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Al-Mutīʿ li-ʾllāh
المطيع لله
Amir al-Mu'minin
Copper fals minted in the name of al-Muti and the Samanid ruler Mansur I ibn Nuh, Bukhara, 964/65 CE
23rd Caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate
Abbasid Caliph in Baghdad
Reign28 January 946 – 5 August 974
Died12 October 974 (aged 60)
Dayr al-Aqul
Al-Rusafa, Baghdad
Abu'l-Qasim al-Fadl ibn Jaʿfar al-Muqtadir al-Mutiʿ li-ʾllāh
ReligionSunni Islam

Abū ʾl-Qāsim al-Faḍl ibn al-Muqtadir (Arabic: أبو القاسم الفضل بن المقتدر‎; 913/14 – September/October 974), better known by his regnal name of al-Mutīʿ li-ʾllāh (Arabic: المطيع لله‎, lit.'Obedient to God'[1]), was the Abbasid caliph in Baghdad from 946 to 974, ruling under the tutelage of the Buyid emirs.

Al-Muti's reign represented the nadir of the Abbasid caliphate's power and authority. During the previous decades, the secular authority of the caliphs had shrunk to Iraq, and even there had been curtailed by powerful warlords; it was now abolished entirely by the Buyids. Al-Muti was raised to the throne by the Buyids and was effectively reduced to a rubber-stamp figurehead, albeit with some vestiges of authority over judicial and religious appointments in Iraq. However, the very fact of his subordination and powerlessness helped restore some stability to the caliphal institution: in stark contrast to his short-lived and violently deposed predecessors, al-Muti enjoyed a long and relatively unchallenged tenure, and was able to hand over the throne to his son al-Ta'i.

Al-Muti's prestige as the nominal leader of the Muslim world rapidly declined during his tenure. Regional rivals to the Buyids delayed their recognition of al-Muti's caliphate, seeing in him only a Buyid puppet, while his inability to respond effectively to Byzantine advances tarnished his reputation. More importantly, the rise of Shi'a regimes across the Middle East directly challenged Sunni and Abbasid predominance. The Buyids themselves were Shi'a, and their retention of the Abbasid caliphate was purely out of expedience. Further west, the expanding Fatimid Caliphate posed a direct challenge to the Abbasids, and during al-Muti's reign, conquered Egypt and started to expand into the Levant, threatening Baghdad itself.


Early life[edit]

The future al-Muti was born in 913/14 as al-Fadl, a son of Caliph al-Muqtadir (r. 908–932) and a Slavic concubine, Mash'ala.[2][3] He was the brother of caliphs al-Radi (r. 934–940) and al-Muttaqi (r. 940–944).[2] During the reigns of al-Radi and al-Muttaqi, the caliphs had lost power to a series of military strongmen, who with the title of amir al-umara (commander-in-chief, lit.'chief emir') controlled the Abbasid government.[4][5] Al-Muttaqi himself had been raised to the throne by the amir al-umara Bajkam, but attempted to play off the various regional warlords—notably the Hamdanids of Mosul—to recover the independence and authority of his office. These attempts ended in failure, and his deposition and blinding by the amir al-umara Tuzun in September 944.[6][7]

As the chief of the remaining sons of al-Muqtadir and brother of the two previous caliphs, al-Fadl was an obvious candidate for the throne.[8] Tuzun, however, chose al-Mustakfi (r. 944–946), a son of Caliph al-Muktafi (r. 902–908), instead.[9] Al-Mustakfi and al-Fadl were said to have hated each other already during their stay in the Tahirid Palace as young princes. Not only were they members of two rival lines of succession, but their characters were diametrically opposed: while al-Fadl, like his father, was renowned for his piety, al-Mustakfi offended pious opinion by his association with the ayyarun militia—drawn from the poorer urban classes, they were often decried as troublemakers and suspected for their association with heterodox and sectarian groups like the Sufis[10][11]—and his participation in 'vulgar' games.[8] Once al-Mustakfi was enthroned, he sent his agents to capture al-Muti, but the latter had already gone into hiding, and the caliph had to satisfy himself with demolishing his house.[1][8] This futile act only served to mark al-Fadl as a serious rival; on hearing of it, the veteran vizier, Ali ibn Isa, is said to have remarked that "This day he [al-Fadl] has been acknowledged heir to the throne".[1]


Rise to the throne[edit]

The domains of the Buyid dynasty and the other states of the Middle East in 970

In December 945, the Daylamite troops of the Buyid Mu'izz al-Dawla (r. 945–967) seized Baghdad. Mu'izz al-Dawla became the de facto 'protector' of the Abbasid caliph, although the title of amir al-umara apparently passed to his older brother, Imad al-Dawla, who was the chief Buyid emir.[12][a] On 29 January 946 (or 9 March, according to other accounts), al-Mustakfi was deposed,[2][14] and on the same day, apparently to general astonishment, Mu'izz al-Dawla raised al-Fadl to the caliphate, with the regnal name of al-Mutīʿ li-ʾllāh (lit.'Obedient to God').[1][15]

Medieval sources tended to justify this change on religious grounds. The Buyids and their followers were Shi'a sympathizers, and two later chroniclers, Muhammad ibn Abd al-Malik al-Hamadhani (d. 1127) and Ibn al-Athir (d. 1233), report that Mu'izz al-Dawla toyed with the idea of deposing the Abbasids outright and installing an Alid on the throne of Baghdad, only to be dissuaded by his secretary, Abu Ja'far al-Saymari, who pointed out that in a clash between himself and a Shi'a caliph, the Daylamite soldiery were likely to side with the latter.[1][16] This is clearly a later anachronistic interpolation, however,[b] and the historian John Donohue disclaims any religious motivation in al-Mustakfi's deposition. Other chroniclers provide a variety of reasons, such as the caliph's intrigues with the Hamdanids, or al-Fadl's emerging from hiding and inciting the Buyid ruler against his cousin, but the chief reason was likely simply that Mu'izz al-Dawla wished to have a caliph who was under his full control with no external sources of support.[17]

The deposed al-Mustakfi was blinded, apparently as a revenge act initiated by al-Muti,[18] and spent the rest of his life as a prisoner in the caliphal palace, where he died in September 949.[19]

Role and relations with the Buyids[edit]

Al-Muti was a weak figure, for all intents and purposes a puppet ruler of the Buyid ruler of Iraq, first Mu'izz al-Dawla, and then his son, Izz al-Dawla (r. 967–978). As a result of his lack of real power, al-Muti himself barely figures in the chronicles of his reign, and medieval historians generally considered his tenure as the lowest ebb of the Abbasid Caliphate,[2] an opinion shared by modern scholars as well.[20]

In theory, the Buyids and all their officials in Iraq acted in the name of the Abbasid caliph, and all appointments and legal acts continued to be made in his name.[21][22] In practice, al-Muti was deprived of any meaningful authority, and served chiefly to provide legitimacy to the upstart Buyid regime in the eyes of the Muslim world, in exchange for being allowed to lead a comfortable and secure life in the vast caliphal palaces, the caliph provided legitimacy to the upstart Buyid regime in the eyes of the Muslim world.[2][23] The Buyids quickly integrated themselves into the traditional Abbasid system and eagerly sought the legitimacy conferred by the caliph, in the form of honorific titles and diplomas of governorship, or in his signature in treaties.[24] At the same time, al-Muti was effectively reduced to a salaried state official, and his responsibility was curtailed to the oversight over the judiciary, religious institutions, and the affairs of the members of the wider Abbasid clan.[3] The caliph's chief secretary was no longer termed 'vizier', but merely 'secretary' (katib), and his role was limited to the management of the diwan al-khilafa, a department managing the caliph's properties, the formal conferment of titles and offices and certificates in the name of the caliph, and the appointment of judges and jurors.[25] In reality, judicial appointments too were under the purview of the Buyid emir, but at least for the more senior ones, such as the chief qāḍī of Baghdad, the caliph was expected to provide his assent, the robe of honour and the requisite diploma. With one known exception (see below), al-Muti generally complied with the emir's appointments.[26]

The Buyids kept a close watch on the caliph, especially during their periodic conflicts with the Hamdanids, lest he might try to defect to them, as al-Muttaqi had done. During the battles of summer 946, when the Hamdanids briefly occupied East Baghdad, he was kept under house arrest in a church in West Baghdad, and not released until he had sworn an oath of loyalty to the Buyids.[27] Whenever Mu'izz al-Dawla campaigned against rebels south of Baghdad, al-Muti was forced to accompany the Buyid ruler, lest he defect north to the Hamdanids. Conversely, when the Buyid amir al-umara campaigned against the Hamdanids in the north, al-Muti was left behind in Baghdad.[28] In addition, in 948/49, Ispahdost, Mu'izz al-Dawla's brother-in-law, was arrested on suspicion of conspiring with al-Muti (or with an unnamed Alid).[29]

Gold dinar of the Ikhshidid ruler Abu al-Misk Kafur minted in 966 in Ramla, Palestine, in the name of al-Muti

Upon taking power, Mu'izz al-Dawla distributed the former caliphal crown domains for the upkeep of the army, and al-Muti had to content himself with a daily salary of 2,000 silver dirhams. When Basra was recovered from the Baridi family shortly after, he was assigned extensive possessions there, raising his income to 200,000 gold dinars per year.[30][31] Although the general decline of Iraq later reduced his income to about a fourth, this allowed the caliph to financially support members of the Abbasid clan in need, and to make rich gifts to the Kaaba.[30] The income also sufficed for the construction a series of pavilions in the caliphal palace grounds: the Peacock Palace (Dar al-Tawawis), the Octagon House (Dar al-Muthammana) and the Square House (Dar al-Murabba'a).[32][33]

The troubled relations between caliph and the Buyids gradually assumed a more regular and tranquil character: the Buyids at least formally respected the caliph's remaining responsibilities, while al-Muti apparently accepted his subservient role, regained some freedom of action, and maintained cordial relations with Mu'izz al-Dawla.[34][35] In 955/56, Mu'izz al-Dawla even appointed his 13-year-old son, the future Izz al-Dawla, as the caliph's chamberlain.[36] The most notable exception to the good relationship between caliph and amir al-umara was the latter's attempt to rent out the appointment of chief qāḍī of Baghdad to Abdallah ibn Abi al-Shawarib for 200,000 dirhams per year between 961–963. This was opposed by both Sunni and Shi'a scholars as illegal, and al-Muti refused to sign the appointments made by Mu'izz al-Dawla during this period.[3][37] This is also almost the only reference in the sources to al-Muti's activity in the religious or judicial sphere; otherwise his reign is passed over in silence.[38]

A positive corollary of this subservience was stability.[2] Although of a sickly disposition, al-Muti reigned as caliph for 29 Hijri years and four months, in stark contrast to his short-lived predecessors, and unlike them had to contend with remarkably few rival pretenders to the caliphate.[39] A grandson of al-Muktafi rebelled in Armenia in 960 and claimed the caliphate as al-Mustajir Billah before being defeated by the local Sallarid rulers.[40][41] In 968, Abu'l-Hasan Muhammad, a son of al-Mustakfi, who had fled to the Ikhshidid court in Egypt, gained considerable support in Iraq by hiding his identity and posing as the Mahdi (the Islamic messiah). The leading convert to his cause was a Buyid commander, the Turk Sübüktegin al-Ajami, who gave him protection and was preparing to mount a coup in his name, before his identity was uncovered and he was handed over to al-Muti.[41][42] The Caliph did not severely punish him, other than ordering his nose cut off, thereby disqualifying him from the succession;[18] although Abu'l-Hasan Muhammad eventually managed to escape, his hopes of seizing the throne were never realized, and the caliphal succession henceforth firmly remained with the line of al-Muqtadir.[43]

Facing the Shi'a and Byzantine challenges[edit]

"The Sacred War would be incumbent on me if the world were in my hands, and if I had the management of the money and the troops. As things are, when all I have is a pittance, insufficient for my wants, and the world is in your hands and those of the provincial rulers, neither the Sacred War, nor the Pilgrimage, nor any other matter requiring the attention of the Sovereign is a concern of mine. All you can claim from me is the name which is uttered in the khutbah from your pulpits as a means of pacifying your subjects; and if you want me to renounce that privilege too, I am prepared to do so and leave everything to you."

Al-Muti's reply to Izz al-Dawla's demand to finance the jihād[44]

Outside the Buyid domains, on the other hand, the Abbasid caliph's authority over the wider Muslim world declined.[3] Until the conclusion of a peace with the Buyids in 955, the Samanids of Khurasan refused to acknowledge his caliphate,[2][45] while in the west, the rival Isma'ili Shi'a Fatimid Caliphate was growing more and more powerful,[2] conquering Egypt in 969 and beginning its expansion into the Levant.[46] Even in Baghdad, the pro-Shi'a sympathies of the Buyids meant that Shi'a influence, although numerically small, was growing. Shi'a practices were introduced in the city, such as the ritual condemnation of the Umayyad caliph Mu'awiya, or the celebration of the Ghadir Khumm festival, attested since 963. Alids assumed the leadership of the annual Hajj caravans, and street clashes between Sunni and Shi'a partisans are recorded in several years during this period.[47]

At the same time, al-Muti played a leading role as a mediator in the formation of an anti-Fatimid coalition that included the Qarmatians under al-Hasan al-A'sam and the Hamdanid ruler of Mosul, Abu Taghlib, with the backing of the Buyids. This coalition managed to stop the Fatimid expansion into the Levant until 973/74.[3][48] In the process, the Qarmatians recognized al-Muti's suzerainty in the khuṭba and their coins, and denounced the Fatimids as impostors.[3][49] In 951, when the Qarmatians returned the Black Stone to the Kaaba in Mecca, whence they had taken it in 930,[50] al-Muti is rumoured to have paid them 30,000 gold dinars as the Stone's ransom.[3]

Another source of danger was the Byzantine advance against the Hamdanids in Upper Mesopotamia and northern Syria. In the 960s the Byzantines broke the centuries-long border at the Taurus Mountains, and seized Cilicia and Antioch, reducing the Hamdanid emirate of Aleppo to a tributary vassal in the process.[51] In 972, the Byzantine raids reached Nisibis, Amida, and Edessa. Muslim refugees from these cities flooded to Baghdad, and clamoured for protection. Unwilling and unable to help, Izz al-Dawla pointed them to al-Muti, since the jihād was still formally the caliph's responsibility. Bereft of any military or financial resources, al-Muti was powerless to help them, and his prestige suffered accordingly, while the riots engulfed the Shi'a quarter of Karkh, which went up in flames.[3][52][53] Izz al-Dawla used the opportunity to pressure al-Muti into selling off his valuables and providing 400,000 dirhams, ostensibly to be used to employ soldiers against the Byzantines. Al-Muti protested in a much-quoted letter, but had no option but to comply; the money was soon squandered by the profligate Buyid ruler. This act proved to be a costly political mistake for Izz al-Dawla, further alienating Sunni sympathies in Baghdad, where his control grew even more tenuous.[54][55]

Abdication and death[edit]

Over the years, Izz al-Dawla increasingly alienated the Turks under Sübüktegin, culminating in a failed assassination attempt on the Turkish commander.[56] In addition, the Turks had gained the support of the Sunni populace in Baghdad after putting down the riots in 972.[55] As a result, on 1 August 974, Sübüktegin seized control of Baghdad from Izz al-Dawla.[3]

When the coup happened, al-Muti left Baghdad along with the members of the Buyid clan, but Sübüktegin forced him back and confined him to his palace.[3][57] Of advanced years, and with his right side paralyzed following a stroke in 970,[3][58][59] al-Muti tried to escape the city, but was caught.[60] He was induced to abdicate with his health as a pretext, and was replaced by his son Abd al-Karim, as al-Ta'i (r. 974–991), on 5 August.[2][3][61] This was the first father-to-son succession of the caliphate since al-Muktafi in 902.[58]

Sübüktegin had himself appointed amir al-umara by the new caliph,[62] and left Baghdad to campaign against the Buyids, accompanied by both al-Muti and al-Ta'i.[3] Al-Muti died on the way, at Dayr al-Aqul, on 12 October 974.[2][3] He was buried at the mausoleum of his paternal grandmother, Shaghab, in the Baghdad quarter of al-Rusafa, where his brother al-Radi had also been buried.[63]


  1. ^ On Imad al-Dawla's death in 949, the title of amir al-umara passed to the middle brother, Rukn al-Dawla, while Mu'izz al-Dawla continued to govern Iraq and 'protect' the Caliph as his brother's deputy.[13]
  2. ^ Al-Hamadhani names the Rassid Zaidi imam Abu'l-Hasan Muhammad ibn Yahya as the preferred candidate, while Ibn al-Athir asserts that it was the Isma'ili Fatimid caliph, al-Mu'izz li-Din Allah. Both are incorrect, since Abu'l-Hasan had died nine years earlier, while al-Mu'izz li-Din Allah only ascended the throne in 953.[16]


  1. ^ a b c d e Bowen 1928, p. 392.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Zetterstéen & Bosworth 1993, p. 799.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Güner 2006, p. 401.
  4. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 191–197.
  5. ^ Busse 2004, pp. 17–19.
  6. ^ Busse 2004, pp. 21–24.
  7. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 196, 312.
  8. ^ a b c Busse 2004, p. 25.
  9. ^ Busse 2004, p. 23.
  10. ^ Tor 2014.
  11. ^ Donohue 2003, pp. 340–346.
  12. ^ Donohue 2003, pp. 13–14, 18.
  13. ^ Donohue 2003, p. 19 (esp. note 18).
  14. ^ Özaydin 2006, p. 139.
  15. ^ Busse 2004, pp. 27, 153.
  16. ^ a b Donohue 2003, pp. 14–15.
  17. ^ Donohue 2003, pp. 15–17.
  18. ^ a b Busse 2004, p. 158.
  19. ^ Busse 2004, pp. 158–159.
  20. ^ Hanne 2007, p. 101.
  21. ^ Kennedy 2004, p. 216.
  22. ^ Donohue 2003, p. 266.
  23. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 216, 239.
  24. ^ Donohue 2003, pp. 265–266.
  25. ^ Busse 2004, pp. 229–230, 312–313.
  26. ^ Donohue 2003, p. 121.
  27. ^ Busse 2004, pp. 143, 189.
  28. ^ Busse 2004, p. 143.
  29. ^ Donohue 2003, p. 40.
  30. ^ a b Busse 2004, pp. 149–150.
  31. ^ Donohue 2003, p. 17.
  32. ^ Le Strange 1922, p. 259.
  33. ^ Busse 2004, p. 191.
  34. ^ Donohue 2003, pp. 51, 62.
  35. ^ Busse 2004, pp. 27–28.
  36. ^ Donohue 2003, pp. 51, 52.
  37. ^ Busse 2004, pp. 266–267.
  38. ^ Busse 2004, p. 137.
  39. ^ Donohue 2003, pp. 18, 263.
  40. ^ Donohue 2003, p. 263.
  41. ^ a b Busse 2004, p. 29.
  42. ^ Donohue 2003, pp. 56, 263–264.
  43. ^ Busse 2004, pp. 28, 29.
  44. ^ Hanne 2007, p. 32.
  45. ^ Busse 2004, p. 28.
  46. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 315–322.
  47. ^ Donohue 2003, pp. 48–50.
  48. ^ Brett 2001, pp. 313–314.
  49. ^ Busse 2004, p. 410.
  50. ^ Kennedy 2004, p. 288.
  51. ^ Donohue 2003, p. 268.
  52. ^ Busse 2004, p. 146.
  53. ^ Donohue 2003, pp. 268–269.
  54. ^ Busse 2004, pp. 146–147, 150.
  55. ^ a b Donohue 2003, pp. 269–270.
  56. ^ Busse 2004, pp. 43–44.
  57. ^ Busse 2004, pp. 143–144.
  58. ^ a b Busse 2004, p. 153.
  59. ^ Donohue 2003, p. 270 (note 37).
  60. ^ Donohue 2003, p. 270.
  61. ^ Kennedy 2004, p. 224.
  62. ^ Busse 2004, pp. 44, 144.
  63. ^ Busse 2004, p. 200.


Born: 913/14 Died: 12 October 974
Sunni Islam titles
Preceded by Abbasid Caliph
29 January/9 March 946 – 5 August 974
Succeeded by