1. Julius Wellhausen, The Religio-political Factions in Early Islam, Amsterdam 1975; translation (with additional notes) by R. C. Ostle of the German original, Gottingen 1901; thoroughly studies the Sunnite historical sources for the Kharijites and Shi'ites under the Umayyads. The main risings are also described in Wellhausen's The Arab Kingdom and its Fall, Calcutta 1927.

2. EP, art. Azarika (R. Rubinacci); Formative Period, 20-3.

3. Formative Period, 23-5.

5. L. Veccia Vaglieri, 'Le vicende del Harigismo in epoca abbaside', Rivista degli Studi Orientali, xxiv (1944), 31-44; Watt, 'Hie Significance of Kharijism under the 'Abbasids', Recherches d'lslam-ologie (Anawati-Gardet Festschrift), Louvain 1978, 381-7.

6. EI2, art. Ibadiyya (T. Lewicki). Kharijite (Ibadite) sources have been studied with interesting results by Italian scholars in Naples ; see references in EI2, art. 'All b. Abl Talib (Veccia Vaglieri).

Chapter Three THE EARLY SHl'ITES

Although the Shl'ites and the Kharijites were at opposite poles theologically for most of the Umayyad period, and were in this way complementary, their history was altogether different. Among the Shi'ites there were none of the intellectual debates that took place in Kharijite circles in Basra. For much of the time Shi'ism was quiescent, and anything that was happening was happening under the surface. Then suddenly, when a leader appeared, there would be an explosion. This is perhaps inevitable in a movement which places the emphasis on the leader.1

On the death of 'All in 661 some of his followers were inclined to support the claims of al-Hasan, the son of 'All and Muhammad's daughter Fatima; but al-Hasan had no political ability or ambition, and readily gave up his claims in return for the payment of a substantial sum of money by Mu'awiya. In the troubled period following the death of the latter in 680 al-Hasan's full brother al-Husayn was encouraged to lead a revolt in Iraq. The promised support was not forthcoming, but al-Husayn and his small band could not be prevailed on to surrender and were eventually massacred by a vastly superior army at Kerbela (Karbala') in October 680. These tragic events are still annually commemorated by Shi'ites with a kind of Passion Play during the month of Muharram—the Arabic month in which the original disaster occurred. In 684 in the confusion of the civil war a group of men from Kufa calling themselves the Penitents raised an army of 4,000 men, not only to show their penitence but also to avenge al-Husayn. When they marched against an Umayyad force, however, they were utterly defeated. Thus the beginning of the Shl'ite movement was a series of political failures.

The next event in Shi'ite history is slightly more successful and, apart from that, of great significance. This is the rising of al-Mukhtar in Kufa from 68 5 to 687. Up to this time all the Shi'ites, or at least all the prominent Shi'ites, had been Arabs. In Kufa, however, al-Mukhtar was also joined by mawali or 'clients' and, because of tension between the Arabs and the clients, was more and more forced to rely on the latter. Though the rising was crushed by Ibn-az-Zubayr's general, it had sufficient success to give the clients the idea that they had a certain amount of political power if they wielded it aright. A man could become a client in various ways, but the clients intended in this context are probably all non-Arab Muslims. A member of one of the protected communities of Christians, Jews, etc., on becoming a Muslim left his own community and was attached as client to an Arab tribe (presumably because the Islamic community was regarded as a federation of Arab tribes). This was an inferior status, however, in some respects, and as more non-Arabs became Muslims there was a growing volume of dissatisfaction with it and a demand for equality. The clients attracted to Shi'ism appear to have included both persons from the older strata of the population of Iraq (who may be called Aramaeans) and persons of Persian stock. In the Persian empire under the Sasanian dynasty Iraq had been persianized somewhat, while Aramaean culture had spread in Persia proper. In Iraq there was a long tradition of divine kingship, and it would therefore be natural for the Aramaeans in particular to adhere to an Islamic sect which emphasized charismatic leadership. There were many Persians among the Shi'ites during the Umayyad period, but it must be borne in mind that the close identification of Shi'ism with Persia only dates from the sixteenth century. Nevertheless the rising of al-Mukhtar is an important stage in the development of Islam as a religion, because from this time onwards Shi'ism was linked with the political grievances and aspirations of non-Arab Muslims.

For fifty years after the death of al-Mukhtar in 687 there was no overt political activity among the Shi'ites, though Shi'ite religious ideas were doubtless spreading quietly beneath the surface. There are frequent references to the sub-sect which supported al-Mukhtar, though they are called not Mukhtarites but Kaysanites.2 This is doubtless a nickname intended to emphasize their non-Arab character, since Kaysan was a prominent client. As signs of collapse became evident in the Umayyad regime, the Shi'ites appear once more on the political stage. Two leaders were executed in Kufa in 737 and another in 742, all suspected of organizing an underground resistance. In 740 there was a serious insurrection under a great-great-grandson of Muhammad called Zayd, but it was quickly suppressed. Still more serious for the Umayyads was the revolt of 'Abd-Allah ibn-Mu awiya, a great-grandson of Muhammad's cousin Ja'far; this lasted from 744 to 747. Finally, the movement which replaced the Umayyads by the 'Abbasids had much Shi'ite support, and on the religious side might be regarded as primarily a manifestation of Shi'ism. It remains to look at the theological developments accompanying these external events.3

The first point to be made is that although, as the sources suggest, there may have been widespread sympathy for the Shi'ite position, this position itself was still extremely vague. In particular there was no general recognition that the imams later acknowledged by the Imamite and Isma'Ilite branches of Shi'ism, the descendants of al-Husayn, son of 'All, had any special status or special gifts. The tendency was rather to consider that the charismata requisite for the position of imam belonged potentially to all members of Muhammad's clan of Hashim, whether descended from Muhammad through Fatima or not. (Descent from Muhammad never in fact was prominent in Shi'ite claims, but at most secondary, since the position of 'All was independent of this.) Thus al-Mukhtar claimed that he was acting on behalf of the imam Muhammad ibn-al- Hanafiyya ('the son of the Hanafite woman'), a son of 'All but not by Fatima. Some held that the imam after him was his son, Abu-Hashim. A small group for a time took as imam a great-grandson of al-Hasan, known as Muhammad the Pure Soul (an-Nafs az-Zakiyya). The rising under the great-grandson of Ja'far (Muhammad's cousin and 'All's brother) has already been mentioned. Finally, the 'Abbasids at first claimed to have inherited the imamate from Muhammad ibn-al-Hanafiyya and Abu-Hashim, but at a later date (officially from about 780) asserted instead that the true imam after the Prophet was his uncle al-'Abbas, who was of course their ancestor.

Complementary to this acceptance of a variety of men as having the divinely given qualities needed for leadership of the Islamic community there is the fact that no group of importance recognized the descendants of al-Husayn as having any special position. For later Shi'ite theory the first three rightful imams of the community after Muhammad are 'All, al-Hasan and al-Husayn,- the fourth is the lat-ter's son 'All Zayn-al-'Abidin, who died about 714; the fifth is his son Muhammad al-Baqir (d.733); and the sixth his son Ja'far as-Sadiq (d.765). Even Imamite sources, however, make it clear that these men, the fourth, fifth and sixth imams, were not active politically,-and it would have been difficult for Muslims of this period to conceive of a religious claim that was not also a political one. Nothing at all is recorded of the fourth imam. Of the fifth imam it is reported that the men executed at Kufa in 7 37 and 742 claimed to be his emissaries; but there is confusion in the stories and it is doubtful if he gave them any support. The sixth imam, Ja'far as-§adiq, seems to have realized the possibilities of a Shi'ite movement and to have set about, doubtless with much caution and circumspection, organizing a body of supporters; but this would mostly take place before the end of the Umayyad period.

The Shi'ism of the Umayyad period was thus vaguer and more indefinite than later Shi'ism, and lacked any semblance of a coher ent theory. It was the manifestation of a deep unconscious need—a feeling in men's hearts that they would be happier and more satisfied spiritually if they had a charismatic leader to follow. The imam of whom the Shi'ites dreamed is precisely what is meant by a charismatic leader. The history of early Shi'ism, and indeed of much later Shi'ism also, is that of a pathetic quest for individuals to whom the dignity of imam may be attached. Most of those accepted as imam belied the hopes set on them; and yet the quest went on. The persistence of the quest shows the depth of the feeling involved. Men with political ambitions and qualities of leadership, but no shadow of a claim to the charismata of the Hashimites, found a way of using this widespread desire for an imam. Al-Mukhtar, for example, asserted that he was acting as the emissary of a genuine imam, Muhammad ibn-al-Hanafiyya he may have had the consent of the latter in making this assertion, but it is certain that he received no active help from him. There are several later instances of a similar proceeding, and in some of them the imam invoked repudiated the self-styled emissary. Others seem to have resigned themselves to political inactivity in the foreseeable future; and they found a theological justification for this attitude in the theory that the imam was not dead but in concealment and that at an appropriate time he would return as the Mahdi or Guided One (a kind of Messiah) to right all wrongs and establish justice on earth.

Thus Umayyad Shi'ism is a veritable chaos of ideas and attitudes. A beginning of order was introduced by the idea of designation [nass) —this involves the view that there is only one imam at a time and that the imam designates his successor. In the Umayyad period, however, this was not wholly effective, since different groups recognized different imams. A different line was taken by the Zaydites, the followers of the Zayd who revolted in 740. They would have nothing to do with the idea of a hidden imam; one of the conditions of being imam was that the claim to be such was made publicly (and, of course, was made effective by military success). Zayd's revolt was a realistic attempt to provide an alternative government to that of the Umayyads. He therefore tried to gain the support not merely of the Shi'ites but also of the main body of Muslims, and to do this he made the assertion that, though 'All was the rightful imam after the Prophet and superior to Abu-Bakr and XJmar, the 'imamate of the inferior' (imamat al-mafdul) was permissible. This concession, however, seems to have alienated the more thorough-going Shi'ites and may have contributed to Zayd's failure.

The 'Abbasid movement shows a mixture of genuine religious feeling (though perhaps not in the top leadership) and shrewd political calculation. Realizing how widespread Shi'ite sympathies were, they claimed to be the rightful imams through inheritance by desig nation from Muhammad ibn-al-Hanafiyya. Because they saw the weakness of this claim, however, in much of their propaganda they simply called for support for 'him of the family of the Prophet who shall be chosen',- and by the time it was made public who this was they were already in power. To gain the Zaydites they maintained that they were seeking vengeance for the blood of Zayd. Another of their aims was the defence of 'the weak', which in fact meant the clients or non-Arab Muslims; and actually much of the support for the 'Abbasids came from the clients, and their leading general, Abu-Muslim, was himself a client. The volume of support for the 'Abbasids from the clients meant that, when they achieved control of the caliphate, clients, especially Persians and persianized Aramaeans, received a due share of power, and the inferior status of the non-Arab Muslims gradually disappears. The success of this at least partly Shi'ite movement in 750 is another stage in the development of Shi'ism, but, as will be seen, its immediate effects are difficult to assess.

The Power Of Charisma

The Power Of Charisma

You knowthere's something about you I like. I can't put my finger on it and it's not just the fact that you will download this ebook but there's something about you that makes you attractive.

Get My Free Ebook

Post a comment