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Yazid’s order: allegiance or death

History bears witness that Yazid was determined to kill Imam al-Husayn (as) in the case that he refused to pay him allegiance. In his book of history, “Tarikh Ya‘qubi”, Ya’qubi writes, “In a letter which he wrote to Walid ibn ‘Aqabah ibn Abi Sufiyan, his agent and governor in Medina, Yazid commanded,

‘When my letter reaches you, summon al-Husayn ibn ‘Ali and ‘Abd Allah ibn Zubayr. Make sure that you get allegiance from them on my behalf. If they refuse to pay allegiance, cut their necks and send their heads to me’.”7

It is obvious from this historical record that Yazid ibn Mu‘awiyah had a premeditated intention to kill Imam al-Husayn (as) if the Holy Imam (as) refused to pay allegiance.


Of course, it is true that some historians have recorded Yazid’s letter in a different manner. For example, Tabari has recorded the letter in this way: “Yazid wrote to Walid, ‘Adopt extreme harshness when you confront al-Husayn, ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Umar and ‘Abd Allah ibn Zubayr. Do not permit them leave until they pay allegiance. May God’s peace be upon you’.”8

In this version of the letter, there is no talk of killing Imam al-Husayn (as) or his followers.


Firstly, there is no real inconsistency between these two historical texts, because killing Imam al-Husayn (as) has not been explicitly prohibited in the wording of the text recorded by Tabari. Both letters are quite strong except that the ultimate order in the text quoted by Tabari does not mention killing Imam al-Husayn (as).
It is therefore possible that Yazid wrote both letters; the first one was recorded by Tabari while the second and stronger one in tone was recorded by Ya‘qubi. Bearing this in mind, we can accept both records.

Secondly, in the letter which Tabari has recorded, the expression that has been used is “adopt extreme harshness”. This might mean that the people mentioned in this letter should not be given permission to leave until they have paid allegiance. From this expression, three possibilities come to mind:

A. That “adopt extreme harshness” means a kind of sharp and hot-tempered verbal encounter with these people to insist on getting allegiance from them.

B. That the intention was to put pressure on Imam al-Husayn (as) so that he would be left with no option but to pay allegiance, but this encounter should not culminate in killing Imam al-Husayn (as). (Neither of these two possibilities seems logical, because Yazid knew Imam al-Husayn’s (as) character and personality well. He knew with certainty that Imam al-Husayn (as) would never pay allegiance to him no matter what the cost.)

C. The third possibility; the possibility which conforms to what really happened, is that “adopt extreme harshness” means Yazid had given Walid complete jurisdiction over the issue of Imam al-Husayn (as) and he was free to deal with Imam al-Husayn (as) in whatever way he deemed suitable to get the job done. If Walid felt compelled to kill Imam al-Husayn (as), should he refuse to pay allegiance to Yazid, it would have been acceptable.

This possibility is confirmed by the following points:

1. When Marwan ibn Hakam ordered Walid to kill Imam al-Husayn (as) in the case that he refused to pay allegiance to Yazid ibn Mu‘awiyah, Walid excused himself from carrying out this abominable act. The reason he put forth was not that killing Imam al-Husayn (as) was not compatible with orders from Yazid, but because killing Imam al-Husayn (as) was haram and therefore forbidden by Islamic dictates.9

2. When Walid called Imam al-Husayn (as) to the governor’s palace, Imam al-Husayn (as) knew that Walid had been ordered to kill him if he refused to pay allegiance. Therefore, he went to the governor’s palace accompanied by a number of young men from the tribe of Bani Hashim. He also advised ‘Abd Allah ibn Zubayr to do the same.10

3. In the holy month of Ramadan of the same year in which he ascended to the caliphate, Yazid dismissed Walid ibn ‘Aqabah from his post as governor. It is important to mention that this happened only about two months after Yazid claimed the caliphate. Yazid discharged Walid despite reinstating in their posts all the governors who had worked for his father. The reason for dismissing Walid was that Yazid knew that Walid was not capable of carrying out his orders as regards killing Imam al-Husayn (as). So he dealt with him in the same manner that he had previously dealt with Nu‘man ibn Bashir, the governor of Kufah. Nu‘man ibn Bashir had been ordered to have a harsh and violent encounter with Muslim ibn ‘Aqil. When he did not do this, Yazid replaced him with ‘Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad.11

Yazid discharged Walid ibn ‘Aqabah just like he had previously dismissed Nu‘man ibn Bashir. Therefore, it can be deduced that Yazid wanted Walid to kill Imam al-Husayn (as) if necessary. Since Walid was not ready to do so, he paid the price and was dismissed.


7. Tarikh Ya‘qubi, vol. 2, p. 241; Al-Futuh, vol. 5, pp. 10-11.

8. Tarikh Tabari, vol. 4, p. 250.

9. Ibid., vol. 4, p. 251; Ibn Athir, Al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh, vol. 3, p. 264; Al-Bidayah wa al-Nihayah, vol. 8, pp. 157-158; Al-Akhbar al-Tawal, p. 228.

10. Ibid.; Al-Muntazam, vol. 5, p. 323; Al-Futuh, vol. 5, pp. 15-18.

11. Ibid.

Adapted from: "The Uprising of Ashura and Responses to Doubts" by: "‘Ali Asghar Ridwani"