On this day, 24 March 809 CE, the 5th Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid died because of an internal illness after ruling the vast empire for 23 years. He died at Tus in eastern Persia during an expedition to suppress a rebellion that had broken out in Samarqand. On Harun’s death, his eldest son al-Amin ascended the throne of Baghdad.
Harun al-Rashid was born in Ray (now in Iran). He ascended the throne in September 786 at the age of 20. During his reign, the power and prosperity of the dynasty were at the peak. Harun was also a great patron of the arts and scholarship and inspired a great cultural renaissance.
Harun was the third child of the third Abbasid caliph, al-Mahdi and his wife Khayzuran, a former slave from Yemen. Before becoming Caliph, Harun earned his name after his victory over the Byzantines in Bosphorus during the reign of his father in 782 CE.
This brilliant success so increased al-Mahdi’s affection for his son Harun that he appointed him successor-designate after Musa al-Hadi and named him al-Rashid (the Rightly-Guided or the follower of right cause). Thus, at the age of 16, he became the crown prince.
Harun’s father, al-Mahdi, died in 785 and his brother al-Hadi assumed the throne. Al-Hadi, however, died mysteriously in September 786. His death was said to have been the result of a court conspiracy or plot. As a result, Harun finally became the Abbasid caliph in 786 CE.
Harun al-Rashid has been described as one of the greatest caliphs of the Abbasid dynasty and one of the greatest rulers of the world.
Lebanese-American Professor Philip K. Hitti in History of Arabs writes:
“The ninth-century opened with two important names standing supremacy in world affairs – Charlemagne in the West and Harun in the East. Of the two, Harun was undoubtedly the more powerful and represented the higher culture”
But according to RA Nicholson, the good Haroun Alraschid was, in fact, a perfidious and irascible tyrant, whose fitful amiability and real taste for music and letters hardly entitle him to be described either as a great monarch or a good man.
History of the Arabs, by Philip K. Hitti
A Literary History of the Arabs, by Reynold A. Nicholson
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