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Ismaili History 510 - The Qarmatians in Bahrain

The Qarmatians also penetrated into Bahrain by the efforts of Abu Sa'id al-Hasan bin Bahram al-Jannabi, who was born in Jannaba on the coast of Fars. He was trained by Abdan in Kufa, and Hamdan al-Qarmat sent him to Bahrain in 281/894. By 286/899, with the support of the clan of Rabi of Abdul Qafs, Abu Sa'id had brought under submission a large part of Bahrain and also captured Qatif. According to Ibn Hawakal, the leader of the Qarmatians in Bahrain, Abu Sa'id al-Jannabi took the part of Hamdan al-Qarmat and Abdan. In 287/900, the Qarmatians acquired control of Hajar, the seat of the Abbasid governor. The Abbasid caliph Mutadid (d. 289/902) sent an army of 2000 men against them, but were defeated. In 290/903, Hajar was finally subdued after a long siege laid by Abu Sa'id. He established his headquarters at al-Ahsa (or al-Lahsa), which became the capital of the Jannabid rule of the Qarmatians of Bahrain in 314/926.
Bernard Lewis writes in 'The Origins of Ismailism' (London, 1940, p. 76) that, 'The Carmathians of Behrain seem, according to the accounts of most of our sources, to constitute a separate movement, differing in several important aspects from other sections of the Ismaili dawa. They had separate leaders of their own, a distinct local tradition and history.' Abu Sa'id was killed in 301/914 after ruling for fifteen years. He was succeeded by his son, Abul Kassim, who ruled for three years, and was killed by his younger brother Abu Tahir in a revolt in 304/916. Abu Tahir was a deadly enemy of the Abbasids, therefore, he started his political correspondence with the Fatimids in Maghrib. He executed a verbal undertaking with the Fatimids, which was absolutely a political pact. Accordingly, when al-Qaim, the son of Imam al-Mahdi launched a campaign of Egypt in 307/919 from Maghrib, the Qarmatians were to reach opposite direction of Egypt to put a pressure on the Egyptian army. Before the arrival of Abu Tahir at that location, al-Qaim had returned from his place to Maghrib after getting loss. Abu Tahir however reached late and returned to Bahrain. Henceforward, the above political pact between them practically became annulled.

In 317/929, the Qarmatians had spread down in Hijaz, and flooded Mecca and Kaba with the blood of pilgrims under the command of Abu Tahir. They made it a scene of fire, blood and repine for 17 days. It must be known that the Qarmatians had been severely and rigorously condemned by the Fatimids for not complying with the pact and reached late at the Egyptian border. In reprisal, the Qarmatians moved to discredit the Fatimids and recited the Fatimid khutba in place of the Abbasid in Hijaz during their horrible operations, so as to misguide the Muslims that their barbarian operations were directed by the Fatimids. The Qarmatians choked up the sacred spring of Zamzam, the door of the Kaba was broken open, the veil covering the Kaba was torn down, and the sacred Black Stone was removed from the Kaba and taken to their headquarters at Hajar. The Fatimid Imam al-Mahdi was highly shocked to hear this sacrilegious operation and wrote a reproachful letter to Abu Tahir, reprehending him severely for his evilish conduct. Reproaching Abu Tahir, al-Mahdi had written a letter to him. According to 'al-Nufudh al-Fatimid fi bilad al-Sham wa'l Iraq' (Cairo, 1950, p. 36), the letter reads: 'It is a contemptible matter that you have committed a grave sin under my name. Where did you commit? You have committed in the House of God and its neighbours. This is a sacred place, where the murder was unlawful even in the age of ignorance; and the defamation of the people living in Mecca is considered inhuman. You have violated that tradition, and even rooted out the Black Stone, and brought it to your land; and now you expect that I may express my gratitude? God curse you, and be again accursed and execrable. May peace be upon him (Prophet Muhammad), whose sayings and deeds are the source of the integrity of the Muslims, who may be ready to answer hereafter what they have committed today.' It must be pointed out that the letter of al-Mahdi as cited by Ibn Khallikan (1st vol., p. 427) is absolutely distorted and interpolated for the purpose of throwing the odium of sacrilege on al-Mahdi too.

In the meantime, Begkem (d. 326/941), the amir of Baghdad offered the Qarmatians a reward of 50,000 dinars to restore the sacred stone, which was refused. But the letter of al-Mahdi was more effectual than Begkem's proffered ransom. Abu Tahir apologized and promised to return the Black Stone to its original place in Kaba. It however remained in Hajar for 22 years, and was returned in 339/950 by the then Qarmatian chief, Ahmad bin Mansur. When they restored the Black Stone, they first carried it to Kufa and hung it up in the mosque for public inspection; and then they bore it to Mecca. Nasir Khusaro (d. 481/1088) had visited al-Ahsa in 443/1051 and relates the above event in his 'Safar-nama' (tr. by W.M. Thackston, New York, 1986, pp. 88-89) that, 'One of the rulers (of al-Ahsa) attacked Mecca and killed a number of people who were circumambulating the Kaba at the time. They removed the Black Stone from its corner and took it to Lahsa. They said that the Stone was a 'human magnet' that attracted people, not knowing that it was the nobility and magnificence of Muhammad (peace be on him) that drew people there, for the Stone had laid there for long ages without anyone paying any particular attention to it. In the end, the Black Stone was brought back and returned to its place.'

Abu Tahir died in 332/944 and had made a will of succession for his elder brother, Ahmad Abu Tahir. Some also supported Sabur, the son of Abu Tahir; therefore, it was mutually resolved that Ahmad Abu Tahir would rule with Sabur as his successor. Sabur however rebelled in vain against his uncle in 358/969; but himself was arrested and executed. Ahmad Abu Tahir was poisoned in 359/970, and his elder brother Abul Kassim Sa'id also died after ruling for two years. In 361/972, Abu Yaqub Yousuf, the brother of Ahmad Abu Tahir began to rule until 366/977. Henceforward, the Qarmatian state of Bahrain came to be ruled jointly by six grandsons of Abu Sa'id, known as al-sada al- ru'asa.

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