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Scholars That Rebelled Against Tyranny (Part 2)

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The period of the Tābi’īn witnessed an unprecedented level of Muhaddithūn-led revolts against tyranny. This era saw the Revolution of the Qurrā’. Though the term Qurrā’ presently refers to someone versed in the specific field of Qur’ānic recitation, it had more of a general connotation in the era of the Tābi’īn to encompass scholars in general. This is because the disciplines of Qur’ānic recitation, jurisprudence (Fiqh), Hadith, and so on had yet to be categorised into separate disciplines. As such, the revolution saw the participation of scholars across all disciplines.

The revolution erupted in Iraq, specifically in the cities of Basra and Kufa. Led by the military commander Abd al-Rahmān b. al-Ash’ath al-Kindi (d. 84AH), many scholars participated in an attempt to depose ‘Abd al-Malik b. Marwān and his deputy of Iraq, al-Hajjāj b. Yūsuf, taking the pledge upon Allāh’s Book and the Sunnah of his Messenger to depose the ‘imams of misguidance’. Ibn Kathīr mentions that Ibn al-Ash’ath headed 33,000 thousand horsemen and 120,000-foot soldiers.[1] Imam al-Dhahabi adds that Ibn al-Ash’ath was supported by “supporters and reformers for Allāh due to al-Hajjāj abandoning the prescribed times for Salāh and his injustice and tyranny.”[2] The historian Khalīfa b. Khayyāt (d. 240AH) specifies the number of scholars in the army of Ibn al-Ash’ath in a narration on the authority of the Tābi’ī Mālik b. Dīnār (d. 127AH), who said: “500 Qurrā’ went out with Ibn Al-Ash’ath, all of whom opined in favour of fighting.”

The revolutionary scholars took control of Basra and Kufa, expelling the Umayyad administration from both cities led by al-Hajjāj. They were about to take control of all of Iraq. Umayyad rulership was shaken to its core by these revolts, except that the people of Iraq managed to assail those of al-Shām. Of the notable Muhaddithūn who joined Ibn al-Ash’ath was the noble companion Anas b. Malik rady Allāhu ‘anhu (d. 93AH), who is known for narrating many ahādith and was joined by many scholars of the Tābi’īn. Anas was over 90 years old when he participated in this revolt. Among the revolutionaries was the son of Anas, Al-Nadr b. Anas, who was also a narrator of hadīth, as was Muhammad b. Sa’d b. Abī Waqqās, the son of the famous companion Sa’d b. Abī Waqqās rady Allāhu ‘anhu. Both Bukhari and Muslim accepted narrations from Muhammad b. Sa’d b. Abī Waqqās as well as many other compilers of hadīth. According to Imam al-Dhahabi, Muhammad b. Sa’d “is a trustworthy Imam… who narrated an ample amount of knowledge and was among those who rose up against al-Hajjāj with Ibn al-Ash’ath but was captured during the day (battle) of Deir al-Jamājim and was killed by al-Hajjāj.”[3]

Among them was also Abu ‘Ubaidah, the son of ‘Abdullah b. Mas’ūd rady Allāhu ‘anhu; Mujāhid b. Jabr (d. 104AH), the leader of the Qurrā’ and the Imam of the people of Tafsir and Hadith; the great Imam ‘Amr b. Dīnār (d. 126AH), the “Shaykh of the Haram in his era”[4]; the jurist (Qādi) ‘Amir b. Sharrahil al-Sha’bi (d. 106AH), the famous Faqīh and Muhaddith ‘Abd al-Rahmān b. Abī Layla; and the noble Imam Sa’īd b. Jubair, who was known for his bravery in the face of power and was executed by al-Hajjāj in the year 95AH following his famous encounter. Anyone associated with the Science of Hadith will be familiar with these names. Each of these names appear numerous times in the famous six books of Hadith (Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud, al-Tirmidhi, al-Nasa’i, and Ibn Majah). Each of these names shine among the most authentic ‘golden’ chains of hadīth transmission, which testifies to their Fiqh and bravery. Most of them were martyred in this revolution against tyranny.

The battles were full of instances of gallantry. One of the leaders of the Qurrā’ by the name of Jabalah b. Zahr al-Ja’fi at one point exclaimed: “People, no fleeing is worse than yours, so fight on behalf of your religion and your dunya.” It is said that Sa’īd b. Jubair said something similar to this, while al-Sha’bi would say: “Fight them on account of their injustice, humiliating the weak, and killing off Salāh.”[5] As such, it is clear that the main motives for fighting were around ending political tyranny and social injustice.

The battle of Deir al-Jamājim in the year 83AH marked the end of a long series of battles that began in 81AH and which numbered more than 80. In many cases, Ibn al-Ash’ath would have the upper hand, until he and the revolutionaries were decisively defeated at Deir al-Jamājim, marking the end of the revolution.

Scholarly Backing 

The era of the notables of the first generation Tābi’īn marked a watershed moment in the general Sunni position concerning armed revolts against oppression. The defeat of the Qurrā at Deir al-Jamājim at the hands of al-Hajjāj put into question the effectiveness of armed revolt against tyranny and oppression. This is when verdicts (fatāwa) were issued outlawing armed revolt against tyrannical leaders, fuelling the positions of the Jabriyyah[6] and the Murji’ah,[7] both of whom had defeatist viewpoints that diminish personal accountability.

But despite the weakened position of armed resistance, political opposition to leaders remained ever-present, applying the directive of “enjoining good and forbidding evil” and “speaking a word of truth before an unjust ruler.”[8] This was even the case among those who chose to pacify leaders and hated going against them, as was the case with Imam b. Shihāb al-Zuhri, the Imam of Ahl al-Hadīth in his era, who chose to reconcile with the Umayyads despite his family’s hostility towards them. Since the end of the era of the Tābi’īn, things began to verge towards seemingly more peaceful political opposition, lacking the type of armed rebellion that had been seen. It seems, however, that many scholars of Fiqh and Hadith continued to uphold the first opinion.

Imam Abu Hanīfa al-Nu’mān (d. 150AH), the founder of the Hanafi school of thought and author of the Musnad of Abu Hanīfa, stood behind the revolt led by Zaid b. Ali b. al-Husain b. Ali bin Abī Tālib (to whom the Zaidi school of jurisprudence is attributed) in Kufa in 122AH against the Umayyad Caliph, Hishām b. Abdul Malik.[9] After Zaid’s unsuccessful rebellion, Abu Hanīfa supported the revolution of the Muhaddith Imam Muhammad b. Abdullah b. Hasan b. al-Hasan b. Ali b. Abī Tālib, who was nicknamed al-Nafs al-Zakiyyah (the pure soul). The latter had revolted against the rule of al-Mansūr al-Abbāsi (d. 158AH) in the year 145AH.

Abu Hanīfa narrated in his Musnad, on the authority of ‘Ikrimah, on the authority of Ibn ‘Abbās rady Allāhu ‘anhu, that the Prophet said: “The master of the martyrs is Hamza, and a man who stood up to an unjust Imam, ordering him and forbidding him…” Abu Hanīfa was beaten more than once to force him to lead the judiciary, but he insisted on his refusal. It is said that he died as a result of being poisoned by the Caliph al-Mansūr because of speaking truth to power and refusing state employment.[10]

Imam Mālik b. Anas (d. 179AH), the founder of the Maliki school of thought and author of al-Muwatta (a primary Hadith reference), also backed the revolution of al-Nafs al-Zakiyyah. Imam Mālik would often report the hadīth: “Divorce does not apply in the case of coercion”, hinting at the fact that people had been coerced to pledge allegiance to al-Mansūr al-‘Abbāsi by vowing they would divorce their wives in the case of revoking their pledge to al-Mansūr. As such, a coerced pledge of allegiance is invalid, and people should instead have the choice to give the pledge to al-Nafs al-Zakiyyah if they so wished.

In return, Imam Mālik was arrested, beaten until his shoulder was dislocated, and was carried back home unconscious. However, he refused to back down from his position and uttered his timeless words regarding objecting to the deviations of the political establishment: “I was beaten for the same thing that Sa’īd b. al-Musayib, Muhammad b. al-Munkadir (d. 130AH), and Rabi’ah (b. Abdulrahman d. 136AH) were beaten for. There is no good in those not harmed in such a matter.” This was related by al-Dhahabi in his book Tārīkh al-Islām.

These events demonstrate the gulf between the understanding and actions of the leaders of the earliest generations and the narrative of many contemporary groups who claim to follow the Salaf, who centre their Da’wah instead on unabated obedience or outright flattery of oppressive leaders. Every Muslim should acquaint themselves with their history, reviewing the actions of those who holistically understood and implemented the Shari’a’s texts, against the many claims made by today’s charlatans.

The next article in this series will summarise the development in “revolutionary” scholarly thought, so to speak, across the three first generations of the Salaf. It will reveal if the behaviour of fawning over the political leadership ever existed among the leading scholars of the Muhadithūn of old. And all praise and thanks belongs to Allāh.

Source: www.islam21c.com


Sourced from an article by Dr. Bara’ Nizar Rayan – rendered into English by Ahmed Hammuda

Dr. Bara’ Nizar Rayan is the son of the late Sheikh. Prof. Nizar Rayan, who was Professor in Islamic Law at the Islamic University of Gaza and an authority on Hadīth. Prof. Nizar Rayan was killed on the 1st of January 2009 by a Zionist airstrike, along with 15 members of his family, rahimahum Allāh. Bara’ is a lecturer at the Islamic University of Gaza and an author who regularly writes for Al Jazeera Arabic and other media outlets. He is one of a few surviving members of the Rayan family.

[1] Al-Bidāyah wa Al-Nihāyah by Ibn Kathīr (d. 774AH)

[2] Siyar A’lām Al-Nubalā’ by al-Dhahabi (d. 749AH)

[3] Siyar A’lām Al-Nubalā’ by al-Dhahabi (d. 749AH)

[4] Siyar A’lām Al-Nubalā’ by al-Dhahabi (d. 749AH)

[5] Al-Bidāyah wa Al-Nihāyah by Ibn Kathīr (d. 774AH)

[6] The belief that man has no choice and is driven to do what he does by an external force he has no control over.

[7] The belief that internal ‘belief’ and the ‘kalimah’ are absolutely enough for one’s salvation regardless of the sins a person commits.

[8] As reported in numerous ahādith

[9] Al-Kāmil by Ibn Athīr (d. 630AH)

[10] Manāqib Al-Imām Abi Hanīfa by al-Kurdi

About Ahmed Hammuda

Ahmed Hammuda is a regular contributor at Islam21c. His interests lie in Qur'anic Tafsir and the field of Middle East Affairs and how they reflect on Muslims living in the West. He is an Electrical Engineer by trade and has been involved in various Da'wah activities over the course of his education and working life. He has transferred the same analytical approach required in engineering into a careful and measured approach in his views and positions.


  1. Mashallah, very nice, informative article. should be read by every Muslim in the world, it is enough to inspire the whole Muslim world to tear down our oppressive cruel leaderships. if only..

  2. Ponderingsoul

    Beautiful article

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