Ahnaf b. Qays

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Ahnaf b. Qays
Full NameSakhr b. Qays b. Mu'awiya b. Husayn
TeknonymAbu Bahr
LineageBanu Tamim
Places of ResidenceMedina, Basra, Kufa
Burial PlaceKufa
EraEarly Islam
Notable rolesIn the conquest of Iran
ActivitiesWithdrawing from the Battle of Jamal, participating in the Battle of Siffin, joining Mu'awiya, not helping Imam al-Husayn (a) and showing loyalty to 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad, ...

Abū Baḥr, Ṣakhr b. Qays b. Muʿāwiya b. al-Ḥuṣayn (Arabic:ابو بَحر صَخر بن قَیس بن مُعاویة بن الحُصَین) (d. 67/686-7) known as Aḥnaf b. Qays (Arabic: أحنَف بن قَیس) was among the famous people in early years of Islam who had an important role in the conquest of Iran and the important events during the caliphate of Imam Ali (a) and the beginning of Umayyad rule.

Name and Lineage

Ahnaf was from Banu Tamim, from the family of Banu Murra b. 'Ubayd. His father was killed during the Age of Ignorance by Banu Mazin. The name of Ahnaf is mentioned differently as Sakhr and Dahhak. It is inferred from the report of al-Baladhuri that the origin of this naming has only been the narrations of al-Kalbi. In addition, Ahnaf called himself Sakhr at the top of the peace treaty he signed with Marzban Marwrud. About the cause of his naming as Ahnaf, all sources agree that when he was born, he had a disability in his foot and thus was called Ahnaf.


Most writers have praised Ahnaf as wise, generous, good-hearted and an exemplar in tolerance. Many wise sayings are quoted from him as well. Al-Ya'qubi has listed him among the scholars in fiqh. He was influential in his speech, spoke boldly, was respected and had a great position among people and especially among Banu Tamim.

In critical times, Ahnaf considered his interest more than keeping a certain belief or manner. Withdrawing from the Battle of Jamal, participating in the Battle of Siffin, joining Mu'awiya, not helping Imam al-Husayn (a) and showing loyalty to 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad, even allegiance with Yazid according to a report, and his support of 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr against Mukhtar were not only evidences for the mentioned claim about him, but they also cast doubt on his faith as Shi'a which most Shi'a writers support and that they call him a companion of Imams (a).

In the Views of the Scholars of Rijal

In the rijal point of view, even though Ahnaf could remember the time of the Holy Prophet (s) and thus Ibn 'Abd al-Barr has mentioned him among the companions of the Prophet (s), because he did not actually meet the Prophet (s), they consider him among the Followers and reliable. Ahnaf has narrated from famous companions such as Imam Ali (a), 'Umar b. al-Khattab, 'Uthman b. 'Affan, 'Abbas b. 'Abd al-Malik, Abu Dhar al-Ghifari and 'Abd Allah b. Mas'ud and people such as al-Hasan al-Basri, 'Urwa b. al-Zubayr, Abu Idris al-Basri and Malik b. Dinar have narrated from him.

At the Time of the Prophet (s)

The name of Ahnaf is perhaps mentioned in the events of the time of the Prophet (s) as following: When the Holy Prophet (s) sent a group to promote Islam among Banu Tamim (or Banu Sa'd, a branch of Banu Tamim), Ahnaf accepted Islam and advised his tribe to do so and it is said that because of that, the Prophet (s) prayed for him. Ahnaf never met the Prophet (s) in person.

At the Time of the Three Caliphs

In the turmoils made by Sajah, the false prophet, Ahnaf joined him, but soon realized that he was a false prophet and left him.

Ahnaf came to Medina for the first time during the rule of 'Umar and stayed there. After a year, 'Umar ordered Abu Musa al-Ash'ari to send Ahnaf with an army to defeat Khurasan. Ahnaf went to Khurasan in 22/642-3, toward the end of 'Umar's life.

Shortly after entering Khurasan, Ahnaf went to Isfahan and attacked the Jews there by the order of 'Abd Allah b. Budayl, but took over there peacefully. Shortly afterward, he also conquered Kashan.

He then, went back to Khurasan in order to fight the Sasanid Yazdgird who was about to gather an army and entered there through Tabasin. After conquering Harat, he went to Marv Shahjan and sent some people to conquer Neyshabur and Sarakhs. Yazdgerd left Marv Shahjan and Ahnaf followed him and took Marvrud as well and pushed Yazdgerd back to Balkh. However, the army of Kufa had previously made Yazdgerd escape and had captured Balkh. Ahnaf returned to Marvrud and sent another person to conquer Takharistan and himself wrote the letter of conquest to 'Umar. The caliph ordered him to stop his conquests to that area and not to cross Amu Darya. Once again when Yazdgerd had returned to Khurasan and taken Balkh, Ahnaf attacked Marvrud and took back Balkh.

In 30/650-1, Ahnaf recaptured Herat and then took Quhestan as well and rushed to Takharestan. On the way, he captured one of the fortresses of Marvrud which was named as the palace of Ahnaf and defeated the alliance army of Takharestan, Jozjan, Taleqan and Faryab and then peacefully took Marvrud from Badhan Marzban. He then conquered Balkh which revolted and moved to Khwarazm and returned in winter.

Once again in 33/653-4, Ahnaf attacked Khorasan and recaptured Marv Shahjan and Marvrud.

During the Rule of Imam Ali (a)

After 'Uthman's murder, Ahnaf gave allegiance to Imam Ali (a).

In the Battle of Jamal

When Talha and al-Zubayr wanted to take revenge for 'Uthman and waged the Battle of Jamal, Ahnaf did not side with any of the two sides of the battle and thus Banu Tamim withdrew from the battle and did not stand against Imam Ali (a). It can be inferrem from a report that Ahnaf wanted to help Imam Ali (a), but Banu Tamim objected. However, on the other hand, it is said that after the Battle of Jamal, Imam Ali (a) admonished him for his withdrawal, but Ahnaf regarded his action correct.

Upon the Battle of Jamal, Ahnaf and Banu Tamim had retreated in Wadi l-Siba' near Basra. When al-Zubayr stopped fighting and exited the battlefield, in Wadi l-Siba', 'Amr b. Jarmuz from Banu Tamim killed him. It is said that 'Amr was motivated by Ahnaf. Interference of Ahnaf in the murder of al-Zubayr cannot be approved with confidence, because Ahnaf himself was among those who narrated the story of al-Zubayr's murder by Ibn Jarmuz and after this event, he was not sure whether 'Amr did the right action. Moreover, if the claim of his interference in the al-Zubayr's murder was famous at his time, it would be surprising why 'Abd Allah and Mus'ab b. al-Zubayr later let Ahnaf among themselves and greatly admired.

In the Battle of Siffin

In the Battle of Siffin, Ahnaf sided with Imam Ali (a) and was the leader of Banu Tamim. When they forced the Hakamiyya, he did not consider Abu Musa al-Ash'ari deserving the position of judgment and wanted to be chosen himself for judgement or to be among the advisers, but the companions of Imam Ali (a) did not accept that and Abu Musa went for the judgement. It is said that when they wrote the conclusion after judgement, they removed the title of "Amir al-Mu'minin" ["Commander of the Faithful"] after the name of Ali (a) and Ahnaf reminded them about its negative consequences, but his objection was ignored; however, the warnings he gave Abu Musa al-Ash'ari about deception of 'Amr b. al-'As before going to meeting, match so well with what happened that even it would be possible that they have been added later to the story.

In the Battle of Nahrawan

In the Battle of Nahrawan, Ahnaf was with Imam Ali (a) and they say that before the battle, Imam Ali (a) sent him with people such as Malik al-Ashtar to Khawarij to prevent them from battle and when they did not accept, Ahnaf went to help Imam (a) with the army of Basra.

During the Rule of Mu'awiya

There is no information about Ahnaf after the Battle of Nahrawan until the martyrdom of Imam Ali (a). From some reports, it can be inferred that after Imam Ali (a), he joined Mu'awiya and was among those about whom Mu'awiya said that he bought their faith by money and wealth in 50/670. Also according to Abu l-Faraj al-Isfahani's report, Ahnaf was very close to Mu'awiya. However, there is a report suggesting that when Ahnaf went to Syria, Mu'awiya severely admonished him because of helping Imam Ali (a) in the battle of Siffin and Ahnaf replied back to him sharply and Mu'awiya repelled him from himself. If it is not forged, then it must be about the beginning of joining Ahnaf to Mu'awiya. But, many writers have mentioned about the sharp language of Ahnaf toward Mu'awiya and Mu'awiya's forbearance toward him. Also in 59/678-79, Mu'awiya dismissed 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad, the ruler of Iraq because of the Ahnaf's words and after a while when he gave him the position again, he advised him to respect Ahnaf. So, Ibn Ziyad appointed Ahnaf as his special secretary and writer and later Ahnaf showed loyalty to 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad.

During the Rule of Yazid

When Yazid called himself the caliph and Imam al-Husayn (a) made an uprising, Ahnaf was among those to whom Imam (a) wrote a letter and asked to accompany him, but Ahnaf did not accept and even invited Imam (a) to tolerance.

After Yazid

When Yazid died (64/683) and 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr called himself the caliph, by the motivation of Ahnaf, 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad tried to take people's allegiance for himself, but when Ibn al-Zubayr's advocates arrived, 'Ubayd Allah took refuge with Azdis and went to the house of their chief, Mas'ud b. 'Amr al-'Ataki. Ahnaf wanted to push Banu Tamim to support Ibn Ziyad, but he was not successful and also objected to the alliance of Tamimis and Azdis and thus Azdis allied with Banu Rabi'a against Banu Tamim and therefore, Ibn Ziyad took refuge with them. Bloody battles of Azdis and Banu Tamim in Basra began at that time. It has been reported that Ibn Ziyad stayed in the house of Mas'ud b. 'Amr for a while and then appointed him in his own place and went to Syria. But, Banu Tamim and Banu Qays did not accept ruling of Mas'ud b. 'Amr and the battle between Azdis and Tamimis began. Meanwhile, Mas'ud b. 'Amr was apparently killed by one of Khawarij who was outside Basra and Azdis thought that it was done by the provocation of Ahnaf and the conflict escalated. But finally, Ahnaf intervened and after talks with Azdis and their ally, Banu Rabi'a, they achieved peace and it was decided that Banu Tamim pays for the blood money of all who were killed from Azd tribe.

After this event, Ahnaf turned to 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr and to repel Khawarij who had made trouble and chaos around Basra and wanted to attack the city, he asked al-Muhallab b. Abi Safra for help who was appointed by Ibn al-Zubayr as the ruler of Khorasan. Then they showed al-Muhallab a letter (which is said that they themselves made) in which Ibn al-Zubayr had ordered al-Muhallab to solve the trouble of Khawarij. After al-Muhallab defeated them and saved Basra, Ahnaf called it Basrat al-Muhallab.

Following the suppression of Khawarij, al-Mukhtar made an uprising to revenge for Imam al-Husayn (a). In 66/685-86, Muthanna b. Mukharraba al-'Abdi called people of Basra to pledge allegiance with al-Mukhtar and over supporting him, a battle was about to take place between Azdis, Banu Tamim and their allies; but, Ahnaf intervened and finally Muthanna left Basra. Al-Mukhtar wrote a letter to Ahnaf and called him and his tribe as people of the hell. Apparently, Ahnaf had called al-Mukhtar a liar. Later, Mus'ab b. al-Zubayr and al-Mukhtar entered a war and Ahnaf together with Banu Tamim helped Mus'ab.


Ahnaf went to Kufa together with Mus'ab and died there in 67/686-7. Mus'ab performed the prayer over him and even participated in his funeral bare-footed. There are other dates mentioned for his death. Ibn Khallakan has considered the above date correct and has mentioned that he was 70 years old at the time of death.