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|17th Caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate|
|Reign||5 April 902 – 13 August 908|
|Died||13 August 908 (aged 31)
Baghdad, Abbasid Caliphate, now Iraq
Abū Muḥammad ʿAlī ibn Aḥmad (Arabic: أبو أحمد علي بن أحمد; 877/878 – 13 August 908), better known by his regnal name al-Muktafī bi-llāh (Arabic: المكتفي بالله, "Content with God Alone"), was the Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad from 902 to 908. More liberal and sedentary than his militaristic father al-Mu'tadid, al-Muktafi essentially continued his policies, although most of the actual conduct of government was left to his viziers and officials. His reign saw the defeat of the Qarmatians of the Syrian Desert, and the reincorporation of Egypt and the parts of Syria ruled by the Tulunid dynasty. The war with the Byzantine Empire continued with alternating success, although the Arabs scored a major victory in the Sack of Thessalonica in 904. His death in 908 opened the way for the installation of a weak ruler, al-Muqtadir, by the palace bureaucracy, and began the terminal decline of the Abbasid Caliphate.
He was born in 877/8, the son of Caliph al-Mu'tadid (r. 892–902) by a Turkish slave-girl, named Čiček ("flower", Jījak in Arabic). Al-Mu'tadid took care to prepare his son for the succession by appointing him as a provincial governor: first in Rayy, Qazvin, Qum and Hamadan, when these provinces were seized from the semi-autonomous Dulafid dynasty in ca. 894/5, and in 899 over the Jazira and the frontier areas, when al-Mu'tamid deposed the last local autonomous governor, Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Shaybani. The future al-Muktafi took up residence at al-Raqqa.
When al-Mu'tadid died on 5 April 892, al-Muktafi succeeded him unopposed. His father's vizier, al-Qasim ibn Ubayd Allah, took the precaution of locking up all Abbasid princes, until al-Muktafi had been safely installed.
Character and government
The new caliph was 25 years old. Al-Tabari describes him as of "medium size, handsome, of a delicate complexion, with [a full head of] beautiful hair and a luxurious beard". He inherited his father's love of buildings—although al-Muktafi completed his father's third palace project, the Taj ("Crown") Palace, in Baghdad, and added a Friday mosque to it—but also his avarice and parsimony, which allowed him to leave, despite a short reign with almost continuous warfare, a surplus of a hundred million dirhams in coins, precious materials, etc. His easy-going nature however was the antithesis of his father, who was famous for his extreme severity and the cruel and imaginative punishments he inflicted, and he rapidly became popular when he destroyed his father's underground prisons and gave the site to the people, released prisoners and returned lands confiscated by the government.
On the other hand, he was not as steadfast as his father, and was easily swayed by the officials at court and by his favourite, Fatiq. The early period of his caliphate was dominated by the vizier al-Qasim ibn Ubayd Allah. A very able man, he was also ambitious; he had plotted to assassinate al-Mu'tadid shortly before the latter's death, and now ruthlessly eliminated any rivals for influence over the new caliph. A Christian secretary, whom al-Muktafi initially favoured, was quickly denounced and purged, as was the commander-in-chief Badr al-Mu'tadidi, and even the Caliph's uncle, Abd al-Wahid, a son of al-Muwaffaq. Al-Qasim succeeded in having his little daughter betrothed to one of al-Muktafi's infant sons, and his eminent position in the state was highlighted by the award, for the first time in the Islamic world, of a special honorific title, Wali al-Dawla.
Meanwhile, the bureaucracy was divided between two bitterly hostile factions, centred around the clans of the Banu'l-Furat and the Banu'l-Jarrah. The two groups represented primarily different factions in a struggle for office and power, but there are indications of "ideological" differences as well: many of the Banu'l-Jarrah families hailed from converted Nestorian families and employed Christians in the bureaucracy, in addition to maintaining closer ties with the military, while the Banu'l-Furat tried to impose firm civilian control of the army and (not quite openly) favoured Shi'ism. Al-Qasim ibn Ubayd Allah favoured the former and resisted the pro-Shi'ite leanings of the latter. The leading representative of the Banu'l-Furat, Abu'l-Hasan Ali ibn al-Furat, only escaped death due to the vizier's own death in 904. Before his death al-Qasim had nominated as his successors either al-Abbas ibn al-Hasan al-Jarjara'i or Ali ibn Isa al-Jarrah, but the latter refused the post, and Ali ibn al-Furat quickly gained the favour of al-Abbas al-Jarjara'i and the Caliph.
Al-Muktafi's brief reign was dominated by warfare, but he was unlike his father, the "ghazī caliph" par excellence. Al-Mu'tadid had actively participated in campaigns, setting a personal example and allowing for the formation of ties of loyalty, reinforced by patronage, between the ruler and the soldiers. Al-Muktafi, on the other hand, did not "in his character and comportment [...], being a sedentary figure, instil much loyalty, let alone inspiration, in the soldiers" (Michael Bonner).
Campaigns against the Qarmatians
At the time of his accession, the Caliphate was menaced by the Qarmatians, a radical Isma'ili Shi'ite sect that denounced mainstream Sunni Islam for practices they viewed as deviations from the true teachings of the religion, such as the hajj and the worship of the Kaaba, as well as the dwelling in cities and the marginalization of the Bedouin. The Qarmatians gained many adherents among the latter, and began assaulting the neighbouring Muslim communities. Their missionary efforts soon spread: in 899, the Qarmatians seized Bahrayn, while another base was established in the area around Palmyra. From there the Qarmatians began launching raids against the Abbasid and Tulunid provinces of Syria. In 902, the Qarmatians defeated the Tulunids and laid siege to Damascus. Although the city withstood the siege, the Qarmatians proceeded to ravage other Syrian towns.
In July 903, al-Muktafi decided to personally a campaign against the Qarmatians, and left Baghdad for al-Raqqa at the head of the army. While al-Muktafi remained at al-Raqqa, actual command was given to the head of the department of the army (dīwān al-jund), Muhammad ibn Sulayman al-Katib. Other Abbasid forces, under Badr al-Hammami and al-Husayn ibn Hamdan, also operated against the Qarmatians, defeating them near Damascus. On 29 November 903, near Hama, the Muhammad ibn Sulayman came upon the main Qarmatian army and routed it, capturing or killing its main leaders and dispersing their troops. Al-Muktafi returned to Baghdad with the senior captives, who were thrown into prison. Muhammad ibn Sulayman remained at al-Raqqa to scour the countryside and round up the remaining rebels. He too then returned to Baghdad, which he entered in triumph on 2 February 904. Eleven days later, on 13 February, Muhammad and the sahib al-shurta of the capital, Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Wathiqi, presided over the public execution of the Qarmatian leaders and Qarmatian sympathizers rounded up from Kufa and Baghdad.
The Abbasid victory near Hama did not yet fully eradicate the Qarmatians from the area. Taking advantage of the absence of the local governor, Ahmad ibn Kayghalagh, who went to suppress a revolt in Egypt, in 906, a part of the Banu Kalb Bedouin rose up in rebellion, led by the Qarmatian Abu Ghanim, called Nasr. They raided the Hawran and Tiberias, and launched an attack on Damascus. Although they defeated its garrison, they could not take the city itself, and moved onto Tiberias, which they pillaged. Al-Husayn ibn Hamdan was sent to pursue them, but they withdrew to the desert and poisoned the water holes behind them and escaped. On 16 June 906, they attacked Hit on the Euphrates. Muhammad ibn Ishaq ibn Kundajiq and Mu'nis al-Khadim marched against them from Baghdad, while al-Husayn ibn Hamdan moved against them from the west, trying to encircle them. To escape their predicament, the Bedouin killed Nasr and received a pardon by to the caliphal authorities. The remaining Qarmatians moved south to Kufa, on the orders of the chief missionary Zikrawayh ibn Mihrawayh. On 2 October they launched an attack on the city, but although repulsed, they defeated a relief army sent from Baghdad to aid Kufa. Zikrawayh then marched to attack the caravans returning from the pilgrimage to Mecca. In November, three caravans where overwhelmed; the Qarmatians massacred indiscriminately—some 20,000 were reportedly killed in the second caravan alone—and carried off women and children as slaves, along with enormous booty. Finally, in early January 907, caliphal troops under Wasif ibn Sawartakin caught the Qarmatians near al-Qadisiyya and destroyed them. With these defeats, the Qarmatian movement virtually ceased to exist in the Syrian Desert, although their counterparts in Bahrayn remained an active threat for several decades to come.
Recovery of Egypt
The defeat of the Qarmatians at Hama also opened the way for the Abbasids to recover the provinces of southern Syria and Egypt, held by the Tulunids. The Tulunid regime had already been weakened by internal strife and the rivalries of the various ethnic groups in the army, which led to the defection of the commander Badr al-Hammami and other senior officers to the Abbasids; the regime was further weakened by the destructive raids of the Qarmatians and its inability to deal with it. On 24 May 904, Muhammad ibn Sulayman left Baghdad at the head of an army, numbering 10,000 according to al-Tabari, and tasked with recovering southern Syria and Egypt itself from the Tulunids. His campaign was to be assisted from the sea by a fleet from the frontier districts of Cilicia under Damian of Tarsus. Damian led a fleet up the river Nile, raided its coasts, and prevented supplies for the Tulunid forces from being ferried over it.
The Abbasid advance was mostly unopposed, and in December, emir Harun ibn Khumarawayh was murdered by his uncles Ali and Shayban. Shayban took over the reins of the state, but the murder caused further defections to the Abbasids, including the governor of Damascus, Tughj ibn Juff. In January, the Abbasid army arrived before Fustat. Shayban abandoned his troops during the night, and the Tulunid capital surrendered. The victorious Abbasids razed the Tulunid-founded capital al-Qata'i with the exception of the great Mosque of Ibn Tulun. The members of the Tulunid family and their leading adherents were arrested and deported to Baghdad, while their properties were confiscated. Isa al-Nushari was appointed governor of Egypt, and an attempt by Tulunid loyalists to rise up in the next year was easily suppressed.
In 906, al-Muktafi married a daughter of the second Tulunid ruler, Khumarawayh. She was probably a half-sister of the famous Qatr al-Nada, who was intended for him but ended up being married to his father in 893.
The Byzantine front
Al-Muktafi also kept up the perennial conflict with the Byzantine Empire, with varying success. In 902 or 903, a naval raid reached the island of Lemnos, dangerously close to the Byzantine capital, Constantinople; the island was plundered and its inhabitants carried of into slavery. Nevertheless, in May 903, the newly appointed governor of Tarsus, Abu'l-Asha'ir Ahmad ibn Nasr, was dispatched to the frontier districts with gifts for the Byzantine ruler, Leo VI the Wise (r. 886–912), and in return, Byzantine envoys arrived in Baghdad for negotiations on a prisoner exchange. The exchange eventually took place in September–October 905, at the river Lamus in Cilicia, but was interrupted because the Byzantines reneged on the agreed terms. After further negotiations, the exchange was completed in August 908.
In the summer of 904, a Byzantine renegade, Leo of Tripoli, led a major naval expedition of 54 vessels from the Syrian and Egyptian fleets, whose initial target reportedly was Constantinople itself. The Arab fleet penetrated the Dardanelles and sacked Abydos, as the Byzantine navy under the droungarios Eustathios Argyros was reluctant to confront them. Emperor Leo replaced Argyros with the more energetic Himerios, but Leo of Tripoli forestalled the Byzantines, turning back west and heading for the Empire's second city, Thessalonica, which he sacked after a three-day siege on 31 July 904. The sack of the city brought the Muslim fleet enormous booty and many captives who were taken to be sold as slaves, including the eyewitness John Kaminiates, who wrote the main account of the city's siege and fall.
On land, however, the Byzantines held the upper hand: al-Tabari reports that in spring/early summer 904, a major Byzantine army, allegedly 100,000 strong, had invaded the borderlands and plundered as far as Hadath. In November, possibly as a retaliation for the sack of Thessalonica, the Byzantine general Andronikos Doukas invaded Arab territory, and won a major victory over the forces of Tarsus and al-Massisah (Mopsuestia) at Marash (Germanikeia). Further successes followed for both sides, including the capture of Qurus (Cyrrhus) in July 906, the raid by Ahmad ibn Kayghalagh and Rustam ibn Baradu in October 906 that reached as far as the Halys River, and Himerios' victory over an Arab fleet on St. Thomas's day, 6 October 906. In spring 907, however, Andronikos Doukas and his son Constantine defected to the Abbasids, the victims of the intrigues of Leo VI's powerful eunuch chamberlain, Samonas.
Death and legacy
Al-Muktafi was a successful ruler, "a man of sensibility, a gourmet and an appreciator of the verses of poets like Ibn al-Rumi". As Harold Bowen writes, "the Caliphate seemed in his day almost to have regained its former glory", having overcome the Qarmatian challenge and regained Egypt and Syria. His fiscal policies, building upon those of his father, also ensured prosperity and a full treasury, despite the drain and devastation of continuous warfare.
Al-Muktafi, however, was of a sickly disposition since childhood; he had been gravely ill for some time before his death, and may have been ill for much of his reign. As a result, the issue of the succession was left unresolved. The vizier, al-Abbas al-Jarjara'i, sounded out the leading officials of the bureaucracy on the issue—an unprecedented act that demonstrated the monopoly of power now exercised by the civilian bureaucrats. Muhammad ibn Dawud al-Jarrah favoured the experienced and capable Abdallah ibn al-Mu'tazz, but the vizier eventually followed the advice of Ali ibn al-Furat, who suggested al-Muktafi's 13-year-old brother Ja'far, on the grounds that he would be week and pliable, and easy to be manipulated by the senior officials. The choice of al-Muqtadir (r. 908–932) was, in the words of historian Hugh N. Kennedy, "a sinister development" and inaugurated one "of the most disastrous reigns in the whole of Abbasid history [...] a quarter of a century in which all of the work of [al-Muqtadir's] predecessors would be undone".
Al-Muktafi seems to have recovered just enough to sanction his brother's nomination, before dying on 13 August 908. Al-Muktafi's death marked the "high point of the Abbasid revival" spearheaded by his father and grandfather. Over the next 40 years, the Caliphate would face a succession of power struggles, and lose its outlying provinces to ambitious local dynasts. With the rise of Ibn Ra'iq to the post of amir al-umara in 936, the caliphs became mere puppet rulers, and Baghdad itself would finally be captured by the Shi'a Buyids in 946.
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Al-MuktafiBorn: 877 Died: 13 August 908
|Sunni Islam titles|
|Caliph of Islam
5 April 902 – 13 August 908