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Imam Mujtaba (a.s.) and the Strength of the Army

History has recorded the evidence for a very long time that victory or defeat of an army does not depend on the number of its soldiers. When the soldiers are brave and determined to even sacrifice their lives for a great cause, then even small battalions can defeat a mighty army. The Holy Quran has clearly indicated this truth in the words of the sincere and devoted soldiers of Hazrat Talut:

"... How often, by Allah's permission, has a small army vanquished a mighty host. ..." 2:249. 4

The reason for the same is that there are so many factors which determine the success of an army, and its strength is one of these. Therefore, it is not possible to deny the importance of the strength of an army. However, it does not mean that success is sure just because the army is large.

As far as the question of the strength of the army of Imam Mujtaba (as) is concerned, some historians have recorded that Imam Mujtaba (as) had marched from Koofa with an army of forty thousand to meet the sixty thousand strong army of Moawiya. Some accounts have even mentioned the strength of the army of the Imam (as) as seventy or ninety thousand. It is, therefore, necessary that a realistic and critical analysis of the historical facts be undertaken to determine the truth or otherwise of the claim. Is it possible that such a large army existed in Koofa? Moreover, did Imam Mujtaba (as) prefer peace over war despite having such a large army?

No doubt has been expressed about the strength of Moawiya's army. The historians agree that during the caliphate of Imam Hasan (as) he had come to attack Iraq with a large army of sixty thousand soldiers. But there is a big difference of opinion and doubt about the strength of the army of Imam Hasan (as) in historical records. A number of historians have kept quiet about the total strength of his army. Moreover, those raising objections against it, contain so many obscure elements. What could be quoted with authenticity was only the strength of the vanguard brigade of the Imam (as) as nearly repetitive historical records show it to be twelve thousand. The history and the historians mentioning the same are:


'Tareekh al-Khamees' (Dayar Bakari);

'Al Bidiyah val Nihaya' (Ibne Kaseer)

'Maqatil al Talibeen' (Abul Faraj)

'Ansaab al Ashraaf' (Balazari

'Tareekh al-Islam' (Hafiz Zahbi)

'Tajarib al Umam' (Abu Maskooya)

'Tareekh-e-Ibne Khaldoon'

'Tareekh-e-Ibne Asakir'

'Al Asaba fee Tamayyaz al Sahaba' (Ibne Hajar 'Asqalani)

'Tareekh-e-Tabari ( narration by Moosa b. Abdel Rahman Masrooqi).

Only Zahri's version in 'Tareekh-e-Tabari' presents a different picture of the vanguard battalion, in which the following words need serious attention:

"After deceiving Ubaidullah and (Imam) Hasan (as), Moawiya got busy in employing a ruse against a person who was more important in his view, having forty thousand soldiers under his command." 6

If this version of Zahri is accepted, then the total strength of the vanguard battalion comes to about fifty thousand, as earlier than Qais bin S'ad, Ubaidullah had escaped with eight thousand soldiers under his command. He is alone in mentioning this figure of the vanguard brigade, yet it is doubtful whether it had that much strength. So, his account cannot be trusted. Not only in this case, but all his accounts relating to Ahle Bait (as) as well are considered doubtful by the researchers, the reason being that he used to write only what could meet with approval in the Umayyad court. We intend to throw more light about his accounts in subsequent chapters.

The well known account of the strength of the forces of Imam Mujtaba (as) is that these numbered forty thousand. Other accounts have also been recorded but researchers consider the number of more than forty thousand as an exaggeration. The following historical records support the well known version:

'Al-Kamil Fee-al-Tareekh':

"When the leader of the faithful, Hazrat Ali (as), received certain information about Syrian intentions, forty thousand soldiers in his army had vowed to fight under his command till death. He was martyred while preparing to march on. When Almighty Allah takes a decision to act, no one can evade it. When after his death, the people had taken the allegiance to Imam Hasan (as), he learnt about Moawiya's planned attack and advanced with the army that had taken the vow with Hazrat Ali (as)."

'Al-Futooh le-Ibne A'sam':

"Moawiya marched towards Iraq with an army of sixty thousand soldiers. Hasan b. Ali (as) sent letters to his governors instructing them to take defensive measures. General mobilisation was ordered. Imam Hasan (as) advanced with a little less than forty thousand soldiers, appointing Mughira b. Noful as his representative in Koofa. He continued till the area called 'Dair Abdel Rahman'. Then he called Qais b. S'ad and giving him one thousand soldiers from his own army, set up the vanguard battalion with which Qais moved towards Syria."

'Tareekh al Khamees':

"Abu 'Umroo says that when Hazrat Ali b. Abee Talib (as) was martyred, forty thousand persons took allegiance to Imam Hasan (as). Earlier, all these persons had vowed to fight till death along with his father, Hazrat Ali (as). They liked Imam Hasan (as) more than his father and obeyed him more."

The same narration has been recorded in 'Zakhair-al-'Oqobi' by Muhib al Tabari. 7

In this regard, nearly all historical records contain the same account, i.e. that before his martyrdom, Hazrat Ali (as) had organized an army of forty thousand soldiers for a decisive attack on Moawiya. After his martyrdom, people paid allegiance to Imam Hasan (as). These accounts maintain that as the people loved Imam Hasan (as) more than his illustrious father Hazrat Ali (as), and obeyed him more, therefore, the number of men in his army was also forty thousand. However, they are cautious in this expression!

4. Al Baqarah, 249.

5. Y'aqoobi - 'Tareekh-e-Y'aqoobi, vol.2, p.214; Dayar Bakari - 'Tareekh al Khamees', p.390; Ibne Kaseer, 'Albidayah val Nihaya', vol.8, p.14; Abul Faraj - 'Maqatil al Talibeen', vol.1, p.40; Balazari - 'Ansaab al Ashraaf', vol. 3, p.33; Hafiz Zahbi, 'Tareekh Al Islam, 'Ahde Khulfae Rashideen', p.6; Abu Ali Maskooya - 'Tajarib al Umam', vol. 1, p. 386; Ibne Khaldoon, 'Tareekhe Ibne Khaldoon', vol. 2, p. 186; Abdul Qadir Badran, 'Tahzeebe Tareekhe Damishq la Ibne Asakir, vol 4, p.223; Tabari - 'Tareekh-e-Tabari, Beirut, vol. 3, p.165; Ibne Hajar Asqalani - 'Al Asabah fee Tamayyaz al Sahaba; Egypt, Matb'a Mustafa Mohammad, 1939, vol. 1 p.329.

6. Tabari - 'Tareekh al Tabari', Beirut, Darul Kutub al Ilmiah, 1988, vol 3, p. 168.

7. Ibne Aseer - 'Al Kamil fee al Tareekh, Beirut: Dar Ahya al Turas, al Arabi, 1989, vol. 2, p.445; Husain Dayar Bakari - 'Tareekh al Khamees', p.389; Ibne A'sam - 'Al Futooh, Hyderabad: Daira al Maa'rif al Usmania, 1971, vol. 4, p.154; Muhib al Tabari - 'Zakhair al 'Uqbi', Cairo, Maktaba al Qudsi, 1356 A.H., p.139.

Adapted from the book: "Imam Hasan and Caliphate" by: "Qurrat-ul-Ain Abidiy"

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