The Advent of Shiism in Iraq

The story of the influence of Shi'ism in Iraq is a long one, to describe which even briefly is beyond the scope of this article. From the time Amir al-Mu'minin Ali (A) shifted his capital from Madinah to Kufah [^1] in order to cope with the difficulties and problems of his four and a half years reign, the seed of Shi'ism was planted in that city. But this did not lead to any phenomenal increase in the number of Shi'ites in Iraq. However, in the 2nd/8th century and thereafter Shi'ism spread to other parts of Iraq.

Much later Shiism spread in Baghdad with the efforts of Shi'i Ulama' and was able to survive despite the pressures and unlimited oppression of the Abbasids. This situation continued until the entry of the Buyids towards the middle of the 4th/10th century into Baghdad. The Buyids supported the Shiites and over a period of one hundred years spread the influence of Shiism in collaboration with such Shii 'ulama' as al-Shaykh al-Mufid. [^2] Subsequently the Seljuq rule limited the Shi'i influence, but could not eliminate it altogether.

With the passage of time, the power of the Alawids increased and the Shiis emerged as an important religious group in Baghdad. Moreover, they established another centre of Shiism at Hillah. The growing importance of the Shi'is and their political influence led to conflict with and opposition by the Sunnis. The 'Abbasid caliphs often persecuted the Shi'is with the help of the Sunni group. The time of al-Nasir li-Din Allah, the 'Abbasid caliph, marked the beginning of the Mongol incursions into the eastern parts of the Muslim world.

The caliph tried to woo and enlist the support of the Shiis who formed a powerful community in Baghdad and had sympathizers among the Khwarazmshahis who had been hostile to the 'Abbasid caliph and supported the Shiis of Baghdad. His inclination towards the Alawids and the Shiites made some regard him as a Shii himself. Ibn al-'Tiqtaqa writes about him that he believed in Imami doctrines and his ministers either showed particular inclination towards Shiism or were Shi'i themselves." [^3] This was deemed a political move for attracting the Shi'i support.

[^4] Al-Sa'di mentions his appointment of Ibn al-Alqami, a Shi'i, to the ministerial office as a move to please the Shi'i scholar Radi al-Din Ali ibn Musa ibn Ja'far ibnTawus al-Hasani. [^5] This action of al-Nadir shows not only the influence of the Shiites, but exposes the latter's confrontation with their opponents, a contradiction which he had tried to resolve for his own advantage. This polarization continued for several centuries and surfaced every year in conflicts on two particular days, 'Ashura' and Ghadir. The details of these conflicts have been recorded in al-Bidayah wa al-nihayah of Ibn Kathir, in al-Muntazam of Ibn al-Jawzi, and in the Shadharat al-dhahab of Ibn al-'Imad al-Hanbali.

In the latter period, Shi'i influence in the Abbasid administration was of such magnitude that many of their ministers were Shii. Aside from manifesting the Shi'ite acumen in administrative affairs, this fact cannot be regarded as being unrelated to efforts at inducement of Shi'is to accept the Sunni supremacy over the entire Islamic society. The last Abbasid caliph, al-Mustasim, appointed Mu'ayyid al-Din ibn 'Alqami, a Shi'i, as minister, and the latter held the post until the fall of Baghdad and the execution of the caliph.

Despite the Abbasid caliphs' policy, some Sunni elements inside the regime tried to make the caliph take occasionally an anti-Shi'i stand, which would result in riots and carnage in Baghdad causing tremendous losses to both the groups. Once such conflict occurred even in 654/1256, one year before Baghdad fell. [^6]

It aggravated the hostility of the Shi'ah against the Abbasid caliphate. In this regard a letter written by Ibn Alqami to one of the Shi'i elders, al-Sayyid Taj al-Din Muhammad ibn Nasr al-Husayni, clarifies the Shi'i position vis-a-vis the caliphate: Karkh (a locality In west Baghdad where the Shiis resided), this venerable town, has been destroyed and the legacy of the Noble Prophet has been ravaged. The house of Ali have been pillaged and their Hashimite followers have been taken captive.

That which happened is not surprising, for they are followers of al-Husayn - upon whom be peace - whose sanctuary and sanctity were violated and whose blood was spilled. No doubt, Satan has deceived this group (the opponents). Now, what can be done save maintaining fair patience? .... The announcement has been made (by the caliphal regime) that so much troops are to be sent to the town so that the inhabitants are driven away from the place in disgrace and misery. [^7]

The foregoing background was the established general rule which was, however, occasionally broken. But sectarian prejudice adversely affected both the sides. The rulers, acting in a manner injurious to their own long-term interest and that of the people, either on account of prejudice or for the sake of prolonging their rule, promoted sectarian differences and discord. Such was the background that resulted in the allegations regarding the Shi'i role in the fall of Baghdad, which was in fact the fall of the Abbasid caliphate, and led some prejudiced thinkers to accuse the Shiis of instigating the Mongols to overthrow the caliphate.

Despite the fact that many Sunni ulama'-like Sharaf al-Din ibn al Jawzi, a personal confidant of the caliph - were in the retinue of Hulaga Khan, the presence of Khwajah Nasir al-Din al-Tusi, (597-672/1200-1273) - may God's mercy be upon him -and the part of Mu'yyid al-Din ibn Alqami the minister of al-Mustasim, in the events of the time were taken as grounds for the allegation against the Shi'is. This accusation was publi cized by the Hanbalis and their precursors, whose hostility towards the Shi'is - like their enmity towards other Muslim sects in Baghdad - was greater than that of any other hostile group.