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Harun al-Rashid: Adventure in 8th century Baghdad

Harun al-Rashid is a compelling historical drama series set in eighth century Baghdad, filled with adventure, powerful personalities and succession struggles.

Complete with taciturn and suspicious rulers, Abbasid guards, soldiers and courtiers dressed to impress, charismatic and scheming wazirs, mothers and wives, rascal robbers, falconry, horses and swordplay, Harun al-Rashid tells a captivating tale of life at the caliphal court of 8th Century Baghdad.

Laith in Harun al-Rashid an Arabic historical drama series set in Baghdad

A legendary figure in 1001 Nights, this series represents Harun al-Rashid in a way that is much truer to life and based around historical facts. Played by Syrian actor Qusay Khauli, Harun al-Rashid’s hedonistic and taciturn nature is mixed with his concern for the wellbeing of the people of Baghdad, where he would reportedly go on walks at night incognito with his friend Jafar the Barmakid. Harun al-Rashid was also a warrior, and his martial skill with a sword and love of horse-riding and falconry are shown in the series as well.

Harun al-Rashid with Jafar al-Barmaki in Arabic historical drama series with English subtitles.

Harun al-Rashid sticks quite closely to actual historical facts, from key personalities and events to smaller details. It highlights the complexity of life in the caliphal court, with jealousy, sibling rivalry and the destructive effect of power plays on family dynamics. Commenting on this, Al-Khaizuran, the politically motivated mother of Harun al-Rashid, says in one episode, “Kingship is sterile. It does not consider relatives or show mercy. It did not have mercy on me or on you.”

Khayzuran and Yahia al-Barmaki in Harun al-Rashid, an historical drama series from Syria

Mothers, wives and concubines play various roles in the story, with many complicated romantic liaisons being a characteristic of Harun al-Rashid’s life. His mother, Al-Khaizuran was originally a slave girl, who became the de facto ruler of the caliphate for the reigns of her husband and sons, and even had coins minted in her name. With a strong personality, she married al-Mahdi, and ensured her sons succeeded him, and that she was the power behind the throne.

Harun al-Rashid and Khaizuran

The real life Zubaidah, Harun’s wife, who is portrayed by Syrian actress Karis Bachar in the series, had the Zamzam well deepened when she saw it drying up when she visited Mecca, and provided wells and water for pilgrims on the route from Baghdad to Mecca and Medina, an important Hajj route which became known as Darb Zubaidah.
According to Ibn Battuta, “every reservoir, pool or well on this road which goes from Mecca to Baghdad is due to her munificent bounty…had it not been for her concern on behalf of this road, it would not be usable by anyone.”
Zubaidah’s palace is said to have “sounded like a beehive” because she had so many slave girls who had memorised the Quran.

Leaving the throne room in Arabic historical drama series with English subtitles

Harun al-Rashid is a Syrian drama series and was filmed in 2018. The actors are convincing in their roles playing powerful personalities at the Abbasid court, and give electrifying performances that convey the charisma of the figures they portray. The story focuses on power struggles between Harun, his brother Caliph Al-Hadi, their mother Khaizuran and the powerful Barmakid family. It also centres around Harun al-Rashid’s heirs Al-Amin and Al-Ma’mun.

Jafar al-Barmaki

Filmed in classical Arabic (fuṣḥa) and with accurate English subtitles, watching this series is a great way to improve your fluency while learning about some key moments from Islamic history, woven into a compelling tale. Rather than presenting the dry facts of history, the episodes of this series have interesting plots with suspense and tension that leave you wondering what happened next.

Galloping into Baghdad at the time of Harun al-Rashid

You may also enjoy other Arabic historical drama series with English subtitles available on Alchemiya, such as The Imam, about the life of the influential Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, and The Great Scholars of the Abbasid Age.

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