Missives from the Frontier (130-152/747-769): Al-Awzāʿī and the Abbasids

In: Journal of Abbasid Studies
Rana Mikati Assistant Professor, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Department of History, College of Charleston Charleston, SC USA

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This article examines and proposes a chronology for the extant correspondence of the Syrian legal scholar al-Awzāʿī (d. 157/773-4), arguing that the majority of the letters belong to the Abbasid phase of the scholar’s career. The letters are then used to highlight the network in which al-Awzāʿī operated and the role he played for the frontier communities. Finally, these letters shed light on the conditions of life of the Syrian frontier communities and their interaction with the Abbasid authorities.


This article examines the letters the Syrian legal scholar al-Awzāʿī (d. 157/773-4) wrote to representatives of the Abbasid caliphate including two letters to the caliph al-Manṣūr (r. 136-158/754-775) concerning matters central to the life at the frontier and to the broader Muslim community. I first examine the various recensions of these letters focusing on the primary source for them, Ibn Abī Ḥātim’s Kitāb al-Jarḥ wa-l-taʿdīl.1 I propose a chronology for the surviving corpus, arguing that the earliest letters most likely date to the Umayyad-Abbasid transition, a period which marks al-Awzāʿī’s move to Beirut. Last, I discuss how these letters illustrate the extensive network within which al-Awzāʿī operated.2 The letters highlight how a scholar on the frontier was not only part of a scholarly circle but also embedded in a broader network that connected him to both the subjects and representatives of the Abbasid authorities and even brought him occasionally in contact with the caliph and his heir apparent. Finally, these letters illustrate aspects of the life of ordinary men and women living at the frontier of the Abbasid empire and some of their social and economic struggles.

Al-Awzāʿī: A Short Introduction3

ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAmr al-Awzāʿī was a Syrian jurisprudent active in the late Umayyad and early Abbasid period. He was born in or around Baalbek ca. 88/706-7 and died in Beirut in 157/773-4. His scholarly life began in al-Yamāma (Central Arabia) where he went on a military expedition that he abandoned to join the study circle of the Medinese scholar Yaḥyā b. Abī Kathīr (d. 129/746 or 132/750). Upon his teacher’s urging, al-Awzāʿī embarked on a trip to Basra seeking the ascetic preachers and scholars al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (d. 110/728) and Ibn Sīrīn (d. 110/728). Both Basran scholars, however, died before al-Awzāʿī could study under them. Subsequently, he joined the study circle of al-Ḥasan’s successor Qatāda b. Diʿāma (d. 117/735). The remainder of al-Awzāʿī’s scholarly formation is obscure and our knowledge of this phase is based on the scholars he adduced in his hadith transmission and legal opinions. Al-Awzāʿī appears to have continued his training under both the Damascene Makḥūl (d. ca. 113/731) and the renowned Ibn Shihāb al-Zuhrī (d. 124/741-2). Although al-Awzāʿī purportedly rose to fame thereafter, our information on his activities during the remainder of the Umayyad period is limited. The short-lived Umayyad caliph Yazīd b. al-Walīd (r. 127/744) appointed him as a judge of Damascus. Held to have been close to Umayyad circles, his relationship with the Abbasid caliphs was initially rocky. During the period of turmoil from Umayyad to Abbasid control in Syria, our scholar moved permanently to Beirut to perform the duty of ribāṭ (frontier dwelling). During his residence in Beirut, al-Awzāʿī remained politically active primarily through his correspondence with high-ranking Abbasids including the caliph.

The Sources: Kitāb al-Jarḥ wa-l-taʿdīl and Others

While al-Awzāʿī reportedly lost his books in an earthquake that struck Beirut in 130/747-748, his students, disciples, and later admirers preserved and transmitted his legal opinions and some of his letters. One notable example is Ibn Abī Ḥātim’s biography of al-Awzāʿī which is unique in its documentation.4 Abū Muḥammad ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Abī Ḥātim, who was born in al-Rayy in 240/854, was deeply connected to the scholarly network of Syria and Egypt. His first scholarly patron was his father, Muḥammad b. Idrīs al-Rāzī (d. 277/890), who was also a central figure in hadith transmission and criticism. Both scholars traveled extensively through the Muslim empire in their quest for ʿilm, thereby coming into contact on at least two occasions with the heirs of al-Awzāʿī’s legacy.

The primary objective of Ibn Abī Ḥātim’s first journey made in 255-6/868 under the auspices of his father was the pilgrimage to Mecca. However, as customary, they studied and collected hadith in Baghdad, Samarra, Damascus, Wasit, and Kufa. Ibn Abī Ḥātim’s second journey in 262/875, without his father this time, took him first to Egypt, where he sought out students of al-Shāfiʿī. From Egypt, Ibn Abī Ḥatim crossed to Syria, passing through the coastal towns and frontiers. Specifically, this journey in search of hadith brought him to “Beirut, the coast, Damascus, and the frontiers.”5

Although they did not visit Beirut during their first journey, Ibn Abī Ḥātim and his father met in Damascus the Beiruti scholar and heir to al-Awzāʿī’s legacy, al-ʿAbbās b. al-Walīd b. Mazyad (d. 270/883).6 Ibn Abī Ḥātim met al-ʿAbbās a second time in 262/875 when he passed through Beirut.7 Al-ʿAbbās is the transmitter of the letters to Ibn Abī Ḥātim. In fact, the Beiruti scholar is a major source for al-Awzāʿī’s corpus in both Ibn Abī Ḥātim’s Tafsīr and Kitāb al-Jarḥ. The isnad appended to the letters, though, shows that the intermediary between Ibn Abī Ḥātim and the Beiruti scholar was the former’s father, the recipient of this corpus indicating that they obtained it during their auditions with al-ʿAbbās in Damascus.

Ibn Abī Ḥātim included the letters in his biography of al-Awzāʿī in the Taqdima, the introductory section of Kitāb al-Jarḥ, a genesis story and defense of hadith transmitter criticism.8 His primary purpose for including these letters was to prove without a doubt the piety and probity of al-Awzāʿī. In his view, al-Awzāʿī — along with Mālik b. Anas, Sufyān b. ʿUyayna, Sufyān al-Thawrī, Shuʿba b. al-Ḥajjāj, and Ḥammād b. Zayd — was part of a first generation of foremost scholars who engaged in the nascent field of hadith transmitter criticism. To demonstrate their role, Ibn Abī Ḥātim provides extensive biographic entries for eighteen scholars he considered the first and most prominent critics of hadith transmitters organized in four ṭabaqāt or generations, al-Awzāʿī among them.

In these entries, Ibn Abī Ḥātim collected the anecdotes that not only demonstrate these scholars’ engagement in hadith transmitter criticism and their indubitable piety, but also prove that this scholarly practice was not an act of slander (ghayba). Al-Awzāʿī’s letters were thus part of the arsenal Ibn Abī Ḥātim harnessed to affirm the scholar’s piety. Since the arsenal also consists of reports on al-Awzāʿī’s acts of piety, the biographical information in the introduction has more of a hagiographical character compared to the terser and more formulaic biography in the body of the Kitāb itself. In this case, the author supplies the customary information on the Syrian scholar’s approximate age, origin, teachers, students, and the most important element, his standing as a hadith transmitter.

The Letters of al-Awzāʿī: Forged or Authentic?

The surviving corpus of al-Awzāʿī’s letters and sermons includes sixteen complete and fragmentary epistles and sermons.9 Of this corpus, Ibn Abī Ḥātim preserved ten letters written to several Abbasid authorities ranging from local governors to the caliph. While nine of the letters examined here appear exclusively in Ibn Abī Ḥātim’s recension, a few of al-Awzāʿī’s letters survived in other sources. The legal-administrative compendia of al-Qāsim b. Sallām (d. 224/838) and Ibn Zanjawayh (d. 251/865-6) include two letters; both al-Balādhurī (d. ca. 279/892) in his Futūḥ and al-Fasawī (d. 277/890-891) in al-Maʿrifa preserve another two; and finally, Abū Nuʿaym (d. 430/1038) preserves two letters in his Ḥilyat al-awliyāʾ. A listing of these data is presented in Table 1 below.10

Table 1
Table 1
Table 1
Table 1

List of the letters of al- Awzāʿī

Citation: Journal of Abbasid Studies 7, 1 (2020) ; 10.1163/22142371-12340053

Despite the hagiographical function of the letters in Ibn Abī Ḥātim’s book, the corpus can be considered documentary in value. Scholars such as Ihsan Abbas and Paul Cobb resort to these letters in their work on Abbasid Syria, implying their authenticity without directly addressing it. Van Ess similarly uses one of the Awzāʿī letters preserved in al-Fasawī’s al-Maʿrifa and comments in passing on its documentary value. Only Abdulhadi Alajmi discusses the authenticity of the letters, citing among other points the shortness of their chain of transmission.11 To further illustrate the letters’ reliability as witnesses to al-Awzāʿī’s life and work, two main points can be made.12

First, internal evidence suggests their authenticity. This evidence comes in the form of the appearance of rather obscure individuals who are otherwise not mainstream to the classical Islamic sources. Only Ibn ʿAsākir’s encyclopedic Tārīkh Dimashq has some information on a few of them, hence my suggestion that these individuals would not have been used in a forgery. For example, letters 2 and 3 deal with the release of two individuals, Yazīd b. Yaḥyā and Ismāʿīl b. al-Azraq. Save for these letters, only passing references in Ibn ʿAsākir’s Tārīkh Dimashq about the revolt of the peasants of Mount Lebanon during the caliphate of al-Manṣūr informs us that they were Abbasid officials from Baalbek. This revolt, peripheral to the vision of Muslim scholars, is only known through brief remarks by al-Balādhurī, Theophanes, and Ibn ʿAsākir. These two individuals do not appear in the prosopographical and chronicle tradition. Forging letters that refer to an obscure event on the margins of the Abbasid world and to wholly unknown players in it runs counter to expectation. The letters addressed to the equally obscure figures al-Ḥakam b. Ghaylān and Abū Balj, and written on behalf of a certain Idrīs from Jabala and a group of unknown Syrian deserters, point in the same direction. While these references do not unequivocally prove the authenticity of the letters, it reduces the doubt surrounding them.

Second, the external evidence that can be mustered to argue for the authenticity of this corpus is the relatively early attestation of the letters, dating from the mid to the end of the third/ninth century, with excerpts (letters 12 and 13) appearing in the works of al-Balādhurī and al-Fasawī.13 Although the largest body of letters appeared in the early fourth/tenth-century work of Ibn Abī Ḥātim, the century-long gap between the date of the death of al-Awzāʿī in 157/775 and the first attestation of these letters in the sources can be bridged. As mentioned earlier, Ibn Abī Ḥātim and his father most likely acquired the letters from al-ʿAbbās b. al-Walīd b. Mazyad (d. 270/883) during their stay in Damascus. Al-ʿAbbās b. al-Walīd, in turn, could have obtained these letters from his father al-Walīd b. Mazyad (d. 203/818-9). Scholars are unanimous in considering both father and son as the most prominent scholars in Beirut and reliable authorities on al-Awzāʿī’s teaching. Al-Walīd b. Mazyad is described as one of the most trustworthy of al-Awzāʿī’s companions (aṣḥāb), so it is entirely conceivable that al-ʿAbbās had access through his father to al-Awzāʿī’s correspondence in Beirut.14

Moreover, it is noteworthy that except for letters 11 and 12 dating to the late Umayyad period, the remainder of the letters belong firmly to the Abbasid phase of al-Awzāʿī’s career, a time when he was a resident of Beirut.15 Al-Awzāʿī addressed three letters (3, 4, and 5) to al-Mahdī,16 two (6 and 7) to the caliph al-Manṣūr, two to al-Mahdī’s secretary, Abū ʿUbayd Allāh Muʿāwiya b. ʿUbayd Allāh b. Yasār (d. 169-70/785-7),17 two letters on the same topic of ransoming the people of Qālīqalā to Sulaymān b. Mujālid (letter 8)18 and to ʿĪsā b. ʿAlī (d. 164/780) (letter 9),19 and one to Ṣāliḥ b. ʿAlī (d. 152/769) (letter 13).20 He also wrote to a certain Abū Balj (letter 10), who remains unidentified to date but who was undoubtedly a government employee, if not a governor, responsible over large Muslim and Dhimmī populations. As we will see below, these letters date to the Abbasid period. Based on my analysis, there are no surviving letters dating from the period of 113/731 to 130/747 when al-Awzāʿī was reportedly hobnobbing with the Umayyads and getting involved in the trial of the heretic Ghaylān al-Dimashqī.

Only two letters (Letter 11 and 12) in the corpus, those to the scholars al-Ḥakam b. Ghaylān21 and ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Thābit b. Thawbān (d. 165/781-2),22 can tentatively be dated to the late Umayyad phase. Specifically, the letter addressed to ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Thābit b. Thawbān (letter 12) dates to the last years of Umayyad rule, namely after 130/747 as we will see below. The terminus ante quem of 130/747 coincides with the reported loss of al-Awzāʿī’s written corpus in Beirut in an earthquake-triggered fire, raising the question as to whether it also resulted in the loss of his correspondence prior to that date. However, other factors can be adduced for the date range of these letters (130-152/747-769) such as the much-belabored general dearth of information on Umayyad Syria resulting from the Abbasid revolution. It is possible that Abbasid era scholars preserved these letters — and not letters he might have written under the aegis of the Umayyads — in order to illustrate the nature of the relationship between the scholar al-Awzāʿī and the Abbasid authorities. Through these letters, al-Awzāʿī’s biographers illustrated his advocacy for others and his fearlessness in defending the weak in the face of authority. Al-Awzāʿī’s relationship with the Abbasids thus followed more accepted attitudes toward political authorities among piety minded scholars, who only contacted them in order to intercede in favor of the people. In contrast, the supposed cordial relationship of al-Awzāʿī with the Umayyads is not as well documented in the sources. But I am inclined to see this epistolary activity as a result of al-Awzāʿī’s move to Beirut during that period, away from the centers of power and state control in Syria and Iraq. Ultimately, the absence of extant letters from the Umayyad phase of al-Awzāʿī’s career is one of a series of factors that indicate the authenticity of the corpus, and its late Umayyad-early Abbasid date fits with the circumstances of al-Awzāʿī’s life.

The sources indicate that in addition to their hagiographic character one of the reasons these scholars might have preserved these letters was their exemplary literary and didactic status, in a way similar to the preservation of the letters of the secretaries and belle-lettrists ʿAbd al-Ḥamīd al-Kātib and Ibn al-Muqaffaʿ. Al-Awzāʿī’s admirers stated that he was renowned for his correspondence and that his letters were collected (tuʾthar). For example, in one anecdote, the caliph al-Manṣūr is said to have reflected on these letters at length and asks his secretary to answer al-Awzāʿī. Al-Manṣūr’s secretary retorts that he is unable to respond adequately to al-Awzāʿī and still has much to learn from him.23 Sufyān al-Thawrī is also reported to have been looking forward to receiving al-Awzāʿī’s letters and reading them as soon as they arrived. Al-Awzāʿī’s linguistic ability (lam yakun yalḥan) and epistolary talents became an integral part of his image. Despite this pious admiration of al-Awzāʿī’s writing, his letters did not catch the eye of scholars of the epistolary genre.24 Their absence from works of literature might be due to what Ihsan Abbas describes as their stylistic inferiority to those of the litterateurs and secretaries.25 As a result, their circulation was limited to works adjacent to the field of hadith and law.

The Umayyad Letters (130-132/748-750): Letters 11 and 12

The two earliest extant letters are addressed to two scholars and appear to date to the chaos of the last years of Umayyad rule. Neither of these letters appears in Ibn Abī Ḥātim’s al-Jarḥ. Letter 11 is only extant in Abū Nuʿaym’s Ḥilya through al-Hiql b. Ziyād (d. 179/796-7), one of al-Awzāʿī’s oldest and closest students in Beirut.26 Al-Awzāʿī addressed this advice letter to al-Ḥakam b. Ghaylān al-Qaysī, urging him to refrain from disputation (mā ʿamilta min al-mirāʾ) and to abandon interrogating those he accuses (daʿ imtiḥān man ittahamt), presumably of deviation in their faith. He asks his addressee to judge people by what they appear to believe, to be grateful if they hide their disagreement, and merely to shun their bidʿa if they reveal it. Al-Awzāʿī also exhorts him not to be one of those who subject people to an inquisition over subtle things (man yamtaḥin man laqiya bi-l-awābid) or what could be false accusations (mā ʿasā an yaftariya bihi aḥad). He ends by exhorting him to emulate his pious predecessors and asking God to provide them all with useful knowledge and humility.27 The tentative Umayyad date of this letter hinges on the identification of the inquisition under discussion with that concerning freewill (qadar).

Al-Fasawī preserved a letter (12) in al-Maʿrifa wa-l-tārīkh through al-ʿAbbās b. al-Walīd b. Mazyad, Ibn Abī Ḥātim’s main informant. The letter is part of a correspondence al-Awzāʿī initiated with ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Thābit b. Thawbān (d. 165/782) to whom he used to be close,28 as illustrated by an anecdote recounting their witnessing together of a meteor shower during an outing into the desert at night with a group of unnamed men.29 However, at the time of the letter’s writing, it is clear that they had parted ways. Al-Awzāʿī opens his letter by reminding his addressee of his close relationship with his father Thābit b. Thawbān (d. ca. 130/748), who was governor for ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz (r. 99-101/717-720) and a close associate of the Damascene scholar Makḥūl (d. ca. 113/731). He then criticizes his former companion for his abandonment of the Friday prayer, his refusal to participate in jihad,30 as well as for his false opinions.31 He states that ʿAbd al-Raḥmān had held no such positions during the three years of upheaval when his father was still alive (127-130/745-748). Whether any of these accusations are connected to the qadar controversy is difficult to determine, but it is clear that they were motivated by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān’s belief in the illegitimacy of the current caliph.32

Some of the details in the letter hint clearly at its date. Al-Awzāʿī wrote the letter after the death of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān’s father in 130/748 and after a chaotic three-year period of destruction and bloodshed (al-masājid wa-l-diyār tuḥraq wa-l-dimāʾ tusfak), leading Van Ess to conclude that this letter, which he qualifies as documentary in nature, dates to the late Umayyad period, namely during the short-lived reign of Marwān II (r. 127-132/744-750).33 ʿAbd al-Raḥmān’s abandonment of his views on the illegitimacy of the caliphs and his acceptance of Abbasid era appointments further support Van Ess’s dating of the letter. Both al-Manṣūr and al-Mahdī offered ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Thābit b. Thawbān state positions, which he accepted. Hence, the letter could not have been written once the Abbasids gained control of the empire. The reign of Abū l-ʿAbbās al-Saffāḥ (r. 132-136/750-754) would be the terminus ante quem.

The Qālīqalā Affair Letters (ca. 138-139/755-757): Letters 7, 8, and 9

The earliest letters datable to the Abbasid period (letters 7, 8, and 9) deal with what I will refer to as the Qālīqalā affair, the settlement in northeastern Anatolia also known as Theodosioupolis or modern-day Erzurum.34 The three letters are pleas to ransom Muslims whom the Byzantines had captured from this eastern frontier town. During the first few years of al-Manṣūr’s reign, as he was consolidating his claim to the caliphate against the threat of Abū Muslim and his uncle ʿAbdallāh b. ʿAlī, Qālīqalā fell to a Byzantine attack that led to the capture of an unspecified number of women and children. It is not clear whether the Byzantine expedition against the settlement was part of a more extensive campaign that Constantine V led against Malaṭya (Melitene) and al-Maṣṣīṣa (Mopsuestia) during the years 133-137/750-755.35 According to Bonner, the date of Constantine’s expedition cannot be narrowed down beyond these years. As a result, given that al-Manṣūr finally ransomed the captives of Qālīqalā in 139/756-7,36 these letters can be dated between 133/750 and 139/757. As we will see, however, the first letter in the series narrows the window of the correspondence to 138-139/755-757.

An examination of the three surviving letters on Qalīqalā shows that the earliest in the series is letter 9, which al-Awzāʿī addressed to ʿĪsā b. ʿAlī, the scholar and ascetic uncle of the caliph. It is part of a more extended exchange of letters between the two men, in which al-Awzāʿī states that ʿĪsā’s response to his previous letter about the captives of Qālīqalā has reached him (balaghanī kitāb jawāb mā kuntu katabtu bihi ilayka). Al-Awzāʿī praises ʿĪsā b. ʿAlī’s successful participation in a campaign against the Byzantines indicating this exchange must have taken place in either 138/755-6 or 139/756-7, when ʿĪsā accompanied his brothers Ṣāliḥ b. ʿAlī and al-ʿAbbās b. ʿAlī on their expedition to retake Malaṭya.37 He then paraphrases ʿĪsā’s argument that the Abbasid inaction on this matter was the result of their not being informed about this plight. ʿĪsā had apparently also asked al-Awzāʿī for further details about the affair. Al-Awzāʿī urges him, now that he has returned safely from the expedition, to take care of the weak and the female captives who are being humiliated by the infidels and have to witness their children being turned away from Islam.

Possibly because he has not obtained a satisfactory resolution to the problem following his correspondence with ʿĪsā b. ʿAlī, al-Awzāʿī now turns to the caliph himself. He dispatches a letter (7) to al-Manṣūr accompanied by one (letter 8) to the treasurer, Sulaymān b. Mujālid. Unlike the letter to al-Manṣūr which is extant in at least three sources, the letter to Ibn Mujālid only survives in Ibn Abī Ḥātim’s work. In it, al-Awzāʿī acknowledges that he has never met or exchanged letters with the treasurer, but that the subject of ransoming Muslim captives falls under his prerogative (aktub laka fī amr raʾaytuka lahu mawḍiʿan). Ibn Mujālid should share in the financial burden of releasing the women captives, especially for those whose guardians cannot pay (fa-addi raḥimaka Allāh ḥiṣṣataka fīhinna ilā Allāh wa-ḥiṣaṣ man lā yastaṭīʿ an yaqaʿ mawqiʿaka min walī umūrihinna). Al-Awzāʿī’s use of the term “your share” (ḥiṣṣataka) and his later reference to Ibn Mujālid purchasing his soul (ishtari nafsaka) with his wealth (bi-mālika) indicate that he expected Ibn Mujālid to pay some of the ransom money from his own resources, although one would presume that he could secure the payment from the treasury, pending caliphal approval. Al-Awzāʿī ends his letter by requesting that Ibn Mujālid forward his letter to the caliph.

Letter 7, given that al-Awzāʿī addressed it to al-Manṣūr, garnered more scholarly interest and thus survives in three main recensions, Ibn Abī Ḥātim’s, Ibn Zanjawayh’s, and Abū Nuʿaym’s. The lengthiest and the most complete version is that in Ibn Abī Ḥātim’s Jarḥ. What is unique to the preamble of the longer version is al-Awzāʿī’s reminding al-Manṣūr that his blood relationship to the Prophet is less important than the emulation of the Prophet’s Sunna.38 Although the majority of Ibn Zanjawayh’s recension overlaps with Ibn Abī Ḥātim’s, his informant for the text of the letter is the resident of Caesarea ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz via another Caesarea scholar who met al-Awzāʿī.39 Ibn Zanjawayh omits the exhortative preamble and starts with the section stating that the Byzantines raided Qālīqalā and captured the women and children of the town. Abū Nuʿaym, given his primarily hagiographical interest, includes two sentences from the preamble urging al-Manṣūr to emulate Muḥammad’s mercy (khafḍ al-janāḥ wa-l-raʾfa) and prays the caliph earn the quietude of the populace (yuskin dahmāʾ hādhihi l-umma). Moreover, Abū Nuʿaym’s version omits the name of the town and replaces it with a generic reference to fortresses (ḥuṣūn).40

All three recensions mention the successful Byzantine attack at the beginning of the year (ʿām awwal), showing that the scholar wrote within a year of the event. Al-Awzāʿī bemoanes the lack of interest in the fate of the captives (lā yalqāhum min al-muslimīn lahum nāṣir wa-lā ʿanhum mudāfiʿ) although the Byzantines captured them as a result of Muslim sinfulness (bi-khaṭāyāhum subīna wa-bi-dhunūbihim ustukhrijat al-ʿawātiq min khudūrihinna). He follows with a vivid image of the fate of these women whom the infidels uncover and humiliate and whose children are being turned away from Islam. Ibn Abī Ḥātim and Ibn Zanjawayh’s recension contains a section reminding the caliph of God’s injunction to the Israelites to ransom their captives, thus urging him to pity the weak among his subjects and seek God by ransoming them. All three recensions preserve al-Awzāʿī’s reference to Q 4:75.41 In Ibn Abī Ḥātim’s recension, al-Awzāʿī points out that God and Muḥammad urged Muslims to ransom their own even when the Muslims were not to blame (lam yakun ʿalā l-muslimīn lawm fīhinna). Al-Awzāʿī then narrates from al-Zuhrī one of the clauses of the so-called Umma document: “They shall not leave one who is overburdened until they aid him to acquit himself of what has become incumbent on him of bloodwit or a ransom.”42 In his view, Muḥammad instituted this obligation at a time when Muslims had no financial resources such as fayʾ or kharāj beside their wealth. He also refers to Muḥammad’s address during the farewell pilgrimage reminding his community to care for the weak, women, and youths. Finally, all three versions contain al-Awzāʿī’s reference to Muḥammad’s extreme empathy toward mothers. Whenever the Prophet heard a child crying during prayer, he would choose to shorten the prayer for fear of burdening the mother.43 The letter ends with another exhortation, that al-Manṣūr as the caretaker of the community will be held responsible on Judgment day.

These letters illuminate the network within which al-Awzāʿī operated. While residing in Beirut, he was informed of the Byzantine campaign, its consequences, and of the Abbasid counter-attack. He also corresponded with the higher echelons of the Abbasid dynasty both on the frontier and in Iraq showing that he was familiar with the hierarchy, status, and whereabouts of major Abbasid figures. In addition to revealing al-Awzāʿī’s far reach and the connectivity of these frontier communities in Syria, this series of letters sheds some light on what is a very terse statement in the chronicles (kāna l-fidāʾ alladhī jarā bayna l-Manṣūr wa-ṣāḥib al-Rūm).44 The first extant letter in the series indicates that the highest Abbasid authorities were unaware of the fate of these captives. Moreover, al-Awzāʿī’s letters show that many of those captured were women and children whose guardians could not secure the money for the ransom needed. According to al-Ṭabarī and others, al-Manṣūr ransomed the Muslim captives in 139/756-7, presumably after or in conjunction with the rebuilding of Malaṭya,45 raising the question as to whether the flurry of letters from al-Awzāʿī played a role in al-Manṣūr’s response. Finally, the statement made by al-Awzāʿī concerning the Byzantine attack on Qālīqalā suggests that it took place closer to 137-138/754-756.

Al-Awzāʿī’s letter brings to light a real-world example of the authorities handling of Muslim war captives that can be compared to the prevalent legal discussion. Ibn Zanjawayh used al-Awzāʿī’s letter to al-Manṣūr to demonstrate the imperative of ransoming all Muslim war captives, specifically women and children.46 In his administrative manual, al-Qāsim b. Sallām similarly addressed this issue and affirmed the caliphal obligation of securing the release of these captives.47 Both jurists adduced one of the clauses of the Umma document to show that all Muslims, whether men, women or the underage, should be ransomed. Ibn Sallām stated that in his view

Their families and women are treated on par with their men for purposes of ransom, and it is incumbent upon the ruler and the Muslims collectively to have them released and freed from the clutches of the polytheists by expending all means possible. This may be in exchange for men [captives] or money.48

Despite scholarly consensus on ransoming captives, the extended correspondence and al-Awzāʿī’s repeated pleas show that during this period the central authorities were at the least ill-informed of the happenings at the frontier and possibly unconcerned with the fallout of frontier warfare.

Moreover, these letters coupled with the legal discussion show that there was no accepted mechanism either among the frontier communities or in the caliphal bureaucracy to deal with such cases. In fact, one of the questions these scholars grappled with was the identity of the party financially responsible for ransoming Muslim captives. The treatment of Ibn Sallām and Ibn Zanjawayh show the co-existence of different opinions. Both listed the opinion of al-Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī who stated that the burden of the ransom is on the “land for which the captive was fighting” or “the village from which he was fighting.”49 Ibn Zanjawayh added a report on the authority of Ibn ʿAbbās that ʿUmar b. al-Khaṭṭāb stated on his deathbed: “The ransom of every Muslim captive is to be from the treasury (bayt al-māl).”50 In this vein, the Hanafi Baghdadi al-Shaybānī (d. 189/804-5) states that Muslim captives should be ransomed using bayt al-māl, but in his opinion, ransoming through prisoner exchange is acceptable if the Muslim authorities can exchange them with boys captured without their parents.51 On the other hand, Mālik’s opinion, as it survives in later sources, indicates that he considered the obligation of ransoming Muslim captives to be the financial duty of the Muslim community, as opposed to the Muslim leader.52 The letters of al-Awzāʿī to al-Manṣūr and the treasurer coupled with his apparent appeal to Sulaymān b. Mujālid’s private wealth also point to al-Awzāʿī’s ambivalence on this issue. Additionally, the letters show that the caliphal authorities did not necessarily recognize their obligation to ransom Muslim captives or consider the bayt al-māl the source of ransom money.

The Mount Lebanon Revolt Letters (ca. 142/759): Letters 2, 3, 10, and 13

Three of the surviving letters in the Ibn Abī Ḥātim corpus were in response to the fallout from the revolt of the Christian population of Mount Lebanon led by a certain Bundār/Theodore against the fiscal agents of the Abbasid caliph in the year 142/759.53 The revolt spread to Baalbek and threatened the Muslim population’s property and lives. According to Ibn ʿAsākir’s narrative of the events, initially, the Muslim population did not intervene to repress the rebels because they also suffered from the excesses of al-Manṣūr’s tax collector, Ismāʿīl b. al-Azraq. Eventually, however, the ranks of the rebels grew, and their depredations in the Bekaa included the killing of Muslim villagers, whereupon the governor of the province, Ṣāliḥ b. ʿAlī, ordered his governor of Damascus to quell it. He directed him to gather as many of the people of Damascus as he could, including professional soldiers (ahl al-diwān), merchants, and volunteers. The governor of Damascus dispatched his brother at the head of a cavalry. They were ordered to head to the stronghold where the remaining followers of Bundār were holed up. Ṣāliḥ b. ʿAlī also ordered the governor of Baalbek to mobilize the soldiers of the town. Likewise, he instructed the governor of the coast (ʿāmil ʿāla sāḥil Dimashq) to send to the Bekaa the people of the coast registered in the diwān.54 Hence, fighters from Damascus, Baalbek, and the coast helped quell the rebellion. Once the Muslim forces successfully contained the rebels, Ṣāliḥ b. ʿAlī ordered the deportation of the rebellious population.

Al-Awzāʿī attempted to intervene with the local authorities as tension mounted in the Lebanon and the Bekaa. For example, he penned a letter (10) on behalf of the Muslim and Christian populace to an Abbasid political figure named Abū Balj who was oppressing them. I tentatively connect this letter to the revolt of Mount Lebanon, because of a similarity between the state of affairs al-Awzāʿī describes and the reasons given for the start of the revolt. The content of the letter indicates that Abū Balj was a wālī or a ʿāmil who was meting out punishments and extorting money.55 Moreover, al-Awzāʿī was at the center of a correspondence about the behavior of Abū Balj. He mentions that he saw letters (raʾaytū kutub) and was privy to gossip (maqālat sūʾ) that spoke of the harsh treatment of Muslims (ṣuḥba ghalīẓa li-l-muslimīn). Abū Balj was also reportedly guilty of the mistreatment of ahl al-dhimma: al-Awzāʿī states that they were taxed to exhaustion (halakat al-amwāl), that Abū Balj ate into their resources (jaʿaltum amānatakum min ahl dhimmatikum maʾkalan), and even tortured his non-Muslim subjects by shaving their beards (al-mathala fī l-liḥā) and cutting their flesh (taqṭīʿ al-abshār). As a result of this treatment, the Muslim population became resentful, and those who performed jihad with Abū Balj wrote to al-Awzāʿī. Letter 10 and another one to Abū Balj’s companion (aktub ilā ṣāḥibika) are al-Awzāʿī’s response to their grievances. The displeasure of both the Muslim and non-Muslim population at Abū Balj and his acolyte and the implication that he committed extortion against them parallels the events leading to the Mount-Lebanon rebellion that involved the tax collector of Baalbek and his acolyte. Moreover, Ibn Abī Ḥātim preserved an anecdote that recounts al-Awzāʿī’s writing to the tax collector, Ibn al-Azraq, after staying in the house of a non-Muslim man from the Bekaa valley who complained about his kharāj burden.56

Having failed in his intervention with the local authorities, al-Awzāʿī attempted to bring relief to the non-Muslim communities as the revolt ended. Letter 13, datable to the immediate aftermath of the revolt, is a plea to Ṣāliḥ b. ʿAlī who planned to punish the inhabitants of Mount Lebanon for their rebellion. In addition to appearing in Ibn Abī Ḥātim’s corpus, this letter to Ṣāliḥ b. ʿAlī survives in the administrative manuals of al-Qāsim b. Sallām and Ibn Zanjawayh.57 All three recensions, however, are incomplete, with even the lengthiest, that of Ibn Zanjawayh, ending with the statement wa-dhakar risāla ṭawīla. Both Ibn Sallām and Ibn Zanjawayh obtained these letters from Syrian scholars. Al-Qāsim b. Sallām’s source is Muḥammad b. Kathīr (d. ca. 216-218/831-833), who resided in Maṣṣīṣa and came to Beirut to see al-Awzāʿī, while Ibn Zanjawayh obtained his version from Caesarea resident ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz. These scholars’ interest in the letter stems from its value on legislating the treatment of non-Muslim subjects in cases of rebellion.

Al-Awzāʿī points out to Ṣāliḥ b. ʿAlī that the non-Muslim inhabitants of Mount Lebanon were not equally involved in the revolt. According to Ibn Zanjawayh’s recension, al-Awzāʿī mentions their current pacifism and their submission to Muslim rule, evident in their payment of the jizya. Their submission is further proven by their cooperation with the Muslim forces who roam the area, eat their food, and feed their horses from their fodder. Muslim forces also employ them as servants (yuṭayyifū l-ʿāmma minhum) and scouts (yastadillūnahum) in the rebel strongholds. Given the end of hostilities and their cooperation, al-Awzāʿī writes, punishing the entire population of Mount Lebanon by removing them from their villages and confiscating their property does not conform to pious Muslim practice. He brings in a prophetic pronouncement on Muḥammad’s personal safeguard of the protected people (muʿāhad) to further prove his point.58 Al-Awzāʿī points out that ahl al-dhimma have more rights than the enslaved and cannot be displaced. As free people, they are subject to stoning for adultery and their women who marry Muslims have the same rights and duties in marriage and divorce. Ibn Sallām ends his excerpt at this point, while Ibn Zanjawayh preserves a few more lines of particular interest. According to this recension, al-Awzāʿī remarks that ahl al-dhimma have resided in these villages and fructified the lands before and during Islam for more than 120 years. Moreover, the Sunna has been not to destroy enemy territory during battle, let alone destroying flourishing Muslim territory.

This letter indirectly highlights the effects of the increased Muslim military presence in the Bekaa and presumably parts of Mount Lebanon. Muslim forces appear to have been patrolling the area in search of rebels and were employing and possibly forcing the local population to cooperate as scouts and informants. Moreover, it appears that these forces were requisitioning both food and fodder from the locals. On the other hand, al-Awzāʿī hints at the interrelationship between the Muslim and non-Muslim population through marriage and the legal ramifications this brought into the Muslim community, especially for non-Muslim women.

In addition to attempting to mete out punishment against the non-Muslim population, the caliph imprisoned the tax collector of Baalbek, Ismāʿīl b. al-Azraq, and his aide, Yazīd b. Yaḥyā al-Khushanī, who were the prime targets of the revolt.59 Al-Awzāʿī wrote letters on behalf of both men in order to obtain their release. It is notable that neither letter contains any reference to the revolt or the role these two men played in it, possibly to avoid highlighting their misdeeds. Al-Awzāʿī first sought to free the tax collector, Ibn al-Azraq, with a letter (3) to al-Mahdī, the heir apparent, asking him to intercede with his father on the man’s behalf. He claims that Ibn al-Azraq is known for his virtue and uprightness and bemoans the man’s torture and incarceration.60 He deems the punishment excessive for someone who is not treasonous but merely weak and old. Al-Awzāʿī thus beseeches al-Mahdī to intercede with al-Manṣūr, of whose ruthlessness (ghilẓa) he is not afraid.

Al-Awzāʿī addressed the second letter on behalf of Yazīd b. Yaḥyā l-Khushanī to the Syrian secretary of al-Mahdī, Muʿāwiya b. ʿUbayd Allāh b. Yasār (d. 169-70/785-7),61 urging him to ask al-Mahdī to bring the case to his father’s attention (an yakūn min al-Mahdī kitāb ilā amīr al-muʾminīn). Addressing the secretary might have been due to the lower rank of the prisoner who was languishing in the caliphal prison (ḥabs amīr al-muʾminīn). According to al-Awzāʿī, this acolyte of Ibn al-Azraq was not known to be guilty of anything.

Interestingly, these two letters and another three (letters 1, 4, and 5, to be discussed below) are addressed to al-Mahdī either directly or through his secretary Abū ʿUbayd raising the issue of their dating and significance. It is possible that al-Awzāʿī began corresponding with al-Mahdī and his Syrian secretary after 151/768 when al-Mahdī permanently moved to Baghdad.62 Whether these two men would have remained in prison for almost a decade cannot be determined.

The events of the revolt, its suppression, and al-Awzāʿī’s intercession to those on both sides of the conflict illustrate the deep interconnectedness between the cities of the province and the centrality of the frontier scholar to the province’s community. It also shows how al-Awzāʿī wielded an influence akin to the socio-political efficacy of the pious “holy man.”63 He was willing to use his scholarly-religious capital to intervene with the authorities on behalf of the people, whether Muslim or Christian. Finally, the events of the revolt and the letters of al-Awzāʿī highlight the already complicated relationship between the Muslim and non-Muslim inhabitants of the area. Both populations suffered from the mistreatment of Abbasid officials leading to the passivity — if not sympathy — of the Muslim lay people toward the non-Muslim rebels.

Frontier and Warfare: Letters 1, 4, and 6

The Qālīqalā correspondence is not the only series of letters that show al-Awzāʿī’s involvement with the consequences of warfare and life on the frontier. He wrote three additional letters on the topic, but unlike the Qālīqalā letters, these cannot be dated with as much precision. The lengthiest and richest in detail (letter 6) provides insight into the life of Muslim soldiers on the Syrian maritime frontier. The primary focus of the letter is the military stipend (ʿaṭāʾ) of soldiers stationed on the coast. Al-Awzāʿī sent the letter directly to al-Manṣūr, a testament to the importance of the subject matter to our scholar. The preamble shows that this letter, as al-Awzāʿī puts it, was partially a response to a letter from al-Manṣūr in which the caliph sought his advice.64 Although this letter could have been sent anytime between al-Manṣūr’s accession and al-Awzāʿī’s death, its content hints at the possibility that it was sent during one of the caliph’s visits to Syria. This possibility is borne out by al-Awzāʿī stating that “the messenger of the Commander of the Believers has come to us with the gift (ʿaṭiyya) of expenses (nafaqa) and clothing (kiswā) that the Commander of the Believers […] ordered its distribution among the people of the coast.” These items could have been part of the regular compensation of soldiers, but the fact that they were sent with a messenger of the caliph (rasūl amīr al-muʾminīn) rather than a bureaucrat or fiscal agent indicate a special act of largesse.

If the letter was sent when al-Manṣūr was in Syria, it could date from al-Manṣūr’s visit to Syria either in 141/758-9 or in 154/770-1.65 The first visit is the likeliest candidate in this case, as most reports indicate a caliphal interest in the affairs of the frontier. Al-Manṣūr’s first visit, which started in Jerusalem after the pilgrimage and took him ultimately to al-Raqqa,66 came in the aftermath of the expedition conducted against the Byzantines and the prisoner exchange in 139/756-7 and the imprisonment of ʿAbdallāh b. ʿAlī in either 139 or 140/757-8. It is possible that al-Balādhurī’s description of the caliph as having investigated the state of the coastal fortresses and cities (tatabbaʿa ḥuṣūn al-sawāḥil wa-mudunahā) and ordered their rebuilding and fortification early in his caliphate refers to this first visit to Syria.67 In addition to investing in the refortification of the Syrian frontier, this visit was also the occasion for the promulgation of new fiscal policies in the province. The caliph ordered the tax collector of Damascus, Hiḍāb b. Ṭawq al-Lakhmī al-Kātib, to organize a survey of all the districts of Damascus. As a result, the local authorities surveyed the lands of both Muslims and the Aramaic speaking Christians (ʿalā taʿdīl musammā).68

According to a report in Ibn ʿAsākir’s Tārīkh, al-Manṣūr also spent considerable time in Syria in 154/770-1 during his second passage.69 However, this caliphal visit is less likely to be the occasion for the correspondence, because this time al-Mahdī accompanied his father.70 Our sources indicate that al-Manṣūr asked to meet with al-Awzāʿī while in Damascus; however, the latter sidestepped the caliph and met with al-Mahdī instead, with whom he established a more cordial relationship.71 During their meeting, al-Awzāʿī congratulated al-Mahdī on his designation as heir apparent (hannaʾahu bimā usnida ilayh), a likely reference to the oath of allegiance taken in 151/768.72 The audience with al-Mahdī negates, in my opinion, the need for al-Awzāʿī to send a letter to the caliph.

The information this letter provides on the military stipends of the people of the coast and the conditions of their life along the Syrian maritime frontier is invaluable. It raises and partially answers questions on the frequency, timing, amount, and type of pay the soldiers received. The salary of soldiers enrolled in the dīwān amounted to ten dinars and was apparently insufficient for men with dependents (ʿiyāl), barely covering their essential need of food. Therefore, al-Awzāʿī requests an increase of five dinars. The indispensability of the Muslim settlers of the coast in the defense of Muslim territory (bayḍatihim) and protected people (ahl dhimmatihim), he reminds al-Manṣūr, justifies the pay increase. During the summer months, when Byzantine naval attacks were most feared, the soldiers took turns, some on foot and others on horseback, performing the duty of guarding the coast. However, the soldiers’ duty did not end with the end of the summer sailing season. During the winter months, al-Awzāʿī informs al-Manṣūr, these soldiers had to perform this duty while stationed in fortresses, leaving their families in the settlements.

The phraseology used in the letter indicates that the payment was received annually (kull ʿām). Moreover, al-Awzāʿī mentioned that at the time of writing one fiscal year in which the men were paid their “tens” (ʿasharātihim) had passed (taṣarramat al-sana) and that they were well into the new cycle. Egyptian papyrological evidence of Umayyad date confirms that soldiers received their stipends annually. During the governorate over Egypt of the Umayyad Qurra b. Sharīk (from 90/709 to 96/714), the annual payment of the ʿaṭāʾ was done some time in February before the setting out of the navy.73 The question is whether the frequency and date would have been the same in the Syrian context during the early Abbasid period. As can be seen from the letter of al-Awzāʿī and based on the realities of naval warfare in the Mediterranean, the end of winter would have signaled the beginning of active duty for the soldiers on the coast. While there is no evidence for this practice in the Syrian case, the conditions of sailing being the same in the eastern Mediterranean and the yearly joint naval expeditions between the Egyptian and Syrian forces suggest the likelihood of payments to the Syrian troops being made before the beginning of the sailing season.74 Moreover, the literary sources also confirm that soldiers received ten dinars during the early Abbasid period. The garrisons on the Byzantine frontier received roughly the same amount during the reign of al-Manṣūr and al-Maʾmūn.75 This cumulative evidence indicates that the soldiers posted on the Syrian coast, including Beirut, and settled with their families in the town were paid ten dinars a year.

This letter of al-Awzāʿī also includes information on supplementary payments in the form of both money and goods as indicated by his use of the terms nafaqa and kiswā (cloth or garments). Moreover, al-Awzāʿī mentions that a messenger of the caliph (rasūl amīr al-muʾminīn) came to make the payment thereby indicating that this was a direct gift from the caliph himself. It was not sent through a functionary or agent of the governor.

The letter also highlights the mechanics of stipend and gift distribution. First, al-Awzāʿī, who we are told was personally registered in dīwān al-sāḥil, appears highly cognizant of the process of distribution. Whether this familiarity is a result of being a recipient of ʿaṭāʾ or whether he was one of the people tasked with supervising it cannot be answered. Additionally, the caliph sent the gift as a lump sum, which was divided among the men of the coast, presumably the heads of households and single men. The share of each ranged between one and two dinars. However, the amount fell short, and the remainder of the Muslim community usually given such gifts did not receive their fair share. This procedure, at least for the supplementary gift, of a first-come first-served basis echoes the procedure illustrated in Petra Sijpesteijn’s study of papyrus P. Michaelides Q 16, where it is clear that the pay of dependents (ʿaṭāʾ al-ʿiyāl) was allocated in this fashion.76

This letter of al-Awzāʿī provides a vivid reminder that the coast was a frontier zone, and its inhabitants lived in constant fear of Byzantine naval attacks. Moreover, the letter shows the type of duties the men stationed on the coast fulfilled. The letter uncovers some of the economic hardships Muslims living on the maritime frontier faced and their dependence on government salaries.

In addition to this lengthy letter, al-Awzāʿī wrote a short missive (letter 1) to al-Mahdī’s secretary, in which he requests auxiliary forces for the coastal town of Jabala (Gabala), the frontier town of Hims.77 The missive is written on the urging of a certain Idrīs, who seems to have been a governor of the town, to intercede on behalf of a group of deserters. Al-Awzāʿī’s letter (4) to al-Mahdī starts with a preamble highlighting his leniency and his reputation for clemency to those who commit crimes. He then mentions a group of men who were punished for having deserted their expedition (tasallalū min baʿthihim), put in chains and made to walk from Syria to Iraq where they had been imprisoned for many years. Al-Awzāʿī asks al-Mahdī to intercede with his father in order to secure their release from the caliph’s prison. He lists the precedent of Muḥammad who punished three men who failed to join his forces heading to Tabūk (9/630) by separating them from the community. The Prophet, however, as al-Awzāʿī reminds al-Mahdī, pardoned the transgressors following a qur’anic injunction urging forgiveness.78 Al-Awzāʿī also adds the example of ʿUmar b. al-Kha‏ṭṭāb, who punished a group of men who returned from their expedition without his permission by gathering them and threatening them but later released them. In general, however, hadith and legal literature surrounding instances of desertion warn against this signal act of hypocrisy that would incur the deserter divine wrath and cost him his salvation.79 On the other hand, despite the seriousness of the offense the extant legal discussion does not detail any specific worldly punishment for this transgression. Moreover, the letter does not clarify the circumstances of these men’s desertion, whether their flight was in the face of advancing armies or possibly at another stage of their deployment. Thus, we cannot determine whether al-Awzāʿī’s request for leniency depended on some mitigating circumstances other than the length of their imprisonment. The letter, nonetheless, brings to light the seldom discussed non-heroic actions of soldiers at the frontier and the authorities’ handling of these situations.

The Mecca Letter (152/769): Letter 5

Al-Awzāʿī was not just connected to and interested in matters related to Syria and its frontier. Despite his residence in the relatively remote town of Beirut, he was informed of events taking place as far away as Mecca as witnessed by his intercession on behalf of its people of Mecca who were suffering from the effects of a famine.80 Letter 5, sent to al-Mahdī, is unique in the fact that it is dated to Rajab 5, 152/July 14, 769. After the usual preamble on the centrality of Muḥammad’s precedent for the caliph and an assertion of the closeness between al-Mahdī and al-Manṣūr, al-Awzāʿī claims that he received from a trustworthy Meccan (maqāniʿ ahl Makka) a letter detailing the price inflation and the shortage of money and goods in the area. The price inflation was such that around three pounds of barley (muddān) cost a dirham, wheat cost half a dirham, and the same quantity of oil a dirham, with no sign of abating. According to al-Awzāʿī’s Meccan informant, the price inflation was due to a combination of a drought (ajdaba barruhum) and closure of sea trade (ḥubisa ʿanhum baḥruhum).81 The Meccans’ inability to get goods by sea was most likely the result of the attacks of the so-called Kurk mentioned by al-Ṭabarī under the year 151/768-9. Al-Awzāʿī reminds al-Mahdī of the help ʿUmarṭṭāb sought for the people of Medina during the Year of the Drought (ʿĀm al-Ramāda) in 18/638. He also cites the Prophet who lamented leaving one’s young camels thirsty and neighbors suffering from hunger. He then beseeches al-Mahdī to urge his father the caliph to relieve the people of Mecca and its environs by sending them food and oil by sea and by land lest death burden them. He closes by reminding al-Mahdī that ʿUmar worried he would be liable for the death of even a sheep on the Euphrates. The pirate attacks on Jedda, the port of Mecca, finally elicited a response from al-Manṣūr in 153/770, who after his return from pilgrimage (Ramadan 152/September 769) mounted a naval expedition against them departing from Basra.82


In this article, I have argued for the authenticity of al-Awzāʿī’s letters and attempted to date the corpus. The letters belong to the Abbasid phase of the scholar’s career after he moved from the center to the periphery and kept his distance from the authorities. These letters demonstrate how, despite his residence on the frontier, al-Awzāʿī was embedded in a network of communication that included the lay and the scholarly, those in power and those outside it. This network spanned the empire from the Byzantine frontier to the sacred heartland. The letters also highlight some of the practical applications of al-Awzāʿī’s jurisprudential expertise such as the treatment of non-Muslims and the ransoming of captives. Most importantly, these letters detail aspects of the social and economic reality of Muslim and non-Muslim laypeople living in the frontier of the Abbasid empire. They provide a witness to the fate of Muslim captives unable to secure their ransom money, the threat to the livelihood of non-Muslims and Muslims by rapacious tax collectors and a modicum of intercommunal solidarity, and the precarity of life of Muslim men and their families stationed on the coast.


Primary Sources

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Anke Iman Bouzenita (Early Contributions, 137-164) used this corpus to reconstruct al-Awzāʿī’s supposed theory of governance. Similarly, Abdulhadi Alajmi (Political Legitimacy in Early Islam) studied these letters’ contribution to our understanding of al-Awzāī’s view of the Abbasids and their legitimacy. Neither study deals with the main focus of this article, the date of the corpus and the historical events and actors it involves.


Paul Cobb (White Banners, 109) mentioned these letters in reference to the fact that the rural populace turned at times to the ʿulamāʾ for mediation with the government.


Al-Awzāʿī’s jurisprudence and political leanings have been the object of several studies: Bouzenita, ‘Abdarraḥmān al-Auzāʿī; Judd, Religious Scholars and the Umayyads; Judd, Competitive, 25-37; Alajmi, Political Legitimacy in Early Islam; Conrad, Die Quḍāt Dimašq.


Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Jarḥ, I, 187-202; see Dickinson, Early Sunnite Hadith Criticism.


Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, XXXV, 357-366, esp. 362.


Al-ʿAbbās, the son of al-Awzāʿī’s student al-Walīd b. Mazyad was reportedly born either in 169/785-6 or 170/786-7 when al-Hādī (r. 169/785-170/786) or Hārūn al-Rashīd (r. 170/785-193/809) acceded to the caliphate. His long career spanned the reigns of al-Maʾmūn and al-Mutawakkil and thus coincided with the so-called inquisition, and the last years of his life witnessed the chaotic Samarran caliphate. In fact, during the last decade of his life, al-ʿAbbās would have witnessed the rise of Ibn Ṭūlūn and his eventual takeover of Syria in 264/878. His stature is attributable partially to his longevity, having reportedly lived around a hundred years.


Ibn Abī Ḥātim (Jarḥ, VI, 215-216) reports meeting Muḥammad b. ʿUqba b. ʿAlqama, another scholar who transmitted from his father the “hadith of al-Awzāʿī,” in Beirut.


The Taqdima has been the subject of a monographic study by Eerik Dickinson, The Development of Early Sunnite Hadith Criticism.


Ihsan Abbas collected all of the letters in his book on Abbasid Syria, Tārīkh Bilād al-Shām. The Muslim tradition also preserves short excerpts and quotations that purport to be from al-Awzāʿī’s corpus. These excerpts are mostly of the exhortative type and are only mentioned in this article when relevant.


To facilitate cross referencing, the numbering of the letters follows their order of appearance in Ibn Abī Ḥātim’s work rather than the chronology proposed in this article.


Abbas, Tārīkh Bilād al-Shām, 198-223; Alajmi, Political Legitimacy in Early Islam, 153-159; Cobb, White Banners, 109; Van Ess, Theology and Society, I, 117.


For an example of the discussion of the authenticity of early Islamic letters, see al-Qāḍī, Early Islamic State Letters, 215-277.


The earliest attestation is a letter addressed to ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Thābit b. Thawbān which was transmitted from al-ʿAbbās b. al-Walīd b. Mazyad; see Fasawī, Maʿrifa, II, 391-392; it occurs also in Tārīkh Dimashq in the biography of ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Thābit b. Thawbān; Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, XXXIV, 246-260, 257-259; the excerpt in al-Balādhurī is on the authority of Muḥammad b. Kathīr; Balādhurī, Futūḥ, 162.


Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, LXIII, 267-74. In the biography of the son of al-Awzāʿī, Muḥammad, Ibn ʿAsākir reports that Saʿīd b. Muḥammad al-Bayrutī said: “I saw in a copy of the son of al-Awzāʿī (nuskhat Ibn al-Awzāʿī) in the hand of Ibn Abī l-ʿIshrīn from his father” thus backing up the hypothesis that the companions and son of al-Awzāʿī would have preserved in Beirut books and possibly letters from al-Awzāʿī (Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, LIV, 95).


Letters 14, 15, and 16 are sermons listed in the table for the sake of completeness but will not be addressed in detail in the article. Letter 14 is a sermon al-Awzāʿī reportedly said to al-Manṣūr during an audience. On the authenticity of this sermon, see note 72.


If one assumes that the name of the addressee is original to the documents and not later in date, one can date the letters addressed to al-Mahdī between 145 and 157 based on the fact that al-Mahdī received this laqab following the revolt of Muḥammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya and in competition to his claims; see Bacharach, Laqab for a Future Caliph, 271-274.


Abū ʿUbayd Allāh was the secretary of al-Mahdī during the latter’s time as heir apparent and then his vizier from 159/775 until 167/783. He accompanied him to al-Rayy when he served as governor there. Hailing from Palestine (Ṭabariyya), he worked for a governor (ṣāḥib al-maʿūna) of the Umayyads in al-Urdunn. Ibn ʿAsākir also mentions that Hishām b. ʿAbd al-Malik appointed him over the ṣadaqa of ʿUdhra. He was also considered a scholar based on his narrations from al-Zuhrī and ʿĀṣim b. Rajāʾ b. Ḥaywa (Jahshiyārī, Wuzarāʾ, 126-129; Dhahabī, Tārīkh, III, 275-276; Dhahabī, Siyar, VII, 398; Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, LIX, 249-259; al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī, Taʾrīkh, VI, 37-38).


Sulaymān b. Mujālid was the controller of the treasury for al-Manṣūr until his death (waliya l-khazāʾin). He was also appointed governor of al-Rayy. Originally from al-Urdunn, he resided in al-Ḥumayma with the Abbasids. According to Ibn ʿAsākir, Ibn Mujālid was al-Manṣūr’s milk brother (Khalīfa b. Khayyāṭ, Tārīkh, I, 436; Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, XXII, 365-367).


Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, XLVII, 330-334; al-Dhahabī, Siyar, XII, 467. ʿĪsā b. ʿAlī was the uncle of Abū l-ʿAbbās al-Saffāḥ and al-Manṣūr.


Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, XXIII, 357-359. Al-Manṣūr gave Ṣāliḥ b. ʿAlī the governorship of Syria and Egypt and assigned him the command of the summer raids.


Al-Ḥakam b. Ghaylān may have been a Basran hadith transmitter mentioned in al-Jarḥ wa-l-taʿdīl, whose network includes his Basran teacher Abān b. Abī ʿAyyāsh (d. ca. 140/757-758) and Basran student Bishr b. Yūsuf (d. 216/831-832); see Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Jarḥ, VI, 36.


ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Thābit was a hadith scholar and an ascetic. His status as a muḥaddith and the value of his transmissions is controversial. He transmitted from the ascetic scholar Hassān b. ʿAṭṭiyya, ʿUmayr b. Hāniʾ, Nāfiʾ and his father Thābit b. Thawbān, and several Syrian scholars transmitted from him such as al-Walīd b. Muslim, Baqqiya b. al-Walīd, ʿAlī b. ʿAyyāsh and Abū Nuʿaym. There is consensus on his asceticism and piety, but he is said to have been a vocal Qadarite. He worked for the Abbasid caliphs. He might have presided over the maẓālim court in Baghdad under al-Mahdī and over the treasury under al-Manṣūr and al-Mahdī. His father was one of the main transmitters and companions of al-Zuhrī and his waṣiyy (Ibn Abī Hātim, Jarḥ, V, 219; Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, XXXIV, 246-260; al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī, Taʾrīkh, XI, 486).


Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, XXXV, 190.


Both the Syrian scholar Abū Zurʿa (d. 282/895) and the judge Abū Bakr Aḥmad b. Kāmil (d. 390/999-1000) reported that “his craft was letter writing and his letters were transmitted” (Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, XXXV, 155).


Abbas, Tārīkh Bilād al-Shām, 198.


For his biography, see Dhahabī, Siyar, VIII, 370-371; Ibn Manẓūr, Mukhtaṣar Tārīkh Dimasqh, XXV, 115-116.


Our sources bring at least one instance where al-Awzāʿī defended other scholars from possibly unfounded accusations of Qadar, as when he defended Ḥassān b. ʿAṭiyya from Saʿīd b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz’s accusation (Fasawī, Maʿrifa, III, 393).


Al-Awzāʿī mentions that he had sent ʿAbd al-Raḥmān an exhortation to keep the Friday prayer, but had received an unsatisfactory response; Dhahabī, Siyar, VII, 313-314; Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, XXXIV, 246-260; al-Khaṭīb al-Baghdādī, Taʾrīkh, XI, 486-489.


Fasawī, Maʿrifa, II, 392. Van Ess points out that this would have taken place in the year of al-Walīd II’s accession, 125/743.


The phrase used in the letter is tark ʿiṣābatika min al-ḥars. Van Ess wonders whether the term should be read as ḥaras or ḥars, and appears to opt for ḥaras. I am inclined to see it as ḥars as it was most probably the practice of some scholars and others to volunteer to man the forts along the frontiers, especially along the coast to fulfil the duty of ribāṭ rather than full-fledged jihad, a service that would still be needed in times when “no official military activity” was taking place.


Van Ess, Les Qadarites et la Gailānīya, 273-274 ; Van Ess, Theology and Society, I, 117-119.


Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, XXXIV, 247-260.


Al-Awzāʿī was most likely based in Beirut at the time, having moved there during the upheaval of Yazīd III and Marwān II’s doomed caliphate.


Bonner, Aristocratic Violence, 60-61.


Bonner discusses the disputed date of this expedition primarily against Malaṭya. Al-Ṭabarī (Taʾrīkh, III, 121) dates it to 137/754-5, while al-Balādhurī, al-Azdī, al-Yaʿqūbī and Khalīfa date it to 133/750-1. Qudāma b. Jaʿfar (Kharāj, 326) places the Byzantine attack in 133 and the ransoming and rebuilding in 139.


This is the date al-Balādhurī and al-Ṭabarī provided for the ransoming and the date that fits the timeline of al-Awzāʿī’s correspondence.


Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, III, 125, sub anno 138.


Al-Awzāʿī brings in two examples that demonstrate the inconsequence of being related to Muḥammad. The first is a report where Muḥammad addresses Fāṭima his daughter and Ṣafiyya his aunt to tell them to “work to gain God’s favor for he [Muḥammad] has no favors for his family from God.” The second is when Muḥammad addresses Quraysh and tells them that his awliyāʾ are the God-fearing: “Whoever fears God is closer to me than you, despite our blood relationship.”


ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz b. al-Fārisī al-Qaysarānī transmits a few anecdotes about al-Awzāʿī including his audience with the Abbasid ʿAbdallāh b. ʿAlī (Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, XXXV, 78-80). Al-Qaysarānī’s source for the Awzāʿī material is Muḥammad b. Yūsuf al-Firyābī (d. 212/827), another resident of Caesarea who met al-Awzāʿī in Beirut (Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, LVI, 322).


The phrase in Ibn Abī Ḥātim and Ibn Zanjawayh’s version is maʿāqilihim bi-Qālīqalā, while in Abū Nuʿaym, it is replaced by al-maʿāqil wa-l-ḥuṣūn.


“How is it with you that you do not fight in the way of God, and for the men, women, and children, who being abased, say, ʿOur Lord, bring us forth from this city whose people are evildoers, and appoint us a protector from Thee, and appoint to us from Thee a helper’?”.


Lane, Lexicon, 2362, f-r-ḥ.


This hadith — in a shorter variant — occurs in Saḥīḥ al-Bukhārī through al-Awzāʿī via Yaḥyā b. Abī Kathīr (Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, al-adhān 64, bāb man akhaffa l-ṣalāh ʿinda bukāʾ al-ṣabī, nos. 707-10).


Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, III, 125, sub anno 139.


Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, III, 121, 125, sub anno 138 and 139. Khalīfa b. Khayyāṭ (Tārīkh, 338) places the rebuilding of Malaṭya to 140.


As mentioned above, Muḥammad’s Umma document exemplified the desirability of ransoming Muslim captives (Ibn Isḥāq, The Life, 232). Hadith collectors and legal scholar dealt with the topic under the rubric of fikāk al-asīr and fidāʾ al-asīr. The main prooftext is the hadith “Free the captive, feed the hungry, and visit the sick” (fukkū l-ʿānī wa-ṭʿimū l-jāʾiʿ wa-ʿūdū l-marīḍ; Bukhārī, Ṣaḥīḥ, al-jihād 171, bāb fikāk al-asīr, nos. 3036-7).


The bulk of the discussion of war captives in fiqh books focuses on the Muslim treatment of their war captives rather than Muslim captives in enemy hands. For a summary of this topic, see Abou El Fadl, The Rules of Killing at War. One of the issues that occupied jurists was the behavior of Muslims under captivity, such as whether they should cooperate with their captors. See, for example, Sarakhsī, Sharḥ al-Siyar, 245-247.


Qāsim b. Sallām, The Book of Revenue, 126; Qāsim b. Sallām, Kitāb al-Amwāl, 165.


Ibn Zanjawayh, Amwāl, 333; Qāsim b. Sallām, The Book of Revenue, 127; Qāsim b. Sallām, Kitāb al-Amwāl, 167.


Ibn Zanjawayh, Amwāl, 334.


Sarakhsī, Sharḥ al-Siyar al-kabīr, IV, 302.


Ibn Rushd discusses Mālik’s opinion on Muslim captives. While the duty to free them is incumbent on Muslims, he details the problem of the financing of the ransom, stating that only if the treasury falls short does the financial burden falls upon the Muslim community proportionally to their ability. The other question he brings up is whether a captive has to return the money paid for his/her ransom (Ibn Rushd, Bayān wa-l-taḥṣīl, II, 560-561). A similar account of Mālik’s opinion survives in Ibn Abī Zayd’s Nawādir, III, 301. In the surviving opinions of Aḥmad b. Ḥanbal and Isḥāq b. Rāhawayh both state that if a private individual ransoms a Muslim captive (by buying him), the captive should reimburse him. Hence, although Ibn Rāhawayh is quoted to have seen the treasury as the source of the ransom money, the discussion indicates that eventually, most scholars viewed it as a collective duty (Kawsaj, Masāʾil al-imām Aḥmad, VI, 2980). For example, Ibn Baṭṭāl (Sharḥ Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, V, 210-211) states that “releasing captives” is a collective obligation (farḍ ʿalā l-kifāya). Ibn Qudāma’s discussion in al-Mughnī (XIII, 133-134) also assumes private ransoming of Muslim captives rather than a state sponsored one. The underlying assumption in this sample of the later legal discussion is that the release would mostly be secured through private channels, in some cases Muslim merchants buying enslaved captives from the enemy. In some discussions, such as Ibn al-Munāṣif’s jihad manual, primacy is given to attempting to rescue the captives using military means. Ibn al-Munāṣif states that the need to release Muslim prisoners moves jihad from being a collective obligation to an individual one (taʿyīn al-jihād) if the Muslims are able. If Muslims are not in a position to fight for their release, then they can secure their freedom by paying money; see Ibn al-Munāṣif, Injād, 49-50.


For a detailed analysis of this revolt, see Abbas, al-Shām fī l-ʿaṣr al-ʿabbāsī, 137; Cobb, White Banners, 112-115.


Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, XVIII, 267-268.


My search in the sources did not yield any references to an Abū Balj, or for that matter the variant reading Abū Balkh, that I can securely connect with the Bekaa, Baalbek, or the Abbasid authorities.


Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Jarḥ, I, 210-211.


Ibn Zanjawayh, Amwāl, 337-338; Qāsim b. Sallām, The Book of Revenue, 170-171. Al-Balādhurī also provides an excerpt based on Ibn Sallām’s recension.


Ibn Zanjawayh’s recension adds a hadith on the authority of Ibn ʿAbbās: “Whoever kills a muʿāhad will never smell the scent of Heaven.”


As mentioned earlier when discussing the authenticity if the letters, the biographical and historical sources have yielded limited information about these two men.


His punishment included cutting his beard (qād kāna min ʿuqūbat amīr al-muʾminīn aṣlaḥahu Allāh iyyāhu fī basharihi wa-shaʿrihi wa-waḍʿihi fī l-ḥabs; Ibn Abī Ḥātim, al-Jarḥ, I, 189).


What is not mentioned in this letter is that Yazīd b. Yaḥyā l-Khushanī was most probably the one referred to as al-Jazarī the tax collector of Baalbek against whom the inhabitants of Mount Lebanon revolted in the account of the revolt Ibn ʿAsākir (Dimashq, XVIII, 267) preserves.


Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, III, 364, sub anno 151. Al-Manṣūr apparently appointed Abū ʿUbayd Muʿāwiya b. ʿUbayd Allāh as secretary for al-Mahdī. The sources, however, do not specify the date of this appointment.


Brown, The Holy Man, 80-101.


Fa-inna amīr al-muʾminīn — aṣlaḥahu Allāh — kataba ilayya allā adaʿa iʿlāmahu kulla mā fīhi ṣalāḥ ʿāmma wa-khāṣṣa; Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Jarḥ, I, 193. This remark also strengthens the case for an early date in the caliphate of al-Manṣūr.


The two visits are mentioned in al-Ṭabarī and Ibn ʿAsākir’s biography of al-Manṣūr; see Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, III, 129, sub anno 140; Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, III, 372, sub anno 154.


Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, III, 129, sub anno 140.


Balādhurī, Futūḥ, 163.


Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, LXXIV, 44. This survey conducted in 141/758-9 must have been one of the leading causes of the Mount Lebanon revolt of 142/759-60 discussed above.


According to Ibn ʿAsākir (Dimashq, XXXV, 299), every city in both al-Jazīra and Syria hosted al-Manṣūr (istaqrā l-Jazīra wa-ajnād al-Shām madīna madīna).


Although al-Mahdī’s presence is not reported by al-Ṭabarī or other sources, Dominique Sourdel (La Syrie, 166-167) argues that al-Mahdī accompanied his father during his second visit to Syria based on an inscription dated to 155/771-2. The inscription commemorates the construction of a mosque and minaret in Ascalon at the orders of al-Mahdī. Andrew Marsham (Rituals of Islamic Monarchy, 194) also states that al-Mahdī performed the pilgrimage.


Al-Mahdī could not have accompanied his father during his 141/758-9 visit to Syria as he would have been on his way to al-Rayy; Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, III, 134-135, sub anno 141.


Abū Nuʿaym, Ḥilya, VI, 136-140; Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Jarḥ, I, 214-215. On the succession of al-Mahdī, see Marsham, Rituals of Islamic Monarchy, 192-215. Whether al-Awzāʿī met with al-Manṣūr during his first or second visit to Syria is, in my opinion, debatable. The reports on the meeting are transmitted by Muḥammad b. Muṣʿab al-Qirqisānī (d. 208/823-4) who studied under al-Awzāʿī but whose transmissions from our Syrian are clouded by suspicion (Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, LV, 398-409). Second, Ibn ʿAsākir preserved the following statement from al-Ḥākim who noted about the anecdote and sermon: ḥadīth gharīb tafarrada bihi Abū Jaʿfar Aḥmad b. ʿUbayd b. Nāṣiḥ al-Adī (Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, XXXV, 218). Finally, and more importantly, the length, structure, and content of the account indicate that it is a stitching together of a number of sermons attributed to al-Awzāʿī. Al-Awzāʿī also reportedly met with Abū l-ʿAbbās al-Saffāḥ (Ibn Abī Ḥātim, Jarḥ, I, 211-213).


Sijpesteijn, Army Economics, 245-267.


Kennedy, Armies, 66-67.


Balādhurī, Futūḥ, 169-170, 187; on the payment of the army, see Kennedy, Armies, 59-95. Al-Manṣūr paid the soldiers he settled in Malaṭya ten dinars (Kennedy, Armies, 79). Al-Balādhurī mentions a similar amount given to soldiers settled in Tarsus in 172/788.


Sijpesteijn, Army Economics, 245-268, esp. 260-261.


The town of Jabala was one of the main port towns of the coast of Hims. Muʿāwiya reportedly fortified it along with other coastal towns. Like Beirut, it was the residence of a renunciant scholar, Arṭāṭ b. al-Mundhir (d. 156/772-3 or 163/779-80), who was sent as a fighter (faraḍa lahu fīhā) by ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-Azīz (Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, VIII, 9-16). Saʿīd b. Yūsuf al-Raḥabī was another contemporary of al-Awzāʿī and fellow disciple of Yaḥyā b. Abī Kathīr who resided in Jabala (Ibn ʿAsākir, Dimashq, XXI, 332-336).


Q 9: 118: “… and to the three who were left behind, until, when the earth became strait for them, for all its breadth, and their souls became strait for them, and they thought that there was no shelter from God except in Him, then He turned towards them, that they might also turn; surely God turns, and is All-compassionate.” For the incident, see Ibn Isḥāq, The Life, 610-614. This example is from the famous case of Kaʿb b. Mālik (d. 50-53/670-673), Murāra b. al-Rabīʿ, and Hilāl b. Umayya. Abū Lubāba b. ʿAbd al-Mundhir also failed to join the expedition. Kaʿb b. Mālik attempted to preempt the prophetic and divine wrath by tying himself to a post. Abū Lubāba and his inaction in this battle were also a subject to qurʾanic revelation (Q 9:103-104).


Namely, Q 8:15-16, 9:24, 42, 83-87, 93-96. There is an extensive legal discussion of men fleeing combat (al-firār min al-zaḥf), its definition, degrees, and punishment. Al-Shāfiʿī argues that Muslims cannot abandon the battlefield unless the enemy is more than double in number. In this case, while al-Shāfiʿī dislikes that they abandon fighting, the Muslim forces would incur God’s wrath. In addition to God’s wrath, the only punishment that al-Shāfiʿī discusses is the deserter’s loss of his share in the booty acquired during his desertion (Shāfiʿī, Umm, V, 391-396; and see, for example Ibn Abī Zayd, Nawādir wa-l-ziyādāt, III, 50-54). Several jurists classified desertion as a “deadly sin” (kabāʾir or mūbiqāt). As a result, those jurists who considered it a sin, considered the testimony of a deserter unacceptable (e.g., Ibn Rushd, Bayān wa-l-taḥṣīl, X, 48-50).


The drought and famine also affected Medina as brought to light in an inscription posted on Twitter. The inscription dates to Jumādā 152/May-June 769 and reads: Allāhuma irfaʿ al-wabāʾ wa-l-ʿusr ʿan al-madīna wa-kutiba fī jumādā sanat ithnatayn wa-khamsīn wa-māʾa (Nawādir al-Āthār wa-l-Nuqūsh @mohammed93athar, nuqūsh islāmiyya shāhida ʿalā tārīkh wa-ḥaḍārat al-madīna al-munawwara, Twitter, July 28, 2019, 7:37 am).


The text of the above-cited inscription mentions pestilence (wabāʾ) and difficulty (ʿusr).


Ṭabarī, Taʾrīkh, III, 359, 370-371, sub anno 151 and 153.

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