Uprising of Zayd b. Ali

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Uprising of Zayd b. Ali
Part of Uprising against Umayyads
Date Safar 1st, 122/January 6, 740
Location Kufa
Result Defeated
Cause Revenge for Imam al-Husayn (a)
Zayd b. Ali's companions Umayyad army
Zayd b. Ali Yusuf b. Umar
Martyrdom of Zayd and most of his companions

The Revolt of Zayd b. Ali, was a revolt under the leadership of Zayd against the Umayyad rule that took place in Safar 122/January 740 during the reign of Hisham b. Abd al-Malik and during the imamate of Imam al-Sadiq (a). The revolt, which was not endorsed by the Imam (a), failed and Zayd and many of his supporters were killed. In the beginning, many people from Kufa and other areas paid allegiance to Zayd b. Ali or his representatives, but when the revolt started, only 300 of them joined Zayd.

According to al-Tabari, the revolt started on the eve of Wednesday, Safar 1st, 122/January 6, 740. On the first day, the rebels gained victory, but when shooters joined the army of the ruler of Kufa on the second day, the rebels were defeated. Zayd was also wounded and died on the next day.

It is reported that Zayd's intention was to revenge for the massacre of Karbala, to command good and forbid evil, and to take the caliphate from the Umayyads and hand it over to the rightful successors of the Prophet (s).

Zayd's revolt is considered a step toward the overthrow of the Umayyad rule.

Among the factors that led to the failure of the revolt were the fact that the Kufans did not support him as was expected, the military power of the Umayyads, and the Umayyad agents that had infiltrated among the rebels are mentioned.

Zayd, the Leader of the Revolt

Zayd was the son of Imam al-Sajjad (a), the fourth Imam of the Shia. His date of birth is not known, but he was murdered in 122 AH/740 (other dates also have been reported). Zaydi Shiites regard him as their fifth Imam, and the name Zaydiyya is derived from his name. The belief in his imamate developed when, after the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a), some Shiites considered leading a military revolt against unjust rulers among the qualifications required for imamate. When Zayd was killed, those Shiites believed in his imamate and became known as Zaydiyya.

The Beginning of the Revolt

According to al-Tabari, Zayd had announced to his followers the eve of Wednesday, Safar 1st, 122/January 6, 740 to be the time of the revolt, but he decided to start it the night before, because Yusuf b. Umar, the governor of Iraq was informed of the unusual commutes of Zayd and two of his followers and commanded his officers to arrest them. Although the officers did not find Zayd, because they found Zayd's place of residence and arrested two of his close companions and since there was a high probability that they would conduct a military operation, Zayd and his followers decided to start their revolt earlier.

Allegiants Deserting Zayd

When Zayd b. Ali arrived in Kufa, he was welcomed by people and asked to lead a revolt. Al-Shaykh al-Mufid reports that those who met him, paid allegiance to him. However, the governor of Iraq commanded the ruler of Kufa to gather the Kufans in the mosque at the time when the revolt was supposed to start. The ruler of Kufa gathered the chiefs of the tribes in the mosque and announced in the city that all people must come to the mosque, otherwise they would be killed. As a result, only three-hundred men (or even less, according to another report) joined Zayd b. Ali. It is reported that Zayd spent that night in the desert together with his few supporters, who chanted, "Ya Mansur, Amit!" (O victorious! Make [them] die!).

According to al-Tabari, on the next day, when Zayd realized that only a small number of people had joined him and was informed of the restraint of the people in the mosque, he expressed his disappointment at them, did not excuse them, and called them traitors and deceivers. Al-Tabari reports that the chiefs of Kufa had already reminded Zayd of the people's unreliability and the fact that they had failed Imam Ali (a), Imam al-Hasan (a), and Imam al-Husayn (a).

It is reported that the number of Kufans who had paid allegiance to Zayd was 15,000 (40,000 or 100,000, according to some other reports). Among the allegiants were prominent Kufans such as Salama b. Kuhayl, Nasr b. Khuzayma al-'Abasi, and Mu'awiya b. Ishaq b. Zayd b. Haritha. Apart from them, some of the people of Mada'in, Basra, Wasit, Musil, Ray, and Jurjan also had paid allegiance to the representatives of Zayd. Abu l-Faraj al-Isfahani has reported the support and financial aid of Abu Hanifa, the prominent Sunni scholar and founder of the Hanafi school of jurisprudence, to Zayd b. Ali.

The Initial Victory and the Final Defeat

On Wednesday morning, Safar 1st, 122/January 6, 740, Zayd commanded two of his supporters to go to Kufa and announce the beginning of the revolt. However, the two men were killed near Kufa by the ruler's officers. Zayd sent Sa'id b. Khaytham, who had a loud voice, to accomplish the mission. On the first day, the advance of Zayd's army toward the city was successful, but on the second day and due to the addition of shooters to the Umayyad army, a number of the close companions of Zayd were killed and Zayd himself also was severely wounded.

Victory on the First Day

Zayd's military revolt began on Wednesday morning, Safar 1st, 122 AH/January 6, 740. Zayd's troops advanced toward the city, and the first conflict occurred in the suburbs of Kufa in an area called Sayadin (or Sa'idin), which resulted in the victory of the rebels. However, viewing the small number of his troops, Zayd expressed his worry to his close companions that the troops may leave him, in response to which Nasr b. Khuzayma stated his readiness to sacrifice his life for him.

Together with Nasr b. Khuzayma, Mu'awiya b. Ishaq, among others, Zayd proceeded toward the mosque to release the people who were besieged therein. Although they could reach the mosque and plant their flags, the Umayyad officials stopped them and with the arrival of a new group of Umayyad troops, a heavy battle broke out near the mosque and market of Kufa. The battle shifted to a neighborhood called Dar al-Zarq and ended on the first day with the victory of Zayd and his supporters.

Defeat on the Second Day

In the beginning of the second day of the revolt, Nasr b. Khuzayma was killed by Na'il b. Farwa. This incident greatly affected Zayd, but the harsh battle in the morning ended with the victory of Zayd and his supporters. However, when a group of shooters joined the Umayyad army under Yusuf b. 'Amr, the situation became more difficult for Zayd and his troops. At the same time, Mu'awiya b. Ishaq, another commander of Zayd's troops, was also killed. Near the sunset of the second day, Zayd was severely wounded by an arrow that hit his forehead, and passed away on Friday Safar 3rd, 122 AH/January 8, 740.

In order to protect his body against the Umayyads, the supporters of Zayd changed the course of a small river, buried the body, and then brought the river back to its course. However, a slave informed the Umayyads and they took out Zayd's body, hung it, and sent his head to Hisham b. 'Abd al-Malik, the Umayyad caliph.

The Standpoint of Imam al-Sadiq (a)

Zayd's revolt occurred during the imamate of Imam al-Sadiq (a), but the Imam (a) did not participate in the revolt, and there are no clear statements by Imam al-Sadiq (a) regarding the revolt. Some maintain that the fact that the Imam (a) did not participate in the revolt indicates his disagreement with it, however some others believe that while the Imam (a) was supportive of the revolt, he did not regard it beneficial to participate directly in the revolt. Some scholars such as al-Shahid al-Awwal, Ayatollah Khoei, and Mamaqani believe that Zayd b. Ali was permitted by Imam al-Sadiq (a) to revolt. In this regard, a hadith is adduced, which reports that Zayd consulted with Imam al-Sadiq (a) and the Imam (a) told him, "If you wish to be the one who will be hung in the midden of Kufa, this is the way." Adducing the same hadith, some other scholars hold that, although Zayd truly intended to hand over the caliphate to Imam al-Sadiq (a), the Imam (a) prohibited him from the revolt. Based on a hadith, Allama Tihrani too holds that Zayd's revolt was conducted without the Imam's (a) permission.

According to some hadiths from Imam al-Sadiq (a) and Imam al-Rida (a), Zayd intended to transfer the caliphate to Imam al-Sadiq (a). Al-Shaykh al-Mufid states that Zayd led his revolt to bring to power "the pleased one from the family of the Prophet (s)", and did not seek the caliphate for himself. Al-Allama al-Majlisi attributes this opinion to the majority of Twelver Shiite scholars and adds that he has not seen a different opinion from them.

According to al-Shaykh al-Mufid, when Imam al-Sadiq (a) was informed of the murder of Zayd, he was deeply affected and ordered that an amount of money be distributed among the families of those who had been killed in the revolt.

Motives and Background of the Revolt

According to al-Shaykh al-Mufid, Zayd's main motive for the revolt was taking revenge for the massacre of Imam al-Husayn (a) and his companions, as well as commanding good and prohibiting evil. Al-Mufid adds that Zayd was further motivated for the revolt by the insulting behavior of Hisham b. Abd al-Malik, the Umayyad caliph, towards him in the presence of officials and courtiers.

According to other scholars, cursing Imam Ali (a) from the pulpits during Hisham's reign, the Umayyad persecution of the family of the Prophet (s), and the apostasy and disbelief of the Umayyads in Zayd's view were among the motives behind the revolt.

Al-Tabari has spoken of disagreement about the motives behind Zayd's uprising. He has added such motives as financial accusations against Zayd during the reign of Yusuf b. Umar, Zayd's conflict with Abd Allah al-Mahd over the endowments of Imam Ali (a) in Medina, and the Kufans requesting him to revolt.

According to Mamqani, the purpose of Zayd's revolt was taking away the caliphate from the Umayyads and giving it to Imam al-Sadiq (a), and the reason why he did not announce his purpose was to protect Imam al-Sadiq (a).

It is reported that in the oath of allegiance that Zayd required his followers to take, fighting the oppressors, defending the oppressed, distributing the spoils of war equally, compensating for the wrongs, and helping Ahl al-Bayt (a) against their enemies were emphasized.

The Outcomes of the Revolt

It is said that Zayd's revolt had a number of outcomes, such as paving the ground for the overthrow of the Umayyad dynasty. According to al-Ya'qubi, After the massacre of Zayd and his followers, the Shiites of Khorasan started to retell the wrongs of the Umayyads against Ahl al-Bayt (a) for the people such that there remained no one that was unaware of their oppression.

According to a hadith from Imam al-Sadiq (a), Hisham b. 'Abd al-Malik murdered Zayd b. Ali, so God overthrew his rule in return. In another hadith from the Imam (a) it is said that seven days after the Umayyads burnt Zayd's body, God willed to destroy them.

Zayd's revolt is said to have reduced the sensitivity of the Umayyads about the activities of the descendants of the Prophet (s), which allowed Imam al-Sadiq (a) to disseminate Shiite teachings and to promote Shiism.