Before giving an account of the life of Yazid ibn Mu‘awiyah, and before demonstrating his unscrupulousness and viciousness, especially through the brutal martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (as) and the incident of Harrah, it is appropriate here to give a brief historical account of Yazid’s background. Through awareness of Yazid’s family standing, his actions can better be comprehended.
First, we will give a brief life account of his grandfather, Abu Sufiyan.
During the ‘Age of Ignorance’, the majority of Arabs used to worship idols with the aim of gaining nearness to Allah through the intercession of their idols. The Holy Qur’an quotes them saying,
﴿ ما نَعبُدُهُم إِلاّ لِيقَرِّبُونا إِلَى اللهِ زُلفی ﴾
“We do not worship them save that they may make us nearer to Allah.”1
In spite of worshiping idols, they still believed in the creatorship of Allah. Allah says in the Holy Qur’an,
﴿ وَلَئِن سَأَلتَهُم مَن خَلَقَ السَّمَواتِ وَالأَرضَ وَسَخَّر الشَّمسَ وَالقَمَرَ لَيقُولَنَّ اللهُ ﴾
“And if you ask them, ‘Who created the heavens and the earth and made the sun and the moon subservient’, they will certainly say, ‘Allah’.”2
Abu Sufiyan, however, was a worldly apostate during the Age of Ignorance who did not believe in anything at all, not even idols. Maqrizi says, “Abu Sufiyan was a bastion of hypocrisy. During the Age of Ignorance, he was considered to be an atheist.”3
Abu Sufiyan was the leader of the enemies of the Holy Prophet (S) and Islam. One day, he came with a group of men to Abu Talib and said, “Your nephew denounces our gods and finds fault with our religion. He regards our thoughts to be foolish and says our fathers and forefathers were unguided and lost. Either stop him from saying these things or step aside and let us deal with him ourselves.”4
Abu Sufiyan was also the mastermind behind a plot to kill the Holy Prophet (S). He planned to execute his plan at Dar al-Nadwah. He selected a youth from every tribe and gave each one of them a sword with orders to attack the Holy Prophet’s (S) house and kill him.5
For the Battle of Uhud, Abu Sufiyan alone spent forty measures of gold. Each measure contained forty-two pieces [mithqal] of gold. As well, he personally took part in the battle. Seventy-two companions of the Holy Prophet (S) were martyred in the battle, including Hamzah ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib, the Prophet’s uncle.6
In order to incite and encourage the polytheists to fight at the Battle of Uhud, Abu Sufiyan shouted, “Long live Hubal! Long live Hubal!”7 When they heard this, the Muslims replied, “Allah is more Elevated and more Majestic!” When he heard this, Abu Sufiyan personally answered, “We have (the idol) al-‘Uzza, whereas you have no ‘Uzza.” The Holy Prophet (S) ordered his followers to say,
«الله مولانا ولا مولى لکم.»
“Allah is our Master and you have no master.”8
After the martyrdom of Hamzah, Abu Sufiyan came to thrust spears into Hamzah’s corpse. He was doing this while saying, “Taste of this, you who has been disinherited and cursed.”9 Even after the death of the Holy Prophet (S), Abu Sufiyan came to the tomb of Hamzah and started trampling and stamping upon it saying, “O Aba ‘Ammarah! That over which you fought with us and for which you died has now fallen into the hands of our youths and they are playing with it.”10
One day Abu Sufiyan saw people walking behind the Holy Prophet (S). With a heart filled with jealousy and envy, he said, “If I can, I will organize an army against this man once again.” The Holy Prophet touched his chest and said, “On that day, Allah will make you abject, contemptible and despised.”11
It is well known that Abu Sufiyan did not convert to Islam of his own volition and inclination. On the contrary, he became a Muslim out of a feeling of fear and intimidation.
When the Holy Prophet (S) conquered Mecca, Abu Sufiyan came with ‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib before the Holy Prophet (S) and requested immunity and safe-conduct from the Holy Prophet (S). The Holy Prophet (S) said, “Woe unto you O Abu Sufiyan! Has the time not yet come for you to know that there is no god but Allah?”
Abu Sufiyan said, “May my mother and father be sacrificed for you. How generous and kind you are!” Again, the Holy Prophet (S) said, “O Abu Sufiyan! Has the time not yet arrived for you to accept that I am Allah’s Prophet?” Abu Sufiyan repeated his previous statement and added, “This issue of you being Allah’s Prophet has not yet been settled in my heart.”
‘Abbas said to him, “Woe unto you! Testify to the truth before your neck is cut.” It was only at this time out of compulsion and fear that Abu Sufiyan testified to the truth and accepted Islam.12
Here we provide only a brief account of one of the many conspiracies that Abu Sufiyan committed against Islam:
After the demise of the Holy Prophet (S), the people paid allegiance to Abu Bakr. Solely because he intended to create sedition in the Muslim community [ummah], Abu Sufiyan said, “I surely foresee disturbances and civil disorders which will not be extinguished save by Allah. O Children of ‘Abd al-Manaf! How can Abu Bakr become your leader?
How can he be the one who holds responsibility over your affairs? Where are those two oppressed people who have been sidelined and made inferior?” (He meant Imam ‘Ali (as) and ‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib) Then he turned to Imam ‘Ali (as) and said, “Give me your hand so that I may swear allegiance to you. I swear upon Allah!
If you wish, I will fill the battleground with horsemen and footmen willing to fight for you!” However, Imam ‘Ali (as) withheld his hand and said,
والله ما أردت بهذا الاّ الفتنة، وانّك والله طالب بغيت للاسلام شرّاً، لا حاجة لنا في نصحك.
“I swear upon Allah! You intend nothing but sedition. I swear upon Allah! For a long time now, you have been looking for an opportunity to make mischief and deliberately cause trouble for Islam. We are not in need of your help and advice.”13
One of the incredulous things that Abu Sufiyan did after his apparent acceptance of Islam was to deny and repudiate the Day of Resurrection.
Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr says, “One day during the caliphate of ‘Uthman, Abu Sufiyan came to see him. He addressed ‘Uthman as follows: ‘After a lot of fighting and tribulation, the caliphate has finally come to you, one of our own kinsmen.
You should therefore nail its foundations strongly in our family. You must strengthen its roots in the family of Bani Umayyah. Beyond any shadow of a doubt, this is the very same sultanate that was previously in our hands. And I believe in neither heaven nor hell.’ ‘Uthman shouted at him and said, ‘Leave me! May Allah chastise and punish you!’”14
It has been narrated in the book “Tarikh Tabari” that Abu Sufiyan said to ‘Uthman, “O Bani Umayyah! You should pass the caliphate to one another from among yourselves only, in the same way that team-mates pass a ball to each other in a game, because neither heaven nor hell exist.”15
Mas‘udi recounts the story this way: “Abu Sufiyan said, ‘O Bani Umayyah! You should preserve the caliphate for yourselves, just like teammates preserve control over the ball by passing it among themselves. I swear upon the one whom Abu Sufiyan swears upon, I always wished this for you. You must preserve it for the inheritance of your children’.”16
Abu Sufiyan said this on a day when ‘Uthman gave him two thousand dinars from the Islamic public treasury. On the same day, ‘Uthman also gave Marwan ibn al-Hakam (one of his cousins) a thousand dinars from the Islamic public treasury.17
Ibn ‘Asakir quotes Anas saying that after Abu Sufiyan became blind, he came to ‘Uthman and said, “Are there any strangers with you here?” ‘Uthman said, “No.” Then Abu Sufiyan said, “(I swear) Upon Allah! You must reverse the circumstances to what they were during the Age of Ignorance.”18
It is well known that the Holy Prophet (S) has cursed Abu Sufiyan on seven instances:
1. One day the Holy Prophet (S) was traveling from Mecca towards Ta’if to invite the tribe of Thaqif to accept the religion of Islam; Abu Sufiyan obstructed the Holy Prophet (S) and reviled him using abusive comments. As if this were not enough, in order to further torment and injure the Holy Prophet (S), he swore to take revenge against Allah’s Prophet (S). This is one incident when Allah and his Prophet (S) cursed him.
2. The Muslims intercepted a trade caravan of Meccan polytheists returning from Sham. When news about this incident reached Abu Sufiyan, he tried to hinder the Muslims from obtaining the booty and spoils. The Holy Prophet (S) cursed Abu Sufiyan for this action and it was this incident that lead to the Battle of Badr.
3. On the day of the Battle of Badr, Abu Sufiyan was at the bottom of the mountain and the Holy Prophet (S) was at the top. Abu Sufiyan was incessantly shouting, “Long live Hubal! Long live Hubal!” This caused the Holy Prophet (S) and the Muslims to curse him ten times.
4. Another incident that caused the Holy Prophet (S) to curse Abu Sufiyan was when he, along with members of the Ghatfan tribe and the Jews, assaulted and attacked Medina.
5. On the day of Hudaybiyyah (one of the important days on the Islamic calendar), Abu Sufiyan together with a group of people belonging to the tribe of Quraysh obstructed the Holy Prophet (S) from entering Masjid al-Haram. On this day, the Holy Prophet (S) cursed Abu Sufiyan.
6. Another occasion when the Holy Prophet (S) cursed Abu Sufiyan was the Day of the Red Camels.
7. One day a gang of scoundrels camped at ‘Aqabah with the aim of startling the Holy Prophet’s camel when he rode by. They numbered twelve people in all. Abu Sufiyan was one of these villains. The Holy Prophet (S) cursed and damned them all.19
In one hadith, Amir al-Mu’minin ‘Ali (as) describes Mu‘awiyah and Abu Sufiyan in this way,
معاوية طليق ابن طليق، حزب من هذه الاحزاب، لم يزل لله عزّ وجلّ ولرسوله وللمسلمين عدوّاً هو وابوه حتى دخلا في الاسلام کارهين.
“Mu‘awiyah is unrestrained. He is the son of one who was unrestrained, and he is a party of this party. He and his father have always been enemies of Allah, the Holy Prophet (S) and the Muslims. This enmity continued until the time they were compelled under duress to become Muslims.”20
In a letter addressed to Mu‘awiyah, Imam ‘Ali (as) writes, “O son of the ill-fated one! O son of the accursed one…’21 It seems that Amir al-Mu’minin ‘Ali (as) was referring here to the curses which the Holy Prophet (S) pronounced on Abu Sufiyan, his son Mu‘awiyah and his grandson Yazid.
It has been recounted that one day Abu Sufiyan was riding a horse and one of his offsprings (either Mu‘awiyah or Yazid) was in front and the other in back. When the Holy Prophet (S) saw them, he said,
«اللهم العن الراکب والقائد والسائق.»
“O Allah! Banish from your mercy the rider of this horse and those that are leading it.”22
In another letter to Mu‘awiyah, Amir al-Mu’minin (as) writes,
«منّا النبي ومنکم المکذّب.»
“The Prophet (S) is from us, and the denier of his prophethood is from you.”23
Commenting on this, Ibn Abi al-Hadid says, “Imam ‘Ali (as) was referring to Abu Sufiyan ibn Harb, because Abu Sufiyan was one of the Prophet’s (S) most vicious enemies and a denier of his prophethood.”
Addressing Mu‘awiyah, Imam al-Hasan al-Mujtaba (as) said,
وانّک يا معاوية! واباک مِن المؤلّفة قلوبهم، تسرّون الکفر، وتظهرون الاسلام، وتستمالون بالاموال.
“Without doubt, you, Mu‘awiyah, and your father, are among the people who have used money from the Islamic public treasury for the sake of pleasing your hearts. You have concealed your infidelity and unbelief [kufr] and instead displayed your false belief in Islam. You have lured people towards yourselves by means of your possessions.”24