The revolt of the people of Medina in 63 A.H. (683 C.E.) against the monarchy of Yazīd, and the rule of the Umayyids, represented, among other things, people's widespread dislike and hatred against the state's politics and plans.
There seems to be no evidence in historical records and documents indicating that this social uprising was ascribed to any particular intellectual or political faction or leadership; rather, the communal and tribal diversity of the participants in this popular movement suggests that various social, religious, political, and emotional factors have prompted harmonious sentiments among the people of Medina that culminated in a widespread uprising, and cutting off the hands of Yazīd's agents and administrators from that city.
Obviously, upon empathy and solidarity in rejecting the Umayyid rule and in order to coordinate its defensive force, this spontaneous social uprising chose a commander in chief. According to the historical reports, the Ansār had selected 'Abd Allāh b. Hanzala1 and the Quraysh had chosen 'Abd Allāh b. Mutī'2 as their military commanders.313
Therefore, if in 'Ashūrā (Karbala) tragedy and Imām Husayn ('a)'s movement, the goals, plans, and motives were above all centered in a perfectly recognized leader, i.e., Imam Husayn b. 'Alī ('a) with his holiness being considered as the pivot of the movement, in the battle of Harrah and the social movement of Madinans, religious, political, historical, and emotional grounds must be sought on which the movement, without enjoying an outstanding leadership, had been able to bring the scattered tribes and various clans settled in Medina to a similar conclusion and integrate their power and capabilities toward rising up against Yazīd and his agents.
Evidently, it would be impossible for the history researchers to have access to all those causes and grounds, with such long interval and scarcity of historical documents. However, a considerable portion of these causes can be recognised on the basis of what has been recorded or stated.
In Islamic culture, two cities have been recognized as the early bases where the religious thought of the Last of the Prophets (s) began to propagate; Mecca, as the land of the Prophetic Mission and the Qibla to the Muslims; and Medina, as the city of the Prophet (s) and the land of expansion and export of the Revealed Message.
Mecca, as a Divine Sanctuary, overrates Medina, but the latter is significant in that the development of religious knowledge, exposition of the Prophetic traditions, and the understanding and interpretation of the Revealed Word of Allah, all took place in that city. The companions of the Prophet (s) - both Muhājirin and Ansār - lived there and most of them preferred staying in that city over other cities after the demise of the Prophet (s).
Thus, it is evident that Madinans' proximity to the Prophet's legacy and traditions and his companions and successors had made their inclination toward Islam to be stronger than that of the Syrians and thus leading them to more quickly observe inappropriateness of the policies and actions adopted by the rulers and governors. Hence, they were more openly motivated to fight against the political and moral corruptions and perversions in the ruling body of Islam. Furthermore, it was these people who expressed their early political dis-satisfaction and protested to Uthmān b. 'Affān and reprimanded him for the discriminations and incompetence of his administrators and went so far as to put an end to his life!
Now, the same people were witnessing the ruling of a crude young man who neither knows anything about politics and civility nor is familiar with the religious sanctities of Islam and its laws, nor even tries to hide his moral corruptions from the people.
When the people of Medina ran out of patience due to the Yazīd's countless tyrannies and bloodsheds and his openly blatant transgression of the Islamic laws, they began to air their protest against the Syrian government. 'Uthmān b. Muhammad b. Abū Sufyān - the governor of Medina - pretended to show his competence by trying to make the dignitaries of Medina pleased with himself, the rule, and Yazīd and to calm down his own jurisdiction. He sent some of the youths of Ansār and Muhājirin to Damascus so that they could meet with young ruler Yazīd in person and discuss their complaints with him; perhaps he would be able to give them convincing answers and avail them with his gifts and bounties.414
In this meeting, Yazīd not only was unable to attract the attention of the emissaries of Medina and redress their grievances, rather on the other hand, he further proved their previous beliefs and impressions of his incompetence by showing frivolous and foolish behavior.515
There is difference of opinion in historical sources as to the number of the emissaries dispatched from Medina to Syria in 62 A.H. (682 C.E.). Some have recorded their number to be ten6, others have reported more.7 Historians have recorded this meeting as follows:
'Abd Allāh b. Hanzala Ghasīl al-Malā'ika, 'Abd Allāh b. Abī 'Amr b. Mughayra Makhzūmī, Mundhir b. Zubayr and a group of the noblemen of Medina accompanied them.8
When the emissaries came to visit Yazīd, he paid homage to them by giving them generous gifts.
He even gave a hundred thousand dirhams to one of them, 'Abd Allāh b. Hanzala b. Abī 'Āmir, who had come along with eight of his children, and gave some gifts to others, too.9 Despite all this, his mean behavior was not hidden from the guests.
These guests scrutinized all the conducts and life style of Yazīd for which they had originally traveled to Syria.1020
When they returned to Medina, they narrated to the people what they had seen of Yazīd. They were soon shouting in the Prophet's (s) mosque: We are coming back from someone who is faithless, drinks wine, plays lute, spends nights with mean people and singing maids, and abandons prayers.1121
People asked 'Abd Allāh b. Hanzala: “What news have you brought?” He said: “I am coming back from a man with whom I would have fought, I swear by Allah, if my children were not with me.” People said: “We heard that Yazīd has given you money and other gifts.” 'Abd Allāh said: “That is true. I accepted it only for preparing forces against him.” This way 'Abd Allāh went on to instigate people against Yazīd and they followed him.12
Abū al-Fidā', one of the historians, puts it this way:
What fuelled the battle of Harrah was that a group of people went to Damascus to visit Yazīd b. Mu'āwiyah. Yazīd honored them, gave them gifts, and granted about a hundred thousand dirhams to 'Abd Allāh b. Hanzala b. Abī 'Āmir, a dignitary from Medina. When the group returned to Medina, they talked to the people about what they had seen of Yazīd - drinking wine, vices, and other sins and injustices and immoralities, the greatest of which were abandoning prayers due to being drunk.13
Tabarī puts it in this way:
“Upon returning to Medina, the group reproached Yazīd among themselves, cursed him, and said: We come back from someone who does not have faith, drinks wine, plays lute and the maids sing for him; he plays with dogs and keeps company with the mean people and the slaves. Bear witness that we vow to dethrone him.”14
The author of Ta'rīkh-i Fakhrī wrote:
“People were disturbed by the Umayyids, especially by Yazīd for committing many forbidden and sinful acts and being notorious for vices and iniquities.”1525
“The cause of Medinans' revolt against Yazīd was his weakness of faith.”1626
Ibn Khaldun has opined as follows:
“About Imam Husayn ('a) and the battle that took place, it ought to be said that since the vices and crimes committed by Yazīd were known to general public of his era, the followers and the Shī'as of the Prophet's (s) household in Kufa dispatched a delegation to Imam Husayn ('a) to invite him to Kufa in order to revolt under his command. The Imam ('a) realized that standing up against Yazīd was a duty, for the latter was openly committing injustices and immoral acts, and that this uprising was a duty for those who were able to revolt.”
Mas'ūdī has put it this way:
“When tyrannies of Yazīd and his functionaries began to mount up, his debaucheries became disgracefully manifest; he killed grandson of the Prophet (s) and his companions; went on drinking sprees; and took on Pharaoh-like manners, even worse than Pharaoh in his injustice to the high and low. Thereof, it so happened that the people of Medina expelled his governor, Uthmān b. Muhammad b. Abū Sufyān, together with Marwān b. Hakam and other members of Umayyid clan.”17
In addition to observing Yazīd's moral corruption, the representatives of the Medinans witnessed at close quarter that someone by the name of Serjohn was working in Yazīd's court as his Roman counselor and that Mansūr b. Serjohn - or Sergius - from a renowned Christian clan had been Yazīd's close companion from days of his youth.
Ibn Uthāl18, Yazīd's personal physician was also a Christian in charge of the financial affairs of the province of Hims.1929
Akhtal20, the Umayyid court's poet, was also one of the Arab Christians who frequently visited the Caliph's palace with a cross hung around his neck, would read his poems to the Caliph, and was highly praised and rewarded by him.2131
Background knowledge of these unusual affairs stank of deep conspiracy and when combined with Umayyid's unIslamic and inhumane rule, would make any Muslim's zealous blood boil and incite severe reactions against the Umayyid monarchy.
As someone who had been able to acquire for himself the garment of the Caliphate and monarchy over the Muslim lands, Mu'āwiyah had quite learned that in the Muslim community, particularly among the Sahāba (companions), Tābi'īn (their successors), Muhājirin, and Ansār, the issue of Ahl al-Bayt ('a) enjoys a special status that could not be easily violated.
On the other hand, more than anybody else, he had tried 'Alī b. Abī Tālib ('a) and his progeny's robustness and perseverance in respect to religious values and human principles, and found out that confronting this household would cost too high for the Umayyids to afford. Therefore, he had given necessary instructions to his crown prince as to avoid confronting the household of the Prophet (s).
However, Yazīd was not such a person to comprehend the meaning of politics and realize his father's bitterly tasted state policies and experiences; rather, he saw himself as the heir to the power that he himself had no role in acquiring, and like a traditional prince he spent his carefree adolescence and early youth on the Muslims' public treasury without any care for their plight and sufferings and now was ruling over the ummah of Islam whose men, in his own thinking, were his freed slaves and their women, his handmaidens who will submit themselves to him whenever he wished!
This fanciful thinking, inflated by flatteries, once again set the descendents of Banī Hāshim against those of Umayyid and prompted the sons of Abū Sufyān to fight another battle with the household of the Prophet (s), creating a tragedy in Karbalā which was the greatest of all the battles between truth and falsehood in entire human history.
Yazīd wanted to take the revenge of all those killed in the battle of Badr and all the polytheists and unbelievers of history from the household of the Prophet (s) in half a day's time and he truly did so!
Like all the Cains of history, he did not realize the gravity and expanse of that horrendous tragedy the moment he was perpetrating it. However, it did not last long, that, before a half day's time with the short speech by Zaynab al-Kubrā, the daughter of 'Alī ('a), he dismounted his throne of triumph and power and proceeded to apologize; but it was too late, as the blood of the Prophet's (s) household was already shed and would not be washed out by any means. In this tragedy, the decapitated heads of the descendents of 'Alī ('a) turned to unsetting stars that directed people toward the way to deliverance in the dark night of the Umayyid rule; and the people of Medina were the most deserving to find out these telling clues and to show proper reactions in the face of the unjustly shed blood of the Prophet's descendents.
It was also because Imam Husayn b. 'Alī ('a) and his companions and family members had come from their homeland and Imam Ali b. al-Husayn (Zayn al-'Abidīn) ('a), the son of Imam Husayn ('a), had brought them the message of their martyrdom. Those who failed to accompany and help the Prophet's grandson were now ashamed of their past and considered compensating that great damage!
Even if the newly converted Muslims of Syria had not yet considered the ayah “Say, 'I do not ask of you any reward except the affection for my relatives'”22 while reciting the Qur'an, and could not distinguish between the descendants of Abū Sufyān and the household of the Prophet (s). The people of Medina had frequently heard from the Prophet (s) that: “… Al-Hasan and al-Husayn sayyidā shabāb ahl al-janna (Hasan and Husayn are the two leaders of the youth of paradise)”.23 Thus, such deep injuries to the souls, faith, and sentiments of the Medinans would inevitably end up in an overall uprising and bloody confrontation.
“When the tyrannies of Yazīd and his functionaries became widespread, he killed the Messenger of Allah's (s) grandson and his companions, and the people revolted.”2434
“When Imam Husayn ('a) was martyred, Ibn. Zubayr talked to the people; he regarded the Imam's martyrdom as important, reproached the people of Iraq, and said: The people of Iraq are criminal and evildoers; they invited Husayn ('a) to Iraq but as soon as he arrived, they attacked him and demanded him to either surrender to the son of Sumayya (Ibn Ziyād) or fight. Husayn ('a) knew that his companions were few in number but preferred dignified death to a degraded life. May God bless Husayn ('a) and debase his killer.”2535
One of the writers of Arab history wrote in an analysis on the tragedy of Karbalā that Husayn b. 'Alī's blood was more than anything else effective in the development of Shī'ī thought to the extent that Shī'īsm may be said to be reborn on the tenth of Muharram. As the later events revealed, this issue was among the factors that undermined the foundations of the Umayyid's government.26
It is likely that if the Karbalā tragedy did not have narrators like Imam Zayn al-'Abidīn ('a) and Zaynab al-Kubrā (the daughter of Imam 'Ali ('a)) and the Ahl al-Bayt ('a) had not taken measures for preserving and safeguarding it, the Umayyid ruling system could have easily distorted the event for the uninformed masses and offered justification to cover up their crimes. But what prevented the distortion of event of 'Āshūra and its justification by the ruling Umayyid's government were the very influential and at the same time subtle ways of propagation adopted by the surviving messengers of Karbalā, that would burn the hearts and infuriate the spirits of the Muslim masses.
It was not a proper time for Imam Zayn al-'Abidīn ('a) to start an open campaign against the Umayyids to inform the public of their true face; and the historical experience indicated that the people of Medina, despite their good past records in assisting the Prophet (s) and defending the religion, never had the required vigilance and solidarity to support the household of the Prophet (s). That was possibly because yesterday's Ansār and Muhājirin (i.e., Helpers and Emigrants) who were regarded as simple and untainted Muslims, after the demise of the Messenger of Allah (s) and with the city of Medina turning into the Islamic capital, the seat of the Caliphate of the Muslims, and the centre of distribution of social and political positions, had over the years, acquired some status and reputation so as to view themselves as companions and narrators of hadīth as opposed to the household of the Prophet (s).
Nevertheless, Imam Zayn al-'Abidīn ('a) would constantly whisper his messages in between his supplications and intimate conversations (munajat) with Allah, driving them deep down into one's soul; whenever he saw drinking water, he would passionately remember the moments of the martyrdom of martyrs of Karbalā with their parched lips. Thus, words, expressions and gestures of the Imam ('a), who in spite of being subjected to the harshness and cruelty of the age, was still known as the most distinguished religious figure of his time, were communicated from heart to heart to the farthest areas of city of Medina via gatherings.
Historians have described the early hours of arrival of the survivors of Karbalā Caravan at the gates of Medina as follows:
When Bashīr b. Jazlam declared the news of Imam Husayn's ('a) martyrdom and the return of the Ahl al-Bayt ('a) to the people of Medina, it sounded as if it was the Trumpet's Blast that turned Medina to a scene like the morning of Resurrection. Women of Medina rushed out of their houses and took to the gate of Medina, so that no man or woman remained home except that all were running bare-footed and raising the cries of “Wā Muhammadā! Wā Husayna!”(Alas O Muhammad, Alas O Husayn!), just like the day when the Holy Prophet (s) departed from the world. No day ever passed by for the Muslims more bitter and no cries of mourning and lamentation more severe than that day.27
After the people left town and went to Imam Zayn al-'Abidīn ('a) and others who were returning with them, the Imam delivered a very moving sermon. Some people, such as Sawhān b. Sa'sa'a, apologized for not assisting Imam Husayn ('a) and Imam Zayn al-'Abidīn ('a) accepted their apologies.28
Imam Zayn al-'Abidīn's ('a) words left deep impact on the people of Medina and made them feel that they had neglected to defend the sanctity of the Messenger of Allah (s)!
Abī Mikhnaf wrote:
It was Friday that the caravan of the Ahl al-Bayt ('a) arrived near Medina. Imam Zayn al-'Abidīn ('a) sent Bashir b. Jazlam towards Medina to inform the people. He entered Medina and informed the people of the arrival of Ahl al-Bayt ('a) by his poem. With this news, even the women who were behind the veils came out of their houses, wearing black garments and weeping with cries. I saw no man or woman except that they were weeping, lamenting and reprimanding; all the Hashemite and non-Hashemite women were weeping.
On Friday, the Ahl al-Bayt ('a) arrived in Medina and the Friday preacher was delivering his sermon, mentioning what had befallen Husayn ('a) and his companions and adding even further to the lamentations and sorrows of people so that some were weeping and some moaning. That day all the people of Medina went toward Ahl al-Bayt ('a) just like the day when the Prophet (s) had departed from this world. The poets among them were reciting their poems and elegies, and the people of Medina held public mourning and sorrowful gatherings for fifteen days for Imam Husayn ('a) and the martyrs of Karbala.
On the other hand, Zaynab al-Kubrā (sa) and the mothers of the martyrs of Karbalā, each one of them created their own impressive gathering in the widely span social milieu of Medina by individually narrating their experiences of events of the 'Āshūrā tragedy and what they had seen on the way to Kūfa and Syria and in Yazīd's court.
Following are the words of Hadrat Zaynab (sa), the daughter of 'Alī ('a), addressed in the early hours of her arrival in Medina to a mass gathering of mourning women who had encircled and accompanied her into the city. She took advantage of the poetry to penetrate deep into the hearts and minds of her listeners, as she knew very well that the Arab women's memory would readily preserve them and recite them like their soothing cradlesongs to their babies. Those lines are rendered as follows:
What answer will you give when the Prophet asks you:
What did you do as my last Ummah after my demise
To my progeny and my household?
Some have been taken captives and some were immersed in their blood!
Is it my reward for guiding and leading you to the Way of God?
That you oppress my household to such an extent?2939
Among other factors that played an important role in Medinan's revolt against the Umayyid government were the morally corrupt actions and politically awkward decision-makings that were witnessed by the Muslim community, especially by the people of Medina, that began with the Caliphate of Uthmān b. 'Affān (who was from Umayyid clan), and reached their extremes during the reign of Yazīd b. Mu'āwiyah.
The previous Caliphs usually had at their disposal some consultants from among the companions and the erudite for administering the Muslim community. Yazīd, however, had gathered around him some of his jokers and drunkard cronies, who were of his age, as consultants and administrators. This action was obviously intolerable to those who were foremost on the path of faith at that time and to the Ansār and Muhājirin and their descendents.
The nearest in mindset to Yazīd for the people of Medina was likely to be the governor of Medina about whom Tabarī wrote:
”'Uthmān b. Muhammad b. Abū Sufyān, who was appointed as the governor of Medina after Walīd, was regarded as an inexperienced teenager.”30
Before 'Uthmān b. Muhammad b. Abū Sufyān, another person known as Walīd b. 'Uqba had been appointed by Yazīd as the governor of Hijāz who was strongly criticized by people and about whom Ibn. Zubayr sent the following letter to Yazīd:
“You have sent over us a rough and harsh man who does not care at all about justice and truthfulness and pays no attention to the well-wishers and the wise; whereas if you had sent a mild-mannered person, we hoped that he would make the hard and complicated tasks much easier.”314141
It was after such remarks and complains that Yazīd discharged Walīd b. 'Uqba from office and appointed 'Uthmān b. Muhammad b. Abū Sufyān, who was an arrogant, inexperienced, and heedless youth, as the governor of Hijāz32, and the tragedy of Harrah took place while he was the governor of Medina.33
Surprisingly enough, 'Uthmān b. Muhammad b. Abū Sufyān was simultaneously shouldering two heavy posts, i.e., the governorship of Medina and Mecca which Yazīd had entrusted to this raw and inexperienced youth!34
All these factors were in fact creating impulses and subtle reactions that were adding together and awaiting a proper moment to burst out like an explosion. That moment came up when Ibn Mīnā, the fully authorized representative of Mu'āwiyah (and who continued working in that position in Yazid's reign), for collecting taxes and properties in Medina, tried to deliver the collected possessions out of Harrah to the governor of Hijāz. It was at this point that the Medinan protesters blocked his way and told him: “This much property that you are taking out of Medina does not belong to you and Mu'āwiyah; we confiscate this property.”3545
Ibn Mīnā reported the confiscation to 'Uthmān b. Muhammad b. Abū Sufyān who was then the ruler of Mecca and Medina.
'Uthmān summoned some representatives from Medina for negotiations. A number of Ansār and Quraysh met 'Uthmān and stated that the property belonged to the people of Medina and that “Mu'āwiyah had purchased our property at a low price during the time of our poverty and economic pressure and he had not paid our due rights during his reign.”
The dispute dragged on to the extent that the governor of Medina threatened the representatives and said: “This action of yours is rooted in internal grudges and there is no end to it. I will report the issue to Yazīd himself.”36
The governor of Medina reported the story in a letter to Syria and instigated Yazīd against the people of Medina. Furious to hear this, Yazīd said:
“I swear to God that I will dispatch a massive army over them and trample them under the horses' hooves…”37