The Spread of Shī‘ism during the Period of Umayyad Caliphate
In spite of severe strangulation and oppression perpetrated against the Shī‘ah during the Umayyad rule, the spread of Shī‘ism continued unabated. The reason behind this was the state of oppression of the family of the Holy Prophet (S)which prompted the people to incline emotionally toward them, causing new individuals to continuously embrace the creed of Shī‘ism. This point was completely conspicuous during the end of the Umayyad rule. The spread of Shī‘ism during the Umayyad rule had several stages, each of which had its own salient features. The overall stages can be divided as follows:
1. From 40 AH to 61 AH (the period of Imām al-Hasan and Imām al-Husayn (‘a));
2. From 61 AH to approximately 110 AH (the period of Imām as-Sajjād and Imām al-Bāqir (‘a)); and
3. From 110 AH to 132 AH, i.e. till the end of the Umayyad rule (the period of Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a).
a. The Period of Imām al-Ḥasan and Imām al-Ḥusayn (‘a)
From the time of the Commander of the Faithful (‘a), the Shī‘ah was gradually formed into a distinct group and the line of the Shī‘ah was obviously clear.
For this reason, in the peace treaty with Mu‘āwiyah, Imām al-Hasan (‘a) stipulated the guarantee of the Shī‘ah of his father’s safety as one of the articles of the peace treaty, and nobody should protest against them. The Shī‘ah gradually trained themselves to accept that obedience to the Imām does not depend on the Imām’s actual grip on power. As such, when the people were pledging allegiance to Imām al-Hasan (‘a), he made it a condition for them to obey him both in war and in peace.
In the same manner, it was made clear that Imamate [imāmah] is not necessarily equal to governance and that a tyrant ruler such as Mu‘āwiyah cannot be the Imām, obedience to whom is obligatory. For example, in the sermon that he delivered in the mosque of Kūfah after the peace treaty at the insistence and in the presence of Mu‘āwiyah, Imām al-Hasan (‘a) said: The caliph is he who practices the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of the Prophet
#7779;), and he who is practicing injustice cannot be the caliph. He is rather a king who controls a kingdom. He shall enjoy for a short period and after that, his joy shall be curtailed and he must be called to account.
Among the salient features of the Shī‘ah’s society at this stage is the unity and solidarity among them, which resulted from the status of the Shī‘ah leaders. Until Imām al-Husayn’s (‘a) martyrdom, we cannot see of any split among the Shī‘ah. Imāms al-Hasan and al-Husayn (‘a) had a certain status in the sight of Muslims which none of the pure Imāms (‘a) after them ever attained. They were the well-established progeny of the Prophet
#7779;). During the Battle of Ṣiffīn, when he saw that Imām al-Hasan (‘a) was enthusistically rushing toward the battlefront, the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) said: “Hold back this young man on my behalf, lest he causes my ruin, because I am unwilling to send these two (al-Ḥasan and al-Ḥusayn) toward death, lest the descending line of the Holy Prophet (S)is cut away by their death.”
Imāms al-Hasan and al-Husayn (‘a) also occupied a position of respect among the Companions of the Prophet
#7779;). This fact was demonstrated in the people’s pledge of allegiance to Imām al-Hasan (‘a) in which the Companions of the Holy Prophet (S)accepted his caliphate and none protested. As such, during Imām al-Hasan’s (‘a) caliphate we cannot see any problem (in terms of his legitimacy being challenged) except from Shām. When the Imām (‘a) concluded a peace treaty and wanted to leave Kūfah to return to Medina, the people wept profusely. In Medina also, his position is clear from a Qurayshī’s report to Mu‘āwiyah. In his report to Mu‘āwiyah, a Qurayshī man thus wrote: O Commander of the Faithful! Hasan performs his dawn prayer in the mosque and he remains in the state of prostration till the sun rises. Then, he inclines to one of the mosque’s pillars and anyone who is in the mosque can benefit from his services and talks to him until the rising of the sun [at noon]. He performs a two-rak‘ah prayer, stands up, goes out, asks about the condition of the wives of the Prophet
#7779;), and then returns to his house.
Imām al-Ḥusayn (‘a), like his distinguished brother, occupied a highly respectable position such that even ‘Abd Allāh ibn Zubayr, a staunch enemy of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a), could not deny the station of Imām Husayn (‘a). While the Imām (‘a) was still in Mecca, the people were not paying attention to Zubayr halting the progress of his campaign. Thus, he wanted the Imām (‘a) to leave Mecca as soon as possible. He said to Imām al-Husayn (‘a), hence
: “If I had the same position you have in Iraq, I would have hastened to go there.”
The station of the Imām (‘a) was such that his refusal to pay allegiance to the caliph rendered the government of Yazīd to be questioned. It was for this reason that the ruling authority insisted on him giving his pledge.
These two persons were held in such high esteem and respect among the Banū Hāshim that not only could none from Banū Hāshim have a leadership claim during their lifetime, but also none could even claim to be the chief of the Banū Hāshim. When Imām al-Hasan (‘a) passed away on the account of the effect of poison given by Mu‘āwiyah, ‘Abd Allāh ibn al-‘Abbās was then in Shām. Mu‘āwiyah said to him
: “Ibn al-‘Abbās, Hasan died and you became the chief of the Banū Hāshim.” Ibn al-‘Abbās said: “So long as Husayn is there, I am not.”
Even Ibn al-‘Abbās, in spite of his intellectual and political position, being a reporter of hadith and exegete of the Qur’an and, according to the Sunnīs, even higher in rank than Imams al-Hasan and al-Husayn (‘a), was offering services to them. It is thus narrated in the document of Ibn Abī Ziyād
Ibn al-‘Abbās prepared the riding horses of Hasan and Husayn, keeping the stirrup until they rode. I said
: “Why are you keeping stirrup for them even though you are older than them?” He said: “You fool! Don’t you know who they are? They are the sons of the Messenger of Allah. Is it not a great honor that God has granted me the opportunity to keep the stirrup for them?”
The Impact of the Karbalā’ Movement on the Spread of Shī‘ism
After Imām al-Husayn’s (‘a) martyrdom the Shī‘ah, owing to the loss of one of their key supporters, were extremely frightened losing hope in an armed confrontation with the enemy. With the occurrence of the heart-rending event of ‘Ashūrā’ the Shī‘ah movement received a devastating blow within a very short period of time. As the news of this event spread within the Muslim lands, especially in Iraq and Ḥijāz, intense fear prevailed in the Shī‘ah communities. This was because it became increasingly clear that Yazīd is determined to stabilize his rule even to the extent of killing the son of the Prophet
#7779;), taking as captives his women and children, and that he would not refrain from any crime in order to strengthen the pillars of his government.
The effect of this intense apprehension was most obvious in Kūfah and Medina, and it multiplied with the Ḥirrah tragedy and the intense and merciless crackdown of the popular ‘Medina movement’ by Yazīd’s forces. Severe strangulation in the Shī‘ah-populated territories of Iraq and Ḥijāz especially in Kūfah and Medina, was rampant shattering the Shī‘ah cohesion and formation. In describing this sorrowful condition, Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a) says
: “After the martyrdom of Imām al-Husayn (‘a), the people dispersed from around the family of the Holy Prophet (S)except three persons, viz. Abū Khālid Kābulī, Yaḥyā ibn Umm aṭ-Ṭawīl and Jabīr ibn Muṭ‘am.”
In describing this period, Mas‘ūdī the historian also says
: “‘Alī ibn al-Husayn assumed the Imamate secretly with utmost dissimulation [taqiyyah] at a difficult time.”
This state of affairs persisted till the end of Yazid’s rule. After Yazīd’s death, the Shī‘ah movements started and continued till the stabilization of the Umayyad rule during the caliphate of ‘Abd al-Malik. This period was a good opportunity for the spread of Shī‘ism.
One of the important impacts of the Karbalā’ movement was the delegitimization of the Umayyad rule in the public opinion. The infamy of the government reached a point where the position of caliphate was in its lowest degree and the people were no longer viewing it as a sacred institution. The poem below addressed to Yazīd’s grave in Ḥawārīn expresses this infamy:
ÃíøåÇ ÇáÞÈÑ ÈÍæÇÑíäÇ ÞÏ ÖãäÊ ÔÑ ÇáäøÇÓ ÃÌãÚíäÇ
O grave that is in the city of Ḥawārīn! The worst of people is inside you.
At that time, with the exception of the people of Shām, the Muslims—both Sunnīs and Shī‘ah—were opposing the Umayyad caliphate and Sunnī and Shī‘ah revolts were frequently happening. Ya‘qūbī thus writes
‘Abd al-Malik ibn Marwān wrote to his governor Ḥajjāj ibn Yūsuf
: “Do not afflict us with the shedding of the blood of the progeny of Āl Abī Ṭālib because we saw what fate the Sufyānīs (descendants of Abū Sufyān) met as the result of their killing.”
Finally, the blood of Imām al-Husayn (‘a) demolished the palace of the Umayyads. Muqaddasī says
: “As God saw the oppression and injustice of the Umayyads against the family of the Prophet
#7779;), He gathered an army from the different parts of that Khurāsān and sent it to them at the darkness of the night.”
Meanwhile, the state of oppression of Imām al-Husayn (‘a) and the martyrs in Karbalā’ expressed the love for the progeny of the Holy Prophet (S)in the hearts of the people and strengthened their position as the descendants of the Holy Prophet (S)and the true protectors of Islam. Most of the uprisings during the Umayyad period took place in the name and for the sake of avenging their blood, and revolutions used to be formed under the slogan, “Ya lithārāt al-Husayn” [O helpers of Husayn!]. Even the uprising of a person like Ibn Ash‘ath in Sīstān was formed under the name of Hasan al-Muthannā (son of Imām al-Hasan (‘a)). For this reason, the hadiths regarding Imām al-Mahdī (‘a) as the avenger [muntaqam] of the progeny of Muhammad
#7779;) gained prominence. The people were waiting for the avengers against the Umayyads and due to impatience and the peak of waiting, they would sometimes conform the name “Mahdī” to the name of leaders of the movements and uprisings. In the meantime, the pure Imāms (‘a) and the progeny of the Holy Prophet (S)kept on reviving the memory and reminiscence of the martyrs of Karbalā’. Whenever he desired to drink water, Imām as-Sajjād (‘a) would shed tears profusely when he set his sight on the water. When he was asked about the reason behind this reaction, he (‘a) said: “How could I not cry when the water was set free for the wild animals and beasts of prey of the deserts, but it was denied to my father?” One day, a servant of the Imām (‘a) said: “Is there no end for your agony?” The Imām (‘a) said: “Woe unto you! Ya‘qūb, who on account of the disappearance of only one of his twelve sons, so cried a lot during their separation that his eyes turned blind and on account of his agony his back bent. This is while his son was alive. But I was an eyewitness to the killing of my father, brothers, uncles and 18 persons from among my relatives whose corpses were scattered on the ground. So, how could it be possible for my agony and anguish to end?”
Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a) was encouraging the poets to recite poetry as elegy to Imām al-Husayn (‘a), saying
: “Whoever would keep on reciting poem about al-Husayn (‘a) and prompt the people to cry, paradise shall be incumbent upon him and his sins shall be forgiven.”
In this way, Imām al-Husayn (‘a) became the symbol of Shī‘ism. As such, in many stages of history such as the period of caliph Mutawakkil visitation [ziyārah] to the grave of the Imām (‘a) was forbidden.
From the time of the Commander of the Faithful (‘a), the Shī‘ah gradually formed into a particular group and party, and the rank of the Shī‘ah became completely distinct. Meanwhile, on account of the station of Imams al-Hasan and al-Husayn (‘a), the Shī‘ah of the time enjoyed unity and solidarity and no split was yet observed.
After the martyrdom of Imām al-Husayn (‘a), the Shī‘ah lost their key support and experienced intense fear and apprehension. Only a small number remained beside Imām as-Sajjād, but after the death of Yazīd, this state of affairs changed. The movement of Karbalā’ removed the legitimacy of the Umayyad rule and dragged the position of caliphate from its sanctity to its lowest ebb. In the meantime, the love for the progeny of the progeny of the Holy Prophet (S)was manifested in the hearts of the people.
1. What were the stages of the spread of Shī‘ism during the Umayyad period?
2. What was the salient feature of the Shī‘ah during the period of Imām al-Hasan and Imām al-Husayn (‘a)?
3. What was the impact of the Karbalā’ movement on the spread of Shī‘ism?