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فَإِنَّهُ مَنْ يَعِشْ مَنْكُمْ بَعْدي فَسَيَرَى اخْتِلاَفًا كَثِيْرًا ، فَعَلَيْكُمْ بِسُنَّتِي وَ سُنَّةِ الْخُلَفَاءِ الرَّاشِدِيْنَ المَهْدِيِّيْنَ ، عَضُّوا عَلَيْهَا بِالنَّوَاجِذِ

Islam In Baghdad

Sunday, April 4, 2010 , Posted by Rendy Adam Fitriadi at 1:38 PM


“Have you seen in all the length and breadth of the earth A city such as Baghdad? Indeed it is paradise on earth.” (al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, in Lassner, Topography, p. 47)

Thus begins a poem attributed variously to _Umara b. _Aqil al-Khatafi and Mansur al-Namari in praise of Baghdad, the illustrious capital of the Abbasid caliphate in Iraq for close to A bust of Muslim caliph Abu Ja_far al-Mansur, in Baghdad, which he founded. AP/WIDE WORLD PHOTOS five centuries. The city was founded by the second Abbasid caliph, Abu Ja_far al-Mansur, on the banks of the Tigris River where it most closely approaches the Euphrates. While officially called Dar al-Salam, or the Abode of Peace, which recalls Qur_anic descriptions of Paradise (6:127; 10:25), the name Baghdad itself is reminiscent of a pre-Islamic settlement in the vicinity.

However, this metropolis is not to be confused erroneously with the ancient towns of Babylon, Seleucia, and Ctesiphon. Following the turbulence and social upheavals of the Abbasid assumption of power from the Umayyads, al-Mansur sought to move his capital to a more secure location in the East. The proclamation of Abu l-_Abbas as the first Abbasid caliph in 749 C.E. had irrevocably shifted the locus of imperial power away from Damascus, the Umayyad capital, to a series of successive sites in Iraq. Al-Mansur himself was initially based in al-Hashimiyyah, adjacent to Qasr Ibn Hubayra and close to Kufa. The Rawandiyya uprising of 758 C.E., however, soon exposed the location’s vulnerability, and al-Mansur began a thorough investigation of sites from which he could consolidate his rule.

In accordance with the information gathered from scouts, local inhabitants, and personal observation, the minor village of Baghdad was selected as an ideal location for the future Abbasid capital. The area had much to recommend itself in terms of its central location, fertile lands, temperate climate, ease of receiving provisions via the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers, the convening of caravan routes nearby, and the natural defenses provided by the surrounding canals. Construction of the imperial capital began in the year 762 C.E., though work was halted temporarily that same year while al- Mansur suppressed further uprisings emanating from Medina and Basra.

Over one hundred thousand architects, artisans, and laborers from across the empire were employed in the creation of this city, at tremendous financial expense, over a period of four years. An alternative name for Baghdad, al-Madina al- Mudawwara, or the Round City, reflects the circular layout of al-Mansur’s initial foundation. Baghdad was designed as a series of concentric rings, with the caliphal palace, known as Bab al-Dhahab, or the Golden Gate, and the attached grand congregational mosque located in the center, along with separate structures for the commander of the guard and the chief of police. The caliph was thereby equidistant from all points within the city, as well as surrounded by its considerable fortifications. Only the residences of his younger children, those of his servants and slaves, and various government offices shared access onto this inner circle. Four walkways radiated outward from the central courtyard in the directions of northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest, passing through the inner circle of surrounding structures; then an enclosure wall followed by an interval of space; then a residential area followed by another interval; then a large wall of outer defense, a third interval, a second smaller wall; and finally a deep, wide moat surrounding the entire complex.

The Round City initially retained an austere administrative and military character. On the city’s outskirts, large land grants at varying distances from the capital were given to members of the Abbasid family, the army, and chiefs of the government agencies. In addition to the initial settlers, comprised of those loyal to the caliph and his new regime, large numbers of laborers, artisans, and merchants migrated to Baghdad in pursuit of the largesse showered upon those necessary to sustain the new imperial capital. What quickly grew to be a thriving market within the walls of the Round City was ultimately perceived to be a security threat and, in 773 C.E., was transferred southwest of Baghdad, to al-Karkh. There, the commercial activities of the Abbasid capital flourished, and Baghdad rapidly developed into an economically vibrant metropolis. The main markets of Baghdad were subdivided according to their various specialties which included food, fruit, flowers, textiles, clothes, booksellers, goldsmiths, cobblers, reedweavers, soapmakers, and moneychangers that served the populace and government officials. Baghdad exported textiles and items made of cotton and silk, glazed-ware, oils, swords, leather, and paper, to mention only a few, through both local and international trade. The muhtasib, a government-appointed regulator, ensured the fair practices of the marketplace as well as supervised the public works of proliferating mosques and bathhouses. The opulence and luxury of court life in Baghdad were legendary, and reflected the vast political and economic power of the Abbasid Empire.

The magnanimity of the Abbasid caliphs and the wellplaced inhabitants of Baghdad also extended into encouraging intellectual pursuits, thereby establishing the Abbasid capital as one of the world’s most sophisticated and prestigious centers of learning. Renowned Islamic scholars of diverse geographical and ethnic origins held sessions in the mosques and colleges of cosmopolitan Baghdad, attracting innumerable seekers of legal, philological, and spiritual knowledge. Bookshops and the private homes of individual scholars and high government officials, such as the wazir, also served as venues for intellectual discussion and debate. Inns located near the mosques provided lodging to those who had devoted themselves to scholarly pursuits, and accommodations were later made available within the institutions of the madrasa (legal college) and ribat (Sufi establishment), both of which also offered stipends to affiliated students.

Scientific research in the fields of astronomy, mathematics, medicine, optics, engineering, botany, and pharmacology also prospered within the Abbasid capital. Alongside experimentationand exploration, translation of Hellenic, Indic, and Persian texts received patronage from dignitaries, physicians, and scientists in response to the professional and intellectual demands of an expanding Islamic society. Public libraries, both attached to mosques and as separate institutions, contributed further to the dissemination of knowledge among the populace, while the establishment of hospitals as charitable endowments throughout the city ensured the provision of free medical care to anyone who so required it. Mobile clinics were even dispatched to remote villages on a regular basis, with the aims of offering comprehensive health coverage.

The political fragmentation of the sprawling Abbasid Empire ultimately contributed to a decline in the revenues and hence in the general fortunes of the capital in Baghdad. Increasing civil disturbances in the face of weakened central authority, as well as rife Sunni-Shi_ite conflicts, resulted in the deterioration and destruction of vast segments of the waning metropolis. Nevertheless, Baghdad retained its prestige as the center of the Islamic caliphate and a symbol of Muslim cultural, material, and scholarly achievement. It was therefore with great consternation that news was received of the Mongols’s savage invasion and ravaging of the city in 1258 C.E. Hundreds of thousands of Baghdad’s inhabitants, including the caliph and his family, leading personalities, and scholars were mercilessly put to death, and the great scientific and literary treasures of Baghdad were burned or drowned in the waters of the Tigris.

Thereafter, Baghdad was transformed into a provincial center within the Mongol Empire, under the control of the Ilkhanids until 1339 C.E. and then the Jalayrids until 1410 C.E. The Karakoyunlu Turkomans and the Akkoyunlu Turkomans ruled Baghdad successively, until the city was conquered by Shah Ismail in 1508 C.E. and incorporated into the Safavid Empire. A subsequent Perso-Ottoman struggle for Baghdad and its symbolic sites resulted in Sultan Sulayman the Magnificent’s conquest of the city in 1534 C.E., only to be lost again to the Safavids, and then regained by the Ottoman Sultan Murad IV in 1638 C.E. Baghdad remained the capital of the region’s Ottoman province for nearly three centuries, and was occupied by the British in March 1917, during the course of World War I. In 1921, it became the seat of Faysal b. Husayn’s kingdom under British Mandate and remained the capital of Iraq throughout its successive developments into an independent constitutional monarchy (1930), federated Hashimite monarchy (1958), and then republic (1958).

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