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The Shī‘ah and ‘Alawī Uprisings during the Period of Umayyad Caliphate

Ghulam-Husayn Muharrami

The Shī‘ah uprisings and armed confrontations commence at Karbalā’ and the ‘Āshūrā’ movement, but we shall not touch on the topic of Karbalā’ for the meantime.
After the martyrdom of Imām al-Ḥusayn (‘a) in the 60s AH, two Shī‘ah uprisings—that of the Tawwābūn and Mukhtār—took place whose leaders were not ‘Alawīs but rather common pious Shī‘ah. (We discussed them at length earlier.)
As these two uprisings were staged by Shī‘ah, they boasted a completely Shī‘ī nature. There is no difference of opinion concerning the leaders of the Tawwābūn that they were from among the companions of the Prophet (‘a) and Shī‘ah of the Commander of the Faithful (‘a). We have also stated in detail the view of leading Shī‘ah figures and rijāl scholars who unanimously believed in his good intention and the authentic narrations identified the slander against him coined by his opponents.
With respect to the impact of the movements in the spread of Shī‘ism, it must be said that the Tawwābūn movement was short-lived and as such, it had no opportunity to propagate Shī‘ism though it was important in terms of the qualitative spread of the Shī‘ah faith, deepening the love for the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) in the hearts making the Shī‘ah more devoted and firm in their beliefs. The uprising of Mukhtār, however, was effective in the spread of Shī‘ism and Mukhtār was able to add non-Arabs in the ranks of the Shī‘ah as it was not like that earlier. Since that time, Shī‘ism spread in the eastern part of the Muslim territories, and we could see its peak in the movement of the black-wearing ones and the ‘Abbāsids.
The chain of ‘Alawī uprisings which took place during the latter part of the Umayyad rule had a sort of relationship with the movement of the ‘Abbāsids because Banū Hāshim—including both the ‘Alawīs and the ‘Abbāsids—were united during the period of the Umayyad caliphate and there was no conflict between them. In fact, the first two ‘Abbāsid caliphs, Safāḥ and Manṣūr, had earlier paid allegiance to Muḥammad Nafs az-Zakiyyah who was one of the descendants of Imām al-Ḥasan (‘a). After the victory of the ‘Abbāsids, however, the same Muḥammad along with a number of his family members was killed by the ‘Abbāsid caliph Manṣūr. Throughout the second century AH, the ‘Alawī uprisings were related to one another more on the basis of the Zaydī ideology though the ‘Abbāsids capitalized greatly on the uprising of Zayd. As Amīr ‘Alī, one of the contemporary historians, says in this regard: The death of Zayd strengthened the ‘Abbāsid campaigners and confirmed the campaigns in full swing at the time for the caliphate of the descendants of ‘Abbās. That barrier of probable competition was removed from their way and it turned well suitable with the trend of the events related to Abū Muslim such that it was built for the overthrow of the Umayyads.

a. The Uprising of Zayd
Zayd, the noble son of Imām as-Sajjād (‘a) and brother of Imām al-Bāqir (‘a) rose up and staged an uprising against the cruelties of the Umayyad caliph Hāshim and his agents. Zayd who went to Damascus to complain against Yūsuf ibn ‘Amrū, the then governor of Iraq, was belittled and reproached by Hāshim, and upon his return from Shām, he was surrounded by the Shī‘ah in Kūfah, urging him to rise up against the Umayyads. But because of the wound he suffered at the heat of his fight, his uprising did not succeed and he himself attained martyrdom.
Regarding the personality and uprising of Zayd, various narrations have been transmitted with a group of narrators who reproach him. The Shī‘ah scholars and authorities, however, are of the opinion that Zayd was a noble and meritorious man and strong evidence fails to prove his deviation. Shaykh al-Mufīd has this to say concerning him: Many of the Shī‘ah regard him as Imām and the reason for this is that Zayd rose up and called on the people for the pleasure of Muḥammad’s progeny. The people thought that he was referring to himself though it was not the case because he knew that his brother, Imām al-Bāqir (‘a), was the rightful Imām and the Imām also introduced to him the Imamate [imāmah] of his son, Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a).
After reporting the narrations related to Zayd, ‘Allāmah Majlisī also writes, thus: Be it known that the reports concerning the status of Zayd are varied and contradictory but there are more reports expressing his dignity, grandeur and merit and that he had no incorrect assertions and most of the Shī‘ah ‘ulamā’ have praised him. Therefore, it is appropriate for us to regard him positively and avoid reproaching him.
Āyatullāh al-Khū’ī thus says about Zayd: “The narrations praising Zayd and indicating his dignity and grandeur and that he rose up to enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil are much benefited while the narrations vilifying him are weak [ḍa‘īf].”
Ample proof and evidence bear witness to the fact that Zayd’s uprising had the secret permission and tacit approval of Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a). One of these proofs was the statement of Imām ar-Riḍā (‘a) in response to Ma’mun, when the Imām said: My father Mūsā ibn Ja‘far narrated that he heard his father Ja‘far ibn Muḥammad to have said: “…Zayd consulted me about his uprising and I said to him, ‘My dear uncle, if you like to be that person who shall be hung in Kināsah, then that is your way’.” When Zayd left Ja‘far ibn Muḥammad, Ja‘far said: “Woe to him who will hear the call of Zayd but will not respond to it.”
Yes, Zayd was a true Shī‘ah and one of those who believed in the Imamate of Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a). As he used to say, In every period, one person from among us, Ahl al-Bayt, is the proof [ḥujjah] of God and the proof at our time is my nephew, Ja‘far ibn Muḥammad. He who follows him shall never be misled and he who opposes him shall never be guided.
Concerning the fact that Zayd was not regarding himself the Imām and not calling the people toward himself, Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a) says: May God have mercy upon my uncle Zayd. If he only emerged victorious, he would remain faithful (to his promise). My uncle Zayd was calling the people toward the leadership of the person chosen from among the progeny of Muḥammad and I am that person.
In particular, Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a) assumed the guardianship of the family of Zayd after his martyrdom, and he used to attend to the families of those who were martyred alongside Zayd and once distributed one thousand dinars among them.
It can be said, therefore, that Zayd’s uprising, like that of the Tawwābūn and Mukhtār, was completely Shī‘ī and justifiable; that it was against oppression and for the purpose of enjoining that which is good and forbidding that which is evil; and that his method was separate from that of the Zaydī sect.

b. The Uprising of Yaḥyā ibn Zayd
After Zayd’s martyrdom in 121 AH, his son Yaḥyā continued his father’s struggle. He went to Khurāsān through Madā’in and remained in disguise for sometime in the city of Balkh until he was arrested by Naṣr ibn Sayyār. He was imprisoned for sometime until he was able to escape after the death of the Umayyad caliph Hāshim, and many people from among the Shī‘ah of Khurāsān gathered around him. He headed toward Nayshābūr and engaged in a battle with its governor, ‘Umar ibn Zurārāh al-Qasrī and defeated him. But, at last, in 125 AH at Jawzjān, he was wounded in the forehead and was killed at the battle arena while his forces dispersed.
In contrast to Zayd’s uprising, his son Yaḥyā’s uprising was tainted by Zaydism. This fact can be discerned from the dialogue that took place between him and Mutawakkil ibn Hārūn, one of the companions of Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a), in which he somehow expressed his belief in the Imamate of his father while regarding himself as his father’s successor. In addition to other requisites, he considered fighting by sword as a requisite of Imamate.
It is at this point that the Zaydī sect takes form and its way becomes separate from that of the Shī‘ah Imāmiyyah and Ithnā Ash‘arī. The followers of the Zaydī sect do not even refer to the infallible Imāms (‘a) on juristic questions [masā’il al-fiqhiyyah].

The uprisings of the Shī‘ah begun with the movement of ‘Āshūrā’. The uprisings of the Tawwābūn and that of Mukhtār were obviously staged to take vengeance for the martyrdom of Imām al-Ḥusayn (‘a). None of the leaders of these two uprisings was an ‘Alawī. Rather, they were distinguished Shī‘ah and they had a great impact on the spread of Shī‘ism.
The uprising of Zayd ibn ‘Alī was against the cruelties of Hāshim, the tyrant Umayyad caliph. Zayd was a noble and meritorious person, and he rose up in order to enjoin what is good and forbid what is wrong. Imām aṣ-Ṣādiq (‘a) has validated him.
Yaḥyā ibn Zayd went to Khurāsān after the martyrdom of his father and rose up there against the Umayyads, but he, like his father, was wounded in the battle and died. The uprising of Yaḥyā, in contrast to that of his father, was completely Zaydī in nature.

1. When did the Shī‘ah uprisings commence?
2. What motivated the uprising of Zayd?
3. How did the uprising of Yaḥyā differ with that of Zayd?

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