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أبو محمد موسى بن المهدي الهادي
Amir al-Mu'minin
Dirham of al-Hadi minted in 786/787 in al-Haruniya
4th Caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate
Reign24 July 785 – 14 September 786
SuccessorHarun al-Rashid
Born26 April 764
Rayy, Abbasid Caliphate (in present-day Tehran Province)
Died14 September 786 (aged 22)
Baghdad, Abbasid Caliphate
  • Ja'far
  • al-Abbas
  • Abd Allah
  • Ishaq
  • Isma'il
  • Sulayman
  • Musa
  • Umm Isa
  • Umm al-Abbas
Abu Muhammad Musa ibn al-Mahdi al-Hadi
ReligionSunni Islam

Abū Muḥammad Mūsā ibn al-Mahdī al-Hādī (Arabic: أبو محمد موسى بن المهدي الهادي; 26 April 764 CE  – 14 September 786 CE)[1] better known by his laqab al-Hādī (الهادي‎) was the fourth Arab Abbasid caliph who succeeded his father al-Mahdi and ruled from 169 AH (785 CE) until his death in 170 AH (786 CE). His short reign ended with internal chaos and power struggles with his mother.[2]

Early life

Al-Hadi was born in 764. His father was al-Mahdi and al-Khayzuran bint Atta was the mother of both caliphs Musa al-Hadi and Harun al-Rashid.[3] She had another son named Isa ibn al-Mahdi,[4] and a daughter named Banuqah or Banujah.[5] His mother, al-Khayzuran was born in Mecca and brought up in Jurash.[6] She had two sisters, Salsal bint Atta[7] and Asma bint Atta,[4] and a brother Ghitrif ibn Atta.[7] She was al-Mahdi's favourite wife. Al-Mahdi consulted her on important matters of defense and administration, and officers and clerics went to her door day and night to get what they wanted from the caliph through her, and the petitioners lined up outside her door and it was crowded like a market. Khayzuran's influence in public and political life increased gradually from interferer and decisive incursions during the reign of her husband to more powerful and wider ones during the reigns of her two sons.[8] Al-Hadi also had several half-brothers; Ubaydallah, Ibrahim, Mansur, Ali, Abdallah. He also had half-sisters; Abbasa was his elder half-sister, others were Ulayya and Aliyah.

Al-Hadi was the eldest son of al-Mahdi and al-Khayzuran and the older brother of Harun al-Rashid. He was very dear to his father and was appointed as the first crown prince by his father at the age of 16 and was chosen as the leader of the army.[9] Prior to his death, al-Mahdi supposedly favored his second son, Harun al-Rashid, as his successor, taking him on multiple military expeditions in 779 and 781 to train him to be the next caliph, as his own father prepared him, but died before the formal transfer of the crown prince title could occur. Not to mention, their mother, Khayzuran played a driver in these thoughts of al-Mahdi and was a partner. Alternatively, al-Rashid was a general and may have accompanied his father to war to train for and carry out his profession.


Regardless of the intent, in 785, Al-Mahdi died during an expedition with his son Harun, who rushed back to Baghdad to inform his mother. At al-Mahdi's untimely death, Khayzuran took control of the situation. She ensured a smooth transition of power and to secure the succession for her son, she called upon the viziers and ordered them to pay the wages of the army to secure order, and then had them swear allegiance to her son as their new caliph in his absence, and held everything together until al-Hadi returned to Baghdad. Al-Hadi became the caliph at the age of 25, the youngest caliph to yet rule the Abbasids. His brother Harun al-Rashid became his crown prince at 22. This was a point of insecurity for al-Hadi as he spent the majority of his rule attempting to wrest the title of crown prince from al-Rashid - whether he was granted it before or after his father's death - and install his 7-year-old son Ja'far in his place. As Ja'far was very young and it went against law and wisdom to install him as crown prince, al-Hadi tried to put pressure on Harun and convince him to resign himself. So, Harun escaped from the capital and did not return there until the end of his brother's life. However, al-Hadi's attempt to depose his brother caused further conflict between him and his mother Khayzuran, as they each strove for their respective sons to become the next caliph: al-Hadi for Ja'far and Khayzuran for Harun.[10]

Al-Hadi was considered an "enlightened ruler" by his constituents and continued the "progressive" moves of his Abbasids predecessor. Like his father he was very open to the people of his empire and allowed citizens to visit him in the palace at Baghdad to address him. He was physically strong and famous for his bravery and talent in government and generosity. However, he was cruel, daring and zealous. Al-Hadi was especially malevolent to non-Muslim citizens, as he continued his father's persecutions and quashed multiple internal uprisings. He crushed a Kharijite rebellion, repelled a Byzantine invasion and seized some territory in the process.[11]

Al-Hadi was also notorious for his cruelty and persecution of the Sayyids and the Shia, he imposed further restrictions on the Alids and the remaining descendants of the Umayyad caliphate, and treated them cruelly. He cut all the allowances al-Mahdi previously assigned them due to fear of an Alid uprising.[12] He ordered his agents to watch all 'Alids' activities and place some spies among them [13] and ordered them to register their presence daily with local authority. In 786, the Alids of Hijaz led by Ali ibn Husayn staged an uprising in response to these conditions. They gained control of Medina, released prisoners, imprisoned Abbasid agents, and made Masjid al-Nabi his command center. Then, they set out to Makkah, were denied entry by its people and forced to confront the Abbasid army led by al-Hadi in the valley of Fakhkh, whereupon Ali ibn Husayn and his companions were defeated and killed at the Battle of Fakhkh. This event became famous, and ibn Husayn became known as Shahid Fakhkh (the martyr of Fakhkh). However, ibn Husayn's cousin, Idris bin Abdallah, escaped to Morocco aided by Wadih, an Egyptian postal manager, where he founded the Idrisi state. After the event of Fakh, al-Hadi accused Imam al-Kazim, one of his brother's advocates, of provoking the revolutionaries. He arrested the Imam and sentenced him to execution, but died before he could implement his decision.

There was no wanting for internal conflicts as well. At al-Mahdi's untimely death, Al-Khayzuran, his mother, reportedly wished to continue to engage in politics as she had become accustomed to during al-Mahdi's reign: "Khayzuran wanted to dominate her son. She continued to give audiences in her chambers and discuss state affairs:

"She continued to monopolize decision-making without consulting him (al-Hadi), she behaved as she had before, during the reign of al-Mahdi, people came and went through her door. She used to exercise her authority over him in all his affairs without consulting him at all, assuming sole control over matters of ordaining and forbidding, just as she had done previously with his father."[citation needed]

In the first months of al-Hadi's short reign as caliph, he allowed his mother to implement the same political freedoms his father allowed and al-Hadi was in full submission to his mother, Khayzuran. He responded positively to all the requests and demands coming to her, and when she talked to officials and other audiences and made decisions and only reported her decisions to him, he did not object and approved them. Al-Khayzuran took advantage of the fact that al-Hadi never rejected her personal request, and disguised her friends desires and the supplicants who come to her as her own in order to obtain what they wanted. It eventually came to the point in which petitioners lined up at Khayzuran's gate in order to attain their own goals and even letters from all the provinces were sent to her court to report the affairs to her and ask her for favors for themselves, and al- Hadi heard of how his officers and governors used to go to his mother Khayzuran in hopes that what they wanted from him would be done through her words. However, al-Hadi, began to oppose her participation in state affairs; he felt she overreached, and over time he retaliated against his mother's political power. He was not inclined to allow her displays of authority and attempted to exclude her from politics. After a serious incident, he told her:

"Do not overstep the essential limits of womanly modesty and overdo in person the role of the generous donor. It is not dignified for women to enter upon affairs of state. It is not in the power of women to intervene ... in matters of sovereignty. Look to your prayers and your prayer beads."[citation needed]

The harem system first became fully institutionalized in the Islamic World under the Abbasid caliphate,[14] when the Abbasid harem was established.[15] At this point, however, Muslim women had not yet been fully secluded from society in a harem.

The growing seclusion of women and decline of women's rights that would permeate the Abbasid Caliphate and the region's latter nations were illustrated by the power struggle between the Caliph al-Hadi and his mother al-Khayzuran, who refused to live in seclusion but instead challenged the power of the Caliph by giving her own audiences to male supplicants and officials and thus mixing with men.[16] Her son considered this improper, and he publicly addressed the issue of his mothers public life by assembling his generals and asked them:

'Who is the better among us, you or me?' asked Caliph al-Hadi of his audience.
'Obviously you are the better, Commander of the Faithful,' the assembly replied.
'And whose mother is the better, mine or yours?' continued the caliph.
'Your mother is the better, Commander of the Faithful.'
'Who among you', continued al-Hadi, 'would like to have men spreading news about your mother?'
'No one likes to have his mother talked about,' responded those present.
'Then why do men go to my mother to speak to her?'[17]

Al-Khayzuran would not be oppressed or silenced, much to al-Hadi's chagrin. The conflict was finally exposed in public when she interceded in favor of a supplicant, Abdallah ibn Malik, and publicly demanded a reply from her son, who lost his temper and openly yelled at her and they both discussed:

Khayzuran: You must meet my request.
al-Hadi: I will not do it.
Khayzuran: I already assured the chief of police that it will be done.
al-Hadi: He is a son of a harlot. I will not do it for him.
Khayzuran: Then I will never ask you for any more favours.
al-Hadi: I do not care.
al-Hadi continued:"Wait a moment and listen well to my words.. Whoever from among my entourage - my generals, my servants - comes to you with a petition will have his head cut off and his property confiscated. What is the meaning of those retinues that throng around your door every day? Don't you have a spindle to keep you busy, a Koran for praying, a residence in which to hide from those besieging you? Watch yourself, and woe to you if you open your mouth in favour of anyone at all."

Khayzuran departed in absolute anger, and never had any words with him again, sweet or bitter. This situation between the royal mother and her son was never resolved and it remained an open wound. Al-Tabari says others refer to al-Hadi's overtures to Harun. One account al-Tabari cites has al-Hadi attempting to poison his mother:

"Yahya b. al-Hasan related that his father transmitted the information to him, saying: I heard Kalisah telling al-'Abbas b. al-Fadl b. al-Rabi that Musa sent to his mother al-Khayzuran a dish of rice, saying, "I found this tasty and accordingly ate some of it, so you have some too!" Khalisah related: But I said to her, "Don't touch it until you investigate further, for I am afraid that it might contain something to your detriment." So they brought in a dog; it ate some and fell down dead. Musa sent to al-Khayzuran afterwards and said, "How did you like the dish of rice?" She replied, "I enjoyed it very much." He said, "You can't have eaten it, because if you had, I would have been rid of you. When was any Caliph happy who had a mother (still alive)?" (v. 30 pp. 43–44)

Al-Hadi moved his capital from Baghdad to Haditha shortly before his death.[18]

Al-Hadi died in Baghdad at the age of 26 in 786, after ruling for only a year and two months. His brother, Harun al-Rashid, performed his funeral prayer. He was buried in 'Isa Abad. Al-Tabari notes varying accounts of this death, e.g. an abdominal ulcer or assassination prompted by al-Hadi's own mother. The note on p. 42 of volume 30 of the SUNY translation of al-Tabari cites pp. 288–289 of the Kitab al-'Uyun for the possibility that al-Khayzuran feared al-Hadi would recover from his illness and thus had slave girls suffocate him. Al-Tabari (v. 30 pp. 42f) notes al-Hadi's assertion of independence from his mother, his forbidding her further involvement in public affairs and his threatening Harun's succession. This note continues, "Certainly, his death appears as too opportune for so many people concerned that it should have been a natural one." The famous Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun discredited this claim.[19]

Military activities

His short reign was fraught with numerous military conflicts. The revolt of Husayn ibn Ali ibn Hasan broke out when Husayn declared himself caliph in Medina.

Shortly after caliph al-Mahdi died in July 785, Husayn and his followers rose in revolt at Medina, hoping to take advantage of the as yet unstable position of al-Mahdi's successor, al-Hadi.[20] Probably on 16 May 786, Husayn and his fellow conspirators tried to seize control of Medina. At the Mosque of the Prophet, Husayn took the pulpit, symbolically dressed in white and wearing a white turban, and received the allegiance of is followers, with the laqab of al-Murtaḍā min Āl Muḥammad, 'the One pleasing to God from the house of Muhammad'.[21][22]

The rebels failed to rally the ordinary people to their cause, however, and were quickly confronted by the local garrison.[21][23] Over the following days, the partisans of the Alids (al-Mubayyiḍa, the 'wearers of white') and the Abbasids (al-Musawwida, the 'wearers of black') clashed repeatedly, but the latter emerged victorious, confining the Alids and their partisans to the precinct of the Great Mosque. With his uprising clearly a failure, Husayn left the city for Mecca on 28 May, with some 300 followers.[21][24]

On 11 June 786, at the wadi of Fakhkh [ar], some 4 kilometres (2.5 mi) northwest of Mecca,[20] Husayn's small force encountered the Abbasid army, under the command of a number of Abbasid princes who had been present in the city with their armed retinues for the Hajj.[25][26] In the ensuing battle, Husayn and over a hundred of his followers were killed, and many taken prisoner.[27][28] Many Alids managed to escape the battle by mingling with the Hajj pilgrims.[27][29] Among them were Idris and Yahya, the brothers of Muhammad al-Nafs al-Zakiyya.[27]

Al-Hadi crushed the rebellion and killed Husayn and many of his followers but Idris bin Abdallah, a cousin of Husayn, escaped and aided by Wadih, the Egyptian postal manager, reached coastal Maghreb.[30] where he later founded the Idrisi state in 788.

Al-Hadi also crushed a Kharijite rebellion and repelled a Byzantine invasion. The Abbasid armies actually seized some territory from the latter.


Al-Hadi had two wives. One was Lubabah, the daughter of Ja'far, son of Caliph al-Mansur. The second was Ubaidah, daughter of Ghitrif ibn Atta and thus the niece of Al-Khayzuran bint Atta (Ghitrif ibn Atta's sister).[31] One of his concubines was Ghadir also known as Amat-al-Aziz, who had belonged to Rabi ibn Yunus, the powerful and ambitious chamberlain of caliphs al-Mansur and al-Mahdi. She was first presented to al-Mahdi, who, inturn presented her to al-Hadi. She was his favourite concubine, and bore him his two oldest sons.[32] After al-Hadi's death Harun al-Rashid married her.[33] Another concubine was Rahim, who was the mother of his son, Ja'far.[32] Another concubine was Hilanah. After al-Hadi's death, she became a concubine of his brother Harun al-Rashid.[34] His other sons were al-Abbas, Abdallah, Ishaq, Isma'il, Sulayman and Musa. Of the two daughters, one was Umm Isa, who married Caliph al-Mamun, and the other was Umm al-Abbas, who was nicknamed Nunah.[35] All of them were born of concubines.[32] His two sons, Isma'il and Ja'far married Harun-Rashid's daughters, Hamdunah and Fatimah respectively.[36]


The historian al-Tabari notes varying accounts of al-Hadi's death, e.g. an abdominal ulcer or assassination prompted by al-Hadi's own mother.

Al-Hadi was succeeded by his younger brother, Harun al-Rashid. Upon his accession, Harun led Friday prayers in Baghdad's Great Mosque and then sat publicly as officials and the layman alike lined up to swear allegiance and declare their happiness at his ascent to Amir al-Mu'minin.[37] He began his reign by appointing very able ministers, who carried on the work of the government so well that they greatly improved the condition of the people.[38]

See also


  1. ^ al-Suyuti, Tarikh al-Khulafa' (The History of Caliphs)
  2. ^ Stanley Lane-Poole, The Coins of the Eastern Khaleefahs in the British Museum
  3. ^ Abbott 1946, p. 24.
  4. ^ a b Abbott 1946, p. 31.
  5. ^ Abbott 1946, p. 32.
  6. ^ Abbott 1946, p. 26.
  7. ^ a b Abbott 1946, p. 29.
  8. ^ Abbott 1946, pp. 26, 20.
  9. ^ Khiḍrī, Tārīkh-i khalāfat-i ʿabbāsīyān, p. 51
  10. ^ Ṭaqūsh, Dawlat-i ʿabbāsīyān, p. 94.
  11. ^ al-Suyuti, Tarikh al-Khulafa' (The History of Caliphs)
  12. ^ Abū l-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī, al-Aghānī, vol. 5, p. 6
  13. ^ Ṭaqūsh, Dawlat-i ʿabbāsīyān, p. 92.
  14. ^ Eleanor Abdella Doumato (2009). "Seclusion". In John L. Esposito (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of the Islamic World. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Archived from the original on March 6, 2021.
  15. ^ El-Azhari, Taef. Queens, Eunuchs and Concubines in Islamic History, 661–1257. Edinburgh University Press, 2019. JSTOR 10.3366/j.ctvnjbg3q. Accessed 27 Mar. 2021.
  16. ^ Mernissi, Fatima; Mary Jo Lakeland (2003). The forgotten queens of Islam. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-579868-5.
  17. ^ Mernissi, Fatima; Mary Jo Lakeland (2003). The forgotten queens of Islam. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-579868-5.
  18. ^ Lewis, Bernard (1986). "Ḥadīt̲a". In Hertzfeld, E (ed.). Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vol. 3 (2nd ed.). Brill. p. 29. ISBN 978-9004081185. Retrieved 12 October 2012.
  19. ^ al-Suyuti, Tarikh al-Khulafa' (The History of Caliphs)
  20. ^ a b Turner 2016.
  21. ^ a b c Veccia Vaglieri 1971, p. 616.
  22. ^ Bosworth 1989, pp. 18–19, 33.
  23. ^ Bosworth 1989, pp. 19–20, 33–34.
  24. ^ Bosworth 1989, pp. 20–21, 35.
  25. ^ Veccia Vaglieri 1971, pp. 616–617.
  26. ^ Bosworth 1989, pp. 23–24, 30–31.
  27. ^ a b c Veccia Vaglieri 1971, p. 617.
  28. ^ Bosworth 1989, pp. 25–28.
  29. ^ Bosworth 1989, p. 26.
  30. ^ Eustache 1971, p. 1031.
  31. ^ Abbott 1946, pp. 67–68.
  32. ^ a b c Abbott 1946, p. 66.
  33. ^ Abbott 1946, p. 137.
  34. ^ Kilpatrick, H. (2023). The Book of Monasteries. Library of Arabic Literature. NYU Press. pp. 309, 449. ISBN 978-1-4798-2572-1.
  35. ^ al-Tabari, Muhammad Ibn Yarir (1989). The History of al-Tabari Vol. 30: The 'Abbasid Caliphate in Equilibrium: The Caliphates of Musa al-Hadi and Harun al-Rashid A.D. 785–809/A.H. 169–193. Bibliotheca Persica. State University of New York Press. pp. 58–59. ISBN 978-0-88706-564-4.
  36. ^ Abbott 1946, p. 157.
  37. ^ Bobrick 2012, p. 36.
  38. ^ New Arabian nights' entertainments, Volume 3


al-HadiAbbasid dynastyCadet branch of the Banu HashimBorn: 26 April 764 Died: 786 Sunni Islam titles Preceded byal-Mahdi Caliph of the Abbasid Caliphate 785–786 Succeeded byHarun al-Rashid
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