MOHALLABI, Abu Moḥammad


MOHALLABI, Abu Moḥammad al-Ḥasan b. Moḥmmad b. Hārun (903-63), vizier and literary patron.

Abu Moḥammad Mohallabi was born in 903. He was one of last members to achieve renown from the illustrious clan of the Mohallabids that traced its lineage back nine generations to the army commander al-Mohallab b. Abi Ṣofra (d. 702 or 703). There is little evidence on his early life, other than Mohallabi’s own wistful poetic reflections on the poverty and dire circumstances of his youth (Ṯaʿālebi, II, pp. 223-24).

For much of his early adult life, Mohallabi was an administrator on behalf of several wealthy landowners in Ahvāz. While in the service of one of these landowners, Mohallabi came to the attention of Abu Jaʿfar Ṣaymari, the chief administrator to Moʿezz-al-Dawla, the Buyid (see BUYIDS) emir (Ar. amir) of Baghdad. Mohallabi accompanied Ṣaymari on several trips to Baghdad and the Jebāl, and thus appears to have gained his confidence and that of the emir, Moʿezz-al-Dawla (Yāqut, III, p. 980).

Career as vizier.  After Ṣaymari’s death in 950-51, Moʿezz-al-Dawla selected Mohallabi to supervise his affairs in Iraq. The historian Meskawayh (II, pp. 124-5) stated that Moʿezz-al-Dawla appointed Mohallabi on account of his knowledge about the vizierate, his courage, and his mastery of both the Arabic and Persian languages. Similar to the other secretaries serving Buyid emirs, Mohallabi was first addressed with the title of ostād, not attaining the title of vizier until the year 956 (Donohue, p. 139).

Encouragement of letters.  Contemporaries esteemed Mohallabi for his eloquence. Ebn al-Nadim (p. 149; see FEHREST) reports that his letters and signatory notes were collected in a diwān.  The few examples of his correspondence that are extant, such as the poem-letter addressed to Abu al-Qāsim Tanuḵi (d. 952), the father of Abu ʿAli al-Tanuḵi (d. 994) do little to distinguish him from the literary trends current among Buyid littérateurs of the 10th century. Mohallabi’s poetry likewise embodies the elegance and wit of courtiers (Ar. ẓarf) of the age. He authored love poetry for a young woman whom he provocatively names al-tajanni (the blamer), emphasizing his role as the submissive and tortured lover in a vein similar to ʿAbbās b. al-Aḥnāf (d. ca. 807) who referred to his beloved as ẓalum (tyrant) in his poetry (Ṯaʿālebi, II, pp. 235-36).

Mohallabi enjoyed the cultivation of a large circle of scholars, littérateurs, and poets in Baghdad. Indeed, Abu Ḥayyān al-Tawḥidi (III, p. 213) believed Mohallabi to be an example of the manner in which one should practice patronage (Ar. eṣṭenāʿ). Contemporary sources recount, with some embellishment, the nightly revelries of Mohallabi’s court, such as the scene of well-known jurists dipping their long white beards into large golden drinking cups and then spraying one another with wine (Yāqut, IV, p. 1874).

The jurists and literati in Mohallabi’s circle represented the intellectual elite of Baghdad during the middle of the 10th century: the above-named jurist and litterateur Abu al-Qāsim al-Tanuḵi (d. 952), the literary anthologist Abu al-Faraj Esfahāni (d. 966), the epistolographer Abu Esḥāq al-Ṣābi (d. 994), the poetic critic Abu ʿAli al-Ḥātemi (d. 998), the Moʿtazili theologian Abu ʿAbdallāh al-Basri (d. 980), the grammarian Abu Saʿid al-Sirāfi (d. 979), and many other luminaries of Buyid intellectual and literary life. As a major patron, Mohallabi received many famed poets at his court, such as al-Sari al-Raffāʾ (d. 972-73), ʿAli b. Hārun b. al-Munajjem (d. 962-3), Ebn al-Ḥajjāj (d. 1001), Ebn Sokkara al-Hāšemi (d. 995), Ebn al-Baqqāl (d. ca. 986) as well as lesser lights such as ʿAli b. Esḥāq al-Zāhi (d. 963). Mohallabi appears to have held a somewhat hostile view towards the poet Motanabbi (d. 955), and was, if the report of Abu ʿAli al-Ḥatemi is to be believed, instrumental in arranging for the public humiliation of this famed poet (Ḥātemi, pp. 2-3).

In the year 963, tensions began to surface between Mohallabi and the emir Moʾezz-al-Dawla, allegedly over fears that the vizier was going to declare his independence from the emir. At this time, Mohallabi was sent on a military expedition to Oman, where he contracted an illness from which he died on 18 September 963. Meskawayh (II, pp. 196-97) reports that Mohallabi died as a result of poisoning.



John J. Donohue, The Buwayhid Dynasty in Iraq 334 H./945 to 403 H./1012: Shaping Institutions for the Future, Leiden, 2003.

Ebn al-Nadim, al-Fehrest, ed. R. Tajaddod, Tehran, 1971.

Al-Ḥātemi, al-Resāla al-moḍiḥa, ed. M. Y. Najm, Beirut, 1965. 

Meskawayh, Tajāreb al-omam, eds.  H. F. Amedroz and D. S. Margoliouth, 4 vols. in 3, Baghdad, 1914-21; vols. III-IV contain later continuations of Meskawayh’s work.

Al-Tawḥidi, Ketāb al-emtāʿ wa’l-moʾānasa, eds. A. Amin and A. al-Zayn, Cairo, 1944. 

Abu Manṣur Ṯaʿālebi, Yatimat al-dahr, ed. M. ʿAbd-al-Ḥamid, Cairo, 1956.

Yāqut al-Ḥamawi, Moʿjam al-odabāʾ, ed. Eḥsān ʿAbbās, 7 vols., Beirut, 1993.

K. V. Zetterstéen and C. E. Bosworth, “al-Muhallabī,” EI² VII, p. 358.

(Maurice Pomerantz)

Originally Published: January 1, 2000

Last Updated: June 29, 2011