ʿABDALLĀH B. MOʿĀVĪA B. ʿABDALLĀH B. JAʿFAR AL-ṬAYYĀR B. ABŪ ṬĀLEB, a Talebid rebel in western Iran in 127-29/744-47. Of his birth and early life the sources tell us only that he was of noble H āšemī descent on both sides. His grandfather, ʿAbdallāh b. Jaʿfar, a courtier of Moʿāvīa I, lost favor under ʿAbd-al-Malek and died, apparently in straightened circumstances, in 80/699-700 at Medina. The grandson may have been born there about the same time. ʿAbdallāh b. Moʿāvīa grew up to have a considerable reputation as a poet, and is the subject of a special chapter in Aḡānī. He appeared at Kūfa during the governorship of ʿAbdallāh b. ʿOmar b. ʿAbd-al-ʿAzīz (from 126/744) “on a visit seeking (the governor’s) bounty” (Ṭabarī, II, p. 1879; cf. Aḡānī XII, p. 226). The visit was not political, but perhaps connected rather with poetical or musical interests. Ebn Moʿāvīa, we are expressly told, had no intention of revolting; however, he was carried away by the course of events.
The Omayyad caliph Yazīd III b. al-Valīd died in Ḏu’l-ḥeǰǰa, 126/September, 744. News reached Iraq that allegiance had been pledged to Yazīd’s brother, Ebrāhīm. This action was accepted by the governor and people of Iraq. Then came the further news that Marvān b. Moḥammad, for long the trusted general of the Omayyads, and grandson of Marvān I (but excluded from the succession because of his birth) had refused to give his allegiance and had marched to Syria to dethrone Ebrāhīm. This event led to confusion in Iraq; the Shiʿites of Kūfa, who were still smarting from their defeat when Zayd b. ʿAlī had made a bid for the caliphate (122/740), now seized the opportunity to proclaim ʿAbdallāh b. Moʿāvīa caliph. The latter, who had already been placed under surveillance by the governor of Iraq, lent himself to the project (Moḥarram, 127/October-November, 744). He was soon joined by a numerous following, which included the Zaydīya of Kūfa, the Yamanī (South Arabian) chiefs, as well as many of the opposite faction, notably the Rabīʿa, and (now or later) important Khari jite elements. Some of the ʿAlid leaders preferred to dissociate themselves from the insurrectionary movement, which had appeared to unite all parties against the Syrians; they advised Ebn Moʿāvīa to try his fortune in Fārs and the east.
After a short interval, Ebn Moʿāvīa marched from Kūfa against ʿAbdallāh b. ʿOmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz, who was then in Ḥīra. In the ensuing battle, the insurgents were defeated in spite of their numbers; “the ground was white with the followers of ʿAbdallāh b. Moʿāvīa,” says Ebn al-Aṯīr (repr., V, pp. 325-27). Ebn Moʿāvīa took refuge in the castle of Kūfa and then withdrew to Madāʾen. But the rebellion was by no means over. With renewed support from Kūfa and fresh partisans, Ebn Moʿāvīa passed eastward to the provinces of Jebāl and Fārs; in the course of the following year, most of western Iran submitted to him: Ḥolvān, Hamadān, Qūmes, Dāmḡān, Ray, Isfahan, Shiraz, Kermān, and Qom are mentioned as having done so. At Isfahan and later at Eṣṭaḵr, he set up an ephemeral court, from which he levied taxes and sent out governors. Such different personalities as the Omayyad Solaymān b. Hešām, the Kharijite Šaybān Yaškorī, and even, remarkably enough, the future caliph Abū Jaʿfar Manṣūr and other ʿAbbasids were to be found there. When Eṣṭaḵr passed into the possession of one of his followers, Ebn Moʿāvīa moved there, probably in late 128 or early 129; his first headquarters was a monastery (dayr) near the city. But soon he had to meet the challenge presented by the Omayyad general ʿĀmer b. Żobāra who had been sent by Ebn Hobayra, the new governor of Iraq. Having made contact with Marvān at Mosul, he now arrived with reinforcements to crush the rebellion. A battle was fought at Marv-al-šāḏān (locality uncertain). Ebn Moʿāvīa was decisively defeated and his followers scattered; the principal men sought safety in such distant places as Sind, ʿOmān, and Egypt. He himself withdrew to Šīrāz, then took the road to Khorasan. Ebn Żobāra followed him as far as Jīroft in Kermān. Then he crossed the Great Desert with a few companions and finally reached Herat, where he and his brothers were interned. The famous letter in which ʿAbdallāh b. Moʿāvīa appealed to Abū Moslem from prison is preserved in Aḡānī. Abū Moslem, who by this time had gained power in Khorasan, regarded Ebn Moʿāvīa as dangerous and refused his appeal. He was killed in prison. Ebn al-Aṯīr mentions that his tomb in Herat was known and visited (V, p. 373).
Authors such as Nawbaḵtī and Šahrestānī speak of the religious view of ʿAbdallāh b. Moʿāvīa and his followers, which, as reported, are very heretical. Šahrestānī says that he and his followers apparently upheld a doctrine of transmigration of souls. It was said by some that the testament of ʿAlī to Moḥammad b. al-Ḥanafīya had passed to ʿAbdallāh b. Moʿāvīa, not to the ʿAbbasids. From these works and from remarks in historical narratives, it would appear that he was not, in any strict sense, a religious leader, though once he had accepted the imamate a religious role was imposed on him. As Ḏahabī puts it, he was “one of the men of the world and the sons of the present age” (Taʾrīḵ al-eslām, Cairo, 1367f./1948f., V, p. 97).
ʿAbdallāh b. Moʿāvīa appears as a personality with a strong popular appeal who was also capable of imposing his leadership on such men as Manṣūr b. Jomhūr, a former governor of Iraq, and other important officials. At the same time, there is no special evidence of any political ability in his handling of a revolutionary situation, which, in Isfahan, seems to have been favorable; and he was defeated in all his battles. Support for ʿAbdallāh b. Moʿāvīa’s movement by the Iranian mawālī is not specifically mentioned in the sources; but it is, perhaps, to be assumed.
Aḡānī XI, pp. 66-79.
Abu’l-Faraǰ Eṣfahānī, Maqātel al-ṭālebīyīn, Naǰaf, 1353/1934, pp. 118-24.
Ebn al-Aṯīr (repr.) V, pp. 370-73.
Ebn Qotayba, Ketāb al-maʿāref, ed. F. Wüstenfeld, Göttingen, 1850, p. 105.
Ḵalīfat b. Ḵayyāṭ, Taʾrīḵ, ed. Akram Żīāʾ al-ʿOmarī, Naǰaf, 1386/1967, pp. 394-95, 409, 413.
Masʿūdī, Morūǰ VI, pp. 41-42, 67-68.
Nawbaḵtī, Ketāb feraq al-šīʿa, ed. H. Ritter, Istanbul, 1931, p. 29.
Šahretānī, p. 113.
Ṭabarī, II, pp. 1879-87, 1947-48, 1976-81.
C. Cahen, “Points de vue sur la "Révolution ʿabbaside",” Revue historique 230, 1963, pp. 316-17.
T. Nagel, Untersuchungen zur Entstehung des Abbasidischen Kalifates, Bonn, 1972, index, s.v.
ʿAbdallāh b. Muʿāwiya. M. A. Shaban, The ʿAbbāsid Revolution, Cambridge, 1970, pp. 148-49.
G. Weil, Geschichte der Chalifen, Osnabrück, 1967, pp. 686-87, 694.
J. Wellhausen, Das arabische Reich und sein Sturz, Berlin, 1902, pp. 239-41, 245-46.
(D. M. Dunlop)
Originally Published: December 15, 1982
Last Updated: July 15, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 2, pp. 183-184
D. M. Dunlop, “Abdallah B. Moavia,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/2, pp. 183-184; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abdallah-b-moavia-rebel-in-western-iran-in-944-47 (accessed on 17 January 2014).