Kufah, 60 AH
“You don’t have to go,” said Mukhtar ibn Abi Ubaid. “My people will protect you from the Son of the Bastard.”
“I know,” said Muslim ibn Aqil. “But this is for the best. Your house is the first place the governor will suspect.”
Muslim ibn Aqil was overwhelmed by the love and support the city had shown for Husayn ibn Ali.
He had only been in Kufah a month but already thousands of people had pledged their support for Husayn. Considering how many people he’d yet to meet, Muslim estimated Husayn had at least sixty thousand supporters in all of Iraq.
The only thing that concerned him was the arrival of Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad from Basra. The Tyrant in Damascus had appointed him governor of Iraq.
After leaving Mukhtar’s house, Muslim ibn Aqil wandered through the streets of Kufah. He was unfamiliar with the city and had to ask for directions several times.
“As-Salaamu Alaykum, Hani ibn Urwa,” Muslim exclaimed cheerfully when he found the house. “May Allah bless your home and family.”
“Wa Alaikum Salaam,” replied Hani, much less enthusiastically. “Allah knows best if you bring blessings or curses upon my house.”
Muslim laughed. Hani ibn Urwa was an older man and way too worrisome. He had once been a staunch supporter of Ali. But since Ali’s death, Hani had benefited from an amiable relationship with Banu Umayyah.
“Don’t worry, brother,” said Muslim. “I won’t be here long and I won’t bring any trouble to you or your family.”
Hani grumbled, but stepped aside so Muslim could enter.
Muslim understood his reluctance. Hani was taking a great risk by allowing him in his home.
The entire city was buzzing with the excitement that Husayn was on his way. Ubaydullah’s appointment was Banu Umayyah’s reaction to that threat.
Muslim had to get things moving quickly. There was no telling what the governor was plotting.
Hence, after taking some time to settle down in Hani’s home, Muslim wrote a letter to Husayn urging him to make haste to Kufah.
“Eighteen thousand men have given you the pledge,” he wrote to Husayn. “All of the people are with you. Hurry and come to Kufah.”
Ever since the early days of Uthman’s caliphate, Kufah had been a difficult city to govern. There were many factors behind its restless nature.
Part of it was due to Kufah’s origin as a garrison city. Other factors were its rapid growth, and its distance from the capitals; first Medina, and then Damascus.
But the biggest factor contributing to Kufah’s instability was its people.
As a garrison city, the initial purpose of Kufah was to supply and support Muslim soldiers involved in the war against the Sassanid Empire. However, this military function led to future problems.
Traditionally, Arab armies were organized based on tribes and clans. This motivated the individual soldiers to fight harder since no group wanted to be known as the weak link that lost a battle.
During the time of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, this system fell out of use. The Prophet’s armies were not large enough to allow such divisions.
Furthermore, the Messenger of Allah preferred to emphasize the religious unity of the Muslims, rather than rely on tribalism.
This system worked while the Prophet was alive, but as the Empire expanded, the tribal system came back into favor. Despite its drawbacks, tribalism made it was easier to mobilize large armies.
The soldiers that camped at Kufah remained segregated by tribe. These camps eventually turned into neighborhoods based on those same tribal divisions.
While there was warfare and a constant rotation of soldiers, this did not pose a problem. But as the rate of conquests slowed down, and people settled in Kufah permanently, problems began to arise.
Caliph Umar ibn Al-Khattab, who ordered the establishment of Kufah, hoped it would grow in a similar fashion as Medina had under Prophet Muhammad.
Like Medina, Umar planned for Kufah to become a city of migration. In doing so, he encouraged thousands of Arabs to populate the newly conquered regions of Iraq.
But Umar also wanted to preserve the political authority of Medina. In doing so, he appointed fellow Sahaba as governors and distributed stipends based upon Islamic hierarchy.
This hierarchy gave early Muslims, namely the Muhajirun and the Ansar, a higher share than later Muslims. After that, the stipends were distributed based upon conversion to Islam and military service.
At the bottom of the pyramid were the recent converts and those who had never fought in battle.
In the early years of Kufah, this was not a problem. As long as there were lands to conquer, there was always a need for young soldiers hungry to earn higher stipends, land of their own, and a little bit of glory.
When Uthman became the Caliph, it fell on him to put Umar’s plan into action. But by this time, the attitude in Kufah had begun to sour.
First, most of the Sassanid Empire had been conquered and military adventures to the east ground to a halt.
Those young men with small stipends who would normally be on the front line, were now stuck in Kufah with little money a lot of time on their hands.
Furthermore, the people of Kufah were beginning to tire of Medina’s control. Umar’s forceful personality and overall popularity allowed him keep the city in line.
But Uthman was older, more lenient, and tended to delegate authority to others. The Kufans resisted his efforts to organize Kufah based on Umar’s vision.
And even though the conquests in Persia ceased, the migration to Kufah did not.
Thousands of Arabs continued to pour into Kufah every year. This created a new dynamic that Umar did not anticipate, and Uthman was unprepared to handle.
There were several overlapping social levels in Kufah.
There were the original settlers, usually former soldiers with good stipends and land of their own, who felt they deserved some say in the city’s governance.
Then there were the tribal leaders who migrated to Kufah and had enjoyed a certain level of authority back home. They arrived in Kufah with the same expectations.
And finally, there were the newcomers.
These newcomers could not distinguish themselves in battle. They did not enjoy the honor of being a Sahaba nor being among the first in Kufah. And as poor young men, they often did not hold any rank back home either.
These newcomers also put a strain on the stipend system. It was traditional to give a Sharif, or noble, a lump sum of money to split among his clan.
The Sharif was expected to divide the money among his clan according to the precedence system established by Umar.
When newcomers arrived, the stipends for the clan was not increased. Instead, the Sharif had to lower everyone’s share in order to give something to the new arrival.
These problems were just beginning during Umar’s last years, but exploded during Uthman’s reign. With Kufah’s growth, Uthman struggled to find a governor who could keep the city under control.
Uthman tried to relieve this pressure by launching new wars into Central Asia. But unlike the early years, many of these campaigns ended in failure.
The Muslims were at times able to gain footholds in some new territories. Most of the time, these conquests were tenuous at best. The natives only gave nominal submission and, more often than not, would rebel against the Muslims within a year.
The lack of military action, the restlessness of young men with no authority or wealth, and the inability to adapt tribal culture to new circumstances, led to Kufah becoming a very unstable city.
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