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The Reasons behind the Burgeoning of the Shī‘ah during the Period of ‘Abbasid Caliphate

Ghulam-Husayn Muharrami

Shī‘ism experienced ever-increasing expansion during the period of the ‘Abbāsid caliphate. This fact had some reasons and factors, some of which are the following:

1. The Hāshimīs and ‘Alawīs during the Period of Umayyad Caliphate
During the Umayyad period, the Hāshimīs—including both the ‘Abbāsids and the ‘Alawīs—were united, and from the time of Hāshim when the ‘Abbāsid campaigns started and coordination with the uprising of Zayd and his son, Yaḥyā, they commenced their tasks based on Shī‘ism. As Abū’l-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī says, When Walīd ibn Yazīd, the Umayyad caliph, was killed, and there was disagreement among the Marwānīs, the Hāshimite propagators and campaigners went to the districts (rural areas) and the first thing they expressed was the superiority of ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib and his progeny as well as their being oppressed.
The ‘Abbāsid caliph Manṣūr was one of the first narrators of the ḥadīth on Ghadīr. As such, when some of the ‘Abbāsid forces saw that ‘Abbāsid policy turned against the ‘Alawīs, they did not accept it and opposed the ‘Abbāsids. For example, Abū Salmah Khalāl, who was a leading campaigner of the ‘Abbāsids in Iraq, was killed by the ‘Abbāsids on account of his inclination toward the ‘Alawīs. Although this person was not a Shī‘ah ideologically, his inclination toward the progeny of the Holy Prophet (S)cannot be denied especially that he belonged to the tribe of Ḥamdān and was a resident of Kūfah.
Among the Qaḥṭānī tribes, the tribe of Ḥamdān was preeminent in terms of inclination toward Shī‘ism. As such, Sayyid Muḥsin Amīn has considered him (Abū Salmah) one of the Shī‘ah viziers. Even the ‘Abbāsids themselves did not refrain initially from expressing love toward the progeny of the Prophet

#7779;): When the head of Marwān ibn Muḥammad, the last Umayyad caliph, was brought in front of Abū’l-‘Abbās as-Safāḥ, he performed a long prostration. He then rose up and said: “Praise be to God who made us victorious over you. Now, I do not worry when I shall die because on behalf of Ḥusayn, his brothers and companions, I killed two hundred Umayyads. On behalf of my cousin, Zayd ibn ‘Alī, I burned the bones of Hāshīm. On behalf of my brother, Ibrāhīm, I killed Marwān.
After the stabilization of the ‘Abbāsid rule, on the one hand a gap emerged between them, and the progeny of the Holy Prophet (S)and their Shī‘ah on the other. From the time of the ‘Abbāsid caliph Manṣūr, the ‘Abbāsids adopted the attitude and policy of the Umayyads toward the progeny of the Prophet

#7779;). In fact, they exceeded the Umayyads in their enmity toward the Prophet’s progeny.

2. The End of the Umayyad Caliphate and the Succession to Power of the ‘Abbāsids
The end of the Umayyad period, the ascension to power of the ‘Abbāsids, and the disputes and conflicts between them were a good opportunity for Imām al-Bāqir and Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a) to propagate the fundamentals of Shī‘ism considerably and to a great extent. This was especially true in the case of Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a) who trained students in different fields and sciences. Many outstanding scholars such as Hāshim ibn al-Ḥakam, Muḥammad ibn Muslim, Ābān ibn Taghlib, Hishām ibn Sālim, Mu’min Ṭāq, Mufaḍḍal ibn ‘Umar, Jābir ibn Ḥayyān, and others were trained by the Imām. According to Shaykh al-Mufīd, their companions all together totaled four thousand approximately in number. They used to come to Imām aṣ-Ṣadiq (‘a) from the different parts of the vast Muslim territory, bringing bounty and removing their doubts and skepticism. The Imām’s students were scattered across various cities and regions and it is natural that they played an important role in the spread of Shī‘ism to the various regions that they reached.

3. The Migration of the ‘Alawīs
One of the most important factors involved in the spread of Shī‘ism during the ‘Abbāsid period was the migration and scattering of the sādāt and ‘Alawīs across the different parts of the Muslim territories. Most of them had no faith other than Shī‘ism. Although some of them had Zaydī inclination so much so that, according to some sources, some of the sādāt were even Nāṣibīs, it can certainly be stated that most of the sadāt had been Shī‘ah, their suffering at the hands of anti-Shī‘ah governments clearly substantiate this contention.
The sādāt were scattered in many regions of the Muslim territories stretching from Transoxiana and India to Africa. Although these migrations had started during the time of Ḥajjāj (ibn Yūsuf), they were accelerated during the ‘Abbāsid period owing to the uprisings of the ‘Alawīs that mostly ended in failure. The north of Iran and the difficult to reach regions of Gīlān and Māzandarān as well as the mountainous places and far-flung lands of Khurāsān were considered secure places for the ‘Alawīs. For the first time, during the time of Hārūn ar-Rashīd, Yaḥyā ibn ‘Abd Allāh al-Ḥasanī went to Māzandarān which was then called Ṭabaristān. Although he held power and flourished in his work, through his vizier Faḍl ibn Yaḥyā who brought a letter, Hārūn was able to convince him to conclude a peace treaty. Many ‘Alawīs settled there after him and Shī‘ism spread there day by day. The people there embraced Islam through the ‘Alawīs so much so that during the second half of the third century AH, the ‘Alawī rule in Ṭabaristān was established by Ḥasan ibn Zayd al-‘Alawī. At the time, it is regarded as a conducive place for the sādāt just as Ibn Asfandiyār says, …At the time, so many ‘Alawī and Hāshimite sādāt from Ḥijāz, suburbs of Shām, and Iraq went to him. Verily, he had so much authority there that whenever he would ride, three hundred ‘Alawīs armed with swords were around him.
When Imām ar-Riḍā (‘a) was appointed by Ma’mūn as his heir-apparent, the brothers and relatives of the Imām went to Iran. As Mar‘ashī writes, Because of the rumor of the heir-apparency spread by Ma’mūn about the Imām (‘a), many sādāt came here (Iran) and the Imām had twenty one brothers. This group of the Imām’s brothers and [their] sons consisting of Ḥasanī and Ḥusaynī sadāt arrived in the villages of Rey (old Tehran) and Iraq.
And as they heard of the treachery Ma’mūn committed against Ḥaḍrat Riḍā, they took refuge in the mountainous Daylamistān and Ṭabaristān. Some of them were martyred and their tombs and shrines are famous and since the people of Māzandarān were directly Shī‘ah when they embraced Islam and believed in the goodness of the descendants of the Prophet

#7779;), sādāt were held in high esteem there.
After the failure of the uprising of Shahīd Fakh, Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī al-Ḥasanī during the time of ‘Abbāsid caliph Hādī, Idrīs ibn ‘Abd Allāh, brother of Muḥammad Nafs az-Zakiyyah went to Africa. The people there rallied around him and he set up the rule of the Idrīsīs in Maghrib. Although he was poisoned soon after that by ‘Abbāsid agents, his sons ruled there for a period of about one century. As such, the sādāt became familiar with the mentioned settlement. It was for this reason that the ‘Abbāsid caliph, Mutawakkil, wrote a letter to the governor of Egypt asking him to expel the ‘Alawī sādāt with the payment of 30 dinars for every male and 15 dinars for every female. They were transferred to Iraq and from there they were sent to Medina. Muntaṣir also wrote the following to the governor of Egypt: “No ‘Alawī could own property; he could not ride on horse; he could not move away from the capital; and he could not have more than one attendant.”
‘Alawīs could easily occupy a distinguished status among the people to such an extent that they could assume an air of dignity vis-à-vis the ruling authority. As Mas‘ūdī narrates, “Around 270 AH, one of the Ṭālibīs named Aḥmad ibn ‘Abd Allāh staged an uprising in the Ṣa‘īd region of Egypt. But he was finally defeated and killed by Aḥmad ibn Ṭūlūn.”
In this manner, the ‘Alawīs were considered to have constituted the most important challenge for the ‘Abbāsid caliphate. In 284 AH the ‘Abbāsid caliph Mu‘taḍad decided to issue an order for Mu‘āwiyah to be cursed on the pulpits. In this regard, he wrote an order but his vizier warned him of the public commotion. Mu‘taḍad said: “I will brandish my sword in their midst.” The vizier replied: Then, what shall we do with the Ṭālibīs who are present everywhere, and with whom the people are sympathetic on account of love for the progeny of the Prophet

#7779;)? This order of yours will praise and accept them, and as the people will hear it, they will tend to be more sympathetic with them (the Ṭālibīs).
The ‘Alawīs were respected by the people in every region they were residing. It was for this reason that after their deaths, the people used to build mausoleums and shrines on their graves as they used to gather around them (‘Alawīs) during their lifetime. When Muḥammad ibn Qāsim al-‘Alawī went to Khurāsān during the caliphate of Mu‘taṣim, about four thousand people gathered around him after only a short period and housed him inside a very formidable stronghold.
On one hand, the ‘Alawīs were generally good and pious people while the transgression of the Umayyad and ‘Abbāsid rulers were known to the people. On the other hand, the oppression experienced by the ‘Alawīs made them occupy a special place in people’s hearts. As Mas‘ūdī has narrated, “During the year when Yaḥyā ibn Zayd was martyred, every baby that was born in Khurāsan was named either Yaḥyā or Zayd.”

The Reasons behind the Emigration of the Sādāt [Sayyids or Descendants of the Prophet

Three factors can be identified with respect to the migration and scattering of the sādāt in the different parts of the Muslim territories: (a) the defeat of the ‘Alawī uprisings; (b) the pressure exerted by the agents of the government; and (c) the existence of good opportunities for migration.

a. The Defeat of the ‘Alawī Uprisings
As a result of the defeat of the uprisings staged by the ‘Alawīs, they could not stay in Iraq and Ḥijāz which were accessible to the capital of the caliphate, and they were forced to go to far-flung places and thus save their lives. As Mas‘ūdī says about the scattering of the brothers of Muḥammad Nafs az-Zakiyyah, The brothers and children of Muḥammad Nafs az-Zakiyyah were spread across diverse lands and called on the people to accept his leadership. His son, ‘Alī ibn Muḥammad, went to Egypt where he was killed. His other son, ‘Abd Allāh went to Khurāsān where he was imprisoned and later died in prison. His third son, Ḥasan, went to Yemen where he was also put behind bars and died there. His brother, Mūsā, went to Mesopotamia. His brother, Yaḥyā, went to Rey and then proceeded to Ṭabaristān. Another brother of his, Idrīs, went to Maghrib and the people rallied behind him…

b. Pressure Exerted by Governments Agents
In the regions of Ḥijāz and Iraq which were near the capital, the ‘Alawīs were constantly under pressure exerted by government agents. As narrated by Mas‘ūdī, Muḥammad ibn Qāsim al-‘Alawī’s travel from Kūfah to Khurāsān prompted the pressure exerted by the agents of the ‘Abbāsid caliph Mu‘taṣim.

c. Existence of Favorable Circumstances
Another factor for the migration of the ‘Alawīs was the existence of pleasant opportunities and their good social standing in the regions such as Qum and Ṭabaristān.

The reasons and factors behind the spread of Shī‘ism during the ‘Abbāsid period are as follows:
1. The Hāshimīs—including both the ‘Abbāsids and the ‘Alawīs—were united up to the period of Manṣūr and the first thing expressed by the ‘Abbāsid campaigners was the superiority of ‘Alī (‘a).
2. During the time of the bloody confrontations between the Umayyads and the ‘Abbāsids, it was a good opportunity for Imām al-Bāqir and Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a) to undertake considerable activities in propagate the fundamentals of Shī‘ism.
3. One of the most important factors for the spread of Shī‘ism was the migration of sādāt and ‘Alawīs and their scattering across diverse parts of Muslim territories. The sādāt were spread in most parts of the Muslim territories extending from Transoxiana and India to Africa.
The people of Ṭabaristān were among those who embraced Islam through the Ḥusaynī sādāt and were Shī‘ah from the very beginning.

1. Enumerate the factors for the increase in the Shī‘ah numbers during the ‘Abbāsid period.
2. What is the impact of the migration of the ‘Alawīs upon the spread of Shī‘ism?
3. What were the reasons behind the migration of the ‘Alawīs?

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