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Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah

Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah

Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah was the son of Ali ibn Abi Talib (the first Shi’ah Imam and the fourth Sunni Caliph) but he was called Ibn Hanafiyyah after his mother who was named Khawlah bint Ja`far. She was known as Hanafiyyah after her tribe Banu Hanifah. The people of Yamamah were declared apostates by the Muslims for refusing to pay the zakat (religious tax) they were killed and the women were taken to Medina as slaves. Khawlah bint Ja`far went to Medina with them. When her tribesmen found out they approached Ali ibn Abi Talib and asked him to save her from slavery and to protect her family’s honor and prestige. Consequently, Ali ibn Abi Talib set her free after purchasing her and marrying her.


Most historians have written his surname as Abu'l-Qasim (meaning father of Al-Qasim). Thus, the author of al-Isti`ab (vol. 3, pp. 1366, 1367-1368, 1370, 1371-1372) has narrated the opinion of Abu Rashid ibn Hafs az-Zuhri, that from among the sons of the companions of Muhammed he came across four individuals everyone of whom were named Muhammad and surnamed Abu'l-Qasim, namely:

Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah
Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr
Muhammad ibn Talhah
Muhammad ibn Sa'd

After this he writes that Muhammad ibn Talhah's name and surname was given by Muhammad. Al-Waqidi writes that the name and surname of Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr was suggested by A'ishah. Apparently, Muhammad giving the name of Muhammad ibn Talhah seems incorrect since from some traditions it appears that Muhammad had reserved it for a son of Ali.

As regards his surname it is said that Muhammad had particularized it and that he had told Ali ibn Abi Talib that a son would be born to you after me and I have given him my name and surname and after that it is not permissible for anyone in my people to have this name and surname together.

Some people have recorded the surname of Ibn Talhah as Abu Sulayman instead of Abu'l-Qasim. If Aisha had suggested it along with the name how could Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr tolerate it later on since having been brought up under the care of Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammads saying could not remain concealed from him. Moreover, most people have recorded his surname as Abu `Abd ar-Rahman, which weakens the view of Abu Rashid.

Let alone these people's surname being Abu'l-Qasim, even for Ibn al-Hanafiyyah this surname is not proved. Although Ibn Khallikan (in Wafayat al-a`yan, vol. 4, p.170) has taken that son of Ali ibn Abu Talib for whom Muhammad had particularized this surname to be Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah, yet al-`Allamah al-Mamaqani (in Tanqih al-maqal, vol. 3, Part 1, p. 112) writes:

In applying this tradition to Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah, Ibn Khallikan has got into confusion, because the son of Ali ibn Abu Talib whom the Prophet's name and surname together have been gifted by the Prophet, and which is not permissible to be given to anyone else, is to the awaited last Imam (may our lives be his ransom), and not to Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah, nor is the surname Abu'l-Qasim established for him, rather some of the Sunnis being ignorant of the real intention of the Prophet, have taken to mean Ibn al-Hanafiyyah.


He was born during Umar's era.

Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah was prominent in righteousness and piety, sublime in renunciation and worship, lofty in knowledge and achievements and heir of his father in bravery. His performance in the battles of Jamal and Siffin had created such impression among the Arabs that even warriors of consequence trembled at his name. Ali ibn Abu Talib too was proud of his courage and valor, and always placed him forward in encounters.

Ash-Shaykh al-Baha'i has written in al-Kashkul, that Ali ibn Abu Talib kept him abreast in the battles and did not allow the second Shi’a Imam (Hassan ibn Ali) and the third Shi’a Imam (Hussain ibn Ali) to go ahead, and used to say, "He is my son while these two are sons of the Prophet of Allah."

When a Kharijite said to Ibn al-Hanafiyyah that `Ali thrust him into the flames of war but saved away Hassan ibn Ali and Hussain ibn Ali he replied that he himself was like the right hand and Hassan ibn Ali and Hussain ibn Ali like `Ali's two eyes and that `Ali protected his eyes with his right hand. But al-`Allamah al-Mamaqani has written in Tanqih al-Maqal that this was not the reply of Ibn al-Hanafiyyah but of Ali ibn Abu Talib himself. When during the battle of Siffin Muhammad mentioned this matter to Ali ibn Abu Talib in complaining tone he replied, "You are my right hand whereas they are my eyes, and the hand should protect the eyes."

Apparently it seems that first Ali ibn Abu Talib must have given this reply and thereafter someone might have mentioned it to Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah and he must have repeated the same reply as there could be no more eloquent reply than this one and its eloquence confirms the view that it was originally the outcome of the eloquent tongue of Ali ibn Abu Talib and was later appropriated by Muhammad al-Hanafiyyah. Consequently, both these views can be held to be correct and there is no incongruity between them.

When in the Battle of Jamal Ali ibn Abu Talib sent Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah to the battle-field, he told him that he should fix himself before the enemy like the mountain of determination and resoluteness so that the onslaught of the army should not be able to displace him, and should charge the enemy with closed teeth because by pressing teeth over the teeth tension occurs in the nerves of the skull as a result of which the stroke of the sword goes amiss, as he said at another place also viz. "Press together the teeth. It sends amiss the edge of the sword." Then he says, "My child, lend your head to Allah in order that you may be able to achieve eternal life in place of this one, because for a lent article there is the right to get it back. Therefore, you should fight being heedless of your life, otherwise also if your mind clings to life you will hesitate to advance towards deathly encounters and that would tell upon your reputation of bravery. Look, don't let your steps falter because the enemy is emboldened at the faltering of steps, and faltering steps fastens the feet of the enemy. Keep the last lines of the enemy as your aim so that the enemy may be overawed with loftiness of your intentions and you may feel ease in tearing through their lives, and their movement should also not remain concealed from you. Look, do not pay heed to their superiority in numbers, otherwise your valor and courage would suffer." This sentence can also mean that one should not wide open the eyes to be dazzled by the shining of weapons, and the enemy may make an attack by taking advantage of the situation. Also, always bear it in mind that victory is from Allah. "If Allah helps you no one can overpower you." Therefore, instead of relying on material means seek His support and succor.

He was the largely passive titular head of a Shi'ah rebellion against the Umayyid caliphs. This rebellion, which was led by Al-Mukhtar, broke out in Kufa (now in Iraq), in 686 CE. The significance of Mukhtar's rebellion lies mainly in the fact that it began the early Shi'ah tradition of looking to Ali's family for leadership against what was seen as the autocratic, unjust rule of the Umayyid caliphs. The unsuccessful rebellion set the stage for his half-brother Hussain ibn Ali’s abortive attempt to overthrow the Umayyids, which led to his own death at Karbala.

He died in the reign of `Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan at the age of sixty-five years. Some writers have recorded the year of his death as 80 A.H. and others as 81 A.H. There is a difference about the place of his death as well. Some have put it as Medina, some Aylah and some Ta'if. He died in 700 CE.

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