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The community divided: a textual analysis of the murders of Idris b. 'Abd Allah (d. 175/791).

In 175/791, Idris (I) b. 'Abd Allah b. al-Hasan b. al-Hasan b. 'Ali b. Abi Talib, the eponymous founder of the Idrisid dynasty in North Africa, was killed by an unknown assailant. Disagreement regarding the details of the murder emerged in the form of two fundamentally different narratives. In the first, Idris I was poisoned by tainted tooth powder administered by an 'Abbasid client (al-Shammakh), who was rewarded with a political appointment in Egypt. In the second, he was poisoned (in a number of possible ways) by a traitorous Zaydi theologian, who was injured in his subsequent flight to safety. The first of these narratives occurs in the earliest extant historical works and persists into the Mamluk period in the non-Zaydi (and largely Sunni) historiographical tradition. The second originates almost exclusively in Zaydi historical works from the fourth/tenth century, but exerts a clear influence on a number of important late sources. This study examines both these versions with an eye towards better understanding (a) the polemical motivations that helped shape each narrative and (b) the techniques utilized by late premodern Muslim historians to reconcile contradictory source material.


The Muslim historiographical tradition depicts Idris I as a prominent participant in the failed Zaydi revolt of Sahib Fakhkh al-Husayn b. 'Ali (his nephew), which erupted in Medina in 169/786. (1) The uprising was a result of tensions stemming from the concurrent deaths of the 'Abbasid caliph, al-Mahdi, and the consensus head of the nascent Zaydi community, 'Isa b. Zayd. (2) The new caliph, al-Hadi, assumed a hostile and antagonistic stance towards the 'Alids, ordering al-Husayn b. 'Ali and other prominent (and potentially dangerous) Hasanids and Husaynids residing in Iraq to return to Medina, where they were kept under the watchful eye of the new governor of the Hijaz, 'Abd al-'Aziz b. 'Abd Allah al-'Umari. (3) The historical sources attribute the revolt to a series of repressive measures, particularly the imposition of a daily roll call. If an 'Alid failed to appear when his name was called, his relatives were held accountable and threatened with physical and fiscal sanctions. (4) One day, the absence of an 'Alid precipitated a harsh exchange between al-'Umari and al-Husayn b. 'Ali in which the former threatened the latter with physical violence. (5) The 'Alids (and Talibids) in Medina were enraged at the governor and convened an emergency meeting in June 169/786 during which they offered al-Husayn b. 'Ali the oath of allegiance and decided (in a rather thoughtless manner) to revolt the next day. (6)

When the following morning al-Husayn b. 'Ali appealed to the local Medinan population for support against the 'Abbasids, he found them wholly unenthusiastic. In fact, most quickly left the mosque and returned to their homes to await the 'Abbasid military response. (7) Perhaps if the 'Alids had waited a month until the end of the Hajj and had declared their intentions in Mecca, they would have posed a more serious threat to 'Abbasid power. (8) In Medina, however, al-Husayn b. 'Ali was isolated with a limited support base--no more than 300 men--drawn primarily from his own family. (9) His only viable option was to head to Mecca where pilgrims, unaware of the events in Medina, might be mobilized for rebellion. When the 'Abbasids learned of the uprising in Medina, however, they were able to raise a patch-work army and intercept the 'Alids at Fakhkh, six miles outside of Mecca. (10) The subsequent battle claimed the lives of al-Husayn b. 'Ali and over one hundred of his 'Alid supporters. Most of the survivors, including Idris I and his older brother Yahya, fled to Mecca where they escaped by dispersing among the large crowds of pilgrims. (11) Idris I eventually reached the Maghrib and Ifriqiya where he settled in the town of Walila near present-day Fas and began proselytizing among the Berber tribes of the area. (12) He met such immediate success that it threatened the authority of local dynasties and in 175/791 he was murdered by a mysterious assassin. (13)

This basic chronology is preserved in almost every historical chronicle that covers the period in question. Idris I is invariably described as one of the driving forces behind the rebellion at Fakhkh and a leading figure within both his family and the larger Zaydi community. (14) There is a stark contrast, however, between the portrayal of his murder in the non-Zaydi and the Zaydi sources, reflecting differences in historical perspective and intent. The next two sections examine these differences through an examination of historical accounts that focus on his flight to North Africa and subsequent murder.


Before turning to the murder accounts from the non-Zaydi sources, we should pause and consider the nature of historical writing from the 'Abbasid period. Recent scholarship has examined Islamic historiography from multiple perspectives, emphasizing the influence of literary forms, social mores, polemical disputes, and theological controversies. Stefan Leder (15) and Lawrence Conrad (16) focus on the literary devices and topoi employed in filling lacunae in information and creating dramatic accounts. Tayeb El-Hibri analyzes the civil war between al-Amin and al-Ma'mun through the lens of societal aversion to regicide and disloyalty. (17) Jacob Lassner interprets early 'Abbasid historical narratives as weapons in a propaganda battle between the 'Abbasid caliphs and their 'Alid rivals. (18) In these and other works it appears that history in the 'Abbasid period was crafted for a variety of complex purposes. While we should bear in mind the literary (e.g., Leder and Conrad) and ethical (e.g., El-Hibri) dimensions of the historical tradition, it is the political (e.g., Lassner) and theological that are of greatest importance in the case of Idris I. The struggle for political control between the 'Alids and the 'Abbasids was a central theme for premodern 'Abbasid historiography. This point is made by Lassner (19) in his examination of the wasiya of Abu Hashim and Michael Cooperson (20) in his literary analysis of the relationship between al-Ma'mun and 'Ali al-Rida. Even a summary reading of al-Tabari's exchange of letters between al-Mansur and al-Nafs al-Zakiyya suggests the centrality of this conflict in the historio-graphical tradition. (21)

As the non-Zaydi historians (retrospectively) understood, Idris I's flight marked a sea change in the 'Abbasid--'Alid political dynamic. The failure of the revolt at Fakhkh prompted a Zaydi migration to the physical (and intellectual) margins of the Islamic world. Whereas the major Zaydi uprisings prior to 168/785 occurred in either the Hijaz or Iraq, most subsequent revolts erupted far from the center of 'Abbasid power in areas such as North Africa and the Caspian provinces. As a practical consequence of this change, the 'Abbasids could no longer employ their tested strategy of waiting for 'Alid revolts (and sometimes even goading premature rebellions) and then crushing them with overwhelming military force. The revolts were now in regions where 'Abbasid control was predicated on the nominal deference to local dynasties. This did not eliminate the importance of the 'Abbasid-'Alid rivalry but it did recast the rules of the game, as encounters between the two families became increasingly indirect.

The impact of this change is evident in the non-Zaydi sources where Idris I's death is linked to a batch of poisoned tooth powder (subsequently: the "murderous dental work" narrative). In these texts, Harun al-Rashid--upon learning of Idris I's whereabouts--dispatches a client of his father (al-Mahdi) named al-Shammakh to North Africa. Al-Shammakh insinuates his way into Idris I's inner circle posing as a doctor and poisons him one night when the 'Alid complains of a toothache. Versions of this narrative are preserved with a strong pro-'Abbasid bias in the late third/ninth-century historical works of al-Baladhuri (d. 280/892), Ibn al-Faqih (fl. 289/902), and al-Tabari (d. 311/923) and with a pro-'Alid slant in the chronicles of al-Ya'qubi (d. 284/897) and al-Mas'udi (d. 345/956). In addition, variants are mentioned by two important fourth/tenth-century Zaydi historians, Ahmad b. Ibrahim (d. 353/964) and al-Isbahani (d. 356/967), albeit with a very different end in mind.

Al-Baladhuri's account begins with a description of Idris I's flight to Egypt in a Hajj caravan. (22) Upon arriving in Fustat, he finds himself in difficult straits before discovering that Wadih, the man in charge of the Egyptian postal service (barid), is Shi'i. The latter helps him escape to Tanja where Idris I begins to build an army by converting the local Berber population to his cause. Al-Baladhuri strongly condemns Wadih as a traitor by emphasizing his status as an 'Abbasid client (through al-Mansur's son Salih) and his subsequent execution on the orders of al-Rashid. The importance of Idris I's escape from Egypt cannot be overstated as he is now outside the direct reach of 'Abbasid authority. With this realization in mind, al-Rashid "secretly dispatches" al-Shammakh to Ibrahim al-Aghlab, the 'Abbasid governor of Ifriqiya, who directs him to Tanja. Al-Rashid's dependence on his governor to coordinate the assassination exemplifies the limits of 'Abbasid power and intimates a changed political dynamic with the rise of local dynastic power. (23) This is further emphasized by the fact that, after Idris I's death, the 'Abbasids do not play a significant role in any subsequent 'Alid revolt in North Africa. The assassin befriends Idris I in the guise of a doctor and, when the 'Alid consults him about a recurring toothache, prescribes a batch of poisoned tooth powder (sanun) and quickly flees. The details of Idris I's death are left to the imagination as the text ends with the simple statement that "Idris died and his son--also named Idris--took his place."

A more detailed version of this story is found in Ibn al-Faqih's Kitab al-buldan and in al-Tabari's Ta'rikh. (24) Both accounts begin with Idris I's flight to Egypt and a condemnation of Wadih's betrayal of the 'Abbasids. Ibn al-Faqih notes that Wadih, "a client of al-Mansur and a Shi'i," was eventually decapitated and crucified by al-Rashid, while al-Tabari describes him as "a client of Salih b. Amir al-Mu'minin al-Mansur and a wicked rafidi." Similarly to al-Baladhuri, both authors claim that al-Rashid first sends al-Shammakh to Ibrahim b. al-Aghlab who dispatches him to Walila in the province of Tanja. He pretends to be a doctor and quickly earns a place amongst Idris I's close advisors. When the 'Alid complains of tooth pain, al-Shammakh provides poisoned tooth powder and instructs him to apply it at the break of dawn.

The pro-'Abbasid (and anti-'Alid) tenor of these accounts is difficult to miss and understandable given their primary sources which (at least in the case of Ibn al-Faqih) included Salih b. 'Ali, a great grandson of al-Mansur. These accounts also underscore the naivete of the 'Alids who--in many 'Abbasid polemics--were accused of lacking the political acumen and skill necessary to rule effectively. (25) In the case of Idris I, he is easily duped by al-Shammakh who does little more than verbally express his sympathy for the 'Alid cause. (26) The local autonomy of Ibn al-Aghlab is (once more) highlighted as he directly supervises the assassination operation and sends word to al-Rashid upon its completion. Finally, al-Shammakh is not rewarded with a post in North Africa but rather appointed head of the barid in Egypt, a province where the 'Abbasids continued to exercise direct political authority. As in the case of al-Baladhuri's text, the narratives of Ibn al-Faqih and al-Tabari both portend a change in the 'Abbasid--'Alid struggle and evidence an awareness of the restriction of 'Abbasid authority.

Given their (proto-Imami) Shi'i leanings, it is not surprising that al-Ya'qubi (27) and al-Mas'udi (28) preserve versions of the "murderous dental work" prototype that lack a number of critical themes--i.e., the accusation against Wadih, the limitations of 'Abbasid power--invoked by al-Baladhuri, Ibn al-Faqih, and al-Tabari. Al-Ya'qubi's rendering of the murder episode is very brief:
 His [Sahib Fakhkh al-Husayn b. 'Ali] uncle Idris b. 'Abd Allah b.
 al-Hasan b. al-Hasan b. 'Ali fled to the Maghrib. He took control
 of a region across from (tanakhim) al-Andalus called Fas. The
 entire population rallied around him. The people of the Maghrib
 mentioned that Musa [al-Hadi] (29) sent someone who poisoned him
 by way of his miswak and he died.

This account omits details of Idris I's flight, his settlement in Walila, and even the identity of his assassin. By ignoring the events in Egypt, al-Ya'qubi diminishes the importance of Idris I's escape from land under direct 'Abbasid control. Moreover, the absence of Ibrahim b. al-Aghlab suggests no real concern with the changing political relationship between the 'Abbasid center and local rulers at the margins. The mention of the miswak may intimate the pro-'Alid bias of the overall account as numerous prophetic traditions (hadith) lauded its use as a special mark of piety. (30) Idris I is therefore murdered while engaged in a pious act evoking the memory of the Prophet. There is also a possible resonance with other revered 'Alids, most prominently 'Ali and his son al-Husayn b. 'Ali, both of whom were reportedly killed in the course of the ritual prayer. Perhaps al-Ya'qubi intended to cast Idris I as a righteous 'Alid engaged in a battle with the 'Abbasids but not quite on par with the seminal figures of early Imamism? Al-Mas'udi offers an even shorter and more concise account:
 Idris b. 'Abd Allah headed to the Maghrib. A group of people
 responded to his summons and al-Mansur (31) plotted with a man
 to poison him in the cities he controlled in the Maghrib.

There is nothing accusatory in this narrative and it may be argued that its brevity is itself a judgment against the pro-'Abbasid leanings of al-Baladhuri, Ibn al-Faqih, and al-Tabari.

The "murderous dental work" narratives preserved in the Zaydi sources are primarily concerned with answering the charges of political naivete leveled against Idris I. The accounts of both Ahmad b. Ibrahim (32) and al-Isbahani (33) imply that Idris I consulted al-Shammakh about his toothache as a matter of convenience. This is in contrast to accounts that mention the assassin's successful infiltration of the inner circle of a gullible 'Alid, i.e., that of al-Tabari. Furthermore, al-Isbahani describes Idris I's death in vivid detail, noting the "disintegration of the flesh" from his mouth, and casts him as a highly sympathetic figure and the 'Abbasids as almost grotesquely cruel. With an agenda focused exclusively on 'Alid political claims, the Zaydi texts ignore themes embedded in the Sunni texts, particularly the decrease in central 'Abbasid authority. Thus, Ahmad b. Ibrahim significantly reduces Ibrahim b. al-Aghlab's role in the murder while al-Isbahani portrays al-Shammakh as fleeing directly to Egypt rather than stopping in Ifriqiya to speak with the governor. While the Zaydi chroniclers acknowledge the potential validity of the "murderous dental work" prototype, they accord greater credence to a different narrative (see below), which commands considerably more space and whose sources are noted in far greater detail.

The "murderous dental work" accounts are primarily concerned with the theme of 'Alid-'Abbasid rivalry in transition. In such a context, narrative elements of distinct importance include (a) Idris I's escape to North Africa outside the reach of 'Abbasid authority and (b) the acknowledgement of the growing independence of North Africa represented by Ibrahim b. al-Aghlab. Al-Baladhuri, Ibn al-Faqih, and al-Tabari also convey an anti-Shi'i bias by condemning Wadih as a traitor and depicting Idris I as a gullible simpleton. Al-Ya'qubi and al-Mas'udi, on the other hand, ignore the political rivalry altogether and offer very concise accounts that implicitly condemn the 'Abbasids. The narrative preserved by al-Ya'qubi is particularly pro-'Alid with its identification of the miswak as the murder weapon. Finally, a few Zaydi sources include pared-down versions of the "murderous dental work" narrative, interested primarily in defending Idris I's reputation as a capable Imam cruelly murdered by the 'Abbasids. As the next section will show, the core Zaydi account of the murder emerged from a wholly different political and religious context centered on the internal politics of the Zaydi community.


The Zaydi sources adopt a radically different perspective on the murder of Idris I, one concerned primarily with theological developments within the broader Zaydi community. According to heresiographical sources and most modern studies, Zaydism was a product of the merging of two streams of early Kufan Shi'ism, the Batriyya and the Jarudiyya. (34) Both groups accepted 'Alid claims on the caliphate but they differed on a number of key theological issues. The Batriyya (35) were part of the Kufan traditionist movement that held that religious knowledge was dispersed among the larger Muslim community and preserved in traditions stretching back to the Prophet and the Companions. Although the Batris upheld the right of 'Ali as the proper successor to the Prophet, they did not believe the community had committed kufr (disbelief) through its election of Abu Bakr and 'Umar. In fact, they felt that 'Ali himself had tacitly endorsed the first two caliphs by taking the oath of allegiance. The Jarudiyya, (36) on the other hand, restricted religious knowledge to the family of the Prophet and apostatized those Companions who had supported Abu Bakr and 'Umar's claim at the expense of 'Ali. According to Wilferd Madelung, the Batriyya were absorbed into Sunnism during the third/ninth century and "the views of the [Jarudiyya] came to prevail among the Zaydiyya." (37)

Rent by this division, early Zaydism was a community in turmoil, pulled in two very different theological directions. Prior to the battle of Fakhkh, Zaydi Imams appear to have been Batri in orientation, affirming the status of the first two caliphs (i.e., Zayd b. Ali) and adhering to a ritual law virtually indistinguishable from the traditionist circles that would become Sunni (i.e., 'Isa b. Zayd). After the battle, there appears to have been a theological transformation in the Zaydi leadership from a "Batri" to a "Jarudi" orientation. This change was best exemplified by Yahya b. 'Abd Allah (Idris I's older brother) who fought behind al-Husayn b. 'Ali and whose actions in the course of the revolt reflected his devotion to a religious ideal that can only be characterized as Jarudi (e.g., the demand for a Shi'i call to prayer). (38) This is hardly surprising given the fact that Yahya was brought up and educated by Ja'far al-Sadiq, the sixth Imam of the Twelver Shi'i line. (39) In the aftermath of Fakhkh, Yahya fled to Daylam, where he led a small military rebellion in 176/792 that ended with his acceptance of an offer of security from al-Rashid. (40) The sources ascribe the revolt's failure to the lukewarm support of Yahya's Kufan followers, in particular the (unnamed) son of the famous Batri Zaydi, al-Hasan b. Salih b. Hayy. (41) The problems between the two parties stemmed from Yahya's adherence to a ritual orthopraxy heavily influenced by nascent Imamism. He repeatedly tried to convince the Kufans to abandon the "wiping" of leather socks in the ablution and the drinking of date wine, but to no avail. The relationship became so strained that Yahya ultimately refused to lead his followers in group prayer, which understandably provoked a scathing response. (42) The Kufan Zaydis remained loyal to a Batri Zaydism which put them at odds with a clearly Jarudi Imam. This disconnect strongly intimated the direction Zaydism was heading to the mid- to late-second/eighth century.

The tensions that accompanied this theological transition also spread to North Africa where Idris I held to a Jarudi position, undoubtedly a consequence of his similar upbringing in the household of al-Sadiq. The sources describe Idris I as one of the main firebrands in al-Husayn b. 'Ali's revolt and a military leader in the initial battles in Medina. (43) They also mention that he was at his brother's side when al-Husayn b. 'Ali's supporters seized control of the Prophet's mosque and demanded the Shi'i call to prayer. In the aftermath of Fakhkh, it was Yahya who sent his brother to Egypt and North Africa to mobilize the local Berber population for the 'Alid cause. Although there is more information regarding Yahya, both brothers embody the earliest manifestation of a shift within the Zaydi community towards a Jarudism resisted by the Batri majority. (44)

The earliest Zaydi sources to discuss the murder of Idris I date from the middle of the fourth/tenth century, long after the Jarudis had established their predominance within Zaydism. The most distinctive element in these narratives is the identification of the prominent Zaydi theologian Sulayman b. Jarir as Idris I's assassin (subsequently: the "traitorous theologian" narrative). While Sulayman b. Jarir founded his own Zaydi theological school, distinct from both the Batris and the Jarudis, on most key issues he sided with the former against the latter, making him an ideal target for Jarudi propaganda. (45) The Zaydi narrative also differs in (a) its description of Idris I's flight from Egypt to North Africa, (b) its identification of the murder weapon, and (c) its portrayal of the assassin's escape. The most elaborate of these accounts are found in al-Isbahani's Maqatil and Ahmad b. Ibrahim's al-Masabih.

The primary story preserved by al-Isbahani (46) begins with Idris I's flight from the Hijaz accompanied by a local client named Rashid. The two make their way to Egypt in a Hajj caravan and find unlikely support in an anonymous eavesdropper who recognizes their Hijazi accents. This man is described as an 'Abbasid client but he is differentiated from Wadih, the head of the Egyptian barid from the "murderous dental work" accounts, in that he is not ascribed any real political power or influence. After eluding checkpoints on the road from Egypt to Ifriqiya, Rashid and Idris I settle in the vicinity of Fas (Walila is not explicitly named) and begin winning over the local Berber population. The account then shifts to Baghdad where a furious al-Rashid asks his vizier, Yahya b. Khalid al-Barmaki, to take care of the situation in North Africa. The latter summons Sulayman b. Jarir, described as "one of the leading Zaydi Batri theologians," (47) and offers him a large bribe to murder Idris I. When the two agree on terms, Sulayman b. Jarir departs with a bottle of poisoned perfume (ghaliya) for North Africa. Al-Isbahani's account emphasizes Sulayman's ability "to establish a link with [Idris I] through his madhhab"; here Zaydism brings the two together as opposed to any political naivete. Sulayman further cements his credentials by employing his eloquence for the cause and winning many Berber converts. Eventually Sulayman offers Idris I the poisoned perfume as a gift and--after the first sniff renders the 'Alid unconscious--speeds away on horseback. Idris I, however, is not dead; upon regaining consciousness he informs Rashid, his client and friend, of Sulayman's guilt. The latter catches up with the culprit and they exchange blows. Although Sulayman manages to escape, he is left with a scar on his face and the loss of some fingers.

As opposed to the "murderous dental work" account, the "traitorous theologian" account is not concerned with framing the murder in the grand context of 'Abbasid--'Alid rivalry or the changing scope of 'Abbasid power. Wadih is replaced by a provincial man who has no relation to the 'Abbasids, and there is no mention of Ibrahim b. al-Aghlab. The 'Abbasid caliph's primary role in the narrative lies in casting Sulayman b. Jarir as a greedy and unscrupulous murderer. This strongly suggests that the narrative was parochial in its scope and intended primarily to indict one of the leading advocates of Batri Zaydism. As we will see below, even Sulayman's injured hand served a distinct polemical purpose not immediately apparent in al-Isbahani's text.

Ahmad b. Ibrahim preserves a variant of the "traitorous theologian" narrative that is even more transparent in its polemical motivations than that of al-Isbahani. (48) There is no mention of extraneous details such as Idris I's escape from Hijaz to Egypt, his flight to the Maghrib, or the growth of his power in Walila. Rather, the story is told from the perspective of the famous Jarudi Zaydi jurist, Ahmad b. 'Isa b. Zayd (d. 248/863). (49) He recalls that once in his youth a group of Berbers approached his uncle, al-Husayn b. Zayd, during the Hajj and spoke to him in whispered tones. After they had left, his uncle explained that they were followers of Idris I from the Maghrib and had informed him of the 'Alid's death. Specifically, they mentioned "a man from among you called Sulayman b. Jarir" who had made his way to the Maghrib, engaged in theological debates with Idris I, and then poisoned him with a grilled fish. Before his death, Idris I had implicated Sulayman who had already fled on horseback. A search party managed to track him down, but he escaped after a skirmish that left a scar on his face and his hand badly mutilated. Al-Husayn b. Zayd then asked those gathered around him, "Have you seen [anyone] bearing marks to this effect?" Ahmad b. 'Isa pointed towards a man praying by the door with the thumb of his hand cut off. The account concludes with Ahmad b. 'Isa's claim that "he [was] undoubtedly the one who killed Idris" and the observation that "this Sulayman was one of the leaders of the Shi'a and their theologians as well as one of those whom the people trusted." (50) His betrayal is attributed to basic avarice, as Ahmad b. Ibrahim quotes Harun al-Rashid's claim to have paid Sulayman 100,000 dirhams for the murder.

Similarly to al-Isbahani's text, al-Rashid is a secondary actor in this account, which also reveals very little interest in the dynamics of the 'Abbasid--'Alid conflict. It is taken for granted that the 'Abbasids are unscrupulous usurpers intent on killing Idris I and the story primarily turns on the betrayal of a Zaydi Imam by an eminent Zaydi theologian. Ahmad b. Ibrahim incorporates the murder into a personal narrative from a prominent Jarudi (Ahmad b. 'Isa) who directly implicates Sulayman b. Jarir and leaves no room for possible ambiguity (e.g., perhaps it was a different Sulayman b. Jarir).

A third variant of the murder in this category suggests that Idris I was poisoned by a drink that was either mixed with sawiq (51) or taken directly. This account, preserved in a third variant by Ahmad b. Ibrahim and briefly intimated in Ahmad b. Sahl al-Razi's Akhbar Fakhkh, does not mention the murderer's name. (52) It states that al-Rashid paid a man a large sum of money to head to the Maghrib and administer the poison. This man cannot be equated with al-Shammakh as most accounts identify the latter's reward for the murder to be an official appointment over the Egyptian barid. While it is possible that the assassin was Sulayman b. Jarir, this cannot be gleaned from the text alone. The placement of this version of the murder immediately after the previous narrative (given by Ahmad b. Ibrahim), however, strongly implies an association between the anonymous 'Abbasid agent and the Zaydi theologian.

The "traitorous theologian" accounts originate primarily in Zaydi historical sources and exhibit a particular interest in the role of Sulayman b. Jarir. Most of the thematic elements from the "murderous dental work" narrative are eclipsed by an attempt to discredit the Batriyya by disparaging one of their leading theologians. The fact that both al-Isbahani and Ahmad b. Ibrahim lived in the fourth/tenth century when the struggle for power between the Batris and the Jarudis had been decided in favor of the latter also bears consideration. The narrative serves as a reminder of the larger Jarudi victory with little concern for the broader narrative themes of the "murderous dental work" accounts. (53) Once in the arena of historical possibility, however, the Zaydi version of the murder had to be explained and evaluated by the later (and largely Mamluk and Sunni) historiographical tradition. The following section examines the choices made by subsequent historians in crafting their own versions of the murder.


Historians from the Mamluk period were aware of both the "murderous dental work" and "traitorous theologian" narratives, but most judged the former as either more convincing or better aligned with the broader thematic tenor of their works. Such accounts are transmitted by al-Nuwayri (d. 733/1333), al-Dhahabi (d. 748/1347), al-Safadi (d. 764/1363), Ibn al-Athir (d. 773/1372), and Ibn Taghribirdi (d. 874/1469). Al-Maqrizi (d. 843/1441) (54) and Ibn Khaldun (d. 808/1406), on the other hand, attempted to graft both versions of the murder into a single coherent narrative, which yielded a disjointed and often confused tale.

Al-Nuwayri (55) and Ibn al-Athir (56) preserve the primary thematic elements of the "murderous dental work" narrative, including the betrayal of Wadih, the role of Ibrahim b. al-Aghlab, and al-Shammakh's successful infiltration of Idris I's inner circle. Both historians add a few sentences about the flattery that led Idris I to trust the foreign doctor, and substitute the word "medicine" in place of "tooth powder." While al-Dhahabi also adheres to the standard form of the "murderous dental work" prototype, he spends a disproportionate amount of space cursing Wadih and Idris I as Shi'is "destined for the hellfire." (57) Al-Safadi (58) and Ibn Taghribirdi (59) convey similar stories distinguished by the transcript of a conversation between al-Shammakh and Idris I about the tooth powder. The tone of Ibn Taghribirdi's text, however, is distinctly more pro-'Alid: Wadih is described as "inclined to the 'Alids" as opposed to being termed Shi'i and narrative elements that reflect poorly on Idris I (i.e., his propensity to be influenced by Shammakh's false flattery) are omitted. Al-Nuwayri, Ibn al-Athir, and al-Safadi conclude by mentioning al-Rashid's appointment of al-Shammakh over the Egyptian barid.

On the whole, these accounts are continuations of the non-Zaydi historical tradition that framed the conflict between Idris I and al-Rashid in the broader context of 'Abbasid--'Alid rivalry. There is some narrative latitude, however: al-Dhahabi's stridently anti-Shi'i tone is in stark contrast to Ibn Taghribirdi's sympathetic rendering of Idris I and his supporters. Nevertheless, the basic elements detailed in the first section above continue to predominate in these texts. Wadih and Ibrahim b. al-Aghlab play important roles as harbingers of a change in the 'Abbasid--'Alid rivalry, al-Shammakh's machinations (in line with a standard 'Abbasid polemical argument) expose the lack of 'Alid political acumen, and his appointment over the barid in Egypt signifies the limits of caliphal influence.

The description of the murder in al-Maqrizi's Kitab al-muqaffa, on the other hand, is an amalgamation of both versions of the murder into a single coherent narrative. (60) Al-Maqrizi begins by recounting Idris I's flight to North Africa almost verbatim from the "murderous dental work" prototype, emphasizing the role of Wadih who is described as both a Shi'i and an 'Abbasid client. Al-Maqrizi breaks with the prototype, however, by offering a flattering portrait of Idris I as "courageous, possessing sound judgment, generous, and the father of sons." Turning to the murder, the account shifts to the "traitorous theologian" prototype albeit without expressly naming Sulayman b. Jarir as the assassin. Al-Maqrizi notes that al-Hadi "dispatched a man who was known to Idris ... who recognized and honored him," suggesting that the murderer had a significant standing within Zaydi circles which won him immediate access to Idris I's inner circle. As opposed to perfume or food, the murder weapon is a carving knife that had been poisoned on one side. The assassin offers Idris I some fruit (either a lemon or watermelon) and uses the knife to cut it in half, carefully separating the poisoned and unpoisoned sections. After Idris I eats the tainted portion, he promptly falls ill and dies, but by then the mystery man has already fled the city. Al-Maqrizi's narrative ends with the statement, "It is also said that al-Hadi sent that man with poisoned perfume," a clear reference to Sulayman b. Jarir and the "traitorous theologian" narrative. (61)

A more complicated hybrid of the murder is found in Ibn Khaldun's Ta'rikh al-'allama. (62) Once again, the story begins with Idris I's flight to the Maghrib with the help of Wadih and his successful consolidation of control around Walila. Ibn Khaldun offers specifics about the process through which Idris I's power and influence spread in the region, ultimately threatening an established political order nominally subject to 'Abbasid authority. Up to this point the text closely follows the "murderous dental work" narrative. When Ibn Khaldun turns to the murder, however, he incorporates elements of the "traitorous theologian" account into a complex (and often contradictory) narrative that selectively appropriates dramatic elements at will. The assassin dispatched by al-Rashid is described as "one of the clients of al-Mahdi whose name was Sulayman b. Jarir and was also known as Shammakh," thereby conflating the two men into one body. (63) In accordance with the "murderous dental work" accounts, Sulayman b. Jarir first visits Ibrahim b. al-Aghlab, is able to flatter his way into Idris I's good graces, and kills the 'Alid by administering poisoned tooth powder. On the other hand, as in the "traitorous theologian" accounts, Rashid corners Sulayman in a valley where they exchange blows that result in the severing of the assassin's hand. This version is a clear attempt on the part of Ibn Khaldun to reconcile both accounts of the murder into a single coherent story. The problem with this approach is that it obscures the fact that the two root narratives were produced in different historical and thematic contexts for very different purposes.


Given the complicated landscape of Islamic historiography, it is highly problematic to equate the coherence of the Mamluk historical tradition with a critical analysis of the early source material. In the case of Idris I's murder, modern scholars have affirmed the veracity of the poisoning account and either dismissed the reports of Sulayman b. Jarir's involvement or (quite surprisingly) accepted the conflation of Sulayman with al-Shammakh. (64) At this point, however, it should be clear that events of particular historical importance require a careful textual analysis aimed at uncovering the multiplicity of reasons for which historical episodes were recorded and (in some cases) manipulated. In the case of Mamluk historiography, recent studies have shed light on the use of history as a cipher for the moral and ethical norms of contemporaneous society. (65) There are also indications that Mamluk historians simply removed supernatural elements from early narratives and assumed that the remaining information was reliable. (66) While these are important steps in developing a proper understanding of the nature of Muslim historical writing, there is significant work that still needs to be done.

This article argues that historical accounts of the murder of Idris I must be examined structurally with an awareness of political and theological developments in the broader Muslim world. Only by viewing the texts in this manner can historians begin to disentangle the complex motives and motivations of premodern historians who did not necessarily feel bound to historical veracity. The "murderous dental work" narrative expressed a political awareness of the decline of 'Abbasid power and the shifting focus of 'Alid pretenders to the margins of the Muslim world. It also embodied a polemical bias, casting the 'Alids as gullible and naive simpletons and their followers as treacherous and misguided. The "traitorous theologian" narrative, on the other hand, was primarily intended for circulation within Zaydi circles and functioned as a Jarudi attack on their Batri rivals. The larger value of all these murder accounts rests in their potential as fragmentary windows into the inner workings of contemporaneous political and theological developments in the premodern Muslim world.
Chart 1. Summary of results for the "murderous dental work" accounts

 Thematic Concerns Polemic

al-Baladhuri 1. The 'Abbasid-'Alid Pro-'Abbasid
(d. 280/892) rivalry in flux Anti-'Alid (Wadih)
 (Escape from
 Egypt and Ibrahim b.

Proto-Sunni 2. The naivete of
 'Alid pretenders

al-Ya'qubi 1. No mention of the Anti-'Abbasid
(d. 284/897) 'Abbasid-'Alid (by omission) Pro-'Alid

Proto-Imami Shi'a 2. The piety of Idris
 I (miswak poisoning)

Ibn al-Faqih 1. The 'Abbasid--'Alid Pro-'Abbasid
(fl. 289/902) rivalry in flux Anti-'Alid
 (Escape from (Wadih)
 Egypt and Ibrahim b.

Proto-Sunni 2. The naivete of
 'Alid pretenders

al-Tabari 1. The 'Abbasid-'Alid Pro-'Abbasid
(d. 311/923) rivalry in flux Anti-'Alid
 (Escape from (Wadih)
 Egypt and Ibrahim b.

Proto-Sunni 2. The naivete of
 'Alid pretenders

al-Mas'udi 1. No mention of Anti-'Abbasid
(d. 345/956) the 'Abbasid--'Alid (by omission)

Proto-Imami Shi'a

Ahmad b. 1. Restricted Anti-'Abbasid
Ibrahim discussion of (by omission)
(d. 353/964) the 'Abbasid-'Alid Pro-'Alid
 rivalry (Escape
 from egypt but
 no Ibrahim b.

Zaydi Shi'a

al-Isbahani 1. No mention of the Anti-'Abbasid
(d. 356/967) 'Abbasid--'Alid (by omission)
 rivalry Pro-'Alid

 2. No mention of the
 naivete of 'Alid
 pretenders (The
 lack of 1 and 2
 is itself very

Zaydi Shi'a 3. 'Alid martyrdom

Chart 2. The construction of later narratives

 Flight via Wadih Ibrahim b. Assassin
 Egypt al-Aghlab Identity

al-Nuwayri MDWa MDW No MDW
(d. 733/1333)

al-Dhahabi MDW MDW MDW MDW
(d. 748/1347)

(d. 764/1363)

Ibn al-Athlr MDW MDW No MDW
(d. 773/1372)

Ibn Khaldun MDW MDW MDW MDW and TT
(d. 808/1406) (conflated)

al-Maqrizi (I) MDW MDW No MDW
(d. 843/1441)

al-Maqri7.i (11) MDW MDW No TT
(d. 843/1441)

Ibn TaghribirdI MDW MDW No MDW
(d. 874/1469)

Polemical Change in Anti-cAlid Limitation In cases of
Function 'Abbasid/ of cAbbasid Sulayman,
 'Alid power internal
 rivalry Zaydl polemic

 Flattery/ Murder Method Aftermath Overall
 of Idris I

al-Nuwayri MDW MDW MDW Exclusively
(d. 733/1333) MDW

al-Dhahabi MDW MDW No account Exclusively
(d. 748/1347) MDW

al-Safadi MDW MDW MDW Exclusively
(d. 764/1363) MDW

Ibn al-Athlr MDW MDW MDW Exclusively
(d. 773/1372) MDW

Ibn Khaldun MDW MDW TT Attempt to
(d. 808/1406) reconcile
 MDW and TT

al-Maqrizi (I) MDW MDW MDW and TT Largely MDW
(d. 843/1441)

al-Maqri7.i (11) MDW TT with MDW and TT Attempt to
(d. 843/1441) possibility reconcile
 of MDW MDW and TT

Ibn TaghribirdI MDW MDW MDW Exclusively
(d. 874/1469) MDW

Polemical Anti-'Alid Ranging from Limitation of
Function anti-'Alid to Abbasid
 anti-cAbbasid power and/or
 Zaydl polemic

a. MDW = drawn from "murderous dental work prototype; TT = drawn from
"traitorous theologian" model.

Chart 3. Comparison of all versions

 Flight via Wadih Ibrahim b. al-
 Egypt Aghlab

al-Baladhuri Yes Yes (Shi'a) Yes w/
(d. 280/892) independent

Ibn al-Faqlh Yes Yes (Shi'a) Yes w/
(fl. 289/902) independent

al-Tabarl Yes Yes (Shi'a) Yes w/o
(d. 311/923) independent

al-Yacqubi Yes No No
(d, 284/897)

al-Mas'udi No No No
(d. 345/956)

Ahmad b. Yes Yes (Shi'a) Yes w/
Ibrahim (I) independent
(d. 353/964) role

Ahmad b. No No No
Ibrahim (II)
(d. 353/964)

Ahmad b. No No No
Ibrahim (III)
(d. 353/964)

al-Isbahani (I) No Yes (Shi'a) No
(d. 356/967)

al-Isbahani(II) Yes No, helped by No
(d. 356/967) unknown man

al-Nuwayri Yes Yes (Shi'a) No
(d. 733/1333)

al-Dhahabi Yes Yes (Shi'a) Yes w/
(d. 748/1347) independent

al-Safadl Yes Yes (Shi'a) Yes w/
(d. 764/1363) independent

Ibn al-Athlr Yes Yes (Shi'a) No
(d. 773/1372)

Ibn Khaldun Yes Yes (Shi'a) Yes w/
(d. 808/1406) independent

al-Maqrizi (I) Yes Yes (Shi'a) No
(d. 843/1441)

al-Maqrizi (II) Yes Yes (Shi'a) No
(d. 843/1441)

Ibn Yes Yes (Shi'a) No
(d. 874/1469)

Polemical Change in Anti-'Alid Limitation
Function 'Abbasid/ of
 'Alid rivalry 'Abbasid

 Assassin Identity Flattery/Gullibility
 of fdrls I

al-Baladhuri al-Shammakh No
(d. 280/892)

Ibn al-Faqlh al-Shammakh Yes
(fl. 289/902)

al-Tabarl al-Shammakh Yes
(d. 311/923)

al-Yacqubi Unknown No
(d, 284/897)

al-Mas'udi Unknown No
(d. 345/956)

Ahmad b. al-Shammakh No
Ibrahim (I)
(d. 353/964)

Ahmad b. Sulayman No
Ibrahim (II) b. Jarir
(d. 353/964)

Ahmad b. Sulayman No
Ibrahim (III) b. Jarir
(d. 353/964) (implied)

al-Isbahani (I) al-Shammakh No
(d. 356/967)

al-Isbahani(II) Sulayman No
(d. 356/967) b. Jarir

al-Nuwayri al-Shammakh Yes
(d. 733/1333)

al-Dhahabi al-Shammakh Yes
(d. 748/1347)

al-Safadl al-Shammakh Yes
(d. 764/1363)

Ibn al-Athlr al-Shammakh Yes
(d. 773/1372)

Ibn Khaldun Sulayman Yes
(d. 808/1406) b. Jarir

al-Maqrizi (I) al-Shammakh Yes
(d. 843/1441)

al-Maqrizi (II) Sulayman No
(d. 843/1441) b. Jarir

Ibn Taghribirdi al-Shammakh Yes
(d. 874/1469)

Polemical In cases of Anti-'Alid
Function Sulayman,
 internal Zaydi

 Murder Method Aftermath

al-Baladhuri Tooth powder Escaped, destination unknown
(d. 280/892)

Ibn al-Faqlh Tooth powder Appointed head of Egyptian
(fl. 289/902) barid

al-Tabarl Tooth powder Appointed head of Egyptian
(d. 311/923) barid

al-Yacqubi Miswak No account
(d, 284/897)

al-Mas'udi N/A No account
(d. 345/956)

Ahmad b. Tooth powder Appointed head of Egyptian
Ibrahim (I) barid
(d. 353/964)

Ahmad b. Grilled fish Escaped, with mutilated
Ibrahim (II) hand and monetary reward
(d. 353/964)

Ahmad b. Sawiq (type of drink) No account
Ibrahim (III)
(d. 353/964)

al-Isbahani (I) Tooth powder Appointed head of Egyptian
(d. 356/967) (very graphic) band

al-isbahani(II) Perfume and/or Escaped, with mutilated
(d. 356/967) Grilled fish hand and monetary reward

al-Nuwayri Tooth powder Appointed head of Egyptian
(d. 733/1333) band

al-Dhahabi Tooth powder No account
(d. 748/1347)

al-Safadl Tooth powder Appointed head of Egyptian
(d. 764/1363) barid

Ibn al-Athlr Tooth powder Appointed head of Egyptian
(d. 773/1372) barid

Ibn Khaldun Tooth powder Escaped, with mutilated
(d. 808/1406) hand

al-Maqrizi (I) Tooth powder Appointed head of Egyptian
(d. 843/1441) barid and monetary reward

al-Maqrizi (II) Half-poisoned Knife/ Escaped, with mutilated
(d. 843/1441) Fruit and/or Perfume hand and monetary reward
 and/or Tooth powder AND Appointed head of
 Egyptian barid

Ibn Taghribirdi Tooth powder Appointed head of Egyptian
(d. 874/1469) barid (in different section)

Polemical Ranging from Limitation of 'Abbasid
Function Anti-'Alid to power and/or
 Anti-'Abbasid internal Zaydi

I am indebted to Andras Hamori for his comments on a late draft of this paper.

(1.) For the history of this revolt, see van Arendonk (Les debuts de l'imamat zaidite au Yemen, trans. Jacques Ryckmans (Leiden, 1960), 62-63 and [El.sup.2], s.v. "al-Husayn b. 'Ali, Sahib al-Fakhkh" (L. Veccia Vaglieri).

(2.) Although there seemed to be a cordial relationship between al-Mahdi and 'Isa b. Zayd, the Zaydi sources emphasize that this was a facade for an 'Alid rebellion in Kufa. Ahmad b. Ibrahim, al-Masabih, ed. 'Abd Allah b. 'Abd Allah b. Ahmad al-Huthi (Amman, 2002), 466-67.

(3.) 'Ali b. al-Husayn al-Isbahani, Maqatil al-talibiyyin, ed. Sayyid Ahmad Saqr (Beirut, 1978), 371; Ahmad b. Ibrahim, 465, 468; Abu Talib Yahya b. al-Husayn al-Natiq bi-l-Haqq, al-Ifada, ed. Muhammad Yahya Salih 'Izzan (Yemen, 1996), 93-94; Ahmad b. Sahl al-Razi, Akhbar Fakhkh, ed. Mahir Jarrar (Yemen, 2000), 132; van Arendonk, Les debuts, 62.

(4.) al-Natiq, 94; van Arendonk, 63.

(5.) Veccia Vaglieri's account is solely based on al-Tabari and depicts the rebels as arrogant and selfish. The impetus for their hostility is traced back to al-'Umari's decision to punish al-Hasan b. Muhammad (who later disappeared) for drinking wine. This version of the revolt also notes that the 'Alids who seized the Prophet's mosque left it in a scandalous state of impurity. In the larger chronology, however, Veccia Vaglieri aligns with the Zaydi historical chronicles ([EI.sup.2], s.v. "al-Husayn b. 'Ali"). For parallel Zaydi accounts, see al-lsbahani, 373-75; Ahmad b. Ibrahim, 471; al-Natiq, 94; Ahmad b. Sahl al-Razi, 133-34; van Arendonk, 63-64.

(6.) The sources identify al-Kazim and al-Hasan b. Ja'far b. al-Hasan b. al-Hasan b. 'Ali b. Abi Talib as the only 'Alids who refused to take the oath or support the rebellion. Al-lsbahani, 375-76; al-Natiq, 94.

(7.) Ahmad b. Ibrahim, 472, 474-78; al-Natiq, 95.

(8.) By waiting until the end of the Hajj and revolting in Mecca, al-Husayn b. 'Ali might have appealed to a large number of Muslims, from regions highly sympadietic to the 'Alid cause and free of the ritual obligations of the pilgrimage. In fact, Zaydi historical sources claim that a revolt had been meticulously planned for Mecca following the Hajj with the pledged support of thirty thousand pilgrims from Iraq, Egypt, and Khurasan. See Ahmad b. Sahl al-Razi, 142, 146.

(9.) al-Isbahani, 377; al-Natiq, 95.

(10.) al-Natiq, 95-96; van Arendonk, 64.

(11.) al-Isbahani, 378-81; al-Natiq, 96; Ahmad b. Sahl al-Razi, 152-55; Veccia Vaglieri, 3:617.

(12.) Other 'Alids alleged to have headed to the Maghrib included another of Idris's brothers, Ibrahim, and the senior member of the group, Muhammad b. Ja'far b. Yahya b. 'Abd Allah b. al-Hasan b. 'Ali b. Abi Talib. Al-Isbahani, 408; Ahmad b. Sahl al-Razi, 164.

(13.) The most thorough account of his movements is found in Ahmad b. Sahl al-Razi, 171-89, with a less detailed version preserved in al-Isbahani, 407.

(14.) Ahmad b. Ibrahim, 474-75; Ahmad b. Sahl al-Razi, 140.

(15.) Stefan Leder, "The Literary Use of the Khabar," in The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East, ed. Lawrence Conrad and Averil Cameron (Princeton, 1992), 1: 277-315; Stefan Leder, "Authorship and Transmission in Unauthorized Literature," Oriens 31 (1988): 66-80.

(16.) Lawrence Conrad, "The Conquest of Arwad," in The Byzantine and Early Islamic Near East, ed. Lawrence Conrad and Averil Cameron (Princeton, 1992), 1: 317-401.

(17.) This is the central case-study in Tayeb El-Hibri's Reinterpreting Islamic Historiography (Cambridge, 1999).

(18.) Jacob Lassner, Islamic Revolution and Historical Memory (New Haven: American Oriental Society, 1986), 11-36 (for general theory and some short examples), 55-71 (for a detailed case-study).

(19.) Islamic Revolution, 14-15.

(20.) Cooperson's work also incorporates biographical literature on Ahmad b. Hanbal and Bishr al-Hafi. Michael Cooperson, Classical Arabic Biography (Cambridge, 2000).

(21.) Abu Ja'far Muhammad b. Jarir al-Tabari, Ta'rikh al-rusul wa-l-muluk, ed. Muhammad Abu Fadl Ibrahim (Egypt, 1960-1977), 7: 566-71.

(22.) Ahmad b. Yahya al-Baladhuri, Ansab al-ashraf, ed. Mahmud Fardus al-'Azm (Damascus, 1996), 2: 449-50.

(23.) It was not until 184/800 that al-Rashid formally granted Ibrahim b. al-Aghlab autonomy in North Africa, but by that point Ibrahim was already functioning as an independent ruler. The official investiture by the 'Abbasids simply recognized an existing reality. For more on Ibrahim b. al-Aghlab, see [EI.sup.2], s.vv. "Aghlabids" (G. Marcais and J. Schacht), "Idris II" (D. Eustache).

(24.) Ibn al-Faqih Ahmad b. Muhammad b. Ishaq al-Hamadhani, Kitab al-buldan, ed. Yusuf al-Hadi (Beirut, 1996), 133-34; al-Tabari, 8: 198-99.

(25.) For a range of 'Abbasid--'Alid polemical exchanges, see Lassner 4-11, 21; al-Tabari, 7: 566-71.

(26.) Although it may be argued that the infiltration of an assassin into a victim's inner circle was a common narrative element, my interpretation of its polemical intent is strengthened by the fact that Mamluk writers routinely elaborated on the political implications of flattery.

(27.) Ahmad b. Abi Ya'qub al-Ya'qubi, Ta'rikh al-Ya'qubi (Beirut, 1960), 2: 405.

(28.) 'Ali b. al-Husayn al-Mas'udi, Muruj al-dhahab (Baghdad, 1938), 3: 222.

(29.) Since al-Hadi died in 168 or 169/786, it is possible that he devised the plan against Idris I. This view is also mentioned by al-Maqrizi (see below). Most sources, however, implicate his successor al-Rashid.

(30.) The use of the miswak is mentioned in most legal works under the general chapter on ritual purity. The Imami Shi'i sources are particularly emphatic in their embrace of the instrument, offering traditions that accentuate the increased value of a prayer preceded by siwak (the process of using the miswak). For Shi'i examples, see Muhammad b. al-Ya'qub al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, ed. 'Ali Akbar al-Ghaffari (Tehran, 1983-1984), 3: 22-23; Shaykh Mufid Muhammad b. Muhammad b. Nu'man, al-Muqni'a (Qum, 1990), 23; Ibn Babawayh, Man la yahduruhu al-faqih (Qum, 1992), 1: 52-55; and Muhammad b. al-Hasan al-Hurr al-'Amili, Wasa'il al-shi'a (Qum, 1988), 2: 18-26. The issue is also discussed by the Isma'ili jurist Qadi Nu'man b. Muhammad in Da'a'im al-islam, ed. Asaf b. 'Ali Asghar Faydi (Cairo, 1960), 144-45. For representative examples from the Sunni sources, see Ibn Qudama, al-Mughni, ed. 'Abd Allah b. 'Abd al-Muhsin al-Turki et al. (Cairo, 1986), 1: 133-38; 'Ali b. Abi Bakr al-Marghinani, al-Hidaya, ed. Muhammad Muhammad Qamir et al. (Cairo, 2000), 1: 27.

(31.) al-Mas'udi is unique in naming al-Mansur as the caliph who devised the murder plot. This confusion may result from the fact that al-Shammakh was a client of al-Mansur.

(32.) Ahmad b. Ibrahim, 510.

(33.) al-Isbahani, 490.

(34.) This view is articulated by Wilferd Madelung in Der Imam al-Qasim ibn Ibrahim und die Glaubenslehre der Zaiditen (Berlin, 1965) along with EI (2), s.v. "Zaydiyya." For a modern Zaydi discussion of origins, see 'Abd Allah b. Muhammad b. Isma'il Hamid al-Din, al-Zaydiyya (San'a': al-Jamhuriyya al-Yamaniyya, 2004), 109-14.

(35.) Madelung, Der Imam al-Qasim, 49-50; EI (2), s.v. "Batriyya." For primary sources on the Batriyya, see Sa'd b. 'Abd Allah al-Qummi, Kitab al-maqalat wa-l-firaq, ed. Muhammad Jawad Mashkur (Tehran, 1963), 73-74; Hasan b. Musa al-Nawbakhti, Firaq al-shi'a, ed. Muhammad Sadiq Al Bahr al-'Ulum (Najaf, 1936), 20-21, 56-57; Pseudo-'Abd Allah b. Muhammad al-Nashi' al-Akbar, Masa'il al-imama, ed. Josef van Ess (Wiesbaden, 1971), 43; Abu l-Hasan 'Ali b. Isma'il al-Ash'ari, Maqalat al-islamiyyin, ed. Muhammad Muhyi al-Din (Cairo, 1969), 144, 149; 'Abd al-Qahir b. Tahir al-Baghdadi, al-Farq bayn al-firaq, ed. Muhammad 'Uthman al-Khusht (Cairo, 1988), 42-43; Muhammad b. 'Abd al-Karim al-Shahrastani, al-Milal wa-l-nihal, ed. Ahmad Sayyid al-Kaylani (Cairo, 1961), 161.

(36.) Madelung, Der Imam al-Qasim, 47-49, 51. For primary sources on the Jarudiyya, see al-Nawbakhti, 21, 55; Pseudo-al-Nashi', 42-43; Abu l-Hasan al-Ash'ari, 141; Ibn Tahir al-Baghdadi, 41; al-Shahrastani, 158; Sa'd b. 'Abd Allah al-Qummi, 71-72.

(37.) [EI.sup.2], 11:478a. An alternate interpretation of these events, casting the change in Zaydism as an evolution as opposed to an internal civil war, is found in Najam Haider, "The Birth of Sectarian Identity in 2nd/8th century Kufa" (Ph.D. thesis, Princeton University, 2007), 386-404.

(38.) The brothers play a central role in almost every account of the rebellion, with Yahya having seniority over Idris. Ahmad b. Ibrahim, 472-75; al-Natiq, 94-95; Ahmad b. Sahl al-Razi, 140.

(39.) Madelung attributes Yahya's adoption of practices that may be characterized as Jarudi to the influence of al-Sadiq. Specifically he states that "[Yahya] followed [al-Sadiq] in his ritual practice and transmitted legal doctrine mainly from him. He appears in Imami books as a transmitter from [J]a'far" (EI (2), 11:242a; Madelung, Der Imam al-Qasim, 51).

(40.) For a detailed itinerary of his travels, see van Arendonk, 65-66.

(41.) al-Isbahani, 391-93. This is one of the last revolts that won proto-Sunni support, with Ahmad b. Ibrahim and Ahmad b. Sahl al-Razi counting al-Shafi'i among Yahya's supporters. Ahmad b. Ibrahim, 491; Ahmad b. Sahl al-Razi, 197; van Arendonk, 318; Madelung, Der Imam al-Qasim, 74.

(42.) For these examples and the Batri reactions, see al-Isbahani, 392-93; Ahmad b. Ibrahim, 494; al-Natiq, 101. Madelung also discusses the tensions in EI (2), s.v. "Yahya b. 'Abd Allah."

(43.) Ahmad b. Ibrahim, 474-75; Ahmad b. Sahl al-Razi, 140.

(44.) This differentiation between Batri and Jarudi Imams is not explicitly made by premodern or modern Zaydi scholars. Viewed from within the mature Zaydi tradition, all Imams were free to follow their own ijtihad with respect to ritual law and theological differences were minimized. The historical reality of the Batri--Jarudi schism is acknowledged, but there is no mention of any overt hostility between the two camps ('Abd Allah b. Muhammad, 109-14). While this lends coherence to a narrative of early Zaydism, it does not explain the tensions detailed in this section, or the murder accusation against Sulayman b. Jarir. See 'Abd Allah b. Muhammad, 83-91 for a general discussion of ijtihad and 92-94 for an application of the principle of ijtihad to the relationship between the Zaydis and Zayd b. 'Ali.

(45.) The Sulaymanis (eponymously linked to Sulayman b. Jarir) held a modified Batri position on most key theological issues, including the status of the Companions and the diffusion of legal knowledge among the entire Muslim community. While the heresiographers list these three groups as distinct Zaydi sects, there was a significant theological overlap between the Batris and the Sulaymanis that set them apart from the Jarudis. For the Sulaymanis, see Pseudo-al-Nashi', 44-45; Abu l-Hasan al-Ash'ari, 143; Ibn Tahir al-Baghdadi, 42; al-Shahrastani, 159-60.

(46.) al-Isbahani, 488-90 [referred to in Chart 3 as al-Isbahani (II)]. There is also a second brief account that reads: "Sulayman b. Jarir presented Idris with a poisoned grilled fish. It killed him." Al-Isbahani, 490.

(47.) al-Isbahani, 489.

(48.) Ahmad b. Ibrahim, 511-13 [referred to in Chart 3 as Ahmad b. Ibrahim (II)].

(49.) After his father's death in 168/785, Ahmad b. 'Isa b. Zayd was raised in Baghdad under the watchful eye of al-Mahdi and al-Hadi before al-Rashid sent him to Medina (al-Isbahani, 355, 358-61). Ahmad went underground and managed to elude the authorities for a number of years (al-Isbahani, 496-98). At one point, he was arrested along with his cousin Qasim b. 'Ali b. 'Umar b. 'Ali b. al-Husayn, but managed to escape with the help of Zaydis who laced his guard's food with banj, a strong narcotic (al-Isbahani, 492-93). Ahmad then fled to Iraq where he divided his time between Kufa and Basra, eluding al-Rashid's forces which at one point searched for him in the home of every Medinan known to harbor any pro-Shi'i sympathies (al-Isbahani, 494). While Ahmad b. 'Isa never rose up in rebellion, he was hailed as one of the most promising Zaydi candidates for the Imamate. He maintained close ties to a number of prominent 'Alids including both Yahya and Idris, the sons of 'Abd Allah b. al-Hasan b. al-Hasan (al-Isbahani, 497). Ahmad b. 'Isa is best known for his Amali, the most important Zaydi hadith collection, and for his staunchly Jarudi views.

(50.) Ahmad b. Ibrahim, 512.

(51.) The exact meaning of this term is unclear. It seems to have been a (potentially alcoholic) drink or a food made from the stalks of wheat and barley. Ibn Manzur, Lisan al-'arab (Beirut, 1997), 3:370.

(52.) Ahmad b. Ibrahim, 513 [referred to in Chart 3 as Ahmad b. Ibrahim (III)]; Ahmad b. Sahl al-Razi, 65.

(53.) While modern Zaydi works mention the accusation against Sulayman b. Jarir, they appear to cast doubt on this assertion; see 'Abd Allah b. Muhammad, 109. As time went on, the memory of the Batri--Jarudi struggle likely faded, enabling a rehabilitation (or at least a less powerful condemnation) of the early theologian.

(54.) While al-Maqrizi cites a version of the "murderous dental work" narrative, it is not presented as the most reliable report. This is reflected by its following a much lengthier and detailed report beginning with the phrase "the cause of his death was" and its being prefaced with the phrase "it is said that." Ahmad b. 'Ali al-Maqrizi, Kitab al-muqaffa al-kabir, ed. Muhammad al-Ya'lawi (Beirut, 1991), 2: 12.

(55.) Ahmad b. 'Abd al-Wahhab al-Nuwayri, Nihayat al-arab fi funun al-adab, ed. Muhammad Jabir 'Abd al-'Al al-Hini (Cairo, 1984), 25: 69-70.

(56.) Ibn al-Athir, al-Kamil fi-l-ta'rikh (Beirut, 1966), 6: 93-94.

(57.) Muhammad b. Ahmad b. 'Uthman al-Dhahabi, Ta'rikh al-islam, ed. 'Umar 'Abd al-'Aziz Tadmuri (Beirut, 1987), 10: 36-37.

(58.) Khalil b. Aybak al-Safadi, Kitab al-wafi bi-l-wafayat, ed. Muhammad Yusuf Najm (Beirut, 1981), 8: 318.

(59.) Yusuf Ibn Taghribirdi, al-Nujum al-zahira (Cairo, 1933), 2: 40-41, 59.

(60.) al-Maqrizi, 2: 10-11 [referred to in Chart 2 and 3 as al-Maqrizi (II)].

(61.) Compare al-Maqrizi with al-Isbahani, 489.

(62.) Ibn Khaldun, Ta'rikh al-'allama (Beirut, 1957), 3:457-58, 4:13-14. There is little evidence for the influence of Ibn Khaldun's hybrid account on the carefully separated narratives preserved by al-Maqrizi. This was likely a conscious decision on the part of al-Maqrizi as he was well acquainted with Ibn Khaldun's historical writing.

(63.) Ibn Khaldun, 4: 14.

(64.) Madelung rejects the involvement of Sulayman in the murder as "doubtful" and calls such accounts "legendary" despite acknowledging that they were often propagated "even by Zaydis" (EI (2), 9:824b. Eustache, on the other hand, states that Idris I "died at Walila, poisoned, it is said, on the orders of Harun al-Rashid, by a certain Sulayman b. [J]arir al-[J]azari, known as al-Shammakh" (EI (2), 3:10316).

(65.) For examples, see Donald Little, An Introduction to Mamluk Historiography (Wiesbaden, 1970); Najam Haider, "On Lunatics and Loving Sons," Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 18 (2008): 109-39.

(66.) For a representative example of this tendency, compare the account of the wasiya of Abu Hashim to the 'Abbasids in al-Ya'qubi (2: 296-98) with that of al-Maqrizi (4: 124-25).


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Author:Haider, Najam
Publication:The Journal of the American Oriental Society
Date:Jul 1, 2008
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