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Ja’qub’e Layth Emerging from the Unfinished Structure of ‘Ayyari

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To the Brave and Honorable People of Sistan and Balouchestan


 This article introduces the book, Ya’qub’e Layth-e Saffari written by Dr. Mohammad Ebrahim Bastani Parizi (1924-2014).  Ya’qub-e Layth (840-879), the Iranian military leader, entered the political world more than a century after the Iranian commanders under Abu Muslim Khorasani (718-755) transferred power from the Umayyads to the Abbasids and took great strides toward Iran's political independence from the Islamic Caliphate. The rise of Ya’qub-e Layth-e Saffar opened a new window of power in post-Islamic Iranian history. Ya’qub joined the ‘Ayyari group, a class of warriors from ordinary families that shaped in some Iranian cities, including Sistan. ‘Ayyar meaning literally “vagabond,” applied to members of medieval fotowwa (fotūwa) brotherhoods and comparable popular organizations.[1] This article introduces the book, Ya’qub’e Layth-e Saffari to learn further about the role that Ya’qub played in the political structure of medieval Iran. It focuses more on those chapters that help us learn further about the role of Ayyaran in the political structure of Iran.


Ya’qub-e Layth's book, written by Dr. Mohammad Ibrahim Bastani Parizi, was published at Elm publication in 1964.  In this article, we examine the seventh edition of the book which was published in 2004. It includes one Introduction and twenty-three Chapters. The Introduction includes three introductions by the author to the first, third, and the seventh editions of the book, the letters of Professor Mohammad Ali Jamalzada, and Dr. Mohammad Ali Eslami Nodoushan, two great Iranian authors and also the introduction of Fathali Ra'ies, the translator of the book into Arabic which had been published in Cairo. In the introduction of the seventh edition, Dr. Bastani provides significant points about the geography of Sistan and its impacts on the living and social-economic conditions of the people.


In Chapter 3: “Ya’qub before Rising to Power”, Dr. Bastani addresses the life of Ya’qub before coming to power. Ya’qub’s father was a simple coppersmith (Saffar). According to his family’s tradition, Ya’qub's ancestors had a genealogy that traced them to the Anushirvan (r.531-579), the great Sasanid king as well as to Tahmureth-e Divband, one of the mythical Iranian kings (Bastani Parizi, pp.135-136).


 At a young age, Ya’qub, like his father, was a coppersmith whose shop in the bazaar was the center of ‘‘Ayyars; it was the beginning of his acquaintance with this group: “He {Ya’qub’s father} ate whatever he earned with the ‘‘Ayyars”. In the same way, Ya’qub spent everything he earned from this profession with young people particularly ‘Ayyars” (Bastani Parizi, pp. 137-138). Ya’qub had big goals, which undoubtedly required the provision of secure financial resources to be realized. For this reason, Ya’qub quit his job and became an unofficial toll man (Zayn al-Akhbar, p. 139). These new financial resources provided the ground for attracting many young people to the ‘‘Ayyari group (Bastani Parizi, p.140). Undoubtedly, Ya’qub's charismatic character as a social activist played a key role in attracting young people to this group (Tarikh-e Sistan, p. 200).



Saffarid dynasty 861-1003


The fourth chapter of the book, “The Kharijis, the heroes of the Hilmand Plains” examines the two groups of Kharijis and ‘Ayyarans who played a key role in shaping Ya’qub-e Layth’s political goals. In this chapter, Dr. Bastani explains the reasons for the Kharijis gaining power in the eastern regions of Iran, especially Sistan. In the time that the ‘Ayyari group shaped in Sistan or shortly before that, the Kharijis succeeded in changing Sistan to the core of their power. The discriminative behavior of the Umayyad caliphs and the ruler of Iraq, Hajjaj ibn Yusof attracted many people to opposition groups especially the Kharijis. Sistan was the gathering place of these groups who fled the Umayyad rulers and took refuge in Sistan (Bastani Parizi, p. 152). Bastani discusses in detail how under the Umayyad and the Abbasids, many Khariji leaders like Abu Hamza al-Khariji (d. 748), were able to take advantage of the people's hatred of the Abbasid Caliphate to gain power.

The fifth chapter, “ ‘Ayyars, Nightingale Gentlemen” introduces the ‘Ayyars and how they were able to fill the place of Kharijis in the political structure of Sistan and how  Ya’qub, who was previously serving the Kharijis excelled them in terms of power. In this chapter, Bastani examines the characteristics of the Ayyaran group: “The members of this group were often from the lower and middle classes who had not been educated, but there was a special spirit of cooperation among them that led to the progress of their work. The threads of love, affection, and honesty had tied them together” (Bastani Parizi, p.166). Dr. Bastani points out that ‘Ayyari was the infrastructure of Sufism and explains how later the Sufis separated their way from the ‘Ayyars.

The insecurity of the group’s financial resources and its dependence on toll and robberies posed many challenges to ‘Ayyars, for example, Ya’qub had to occasionally rob or extort money from caravans in order to provide the necessary financial resources for the maintenance of the ‘Ayyari group (Majma al-Ansab Shabankarei, p. 19).




 In the sixth chapter, “Sistan's first encounter with Islam”, the author explains why Sistan more than any other city in Iran was able to take advantage of the capacity of the ‘Ayyari group, and with the help of Ya’qub for the first and perhaps last time to the present played a great role in the Iranian political realm (Bastani Parizi, pp. 190-191).


The eighth chapter, “The Effects of Famine and Drought" argues how the famine in 835 paved the way for further dissatisfaction with the caliphate and the uprising of the Sistan people led by Ya’qub. This chapter explains that the people of Sistan suffered from poverty due to the taxes that they had to send to Baghdad (Bastani Parizi, p.231).


The ninth chapter, entitled "The Social Situation of Sistan", explains how the ‘Ayyars of Sistan under Ya’qub were united with the ‘Ayyars of other cities and were able to defeat the Kharijis who had gathered around ‘Amrow-e Khariji (Bastani Parizi, p. 254).


In the eleventh chapter, "Towards the North and the East," Dr. Bastani discusses the conquests of Y’qub in Kabul, Fars, and Herat, and how these attacks were accompanied by the looting of cities and palaces and bringing wealth to Sistan. Bastani explains that Ya’qub personally did not have the opportunity to focus on rebuilding Sistan and later under ‘Amr ibn Layth (r. 879-901), Ya’qub's brother these financial resources were used to build many urban and rural infrastructures in this region. During this time, Ya’qub also sent many of these spoils to Baghdad in order to gain the caliph's consent for the conquest of these lands.


Chapter sixteen, “The Collapse of the Tahirids”, examines Ya’qub's conquest of Nayshapur and the overthrow of the Taherids who always had close ties to the Abbasid caliphs. This conquest acted as a turning point in the history of Iran and in the relations between Ya’qub Saffari and the Abbasid Caliph (Bastani Parizi, pp. 336-337).


Chapters Seventeen to Twenty-one of the book explains the conflicts between Ya’qub-e Layth and the Abbasid Caliph. Dr. Bastani discusses that Ya’qub tried very hard to maintain his relationship with the caliph, at least in that time that he had not consolidated his power in the conquered lands, but it never worked. These conflicts which led to Ya’qub’s failure did not allow him to complete the process of making a political structure independent from the Abbasids.  This goal of independence was not followed by other Saffari emirs or other activists from the ‘Ayyari group in other cities and so remained unfinished.





Chapter twenty-one, “The End of Ya’qub’s Reign” focuses on the death of Ya’qub-e Layth in 879. He died at the age of 39 in Jondishapur and was buried in the village of Shahabad. It provides detailed interesting information about the tomb of Ya’qub-e Laythh.


Ya’qub laid the basis of the way which was leading to the doorsteps of the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad, but this question arises that why the ‘Ayyari group did not continue his goals. The book, Ya’qub’e Layth-e Saffari answers many important questions, but its strong point is that it raises even more questions in the minds of the interested people including Muhammad Ali Jamalzada. In his letter to Dr. Bastani which was published in the introduction of the book, Jamalzada asks for reasons for the failure of Iranians including Ya’qub against the Arabs, including Ya’qub the Abbasids, and the inefficiency of Iranian military structures against Abbasids’ (Bastani Parizi, pp. 106-107). Jamalzada is more interested in learning about the role that the ‘Ayyari group played in the history of Iran and why they could not fulfilL the goal of making Iran independent from the Abbasids (Bastani Parizi, 110). The book does not answer this question, but it encourages readers to do further research to find the answer to this and many other significant questions.


Maryam Kamali




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