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A Tale of Two Kings

A Tale of Two Kings

Issue 90 March 2012

Tam Hussein explores how violence and civil unrest in the Islamic heartland was overcome by great beauty and learning.


Scholars have suggested that civil strife is not conducive for the spiritual life of man. Especially so, in our present time. The Islamic heartland may be experiencing some difficult challenges, but it has also experienced affliction in the past. Consider the Abbasid revolution of 750 that swept away the Umayyad dynasty. Many of Umayyad leaders became increasingly inept and out of touch with their subjects. Their policy of excluding non-Arab converts from political power and their perceived responsibility for the death of the Prophet’s grandson Hussain, rankled with the Muslim community. It gave birth to a movement that called for their replacement by a caliph who descended from the Prophet’s family. Enter Abu Muslim, a mysterious figure determined to put the Abbasids, a sub-branch of the Prophet’s family, in power. With his efforts, the Abbasid call gained momentum and soon his armies challenged the Umayyad monopoly on power. Civil war erupted  and the Abbasids emerged victorious.


However, though a new Abbasid caliph, Abul Abbas, took the aptly named caliphal title of al-Saffah (the butcher), it did not inaugurate a caliphate that was different from their predecessors. Instead, the new caliph, after massacring the Umayyads at a banquet, laid the foundations for a more aristocratic, more authoritarian, and ironically, more anti-Alid than the Umayyads had ever been.


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