Part 2


by Ibn Khaldun Icon

Iram was a city with columns.

Ad b. Us b. Iram had 2 sons:

  • Shadid
  • Shaddid

who ruled after him. Shadid perished. Shaddad became the sole ruler of the realm, and the kings there submitted to his authority.

When Shaddad heard a description of Paradise, he said= “I shall build something like it.”

He lived 900 years and built the large city of Iram in the desert of Aden over a period of 300 years.

It is said to have castles of gold and silver and columns of emerald and hyacinth, containing all kinds of trees and freely flowing rivers. When the construction of (the city) was completed, Shaddad went there with the people of his realm.

But -when be was the distance of only one day and night away from it, God sent a clamor from heaven, and all of them perished. This is reported by at-Tabari, ath-Tha’alibi, 71 az-Zamakhshari,72 and other Qur’an commentators. They transmit the following story on the authority of one of the men around Muhammad, ‘Abdallah b. Qilabah.73

When he went out in search of some of his camels, he hit upon (the city) and took away from it as much as he could carry. His story reached Mu’awiyah, who had him brought to him, and he told the story. Mu’awiyah sent for Ka’b al-ahbar 74 and asked him about it.

Ka’b said, “It is Iram, that of the pillars. Iram will be entered in yourtime by a Muslim who is of a reddish, ruddy color, and short, with a mole at his eyebrow and one on his neck, who goes out in search of some of his camels.”

He then turned around and, seeing Ibn Qilabah, he said= “Indeed, he is that man.” No information about this city has since become available anywhere on earth. The desert of Aden where the city is supposed to have been built lies in the middle of the Yemen.

It has been inhabited continuously, and travelers and guides have explored its roads in every direction. Yet, no information about the city has been reported. No antiquarian, no nation has mentioned it. If (the commentators) said that it had disappeared like other antiquities, the story would be more likely, but they expressly say that it still exists. Some identify it with Damascus, because Damascus was in the possession of the people of ‘Ad. Others go so far in their crazy talk as to maintain that the city lies hidden from sensual perception and can be discovered only by trained (magicians) and sorcerers. All these are assumptions that would better be termed nonsense.

All these suggestions proffered by Qur’an commentators were the result of grammatical considerations, for Arabic grammar requires the expression, “that of the pillars,” to be an attribute of Iram. The word “pillars” was understood to mean columns. Thus, Iram was narrowed down in its meaning to some sort of building.

The Qur’an commentators were influenced in their interpretation by the reading of Ibn az-Zubayr 75 who read (not ‘Adin with nunation but) a genitive construction= ‘Ad of Iram. They then adopted these stories, which are better called fictitious fables and which are quite similar to the (Qur’an) interpretations of Sayfawayh which are related as comic anecdotes.

In fact, however, the “pillars” are tent poles. If “columns” were intended by the word, it would not be farfetched, as the power of (the people of Ad) was well known, and they could be described as people with buildings and columns in the general way.

But it would be farfetched to say that a special building in one or another specific city (was intended). If it is a genitive construction, as would be the case according to the reading of Ibn az-Zubayr, it would be a genitive construction used to express tribal relationships, such as, for instance, the Quraysh of Kinanah, or the Ilyis of Mudar, or the Rabi’ah of Nizir.

There is no need for such an implausible interpretation which uses for its starting point silly stories of the sort mentioned, which cannot be imputed to the Qur’an because they are so implausible.

Another fictitious story of - the historians, which - they all report, concerns the reason for ar-Rashid’s destruction of the Barmecides. It is the story of al-‘Abbasah, ar-Rashid’s sister, and Ja’far b. Yahya b. Khalid, his client. Ar-Rashid is said to have worried about where to place them when he was drinking wine with them. He wanted to receive them together in his company.

Therefore, he permitted them to conclude a marriage that was not consummated. Al-‘Abbasah then tricked (Ja’far) in her desire to be alone with him, for she had fallen in love with him. Jafar finally had intercourse with her-it is assumed, when he was drunk-and she became pregnant.

The story was reported to ar-Rashid who flew into a rage. This story 78 is irreconcilable with al-‘Abbasah’s position, her religiousness, her parentage, and her exalted rank. She was a descendant of ‘Abdallah b. ‘Abbas and separated from him by only four generations, and they were the most distinguished and greatest men in Islam after him. Al-‘Abbasah was the daughter of Muhammad al-Mahdi, the son of Abu Ja’far ‘Abdallah al-Manslir, the son of Muhammad as-Sajjad, the son of the Father of the Caliphs ‘Ali. ‘Ali was the son of ‘Abdallah, the Interpreter of the Qur’an, the son of the Prophet’s uncle, al-‘Abbas. Al-Abbasah was the daughter of a caliph and the sister of a caliph. She was born to royal power, into the prophetical succession (the caliphate), and descended from themen-around-Muhammad aril his uncles.

She was connected by birth with the leadership of Islam, the light of the revelation, and the place where the angels descended to bring the revelation.

She was close in time to the desert attitude of true Arabism, to that simple state of Islam still far from the habits of luxury and lush pastures of sin.

Where should one look for chastity and modesty, if she did not possess them? Where could cleanliness and purity be found, if they no longer existed in her house? How could she link her pedigree with (that of) Ja’far b. Yahya and stain her Arab nobility with a Persian client?

His Persian ancestor had been acquired as a slave, or taken as a client, by one of her ancestors, an uncle of the Prophet and noble Qurashite, and all (Ja’far) did was that he together with his father was dragged along (by the growing fame of) the ‘Abbisid dynasty and thus prepared for and elevated to a position of nobility.

How could it be that ar-Rashid, with his high-mindedness and great pride, would permit himself to become related by marriage to Persian clients!

If a critical person looks at this story in all fairness and compares al-‘Abbasah with the daughter of a great ruler of his own time, he must find it disgusting and unbelievable that she could have done such a thing with one of the clients of her dynasty and while her family was in power. He would insist that the story be considered untrue. And who could compare with al-‘Abbasah and ar- Rashid in dignity!

The reason for the destruction of the Barmecides was their attempt to gain control over the dynasty and their retention of the tax revenues. This went so far that when ar-Rashid wanted even a little money, he could not get it. They took his affairs out of his hands and shared with him in his authority.

He had no say with them in the affairs of his realm. Their influence grew, and their fame spread. They filled the positions and ranks of the government with their own children and creatures who became high officials, and thus barred all others from the positions of wazir, secretary, army commander, doorkeeper (hajb), and from the military and civilian administration. It is said that in the palace of ar-Rashid, there were 25 high officials, both military and civilian, all children of Yahya b. Khalid.

There, they crowded the people of the dynasty and pushed them out by force. They could do that because of the position of their father, Yahya, mentor to Harun both as crown prince and as caliph. (Harun) practically grew up in his lap and got all his education from him.

(Harun) let him handle his affairs and used to call him “father.” As a result, the (Barmecides), and not the government, wielded all the influence.

Their presumption grew. Their position became more and more influential. They became the center of attention. All obeyed them. All hopes were addressed to them.

From the farthest borders, presents and gifts of rulers and amirs were sent to them. The tax money found its way into their treasury, to serve as an introduction to them and to procure their favor. They gave gifts to and bestowed favors upon the men of the (‘Alid) Shi’ah 79 and upon important relatives (of the Prophet).

They gave the poor from the noble families (related to the Prophet) something to earn. They freed the captives.

Thus, they were given praise as was not given to their caliph. They showered privileges and gifts upon those who came to ask favors from them. They gained control over villages and estates in the open country and (near) the main cities in every province.

Eventually, the Barmecides irritated the inner circle. They caused resentment among the elite and aroused the displeasure of high officials. Jealousy and envy of all sorts began to show themselves, and the scorpions of intrigue crept into their soft beds in the government.

The Qahtabah family, Ja’far’s maternal uncles, led the intrigues against them. Feelings for blood ties and relationship could not move or sway them (the Qahtabah family) from the envy which was so heavy on their hearts.

This joined with their master’s incipient jealousy, with his dislike of restrictions and (of being treated with) highhandedness, and with his latent resentment aroused bysmall acts of presumptuousness on the part of the Barmecides.

When they continued to flourish as they did, they were led to gross insubordination, as is shown, for instance, by their action in the case of Yahya b. ‘Abdallah b. Hasan b.’ al-Hasan b. ‘All b. Abi Talib, the brother of “the Pure Soul” (an-Nafs az-Zakiyah), Muhammad al-Mahdi, who had revolted against al-Mansur.

This Yahya had been brought back by al-Fadl b. Yahya from the country of the Daylam under a safe-conduct of arRashid written in his own hand. According to at-Tabari, 81 (al-Fadl) had paid out a million dirhams in this matter. Ar-Rashid handed Yahya over to Ja’far to keep him imprisoned in his house and under his eyes.

He held him for a while but, prompted by presumption, Ja’far freed Yahya by his own decision, out of respect for the blood of the Prophet’s family as he thought, and in order to show his presumption against the government. When the matter was reported to ar-Rashid, he asked Ja’far about (Yahya).

Ja’far understood and said that he had let him go. Ar-Rashid outwardly indicated approval and kept his grudge to himself. Thus, Ja’far himself paved the way for his own and his family’s undoing, which ended with the collapse of their exalted position, with the heavens falling in upon them and the earth’s sinking with them and their house.

Their days of glory became a thing of the past, an example to later generations.

Close examination of their story, scrutinizing the ways of government and their own conduct, discloses that all this was natural and is easily explained.

Looking at Ibn ‘Abdrabbib’s report 82 on ar-Rashid’s conversation with his great-granduncle Dawud b. ‘Ali concerning the destruction of the Barmecides as well as al-Asma’i’s evening causeries with arRashid and al-Fadl b. Yahya, as mentioned in the chapter on poets in the ‘Igd, one understands that it was only jealousy and struggle for control on the part of the caliph and his subordinates that killed them.

Another factor was the verses that enemies of the Barmecides among the inner circle surreptitiously gave the singers to recite, in the intention that the caliph should hear them and his stored-up animosity against them be aroused. These are the verses:

Would that Hind could fulfill her promise to us And deliver us from our predicament, And for once act on her own. The impotent person is he who never acts on his own. 84

When ar-Rashid heard these verses, he exclaimed= “I am just such an impotent person.”

By this and similar methods, the enemies of the Barmecides eventually succeeded in arousing ar-Rashid’s latent jealousy and in bringing his terrible vengeance upon them. God is our refuge from men’s desire for power and from misfortune.

The stupid story of ar-Rashid’s winebibbing and his getting drunk in the company of boon companions is really abominable. It does not in the least agree with ar-Rashid’s attitude toward the fulfillment of the requirements of religion and justice incumbent upon caliphs. He consorted with religious scholars and saints.

He had discussions with alFudayl b. ‘Iyad, 85 Ibn as-Sammak, 86 and al-‘Umari, 87 and he corresponded with Sufyan. 88 He wept when he heard their sermons. Then, there is his prayer in Mecca when he circumambulated the Ka’bah. 89 He was pious, observed the times of prayer, and attended the morning prayer at its earliest hour.

According to at-Tabari and others, he used every day to pray one hundred supererogatory rak’ahs.

Alternately, he was used to go on raids (against unbelievers) one year and to make the pilgrimage to Mecca the other. He rebuked his jester, Ibn Abi Maryam, who made an unseemly remark to him during prayer. When Ibn Abi Maryam heardar-Rashid recite= “How is it that I should not worship Him who created me?” he said= “Indeed, I do not know why.” Ar-Rashid could not suppress a laugh, but then he turned to him angrily and said= “O Ibn Abi Maryam, (jokes) even during the prayer? Beware, beware of the Qur’an and Islam. Apart from that, you may do whatever you wish.”

Furthermore, ar-Rashid possessed a good deal of learning and simplicity, because his epoch was close to that of his forebears who had those (qualities). The time between him and his grandfather, Abu Ja’far (al-Mansur), was not a long one. He was a young lad when Abu Ja’far died.

Abu Jafar possessed a good deal of learning and religion before he became caliph and (kept them) afterwards. It was he who advised Malik to write the Muwatta’, saying= “O Abu ‘Abdallah, no one remains on earth more learned than I and you.

Now, I am too much occupied with the caliphate. Therefore, you should write a book for the people which will be useful for them. In it you should avoid the laxity of Ibn ‘Abbas and the severity of Ibn ‘Umar, 93 and present (watti’) it clearly to the people.” Malik commented= “On that occasion, al-Mansur indeed taught me to be an author.” 94

Al-Mansur’s son, al-Mahdi, ar-Rashid’s father, experienced the (austerity of al-Mansur) who would not make use of the public treasury to provide new clothes for his family. One day, al-Mahdi came to him when he was in his office discussing with the tailors the patching of his family’s worn garments.

Al-Mahdi did not like that and said= “O Commander of the Faithful, this year I shall pay for the clothes of the members of the family from my own income.” AlMansur’s reply was= “Do that.”

He did not prevent him from paying himself but would not permit any (public) Muslim money to be spent for it. Ar-Rashid was very close in time to that caliph and to his forebears. 95 He was reared under the influence of such and similar conduct in his own family, so that it became his own nature. How could such a man have been a winebibber and have drunk wine openly? It is well known that noble pre-Islamic Arabs avoided wine.

The vine was not one of the plants (cultivated) by them. Most of them considered it reprehensible to drink wine. Ar-Rashid and his forebears were very successful in avoiding anything reprehensible in their religious or worldly affairs and in making all praiseworthy actions and qualities of perfection, as well as the aspirations of the Arabs, their own nature.

One may further compare the story of the physician Jibril b. Bukhtishu’ reported by at-Tabari and al-Mas’udi.96 A fish had been served at ar-Rashid’s table, and Jibril had not permitted him to eat it. (Jibril) had then ordered the table steward to bring the fish to (Jibril’s) house.

ArRashid noticed it and got suspicious. He had his servant spy on Jibril, and the servant observed him partaking of it. In order to justify himself, Ibn Bukhtishu’ had three pieces of fish placed in three separate dishes.

He mixed the first piece with meat that had been prepared with different kinds of spices, vegetables, hot sauces, and sweets. He poured iced water over the second piece, and pure wine over the third.

The first and second dishes, he said, were for the caliph to eat, no matter whether something was added by him (Ibn Bukhtishu’) to the fish or not.

The third dish, he said, was for himself to eat. He gave the three dishes to the table steward. When ar-Rashid woke up and had Ibn Bukhtishu’ called in to reprimand him, the latter had the three dishes brought. The one with wine had become a soup with small pieces of fish, but the two other dishes had spoiled, and smelled differently. This was (sufficient) justification of Ibn Bukhtishu" s action (in eating a dish of fish that he had prevented the caliph from eating).

It is clear from this story that ar-Rashid’s avoidance of wine was a fact well known to his inner circle and to those who dined with him. It is a well-established fact that ar-Rashid had consented to keep Abu Nuwasimprisoned until he repented and gave up his ways, because he had heard of the latter’s excessive winebibbing.

Ar-Rashid used to drink a date liquor (nabidh), according to the Iraqi legal school whose responsa (concerning the permissibility of that drink) are well known. 98 But he cannot be suspected of having drunk pure wine.

Silly reports to. this effect cannot be credited. He was not the man to do something that is forbidden and considered by the Muslims as one of the greatest of the capital sins. Not one of these people (the early ‘Abbasids) had anything to do with effeminate prodigality or luxury in matters of clothing, jewelry, or the kind of food they took. They still retained the tough desert attitude and the simple state of Islam.

Could it be assumed they would do something that would lead from the lawful to the unlawful and from the licit to the illicit? Historians such as at-Tabari, al-Mas’udi, and others are agreed that all the early Umayyad and Abbasid caliphs used to ride out with only light silver ornamentation on their belts, swords, bridles, and saddles, and that the first caliph to originate riding out in golden apparel was al-Mu’tazz b. alMutawakkil, the eighth caliph after ar-Rashid. 99 The same applied to their clothing. Could one, then, assume any differently with regard to what they drank?

This will become still clearer when the nature of dynastic beginnings in desert life and modest circumstances is understood, as we shall explain it among the problems discussed in the first book, if God wills. 100

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