The Era of Shah ‘Abbas the Great

Shah Muhammad Khudabanda
December 2, 2022
The Safavid Dynasty After Shah ‘Abbas
December 2, 2022

BACK⇒ Return to Table of contents


The Era of Shah ‘Abbas the Great


Although Shah ‘Abbas was young, he was shrewd and cunning. He was an ‘ends justify the means’ type of person. He thus killed his mentor and the best of his commanders. His reign lasted 42 years from the year 996 AH/1038 CE. The very first order of business he attended to was to enact a peace treaty with the Ottomans even though this meant he was required to retreat from many lands and halt cursing the three Rightly Guided Khalifas, which had become a practice in Iran. He accepted these demands and left his brother as guarantee in the hands of the Ottomans. In short, he accepted all the conditions placed within the treaty.[1]

The Sunni Uzbeks had taken charge of Khurasan, Mashhad, and Sabzevar the year 1002 AH. However, the death of the Uzbek king, ‘Abdullah Khan and the murder of his brother ‘Abdul Mu’min made it easy for Shah ‘Abbas to attack the city of Herat and expel the Uzbeks from the region in the year 1006 AH.

After this, Shah ‘Abbas made contact with England seeking a weapons expert which the English were happy to provide and sent Sir Anthony Shirley and his brother Sir Robert Shirley. They agreed to build a new army that would arm themselves with guns instead of arrows and swords. They also introduced artillery and built arms factories. He also formed a tribe which he called the ‘Shahsun’, i.e. friends of the king, who were chosen for their loyalty and not their proximity or familial relationship.[2]

He also assisted the English in diminishing the influence of Holland in the Arabic Sea and instating English influence. They also joined alliances in order to carry out this mission. Their wars continued until 1034 AH.

The wars of Shah ‘Abbas against the Ottomans began when the Shah assessed his strength and found himself strong enough to oppose and face them at battle. He began by rolling back on the treaty with regards to giving up Tabriz. He also attempted an invasion of both Shirvan and Diyarbakır, finally turning his attention to Baghdad.[3]

Shah ‘Abbas was plainly sectarian. The most heinous of his sectarian manifestations was his attempt to convince the Iranians to abandon their pilgrimage to Makkah and suffice on going on pilgrimage to the grave of the eighth Imam, ‘Ali ibn Musa al Rida, at Mashhad. He deemed it a nationalistic duty to avoid travel through the Ottoman lands and pay them ‘crossing fees’. He would encourage men of faith to place great importance to visiting al Rida whilst he himself took on journeys to his tomb. In fact, he once walked over 1300 kilometres to his grave.[4]

He also treated the Sunni Kurds horribly. He asked them to enter the Shia faith which they refused and so Shah ‘Abbas killed or exiled them to Khorasan, so they may serve as a barrier between him and the Uzbek Sunni populous. In just a few days he killed 70 thousand Kurds and exiled 1500 Kurdish families.[5]

He would at times mutilate the scholars of the Ahlus Sunnah, cutting their ears and noses. He would further amputate their limbs and force feed it to the common Sunni masses.[6]

He would habitually kill Ottomans and Uzbek prisoners, and if he did not kill them, he would gouge their eyes out. Yes, if they left their faith then they would be spared.[7] At times he would lay siege to an entire city in search for a single individual. If they did not hand him over, he would kill the entire village as he did at Hamdan.[8]

On the other hand, he revered the Christians, whether they were of Iranian decent or of the European lands. In fact, he showed much respect to the Christian missionaries in Iran. He built a city for the Armenians close to Isfahan called Julfa. He would go above and beyond in showing reverence to them. This resulted in many traders of the far-off lands in Europe traveling to Iran. He also enacted laws that exempted them from tax and prevented the Shia men of faith from inconveniencing them or debating them. He would present to them gifts of pork and instructed all the members of the royal court to sip on wine with the Christians, be it in the month of Ramadan. He built churches for them and joined them in their festivities and sermons. His engagement was to the extent that some priests were emboldened into trying to converting him to Christianity, which he politely declined.[9]


A Synopsis of His Entry into Baghdad

One of the Ottoman commanders of Baghdad, Bakr Subashi, rose up in opposition to the governor of Baghdad and rallied a rebellion. Fearing the backlash of the Ottomans, he sent a correspondence to Shah ‘Abbas seeking his support and in return he would hand him Baghdad. Shah ‘Abbas welcomed this and made it a catalyst for recapturing Baghdad and being able to make pilgrimage to al Najaf and Karbala’ with all the cities coming under his control.

He marched on Baghdad and when he came close to Baghdad, he sought the keys of the city from Bakr Subashi. The latter refused, fearing treachery. Nonetheless, he was able to capture Baghdad and seize the cities of Mawsil and Karkuk. He also captured most of Iraq and headed to al Najaf.


What did Shah ‘Abbas do at Baghdad?

He desecrated its sanctity, widowed its women, orphaned its children, wasted away its fortunes, destroyed its masjids, and razed it to the ground. He both levelled and looted its shrines. Amongst the shrines he levelled were that of Abu Hanifah and ‘Abdul Qadir al Jilani. He punished and oppressively dealt with the various tribes.

Shah ‘Abbas deceived the people of Baghdad. He promised them safety if they laid down their weapons; however, once done, he began killing and punishing thousands. Many of the inhabitants of Baghdad refused to change their faith and preferred death over Shi’ism, be it even a pretence of it. He took their children and women and sold them into slavery to Iran and they became a lost generation. His intent was to exterminate the Ahlus Sunnah from Baghdad and so he requested the custodians of Karbala’ to prepare a list of both the Ahlus Sunnah and the Shia so he may exterminate the Sunni demographic. He turned the Islamic institutions into stables and destroyed the Masjid of Abu Hanifah and ‘Abdul Qadir al Jilani. He then appointed a governor and left for his city. This occurred in the year 1033 AH.

In the year 1038 AH, Shah ‘Abbas died.

After his death, Shah Safi the first ascended the throne in the year 1038 AH. During his era, specifically in the year 1048 AH the Ottomans liberated Baghdad and all of Iraq. After this the Safavids were unable to occupy Iraq. They were also aware that the only neighbouring country they may resort to was Iran. Iran which has always sought to capture Iraq. The hostilities and attacks of Iran against Iraq are well documented.


Innovations During the Era of Shah ‘Abbas

  1. He established birthday celebrations at the birth date of all the Twelve Imams. He also established days of mourning on their death date. He specified eight days for ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib in Ramadan.[10]
  2. He retained and gave support to the innovations of Shah Ismail.
  3. He gave special considerations to visiting al Rida.
  4. He called himself ‘the dog of the ‘Ali’s threshold’ or ‘the dog of the custodian’s threshold’. He had this engraved onto his ring.[11]


NEXT⇒ The Safavid Dynasty After Shah ‘Abbas

[1] Dr Mahmud Jawad Mashkur: Tarikh Iran Zamin, pg. 275.

[2] Sykes: A History of Persia, vol. 2 pg. 271; Iran Dirasah ‘Ammah, pg. 252.

[3] Wadala: Khalij Faris ‘Asr Isti’mar translated by Shafi’ Jawadi, pgs. 42-43; Tarikh Iran Zamin, pg. 277.

[4] Dr Badi’ Muhammad Jumu’ah: Al Shah ‘Abbas al Kabir, pgs. 101-102.

[5] Muhammad Amin Zaki: Khulasah Tarikh al Kurd wa Kurdistan min Aqdam al ‘Usur al Tarikhiyyah Hatta al An, pgs. 207-211. Translated by Muhammad ‘Ali al ‘Awni; History of Persia, vol. 11 pg. 174. In this there is lesson to be taken by the Kurds, especially the Kurds of Iraq. Their forefathers had remained firm on their faith no matter the atrocities of Shah ‘Abbas. Today though, the Kurdish leaders of Iraq, Talabani and Barzani have opted to cooperate with the Shia and trust Iran. At the end of the day, they are Sunni and an intelligent person is he who takes heed from the plight of others.

[6] Al Shah ‘Abbas al Kabir, pg. 103.

[7] Alam Aray ‘Abbasi, pg. 103

[8] Ibid., pgs. 103-104. This is not dissimilar to the Americans and their cooperation with the Badr Corps at Fallujah.

[9] Al Shah ‘Abbas al Kabir, pg. 106-107; Tarikh Iran Ba’d Islam, pg. 671.

[10] Zindakani Shah ‘Abbas al Awwal, vol. 3 pg. 6.

[11] Ibid., vol. 3 pg. 17.