From Baghdad to Cordoba


FromBaghdad to Cordoba

FromBaghdad to Cordoba

Theworld has seen its fair share of conflicts both in the ancient andcontemporary human societies. Indeed, a large proportion of humanhistory has been characterized by human conflicts, which come indifferent times and have different results, magnitudes and impacts.However, it has well been acknowledged that some parts of the worldhave been experiencing conflicts at a higher frequency than otherparts. This is the case for a large proportion of the Muslim worldparticularly in the Middle East. Of particular note is the fact thata large proportion of these areas were primarily under the rule orauthority of monarchies. In essence, the conflicts in them mostlyrevolved around different factions of the monarchies. This was thecase for Iraq, particularly with regard to the reign of al Rashidaround the 9thcentury.

Theconflict between al Rashid’s sons namely Al Amin and Al Mamun iswell documented in the book “TheHistory of al-Tabari Vol. 31:&nbspTheWar between Brothers: The Caliphate of Muhammad al-Amin A.D.809-813/A.H. 193-198” by Tabari. Tabari organizes the historicalmaterials in a chronological manner by first coming up with a historyof the conflict right from the time of Al Rashid’s reign. Indeed,al-Tabari presents the a chronology of the events that occurred fromthe year 193 (808-809 AD) through to 198 (813-814 AD). Of particularnote is the fact that the author incorporates religious verses in thetext in an effort to underline the message that he wants to putacross. These religious sayings may have been enmeshed in theparticipants’ speeches and letters. It is understood that the mainindividuals whose conflict is examined are Muslims, in which casetheir conversations, whether by spoken word or in letters,incorporated some quotes from their Quran or even their religiousbeliefs.

Causesof the conflict between Al Amin and Al Mamun

Ashas been earlier noted, Al Amin and Al Mamun were step brothers andsons of Harun Al Rashid. It is worth noting that Al Amin wasconsidered a more valid heir of the throne occupied by Al Rashidafter his death thanks to the fact that Al Amin’s mother belongedto the reigning Abbasid Family. This was in spite of the fact that AlMamun was the older of the two. The only undoing, in the case of AlMamun was that his mother was Persian. Nevertheless, a formalagreement or arrangement had been made prior to the death of alRashid regarding the succession. In this case, it had been decidedthat Al Amin would be the heir of the caliphate, in which case hewould ascend to the same upon the death of his father. Al Ma’mun,on the other hand was supposed to take up or become the governor forthe Eastern Province of Khurasan that was virtually independent ofBaghdad. The autonomous nature of this province is underlined by thefact that the caliphate was required not to interfere with theadministration of his brother, al Mamun. On the same note, it wasagreed that al Mamun would be the successor of Al Amin, followed bytheir other brother Al- Qasim. It is worth noting that Al Mamun couldchange his successor if he deemed fit. As much as the brothers agreedto these agreements, it is noted that the arrangements amounted to asubstantial decline or reduction of powers and authority of thecaliph. This was undoubtedly a recipe for conflict between the twobrothers. There are varied causes of the conflict between the twobrothers upon the death of their father and their subsequentascension of each to their respective seats.

First,the actions of al Rashid prior to his death destroyed any prospectsfor peaceful coexistence between the two brothers. It is noted that ayear prior to his death, al Rashid had made some arrangements thatseemed to upset or create tensions between the two brothers. As muchas he had come up with the agreements regarding the manner in whichpower would be shared upon his death, Al Rashid had gone ahead toassign the entire military force to the command of Al Mamun (Tabari12). It is worth noting that the implication that Al Mamun would notonly have the armies that he raised in his province but also animmense proportion of the Baghdad regular army at his disposal seemedto upset the military balance that would have come into play upon theascension of al Amin to the throne as the caliphate. Indeed, it iswell acknowledged that the military wing or the army constitutes afundamental component of any ruler’s government. Indeed, thestrength, power and authority of any ruler rests with the armyirrespective of the manner in which he or she acquired such power.This means that the army must be under the command of that individualif he or she is to have any chances of being sustainably in power. Inessence, the placement of the army permanently under the authority ofAl Mamun tended to create the probability that this arm of governmentwould be disloyal to their caliphate, Al Amin. This arrangement,essentially, tended to or had the capacity to undermine the authorityand rule of al Amin as it meant that the army would be under thegovernor of another province that was independent of hisjurisdiction. As much as this arrangement may have been implicitlyalluded to in the agreement that the two had assented to, theimplications of the same created disharmony and, therefore, was arecipe for conflict.

Inaddition, it has been noted that there was an element ofinsubordination and rebellion on the part of Al Mamun against hisstep brother. It is evident that Al Mamun had never gotten over thefact that the army had deserted his camp and pledged their allegianceto the new caliphate in spite of their being placed under the commandof Al Mamun. However, Al Amin requested Al Mamun to make someadjustments to the succession plan that seemed to go against theinitial agreement that they both had agreed to abide by. Indeed, itis noted that Al Amin made a request to his brother that the former’sown infant son be included in the order of succession but after alMamun and possibly after Al Qasim (Tabari 1992, 23). However, alMamun seemed to view this as going contrary to the agreement orarrangement that their father had made regarding the caliphate.Indeed, it is noted that he not only rejected the idea but alsoceased sending official reports pertaining to his province to AlAmin. This may have been the single event that triggered theescalation of the conflict between the two brothers. It is noted thatthe caliphate viewed the actions of his brother as amounting to arebellion against his rule in which case he eliminated Al Mamun’sname from the order of succession. This was coupled up with theappointment of the infant boy as the governor of Khurasan, theindependent province that was under the governorship of his brother,while prohibiting Al Mamun and his family from leaving Iraq (Tabari1992, 23). Further, al Mamun was summoned back to Baghdad. To makematters worse, Al Amin required that some of the districts that wereunder the rule of Al Mamun but which fell beyond the borders of theKhurasan province be returned under the authority and control ofBaghdad. These actions were, with no doubt, bound to aggravate thetension between the two as it seemed to go against the agreement towhich they had accented to abide. In addition, it is well noted thatthe agreement had required that Al Mamun rule the province ofKhurasan without any interference from his caliphate brother. Thismeans that he should never have been required to make any alterationsto the agreement or succession order. Of particular note is the factthat the agreement had stated that any individual who went against itwould be unfit for the position of the caliphate, in which case theactions of Al Amin to undermine the governorship of Al Mamun inKhurasan amounted to forfeiture of his position as a caliphate.

Further,it is noted that the funds that al- Rashid had left to the caliphatefor the administration of all provinces including Khurasan, which wasunder the governorship of Al Mamun, may have been the basis for theconflict between the two brothers. After Al Mamun refused to includethe name of Al Amin’s son Musa into the order of succession, it isnoted that the caliphate refused to give funds that Al Mamun hadrequested for so as to strengthen his position. Of particular note isthe fact that the money had been set aside from the public treasuryand assigned to be Al Mamun’s. In a letter to Al Mamun, thecaliphate stated that it was more appropriate that he spend the moneyon his obligations and give it to individuals who deserved it.Needless to say, the actions of the caliphate were bound to aggravatethe relationship between him and his step brother. Indeed, Al Mamunviewed this refusal as aimed at weakening his authority so that AlAmin may gain an upper hand against him and oppose his rule (Tabari,1992, 36). This may have been the episode that triggered the conflictbetween the two individuals, which eventually resulted in the fall ofAl Amin’s rule.

Depictionof the Brothers in the Book

Whilethere may varied opinions regarding the manner in which the twobrothers are depicted in the book, it is evident that al-Tabarisuccessfully presents them in a pretty fair manner without creatingany impression regarding the guilt or inadequacies of one brotherover the other. This is evident with regard to the manner in which hepresents the roles that the two brothers play in fanning theconflict. Indeed, it is noted that the two brothers were distrustfulof each other and, therefore, each of them made efforts to underminethe authority the other. At the beginning, the older brother Al Mamunwas distrustful of his younger brother who had been made thesuccessor of the caliphate. This was, essentially, the reason forinsisting that he accompanies his father on an expedition to theKhurasan as he detested being under the authority of his brother. Itis at this time that the army was placed under his command. Ofparticular note is the fact that after the death of al Rashid, thearmy men were supposed to swear their allegiance to Muhammad al-Aminand then to Al- Mamun. This seemed to anger the latter, in which casehe thought of opposing it, had it not been the case that the militarymen had already started deserting to the side of the new caliphate.This lack of trust may have played an immense role in fanning theconflict.

Al-Amin, on the other hand, may have played a crucial role in fanningthis crisis especially by his efforts to undermine his authority. Ofcourse he was distrustful of his brother as he opined that thelatter’s ascension to power would, with no doubt, primarily curtailthe prospects of his offspring from getting to power. Nevertheless,al-Tabari seems to absolve him of blame as far as poor decisionsregarding his brother are concerned, instead insinuating that he wassimply being misled by his other brothers and advisers who had theirown selfish interests. However, his role in the entire conflict isundeniable as he is credited with going against the arrangement thathis father had made and seeking to have his son as the heir of thegovernorship of the Khurasan, which was under his brother. Thispresents the picture that both were culpable for the ensuingconflict, albeit at different degrees.

Inconclusion, the world has seen its fair share of conflicts both inthe ancient and contemporary human societies. However, it has wellbeen acknowledged that some parts of the world have been experiencingconflicts at a higher frequency than other parts with the Muslimworld taking up a large proportion of the conflicts. Of particularnote is the fact that a large proportion of these areas wereprimarily under the rule or authority of monarchies. In essence, theconflicts in them mostly revolved around different factions of themonarchies. This was the case for Iraq, particularly with regard tothe reign of al Rashid around the 9thcentury. There were varied causes of the conflict between the twosons of al-Rashid, with research showing that the two sons did nottrust each other, in which case each of them made efforts toundermine the other’s authority. Nevertheless, it was evident thatthe arrangement that had been made was a recipe for conflictespecially with regard to the arrangement pertaining to the commandof the military. As much as the arrangement was aimed at ensuringthat each of the brothers kept his side of the bargain, it wasevident that the arrangement created a platform for Al-Mumanundermining his brother’s rule. This set off a string of events andactions that resulted in the escalation of the conflict.


Tabari,A. TheHistory of al-Tabari Vol. 31:TheWar between Brothers: The Caliphate of Muhammad al-Amin A.D.809-813/A.H. 193-198.New York: SUNY series in Near Eastern Studies, 1992.