This (very short) piece is inspired by an interesting article on Medievalists.net (http://www.medievalists.net/2015/07/05/top-10-medieval-assassinations/) that looked at various high-profile assassinations in Europe during the Middle Ages. As in European history, so too in Islamic history many high-profile leaders and political figures met their demise as a result of an assassin’s blade (or poison!). The following are just some of the most significant victims of assassination between roughly 640 and 1810:
[For the sake of brevity, I have decided to keep each entry short since much more details can easily be found in various articles and books about each figure. If anyone is interested in any particular individual or would like a source reference, leave a comment below and I’ll provide additional information]
‘Umar b. al-Khaṭṭāb (d. 644): the second “Rashidūn” caliph who ruled from 634 to 644. He was assassinated by being stabbed several times while leading prayers by an enslaved Persian prisoner of war named Piruz Nahavandi/Abū Lū’lū’ (d. 644). Various motives for the assassination have been suggested by scholars, ranging from a personal grudge to a more substantial political grievance connected with the caliph’s conquest of the Sassanian Empire
‘Uthmān b. ‘Affān (d. 656): the third “Rashidūn” caliph who ruled from 644 to 656. Several of his policies led to a major revolt against his authority by Arab soldiers from the garrison towns of Iraq and Egypt. He was assassinated in his house in Medina by disgruntled Arab Muslim soldiers from Egypt during the rebellion against his rule.
Mālik al-Ashtar al-Nakha’ī (d. 658): he was an eminent Companion of the Prophet and one of ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib’s most capable and loyal supporters. He was poisoned on the orders of the governor of Syria, Mu‘āwiyah b. Abī Sufyān (d. 680), while traveling between Syria and Egypt
‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 661): the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad and the fourth “Rashidūn” caliph who ruled from 656 to 661. His period of governance was turbulent as he sought to suppress various rebellions against his rule. He was assassinated with a poisoned blade to the head while leading prayers in Kufa by ‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. Muljam (d. 661), a Kharijite rebel who sought to avenge his compatriots who had been killed by the caliph’s forces at the Battle of Nahrawan (658)
‘Abd al-Raḥmān b. Khālid b. al-Walīd (d. 667). The son of the famous general Khālid b. al-Walīd ,and one of the most important generals of Mu‘āwiyah b. Abī Sufyān during his war against the forces of ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib. Several sources, notably Abū Ja‘far al-Ṭabarī and al-Balādhurī, assert that he was poisoned by Ibn ‘Uthāl on the orders of Mu‘āwiyah, who viewed ‘Abd al-Raḥmān as a political threat to his own power
al-Ḥasan b. ‘Alī (d. 670): a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and the fifth “Rashidūn” caliph who ruled for 6 months following the assassination of his father ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib. He abdicated in favor of the governor of Syria, Mu‘āwiyah b. Abī Sufyān (d. 680), but (according to the majority of Sunni and Shi’i historical sources) was later poisoned by his wife Ja‘da b. al-Ash‘ath b. Qays, at the instigation of Mu‘āwiyah
‘Umar b. ‘Abd al-‘Azīz (d. 718): the eighth Umayyad caliph who ruled from 717 to 720. According to several historians, including al-Ṭabarī and Ibn al-Jawzī, ‘Umar was poisoned by one of his slaves (at the instigation of his Umayyad relatives) due to his break from traditional Umayyad policies, his (limited) reconciliation with the Alids and his fiscal policies
Abū Muslim al-Khurasānī (d. 755): the famous Persian general who was largely responsible for the success of the Abbasid revolution that overthrew the Umayyads. He was assassinated by the Abbasid caliph al-Manṣūr (d. 775), who viewed him as a major political threat to his rule
Idrīs I of Morocco (d. 791). A descendant of the Prophetic household (he was a great-grandson of al-Ḥasan b. ‘Alī), he fled the Abbasid massacre of his family in the East and established an independent kingdom (the Idrissid dynasty) in the Islamic West, conquering most of northern Morocco and establishing the city of Fez. He was poisoned on the orders of the Abbasid caliph Harūn al-Rashīd (d. 809) who viewed him as a major political threat
‘Alī b. Mūsa al-Riḍa (d. 818): the eighth Imam in the Twelver Shi’i tradition, he was appointed as successor to the caliphate by the Abbasid caliph al-Ma’mūn (d. 833), but, like many other Husaynids, was assassinated (by poison) soon afterwards in Tūs. His tomb became the focal point of the shrine city known today as Mashhad.
al-Mutawakkil (d. 861): the tenth Abbasid caliph who ruled from 847 to 861. He was assassinated by his own Turkish bodyguard in 861
Hishām II (d. 1013): the third Umayyad caliph of Cordoba who ruled (in name only) from 976 to 1013. He was assassinated in 1013 by Berber warriors from an opposing political faction.
Joseph b. Naghrillah (d. 1066): the Jewish vizier of the Zirid Emirate of Granada between 1056 and 1066 during the Taifa period in al-Andalus. He was assassinated in 1066 an anti-Jewish Granadan mob (which then massacred a large number of Granada’s Jewish population)
Nizām al-Mulk (d. 1092): one of the most powerful and effective chief ministers of the Seljuk dynasty. Most sources assert that he was killed by the Nizārī Ismā‘īlī assassins while traveling between Baghdad and Isfahan in one of the most high-profile assassinations in medieval Islamic history. Some historians believe that he was assassinated at the instigation of Sultan Malik-Shāh I (d. 1092).
Malik-Shāh I (d. 1092): the third sultan of the Seljuk empire who ruled from 1072 to 1092. He died poisoned shortly after the assassination of Nizām al-Mulk
al-Āmir bi Aḥkāmillāh (d. 1130): the tenth Fatimid caliph who ruled from 1101 to 1130. He took a particularly strong stance against the Nizārī Ismā‘īlīs and was assassinated by them in 1130
al-Mustarshid (d. 1135): twenty-ninth Abbasid caliph who ruled from 1118 to 1135. Unlike his predecessors, he exercised some real power and was engaged in a power struggle with the Seljuk sultans. He was assassinated either by the Nizārī Ismā‘īlī assassins or on the orders of Sultan Ghiyāth al-Dīn Mas‘ūd (d. 1152)
Razia Sultan (d. 1240): she was the only female Sultan of Delhi, ruling from 1236 to 1240. In 1240, she was overthrown in a rebellion by the nobles of the kingdom, who—among other things—were strongly opposed to being led by a woman. She was assassinated shortly thereafter.
Sayf al-Dīn Qutuz (d. 1260): he was the third Mamluk ruler of Egypt who ruled from 1259 to 1260. His most significant achievement was his defeat of the Mongols at the Battle of Ayn Jalut in 1260. Qutuz was assassinated by fellow Mamluk officers, including Baybars (d. 1277), during the journey back to Cairo.
Abū al-Ḥajjāj Yūsuf ibn al-Aḥmar (d. 1354): the seventh Nasrid emir of Granada who ruled from 1333 to 1354. He was one of the most effective and powerful of the Nasrids. He was stabbed to death while leading ‘Īd al-Fitr prayers in the Alhambra by one of his African slaves. His two predecessors—Muḥammad IV (d. 1333) and Ismā‘īl I (d. 1325)—had also met their demise at the hands of assassins
Abū ‘Inān Fāris (d. 1358): the thirteenth Marinid sovereign of Morocco who ruled from 1348 to 1358. He was the last effective Marinid ruler. He was strangled to death by his own chief minister al-Ḥasan b. ‘Umar
Lisān al-Dīn ibn al-Khaṭīb (d. 1375): the famous Granadan historian, poet, philosopher and chief minister of the Nasrid dynasty in the fourteenth century. He was strangled in his prison cell in Fez while awaiting judgment during his trial on accusations of heresy
Murad I (d. 1389): the third Ottoman sultan who ruled from 1362 to 1389. He was stabbed to death in his military encampment immediately following the Battle of Kosovo (1389) by the Serbian nobleman and knight Miloš Obilić (d. 1389)
Abū ‘Abd Allāh Muḥammad ibn Zamrak (d. 1393): eminent Granadan poet (whose verses decorate the Alhambra palace) and chief minister during the late fourteenth century. He was brutally assassinated in his home while reading the Qur’an on the orders of Muḥammad VII of Granada (d. 1408)
Ismā‘īl II (d. 1577): the third Shah of the Safavid empire. He was assassinated (by consuming poisoned opium) by the Qizilbash nobility for his staunchly pro-Sunni religious policy and his increasingly erratic behavior
Parī Khān Khanūm (d. 1578): a Safavid princess who was the daughter of Shah Tahmasp I (d. 1576) by a Circassian mother, and of the most influential Iranian women in the sixteenth century. She was strangled to death in Qazvin during the reign of Mohammad Khodabandah (d. 1596) because she was seen as a political threat due to her influence and power.
Kösem Sultan (d. 1651): as the queen-consort of Ottoman sultan Ahmed I (r. 1603-1617), the mother of the sultans Murad IV (r. 1623-1640) and Ibrahim (r. 1640-1648), and the grandmother of the sultan Mehmed IV (r. 1648-1687), she wielded immense influence and can be considered to be perhaps the most powerful woman in Ottoman history. She was assassinated in Topkapi Palace in 1651, apparently on the orders of Turhan Hatice Sultan (d. 1683), the mother of Sultan Mehmed IV, who viewed Kösem’s influence as a threat to her own
Dara Shikoh (d. 1659): he was the oldest son and heir of the Mughal Emperor Shāh Jahān (d. 1666). He was involved in a struggle for succession with this younger brother Aurangzeb (1707), who viewed him as a major threat to his power and had him assassinated in 1659
Nāder Shāh Afshār (d. 1747): originally a Turcoman general for Safavid Shah Tahmasp II (d. 1740), in 1736 he overthrew the Safavids and ruled Iran directly as Shah. He established a vast empire, but was a tyrannical ruler whose disastrous fiscal policies, burdensome rule, and controversial religious policies alienated him from the Iranian population and his own followers. He was eventually assassinated in his own military encampment by his own generals in 1747 in Khurasan
‘Abd al-Azīz b. Muḥammad b. Sa‘ūd (d. 1803): the second leader of the First Saudi Kingdom who ruled from 1765 to 1803. He was assassinated with a stiletto while leading prayers in Dir‘iyya by an Iraqi Shi’ite as an act of vengeance for his devastating sack of Karbala in 1802
Selim III (d. 1807): the twenty-eighth Ottomans sultan who ruled from 1789 to 1807. He was stabbed to death in the imperial harem immediately following a Janissary revolt