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Dajjāja bt. Asmā’ al-Sulamī: A Basran Matriarch
Dajjāja bt. Asmā’ al-Sulamī is best remembered as the mother of ʿAbdallāh b. ʿĀmir, the governor of Basra who led the conquests of Fars, Kirman, Khurasan, and Sistan during the caliphates of ʿUthmān and Muʿāwiya. Dajjāja appears in discussions of Ibn ʿĀmir’s governorship, most notably as a patron of major hydrological projects in the growing city including the Umm ʿAbdallāh Canal and a large cistern and wells that provided drinking water to the residents of Basra. Closer readings find evidence of her acting as an advisor to her son as well, particularly in matters of interpersonal relationships between his subordinates. On initial investigation, these aspects of Dajjāja’s life may seem to be outgrowths of her son’s authority. For example, the Umm ʿAbdallāh Canal was built on land originally granted by Ibn ʿĀmir to his mother. Digging deeper though, we find Dajjāja advocating for her interests successfully in ways that go beyond the interests of her son and his patrilineal family. Dajjāja was able to find high ranking positions including governorships under Ibn ʿĀmir for her son by another father, ʿAbdallāh b. ʿUmayr al-Laythī, and her nephew, ʿAbdallāh b. Khāzim b. Asmā’ al-Sulamī, thus creating a political network that reached from Basra to Sistan and Khurasan that was bound together by matrilineal ties. She was likewise able to gift land in Basra to these men as well. This paper will explore the influence of Dajjāja bt. Asmā’ al-Sulamī in seventh century Basra and the provinces that fell under its authority as a means to examine the ways matrilineal connections helped shape the political networks of the early caliphate. While patrilineal and tribal connections dominate discussions of political and military organization under the Rashidun and Umayyad caliphs, the example of Dajjāja provides a window into the role of matrilineal bonds in forming political alliances. This paper will also consider the role of Basra as a garrison city, home to an army that campaigned far into the east, and how this may have contributed to female authority during the period of the conquest of Iran.
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