Al-Mutawakkil in the Age of Imam Hasan Askari (a.s.)

Baqir Shareef al-Qarashi

158

Al-Mutawakkil

Al-Mutawakkil son al-Mu’tasim assumed the rule in 232 AH.[1] In the same year Imam Abu Muhammad (a.s.) was born.[2] When al-Mutawakkil assumed the rule, people were afflicted with a natural disaster that they had never seen before. A simoom blew in Iraq, and destroyed the plants of Basra, Kufa, and Baghdad and killed many travelers. It lasted for fifty days and reached Hamadan, Mosul, and Sanjar. It destroyed plants and cattle, prevented people from dealing in markets and walking in streets, and killed a large number of people.[3] It might be a warning from the Heavens on the evil omen of the reign of this king.

When al-Mutawakkil was paid homage as king, Ubaydillah bin Tahir gave him as a present four hundred bondmaids at the head of whom was Mahbubah whom al-Mutawakkil became very fond of.

(Nisa’ al-Khulafa’ (the caliphs’ women), p. 92)

His Characteristics

Al-Mutawakkil lived a life of frivolity with no tendency to seriousness. His life was full of amusement and joking. Historians say, ‘No play, joking, or clowning appeared in the meetings of the Abbasid caliphs before al-Mutawakkil. When al-Mutawakkil assumed the rule, he brought all that to his meeting and then most of the upper class imitated him in that.[4] He brought imitators, who imitated the gestures and voices of some people and did comic acts, in his meeting.

(Ad-Diyarat, p. 26)

He was very interested in pleasures and drinking.[5] Banan and Zanam were two boy servants of his. They were skilled in playing and singing. One played the lute and the other blew the pipe. He did not drink except with their playing.

(Thimar al-Quloob (fruits of hearts), p. 122)

His retinue curried favors with him by giving him as a present beautiful bondmaids and matured wines because he was exceesingly fond of both. Once, al-Fath bin Khaqan gave him, after he recovered from illness, a very beautiful bondmaid, a gold cup, a crystal vat full of wine, and a piece of paper having written in it some verses of poetry. Al-Mutawakkil admired that. Youhannah bin Maswayh, his special physician, said to him, ‘O Ameerul Mu’minin, by Allah, al-Fath is more curative than me. Do not oppose what he advised you of!’

(Encyclopedia of the Twentieth Century, vol. 10, p. 964)

He was preoccupied with sexual life. Historians say that he had five thousand concubines and that he had slept with all of them. Abd said, ‘By Allah, if al-Mutawakkil was not killed, he would not live longer because of the abundance of his sexual intercourses.’

(Mir’at az-Zaman, vol. 6, p. 69)

He was very fond of beautiful bondmaids and of talking with them. He loved a bondmaid called Qabihah. He said to Ali bin al-Jahm, ‘One day, I went to Qabiha and saw that she had written my name with the ghaliyah (a kind of perfume) on her cheek. By Allah, I have not seen a thing more beautiful than the black of that ghaliyah on the white of that cheek. Would you please compose some verses on that?’

Once, he became angry at his bondmaid Mahbubah and left her alone for some time. He saw in sleep that she made peace with him. He sent one of his servants to see what the matter with her was. The servant came back telling him that she was sitting singing. He and his servant went to listen to her singing. She was singing some verses of poetry which pleased him. When she felt him, she came and told him that she saw in sleep that he came and made peace with her and so she recited this poetry. Al-Mutawakkil and his bondmaid went together to drink. He gave his companions good presents on the occasion.

(Nisa’ al-Khulafa’, pp. 95-96)

Al-Mutawakkil committed vices openly and he did not feel shy before people. Once, he played backgammon with his vizier al-Fath bin Khaqan. Judge Ahmad bin Dawud asked permission to come in to al-Mutawakkil. Al-Fath wanted to hide the backgammon but al-Mutawakkil prevented him and said, ‘Do I do something before Allah and conceal it from His people?’

(Zahr al-Adaab, vol. 4, p. 31)

He was reckless and did not fear Allah. His companions played chess before him,[6] and if they knew that it displeased him, they would not dare to do that.

His recklessness and committing vices were known to all people. He asked his wife Reetah bint al-Anbas to unveil herself and to braid her hair like boys did, and when she refused, he divorced her.[7] All people talked about that, but he was indifferent to any criticism.

From his other characteristics were haughtiness and pride especially on his last days when his rule became constant and firm. He was despotic, proud, and haughty towards people.[8] He despised al-Buhturi, the emir of poets at that time, who praised him in his poems. Al-Mutawakkil incited Abul Anbas to harm and disgrace al-Buhturi who ran away saying, ‘Knowledge has been lost and literature has perished.’

(Akhbar al-Buhturi by as-Sawli, p. 89)

His Enmity Towards The Alawids

Al-Mutawakkil’s heart was full of enmity and spite against the Prophet’s progeny. He tried his best to exhaust them. They met many misfortunes and distresses during his reign that they did not met from the unjust rulers before him. He imposed an economic blockade on them and officially prohibited any form of assistance to them. Whenever he was informed that someone helped them, he severely punished him and imposed a heavy fine on him.[9] People refrained from helping or associating with the Alawids for fear of the severe punishment of this tyrant.

The economic blockade harmed the Alawids and exhausted them to a degree that one dress was used by some women of them. One of them wore it and offered the prayer and then another one and so on. They always patched it. They sat at their spindle semi naked with unveiled heads,[10] whereas the tyrant al-Mutawakkil spent on his red nights millions of dinars, and donated, without measure, thousands to singers, drinking companions, and effeminates, but prevented the progeny of the messenger of Allah (a.s.) from receiving their rights and legal dues until he made them poor and wretched.

Besides, he made all the media in his government defame and degrade the Alawids. Mercenary poets, like Marwan bin Abul Janub, dispraised the Alawids and preferred the oppressors and tyrants to them. Al-Mutawakkil gifted those poets with gold and silver to go further in defaming the Alawids, thinking that these procedures would take Muslims away from the progeny of their prophet (a.s.). He was badly mistaken in that, for that made people believe more that the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) were the real leaders of the nation. All classes of people glorified and highly regarded them. They preferred them to all other people.

Al-Mutawakkil bore hatred and spite against Imam Ali (a.s.). He rejected him and declared his hatred and despise towards him openly. He made one of his effeminate servants dance and compare himself to Imam Ali (a.s.). This ugly doing provoked al-Muntasir, al-Mutawakkil’s son, and made him kill his father.

Al-Mutawakkil was full of rage whenever he heard or saw crowds of people visit the shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a.s.) the master of the youth of Paradise, whereas the graves of his (al-Mutawakkil’s) fathers and their cousins the Umayyads turned into dunghills in dark, dreary places, which became resorts for beasts. Those graves, with their misery and gloominess, spoke of the oppression and violence of their inhabitants against Muslims.

Historians say that the reason, which made al-Mutawakkil destroy the holy shrine, was that some songstress sent him her maids before he assumed the rule to sing for him when he drank, and when he became the caliph, he sent for her to send him a songstress but she was not there. It was said to him that she had gone to visit the holy tomb of Imam al-Husayn (a.s.). She was informed of that while she was in Kerbala. She hurried back to Baghdad and sent al-Mutawakkil one of her maids. He asked the maid where they were and she said, ‘My lady went to perform the hajj (pilgrimage) and took us with her.’ It was the month of Sha’ban. Al-Mutawakkil was astonished and said to her, ‘Where did you perform the hajj in Sha’ban?’ She said, ‘To the tomb of al-Husayn.’

The tyrant was alarmed and angry when he heard that the pilgrimage was to the holy tomb of Imam al-Husayn (a.s.). He arrested the lady of the maid and confiscated all her wealth, and ordered his officials to destroy the tomb. They refused insistently to destroy the tomb of the grandson of their Prophet. Then, al-Mutawakkil asked some Jews, headed by ad-Dayzaj, to destroy the tomb. They responded to him and destroyed the holy tomb in 237 AH,[11] and destroyed all buildings around the tomb. They plowed the land around the tomb and made water flow over the land,20 but water flowed around the tomb without reaching it; therefore, it was called al-Ha’ir. A pleasant smell was emitted from the tomb, the like of which people had never smelt before.21

 

A nomad from bani Asad got the honor of visiting the holy tomb after it had been destroyed. He began smelling the earth so that it might guide him to the holy tomb. When he took a handful of earth, smelt it, and found it emitting a very pleasant smell. He cried and addressed Imam al-Husayn (a.s.) saying, ‘May my father and mother die for you! How fine you are! How fine your tomb is, and how fine your earth is!’ Then he recited the following verse,

“They wanted to hide his tomb from his companion,

but the fine smell of the tomb’s earth guided to the tomb.”

Muslims complained of al-Mutawakkil and abused him in their societies and meetings, and prayed Allah against him in their prayers. They wrote curses against him on mosques and walls. The following verses, which were composed by a poet who concealed his name for fear of the government, though it was ascribed to ibn as-Sikkit or al-Bastami,[12] were memorized by people and spread among all classes of society:

“By Allah, if the Umayyads had killed the son[13] of the Prophet unjustly,

his cousins[14] did the same; here is his tomb destroyed!

They felt sorry that they did not participate in killing him,

So they chased him in the grave.’[15]

Kingdoms come and go, but al-Husayn (a.s.) with his mention and shrine remains as a shining star in the sky of the Arabs and Muslims for he has occupied the hearts of Muslims and his love flowed in their veins, whereas al-Mutawakkil and his likes are chased by the curse, wrath, and punishment of Allah.

Imam Abu Muhammad (a.s.) was in the prime of youth and he heard about the unjust decision that al-Mutawakkil had taken against the shrine of his grandfather, and about the severe punishments the visitors of the shrine faced from al-Mutawakkil. Surely these procedures caused him pains and distresses.

With Imam Al-Hadi

Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) was the master of the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) at that age. All the nation regarded, glorified, and preferred him, due to his knowledge, piety, and virtues, to all others, and a part of the nation believed in his imamate. Al-Mutawakkil could not bear to see a great personality from his enemies, the Alawids, in the Muslim nation, whom all people talked highly about and whose talents and intelligence were mentioned in all meetings.

Mercenaries, opportunists, and the government agents began spreading lies against the imam saying that great monies were sent to him, and that he had determined to revolt against the Abbasid rule. Al-Mutawakkil became so upset and angry. He ordered his men to bring Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) to Samarra’ the capital of the Abbasid state at that time. Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) and his family were brought from Medina to Samarra’. Al-Mutawakkil imposed house arrest on the imam and did not let him leave Samrra’ after surrounding his house with detectives and policemen to watch all his activities, and to prevent the Shi’a from communicating with him.

After some time, al-Mutawakkil imposed an economic blockade on the imam and his family so that no money came to him from his followers except after hard efforts. The Shi’a followed all ways and means to take money to the imam. One of those means was that they pretended to sell oil, and inside the bottles of oil they sold to the Imam, they concealed money.

Some villain went to al-Mutawakkil and informed him about Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) falsely claiming that he had books, arms, and monies and that he might revolt against the government of al-Mutawakkil, who became worried and terrified upon hearing so. Al-Mutawakkil ordered some of his Turk policemen to attack the house of Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) in the night and arrest him.

They attacked Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) unexpectedly and found him in a simple house wearing a garment of wool and there was nothing between him and the ground save a carpet of sand and pebbles while facing the qibla and reciting this saying of Allah,

Nay! do those who have wrought evil deeds think that We will make them like those who believe and do good that their life and their death shall be equal? Bad it is that they judge.

(Qur’an, 45:21)

They took him to al-Mutawakkil while he was in that state[16] that represented the asceticism of prophets and spirituality of apostles. Al-Mutawakkil was drunk at the table of wine. When he saw Imam al-Hadi (a.s.), he offered him a glass of wine, but Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) shouted at him, ‘By Allah, it has never mixed with my blood and flesh at all.’

Al-Mutawakkil asked the imam, ‘Recite me some poetry!’

Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) said, ‘I seldom recite poetry.’

Al-Mutawakkil insisted on him saying, ‘You must recite me some poetry!’

Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) found himself obliged to recite some poetry, and so he recited the following verses that changed the ecstasy of al-Mutawakkil into sorrow and weeping,

“They were on the tops of mountains,

guarded by strong, brave men, but those tops sufficed them not.

After glory, they were taken down from their positions,

and put into holes. How bad an abode they dwelt in!

A crier called them after being buried:

Where are the thrones, crowns, and treasures?

Where are the faces that were at ease and luxury,

that curtains and screens were put before them?

The grave showed those faces where worms were fighting on them.

How long they ate and drank!

But after that long eating, they were eaten!”

Al-Mutawakkil was shaken and intoxication flew from his head. He began crying incontrollably. The attendants in the meeting feared for Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) that al-Mutawakkil might assault him and they thought that al-Mutawakkil would take revenge on him.

Al-Mutawakkil ordered his men to take the glasses of wine away from the meeting. He turned to the pure Imam (a.s.) and said to him reverently, ‘O Abul Hasan, are you in debt?’

Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) said, ‘Yes, four thousand dinars.’

Al-Mutawakkil ordered four thousand dinars to be given to Imam al-Hadi (a.s.). He returned him back to his house with respect and honor.

(Murooj az-Zahab, vol. 4, pp. 44-45)

This event showed the jihad of Imam al-Hadi (a.s.) and his fixed situation towards that tyrant. He did not care for his rule and power. He preached and warned him of the punishment of Allah and said to him (through poetry) that he would die and neither his armies nor his authority would save him from death, and that his delicate body would be food for worms in the grave. Certainly, al-Mutawakkil had never heard such preaching before. Instead, he filled his ears with the voices of songsters and songstresses. Finally, death came to him while he was between musicians and cups of wine.

Anyhow, Imam Abu Muhammad (a.s.) saw what happened to his father from al-Mutawakkil.

The Death of Al-Mutawakkil

Al-Mutawakkil and his vizier al-Fath bin Khaqan were killed after a plot concluded by al-Mutawakkil’s son al-Muntasir, Waseef, and Bugha the Turks. They attacked him in the night and cut him and his vizier by their swords into pieces so that his flesh could not be distinguished from his vizier’s.

Al-Mutawakkil was killed and a black page of debauchery, diversion, corruption, and oppression was folded, and people could breathe freely for a short time.

[1]            Tareekh al-Khulafa’ by as-Sayouti, p. 346

[2]            Akhbar ad-Duwal, p. 117

[3]            Tareekh al-Khulafa’, p. 346

[4]            Lectures on the History of the Islamic nations, pp. 265-266

[5]            Baynal Khulafa’ wal Khula’a’ (between the caliphs and the dissolute), p. 115

[6]            Baynal Khulafa’ wel Khula’a’, p. 108

[7]            Mir’at az-Zaman, vol. 6, p. 169

[8]            Uyoon at-Tawareekh, vol. 6, p. 170

[9]            Maqatil at-Talibiyeen, p. 597

[10]           Ibid., p. 599

[11]           Akhbar ad-Duwal, p. 359

[12]           Fawat al-Wafiyyat, vol. 1, p. 203

[13]           Imam Husayn (a.s.)

[14]           The Abbasids who were the cousins of the Prophet (a.s.) and of Imam Husayn (a.s.).

[15]           Akhbar ad-Duwal, p. 159; Tareekh al-Khulafa’, p. 347

[16]           Rawzat al-A’yan, manuscript.