Ubaidullah b. Abbas was quickly advancing towards Maskin with twelve thousand soldiers in the vanguard brigade. While passing through a place called "Shami" near Qadisiya, he continued his advance till he reached Maskin after crossing over the Euphrates. There he faced the Syrian army which had already arrived.
The next day the Syrian ruler Muawiya ordered a number of armed units under the command of Basar b. Abi Artat to attack the vanguard brigade of the Imam (as). Ubaidullah and his men fought them off bravely and defeating them before sunset, forced them to retreat to the Syrian camp.
At that moment Muawiya realized that Imam Al-Mujtaba (as) was very serious about an armed struggle against him. So, by the night fall, he started planning his cunning tactics. Muawiya sent his special envoy Abdel Rahman b. Samrah, b. Habib b. Abde Shams to the vanguard brigade, with the following message:
"A number of representatives of Hasan (as) have come to me with his letters in which he has offered peace to me. I have come towards Iraq with the same intention and I have ordered my soldiers not to engage you. You should also not harm them till the issues are settled between me and Hasan (as)."
Ubaidullah and his colleagues refused to believe the message, considering it to be based on falsehood and deception, and abusing Abdel Rahman b. Samrah, sent him back. 1
After that Muawiya tried to bribe Qais b. S'ad, the deputy commander. Muawiya sent him one hundred thousand Dirham and suggested that he should either support him or leave the army of Imam (as). Qais returned the Muawiya, saying: "Does Muawiya want to deceive me in my religion?"2
On being disappointed from Qais, Muawiya sent his special envoy Abdel Rahman b. Samrah to Ubaidullah. He requested special meeting with him and swearing, tried to convince him that Imam Mujta ba (as) had offered peace to Muawiya. Simultaneously, he offered Ubaidullah one hundred thousand Dirham. The historian Abul Faraj Isphahani quotes the following text of the message that was sent to Ubaidullah:
"No doubt Hasan (as) has written to me about peace and he is going to hand over the rule to me very soon. So, if you obey me now, you will be treated like an officer, otherwise you will be treated like an ordinary soldier. If you accept my offer now, you will be given one hundred thousand Dirham, half of which I am sending in haste as cash, while the balance will be given to you on reaching Kufa."
The historians write that Ubaidullah b. Abbas fell a victim to this conspiracy and deserting the army and leaving the command, he joined Muawiya the same night. 3 According to Y'qubi and Baladhuri he was not alone in deserting the army but the majority of the vanguard brigade which is said to have numbered eight thousand, also deserted with him. 3
Some versions mention that after Ubaidullah's desertion, the majority of the leaders and well known personalities of Iraq, coming under similar influence, had joined the army of Muawiya. It cannot be denied that a majority in the vanguard brigade (nearly two thirds) had earlier or later joined the forces of Muawiya. 4
The circumstantial evidence shows that apart from Ubaidullah b. Abbas and Qais b. S'ad, Muawiya had tried to bribe other leaders in the Iraqi army as well. But the main reason of his success was that all of them, including Ubaidulah, had become frightened.
They knew Muawiya very well and their national and religious status and interests would not at all allow them to bow to Muawiya. Muawiya had offered cash only to Ubaidullah while others had been given only verbal promises. Without getting any cash, why did they trust the verbal promise?
If their attitude is analyzed, lack of leadership and the fear of Muawiya and his army was the main reason for the same. There is no doubt that against a well organized and armed force of sixty thousand, a disorganized force of twelve thousand, all of whose soldiers could not even be trusted, was no match.
Moreover, they were facing not an ordinary person but one like Muawiya. The leader of the faithful Hazrat ‘Ali (as) had warned his Persian governor in the following words to beware of Muawiya:
"Undoubtedly sometimes Muawiya attacks a person from the front, sometimes from back, while on other occasions from right or left. So, you should remain very alert to his moves." 5
However, it cannot be denied as well that the soldiers in the vanguard brigade were the best soldiers in the army of Imam Hasan (as). These included a large number of the Shi'a of his father and his own who included a number of the Companions of the Holy Prophet (saws). They included the devotees of "Shurta al Khamis" who had vowed to fight till death and, according to historians, Muawiya was fearful of them.
The tried and experienced Generals like Qais b. S'ad, S'aeed b. Qais, S'as'ah b. Saohan and Adi b. Hatim as well were in the army of the Imam (as) from whom Muawiya was afraid. About these very people Imam Mujta ba (as) had stated that every one of them was equal to an army and that they were from amongst the most trusted ones of the leader of the faithful. In addition, Imam Al-Mujtaba (as) had more than once advised the commander to treat them with courtesy and kindness.
The other persons, though they were not as firm in faith and bravery, yet if the leadership had trusted them and had, following the instructions of the Imam (as), not allowed them to go astray and would have maintained their trust, then there was no chance for Muawiya to sow seeds of discord among them or for them to fall prey to his cunning moves.
But when they saw the leadership itself getting involved, then they lost hope from the army of the Imam (as) and started to offer faithfulness to Muawiya. They did not fully trust Muawiya but this way they hoped that their lives and those of their tribe would remain safe. The main person responsible for this "lack of trust" was Ubaidullah b. Abbas.
It was the moral responsibility of the commander to take Qais b. S'ad and S'aeed b. Qais into confidence, to consult them according to the instructions of Imam Hasan (as), and to solve the problems taking into account their honesty and ability.
Though some historians have defended him, writing that he deserted the army after finding out the policy of Imam Hasan (as), history provides no evidence that Ubaidullah verified what Muawiya had said. It is possible that up to the last moment he considered Muawiya's words as false but due to his poor and limited thinking he found himself in the midst of honour and disgrace.
He might have worried that his subordinates were likely to leave him and by accepting the offer of Muawiya, he could protect his future. Otherwise, if he fell into the hands of the commanders of Muawiya, they would disgrace him. With this thought, his faith was shaken, he got frightened and fell pray to the very first move of conspiracy.
Early morning when the soldiers assembled for morning prayers as usual and learnt that their commander along with two thirds of the army had joined the army of Muawiya, they were amazed and at first they not believe it. In accordance with the earlier instructions of the Imam (as), Qais b. S'ad took over the command of the army.
After leading the prayers, he gave a remarkable sermon in which he cursed Ubaidullah and called him 'coward' and 'traitor'. This way he succeeded in restoring the morale of the remaining soldiers. His speech had such a profound effect on the soldiers that they thanked God on a coward like Ubaidullah leaving the army and vowed to fight till death under the command of Qais b. S'ad. Their number has been mentioned as four thousand. 6
This would show that only these persons in the vanguard brigade were the true devotees of the Imam (as). It was their true faith and sincerity that they withstood such a big shock and were thus considered as honest and devoted soldiers of the Imam's (as) vanguard unit.
After the breach of trust by Ubaidullah, Muawiya did not doubt the success of his negative policies. He started a dual campaign of propaganda and rumour in the two parts of the army of Imam Al-Mujtaba (as), i.e. in the vanguard unit and in the army at Madain. Ubaidullah was not only the commander of the vanguard brigade and the cousin of the Imam's father, but he was also considered to be very close to Imam Hasan (as).
When a person like him could do what he did, then what complaint can there be about others! So, after him, breach of trust, treachery, betrayal of religion, deserting the army and rebellion became a daily routine. He is directly responsible for all that. He was the first person who, performing the role of 'Mir J'afer', brought down the Hashemi caliphate and created the atmosphere which enabled the army of the Imam (as) to fall prey to the conspiracy of the enemy. History will never forgive him for such a crime!!
The agents of Muawiya on the one hand spread rumour in the army at Madain that Qais b. S'ad had made peace with Muawiya and had joined him, while on the other hand, in the army at Maskin they said: "Imam Hasan (as) is planning peace with Muawiya." 7
Muawiya thought that after Ubaidullah and other officers, the vanguard unit would now be having a defeatist tendency and would not have the guts to fight. So he sent some units under the command of Basar b. Artat to finish off the remaining soldiers. Qais b. S'ad, with four thousand forces, bravely fought out the onslaught by Basar and again forced him to run.
The next day he again attacked with a large army of twenty thousand who were fully armed. This time also, after a bitter fight, he was defeated. Many soldiers had died on both sides in this encounter but Basar had not been successful. During the war, he shouted at the Iraqi army, saying: "Your leader Hasan (as) has made peace. So, why are you bent upon committing suicide?"
The soldiers of the vanguard unit had become used to such rumours. So, they ignored Basar and continued to fight with courage and determination, giving hard blows to the Syrian army. Intervening, Muawiya also tried a number of times to stop the fight but was unsuccessful. He sent a number of messages to Qais b. S'ad, frightened, threatened him and once he even called him a Jew, son of Jew. Qais b. S'ad was a very steadfast person.
He ignored the threats of Muawiya and had only one answer to all his offers and proposals:
"By God you will not meet me except facing me on the battle front."
Qais b. S'ad continued the war, thus following the policy of the Imam (as). He also gave detailed replies to the communications from Muawiya. In one reply he wrote: "O Muawiya you and your ancestors are known as the idolaters of Makkah. You embraced Islam Willy nilly. Neither your faith is old nor is your malice new. We are the scions of religion while you have gone out of it and are its enemy."
Muawiya wanted to send another threatening message to Qais b. S'ad but Umru b. 'As advised him not to do so, saying that Qais b. S'ad might give a stronger reply.8
After the study of reliable historical records there remains no doubt that Muawiya, despite all his cunning and political blackmail, did not succeed in defeating the damaged vanguard unit, which was now under the command of Qais b. S'ad. Qais, through his intelligence and with the support of his devoted, faithful and steadfast soldiers, was keeping the army of Muawiya engaged.
He had not only kept the fully armed Syrian army involved in war but had, to some extent, gained an upper hand over it. However, that does not mean that he had no problems. Though he had successfully countered all the conspiracies of Muawiya, yet the main cause of his worries was the fact that he was not aware of what was happening to the army of Imam (as) at Madain and its central leadership there.
He was worried about the welfare of Imam Hasan (as) and was not aware of the problems that the Imam (as) was facing, while all sorts of rumours had been spread in the army. During these uncertain conditions, a news was received that: "Imam Hasan (as) was attacked with a dagger on his thigh and he is seriously ill while the soldiers, deserting him, have run away."
One can imagine what effect the news might have had on the companions of the (as) Imam during the crisis situation. Qais b. S'ad was aggrieved on hearing the news. He was a very experienced and mature general and, as always, did not allow his army men to be adversely affected by the news. Planning the attack on the army of Muawiya, he did not give a chance to his soldiers to think about the news.
Consequently, he nullified the enemy's conspiracy. He successfully attacked the army of Muawiya a number of times and inflicted heavy physical and material losses on it. In these attacks some of his soldiers also lost their lives. Before night fall both the armies separated and Muawiya sent the following message to Qais b. S'ad:
"O man! On what basis are you fighting me and are bent on losing your life? We have reliably learnt that your supporters have dethroned your Imam (as). He has been attacked on his thigh so severely that he was close to death. In the circumstances, till learning the truth you should refrain from attacking us."
After this communication from Muawiya, Qais stopped the attacks on the army of Muawiya and awaited an authentic report from Madain. 9
It has been made clear in the earlier chapters that the success of the army of Imam Hasan (as) and its morale directly depended on the performance of the vanguard brigade. So, when the reserve forces in Madain learnt about the betrayal by Ubai dullah and others, it was a big shock for them, and losing hope for victory in war like some of the officers of the vanguard brigade, they also started thinking in terms of contacting Muawiya.
Therefore, the spies of Muawiya had no difficulty in spreading rumours or in making cunning moves as directed by him.During that time Muawiya sent a three man delegation, consisting of Moghira b. Sh'aba, Abdullah b. Aamir b. Karez, and Abdel Rahman b. Samra, ostensibly to negotiate peace with Imam Hasan (as). Before reaching the camp of the Imam (as), Abdullah b. Aamir, loudly addressing the Iraqi army, said:
"O people of Iraq! I am from the vanguard unit of Muawiya. I do not consider war to be justified. Muawiya has reached Maskin with his army. You give my regards to Abu Muhammad (Imam) Hasan (as) and tell him that for God sake he should have mercy on his own life as well as those of his men."
After the utterance of these words by Abdullah b. Aamir, people lost heart and started disliking war. This shows that they believed that Abdullah b. Aamir had spoken the truth. It is a proof of their stupidity that they believed that Muawiya did not want war! On entering the camp of Imam Hasan (as), the delegation of Muawiya told him:
"For the sake of the transitory life of this world and forgiveness, the bloodshed of the followers of the Holy Prophet (saw) should be avoided by you. We do not deny that Muawiya is stuburn on the issue, but for God sake you should not do so, otherwise so many lives will be lost due to conflict between you two. Muawiya has also expressed his intention to hand over the office to you after his death. Moreover, in return for your retiring he will offer you much more."
We are sorry to acknowledge that, like other occasions, history does not reflect the stand taken by Imam Hasan (as) on this occasion and it is not clear what the Imam (as) said in reply! Anyway, while coming out of the camp, these persons tried to give a false impression to the army of the Imam (as), which was perhaps the main purpose of their mission.
They said: "For sure, the Gracious God has saved the lives of the people through the grandson of the Holy Prophet (saws) disorder and trouble has been avoided and he has agreed to peace." 10
Historians have written that after this, the people did not doubt their statement. People were in the midst of uncertainty when an uproar was heard that: "Qais b. S'ad has been assassinated. So, run" 11
After Ubaidullah b. Abbas, if the Iraqis had reassurance from any one, it was Qais the son of S'ad b. Abadah. He was considered a perfect symbol of faith, bravery and steadfastness and an ideal person. The Iraqis knew that after defeating the vanguard brigade, Muawiya would attack Madain. But they felt that it was not easy to defeat a commander like Qais.
Thus they did not face an immediate danger from Muawiya. However, as soon as they heard the rumour of the assassination of Qais, they almost lost all hope. So, giving up everything, they started to run. Very soon, the whole army panicked, confusion and disorder prevailed and the Khawarij got an opportunity for revenge.
Taking advantage of the situation, they attacked the camp of Imam (as). They robbed all that was in the camp of the noble grandson of the Holy Prophet (saws) they even pulled the carpet from under his feet and the robe from his shoulder.
Imam Hasan (as), saying "verily there is no power and strength but by Allah", immediately got up, drew his sword and trying to save himself from the unexpected attack, rode on the horse. He called his supporters from "Rabi'a and Hamadan" tribes for help and marched with them towards the governor house of Madain via "Muzlim Sabat" area.
Though these tribes performed the duty of protecting the Imam (as), yet in the prevailing confusion and disorder, it had become very difficult for them to distingu ish betwen friend and foe. While the Imam (as) was passing through Muzlim Sabat, a Khawarij, Jarah b. Sanan Asadi, who was lying in ambush, attacked the Imam (as) with a dagger as soon as he passed by him.
The injury was so severe that the dagger had reached the thigh bone. Imam (as) caught him by his beard, twisted him and threw him on the ground with such force that his neck was broken. Immediately, Abdullah b. Zabian and Abdullah b. Khatal attacked and killed him.
Due to heavy loss of blood, the Imam (as) had become seriously bruised. After that, his devoted Shi'a, taking him under heavy protection, took him to the governor's house at Madain where S'ad b. Mas'ood Saqafi was his governor.
In this respect, the services of Amir Mukhtar (RA) were appreciable. From what has been recorded in history that he talked to his Uncle S'ad b. Mas'ood, saying that the Imam (as) may be handed over to Muawiya, was in fact his wish to find out his uncle's intention and plans about the Imam (as). S'ad b. Mas'ood called the best physicians for his treatment which continued for many days. 12
Though Imam Al-Mujtaba (as) had faced very severe incidents in his noble life, yet this was a unique first and last incident of its type. At least in Islamic history, no incident of this nature had occurred earlier. In reliable historical records there is much difference of opinion about the cause of the incident. We will discuss it in greater detail in subsequent chapters.
The Imam (as) had neither become helpless against the conspiracies and propaganda of Muawiya nor did he abandon the efforts to face him, yet history does not record the details of the same. The fact is that Imam Al-Mujtaba (as) was passing through a very difficult and complicated Islamic period.
Many factors are likely to have caused the outward defeat of his army, yet the main cause of it was that the Iraqi army was not completely obedient to him. So it had not been able to carry out his commands effectively. The leader of the faithful Hazrat ‘Ali (as) had also mentioned about their disobedience and rebellious activities, and had mentioned a basic principle: "Whoever is not obeyed, has no opinion." 13
Hazrat ‘Ali (as) wanted to make it clear to the army at Kufa that the main cause of their defeat was their disobedience. According to the leader of the faithful, the armies that lack discipline never succeed even if they have a great commander like Hazrat ‘Ali b. Abi Talib himself!
In the earlier chapters we have tried to analyse the political and social conditions prevailing at Kufa so that the rebellious and antagonistic attitude of Iraqis could be explained. However, it cannot be denied that it needs a separate and thorough study.
The fact remains that at that particular period the Iraqis were in no position to face the Syrian army. They had lost their senses, enthusiasm, spirit and the zeal to fight. During the internal wars starting with Basrah, they had lost all spirit. In his sermons Imam Al-Mujtaba (as) had warned them to beware of rumours and propaganda by Muawiya, but history has provided proof that as soon as any rumour was spread, they would fall prey to it.
In this regard the following words of the Imam (as), as reproduced by the historian Masudi, are very significant: "I warn you from listening to Satan. Verily he is your enemy. If you would listen to him you would be among those of his friends to whom he had said: “for sure ... 14
This way you would be in the range of the enemy's swords and arrows and would be badly injured and defeated. In such a situation, the faith of no one would benefit him unless he had either been faithful earlier or had earned virtue." 15
In such a situation a question arises whether such an army that would try to assassinate its own leader and may not have the ability to protect its own Imam and commander-in-chief, could be trusted to fight a bloody war with the Syrian army?
The crisis beginning with the breach of trust by Ubaidullah had swept the Iraqi army like a flood and had reached the peaceful areas of Syria, but the conspiracies had not yet become exposed. From the time of the murdurous attack on the Imam (as), his shifting to the governor house at Madain, till his recovery, hardly any Iraqi officer was left who had not made a deal with Muawiya.
The prominent Iraqi leaders had either joined the army of Muawiya, or had agreed to support him while still remaining in the army of Imam Hasan (as). They had also advised Muawiya to advance towards Madain and had assured him that if he would march towards Madain, they would either hand over Imam Hasan (as) to him or would themselves assassinate the Imam (as). These intentions of theirs were not unknown to the Imam (as). 16
The incident at Madain had a very adverse effect on the vanguard unit which was involved in skirmishes with the Syrian army in a determined manner and was performing its duty appreciably. Against all cunning and trickery of Muawiya, Qais b. S'ad and his fellow soldiers had proved to be a strong wall of defence and had not allowed the army of Muawiya to advance even an inch.
However, as soon as they heard about the sad incident, it became difficult for them to continue the war. It was the respected personality of Imam Al-Mujtaba (as) which was the main motivating force for the soldiers of the vanguard unit who were determined to sacrifice their all for him.
When the very life of the Imam (as) was endangered and he was murderously attacked, then what was left for them to fight for? For that very reason Qais b. S'ad was forced to stop the war and he got busy in investigating the incident.
Imam Al-Mujtaba (as) had recuperated. He had thorough knowledge of the changes that had occurred and had complete control over the latest condition of the army. He knew about the secret plans of the officers of his army and their negative intentions. On the other hand, he had received the letter from Qais b. S'ad in which he had complained about the desertion by the army commanders.
Anyhow, he ordered the prominent personalities in his army, officers and leaders to assemble at the governor house at Madain and addressed them, saying: "O men of Iraq! What action remains that you have not taken against me! This is the letter from Qais b. S'ad. He writes that your noble and respected men, by going to Muawiya, are giving allegiance to him.
By God you have not done this today for the first time, but on a day in Siffin also you had forced my father to accept 'arbitration' and when he acceded to your demands, then you got divided among yourselves. Later, he ordered you to start war against Syria afresh, but you adopted an easygoing attitude till he breathed his last.
Subsequently you paid allegiance to me without any pressure on the condition that you will fight whom I will fight and will make peace with whom I will make peace. That is how I had marched for war with you all. Almighty God is well aware of my intentions and my motive. But after that see what you did to me!!
O people of Iraq! What I have seen and endured from you is enough. Now do not deceive me any more in my religion as I intend handing over the rule to Muawiya." 17
"O men of Iraq! even if other issues are ignored for the time being, yet three of your actions are such which are sufficient for you to be set aside: The assassination of my father, the murderous attack on me; robbing my goods and belongings. 18
The address of Imam Al-Mujtaba (as) to the special group of the army is very significant. If they had even the slighest disagreement with their behaviour as analysed by the Imam (as), they would have protested against the same. It was the limit of patience and humility of the grandson of the Holy Prophet (saw) that even after witnessing so much disobedience and breach of trust and bearing so much oppression, he addressed them in such a manner.
He made it clear to them that they had been disobeying their caliph or Imam since the period of Hazrat ‘Ali (as). So, if now Imam Al-Mujtaba (as) wanted to end the war by handing over the outward rule to Muawiya, it were they who were responsible for the same.
After addressing the army officers and selected personalities, Imam Hasan (as) went and addressed the army personnel at large as well. Before accepting the peace offer, this sermon is very significant and there are so many aspects in it for those who are interested in a deeper study of the problem.
We quote the sermon from authentic historical sources:
"By God, neither had we any doubt about fighting the Syrians nor did we have any remorse, because it was we who had fought the Syrians with confidence and humility. But enmity took the place of confidence and uncertainty replaced patience. Earlier, when you were marching towards Siffin, your religion dominated your worldly feelings, but today the worldly benefits are upper most in your mind, over and above religion.
Beware that you have become divided between two types of slain persons - one who were killed in Siffin and whom you are mourning, and the other ones who were killed in Nahrwan, whose revenge you want to take. The others have run away from war. However, the mourners of those killed intend to fight on.
Beware, Muawiya has made us such an offer which is neither respectful nor is it based on justice! So, if you decide to fight till death then we will again attack Muawiya and force him, with the might of the sword, to turn to the right path as commanded by Almighty God. But if you choose worldly life, then we will accept his offer and get protection for you."
Hearing this, the cry of 'life, life' was heard from all directions. 19
So when the Imam (as) saw the low spirits of his companions and found them unwilling to such an extent to fight, he sent Abdullah b. Haris b. Noful b. Haras, the nephew of Muawiya, to him, and accepted the peace offer. Though the above historical sermon of the Imam (as) was most significant as he had also analyzed their moral and political conditions, yet what is much more important is that the sermon had clearly vindicated the stand taken by Imam Al-Mujtaba (as) about peace and war.
History provides contradictory situations about peace and war but if someone wants to study the true ideas of the Imam (as) about peace and war, then he should concentrate on the above sermon. Imam (as) had shown his firm determination to fight on despite the disobedience, differences, treachery, many incidents, including the attack on his camp and the murderous attack on himself, provided the soldiers were willing to fight according to his command.
This means that whatever has been publicized about Imam Hasan (as) himself wanting peace is not correct! The conclusion is that the true Islamic caliph, the grandson of the Holy Prophet (saw), being the Imam, did not deviate from the basic divine law which directs to fight the rebellious group till they return to the right path as commanded by Almighty Allah.
In accordance with this very firm Islamic law, his father had fought with Muawiya and the Imam (as) also followed the same divine law step by step till the end.
Thus he was not satisfied with peace with Muawiya and had made it clear to the people that there was neither respect nor justice in it. However, when they wanted to accept it despite this explanation, the Imam (as) could not force them to fight on. So, he took the bitter pill of the offer of peace by Muawiya.