The ‘ayyamn, or the local gangs formed by men from the lowest economic level of society, emerged as an organised social force, particularly in Baghdad. Although the ‘amma (the commoners) as a social force started to crystalise itself from the time of the conflict between the two ‘Abbasid caliphs al-Amln (reigned 193-198/809-813) and al-Ma’mun (198-218/813-833) onwards, the deterioration of the economy and the huge gap between the khawass (the elite associated with rulers) and the ‘amma in this period was the main factor that led this group to organise themselves and take part in social strife.63
Al-Tawhidi, like many others, was not fond of the activities of this group, and he doubted their sincerity, as will be seen in his discussion of friendship. He describes to the vizier Ibn Sa‘dan the state of disorder caused by a group of ‘ayyarun who formed loyalties on the basis of the spirit of chivalry (futuwwa). He mentions the name of a number of their leaders who controlled Baghdad during the prolonged period of unrest.64 He describes their low behavior as follows:
Folly (ruuna) is the business of those clever fellows (shuttar) among the vigorous youth. Those who stoned and transgress laws and claim to have futuwwa. Then they repeat it and swear by it and call it jawanmardiyya (manliness). Now you see one of them roll up his sleeves, loosen his buttons, and twirl his mustache as he swaggers along and speaks arrogantly.65
The ‘ayyarUn organised themselves across sectarian and religious lines. Miskawayh describes how the commoners took part in civil disturbances. He reports the events that took place when the merchant Hamid b. ‘Abbas was the vizier responsible for tax collection. Inflation had left many of the commoners so angry that, in the mosques of Baghdad, they interrupted their prayers and caused damage to the mosques. There were many casualties among the commoners and the soldiers. Miskawayh also describes how, during the rule of Mu‘izz al-Dawla, the flagging economy, the tax hikes, and the grant of large areas of land to various viziers and military commanders, all left the ‘amma feeling insecure and hard-done-by, especially in Baghdad during the famine of 334/946.66 There were many groups of ‘ayyarUn, lusUs (robbers), and shuttar (clever fellows), who took part in looting activities thereby causing great losses for the merchants and people of good families (al-buyutat). Ibn al-Athlr gives an account of the looting and bloodshed during the riots at the time of the Buyid emir Bakhtiyar when the Byzantines were attacking Muslims in 362/973.67
The ‘ayyarun were easily manipulated by the Buyid elites, which made them different from ahdath (bands of men not officially attached to a government function). To this end, the ‘ayyarun were trapped in the Sunn--ShI‘I antagonism, supporting one side or the other. Cities and villages in Iraq were forced to form their own organisations, and became divided along tribal, ethnic, and religious lines. Each quarter had its own self-appointed chiefs (ru’asa) who guarded their territory, but often abused their roles by collecting money and participating in the widespread pillage in Baghdad. Al-Tawhidi for instance describes how Baghdad became divided into quarters. There were two main quarters, Bab al-Basra and al-Karkh, controlled by two ‘ayyarun groups who defined themselves in contrast to one another: the Sunni Fadliyya and the Shl‘1 Mar ushiyya, each of which had its own code of conduct. Al-Tawhidi reports the story of Ibn Ma‘ruf, who was named judge in 356/966 for Madinat al-Mansur and Harim Dar al-SuMn. Ibn Ma‘ruf was accosted one day by a person demanding to know whether his loyalties were to Mar‘ush or Fadl. The judge first inquired from this man which quarter he lived in, in order to give the appropriate answer.68 Thus, the ‘ayyantn continued to form a powerful force, driven by their increased feelings of being mistreated by the merchants and the elites.