MUHARRAM SERIES – The regime of Mu’awiyah

SHAFAQNA – With the holy month of Muharram upon us, millions of Muslims across the world will reflect upon those events which led to the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, and shook Islam at its very core. Rather than inspire passions and reignite disputes, Shafaqna will attempt to base its arguments in history, and thus offer perspective to a debate which has sadly darkened our community, pitting brothers against brothers in the name of righteousness.

Whether Muslims choose to remember of Muharram Prophet Musa’s escape of Egypt, or the tragedy of Karbala, it is Resistance, Liberation, and Loyalty to the Word which the holy month has always echoed of.

If sectarian labels need to be given, maybe we ought to think ourselves the Shias of Muhammad and accept that his tradition is in fact a reflection of Islam itself. To which one needs to ask the question: who better to lead than those God appointed?

The following is an account of the sacred rising of Imam Hussain against the tyranny of Yazid, and those events which led to the demise of the last grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. If again this passage of our history has been clouded by deceit, and an imperious need to offer immunity to those figures who claim right in the name of their might, History stands nevertheless witness.

History today has become more a matter of opinion than a matter of fact – and there lies the biggest deception of all. Distortions have taken place and continue to take place in every chapter of Islamic and non-Islamic history. They changed the very shape of events and made the task of future research more difficult.

But there can be no distortion allowed when recalling Karbala. There can be no exaggeration or redaction of any kind when dealing with those events which forever changed the course of Islamic history … not when the blood of our Imams was spent in our defense and for our sake.

It is denying the sacred message of Islam but to deny those elevated souls which guided us out of the darkness so that we could rise above our station and reach towards the divine. There is great villainy in attempting to absolve those whose hands stroke against the House when their hands should have served it.

About fifty years after the death of the Holy Prophet, twenty years after the martyrdom of Imam Ali, and ten years after the martyrdom of Imam Hassan, Mu’awiyah ibn Abu Sufyan breathed his last in the middle of the month of Rajab of the year 60 A.H. He had been the governor and caliph of Damascus for 42 years – 5 spent under the caliphate of Umar ibn Khattab, 12 under the caliphate of Uthman, about 5 years under the caliphate of Imam Ali, and 6 years under the caliphate of Imam Hassan.

A man of ambition Mu’awiyah challenged both Imam Ali’s authority and that of Imam Hassan’s. Interestingly, he, who would wage war against the House never once rebelled against the authority of the Quraysh.

Before his death, and in violation with the peace treaty he signed with Imam Hassan, Mu’awiyah called for his followers to pledge loyalty to his son: Yezid, thus laying the cornerstone to a new Islamic State – one based not on religious legitimacy but force.

Mu’awiya was the forefather of the Umayyad dynasty, himself the descendant of Abu Sufyan and Marwan. The Umayyad held power over the Islamic world from 41 A.H. to 132 A.H.

During the time of his caliphate Mu’awiyah systematically violated his peace treaty with Imam Hassan – a precursor maybe of the bloodshed and betrayal which his progeny would carry out. A man of little honour, Mu’awiyah perjured himself many times over, all in the name of control, all so that his name could be feared and revered. Today it is with much disgust that we recall his treachery … even if many chose to see greatness in his deeds.

The name of Hujr bin Adi Kindi comes to mind as proof of Mu’awiyah’s deceitful nature. A companion of the Prophet Muhammad, Hujr bin Adi Kindi was also a staunch supporter of Imam Ali … he was killed by Mu’awiyah for he refused to deny the House. Mu’awiya’s power and domination by then had assumed such proportions that he did what he liked and none could raise any objection.

Ali bin Husayn Mas’udi, one of the greatest Muslim historians and geographers of the 4th century writes in his book Murujuz Zahab:

“At the time of return from the Battle of Siffin, a Kufian, mounted on a camel, came to Damascus.

One of the Syrians disputed with him and said: “This she-camel which you have mounted is mine. It was looted in the Battle of Siffin and has fallen in your hands”. Their dispute got prolonged and both of them went to Mu’awiyah. The man belonging to Damascus produced fifty witnesses, who deposed that the she-camel belonged to him. On the authority of the evidence given by fifty persons Mu’awiyah also decided that the she-camel belonged to the Syrian and compelled the Iraqi to surrender it to him.

The Iraqi said: “May Allah bless you. It is a he-camel and not a she-camel”. Mu’awiyah, however, said: “I have already given a decision and it cannot be altered”. When the people dispersed Mu’awiyah called the Iraqi and asked him as to what his she-camel was worth. Then he gave him something more than the price of the he-camel and said to him: “Tell Ali that to fight against him I have 100,000 men, who do not distinguish between a he-camel and a she-camel” (i.e. if I say that a he-camel is a she-camel or vice versa, they will not dispute).

After narrating this story Mas’udi writes that Mu’awiyah acquired such a grasp over the people that at the time of proceeding for the Battle of Siffin he called them to Friday prayers on a Wednesday without any one party to question his judgement.

In An-Nasayah al-Kafiya Li Mun Yatawalla the historian recalled another incident during which Mu’awiyah’s manipulative nature is such that it suffers no contention. The incident pertains to the death of Ammar Yasir during the battle of Siffin, by the hands of Mu’awiyah’s men.  It had been narrated by Bukhari in his Sahih, as well as by others, that when Ammar was striving more than others at the time of the construction of the Masjid of Madina the Holy Prophet saw him and said: “Alas! Ammar! An oppressive group will kill him at a time when he will be calling them to Paradise and they will be calling him to Hell”.

Ammar’s being killed made truth manifest, and it was established that the oppressive group was that of Mu’awiyah. In order to push away blame, and prevent others from seeing him for what he was, Mu’awiyahd then attempted to shift guilt onto Imam Ali by declaring: “We have not killed Ammar. He has been killed by him, who brought him in the battlefield” (Imam Ali). To which Imam Ali replied: “If that be so Hamza, the Doyen of the Martyrs was killed by the Holy Prophet, because he brought him along with him to fight against the polytheists”.

Where others would have retreated in their rebellion, Mu’awiyah insisted. He remarked: “It is true that we have killed Ammar, but the word Baghiya used by the Holy Prophet does not mean unjust and oppressive. On the contrary it means one, who seeks or demands, and it is we, who have risen to seek vengeance for the murder of Uthman. Hence the meaning of the Holy Prophet’s remark is that Ammar would be killed by those who rose to seek vengeance for the murder of Uthman and there is nothing wrong about it”.

If the argument did not hold, few were those who opposed it … Mu’awiyah had become so powerful that his will alone shaped reality. The prophet it needs to be remembered had clearly said: “Ammar will be killed by those, who will invite him to Hell, and whom he will invite to Paradise”.

It is within such time of fear and oppression that Imam Hussain was forced to rise a rampart against tyranny. It is in defense of Islam, and the tradition of the Prophet Muhammad that the Third Imam bore arms.

Many lessons can be drawn from Imam Hussain’ stand … History as it were has a way of repeating itself.

By Catherine Shakdam for the Shafaqna Institute for Middle Eastern Studies




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