Abu Muslim Rebels Against al-Mansur
When we left the story, it was perhaps late 754, and a conflict was brewing between the second caliph of the Abbasid dynasty, al-Mansur, and his minister, the old revolutionary Abu Muslim. Al-Mansur had his seat in Anbar in Iraq about a decade before the founding of Baghdad. He also ruled what is now Iran, including its eastern reaches of Khurasan (stretching into what is now Uzbekistan and Central Asia, as well as parts of Afghanistan).
Al-Mas’udi, a later historian and traveler who grew up in Baghdad (“the Herodotus of the Arabs”), tells the rest of the tale:
When he had resolved to revolt against Al-Mansur, Abu Muslim left Iraq, and set out for Khurasan [eastern Iran, as governor]; while on his part Al-Mansur left Anbar, and encamped near the city of Rumiyah. From thence he sent the following message to Abu Muslim: “I wish to consult you on matters which can not be confided to a letter; come here, and I shall not detain you long.”
Abu Muslim read the letter, but would not go. Al-Mansur then sent to him Jarir, son of Yazid, the most accomplished diplomat of his time, who had already made the acquaintance of Abu Muslim in Khurasan.
When Jarir came into Abu Muslim’s presence, he addressed him as follows: “My lord, you have fought hitherto faithfully for the Abbasids (Al-Mansur’s family); why should you now turn against them? No information has reached the Caliph which should inspire you with any sort of fear; you have really, in my belief, no reason to pursue this line of conduct.”
Abu Muslim was on the point of promising to return with him, when one of his intimates pressed him not to do so. “My friend,” the chief answered him, “I can resist the suggestions of the devil, but not those of a man like this.” And in fact Jarir did not cease his persuasions till he had induced him to proceed to the Caliph.
Abu Muslim had consulted astrologers, who told him that he was to destroy a dynasty, create a dynasty, and be slain in the land of Rum [Rome, i.e. the Byzantine Empire]. Al-Mansur was then at Rumaiyat al-Mada’in, a place founded by one of the Persian kings, and Abu Muslim never suspected that he should meet with his death there, as he fancied that it was Asia Minor which was meant by the oracle. On entering into Al-Mansur’s presence, he met with a most favorable reception, and was then told to retire to his tent;
But the Caliph only waited a favorable opportunity to take him unawares. Abu Muslim then rode a number of times to visit Al-Mansur, whose manner appeared less cordial than before. At last he went to the palace one day, and, being informed that the Caliph was making his ablutions prior to his prayers, sat down in an antechamber. In the meanwhile Al-Mansur had posted some persons behind a curtain near to the sofa where Abu Muslim was sitting, with the orders not to appear ’till the Caliph clapped his hands. On this signal they were to strike off Abu Muslim’s head.
Al-Mansur then took his seat on the throne, and Abu Muslim, being introduced, made his salutation, which the Caliph returned. Al-Mansur then permitted him to sit, and, having commenced the conversation, proceeded to level sundry reproaches against him. “You have done this,” said he, “and you have done that.”
“Why does my lord speak so to me,” replied Abu Muslim, “after all my efforts and services?”
“Son of a prostitute!” exclaimed Al-Mansur, “you owe your success to our own good fortune. Had an Abyssinian slave been in your place, she would have done as much as you! Was it not you who sought to obtain in marriage my aunt, Aasiya, pretending indeed that you were a descendant of Salit, the son of Abdallah Ibn Abbas? You have undertaken, infamous wretch to rise to a level you cannot reach.”
On this Abu Muslim seized him by the hand, which he kissed and pressed, offering excuses for his conduct; but Al-Mansur shouted: “May God not spare me if I spare you!” He then clapped his hands, on which the assassins rushed out upon Abu Muslim and cut him to pieces with their swords, Al-Mansur exclaiming all the time: “God cut your hands off, rascals! Strike!”
On receiving the first blow Abu Muslim said: “Commander of the Faithful, spare me that I may be useful against your enemies.”
The Caliph replied: “May God never spare me if I do! Where have I a greater enemy than you?”
When Abu Muslim was slain, his body was rolled up in a carpet, and soon after Al-Mansur’s general, Jafar Ibn Hanzala, entered.
“What think you of Abu Muslim?” the Caliph said to him.
“Commander of the Faithful,” answered the other, “if you have ever the misfortune to pull a single hair out of his head, there is no resource for you but to kill him, and to kill him, and to kill him again.”
“God has given you understanding,” replied Al-Mansur: “here he is in the carpet.”
On seeing him dead, Hanzala said: “Commander of the Faithful, count this as the first day of your reign.”
Al-Mansur then recited this verse: “He threw away his staff of travel, and found repose after a long journey.” After this he turned toward the persons present, and recited these lines over the prostrate body: “You pretended that our debt to you could never be paid! Receive now your account in full, O Abu Mujrim [father of the criminal]. Drink of that draught which you so often served to others—a draught more bitter to the throat than gall.” ‘
Abu Muslim was killed in A.D. 755.
This story of the perfidious minister, Abu Muslim, who plots against his master, the ruler of Iraq, but is found out and destroyed by his sovereign, reminds me of the saga of Paul Bremer and Ahmad Chalabi.
Both Abu Muslim (d. 755) and Chalabi were revolutionaries. Abu Muslim helped overthrow the Umayyad kingdom (which ruled most of the Middle East, including what is now Iraq). Chalabi helped overthrow the Baath regime in Iraq. The early Abbasids ruled both what is now Iraq and what is now Afghanistan, and so does George W. Bush (the last ruler to have both, briefly, was Nadir Shah of Iran, d. 1749).
Paul Bremer inherited Chalabi from the Pentagon and the Garner ORHA operation, but clearly did not like him and mistrusted him. Likewise, al-Mansur had inherited Abu Muslim from his elder brother, al-Saffah.
Chalabi appears to have given the Iranians intelligence on American Iraq and to have undermined Bremer in some ways. Finally, in spring of 2004, Bremer struck. Chalabi’s house was searched and he was accused of espionage for the Iranians.
Bremer, however, was no al-Mansur. He was ultimately unable to destroy Chalabi. Indeed, Bremer was forced to flee Iraq for his life on June 28, 2004. Chalabi gradually maneuvered to get the charges against him dismissed, and allied with the religious Shiites. He has now emerged as a powerful parliamentarian. Bremer is gone, and Chalabi is still standing.
Chalabi turns out to be more politically astute than was Abu Muslim, another old-time revolutionary with links to Iran.
[Note the familiar place names. Abu Muslim had fought a campaign in Basra against a rebel. Al-Mansur is at Anbar, then moves to Mada’in (Madaen), the place where the Shiite hostages were allegedly taken recently. Mada’in had been the site of the ancient city of Ctesiphon, a Persian capital when Iran had what is now Iraq under the Sasanid dynasty before the rise of Islam.]