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Zanj Rebellion

Note: The Zanj Rebellion was not a single revolt but a series of small revolts that eventually culminated to a large revolt. This article details the largest revolt led by Ali bin Muhammad.

The Zanj Revolt took place near the city of Basra, located in southern Iraq over a period of fifteen years (869-883 AD). It grew to involve over 500,000 slaves who were imported from across the Muslim empire and claimed over âtens of thousands of lives in lower Iraqâ [1]. The revolt was said to have been led by Ali ibn Muhammad, who claimed to be a descendent of Caliph Ali ibn Abu Talib. Several historians, such as Al-Tabari and Al-Masudi, consider this revolt one of the âmost vicious and brutal uprisingâ out of the many disturbances that plagued the Abbasid central government. [1]

The Zanj revolt helped Ahmad ibn Tulun to create an independent state in Egypt. It is only after defeating the Zanj Revolt that the Abbassids were able to turn their attention to Egypt, and end the Tulunid dynasty with great destruction.


[edit] Background

As the plantation economy boomed and the Arabic people became richer during the Muslim Agricultural Revolution, agriculture and other manual labor jobs were thought to be demeaning. The resulting labor shortage led to an increased slave market.

It is certain that large numbers of slaves were exported from eastern Africa; the best evidence for this is the magnitude of the Zanj revolt in Iraq in the 9th century, though not all of the slaves involved were Zanj. There is little evidence of what part of eastern Africa the Zanj came from, for the name is here evidently used in its general sense, rather than to designate the particular stretch of the coast, from about 3âN. to 5âS., to which the name was also applied.[2].

The Zanj were needed to take care of:

the Tigris-Euphrates delta, which had become abandoned marshland as a result of peasant migration and repeated flooding, [which] could be reclaimed through intensive labor. Wealthy proprietors âhad received extensive grants of tidal land on the condition that they would make it arable." Sugar cane was prominent among the products of their plantations, particularly in KhÅ«zestän Province. Zanj also worked the salt mines of Mesopotamia, especially around Basra.[3]

Their jobs were to clear away the nitrous top soil that made the land arable. The working conditions were also considered to be extremely miserable. Many other people were imported into the region besides Zanj.

Also around the time of the revolts, the Abbasid caliphate was

mired in a period of financial weakness, both internally and externallyâ The financial strain imposed on the accession of each new caliph contributed to the ability of the Zanj revolt, which began in 868 AD, to sustain itself for as long as it did.[1]

The rise of the Shä«ˤa also occurred around this time, so the Abbasid government was fighting on two fronts.

Some scholars believe that the Zanj revolt was not necessarily a slave revolt. In this view there were also Zanj immigrants in Iraq who were a big part of the revolt. taken by M. A. Shaban who argued:

âAll the talk about slaves rising against the wretched conditions of work in the salt marshes of Basra is a figment of the imagination and has no support in the sources. On the contrary, some of the people who were working in the salt marshes were among the first to fight against the revolt. Of course there were a few runaway slaves who joined the rebels, but this still does not make it a slave revolt. The vast majority of the rebels were Arabs of the Persian Gulf supported by free East Africans who had made their homes in the regionâ[4]

[edit] Revolt

The actual revolt started with a descendant of slaves named ˤAlä« b. Muhammad. He had grown up as in Samarra and not much else is known about his early life. Eventually he moved to the "Abbasid capital, where he mixed with some of the influential slaves of Caliph al-Muntasir (861-862 A.D.)â[2]. It was here that ˤAlä« b. Muhammad learned the workings of the caliphate and financial differences between the Muslim citizens. From here, ˤAlä« moved to Bahrain[clarification needed (Do you mean Bahrain the historical region?))], where he pretended to be Shä«ˤä« and started to rouse the people into rebellion against the caliphate. âAliâs following in the city grew so large that land taxes were collected in his name.â[5] The rebellion eventually failed and ˤAlä« relocated to Basrah in 868 CE. Also in 868 C.E., a leader of the Zanj Rebellion claimed to be the incarnated form of the former Alid rebel Yahya ibn Umar.

In Basrah, ˤAlä« b. Muhammad preached at the mosque, advocating against the caliphate and for the people.

His first actual contact with Basrahâs slaves seems to have been motivated by a vicious outbreak of hostilities between two Turkish regiments, the Bilaliyah and the Saâdiyah, which contributed to the weakening of Basrahâs political regime. Hoping to exploit the resultant anarchy to his advantage, he tried to win to his side members of one of these groups.[citation needed]

The Bilaliyyah and Saˤdiyyah were described by Tabari as guilds in the town or rivaling quarters.

When he heard news about another scuffle between Basrahâs factions he started to seek out âbegan to seek out black slaves working in the Basrah marshes and to inquire into their working conditions and nutritional standards.â[2] He told the Zanj and other slaves that he was sent by God to liberate them from their bonds.

Origins have a large part in establishing oneself in Arab society and especially when dealing with slaves. Initially

âAli bin Muhammadâs paternal grandfather was said to have been a member of the âAbd al-Qays lineage and his paternal grandmother a Sindhi slave woman. His mother, a free woman, was a member of the Asad bin Khuzaimah lineage... later commentators have presumed him to have been of Persian rather than Arab origin.[2].

Sahib al-Zanj [ˤAlä«âs title] declared his rebellion at al-Basrah, during the reign of al-Muhtadi, in 255 A.H. He claimed that he was descended from âAli ibn Abi Talib, but most people recognize this as a false claim and reject it.[6]

After ˤAlä«âs lineage was not accepted, he started to preach the âextremely egalitarian doctrine of the Kharijites, who preached that the most qualified man should reign, even if he was an Abyssinian slave.â[2]The caliphate eventually sent out a large military force led by the Vizier Al-Muwaffaq[2]. After several encounters, the caliphate army started to make examples of rebellion leaders.

For instance, Yahya of Bahrain, a noted leader of the rebel troops, was taken with a small group of men and sent to Samarra. There he was flogged two hundred times while Caliph al-Mu'tamid watched. Both his arms and legs were amputated and he was slashed with swords. Finally, his throat was slit and he was burned.[5]

This did nothing to hinder the Zanjä« and they continued to raid towns and villages. âWhen the caliphate became preoccupied with the Saffarid secessionist movement in Persia, the Zanjä« extended their control further north with the aid of the surrounding Bedouin peoples.â[7] It was probably at this time that the Zanjä« constructed their capital which was called Moktara (the Elect City).

[edit] End and Post Revolt

Towards the end of the revolution most of the former slaves themselves started to turn into the very masters they despised and started to break down as a community. In 879 C.E. after the revolt in Persia was settled, Al-Muwaffaq came back and continued to wage war on the rebels. In 881 AD, the Zanj were surrounded on all sides by the Abbasid army. With the capture and execution of ˤAlä« after the fall of the Zanj capital city of al-Mukhtara [8] the revolt ended. In the end, âmost of the Zanj joined Al-Muwaffaq, but not all. Over 1000 died in the desert of exhaustion and thirst, trying to flee the embattled Iraqi territory. Others remained unsubdued in southern Iraq after their leader was killed; they continued to rob, plunder, and murder throughout Abbasid space until they either joined the Abbasid or died refusing to be anyoneâs soldier.â [1]

In the long run, Islamic culture in Basrah area changed quite a bit concerning slavery. âThe slavesâ workload was lessened and they were gradually transformed into peasants and serfs, some being âfreedâ into wage-slavery[3] By the tenth century instead of using slaves as a sign of treaty between two cities, private trade was used.

[edit] Revisionism

Ghada Hashem Talhami, a scholar on the Zanj revolt, argues that the Zanj rebellion is inaccurately named. In fact, most of the military were not Zanjian to begin with. It was only after a time, after most of the other slaves were freed that the actual Zanj imported slaves took hold. Talhami cites from various historians and works to make her point that the rebellion was more of a religious/ social uprising made by the lowly classed and suppressed citizens of the Basrah area, and included a wide variety of people, including white slaves. She even says that the most significant element of the rebellion was not the Zanj slaves, but bedouin from around Basra, who provided regular support throughout the conflict. âDespite much evidence to the contrary, including the absence of major Arab settlements along the coast, the silence of Arab and Persian geographers on an oceanic trade, and the generalized equation of Zanj with âblack,â it has been used to infer an important commercial relationship between Africa and the Middle East several centuries before such an exchange can be proven to have existedâ.The assumption that âAbbasid writers used Zanj to mean specifically the East African coast, and that therefore the people they called Zanj originated in a specific part of that region, is completely unjustified.â [9]

[edit] Sources of Information

Much of the current knowledge of the Zanj Rebellion comes from the Persian Sunnä« historian Tabarä«'s work "History of the Prophets and Kings". It has been the subject of research by such famous Orientalists as Theodor Nöldeke (Sketches from Eastern History) and Louis Massignon (The Passion of al-Hallaj); Alexandre Popoviä has authored a more recent monograph on the subject.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ a b c d âRevisiting the Zanj and Re-Visioning Revolt: Complexities of the Zanj Conflict - 868-883 Ad - slave revolt in Iraqâ.
  2. ^ a b c d e f "The Zanj Rebellion Reconsidered".
  3. ^ a b "the Zanj: Towards a History of the Zanj Slavesâ Rebellion".
  4. ^ "Islamic History" By M. A. Shaban
  5. ^ a b ['Thawrat al-Zanj].
  6. ^ ["Les Prairies dâor, VIII"]
  7. ^ ["Thawrat al-Zanj"]
  8. ^ ""Zanj Revolt"". "Runoko Rashidi". 
  9. ^ Ghada Hashem Talhami, The Zanj Rebellion Reconsidered, The International Journal of African Historical Studies, Vol. 10, No. 3 (1977), pp. 443- 461

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