From the time 'Ali moved to Kufa in 36/656, or even earlier, the city became the main centre of Shi'i movements, aspirations, hopes, and sometimes concerted efforts. It was in and around Kufa that so many of the stormy events which make up the early history of Shi'i Islam took place: events such as the mobilization of forces by 'Ali for the battles of Al-Jamal and Siffin the election and abdication of Hasan, the uprising of Hujr b. 'Adi al-Kindi, the massacre of Husayn and his companions, the movement of the Tawwabun, and the revolt of Mukhtar. Yet Kufa also proved to be a source of setbacks, disappointments, frustrations, and even treachery and failure in the Shi'i desire to see the house of 'Ali in command of the affairs of the Muslim community. This chapter, therefore, endeavours to examine in brief the nature and composition of the city of Kufa and the characteristic tendencies of its people.
The city of Kufa was founded in the year 17/638, about three years after 'Umar b. al-Khattab assumed the caliphate at Medina.1 After the Muslim victories at the battles of Al-Qadisiya in 15/636 and that of Jalula' in the following year, the Caliph ordered Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas, the commander of the Muslim armies in Iraq, to remain where he was, no doubt with the idea of consolidating Muslim control of Iraq and then making further advances into Persia whenever this might prove advisable. Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas therefore stationed the Arab armies at the newly conquered Sassanian capital of Al-Mada'in, which soon proved to be unsatisfactory to the Arabs because of its damp climate, crowded living conditions, and the lack of a desert environment providing pure air and open pastures for grazing cattle.
Informed of the hardships the Arab troops were experiencing in a strange environment, the Caliph wrote to Sa'd to remove the armies from Al-Mada'in and find a place which would suit the Arab way of life and meet their requirements. After two or three places had been tried, and with the help of Salman al-Farisi and Hudhayfa b. al-Yaman, the choice fell on a plain lying on the west bank of the Euphrates close to the old Persian city of Al-Hira.2 Subsequently Sa'd ordered his forces to encamp there and make it their home. This was the beginning of Kufa. The choice of the place for the envisaged city was not a hasty one, but was made after careful consideration and a thorough search of the area lasting almost two years.3
The description of the founding (Khitat) of Kufa given by the sources leaves us in no doubt that at first it was not meant so much to develop a township as to establish a strong, permanent, and strategically located garrison for the Arab armies in the newly conquered distant territory of Iraq. This is clear from 'Umar's directive when he wrote to Sa'd “Choose for the Muslims a place for migration (dar hijra) and a centre [for carrying out] war (manzil jihad).”4 By dar hijra at this particular time, 'Umar meant a permanent home for those of the fighters of Al-Qadisiya who came for the conquest of Iraq from far-off places and who were supposed to stay there to maintain Muslim control over the new territory; by manzil jihad he most probably indicated that these settlers would be expected to undertake further military actions into Persia.
Baladhuri gives a slightly different version of 'Umar's directive in which besides “a place to which Muslims could migrate” he adds the phrase “and which the Muslims could use as a meeting place (qayrawan).”5 This again means that in 'Umar's mind Kufa was meant as a garrison town where different contingents from distant places could stay and should be readily available whenever required. The first settlers in this garrison town were, therefore, those hurriedly collected contingents who fought at the battle of Al-Qadisiya and were known as ahl al-ayyam wa'l-Qadisiya.
The planning of the new city and the organization of the quarters for the first inhabitants, especially when they were drawn from such a great variety of tribes, as will be seen presently, must have been a great task for Sa'd b. Abi Waqqas.
Except for Basra, which had been founded only a year earlier and was still in the formative stages, the Arabs of northern and central Arabia had little experience in establishing townships. The conception of a town as a political or social unit was still something foreign to the Arab sense of belonging. Even in old cities in northern and central Arabia such as Ta'if, Mecca, and Medina, socio-political units were not the cities, but the tribes.
With the beginning of 'Umar's caliphate and the thrust of outward expansion, those Arabs who seized the first opportunity to fight, and accordingly migrated to Syria, were organized in relatively cohesive groupings since they belonged to large and homogeneous tribes. Similarly, in the Basran territories there were mainly two predominant tribes, Tamim and Bakr, and only a negligible number of 300 other people who came from distant areas.6
At Kufa, on the other hand, the number of those who came to live from far-off places ranged between 15,000 and 20,000, and were exceedingly heterogeneous in tribal composition.
There was a marked absence of large dominating clans or groups of clans. At first, Sa'd found the solution in dividing them not into individual clans or tribes, but into their broader tribal categories of Nizari (North Arabs) and Yemeni (South Arabs). The Nizaris were therefore quartered on the western side of the plain, and the Yemenis on the eastern side, according to the lots drawn with arrows, as was the custom of the Arabs.7 The large plot of land which he demarcated for the mosque was to be the centre of the city. Adjoining the mosque the governor's residence and the treasury were built.
This first arrangement of the population of Kufa, however, had to go through three successive reorganizations in the following 33 years.
The organization of the Kufan population into the two broad groupings of the Nizaris and the Yemenis soon proved to be unsatisfactory. Firstly, neither the various tribes of the Nizaris nor the different groups of the Yemenis found it a congenial to put up together and soon encountered serious problems. Secondly, such an arrangement presented serious difficulties in forming compact military contingents. Kufa was founded as a garrison town intended to furnish well-organized contingents ready for action.
This was difficult when people were grouped into two broad divisions. Finally, the lack of small groupings into clans or groups of allied clans made it difficult to organize the distribution of stipends on which the population depended. Experiencing these difficulties Sa'd, after consulting the Caliph 'Umar, reorganized the population into seven groups. This reshuffling or balancing out, 'addala, ta'dil, was made on the basis of genealogies and alliances with the assistance of two recognized experts in Arab genealogies (nussab).8 The guiding principle employed in the reorganization was clearly the pre-Islamic or traditional Arabian pattern of tribal organization in which tribes or clans of tribes made political alliances in the form of loose confederacies.
The entire population of Kufa was thus divided into seven groups, described as asba', in the following units:9
1 Kinana with their allies from the ahabish and others and theclan of Jadila. Kinana was a Meccan tribe and Quraysh was one of its branches, whereas Jadila, a branch of Qays 'Aylan, was also from the Hijaz and had some connections with Kinana. Both of them were regarded as people of prestige (ahl al-'aliya). Kinana and Quraysh, along with some other tribes, had in the past formed a group known as Khindif. It was natural that in Kufa both Kinana and Jadila should enjoy a close relationship and collaborate with the Qurayshi governors and, even though small in number, maintain a privileged position.10
2 Quda'a, Ghassan, Bajila, Khath'am, Kinda, Hadramawt, and Azd,11 combined together, formed a strong Yemeni contingent. Two of them, the Bajila, led by their chief Jarir b. 'Abd
Allah,12 who was a personal friend of the Caliph 'Umar, and Kinda, whose leader was Ash'ath b. Qays,13 had dominating positions in this group.
3 Madhhij,14 Himyar,15 Hamdan,16 and their allies. This was another powerful Yemeni group, in which the Hamdan attained a significant position in Kufa and played an important role and produced some staunch supporters of the Shi'i cause.17
4 Tamim, Rihab, and Hawazin, all three belonging to the Mudar group.18
5 Asad, Ghatfan, Muharib, Nimr, Dubay'a, and Taghub,19 most of these belonging to the Nizari group from Rabi'a and Bakr.
6 Iyad, 'Akk, 'Abd al-Qays, Ahl al-H ajar, and Hamra'. Iyad20 and 'Akk,21 of Nizari 'Adnani origin, had long been resident in the Iraqi region and had joined the Muslim forces against the Sassanian armies. 'Abd al-Qays,22 also an 'Adnani branch had migrated to Bahrayn and was known as Ahl al-H ajar.
They sent a large delegation from Bahrayn to Medina in the year 9/630 and accepted Islam, many of them distinguishing themselves as Companions of the Prophet.23 Though com- posed of a hodge-podge of Arab tribes, their importance can hardly be under-estimated, as the 'Abd al-Qays came to Al-Qadisiya under a powerful Tamimi chief, Zuhra b. Hawiya, one of the chief architects of the Muslim victory at Al-Qadisiya, who solidly united these three tribes under his command to inflict heavy losses on the Persians. Soon after Al-Qadisiya, the strength of this group was immensely increased when 4,000 Persian slaves under their leader Daylam (hence the name Daylamites) accepted Islam on special terms secured from Sa'd, and joined this Tamimi dynastic chief, who became their patron. They were thus united in a confederacy with the Iyad, 'Akk, and the 'Abd al-Qays. The name Hamra' in this group refers to these 4,000 Persians.24
This group, however, at least numerically, formed one of the strongest units at Kufa, and consequently their numerically advantageous position was bound to come into direct conflict, in the not too distant future, with the interests and superior claims of the tribes of high social standing in the Kufan socio-political complex. Elements of this group, especially the 'Abd al-Qays, are particularly noted by the sources for their strong support for 'Ali at both AI-Jamal and Siffin.25
7 The seventh group, Sub', not specifically named by Tabari, is certainly the Tayy, a powerful tribe of Yemen. The fact that it must have been the Tayy is evident from numerous references to it spread over hundreds of pages which Tabari devotes to the events in Kufa until the time of Mu'awiya. The Tayy converted to Islam in 9/630, and when in 11/632 all other distant tribes apostatized, the Tayy remained steadfast in Islam. They joined Muthanna b. al-Haritha in the wars of Iraq at the conquest of Al-Hira, and then took part in the battle of Al-Qadisiya. We then hear of Tayy as one of the strongest supporters of 'Ali at Al-Jamal and Siffin.26
Again we come across 'Adi b. Hatim, the chief of Tayy, among the supporters of Hasan, urging the people of Kufa to respond to the call of “their Imam, the son of the daughter of their Prophet”.27 It seems, however, that the number and strength of Tayy gradually declined in Kufa itself and most of them went and joined their tribesmen in the stronghold of the mountains between Basra and Kufa.28 Thus we hear of Tirimmah b. 'Adi at-Ta'i who met Husayn on his way to
Kufa and made a strong appeal to him to abandon his plan of going there and, instead, to come with the former to the safety of the invincible Tayy mountains.29
The city of Kufa was thus organized into seven tribal contingents (muqatila) divided into seven military districts which became the gathering points for mobilization and the administration of stipends and booty. Each group was given its own jabbana: open places for the grazing of cattle and for graveyards. These jabbanas were of great importance in the later development and expansion of the city, because they provided enough space for those who came to Kufa later and joined their respective clansmen.
This grouping of the tribes continued for nineteen years until it underwent another change in 36/656, when 'Ali came to Kufa. As will be seen later, during the previous twenty-odd years the power structure within each of the seven groups had drastically changed: certain clans in the various groups had acquired an undue dominating position over the other component parts of the group. Also in this period, some tribes were joined by a large number of newcomers of their tribesmen and became exceedingly numerous, thus upsetting the power balance in the group. 'Ali, therefore, while retaining the number of groups as seven, made some significant changes in the composition and external make-up of these seven groups by way of reshuffling or shifting certain tribes from one group to the other. According to Massignon's analysis,
'Ali rearranged the tribes as follows:
1: Hamdan and Himyar (Yemenis);
2: Madhhij, Ash'ar, and Tayy (Yemenis);
3: Kinda, Hadramawt, Quda'a, and Mahar (Yemenis);
4: Azd, Bajila, Khath'am, and Ansar (Yemenis);
5: All the Nizari branches of Qays, 'Abs, Dhubya, and the
'Abd al-Qays of Bahrayn;
6: Bakr, Taghlib, and all the branches of the Rabi'a
7: Quraysh, Kinana, Asad, Tamim, Dabba, Ribab (Nizaris).30
Three important points must particularly be noticed in this new grouping. First, there are a few clan names, such as Ash'ar, Mahar, and Dabba, which di4 not appear in the grouping of Sa'd. This probably means that these clans were numerically negligible at the time of Sa'd in 17/638; by 36/658, however, they had become numerous enough to require an individual identity. Secondly, in Sa'd's organization there were three Yemeni groups and four Nizari. In 'Ali reorganization the number of Yemeni groups was raised to four and the Nizaris' reduced to three. It will be pointed out below that from the very beginning the Yemenis were greater in number than the Nizaris (12,000 and 8,000 respectively).
'Ali seems to have taken into consideration the population strength of the two branches of the Arabs and reorganized the groups according to their numbers, thus giving the Yemenis their due importance in Kufa. Finally, 'Ali did not change the tribal basis of genealogies on which Sa'd had organized the population.
The fourth and last change in Kufan administration took place fourteen years later, when Ziyad b. Abi Sufyan took charge of the city as governor in 50/670. He totally abolished the tribal organization into seven groups and re-organized the entire population into four administrative blocks (arba') as follows:
1: Ahl al-'Aliya;
2: Tamim and Hamdan;
3: Rabi'a (Bakr) and Kinda;
4: Madhhij and Asad.31
There are many important points to be observed in Ziyad's reorganization. Firstly, he was governor not only of Kufa but also of Basra, where, from the very beginning, the entire population was divided into four administrative blocks (arba'). This division had proved so successful in controlling the people of Basra that Ziyad decided to apply the same administration system in Kufa as well. Secondly, he com- pletely disregarded the recognized Arabian principle of genealogies and alliances in forming tribal groupings. Instead, he mixed the Nizaris and the Yemenis together, except for the first group, the Ahl al-'Aliya. Thirdly, again excepting the first group, he picked out the six most powerful tribes and merged all the other smaller clans or tribes with them.
The first group, the Ahl al-'Aliya consisted of the branches of the Meccans and Quraysh which he did not disturb because they had been the natural allies of the Qurayshi governors from Sa'd onwards. Moreover, this was the smallest allied group of the population in Ku fa, and Ziyad had nothing to fear from them. In the second block (rub) he combined the Tamim (Nizari) and Kinda (Yemeni). In the third were Bakr (Nizari) and Kinda (Yemeni), and in the fourth, Asad (Nizari) and Madhhij (Yemeni). Over each block he appointed a chief or supervisor of his own choice,32 among whose duties must have been the maintenance of a firm control over the component parts of their respective groups. Finally, one cannot fail to observe that Ziyad's reorganization of the Kufan asba' into arba' was based neither on genealogies nor on alliances, but totally on political considerations intended to consolidate Umayyad power in the city.
The exact number of the first settlers in Kufa is difficult to ascertain; nevertheless, from the various reports given by the sources we can make a fairly clear estimate of this. Tabari gives a detailed account of the Arab forces who fought at the battle of Al-Qadisiya, and says there were about 30,000 Arabs in this battle.33 This figure might be an exaggerated one, and in any case not all of the Al-Qadisiya veterans stayed at Kufa. According to one report given by Yaqut, 'Umar ordered Sa'd to plan the mosque of Kufa so that it could accommodate the 40,000 troops who were to be stationed there.34 A more moderate and perhaps more reliable report is given by Baladhuri, who reports on the authority of Ash-Sha'bi that the total number of the first Arab settlers at Kufa was 20,000 12,000 Yemenis and 8,000 Nizaris.
To this Baladhuri adds 4,000 Daylamites (al-Hamra'), who were certainly among the first settlers alongside the Arabs.35 It seems that the total of 24,000, being a moderate estimate compared to other inflated figures, was the number of settlers with which the city of Kufa started its history. Of these first settlers or early comers, as they are often described, special mention must be made of a sizeable body of 370 Companions of the Prophet, from among both the Muhajirun and the Ansar, who were domiciled at Kufa soon after its foundation36.
Among them were such important personalities as 'Abd Allah b. Mas'ud, 'Ammar b. Yasir, Hudhayfa b. al-Yaman, Al-Bara'a b. 'Azib, Salman al-Farisi, Zayd b. al-Arqam, and Abu Musa al-Ash'ari. Ibn Sa'd counts 70 of them as among those who fought for Islam in the first encounter with the Meccans at Badr in 2/623, and 300 as among those who renewed their pledge of loyalty to the Prophet at the occasion of the treaty of al-Hudaybiya in 7/628.37 This pledge is known as the Bay'at al-Ridwan, and was later considered a source of great Islamic prestige and honour for those who had demonstrated their unshaken belief in Muhammad at that moment of trial.
The heterogeneous nature of the Kufan population, with the absence of any one single tribe as a dominating group, prompted 'Umar to take a special interest in the new city. He thought that the very agglomeration of so many clans and tribes, never experienced before in the Arabian social system, and the presence of so many companions of high standing to infuse Islamic spirit in them, would shape Kufa into a genuinely Islamic c6smopolitan city. So great was 'Umar's interest in Kufa that he described it as “tower of Islam” (qubbat al-Islam) and “the head of the people of Islam” (ras ahl al-Islam). Similarly, in describing the settlers of Kufa he said,
“They are the lance of God, the treasure of faith, the cranium of the Arabs, who protect their own frontier forts and reinforce other Arabs.”38 It is important to note that these epithets of honour and distinction were not accorded to any other city, such as Damascus or Basra. 'Umar was certainly opposed to the tribal supremacies so predominant in Arabian socio-political system. The heterogeneous character of the Kufan population provided him with a suitable ground for establishing an Islamic socio-political system in which tribal hegemony might be submerged under Islamic hegemony. This in effect meant that predominance and leadership must be exercised only by those who possessed Islamic priority (sabiqa), and that tribal authority must be submerged under Islamic authority. The selection of 'Ammar b. Yasir, of no tribal prominence, but one of the earliest converts and a man most devoted to the cause of Islam, as the governor of Kufa, and 'Abd Allah b. Mas'ud as deputy governor, was a clear manifestation of his policy.39 At the time of their appointments 'Umar wrote to the people of Kufa:
“I am sending you 'Ammar as the governor and 'Abd Allah as your teacher [in Islam] and the deputy [to 'Ammar]. Both of them are from among the most illustrious and distinguished (nujaba') companions of the Prophet. Listen to them and follow them. I preferred you over my own self [otherwise I would have liked to keep them with me).”40 The emphasis put on the qualifications and distinctions of 'Ammar and Ibn Mas'ud as being among the most illustrious
Companions of the Prophet and therefore chosen for the leadership of Kufa reveals 'Umar's intention to replace tribal claims with Islamic claims, and in this way to maintain the political hegemony of Medina.
When in 20/641 'Umar organized the system of distribution of stipends (diwan) his sole criterion was the principle of Islamic priority. He divided the settlers of Kufa into three groups: the various groups of the Muhajirun and the Ansar; people who took part in operations against the apostasy and rebellion or, say, prior to Yarmuk and Al-Qadisiya, and then took part in these battles and were known as ahl al-ayyam wa'l Qadisiya; and the rawadif, people who came to Kufa after Yarmuk and Al-Qadisiya, or the second and third waves of migrants, who were graded depending on the time when they first participated in the conquests.41 Accordingly, their stipends were fixed at the rates of 5,000 to 3,000, 3,000 to 2,000, and ranging from 1,500 to 200 dirhams per annum respec-tively. The most important point for our purpose here is that for the distribution of the stipends each category was divided into smaller groups or units, and a person from each group was appointed as the supervisor of distribution.
These groups were known as 'irafa and the person in charge as the 'arif (pl.'urafa'). In most cases 'irafas were probably composed of people from the same clan, but essentially or coincidentally a group of people with identical standing in Islam,42 since usually it was a clan as a whole or a group of related people who converted, rather than one individual. These 'urafa of Kufa must have had some dominating position in the political affairs of the city. The term Ashraf al-qaba'il in the descriptions of Kufan affairs is generally understood to be only the tribal leaders, but the numbers of these leaders cannot be as high as the impression one gets from the sources. It is, therefore, highly possible that these 'urafa' might have assumed the role of leading their respective groups or 'irafas in the troubled days of 'Uthman, 'Ali; and later. It seems rather difficult to identify and apply the term ashraf, as it is so commonly and widely used by the historians, if the body of Kufan 'urafa' is not included in it.
The Muslim empire was expanding at an amazing rate during the caliphate of''Umar, and so grew also the population of Kufa. Two important new influxes must immediately be recognized. First, there were waves of the Arab newcomers called the rawadif who, after the completion of the conquests of Syria, Egypt and the Jezira by 20/64I, seeing no more chances for booty on these western fronts, anticipated a renewal of the offensive into the Persian Empire and thought this would bring them fresh opportunities for booty and gain.
This caused a new Arab influx into Kufa. When the Muslim forces from Kufa were mobilized for the battle of Nihawand in 21/642, these newcomers were naturally the most enthusiastic to make their services available, and in the encounters with the Persians these were the people who demonstrated extraordinary valour. 'Umar was so impressed by them that he made some modifications in the policy of his diwan, and raised the stipend of these newcomers to the level of the first settlers, the ahl a1-Qadisiya.43 This gave a further incentive to others to flock into Kufa, thus increasing the city's Arab population, in most cases adding to the number of the existing tribes and clans. The second influx into Kufa was that of the new waves of Persians. There were many reasons (which will be elaborated shortly) for their flocking into Kufa in greater numbers than in any other city.
As a result of these new influxes, however, the population of Kufa in a few years' time, even before the close of 'Umar's caliphate, had risen considerably. We are told that soon after
'Umar's death, when 'Uthman appointed Al-Walid b. 'Uqba as governor of Kufa in 24/645 or 25/646, the number of fighting men (muqatila) alone was 40,000.44 Taking into consideration many of those early comers of Al-Qadisiya, who were no longer capable of bearing arms but made Kufa their permanent home, and a great number of slaves and family members of these 40,000 troops, the population in a decade must have risen to well over 100,000. To this figure we must add a good number of those who gradually occupied the
Sawad of Kufa–the rich agricultural land of Iraq–, which
'Umar had ruled should not be divided among the conquerors of Al-Qadisiya, but must be left for those who would come to the region later. The original inhabitants of the Sawad were to be allowed to cultivate the land as people under protection (dhimma), and were to pay taxes to be used for the stipends of the Kufans.45 On the other hand, the lands belonging to the
Sassanian kings and the royal families (known as sawafi) were reserved by 'Umar for the exclusive use of the conquerors of Al-Qadisiya. They were allowed to divide it among themselves, settling on it if they so wished, or to put in charge of it administrators of their own choosing. The result was that in a short period of time the city of Kufa was surrounded by densely populated villages inhabited by, besides the original cultivators, those who went there to work on the newly acquired estates. This was possible because of the increased number of slaves and labourer classes who were now assembled in the Kufan territories. Moreover, with the expansion of economic life in Kufa, as in other newly founded garrison cities, a great number of tradesmen, craftsmen, and domestics thronged into the towns and settled there
With this brief outline of the foundation and early development of Kufa, we must now turn to our main purpose of examining the general structure, characteristics, and features of the population which influenced their religiopolitical tendencies and aspirations. This is not an easy task, however. There were many complex factors–geographical, historical, ethnic, racial, and economic–mixed together, and these made the city and its people most difficult to analyse.
What must be noted first of all is that the population of the city almost since its very foundation was composed of two distinctly unique groups: the Arabs and the Persians. We may call the Arab group the “founding element” and the Persians the “second basic element”.
The Arab element in Kufa was extremely complex in its Composition–more so than in any other Arab city. Looking at the list of the seven groups of the tribes enumerated earlier and the subsequent waves of the Arab early comers, one immediately notices that the “Arab element” was extraordinarily heterogeneous in origin and background. It was, in the first place, sharply divided into two groups, the Nizaris and the Yemenis, among which we may further distinguish:
1 A small number of the Quraysh from the Hijaz, with their long-standing reputation for sedentary living, nobility, and sharaf;
2 Elements that were strongly nomadic, such as Mudar groupings, especially the Tamim and some of their Yemenite neighbours from among the Tayy;
3 Semi-nomadic elements such as Rabi'a, Asad, Bakr, belonging to or coming from the north, northwest, east, and southeast of Arabia, and 'Abd al-Qays from Al-H ajar;
4 Truly south Arabian elements coming from further a field, from Hadramawt and Yemen, some of whom had been living a semi-sedentary life there, such as Kinda and Bajila, and others who had lived in true and very ancient settlements, such as Madhhij, Himyar, and Hamdan;46
5 Yet another section of the Arabs who settled down in Kufa at the time of its foundation were some of the Christian tribes such as Taghlib, Nimr, Iyad and even some Christians from
Najran.47 These Christian tribes had been accorded special terms and privileges by the Prophet, which were maintained by Abu Bakr and 'Umar.
6 Still another section from among the Arabs counted above must necessarily be recognized: this consisted of the outstanding noble families known as the buyutat al-Arab. Ibn Sa'd particularly notes this point and says that all the noble houses of the Arabs were represented in Kufa, whereas this was not the case in Basra.48
The second basic element of the Kufan population in shaping the character of the city was that of the Persians.
There were many factors which account for their great influx, particularly into Kufa rather than into any other city. Three of these are conspicuous. First, the Arab conquests of Al-Mada'in, Al-Qadisiya, and ultimately the great victory at the battle of Nihawand resulted in a large number of Persian captives falling into the hands of the conquerors as slaves and being brought to the city of Kufa. Most of them soon embraced Islam and earned their freedom from their Arab masters, but remained their allies or clients. Secondly, the geographical affinity of Kufa, being on the border of Sassanian Iraq, made the city the most suitable place for migration for those of the Persians who had lost much of their means of livelihood in the Persian Empire.
To them Kufa promised fresh opportunities. Similarly, a large number of peasants, with the collapse of the Sassanian feudal system and the freedom provided by Muslim rule, found the land no longer profitable and moved to the growing cities for alternative occupations. Kufa was the most attractive place for them. Thirdly, the presence of those 4,000 Persians known as the Daylamites, who had settled down in Kufa from its very foundation, and the addition of a sizable number of Nihawand prisoners of war, provided a congenial social atmosphere for other uprooted Persians to join their countrymen there. Moreover, among the prisoners of war there was a considerable number of women who had fallen to the lot of their Arab conquerors. These women became the lawful wives of their Arab captors and bore them children. The result was that in less than twenty years' time, by the time 'Ali came to Kufa, there was a youthful new generation of Kufan Arabs who had Persian mothers. Thus, for example, the mother of the famous scholar of Kufa of this period, Ash-Sha'bi, was a woman captured at the battle of Jalula.49
It is important to note here that the Persians in Kufa were not granted equal status by their Arab co-citizens in the social system of the city. They were called mawali (sing. mawla), or clients, a term to indicate inferior social standing. Since the mawali played an important role in Kufan religio-political history, especially in Shi'i movements, it would be helpful to know a little more about them. Though the term mawali was originally meant for freed slaves, after the Muslim conquest it was extended to a variety of non-Arab peoples. In Kufa, the mawali can be divided into five groups:
The non-Arab soldiers who adopted Islam and joined the Arab armies. These were mostly the Persian soldiers, who accepted Islam and fought alongside the Arab forces, such as the Hamra', or the Daylamites. They were used by the Kufan governors as the police force, and received fair treatment from the Arabs. In most cases they had to join an Arab clan or associate themselves with an Arab chief as their patron, as did the Daylamites when they accepted the leader of the tribe of Tamim as their patron.
2 The peasants (mainly Persians) whose towns and villages were destroyed during the Muslim conquests and who left their cultivable land and moved to Kufa in search of other work. The collapse of the Sassanian feudal system and the freedom given by the Muslim rulers allowed the peasants to abandon their land, which was no longer profitable. Due to this fact, the treasury began to lose land taxes and, as a result, the administration increased taxation on those who were still working on their land. This led to many more peasants leaving their land to avoid increased taxation and coming to Kufa for more lucrative employment These peasants, however, made up a group of mawali who were not associated with any tribal group. They were under the direct jurisdiction of the governor, who had extensive powers over them and in return was responsible for their protection. In case of an unintentional homicide committed by any of them, the treasury had to pay the blood-wit.50
3 The vast groups of Persians and others who converted to Islam, many of them coming to Kufa as traders and craftsmen.
Their lands were conquered by the Muslims, yet they were not enslaved. They embraced Islam on their own, and in order to improve their economic conditions they moved to Kufa and worked as traders and craftsmen. In terms of numbers they probably formed the largest mawali group in Kufa; and with the economic development of the city their numbers were constantly increasing. They were almost independent members of the tribes with which they were associated for administrative purposes.
4 Freed slaves. This group consisted of those who were taken by the Arabs as prisoners of war, converted to Islam, and earned their freedom, but were bound to be associated with the family of which they had been the slaves. In the technical or rather the original meaning of the term, they were the real mawali and, in Kufa, their numbers were second only to the third category mentioned above.
5 Persians and other converts to Islam who belonged to noble families. They were exempted from the poll-tax (jizya), which they regarded as degrading, but they had to pay on their own lands (kharaj). They seem to have been treated by the Arabs somewhat differently from the other groups of the mawali, since they were the nobles of their own people, even though defeated. They were free to change their wala if they so desired from one tribe to another. Nevertheless, their status remained that of mawali; or second-class citizens, and therefore of subservient positions in the tribe. In many cases, however, their interest in Kufa coincided with that of the Arab tribal leaders.51
The total number of all classes of mawali; however, increased to the extent that within only a few decades they almost outnumbered their Arab counterparts. In the battle of Jamajim, the mawali forces which came to fight for Ibn al- Ash'ath are reported to have been 100,000.52 With all their numbers and strength, on the whole they were treated by the Arabs as second-class citizens. The Arabs maintained against them not only the idea that they were the conquerors, but also a superior racial attitude. This naturally led to an ever- growing feeling of discontent among the mawali in Kufa.
To this population structure three observations must be added. Firstly, from its very beginning Kufa was not a purely Arabian city such as Mecca, Medina, or even Damascus.
Secondly, the majority of the first settlers in Kufa, whether Arabs or Persians, were the military contingents who, in most cases, came without their families and for quite some time lived as a standing army ready for action. It seems natural that their militant character should persist even though ultimately they settled down as civilians and were joined by other sophisticated groups from among both the Arabs and the Persians. This, along with many other factors, explains their restlessness, their resentful and often rebellious behaviour. Finally, and perhaps most important, Kufa had no tradition of its own which could have absorbed or influenced the people. After the great outward thrust from the Peninsula, those of the Arabs who migrate to the cities of Syria, Egypt, and Persia came under the direct impact of and were influenced by the existing traditions of those cities. Kufa, on the other hand, was founded as a garrison on a virgin plain lying between the Arabian Desert and the old city of the Lakhmid kingdom of Al-Hira, which had been under the suzerainty and cultural influence of Persia.
The newly founded city had to evolve its own character, which was not so easy in such an agglomeration of people, where the Arabs of the North and the South, or the Nizaris and Yemenis, the nomads and the sedentaries, the old aristocracies of the famous noble houses (buyutat al-'Arab) and the commoners, and the Persians of various classes came to live together. Yet there was one factor to dominate the trend of the majority of the people. Among the Arab element of the population, the Yemenis, or South Arabians, were more numerous (12,000) than the Nizaris, or the North Arabians (8,000). It has been discussed in detail in Chapter I that the South Arabians, due to their long and deep-rooted tradition of the priest-king with hereditary sanctity and therefore hereditary succession, were more prone toward what we called the Shi'i ideal of leadership of the community.
In this they were joined by the Persian element of the population, which had an almost similar tradition of religio-political leadership. Thus, the Yemenis and the Persians together, making more than two-thirds of the population, set the trend of the city well on the road toward Shi'i inclinations and moods of thinking. This does not, however, mean that all the Yemenis residing in Kufa were Shi'is, or that none of the Nizaris of the northern Arabs sided with the Shi'i school of thought. In such a complex situation a clear-cut categorisation would not be correct. What is suggested reflects general tendencies of the major groups based on certain backgrounds which might be easily suppressed should there arise politico-economic considerations. The first serious tension in Kufa, however, appeared on the surface as a clash of interests between the two power groups, which we may term the newly emerging “religious or Islamic hierarchy” and the “traditional tribal aristocracy”. The first group consisted of those Companions of the Prophet whose claim to the leadership of Kufa rested on their early conversion, their services to the cause of Islam, and above all the esteem in which they were held by the Prophet himself.
As has been said earlier, 'Umar wanted to govern Kufa through those who possessed Islamic priority and thereby to undermine and suppress tribal authority. He did not, therefore, allow anyone from among the ridda leaders to have any position of command, no matter how powerful they were.
The other power group consisted of tribal leaders whose claims, according to the old Arabian tradition, were based on their wealth and the status, strength, and prestige of the tribes they led. Naturally, it was difficult for them to tolerate for long the supremacy and leadership of those who had no tribal authority or who belonged to no ruling family.
As long as 'Umar lived, the tribal leaders could not do much to exert their power. With the death of 'Umar and the succession of the weak 'Uthman in 23/643, things started to change drastically and the struggle for power, so far suppressed, came into the open. The appointment of Al-Walid b. 'Uqba, 'Uthman's half brother and an aristocrat himself, as the governor of Kufa greatly helped the tribal leaders to restore their power and authority.
Thus we find that not only the strong tribal leaders but even the ridda leaders emerged with full vigour and were soon at the helm of affairs in the province.53 For example, Al-Ash'ath b. Qays al-Kindi, a famous leader of the apostates, was entrusted with sole command of Ardabi1, and a large number of people dispatched there to form a permanent settled force were put under his command.54 This was done at the expense of those: Kinda leaders, such as Hujr b. 'Adi al-Kindi, who had mort Islamic prestige than tribal. Another glaring example was the appointment of Sa'id b. Qays al-Hamdani to Rayy,55 where Yazid b. Qays al-Arhabi had been in charge since 221643.56
The former belonged to one of the most influential families of Hamdan, but had no Islamic priority, whereas the latter possessed status mainly as an Islamic leader, though in Hamdani tribal hierarchy he had hardly any significant place. That a leader such as Al-Ash'ath, with his ridda background, and Sa'id b. Qays, with no standing in Islamic terms, should receive high offices, was clearly a major departure from the existing order.
This suddenly changed the power structure and resulted in the displacement of those early comers whose social status and power base was Islamic rather than tribal In the long list of such displaced leaders, of particular interest are Malik b. Ashtar an-Nakha'i, Musayyab b. Najaba al-Fazari; Yazid b. Qays al-Arhabi, 'Adi b. Hatim al-Ta'i and Sa'sa'a b. Suhan al-'Abdi. Unseated from their positions, these notables of Kufa, also described by the sources as among the leading qurra' of Kufa,57 were among the strongest opponents of Al-Walid b. 'Uqba and his successor, Sa'id b. al-'As, another aristocrat of Mecca, and consequently of 'Uthman, who allowed himself to be dominated by the old aristocracy. Not long afterward, the opposition grew both in strength and dimension and was joined by a large number of people who came to Medina. The rebellion resulted in the murder of 'Uthman. The mode of the city was thus set, dividing the population into two groups:
1: The strong and influential tribes and clan leaders along with their followings, especially from among the early comers. These leaders are generally described as the ashraf al-qaba'il;
2: People less influential in terms of tribal or clan leadership, who nevertheless had been in privileged positions during the time of 'Umar due to their Islamic priority, and who were now deprived of their power. They included most of the late comers, a large number of the qurra' or religious intelligentsia of different affiliations and backgrounds, a number of splinte clan groups, and a great majority of hodge-podge people from among both the early comers and the late settlers. The Persian element, or the mawali; of the city naturally had to throw in their lot with this second category.
It is against this background that the third and most critical phase of Kufan history began. The first phase had seen the city's foundation in 17/638 and extended until the death of 'Umar in 24/644; the second ended with the death of''Uthman in 35/655; this ushered in the third phase, which was dominated by the rise of 'Ali to the caliphate in the same year.
As has been discussed in Chapter 4, 'Ali was installed as the caliph mainly by the popular vote of the Ansar of Medina and the rebel contingents who came from the provinces. The Kufan contingent was the first to pay homage to 'Ali under the leadership of Malik al-Ashtar.58 Naturally, the overwhelming support of these elements for 'Ali's election to the supreme authority was taken as a serious threat not only by the Umayyad aristocracy, which during twelve years of Uthman's rule had appropriated all positions of power and advantage for themselves, but also by Quraysh in general. In opposition to 'Ali, therefore, besides the Umayyads in Syria, there emerged at Mecca a body of Quraysh, many of them
Companions and Muhajirun, who, while being opposed to Umayyad domination, in fact under their mask as Muhajirun favoured overall domination by Quraysh.59 Military power was now divided into two rival military camps, Kufa and Basra, with large territories under their influence, whereas Syria was wholly under the firm control of the Umayyads.
Taking advantage of the rivalry between Basra and Kufa, the Meccans moved to Basra to mobilize tribal support from there. 'Ali was thus left with no choice but to leave Medina for Iraq and count on the support of the Kufans, who had shown their inclinations towards him. He arrived in the neighbourhood of Kufa with about 1,000 men who accom- panied him from Medina, and was readily joined by about 12,000 Kufans.60 They formed the main part of his army at the battle of Al-Jamal. The Meccan-Basran alliance was defeated, and 'Ali was able to bring Basra well under his control and appointed 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas as his governor.
'Ali then entered Kufa, not to make it his capital, but only to mobilize further support and organize the Kufans for another much more serious encounter with Mu'awiya.
What should be noted here, however, is that at the battle of Al-Jamal, while a large section of the Kufans supported 'Ali, the clan and tribal leaders who had entrenched themselves during the caliphate of 'Uthman did not wish to side with him, or at least they remained uncommitted. These tribal leaders, such as Al-Ash'ath b. Qays, Jarir b. 'Abd Allah, and Sa'd b. Qays, undoubtedly felt the same fears of 'Ali as did the Meccans and the Umayyads. In order to consolidate his power in Kufa, 'All had to establish a purely Islamic socio- political system, which meant that the old Islamic leadership in Kufa had to be restored at the expense of traditional tribal aristocracy that had emerged during the caliphate of''Uthman.
As has been said earlier, the population of Kufa was organized in seven tribal groups according to either genealogies or alliances. It was in that tribal grouping that the new leadership had established its roots. The first step 'Ali took to weaken this leadership was to make some drastic changes in the external composition of these seven groups by reshuffling and reorganizing the tribes from one group to the other. In this way he tried to restore to power those erstwhile leaders whose claims were based on Islamic priority. We see that men such as Malik b. Harith al-Ashtar, Hujr b. 'Adi al-Kindi; and 'Adi b. Hatim al-Ta'i, eclipsed by the strong tribal leaders, re- emerged once again. For example, Al-Ash'ath b. Qays was replaced by Hujr b. 'Adi, and in the battle of Siffin Hujr was given the leadership of Kinda.61 AI-Ashtar became the leader of a new clan group consisting of Madhhij, Nakha'i, and some other sub-clans. His position was further strengthened when he was appointed by 'Ali as the governor of the Jazira.62
Similarly, another early leader, 'Adi b. Hatim, was supported by 'Ali to become the sole leader of the Tayy, even though there was considerable opposition from other branches of the
Leaders such as Al-Ashtar, Hujr, and 'Adi, together with their following, especially from the newcomers of their tribes, formed the backbone of 'Ali's supporters and were the nucleus of the Shi'i of Kufa. On the other hand, the strongest clan leaders, who had built themselves up on the strength of their tribes, did not show much interest in 'Ali. The sharp contrast between these two groups is clearly illustrated by the fact that since 'Ali's arrival in Kufa, Al-Ashtar, Hujr, 'Adi and other Shi'i leaders consistently urged 'Ali to attack Mu'awiya without delay and without entering into correspondence with him, while most of the strong tribal leaders advised him not to take any early action.64
When, however, the armies of 'Ali and Mu'awiya came to meet at Siffin, these tribal leaders of Kufa saw their position as precarious. They could not remain completely aloof from 'Ali and had to appear with him on the battlefield; yet they remained half-hearted and lukewarm. In fact, they saw their interests best served by a deadlock between Ali and Mu'awiya.
They were in a dilemma, in that 'Ali's success would mean a loss of their tribal power, but on the other hand, Mu'awyia's victory would mean the loss of the Iraqi independence upon which their power depended. In short, “from the time of 'Ali's arrival in Kufa, through the time of the confrontation at Siffin and subsequent developments in Iraq, and until the time of his death, the position of these two alignments remained consistent. The Shi'i leaders urged 'Ali to fight Mu'awiya, they were opposed to the arbitration proposal, and they pledged themselves to 'Ali unconditionally. Most of the clan leaders, on the other hand, showed no inclination to fight Mu'awiya went to Siffin in a spirit of indifference, and accepted with alacrity the peace offered by the arbitration proposal.”65
It is generally suggested that the qurra' forced 'Ali to submit to arbitration, but it seems that the tribal leaders and their following were in fact responsible, for they had nothing to gain from fighting and much to gain from a stalemate.
Similarly, it is also stated that it was the qurra' group which compelled 'Ali to accept Abu Musa al-Ash'ari as his arbitrator, though Abu Musa's record indicated that he had been in favour of the Meccans and of overall domination by Quraysh, and therefore must have been the choice of the tribal leaders.
The word qurra' as used in the accounts of Siffin must be approached with some caution. The early qurra' of Kufa who led the revolt against 'Uthman had as their leaders such men as Malik, Hujr, and 'Adi; and were the die-hard supporters of 'Ali. Besides these original qurra' of Kufa, at Siffin we meet a great number of people who are described by the sources, rather conveniently, as qurra'. Some of them came from Basra, others from far-off outposts of both territories. They must have been, therefore, tribesmen who were trying to advance their claims through Islamic priority. And these were the people who, misled by the tribal leaders, at first supported arbitration and then revolted against it. They became the Khawarij, and in the events that followed Siffin they further weakened 'Ali's position both at home and against Mu'awiya.
The main reason for the resentful attitude of the ashraf al-qaba'il of Kufa was perhaps 'Ali's egalitarian policy. In the first place, in the distribution of stipends he abolished the distinction made between early and latecomers to Kufa and instead made his criterion not only Islamic priority, but also adherence to Islamic values and standards. This is so very clear from the numerous addresses he delivered in this period, as preserved in the Nahj al-Balagha.66 When 'Ali came to Kufa, there was another influx of newcomers to the city, those who came with 'Ali himself, and he treated them with equality irrespective of their early domicile.
This was a serious threat to the tribal leaders who had been enjoying a larger share of the Kufan treasury, which had already been shrinking in its resources due to the lull in the conquests In the second place, 'Ali observed equality in the allotment of stipends to Arabs and non-Arabs. This was especially offensive to the ashraf al-qaba'il since, besides financial considerations, they believed that the non-Arab mawali, as conquered people, should not and could not be treated equally with their conquerors.67
It was beyond any doubt clear to the tribal leaders and their clansmen that under Ali's rule they stood to lose whatever they had managed to gain due to their tribal strength under 'Uthman. It was, however, still not possible or advisable for them, in the conditions in Kufa at the time, to come out in open revolt against 'Ali. Nevertheless, after the inconclusive results of Siffin and the unfavourable outcome of the arbitration that followed, the tribal leaders hitherto wavering between indifference and treachery became more pronounced in their resentful attitude toward 'Ali. They did remain in the rank and file of his army, which he was mobilizing for a final and decisive encounter with Mu'awiya, yet totally ignored his call to go out to fight the Syrians.
Instead they insisted on dealing with the Khawarij who had gathered at Nahrawin.68 What they were concerned with was the maintenance of their own position as Kufan tribal leaders: the Khawarij were a threat to that, Mu'awiya was not. After the Khawarij were defeated at Nahrawan and 'Ali then called upon them to move against Mu'awiya, Al-Ash'ath and other strong tribal leaders refused, ostensibly on lame excuses, and 'Ali was thus obliged to return to Kufa.69 'Ali's position was further weakened since the battle of Nahrawan had earned him many enemies among the relatives and kinsmen of the slain Khawarij; additionally, the tribal leaders took further advantage of his increasing unpopularity among the large number of tribes. Moreover, since the arbitration Mu'awiya had been in constant touch with these tribal leaders, trying to win them over through offers of power and wealth. They were thus deliberating on what could best serve their purposes.
The attitude of these Kufans is best indicated by 'Ali himself in a number of speeches which he delivered in this period. In one of his speeches shortly before he was assassinated, he addressed the people and said:
“Behold, I have called upon you day and night, secretly and openly, to fight these people [the Syrians]. I have said to you: 'Fight them before they fight you, for, by God, never do a people fight within their own territory without being dishonoured.' Butyou tarried and vacillated until you have been attacked repeatedly and your territory has been lost to you .. How strange indeed–a strangeness in which God makes the hearts dead and brings grief–is the gathering of these people [Mu'awiya's supporters] in their falsehood and your standing aloof from your right. Woe unto you, and fire upon you, for you have become a target which is shot at; you are raided and you raid not; you are attacked and you do not fight back; and God is disobeyed and you are content to see that.
“When I order you to march toward them during the summer season, you say: 'This is the season of intense heat; grant us respite until the heat has abated from us.' And when I command you to proceed toward them in winter, you say: 'This is the season of intense cold; give us time until the cold is dispelled from us.' With all this fleeing from heat and cold, by God, you will flee even more readily from the sword.
“O you who look like men but are not men, having the intellect of children and the wits of women, I wish I had never seen or known you, for acquaintance with you has drawn regret and brought in its wake grief and sorrow. May God destroy you. You have filled my heart with pus and have lined my breast with anger. You have made me drink draughts of anxiety one after the other and have corrupted my judgment by your disobedience and desertion, so that Quraysh say that the son of Abu Talib is a brave man but had no knowledge of warfare. For God be their father! Is any one of them more experienced in warfare or does any of them occupy a place in it higher than mine? I started fighting when I was not yet twenty years of age, and here I am the same fighter when I have passed the age of sixty. But there could be no judgment for him who is not obeyed.70
'Ali thus left behind the people of Kufa divided into two groups of conflicting interest which could now be more easily defined and categorised than when he arrived at Kufa five years earlier. There was, firstly, a group of his faithful followers, both from the early and the late comers, who were not only committed to his person, but also believed that the leadership of the Muslims must remain in the house of the Prophet. In this, indeed, there appear to have been some considerations of a socio-economic nature, but these were only concomitant with the idea of justice and religious values which, they thought, could be realized only through a divinely inspired leader. Among them there were people, however small in number, to whom religious and spiritual considerations were the only driving force: economic factors, even though these seem to have been the cause of certain incidents, had nothing to do with their adherence to 'Ali. For others, economic factors were just as important as religion; they felt that an appropriate combination of the two could be realized only through 'Ali. Whatever the degree of emphasis on one aspect or the other, the conviction of both sections of 'Ali's firm supporters was the same: the leadership of the Muslim community must come from the family of the Prophet.
Secondly, there was a group consisting of clan and tribal leaders, along with those whose interests were dependent on these leaders. They were basically interested in preserving and maintaining their political positions and economic monopolies, which would be seriously threatened should 'Ali succeed in firmly establishing his rule in Kufa. They were, therefore, indifferent to 'Ali and were inclined towards Mu'awiya, in whom they saw security for their privileged positions and vested interests. But at the same time, they were hesitant to openly submit to Mu'awiya and thereby lose their bargaining position. It was for this reason that outwardly they remained in the rank and file of 'Ali's army while putting pressure on Mu'awiya for the guaranteeing of their privileges.
They thus pretended to be the supporters of the Shi'i cause.
These were the people who composed the political supporters of 'Ali, as discussed in Chapter 4.
To these two groups of opposite interest we must add a third, consisting of the vast masses of Kufa, mostly the Yemenis and the non-Arab mawali, who theoretically were inclined to the Shi'i ideal of leadership but were hopelessly devoid of resolve in the face of any danger which might befall them. Emotionally, whenever they saw any hope of success of someone from the Ahl a1-Bayt, they swarmed around him; practically, they deserted him as soon as they saw the hope of success dwindling away. They lacked the necessary courage or the firmness of character to withstand a moment of trial.
The events described in the following two chapters will explain the behaviour and attitude of these three groups. Here it remains to note that after the death of 'Ali and the abdication of his son Hasan, when Mu'awiya took control of Kufa, the strong tribal and clan leaders were made to serve as the intermediaries in the power structure of the province.
The central authority in Damascus was concerned with exercising power both over and through them. The old style tribalism was reinforced and governmental power was grounded on a tribal organization in which tribal leaders supported and in turn were supported by the government. At the time of 'Ali's death, the tribal leaders were on one side of the scale, the committed shi'at 'Ali on the other, while the great masses were wavering between the two. The following years were to prove decisive in resolving this basic contradiction of interests.