The Shiya Movement: An Overview!
The conflict between the Hashim family and other chief families of Arabia was responsible for the death of Hasan and Husain.
Those Arabs that did not support the Umeyya dynasty gradually began to side with the rebels.
But even amongst the supporters of the Hashim family there were differences. Some of them recognised Ali as the real heir of Mohammed, and some others considered the children of Mohammed’s uncle Abbas to be the legitimate successors.
The differences did not come to the fore as long as the Shiya movement was weak, but it gradually grew so strong that the Umeyya dynasty practically disappeared and the successors of Abbas began to control the whole of the eastern part of the Caliphate. In Khurasan, the Shiya movement started from the time of Junaid.
In 740, Haris unfurled his black flag with the slogan:
“The Book of Allah and the precepts of the Prophet.” He pledged himself to set at nought all agreements made with the enemies of Islam and their followers, to see that no taxes were levied on Muslims and that there was no repression against the people. Junaid attacked the preachers of the Shiya faith, but in doing so he made many enemies for himself. The Caliph decided to dismiss him and appoint Asim, the son of Abdulla, in his place. Junaid died before Asim could take up his post.
Asim, son of Abdulla (734-36), who succeeded Junaid, was an extremely cruel ruler. He earned the hostility of most of his officers and Haris revolted against him. Babel, Mervrud Province, Balakh, Abwab and other towns of Khurasan fell into the hands of the rebels.
The black flag of revolt unfurled by Haris continued to advance and Asim was powerless against him. In due course, Asim was dismissed and Kasri again became the Governor of Khurasan. Asim’s request to Caliph Hisham to be lenient was one of the reasons for his dismissal.
Asad Kasri, son of Abdulla, who became the next Governor (735-738), drove Haris away from his kingdom, whereupon the latter joined hands with Sulu Khan who as a token of friendship gave him an estate in Pharab. It was difficult to suppress the revolt in Sogdhia from Merv, because the route between them lay either through a desert which was next to impossible for a large army to negotiate, or followed a very circuitous path to Balakh, which was so long as to be highly impracticable for an armed assault.
Asad, therefore, made Balakh his temporary capital and tried to seize Khattal. But Sulu was alert and he raided Asad’s palace and looted his harem. Failing to reach any settlement, Asad was forced to retreat to Balakh, while Sulu went towards the mountains of Tukharistan. This was the last of Sulu’s victories. For thirty years, this courageous ruler had been making a mark in Central Asia.
Even the Chinese Emperor had tried to win him over to his side by sending him a Chinese Princess as a bride. Now, however, he was growing old and had lost the use of one of his arms. Though he had not succeeded in his first attempt to take Khattal, he now began to meet with more success. He forced Samarkand to surrender and built a dam across the Jarphasan.
In 737, a momentous battle took place in Tukharistan. Haris, the Shiya leader, sided with Sulu, but Shagan Khudat was allied to the Arabs. Sulu Kagan was killed in the battle by a Turgis Prince and with his death the Western Turkish Empire began to fall asunder. Haris fled for safety into Turkish territory and Khattal fell into the hands of the Arabs but, just as Asad was advancing for the assault on Samarkand he was killed by a Sogdhian.
‘Nasr (735 A.D.) had taken part in Kutaib’s campaigns. He was an old and experienced man. In 705 he had been given an estate by Kutaib. By this time the Arabs had split into two—the Mujars of North Arabia and the Menenites of Yemen. Nasr was the chief of the Mujars of Khurasan. He was an extremely capable and powerful ruler, and at the same time liberal and popular with his subjects. For nine years he preserved Khurasan for the Umeyya, but the Umeyya rulers had been growing weaker while their Shiya rivals were gathering strength and spreading their influence over the whole of Central Asia-and Khurasan.
Nasr realised that the main danger threatened from the Turks. Although Sulu Kagan had been murdered by the Turgis prince, Kursul, the latter himself belonged to a Turkish dynasty, and, given the opportunity, would have grown as powerful as Sulu, especially as the people of Central Asia were all hostile to the Arabs. Nasr therefore turned his attention to the Turks.
Since the death of their last Khan, the Western Turks had been in a state of confusion and in 739, Nasr entered into agreement with the rulers of Ausrushana, Shash and Fargana, thus winning them away from Kursul. After this, he launched a series of attacks on Kursul. Although unsuccessful in the beginning, he ultimately managed to defeat Kursul in the battle of Sir Darya and the latter was taken prisoner and executed. This spread terror among the rulers of Ausrushana, Shash and Fargana, who immediately agreed to accept the overlordship of the Arabs.
Having thus secured his northern frontiers, Nasr’s next attempt was that of uniting all Muslims in a crusade against the “infidels.” As enjoined by the Muslim scriptures, he exempted Muslims from payment of taxes and levied them instead on the infidels. Later, he exempted a large number of non- Muslims and levied taxes on the Sogdhian Muslims.
Those Sogdhians who had fled for shelter to the Turks because of the oppression of the Arabs, were impressed by the fairness and honesty of Nasr and began to return to Sogdhia. Nasr accepted all their terms and concluded an agreement with them which was ratified by the Caliph. There were many in the capital who were critical of this policy, but Nasr defended himself, saying: ‘If these critics had seen the tenacity and ferocity of the Sogdhians they too would have agreed to the terms during the first four years of his reign Nasr appointed only Mujair as commanders, but later he gave a number of posts to the Yemenites. The latter, however, requited this trust in 744 by joining a revolt led by Zudeh, the son of Ali.
Haris, a supporter of the Shiya movement, who had joined the Turks, was Nasr’s greatest enemy. But true to his policy of liberalism, Nasr pleaded with the Caliph that his life be spared, and in 745 Haris returned to Merv. At first, Haris declared that he was on the side of justice, but when he had gathered sufficient strength he again organised a rebellion. Although he himself died in 745, his rebellion could not be suppressed because he represented a cause.
The precepts of the Prophet Mohammed were very simple and were in accordance with the needs of social development in the Arabia of those days. But as the influence of the Greek, Roman and Iranian culture began to be felt differences appeared among the Muslims.
The original precepts of Islam had been as follows: firstly the belief in one God who dwelt in the seventh heaven; secondly, the idea of the world as a creation of God; thirdly, the concept of man created from mud and of angels created out of fire, as the foremost beings in creation; fourthly, the belief that certain angels had revolted against God and became his eternal enemies, and of these the Chief was Ablis, who was known as Azazil before his fall; fifthly, the belief that man is born but once on earth, and after death spends the rest of eternity either in Heaven or in Hell according to the nature of his life on earth : sixthly, the concept of heaven as a land of beautiful places, where wine and honey flow in plenty and where beautiful damsels and young servants are ever present.
Apart from mercy, truthfulness, honesty and other virtues, regular Namaz (prayers), fasting and charity towards the poor, were listed among the good deeds that men should perform, while idol worship and the taking of strong drinks and forbidden meat were considered as sins.
As a result of differences among the Sunnis they split later into four sects, namely:
(i) Hunfis, or followers of Abu Hanfi of Mesopotamia. They are mainly to be found today in India and Pakistan;
(ii) The Maliks, or followers of Imam Malik of Medina, who preached that along with the Koran, the words of the Prophet were to be considered a part of Islamic doctrine;
(iii) The followers of Imami Shafi, the Shafts, who believed that the example of the Prophet was most important part of the Muslim religion, and ;
(iv) The Humbilis, or followers of Imam Ahmad Ibn Hambal, who believed in a personal God. They considered that in order to arrive at the truth, apart from the Koran or the precepts of the Prophet, the voice of the people should also be a guide.
It was on the strength of a majority decision that Ali was thrice deprived of the Caliphate, but as time went on the followers of Ali grew in numbers. It was the third Caliph, Osman, who published the Koran in the form of a book. The followers of Ali are of the opinion that at the time of the publication of the “Book”, certain passages favourable to Ali were deleted.
Once a sect had taken up the stand that the Koran itself had been tampered with, the way was open for the cropping up of differences about the basic teachings of Islam. Ibn Saba is said to have been the first to give expression to these differences sometime in the seventh century, about fifty years after the death of Mohammed. He had been a Jew, who was later converted to Islam.
When the Jews had been forced to leave their homelands in Palestine, they spread abroad and came into contact with the Greeks and other advanced peoples. Ibn Saba was probably influenced by the Monism of the neo-Platonists and that is why he preached the concept of the oneness of God and Being. He was devoted to Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet, and it is generally believed that he was under his influence.
The tradition of Ibn Saba continued and sects such as the Shiya and Kharji came into being. The traditional hostility between Iranians and Arabs was utilised by the Shiyas to their advantage, with the result that the Shiya sect gradually became the officially recognised religion of Iran. Abu Muslim, in unfurling the Black Flag of the Shiya sect, effected a merger of Iranian nationalism and the Shiya religion, but later on the leadership of the sect was taken over by Abul Abbas Saffah.
Abu Muslim (d. 755) of Ispahan, went to Mecca with a party of Muslims and met Mohammed Abbasi. He began to work in a well-to-do Arab family making saddles for horses. Mohammed Abbasi was much impressed with this twenty-year-old youth and prophesied that he would one day found the Abbasi Kingdom.
Mohammed sent him to Iran as his representative because he realised that the Iranians would not be coming to the fore. Abu Muslim spent two years in Khurasan on behalf of his master and proved himself an able organiser and an excellent speaker. As an Iranian he was able to influence his fellow Iranians easily.
Haris had died in the battle against Kirmani. Fearing that Kirmani might prove too ambitious, Nasr fell upon him with his entire army. The flag of the Umeyya dynasty was white, while that of the Shiyas was black. Abu Muslim took advantage of the opportunity and unfurled the black flag. Discontent with the Umeyya dynasty was widespread, and recruits flocked to his banner.
Nasr was powerless against this upsurge and sought the help of the Satrap of Iraq, but failed to get any response. Muslim tried to win Kirmani over to his side, but Nasr caused him to be assassinated and sent his head to the Caliph, whereupon Kirmani’s sons joined Muslim.
Nasr tried in vain to rouse the Umeyya dynasty. In 747, Abu Muslim marched at the head of his victorious army to Khurasan and Sogdh, and gave orders that the Namaz be read in the name of the Abbasi Caliph in place of the Umeyya Caliph. Nasr fled to Neshapor, but was pursued by Muslim’s armies commanded by Kahatba and blows after blows were dealt against him with the result that in 748, he died.
The death of Nasr put an end to all the hopes of the Umeyya dynasty. One after another, Jurgan, Tehran, Sav and other places fell to the Abbasis. In 749, Kahatba inflicted a decisive defeat on the armies of the Caliph and seized the stronghold of Nahabund. After the conquest of Iran, Kahatba advanced towards Iraq. A fierce battle was fought near Karbala in which Kahatba was killed. But his son, Hasan, took the command of the army and defeated Huvaira the Umeyya general.
The Yemenites of the Kupha revolted and handed over the town to the Abbasis. Kupha now became the temporary capital of the Abbasis. The final decision was reached in 750 in the battle of Mesopotamia, where Merwan fought with his entire army against the Abbasi commander Abdulla and was completely routed. He fled to Egypt, where he was ultimately killed.
The main lieutenants of Abu Muslim were Abu Daud and Ziad. Abu Muslim realised that he could not feel secure-as long as the Yemenites had not been crushed, and on reaching Khattal, Abu Daud slew the Yemenite leaders, Osman and Ali.
After suppressing the Arabs, Muslim saw that the Iranians were beginning to grow strong. Many of them led by Bih Afrid were trying their best to revive the Zorastrianism the original national faith of the Iranians. Afrid made a serious attempt to reform the Zorastrian religion too, lashing out against idol worship in particular.
Abu Muslim realised the danger that threatened him. Zorastrian priests also complained that Afrid was striking at the roots of both religions. Abu Muslim therefore put down the new movement with a firm hand.
Just at this time, Sharik Mehri started a new Arab organisation in Bokhara (755). Sharik Ali proclaimed that they had not become the followers of Mohammed to kill one another and to aggravate racial hatred. Sharik Ali was opposed to Abul Abbas and the Arabs preferred to follow Sharik, rather than fall a prey to the cruel Abu Muslim. Within a short time, 30,000 Arabs had rallied round Ali.
The Arab Mujars, as well as the common citizens of Bokhara and Khwarezm, also sided with him. Sharik Ali had proclaimed “Equality” as one of his slogans. This, however, roused the hostility of a large number of wealthy nobles who sided with Ziad, the commander of Abu Muslims army, which was sent against the Arabs.
The revolt was crushed with great cruelty by Ziad. Bokhara was burnt to ashes and the rebels hung on the gates of the city. Ziad also marched to Samarkand, where again the rebels were ruthlessly suppressed.