ABŪ DOLAF AL-QĀSEM B. ʿĪSĀ B. EDRĪS B. MAʿQEL AL-ʿEJLĪ, Arab military chieftain, author, poet, governor, and boon companion for several ʿAbbasid caliphs, and most important member of the ʿEǰlī dynasty of western Iran, flourished in the early 3rd/9th century. Though genealogists disagree over his exact pedigree, he was a member of the Arab tribe of Banū ʿEǰl, whose original home was in the vicinity of Ḥīra on the desert fringes of southern Iraq. He was born into a family that already had close connections with the ʿAbbasid regime; some say that his great-uncle, ʿĪsā b. Maʿqel, had raised the ʿAbbasid propagandist Abū Moslem (Ebn Ḵallekān, II, p. 502; Ebn al-Aṯīr, V, p. 191), but others claim that Abū Dolaf’s father had come from Kūfa to the Isfahan region as a brigand, implying that the family’s connections with the ruling dynasty began only when he mended his ways and settled in the town of Karaǰ, between Isfahan and Hamadān, in the reign of the caliph Mahdī (158-69/775-85; Samʿānī, Ansāb [Leiden], fols. 477b-78a).

Nothing is known of Abū Dolaf’s birth or early life, but his talents were sufficient to persuade the caliph Hārūn al-Rašīd (170-93/786-809) to appoint him governor of Jebāl province while still a young man (Marzobānī, p. 334). He appears to have promised Hārūn al-Rašīd that he would restore the prosperity of this region, including that of the family lands around Karaǰ, which had been ravaged by Iranian nomads (“Kurds”) and Arab beduins (Ebn Ṭayfūr, Ketāb Baḡdād, Leipzig, 1908, p. 254). It may have been at this time that he succeeded in capturing a notorious brigand, Qarqūr, who had plagued the area around Karaǰ (Aḡānī XVIII, p. 104).

Upon the death of Hārūn al-Rašīd and the outbreak of the civil war between his sons Amīn and Maʾmūn, Abū Dolaf cast his lot with the former. At Amīn’s request he and his followers joined the army sent out under ʿAlī b. ʿĪsā b. Māhān; but Maʾmūn’s army, commanded by Ṭāher b. Ḥosayn, managed to destroy Amīn’s force (Jomādā II, 195/March, 811), killing ʿAlī b. ʿĪsā in the process (Ṭabarī, III, pp. 798-803; Ebn al-Aṯīr, VI, p. 165). After the defeat, Abū Dolaf withdrew to Karaǰ and henceforth assumed neutrality in the struggle between Amīn and Maʾmūn; he refused to repudiate his oath of allegiance to the former as long as Amīn was alive, even when Ṭāher wrote him requesting that he take the bayʿa to Maʾmūn. It was only after Amīn’s death in 198/813 that Abū Dolaf made his way with some trepidation to Maʾmūn, who had summoned him from Ray; there the new caliph pardoned him and reappointed him over the Jebāl province (Ebn al-Aṯīr, VI, pp. 291-92; Ebn Ḵaldūn, Ketāb al-ʿebar, Būlāq, 1867, III, p. 255; Ebn ʿAbd Rabbeh, al-ʿEqd al-farīd II, pp. 37-38).

Abū Dolaf thereafter became one of Maʾmūn’s boon companions and a frequent guest at the caliph’s court, where his education and skills as a poet and musician stood him in good stead (Aḡānī XVIII, p. 44; ʿEqd II, pp. 32-33; Masʿūdī, Morūǰ III, pp. 418-19). Although still governor of Jebāl province, he spent his summers in the mountains and his winters in Iraq, presumably near the caliphal court in Baghdad (Masʿūdī, Morūǰ II, pp. 38-39). Despite this, his governorship of Jebāl province appears to have been very effective, for he was able to repel attacks on the town of Qazvīn by Daylamite tribesmen. These turbulent mountaineers he brought under control, destroying their fortresses and keeping pressure on them until they agreed either to embrace Islam or to pay the ǰezya. For this service, Maʾmūn extended his governorship to include not only Isfahan, but Qazvīn as well (Abu’l-Qāsem ʿAbd-al-Karīm al-Rāfeʿī, Ketāb al-tadwīn fī ḏekr ahl al-ʿelm be Qazvīn, MS Koḡuslar 1007, Istanbul, fol. 284a).

After the death of Maʾmūn, Abū Dolaf enjoyed the favor of the caliph Moʿtaṣem (218-27/833-42) and of the prince (later caliph) Wāṯeq, and was counted among their boon companions (Aḡānī VII, p. 155; Ebn Ḵallekān, I, p. 63). He served as a commander under Moʿtaṣem’s general Afšīn during the difficult campaigns against Bābak at Baḏḏ in northern Azerbaijan (222/836-37); there he directed a corps of volunteer troops, many of whom had come from Basra—a command which for Abū Dolaf’s tribal background may have made him especially suitable (Ṭabarī III, pp. 1197-1228; Ebn al-Aṯīr VI, p. 330). His troops were not, it seems, part of the regular army troops of the caliph’s ǰond (Ṭabarī III, p. 1209). For a time he may have been Moʿtaṣem’s governor in Damascus (Ebn al-ʿEmād, Šaḏarāt al-ḏahab, Cairo, 1931, II, p. 57; cf. Yāqūt s.v. Tadmor). Later Afšīn’s jealousy caused him to hatch a plot against Abū Dolaf’s life, which was only foiled by the alertness of the chief judge Ebn Abī Doʾād; the incident reveals the esteem in which he was held by both the judge and the caliph, who rewarded him after the episode (Ebn Ḵallekān I, p. 63). Little more can be ascertained about his official career. He seems to have made pilgrimage to Mecca at least once (Taʾrīḵ Baḡdād XII, p. 416), and died, according to most authorities, in Baghdad in 225/839-40.

Abū Dolaf’s reputation was only in part due to his political career; he was perhaps more famous for his personal characteristics and literary attainments than for his official life. That he was a man of steadfast loyalties can be inferred from his behavior in the struggle between Amīn and Maʾmūn, and from his later faithful service to Maʾmūn and Moʿtaṣem. He is portrayed in some sources as an ardent Shiʿite (Ebn al-ʿEmād, ibid.; Ebn Kaṯīr, X, p. 294), and many of the poets whom he patronized were Shiʿites. On the other hand, he seems to have been sympathetic to Muʿtazilites—not a surprising trait in one with such close ties to the caliphs Maʾmūn and Moʿtaṣem. The Basrian grammarian and theologian Qoṭrob, who definitely adhered to the Muʿtazilite doctrine, is said to have had contact with Abū Dolaf and to have been charged with educating one of his sons (Yāqūt, Odabāʾ VI, p. 105); and Abū Dolaf’s Muʿtazilite orientation may have been responsible for the decisive action taken on his behalf by the judge Ebn Abī Doʾād, himself a staunch advocate of the doctrine (cf. D. Sourdel, Le vizirat abbaside I, Damascus, 1959, p. 259). Abū Dolaf was renowned as a paragon of generosity and bravery, and also celebrated as an outstanding singer, poet, and patron of poetry (e.g., Ṣūlī, Aḵbār Abī Tammām, ed. ʿAsāker et al., Beirut, n.d., pp. 121-24; Fehrest, p. 116; Taʾrīḵ Baḡdād XII, pp. 418-20; Ebn ʿAbd Rabbeh, I, pp. 175, 180, 213-14). Poets flocked to him hoping to benefit from his munificence; at his court there reportedly gathered all the litterateurs of the Banū ʿEǰl (Ebn Ṭayfūr, p. 248; Azdī, Taʾrīḵ al-Mawṣel, Cairo, 1967, p. 392). His own literary production was considerable. Ebn al-Nadīm attributes to him dīvān of one hundred folios of poetry, as well as several books, among which are named treatises on falconry, hunting, weapons, and a “mirror for princes” (Fehrest, pp. 116, 164, 315). Of his works nothing has survived save some fragments of poetry, which treat mainly romantic and martial themes.

Abū Dolaf was noteworthy for his patronage of building. Most of his efforts in this respect were centered on the family fief at Karaǰ, which he developed greatly, and it is doubtless for this reason that the town became known as Karaǰ-e Abū Dolaf to distinguish it from other towns bearing the name Karaǰ (Ebn Ḵallekān, II, p. 504; Rāfeʿī, fol. 284a; Yāqūt, s.v. “Karaǰ;” Yaʿqūbī, Boldān, pp. 272-73). He also paid for the construction of at least one way-station on the caravan route from Baghdad to the Ḥeǰāz, much used by pilgrims. It appears to have been about thirty miles from Samīrāʾ, but sources disagree on its name and exact location (ibid., p. 176; Ebn Ḵordāḏbeh, p. 186). The so-called mosque of Abū Dolaf near Samarrāʾ, however, was built by the caliph Motawakkel some years after Abū Dolaf’s death and appears to have no historical connection with him (Herzfeld, p. 140; Creswell, II, pp. 278f.).

Although not a major literary figure or a key actor in the international political arena, Abū Dolaf was the best-known representative of an influential Arab family that played an active part in the political and cultural life of northwestern Iran for many generations. His brother, Maʿqel b. ʿĪsā, also served as a military commander of the ʿAbbasids, and he is said to have written some poetry (Aḡānī XVIII, pp. 194f.; VII, p. 158; Fehrest, p. 164). His direct descendents, the Dolafids, continued to play a role in the politics of the Jebāl region for another fifty years from their center at Karaǰ, and other branches of Banū ʿEǰl were prominent in the political and cultural life of Qazvīn (see Dolafids).


See also Abū Noʿaym, Ḏekr aḵbār Eṣbahān II, Leiden, 1934, p. 160.

Ebn ʿAbd Rabbeh, al-ʿAqd al-farīd, Beirut, 1963, I, pp. 175, 180, 195.

Ebn al-Aṯīr VI, p. 368. Ebn Ḵallekān, tr. de Slane, II, pp. 292, 5-6.

Ebn Kaṯīr, al-Bedāya wa’l-nehāya, Cairo, 1348-51, X, pp. 267-68.

Aḡānī1 VII, p. 158; XVIII, pp. 44, 100-04, 176.

Ḥoṣrī, Zahr al-ādāb, Cairo, 1925, IV, pp. 197-98.

Jāḥeẓ, al-Bayān wa’l-tabyīn, Cairo, 1968, I, pp. 111-12; II, p. 217.

Ḵāledīān, Ketāb al-toḥaf wa’l-hadāyā, Cairo, 1956, pp. 15-16, 109.

Marzobānī, Moʿǰam al-šoʿrāʾ, Cairo, 1960, p. 216.

Mobarred, al-Kāmel, Cairo, 1936-37, I, p. 367; III, pp. 1172-73.

Ṭabarī, III, p. 1154.

Yāqūt, s.vv. al-Balad, al-Baḏḏ, al-Īḡārān, al-Borǰ, Barūǰerd, al-Jebāl. K. A. C. Creswell, Early Muslim Architecture II, Oxford, 1940, pp. 278-82.

E. Herzfeld, Geschichte der Stadt Samarra, Hamburg, 1948, pp. 139-40.

R. Mottahedeh, “Administration in Būyīd Qazvīn,” in Islamic Civilization, 950-1150, ed. D. S. Richards, Oxford, 1973, p. 34, n. 3.

(F. M. Donner)

Originally Published: December 15, 1983

Last Updated: July 19, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. I, Fasc. 3, pp. 269-270

Cite this entry:

F. M. Donner, “ABŪ DOLAF ʿEJLĪ,” Encyclopædia Iranica, I/3, pp. 269-270; an updated version is available online at http://www.iranicaonline.org/articles/abu-dolaf-al-qasem-b (accessed on 30 January 2014).