By: Brother Yasar Ebrahim

(BSc (Hons): Univ of Gloucestershire; currently in 7th year of studies in Hawza in Qum, Iran)

Answering the Accusations

For centuries, Muslims, be they Sunni or Shia, believed that the sole perpetrator and instigator of the tragedy of Karbala was Yazeed b. Muawiyah and his henchman i.e. Ubaydullah b. Ziyaad, Umar b. Saad, etc…

So such an accusation never existed and therefore no answer was required, until the enemies of Islam and those who wish to extinguish the light of Allah (swt) decided to create fitna and confusion amongst the believers. But as the Holy Quran says:

يُريدُونَ أَنْ يُطْفِؤُا نُورَ اللَّهِ بِأَفْواهِهِمْ وَ يَأْبَى اللَّهُ إِلاَّ أَنْ يُتِمَّ نُورَهُ وَ لَوْ كَرِهَ الْكافِرُونَ

“They desire to put out the light of Allah with their mouths, but Allah is intent on perfecting His light though the faithless should be averse.”1

Firstly, this light will never be extinguished and secondly, it will be perfected and take others to perfection as well.  

As mentioned in part one, this accusation revolves around the theory that Kufa at the time of Imam Husayn (a) was Shia and all those who wrote letters to the Imam (a) where his Shia. In this article it is intended to briefly answer these claims, but as it was mentioned in part one, this accusation has been answered many times before.

Karbala; a Foretold Happening

There exists amongst historical literature, narrations from the Holy Prophet (s) that clearly indicate that Imam Husayn (a) would be killed on the plains of Karbala. An example is the well-known tradition regarding the bottle of sand that was given to Ummul Momineen, Umme Salamah by the Holy Prophet (s)2.  In one of these narrations reported in the book al-Futuh, Allah (swt) orders one of His closet angels to go to the Holy Prophet (s) and tell him: ’O angel! Tell Muhammad that a man from his nation (ummah), who will be named Yazeed, will kill the pure son of Fatima (s)…’ 3

The Demographics of Kufa

Kufa was a city that was established by the second caliph in the year 17th, 18th or 19th Hijri, and was initially a garrison town4. The first governor of Kufa was Sa’d b. Abi Waqqas5. When the people, after the killing of Caliph Uthman, unanimously gave the oath of allegiance to Imam Ali (a) in the year 36 Hijri, he decided to change the capital of Islam from Medina to Kufa after the Battle of Jamal. One of the first incidents that occurred in this city when Imam Ali (a) arrived, showed that this city was not Shia in terms of the majority of inhabitants believing that Imam Ali (a) was the rightful successor after the Holy Prophet (s), but rather the majority of people were Shia in terms that they accepted Ali (a) as being better than Caliph Uthman and being innocent of any wrong doings in his killing, but they still revered and respected the first two caliphs. The incident is reported as follows:

‘When Imam Ali (a) arrived in Kufa, the people of Kufa requested him to appoint an imam (prayer leader) in the Grand Masjid of Kufa for the optional night prayers of the Month of Ramadhan i.e. Tarawih. Imam forbade them from performing this action. They became upset and began to protest. Imam then decided to leave them and let them do as they please.’6

This incident clearly shows that the inhabitants of Kufa at the time of the Caliphate of Imam Ali (a) were not majority Shia in terms of beliefs, but rather they were, what came to be known as, Political Shias i.e. they accepted the political leadership of the Imam as being the fourth caliph or saw him being superior to Caliph Uthman. 7

With the efforts of Imam Ali (a) and his true Shia, like Ammar Yasir, Malik Ashtar, S’as’ah b. Shohan etc., the true beliefs of Shiasm began to be propagated amongst the masses, but no evidence exists to show how successful this propagation was. However, what also needs to be kept in mind is that a large number of these true and loyal companions of Imam Ali (a) were martyred at the Battles of Jamal and Siffin.

After the treaty between Imam Hasan and Muawiyah was signed, Kufa and especially the true Shia who were still residing there came under direct attack.             

Muawiyah appointed Ziyad b. Sumayyah as the governor of Kufa and gave orders to search out and imprison and/or kill the Shia of Ali (a).  Ibn Abi Hadid records the order as follows:

‘Muawiyah after a year of drought wrote to one of his governors and said that if anyone is caught praising Ali or his Ahlul Bayt, the duty is lifted off your shoulders i.e. do as you please with him as you will not be punished. Upon every mimbar and podium the curses of Ali must be performed and him and his family should be given a bad name! The most unfortunate of people at that time were the people of Kufa; as a large number of the Shia of Ali resided in that city. Muawiyah appointed Ziyad b. Sumayyah as the governor of Kufa, as well as Basra and he sought the Shia, as he knew who they were as he was amongst them during the Caliphate of Imam Ali (a). So he searched for them everywhere and when he found them, they were executed of threated with execution. He amputated their arms and legs and blinded them! HE crucified them from trees or banished them from Iraq; and this reached a point until no known Shia was present in Iraq.’ 8

This was the condition of Kufa and all the Islamic lands for nearly 20 years!

To conclude this section, two examples of those who identified themselves as being the Shia of Yazeed in Kufa during the time of Imam Husayn (a).

  1. A person by the name of Abdullah b. Muslim Hadhrami wrote to Yazeed the following:

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم، لعبد الله يزيد بن معاوية أمير المؤمنين من شيعته من أهل الكوفة، أما بعد فإن مسلم بن عقيل قد قدم الكوفة

‘ To the servant of God, Yazeed b. Muawiyah, Ameerul Momineen from one of your Shias from amongst your Shias of Kufah, Surely Muslim b. Aqeel is on his way to Kufa…’ 9  

2. Another person by the name of Muslim b. Umru Bahali said to Muslim b. Aqeel (a):

أنا مَن عَرَف الحقّ إذ أنكرته، ونصح لإمامه إذ غششته، وسمع وأطاع إذ عصیته وخالفت

‘I am a person who recognizes the truth, while you deny it! I am that person who serves the Imam of this Ummah while you are treacherous against him, I am he who heard his call and obeyed his orders, while you disobeyed and opposed him!’ 10  

Finally, Yazeed, himself wrote the following to Ubaydallah b. Ziyad:

فانه كتب الى شيعتي من اهل الكوفه يخبرونني ان ابن عقيل بالكوفه يجمع الجموع الخ

‘My Shia in Kufa have written to me and informed me that Muslim b. Aqeel has gathered people around him…’ 11   

Two things are clear from the above, 1) that Kufa was not all Shia Ali but that Shia Yazeed also existed in that city and 2) the word Shia has a very broad meaning and does not only mean a person who believes in Imamate of Ali (a.s) in a theological sense.

The Letters

From the above is has become clear that firstly the Shia in belief and Aqaid were extremely few in Kufa at the time of Imam Husayn (a) and secondly, other fractions also existed. In this section, in order to remain brief, an example of one such letter will be discussed, but this one letter is sufficient to falsify the accusation that only the Shia wrote letters to Imam Husayn (a).

Shabath b. Rabi, Hajjar b. Abjar, Azarah b. Qais, Amru al Zubaidiyy and Muhammed b. Umar al Tamimi wrote the following to Imam Husayn (a):

‘The gardens have grown green, the fruits have ripened and the waters have overflowed. So if you want to, then come to an army which has been gathered for you. Peace be upon you.’

What is extraordinary about this letter is that all those who wrote this letter or signed it, were those who gave testimony AGAINST Hujr b. Adi and companions! They were also involved with fighting Mukhtar when he started to avenge the killing of Imam Husayn (a)! 12 Can such people be called true and loyal Shia?

Ibn Ziyad and the Tawwabeen

Another accusation that is laid against the Shia, is that, even being a minority in Kufa, where were the Shias of Husayn (a)? Why did they not help? And was this not helping the cause of them feeling guilty and forming the movement that later became known as the Tawwabeen or Repenters Movement?    

Firstly, an in-depth study needs to be done on the activities of Ibn Ziyad in Kufa in order to understand what exactly he did to the Shia of Husayn (a), just as his father did to the Shia of Ali (a). However, one such example of the activities of Ibn Ziyad, was the mass imprisonment of the Shia of Husayn (a).He is reported to have said after the death of Yazeed:

ما تركت لكم ذا ظنه اخافه عليكم الا و هو في سجنكم

‘I did not leave anyone who I thought might oppose you except that he was put in prison…’ 13

Important Shia like Sulayman b. Surayd, who was the leader of the Tawwabeen Movement were reportedly amongst those who were placed in prison. 14   

Another important personality who was placed in prison and subject to torture and eventual crucifixion was the well-known supporter and loyal Shia of Imam Ali (a), Maytham Tammar (r).

Maytham was told by ibn Ziyad to curse and to remove himself from amongst the Shia of Ali (a), but Maytham, this staunch companion of Ali, refused and instead replied to Ibn Ziyad that Ali (a) told me that you would crucify me. Ibn Ziyad replied, ‘We shall see!’ Maytham replied. ‘ How? When this information was told to me by Ali (a) from the Holy Prophet (s) from Gibrael (a), who brought this news from Allah (swt)! I swear by Allah! I also know from which door I will be hung from and in which part of Kufa it will be in and I will be the first Muslim whose mouth will be sewed shut.’

In the end Ibn Ziyad amputated his arms and legs and hung him upon a tree, but in that state Maytham continued to praise Ali (a) and his family and curse and criticize the Ummayyads, until Ibn Ziyad ordered his mouth to be sealed and his tongue to be cut out.15    

This is how Ibn Ziyad controlled the people of Kufa, by instilling such fear in them that they would not dare challenge his rule and also by killing, imprisoning and denying the true Shia from amongst the populous of Kufa from assisting Imam Husayn (a).

To conclude, one question needs to asked, whose answer will clarify this entire discussion and leave no room for further discussion, if Imam Husayn (a) was so sure about Kufa and its people, why did he first send his cousin Muslim b. Aqeel to examine the conditions on the ground? If Kufa was truly a Shia hub as claimed by others, why would Imam Husayn (a) need this confirmation?

I pray that this short and brief article is accepted in service of Imam Husayn (a) and all those that sacrificed their lives in the protection of Husayn (a) and in the message of Husayn (a).

Reference :

1. Surah Tawba: 32

2. Baz Shanas Do Maktab, Allahmah Askari, vol. 3, pg. 36

3. Al-Futuh, ibn A’tham, vol.4, pg 234.

4. Mu’ajam Buldan, vol. 4, pg. 491

5. Tarikh Yaqoobi, vol. 2, pg. 155.

6. Seerat Javadane, Jafar Murthadha Amuli, vol.1 pg.530

7. Baztab Tafakur Uthmani dar Waqiah Karabala, Hidayatpenah, pg 26.

8. Sharh Nahjul Balagha, Ibn Hadid Mutazali Sunni, vol,11, pg 44.

9. Al-Futuh, vol.5, pg, 35.

10. Al-Kamil, vol.4, pg, 32.

11. Tarikh Tabari, vol 5, pg 357

12. The Event of Taff, Trans. of Maqtal Abu Mikhnaf, pgs. 150-154.

13. Tarikh Tabari, vol.5 pg. 503.

14. Tarikh Shia, pg 77. and Pasokh be shubahat wa i’terazat be azadari Imam Husayn (a), pg 33.

15. Maqtal Jamia Sayyid al-Shuhadah, vol. 1, pg. 565.