THE FIRST WAVE OF HELLENISM
POLITICS AND THEOLOGY UNDER THE 'ABBĀSIDS
When the 'Abbāsid dynasty came to power in 750, their claim to the caliphate was based on the assertion that the imamate had passed from ' Alī to MuḤammad ibn-al-Ḥanafiyya, then to his son AbŭHāshim, and that the latter had designated as his successor the father of the first two 'Abbāsid caliphs. Before long, however, this particular claim to legitimacy seems to have been found unsatisfactory, and the caliph al-Mahdī (775-85) replaced it by the claim that the rightful successor of the Prophet had been his uncle al-'Abbās, and that the succession had then continued in his family, the 'Abbāsids. How long this claim was maintained is not clear.
An important feature of the new dynasty was the growth of Persian influence. Persian clients had rallied in large numbers to the black banners of the 'Abbāsid revolt, and so it is not surprising that many of the subordinate officials in the new administration were Persians or persianized Aramaeans and exercised considerable power. Outstanding was the Persian family of Barmak (the Barmakids or Barmecides), whose head was vizier from 786 to 803. The transfer of the capital of the caliphate eastwards from Damascus to Iraq -- to Baghdad after its foundation in 763 -- affected the internal distribution of power in favour of the eastern provinces. It also meant that the main work of administration was in the hands of the class of 'secretaries' or civil servants, who had continued to exist as a class in Iraq since before the Muslim conquest, and had retained much of the technique of government used in the Persian empire under the Sasanians. These men, too, were the bearers of the Persian or rather persianized culture of Iraq. Some were Christians, most probably nominal Zoroastrians, because Zoroastrianism, officially recognized and almost a department of government, was in decline as a religion. Thus the secretaries had a culture of which they were proud, including important Hellenistic elements, but, apart from the Christians, they had little vital religion. When they saw the best appointments in their profession going to Muslims, many of them accepted Islam outwardly.
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Publication information: Book title: Islamic Philosophy and Theology:An Extended Survey. Edition: 2nd. Contributors: W. Montgomery Watt - Author. Publisher: Edinburgh University Press. Place of publication: Edinburgh. Publication year: 1985. Page number: 33.
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