I won’t be shocked when some readers, hearing the name Harun al-Rashid, the renowned Caliph of Islam located in the famous City of Baghdad consider him to be fictional due to the fact that he’s very much connected to a number of the amazing folklore stories included in the well-known assortment of Arabian Nights Tales by the clever princess Sheherazade.
The book , which is a collection of Arabian folklore, titled “THE ARABIAN NIGHTS OR A THOUSAND AND ONE NIGHTS” It is a thrilling collection of tales of adventure, fantasy and wonder that captivated the minds of our teenagers and continues to delight current generations. Who hasn’t enjoyed the tales from “Aladdin and the Wonderful Lamp” or “Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves” or the captivating exotic sea adventures from “Sinbad the Sailor?”
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In fact it is the case that in many stories from the Arabian Nights, Caliph Harun Al-Rashid is seen in person as an individual character. In fact, there are numerous stories within the book where Harun al-Rashid is active in the story. But, he wasn’t a fictional persona. It was an actual historical figure, who left a lasting impression on Islamic society and in the history of Islam.
He was a powerful caliph the king of his time and an extremely influential one! In fact, he was a significant historical figure in the period during which his Islamic Empire rose to newer levels of intellectual advancements in the fields of understanding, science, philosophy, in addition to art and technology. In Harun al-Rashid’s time, Islamic Empire reached its golden period as well. Harun al-Rashid’s reign ran from 786 to 809 A.D.
His empire was located in Iraq and included the gorgeous City that was Baghdad to be its capital city, widely recognized among the greatest cities of the period. Caliph Harun al-Rashid was a legendary figure of his time.
He had was the “House of Wisdom” (Bayt al-Hikma) that he created that brought together the most famous intellectuals (not all of them necessarily Muslims) in the fields of science as well as mathematics and philosophy all under one roof, who’s work helped advance knowledge, and at the same time, advance the development of the civilization itself. Harun al-Rashid was a contemporary of the Emperor Charlemagne of France who he met frequently and also exchanged gift cards.
Abbasid Caliph of Islam: Harun al-Rashid (786-809, A. D.)
Harun al-Rashid was the fifth Caliph of Islam of the Abbasid dynasty. The Abbasid family descends from Abbas who was the cousin of Muhammad (pbuh) the Prophet. Muhammed (pbuh) and Harun al-Rashid was made Caliph after the demise of the Umeyyad Dynasty, which had triumphed over Caliph Ali in Karbala in Iraq. Caliph Ali himself was killed in the year 661 A.D. In 661 A.D., the Umeyyads were from Damascus, Syria.
At the time Harun al-Rashid became the Caliphate and the Islamic Caliphate/Empire was enjoying what was referred to by historians as “the “Golden Era of Islam.” It was a time in which Islam as a culture power, was dominant in the realms of arts and philosophy, as well as science.
Europe was “in dark.” In fact, Islamic civilization was at its height and helped usher in the Renaissance in Europe through its numerous groundbreaking research and the translation of Chinese, Indian and Latino-Greek classics into Arabic and later into Latin, which would usher into an Age of Enlightenment.
Europe was at the time moving into The Era of the Renaissance, from which it would never ever look back. It was the City of Baghdad was the capital of the Islamic Empire and also the home to the House of Wisdon which was an unrivalled Centre of Learning like no other, was one of the most prosperous cities of the day and had one million and a coveted institution of higher education which attracted students, including the European nobility to the prestigious libraries and universities.
Baghdad became the cultural “Centre of the world back then. This was the time where the advancements in culture that were made by Islamic scientists, scholars, and philosophers transformed the way we learn the sciences and the study of philosophy. Furthermore, Europe in the way we see it today today, profited from the explosion of knowledge in the past. In fact, Europe wouldn’t be the identical.
Caliph Harun al-Rashid’s reign ended in 909. In reality, he was killed by an assassin in the aftermath of the outbreak of a revolt within his kingdom. His successor was Al-Mamum, his son. Al-Mamum and he continued to follow in the footsteps of his famous father. He was also a renowned patron of the sciences, arts, and math.
He was the main patron for the ” House of Wisdom” ( Bayt alBayt al Hikmah), established in the name of his father. This would be under the successors of their predecessors. Actually, the ‘ golden Era’ of Islam would continue until the thirteenth century, or until 1258 A.D. when everything would suddenly come to an abrupt end due to the devastating assault of the Mongol hoards under the leadership of Halagu Khan, who sacked the gorgeous city of Baghdad and destroyed everything along his route, burning mosques, libraries churches, mosques all of it! The city was destroyed by the “House of Wisdom” and its famous libraries, as well as its incredible collection of rare books .
They were either burned or thrown into River Tigris whose waters, according to legend, were black and ink. The Mongols did indeed prove an unforgiving blow on the Islamic Caliphate. The Mongols ended in the Golden Age and also ended the dynasty that was the Abbasid Caliphate in the wake of the death of Caliph Al-Mutasim who was actually killed by the invading forces, including who was Mongol Halagu Khan.
The Mongol invasion turned out to be a difficult chapter of Islamic history. It took many years for the religion of Islam to come back as a political and military force. However, it did recover. Islam did. In actual fact, when you consider the matter, Islam had the last laughter in the entire battle. As we all know, most Mongols later converted to Islam and would become ardent defenders of the religion.
Harun al-Rashid did, indeed make a impression on the history of mankind and did it with a magnificent manner. He was a fervent advocate of knowledge and as such, gave inspiration by the House of Wisdom (Bayt al Hikmah) to Islamic thought and culture in the wake of the Sufi tradition Mystic poets, thinkers and poets, Islam would get a new spiritual boost and then emerge as a major cultural and religious force that eventually helped to propel Islam along with Islamic studies to greater heights and aid in the dissemination of Islamic wisdom and ideas through poetry, philosophy , and the sciences, a shift that could profoundly impact all of the civilized world.
Harun al-Rashid was not just a minor character in ‘ Arabian Nights Tales”. He was certainly a lot bigger in fact, he was bigger than the world! His name and fame endure until this day — not just in Baghdad but across all of the Middle East, indeed, across in the Islamic world.
Further Reading on Harun al-Rashid
There isn’t a recent scholarly study on Harun. E. H. Palmer, Harun Alraschid: Caliph of Bagdad (1881), is not up to date. H. St. J. B. Philby, Harun al Rashid (1933) is well-known, however, it is basing itself upon secondary source. F. W. Buckler, Harunu’l-Rashid and Charles the Great (1931), goes into detail about the diplomatic exchanges between monarchs.
Nabia Abbott Two Queens from Baghdad (1946), examines court life and reveals an influence Khayzuran Harun’s mother as well as of Zubayda the wife of Harun. There are also short descriptions within general history. The tales of Harun are translated into translations of the Arabian Nights (or Thousand and One Nights), with significant differences between the various versions.