The Islamic World: Past and Present - Vol. 1

By John L. Esposito | Go to book overview

Abbasid Caliphate

The Abbasids were descendants of al-Abbas, an uncle of Muhammad. Abbasid caliphs ruled much of the Muslim world from 750 to 1258. The Abbasids brought an era of strong government, economic prosperity, and a flourishing civilization.

Rise to Power. The Umayyad family had controlled the caliphate* from 661 to 750. The Umayyad reign, however, was a turbulent one, plagued by power struggles and civil war. In the 720s, the Abbasid family began to gather support in the Khurasan province (present-day northeastern Iran). Villagers there resented Umayyad tax policies. In 747 an Abbasid commander named Abu Muslim led a revolt in the province. The rebellion spread, and three years later the Abbasid family took control of the caliphate.

* caliphate office and government of the caliph, the religious and political head of an Islamic state

Over the next 100 years, the Abbasids solidified their rule. They faced strong opposition from Umayyad supporters in Syria, and several uprisings erupted in Iraq. The second Abbasid caliph, Abu Jafar al-Mansur, strengthened Abbasid power by establishing a professional army during the first decades of the dynasty*. Caliph Harun al-Rashid further increased the power of the caliphate in the early 800s.

* dynasty succession of rulers from the same family or group

Abbasid caliph al-Mutawakkil completed
this massive spiral minaret in 848.
Known as the Malwiyya, it stands near
the rear of the Great Mosque of
Samarra (Iraq) and is one of the
largest of its kind. As with all minarets,
it was from here that Muslims were
called to worship. The Malwiyya also
represents the great power of the
Abbasids.

-1-

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The Islamic World: Past and Present - Vol. 1
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • The Islamic World - Past and Present iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface ix
  • Chronology of the Islamic World xi
  • Abbasid Caliphate 1
  • Glossary 197
  • People and Places 201
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