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Sporadic Shi’ah Uprisings

Ghulam-Husayn Muharrami

Most of these uprisings were staged without prior organization and based on individual decisions against the tyranny of caliphs and rulers toward the Shī‘ah and ‘Alawīs. Mostly reactionary and intransigent in nature, the most important of these uprisings were the following:

a. The Uprising of Shahīd Fakh
It was Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī al-Ḥasanī (known as Shahīd Fakh) who revolted during the caliphate of the ‘Abbāsid caliph Hādī. His uprising was against the extreme cruelties of the caliph of the time vis-à-vis the Shī‘ah and ‘Alawīs. Narrates Ya‘qūbī, “The ‘Abbāsid caliph Mūsā al-Ḥādī was pursuing the Ṭālibīs. He seriously threatened them, curtailing their stipends and grants, and wrote to [the rulers of] the different regions and districts to be harsh toward the Ṭālibīs.”
‘Abbāsid caliph Hādī had also appointed as ruler of Medina a person from among the descendants of ‘Umar who was very harsh against the Ṭālibīs, interrogating them daily. It was in protest of these cruelties that Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī al-Ḥasanī rose up and ordered the recital of “ḥayya ‘alā khayri’l-‘amal” [“Come to the best of deeds”] in the adhān [call to prayer] in Medina, asking the people to give their allegiance on the basis of the Book of God and the Sunnah of the Prophet

#7779;), and called on them to the leadership of the chosen one from the progeny of Prophet Muḥammad

#7779;). His policy was agreed upon by Imām al-Kāẓim (‘a) though the Imām said that he will be killed. For this reason, the Zaydīs kept aloof from him and he along with less than 500 men stood against the ‘Abbāsid army under the command of Sulaymān ibn Abī Ja‘far, and in the end, he and a number of his companions attained martyrdom in a place between Mecca and Medina called “Fakh”.
Imām ar-Riḍā (‘a) said, “besides Karbalā’ there was no tragedy more severe and tragic than [the tragedy in] Fakh.”
In general, ‘Alawīs leaders, with the exception of Muḥammad ibn ‘Abd Allāh Nafs az-Zakiyyah, did not possess popularity. The Imāmī Shī‘ah and companions of the pure Imāms (‘a), with the exception of only a few, did not participate in those uprisings.

b. The Uprising of Muḥammad ibn al-Qāsim
Muḥammad ibn al-Qāsim’s revolt had taken place in 219 AH. He was a descendant of Imām as-Sajjād (‘a), a resident of Kūfah, and had been regarded as one of the ascetic, devoted and pious ‘Alawīs and sādāt. The reason behind his uprising was the pressure exerted by Mu‘taṣim against him and as such, he was compelled to leave Kūfah for Khurāsān. As Mas‘ūdī says, In this year, that is, 219 AH, Mu‘taṣim threatened Muḥammad ibn al-Qāsim. He was truly ascetic and pious and when Mu‘taṣim threatened him, he went to Khurāsān. He stayed in the cities of Khurāsān such as Marv, Sarkhis, Ṭāleqān, and Nasā.
As narrated by Abū’l-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī, a population of around forty thousand men gathered around him. In spite of this, his uprising did not succeed and this huge population deserted him and in the end, he was arrested by the Ṭāhirīs, sent to Sāmarrā and imprisoned. Of course, he was freed by the Shī‘ah and his followers, but after that there was no news of him and he passed away secretly.

c. The Uprising of Yaḥyā ibn ‘Umar aṭ-Ṭālibī
Yaḥyā ibn ‘Umar aṭ-Ṭālibī, a descendant of Ja‘far ibn Abī Ṭālib aṭ-Ṭayyār, enjoyed an unprecedented position among the people of Kūfah on account of his asceticism and piety. Because of the cruelty and belittlement of the ‘Abbāsid caliph Mutawakkil and the Turkish soldiers against him, he was forced to rise up in Kūfah against them and when he was taking control of the helm of affairs, he implemented justice and equity. As such, he earned extraordinary popularity in Kūfah, but his uprising was thwarted by Muḥammad ibn ‘Abd Allāh ibn Ṭāhir. The people were in commotion when they were mourning for him. As Mas‘ūdi says, “People from near and far recited elegies for him, and the young and old cried for him.”
And as narrated by Abū’l-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī, in terms of elegy, none of the ‘Alawīs who had attained martyrdom during the ‘Abbāsid period equaled him in the number of poems recited for him.

Factors behind the Failure of the Uprisings
Two factors behind the failure of these uprisings can be identified: weakness in leadership and lack of coordination and cohesion of the forces. In most cases, the leaders of these movements had no proper plan or program and their activity was not based on the correct Islamic standards. As such, most of these revolts were not endorsed by the infallible Imāms (‘a). If ever some other uprisings whose leaders were competent figures ended in failure, it was because their plan and program were such that their defeat was predictable. Therefore, if the infallible Imām of the time would openly endorse them, in case of the failure of the uprising, the basis of Shī‘ism and Imamate and the principal nucleus of the Shī‘ah forces will be in jeopardy.
On the other hand, the forces of the uprisings generally lacked coordination and cohesion. Although there were sincere and true Shī‘ah among them who remained faithful to the objective up to the point of death, most of these people did not believe in their objective, or they did not agree with the leaders of the ‘Alawīs, and most of them abandoned their commander and leader at the scene of the battle. In this regard, ‘Allāmah Ja‘far Murtaḍā writes: The reason behind these failures is nothing except that the Zaydī uprisings were political movements par excellence, and their only peculiarity was that they were campaigning to follow anyone from among the descendants of the Holy Prophet (S)who would brandish his sword against the government, and they lack the intellectual purity and ideologically strong beliefs emanating from the profundity of the soul and depth of conscience. These (uprisings) were based on such a stupid feeling and shallow cultural awareness which are not even an amalgamation of emotion with reasoning and conscience that could constitute a firm foundation of commitment and mission. On account of this, these (uprisings) were sucked down into the whirlpool (of breakdown) and many lives were wasted along their path. Rather, contrary to the factors of defeat which stem from within the revolutionary forces, relying on such an emotional and intellectual force is like the thirty one’s reliance on a mirage.
And it is exactly this point that clearly shows how a people would seriously and decisively encounter events and when the water was already turning the wheels of mill and the time for harvest nigh, they would incline toward “peaceful” and “quiet” life.

The sporadic uprisings were mostly without any prior planning, and were undertaken with one individual’s decision. They were usually staged as a form of reaction to the cruelties of the tyrant caliphs and rulers. Among these uprising was that of Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī al-Ḥasanī known as Shahīd Fakh which was against the extreme harshness and cruelties of the ‘Abbāsid caliph Hādī.
On account of the pressure exerted on him by the ‘Abbāsid caliph Mu‘taṣim, Muḥammad ibn al-Qāsim who was one of the ascetic and pious ‘Alawīs, was compelled to go to Khurāsān and stage an uprising there.
The revolt of Yaḥyā ibn ‘Umar aṭ-Ṭālibī was also the results of the tyranny of the agents of the ‘Abbāsid caliph Mutawakkil.
And as to why most of the uprisings of the ‘Alawīs ended in failure, one must seek the reasons behind this in the weakness of leadership and the lack of cohesion of the forces.

1. Briefly describe the sporadic uprisings.
2. What are the reasons behind the failures of these uprisings?

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