Some biased scholars and partisans of Bani Umayyah such as Ibn Taymiyyah have endeavored to come to the defence of Yazid ibn Mu‘awiyah. They have gone so far as to recognize him as the legitimate Muslim caliph of his time.
However, in the end, reality compelled most scholars to admit Yazid’s atrocious crimes because his entire life was full of abominable actions and he was the cause of numerous calamities for the Muslims, especially during the three years of his usurped caliphate.
In the long term, biased adherents of Bani Umayyah could not continue to overlook Yazid’s many atrocities. Therefore, some schemed to either completely deny or justify Yazid’s brutal crimes.
One of the acts of sheer barbarity and inhumanity Yazid brought down on the Muslims was the event of Harrah. This incident resulted in the brutal killing of thousands of the Muslim people of Medina. The order for this massacre was issued by Yazid ibn Mu‘awiyah himself. The event of Harrah is a well-known incident which has been discussed either briefly or in detail by numerous historians.1 Now, let us examine this event.
The deplorable atrocity of Harrah, which blackened the pages of history, took place in the sixty-third year of the Islamic calendar during the reign of Yazid ibn Mu‘awiyah between the powerful armies of Sham and the people of Medina.
Harrah literally means a rocky and uneven terrain full of black stones passage through which is quite difficult. This well-known event acquired its name because the assault, which the government armies of Sham made on the ordinary people of Medina, began in a rocky eastern region of Medina.2
The event of Harrah is in all truth one of the most savage and horrible crimes of human history and the most appalling incident which occurred during the reign of Bani Umayyah. Ibn Mushkuwiyyah narrates, “The incident of Harrah is one of the most dreadful and formidable events of history.”3
The uprising by the people of Medina occurred in 63 AH. Besides being an uprising against Yazid’s authoritative reign and Bani Umayyah’s tyrannical sultanate, it was more a peoples’ uprising against government policies. The uprising of the people of Medina was a popular and self-perpetuating social movement rooted in the people’s unanimous rejection of the rule of Yazid and Bani Umayyah.
The group of the Helpers [ansar] had chosen ‘Abd Allah ibn Hanzalah to be their army commander and leader in the confrontation with Bani Umayyah and the Quraysh appointed ‘Abd Allah ibn Matih to be their commander.4
This revolution and uprising was caused by various factors, some of which we will now discuss:
Medina has always been an exceptionally important city because it is the city of Allah’s Prophet (S) and the land where the divine message grew, developed and flourished. It is the land where divine knowledge and wisdom where introduced. It was in Medina where the Prophet’s way of life was explained and people were instructed regarding it.
Medina is the land where people learned Qur’anic commentary and interpretation of the divine message from the Holy Prophet (S) himself. The Prophet’s (S) distinguished companions, including the Helpers [ansar] and the Immigrants [muhajirin], had lived there since the Holy Prophet’s (S) time. After the Prophet’s (S) death, some of his most renowned companions preferred to stay in that city because of the fond memories they held about Allah’s Prophet (S).
It is evident why the people of Medina had a fervent inclination towards Islamic tenets and stronger religious sentiments than the people of Sham; they were more familiar with the Prophet’s (S) conduct [sunnah] and that of his successors and companions. It was for this reason that they were able to discern the wrong ways of Bani Umayyah earlier than others.
It was the people of Medina who previously were the first to voice their objections to ‘Uthman ibn ‘Uffan. Now, these same people were experiencing the rule of a raw inexperienced youth called Yazid ibn Mu‘awiyah. He knew absolutely nothing about politics and failed to uphold the sanctity of the tenets of religion. Accordingly, their disapproval and protest against Yazid sprang up.
‘Uthman ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Sufiyan, the governor of Medina, had sent a group of men consisting of Immigrants and Helpers to meet with the caliph in Damascus, so they could present their grievances to Yazid and so Yazid could bestow gifts upon them to silence them.5 During this meeting, not only did Yazid fail to win them over to his side, but his ignorant behavior proved his incompetence to them.6
When they returned to Medina, they explained what they had seen from Yazid. They gathered in the Holy Prophet’s (S) Mosque and started shouting to the people, “We have come from meeting a person who is depraved of religion, drinks wine, plays the tambourine and spends the night with base men, slave girls and female singers and as a result has abandoned prayer.”7
The people asked ‘Abd Allah ibn Hanzalah what news he had brought from the caliph. He replied, “I am coming from meeting a man whom, I swear by Allah, I would have fought if no one were present except my sons.” The people said, “We have heard that Yazid has given you money and gifts.”
‘Abd Allah answered, “It is true, but I accepted his money and gifts only for the purpose of using it to acquire and prepare an army against Yazid himself.” In this way, ‘Abd Allah started inciting and instigating the people against Yazid and the people responded positively to his calls for an uprising.8
Suyuti writes, “The reason for the uprising of the people of Medina was that Yazid had exceeded all bounds and every limit in committing sins.”9
Ibn Khaldun recounts, “When Yazid’s tyranny and the oppression by his deputies became widespread, and after he killed the Prophet’s (S) son, the people of Medina started a rebellion and uprising.”10
When Bashir ibn Jadhlam brought the news of the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (as) and the taking of captives, it seemed in Medina as though the trumpet had been blown announcing the Day of Resurrection. The women of Medina came out of their homes and marched towards the city gates. Men, women and children, came out of their houses barefoot and shouting, “O Muhammad! Alas Muhammad! O al-Husayn! O al-Husayn! O al-Husayn!” It was very similar to the day the Holy Prophet (S) passed away.11
Imam al-Sajjad (as) made a sermon and his words had a strong effect on the people of Medina. In addition to that, Zaynab Kubra and other women, all mothers who had lost children in the battle against Yazid, gave public speeches and detailed what had occurred at Karbala. Each of the survivors was explaining the event of ‘Ashura and what had transpired at Karbala. They also gave comprehensive accounts of what had taken place for the captives on the way from Kufah to Sham and their meeting with Yazid. All this news had a deep impact on the community of Medina.
One of the main causes for the uprising by the people of Medina against the Umayyad government was the immoral behavior and corruption that characterized political decisions. ‘Abd Allah ibn Zubayr wrote a letter to Yazid ibn Mu‘awiyah in which he criticized Walid ibn ‘Aqabah, Yazid’s governor and representative in Medina.12
Ibn Zubayr wrote, “You have sent a harsh and brutal man for us. He does not pay the least attention to what is right and just. He does not pay any attention to the advice of well-wishers, nor does he heed the words of the wise. If you had sent a flexible person, we could be hopeful that complicated work might be made easier.”
Later, Yazid relieved Walid ibn ‘Aqabah of his post and replaced him with ‘Uthman ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Sufiyan. ‘Uthman, too, was an arrogant and vain youth who lacked experience.13 It was during his time as governor of Medina that the event of Harrah took place.14
The accumulation of the mentioned factors laid the groundwork for an explosion; the only thing that was needed was a spark and it came as follows: Ibn Mina, Yazid’s financial representative and the man responsible for collecting tax, made the intention of taking all the wealth he collected from Harrah to Sham for Yazid.
A group of protesters from Medina blocked his way. They confiscated all the tax and wealth which Ibn Mina was carrying. Ibn Mina reported the issue to ‘Uthman ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Sufiyan, the governor of Medina. ‘Uthman reported the issue to Yazid ibn Mu‘awiyah in a letter he sent to Sham. As a result of this, Yazid was incited against the people of Medina.15
Yazid became very angry when he heard this news. He said, “I swear by Allah! I will send a large army towards them, and in this way I will crush them under the feet of horses.”16
‘Abd Allah ibn Hanzalah invited the people for the ultimate confrontation and battle with Yazid ibn Mu‘awiyah and the whole of Bani Umayyah. His good public standing was the reason the people trusted him and organized around him. They even elected him to be the governor of Medina and paid their allegiance to him and deposed Yazid ibn Mu‘awiyah from the caliphate.17
After this, the people expelled Yazid’s agent, ‘Uthman ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Sufiyan, from the city of Medina. This happened on the first day of the month of Muharram, the year 63 of the Islamic calendar (hijrah).
Then, they imprisoned all the family members of Bani Umayyah and their partisans among the Quraysh in the house of Marwan Hakam. They did not, however, harm the prisoners in any way.18
The deposed governor of Medina sent his torn shirt along with a letter to Sham imploring for help. He wrote to Yazid, “Answer our call for help. The people of Medina have driven our clan out of the city.”19
This letter reached Yazid at night. Yazid went to the mosque immediately, got on the pulpit and called out, “O people of Sham. ‘Uthman ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Sufiyan, the governor of Medina, has written to me saying that the people of Medina have expelled the family members of Bani Umayyah and all our partisans out of the city. I swear upon Allah, swallowing this news is harder for me than living without the beauties and pleasures of the world.”20
At first, Yazid chose Dahhak ibn Qays Fihri to be the army commander responsible for carrying out the attack on Medina, but he declined to accept this responsibility. Then Yazid chose ‘Amru ibn Sa‘id Ashdaq. He also declined to accept the responsibility. After him, Yazid chose ‘Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad. However, all three men, in one way or another, refused to carry out this responsibility.21
Finally, a man named Muslim ibn ‘Aqabah accepted to be responsible for carrying out the attack on Medina. Yazid appointed him as army commander for this confrontation. This man agreed to carry out this responsibility in spite of the fact that he was an ill person aged over ninety years.22
Government heralds called out, “O people! Mobilize for war with the people of Hijaz23 and come to collect your reward.” The government was handing out a hundred dinars in cash to every person who was ready to go to war. It was not long before nearly twelve thousand people were gathered. According to another report, twenty thousand mounted soldiers and seven thousand ground forces were mobilized.24
Yazid paid two hundred dinars to every mounted soldier and one hundred dinars to every soldier of the ground forces. He then ordered them to march towards Medina in company with Muslim ibn ‘Aqabah.25
Yazid himself accompanied the army for a distance of about three kilometres before he bade them farewell.26 Sham Christians eager to fight the Muslims of Medina could also be seen among the soldiers of Yazid’s army.27
Yazid gave the following orders to Muslim ibn ‘Aqabah, “Invite the people of Medina to pay allegiance to me three times. If they respond positively and pay allegiance, let them go free. However, if they do not respond positively and refuse to pay allegiance, fight them. If you triumph over them, continue the massacre for three days.
Anything that belongs to that city will be permissible for your army to loot. Do not stop the Sham army from doing whatever it wishes with its enemy. After three days, stop the killing and pillaging. Then, again ask for allegiance from the people. They should promise to be Yazid’s slaves and servants. When you leave Medina, move towards Mecca for another attack and confrontation.”28
Muslim ibn ‘Aqabah marched from Wadi al-Qura’ towards Medina with his soldiers. They camped at a place called “Jurf”, which was three kilometers from Medina.29
On the other side, the people of Medina were preparing themselves for confrontation and defence. They had been informed that the people of Sham were moving towards Medina.
When the army of Sham gained proximity to Medina, ‘Abd Allah ibn Hanzalah called the people to the Prophet’s (S) Mosque. The people assembled near the Prophet’s (S) pulpit. ‘Abd Allah ibn Hanzalah requested that anyone who concurred with him about this uprising should pay allegiance and promise to stand by him to the death. The people responded positively and paid allegiance to him. They promised to stand by his side to the death.
‘Abd Allah went on the pulpit. After praising Allah and mentioning a few other issues, he said, “O people of Medina! We have rebelled for no other reason save that Yazid is a fornicating and adulterous man. He is a drunkard who does not pray. Tolerating his reign will bring Allah’s punishment and tribulation upon us...”30
To protect Medina, the Islamic resistance forces of Medina used a trench which had remained since the Prophet’s (S) time. They neglected the eastern part of the city because they believed that there was a remote possibility that the Sham army would begin their attack from the rugged rocky area.
They thought that even if the Sham army were to begin their attack from this area, it was still improbable for them to achieve any success. However, the Sham army took them by surprise and began its attack on Medina from that same stony area which the Islamic resistant forces had ignored.
The battle continued from morning up to afternoon. The Islamic forces of Medina were fighting and resisting fiercely. At noon, ‘Abd Allah ibn Hanzalah asked one of his slaves to watch and protect him from behind so that he could recite his prayers. ‘Abd Allah then recited his prayers and returned to the battlefront to lead the valiant resistance against the Sham army. 31
Muslim ibn ‘Aqabah asked Marwan to help him enter Medina. Marwan went to Medina and visited the tribe of Bani Harthah. There, he called for a man he was acquainted with and in the process of a secret conversation, Marwan managed to persuade this traitor to show him the way for the Sham army to penetrate Medina in return for generous rewards.
He showed Marwan a way which passed through the area of the tribe of Bani al-Ashhal and the Sham army used this route to infiltrate Medina.32
The first line of the Islamic resistant fighters responsible for defending Medina suddenly heard the shout of ‘Allah-u Akbar’ by the Sham army from right inside Medina. It was not long before they realized that they were being attacked from behind by the Sham army. Many of the Islamic resistance fighters left the battlefield and returned to Medina in order to defend their women and children.
The Sham army attacked and killed innocent civilians from every direction. When ‘Abd Allah ibn Hanzalah was finally killed, the Sham army gained the upper hand against the resistance movement of Medina. Finally, they gained complete control of the whole city.33
Ibn Qutaybah recounts that, “‘The Sham army entered Medina on the twenty seventh day of Dhu al-Hijjah in 63 AH. For three days Medina was plundered by the Sham army up to the appearance of the new moon of the month of Muharram.”34
Following Yazid ibn Mu‘awiyah’s orders, and after the seizure of Medina, Muslim ibn ‘Aqabah told his soldiers, “Your hands are open and you are free to do whatever you want. You must plunder and loot Medina for three days.”35
Thus, the city of Medina was subjected to wholesale murder and plunder by the Sham army. Everything was permissible for the Sham soldiers. No man or woman remained safe from their harm. The civilians of Medina were killed and their property was looted.36
The brutal and wholesale massacre of the people of Medina was detestable. It was loathsome to see the descendants of the Prophet’s (S) companions, the Helpers and the Immigrants being butchered. The looting was despicable. However, the wholesale violation of females by the depraved and reckless soldiers of Sham was more contemptible and disgraceful than all else.
In this invasion of the Prophet’s city, thousands of women were violated. Thousands of children were born whose fathers were not known and these children later became known as ‘the Children of Harrah [awlad al-harrah].’37
The streets of Medina were filled with dead bodies. Blood flowed on the ground up to the Prophet’s (S) Mosque.38 Children were mercilessly killed in their mothers’ arms.39 The elderly companions of the Holy Prophet (S) were exposed to torture and dishonor.40
The scale of the killings was so great that because of his extravagance in killing people, Muslim ibn ‘Aqabah was from then onwards nicknamed “Musrif” ibn ‘Aqabah which in the Arabic language means ‘the one who is extravagant’. After this horrendous event, the people of Medina wore black mourning clothes and the sounds of their weeping could be heard from their homes for up to one year.41
Ibn Qutaybah narrates, “On the day of Harrah, eighty companions of the Prophet (S) were killed and after that day there was no Badri (person that took part in the Battle of Badr) left. Seven hundred members of the Quraysh and ansar were put to death and ten thousand innocent people of the community were killed from among Arabs, the tabi‘in and other virtuous people of Medina.”42
Suyuti writes, “In the year 63 of the Islamic calendar, the people of Medina rebelled against Yazid. They even dismissed him from the caliphate. In retaliation, Yazid sent a huge army towards them with orders to kill anyone who had rebelled. After that, the army was commanded to go to Mecca and kill Ibn Zubayr.
The Sham army came to the holy city of Medina and the event of Harrah came to pass. But what can make one comprehend what the event of Harrah was? Al-Hasan once narrated, ‘I swear upon Allah! There was no man who was spared in that event. A large number of the Prophet’s (S) companions and other people were killed. Medina was looted and a thousand virgin girls were violated. We are from Allah and to whom is our return!’
Allah’s Prophet (S) had said,
«من أخاف أهل المدينة اخافه الله وعليه لعنة الله والملائكة والناس أجمعين.»
‘Anyone who terrorizes and intimidates the people of Medina will be terrorized by Allah and may the curse of Allah, the angels and all the people be upon him.’
This hadith has been narrated by Muslim’.”43
Ibn Qutaibah recounts, “When Muslim ibn ‘Aqabah finished his killing and looting in Medina, he wrote to Yazid, ‘Peace upon thee O leader of the believers… I did not recite the noon [zuhr] prayers until I conquered Medina and prayed right in the Prophet’s Mosque. This was, however, after a lot of killing and extensive looting. In keeping with your command, we followed anyone who escaped and killed all those who were wounded. We looted their houses three times just as you, the commander of the faithful, had ordered.”44
Sibt ibn al-Jawzi narrates from Mada’ini in a book named “Harrah”, that Zuhri said, “On the day of Harrah, seven hundred people, among them the elders of the Quraysh, the Helpers, the Immigrants, and the well known and honored of Medina were killed.
In addition to this, ten thousand others including men, women and slaves were killed. There was so much bloodshed in Medina that blood reached the Prophet’s (S) tomb, and his mosque and garden were filled with blood.”
Mujahid says, “The people of Medina even took refuge in the Prophet’s (S) quarters and at his pulpit but there were swords that would even enter these places.”
Mada’ini quotes from Ibn Qarrah who quotes Hisham ibn Hisan, “After the event of Harrah, a thousand unmarried women gave birth to children whose fathers were not known.” Apart from Mada’ini, other historians too have narrated that a thousand women without husbands gave birth after this event.45
After gaining victory over the people of Medina, Muslim ibn ‘Aqabah called for an assembly of some of the well-known personalities of the uprising. After a special and summary trial, he condemned all of them to death. The significance of these trials was to force these prominent people to promise publicly to be Yazid’s loyal slaves and servants.46
Some of the most prominent people that were tried and executed include:
1. Abu Bakr ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn Ja‘far ibn Abu Talib,47
2. Two daughters of Zaynab (daughter of Umm Salamah),48
3. Abu Bakr ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Umar ibn Khattab,49
4. Ma‘qul ibn Sanan (One of the standard-bearers of the Prophet during the conquest of Mecca),50
5. Fadl ibn ‘Abbas ibn Rabi‘ah ibn Harith ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib,51
6. Abu Sa‘id Khudri (One of the Prophet’s companions that had accompanied the Prophet in twelve of the holy wars [ghazwahs]),52
7. ‘Abd Allah ibn Muti‘.53
Ibn Qutaybah writes, “Jabir was a blind man when the event of Harrah took place. He used to walk in the streets of Medina and say, ‘May the person who tormented Allah and the Holy Prophet (S) perish!’ A man asked him, ‘Who terrorized Allah and his Prophet?’
Jabir answered, ‘I heard Allah’s Prophet (S) say, ‘Anyone who terrorizes the people of Medina has tormented that which I hold dear.’’ A man from Sham who happened to hear this conversation attacked Jabir with a sword intending to kill him. Marwan stopped that man and ordered Jabir to be taken home.”54
It has to be mentioned, however, that one of the houses which was attacked and looted by the Sham army was that of Jabir. All of his household property was plundered