Uprising of al-Nafs al-Zakiyya

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Uprising of al-Nafs al-Zakiyya
Part of Uprisings against Abbasid
Date 145/762-3
Location Medina
Result Defeat of Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah
Allawis Abbasid
al-Nafs al-Zakiyya 'Isa b. Musa
316 unknown
Muhammad was killed and beheaded.

The uprising of al-Nafs al-Zakiyya (Arabic:قيام النفس الزکية) was the first uprising by Alids against Abbasid caliphate. After Abbasids broke their promise of leaving caliphate to al-Nafs al-Zakiyya (a descendant of Imam al-Hasan al-Mujtaba (a) who was given allegiance to as al-Mahdi), he made an uprising in Medina against Al-Mansur al-'Abbasi in 145/762-3, but was finally killed together with many of his followers. Imam al-Sadiq (a) was against giving allegiance to al-Nafs al-Zakiyya as Mahdi.

Intellectual Condition of Society

Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah b. al-Hasan (b. 100/718-9 - d. 145/762-3 known as al-Nafs al-Zakiyya lived when Zaydi thought and the necessity of uprising of Imam (a) by sword were prevalent thoughts among Alids. At that time, Zaydi thought was a combination of three opinions: first, uprising and making uprising against oppressors under any circumstances; second, not believing in the infallibility and the knowledge of the unseen for Imam (a); and third, having positive view toward first and second caliphs. These three views made the point of the spear of Zaydi thought, each of which attract certain groups to join the uprisings of Alids and Zaydis.

Allegiance with al-Nafs al-Zakiyya

After the uprising of Yahya b. Zayd and his martyrdom, advocates of uprising by sword rushed to Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah al-Nafs al-Zakiyya. 'Abd Allah b. al-Hasan al-Muthanna, father of Nafs Zakiyya invited his relatives and followers to Abwa' near Medina around 126/743-4 to give allegiance to his son as al-Mahdi and many people accepted his call and gave allegiance to him.[1] According to some reports, three Abbasid brothers, Ibrahim, Saffah – and Mansur[2] and based on other reports, only Mansur Abbasi – gave allegiance to Nafs Zakiyya.[3]

Imam al-Sadiq's (a) Stance

The only opposition made regarding the allegiance of Abwa' was made by Imam al-Sadiq (a). According to some reports, Imam al-Sadiq's (a) opposition was due to calling Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah, the al-Mahdi of the Ahl al-Bayt (a), as Imam (a) said that it was not the time of the coming of al-Mahdi (a) and Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah was not the promised Mahdi, the Prophet (s) had given the good news for.[4]

Moreover, another reason for opposition of Imam al-Sadiq (a) was because he (a) knew that Abbasids who give allegiance to Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah Nafs Zakiyya, would break their allegiance with him and take advantage of approaching Alids only to reach the power and the uprising of Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah would not be successful.[5] In addition to the first reason, some authors believe that Imam al-Sadiq (a), like his father, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a), was against any uprising and followed cultural Shiism[6] contrary to Zaydis and other Alids who acted according to their view of political Shia.

However, some reports considered Imam al-Sadiq's (a) refusal from giving allegiance only due to introducing Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah as the al-Mahdi and that he (a) was not against the uprising of Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah as an action against oppression along with enjoining to the good and prohibiting the evil.[7]

The Uprising of Muhammad against Mansur Abbasi

Abbasids who first gave allegiance to Muhammad b. Abd Allah Nafs Zakiyya and meant to leave the government to Bani Hashim and Alids due to their rights after the downfall of Umayyads, did not accept the imamate of al-Nafs al-Zakiyya after the defeat of Umayyads and took the power for themselves.[8] Alids were silent at the time of Saffah, the first Abbasid caliph. However in 136/753-4, when Mansur Abbasi reached the power and fought with Alids for not giving allegiance, the grounds for uprising against Abbasids was formed.[9]

Mansur Abbasi was angry with the claim of Mahdism and imamate of Nafs Zakiyya and its propagation in different regions; so, he first arrested 'Abd Allah Mahd, the father of al-Nafs al-Zakiyya and 13 other people from among the chiefs of Alids who supported him and tried to get information from them regarding the hiding of al-Nafs al-Zakiyya but he was not successful.[10] Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah Nafs Zakiyya made an uprising in Medina in 145/762-3.[11] Scholars of fiqh and hadith in Medina, even though some of them were not Shia, considered Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah superior to Mansur; so they did not consider disobedience of Nafs Zakiyya permissible and unwillingly declared allegiance to Mansur invalid.[12]

There are historical reports about the rulings issued by Malik b. Anas, leaders of Malikis and Abu Hanifa, imam of Hanafis in support of the uprising of Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah.[13] Following the uprising of Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah Nafs Zakiyya, Alids took Medina without spilling a drop of blood and he began ruling in Medina. Afterwards, many people in Mecca, Basra, Kufa and Yemen accepted to give allegiance to him.[14]

Killing of Nafs Zakiyya

The government of Nafs Zakiyya did not last longer than two months,[15] because when Abbasids sent their army to Medina and besieged it, many people scattered from around Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah due to their fear for lasting the siege and a possible famine to occur.[16]

Meanwhile, threats and persuasion of 'Isa b. Musa, the commander of Abbasid army played an important role in separation of people from the army of Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah.[17] Thus, only 316 people stood against Abbasids.[18]

Finally, when Abbasids entered the city, they fought and Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah was killed by Hamid b. Quhtaba in Ahjar al-zit of Medina.[19] They beheaded him after killing and carried around in different cities and buried his body in Baqi' cemetery.[20]

Emergence of Muhammadiyya

Some historians and writers of biographies have written that: after the killing of Nafs Zakiyya, Mughirra b. Said al-'Ijli and his followers claimed that Nafs Zakiyya was not killed and is in occultation in Hajir mountain in Najd region and would come back later. They were called as Muhammadiyya and believed that Nafs Zakiyya was the promised Mahdi.[21]

Views of Shia Scholars Regarding this Uprising

Sayyid b. Tawus defended 'Abd Allah Mahd and the uprising of Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah Nafs Zakiyya and wrote that:

"They did not believe that al-Mahdi was from them and calling Nafs Zakiyya as al-Mahdi was a general title they gave because every upriser was called so and they did not mean the Promised Mahdi (a)…"

Sayyid b. Tawus believed that Imam al-Sadiq (a) loved Hasanis and they were aware about the right of Imam (a). He considered hadiths disapproving the uprising of Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah Nafs Zakiyya out of taqiyya.[22]

On the opposite, al-Shaykh al-Mufid criticized 'Abd Allah Mahd and Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah al-Nafs al-Zakiyya. Also, al-Kulayni mentioned some hadiths criticizing Muhammad b. 'Abd Allah.[23] In his book of rijal, Ayatollah Khoei criticized 'Abd Allah b. Hasan and al-Nafs al-Zakiyya too.[24] There are different opinions among historians and scholars of fiqh and hadith on whether Nafs Zakiyya considered himself the Promised Mahdi or it was an accusation by others to discredit him and his uprising.[25]


  1. Ibn Ṭabāṭabā, al-Fakhrī fī al-adāb al-sulṭānīyya, p. 120.
  2. Abū l-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī, Maqātil al-ṭālibīyyīn, p. 256.
  3. Ibn Ṭabāṭabā, al-Fakhrī fī l-adāb al-sulṭānīyya, p. 119; Jaʿfarī, Tashayyūʿ dar masīr-i tārīkh, p. 313.
  4. Abū l-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī, Maqātil al-ṭālibīyyīn, p. 233, 254-257; Jaʿfarīyān, Tārīkh-i tashayyuʿ dar Iran, p. 37.
  5. Motahhari, Siyrī dar sīra-yi aʾimmat-i l-aṭhār, p. 131-132.
  6. Farmānīyān & Mūsawīnizhād, Zaydīyya: Tārīkh wa ʿaqāʾid, p. 36.
  7. Majlisī, Biḥār al-anwār, vol. 47, p. 278.
  8. Farmānīyān & Mūsawīnizhād, Zaydīyya: Tārīkh wa ʿaqāʾid, p. 37.
  9. Mahdawī, "Qīyām Muḥammad b. ʿAbd Allāh", p. 16, 134.
  10. Ibn Qutayba al-Dīnawarī, al-Maʿārif, p. 378.
  11. Ibn Qutayba al-Dīnawarī, al-Maʿārif, p. 378.
  12. Abū l-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī, Maqātil al-ṭālibīyyīn, p. 238, 239, 251.
  13. Jaʿfarīyān, Tārīkh-i tashayyuʿ dar Iran, p. 78.
  14. Masʿūdī, Murūj al-dhahab, vol. 3, p. 294.
  15. Farmānīyān & Mūsawīnizhād, Zaydīyya: Tārīkh wa ʿaqāʾid, p. 38.
  16. Farmānīyān & Mūsawīnizhād, Zaydīyya: Tārīkh wa ʿaqāʾid, p. 36.
  17. Ḥasan Ibrāhīm, Tārīkh-i sīyāsī-yi Islām, p. 134.
  18. Farmānīyān & Mūsawīnizhād, Zaydīyya: Tārīkh wa ʿaqāʾid, p. 38.
  19. Ṭabarī, Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol. 7, p. 589-590.
  20. Farmānīyān & Mūsawīnizhād, Zaydīyya: Tārīkh wa ʿaqāʾid, p. 38.
  21. Baghdādī, al-Farq bayn al-firaq, p. 42.
  22. Ibn Ṭāwūs, Iqbāl al-aʿmāl, p. 579-583.
  23. Kulaynī, al-Kāfī, vol. 1, p. 358-364.
  24. Khoei, Muʿjam rijāl al-ḥadīth, vol. 10, p. 164.
  25. See: Kāẓimī Pūrān, Qīyāmhā-yi Shīʿa dar ʿaṣr-i ʿabbāsī, p. 101-112.


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