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‘Abbāsids

‘Abbāsids (Arab., al-dawlah al-‘abbāsiya, from Banū al-‘Abbās). Muslim dynasty in power 749–1258 CE (AH 132–656). Their name is derived from their ancestor al-ʿAbbās, the uncle of Muḥammad. After the death of ‘Alī b. Abī Tālib, the rule passed to the Umayyads with their capital in Damascus (660–750 CE (AH 41–132).) Social, economic, political, and religious factors combined led to an uprising with strong Persian and Shīʿite elements, and the Umayyads were ousted, nearly all of them killed, and al-Saffāḥ (‘the spiller’, i.e., of Umayyad blood) took over power as the first of the ʿAbbāsid rulers. The next caliph, al-Manṣūr, founded the city of Baghdād. One of the most famous of the ʿAbbāsid caliphs was Hārūn al-Rashīd (764–809 (AH 147–194); his splendid court is reflected in The Thousand and One Nights). His son al-Maʿmūn (813–33 (AH 198–218)) founded the Bayt al-ḥikma (house of wisdom) for the translation from Gk. of classical texts of philosophy, science, and medicine. Under the ʿAbbāsids, the Muʿtazilite school of theology enjoyed a brief period of supremacy, but the more orthodox schools eventually regained their dominant place. Although the ʿAbbāsids were the nominal rulers throughout the Muslim empire, various dynasties gained effective control of parts of this vast region. The Buwayhids, from Persia, actually entered Baghdād and controlled affairs from 945 (AH 334) for just over a century. The Fāṭimids in Egypt, a Shīʿa dynasty, took power in 909 (AH 297) but were finally ousted by the Ayyūbids under Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn (Saladin) in 1171 (AH 567). One survivor of the massacre of the Umayyads, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān, made his way to Spain (al-Andalus) and founded an independent dynasty with its capital at Cordoba.

In 1258 (AH 656) the Mongols captured and sacked Baghdād, rolled up the body of the last caliph in a carpet and rode their horses over it. Thus the ʿAbbāsid caliphate came to an end, although another branch reigned in Cairo 1261–1517 (AH 659–923), when they were supplanted by the Ottomans.

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