays every time an hour ticks. Among what is known to be fictional is the famous The Book of One Thousand and One Nights containing many stories that are fantasized by Harun's magnificent court, and even Harun al-Rashid himself. The family of Barmakids which played a deciding role in establishing the Abbasid Caliphate declined gradually during his rule.

Contents

Life

Hārūn was born in the Rayy. He was the son of al-Mahdi, the third Abbasid caliph (ruled 775–785), and al-Khayzuran, a former slave girl from Yemen and a woman of strong personality who greatly influenced affairs of state in the reigns of her husband and sons.

Hārūn was strongly influenced by the will of his mother in the governance of the empire until her death in 789. His vizier (chief minister) Yahya the Barmakid, Yahya's sons (especially Ja'far ibn Yahya), and other Barmakids generally controlled the administration.

The Barmakids were a Persian-Afghani family and their family origins back to the Barmak of Magi, He had become very powerful under al-Mahdi. Yahya had aided Hārūn in obtaining the caliphate, and he and his sons were in high favor until 798, when the caliph threw them in prison and confiscated their land. Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari dates this in 803 and lists various accounts for the cause: Yahya's entering the Caliph's presence without permission, Yahya's opposition to Muhammad ibn al Layth who later gained Harun's favour, Jafar's release of Yahya ibn Abdallah ibn Hasan whom Harun had imprisoned, the ostentatious wealth of the Barmakids and the alleged romantic relationship between Yahya's son and Harun's sister Abasa.

The latter allegation is specified in the following tale; Hārūn loved to have his own sister Abbasa and Jafar with him at times of recreation. Since Muslim etiquette forbade their common presence, Hārūn had Jafar marry Abbassa on the understanding that the marriage was purely nominal. Nonetheless, the two consummated the marriage. Some versions have it that she entered Jafar's bedroom in the darkness, masquerading as one of his slave girls. A child given secret birth was sent by her to Mecca but a maid, quarrelling with her mistress, made known the scandal. Hārūn, while on a pilgrimage in Mecca, heard the story and ascertained that the tale was probably true. On his return shortly after, he had Jafar executed, whose body was despatched to Baghdad, and there, divided in two, impaled on either side of the bridge. It stayed there for three years, when Harun, happening to pass through Baghdad from the East, gave command for the remains to be taken down and burned. On the death of Jafar, his father and brother were both cast into prison.

This romantic story is highly doubted by Ibn Khaldun and most modern scholars.[1] The fall of the Barmakids is far more likely due to the fact that Barmakids were behaving in a manner that Harun found disrespectful (such as entering his court unannounced) and were making decisions in matters of state without consulting him first.

Hārūn became caliph when he was in his early twenties. On the day of accession, his son al-Ma'mun was born, and al-Amin some little time later: the latter was the son of Zubaida, a granddaughter of al-Mansur (founder of the city of Baghdad); so he took precedence over the former, whose mother was a Persian slave-girl. He began his reign by appointing very able ministers, who carried on the work of the government so well that they greatly improved the condition of the people.

.]]It was under Hārūn ar-Rashīd that Baghdad flourished into the most splendid city of its period. Tribute was paid by many rulers to the caliph, and these funds were used on architecture, the arts and a luxurious life at court.

In 796 the Caliph Hārūn decided to reign his court and the government to his father like he did before Ar Raqqah at the middle Euphrates. Here he spent 12 years, most of his reign. Only once he returned to Baghdad for a short visit. Several reasons might have influenced the decision to move to ar-Raqqa. It was close to the Byzantine border. The communication lines via the Euphrates to Baghdad and via the Balikh river to the north and via Palmyra to Damascus were excellent. The agriculture was flourishing to support the new Imperial center. And from Raqqa any rebellion in Syria and the middle Euphrates area could be controlled. Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani pictures in his anthology of poems the splendid life in his court. In ar-Raqqah the Barmekids managed the fate of the empire, and there both heirs, al-Amin and al-Ma'mun grew up.

Due to the "Thousand -and-One Nights" tales Harun al-Rashid turned into a legendary figure obscuring his true historic personality. In fact, his reign initiated the political disintegration of the Abbasid caliphate. Syria was inhabited by tribes with Umayyad sympathies and remained the bitter enemy of the Abbasids and Egypt witnessed uprisings against Abbasids due to mal-administration and arbitrary taxation. The Umayyads had been established in Spain in 755 A.D., the Idrisids in the Maghrib(Morocco) in 788 A.D., and the Aghlabids in Ifriqiya(Tunis) in 800 A.D. Besides, unrest flared up in Yemen, and the Kharijites rose in rebellion in Daylam, Kirman, Fars and Sistan. Revolts also broke out in Khurasan. He waged many campaigns against the Byzantines.

For the administration of the whole empire he fell back on his mentor and long time associate Yahya bin Khalid bin Barmak. Rashid appointed him as his vazier with full executive powers, and, for seventeen years, this man Yahya and his sons, served Rashid faithfully in whatever assignment he entrusted to them. But Harun al-Rashid in 187 A.H. brutally eliminated all the members of Barmakid family.

Al-Rashid appointed Ali bin Isa bin Mahan as the governor of Khurasan. He tried to bring to heel the princes and chieftains of the region, and to reimpose the full authority of the central government on them. This new policy met with fierce resistance and provoked numerous uprisings in the region. A major revolt led by Rafeh bin Layth was started in Samarqand which forced Harun al-Rashid to move to Khurasan. He first removed and arrested Ali bin Isa bin Mahan but the revolt continued unchecked. Harun al-Rashid died very soon when he reached Sanabad village in Toos and was buried in the summer palace of Humaid bin Qahtabah, the former Abbasid governor in Khurasan, situated near the Sanabad village in the Toos region.

He imposed heavy taxes on farmers, traders and artisans. He maintained 4000 slave-girls and concubines to entertain him.

Al-Rashid virtually dismembered the empire by apportioning it between his two sons al-Amin and al-Ma'mun. Very soon it became clear that by dividing the empire, Rashid had actually helped to set the opposing parties against one another, and had provided them with sufficient resources to become independent of each other. After the death of Harun al-Rashid civil war broke out in the empire between his two sons al-Amin and al-Ma'mun.

Both Einhard and Notker the Stammerer refer to envoys travelling between Harun's and Charlemagne's courts, amicable discussions concerning Christian access to the Holy Land and the exchange of gifts. Notker mentions Charlemagne sent Harun Spanish horses, colourful Frisian cloaks and impressive hunting dogs. In 802 Harun sent Charlemagne a present consisting of silks, brass candelabra, perfume, balsam, ivory chessmen, a colossal tent with many-colored curtains, an elephant named Abul-Abbas, and a water clock that marked the hours by dropping bronze balls into a bowl, as mechanical knights — one for each hour — emerged from little doors which shut behind them. The presents were unprecedented in Western Europe and may have influenced Carolingian art.

When the Byzantine empress Irene was deposed, Nikephoros I became emperor and refused to pay tribute to Harun, saying that Irene should have been receiving the tribute the whole time. News of this angered Harun, who wrote a message on the back of the Roman emperor's letter and said "In the name of God the most merciful, From Amir al-Mu'minin Harun al-Rashid, commander of the faithful, to Nikephoros, the Roman dog. I have read thy letter, Thou shalt not hear, thou shalt behold my reply". After campaigns in Asia Minor, Nikephoros was forced to conclude a treaty, with humiliating terms. [2]

Harun made the pilgrimage to Mecca several times, e.g. 793, 795, 797, 802 and last in 803. Tabari concludes his account of Harun's reign with these words: "It has been said that when Harun al-Rashid died, there were nine hundred million odd (dirhams) in the state treasury."

In 808, Harun went to settle the insurrection of Rafi ibn Leith in Transoxania, became ill and died. He was buried under the palace of Hamid ibn Qahtabi, the governor of Greater Khorasan, Iran. The location later became known as Mashhad ("The Place of Martyrdom") because of the martyrdom of Imam Reza in 818.

Al-Masudi's Anecdotes

Al-Masudi relates a number of interesting anecdotes in The Meadows of Gold illuminating the character of this famous caliph. For example, he recounts (p. 94) Harun's delight when his horse came in first, closely followed by al-Ma'mun's, at a race Harun held at Raqqa. Al-Masudi tells the story of Harun setting his poets a challenging task. When others failed to please him, Miskin of Medina succeeded superbly well. The poet then launched into a moving account of how much it had cost him to learn that song. Harun laughed saying he knew not which was more entertaining, the song or the story. He rewarded the poet.[3]

There is also the tale of Harun asking Ishaq ibn Ibrahim to keep singing. The musician did until the caliph fell asleep. Then, strangely, a handsome young man appeared, snatched the musician's lute, sang a very moving piece (al-Masudi quotes it), and left. On awakening and being informed of this, Harun said Ishaq ibn Ibrahim had received a supernatural visitation.

Harun, like a number of caliphs, is given an anecdote connecting a poem with his death. Shortly before he died he is said to have been reading some lines by Abu al-Atahiya about the transitory nature of the power and pleasures of this world.

Timeline

  • 763: Hārūn is born on 17 March, the son of Caliph al-Mahdi and the Yemeni girl al-Khayzuran.
  • 780: Hārūn is the leader of military expeditions against the Byzantine Empire.
  • 782: Hārūn is leader of a military campaign against the Byzantine Empire under Irene of Athens. The defection of the Armenian general Tatzates allows him to reach as far as the Bosporus. A peace treaty is signed on favourable terms. Harun receives the honorific title ar-Rashīd, named second in succession to the caliphal throne and also appointed governor of Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Armenia and Azerbaijan.
  • 786: 14 September: Hārūn's brother al-Hadi dies under mysterious circumstances — it was rumoured that his supportive mother al-Khayzuran was responsible. Hārūn becomes the new caliph and makes Yahya the Barmakid his Grand Vizier - but al-Khayzuran exercised much influence over the politics.
  • 789: al-Khayzuran dies , leaving more of the effective power in the hands of Hārūn.
  • 791: Hārūn wages war against the Byzantine Empire.
  • 795: To prevent Shiite rebellions, Hārūn imprisons Musa al-Kazim, the Shiite imam.
  • 796: Hārūn moves the Imperial residence and the government from Baghdad to ar-Raqqah.
  • 799: Hārūn orders Sindi ibn Shahiq to poison the 7th Shiite Imam Musa al-Kazim, causing the death of the Shiite leader in prison, four years after having been imprisoned by Hārūn.
  • 800: Hārūn appoints Ibrahim ibn al-Aghlab governor over Tunisia, making him a semi-autonomous ruler in return for substantial yearly payments.
  • 802: Hārūn gives two albino elephants to Charlemagne as a diplomatic gift.
  • 803: Yahya dies, and even more of effective power comes in the hands of Hārūn.
  • 805: Harun defeats Emperor Nikephoros I Logothetes at the Battle of Krasos
  • 807: Hārūn's forces occupy Cyprus.
  • 809: Lead 5 expeditions against Abdurrahman Ad-Dakhil in Cyprus, wins the first battle in the north of Cyprus. Attacked by Ali An-Zabuhn while praying on Al-Masjid al-Nabawi, received injuries to his eyes. He died on 30 November after being injured for 1 day.

Hārūn is widely considered the greatest of the Abbasid caliphs, presiding over the Arab Empire at its political and cultural peak. Consequently, Islamic literature (the work of ibn Kathir, for example) has raised him to the level of an ideal figure, a great military and intellectual leader, even a paragon for future rulers to emulate. His best-known portrayal in the West, in the stories of the Thousand and One Nights, has little basis in historical fact, but does show the mythic stature he has attained over time.

Popular culture and references

Literature

  • Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote a poem which started

    One day Haroun Al-Raschid read
    A book wherein the poet said
    Where are the kings and where the rest
    Of those who once the world possessed?

  • O. Henry uses this character in his theme "Turning the tables on Haroun al Raschid"
  • Alfred Tennyson wrote a poem in his youth entitled Recollections Of The Arabian Nights. Every stanza (except the last one) ends with "of good Haroun Alraschid".
  • Harun al-Rashid was a main figure and character throughout several of the stories of some of the oldest versions of the 1001 Nights
  • Hārūn ar-Rashīd figures throughout James Joyce's Ulysses, in a dream of Stephen Dedalus, one of the protagonists. Stephen's efforts to recall this dream continue throughout the novel, culminating in the novel's fifteenth episode, wherein some characters also take on the guise of Hārūn.
  • Harun al-Rashid is also celebrated in the 1923 poem by W.B. Yeats "The Gift of Harun al-Rashid".
  • Harun al-Rashid is noted in Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita by the character Korovyov.
  • A story of one of Harun's wanderings provides the climax to the narrative game of titles at the end of Italo Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler (1979). In Calvino's story, Harun wanders at night, only to be drawn into a conspiracy in which he is selected to assassinate the Caliph Harun-al-Rashid.
  • The two protagonists of Salman Rushdie's 1990 novel Haroun and the Sea of Stories are Haroun and his father Rashid Khalifa.
  • Harun al-Rashid, as portrayed in 1001 nights is used as a role-model for the character Jinny Hamilton, the young heiress to the solar system-wide Conrad empire, in Spider Robinson's novel Variable Star.
  • In the Science Fiction "Sten" novels, by Allan Cole and Chris Bunch, the character of the Eternal Emperor uses the name "H.E.Raschid" when incognito; this is confirmed, in the final book of the series, as a reference to the character from Burton's translation of One Thousand Nights and a Night.
  • One of the characters in Lawrence Block's Matthew Scudder novel "Even the Wicked" is a controversial tenured African-American professor of economics at Queens College whose name-change, from Wilbur Julian to Julian Rashid, "represented of his admiration for the legendary Haroun-al-Rashid."
  • In Roald Dahl's story of The BFG, it is mentioned by the Sultan of Baghdad that he had an uncle called Caliph Harun al-Rashid who has taken away with his wife and ten children three nights from when the Sultan mentioned it.

Films

Comics

  • The comic book The Sandman features a story (issue 50, "Ramadan") set in the world of the Arabian Nights, with Hārūn ar-Rashīd as the protagonist. It highlights his historical and mythical role as well as his discussion of the transitory nature of power. The story is included in the collection The Sandman: Fables and Reflections.
  • Haroun El Poussah in the French comic strip Iznogoud is a satirical version of Hārūn ar-Rashīd.
  • The graphic novel Dschinn Dschinn by Ralf König has as its backstory the delegation from Harun bringing gifts to Charlemagne.
  • He appears in Doraemon long story, Dorabian Night when Doraemon and his friends first came to Baghdad

Games

  • In Quest for Glory II, the sultan who adopts the Hero as his son is named Hārūn ar-Rashīd. He is often seen prophesying on the streets of Shapeir as The Poet Omar.
  • In Civilization 5, Harun ar-Rashid is the leader of the Arabian Empire.

Other

Future U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt, when he was a New York Police Department Commissioner, was called in the local newspapers "Haroun-al-Roosevelt" for his habit of lonely all-night rambles on the streets of Manhattan, surreptitiously catching police officers off their posts. (Harun al-Rashid is said in the 1001 Nights to have wandered Baghdad at night dressed as a merchant in order to observe the lives of his subjects).

See also

Footnotes

  1. ^ See the translator's note on page 215 of at Tabari v. 30.
  2. ^ Tarikh ath-Thabari 4/668-669
  3. ^ Al-Masudi, The Meadows of Gold, p. 94.

References and further reading

  • al-Masudi, The Meadows of Gold, The Abbasids, transl. Paul Lunde and Caroline Stone, Kegan paul, London and New York, 1989
  • al-Tabari "The History of al-Tabari" volume XXX "The 'Abbasid Caliphate in Equilibrium" transl. C.E. Bosworth, SUNY, Albany, 1989.
  • Clot, André (1990). Harun Al-Rashid and the Age of a Thousand and One Nights. New Amsterdam Books. ISBN 0941533654. 
  • Einhard and Notker the Stammerer, "Two Lives of Charlemagne," transl. Lewis Thorpe, Penguin, Harmondsworth, 1977 (1969)
  • John H. Haaren, Famous Men of the Middle Ages [1]
  • William Muir, K.C.S.I., The Caliphate, its rise, decline, and fall [2]
  • Theophanes, "The Chronicle of Theophanes," transl. Harry Turtledove, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1982
  • Norwich, John J. (1991). Byzantium: The Apogee. Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.. ISBN 0-394-53779-3. 
  • Zabeth, Hyder Reza (1999). Landmarks of Mashhad. Alhoda UK. ISBN 9644442210. 

External links

Harun al-Rashid
Born: 763 Died: 809
Sunni Islam titles
Preceded by
Al-Hadi
Caliph of Islam
786–809
Succeeded by
Al-Amin


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