Extravagance and Wastefulness of the Abbasid Caliphs
The ‘Abbasid kings were so extravagant that they spent the money of the Muslims on their pleasures and desires, for example, al-Ma’mun faced financial straits when he was in Damascus, hence thirty million dirhams of the money of land taxes were carried to him, and he ordered twenty-four dirhams to be spent on his companions and the remainder of the money to be spent on his soldiers.
Wasting the money of the Muslims was a dominating phenomenon with the ‘Abbasid kings, for example, al-Mahdi built a park and spent on it fiftymillion dirhams. Al-Mutawakkil spent fifty million dirhams on his palace called al-Mahuza, thirty million dirhams on his palace called al-‘Arus, and twenty-five million dirhams on the lobby (bahu). Al-Shabishti said: “As al-Mutawakkil was among the men of taste and sociability, he devoted himself in an amazing manner to building sixteen magnificent palaces in Samarra’ and spent on them an unbelievable amount of money.” Yet a further example of his wastefulness is that he spent eighty-six million dirhams on the circumcision of his sons.
Al-Ma’mun takes Bouran in Marriage
Another example of wasting the money of the Muslims is the abundant, astonishing amount which al-Ma’mun spent on his taking lady Bouran in marriage; the like of what he spent on that marriage has not occurred since Allah created the earth.
Al-Ma’mun gave his wife one million dinars as a dower. It is worth mentioning that the value of a dinar was equal to a camel. Al-Hasan b. Sahl, the father of lady Bouran, stipulated that al-Ma’mun should marry his daughter in his village situated at Fam al-Sulh, and he responded to that. When he wanted to marry her, he traveled to Fam al-Sulh and spent one million dinars on the soldiers who were with him. He took with him thirty thousand young boys and seven hundred slave-girls. As for the soldiers who were with him, they were four hundred thousand horsemen and three hundred thousand infantry soldiers. As for al-Hasan b. Sahl, he slaughtered thirty thousand sheep, a similar number of chicken, four hundred cows, and four hundred camels. The people called this invitation the Invitation of Islam, but this title is wrong, for such extravagance from the money of the Muslims does not belong to Islam. The expenditures of al-Ma’mun on this marriage were thirty-eight million dinars apart from what he gave to her father, for he gave him ten millions dirhams from the land taxes of Fars (Iran) and the lands of al-Sulh.
Anyhow, when al-Ma’mun married Bouran, ambergris hazelnuts were scattered from the roof of the house of al-Hasan b. Sahl, but the people disdained them and abstained from them, so a person called out to them, saying: “Whoever has taken a hazelnut, let him break it, for he will find in it a piece of paper on which it has been written either one thousand dinars or ten silk garments or five garments or a retainer or a slave-girl.” Those who obtained pieces of paper sent them to the Divan and received what was written on them. Likewise, al-Ma’mun spent one million dirhams on the commanders of his army. Congratulating al-Hasan b. Sahl, his daughter, and al-Ma’mun, al-Bahili said:
May Allah bless al-Hasan and Bouran regarding the marriage. O son of Harun, you have gained, but whose daughter is she?
When the hour of wedding came, Bouran was seated on a mat made of gold. Then al-Ma’mun came in to her and he was accompanied by his aunts and a group of the ‘Abbasid women, so al-Hasan b. Sahl scattered three hundred pearls over al-Ma’mun and his wife. The weight of each pearl was a weight (mithqal). None stretched out his hand to take them, so al-Ma’mun ordered his aunts to take them; he stretched out his hand to take one, and thus the ‘Abbasid women hurried to take some. Accordingly, al-Ma’mun said: “May Allah kill Abu Nu’as! He described wine as ifhe was present at this gathering of ours; he said:
‘Its small and big bubbles are like pearl pebbles on a ‘ground of gold!”
Al-Ma’mun and al-Hasan b. Sahl spent on his marriage abundant money which was, without doubt, stolen fromthe Treasury of the Muslims, and which had to be spent, according to Allah’s Law, on combating poverty and removing misery from the world of Islam.
It is worth mentioning that when Harun al-Rashïd married lady Zubayda, he made a banquet the like of which was not made in Islam. He ordered the gifts to be unlimited, hence gold wares full of silver, silver wares full of gold,pieces of musk and ambergris were offered (to the guests). This is the extravagance and wastefulness which Islam has forbidden in order to protect the economy of the community from collapse.
The Misery and Wretchedness of the Common People
During the time of al-Ma’mun and others, the overwhelming majority of Islamic society led a life of misery and deprivation, for it fell down under terrible poverty and wretchedness. Now let us listen to Abu al-‘Atahiya in order that he may tell us about the misery and wretchedness of the common people. Addressing the ‘Abbasid king, he said:
Who gives on my behalf successive pieces of advice to the
Surely I see that the prices of the subjects are high.
And I see that the earnings are insignificant. And I see that the necessity is widespread.
And I see that the worries of the time come and go.
And I see that the orphans are in the miserable, empty houses.
They, hopeful male and female, yearn for you.
They complain (to you) of hard work with weak, loud voices.
They hope for your relief out of what they have faced, that they may see well-being.
The misfortunes of hunger enter into evening and upon the morning (causing) hunger.
Who relieves the hungry stomachs and naked bodies?
I have reported to you conclusive news from the subjects.
This social poetry gives an account of the state which dominated the time of Abu al-‘Atahiya, for millions of Muslims were naked, weak, and hungry, while the treasuries of the ‘Abbasid kings were full of the money of the Muslims, but this money was not spent on the interest of the Muslims; rather it was spent on the pleasures of the kings and the ways through which they corrupted the life of the common people.
Now, let us listen to the following poetry lines in which Bashshar praises Yazïd b. al-Muhallab, the governor of al-Mansur al-Dawaniqi over Africa. He says:
The boys whose eldest is still young frequent to you out of fear of tribulations.
Don’t you see, and you are aware of me, that I am the seeker of good whose steps are short?
The drought and the corrupt time have driven him; rather a mad seller has stolen my sleep.
He walks through his own written skin; his dangerous meeting me terrifies me.
I am terrified by seeing him; he frightens me and I have no protector.
I am grateful (to you) for your favor. Is there anyone to change the harm which has befallen me?
Have you seen how famine dominated the early ‘Abbasid ages? This poet seeks the aid of Yazïd b. al-Muhallab in order to save him from poverty and misery. Hoping for Ya‘qub b. Dawud, he says:
O man who goes early in the morning for his need with the Caliph, who some times postpones it and sometimes accomplish it,
The doors to the needs have been closed, so send for (the one with) high rank, Ya‘qub b. Dawud.
Futayma said: Fast among us. So I said to her: If Ya‘qub (b. Dawud) desires, we will fast, O daughter of munificence.
If (Ya‘qub) b. Dawud gave me a relief, I would be free from need and would not return (to beg him).
Have you seen this submissiveness and entreaty? All avenues of livelihood were closed before most people, and they suffered from famine and deprivation.
Heavy Taxes imposed on Inheritances
Another example of the oppression and tyranny of the ‘Abbasids is that they imposed heavy taxes on the inheritances of the dead. In his poetry lines, Ibn al-Mu‘taz gives us an account of the condition of the people, their sufferings, oppression and tyranny which they faced. He says:
Woe unto him whose father dies rich, isn’t this clear and famous?
His prison is in the Abode of Tribulation, and it is said:
Who knows that you are his son?
So he says: My neighbors and those who know me. So they pull out his mustache, to the extent that he perishes; they go too far in boxing and pushing him; and their palms of the hand rush to slap him.
He is still in the narrowest prison until he throws the sack (of money) to them.
The ‘Abbasid kings went too far in oppression and tyranny, hence they plundered the properties of the people without any right. The historians said: “After the death of the possessors of wealth, many (‘Abbasid) rulers tried (to say) that they had no inheritors in order to control their inheritances.” This severe procedure clashes with the Islamic teachings which decide that what the dead leaves as inheritance is for his own inheritor, and that the ruler has no authority over it. Yes, he who dies and has no inheritor, his inheritance is moved to Muslims’ Public Treasury. Torture and confiscating the properties of the people was not confined to a special class of people; rather they included the mothers of the Caliphs, for example, al-Qahir, the ‘Abbasid, tortured the mother of his brother al-Muqtadir. He hung her from her leg in order that she might bring out her properties, carry her endowments, and entrust selling them to (him). She refused (to do that), but al-Qahir forced her to do it after severe torture and punishment.”
Cruelty in taking Land Taxes
The Muslims were subject to cruelty during taking land taxes from them, for the government employed over them terrorist collectors who did not respect Allah; nor did they fear the evil reckoning. They were more wicked than snakes, for they hung the fat person from one hand to the extent that he was about to die. Hence, in his poetry lines, Ibn al-Mu‘taz describes this abominable manner through which land taxes were taken:
Many times I saw the helpers take to prison and to the Divan a noble man with a great mount.
That he might be stood in the inferno of the midday heat; and his head was like a boiling pot.
They placed around his hand hemp ropes which cut off the limbs.
They hung him on the wall handles as if he was (iron) filings.
They slapped his back as the drum is slapped and installed him in front of the eyes of the gloaters and the bosom friends.
When he appealed for the help against the blaze of the sun, a jailer answered him with kicking; and a jailer poured oil on him, and after that he looked like a brown-red horse.
When the exertion lasted long and there was no escape for him from what they wanted, he said: Give me a permission to ask the merchants for a loan; otherwise, I will sell an immovable property.
But they annoyed him and appointed four (days), and he found no profit in the speech.
The dissolute helpers came to him and loaned him one for ten.
Then he paid what was against him and went out, while he had not craved after the nearness of relief.
The helpers came to him in order to ask him as if they were pampering him.
If he lagged, they took his turban, smashed his two jugular veins and his head.
Now, all of that has vanished, and tyranny is repressed by justice.
Ibn al-Mu‘taz describes the extreme cruelty which the collectors showed toward the people in order to take land taxes from them. They made them tired and tortured them. An example of their torturing them is as the historians say: “They hit them on the head with the iron whips and the tips of reed were stabbed into their finer-nails. As for al-Mansur (al-Dawaniqi), he would hang the people from their legs in order that they might pay what was imposed upon them.”
As for land taxes during the time of al-Mahdi, the ‘Abbasid, they were taken with extreme cruelty, for the people were tortured with various kinds of torture such as (employing) beasts of prey and wasps.
As for (Harun) al-Rashïd, he was very cruel in taking land taxes. He punished the people severely and appointed over them collectors who had neither compassion nor mercy. For example, he appointed ‘Abd Allah b. al-Haythem as governor for taking this tax, and he tortured the people with terrible kinds of painful torture, so Ibn ‘Ayyad came in to him. He saw his cruelty and torturing the people, so he said to him: “Raise (torture) from them! Surely, I heard Allah’s Apostle, may Allah bless him and his family, say: ‘On the Day of Resurrection Allah will torture him who tortures the people in this world.’ So he ordered torture to be raised from the people.”
About the extreme cruelty toward the people upon whom land taxes were imposed, Abu Yusuf wrote to (Harun) al-Rashïd, saying: “I have been informed that the governor respects some of his retinues and uses the rest as means, while they are not pious nor righteous. He (the governor) seeks help through them and employs them in his works in order not to violate (men’s) rights and sacredness, but they do not keep what they have been order to; nor do they treat the people with justice. Rather their only concern is to take something from land taxes or from the properties of the people. Then they take all of that, as I have been informed, by tyranny, oppression, and aggression.”
He added, saying: “Likewise, I have been informed that they (land tax collectors) make men of land taxes stand in the sun, hang on them jars, and shackle them with that which prevent them from performing prayer, and this is (something) dreadful with Allah and ugly in Islam.”
Through this cruel procedure the land tax collectors opposed the Islamic teachings which ordered them to treat people kindly and to refrain from cruelty. However, the ‘Abbasid kings turned aside from these teachings and went far away from them.
The Inheritance of the ‘Abbasid Kings
The treasuries of the ‘Abbasid kings were full of the abundant funds which were taken from the Muslim nations by force and overcoming. The following is the list of the inheritances which some of their kings left behind:
1. The Inheritance of al-Mansur
After his death, al-Mansur al-Dawanïqi left behind him fourteen million dinars and six hundred million dirhams.
2. The Inheritance of al-Mahdi
Al-Mahdi left twenty-seven million dirhams in his treasuries.
3. The Inheritance of al-Rashïd
As for Harun al-Rashïd, he left behind him nine hundred million dirhams.
The ‘Abbasid kings left behind them such funds while they had not gathered them; rather it was the Muslims who gathered them through enduring poverty, misery, and depravation. These are some aspects of the economic policy which was practiced throughout the ‘Abbasid reign. In short this policy was not based on sound foundations; nor did it match the Islamic economy, which aimed at refreshing the nations, spreading welfare among them, destroying misery and poverty. Like the Umayyad king, the ‘Abbasid one was the Shadow of Allah on earth, so he moved about in the abilities of the people according to his desires. Did (al-Mansur) al-Dawanïqi not say: “Men, I am the Authority of Allah on His earth and rule you according to success and guidance from Him. I am His treasurer over war booty gained without fighting. I work in accordance with His desire, divide it (among you) according to His will, and give it (to you) according to permission from Him. Allah hasmade me as a lock for it. If He wills to unlock me, He unlocks me; and if He wills to lock me, He locks me!”?
Islam does not adopt this unjust policy, for the properties of the Muslims belong to them. They should be spent on their interests and to raise their economic and intellectual levels. As for the head of the state, he has no authority over them.