The Succession to the Caliph Musa Al-Hadi

By Kimber, Richard | The Journal of the American Oriental Society, July-September 2001 | Go to article overview

The Succession to the Caliph Musa Al-Hadi


Kimber, Richard, The Journal of the American Oriental Society


Harun al-Rashid succeeded his elder brother Musa al-Hadi to the caliphate in confused circumstances. It is clear that Musa had not wanted his brother to succeed him, but not whether in his short caliphate Musa had formally replaced Harun as heir apparent with his own young son. The open question is whether Harun succeeded to the caliphate by virtue of being heir apparent, or owing to a military intervention after Musa's sudden death. Al-Tabari clearly manipulates his textual evidence to prove the former case, and is greatly helped by an influential Barmakid tradition making the same point. If al-Tabari's editorial intervention can be discounted, it is arguable on the basis of both textual and numismatic evidence that Harun's caliphate was as much the creation of the army as was that of the first Abbasid caliph, [Abu'l-.sup.[subset]]Abbas.

THE MANNER IN WHICH Harun al-Rashid succeeded his brother Musa al-Hadi in the caliphate in 170/786 has been of great interest to both medieval and modern historians. The evidence of the medieval texts has been studied in detail by Sabatino Moscati, Nabia Abbott, and Hugh Kennedy, and important contributions based on numismatic evidence have been made by Michael Bonner. (1) Also now relevant in the light of Bonner's work is a discussion by Patricia Crone of the slogan al-rida min al Muhammad. (2) This present article is, in the main, a re-examination of the textual evidence, with the benefit of these later studies. It focuses especially on one question, whether al-Hadi in his short caliphate did or did not formally replace his brother Harun as heir apparent with his own young son [Ja.sup.[subset]]far. The question is important for our understanding of exactly how Harun eventually became caliph, but it has not, to my knowledge, been clearly addressed before. It has been obscured in our principal textual source by the entire ly synthetic issue of how al-Hadi died.

Moscati's account of the succession crisis in al-Hadi's caliphate is mainly an accurate, though uncritical, reading of al-Tabari. It is al-Tabari, however, who obscures the question of Harun's replacement as heir apparent, and Moscati does not raise the question either. (3) Abbott had the advantage over Moscati of knowing a report provided by Ibn Abi [Usaybi.sup.[subset]a that claims Harun actually was replaced. She accepts this evidence, but does not comment on al-Tabari's efforts to create the strong impression that he was not. (4)

Kennedy relates the succession crisis to the wider issue of a power struggle under al-Hadi between the state bureaucracy and the military establishment. Al-Hadi is seen as favoring the military at the expense of the bureaucracy, and the Barmakid Yayhya ibn Khalid appears as the leading representative of the latter. Whether al-Hadi's eventual successor would be his brother Harun or his son [Ja.sup.[subset]]far was a question of which faction would prevail--Yahya ibn Khalid who supported Harun or the military who wanted [Ja.sup.[subset]]far. Kennedy too relies mainly on al-Tabari, and he believes that the formal replacement of Harun with Ja[subset]far never actually took place. (5)

Bonner is substantially in agreement with Kennedy's overall analysis, although he sees a danger of reading into this early conflict a pattern of the later Abbasid period. (6) He notes that not all the army commanders were opposed to Harun or, as both he and Kennedy see it, to the Barmakids. (7) In his view, court intrigue has received more than its fair share of attention and he emphasizes instead that the struggle over the succession was not confined to Baghdad and that Harun's accession was more than "a neatly executed coup d'etat pulled off in Baghdad by the Barmakids and al-Khayzuran." (8) Harun--or again as he sees it, the Barmakids--had a provincial power base in the north and west of the empire, where they had the support of several military commanders including the leading Khurasani officer Khuzayma ibn Khazim. …

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