Abdullah ibn Zubayr, the principal perpetrator of the first fitna in Islamic history
On 15th of the Islamic month of Jamadi as-Sani in 73 AH, Abdullah ibn Zubayr, the claimant to the caliphate, was killed in Mecca at the age of 72 years by the forces of Hajjaj bin Yousuf, the Omayyad governor of Iraq. Born to Zubayr bin Awwam, the son of the Prophet’s paternal aunt, Safiya, Abdullah’s mother was Asma the daughter of Abu Bakr, the first caliph. Abdullah was seditious and crafty and misinterpreted and misused religion for his worldly ambitions. He was closely attached to his maternal aunt, Ayesha, one of the wives of the Prophet, and it seems he had inherited from her his intense hatred for the progeny of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA).
Abdullah is among the principal perpetrators of the first fitna in Islamic history. It was at his insistence that the Battle of Jamal near Basra took place in 36 AH against the Commander of the Faithful, the Prophet’s righteous successor, Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb (AS), even though his father, Zubayr, after initially breaking the pledge of allegiance to the Imam, withdrew from the battlefield. Imam Ali (AS) won the battle and magnanimously treated his fallen foes, allowing them, including Abdullah, to return peacefully to Medina.
Abdullah never opposed Mu’awiyah’s misrule including the murder of his dear aunt, Ayesha, but in 61 AH, when the Prophet’s grandson Imam Husain (AS) came to Mecca following his refusal to acknowledge the Godless rule of Yazid, Abdullah felt uneasy and in order to win supporters for his ambition for the caliphate, neither supported the Imam nor gave any commitment of allegiance to Yazid.
After Imam Husain’s (AS) tragic martyrdom in Karbala, Yazid’s forces first plundered and massacred the people of Medina, including several hundred companions of the Prophet, and then attacked Mecca and the holy Ka’ba where Abdullah had taken refuge. The news of the sudden death of Yazid in Damascus halted the campaign, and Abdullah took opportunity to consolidate his power in Hijaz as the self-styled caliph.
He, however, made the folly of releasing from detention and allowing the Omayyad governor Marwan ibn Hakam and his son, Abdul-Malik, to leave the Hijaz for Syria, because once in Damascus, the aging Marwan, after abdication of the caliphate by Yazid’s son Mu’awiyah, became caliph by marrying one of Yazid’s wife and when she strangled him to death nine months later, Abdul-Malek took charge of the tottering Omayyad caliphate to pose a serious challenge to Abdullah.
For almost a decade, the Muslim realm was now split between two self-styled caliphs – Abdullah in the Hijaz and Abdul-Malek in Syria. The two fought each other for control of Egypt, Iraq, and Iran, but because of the uprising of Mukhtar ibn Abu Obayda Thaqafi to avenge the blood of Imam Husain (AS), Iraq and the eastern lands were practically out of their control. Abdullah now again erred by refusing Mukhtar’s invitation to join forces against the Omayyads, who were on the verge of being totally wiped out, following successive defeats inflicted by the Iraqis and the Tawwabin (Penitents).
He instead imprisoned Mohammad Hanafiyya ibn Imam Ali (AS) and other members of the Bani Hashem clan with the intention of burning them alive. His plan was aborted by the timely arrival of a force sent by Mukhtar to Mecca to free the Hashemites. The spiteful Abdullah in 67 AH sent an army under his brother, Mus’ab, to kill Mukhtar and take control of Iraq. Mus’ab succeeded in his evil plan, but a year later, he was defeated and killed by the forces of Abdul-Malik bin Marwan. Four years later, Abdullah ibn Zubayr was finally defeated, killed and crucified by Abdul-Malik’s governor Hajjaj, who went on to destroy the holy Ka’ba as well.