Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya

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Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya
RoleSon of Imam, Transmitter of Hadith
Teknonym"al-Mahdi" in Kaysanites belief
Father'Ali b. Abi Talib (a)
MotherKhawla al-Hanafiyya
Place of BirthMedina
Place of BurialMedina

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 during the time of the caliphate of 'Umar b. al-Khattab and passed away when he was sixty-five during the time of the caliphate of 'Abd al-Malik b. Marwan.

He is also known as Muhammad b. 'Ali or Muhammad al-Akbar, and his 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 during 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 gave up this claim and believed in the leadership of his nephew.

The 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 known 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 16/637-8[2]. His teknonym was Abu l-Qasim.[3].

Imam Ali (a) told the Prophet (s): "Can I name my son with your name and teknonym?" And the Prophet (s) allowed him to do so. Thus, the name and teknonym of Imam Ali's (a) son became Muhammad and Abu l-Qasim.[4]

Muhammad and Imam Ali (a)

Before his martyrdom, when Imam Ali (a) was making his will, he told Muhammad: "I advise you to respect your brothers, because you owe them greatly. Obey their commands. Do not make a decision without consulting them."

Then the Imam (a) told Imam al-Hasan and Imam al-Husayn: "I advise you regarding [caring for] him, as he is your brother ... and you know that your father loves him."[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]

Battle of Siffin

Muhammad participated in the battle of Siffin, and was one of the commanders of that battle.[9]

Al-Allama al-Majlisi mentions a story about Muhammad's presence in that battle. According to the story, during the battle, Imam Ali (a) commanded Muhammad to raid the right side of Mu'awiya's army with his troops. Muhammad fulfilled his father's command successfully but got injured.

Afterwards, the Imam (a) commanded him to attack the left side of the enemy's army. Muhammad obeyed his father, and again got injured.

The Imam (a) commanded Muhammad for a third time to raid the middle side of the enemy's army. Muhammad successfully conducted the raid, but returned crying and with great injuries.

When the Imam (a) saw him, he kissed Muhammad's forehead and ask him why he was crying. Muhammad replied, "Why shouldn't I be crying when you sent me three times to death … and each time when I returned, you didn't give me a break, whereas you never commanded my brothers al-Hasan and al-Husayn [to fight]?" The Imam (a) responded, "O my dear son! You are my son, but they are the sons of the Prophet (s). Shouldn't I preserve them?" Muhammad replied, "Yes, my dear father! May God make me your ransom and their ransom."[10]

The Battle of Nahrawan

Muhammad participated in the battle of Nahrawan, and was the standard-bearer in some parts.[11]

Absence in the Event of Karbala

Muhammad was not present in the battle of Karbala. Shi'a scholars have mentioned several reasons for his absence; they believe that his absence was not out of disobedience or disagreement with Imam al-Husayn (a). These reasons include:

  • Muhammad's sickness when Imam al-Husayn (a) left Medina for Mecca, which is mentioned by al-Allama al-Hilli in response to Muhanna b. Sinan.[12] According to some scholars, the sickness was related to his eyes.[13]
  • The Imam (a) had told Muhammad to stay in Medina. Ibn A'tham al-Kufi mentions that when Muhamad b. al-Hanafiyya could not convince Imam al-Husayn (a) to stay in Medina, the Imam (a) told him, "It is alright for you to stay in Medina so that you be my informant among them."
  • Muhammad was not obliged by the Imam (a) to join him and participate in the uprising. The author of Tanqih al-maqal maintains that because Imam al-Husayn (a) did not oblige anyone in Medina or Mecca to join him, Muhammad did not commit a sin that would tarnish his integrity. He writes, "When Imam al-Husayn (a) moved from Hijaz to Iraq, he knew that he was going to be martyred. However, he did not disclose this, so that it does not become incumbent on all believers to join him. It seemed to people that the Imam (a) was moving to Kufa to take the leadership of the people who had invited him to do so. In this case, it was not obligatory for others to join him, and those who did not accompany him were not sinners … Thus, there were a number of righteous people for whom martyrdom was not written, and they stayed in Hijaz, but no one doubts their righteousness. Therefore, the remaining of Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya and 'Abd Allah b. Ja'far in Hijaz is not a reason for their disobedience or deviation."[14]

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".'[15]

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.'[16]

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.[17] Al-Mamaqani dated his sickness after the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a), but still did not find fault with his absence in Karbala.[18]

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.'[19]

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".[20]

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.[21]

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.[22]

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.[23]

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)[24]. 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.[25]

Al-Sayyid Abu l-Qasim al-Khoei dissociates Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya from Kaysanites, and believes they did not exist in his time.[26]

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.[27] 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.[28]

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).[29] 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."[30]

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[31].

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[32].


It is narrated from 'Ali (a) in Ikhtiar ma'rifat al-rijal of al-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.[33] Al-Mamaqani proves his reliability according to this narration.[34]

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.[35]

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.[36]

The shrine attributed to Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya in Bivarzin, Gilan, Iran, although it does not accord with narrations about his place of death.


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'.[37]

However, it is reported in non-Shi'a references that Aban b. 'Uthman (the son of the third caliph) performed his funeral prayer.[38]

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.[39] It is most likely that he died in Medina.[40]

Imamzadas in Iran Believed to be Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya

There is an imamzada in Khark near Bushehr (south of Iran) and another one near Rudbar (north of Iran) , who are believed to be Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya. However, considering Muhammad's place of demise, these claims do not seem to be right.

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. Baladhuri, Ansab al-ashraf, vol.2 p.200-201
  5. Tabari, Tarikh al-Tabari, vol.5 p.147
  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. Ibn Shahrashub, Manaqib al Abi Talib, vol.3 p.168
  10. Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol.45 p.349
  11. Himyari, Qurb al-isnad, p.27
  12. Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol.42 p.110
  13. Muqarram, Maqtal al-Husayn, p.135
  14. Mamaqani, Tanqih al-maqal, vol.3 p.111
  15. Al-Hurr al-'Amili, Ithbat al-hudat, vol. 4, p. 42
  16. Al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 42, p. 81
  17. Al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 42, p. 110
  18. Al-Mamaqani, Tanqih al-maqal, vol. 3, p. 111
  19. Qumi, Dar Karbala chi guzasht, P.98
  20. Al-Nawbakhti, Firaq al-Shi'a, p. 23
  21. See: Ja'farian, Tarikh-i siasi-yi sadr-i Islam, P.214-215
  22. Akhbar al-dawlat al-'Abbasiyya, P. 100
  23. Al-Nawbakhti, Tarjuma-yi firaq al-Shi'a-yi Nawbakhti, P. 85-86
  24. Sabiri, Tarikh-i firaq-i Islami, Vol.2, P.55
  25. Al-Ash'ari, Maqalat al-Isalmiyyin, vol. 1, p. 90
  26. Al-Khoei, Mu'jam al-rijal, Vol.18, P.102-103
  27. 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
  28. Al-Rawandi, al-Khara'ij wa al-jara'ih, Vol.1, P.258; al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, Vol.46, P.30
  29. Ibn Babawayh, al-Imama wa al-tabsira, P.60
  30. Al-Rawandi, al-Khara'ij wa al-jara'ih, Vol.1, P.261-262
  31. Sabiri, Tarikh-i firaq-i Islami, Vol.2, P.51
  32. Sabiri, Tarikh-i firaq-i Islami, Vol.2, P.54
  33. Kashshi, Rijal al-Kashshi, P.70
  34. Al-Mamaqani, Tanqih al-maqal, Vol.3, P.111
  35. Sabiri, Tarikh-i firaq-i Islami, Vol.2, P.52-53
  36. Al-Nawbakhti, Tarjuma-yi firaq al-Shi'a-yi Nawbakhti, P. 86-87
  37. Al-Kashshi, Rijal al-Kashshi, P.315
  38. Ibn Qalich, Ikmal tahdhib al-kamal, vol. 10, p. 285
  39. Al-Amin, A'yan al-Shi'a, Vol.14, P.270
  40. Mudarris, Rayhanat al-adab, vol. 7, p. 484


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