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Iranian Studies, volume 38, number 4, December 2005

Deborah Tor

Privatized Jihad and Public Order in the Pre-Seljuq Period:

The Role of the Mutatawwi‘a

“Whoever acts as vanguard before the Muslims in the path of God as a mutatawwi‘, without a ruler [sultan] having taken him [i.e. voluntarily, not as part of an official campaign], shall never see the Fire with his own eyes except [enough] to satisfy the conditions of the [Qur’anic] oath; for God, may He be praised, who has no partner, says: ‘There is none of you but he is coming to it’” 1 Abu Ya‘la al-Mawsili al-Hanbali, Musnad III, #1490

Until now, various phenomena central to the emergence of classical Islamic civi- lization— the transference of religious authority from the caliphs to the scholars of Prophetic tradition; the political disintegration of the Caliphate; the rise of autonomous Persianate dynasties in the central Islamic lands; and the internecine religious conflict leading to violent chaos within the cities—have been viewed as disparate and unrelated developments. In particular, scholars have failed to see any connection between the changes in caliphal religious standing caused by the rise of early Sunnism and the deep and far-reaching changes in public order which took place between the ninth and eleventh centuries. As a result, scholars have been at a loss when trying to explain how and why these sea changes occurred. 2 Obviously, each of these changes was extremely complex, the product of many contributing factors; but for analytical purposes this paper

The author is in the Department of Middle Eastern History at Bar-Ilan University, Israel. She warmly thanks Patricia Crone for her many helpful criticisms and remarks.

1 Ahmad b. ‘Ali b. al-Muthanna Abu Ya ‘la al-Mawsili al-Hanbali, Musnad Abi Ya‘la al-Mawsili, ed. Husayn Asad (Damascus, 1404/1984) 3, #1490. See also #1486, “Whoever fasts one day in the path of God while a mutatawwi‘, without its being Ramadan, is kept away from the Fire for a hundred years....” 2 Thus one finds, for example, that while Crone and Hinds adumbrate the progress of the trans- ference of religious authority from the caliphs to the keepers of Prophetic hadith, beginning with the new assertions of the Traditionists in the late Umayyad period (P. Crone and M. Hinds, God’s Caliph: Religious Authority in the First Centuries of Islam [Cambridge, 1990], 71, 84 –85), through their “going public” under al-Mahdi (87) and eventual triumph by al-Mutawakkil’s reign (97), Crone and Hinds never answer the question of why the Traditionists won, nor do they link the undermining of the caliph’s religious authority to the undermining of his earthly authority as well. See also Hinds, sv “Mihna,” EI 2 7: 6: “The principal consequences of the failure of the mihna are clear enough: it brought to a decisive end any notion of a caliphal role in the definition of Islam and it permitted the unchecked development of what in due course would become recog- nisable as Sunnism.” That is, Hinds focuses exclusively on the loss of caliphal religious authority without connecting this defeat to the caliphate’s political disintegration.

ISSN 0021-0862 print=ISSN 1475-4819 online=05=040555-19 #2005 The International Society for Iranian Studies DOI 10.1080=00210860500338358

Iranian Studies , volume 38, number 4, December 2005 Deborah Tor Privatized Jihad and Public Order



will examine the way in which, to some extent, all of these fundamental changes in the major institutions of Islamic society were ramifications of a radical transform-

ation in the Jihad which took place in the mid-eighth century. From the earliest days of the Islamic polity, one of the most important duties of its leader, be he the Prophet or a caliph, was to lead and direct the “jihad fi sabil allah”—military striving in the path of God against the unbelievers. The Qur’an is quite unambiguous about this obligation; some of its numerous state- ments on the subject include “Let those fight in the path of God who sell the life of this world for the hereafter; and whoever fights in the path of God, whether he

is killed or triumphs, we shall give him a great reward;”


or: “God has bought

from the believers their lives and their wealth in return for Paradise; they fight in the way of God, kill and get killed. That is a true promise from Him...and

who fulfills His promise better than


4 This Qur’anic injunction was

put into effect from the time of the Prophet onwards, and resulted in the creation of a vast Islamic Empire during the century after the religion’s founding. 5

The chief enemy of the early Muslim state was unquestionably the Byzantine Empire, which was not only the major military opponent of the Muslims, but also posed the only serious ideological and religious challenge to Islam. 6 The early Islamic apocalyptic literature therefore envisions as one of the signs of the Last Days the capture of both New Rome—that is, Constantinople—and

3 Qur’an 4:74. For a discussion of the Qur’anic injunction see R. Firestone, Jihad: The Origin of Holy War in Islam (Oxford, 1999), especially Part II, on Jihad in the Qur’an. In Vecchia Vaglieri’s words,


into the hearts of the warriors the belief that a war against the followers of another

faith was a holy war, and that the booty was a recompense offered by God to his soldiers.” (L. Veccia

Vaglieri, “The Patriarchal and Umayyad Caliphates,” The Cambridge History of Islam, ed. P.M. Holt et alii, [Cambridge, 1995] 1: 60). See also Fred Donner’s thoughtful discussion of the tendency of some Western scholars to dismiss the traditional Muslim view of the religious motivation underlying the Islamic Conquests (F. Donner, The Early Islamic Conquests [Princeton, 1981], 270). 4 Qur’an 9:110. The translation is Majid Fakhry’s, The Qur’an: A Modern English Version, (Reading, 1997), p. 123, except that the present author has substituted “God” where Fakhry uses “Allah.” 5 On the religious elaboration of the idea and its early practical execution see David Cook, Under- standing Jihad (Berkeley, 2005), Chapter 1. Thus Hugh Kennedy characterizes “the campaigns of the Muslims against the Byzantines” as “the focus of the military activities of Umayyad and ‘Abbasid Caliphs.” (Kennedy, The Armies of the Caliphs: Military and Society in the Early Islamic State [New York and London, 2001], xiv). In Ibn al- ‘Adim’s Bughyat al-talab there is a tradition according to which the mutatawwi‘ al-Fazari asks the even more renowned Eastern Iranian mutatawwi‘ ‘Abdallah b. al-Mubarak why he had to come all the way to the Byzantine march to battle Infidels when there were plenty of Turkish ones close at hand in Eastern Iran; Ibn al-Mubarak answers that whereas the Turks were fighting only about worldly power, the Byzantines were battling the Muslims over their faith, “So which is the more worthy of defense: our world or our faith?” (cited in D. Cook, “Muslim Apocalyptic and Jihad,” Jer- usalem Studies in Arabic and Islam xx [1996]: 98). Abu Da’ud, a student of several of Ibn al-Mubarak’s students (vide infra) likewise includes a tradition stating that there is extra religious merit in fighting ahl al-kitab (Abu Da’ud Sulayman b. al-Ash’ath al-Sijistani, Kitab al-Sunan: Sunan Abu Da’ud, ed. Muham- mad ’Awwama [Beirut, 1998] 3: 204 –205, in the section “Kitab al-Jihad,” chapter 8, “In praise of fighting the Byzantines above all other nations,” tradition #2480).


The Role of the Mutatawwi‘a in the Pre-Seljuq Period 557

Old Rome. 7 Moreover, the Islamic polity by the end of the seventh century seemed—at least to the Muslims—well on the way toward realizing this goal of Roman conquest: it had taken from the Roman Empire in a space of less than 70 years all of Syria, Egypt and North Africa, in addition to having swallowed virtually the entire Sasanian Empire. The Muslim wave of expansion met with a real check only at the Siege of Constantinople of 717, some 90 years after the first conquests. This setback effectively resulted in a halt to the massive, centrally-directed warfare that had been the hallmark of the Islamic state virtually from the time of its inception. 8 The expansionist campaigns on the Byzantine front subsequently assumed a somewhat different form from before: Instead of large-scale wars conducted by whole armies, the Jihad in the 720s and 730s now focused solely on the smaller-scale state-sanctioned raids known as ghazawat, and in particular the summer raids, or sawa’if, both of which had been in existence since early Islamic times. 9

7 Vide Nu‘aym b. Hammad b. Mu‘awiyya b. al-Harith al-Khuza‘i al-Marwazi, al-Fitan (Beirut, 1418/1997), 295 –301, the chapter entitled “al-A‘maq wa-fath al-Qustantiniyya,” particularly the long tradition #1163; Abu’l Husayn Ahmad b. Ja‘far b. al-Munadi, Malahim, ed. ‘Abd al-Karim al-’Uqayli (Qumm, 1418/1998), 145 –148; 210. One alternative apocalyptic vision (e.g. Ibn al-Munadi, Malahim 105, 242) simply envisions the conversion of “the Romans” (and the “saqaliba”) to Islam. Note that both these authors were intimately connected with early proto-Hanbalite circles. 8 See Khalid Yahya Blankinship, The End of the Jihad State: The Reign of Hisham Ibn ‘Abd al-Malik and the Collapse of the Umayyads (Albany, 1994), 19, 117 –118. In the Byzantine context, Bosworth notes the fixing of the frontier in the wake of 717: “After the high point of Sulayman b. ‘Abd al-Malik’s abortive attack on Constantinople in 97 –99/715 –717, the frontier became stabilized.” (‘Byzantium and the Syrian frontier in the early ‘Abbasid period,’ The Arabs, Byzantium and Iran: Studies in Early Islamic History and Culture. Variorum Collected Studies Series [Aldershot, 1996], Article XII:56). That the con- quests had a centralized nature even before the establishment of Umayyad rule is persuasively estab- lished by Fred McGraw Donner, “Centralized Authority and Military Autonomy in the Early Islamic Conquests,” The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East. Vol. 3: States, Resources and Armies, ed. Averil Cameron (Princeton, 1995), 337 –360. 9 On this change in tactic see Blankinship, The End of the Jihad State, 118. On the Eastern front the state of things was even worse from a Muslim standpoint; from 724 until circa 740 the Muslims were in a precarious defensive position (H.A.R. Gibb, The Arab Conquests in Central Asia [London, 1923], 65 –86). As for the raids: The Prophet himself conducted raids (See Khalifa b. Khayyat b. Abi Hubayra al-Laythi al-Usfuri, Ta’rikh Khalifa b. Khayyat, ed. Mustafa Fawwaz et al, [Beirut, 1415/ 1995], e.g. 38, 60), as did the representatives of the Rashidun caliphs-e.g. Abu Musa al-Ash‘ari’s ghazw during ‘Uthman’s caliphate (ibid. 113). In fact, ‘Uthman is the first caliph for whom we have a list of the commanders whom he appointed for the sa’ifa raids upon Byzantium (ibid. 134 –135). Pace Michael Bonner’s assertion (Aristocratic Violence and Holy War: Studies in the Jihad and the Arab- Byzantine Frontier, American Oriental Series [New Haven, 1996] 81:57) that ‘Abbasid interest in the summer raids- and in particular the appointing of ‘Abbasid princes to lead them- was something novel, we see the Umayyads sending their relatives on ghazi raids- and particularly the sa’ifa- constantly: e.g. Muhammad b. Marwan’s leading of the sa’ifa in the years 75 (Khalifa 209) and 83 (ibid. 256, where it is also mentioned that al-‘Abbas b. al-Walid raided); the raids of the year 114, one raid of which was led by Mu ‘awiya b. Hisham, and which joined up with the forces of the legendary ghazi ‘Abdallah al-Battal, and the other of which was commanded by Sulayman b. Hisham (Khalifa 271).



While these resulted in some notable successes, they were campaigns which seemed to have relinquished the hope of a quick and immediate conquest of the Byzantine Empire, and focused on a long-term war of attrition instead. More- over, even this limited policy collapsed entirely in the 740s due to the internal dis- orders of the Caliphate and the huge Berber revolt that marked the end of effective caliphal rule in North Africa west of Tunis. 10 In short, there was a dim- inution of the scale of campaigning from 717 until the resumption of grand (if somewhat ritual) campaigns under the Abbasids; of greater concern was the loss of governmental focus on the jihadic drive, and its attendant result on the battlefield: the Muslims were on the defensive, on the Byzantine frontier and elsewhere. The immediate result of the collapse of even the limited Jihad policy was that the Byzantines went on the offensive: in 740 the Emperor Leo defeated and killed the famous ghazi ‘Abdallah al-Battal and in the following years the Byzantines repeatedly brought the conflict into Muslim territory, capturing several


The ` Abbasid Revolution further distracted the Muslim central auth- orities; even after the official establishment of the ` Abbasid caliphate, for many years the numerous ’Alid and other revolts kept the Caliphal armies tied up within the Dar al-Islam itself. 12 As a result, throughout the 750s as well, “the Arabs were generally on the defensive.” 13 The effective halting of the Jihad—and, even worse, the reversal of the offen- sive into Muslim territory—must have posed an unprecedented crisis for the Faithful. The Jihad, a central tenet of the faith, one which had constituted the main focus of the Caliphate’s endeavours from the very beginning of the Islamic polity, had fallen into abeyance. Obviously, the resulting moral and mili- tary vacuum at the frontier could not last—and, indeed, it did not. What has been termed “the Jihad State” may have ended, but the Jihad itself did not; it simply became what we today would call “privatized;” that is, it went from cen- trally directed state campaigns to independent, non-governmentally controlled, smaller scale raids led and manned by mutatawwi‘a, volunteer warriors for the faith. This transferral of religious leadership in the Jihad, from the caliph to the mutatawwi‘a, in turn led to truly fundamental changes in all areas of Islamic civilization.


10 On the Berber Revolt see M. Brett, “The Arab Conquest and the rise of Islam in North Africa,” Cambridge History of Africa. Volume 2: From 500 BC to AD 1050, ed. J.D. Fage (Cambridge, 1978), 516 –521. For an account of the internal turmoil in the central lands of the Caliphate see Moshe Sharon, Revolt: The Social and Military Aspects of the ‘Abbasid Revolution (Jerusalem, 1990), 25 –48. Bosworth, “Byzantium and the Syrian Frontier,” 56. 12 Thus Bosworth (“Byzantium and the Syrian Frontier,” 58) notes that it was not until the 760s, when “the Abbasid caliphate, under the vigiorous direction of al-Mansur, achieved a


greater degree of internal was...pursued.”


Ibid. 57.


a more activist policy along the frontier

The Role of the Mutatawwi‘a in the Pre-Seljuq Period 559

The twelfth-century biographer and religious scholar al-Sam’ani defines the mutatawwi‘a as

a group who have devoted themselves entirely to the ghazw and the jihad, stationed themselves on the frontiers and devoted themselves to [tatawwa‘u bi] the ghazw and sought the ghazw in the lands of the infidels when it was not incumbent upon them and present in their land. 14

The term mutatawwi‘ does appear sporadically in reference to earlier, seventh-century volunteer Jihad forces. 15 Those early volunteers differ funda- mentally from the movement which arose in the late Umayyad/early ‘Abbasid period in several essential aspects, however: First, they seem to have received state stipends, and to have worked in close cooperation with the government. Second, they are found mainly on the Eastern Iranian border and, interest- ingly, in Spain—not on the Byzantine frontier. Nor are there, before the

late Umayyad period, any biographies of individual mutatawwi‘a, mutatawwi‘ chains of transmission from one generation to the next, or any special religious ideology; religious volunteering in the Jihad, like the Jihad itself, was still a state enterprise. All of this changes dramatically in the late Umayyad and early ‘Abbasid period when, in the process of their assuming leadership in the Jihad, the mutatawwi‘a came to signify a religious movement with its own ideology. The founders of the mutatawwi‘a movement—‘Abd al-Rahman b. ‘Umar al-Awza‘i, ‘Abdallah b. al-Mubarak, Ibrahim b. Adham, and Abu Ishaq

al-Fazari (all eastern Iranians, with the possible exception of al-Awza‘i



were those figures whom Michael Bonner has referred to as “scholars and saints of the frontier.” 17 They were much more than a group of pious individ- uals, however; for under the influence of these figures, mutatawwi‘a became a term that denoted a group unified by both social ties and, above all, a cohesive

14 ‘Abd al-Karim b. Muhammad al-Sam‘ani, Kitab al-Ansab, ed. ‘Abd al-Qadir ‘Ata (Beirut, 1419/ 1998) 5:213. 15 Although it is debatable whether or not the sources which mention such groups are not ana- chronistically projecting the term back in time, since the earliest of those sources dates to the ninth century. The earliest references this author has been able to find occur in works of the late-9th century writer Ahmad b. Yahya al-Baladhuri, Ansab al-ashraf, ed. Mahmud al-Fardaws al-Azm (Damascus, 1997) 6:422; and the tenth-century works of Tabari (Ta’rikh, ed. Muhammad Ibrahim [Beirut, no date] 6:532) and the anonymously composed Akhbar majmu‘a fi fath al-Andalus wa-dhikr umara’iha, ed. Ibrahim al-Abyari (Cairo and Beirut, 1989), 14, which ends with the reign of ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Muhammad al-Nasir (d. 961). 16 It is unclear where he was born. The number of conflicting traditions that Al-Mizzi reports (Tahdhib al-kamal fi asma’ al-rijal [Beirut 1418/1998] 11:314 –315) regarding the nisba would suggest that the attempts to explain its origin were simply guesswork on the part of the biographers; although, significantly, one of the traditions claims that his origins were to be found in Sind (315). This, of course, would mean that, like the other founding figures, he came from the Iranian East. 17 Bonner, Aristocratic Violence, Chapter 4, 107 –130.

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ideology and shared religious outlook. Among the many religious and ideological characteristics the mutatawwi‘a shared were the following: strongly ascetic leanings 18 and associations 19 —they composed not only the first books of Jihad in Islam, but also the first books of zuhd; 20 an unwavering commit- ment to what they viewed as one’s personal obligation to engage in warfare for the faith, irrespective of the directives of the caliph or the government; and, most saliently, firm and unflagging devotion to the ahl al-hadith Tradition- ist camp. These founding figures inaugurated a movement of volunteers, hailing mostly from the eastern, Iranian part of the caliphate, who flocked to the Byzantine marcher lands specifically in order to uphold the Jihad and pursue the new Traditionist version of the spiritual life generally. Their followers, the mutatawwi‘a as a group, suddenly begin to appear steadily and frequently in the chronicles and other literary sources of the time, and to play an increas- ingly noticeable role in the events of their time. It is our contention that the rise of the mutatawwi‘a wrought some of the most significant changes that occurred during the eighth through tenth centuries, religiously, politically, and socially, but particularly with regard to the religious authority and role of the government. Religiously, the mutatawwi‘a movement brought about a revolution regard- ing the proper role of the political authorities in the Jihad. Certain scholars have already noted that the concept of Jihad being formulated by these propo- nents of border warfare was fundamentally different from the concept of Jihad being articulated at the same time in the Hijaz (most notably by Malik). There was a deep ideological conflict expressed in these two opposing views:



namely, do political leaders have religious control over the Jihad, or is it, rather, a religious obligation in which any believer may engage at any time—as he is entitled to do with, say, the giving of alms—irrespective of the political authority. It was the latter view, the view of the mutatawwi‘a,

18 Thus, to give just a few of the more spectacular examples, Ibrahim b. Adham is said to have subsisted on clay alone for 20 days while on the Hajj (al-Imam Ahmad b. ‘Abdallah Abu Nu‘aym al-Isbahani, Hilyat al-awliya’ wa-tabaqat al- asfiya’, ed. Mustafa ‘Abd al-Qadir ‘Ata [Beirut, 1418/ 1997] 7:435); at another point, during Ramadan, he tormented himself by hard physical labor and sleep deprivation: “[He] harvested the crop during the day and prayed at night, so that he lived for thirty days, not sleeping at night nor during the day.”(Ibid. 7:439). 19 Associating, for instance, with such proto-Sufis as Junayd, Sufyan al-Thawri, and Shaqiq al-Balkhi. 20 E.g. ‘Abdallah b. al-Mubarak, Kitab al-zuhd wa’l-raqa’iq, ed. Habib al-Rahman al-A‘zami (Beirut, no date). 21 On the very strong ahl al-hadith leanings of the early mutatawwi‘a, vide D.G. Tor, The ‘Ayyars: A Study in Religious Warfare, Chivalry, and Violence in the Medieval Eastern Islamic World (Istanbuler Texte und Studien series of the Deutsche Morgenla¨ndische Gesellschaft, forthcoming), chapter 2. 22 J. Chabbi, “Ribat,” EI 2 8:495; she identifies as a “new type of activism” the understanding of Jihad being advocated by “circles yet to be identified,”—which we are here identifying as the mutatawwi‘—“[which] began to stress the meritorious aspect of military service on the frontier.”

The Role of the Mutatawwi‘a in the Pre-Seljuq Period 561

which won (at least in ‘Iraq), and was eventually adopted by both the Shafi‘ite and Hanbalite schools. 23 The ramifications of this mutatawwi‘ victory were immense. Again in the religious sphere, the early mutatawwi‘a played a decisive role in the consolidation of Sunnism—and particularly Hanbalism—in the decades around the turn of the third Hijri century. The mutatawwi‘ emphasis on the individual responsibilities of the believer before God—particularly concerning the Jihad—and on guidance by the Prophetic Sunna weakened the religious role of the Caliph, and marked, if not the beginning, certainly one of the most significant steps in the process Crone and Hinds have described as the transition from Caliphal to Prophetic sunna, and also accords well with the timeline they present. 24 Thus, the mutatawwi‘a, the militant arm of the proto-Sunni Traditionists, played a significant role in Sunnism’s victory through the religious prestige they acquired in their role in leading the Jihad. For the mutatawwi‘a belonged, in Juynboll’s words describing ‘Abdallah


b. al-Mubarak, to “Islam’s first orthodox, or proto-Sunnites;”


and many of

these fathers of tatawwu‘ or their students taught people who were seminal figures in Sunnism. The best way to illustrate this intimate connection between the mutatawwi‘a and the early Sunnis is with some specific examples. One student of the first generation of mutatawwi‘a was Abu Ishaq al-Surini, who was not only a jurisprudent but received the appellations of “al-Muttawwi‘i al-Shahid” and was also known as “Ibrahim b. Nasr the Sunni the martyr.” Al-Surini is credited in the sources with being “The first who proclaimed madhhab al-hadith in Nishapur.” 27 Following the common mutatawwi‘ pattern, al-Surini left Nishapur and journeyed to Syria to pursue the spiritual life of the sunna and the Jihad. While in Syria he heard hadith from ‘Abdallah b. al-Mubarak, al-Fazari’s uncle Marwan b. Mu‘awiya, and Sufyan b. ‘Uyayna 28

23 Vide Roy Mottahedeh and Ridwan al-Sayyid, “The Idea of Jihad in Islam before the Crusades,” in The Crusades from the Perspective of Byzantium and the Muslim World, ed. Angeliki Laiou and Roy Mottahedeh (Washington, D.C., 2001), 26 –27. On one important point the present author dis- agrees with the article: Mottahedeh and Sayyid attribute the obvious doubt manifested in the ques- tions to Malik regarding the legitimacy of participating in border warfare led by the Umayyads to reservations about the legitimacy of Umayyad rule. The present author believes, rather, that the question at that time- particularly in light of the ideological competition- was whether or not it was legitimate at all for a volunteer warrior to place himself under the political establishment. This would recast the debate from one about the nature or legitimacy of Umayyad rule into one about the nature of tatawwu‘, which seems a far more likely topic for religious discussion in the context of this time. 24 Crone and Hinds, God’s Caliph 82 –93. Vide infra for a description of how they were regarded in their own time. 26 G.H.A. Juynboll, “An excursus on the ahl al-sunna in connection with Van Ess, Theologie und Gesellschaft, vol. IV,” Der Islam lxxv (1998): 330. Juynboll points out (321) that the first definition of a sahib sunna is given by ‘Abdallah b. al-Mubarak in Ibn Abi Ya‘la’s Tabaqat al-Hanabila. Ibn ‘Asakir, Ta’rikh madinat Dimashq, 7:238. 28 Sam‘ani, al-Ansab 3:358; Ibn ‘Asakir, Ta’rikh madinat Dimashq 7:236, 238.



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(who himself transmitted hadith not only to Ibn al-Mubarak and al-Fazari but also to al-Shafi’i and Ahmad b. Hanbal 29 ). The influence of the mutatawwi‘a becomes even clearer in the second generation after the founders. Perhaps the most outstanding example from the second gen- eration, since he himself taught many important Sunni traditionist figures, is

Ibrahim [b. Muhammad] b. ‘Ar‘ara

al-Mutatawwi‘i. 30 A disproportionate

number of Ibrahim’s major teachers studied directly with ‘Abdallah

  • b. al-Mubarak; out of the ten names listed in Dhahabi’s Siyar as having taught

Ibn ‘Ar‘ara, fully half of those named transmitted from Ibn al-Mubarak.


Ibrahim b. ‘Ar‘ara himself taught many of the most important early Sunni reli- gious figures: Muslim, Abu Ya‘la al-Mawsili, Abu Bakr ‘Abdallah

  • b. Muhammad b. Abi al-Dunya, Abu Zur‘a [‘Ubaydallah b. ‘Abd al-Karim

al-Razi]; and Abu Hatim Muhammad b. Idris al-Razi.


By the ninth century, some of the most prominent figures among the proto- Sunni Traditionists not only had a religious lineage stretching back to the mutatawwi‘ founders, but were themselves continuing the militant strain and pro- ducing mutatawwi‘ students. Most significantly, all of the six canonical Sunni Tra-

ditionists, with the exception of Ibn Maja,


studied with al-Husayn b. Hurayth

al-Khuza‘i al-Marwazi, who was a student of several of the major mutatawwi‘i founding figures: Ibn al-Mubarak, Fudayl b. ‘Iyad, al-Fazari’s uncle Marwan

  • b. Mu‘awiya, and Sufyan b. ‘Uyayna.


Additionally, all of the cannonical

Sunni hadith compilers except Muslim studied with Muhammad b. Aban al-Mustamli, who in turn was a pupil of Marwan b. Mu’awiya, Sufyan

  • b. ‘Uyayna, and several of Ibn al-Mubarak’s more famous pupils, including

Yahya b. Sa‘id al-Qattan and ‘Abd al-Razzaq [b. Hammam]. 35 Al-Tirmidhi, Muslim, and al-Nasa’i also shared in common hadith studies with ‘Abd al-Jabbar b. ‘Ala’ al-‘Attar, himself a student of some of the main mutatawwi‘ ulama’, most notably Marwan b. Mu‘awiya and Sufyan b. ‘Uyayna. 36 Ibn Maja, another of the canonical authors of Sunni hadith compendium, studied in Nishapur with Muhammad b. Yahya al-Dhuhli, who in turn was one of

29 Shams al-Din Muhammad b. Ahmad b. ‘Uthman Dhahabi, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ (Beirut, 1403/ 1983) 8:456. Thus termed by Ibn ‘Asakir, Ta’rikh madinat Dimashq 13:385. 31 ‘Abd al-Razaq b. Hammam; Mu‘tamir b. Sulayman; Yahya b. Sa‘id al-Qattan: Ibrahim reported as having transmitted from them: Yusuf b. al-Zaki ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Mizzi, Tahdhib al-kamal 1:413; Ibn al-Mubarak reported as having taught them: al-Mizzi, Tahdhib al-kamal 10:


469-471; Ja‘far b. Sulayman al-Duba‘i, ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Mahdi: Ibn ‘Ar‘ara listed as having studied with them in Dhahabi, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ 11:480. 32 Muhammad Ibn Sa’d al-Zuhri, al-Tabaqat al-kubra (Beirut 1417/1995) 7:173, for death date. Dhahabi, Ta’rikh al-Islam 17:69 –70 for death date and partial list of students; idem, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ 1:480; al-Mizzi, Tahdhib al-kamal 1:413–414; death date on 415. Who, however, studied with a different one of Ibn al-Mubarak’s students; vide infra. 34 Dhahabi, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ 11: 400; Mizzi, Tahdhib 4: 456. Dhahabi, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ 11: 116; Mizzi, Tahdhib 16: 5. 36 Dhahabi, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ 11: 401.



The Role of the Mutatawwi‘a in the Pre-Seljuq Period 563

Ahmad b. Hanbal’s closest associates, and, together with Ibn Hanbal, a student of several of the most famous pupils of Ibn al-Mubarak. 37 Abu Da’ud studied with Sa‘id b. Mansur, 38 who was close to Ibn al-Mubarak and exchanged hadith with him; Abu Da’ud, Muslim, and al-Bukhari all studied with Ahmad b. Yunus al-Yarbu‘i, who transmitted from Sufyan al-Thawri and, like Ibn al-Mubarak, from al-Hasan b. Salih as well. 39 This connection between Sunni Traditionists on the one hand and the muta- tawwi‘ founders on the other is particularly evident when we examine the Hanba- lites. Ahmad b. Hanbal himself had numerous connections going back to the early mutatawwi‘a. The list of his teachers includes, in addition to al-Fazari’s uncle Marwan b. Mu‘awiya, many prominent people who heard hadith from ‘Abdallah

  • b. al-Mubarak, including Mu‘tamir b. Sulayman al-Taymi, ‘Affan b. Muslim,

‘Abd al-Rahman b. Mahdi, and the two teachers of one of the main instructors

of almost all the canonical hadith compilers, Yahya b. Sa‘id al-Qattan and ‘Abd al-Razzaq [b. Hammam]. Ibn Hanbal’s prominent students, on the other hand, included mutatawwi‘a, for instance Abu Bakr Ya‘qub b. Yusuf b. Ayyub

al-Mutatawwi‘, 40 who is supposed to have confessed that in his youth it was his custom to recite “Say: He is God” 31,000—or even 41,000—times a day. 41 Moreover, many of Ibn Hanbal’s close friends and associates show the same kind of mutatawwi‘ influence in their religious pedigrees. Muhammad b. Yahya al-Dhuhli, for instance, was an important Hanbalite associate who transmitted to Sunni luminaries such as Ibn Maja, Sa‘id b. Mansur and Abu Da’ud



“Ahmad b. Hanbal,” so we are told “used to praise [Muhammad

  • b. Yahya] and broadcast his excellence;” 43 Ibn Hanbal is also reported to have

said that he never met anyone who knew more of al-Zuhri’s traditions, 44 and

37 Abu’l-Husayn Muhammad Ibn Abi Ya‘la al-Baghdadi al-Hanbali, Tabaqat al-fuqaha’ al-hanabila, ed. ‘Ali Muhammad ‘Umar (Cairo, 1419/1998) 2: 201.


Dhahabi, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ 13: 205. 39 On al-Yarbu‘i vide Dhahabi, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ 10: 457; for the list of al-Hasan b. Salih’s stu- dents, ibid. 7: 362. The canonical authors also number mutatawwi‘a among their most prominent stu- dents. One of al-Nasa’i’s important pupils, for instance, was Abu’l-‘Abbas al-Hasan b. Sa‘id b. Ja‘far al-‘Abbadani al-Muttawwi‘i (d. 981); he is described as “al-shaykh al-imam, shaykh al-qurra’.” (Dhahabi, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ 16: 260 –261); It is stated under Ibn Maja’s biographical entry

that one of


the most famous in relating traditions from


Abu Ja‘far Muhammad

  • b. ‘Isa al-Muttawwi‘i,” ‘Abd al-Karim b. Muhammad al-Rafi‘i al-Qazwini, al-Tadhwin fi akhbar

Qazwin (Beirut, 1408/1987) 2:49 –50. Ibn Abi Ya‘la, Tabaqat al-fuqaha’ al-hanabila 1: 548; al-Dhahabi, Ta’rikh al-Islam 21: 338.


41 Abu Bakr Ahmad b. ‘Ali al-Khatib al-Baghdadi, Ta’rikh Baghdad (Beirut, no date) 14: 289; Abu’l Faraj ‘Abd al-Rahman Ibn al-Jawzi, al-Muntazam fi ta’rikh al-muluk wa’l-umam, ed.

  • M. A. ‘Ata et alii (Beirut, 1412/1992) 12: 414 –415.

42 Ta’rikh Baghdad 3: 415 –416. Note that both of these latter two figures composed some of our earliest contributions to the Kitab al-jihad literature as well. 43 Ta’rikh Baghdad 3: 415 –416. 44 Ta’rikh Baghdad 3: 417; al-Dhahabi, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ 12: 281. An even stronger statement is the following: “I used to hear our religious leaders [masha’ikhana] saying: The tradition that Muhammad b. Yahya does not know is not worth knowing [lit.: is insignificant].” Ibid. 12: 280.

564 Tor

to have deemed Muhammad b. Yahya “the Imam of hadith” [ ja‘alnahu al-imam


45 al-Dhuhli heard from disciples of Ibn al-Mubarak such as Sa‘id

  • b. Mansur (to whom, as we have just seen, he also imparted traditions), ‘Abd

al-Rahman b. Mahdi, ‘Affan b. Muslim, and Yahya b. Sa‘id al-Qattan. There are some indications that Muhammad b. Yahya’s teachings possessed the militant Sunni tendency that was the hallmark of the mutatawwi‘a: both of his known sons—who studied with him—and at least one of his pupils are described as ghazis in the biographical literature, while one of those sons and yet another

pupil died a martyr’s death. 47 Moreover, Muhammad b. Yahya seems to have acted as theological watchdog for the Hanbalites. He warned Ahmad b. Hanbal against associating with the theologian Da’ud al-Zahiri because of the latter’s espousal of certain heretical beliefs. 48 Subsequently, he was personally responsible

for the expulsion of al-Bukhari from Nishapur on the same grounds.


This kind


of uncompromising attitude toward the religiously erring accords well with the practice of Ibn al-Mubarak, who is said, for instance, to have refused to speak for thirty days with one of his close associates simply because that man had

eaten with an

“innovator”[sahib bid‘a]. 50 If space permitted, we could take

virtually every one of the important proto-Hanbalite figures and demonstrate the same kind of direct social, religious, and ideological connections with the militant mutatawwi‘ tradition. We shall, however, have to content ourselves merely with noting that the mutatawwi‘ movement was central to the formation of early Sunnism generally and Hanbalism in particular. The rise of the mutatawwi‘a, and the significance of their victory in reshaping the Jihad, was not limited to the religious sphere, though; it was fraught with pol- itical consequences as well. Jihad had traditionally lain at the heart of the Muslim polity from the time of the Prophet; the very first governmental organization, the diwan, had been an outcome of this focus on bringing God’s rule to the Dar al-Harb. The fact that the Jihad now passed largely out of governmental hands meant that a major factor in the religious identification of Islam with the govern- ment was removed. More importantly, since the nongovernmental mutatawwi‘

45 Al-Dhahabi, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ 12: 280. A similar tradition states: “The Imam of imams Ibn Khuzayma said: Muhammad b. Yahya al-Dhuhli, the imam of his age, may God cause him to dwell in His garden with those who love him, related to us.” (ibid. 12: 284). Dhahabi, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ 12: 273 –274. 47 For Abu’l Husayn Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Yahya al-Naysaburi al-Ghazi see al-Sam‘ani, al-Ansab 4: 244, #7476; for al-Dhuhli’s pupil Abu Hamid Ahmad b. Muhammad al-Rifa’ al-Ghazi al-Naysaburi, see ibid. 4: 245, #7477; his pupil Abu’l-‘Abbas Hamid b. Mahmud


  • b. Muhammad al-Sikshi al-Naysaburi al-Shahid can be found in ibid. 3: 292, #5269.

48 Christopher Melchert, “The Adversaries of Ahmad b. Hanbal,” Arabica xliv (1997): 2, pp. 244 –245; al-Dhahabi, Ta’rikh al-Islam 20: 93 also speaks about Muhammad b. Yahya’s having

warned against these doctrines of Da’ud’s. 49 Salah al-Din Khalil b. Aybek al-Safadi, Kitab al-wafi bi’l-wafayat (Wiesbaden, 1970) 5: 187; Melchert, ibid. 245 –246. For this quarrel, and Ahmad b. Hanbal’s alliance with Muhammad

  • b. Yahya on this matter, see al-Dhahabi, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ 12: 284 –285. Abu Nu‘aym, Hilyat al-awliya’ 8: 178, #11799.


The Role of the Mutatawwi‘a in the Pre-Seljuq Period 565

view of the Jihad was part of a complete religious outlook regarding the relative worth of the contemporaneous imamate compared to that of the Prophet and the early Muslims as preserved by the Traditionists, the undermining effect that the mutatawwi‘i victory in the Jihad had upon the caliph’s religious standing and authority was not and could not be limited to that one religious area. Rather, once the question of who would wield religious authority in Islam had been settled in favor of the Traditionists—in no small part, thanks to the prestige of the mutatawwi‘a—caliphal religious stature and authority crumbled, with political authority and power soon following in their wake. The early ‘Abbasid caliphs realized they were losing their moral high ground and religious prestige to the mutatawwi‘a, and attempted to remedy the situation by trying to compete with the mutatawwi‘a on their own ground; it is no accident, for instance, that Harun al-Rashid’s pattern of Jihad one year, 51 Hajj the next mirrors exactly the behaviour attributed to ‘Abdallah b. al-Mubarak. 52 To state the matter differently: one indication of the political importance that began to accrue to the mutatawwi‘a in the early ‘Abbasid period is the way in which they affected caliphal policy. The sudden renewed interest shown in Jihad by the early ‘Abbasid caliphs indicates the degree to which they felt pressured to emulate the mutatawwi‘a, and also that perhaps the most important way of bolster- ing one’s religious legitimacy and manifesting religious leadership was through

personally undertaking Jihad activities.


The intensity of Caliphal involvement

in the ghazw is especially marked in the period extending from the caliphate of al-Mahdi through that of Harun al-Rashid. Thus we read that from the mid-760s to the 780s al-Mahdi sent numerous raids, many led by either himself or his son Harun, into Byzantine territory, frequently in cooperation with mutatawwi‘a forces. 54 Once Harun became

51 Pace Bonner, who noted the unusual Jihadi behaviour, but considered it, rather, to be a coun- termeasure to the “weakening of central power” which he attributed to the supposed power of aris- tocratic warlords; Vide Michael Bonner, Aristocratic Violence and Holy War, chapter 3. 52 Thus Abu Nu ‘aym al-Isbahani, Hilyat al-awliya’ 8: 172, calls him “Friend [alif] of the Qur’an,

the Hajj and the Jihad.” Note that these religious priorities are echoed in at least one of the tra-

ditions of Ahmad b. Hanbal: “The


asked: What is the most praiseworthy of

works? He replied: Faith in God and His Messenger. [The inquirer] said: Then what? He responded: The Jihad in the path of God. It was said: Then what? [The Prophet] replied:

Then the blessed Hajj [hajj un mabrur un ].” (Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Hanbal, al-Musnad, ed. A. M. Shakir (Cairo, 1950 –1956) 14: 23 –24, tradition #7580) 53 While the Umayyads (at least until decline set in) did make a practice of appointing their rela- tives to conduct raids against the Infidel (vide supra, note 9), the scale of the raids, their frequency, and the prominence of the people involved—including the caliph himself and his own sons—was something new and qualitatively different during the early ‘Abbasid period from what came before. Ibn ‘Asakir, Ta’rikh madinat Dimashq 59: 444 –445; Tabari, Ta’rikh 8: 116 –117, 128, 136, 146, 148, 150; Dhahabi, Ta’rikh al-Islam 10: 14, 17;. Ibn al-Jawzi, al-Muntazam 8: 227; and, most specta- cular of all, Harun’s successful raid in 165/782, which reached the Sea of Marmara and succeeded in extracting tribute payments (which the Muslims interpreted as the jizya) from the Empress Irene and the Byzantines. Al-Maqdisi, Kitab al-bad’ wa’l-ta’rikh (Beirut, 1980) 6: 96; repeated in Tabari, Ta’rikh 8: 152 –153; Ibn al-Jawzi, al-Muntazam 8: 277 –278; Dhahabi, Ta’rikh al-Islam 10: 18 –19.




caliph, he continued to focus on the Jihad. Raids on Byzantium were continually

led from the frontier districts from the beginning of al-Rashid’s reign;


this has

led scholars such as Bosworth and Bonner to term Harun the first “ghazi- caliph.” 56 Most spectacularly, there is Harun’s dedication of his son al-Qasim to God in the year 804, apparently through pledging him to border warfare:

“And in [this year] Harun al-Rashid sent his son al-Qasim to raid the summer raid, and he gave him to God, and made [al-Qasim] a sacrifice to Him and an entreaty [unto Him], and appointed [al-Qasim] governor over the frontier districts [‘awasim].” 57

The relative strength of caliphal religious prestige and position vis-a-vis the

mutatawwi‘a can be seen in the disregard and even scorn the mutatawwi‘a were in many instances reported to have demonstrated toward earthly authority and power, particularly in the person of the caliph; and, in striking contrast, the great respect which the caliphs are depicted as having shown toward the mutatawwi‘a. One such instance can be found in al-Awza‘i’s relationship to the caliph al-Mansur, in which the former always has the patronizing and instruc- tional role. For example, once, when al-Mansur had refused to redeem Muslim captives from the Byzantines, after receiving a letter from al-Awza‘i excoriating

his behaviour, al-Mansur reversed himself and


the redeeming

[of the captives]”forthwith. 58 According to another anecdote, al-Mansur once summoned al-Awza‘i to come to him and instruct him. At a certain point, one of al-Mansur’s people was so offended by al-Awza‘i’s tone and attitude towards the caliph that he drew his sword against the ‘alim, but was stopped by the caliph, who then sat patiently through a rather long verbal castigation by al-Awza‘i. 59 At least one associate of al-Awza‘i’s, Sulayman b. Mihran (known as al-A’mash), 60 was declaiming hadiths stating that obedience, even to legitimate political authority, was owed only so long as that authority was commanding the right.


55 For a summary of the raiding activity between 170 and 189, see Bonner, Aristocratic Violence

  • 89 –95.

56 Thus Bosworth (The History of al-Tabari Vol. XXX: The ‘Abbasid Caliphate in Equilibrium

[Albany, 1989], xvii), refers to “his image as the great Ghazi-Caliph;” cited and concurred with by Bonner, Aristocratic Violence 99. See also Bonner’s article on the subject, “Al-Khalifa al-Mardi: The Accession of Harun al-Rashid,” Journal of the American Oriental Society cix (1988):

  • 79 –91, passim.

57 Tabari, Ta’rikh 8: 302; Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil 6: 189. Khalifa (Ta’rikh 375) and al-Ya‘qubi (Ta’rikh 2: 297) do not speak of the dedication to God and sacrifice. Abu Nu‘aym, Hilyat al-awliya’ 6: 146 –147. Abu Nu‘aym, Hilyat al-awliya’ 6: 147 –151. From whom al-Awza‘i related traditions; Vide al-Dhahabi, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ 6: 227. 61 Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad 2: 47 –48, #622. In this tradition, the Prophet himself has appointed a particular commander over a group of the Ansar, and enjoined that they obey him. When the commander orders the troop to cast themselves into a fire, however, they balk and inquire of the Prophet, who says to them: “If you had entered [into] it you would never have left it forever, for obedience is only in [what is] good [al-ma‘ruf].”




The Role of the Mutatawwi‘a in the Pre-Seljuq Period 567

al-Awza‘i’s attitude, like that of the other early mutatawwi‘a, exemplifies the attitude toward Prophetic sunna which exalted tradition, incidentally magnify- ing the religious authority of the traditionists and scholars at the expense of Caliphal authority, particularly caliphal religious authority. 62 This attitude was common to the other leaders of the movement as well: “It is said that Ibn al-Mubarak was asked: ‘Who are the notables [al-nas]? He replied:

The ‘ulama’. It was said: ‘And who are the kings [al-muluk]? He replied:

The ascetics [al-zuhhad].’” 63 In yet another tradition, Ibn al-Mubarak contrasts what he views as the importance of the ‘ulama’ and of worldly leaders—to the detriment of the latter: “Ibn al-Mubarak said: Whoever scorns the ‘ulama’, loses his Next World [dhahabat akhiratuhu], and whoever scorns princes, loses this world...


A similar tradition recounts how Harun al-Rashid exclaimed one day to Ibn al-Mubarak’s friend and close associate Fudayl b. ‘Iyad:

What an ascetic you are! [Fudayl] replied: You are more of an ascetic than I! [Harun] said: How so? [Fudayl] said: Because I renounce pleasure in this world [only], whereas you renounce pleasure in th e Next World; this world is transitory, whereas the Next World is eternal. 65

Another of the leading mutatawwi‘a, al-Fazari, showed his scant use for and low opinion of the government in his practice of ejecting all Qadarites and “all those who had dealings with the government” from his majlis. 66 It is notable that the reservation, verging at times on disdain, felt by the traditionist ‘ulama’ toward their ruler was not, however, reciprocated, for this in itself demonstrates the relative moral strength and public standing of the warrior-traditionists and the caliphs. 67 The relative approbation and respect in which the two sides were respectively held by the public is made very clear in the sources. At least one story contrasts the reverence and love people felt toward mutatawwi‘ figures such as Ibn al-Mubarak with their less adulatory attitude toward their caliph:

al-Rashid came to al-Raqqa, but the people ran away after Ibn al-Mubarak, so

that their shoes were cut up and the dust was raised. Umm Walad [Khayzuran]

was watching the Commander of the Faithful from a


and she said:

“What is this?” They replied: “A Khurasani ‘alim arrived.” She said: “This,

62 Crone and Hinds, God’s Caliph, 58. Dhahabi, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ 8: 399. Dhahabi, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ 8: 408. 65 Siraj al-Din Abu Hafs ‘Umar b. ‘Ali b. Ahmad b. al-Mulaqqin, Tabaqat al-awliya’, ed. Mustafa ‘Abd al-Qadir ‘Ata (Beirut, 1419/1998), 206. 66 Bonner, Aristocratic Violence, 110. 67 Abu Nu‘aym, Hilyat al-awliya’ 8: 174.





by God, is kingship [mulk], not the kingship of Harun, for whom the people do not gather except by means of the police and guards.” 68

After Harun, the careful cultivation of and competition with the mutatawwi‘a was abandoned; al-Ma’mun tried direct confrontation instead. By the end of al-Ma’mun’s reign, with the failure of his somewhat desperate attempts to harness first the Shi‘a and then the Rationalists to regain the religious lustre and authority of the caliphate, 69 the passing of religious authority from the caliphs to the Traditionist scholars was virtually completed. The significance of the final outcome of this struggle has been stated most clearly by Hinds:



brought to a decisive end any notion of a caliphal role in the definition of

Islam and it permitted the unchecked development of what in due course

would become recognizable as


It was now unquestionably the

‘ulama’, rather than the caliphs, who were ‘the legatees of the prophets’...and henceforward it would be they who, armed with this spiritual authority, and at a distance from those who held temporal power, elaborated classical Islam. 71

This triumph of the Traditionists—and of the mutatawwi‘a as the militant propo- nents of Traditionism—can be seen in the political sphere in the fact that by the mid-ninth century at least some caliphs and court circles began to regard the militant warrior traditionists as posing an actual threat to political power. As early as the year 820—in the closing years of the caliphal-‘ulama’ drama—the mutatawwi‘a were viewed as such: in that year al-Ma’mun appointed Tahir b. al-Husayn governor over the entire mashriq, “from Baghdad to the furthest provinces of the Mashriq.”


And it is said that the reason for his appointment was that ‘Abd al-Rahman al-Muttawwi‘i gathered many troops in Nishapur in order to fight with them the Kharijites, without the command of the governor of Khurasan; and [the

68 That is, they do so only under compulsion, when prodded by armed troops. Ibn Khallikan, Wafayat al-a‘yan wa-anba’ abna’ al-zaman, ed. Muhammad ‘Abd al-Hamid (Cairo, 1949) 3: 23; Al-Mizzi, Tahdhib al-kamal 10: 476; Dhahabi, Siyar a‘lam al-nubala’ 8: 384. 69 Although al-Ma’mun campaigned as well, he seems to have realized that he was fighting a losing battle with the Traditionists to reclaim the lost religious luster from the ‘ulama’ on Jihadi grounds, hence his courting of the Shi‘ites and then the Mu‘tazilites to counterbalance the Traditionists. For his Shi‘ite experiment, vide D.G. Tor, “A Re-examination of the Appointment and Death of ‘Ali al-Rida,” Der Islam lxxviii (2001): 103 –128. Regarding the mihna, Watt notes that “The doctrine of createdness [of the Qur’an] enhanced the power of the caliph and the secretaries, that of uncreatedness the power of the ‘ulama.” (W.M. Watt, The Formative Period of Islamic Thought [Edinburgh, 1973], 179). 70 In reference to the mihna alone, rather than to the much longer and larger struggle of which the mihna was only the last battle. 71 M. Hinds, “Mihna,” reprinted in Studies in Early Islamic History, ed. J. Bachrach et alii (Princeton, 1996), 243. 72 Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil 6: 360.

The Role of the Mutatawwi‘a in the Pre-Seljuq Period 569

power players in al-Ma’mun’s court- that is, Tahir b. al-Husayn, Ahmad b. Abi Khalid, et alii] were scared that this would be the foundation of [the bestowing

of] the vicegerency upon



The court figures therefore manipulated al-Ma’mun into appointing one of their own, instead of ‘Abd al-Rahman. Here we note several characteristics of the mutatawwi‘a as they existed in the ninth century: First, the volunteer warriors operated with apparent total disregard for established authority (in this case the governor of Khurasan); they had a mandate from on high, and obviously felt that they needed no other. Second, they were very active in fighting those who deviated from the Sunni position (here, the Kharijites). Third, this ideological position must have been very appealing to the public, in much the same way that, as we have seen, Ibn al-Mubarak’s was, for the most prominent figures in al-Ma’mun’s court were worried that by pursuing such a course ‘Abd al-Rahman would win the most powerful role in the government. From this time—the time of al-Ma’mun—onwards we see the energies of the mutatawwi‘a both increasingly organized, and increasingly prominent in two areas of endeavour apart from the Byzantine frontier: the infidel East, and the commanding of the good and forbidding of evil (al-amr bi’l-ma’ruf wa al-nahy ‘an al-munkar) inside Muslim society. Regarding the first element, organization, the mutatawwi‘a were so well established by the late ninth century, that when they set forth in companies to battle we hear that they brought their own resident faqih with them. 74 We also know that by the mid-ninth century there was a ra’is al-muttawwi‘a in Bukhara; thus implying a very organized, perhaps even officially recognized presence—and Bukhara may well not have been the only city with a person so titled. More ominously for what remained of caliphal authority, throughout the ninth and tenth centuries the mutatawwi‘a increasingly concentrated their energies on al-amr bi’l-ma‘ruf within the Dar al-Islam. This was in many ways a logical outgrowth of their attempt to order the world according to God’s will, for Jihad and al-amr bi’l-ma‘ruf were, in essence, complementary activities: one focused on imposing the divinely-ordained order within the Dar al-Islam, while the other sought to impose this same order upon the Dar al-Harb. It is therefore unsurprising that as caliphal power crumbled and internal disorders consequently proliferated, mutatawwi‘ amr bi’l-ma‘ruf” activity included, to an ever-growing degree, combating the internal religiously non-normative


73 Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil 6: 361.

74 Under the biography of Abu Ishaq Ibrahim b. Muhammad b. ’Abdallah b. Yazdadh

al-Mudhakkir al-Muttawwi‘i, for instance, we are told that he was


among the army of the

muttawwi‘a going out to Tarsus


and Abu Ishaq was their faqih and their preacher...

Al-Sam’ani, al-Ansab 2: 365. 75 Dhahabi, Ta’rikh al-Islam 18: 33; Abu Nasr ‘Ali b. Hibatallah Ibn Makula, al-Ikmal, ed. ‘Abd al-Rahman b. Yahya Mu’allimi (Hyderabad, 1967) 1: 21.

570 Tor

element—Kharijites, Shi‘ites, and Infidels within the Dar al-Islam. 76 In tandem with this growing internal focus on setting to rights the Dar al-Islam, the charac- teristic mutatawwi‘ disregard for political authorities from the caliph on down, when their injunctions do not seem to be in accordance with religious dictates, becomes ever more noticeable. The caliphs tried to fight back as the balance of power tipped ever more strongly in favor of the mutatawwi‘a; but it was increasingly a rearguard action. We read, for instance, that in the mid-840s a particularly prominent volunteer warrior and traditionist, Ahmad b. Nasr al-Khuza‘i al-Shahid, was killed person- ally by the caliph al-Wathiq:

Al-Wathiq killed him with his own hand because he refrained from saying

that the Qur’an was created, and because of his speaking rudely to al-Wathiq in


was a leader in commanding the good and forbidding

evil. And there arose with him a group of the muttawwi‘a and their power

became excessive [istafhala amruhum], so that the ‘Abbasid state [al-dawla] feared a schism would be accomplished by this. 77

Even after caliphal power had crumbled—in large part, due to their own inadver- tent sapping of the caliph’s moral and religious authority—the mutatawwi‘a contin- ued to play an important military and political role within the Islamic world. For the dynamic and militant fighting force that the mutatawwi‘a established, which neither was under government control nor received governmental pay, did not vanish with the temporal power of the caliphate, but remained both to provide a new source of political leadership and, conversely, to pose a challenge to all subsequent dynasties which wielded power in the central and eastern Islamic lands. Indeed, it was as a natural extension of their mutatawwi‘ activities, both in combating internal heretics as well as in unflaggingly leading the Jihad, that the Saffarids, the first of the auton- omous dynasties in the Caliphal heartland, rose to power. 78 Even more striking, though surprisingly little-remarked, is the fact that the major Persianate, prominently Sunni dynasties—the Saffarids, Samanids, and Ghaznavids—which from the mid-ninth century until Seljuq times filled the moral and political vacuum left by the victory of Traditionism, all succeeded in gaining power and legitimacy because they had taken up the mantle of leadership in the Jihad.


76 This is in consonance with what we know about the behaviour of the groups to which they were most closely akin: the Hanbalites. Vide Michael Cook, Commanding Right and Forbidding Wrong in Islamic Thought (Cambridge, 2000), 116 –121. 77 Shams al-Din Muhammad b. Ahmad b. ‘Uthman al-Dhahabi, al-‘Ibar fi khabar man ghabar, ed. Salah al-Din Munjjid and Fu‘ad Sayyid (Kuwait, 1960) 1: 408. 78 Vide D.G. Tor, “Historical Representations of Ya‘qub b. al-Layth al-Saffar: A Reappraisal,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society xii (2002): 247 –275. Thus we have the extensive attestations not only regarding Ya ‘qub b. al-Layth as a leader in the holy war (ibid.), but also regarding Isma‘il b. Ahmad, the real founder of Samanid greatness and power. On his holy warrior activities and persona vide e.g.Anon., Ta’rikh-i Sistan., ed. Muhammad Taqi Bahar (Tehran, 1935) 254, 256; Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil 7: 264 –265; Tabari, Ta’rikh 10: 34; and


The Role of the Mutatawwi‘a in the Pre-Seljuq Period 571

Not only did dynasties such as the Saffarids and the Samanids rise to power as volunteer warriors, but the mutatawwi‘a continued to constitute a vital component of the military might of the armies of both these dynasties. The present writer has documented extensively elsewhere that Ya‘qub b. al-Layth’s power and success was based upon the mutatawwi‘a. 80 Regarding the Samanids, there are numerous attestations to the prominent part mutatawwi‘a played as an auxiliary to that dynasty’s military forces. For instance, when the ruler of China sent envoys to the Samanid ruler Nasr b. Ahmad, Nasr sent a commander to meet and escort them, accompanied by his muttawwi‘a. 81 In the year 904 [291 AH], during the most famous Samanid campaign against the infidel Turks, the mutatawwi‘a are mentioned by name as having gone out together with the Samanid army, apparently providing a key part of the fighting force. 82 Similarly, the mutatawwi‘a supplied an important source of strength for

the Ghaznavids throughout their period of ascendancy. During Sebuktegin’s rise to power, in the year 976f, as a result of Sebuktegin’s ghazi activites, “Jibal King of India saw [the calamity] that was threatening to overtake him, and that his country was going to be conquered piecemeal,” so he gathered an army which included a large number of elephants, and invaded Sebuktegin’s lands in return. “Sebuktegin went from Ghazna to [meet] him, and with him were his armies and a large body of the muttawwi‘a; and [the opposing forces]

met and fought for many

days.” 83 The outcome of this episode was that

Sebuktegin, accompanied by his fighting forces, advanced into India,

laid waste all of that country which he came across, and repaired to Mughan [?], among the most fortified of their strongholds, and he took it by force and destroyed the temples of the idols and established in it the rites of Islam. He went from there conquering the land, and killing its people, and when he had achieved what he wished he returned to Ghazna. 84

In the days of the dynasty’s retrenchment further East, the mutatawwi‘a contin- ued to occupy a prominent place in the Ghaznavid fighting forces, particularly in relation to the Indian infidels. For example, in the year 435/1043f a number of Indian potentates leagued together in order to try to capture Lahore while Mas’ud was busy on his western front:

And in that year some padishahs from among the kings of Hind leagued together and a numerous army was collected to capture Lahore. The army of

Dhahabi, Ta’rikh al-Islam 20: 243. Mahmud b. Sebuktegin, of course, is known to history as “Mahmud Ghazi.” Vide D. Tor, The ‘Ayyars, chapter 3. 81 Al-Qadi Ahmad b. al-Rashid b. al- Zubayr (attributed), Kitab al-Dhakha’ir wa’l-tuhaf, ed. M. Hamid Allah (Kuwait, 1959), 145. Tabari, Ta’rikh 10: 116; Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi’l-ta’rikh 7: 533. 83 Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil 8: 686. 84 Ibid. 687.



572 Tor

Islam was in Lahore; messengers were sent to Ghazna and they asked for assistance. Mawdud sent an army to succour them, but before the arrival of the army of Ghazna among the kings of India who were involved in the siege discord arose: some of them with the mutatawwi‘a of Mawdud entered into friendship together with the people of the city, so that a troop returned towards their own country. 85

This war was brought to a satisfactory conclusion, as the Muslim forces and their allies killed a “multitude of Hindu ruffians, and those who were spared the sword [baqiyat al-sayf] were summoned to accept the Faith.” Furthermore, mutatawwi‘a appear to have been social pillars of the community as well as pillars of the army during the Ghaznavid period; we read of people such as al-Imam Abu Dharr Muhammad b. Muhammad al-Muttawwi‘i al-Nishapuri, a prominent Traditionist ‘alim who died in 401/1010f and came of a long line of religious figures of the same stripe: “All the ancestors of this Abu Dharr had been ‘ulama’ of the ghazis and muttawwi‘a.” 86 On the other hand, we find the mutatawwi‘a posing a grave problem for rulers whose religious leadership or whose policies they did not accept. This is particu- larly apparent—unsurprisingly, given the fervently Sunni ideology of the mutatawwi‘a—during the Buyid period. In the year 966 (AH 355), for example, after the Byzantines had retaken Tarsus, a vital center of volunteer holy

warrior activity,




a large group of Khurasani Sunni mutatawwi‘a on their way

to the frontier demanded of the Buyid governor of Rayy that he hand over the tax revenue to them since, in the words of Ju¨rgen Paul, “it was meant exactly for the purpose they were serving, fighting the infidels and defending the Dar

Upon the governor’s refusal to hand over the money in support of

the ghazw, the volunteer warriors subsequently clashed with the Daylamite troops. 89 As Paul observes: “There are clearly two political principles in conflict here; The state (in this case, the Buyid governor) insists on its right to decide on

85 Mir Muhammad b. Sayyid Burhan al-Din Khwavand Shah, Tarikh-i rawdat al-safa (Tehran 1339) 4: 133. Abu’l Hasan ‘Ali b. Zayid Bayhaqi (Ibn Funduq), Tarikh-i Bayhaq, ed. Ahmad Bahmanyar (Tehran, n.d.), 220. 87 On the role of Tarsus as the epicenter of volunteer holy warfare, vide C.E. Bosworth, “The city of Tarsus and the Arab-Byzantine frontier,” The Arabs, Byzantium and Iran: Studies in Early Islamic History and Culture. Variorum Collected Studies Series (Aldershot, 1996), Article XIV.


88 J. Paul, “The State and the Military: The Samanid Case,” Papers on Inner Asia 26 (1994): 16; cf. Anon., The sea of precious virtues (Bahr al-fava’id): a medieval Islamic mirror for princes, tr. and ed. Julie

Scott Meisami (Salt Lake City, 1991), 216:


Bayt al-Mal rightfully belongs to the ‘ulama’, the

judges, the Koran readers, the poor, the orphans, and the ghazis. But [the unjust, tyrannical kings] have taken it all, and have established a treasury for astronomers, physicians, musicians, buffoons, cheats, winesellers, and gamblers. ‘Woe to them; and again woe to them.’” Mottahedeh, too, seems to view this episode much in the same light as does Paul- that is, one of conflicting agendas and priorities (R. Mottahedeh, Loyalty and Leadership in an Early Islamic Society [London, 2001], 34).


Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Miskawayh, Tajarib al-umam: The Eclipse of the ‘Abbasid Caliphate, ed. and trans. H.F. Amedroz and D.S. Margoliouth (Oxford, 1920) 2: 223.

The Role of the Mutatawwi‘a in the Pre-Seljuq Period 573

matters of peace and war, and above all, of taxation, whereas the volunteers brandish the banner of their religious legitimation.” 90

Another example of the disruptive role mutatawwi‘i Sunni militancy played in the Buyid era can be found in the wake of the Byzantine offensive of the early



This military offensive culminated in the raid of 1031 in which

Byzantium conquered al-Ruha, “killed the Muslims, and destroyed the

mosque.” 92 As a result, a Sufi shaykh named al-Khazlaji began gathering volun- teers in Baghdad for the holy war. The Shaykh then proceeded to pass through a Shi‘ite neighborhood with his retinue of would-be Sunni holy warriors, “crying

loudly in remembrance of Abu Bakr and ‘Umar


saying: ‘This is the day of

Mu‘awiya.’ But the people of al-Karkh contradicted them, and pelted them,

and fitna broke out.”


As frequently happened during this century preceding

the Saljuqs, an intended campaign against the Infidels at the border turned into a campaign against the heretics within the body politic. Paradoxically, the mutatawwi‘a, in their struggle to restore right order and regain the lost unity and purpose of the earlier caliphate, frequently ended up contributing to the disorder that was racking the central Islamic world. In conclusion, the privatization of the Jihad by the volunteer warrior move- ment, led by ascetic Iranian proponents of Prophetic Traditionism, was not some minor, peripheral phenomenon of the period between 750 and 1055, but, rather, one fraught with great and continuing consequences for Islamic society as a whole. The mutatawwi‘a played a significant role in the undermining of caliphal religious prestige and authority, as well as in the formation of caliphal policy in the early ‘Abbasid period. The ‘Abbasids’ failure to regain the ground they had lost to the Traditionist warrior-scholars played no small part in the transference of the religious authority and power that had originally belonged to the caliphs to the Traditionists as a body, and in the ensuing political crumbling of the caliphate. As we have seen, all the Sunni founding fathers are connected by direct links to the mutatawwi‘ tradition, particularly to Ibn al-Mubarak. Moreover, even after that transference of religious authority had occurred, and the caliphate had as a result more or less unraveled, the muta- tawwi‘a remained a potent force to be reckoned with, for good or ill, by all the rulers that arose in the Eastern Islamic world between the ninth and the mid- eleventh centuries.


Paul, The State and the Military 16. 91 Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil 9: 404. 92 Ibid. 413. 93 Ibid. 418; Ibn al-Jawzi, al-Muntazam 15: 213 –214; an abbreviated version can be found in Ibn Kathir, al-bidaya wa‘l-nihaya 12: 35. Presumably, the meaning of “yawm” here would be the archaic one of the Prophet’s time- that is, “battle,” with the implication that the Sunnis were doing battle in the name of, or in defense of the reputation of, Mu‘awiya. According to Ibn al-Jawzi’s version the Sunni volunteers shouted “this is the day of the maghazi,” but Ibn al-Athir’s version seems to be more in line with the other partisan Sunni cries and the hostile reaction of the Shi‘ites.