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The Young Caliph and his Wicked Advisors: Women and Power Politics under Caliph Al-Muqtadir (r. 295–320/908–932)
By Maaike van Berkel
Al-Masaq: Islam and the Medieval Mediterranean, Vol.19:1 (2007)
Abstract: The eighteenth Abbasid caliph, al-Muqtadir, was still a boy when he ascended the throne. Contemporary reports assert that the caliph’s young age and consequent weakness resulted in a take-over by the women of his court. More specifically, chroniclers blamed the caliph’s harem for the decline of the Abbasid empire during this period.
However, the actual strategies and achievements of these women do not corroborate such an image. Moreover, women were not the only group trying to influence the caliph and seize power. On the contrary, they had to compete with high-ranking military and civil servants, local elites and court attendants. This article explores the role of women as contenders for power at al-Muqtadir’s court.
Introduction: Men who have a tendency to hover about women generally have a battle to win the admiration of the people around them. The early fourth/tenth-century Abbasid Caliph al-Muqtadir was no exception to this idea, a statement which is testified in an amusing anecdote passed down by the Iraqi man of letters and judge, al-Tanukhi (d. 384/994). According to this story, the father of al-Muqtadir, Caliph al-Mu’tadid (r. 279–289/892–902), foretold the problems his son would face as ruler of the empire.
Top Image: 9th century wall painting from Iraq, now on display at the British Museum.