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The Establishment of Umayyad Rule

In the year 60/680, Mu awiyah died and his son, Yazid, became caliph, as the result of the allegiance which his father had obtained for him from the powerful political and military leaders of the community. From the testimony of historical documents, it can be seen clearly that Yazid had no religious character at all and that even during the lifetime of his father he was oblivious to the principles and regulations of Islam. At that time, his only interest was debauchery and frivolity. During his three years of caliphate, he was the cause of calamities that had no precedent in the history of Islam, despite all the strife that had occurred before him.

During the first year of Yazid's rule, Imam Husayn, the grandson of the Holy Prophet, was massacred in the most atrocious manner, along with his children, relatives and friends. Yazid even had some of the women and children of the Household of the Prophet killed and their heads displayed in different cities. 1 During the second year of his rule, he ordered a general massacre of Medina and for three days gave his soldiers freedom to kill, loot and take the women of the city. 2 During the third year, he had the sacred Ka bah destroyed and burned. 3

Following Yazid, the family of Marw?n gained possession of the caliphate, according to details that are recorded in the history books. The role of this eleven-member group, which lasted for nearly seventy years, was successful politically but from the point of view of purely religious values, it fell short of Islamic ideals and practices. Islamic society was dominated by the Arab element alone and non-Arabs were subordinated to the Arabs. In fact, a strong Arab empire was created which gave itself the name of an Islamic caliphate. During this period, some of the caliphs were indifferent to religious sentiments to the extent that one of them—who was the "vicegerent of the Holy Prophet" and was regarded as the protector of religion—decided without showing any respect for Islamic practices and the feelings of Muslims to construct a room above the Ka bah so that he could have a play to enjoy and amuse himself during the annual pilgrimage. 4 It is even recounted of one of these caliphs that he made the Holy Qur'an a target for his arrow and in a poem composed to the Qur'an said, "On the Day of Judgment when you appear before God, tell Him 'the caliph tore me.'" 5

Naturally the Shi'ites, whose basic differences with the Sunnis were in the two questions of the Islamic caliphate and religious authority, were passing through bitter and difficult days in this dark period. Yet, in spite of the unjust and irresponsible ways of the governments of the time, the asceticism and purity of the leaders of the Household of the Prophet made the Shi ites each day even more determined to hold on to their beliefs. Of particular importance was the tragic death of Husayn, the third Imam, which played a major role in the spread of Shi'ism, especially in regions away from the center of the caliphate, such as Iraq, the Yemen and Persia. This can be seen through the fact that during the period of the fifth Imam, before the end of the first Islamic century, and less than forty years after the death of Husayn, the Shi'ites took advantage of the internal differences and weaknesses in the Umayyad government and began to organize themselves, flocking to the side of the fifth Imam. People came from all Islamic countries like a flood to his door to collect hadith and to learn the Islamic science. The first century had not yet ended when a few of the leaders who were influential in the government established the city of Qum in Persia and made it a Shi'ite settlement. But even then, the Shi ah continued to live for the most part in hiding and followed their religious life secretly without external manifestations. 6

Several times, the descendants of the Prophet (who are called in Persian sadat-i 'alawi) rebelled against the injustice of the government, but each time they were defeated and usually lost their lives. The severe and unscrupulous government of the time did not overlook any means of crushing them. The body of Zayd, the leader of Zaydi Shi ism, was dug out of the grave and hanged; then after remaining on the gallows for three years, it was brought down and burned, its ashes being thrown to the wind. 7 The SM.' ites believe that the fourth and fifth Imams were poisoned by the Umayyads as the second and third Imams had been killed by them before. 8

The calamities brought about by the Umayyads were so open and unveiled that the majority of the Sunnis, although they believed generally that it was their duty to obey the caliphs, felt the pangs of their religious conscience and were forced to divide the caliphs into two groups. They came to distinguish between the "rightly guided caliphs" (khulafa rashidun) who are the first four caliphs after the death of the Holy Prophet (Abu-Bakr, Umar, Uthman and 'All), and the others who began with Mu' awiyah and who did not possess by any means the religious virtues of the rightly guided caliphs.

The Umayyads caused so much public hatred as a result of their injustice and heedlessness during their rule that after the definitive defeat and death of the last Umayyad caliph, his two sons and a number of their family encountered great difficulties in escaping from the capital. No matter where they turned, no one would give them shelter. Finally, after much wandering in the deserts of Nubia, Abyssinia, and Bajawah (between Nubia and Abyssinia) during which many of them died from hunger and thirst, they came to Bab al-Mandab of the Yemen. Then they acquired travel expenses from the people through begging and set out for Mecca dressed as porters. In Mecca, they 'finally succeeded in disappearing among the mass of the people. 9
1 Ya'qubi, vol. III, pp. 216; Abu 'l-Fida', vol. I, pp. 190; Muruj al-Dhahah, vol. III, pp. 64, and other books of Tarikh (history).

2 Ya'qubi, vol. II, pp. 223; Abu 'l-Fida', vol. I, pp. 192; Muruj al-Dhahab, vol. III, pp. 78.

3 Ya'qubi, vol. II, pp. 224; Abu 'l-Fida', vol. I, pp. 192; Muruj al-Dhahab, vol. III, pp. 81.

4 Walid ibn Yazid; mentioned in Ya'qubi, vol. III, pp. 73.

5 Walid ibn Yazid; mentioned in Muruj al-Dhahab, vol. III, pp. 228.

6 Mu'jam al-Buldan, Yaqut Hamawi, Beirut, 1957.

7 Muruj al-Dhahab, vol. III, pp. 217-219; Ya' qubi, vol. II, pp. 66.

8 Bihar al-Anwar, vol. XII, on the life of Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq.

9 Ya'qubi, vol. III, pp. 84.


Adapted from: "Shi'ah" by: "Allamah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Tabataba'i"

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