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Sahib al-Zanj

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Sahib al-Zanj
Personal Information
Name Ali b.Muhammad
Epithet Sahib al-Zanj
Birth Warzanin village near Rayy, Iran
Death 270/883
Father Muhammad b. Abd al-Rahim
Mother Qurra
Religion Islam
Area of Governance Basra and Ahwaz
Activities Leader of the Zanj revolt against Abbasids

Sāḥib al-Zanj (Arabic: صاحِب الزَنْج, d. 270/883) was the leader of the Zanj revolt against the Abbasids. His name was Ali b. Muhammad but came to be known as Sahib al-Zanj because of his leadership of the Zanj revolt. He began his uprising in 255/869 and was killed in 270/883.

Sahib al-Zanj used to introduce himself as a descendant of Imam al-Sajjad (a) and claimed to be from the Ahl al-Bayt (a). However, most historians consider his claim to be false. According to a hadith from Imam al-Hasan al-Askari (a) too, he was neither from the family of the Prophet (s) nor from their followers.


Ali b. Muhammad b. Abd al-Rahim, known as Sahib al-Zanj, was from the tribe Abd al-Qays. He was born in Iran in a village called Warzanin near Rayy—hence his title Warzanini— and the name of his mother was Qurra. Some scholars consider him originally Iranian with the given name Yahbud.

Ali b. Muhammad became the leader of the Zanj revolt and because of that came to be known as Sahib al-Zanj (the Comrade of the Zanj). His grandfather participated in the revolt of Zayd b. Ali and after the latter's martyrdom fled Iraq and resided in Rayy.

Ibn Taqtaqa, an eighth/fourteenth-century historian, described Sahib al-Zanj as an intellectual (fadil); however, Ibn Inaba, a ninth-century AH historian, considered him a hardhearted person who committed evil actions.

Sahib al-Zanj is also described as a poet and man of literature who gained many followers by his speeches. In one part of his life, he would compose poems in praise of the Abbasid caliph. A collection of poems was attributed to him, which was extant until the ninth/fifteenth century.

It is reported that Sahib al-Zanj claimed to be a miracle-worker as well.

Zarrinkub has noted that most of the views on Sahib al-Zanj are biased. The accounts of al-Tabari, Ibn Athir, and al-Mas'udi about him are seen as hostile. Al-Tabari, for instance, describes Sahib al-Zanj as "wicked" (khabith) and a "grave sinner" (fasiq). Al-Dhahabi, the eighth/fourteenth-century historian, and Ibn Khaldun, the ninth/fifteenth-century thinker, have also called him "wicked." Other historians have used such expressions as "May God curse him!" when mentioning him.

Claim of Being an Alid

Sahib al-Zanj used to introduce himself as a descendant of Imam Ali (a) through Imam al-Sajjad (a) with the following ancestral line: Ali b. Muhammad b. Ahmad b. Isa b. Zayd b. Ali b. al-Husayn b. Ali (a). According to another report, he introduced himself as a descendant of Yahya b. Zayd. Miskawayh has affirmed the claim that he was from the descendants of the Prophet (s). As a result, some have called Sahib al-Zanj "Alawi" (Alid).

However, most historians and scholars reject this claim and do not regard him a descendant of the Prophet (s). They maintain that Sahib al-Zanj used to make this claim because at that time most revolts were conducted by the Zaydis and he made this claim to gain their support.

Religious Affiliation

Sahib al-Zanj is regarded as similar to Khawarij in his beliefs and actions. Like them, he would kill women and children and others who did not deserve to be killed. He also considered a grave sinner to be a polytheist, which was a major Khariji belief. The similarities between Sahib al-Zanj and Khawarij led the Qaramita to distance themselves from him, whereas their unity could pose a great danger to the Abbasid caliphate.

Although Sahib al-Zanj used to introduce himself as a descendant of Imam al-Sajjad (a), according to a hadith from Imam al-Hasan al-Askari (a), he was neither a descendant of the Prophet (s) nor a follower of Ahl al-Bayt (a). Shaykh Abbas Qummi has also stated that this hadith is confirmed by the fact that the actions of Sahib al-Zanj did not accord with the teachings of Ahl al-Bayt (a) and did not bear any signs of love for them. For instance, under the rule of Sahib al-Zanj, Shiite and Alid women were sold as female slaves.

Revolt of Sahib al-Zanj

The revolt of Sahib al-Zanj or the Zanj Revolt was an uprising under the leadership of Sahib al-Zanj against the Abbasid caliph al-Muhtadi bi-Allah. This uprising started in 255/869 and lasted for fifteen years. The Zanj managed to bring parts of the Muslim territories, such as Basra and Ahwaz, under their control. Al-Muwaffaq, the brother of the Abbasid caliph, waged war against the Zanj in 267/881 and was able to defeat them in 270/884 and kill Sahib al-Zanj. Scholars maintain that this revolt was a social and economical revolt, motivated by the class differences between the slaves and the elite.


  • The material for this article is mainly taken from صاحب زنج in Farsi Wikishia.