Gaining approval of the local population, Ismail was described as good natured devout Muslim, relying exclusively on Allah in accordance with the Islamic principle of tawheed. During his brother Nasr's reign, Isma'il was sent to take control of Bukhara, which had been devastated by looting on the part of forces from Khwarazm. The citizens of the city welcomed Isma'il, seeing him as someone who could bring stability.
Soon afterwards, a disagreement over where tax money should be distributed caused a falling out between Nasr and Isma'il. A struggle ensued, in which Isma'il proved victorious. Although he took effective control of the state, he did not formally overthrow his brother, instead remaining in Bukhara. He did so because Nasr had been the one whom the Caliph had given the formal investiture of Transoxiana to; in the caliph's eyes, Nasr was the only legitimimate ruler of the region. Furthermore, the Saffarids of Sistan had claims on Transoxiana; the overthrow of Nasr would have given the Saffarids a pretext for invading. Isma'il therefore continued to formally recognize Nasr as ruler until the latter's death in August 892, at which point he officially took power.
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