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Title: Al-Mutawakkil  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: List of kings of Persia, Ali al-Hadi, Imam Husayn Shrine, Al-Muntasir, Al-Wathiq
Collection: 821 Births, 861 Deaths, 9Th-Century Caliphs, Abbasid Caliphs, African People
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


المتوكل على الله جعفر بن المعتصم
10th Caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate
Reign 847–861
Predecessor al-Wathiq
Successor al-Muntasir
Born March 822
Died 11 December 861
consort Ishaq bint al-Andalusiyyah
Nasib al-Mutawakkiliyyah
Full name
Ja'far ibn Muhammad al-Mu'tasim al-Mutawakkil 'ala Allah
Dynasty Abbasid
Father al-Mu'tasim
Mother Shuja
Religion Islam

Jaʿfar ibn Muhammad al-Muʿtasim bi'llah (Arabic: جعفر بن محمد المعتصم بالله‎; March 822 – 11 December 861), better known by his regnal name al-Mutawakkil ʿala Allah (المتوكل على الله, "He who relies on God") was an Abbasid caliph who reigned in Samarra from 847 until 861. He succeeded his brother al-Wathiq and is known for putting an end to the Mihna "ordeal", the Inquisition-like attempt by his predecessors to impose a single Mu'tazili version of Islam.


  • Life 1
  • Death 2
  • Treatment of "People of the book" 3
  • Accomplishments 4
  • References 5
  • Bibliography 6
  • External links 7


While al-Wathiq was caliph, the vizier, ibn Abd al-Malik, had poorly treated al-Mutawakkil. On September 22, 847, al-Mutawakkil had him arrested. The former vizier's property was plundered and he was tortured in his own iron maiden. He finally died on November 2. The caliph had others who had mistreated him in the previous reign punished.

In A.H. 235 (849) al-Mutawakkil had the prominent military commander Itakh al-Khazari seized in Baghdad. Itakh was imprisoned and died of thirst on December 21. One Mahmud ibn al-Faraj al-Nayshapuri arose claiming to be a prophet. He and some followers were arrested in Baghdad. He was imprisoned, beaten and on June 18, 850 he died.

In A.H. 237 (851–852) Armenians rebelled and defeated and killed the Abbasid governor. Al-Mutawakkil sent his general Bugha al-Kabir to handle this. Bugha scored successes this year and the following year he attacked and burned Tiflis, capturing Ishaq ibn Isma'il. The rebel leader was executed. That year (A.H. 238) the Byzantines attacked Damietta.

In A.H. 240 (854–855) the police chief in Homs killed a prominent person stirring an uprising. He was driven out. Al-Mutawakkil offered another police chief. When the next year saw a revolt against this new police chief, al-Mutawakkil had this firmly suppressed. As Christians had joined in the second round of disturbances, the caliph had Christians expelled from Homs.

Also in 241 occurred the firm response to the revolt by the Bujah, people of descent just beyond Upper Egypt. They had been paying a tax on their gold mines. They ceased paying this, drove out Muslims working in the mines and terrified people in Upper Egypt. Al-Mutawakkil sent al-Qummi to restore order. Al-Qummi sent seven ships with supplies that enabled him to persevere despite the very harsh terrain of this distant territory. He retook the mines, pressed on to the Bujah royal stronghold and defeated the king in battle. The Bujah resumed payment of the tax.

On February 23, 856, there was an exchange of captives with the Byzantines. A second such exchange took place some four years later.

Al-Mutawakkil's reign is remembered for its many reforms and viewed as a golden age of the Abbasids. He would be the last great Abbasid caliph; after his death the dynasty would fall into a decline.


Al-Mutawakkil continued to rely on Turkish statesmen and slave soldiers to put down rebellions and lead battles against foreign empires, notably the Byzantines, from whom Sicily was captured. His secretary, Al-Fath ibn Khaqan, who was Turkish, was a famous figure of Al-Mutawakkil's era.[1]

His reliance on Turkish soldiers would come back to haunt him. Al-Mutawakkil would have his Turkish commander-in-chief killed. This, coupled with his extreme attitudes towards the Shia, made his popularity decline rapidly.

Al-Mutawakkil was murdered by his Turkish guard on December 11, 861 CE.[2] Some have speculated that his murder was part of a plot hatched by his son, al-Muntasir, who had grown estranged from his father. Al-Muntasir feared his father was about to move against him and struck first. Mutawakkil's murder began the nine-year period of troubles known as the "Anarchy at Samarra".

Treatment of "People of the book"

In 850 Mutawakkil made a decree ordering Dhimmi (Jews) wear garments to distinguish them from Muslims, their places of worship destroyed, demonic effigies nailed to the door, and that they be allowed little involvement government or official matters.[3][4]

Mutawakkil ordered the ancient sacred Cypress of the Zoroastrians, Cypress of Kashmar to be cut down in order to use it in constructing his new palace despite the enormous protests from the Zoroastrian community.[5] The cypress was of legendary values to the Zoroastrians, believed to be brought from Paradise to the earth by Zoroaster was more than 1400 years old at the time. He was killed before the cypress wood arrived for his new palace.[6]


Destruction of the Tomb of Husain at Kerbela

Al-Mutawakkil was unlike his brother and father in that he was not known for having a thirst for knowledge, but he had an eye for magnificence and a hunger to build. The Great Mosque of Samarra was at its time, the largest mosque in the world; its minaret is a vast spiralling cone 55 m high with a spiral ramp. The mosque had 17 aisles and its wall were panelled with mosaics of dark blue glass.

The Great Mosque was just part of an extension of Samarra eastwards that built upon part of the walled royal hunting park. Al-Mutawakkil built as many as 20 palaces (the numbers vary in documents). Samarra became one of the largest cities of the ancient world; even the archaeological site of its ruins is one of the world's most extensive. The Caliph's building schemes extended in A.H. 245 (859–860) to a new city, al-Jaʻfariyya, which al-Mutawakkil built on the Tigris some eighteen kilometres from Samarra. More water, and al-Mutawakkil ordered a canal to be built to divert water from the Tigris, entrusting the project to two courtiers, who ignored the talents of a local engineer of repute and entrusted the work to al-Farghanī, the great astronomer and writer. Al-Farghanī, who was not a specialist in public works, made a miscalculation and it appeared that the opening of the canal was too deep so that water from the river would only flow at near full flood.

News leaked to the infuriated caliph might have meant the heads of all concerned save for the gracious actions of the engineer, Sind ibn ʻAlī, who vouched for the eventual success of the project, thus risking his own life. Al-Mutawakkil was assassinated shortly before the error became public.

Al-Mutawakkil was keen to involve himself in many religious debates, something that would show in his actions against different minorities. His father had tolerated the Shīʻa Imām who taught and preached at Medina, and for the first years of his reign al-Mutawakkil continued the policy. Imām ʻAlī al-Hadī's growing reputation inspired a letter from the Governor of Medina, ʻAbdu l-Lāh ibn Muħammad, suggesting that a coup was being plotted, and al-Mutawakkil extended an invitation to Samarra to the Imām, an offer he could not refuse. In Samarra, the Imām was kept under virtuial house arrest and spied upon. However, no excuse to take action against him ever appeared. After al-Mutawakkil's death, his successor had the Imām poisoned: al-Hadī is buried at Samarra. The general Shīʻa population faced repression. and this was embodied in the destruction of the shrine of Hussayn ibn ʻAlī, an action that was carried out ostensibly in order to stop pilgrimages to that site,[7] and the flogging and incarceration of the Alid Yahya ibn Umar.

Also during his reign, Al-Mutawakkil met the famous Byzantine theologian Cyril the Philosopher, who was sent to tighten the diplomatic relations between the Empire and the Caliphate in a state mission by the Emperor Michael III. Of his sons, al-Muntasir succeeded him and ruled until his death in 862, al-Mu'tazz reigned as Caliph from 866 to his overthrow in 869, and al-Mu'tamid reigned as Caliph in 870–892 with his brother al-Muwaffaq serving as an effective regent of the realm until his death in 891.


  1. ^ Pinto, O. "Al-Fath b. Khakan." The Encyclopedia of Islam, Volume II. New Ed. Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1991. ISBN 90-04-07026-5. p. 837
  2. ^ The Fatimid Revolution (861-973) and its aftermath in North Africa, Michael Brett, The Cambridge History of Africa, Vol. 2 ed. J. D. Fage, Roland Anthony Oliver, (Cambridge University Press, 2002), 589.
  3. ^ Decree of Caliph al-Mutawakkil
  4. ^ "Jews Under Islam" section from "The Longest Hatred" in New Internationalist
  5. ^ Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, (Routledge Kegan Paul Ltd, 1979), 158.
  6. ^ Mary Boyce, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices, 158.
  7. ^ Imam Haadi, Biographies of Masumeen, Shahaadat, al-Mutawakkil, Al-Muntasir, Imamate (Imamah)


  • Kramer, Joel L., ed. (1989). The History of al-Ṭabarī, Volume XXXIV: Incipient Decline. The Caliphates of al-Wathiq, al-Mutawakkil, and al-Muntasir A.D. 841-863/A.H. 227-248. Albany, New York: State University of New York Press.  

External links

  • Imam Haadi and Al-Mutawakkil
  • The great mosque at Samarra
  • al-Mutawakkil's decree of 850 (English)
  • al-Farghani and the canal
Born: 821 Died: 861
Sunni Islam titles
Preceded by
Caliph of Islam
Succeeded by
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