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Abu Muslim
Persian: ابو مسلم خراسانی
Abu Muslim chastises a man for telling tales, Folio from the Ethics of Nasir (Akhlaq-e Nasiri) by Nasir al-Din Tusi (fol. 248r).jpg
"Abu Muslim chastises a man for telling tales," Folio from the Ethics of Nasir (Akhlaq-e Nasiri) by Nasir al-Din Tusi. Copy created in Lahore between 1590–1595
Unknown birth name, possibly Behzadan, or Ibrahim

718/19 or 723/27
Merv or Isfahan
Died 755
Al-Mada'in, Iraq
Known for Abbasid Revolution
Title Abbasid governor of Khurasan
Term 748–755
Predecessor Nasr ibn Sayyar (as Umayyad governor)

Abu Muslim Abd al-Rahman ibn Muslim al-Khurasani (Persian: ابومسلم عبدالرحمان بن مسلم خراسانی) or Behzādān Pour Vandād Hormozd (بهزادان پور ونداد هرمزد) born 718/19 or 723/27, died in 755), was a Persian general in service of the Abbasid dynasty, who led the Abbasid Revolution that toppled the Umayyad dynasty.

Origin and name

According to the Encyclopedia Iranica, "sources differ regarding his original name and his origin. Some make him a descendant of Gōdarz and of the vizier Bozorgmehr and call him Ebrāhīm; some name him Behzādān, son of Vendād Hormoz (Persian: بهزادان پور ونداد هرمزد); and others relate him to the Abbasids or to the Alids. These suggestions are all doubtful". He was most likely of Persian origin, and was born in either Merv or near Isfahan. The exact date is unknown, either in 718/9 or sometime in 723/7.

Shia activist and missionary activity in Khurasan

He grew up at Kufa, where he served as a slave and saddler of the Banu Ijil clan. It was there that Abu Muslim came into contact with Shia Muslims.

Kufa at the time was a hotbed of social and political unrest against the ruling Umayyad dynasty, whose policies favoured Arabs over non-Arab converts to Islam (mawālī) and were thus perceived to violate the Islamic promises of equality. The luxurious lifestyles of the Umayyad caliphs and their persecution of the Alids further alienated the pious. This rallied support for the Shi'a cause of rule by a member of the family of Muhammad, who would, as a God-guided imām or mahdī, rule according to the Quran and the Sunnah and create a truly Islamic government that would bring justice and peace to the Muslim community.

By 737 he is recorded among the followers of the ghālī ("extremist, heterodox") al-Mughira ibn Sa'id. These activities landed him in prison, from where he was liberated in 741/2 by the leading Abbasid missionaries (naqāb, sing. naqīb) on their way to Mecca. He was introduced to the head of the Abbasid clan, Ibrahim ibn Muhammad, who in 745/6 sent him to direct the missionary effort in Khurasan.

Khurasan, and the Iranian eastern half of the Caliphate in general, offered fertile ground for the Abbasids' missionary activities. Far from the Umayyad metropolitan province of Syria, Khurasan had a distinct identity. It was home to a large Arab settler community, which in turn had resulted in a large number of native converts, as well as intermarriage between Arabs and Iranians. As a frontier province exposed to constant warfare, the local Muslims were militarily experienced, and the common struggle had helped further unify the Arab and native Muslims of Khurasan, with a common dislike towards the centralizing tendencies of Damascus and the exactions of the Syrian governors. According to later accounts, already in 718/9 the Abbasids had dispatched twelve naqāb into the province, but modern scholars are sceptical of such claims, and it appears that only after the failure of the Revolt of Zayd ibn Ali in 740 did the Abbasid missionary movement begin to make headway in Khurasan. In 745, the Khurasani Qahtaba ibn Shabib al-Ta'i travelled west to swear allegiance to Ibrahim ibn Muhammad, and it was with him that Abu Muslim was sent east to assume control.

When Abu Muslim arrived in Khurasan, the province was in turmoil due to the impact of the ongoing Umayyad civil war of the Third Fitna, which had re-ignited the feud between the Yaman and Qays tribal groups: the numerous Yamani element in the province opposed the longtime governor, Nasr ibn Sayyar, and sought to replace him with their champion, Juday al-Kirmani. Al-Kirmani led an uprising against Ibn Sayyar, and drove him from the provincial capital, Merv, in late 746, with the governor fleeing to the Qaysi stronghold of Nishapur.

Abu Muslim and the Abbasid Revolution

Abbasid silver dirham in the name of abu Muslim struck at Marv in AH 132 (749-50), The David Collection, Copenhagen (36241672762)
Abbasid silver dirham in the name of Abu Muslim struck at Merv in AH 132 (749–50)

He took Merv in December 747 (or January 748), defeating the Umayyad governor Nasr ibn Sayyar, as well as Shayban al-Khariji, a Kharijite aspirant to the caliphate. He became the de facto governor of Khurasan, and gained fame as a general in the late 740s in defeating the rebellion of Bihafarid, the leader of a syncretic Persian sect that was Mazdaist. Abu Muslim received support in suppressing the rebellion both from purist Muslims and Zoroastrians. In 750, Abu Muslim became leader of the Abbasid army and defeated the Umayyads at Battle of the Zab.

Rule of Khurasan and death

After the establishment of the Abbasid regime, Abu Muslim remained in Khurasan as its governor. In this role he suppressed the Shi'a uprising of Sharik ibn Shaikh al-Mahri in Bukhara in 750/1, and furthered the Muslim conquest of Central Asia, sending Abu Da'ud Khalid ibn Ibrahim to campaign in the east.

His heroic role in the revolution and military skill, along with his conciliatory politics toward Shia, Sunnis, Zoroastrians, Jews, and Christians, made him extremely popular among the people. Although it appears that Abu al-'Abbas al-Saffah trusted him in general, he was wary of his power, limiting his entourage to 500 men upon his arrival to Iraq on his way to Hajj in 754. Abu al-'Abbas's brother, al-Mansur (r. 754-775), advised al-Saffah on more than one occasion to have Abu Muslim killed, fearing his rising influence and popularity. It seems that this dislike was mutual, with Abu Muslim aspiring to more power and looking down in disdain on al-Mansur, feeling al-Mansur owed Abu Muslim for his position. When the new caliph's uncle, Abdullah ibn Ali rebelled, Abu Muslim was requested by al-Mansur to crush this rebellion, which he did, and Abdullah was given to his nephew as a prisoner. Abdullah was ultimately executed.

Relations deteriorated quickly when al-Mansur sent an agent to inventorize the spoils of war, and then appointed Abu Muslim governor of Syria and Egypt, outside his powerbase. After an increasingly acrimonious correspondence between Abu Muslim and al-Mansur, Abu Muslim feared he was going to be killed if he appeared in the presence of the Caliph. He later changed his mind and decided to appear in his presence due to a combination of perceived disobedience, al-Mansur's promise to keep him as governor of Khurasan, and the assurances of some of his close aides, some of whom were bribed by al-Mansur. He went to Iraq to meet al-Mansur in al-Mada'in in 755. Al-Mansur proceeded to enumerate his grievances against Abu Muslim, who kept reminding the Caliph of his efforts to enthrone him. Against Abu Muslim were also charges of being a zindiq or heretic. al-Mansur then signaled five of his guards behind a portico to kill him. .....


Abu Muslim's eventual downfall and execution on charges of heresy have contributed to doubts cast on the sincerity of his Islamic faith. In particular this includes his close relationship with the mobad Sunpadh and his repeated praise of Zoroastrianism.

Following his successful campaign in Gorgan, there is a report of a tribesman being able to bypass Abu Muslim's line and relay news of the Umayyad's destruction by shaving his beard, donning a kushti, and pretending to be a Zoroastrian (tassabbaha bi'l-majus), which suggests his ranks were of Zoroastrian origin.Furthermore, there are records indicating that Abu Muslim planned to execute all Arabic speakers in Khorasan.

In the Siyāsatnāmeh, al-Mulk emphasized that Abu Muslim had a talent for appealing to Zoroastrian revivalism.Despite his assistance in crushing Behafarid's heresy and the possibility of his own Zoroastrian sympathies, Abu Muslim has not been remembered favourably by the Zoroastrian Orthodoxy in the Middle Persian tradition, as both the Zand-i Wahman yasn and Zaratosht-nama censure Abu Muslim.


His murder was not well received by the residents of Khurasan, and there was resentment and rebellion among the population over the brutal methods used by Al-Mansur. He became a legendary figure for many in Persia, and several Persian heretics started revolts claiming he had not died and would return; the latter included his own propagandist Ishaq al-Turk, the Zoroastrian cleric Sunpadh in Nishapur, the Abu Muslimiyya subsect of the Kaysanites Shia, and al-Muqanna in Khurasan. Even Babak claimed descent from him.

There are different variations of legends about Abu Muslim and forms of his worship in Central Asia, Iran and Afghanistan. Depending on particular local traditions, some local saints are legitimized through an imaginary connection with Abu Muslim.


At least three epic romances were written about him:

See also

Kids robot.svg In Spanish: Abu Muslim para niños

  • Babak Khorramdin
  • Sunpadh or Sinbad the Magus
  • Behafarid
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