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Barmakids (Arabic: بَرمَکیان) were a family from Balkh, who gained power by getting close to the Umayyad and Abbasid rulers. In the first period of the Abbasid dynasty, during the reign of Harun al-Rashid (r. 170/786- 193/808) and at the zenith of Abbasid power, they were involved in multiple state affairs.

The family was known by the name of their grandfather Barmak, who had a high political position. Khalid, Yahya, Ja'far, and Fadl also achieved high political positions in the caliphate.

There are divergent reports regarding the relationship between the Barmakids and the Alids, and especially Imam al-Kazim (a). According to some reports, the Barmakids helped some of the Alids who were imprisoned, but according to some other reports they were involved in the imprisonment of Imam al-Kazim (a).

In the beginning of the year 187/803, when Harun al-Rashid returned form hajj, he ordered the execution of Ja'far and imprisonment of Yahya and Fadl and the confiscation of their properties. This marked the end of the Barkmakid's political position.

Conversion to Islam

The first known Muslim of this family was Barmak the grandfather of Khalid. According to some historians, Barmak travelled to Medina after the conquest of Balkh during the caliphate of Uthman and declared his conversion to Islam. He was given the name Abd Allah by Uthman. When he returned to Balkh, he was executed by Nayzak Tarkhan, the ruler of Turkestan, because of his conversion to Islam. Barmak's wife fled, together with her young child who was also named Barmak, to Kashmir. The child began his education there and was brought up by his mother. Later, the people of Balkh brought him back to Balkh and gave him all the positions of his father.

Among the various meanings and interpretations found in historical sources for the word "Barmak," it seems more likely that Barmak was a general title given to the guards of the Buddhist temple Nawbahar in northern Afghanistan. The word derived from the Sanskrit word parmaka in the sense of a Buddhist religious leader.