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Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya

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Descendant of Imam
Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya
Father 'Ali b. Abi Talib (a)
Mother Khawla al-Hanafiyya
Birth 16/637
Place of Birth Medina
Demise 81/700-1
Place of Burial Medina
Age 65

Muḥammad b. al-Ḥanafīyya (Arabic: محمد بن الحنفية) (b. 16/637-8 - d. 81/700-1), the son of Ali b. Abi Talib (a) and Khawla al-Hanafiyya (the daughter of Ja'far b. Qays), was among the first group of Tabi'un. He was born by the time of the caliphate of 'Umar b. al-Khattab and passed away when he was sixty-five by the time of the caliphate of 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan.

He is also regarded as Muhammad b. 'Ali or Muhammad al-Akbar, and his kunya (teknonym) was Abu al-Qasim. He took part in the battles of Siffin and Jamal, and was the standard-bearer of Imam Ali's (a) army in the latter. He stayed in Medina at the event of Karbala. After the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a), he initially claimed his Imamate (leadership), but having heard the testimony of al-Hajar al-Aswad to the Imamate of Imam al-Sajjad (a), he disclaimed and believed in the leadership of his nephew.

Kaysanites believed in him as their Imam, and according to his letter to al-Mukhtar, they rescued him from 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr. He was the first person who was believed by some to be the Promised Mahdi (the savior). He had a very peaceful political orientation in his life.


He was commonly regarded as "Ibn al-Hanafiyya" since his mother, the daughter of Ja'far b. Qays[1], was from Bani Hanafiyya tribe. According to some reports, his mother was taken as a female slave in the attack of Banu Asad tribe on Banu Hanafiyya tribe during the caliphate of Abu Bakr. Imam 'Ali (a) bought and released, and then married her.

Owing to his death in 81/700-1 and that he was 65 at the time, it could be calculated that he was born in 16/637[2]. His kunya was Abu l-Qasim.[3].

Transmitting Hadith

He has narrated hadith from his father 'Ali (a), and others such as;

Likewise, his children; 'Abd Allah, al-Hasan, Ibrahim, and 'Awn, and others such as;

have narrated hadith from him[4].

He held a big course in Medina and this course generated different doctrines, in so far as his course in Medina is comparable to that of al-Hasan al-Basri in Basra, for the students of his school were the founders of Islamic theology, so much as the latter was the root of Mu'tazila doctrines and Sufism.

For example 'Abd Allah, titled as Abu Hashim, and al-Hasan, titled as Abu Muhammad, were two sons of Muhammad al-Hanafiyya, the first which became a theorist of Mu'tazila doctrines, and the second was of the founders of Irja' doctrine[5].

In the Battle of Jamal

The Battle of Jamal took place in the year 36/656. Muhammad stopped fighting in the middle of the action, so 'Ali (a) took hold of the standard and having disordered enemy forces, took it back to Muhammad and said; 'strike them anew as compensation for what you did earlier'.

Muhammad then, accompanied by Khuzayma b. Thabit (Dhu l-Shahadatayn) and a group of Ansar, many of them whom were the fighters of the Battle of Badr, made successive attacks, and forced Jamal army to retreat.[6]

According to some reports, Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya was not certain about taking hold of the standard of Imam 'Ali's (a) army, and even reproached his father[7], but eventually bore the standard, and thus made a reputation. Although in some sources such as; al-Tabari, Ibn Kathir, and Ibn al-Jawzi, the standard-bearing of Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya is reported without a hint to such a doubt, the narration of Ibn Khallikan posits his standard-bearing in the Battle of Siffin and his doubts about it[8]

Absence in the Event of Karbala

Following to Imam al-Husayn's (a) refusal to swear allegiance to Yazid, Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya suggested his brother to set off for Mecca to protect his life, and to Yemen if he was also threatened in Mecca, and to take shelter in deserts or mountains in case he was even troubled in Yemen. Imam al-Husayn (a) appreciated his suggestion and said; 'Dear brother, you are free to remain in Medina, so that you can keep your eyes on my enemy and report me of their affairs.'[9]

Nevertheless, a hadith is narrated from Imam al-Sadiq (a) in Ithbat al-hudat that: Hamza b. Humran said; 'we mentioned Imam al-Husayn's (a) setting off and that Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya did not go with him'. Imam al-Sadiq (a) said; 'O Hamza, I utter you a hadith that you may not ask about this again. Having gone away from Medina, al-Husayn (a) asked for a piece of paper and noted;

"In the name of God, the most Compassionate, the most Merciful. From al-Husayn b. 'Ali b. Abi Talib addressed to all Banu Hashim. Whoever joins me, shall be a martyr, and whoever does not, shall not attain triumph and safety. The end".'[10]

Regarding this hadith of Imam al-Husayn (a), al-'Allama al-Majlisi has said; 'his holiness gave them the choice whether or not to join him, and it was not a sin to neglect to join him, since it was not an obligation, but an option.'[11]

Al-'Allama al-Hilli holds that his absence in the Event of Karbala was due to sickness, and that maybe he did not know his brother's affair would end up in martyrdom.[12] Al-Mamaqani dated his sickness after the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a), but still did not find fault with his absence in Karbala.[13]

Relation with Kaysanites and al-Mukhtar

Kaysanites perceived that, after Imam al-Husayn's (a) martyrdom, Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya has assigned al-Mukhtar as the governor of Kufa and Basra to seek revenge on his murderers. Kaysanites revolted a while after the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) and believed in the Imama of Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya. They believed he had inherited the mysteries of religion, knowledge of interpretation, and esoteric knowledge from Imam al-Hasan (a) and Imam al-Husayn (a). Some of them would interpret prayer and fasting as symbols for other things, and believed in reincarnation, and they were unanimous in the Imama of Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya, and the possibility of bada' for God. This sect is also called "Mukhtariyya".[14]

There are various opinions considering his relationship with al-Mukhtar; some posit his disbelief in al-Mukhtar and their disconnection, some regard al-Mukhtar as his deputy, and some hold that he was gratified by al-Mukhtar and his acting, although there had been no deputation.[15]

Rescue from 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr

Having dominated Kufa, al-Mukhtar invited people to allegiance to Muhammab b. al-Hanafiyya. 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr who reigned Mecca and Medina at the time, feared that people might grow a tendency towards Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya, and therefore asked him and his companions to swear allegiance to him, but they refused. Al-Zubayr then imprisoned them in Zamzam and threatened them to death. Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya sent al-Mukhtar a letter and asked for help. Having received the letter, al-Mukhtar sent Zabyan b. 'Amara with four-hundred men and four-thousand dirhams to Mecca.[16]

With their flags in hands, they entered al-Masjid al-Haram, and roaring their desire to retaliation for Husayn b. 'Ali (a), arrived at Zamzam. Ibn al-Zubayr supplied a pile of wood to set them on fire, but having broken the door of al-Masjid al-Haram, they made way to Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya, and told him that he was to choose either them or 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr. Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya said; 'I do not favor there to be conflict and bloodshed in the house of God.' Meanwhile Ibn al-Zubayr arrived at them and cried; 'woe upon these stick-handed ones! (they were carrying sticks instead of swords, for they could not carry weapons in al-Masjid al-Haram), do you suppose I would let Muhammad go before he swears allegiance to me?' So the rest of al-Mukhtar forces entered al-Masjid al-Haram, shouting out loud that they sought revenge for al-Husayn (a). Ibn al-Zubayr feared them and did not resist anymore. Muhammad then, accompanied by four-thousand men, went to Shi'b Abi Talib and lived in there until al-Mukhtar was killed.[17]

Kaysanites' Belief

Some researchers in Islamic heresiography believe that Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya was the first figures believed by some Muslims to be Promised al-Mahdi (a)[18]. They believe he is living in Mount Radawa, being fed by a stream of milk and one of honey, until the day God will raise him.[19]

Al-Sayyid Abu l-Qasim al-Khoei dissociates Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya from Kaysanites, and believes they did not exist in his time.[20]

Claim for Imamate

Contention with Imam al-Sajjad (a)

Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya knew his brothers, Imam al-Hasan (a) and Imam al-Husayn (a), superior to himself, but after the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) wrote a letter to Imam al-Sajjad (a) asking him to accept his Imama. He argued that, contrary to previous Imams, Imam al-Husayn (a) had not assigned anyone as the Imam after himself. Besides, he was the son of 'Ali (a), and more qualified owing to his age and great number of hadiths narrated by him.

Imam al-Sajjad (a) invited his uncle to piety and avoiding ignorance in return and noted that:

'My father had recommended me before he set off for Iraq, and had me vow a while before his martyrdom.'

Imam al-Sajjad (a) invited him to go to al-Hajar al-Aswad (the Black Stone), so that the Imam would be one to whom al-Hajar al-Aswad testifies. Doing so, Muhammad prayed and asked the Stone to testify to his Imama, but nothing happened. Imam al-Sajjad then, after saying prayer, asked so from the Stone, and the Stone uttered a testimony to the Imama of 'Ali b. al-Husayn (a) after his father, al-Husayn b. 'Ali (a), and thus, Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya accepted his Imama.[21] Some scholars believe that this debate was contrived so that weak Shi'as would not be inclined to the Imamate of Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya.[22]

Belief in the Imamate of Imam al-Sajjad (a)

It is narrated from Imam al-Sadiq (a) that Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya believed in the Imama of Imam al-Sajjad (a).[23] Also Qutb al-Din al-Rawandi has narrated that Abu Khalid al-Kabuli (Muhammad's servant) asked him about his belief regarding Imama, and he answered:

"'Ali b. al-Husayn is the Imam of you and I and all Muslims."[24]


It is narrated from [Imam Ali (a)|'Ali (a)]] in the Ikhtiar ma'rifat al-rijal of Kashshi that four Muhammads resist God's disobedience; Muhammad b. Ja'far al-Tayyar, Muhammad b. Abi Bakr, Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya, and Muhammad b. Abi Hudhayfa.[25] Al-Mamaqani proves his reliability according to this narration.[26]

Muhammad Rida Sharifi Niya playing the role of Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya in Mukhtarnama TV Series

Political Orientation

Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya always had a peaceful political orientation through his life. Following such a policy, he stayed in Medina with his brother, Imam al-Hasan (a) , after the martyrdom of Imam 'Ali (a), and also pledged allegiance to Yazid as the crown prince of Mu'awiya, and did not oppose him when he came to rule.

He also had a peaceful relationship with the following caliphs. For example he traveled to Damascus in 76/695-6 to make a visit to 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan. Some believe it was as a result of 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr's abuse, for he had imprisoned Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya, until the forces of al-Mukhtar al-Thaqafi rescued him.[27]

As al-Mukhtar got killed, Ibn al-Zubayr again asked for his allegiance, planning to assail him and his companions in case of his refusal. Meanwhile, he received a letter from 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan, who had of late become the caliph, in which he was asked to go to Damascus. Muhammad and his companions then, got out of Shi'b Abi Talib, and set off for Damascus. But having arrived in Midian, Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya found out about 'Abd al-Malik's disloyalty to 'Amr b. Sa'id (a companion of Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya). Therefore he landed in Ayla, a port on the border of Syria, and got back to Mecca, where he resided in Shi'b Abi Talib, and then traveled to Ta'if. He remained there until Ibn al-Zubayr was surrounded in Mecca by al-Hajjaj, and after that he went back to Shi'b Abi Talib. He rejected al-Hajjaj's request for allegiance to 'Abd al-Malik. Following to the death of Ibn al-Zubayr, asking for refuge, Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya wrote a letter to 'Abd al-Malik, which was accepted.[28]

The Shrine attributed to Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya in Bivarzin, Gilan, Iran. Although it does not match his death place


It is narrated from Imam al-Baqir (a) that:

'I was with him in his sickness, and I closed his eyes (when he died), and made his funeral ablution, and shrouded him, and performed his funeral prayer, and buried him'.[29]

However, it is reported in non-Shi'a references that Aban b. 'Uthman (the son of the third caliph) performed his funeral prayer.[30]

There is disagreement about the place of his grave. Al-Sayyid Muhsin al-Amin has mentioned three places; Ayla, Ta'if, or al-Baqi' cemetery in Medina.[31] It is most likely that he has died in Medina.[32]

See also


  1. Al-Baladhuri, Ansab al-ashraf, Vol.2, P.200
  2. Ibn Sa'd, Al-Tabaqat, Vol.5, P.87
  3. Ibn Sa'd, al-Tabaqat, Vol.5, P.67
  4. Sabiri, Tarikh-i firaq-i Islami, Vol.2, P.51
  5. Sabiri, Tarikh-i firaq-i Islami, Vol.2, P.54
  6. Reyshahri, Daneshnama-yi Amir al-Mu'minin, Vol. 1, P.183
  7. Ibn Khallikan, Wafayat al-a'yan, Vol. 4, P.171
  8. Ibn al-Jawzi, al-Muntazam, Vol.5, P.78; Sabiri, Tarikh-i firaq-i Islami, Vol.2, P.51
  9. Qumi, Dar Karbala chi guzasht, P.98
  10. Al-Hurr al-'Amili, Ithbat al-hudat, vol. 4, p. 42
  11. Al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 42, p. 81
  12. Al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 42, p. 110
  13. Al-Mamaqani, Tanqih al-maqal, vol. 3, p. 111
  14. Al-Nawbakhti, Firaq al-Shi'a, p. 23
  15. See: Ja'farian, Tarikh-i siasi-yi sadr-i Islam, P.214-215
  16. Akhbar al-dawlat al-'Abbasiyya, P. 100
  17. Al-Nawbakhti, Tarjuma-yi firaq al-Shi'a-yi Nawbakhti, P. 85-86
  18. Sabiri, Tarikh-i firaq-i Islami, Vol.2, P.55
  19. Al-Ash'ari, Maqalat al-Isalmiyyin, vol. 1, p. 90
  20. Al-Khoei, Mu'jam al-rijal, Vol.18, P.102-103
  21. See: Saffar, Basa'ir al-darajat, P.502; Ibn Babawayh, al-Imama wa l-tabsira, P.60-62; Al-Kulayni, al-Kafi, Vol.1, P.348
  22. Al-Rawandi, al-Khara'ij wa al-jara'ih, Vol.1, P.258; al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, Vol.46, P.30
  23. Ibn Babawayh, al-Imama wa al-tabsira, P.60
  24. Al-Rawandi, al-Khara'ij wa al-jara'ih, Vol.1, P.261-262
  25. Kashshi, Rijal al-Kashshi, P.70
  26. Al-Mamaqani, Tanqih al-maqal, Vol.3, P.111
  27. Sabiri, Tarikh-i firaq-i Islami, Vol.2, P.52-53
  28. Al-Nawbakhti, Tarjuma-yi firaq al-Shi'a-yi Nawbakhti, P. 86-87
  29. Al-Kashshi, Rijal al-Kashshi, P.315
  30. Ibn Qalich, Ikmal tahdhib al-kamal, vol. 10, p. 285
  31. Al-Amin, A'yan al-Shi'a, Vol.14, P.270
  32. Mudarris, Rayhanat al-adab, vol. 7, p. 484


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