Khayzuran began to plan for her sons’ harems early on. Hadi only lived to be 22, with a reign of barely one year, but at the time of his death, he had seven sons and two daughters who had all been born to concubines. There were at least six concubines, some of whom he had purchased himself while others had been presented to him. He also had two legal wives, both of whom were cousins. Hadi had been appointed the sole heir in 776 while his brother Harun was sent on expeditions against the Byzantium empire. His success led to him being appointed as the second heir in 782/783. Soon, Mahdi and Hadi came into conflict and he resolved to place Harun ahead of his brother in the succession. Hadi had been sent away and refused to listen to his father’s summons to return. In the end, Mahdi went to fetch his disobedient son himself.
During this trip, Mahdi died at the age of 40-41. Several stories around his death exist – ranging from poison to a hunting accident. The end result remained the same but the death of the caliph while not in the capital was quite inconvenient. The change in the succession had not been done yet and so Hadi remained first in line. Hadi returned to the capital as fast as he could, and it took him 20 days still. A record of the meeting between the widowed Khayzuran – who also preferred her second son for the succession – and the new caliph Hadi has not been recorded. However, records indicate that she was allowed the same freedom and privileges as before her husband’s death.
The peace was not to last long. Khayzuran’s political influence remained strong and he refused her nothing. After a serious incident, he told her, “Do not overstep the essential limits of womanly modesty and overdo in person the role of the generous donor. It is not dignified for women to enter upon affairs of state.”1 She did not heed his warning and after another incident, they were now openly at war. Khayzuran rightfully began to fear for her life and was almost poisoned by her son. Her second son Harun was also in mortal danger.
It is unclear how exactly Hadi met his end and what his mother’s involvement was. One night, Hadi became seriously ill and Khayzuran was informed of this. She went to her son as he grew steadily worse in just hours. He reportedly told her, “This night I perish, and my brother succeeds me this very same night; for you know the prediction at the time of my birth at Rayy. I had forbidden you to do some things and commanded you to do certain others out of the demands of state policy and not for lack of filial devotion. I was not in opposition to you but sought only to shield you, filially and sincerely.”2 He reached for her hand, placed it on his chest and breathed his last. He was only 22 years old.
Harun was asleep in Baghdad during all of this and awoke as the new caliph. He received the news of his accession at the same time as a second messenger arrived to tell him that one of his concubines had given birth to a son. Khayzuran broke the news in the harem while awaiting further news. She then travelled to Baghdad where Harun was set to join the midday prayer.
Khayzuran was back in power and now she had a son who did not mind sharing power with her. Her annual income was about the same as one half on the entire land tax and she was – after her son – probably one of the richest persons in the Arab world. She would not enjoy her triumph for long. Just three years after Harun’s accession, she passed away. She was probably not even 50 years old and the records do not indicate what the cause of death was.
Against all tradition, Harun attended her funeral and he was praised for it. One witness wrote, “Barefoot, he accompanied the casket through the mud to the cemetery of Quraysh. Upon arriving, he washed his feet… and intoned the funeral prayer. Then he went down into the tomb to pay final homage to his mother before leaving the cemetery.”3