Abu Muslim

Abu Muslim
ابو مسلم
Native name
Persian: ابو مسلم خراسانی, romanizedAbū Muslim al-Khūrāsanī
Other name(s)Abd al-Rahman ibn Muslim
Bornc. 718, 719 or 723
Merv or Isfahan
Diedc. 755
Al-Mada'in, Abbasid Caliphate
AllegianceAbbasid Caliphate
Service/branchAbbasid army
Years of service747–755
Commands held
Known forLeading the Abbasid Revolution

Abu Muslim (Persian: ابو مسلم; born 718/19 or 723/7–755),[1] was a Persian Muslim military general in service of the Abbasid caliphs Saffah (r. 750–754) and al-Mansur (r. 754–775). He served as the commander-in-chief of the Abbasid Caliphate, who led the Abbasid Revolution, which overthrew the Umayyad Caliphate. He later served as the first Abbasid governor of Khurasan, ruling from 750 until his assassination in 755.

Abu Muslim grew up in Kufa, where he worked as a slave. Afterwards, he shifted in Khurasan where he started a rebellion against the Umayyads. In December 747, he defeated the Umayyad governor Nasr ibn Sayyar and established himself as the governor of Khurasan. He ruled as the governor until 755 when he was executed by al-Mansur's guards.

Origin and name[]

Abu Muslim was born in either 718/19 or 723/7.[1] His birth name is disputed, according to the Encyclopedia Iranica, "sources differ regarding his original name and his origin. Some make him a descendant of Gōdarz and of the vizier Bozorgmehr and call him Ebrāhīm; some name him Behzādān, son of Vendād Hormoz (Persian: بهزادان پور ونداد هرمزد); and others relate him to the Abbasids or to the Alids. These suggestions are all doubtful".[1] He was of Persian origin,[2] and was born in either Merv or near Isfahan.[1] Islamic sources have called his real name as Abd al-Rahman ibn Muslim al-Khurasani.[3]

According to some sources, he was born in Sar-e Pol Province of present-day Afghanistan to a Tajik family.[4][5]

Early life[]

He grew up at Kufa,[1] where he served as a slave and saddler[citation needed] of the Banu Ijil clan.[2] It was there that Abu Muslim came into contact with Shia Muslims.[2]

Kufa at the time was a hotbed of social and political unrest against the ruling Umayyad dynasty, whose policies favoured Arabs over non-Arab converts to Islam (mawālī) and were thus perceived to violate the Islamic promises of equality. The luxurious lifestyles of the Umayyad caliphs and their persecution of the Alids further alienated the pious.[1] This rallied support for the Shi'a cause of rule by a member of the family of Muhammad, who would, as a God-guided imām or mahdī, rule according to the Quran and the Sunnah and create a truly Islamic government that would bring justice and peace to the Muslim community.[6]

By 737, he is recorded among the followers of the ghālī ("extremist, heterodox") al-Mughira ibn Sa'id.[2] These activities landed him in prison, from where he was liberated in 741/2 by the leading Abbasid missionaries (naqāb, sing. naqīb) on their way to Mecca.[2] He was introduced to the head of the Abbasid clan, Ibrahim ibn Muhammad, who in 745/6 sent him to direct the missionary effort in Khurasan.[2]

Khurasan, and the Iranian eastern half of the Caliphate in general, offered fertile ground for the Abbasids' missionary activities.[1] Far from the Umayyad metropolitan province of Syria, Khurasan had a distinct identity. It was home to a large Arab settler community, which in turn had resulted in a large number of native converts, as well as intermarriage between Arabs and Iranians.[7] As a frontier province exposed to constant warfare, the local Muslims were militarily experienced, and the common struggle had helped further unify the Arab and native Muslims of Khurasan, with a common dislike towards the centralizing tendencies of Damascus and the exactions of the Syrian governors.[7] According to later accounts, already in 718/9 the Abbasids had dispatched twelve naqāb into the province, but modern scholars are sceptical of such claims, and it appears that only after the failure of the Revolt of Zayd ibn Ali in 740 did the Abbasid missionary movement begin to make headway in Khurasan. In 745, the Khurasani Qahtaba ibn Shabib al-Ta'i travelled west to swear allegiance to Ibrahim ibn Muhammad, and it was with him that Abu Muslim was sent east to assume control.[8]

When Abu Muslim arrived in Khurasan, the province was in turmoil due to the impact of the ongoing Umayyad civil war of the Third Fitna, which had re-ignited the feud between the Yaman and Qays tribal groups: the numerous Yamani element in the province opposed the longtime governor, Nasr ibn Sayyar, and sought to replace him with their champion, Juday al-Kirmani. Al-Kirmani led an uprising against Ibn Sayyar, and drove him from the provincial capital, Merv, in late 746, with the governor fleeing to the Qaysi stronghold of Nishapur.[9][10][11]

Abbasid Revolution[]

He took Merv in December 747 (or January 748), defeating the Umayyad governor, as well as Shayban al-Khariji, a Kharijite aspirant to the caliphate. He became the de facto governor of Khurasan, and gained fame as a general in the late 740s in defeating the rebellion of Bihafarid, the leader of a syncretic Persian sect that was Mazdaist. Abu Muslim received support in suppressing the rebellion both from purist Muslims and Zoroastrians. In 750, Abu Muslim became leader of the Abbasid army and defeated the Umayyads at Battle of the Zab.[12][13]

Governor of Khorasan[]

Abbasid silver dirham in the name of Abu Muslim of 749/50

After the establishment of the Abbasid regime, Abu Muslim remained in Khurasan as its governor.[2] In this role he suppressed the Shi'a uprising of Sharik ibn Shaikh al-Mahri in Bukhara in 750/1,[2] and furthered the Muslim conquest of Central Asia, sending Abu Da'ud Khalid ibn Ibrahim to campaign in the east.[2]

His heroic role in the revolution and military skill, along with his conciliatory politics toward Shias, Sunnis, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians, made him extremely popular among the people. Although it appears that the first Abbasid caliph al-Saffah trusted him in general, he was wary of his power, limiting his entourage to 500 men upon his arrival to Iraq on his way to Hajj in 754. Abu al-'Abbas's brother, al-Mansur (r. 754-775), advised al-Saffah on more than one occasion to have Abu Muslim killed, fearing his rising influence and popularity. It seems that this dislike was mutual, with Abu Muslim aspiring to more power and looking down in disdain on al-Mansur, feeling al-Mansur owed Abu Muslim for his position. When the new caliph's uncle, Abdullah ibn Ali rebelled, Abu Muslim was requested by al-Mansur to crush this rebellion, which he did, and Abdullah was given to his nephew as a prisoner. Abdullah was ultimately executed.


Relations deteriorated quickly when al-Mansur sent an agent to inventorize the spoils of war, and then appointed Abu Muslim governor of Syria and Egypt, outside his powerbase. After an increasingly acrimonious correspondence between Abu Muslim and al-Mansur, Abu Muslim feared he was going to be killed if he appeared in the presence of the caliph. While Abu Muslim was returning from Harran, Al-Mansur was informed that Abu Muslim doesn't want to see the caliph. Al-Mansur dispatched his nephew Isa ibn Musa to Abu Muslim, and while in Kufa, Isa came to Abu Muslim and pretended to be a kind-hearted and loyal companion of the general. Thus deceived, Abu Muslim was tricked, and brought towards Al-Mansur's residence.[14] Al-Mansur proceeded to enumerate his grievances against Abu Muslim, who kept reminding the caliph of his efforts to enthrone him. Against Abu Muslim were also charges of being a zindiq or heretic.[15] al-Mansur then signaled five of his guards behind a portico to kill him. Abu Muslim's mutilated body was thrown in the river Tigris, and his commanders were bribed to acquiesce to the murder.[16]


The assassination of Abu Muslim caused resentment among the citizens of Khurasan, as rebellions broke out over the brutal methods used by al-Mansur.[15] The first of these revolts was initiated by the Iranian nobleman Sunpadh, who had been a close associate of Abu Muslim.[17] Sunpadh captured the cities of Nishapur, Qumis, and Ray, and also seized the treasuries of Abu Muslim.[18]


His murder was not well received by the residents of Khurasan, and there was resentment and rebellion among the population over the brutal methods used by Al-Mansur.[15] He became a legendary figure for many in Persia, and several Persian heretics started revolts claiming he had not died and would return;[15] the latter included his own propagandist Ishaq al-Turk, the Zoroastrian cleric Sunpadh in Nishapur, the Abu Muslimiyya subsect of the Kaysanites Shia, and al-Muqanna in Khurasan. Even Babak claimed descent from him.[citation needed]

There are different variations of legends about Abu Muslim and forms of his worship in Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan. Depending on particular local traditions, some local saints are legitimized through an imaginary connection with Abu Muslim.[19]

At least three epic romances were written about him:

See also[]

Further reading[]



  1. ^ a b c d e f g Yūsofī 1983.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Moscati 1960, p. 141.
  3. ^ Egger 2016, p. 72.
  4. ^ Abu Muslim Khurasani, Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia, Volume 1, ed. Alexander Mikaberidze, (ABC-CLIO, 2011), 23.
  5. ^ Florian Illerhaus: "Haschimitische Propaganda. Bedingungen für den Erfolg der abbasidischen Revolution" (German). Munich, 2011. ISBN 978-3-640-80572-3
  6. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 123–126.
  7. ^ a b Kennedy 2004, p. 125.
  8. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 125–126.
  9. ^ Shaban 1979, pp. 134–136.
  10. ^ Hawting 2000, pp. 107–108.
  11. ^ Sharon 1990, pp. 43–45.
  12. ^ Universalis, Encyclopædia. "ABBASIDES". Encyclopædia Universalis (in French). Retrieved 28 June 2019. Abu Muslim déclencha l'opération en 747 et la victoire fut acquise à la bataille du Grand Zâb en 750.
  13. ^ Encyclopedia.com "c.728–755, Persian leader of the Abbasid revolution."
  14. ^ Theophilus 2011, p. 298.
  15. ^ a b c d Goldschmidt, Arthur (2002), A concise history of the Middle East, Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, pp. 76–77, ISBN 0-8133-3885-9
  16. ^ Bahramian, Ali; Sajjadi, Sadeq; Bernjian, Farhoud (2008). "Abū Muslim al-Khurāsānī". In Madelung, Wilferd; Daftary, Farhad (eds.). Encyclopaedia Islamica. Brill Online. doi:10.1163/1875-9831_isla_COM_0113. Abū Muslim al-Khurāsānī was a famous Persian dāʿī (missionary) and commander (ca. 100–137/ca. 718–754).
  17. ^ Daryaee 2012, p. 224.
  18. ^ McAuliffe 1995, p. 44.
  19. ^ Malikov Azim. The Cult of Abu Muslim and His Companions in Central Asia: Variants of Mythologization in Etnograficheskoe Obozrenie №3, 2020, pp.141-160