The White Garment Wearers


Abdul Hai Habibi


In the history of Afghanistan the white, black and green garment wearers have left an important impact on society. Certain sectors of society wore white, black or another color clothes to signify a specific political movement.

Here I would like to briefly discuss the history of the movement of white clothes wearers to show their distrust to the Arab rulers during the Islamic period.

Around 753 CE a movement was underway in Khorasan and present day Afghanistan against the foreign domination of the Abasi government to free the country from alien influences. People were engaged in freeing themselves from the bondage of foreign rulers and wanted to set up their own national and independent government.

Abu Muslim Khorasani was the first person who rose against foreign domination by the Arabs but he was arrested by Al-Mansur, the Abasi caliph in 755 CE, and executed in the Baghdad court. However, with the killing of this independence seeking Khorasani, the flame of independence did not die in the country. The struggle to free Khorasan of foreign domination continued for the next two centuries until finally an independent government, run by people from Khorasan, was established. When Abu Muslim started his national movement in Khorasan, a person by the name of Abu Daud Khalid bin Ibrahim was his companion. When Abu Muslim embarked on his journey to go for pilgrimage in Mecca, he appointed Khaled as his deputy in Khorasan. But this person betrayed his mentor, and under the patronage of the Baghdad government, did not continue Abu Muslim’s strife. After the killing of Abu Muslim the Baghdad establishment appointed Khaled as governor of Khorasan.

At the time a political movement was underway in Khorasan called the Sepead Jamagan (The White Garment Wearers). The Arabs called them Al-Mubaieda (the white ones). They wore white garments to signify their political ideology.

Common people joined this political group and their leaders were also from mainstream people. Their revolutionary actions, from the perspective of politics and ideology, is worthy of study. The historian, Abdul Hai Gardezi, in Zein-al-Akhbar, writes:

In 758 CE these white garment wearers, under the leadership of Say’ed Julah, gathered in Merv, the capital of Khorasan to protest against foreign domination by the Arabs. Early in the morning they besieged Khaled, the renegade governor appoointed by the Abasi court, in Dar-al-Emarat (the governor’s palace). When Khaled saw the rebels around his office and heard their shouts, he went to the roof of his palace, slipped and fell off the roof, injured his spine and died in the afternoon of that day. In this way the movement of the white garmented group came to the fore but the commander of security, Asam, who according to the Arabs, was a guardian of Merv, arrested Say’ed Julah and leaders of the movement and killed all of them to put an end to this political ideology. However, there were other freedom movements underway in Khorasan and this fire could not be extinguished with ease. The people protested and rebelled over and over again until the rise of Hashem bin Hakeem, from the Kaza village, near Merv in 778 CE, who started a new political movement among the people. The Arabs called him Hakim Maqna’ because he always covered his face with a green maqna’ (mask).

Historians, and in particular, Narshaki, the author of History of Bukhara, states: Hakim Maqna’, the leader of the white garmented movement, had the power of transmigration and his followers believed that Abu Muslim’s soul had transmigrated into his body.  Al-Biruni, writes in Asar-al-Baqia: At the beginning of the fifth century Hijra (11th century CE), he was in hiding in Trans Oxiana, and appeared under the guise of Islamic beliefs.

According to Narshaki, Maqna’ sent his missionaries and writings to all the provinces of Khorasan and invited them to join his movement. It is said that Hakim Maqna’ once again called on people in the participation of free-thinking and in the role of women in society. To finance the movent his followers looted caravans and villages.

Maqna’ always covered his face with a green mask. One day 50,000 of his followers gathered in Merv and asked him to remove his mask. Maqna’ told them they will not be able to see the aura of his face but when they insisted he gathered one hundred maidens and lined them with mirrors on rooftops. When the rays of sun hit the mirrors and illuminated the ground, his followers thought that it was the reflection of his face. But his adversaries claimed, the reason he did not remove his mask, was because he was blind in one eye.

It is said, that among his incredible feats, he was an expert in chemistry and had built a moon from quicksilver, which rose every evening from a well in the city of Nakhshab. This place is known as Qarshi at the present time. Qazweni, in Asar-al-Belad, writes that after the killing of Maqna’, people found a bowl full of quicksilver from the well. He managed to undertake this movement based on the principles of mathematics and the rays of light. In Dari (Persian) and Arabic literature this artificial moon was famous as Mah-e Nukust, (the first moon), Mah-e Sanam (moon of high ground) and al-Badr al-Maqna’ (Maqna’s full moon).

As a result of his miraculous deeds, Maqna’ managed to attract a lot of people and sent his father-in-law, Abdullah bib Omar, to Trans Oxiana, to spread his message. Omar Subakhi, also became his disciple and killed the Arab Amir there.

During this time, Hamid bin Qahtaba, was the amir of Khorasan. He tried to arrest Maqna’ who managed to reach his followers in the Sanam fortress where he gathered a large number of devoted and selfless white garmented followers and attacked Arab armies and cities. Finally the caliph of Baghdad, Al-Mehdi, sent in a large force, lead by talented officers, to confront Maqna’s followers. Ferocious battles took place in Bukhara, Narshakh, Sanam, Sughd, Merv and many other places. Finally in 778 CE Ma’az bin Muslim was appointed as the amir of Khorasan and he came to Merv where he gathered an army of 570,000 men among whom 3000 men rode chariots and were armed with spears and axes.

Maqna’s movement, which had been underway for fourteen years, did not end up so quickly. In 780 CE, Al-Mehdi, the caliph of Baghdad, himself came Bukhara to face the white garment followers. Maqna’ remained besieged in the Sanam fortress for several years. His followers defended the fortress fiercely. Thousands were killed and 30,000 were taken prisoners. Finally Maqna’ was left with 2000 men in the fortress.

Maqna’ killed all his family members and threw himself in glowing ambers. His political and ideological campaign ended this way. But his name remains recorded in history. Historians have different opinions about his death but it is clear that in the year 780 he killed himself by throwing himself in ambers.[1]






[1]Pashtun Zhagh Magazine, 1968. Fourth edition, p. 13.