Is Caliphate a religious matter in Islam?
Caliphate in Islam was never a divinely decreed and religious matter like all other matters for which specific instructions were revealed during the revelation of Quran in the life of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. It was a worldly matter and for such matters there is commandment in the Quran for the Prophet and after him the Muslims to consult each other and make decisions based on mutual consultation process: (Al Quran 3:159)...And take counsel with them in all matters of public concern; then, when you have decided upon a course of action, place your trust in God: for, verily, God loves those who place their trust in Him. (Al Quran 42:38)…..and whose rule [in all matters of common concern] is consultation among themselves.
Had there been a specific and clear instruction on selection of Caliph/Imam similar to all important religious matters such as salaah (5 times prayers), distribution of property, rules of zakat (obligatory charity) etc. there would not have been dispute after the death of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. Had it been very clearly mentioned from Allah ﷻ and His Prophet who will be the successor Caliph there would not had been the slightest contention among the companions because clear evidence on religious matters were readily accepted by them regardless of their personal like or dislike and that is the reason why Prophet Muhammad ﷺ praised them: “The best of my followers are those living in my generation (i.e. my contemporaries). and then those who will follow the latter. There will come after you, people who will bear witness without being asked to do so, and will be treacherous and untrustworthy, and they will vow and never fulfill their vows, and fatness will appear among them." (Sahih al-Bukhari 3650) They were best in following and obedience in everything that Allah ﷻ specifically commanded. It was later generations that interpreted this matter of caliphate under the light of religion and sanctioned it as a religious matter giving proofs for this interpretation. In fact it was exactly due to this reason why the first successor and rightly guided Caliph named Abu Bakr (r.a), the first and foremost of all Muslims never referred to himself as a Caliph (representative) of Allah ﷻ. In fact he always referred to himself as a Caliph of Prophet and not of Allah ﷻ because one can represent someone in their absence and Allah ﷻ is never absent but Prophet Muhammad ﷺ is absent after his passing away. When writing a letter of covenant with the Christians of Najaran, he represents himself as a representative of the Prophet ﷺ and his own people:
“In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful. This is the written statement of Abdullah Abu Bakr, the Khalifa (Caliph) of Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him), the Prophet and Messenger of Allah. He affirms for you the rights of a protected neighbor in your selves, in your lands, your religious community, your wealth, retainers, and servants, those of you who are present or aboard, your bishops, monks, and monasteries, and all that you own be it great or small. You shall not be deprived of any of it, and shall have full control…” (Abu Yusuf - Kitab Al Kharaj)
Additionally we also find that when the second successor of the Prophet ﷺ and rightly guided Caliph Umar bin Khattab (r.a) was on his deathbed he was advised to appoint a successor to which he declared openly in front of entire gathering, which included senior companions of the Prophet, that he would not like to appoint a successor like Abu Bakr did on his death (by appointing Umar) and would instead follow the Prophet’s example who never appointed a successor: Salim bin Abdullah narrated from his father who said: "It was said to 'Umar bin Al-Khattab: 'Perhaps you should endorse your successor.' He said: 'If I appoint a successor, then indeed Abu Bakr appointed a successor. And if I do not appoint a successor, the Messenger of Allah(s.a.w) did not appoint a successor."' (Jami at-Tirmidhi 2225)
It is known that Umar (r.a) never appointed anyone and in fact left it for the Shura (consultative council) of senior most companions of the Prophet ﷺ to decide whoever they chose best. Please note that Hazrat Ali (r.a) was part of this shura and never raised a hue and cry claiming that it was his right above all others to be chosen as a Caliph and neither did any among the Companions, who were known for their piety and righteousness contradicted this statement of Umar (r.a).
Issue of successorship after Prophets passing away
After Prophet Muhammad ﷺ passed away there were three groups formed as a result of contention over matter of his successorship and leadership. First group was the Ansaar (helpers), who were originally Madinah citizens and had gathered at the place of Saqeefah in Madinah, to elect a leader for all Muslims. The second group was the Muhajireen (emigrants), all Makkan Muslims who had settled in Madinah after the migration and were all from the tribe of Quraysh. The Muhajireen went to Saqeefah to stop the Ansaars (helpers) from selecting one of their own and remind them that the Prophet ﷺ had clearly advised the Muslims that Quraysh should always have authority over the Muslims: “Authority of ruling will remain with Quraysh, and whoever bears hostility to them, Allah will destroy him as long as they (i.e. Quraysh) abide by the laws of the religion.” (Sahih al-Bukhari 3500) “This religion would continue to remain powerful and dominant until there have been twelve Caliphs (rulers).” and “all of them will be from the Quraysh.” (Sahih Muslim 1821 f)
This is because they were the most educated and informed about Islam than anyone else due to their accepting Islam 13 years prior to the acceptance of Islam by Ansaar (helpers). The group of Muhajireen that went to Saqeefah included the most senior and experienced companions of all such as Abu Bakr (r.a), Umar (r.a) and Abu Ubayda bin Jarrah (r.a). They went to inform the Ansaars to stop their election and choose one from the Quraysh. After some debate and argument they were able to convince the Ansaars in choosing Abu Bakr (r.a). Furthermore by reminding the council that the Prophet ﷺ preferred the rule of Quraysh, they were also told that Abu Bakr (r.a) was leading the prayer in the absence of the Prophet and continued to do so till his death, therefore since he was the best to lead the Muslims in prayers then they deduced that he should be chosen to take care of political matters as well.
A third group had gathered at the house of Ali (r.a), the Prophet’s cousin and son in law, who were mainly supporters of Banu Hashim, the Prophet’s own clan and part of his family. They had gathered because they thought the successorship should go to one of the Hashmis as they are more entitled to this matter than anyone else. With Ali (r.a) being at the forefront of Hashmis many supporters gathered at their house wanted them to lead. Knowing that the majority of Muslims, Ansaar and Muhajireen, gathered at Saqeefah had already made Abu Bakr (r.a) as their leader and Banu Hashim were a minority third group, therefore the majority vote went for Abu Bakr (r.a) and there was no turning back on this. In fact after Ali (r.a) had known that Abu Bakr (r.a) was elected he gave the following response to Abu Sufyan who had come with Abbas (r.a), the Prophet’s uncle, to convince Ali (r.a) to revolt against the majority vote: "O People! Steer clear through the waves of mischief by boats of deliverance, turn away from the path of dissension and put off the crowns of pride. Prosperous is one who rises with wings (i.e. when he has power) or else he remains peaceful and others enjoy ease. It (i.e. the aspiration for Caliphate) is like turbid water or like a morsel that would suffocate the person who swallows it. One who plucks fruits before ripening is like one who cultivated in another’s field.." (Nahjul Balagha - Sermon 5)
Despite the fact that Ali (r.a) was not pleased with the decision that took place at Saqeefah, he nevertheless, did not accept the offer to revolt on the ground that this would create dissensions among the Muslims. His displeasure was legit because the council at Saqeefah did not take Hashmis vote in to consideration. Nevertheless Ali (r.a) was convinced later and gave Bayah (pledge of allegiance) to Abu Bakr (r.a) many months after the latter’s election:
Ali (r.a) recited tashahhud and said “We recognise your moral excellence and what Allah has bestowed upon you. We do not envy the favor (i. e. the Caliphate) which Allah has conferred upon you; but you have done it (assumed the position of Caliph) alone (without consulting us), and we thought we had a right (to be consulted) on account of our kinship with the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ).” He continued to talk to Abu Bakr (in this vein) until the latter's eyes welled up with tears. Then Abu Bakr spoke and said: “By Allah, in Whose Hand is my life, the kinship of the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) is dearer to me than the kinship of my own people. As regards the dispute that has arisen between you and me about these properties, I have not deviated from the right course and I have not given up doing about them what the Messenger of Allah (ﷺ) used to do.” So Ali said to Abu Bakr: “This afternoon is (fixed) for (swearing) allegiance (to you).” So when Abu Bakr (r.a) had finished his Zuhr prayer, he ascended the pulpit and recited Tashahhud, and described the status of Ali, his delay in swearing allegiance and the excuse which had offered to him (for this delay). (After this) he asked for God's forgiveness. Then Ali b. Abu Talib recited the Tashahhud extolled the merits of Abu Bakr and (said that) his action was not prompted by any jealousy of Abu Bakr on his part or his refusal to accept the high position which Allah had conferred upon him, (adding:) “But we were of the opinion that we should have a share in the government, but the matter had been decided without taking us into confidence, and this displeased us (Banu Hashim). Hence the delay in offering allegiance.” The Muslims were pleased with this (explanation) and they said: “You have done the right thing.” The Muslims were (again) favorably inclined to Ali since he adopted the proper course of action. (Sahih Muslim 1759 a, Book 32 Kitab Al Jihad)
This is part of original piece written on July 6, 2019 - https://www.quora.com/Can-Muslims-prove-that-prophets-other-than-Muhammad-advocated-traditional-jihad
Jihad means "struggle" and has a wider meaning in Islam. In Islam Jihad is divided in to 2 types: Jihad Al Akbar (Greater Struggle) and Jihad Al Asghar (Lesser Struggle). Jihad as in fighting actually belongs to the 2nd category of struggle i.e. Jihad Al Asghar because despite the fact that fighting an enemy is not something easy yet struggle against one's evil commanding soul called Nafs (lower self in humans) is considered greater form of struggle. You can read more on this topic here: The Quran on Jihad as Struggle vs Jihad as Fighting
Nevertheless Jihad (struggle) as in fighting is a very important aspect of Islam, it will always remain an important duty of the Ummah (Muslim Community) and this can be easily understood by comparing the other religions with its universal teachings. Unlike Islam the propagation of message of previous religions was limited to their own community and not universal. Islam is not for a particular community, it is sent for the entire human race and there is no restriction in its mission of propagation. Prophet Muhammad ﷺ was sent for entire humankind unlike Prophets of previous nations who were only sent to their own communities. The scope of Allah’s message expanded and encompassed the entire humankind with the arrival of His Final Messenger. Since that is the difference in Islam therefore Jihad as in fighting became part of the religion for the sake of defending its mission. Its quite evident that no prophet ever came or his followers ever lived but faced hostility, persecution and death which cause their message to be forgotten or changed but Allah ﷻ sent a successor prophet or messenger to revive its teachings. Since Islam has a universal approach and there will not be any Prophets after Muhammad ﷺ this faith has been specifically given permission to conduct Jihad as in fighting to protect itself in the face of aggression.
A typical example that can assist in understanding this better is the case of Bani Israel (children of Israel), whose history informs us that after their exodus from Egypt, they lived in the the Sinai Desert for 40 years without a homeland. Then Allah ﷻ decided for them to conquer a nearby land under Prophet Joshua (alaihi salaam) which was the land of Canaan. This land was given by Allah ﷻ to them for conquest so they can exit the desert area which they inhabited for half a century. However after this conquest all wars was to be ceased, no further conquest were allowed because the purpose of war was only establishment of a secure land for settlement and safe environment for practicing their faith and nothing more. After resettlement, the Israelis were then ruled for three to four hundred years by multiple religious leaders called the judges or kohens whose main concern was guiding religious services and practices of the Israelis, their concern was not political power. The twelve tribes of Israel lived under loose confederation, and no political power was necessary until they began facing continuous attacks for many years by neighboring nations such as philistines, Canaan, Moabs, Edomites etc. This led towards the formation of a Kingdom of Israel, first political power establishment of their history. It was not until Prophet Samuel (alaihi salaam) that Israelis requested him to establish a king over them to protect against attacks of neighboring nations. Allah ﷻ gave them a king by the name of Saul and this became the beginning of the establishment of first political power among Israelis and eventually leading towards establishment of Kingdoms of Israel and Judah. This is also why Prophet Moses (alaihi salaam) was a preacher prophet and not a political leader and neither were those who succeeded him like Prophet Aaron (alaihi salaam) and Prophet Joshua (alaihi salaam) and their successors. It was not until it became a necessity to protect against aggressive neighbors is why unity under one authority and establishment of political power became necessary.
A major reason why political power was not a major concern for Allah ﷻ in the case of nations prior to Islam because the previous nations had a succession of Prophets and were never left without guidance. After arrival of the final Messenger ﷺ and revelation of the Quran two things changed in human religious history:
Part of this was originally written on Quora on July 12, 2020 - Were Persians forced into accepting Islam? Did Islam borrow its Hadith & Quran Teachings from Zoroastrianism & Persian?
What is commonly understood, in the non-Muslim world, in particular the Western countries, that the followers of Zoroastrianism were converted, or must have converted, by force after the Islamic Arab conquest of Persia. After scrutinizing the history of Islam in Persia, one cannot believe in such allegations. In fact there is ample evidence that despite the overthrow of the Zoroastrianism following Persian Dynasty, Islam was spread through peaceful and other non-violent means among Zoroastrians as well as other faiths.
In Pre-Islamic Iran (Persian) the Zoroastrian priests enjoyed an enormous influence in the state, due to their relations with ruling dynasty and with their authority persecuted people’s of other faiths such as Sabians, Christians, Jews, Buddhists. This created a hatred for established religion and the dynasty and so the people of these faiths viewed the Muslim Arab conquest of Persian as means of liberation from their persecution. Islam tolerated their religion and practices for light tribute (jizya, a tax on non-Muslims) that gave them exemption from military service and their property, family and lives were under the protection of Islamic state. In fact the fire worshipers of Zoroastrian faith were also allowed to practice their faith and live in harmony with others and were even given the title of Ahl al-Kitab (people of the book) like Jews & Christians as taught in the prophetic hadith: “Follow the same sunna with them that you follow with the people of the Book” (as recorded in Book 17, Hadith 43 of Muwatta Malik) The term ahl al-kitab is generally translated in English as “People of the Book” and understood as referring to Jews and Christians in many instances in the Quran (depending upon context). But from a broader perspective the term includes all those nations and people who have ever received a divine revelation from Allah ﷻ. The famous Muslim of 20th century Muhammad Asad translates the term as “Followers of the earlier revelations” (such as in Al Quran 98:1) and used it throughout his English Translation. This means all those nations who ever received a divine book from Allah ﷻ which would include Hindus, Buddhists, Zoroastrians may be even Chinese or any nations who claim to have ever received a divine book. Hence we notice that after the fall of Sassanid Empire, the central Zoroastrian religious authority had no support to rely on and the followers of this creed would find the transition to Islam a simple and easy one, owing to the numerous points of similarity in the old creed and the new such as Ahuramazda and Ahriman were qual to Allah ﷻ and Iblis, the accursed; the creation of the world in six periods; the angels and the demons; the story of the primitive innocence of man; the resurrection of the body and the doctrine of heaven and hell. Islam enjoined to pray five times a day just as they had been by the Avesta.
In his Preaching of Islam, Professor T. W. Arnold argues that the political and national sympathies of the conquered Persians were also enlisted on behalf of the new religion through the marriage of Husayn (alaihi salaam), the son of the 4th rightly guided Caliph Ali (alaihi salaam) and the grandson of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, with Shahbanu, one of the daughters of Yazdagird, the last monarch of the Sassanid dynasty. In the descendants of Shahbanu and Husayn the Persians saw the heirs of their ancient kings, and this may also explain the devotion of many Persians towards Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s) and Shiaism. The widespread conversion to Islam among Persians could not have been forcibly because the fact that many fire worshiping communities and their places of worship exist in Iran, till this day. In the 10 Century CE, three centuries after the conquest of the country, fire-temples were to be found in Iraq, Fars, Kirman, Sijistan, Khurasan, Jibal, Azharbaijan and Arran, i.e. in almost every province of Persia. Al-Sharastani also (writing as late as the twelfth century), makes mention of a fire-temple at Isfiniya, in the neighbourhood of Baghdad itself, the capital of Abbasid Caliphate. Another factor that led towards many Zoroastrians accepting Islam may have been the class system that was part of their religion with priesthood on the top and the artisans, laborers, the lowest class, at the bottom of the societal hierarchy. Islam was the faith that made the lower classes equal in faith and brotherhood with other Muslims.
Professor Arnold also adds how acceptance of Islam by Persian nobles and ruling class spread Islam. About close of the 8th Century CE, Saman, a noble of Balkh, having received assistance from Asad bin Abdallah, the governor of Khurasan, renounced Zoroastrianism, embraced Islam and named his son Asad after his protector : it is from this convert that dynasty of the Samanids (CE 874-999) took its name. About the beginning of the 9th Century CE, Karam bin Shahriyar was the first king of the Qabusiyyah dynasty who became a Muslim, and in 873 CE a large number of fire-worshippers were converted to Islam in Daylam through the influence of Nasir al-Haqq Abu Muhammad. In the following century, about CE 912, Hasan bin Ali, a Zaydi Shia revolutionary who on the southern shore of the Caspian Sea, who is said to have been invited the inhabitants of Tabaristan and Daylam, who were Magians, to accept Islam; many of them responded to his call. In the light of the given facts, it is surely impossible to attribute the decay of Zoroastrianism entirely to violent conversions by Muslim conquerors.
Muhammad Asad - Message of the Quran - Chapter 98
The Crusades, wars by European Christians against the Muslims world are sometimes confused with early Islamic Conquests of 7th Century CE, when Muslims fought against their contemporary rivals including Christian Byzantine Empire. Unfortunately, some even ignorantly claim "Muslims attacked Christians first" and that resulted in Crusades of 11 Century CE. Despite the fact that the Papal Authority of 11th Century did use the Islamic Conquests as a pretext to launch Crusades yet there is a huge difference between the Crusades and the wars Muslim armies fought against their regional rivals. As per dictionary.com the term "Crusades" is defined as "any of the military expeditions undertaken by the Christians of Europe in the 11th, 12th, and 13th centuries for the recovery of the Holy Land from the Muslims." The Muslim attacks against Byzantine Christian Empire was not based on religious zeal to fight Christian faith where as Crusades were particularly waged with a mindset to eliminate Islam and Muslims especially from the Holy Land and its precincts. The following three major differences between Crusades and Early Islamic Conquests discussed further will clarify this topic.
Firstly the crusades were specifically aimed at getting rid of Islam and Muslims from the Holy Land of Jerusalem and its adjoining areas while Muslim armies attacking Christian Byzantine empire did not do so with this aim. The main reason that Muslim armies battled Byzantine Empire was because the former's emergence as a new regional power brought them face to face in a war situation with 2 hostile regional neighbors: Sassanian Empire and the Byzantine Empire. Before Islam these 2 main regional powers were already at war with each other for centuries for the control of entire region, please read Roman–Persian Wars. After the acceptance of Islam the Arabs gained strength in the Arabian Peninsula and sooner or later the armies of these 2 empires that could not stand each other were naturally not going to accept a third upcoming power in their neighborhood. In fact the showdown of Muslims with these 2 empires was already inevitable when they displayed hostility to Prophet Muhammad's emissaries. Khusrow Pervez - Khusrow II (Chosroes II) the then Sassanian Ruler after receiving the Prophet's letter "tore the letter into shreds and forthwith dictated a command to his viceroy in Yemen to send a couple of troopers to arrest the Prophet and bring him to his presence." The first conflict between Muslims and Byzantine empire happened in Battle of Mu'tah. This happened as a result of an emissary that Prophet Muhammad ﷺ sent to ruler of Bosra, in modern day Syria, and on his way, he was intercepted and killed by al-Ghassani, a Christian Arab governor and a close ally to the Byzantine Emperor Heraclius (ruled 610 to 641 CE). Killing a peace emissary was considered an act of war. This led towards the famous Expedition of Tabuk led by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ himself to show a force of strength to the Byzantines. Such incidents led the Muslims towards wars with their hostile neighbors that included not only Christians but also the fire worshiping Magians of Sassanian empire.
Secondly and most importantly for many Christians who may not know, especially in the mainstream West, that when Arab Muslim armies were fighting Byzantine, the Christians of the region in many cases sided with the Muslims due to obvious reasons that Muslims were not waging a sort of a Crusade against people of other faiths. They were in fact seen as a liberating force against the Byzantine and Persian oppression. This can be confirmed from the words of the Christian Priests and religious leaders of early Islamic history. T. W. Arnold writes in his Preaching of Islam:
"Michael the Elder, Jacobite Patriarch of Antioch, writing in the latter half of the twelfth century, could approve the decision of his co-religionists and see the finger of God in the Arab conquests even after the Eastern churches had had experience of five centuries of Muhammadan rule. After recounting the persecutions of Heraclius, he writes: "This is why the God of vengeance, who alone is all-powerful, and changes the empire of mortals as He will, giving it to whomsoever He will, and uplifting the humble — beholding the wickedness of the Romans who, throughout their dominions, cruelly plundered our churches and our monasteries and condemned us without pity — brought from the region of the south the sons of Ishmael, to deliver us through them from the hands of the Romans. And, if in truth, we have suffered some loss, because the catholic churches, that had been taken away from us and given to the Chalcedonians, remained in their possession; for when the cities submitted to the Arabs, they assigned to each denomination the churches which they found it to be in possession of (and at that time the great church of Emessa and that of Harran had been taken away from us); nevertheless it was no slight advantage for us to be delivered from the cruelty of the Romans, their wickedness, their wrath and cruel zeal against us, and to find ourselves at peace."
T. W. Arnold mentions another incident when Muslim armies under Abu Ubayda (r.a), a companion of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, reached the valleys of Jordan and took control of the area, the Christians welcome them with open arms due to the kind treatment of their non-Muslim subjects for which they were well known. The writer says: “When the Muslim army reached the valley of the Jordan and Abu Ubaydah pitched his camp at Fiḥ l, the Christian inhabitants of the country wrote to the Arabs, saying: "O Muslims, we prefer you to the Byzantines, though they are of our own faith, because you keep better faith with us and are more merciful to us and refrain from doing us injustice and your rule over us is better than theirs, for they have robbed us of our goods and our homes." The people of Emessa closed the gates of their city against the army of Heraclius and told the Muslims that they preferred their government and justice to the injustice and oppression of the Greeks.”
In many cases Arab Christian tribes sided with the Muslim armies, such as Banu Taghlib, assisted Muslims in their battles against Persian armies and retained their Christian identity under the Muslim rule for centuries after. The Christian tribe of al-Jurajima that lived near Antioch sided with the Muslim armies against Byzantine forces and so did the Coptic Christians of Egypt who preferred to be ruled by Muslims than their coreligionists. This attitude of the Muslim rulers towards their subjects was unparalleled in history. The Muslim attitude of war was not a holy war even though the attitude of those who were fighting was holy in mind i.e. fighting against oppression, but the wars itself were never intolerant religious conflicts, as still portrayed in the Western minds, for had they been like Crusades, Muslim armies would not have been tolerant towards their non-Muslim subjects. This is because intolerance is something which clearly contradicts the teachings of Quran which the early Muslims were very strong in following.
Thirdly when doing a comparison, Muslim wars against Byzantine and the Crusades against Muslims are 2 completely opposite things. The crusades were specifically waged with the concept that Muslims and Islam was a scourge and it needs to be eliminated. This propaganda, of which the primary source was the Pope himself, was proven by the treatment of the Muslims by their European conquerors. Mass murders and rape of Muslims was their attitude, they considered these acts justified according to the interpretations taught by their church. On the other hand Muslims were guided by principles to respect other people’s faiths and honor their lives and properties as long they are not rebellious. A simple comparison of the Muslims when they entered Jerusalem, with that of Crusaders clarifies this for us. When Jerusalem submitted to the Prophet's 2nd successor and Caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab (r.a) he made the following agreement with the Christian Patriarch Sophronius of the city:
"In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate! This is the security which Umar, the servant of God, the commander of the faithful, grants to the people of Aelia (Jerusalem). He grants to all, whether sick or sound, security for their lives, their possessions, their churches and their crosses, and for all that concerns their religion. Their churches shall not be changed into dwelling places, nor destroyed, neither shall they nor their appurtenances be in any way diminished, nor the crosses of the inhabitants nor aught of their possessions, nor shall any constraint be put upon them in the matter of their faith, nor shall any one of them be harmed."
The following are short accounts of how the Crusading Kings of Europe when entered the same holy city slaughtered its inhabitants. The following chroniclers of the First crusade recorded their accounts of the incidents as mentioned in "The Siege and Capture of Jerusalem: Collected Accounts". According to the Gesta Francorum, speaking only of the Temple Mount area, "...[our men] were killing and slaying even to the Temple of Solomon, where the slaughter was so great that our men waded in blood up to their ankles..." According to Raymond of Aguilers, also writing solely of the Temple Mount area, "in the Temple and porch of Solomon men rode in blood up to their knees and bridle reins." Writing about the Temple Mount area alone Fulcher of Chartres, who was not an eyewitness to the Jerusalem siege because he had stayed with Baldwin in Edessa at the time, says: "In this temple 10,000 were killed. Indeed, if you had been there you would have seen our feet coloured to our ankles with the blood of the slain. But what more shall I relate? None of them were left alive; neither women nor children were spared."
Much of the reason why Muslims were welcomed by the Christian residents of the lands they conquered were because their Byzantine rulers belonged to the Orthodox Church which displayed intolerance towards Christians of other thoughts and persecuted them. The Muslims gave them the opportunity to practice their Christian faith as they wished without restrictions. T. W. Arnold writes further how the Coptic Christians of Egypt welcomed the Muslim army under Amr ibn Al Aas (r.a), a companion of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ:
“The Jacobites, who formed the majority of the Christian population, had been very roughly handled by the Orthodox adherents of the court and subjected to indignities that have not been forgotten by their children even to the present day. Some were tortured and then thrown into the sea; many followed their Patriarch into exile to escape from the hands of their persecutors, while a large number disguised their real opinions under a pretended acceptance of the Council of Chalcedon. To these Copts, as the Jacobite Christians of Egypt are called, the Muhammadan conquest brought a freedom of religious life such as they had not enjoyed for a century. On payment of the tribute, 'Amr left them in undisturbed possession of their churches and guaranteed to them autonomy in all ecclesiastical matters, thus delivering them from the continual interference that had been so grievous a burden under the previous rule; he laid his hands on none of the property of the churches and committed no act of spoliation or pillage.”
History bears witness to the fact that Muslim expansion in the earlier years of Islam were not due to prejudice, hate, racism based on a religious pretext. Yes Muslims did attack their opponents and defeated them and build an empire on their lands but provided justice which the people of that land were deprived of. These people were yearning for someone to come save them from the persecution they faced at the hands of the authorities ruling over them. Therefore even though the Islamic Conquests of 7th Century CE happened first, but the factors guiding their conquests were not intolerance and hatred like that of Crusaders.
 al-Mubarakpuri, Safi-ur-Rahman. 1996. Al-Raheeq Al-Makhtum (The Sealed Nectar). Dar-us-Salam Publications.
 THE PREACHING OF ISLAM A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith - Pg 47 Chapter III - The Spread of Islam Among the Christian Nations of Western Asia
 THE PREACHING OF ISLAM A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith - Pg 48 Chapter III - The Spread of Islam Among the Christian Nations of Western Asia
 THE PREACHING OF ISLAM A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith - pg 49 Chapter II - The Spread of Islam Among the Christian Nations of Western Asia
 Medieval Sourcebook: The Siege and Capture of Jerusalem: Collected Accounts - History Department of Fordham University, New York https://sourcebooks.fordham.edu/source/cde-jlem.asp#fulcher1
 THE PREACHING OF ISLAM A History of the Propagation of the Muslim Faith - pg 83 - Chapter IV - The Spread Of Islam Among The Christian Nations Of Africa
The Conquest of Constantinople (1453 CE) & Conversion of Hagia Sophia into Masjid - An Islamic Viewpoint
Originally written on July 18, 2020 on Quora - Did Prophet Muhammad (saw) predict the Conquest of Constantinople (1453 CE) and as per Islam, was it justified to convert Hagia Sophia Church into a Masjid?
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday (July 10th) formally re-converted Istanbul’s sixth-century iconic Hagia Sophia into a mosque, hours after a high court annulled a 1934 decision that had turned it into a museum. For many around the world who are not much familiar with the background of the conversion of Hagia Sophia church in to masjid by 15th century conqueror Sultan Mehmed II Al Fateh (the Conqueror), are questioning this decision of the Turkish government. Apparently it is forbidden for Muslims to take over and forcibly convert non-Muslim places of worship in to masjid but this historic decision was exclusive, it was necessary for that time and situation.
The Prophet’s Prediction of Constantinople
The prediction of the conquest of Constantinople and Rome was given by Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in several traditions, long before him and the earlier Muslims hardly exercised any control in the Arabian Peninsula. In fact, their influence was only limited to a small town called Yathrib (later became Madinah). As per Islamic scholars the first conquest of the city is implied recorded in the following reliable tradition:
Abu Qateel said, "We were with Abdullah ibn Umar (r.a), and he was asked, “Which city will be conquered - Constantinople or Rome?” 'Abdullah (r.a) called for a box to be brought, and he removed from it a book. Abdullah (r.a) said, “While we were (gathered) around the Messenger of Allah ﷺ and we were writing, the Messenger of Allah ﷺ was asked: ‘Which city will be conquered first - Constantinople or Rome?’ The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said: ‘The city of Hiraql (Heraclius) will be conquered first’ - i.e. Constantinople."' (Recorded in Musnad Ahmad and in Al Bidayah Wa Al Nihaya by Imam ibn Kathir - The Prophets Intimated That The Muslims Would Conquer Constantinople Before Rome - pg 71)
At this point it is also important to mention that there are other traditions that speak about a second Conquest of Constantinople by Muslims that would take place in future because Muslims will end up losing their control of this city to the Romans (most likely modern day Europeans). However, we are only concerned with the one mentioned above.
Ibn Khaldun, 14th century Arab Islamic scholar, social scientist and historian also called the father of the modern disciplines of historiography, sociology, stressed in his masterpiece Al Muqaddimah that a dynasty is like the center of a light and its rays or the water circles made when the water is struck in the center, it is strong near the center but becomes weaker as it expands. The dynasty remains strong as long as its center or capital remains strong but gradually begins to crumble at its extremities. The decay starts from the extremities, and if allowed to gradually reach the center the dynasty ceases to function and exist. The center is like the heart from which the (vital) spirit reaches the entire body, if it stops functioning, the entire body stops. He gives the example of Persian Sassanid Empire that was dissolved immediately because their capital Al Madain (Ctesiphon) was overrun in the early years of Islamic conquests, as opposed to Byzantine empire that lost all of its territories in Greater Syria yet continued to exist as long as their capital Constantinople was under its authroity. The loss of the capital is the end of an empire and this is what is meant by the following Ayah (verse) in the Quran:
(Al Quran 44:25-29) how many gardens did they leave behind, and water-runnels, and fields of grain, and noble dwellings, and [all that] life of ease in which they used to delight! Thus, it was. And [then] We made another people heirs [to what they had left], and neither sky nor earth shed tears over them, nor were they allowed a respite.
The following discussion explains how the gradual decaying of the Byzantine empire led towards their defeat at the hands of the Ottomans and complete loss of all its power at the eventual loss of their capital.
The Byzantine Empire During Middle (9th Century CE) & Late Period (14th Century)
After the loss of all Byzantine states in the Middle East at the hands of the early Islamic conquests in the mid-7th century and religious schism between Rome (Catholic Church) and Constantinople (Orthodox Church) in 1054 CE, the Byzantine Empire was a medium sized regional state based in Constantinople and fighting a battle for survival. During the 11th Century, not only was it under the threat of the Muslim Turkish tribes from its Eastern Front but also their Catholic co-religionists who attacked during the Fourth crusade in 1204 CE, and ruled Constantinople till its recapture in 1261. But the retaking of the capital by the Byzantines and its attempts to revival were not very successful because the empire had already lost much of its influence and power that it had before the loss of its capital to the Latin Christians. After recapturing Constantinople, the Byzantines continued to struggle against the crusades of the Catholic church and their attempts to retake the capital. Meanwhile the Eastern border lands under the control of various Turkish tribes started strengthening themselves and in particular one of them under the leadership of Osman 1 (from where comes the term Ottoman or Osmanli) began capturing lands and established themselves as independent rulers. As Byzantine empire shrank in size and became weaker in its political power in the region, they also suffered economically. The increase in the refugees fleeing from territories lost to their rivals and the decrease of treasury wealth caused the Byzantine heavy economic loss. The Byzantine power relied on outsiders for assistance against their rivals such as their support on the Catalan Company – an army of Catalonian mercenaries – to protect their territories as well as their reliance on the Mongols to fight the rulers of Turkish states (beyliks) caused them to become weaker and more dependent on others for their political power. The weak military, political and economic Byzantine kingdom could not protect nor support their own subjects from the occupation of others nor fight the corruption of their own. Additionally, the struggle for throne among contenders and the Byzantine civil war (1341-1347 CE) caused the Kingdom to overlook the challenges from outside. All these events and the failure of Byzantine revival, proved that it was time for the weak empire to be replaced by a powerful one who would not only replace them but also have the power to establish justice and order that would provide safety and protection which the subjects of the empire were deprived of.
Byzantine Relationship with Turks
The Byzantines had a continuous relationship of war and peace with the Turks from the time of Seljuk Sultanate (empire) who entered the land of Anatolia (modern day Turkey) during 9th century, with the support of several Turk nomad tribes of Central Asia. The famous Battle of Manzikert (1071 CE) where a large Byzantine army suffered defeats at the hands of much smaller Seljuk Turk force, was the beginning point in history for Turks to establish themselves as permanent residents in the former Byzantine Eastern lands of Anatolia. After the Seljuk state became weak by Mongol invasion, eventually becoming a vassal state, new Turk nomad tribes that moved into Anatolia from Central Asia escaping Mongol attacks, among them the Osmanlis (Ottomans) began establishing themselves on the crumbling Seljuk state. With the passage of time they reached such strength that Byzantine Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos (1347 – 1354 CE) was assisted by the Ottoman Sultan Orhan to gain his throne in Constantinople during the Byzantine civil war. John also married his daughter Princess Theodora in return for this favor. But soon the next emperor John V Palaiologos (r. 1354–91), who succeeded Katakouzenos, looked forward to another crusade by the Roman Pope against the Ottomans. The famous Union of Churches decided in Council of Ferrara-Florence (1438–39 CE) to launch a long-awaited crusade which was fully supported and blessed by Eastern Roman Emperor, the Patriarch of Constantinople and representatives of several Orthodox churches. However, Ottoman Sultan Murad I defeated the crusaders at Varna in 1444 and at Kosovo in 1448.
Fall of Byzantine Capital - Constantinople
After Mehmed II, Al Fateh (the Conqueror), became an Ottoman Sultan, the Byzantine emperor suggested that a grandson of the late Prince Suleyman, called Orhan, who lived in exile at Constantinople was a pretender to the Ottoman throne. His unnecessary intervention in to Ottoman ruling affair was a failure. Mehmed II already started planning the siege and the eventual takeover of the historic and legendary city. On July 1st, 1453 CE the Ottoman army entered Constantinople, the jewel in the Byzantine crown was announced as the capital of the expanding Ottoman state. Additionally, the prestige and power of the Orthodox Church, the center of which was Hagia Sophia, was tied directly to that of the Byzantine Empire. As the empire’s political power shrank in the preceding years, so too did the ability of the patriarch, the spiritual head of the Church, to exercise religious authority over Orthodox faithful, and this resulted in divisions among the Orthodox denomination. After the conquest Sultan Mehmed II, Al Fateh (the Conqueror) declared himself the protector of the Orthodox Church, appointed Gennadios as the Patriarch, the spiritual head of the Orthodox Church. The Patriarch, centered in Constantinople, was not only declared as the official spiritual head of all Orthodox faithful but in fact was able to consolidate and solidify his religious authority over all Orthodox in the former Byzantine territories, as Ottomans established their rule over those territories. In fact the Orthodox population in the former Byzantine territories, numerically superior to the Turks, accepted the rule of the Sultan over the failed and corrupt ruling system of the Byzantine authorities and the tyrannical rule of Catholic Franks and Venetians that ruled in certain parts of the empire under a feudal system that had reduced the population to serfdom. The Christians under Ottomans were fully permitted to practice their own law in all civil matters under the authority of their church with no interference from Muslim authorities whatsoever. Professor T. W. Arnold quoting Russian annalists (experts on Roman history) who speak of the fall of Constantinople due to same reasons: "Without the fear of the law an empire is like a steed without reins. Constantine and his ancestors allowed their grandees to oppress the people; there was no more justice in their law courts; no more courage in their hearts; the judges amassed treasures from the tears and blood of the innocent; the Greek soldiers were proud only of the magnificence of their dress; the citizens did not blush at being traitors; the soldiers were not ashamed to fly. At length the Lord poured out His thunder on these unworthy rulers, and raised up Muhammad, whose warriors delight in battle, and whose judges do not betray their trust.” (CHAPTER VI. THE SPREAD OF ISLAM AMONG THE CHRISTIAN NATIONS IN EUROPE UNDER THE TURKS - Preaching of Islam, pg 115 - T. W. Arnold) Hence the gradual disintegration of the Byzantine empire due to its oppressive rule of the kings and corrupt government officials caused Qudrat (the Divine) to replace them with people who were just in their rule and provided security to the lives and property of their subjects.
The legality of converting Hagia Sophia into Masjid
In Byzantine political ideology, as long as the empire retained its three elements—the emperor, the patriarch at Hagia Sophia Church, and the city (Constantinople)—it continued to exist. After the decision to make this city into the future capital of the Ottoman state, Mehmed II Al Fateh (the Conqueror) decided to convert Hagia Sophia (Church of Holy Wisdom), the ancient church that played a political role in the establishment of the Byzantine empire, in to a masjid, a Muslim place of worship. Hagia Sophia, a state Church, was unlike other Orthodox churches throughout the Byzantine lands. It played a very active political role in the establishment of the empire. As per their tradition Emperor Justinian (527 to 565 CE) received the plan of the church from an archangel. It was the seat where all Emperors were crowned and blessed by the Church before resuming the throne. The capital of the new Islamic State could not have function with its Christian political legacy. The Islamization of Constantinople was necessary for it to function as a capital of the Ottoman state, hence its name was changed to Islami bol (i.e. plenty Islam in it!) or Islambol, which continued through 18th century. Since the Byzantine empire became part of the museum of history, all the sections of its society that particularly played a political role in sustaining it were also going to be part of the museum, including the main Church. After conversion of Hagia Sophia in to Aya Sophia Cammi (Masjid) the Orthodox patriarchate was moved to the Church of the Holy Apostles, another 4th Century structure in Constantinople, which became the city's main Orthodox cathedral.
Some Muslims, and even non-Muslims, dispute the fact of converting this in to a Muslim place of worship was a great sin and in support of their argument they claim that Prophet Muhammad’s successor, Caliph Umar ibn Al Khattab (r.a), after entering Jerusalem rejected the request to offer prayer at the famous Church of Holy Sepulcher, in case future generations will follow his footsteps. What they need to realize is that Holy Church in Jerusalem was a general holy site, mainly religious in its functioning, and did not exercise any political influence or authority in ruling policy of the state such as those by capital of Catholic Church in Rome or Orthodox Church in Constantinople. The support for crusades and other wars fought by the Byzantine Emperors or other European Christian rulers were fully sanctioned and backed by these churches while the Church of Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, has never played any direct role in the history of politics. What Islam explicitly forbids (Al Quran 22:39-40) is attacking and conversion of those non-Muslim religious sites that are purely used for the purpose of worship and religious activities.
Turkey's President Formally Re-Converts Hagia Sophia Into a Mosque - Time.com
Encyclopedia of the OTTOMAN empire - Gabor Agoston Georgetown University, Washington, D.C. Bruce Masters Wesleyan University, Connecticut
Al Bidayah Wa Al Nihaya (The Beginning of the End) by Imam ibn Kathir
CHAPTER VI. THE SPREAD OF ISLAM AMONG THE CHRISTIAN NATIONS IN EUROPE UNDER THE TURKS - Preaching of Islam, pg 115 - T. W. Arnold
Narrative of Travels in Europe, Asia & Africa by Evliya Effendi
Al MUQADDIMAH - Abd Ar Rahman bin Muhammed ibn Khaldun - Translated by Franz Rosenthal
Church of the Holy Sepulchre - Wikipedia.com
Why Did Muslim Empires Have Slave Soldiers?
The Arab / Middle Eastern and North African cultures even before accepting Islam have always been tribal in origin and families derived their political and social strength from their tribal culture. In fact most of the Eastern cultures were all like that till modern times where emergence of the mega cities caused gradual shift among many former tribal people towards a metropolitan lifestyle impacting their traditional culture. Having slave soldiers was beneficial for early Islamic empires like the Abbasid Caliphate, who were based in Iraq where local Arabs and natives had stronger affiliations with their own tribes rather than the Caliph. Having individuals from these tribes in to the influential positions in the armed forces and important political posts would provide strong motive for them to gain power for their own tribe eventually causing the royal family in power to be overthrown.
Due to this reason slaves were usually bought from among the people of Central Asia, the lands of Turks. In origin these Turkish people were nomadic warriors valued by Caliphs or Sultans for strengthening their rule militarily. Due to them being part of the army they were serving and being far away from their own land, in a foreign land, kept their loyalty firm with the Sultan. Even though the threat to Sultan’s authority was not over but minimized when it came to these slave soldiers.
How did Turkish Slaves Manage To Create ‘Slave Dynasty’ or Mamluk Sultanate?
In Islamic history we experienced something unprecedented, something called ‘Slave Dynasty’ unlike history of other religions and nations. Slave Dynasty is a unique Islamic legacy which even European Civilization has never experienced. What is a slave dynasty? These were dynasties in the Muslim world in which high ranking officials who were of slave origin, serving in the armies were able to sometimes over throw a weak Sultan or a governor and replaced themselves as new governors or Sultans. Prime examples of these historic dynasties are the Mamluk Sultanate of Egypt and Syria and the Mamluk Sultanate of Delhi (Indo-Pak subcontinent). The term Mamluk is of Arabic origin meaning "owned" usually translated as warrior slaves in English. The Mamluks were mainly Turks of Central Asia who were sold as slaves in the service of many Sultans and due to the privilege that Islam gives to the slaves were able to reach high ranks within the army and then at times eventually themselves becoming Sultans. What further distinguished their upbringing from the remaining slaves, such as household slaves, in the Muslim world was that due to their military service were given best education in worldly and religious sciences including military training and were privileged in many instances than regular slaves such as also getting paid for their services to the government. The problem however was that if a strong Mamluk Army General succeeded in overthrowing a Sultan or a Governor of a Sultan, then nothing could disrupt him from becoming an authority, that would also eventually pave the way for him to becoming a Sultan, unless he was overthrown by another rival. If he did succeed then after him his descendants would rule unless they became weak enough to be overthrown by another Mamluk.
Why Ottoman Janissaries Never Succeeded like Mamluks in Becoming Sultans?
The Ottoman Turks emerged from the one of the many strong Turkman tribes that ruled the Anatolian region (modern Turkey). Initially the Ottoman tribe was able to defeat rival tribes and expand its authority over their lands with the help of their own tribal people. However, as their territory began to expand and in order to strengthen their rule, they too did not chose members of their own or other Turkman tribes to serve in the elite circle to avoid conflict of interest. They too chose slaves from outside yet in a different manner. They created an elite force called jannissaries or yeni ceri in Turkish. Even though the janissaries were like mamluks yet their recruitment process differed much from the latter. These were not Muslim nor grown up individuals, they were in fact very young Christian boys paid to the Ottoman Sultans as a tax by their subjects, Christian families living in the Balkan region. These families handed over at least one of their sons, as a form of a tax payment to the Islamic government. These boys were gathered and the best among them were selected to be raised and become elite force of the Sultan. They were forcibly converted to Islam at a young age, even though forced conversion is strictly prohibited in Islam. But what is also important to note is that, due to prospects of great career, many Christian parents voluntarily gave their children to the Ottoman for raising as Muslims. Since the boys were trained from a very young age to serve the Sultan, away from their own family, their loyalty to him was the greatest. There was no chance for them to switch loyalty to any other Turkish tribes either, because no members of these tribes were part of the Ottoman elite. A janissary could reach all the way to top and even become a Wazeer e A'laa (prime minister), second to the Sutlan or Caliph, but could never become a Sultan himself as this seat was restricted for an Ottoman descendant. Even if he managed to overthrow the Sultan yet the Turks will never accept a non-Turk Muslim to rule over them. This strategy overall played well for the Ottoman descendants to maintain their rule unchallenged by any rivals within the political and armed forces unlike their predecessor dynasties. However with time Janissaries indulged in corrupt practices and if the Sultan was a weak one then they controlled him, at times they even revolted and overthrew, and in some extreme cases even killed him, like Sultan Osman II (Reign. 1618 – 1622 CE) & Sultan Ibrahim (Reign. 1640 - 1648 CE), but because of the established system could never themselves become rulers.
When observing the success periods of historical civilizations and empires we learn that they flourished as a result of a strong leadership that provided all necessary resources for their development. It’s always under the patronage of the strong leadership that a civilization’s intellectual and learned class makes achievements that impact world’s history. Take the example of Greek Civilization, its intellectual activity, culture, arts and sciences primarily flourished under the patronage of its strong rulership. However, all historical civilizations have one thing in common: the empire’s strength lies at its beginning and reaches peak in the middle, then gradually decreases and eventually leads towards its downfall. The Abbasid Empire that existed from 8th – 13th century CE was no exception. It flourished under a strong leadership and left a mark on world’s history unlike other empires. Their historical mark was the great Translation Project in the contemporary world at Dar Al Hikmah (House of Wisdom), a major center of learning at Baghdad, the Abbasid capital that produced one of the greatest scientific revolutions of all times. It was the strong Abbasid leadership under the early Abbasid Caliphs that made the project a success story impacting the world for centuries to come. However, the Abbasids too faced common consequences like any other empire whose earlier rulers were strong in leadership and running state affairs but with time fell prey to worldly temptations became weaker which eventually lead towards their downfall.
Below we have discussed factors in the light of Islam that explain how strong leadership is indispensable for the light of knowledge to spread, without which the darkness of ignorance prevails. This is what Abbasids at Baghdad experienced and this is what the Islamic world is experiencing today.
Concept of the Sword & the Pen
A leader must be strong and forbearing. Being only strong will destroy those under them, being too much forbearing will provide room for others to exploit and disturb the rule. 14th century Islamic scholar, sociologist, historiographer Ibn Khaldun explains that in the beginning of any dynasty there comes the use of sword before the use of pen. The use of sword is necessary because the sword helps to establish the power of its rulership and strengthens it. Once rulership is established and there is harmony to a large extent then the use of sword becomes minimum and the use of pen increases. The use of pen indicates intellectual and scientific activity and the influence of the learned in the society. Hence, we notice that the foundation for the cradle of scientific revolution at Dar Al Hikmah was laid by strong and pious Caliphs namely Al Mansur (CE 754 – 775), Al Mahdi (775 -785 CE), Al Rashid (CE 786 – 809), Al Mamun (CE 813 – 833). They provided necessary resources and support for initiating the project and safe and sound environment that brought thinkers, men of knowledge from near and far to the capital. They personally supervised the collection of manuscripts from around the world, written in Greek, Latin, and Persian in the fields of medicine, alchemy, physics, mathematics, astrology and other disciplines. The rulers not only supported the project but also took part in discussions and debates among the intelligentsia which displayed their personal interest. However, the use of pen declines when the situation of the dynasty begins weakening and the use of sword comes in to action again to protect the dynasty from crumbling but then it either succeeds in reviving itself against its opposition and the results are determined by how strong the opposition is.
Early Abbasid Caliphs vs Later Ones
Baghdad was the center of the Abbasid Empire. It was here that the cradle of modern education and sciences originated and impacted the entire globe for many centuries to come including ours. For instance, algorithm, a process or set of rules to be followed in calculations or other problem-solving operations, used by almost every computerized system on earth originates from teachings of famous Mathematician Al Khwarizmi, an Islamic scholar at Dar Al Hikmah. When rulers are strong and just in rulership, pious in their lifestyle and character, then much good results from it. Its recorded that Al Rashid possessed a good deal of learning and simplicity because his age was close to that of his forebears who also possessed those qualities. The time between him and his grandfather, Al Mansur (son of As Saffah, the first Abbasid ruler), was not a long one. He was young when Al Mansur died. Al Mansur possessed a good deal of learning and religion before he became caliph and continued to practice those high standards even afterwards. These rulers enjoyed company of Islamic scholars, listened to their advice and advised them as well. Imam Malik, one of the greatest Imams of Islamic law, was inspired by Al Mansur to write the Muwatta, one of the most authentic collections of prophetic hadith. Al Mamun, son of Al Rashid, enjoyed the company and even prayed salaah (5 times prayers) together with chief Qadi (justice) Yahya bin Akhtamand. Yahya was also a famous hadith transmitter., also famous hadith transmitter.
Al Mansur's son, Al Mahdi, Al Rashid's father, inspired by Al Mansur’s personality, in his simplicity avoided use of the public treasury even to provide new clothes for his family. It is also recorded that earlier Caliphs displayed only light silver ornamentation on their belts, swords, bridles, and saddles, and that the first caliph to display golden apparel was Al Mutazz bin al Mutawakkil, the eighth caliph after Al Rashid. The decline of the Abbasids began when pomp, show and waste of wealth became the lifestyle of rulers as opposed to providing justice, practicing simplicity, enjoying company of the learned men and subjugating enemies. A major factor that assisted the Abbasids to make the project successful at Baghdad was the taxation policy. Due to the strong central government in Baghdad, its rulers were getting taxes from across the empire and had money to spend on translations and patronage of scholarship.
Another major factor that determined the strength of the empire was the readiness of the caliphs to face and defend against enemies. The early Caliphs were strong enough to crush rebellions within the empire and lead armies into enemy territory and defeat them. The later caliphs, however did not share the same traits. As Saffah defeated the Chinese in war, Al Mansur is renown for successfully crushing rebellions and Harun Al Rashid led military expeditions into Byzantine territory, close to Constantinople. While Al Mustazhar, the 12th century Abbasid Caliph was helpless when the Crusaders captured Jerusalem. The renowned Islamic Scholar Al Harawi traveled from Damascus to Baghdad to see the Caliph and encouraged him to defend but he seemed powerless, the political power was under several Turkish Muslim dynasties. He was only a Caliph by name. Al Yaqubi, early 9th century geographer visited Baghdad and said “It is the center of the world. Its people have good manners, resplendent faces and open minds that they excelled all others in learning and understanding, in literature, in comprehension, in expertise and in crafts.” Comparing this with account of 13th century geographer Ibn Jubayr who visited Baghdad 35 years before Mongol invasion complained about the vanity of its people. “Strangers they despise,” he wrote, “and they show scorn and disdain to their inferiors, while the stories of the news of other men they belittle ... it is as if they are persuaded that God has no lands nor people save theirs.” Ibn Jubayr’s revelations are worth attention because as Mongol invasion was nearer, Caliph Al Mustasim was busy in hunting and entertainment rather than state affairs. It is recorded that he sent requests to Badruddin Lulu, ruler of Mosul, to provide singers and musical instruments while Hulagu Khan, the Mongol leader, was collecting canons and other weapons to destroy walls of Baghdad. The people in Baghdad were given to pleasures and entertainment like their rulers and the religious scholars were busy with sectarian matters. The people of Baghdad were strong and inspirational as long as the rulers were also courageous, pious and fair and their religious leaders courageous enough to rebuke the ruling class when required. When the rulers became engrossed in worldly pleasures, gave up the path of their predecessors then their affairs became corrupt and so was the state of the peoples and of the religious scholars under them. Hence after the destruction of Baghdad what Allah ﷻ has said became true: (Al Quran 17:16) And when We intend to destroy a nation, We command its affluent (elite class: rulers, scholars, influential) to obey Allah ﷻ but they defiantly disobey therein (become corrupt); so the word comes into effect upon it (the nation) and We destroy it utterly.
Islamic Inspiration behind the House of Wisdom
It was at the battle of Talas in 751 CE when the Abbasid army defeated the Chinese army of Tang Empire and captured several of its soldiers. These prisoners of war revealed the paper making technology which became the major precursor and proponent for the translation project at Baghdad. With the use of latest technology Dar Al Hikmah became a success story in the contemporary world, the first knowledge city which produced many scientists and scholars and each made major contributions in their field revolutionizing the world of knowledge. This reminds us of Battle of Badr, in the aftermath of which Prophet Muhammad ﷺ decided to set free some prisoners on the condition that they educate 10 children on reading and writing and once they become proficient, the instructor would be set free. It was several young children of Madinah that became writers and collectors of Prophetic hadith which significantly helped in the dissemination of Islamic knowledge after the Prophet’s passing away. What is more interesting to note that paper-technology, back then the primary instrument of dissemination of knowledge, like the internet is today, originated from China and it was Prophet Muhammad ﷺ who is reported to have advised “Seek knowledge even if it is in China”  highlighting efforts to acquire knowledge. And it was the Prophet ﷺ who once prophesied looking at his Persian companion Salman Al Farsi (r.a) and said “If Faith were at (the place of) Ath-Thuraiya (pleiades, the highest star), even then some men from these people (i.e. Salman's folk) would attain it.” An indication of the great number of Persian Islamic scholars and scientists in Islamic history, many of whom formed the chore of academics at Baghdad. It was at this that an Arab Scholar at Baghdad said “We Arabs have all the words but you Persians have all the ideas.” The “words” here imply the rich language of the Quran, the classical Arabic.
Current Crisis of Knowledge & the Information Age
At the beginning of any dynasty sword helps to establish power and strengthen the rule and the use of pen dominates after the success of sword. Currently most parts of the Muslim world are experiencing political conflicts for last several decades: infighting among themselves and fighting foreign occupations. This in addition to the poor economic state of several Muslim countries caused mainly by their corrupt political class which makes them vulnerable to exploitation by stronger countries. $1 trillion dollar of corrupt wealth is transferred from developing countries (like Pakistan, Nigeria) and stashed abroad every year into Western countries due to weak international laws, something that was recently decried by Pakistani PM Imran Khan in UN General Assembly. Due to these reasons we are seeing a consistent process of brain drain from Muslim world, flow into Western countries. Due to this we see many Muslim scientists and their achievements, if any, take place mainly in the West where lies centers of global learning. This is because economic and political order in the West is much more stable than the Muslim world. We recently heard some achievements made by Muslims in the West in medicine and technology fields: a Muslim doctor in US invents a ventilator that can serve up to 7 people when there was a shortage of ventilators during COVID-19, a Turkish doctor in Germany created the vaccine for COVID-19, a Pakistan origin electrical engineer in Texas developed a cancer cell detection method improving early cancer diagnosis, and a Muslim in Ireland was listed among top 1% of computer science technology in the world. This reminds us of Nasiruddin Tusi, one of the best Persian Islamic scientist, provided an observatory under the patronage of Halagu Khan, non-Muslim Mongol ruler, under whom he continued making achievements. While it is great to hear of some Muslims acquiring scientific achievements under non-Muslims, it’s also regrettable that unlike their predecessor, majority of them are dispersed throughout the world and not under one center like Dar Al Hikmah, where various talents came together. Unlike Nasiruddin many of them are not even well versed in religious knowledge, their worldview secular like non-Muslims or religion is only limited to their private sphere. Religious knowledge along with expertise in worldly sciences kept the Islamic scientists aware of the morals and ethics required in the usage of their learning, largely missing from today’s scientists. The Quran is God’s divine speech and like light of fire when applied towards worldly sciences lights them up, opening new venues of knowledge, and this is one of the meaning of: (Al Quran 24:35) Light upon Light! Allah guides whoever He wills to His Light. And Allah sets forth parables for humanity. For Allah has perfect knowledge of each and everything.
With brain drain of scientific knowledge, we also notice improper and incorrect use of religious knowledge which despite being readily available in the age of information the true understanding of which has become very less among Muslims. This has much to do with widespread ignorance of the Deen (Islam) and in reference to this the Prophet ﷺ predicted “among the signs of the Hour knowledge shall be raised up, ignorance shall be rampant.” And he also predicted the age of information and the lies and confusion that will accompany it: “Shortly before the Last Hour…. false witness will prevail, hiding the truth and widespread use of pen.” The "widespread use of pen" refers to the digital era with information on our fingertips while “false witness” and “hiding the truth” entails the disinformation that accompanies it. Ignorance of the Deen in the age of information will provide many sources of learning Islam but very less correct understanding of it as also foretold by the Prophet ﷺ: “There will come a time in which there will be many readers and few Fuqaha (people with proper understanding of deen); knowledge will be taken away and there will be a lot of Harj” They asked “What is Harj” He said “Killing among you (infighting, civil wars). Then after that there will come a time when the Quran is read by many men, but it will not go further than their collarbones. Then after that will come a time when the disbelieving hypocrite, who joins others with Allah ﷻ, will dispute with the believer, using the same argument as him (i.e. using the book of Allah and the Prophetic words).” – the “disbelieving hypocrite” are the online non-Muslims, ex-Muslims and pretending to be Muslims “experts” of Islam, skilled in arguments against the Muslims, employing primary sources (Quran and hadith) to defeat or at least confuse them in their faith. These people will appear at a time when there will be tons of readers (online) but very few people with understanding of their deen (fuqaha). Many will be tempted and accept new interpretations of Islam (“modern Islam” new "sufism" Quranists, rejecting hadith, sectarianism, Ahmadiyya etc.) and will fall prey to this confusion project. Such is clearly visible in the online world, and I have personally experienced this for many years now.
(Al Quran 94:5-6) Verily, with hardship comes ease - By 14th century the political authority of the Abbasids was replaced with the powerful Ottomans in the Islamic world and further scientific developments also took place under their authority. And so we expect that current pressing times will also replace the decadent rulership with stronger authorities who will bring a new age of development: (Al Quran 5:54) Allah will in time bring forth people whom He loves and who love Him
 THE MUQADDIMAH, Abd Ar Rahman bin Muhammed ibn Khaldun, Translated by Franz Rosenthal, INTRODUCTION, The excellence of historiography. - An appreciation of the various approaches to history. -A glimpse at the different kinds of errors to which historians are liable. Something about why these errors occur
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We all may know the story of Aladdin and have even watched the Disney cartoon series in which there is a character named Jafar, the Sultan’s wazir (vizier/advisor). Apparently Jafar appears as a trusted advisor of the Sultan but behind the scenes is an evil man plotting to eventually one day take over his kingdom. The inspiration of the character Jafar in the Disney series comes from 1001 Arabian Nights, a series of stories collected during the Islamic golden age. The Arabian nights however does not depict him like Disney, in fact he is a wise wazir and helps solves mystery cases such as in the story of “the three apples”. This may be somewhat true about the real person Jafar ibn Yahya or Jafar ibn Barmak, of whom people know very seldom. He was the powerful wazir of renown Abbasid Caliph Harun Al Rashid. Far from what is in the stories, he belonged to Al Barmaki Family or Barmakids who were known to serve as powerful wazirs and administrators for Abbasid rulers at the height of their power from 705 to 803 CE.
Importance of Wizarat in Islamic History
Wizarah (also Wizarat) is derived either from mu'azarah "help," or from wizr "load," and Wazir is one who holds the office of wizarat. Wazir helps the person whom he supports to carry his burdens and charges. It appears in the Quran in the same sense (Al Quran 20:29). The official designation of wizarat did not exist in the early years of Rashidun Caliphate (first four successors of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ). The early Muslims emerged from Arabian desert lifestyle which did not have any royalty. Wizarat was a royal rank and developed after Islam’s leadership was succeeded by political dynasties of Umayyads, Abbasid’s, Seljuks, Mamluks. The designation of wizarat was first employed by Umayyads to assist them in managing state affairs. The wizarat in the Abbasid context was highly significant. The wazirs under Abbasids provided strength in governing the state and were also great advisors to the Caliphs. The Abbasid Caliphs were official representatives of all Muslims and Islam. The people who held the office of wizarat under Abbasids helped establish their base and maintain their legal status as Caliphs of Islam.
The significance of this role is implied in the following words of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ: “Allah never sends a prophet or gives the Caliphate to a Caliph but that he (the prophet or the Caliph) has two groups of advisors: A group advising him to do good and exhorts him to do it, and the other group advising him to do evil and exhorts him to do it. But the protected person (against such evil advisors) is the one protected by Allah.” (Riyad us Saliheen) The Quran also teaches that rulers should keep company with advisers who are trustworthy, knowledgeable and honest in their advisory role as in the case of the King of Egypt who took Prophet Yusuf (Joseph) (alaihi salaam) in his company as an advisor: (Al Quran 12:54-55) And the King said: "Bring him to me, so that I may attach him to myself." And when he had spoken with him, [the King] said: "Behold, [from] this day you shall be of high standing with us, invested with all trust! (Ameen)" [Yusuf] replied: "Place in my charge the storehouses of the land; behold, I shall be a good and knowing keeper (Hafeez un Aleem)." - This teaches that an adviser should be Ameen i.e. worthy of trust, Aleem i.e. one who has knowledge and well informed about state affairs, Hafeez i.e. guards well and does not allow encroachment what is handed as a trust. All three characteristics were carried by the personality of Yusuf (Joseph) (a.s) and his advisory was very effective to the point that he was able to ward off the great famine by helping the empire stock food which sustained them in that difficult time. In the light of this we see similar characteristics shared by the Barmaki wazirs whose advisory, knowledge and guardianship of the Abbasid empire and its resources helped to establish it in the beginning of its era and brought them on the global stage.
Barmak – The Family Ancestor
As per Encyclopedia Iranica, the term Barmak comes from the Sanskrit term Pramukha which means “chief”. Barmak, the ancestor of the family, was the high priest at the Buddhist temple of Nowbahaar, in Sanskrit Nava Vihara meaning “new monastery”. This family was originally Buddhist, serving as temple chiefs at the monastery in Balkh, Tokharistan, in the region of Khurasaan. Tokharistan was a region divided between the modern states of Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The last of the Barmak, the father of Khalid who was to become a strong supporter of the Abbasid Revolution in Khurasaan, converted to Islam at the court of Umayyad Caliph Hesham ibn Abd Al Malik. He stayed at the court for many years with his son Khalid who became well educated in Islam and Arabic culture and language. Barmak was a physician and he was also known to have studied philosophy, astrology and medicine in Kashmir where he had lived for many years. This is to be noted because it was Sanskrit works of scientific knowledge along with Greek and Persian, that was part of the famous Translation Project at Dar Al Hikmah in Baghdad, the cradle of the scientific revolution in medieval age.
Relationship with the Abbasids
Barmak returned with his son Khalid back to Khurasaan where he championed the cause of Abbasids for the Islamic world’s leadership. He was instrumental in raising the revolution and assisting revolutionaries like Abu Muslim Khurasaani, who led the army against Umayyads and helped the family of the Prophet ﷺ, the Abbasids, establish their rule. The first Abbasid Caliph As-Saffah appointed Khalid the divan (ministry) of the army and the divan (ministry) of the land tax (kharaj). The registers used in the ministry were in the form of loose documents (scrolls), and Khalid was the first one to replace them with bound books (ledgers). Soon Khalid won the confidence of the caliph and became his principal adviser. Khalid’s wife breastfed Saffah’s daughter Rayta, and the caliph’s wife breastfed khalid’s daughter Omm Yahya. Khalid was highly capable of managing political, military and administrative affairs in a manner that encouraged the successor of As-Saffah, Caliph Abu Jaafar Al Mansur to nominate him as ruler of Mosul and the island of Euphrates, as well as Fars (province of Iran) and then Ray and Tabaristan (part of north Iran), and he maintained the same status in the era of Caliph Al Mahdi. Yahya inherited from his father, Khalid ibn Barmak, the skill of leadership and management, which enabled him to assume senior administrative positions. One of the highest tasks entrusted to him was the attendance of Prince Harun and overseeing the work entrusted to him by Caliph Al Mahdi. According to al Tabari, the Al Mahdi appointed his son Harun to Maghrib (north Africa), Azerbaijan and Armenia, and ordered Yahya ibn Khalid ibn Barmak to represent him. During short reign of Caliph Al Hadi (785-86) Yahya was thrown into prison because he stood firmly against Al Hadi’s attempts to remove Harun from succession to the Caliph seat. After Al Hadi’s sudden death Yahya was released and became Al Rashid’s wazir. Yahya’s wisdom and choice proved correct because Al Rashid became one of the greatest Caliphs of the Abbasid history. When Harun became a caliph (786-808 CE), he entrusted Yahya Barmaki with the ministry and gave him absolute authority. Harun used to call him “my father” and acknowledged Yahya’s mentorship that assisted him to take up rulership. Yahya Barmaki engaged his sons; Al Fadl, and Jafar in the administration of the Abbasid state. Al Fadl was the breastfeeding brother of Harun Al Rashid, he held important administrative positions. Caliph Al Rashid nominated him as ruler of Khorasan province, and entrusted him with raising his son Al Amin. It is confirmed from history that Barmaki family was so close in relation to Abbasids that they considered each other as one family.
The Scientific Aspirations of Barmakis
The Barmakis always placed very high emphasis on education because they were well-educated and influential and also patron of arts and sciences. That may be one reason why the family was famously called ahl-al-qalam, or the “people of the pen”. The generosity of the Barmakis also became proverbial, a generous host of banquets and festivals was called “Barmaki.” Due to their origin from Tokharistan region, with India on the East, Iran on the West and China on North East, and due to their influential status as Buddhist temple chiefs, they were at the center of transfer of knowledge and trade during pre-Islamic times between people of these lands. Tokharistan was under Persian rule before Islam, hence after their acceptance of Islam Barmakis played significant role in transferring knowledge to Abbasid Baghdad and also attracted a large number of Persian scholars. This explains what the Prophet ﷺ foretold about those who carry good characteristics prior to acceptance of Islam and continue to express them afterwards: "People are like gold and silver; those who were best in Jahiliyyah (Pre-Islamic Period of Ignorance) are best in Islam, if they have religious understanding; and the souls are like soldiers, they mix with those similar with them in qualities and oppose and drift away from those who do not share their qualities".
Khalid ibn Barmak held the position of wazir during Caliph Al Mansur’s reign, and was highly influential as an advisor. It was him who advised Al Mansur to build the Capital Madinat As Salaam (City of Peace), which later became known as Baghdad. It was this place that was to become center of the scientific revolution that would change the world. With their pre-Islamic connection to Buddhism and Sanskrit language, it was under Khalid that one of the first astronomical works was brought by an Indian delegation to the court of Al Mansur and he ordered the translation and editing to an Arab astrologer named Ibrahim Al Fazari. The famous astronomical book was called Sindhind and it was translated in to Zij al Sindhind Al Kabir, a major source for further studies of the subject by scientists at Baghdad. Yahya Al Barmaki, son of Khalid, was a also patron of scholars and poets, and carried love for the sciences. He was instrumental in inviting several Indian medical scientists and philosophers to Baghdad, for which he personally sent mission to India. Due to the family’s origin from Tokharistan, they also attracted Persian scholars from Marw (in Khurasaan) like Masha’Allah ibn Athari and Sahl ibn Tabari who were instrumental in translating Greek works like Euclids Elements that became basis for further progress in mathematics during Islamic Golden Age. It was under Yahya Barmak where the first hospital was built in Baghdad called bimaristan al-Baramika, at which Yahya employed Indian physicians who translated Sanskrit medical works into Arabic. Yahya was a strong patron of sciences and knowledge and his support for the foundation of the legacy of what Baghdad was going to become. When Al Rashid became the Caliph, it was under his authority that Baghdad increasingly became a hub of scholars, scientists and knowledge. The height of Barmaki power also happened under Al Rashid, Yahya and his sons Al Fadl and Jafar were involved in almost every matter of the state. Scholars have identified paper mills in Baghdad during the Abbasid era of 794–795 CE. The production of paper technology acquired by the Abbasids after Battle of Talas in 751 CE, would not become operational on a large scale till the time of Al Rashid under the advisory of Jafa ibn Yahya. Jafar was the highly trusted and experienced wazir of Al Rashid and it was at his advice that the first paper mills were built. It was paper produced at these mills that transformed the world of knowledge. In addition, several public works, such as mosques, canals and shelters that made Baghdad a great city, owe their existence to the initiative of Jafar and his brothers, whose family the Barmakis, were always known for their generosity and hospitality. The early Abbasids were able to make Baghdad the hub of scholars and scientists also due to their successful taxation policy. They had money to spend on translations and patronage of scholarship. This was also mainly due to strong governance and administration by Barmakis of the various parts of empire that Abbasid Caliphs assigned them. Their governance was crucial in helping Abbasids to strengthen the rule, establish justice and acquire wealth needed to further build empire and assist the Dar Al Hikmah project and center.
Jafar & the End of Barmakis
Just like the prophetic hadith states “……and the other group advising him (caliph) to do evil and exhorts him to do it….” Unfortunately, it was the whispers of the evil that made their way into the Caliph’s heart and instigated jealousy for the Barmaki family because of their fame and power that they unrestrictedly enjoyed, for a long time, due to their services for the state and generosity. It was them who became the center of attention as opposed to the Caliph. But Ibn Khaldun says that the instigators around the Caliph could not have succeeded had the Barmakis not become too strong that the Caliph felt helpless in many state matters. Such as the arrest of Yahya ibn Abdullah bin Hasan bin Hasan ibn Ali (a descendant of Ali), who had raised a rebellion in Daylam (part of north Iran) against the Abbasids was arrested but released by Jafar without consultation with Al Rashid, which made the latter felt helpless. They took the affairs out of Caliph’s hands and shared with him in his authority. He had no say with them in many important affairs. Their influence grew, and their fame spread. Hence, much of what Barmakis experienced at the hands of Al Rashid was natural, it was bound to result this way. Their power kept growing and the Caliph felt threatened and decided to act. All Barmakis that served at high posts were expelled, the Caliph ordered all their properties seized, and Jafar was arrested, so was his brother Al Fadl and sent to prison where they breathed their last. At this point its also important to mention about a false story that has no basis whatsoever, based on pure gossip and circulated among story tellers for centuries that Caliph had a sister with whom Jafar had affair and she became pregnant as a result of it. Unfortunately, it may be stories as such that inspired Disney’s Aladdin to portray Jafar as evil.
With the end of Barmakis, their mention also became shadowed with time except for what was read about them through stories in 1001 Arabian Nights. But their legacy under Abbasids is undeniable and cannot be ignored especially when discussing factors that made the scientific revolution at Baghdad a success story.
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