The Bani Umayyah and the Bani Abbas
The Bani Umayyah
The Bani Umayyah had been sworn enemies of the Bani Hashim since the time when Hashim, the forefather of our Prophet (S), had succeeded in banishing his evil half-brother Umayyah from Makka.
The Bani Umayyah started tormenting the Prophet (S) immediately he began to spread Islam. Abu Sufyan was their leader. He led the wars of Badr and Uhud against the Muslims. During the battle of Uhud his wife Hind hired an assassin to kill Hamza, the uncle of the Prophet (S). After the murder, she located the body of Hamza, mutilated it, and chewed his liver. The children of this accursed couple were no less evil. After the death of the Prophet (S), Abu Sufyan tried to attain power by encouraging Imam Ali (A) to regain his right to Caliphate by spilling blood. Imam Ali (A), well aware of the hidden intent of Abu Sufyan, rejected his offer.
It was left to those who had stolen the rights of Imam Ali (A), namely Abu Bakr and Umar, to prepare the ground for the Bani Umayyah to come to power. Umar appointed Yazid, son of Abu Sufyan, as governor of Palestine and later, of Syria. When Yazid died, his younger brother, Mu'awiya became the ruler of Syria. Umar further strengthened the power base of the Bani Umayyah by arranging for Uthman to succeed him as Caliph. Uthman made sure that all the key posts in the Muslim empire were in the hands of his Bani Umayyah clan. Since then, the Bani Umayyah became the ultimate power throughout the Muslim lands and began to torture and harass the family and Shia of Imam Ali (A)
II. The Bani Umayyah Kings
1. Mu'awiya son of Abu Sufyan
When Imam Ali (A) was asked by all the Muslims to become Caliph in 35 A.H., one of the first things he did was to ask Mu'awiya to forego his governorship of Syria and give an account of his actions. Mu'awiya, however, wanted the Caliphate himself, and claimed that he was an independent authority and not under the Muslim state.
This led to the battle of Siffin, which came to an unsatisfactory conclusion in 37 A.H. Some of the factors leading to the success of Mu'awiya in Syria were the following:
i) The excuse of revenge for the murder of Uthman.
ii) The battle of Jamal led by Ayesha.
iii) The uncompromising nature of Imam Ali's (A) faith.
iv) The murder of Imam Ali (A) by Abdur Rahman ibne Muljam.
v) The cunning and treacherous nature of Muawiya himself.
After the death of Imam Ali (A), Mu'awiya turned his attention to Imam Hasan (A). Just as his father had done, Imam Hasan (A) wrote to Mu'awiya telling him that the crimes he was committing against innocent Muslims were unacceptable. Imam Hasan (A) asked the Kufans to assist him in battle against Mu'awiya.
However, the Kufans were either bribed or threatened by Mu'awiya, and being very fickle people, they deserted Imam Hasan (A). At the gathering ground of Nukhayla, only 4,000 men turned out to fight and Imam Hasan (A) was forced to return to Kufa disappointed. To save the lives of the few sincere Muslims, Imam Hasan (A) had to sign a treaty with Mu'awiya.
Mu'awiya arranged the murder of Imam Hasan (A). He promised Ju'da binte Ash'ath, a wife of Imam Hasan (A), 100,000 dirhams and the hand of his son Yazid in marriage if she poisoned her husband. The cursed woman carried out the evil task and Imam Hasan (A) breathed his last on 7th Safar 50 A.H.
Muawiya, may Allah's Curse be on him always, finally died in Rajab of 60 A.H.
2. Yazid son of Muawiya
In 60 A.H. this devil declared himself ruler of all Muslims. Yazid was a man of extremely evil habits. He was a drunkard, gambler, womaniser and murderer. He only ruled for 3 years. In the first year he killed Imam Husain (A) and his companions in Karbala and made their women and children prisoners. During the second year he ordered his soldiers to enter Madina and do what they liked. As a result, 1,000 people were killed, including 700 close Companions of the Prophet (S). In addition 1,000 women were assaulted and forced to surrender their dignity to Yazid's men. In the third year, Yazid mounted an attack on the Ka'ba, aiming to destroy it with giant catapults.
Not content with committing crimes in Kerbala, Makka and Madina, Yazid appointed Ubaidullah ibne Ziyad as governor of Kufa with specific orders to hunt out and kill the Shia of Imam Ali (A). Ubaidullah carried out the orders of his master by imprisoning, exiling, hanging or amputating the limbs of the Shia. Yazid's rule ended with his death in 64 A.H. Before his death, he appointed his son Mu'awiya as his heir.
3. Mu'awiya the Second, son of Yazid.
Mu'awiya the Second was aware of the rights of the family of the Prophet (S) and of the terrible crimes committed by his own father and grandfather. He therefore told Imam Zainul Abideen (A) that he was transferring authority to him. His decision disgusted his mother so much that she told Muawiya, "I wish that I had discharged you as a miscarriage and never given birth to you." To this he replied, "I too, wish that that had been the case so that I would not be associated with Yazid, Muawiya and Abu Sufyan." Because of his refusal to continue in the way of his forefathers, Mu'awiya was soon poisoned and died only 4 months after coming to the throne.
4. Marwan bin Hakam
In 64 A.H. the line of kings of the Umayyad dynasty moved from the descendants of Abu Sufyan to those of Marwan. He ruled for only 9 months and during this time he was occupied in war against the group of Abu Sufyan on one hand and Abdullah ibne Zubayr on the other. As a result, he did not get much opportunity to persecute the Shia.
However, he continued the policy of cursing Imam Ali (A) from the pulpits. He also gave shelter to the killers of Imam Husain (A) who were being hunted now that Yazid was dead.
5. Abdul Malik bin Marwan
Abdul Malik succeeded his father in 65 A.H. and ruled for 21 years. He became the ruler of Syria while Abdullah ibne Zubayr took over Arabia. Between the two of them they managed to kill the two groups of people who had risen to take revenge for the murder of Imam Husain (A). The "Penitents" led my Shia like Sulayman bin Sard Khuzai'i were killed by Abdul Malik while the group led by Mukhtar was killed by ibne Zubayr. Abdul Malik finally managed to kill ibne Zubayr and take control of the whole Muslim Empire. One of the worst crimes he committed was to turn a blind eye to the activities of his governor, Hajjaj bin Yusuf. Hajjaj was the worst tyrant in the whole history of the Bani Umayyah. He was responsible for the deaths of 120,000 innocent people. He tortured and killed such notable companions of Imam Ali (A) like Qambar, Kumail bin Ziyad and Sa'id bin Jubayr. During this time it was safer for the Muslims to call themselves the enemies of Islam rather than the Shia of Imam Ali (A). Abdul Malik was so grateful for the services of Hajjaj that he gave him full control of Iraq and Arabia to do as he liked. When Hajjaj died, his prison contained 50,000 men and 30,000 women.
6. Walid bin Abdul Malik.
In 86 A.H. Walid succeeded his father Abdul Malik. Walid was a cruel tyrant who continued to favour Hajjaj and give him free rein. He dismissed the popular governor in Madina, Umar bin Abdul Aziz and put Khalid bin Abdullah in his place. Khalid was an unbeliever whose mother was a Christian. This man built a church for his mother behind the Ka'ba. He allowed Christians to keep Muslim slaves.
7. Sulayman bin Abdul Malik
Walid died in 96 A.H. after ruling for 10 years and was succeeded by his brother Sulayman. Sulayman was a glutton and fond of women. Sulayman was an intensely jealous man and killed the great Arab conqueror, Musa bin Nasir who had brought Spain and Portugal under Muslim control. Sulayman killed him because Musa had sent all the spoils of war to Walid and had not kept it till Sulayman came to the throne. He also killed Waqtiba bin Muslim who had conquered territories from Fars to China for the Muslim Empire. His reason for killing Waqtiba was that the man had encouraged Walid to remove Sulayman from the office of crown prince. Sulayman used to shower blessings on Mu'awiya, saying that he had never come across anyone more bold than him in matters of cruelty, crime and oppression. He called Mu'awiya the True Spirit of the Bani Umayyah. Sulayman died in 99 A.H. after ruling for 2 years and a few months and was succeeded by Umar bin Abdul Aziz.
8. Umar bin Abdul Aziz
After the death of Sulayman bin Abdul Malik in 99 A.H., the reins of power were taken up by Umar bin Abdul Aziz. He was the one king in this dynasty whose actions were worthwhile.
One of the greatest deeds of Umar bin Abdul Aziz was that he stopped the abusing of Imam Ali (A) from the pulpits at the time of Friday prayers. Because of the influence of his childhood teachers, he had grown up with love and respect for the Ahlul Bayt (A). Instead of the customary curses, he ordered that the following verse be recited:
Verily, Allah commands to maintain justice, kindness and proper relations with relatives; and He forbids indecency, sin and rebellion. He gives you advice so that perhaps you will take heed. (Surah an-Nahl, 16:90)
This verse is recited by all the Muslims in their Friday addresses upto today. The other noteworthy action of Umar bin Abdul Aziz was that he returned the garden of Fadak to a descendant of Bibi Fatima (A), who at the time was Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (A). This garden had been usurped by Abu Bakr after the death of the Prophet (S).
The favour with which Umar bin Abdul Aziz regarded the Ahlul Bayt (A) and the Shia made him unpopular amongst the Bani Umayyah themselves and led to his poisoning on 25th of Rajab 101 A.H. His grave in Dayr Sam'aan is still visited today.
9. Yazid bin Abdul Malik.
Yazid was the next king and he did his best to overturn all the good actions of his predecessor. Under his rule, the old harsh ways of terrorisation and unfair taxation were revived. Yazid also seized Fadak back.
Like his maternal grandfather, Yazid the First, this Yazid was also fond of easy living, drinking and women. His rule came to an end after 4 years.
10. Hisham bin Abdul Malik
Hisham came to power at a time when the crimes of Bani Umayyah were finally causing widespread resentment. Hisham did not take heed of these feelings, and instead of attempting to reform the evils of his forefathers, he added to the misery of the people. His policies towards the Shia were especially harsh. He ordered that they should be got rid off, their blood be shed and their rights be taken away.
During the time of Hisham a revolution was led by Zayd son of Imam Ali Zainul Abideen (A). 15,000 Shia supported him but they deserted him when the fighting started. At the end Zayd was left with only 300 men and after a brave fight, he was killed. The body of Zayd was treated very badly by Hisham who refused to allow it to be buried and hung it at Kufa.
11. Walid bin Yazid bin Abdul Malik.
Hisham died after ruling for 19 years and was succeeded by Walid. Walid was a shameless and foolish man, and he was fond of a pleasurable life, wasting it on wine, adultery and hunting. He was the first ruler to introduce professional singers into his court.
He is famous for having publicly shot arrows at the Qur'an. By this time, the days of the Bani Umayyah were numbered and the voice of outrage against these useless rulers rang everywhere.
To add to this, the Bani Abbas began a campaign to topple the Bani Umayyah. After Walid's death, three more rulers came to power briefly, but they ruled for only a short time before the sun set on this cruel dynasty forever. These rulers were:
12. Yazid bin Walid (6 months).
13. Ibrahim bin Walid (4 months).
14. Marwan bin Muhammad bin Marwan (5 years 10 months).
The Bani Abbas
At the time of the reign of Marwan bin Muhammad, revolts began to take place all over the Muslim Empire. The simultaneous rising of various sections proved too difficult to overcome and Marwan was forced to abandon his throne and flee for his life. He ran from city to city, but everywhere the people turned away from him. Wherever he went, he was relentlessly pursued by the army of the Bani Abbas, who finally killed him in Egypt in 132 A.H. With the death of Marwan the reign of the Bani Umayyah finally came to an end and a bloody chapter of history was closed.
The first people to begin the struggle against the Bani Umayyah were the Shia and the descendants of Imam Ali (A), who were also the first to sacrifice their lives and property in their efforts to overthrow the cruel regime.
The Bani Abbas were descendants of Abbas, the uncle of the Prophet (S). They were quick to capitalise on the general feeling that the Caliphate should be restored to the members of the family of the Prophet (S), the Ahlul Bayt (A). Their slogan was "Ar-Riza min Aale Muhammad". Their slogan meant that they were fighting to restore the rights of the Ahlul Bayt (A) and thus they gained widespread support. Their leader, Saffah, sent his commanders to all the strongholds of the Bani Umayyah to hunt and destroy them. In the process, much blood was spilt. Having subdued most of the followers of the Bani Umayyah, they took over the reins of power and Saffah became the first ruler of the Bani Abbas in 132 A.H.
II The Bani Abbas Kings.
1. Abul Abbas Saffah.
Saffah spent the four years of his rule in destroying the last traces of the Bani Umayyah. He captured their friends from far and near and subjected them to torture and persecution.
He was determined not to rest until he ensured that any threat from the former ruling family was eliminated. In his paranoia he began to kill even those people whose loyalty he was unsure about. Thus all over the empire people were killed on flimsy excuses. The people now
began to realise that these new rulers were no less blood-thirsty then their predecessors.
Abul Abbas was given the title "Saffah" because of having shed excessive blood. He once invited 80 members of the Bani Umayyah family for a meal, saying that he wished to talk about peace. On their arrival, he ordered them to be killed, and carpets were then spread on their half-dead bodies. Saffah then began to have his meal while the people lay dying under the carpets. He declared that he had never enjoyed such a delicious meal.
There is no doubt that the Bani Umayyah deserved to be killed, but this behaviour of Saffah was not justified. It indicated the presence of a criminal and deranged mind no less evil than the Bani Umayyah.
Although the Shia and the descendants of Imam Ali (A) had suffered the most under the rule of the Bani Umayyah, they did not think in terms of revenge and turned away from this sort of behaviour. In an ironic twist of circumstances, some Shia spoke up in defence of the Bani Umayyah in order to save them from the painful death that the Bani Abbas would inflict upon them.
Saffah did not kill or harm any Shia during his rule. This was not due to any love he had for them, because the Bani Abbas proved to be worse enemies of the Shia in later years than Bani Umayyah had ever been. The reasons he did not touch the Shia were:
His attention was concentrated on his real enemies, the Bani Umayyah, and he was determined to annihilate all of them.
The Shia had recently fought jointly with the Bani Abbas to topple the Bani Umayyah and had been instrumental in securing his throne.
The capital of Saffah was Kufa, where the residents were the followers of Imam Ali (A) and he did not yet possess the strength to fight them.
In any case, during the bloody days of the transition of power from the Bani Umayyah to the Bani Abbas, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (A) and Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (A) were left in relative peace. They took advantage of this opportunity to set up schools to propagate the teachings of Islam according to the Ahlul Bayt (A). As a result we have a wealth of material today on matters of religious law, philosophy, morals and commentary of the Qur'an etc., from that period.
Saffah died in 136 A.H. and was succeeded by his brother Mansoor.
2. Mansoor Dawanaqi
Although Saffah was the first ruler of the Bani Abbas, it is Mansoor who is considered to have laid the foundations of the Abbaside Dynasty. He was the first person to create trouble between the Bani Abbas and the descendants of Imam Ali (A).
The descendants of Imam Hasan (A) were dealt with terribly. Mansoor gathered many of them and imprisoned them in chains. He never asked about them again and they perished of starvation.
During the reign of Mansoor, Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (A) advised the Shia to remain silent and obey, because of the deceitful nature of the king. This time was used by the Imam (A) to spread the teachings of Islam to a large number of students.
Mansoor was not satisfied with the silence of the Imam (A) and once remarked, "Although I have killed more than a thousand descendants of the daughter of Muhammad, I have not yet killed their leader and chief". He finally succeeded in his evil intentions and got the Imam (A) poisoned in 148 A.H.
Mansoor killed an untold number of Shia and enjoyed cruelty, inventing different ways to kill people. He struck whips on the eyes of people so they went blind, pulled down houses on the heads of the owners and placed them in walls and buried them alive. He finally died in 158 A.H. after having ruled for 22 years.
After the death of Mansoor, his son Mahdi came to power. He was no less brutal than his father. During his rule the descendants of Imam Ali (A) became almost non-existent, such was the persecution against them.
By now the people realised that they had replaced the Bani Umayyah with people who were no better and possibly worse in their love for bloodshed. Mahdi died in 169 A.H. and was succeeded by his brother Haadi.
Haadi only ruled for 15 months, and was a cruel and ill-mannered man. He appointed Abdul Aziz as his governor in Madina. The governor accused the descendants of Imam Ali (A) of drinking wine and he whipped them publicly and displayed them in the market place to humiliate them.
Although Haadi's life was short, he performed enough notorious acts to have his name recorded in the register of the inhuman criminals of the Muslim nation.
5. Haroon ar-Rashid
Haadi was succeeded by his brother Haroon ar-Rashid, who ruled from 170 A.H. to 193 A.H. Haroon became the most famous of the Bani Abbas kings, and anecdotes from his life have been recorded in the stories of the "Arabian Nights". He acquired his reputation due to the great advancement of learning, art and culture during his time.
Haroon administered the affairs of the state well and built mosques, schools, hospitals, houses, bridges, roads and canals throughout the empire. Much of the famous architecture of this period was due to the skills of the Bermecids, who served Haroon for 17 years. In the end, their own merits caused their downfall at the hands of the jealous Haroon.
In spite of his contribution towards improving the general standard of life of the Muslims, the policy of Haroon towards the descendants of Imam Ali (A) showed his great hatred for them. His outward appearance was one of a considerate king, while behind the scenes he set about destroying all traces of the descendants of Imam Ali (A).
The Bani Abbas had recently begun to claim that they were nearer relatives of the Prophet (S), because their link was through a male, while the Ahlul Bayt (A) were related through a female.
Once Haroon asked a descendant of Imam Hasan (A), "Which of us is more closely related to the Prophet (S)?" The man said, "If the Prophet (S) asked for your daughter's hand in marriage would you accept the proposal?" Haroon replied, "By Allah! I would." Then he asked, "And if he asked for my daughter in marriage, is it permissible for me to accept the proposal?" Haroon admitted that such a marriage would be unlawful.
The man then said, "This answers your question, because while I am a descendant of the Prophet (S), you are not." Haroon was very angry at having been thus defeated and left the gathering in a rage.
Haroon also caused the imprisonment of Imam Musa al-Kazim (A). He transferred him from one prison to another and finally poisoned him through Sindi bin Shahak in Baghdad.
Haroon's rule finally ended after 23 years and he died in Toos after ordering that allegiance be given to his son Amin.
Amin ruled for 4 years during which he was too busy leading a life of pleasure to cause much trouble to the descendants of Imam Ali (A). However, he could not resist the ambitious plans of his younger brother Ma'mun. A war broke out between the two brothers and Amin was killed.
During the rule of Ma'mun, the Shia faith became firmly rooted in most of the Islamic cities and many of his own ministers were Shia. Ma'mun realised that the former persecution of the Shia had not wiped them out but had instead resulted in the increased determination of the Shia to preserve their faith.
Ma'mun recognised that the Shia were a powerful force and in order to keep them quiet, he deceitfully declared himself to be a Shia. Ma'mun knew that Imam Ali ar-Riza (A) was held in the greatest esteem by the Shia, so he ordered the Imam (A) to come to Baghdad and forced him to accept the position of heir to the throne.
Although the descendants of Imam Ali (A) were safe from persecution during the time of Ma'mun, it was not due to any love that he had for them. Ma'mun had learnt from the mistakes of his father and wanted to ensure that his rule was not endangered by a Shia uprising. Ma'mun was no less evil than his father, because he ultimately managed to kill Imam Ali ar-Riza (A).
Ma'mun died in 210 A.H., and after him the oath of allegiance was taken for Mu'tasim Billah.
8. Mu'tasim Billah
Mu'tasim ruled for 8 years. He imprisoned Imam Muhammad at-Taqi (A) but then released him and allowed him to go to Madina. However, a few years later he had him recalled to Baghdad where he got the Imam's (A) wife Ummul Fazl, daughter of Ma'mun, to poison him.
After the death of Mu'tasim, Wathiq came to power and he ruled for 5 years. It has been said that Wathiq honoured the descendants of Imam Ali (A), behaved kindly towards them and gave them wealth. Wathiq died in 232 A.H.
After the death of Wathiq the oath of allegiance was given to his brother Mutawakkil who ruled for 14 years. Mutawakkil was a cruel man who became notorious for his free living, immodesty and intoxication. He threw parties of pleasure, drink and vain talk.
During the rule of Mutawakkil the state of the Islamic Empire began to deteriorate, as corruption and evil behaviour became widespread.
Mutawakkil did not content himself with torturing those who were alive but also showed disrespect to the dead. He demolished the tomb of Imam Husain (A) and the extension around it, and restrained people from performing Ziyarat. Whoever attempted to do so was either imprisoned or killed.
Mutawakkil was finally killed by his own son Muntasir who could not stand and watch the evil acts of his father. The main reason he killed Mutawakkil was because the man used to abuse Bibi Fatima (A).
The power of the Abbaside Dynasty began to decline after Mutawakkil, who was the last king of any influence. Other factions then rose in the world of Islam, amongst them the Buwayyad, the Hamadani and the Fatimid Dynasties.
As a consequence of this development, the Shia were able to breathe in peace. During these later periods many great Shia scholars were able to contribute to our present day knowledge of Islam.
In all there were 37 kings of Bani Abbas, and their reign lasted till 656 A.H. The kings who ruled after Mutawakkil upto the time of Ghaybat (Concealment) of our 12th Imam (A) are:
11. Muntasir. Till 247 A.H. (9 months).
12. Mustain. Till 252 A.H. (5 years).
13. Mu'taz. Till 255 A.H. (3 years).
Mu'taz caused the death of our 10th Imam (A.S).
14. Mu'tadi. Till 256 A.H. (1 year).
15. Mu'tamad. Till 279 A.H. (21 years).
Mu'tamad caused the death of our 11th Imam (A).
16. Mu'tazid. Till 289 A.H. (10 years).