Imam Al-Mujtaba and Caliphate
A study of the historical record shows that the historians have ignored the period between the accession to caliphate by Imam Hasan (as) and the commencement of the war. Although this ambiguity is reflected in describing the whole life of Imam (as), yet it is more visible for this period.
The fact that no major conflicts or clashes took place in the disturbed political and economic conditions of Kufa during the brief caliphate period of Imam Hasan (as) shows a great success of his brief caliphate period and reflects his great qualities of cool political planning and statesman-like policies. As a true caliph, it was the statesmanship of the Imam (as) which kept Kufa in peace under his centralized effective control, despite all its differences and mistrust.
The sound political planning of Imam Al-Mujtaba (as) was visible from the very day when the people wanted to pay allegiance to him. He had permitted them the allegiance on the specific condition that they would make peace with the one with whom he would do so and would fight one who would fight against him. Due to this stand of the Imam (as), Kufa remained united and peaceful, and he maintained a neutral position between those wanting to fight and the seekers of peace.
Declaring the Holy Book and the Sunnah as the basis of allegiance, he demonstrated a practical proof for being the grandson of the Holy Prophet (saws) as well as his true caliph. There is no doubt that the Holy Prophet (saws) commanded the people to follow the Holy Book and Sunnah and used to make it clear to them that the solution of all their problems lay in following the same.
It cannot be denied that the Holy Book and the Sunnah contain the commands for war as well as peace and it is for the Imam and the caliph of the Holy Prophet (saws) to decide as to when to fight and when to make peace. The people must follow the Imam in either case.
After assuming the office of caliph, the first step that Imam Hasan (as) took was that he raised the salary of the soldiers by 100 Dirham each. Before him, the leader of the faithful had done the same at the time of the Camel war, while he did it at the time of becoming the caliph. Subsequently all the caliphs followed him in this respect.1
Though the raise in the salary of soldiers has always been considered as strengthening the fighting spirit of the soldiers, particularly at the critical moment of war, yet the grandson of the Holy Prophet (saw), by doing so, did not intend to wage war immediately. Rather, he wanted to revive the morale of the Iraqi army which had been adversely affected during the earlier years due to internal conflicts.
He might have taken other steps as well to restore the military strength of the victorious forces, but that is not known to us. However, the fact that he directed his urgent attention at these issues while facing a dangerous enemy reflects his full command over the prevailing conditions.
On Imam Hasan's (as) emerging as the true Islamic caliph, whose allegiance was taken by all the governed areas, Muawiya had felt aggrieved. He had strongly reacted against the caliphate of the Imam (as) as it was beyond his imagination that the Muslims, who had always been voicing differences on the issue of caliphate, would collectively accept Imam Hasan (as) as the caliph, especially in a city like Kufa where he had considerable influence.
It was also a bad omen for him as he had become a candidate for caliphate after the death of Hazrat Uthman and was constantly trying to grab the same. The main motive of all the intrigues against Hazrat ‘Ali (as), which resulted in his martyrdom, was none other than the caliphate itself. Therefore, he also refused to accept Imam Hasan (as) as the caliph, just like he had done in the case of Hazrat ‘Ali (as), and planned rebellion against him.
After the assumption of the caliphate by Imam Hasan (as), Muawiya wrote to Ziyad b. Abih, the Imam (as)'s governor in Persia, to join him, while threatening him if he acted otherwise. A year earlier than the martyrdom of Hazrat ‘Ali (as), disorderly conditions had developed in Persia, so his confidants had advised the Imam (as) to appoint Ziad b. Abih as the governor to control the situation, which he had accepted.
When Muawiya's letter reached Ziad, he addressed the masses standing, wherein he said: "I am surprised at the son of the liver-eater, the central intriguer, the chief of the rebellious group, that he threatens me while between him and me is the regard of two grandsons of the Holy Prophet (saws) (Imam Hasan (as) and Imam Husayn (as)), with whom are seventy thousand soldiers ready to fight, with open sword. By God, if he tries to attack me, he will find me a tough soldier and a strong swordsman."
In the speech, Ziad had exaggerated the army strength to frighten Muawiya; he had not put down his arms till Imam Hasan (as)'s peace with Muawiya, and had been loyal to the Imam (as) all along.2
Apart from the above plans, Muawiya had sent a large number of spies to Iraq. The learned scholar Baqar Qarshi writes in this regard:"Muawiya invited his close associates, informed them about Imam Hasan (as)'s accession to caliphate and drew their attention to the fact that if they did not manage to control the situation, they would never be able to establish their kingdom. After long deliberations it was decided to take two key steps:
(a) "Spies should be sent to those areas that had paid allegiance to Imam Hasan (as), particularly to Kufa and Basra to assess the social and cultural atmosphere there, to determine their plans and to find out the extent of their love for the 'Ahlul Bayt' (as). Apart from that, they should be made to feel the terror of Muawiya, his power and strength.
(b) "Correspondence should be started with the dignitaries and tribal leaders; they should be bribed and provided large sums of money so that they may obey Muawiya." 3
It cannot be denied that the spies of Muawiya were active in Yemen, Hijaz, Persia and Iraq since the time of the caliphate of Hazrat ‘Ali (as). During the period of Imam Hasan (as), the spy network was extended. The historians mention in particular the arrest of two spies, one of whom was arrested in Kufa and the other in Basra. Imam Hasan (as) sentenced them to death, thereby suppressing the spy movement and perfidy through Islamic penal law. Later the Imam (as) wrote the following letter to Muawiya:
"There is no doubt that you have sent many spies towards us, which implies that you are planning war against us. I have no doubt about the same. If Almighty God so wills, you should wait for the same. I have also learnt that you have expressed your rejoicing at the sad incident, which no sane person would do." 4
In this letter Imam Al-Mujtaba (as) had warned Muawiya against his destructive inclinations. On the one hand, he informed Muawiya that he was aware of his intention to wage a war, while on the other, he stated that he was determined and fully prepared to face him in the battle field. In addition, he castigated him at rejoicing at the martyrdom of Hazrat ‘Ali (as).
The brief peaceful period of the caliphate of the Imam (as) lasted for four to five months. Hafiz Dhahabi writes in the book 'Al'Abar' that Imam Hasan (as) had marched for war in Rabi II, 41 A.H. accordingly, this period would be six months.
So, if the duration of war is taken as one and a half months and the period of the caliphate of the Imam (as) is taken as six months and few days, still a duration of four to five months remains, though according to some other narrations the peaceful period of the caliphate of the Imam (as) would be more than that.
During this period, the religious group which was loyal to his illustrious father started pressing him for war against Muawiya. Ibn. Abbas, his father's cousin and his governor in Basra, wrote a letter to him, which reflects the religious feelings and has historical significance:
"To the bondsman of God and the leader of the faithful, from Abdullah b. Abbas, the bondsman of God. After salutation. The Muslims have handed over the reign to you. They have objected to your not launching war against Muawiya and not claiming your rights.
So, you should finalize the plans for war and start the same early; you should treat your close associates kindly, you should win the hearts of the nobles and dignitaries through giving them important posts and high status. Moreover, you should follow reforms just like the earlier just and fair rulers, so that they be attracted towards you. Know that war is a sort of deception and there is scope for you in it till any Muslims's rights do not suffer.
You certainly know that people had left your father and joined Muawiya as your father was maintaining justice and fair play in the distribution of prize money and the Baitul Maal funds, which was not liked by those persons. "You are also aware that you are at war against those persons who were fighting the Holy Prophet (saws) himself till the Islamic victory (the conquest of Makkah).
These persons outwardly embraced Islam only after all men had embraced it, the symbols of polytheism and idol worship had been removed and the voices praising the Unity of God were heard all around. They would recite the Holy Qur’an, yet make fun of its verses as well they would stand in prayers half-heartedly they would observe the duties as commanded by Allah, yet in their heart of hearts they disliked these.
Later, when they realized that only the apostles of God, good-natured persons and pious ulama were entitled to respect and dignified status, they also pretended to be abstinent and pious. Outwardly, they obtained what their ancestors cherished but their long life proved that they were misled and a trap for the Muslims! "Therefore, O respected Imam, may God's blessings be upon you, you should start the war against them and should not accept surrender at any cost.
Your father Hazrat ‘Ali (as) had also not accepted arbitration until it was forced on him. And when that happened, he had agreed to it on the condition that the arbitrators would follow justice and fair play. But, when they announced their decision based on selfish aims and personal interest, then he reverted to his earlier policy (of waging war).
Till his martyrdom, he was determined to fight them. May God's blessings be upon him. Therefore, O highly respected Imam! Do not surrender this right of yours which you deserve more than anyone else, even though the undeserving ones may argue with you against it. With regards and May the blessings of Glorified God be with you." 5
In this letter, Ibn. Abbas, expressing the feelings of the supporters of the Imam, has emphasized the need for war. He analyses the reasons for the outward set back of his illustrious father and throws considerable light on the Umayyads' true feelings with regard to Islam. There is no doubt that the religious elite who were sincere and who had proved their loyalty towards his father were pressing the Imam (as) for war.
They were aggrieved that the people of Kufa had disappointed his father as they could not arrange the army which could attack the rebellious group and finish them off. To remove that feeling they were pressing the Imam (as) to start the war. The letter of Ibn. Abbas was supportive of the same. But it was premature for the Imam (as) to take such a big step. He had not yet had the chance to reform the areas under his control and to effectively reorganize his army.
Moreover, the majority, which was under the influence of the leaders and self-seekers, was against war and they could leave the Imam (as) at any crucial moment, thus declaring him responsible for all the bloodshed. In the circumstances, it was essential that he should settle the issue peacefully before starting the war, so that, in case of war, they should have no ground to run away from the war and thus betray him.
Historians record that just after receipt of the letter of Ibn. Abbas, the Imam (as) called the letter-writer and dictated the following detailed letter to Muawiya:
"From the bondsman of God and the leader of the faithful Hasan, to Muawiya b. Sakhar: There is no doubt that the Glorified God sent the Holy Prophet (saws) as a divine blessing for the universe. Through him, the right achieved mastery, falsehood was defeated and the Quraish got a high status. Then He commanded the chief of His creation thus:
"For sure this is an occasion of warning, learning a lesson, for you and your nation."
When the Holy Prophet (saws) breathed his last, there was a dispute among the Arabs about his successor. The Ansar (Madenite companions of the Holy Prophet) demanded that 'one should be from us and one from you'. On this, the Quraish replied that 'we are from his family and the clan. So, it is not appropriate that you should disagree with us on the issue of the succession'.
So, the Arabs gave the right to Quraish but when we demanded our right on the basis of kinship, i.e. belonging to the family of the Holy Prophet (saws), the Quraish declined and did not do justice to us, which, we thought, was very strange.
Though these persons had some priority in embracing Islam and respect, yet I am very surprised today when a person like you, who has no credible performance for the religious cause, nor has he served it in any significant manner, and who is the son of the worst enemy of the Holy Prophet (saws) from the Quraish clan, has claimed the candidacy of caliphate. So, Almighty God will hold you accountable!
"Moreover, I must tell you that after the martyrdom of the leader of the faithful, the Muslims have given the rein of their affairs to me and I pray the Gracious God that He may mercifully keep me away from taking such a thing in the world, which may cause a lesser reward for me in the hereafter.
"O Muawiya! Desist from falsehood and further revolt and pay allegiance to me like the masses have done, as you are well aware that I am entitled to caliphate much more than you in the eyes of Almighty God, his angels and those having a rational mind. So, you should fear God and abandoning revolt do not shed the blood of Muslims.
But, if you continue the policy of waywardness and rebellion, then I will attack you along with the Muslims and try to finish you off till Almighty God may send His command and there is no doubt that He is the One whose commands are the best." 6
The learned scholar Sheikh Razi Ale Yasin, analyzing the above historical letter of Imam Al-Mujtaba (as), writes: "Imam Hasan (as) advised Muawiya to give up waywardness and rebellion and to join the masses by giving allegiance to the Imam (as). It was the thoughtful political approach of the time which was meant to weaken the enemy and thereby to weaken his policy of opposition.
But the Imam (as) addressed Muawiya with these words after he had advanced solid arguments in his own favour. He invited him, like a leader and guide, towards the right path; like one in authority, threatened him and ultimately gave him a clear ultimatum for war. Thus, he followed the approach of his illustrious father, as if the period of Hazrat ‘Ali (as) was still there; no doubt he was his true successor.
If war was inevitable during the caliphate of his father, then its significance during his own period could not be overlooked. His own caliphate was based on such authority and firmness which left no scope for mischief mongers in the religion of God. For that reason he admonished Muawiya in strong words and frightened him with the consequential punishment in the hereafter." 7
The scholar Hashim Ma’aruf al-Hasani writes that Imam Al-Mujtaba (as) knew very well that Muawiya would never accept the offer of the Imam (as), especially when, after the martyrdom of Hazrat ‘Ali (as), he was considering himself to be in a relatively more sound position.
However, the Imam (as) wanted in this way to make it abundantly clear to the whole Muslim world the extent to which Muawiya and his household were hiding their malice and enmity towards Islam, the Holy Prophet (saw) and the members of his household. This enmity they had inherited from Muawiya's liver-eating mother and his father. 8
Imam Hasan (as) handed over this letter to Handab b. Abdullah Azdi and Haris b. Suwaid Tameemi, two of his companions. They took it to Muawiya so that they may formally ask him to submit and to give allegiance to the Imam (as). On receipt of Imam Hasan (as)'s above letter, Muawiya replied thus:
"I have fully understood the contents of your letter and when you mention that the Holy Prophet (saw) was better than all human beings, I have no doubt that he embodied all excellence; after that you have mentioned the difference among Muslims and have particularly given the names of Abu Bakr Siddiq, Umar Farooq, Abu Ubaidah, Amin, Talha, Zubair and good natured Muhajirs (the refugees in Madina) and Ansars.
O Abu Muhammad! I do not like this for you for the reason that, when the dispute among the Ummah arose on the issue of succession after the death of the Holy Prophet (saws), they saw that the Quraish had a special status in the eyes of the Holy Prophet (saws) due to their lineage as well, and thus they were more entitled to it.
Then the respectable and religious Muslims among the Quraish and Ansar agreed that the rank should be given to one who may be better in learning and piety and who may have been ahead in embracing Islam. So, they chose Abu Bakr. And if they had considered someone more respectable than Abu Bakr, who had also embraced Islam earlier than him and would have been able to safeguard Islam better than him, then they would not have ignored him.
Your and my situation is similar. If I realized that you are more experienced in ruling over the populace, have greater right over the Ummah, are more capable in political issues and deceiving the enemy and such other matters, then I would hand over the rule to you.
I realize that you are demanding it as your father's successor though he fought a war against me which resulted in the selection of one person by him and one by me so that these two arbitrators may give a decision in the interest of the Ummah which may establish brotherhood among them. We took a vow and agreement from them on the issue.
After that, they unanimously decided to dethrone your father from caliphate. So, how can you demand something as a claim on behalf of your father, when he was deprived of the same? "So, on account of my being more experienced than you and being elder than you, you should submit to me.
After me, the caliphate will belong to your household. Whatever you want, you can take from the Baitul Maal of Iraq. Further, you can take the tax of any area of Iraq for your personal expenses. So, O the father of Muhammad! Think over carefully about yourself and your religion. My compliments to you." 9
The scholar Hashim Ma’aruf al-Hasani expresses his views about the above letter of Muawiya thus:
"The first letter of Muawiya is based on fallacy, deceit and fraud, of which he was a master. On the one hand, he personates himself as one of the respectables who cannot deny the dignified status of the dignitaries even if they are their worst enemies.
While on the other, he tries to find fault with Hazrat ‘Ali (as), the leader of the faithful, by writing that the Ummah had to select one who was ahead of others in learning, piety and embracing Islam earlier than others, so they selected Abu Bakr. Muawiya further wrote that 'you and I are like your father and Abu Bakr if I realized that in the interest of the populace you are better than me and that you are an expert and more experienced than me in protecting the rights of the Ummah, politics, collecting taxes and in deceiving the enemy, then I would have positively responded to your invitation'."
Hashim Ma’aruf writes: " this meant that the qualities which Muawiya had, were not in Imam Hasan (as), just like these qualities were not supposed to be in his illustrious father when people gave allegiance to Abu Bakr! Therefore, it was expedient from an Islamic point of view that the caliphate should be given to him (Muawiya) just like it was expedient to hand over the caliphate to Abu Bakr after the passing away of the Holy Prophet (saws)."
Hashim Ma’aruf further writes: "This style of deception and fraud he could not apply to the illustrious father of the Imam (as). But it seems now all the favourable conditions had become available to him; the majority of the leaders in Kufa had promised their support to him; further, that through monetary temptation he had tried his best to turn the masses' opinion against the Imam (as)."
The scholar Sheikh Razi Ale Yasin gives a comprehensive reply to these fallacies of Muawiya in his book 'Sulh-ul-Hasan (as)', (the peace of Hasan (as)). He writes:
"The letters of Muawiya contained material the main objective of which was to widen the differences among the Muslims and to incite them for mischief and rioting; he wanted to raise the dead issues and to destroy the unity of Muslims which was the foundation of their religion.
When he failed to present his father and himself as challengers, he took the names of others and started to mention their differences with the members of the household of the Holy Prophet (saws) ('Ahlul Bayt'). In these letters, let alone any argument, he could not mention even the false ground of 'the revenge of the blood of Uthman', as historians claim that Imam Hasan (as) had been the supporter of Hazrat Uthman and had tried till the last moment to save him, and if that was true, then what argument did Muawiya have?
The only argument that he had was: 'that I have been a ruler longer than you and, being elder than you, I have more experience'. If he had any other argument he would have advanced the same rather than mentioning the differences!
It is not understood what the father of Yazeed meant by his experiences. Was he referring to the day when the Syrians had lodged a complaint against him to Hazrat Umar and the caliph had asked him to appear in court along with his messenger, and he was trembling like an ordinary slave from fear of the lashes of the caliph?
Or, was it the day when he had declined to support Hazrat Uthman and had later confessed that he himself was one of the reasons for Hazrat Uthman's failure and defeat?!! Or, was it the day when, as a rebel, he had fought a war, along with his large army, against the Imam of the time, without confessing his sin or error?!!! Can these experiences of his entitle him to become a caliph? If that is so, then where is the justification to caliphate?
Moreover, can such a rule, which is based on falsehood, slander and bloodshed, form a basis for a high religious status? As far as the question of age is concerned, we find no logic in religious philosophy wherein caliphate may be handed over to someone due to his old age, as it is possible that such a person may be more clever in buying the favour of the people through money or in spreading malice, but that does not mean that he should be selected as the successor to the Holy Prophet (saw).
It is also possible that a person may have more patience and humility, but the leadership cannot be given to him, as the humility which is observed in an Imam may also be noticed in the leaders of hypocrites.
The scholar Ale Yasin concludes that: "these cannot form the basis of caliphate as the views of a caliph are based on the commandments of the Holy Qur’an; his whole reliance is on the traditions and he considers himself answerable to Almighty God." 10
Doctor Muhammad Husayn Jafri has also given a very fine analysis of the above letter of Muawiya. He writes: "This letter of Muawiya is very significant in the sense that it presents a clear picture of his political thinking regarding rulership the government which he had been continuously striving to get.
In his view, the interest of the kingdom and those qualities should form the basis of caliphate which had nothing to do with religion or moral values. According to the arguments advanced by Muawiya, the following qualities form the essential conditions for caliphate:
The individual's authority and ability, his political and organizational skill, and his ability to extend the boundaries of the state, protect the Muslims and defend them. This way, whatever was ambiguous, has been made clear by Muawiya i.e. separation between politics and religious principles." 11
Later, Muawiya sent another letter to Imam Hasan (as) in which he wrote: "There is no doubt that Almighty God treats His bondsmen the way He wishes. No one can change His command or decision and He is going to take account very soon.
So, do not have reliance on the common people; do not think that you will find any weakness in me if you give up the caliphate and give allegiance to me, I will fulfill all my promises and will abide by the agreement with you. Moreover, after me, the caliphate will belong to you as you deserve it most among the people. My compliments to you." 12
This letter of Muawiya shows that having lost on arguments, he had resorted to demonstrating his power and wanted to frighten Imam Al-Mujtaba (as) so that he may surrender in his (Muawiya's) favour, which resignation he would have used as the justification and religious ground for his caliphate.
But the grandson of the Holy Prophet (saws) understood his motives very well. He ignored his threat and gave a very logical reply, saying: "I have received your letter in which you have mentioned many points, but avoiding to use indecent words, I cannot reply to you in the same manner and seek protection of God. You should follow what is right and know that I am the one on the right path and it will be a sin if I make a wrong statement." 13
Although Imam Al-Mujtaba (as) avoided coming down to the level of Muawiya while writing to him, yet he stuck to his stand that he was on the right path and if Muawiya did not want to be counted among the followers of falsehood, then he should pay allegiance to the Imam (as) and give up his opposition. That is why when the messengers of the Imam took his letter to Muawiya, he asked them to go back saying that now the sword (meaning war) will decide between them. Thus, the chances of political settlement of the dispute disappeared for the time being and war was threatened. 14
The exchange of letters between Imam Al-Mujtaba (as) and Muawiya makes for interesting reading. Through these letters the revered Imam (as) wanted to make it clear to the Muslims as to who was right and who was wrong in the struggle for caliphate.
In this way he put political pressure on Muawiya through public opinion so that he may give up opposition to the Imam (as) and hostility towards him and pay allegiance, thus joining the learned companions and other Muslims.
With this peaceful negotiated approach, which is today considered much better than war, neither any religious principle was being sacrificed, nor was the Islamic government coming under any criticism. Rather, if war became inevitable, the opponents of the war could not find any excuse not to support the Imam (as). This way, the Imam (as) also got an opportunity to attend to reforms in his caliphate for a short time. His next step towards the aggressive policy of Muawiya was now awaited.
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Abul Faraj - 'Maqatil al Talibin', Najaf, Maktaba al Haidariya, ↩
Ibn. Athir - 'Al Kamil fi al Tarikh', Beirut: Dar Ahya al Turas al ↩
Baqar Qarshi, 'Hayat al Imam al Hasan bin ‘Ali', Najaf, Matba' al ↩
Ale Yasin - 'Sulhul Hasan', p.76; Hashim al Maruf - Sirat al Aimma ↩
Abul Faraj - 'Maqatil al Talibin', vol.1, p.34; Ibn. Atham - 'Al ↩
'Sulh-ul Hasan', Qum; Manshurat al Sharif al Razi; Baqar Qarshi - ↩
Razi Ale Yasin - 'Sulh-ul Hasan', pp.82-83. ↩
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Abul Faraj - 'Maqatil al Talibin', vol.1, p.37; Ibn. Atham - 'Al ↩
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Dr. Husayn Muhammad Jafri, 'The Origin & Early Development of ↩
. Abul Faraj - 'Maqatil al Talibin', vol.1, p.38; Hashim Maruf - ↩
. Abul Faraj - 'Maqatil al Talibin', vol.1, p.38; Hashim Maruf - ↩
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