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The Qarmatian Rise.

Ab? Sa??d's success in capturing most of Eastern Arabia encouraged him to lay siege to Hajr, a strategic city near the Persian Gulf, after doing so he made his son Sa??d crown prince. That angered Ab? T?her, and he soon assassinated his elder brother and declared himself chief of the Qarmatians in 923.

Soon after succeeding al-Muktafi, Caliph al-Muqtader re-captured Basra and ordered the city's re-fortification. Ab? T?her successfully laid siege to the city again, defeating the Abbasid army. After capturing Basra, the Qarmatians loot it and then left. Ab? T?her returned again and ravaged it totally, destroying the grand mosque and reducing the market-place to ashes. He ruled Bahrain successfully and entered into contact with local and foreign rulers as far as north Africa, but continued to fight off assaults from Persians allied with the caliph in Baghdad. After taking Kufa, he force the Abbasids to pay large sums of money in for him to leave the town in peace. On his way home he ravaged the out-skirts of Kufa. On his return home, he began building palaces in Qatif not only for himself but for his allies and declared the city his permanent capital.

In 928 Caliph al-Muqtader was confident to once again confront Ab? T?her, calling in his generals Yusuf bin Abi-as'Saj from Azerbaijan, Munis Khadem, Muzaffar and Harun. After a heavy battle, all were beaten and driven back to Baghdad. Ab? T?her destroyed al-Jazira Province (in Iraq's north-west - now Ninewa province including its capital Mosul as a final warning to the Abbasids and returned to al-Ihsa'. At home, he thought he had identified the Mahdi (the 12th Ja'fari Imam) as a young Persian prisoner from Isfahan named Abu'l-Fadl al-Isfahani, who claimed to be the descendant of the Persian kings.

Isfahani, a Persian who secretly hated the Arabs and Islam, had been brought back to Bahrain from the Qarmatians' raid into Iraq in 928. In 931, Ab? T?her turned over the theocracy to this Mahdi-Caliph, Isfahani. But as a Zoroastrian, Isfahani re-instituted the worship of fire and the burning of religious books during an 80-day rule. His reign culminated in the execution of members of Bahrain's notable families, including members of Ab? T?her's family. Fearing for his own life, Ab? T?her announced he had been wrong and denounced Isfahani as a false Madhi. Begging forgiveness, Ab? T?her had him executed, but the latter was killed years later.

The Safawi Empire: The Ja'fari (Twelver) Shi'ites of Baghdad and southern Iraq (including Karbala', Najaf and Basra) never forgot or forgave the Qarmatians. But those of them who believed in the Wilayat ul-Faqih (WuF) concept, mainly in Jabal Amel of southern Lebanon, called for another theocracy in Persia.

After his conquest of Persia and the Azeri city of Tabriz, a Turkoman general who had rebelled against the Ottoman sultans, in 5001 was Shi'itised and declared a Safawi Shah of Persia after he was converted from Sunnism by a Jabal Amel Imam.

Shi'ism has been a convenient banner under which the down-trodden could unite in hostility to the ruling Sunni class (whether this was Arab or Turkic in the person of an ambitious general able to conquer a territory after having rebelled from his ruler, be that a caliph, a king or a sultan. Governors appointed by the Sunni caliphs thus became rulers of other territories they conquered, such as Persia.

The Persians who had retained their Zoroastrian faith and who, when they did not feel strong enough to throw off control, either out of fear of local rivals or of rebellion by their subjects, co-operated with the caliphs or shahs. As such, Ja'farism tended to be revolutionary; the first Safawi theocracy expanded its territory rapidly thanks to the appeal of its Ja'farism among non-Sunnis.

The Sixth of the Twelver Imams, Ja'far al-Sadeq, time was crucial law-maker in the transition from Umayyad to Abbasid power. The teacher of fiqh par excellence, Ja'far was a master Sufi and an authority in alchemy. To Ja'far were also ascribed numerous utterances which - apart from defining Twelver Shi'ite doctrine as well as prayers and homilies - dealt with divination, the most famous of which was the mysterious Jafr (fore-telling the future).

Ja'far's works and links with Sufis later led to the Iskhwan al-Safa' (Brotherhood of Purity) movement which, as a secret organisation in the first half of the 10th century, sponsored educational projects and artisans' guilds, and publicised the work of alchemists.

From then emerged a Ja'fari-Sufi axis which survived through the second half of the 15th century, when the head of the related Safawi movement was Junayd (1447-60) who, for the first time, militated for Ja'farism and aspired to temporal power. But the links to Sufism began evaporating after Isma'il-I - a Turkoman rebel just Shi'itised.

The Turkomans' two mini-kingdoms were at war: Ak Koyunlu (White Sheep) against Kara Koyunlu (Black Sheep). Junayd militated in Ardebil, which was under the Kara Koyunlu monarch Jahanshah (who ruled Azerbaijan, Armenia, Georgia, Iraq-i Arab & Iraq-i Ajam, as well as Fars, Kirman, Sarir and the shores of the Sea of Oman). Jahanshah saw the Shi'ite threat so real that he ordered Junayd to disperse his forces and leave Ardebil; otherwise, Ardebil was to be destroyed. Junayd fled and later took refuge at Ak Koyunlu ruler Uzun Hassan's court in Diyar-Bakir (Anatolia) in 1456-9.

The Ak Koyunlu-Safawi alliance - the first Sunni-Shi'ite peace-time - led to Junayd marrying Hassan's sister. Hassan defeated Jahanshah and Kara Koyunlu's kingdom collapsed. This helped Ak Koyunlu's kingdom to spread from Central Asia and the Caucasus to parts of Turkey, Syria, the two Iraqs, Iran, parts of Afghanistan, etc. Junayd died in battle in 1460 and was succeeded by Haydar, who later married Hassan's daughter, but was killed in 1488 and was succeeded by Ali. Hassan was defeated in 1473 by the Ottomans and died in 1478. Internal wars caused Ak Koyunlu's fall.

In 1494 Ak Koyunlu's Rustam freed Ali from jail as he needed his help against a rival prince. But Rustam killed the Safawi leader as Shi'ite support for Ali rose on an alarming scale. Ali's brother Isma'il fled to Gilan; from Gilan, for the next five years, he directed the final stages of a Safawi revolution. His emissaries shuttled between Gilan and Safawi bases in Anatolia, Syria and the Armenian high-lands. It was from those areas that Isma'il derived the elite of his army - his most fanatical Ja'faris - men of the Rumlu, Ustajilu, Takkalu, thul-Qadr, Warsak, Shamlu, Afshar, Qajar and other Turkoman tribes.

Called Kizilbash (Turkic for "Red Heads" as they wore a distinctive crimson hat with 12 folds denoting their Twelver faith), these men considered Isma'il to be both their religious Murshed-e Kamel ("the Perfect Guide as head of the Safawi order) and their temporal Padishah (king). To the Kizilbash as well as the other Ja'faris, Isma'il now was revered as the Shadow of God on Earth - a special Shi'ite title which Abul-Abbas al-Saffah had borrowed in 750 when he became the first caliph of the Abbasids (and which the young and thuggish Ja'fari mullah Muqtada Al-Sadr in Iraq occasionally is called by some of his anti-US militiamen).

In 1499 (as in early 1979 Khomeini arrived in Tehran from Paris to take power) - Isma'il moved from Gilan and his revolution broke out. By the autumn of 1500 he had been joined by 7,000 Kizilbash in Erzinjan. He turned aside to crush the Shirwanshah, who had killed his father and grand-father. At the battle of Sharur, he routed Alwand Ak Koyunlu - the Shi'ite-Sunni alliance having collapsed in 1479.

Isma'il entered Tabriz in 1501, was crowned as the first shah of the Safawid dynasty and proclaimed Ja'farim to be the official sect of the state. He emphasised two of his theocracy's objectives: to differentiate his holy state from the Ottoman empire, and to have doctrinal unity among his subjects. He appointed a sadr to head the religious establishment; but in reality the sadr was to derive his authority from the political institution.

In 1503, Shah Isma'il-I had the last Ak Koyunlu ruler, Murad, expelled from Iran. He had Diyar-Bakir annexed to his "empire", thus called as his kingdom expanded in 1507. Baghdad was captured in 1508. Khorassan was annexed in 1510. By then, the Sunni Uzbeks in the east and the zealously orthodox Sunni Ottomans in the west had become the main enemies of the Safawid empire.

The fact that on Anatolian borders was a powerful Shi'ite state ruling so many Turkic tribes was a threat to the Ottomans. So in 1514, Ottoman Sultan Selim-I launched the first of a long series of invasions of Iran. In August of that year the Safawi army was defeated at Caldiran. Selim had to withdraw from Tabriz after a short occupation but took Diyar Bakir, Mar'ash and Albistan.
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Publication:APS Diplomat Fate of the Arabian Peninsula
Geographic Code:7IRAN
Date:Jul 24, 2017
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