Being the concluding part of this series, let’s review a bit.
We say the heart of Shiism is the issue of succession to the Prophet, but during Abu Bakar and Umar, the first two successors of the Prophet, this was actually a non issue, as we have narrated in Part 1.
The issue was first brought up during the reign of Uthman, the successor of Umar, but as we see in Part 2, it did not become an accepted ideology. The perpetrators of this idea managed only to create trouble and killed the caliph.
When Ali took over the leadership, the idea of him being the rightful heir to the Prophet still lingered on, but he considered it as a deviant idea. When these devious people raised him to the level of divinity, Ali burned them alive, as we see in Part 3.
It was after the death of Muawiyah that the idea of Shiism received its fertile ground. Muawiyah did not intentionally provide the fertilizer to the seed of this bida’ah (innovation, idea foreign to the way of the Prophet), but his action towards the end of his life had inadvertently provided that fertile soil.
How is it so?
A few months before his death, Muawiyah, no doubt being influenced by his clan, had appointed his son, Yazid, to be his heir apparent. This was his second big mistake, bigger than the time he took up arms and fought against Ali. He must have meant well and thought that he did the right thing, as Ibnu Khaldun seems to suggest.
When Hassan bin Ali, or simply Al-Hassan as he is generally known, abdicated his claim to the caliphate in favor of Muawiyah after the death of Ali, he had the unity of the Ummah in his mind. But Al-Hassan agreed to hand over the power to Muawiyah only if the latter would let the consultative body of the Ummah choose the successor after his time ended. Muawiyah accepted the term.
This gracious act by the grandson of the Prophet, Al-Hassan, had led to twenty prosperous and peaceful years. The Islamic Empire expanded even further. Muawiyah was more than capable to rule. He was majestic. He was hailed as the first real king of Arabs. He was gracious too. He would not use sword when words would suffice. He would not even use words when silence would do the job. Like his cousin, Uthman, he had a tendency to forgive; but unlike Uthman, he had no problem of being harsh when the occasion called for one.
When Muawiyah felt that his time had come, after ruling for twenty prosperous years without much internal dissension, he consulted his advisers about his successor. They reminded him of the trouble after Uthman’s caliphate, and suggested that he appointed his heir apparent while he was still alive.
This suggestion sounded logical and reasonable enough. Transition to power can be made smoother if the successor was identified and agreed upon while the Caliph was still alive. The trouble was that his advisers also suggested that the successor should only come from his clan.
Now, as we know, by the time Muawiyah reached the end of his road, most of the leading companions were already dead. Muawiyah died in May 680 CE (60 AH), and the Prophet had died 48 years ago (or 49 years according to lunar based Islamic Calendar). The companions who were still alive by that time were mostly the youth during the time of the Prophet.
The leading personalities during that time were four, namely:
Husayn bin Ali bin Abu Talib, the grandson of the Prophet. Since he was the son of Ali, it means that he was also the grandson of the Prophet’s uncle, Abu Talib. He was born in the fourth year AH. He was 56 when Muawiyah died.
Abdullah bin Abbas (famously known as Ibnu Abbas). He was the cousin of the Prophet and also the cousin of Ali, because both of their fathers were brothers, namely Al-Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib and Abu Talib bin Abdul Muttalib, respectively. He was about ten years old when Makkah was conquered. He was the foremost scholar among the companions, whose opinion even the Great Umar sought when he was still very young. He was about 62 years old by the time Muawiyah died.
Abdullah bin Zubayr (popularly known as Ibnu Zubayr), the son of Zubayr bin Awwam. He was also the grandson of Abu Bakar, being the son of Asma’ bint Abu Bakar. He was born in the first year of Hijrah, or early second year according to some. He was also closely related to the Prophet, because his grandmother was Safiya bint Abdul Muttalib, the auntie of the Prophet. Safiya was the sister of well known companion, Hamzah bin Abdul Muttalib, the Prophet’s uncle. He was about 59 years old when Muawiyah died.
Abdullah bin Umar bin Al-Khattab, (popularly known as Ibnu Umar) who was born about three years after Muhammad became the Prophet. He was the brother of Hafsah, one of Prophet’s wives. He was the oldest of the four, about 70 years old when Muawiyah died.
When the Prophet was alive, they were just boys, except for Ibnu Umar, but by the time Muawiyah died, they were the elders of the community. People’s choice would be on any of these four, and anyone of them would have been more than capable to assume the role of the caliph after Muawiyah. But there was one little problem: none of them was from the Umayyah Clan, the clan of Muawiyah
Anyone of them might have been acceptable to Muawiyah, but not to his clan. Muawiyah knew the delicate situation he was in. Against his better judgment, as some say, he succumbed to the influence of his clan. He chose political expediency instead of doing the right thing. He appointed his son, Yazid, who was only in his late thirties, and did not have the reputation of being either virtuous, or capable.
Muawiyah perhaps thought that if he could get those four to agree with his decision, all would be well. But he died before he managed to get the bay’ah (pledge of obedience) from these four elders. It should be mentioned that none of these four really desired the caliphate for themselves, but all disagreed on account that Muawiyah had broken his promise to Al-Hassan. Failing to secure their bay’ah, in his deathbed, Muawiyah told his son Yazid, that the first thing the latter should do would be to secure the bay’ah from these four.
It turned out that Ibnu Abbas and Ibnu Umar decided to give their bay’ah to Yazid for the sake of unity, but not Al-Husayn and Ibnu Zubayr.
As for Ibnu Zubayr, he played a hide and seek game. He did not stir people to revolt, but neither did he give his bay’ah to Yazid.
As for Al-Husayn (as Husayn bin Ali is popularly known), aside from his feeling of being betrayed by Muawiyah who renegade on his promise to his brother, Al-Hassan, he was also influenced by the people of Kufah who had asked him to lead the revolt.
“The Kufans are not to be trusted,” his father’s cousin, Ibnu Abbas, cautioned him, “they had let your father down. They would do the same to you.”
“But I cannot let this injustice to prevail by giving my bay’ah to Yazid, and he would sure to force me into it,” Al-Husayn replied.
“Then go and hide in Yemen, whose mountainous terrains will be your refuge. He would not find you there.” Ibnu Abbas insisted.
“If I should die fighting injustice, then so be it.”
We merely summarize the feeling of Al-Husayn and the situation he was thrown into. The story of his revolt is famous, and it is not the place to narrate it here. Suffice to say that Ibnu Abbas’ caution soon turned out to be true. Ibnu Umar also advised him not to proceed with his intention, but his mind was already made up.
As for Ibnu Zubayr, he encouraged Al-Husayn to raise the revolt, but later changed his view when he heard that the uprising in the city of Kufah was being suppressed by Yazid’s agents. Yazid had instructed his cousin, Ubaydullah bin Ziyad, the Governor of Basra, to suppress any uprising in Kufah when the Governor in Kufah refused to take stern action against the people who planned the revolt.
Al-Husayn proceeded nevertheless with a small band of his close family members to Kufah. Soon he came to know that the hearts of the Kufans were with him, but their swords were with Yazid. Yazid’s agents meanwhile intercepted Al-Husayn’s small band at Karbala.
Al-Husayn was given only two options by the army assembled by Ubaydullah bin Ziyad: either give his bay’ah to Yazid, or die. Al-Husayn asked for the third option: to leave him alone. He promised not to stir any trouble.
There was not to be third option. They would not leave him alone until he give his bay’ah to Yazid.
“Then let my life be sacrificed for the cause, for I can never give my bay’ah to Yazid,” Al-Husayn decided.
It was settled then. Seventy men fought 3,000 strong soldiers, or 4,000 according to some, and the aftermath is well known. All fighting men in the small band of Al-Husayn were killed, except for one of his sons, whose name was Ali, better known as Ali Zaynal Abidin. He was sick and did not take part in the battle, so they spared his life. Al-Husayn’s descendants were perpetuated through him, for all his other sons were killed.
This battle took place on 10 Muharram 61 AH, the day of Ashura.
Perhaps to show as a proof that they had fulfilled Yazid’s order, either to get Al-Husayn to give his bay’ah, or to kill him, they beheaded Al-Husayn and brought his severed head to Damascus to Yazid, along with his female family members, whom they put to chain. Yazid was reportedly shedding his tears when he saw the sorry condition of Husayn family members in chained, and released them. He was shocked to see the severed head of the Prophet’s grandson.
This was not what he wanted, and not what his father Muawiyah wanted, but his subordinates had been rather too zealous in carrying out the order, as often is the case. But the damage had been done.
The brutal killing of Al-Husayn and his family members, including many from the sons and grandsons of Al-Hassan, had shaken the Muslim Ummah. Crying the event at Karbala, Ibnu Zubayr led the revolt. The Islamic Empire was torn again, with two men claiming to be the caliphs.
Slowly Ibnu Zubayr was getting the upper hand by encroaching Iraq, part of Syria and part of Egypt, in addition to consolidating his power in Peninsula Arabia. He was assisted by one of Ali’s sons, Muhammad Al-Hanafiyah, who gained much support from the Shias or supporters of Ali.
Yazid died about three years later, in 683, and was replaced by his son, Muawiyah II, the grandson of Muawiyah.
Muwaiyah II, however, was not like his father or his grandfather. A pious man by nature, he did not consider the succession of caliphate through bloodline to be legitimate, and wanted to abdicate his position. He refused to fight the challenger to the seat of caliphate, Ibnu Zubayr, and entertained the thought of abdicating his position in favor of Ibnu Zubayr, but he was opposed by his clan, Bani Umayyah. He died prematurely and left no son. The House of Umayyah was in disarray.
Marwan bin Hakkam, the secretary of Uthman when the Third Righly Guided Caliph was in office, managed to take over the caliphate seat in the House of Umayyah. He was the cousin of Uthman, as well as the cousin of Muawiyah. He was replaced by his son, Abdul Malik, who in 692 CE managed to eliminate the contender, Ibnu Zubayr. A man of strange character, pious but brutal at the same time, Abdul Malik bin Marwan ruled with iron-fist, and managed to unite the Islamic Empire once again.
All these while, Al-Husayn’s surviving son, Ali Zaynal Abidin, led a retiring life, preferred to immerse himself with prayers and knowledge. Neither was his first born son, Muhammad Al-Baqir. But his step uncle, known as Muhammad Al-Hanafiyah, Ali’s son with different wife than Fatima, was leading the camp of Ali. Together with Ibnu Zubayr, he opposed the Umayyah Dynasty, as we had earlier narrated. When Ibnu Zubayr was brutally murdered by the army of Al-Hajjaj, the General of Abdul Malik bin Marwan in 692 CE, however, Muhammad Al-Hanafiyah decided to make peace with Abdul Malik.
There was peace and prosperity again after Abdul Malik managed to crush the opposition. A few decades later, however, there was turmoil again. Ali Zaynal Abidin younger son, Zayd, who was born around 695 CE, inheriting perhaps the blood of his grandfather, Al-Husayn, led the revolt against the Umayyah Dynasty. His followers were known as Shias. About the same time, his cousin, Abu Hashim, the son of Al-Hanafiyah, was also leading the Shias from the line of Al-Hanafiyah.
These Shias were supported in the background by the descendants of Ibnu Abbas, their cousins. The latter, known as Abbasids, or Abbasiyah, managed to snatch the power from the Shias when the Umayyah Dynasty was toppled in 750 CE.
Once again, the Shias felt betrayed.
In this connection, we need to understand a few things, because they will throw light on the development of Shia and Shiism.
The first thing to note is that, with a few exceptions, the descendants of Ali especially through Fatima, namely the descendants of Al-Hassan and Al-Husayn, were quite indifferent about the caliphate. With the exception of Zayd bin Ali bin Al-Husayn, none of them really raised revolts.
Zayd’s father, Ali Zaynal Abidin, whose life was spared during Karbala, led a retiring life. So was his older brother, Muhammad Al-Baqir. But Zayd felt that it was his responsibility to be the leader of Shias. Zayd, however, felt into dispute with his followers, and they deserted him. The story of his grandfather, Al-Husayn, being deserted, was once again repeated.
Some of his followers asked him to curse Abu Bakar and Umar, along with many other leading companions. He refused. They rejected him for that, and he also rejected them. He called these people rejecters, or rafidah. Zayd group was then known as Shia Zaidiyyah. Since Zayd was the fifth leader, the group is also known as Fiver.
Those who rejected Zayd, and he rejected them, were then called the Rafidis. These Rafidis went looking for other descendants of Al-Husayn to be their leaders, whom they call imams. Some of them stopped at Ismail, the son of Jaafar Sadiq. They were known as Shia Ismailiyyah. Since Ismail was the Seventh Imam according to them, this group is also known as Shia Sevener.
Others went on and stopped at Muhammad Al-Mahdi, the son of Hassan Al-Askari. Since Muhammad Al-Mahdi was the twelfth Imam according to them, this group is known as Twelver, or better known as Shia Imamiyah.
There were many other derivatives, but the point to highlight here is that as the struggle for the House of Ali progressed, strange ideas started to creep in. The teaching of Ibnu Saba’ which was rejected by the leadership and the majority of the Ummah during his lifetime started to gain adherence. His teaching was further amplified and systematized until some of its adherents became a distinct group from the Ummah. The Shias fought among themselves and accused each other of heresy and extremism until they developed many sects and groups.
What we have narrated thus far would be sufficient to give short background to the development of Shia and Shiism. As I say in the Introductory Remarks, if Shias simply means the supporters of Ali, then it should be the thing of the past. More than a thousand years have gone by. There shouldn’t be Shia and Shiism anymore since this is nothing more than old history. The fact that it is not suggests something deeper is at play.
I have narrated briefly from historical perspective how the idea gets developed. The keen readers may detect there are the good, the bad and the ugly among them. We shall talk about these groups in the next installment.