Tuesday 8 December 2020

Queen Zubeida of Baghdad— Wisdom Behind Great Caliph Harun Al Rashid of Abbasid Dynasty

It is said that there is a woman behind every great man, but behind Harun Al Rashid were two women. The first one was his mother Al Khaizaran: Graceful lady, who, as many historians believe, was running the country during the rule of her husband.


The second was his wife, Amatul Aziz Bint Ja’far Bin Abi Ja’far Al Mansour; the mother of Caliph Mohamed Al Amin.

She was nicknamed by her grandfather Al Mansour “Zubeida” (762A.D-831A.D) because of her freshness, softness and white skin. She was related to her husband not only on his father’s side, but also on his mother’s. Her mother, Salsal, was the sister of Al Khaizaran.


The Islamic Empire under the Umayyad Dynasty expanded to Spain in the West and China in the East. The Abbasids came afterwards to reap the fruits of those great military operations that took the new religion to areas nobody even dreamt of reaching.


Harun Al Rashid (Fifth Abbasid Calliph-763-809) was not an ordinary man. Long before, his daring raids into territories still under the rule of Rome carried him to the doors of Constantinople even before his father, Al Mahdi, nominated him as his Crown Prince.


Contemporary historians describe Queen Zubeida as a lady of stunning beauty and courage.  Her speech was both, charming and eloquent, and apparently her wisdom was very imposing and inspired immediate respect and admiration.


She also wrote poetry and entered into competitions with others in various fields of culture. She was in fact the love of her husband. This earned her a very influential position as the first lady among his women, and it was no secret that her husband held counseling sessions with her in many occasions and for many events.


Zubeida has shown great interest in literature and science, and allocated a lot of funds to tempt and attract hundreds of top literary figures as well as poets and scientists to Baghdad. 

Caliph Harun al-Rashid’s two sons Al Mamuon and Al Amin carried on a power struggle that devastated Baghdad in the ninth century.

Zubeida got a son named Mohammed Al Amin. He was six month younger to his step brother Ali Al-Mamoun whose mother was a concubine named Marajel.


Zubeida pleaded for the nomination of her son Al Amin as the crown prince though Caliph Haroon preferred Mamoun because of his intelligence and scholarship.


Finally, Haroon decided not to enrage his wife ,he appointed her son as second  crown prince after Al Mamoun, and his third son Al Kassim as a third crown prince.


Since she was born of nobility, her son took preference in succession. But after Harun's death, the conflict between the Persian-born son and the Arab-born son resulted in civil war. Al-Mamun was the victor.


Harun insisted to appoint Al Mamoun who had shown very early wisdom and who was, even in his youth, a well-known scholar, while Al Amin was famous for being very reckless.


She argued in favor of her son Ali Al Amin, stating clearly that Al Mamoun’s mother was just one of the Amahs of the palace called Marajel.


Slaughter of the Barmaki dynasty.

One of the direct consequences of this fatal conflict was the devastation that caused the slaughter of the Barmaki dynasty. This dynasty provided the Abbasids with ministers since their early days. At that time their chieftain was Ja’far Bin Yahya Al Barmaki, the foster (milk) brother of the Caliph himself, as his mother Al Khaizaran breastfed Ja’far who was only few days older than Harun.


The Barmaki Clan supported the nomination of Al Mamoun, motivated probably by the fact that his mother was a Persian slave, as they came from the same origin.


Learning about their stand, Zubeida came up with a story that the Barmakis were conspiring to gain territories of Persia under their rule. Her husband didn’t hesitate and ordered his closest commander to lead a force and kill them all.


However the argument continued, and Zubeida stood firmly behind her son (despite the fact that she was the one who raised Al Mamoun because his mother died of puerperal fever three days after he was born).


Al Mamoun was declared Crown Prince

Eventually Harun Al Rashid took a decision that had negative consequences for the Abbasid dynasty on the long run. He decided not to irritate his wife, and appointed her son as Crown Prince, but also appointed Al Mamoun as Crown Prince to the new Crown Prince, and also appointed his third son Al Kassim as a third Crown Prince.


Al Amin (Son of Queen Zubeida) was killed

As expected, Al Amin started to mess things up from his first days in power, after the death of his father. Eventually, his conflict with his brother escalated and it ended after fierce battle, in which he was killed.


His mother overcame her sorrow and tragedy, wrote to Al Mamoun “I congratulate you as the new Caliph. I have lost a son, but he was replaced by the son that I did not give birth to.”

The new Caliph rushed to her, swore that he did not order the killing of his brother and for the 32 years she lived after that, he treated Zubeida with a great respect. He resorted to her in grave matters for counseling, and it is a well-known fact that he accepted her opinion in many instances.

On the personal level, Zubeida set the style for other ladies of the ruling family, as well as for the women of Baghdad. All of them were so eager to copy the design of her glamorous clothes. She loved natural silk, and preferred brilliant colors, which by itself was a new trend.


It is greatly believed that the life of Harun al Rashid and Zubaida was one of the sources of the famous book “Thousand Nights and a night” which was translated into all living languages under the title “1001 Arabian nights”.


Ayn Zubeida: An Islamic Heritage and a Masterpiece of Engineering.

Caliph Harun used to go to Mecca for Pilgrimage almost every year walking all the distance from Baghdad.


In one of those Pilgrimages, the suffering of the Pilgrims who were struggling to get pure drinking water, as one bottle was sold for 1 Dinar, touched Zubeida.


She ordered engineers to conduct an urgent study to bring water to Mecca. They came back to her with a report confirming that it would be an extremely difficult job.


Since it requires digging tunnels under massive rocks and building tunnels along slopes for over 10 miles.


The report also concluded that it would be a very costly project, but she ordered them to start immediately. The engineers went up to the water springs in the mountains and worked hard until they brought pure water to Mecca.


History relates the queen's reply as: "Construct a qanat at any cost, even if I have to give a dinar in exchange for every single stroke of spade."


Ayn Zubeida was such a robust and reliable water system that it survived and supplied water to the city's people and pilgrims for about 1,200 years.


Darb Zubeida: Road from Baghdad to Makkah

One of Queen Zubaida's major achievements is the construction of facilities along the way from Baghdad to Makkah, 1,200-km track known as Darb Zubeida.


The way started from Baghdad and passed through Kufah, Najf, Qadsia and Asmaara and then reached Makkah... In those days pilgrims used to travel on foot, camels and horses to perform Haj.


The engineers established the direction of Qibla along the way so that the pilgrims could perform their prayers correctly.


The infrastructure of the way made by Queen Zubaida lasted for centuries and traces of this route can still be found today.


Despite her wisdom in such affairs, her unequivocal love for her spoiled sonAl Amin” led to the eventual downfall of the dynasty.

The End

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