Islamic History Podcast 3-3: Ziyad And Hujr

Islamic History Podcast 3-3: Ziyad And Hujr


Mada’in, Capital district of the Sassanid Empire, 36 years ago.

Hujr ibn Adi sat on his horse, staring at the rushing waters of the Tigris River. All around him, his fellow soldiers were splashing into the water with their horses, intent on making it across.

Hujr hadn’t seen something like this since the days of Khalid ibn Waleed. Recent rains had swollen the river, increasing its width and making the waters wild and unpredictable. The Persians had made sure to destroy or capture every single boat and raft for miles around.

Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, the current general of the Muslim armies of Persia, was nothing like his predecessor, Khalid ibn Waleed. Where Khalid had been brash and bold and maybe even a little reckless, Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, was deliberate and meticulous.

When Caliph Umar ordered Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas to take over in Persia, many of the soldiers doubted Sa’d could fill Khalid’s shoes. Hujr remembered how Khalid ibn Waleed blazed through Iraq, conquering cities at will.

But all of those doubts were laid to rest after the Battle of Qadisiyya. From his sickbed, Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas directed the Muslims to an astonishing victory against the best of the Sassanid military.

And now the Muslims were closing in on the Sassanid capital, Ctesiphon. The only thing in their way was the Tigris River.

On the other side, a small Persian force was staring in disbelief at the Muslims crossing the river on horseback. No man in his right mind would attempt such a thing. One false move, one stumble, one errant water current, and they’d be swept off and dragged below in seconds.

A Persian soldier gave a command and a volley of arrows shot towards the approaching Muslims. Under cover of the archers, a Persian cavalry raced into the water to meet them.

Arrows above, the river below, and Persian soldiers in front. This madness was something Khalid ibn Waleed would do; not Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas.

Once again, the Muslims were doing the impossible. To Hujr’s astonishment, not a single Muslim soldier was killed. Their shields absorbed the arrows, their horses swam across the neck-deep water, and the Persian cavalry was cut down in minutes.

The first wave made it across and a cheer erupted from the rest of the army. Hujr found himself cheering along with them.

Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas gave the order and the next wave advanced into the river.

Hujr urged his horse forward, and it obediently splashed into the Tigris. The water came to his ankles, then to his knees, and then to his waste. He could feel the horse’s legs churning below him as she swam towards the opposite bank.

He looked back and saw some of his fellow soldiers staring apprehensively at the water.

“What’s holding you up?” he called back to them laughing. “Is it this little droplet of water?” Then he recited a verse from the Quran.

And no person will die except by the Command of Allah at a specified time.

Chapter 3, verse 145

Hujr and his horse made it to the other side where he joined up with the others in the capture of Ctesiphon.

The Tradition of Cursing Ali ibn Abi Talib

Some Muslims promote the idea that Muawiyyah ibn Abi Sufyan and Ali ibn Abi Talib did not have any real antagonism. They say, these two men were swept up in uncontrollable forces that ultimately led to warfare.

This hypothesis falls apart when we consider the Umayyad practice of cursing Ali.

This practice began after Uthman’s murder when Muawiyyah would display the Caliph’s bloodied shirt during Friday services.

At first, Muawiyyah only cursed those who killed Uthman without naming Ali specifically. But, as the animosity intensified, he began to include Ali.

After becoming Caliph, Muawiyyah continued this practice, ordering his governors to curse Ali and Uthman’s killers during every sermon.

It is known, however, that Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, the famous Sahabah and Muslim general, refused to curse Ali.

The tradition of cursing Ali continued throughout most of the Umayyad era. The only Umayyad Caliph to prohibit this practice, was Umar ibn Abdul Aziz.

Umar ibn Abdul Aziz was the eighth Umayyad Caliph and the great-grandson of Umar ibn Al-Khattab. He is often called the Fifth Righteous Caliph.

The tradition of cursing Ali did not end until the Abbasids overthrew the Umayyads.

Hujr ibn Adi

Hujr ibn Adi was a Sahabah who did not take well to the Umayyads cursing Ali.

A Sahabah, or “Companion of Prophet Muhammad,” is any Muslim who saw the Prophet during his lifetime.

The Tabi’een, or “Followers,” is the second-generation of Muslims who followed the Sahaba.

Most sources state that Hujr ibn Adi was a companion. But there are some that suggest he was from the Tabi’een.

What we do know about Hujr ibn Adi is that he was from the Kindah tribe of Central Arabia. He fought for Caliph Abu Bakr during the Wars of Apostasy and then for Caliph Umar in the conquest of Persia.

He was one of the first soldiers to cross the Tigris River during the conquest of the Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon.

When the civil war broke out, Hujr ibn Adi sided with Ali and fought in the Battles of the Camel, and Siffeen. He was injured at Siffeen, but recovered to join Ali in the Battle of Nahrawan.

When Muawiyyah occupied Kufah, Hujr ibn Adi was among several of Ali’s companions that were considered untrustworthy. As such, he was forced to pray at the Masjid every night.

Muawiyyah had good reason to be concerned. Hujr ibn Adi, and many others, felt the Caliphate should have stayed within Ali’s family.

This marks the origin of the idea of a hereditary Caliphate. Eventually, this would become a foundational principle of Shiite theology.

But at this time, it was just wishful thinking. Hujr ibn Adi gave the bay’ah to Muawiyyah and did not participate in any rebellions.

Hujr and others used to shout at Mughirah ibn Shuba, Muawiyyah’s first governor of Kufah, whenever he cursed Ali.

Mughirah ibn Shuba refrained from retaliating against Hujr, and this may have emboldened him even more. By the time Ziyad ibn Abihi became governor of Kufah, Hujr had a following of about thirty men.

Ziyad ibn Abihi was not as forgiving.

The first time Ziyad cursed Ali, Hujr shouted him down just as he did to Mughirah. Ziyad warned Hujr that he was heading for trouble.

Ziyad did not take immediate action, but privately, he told his staff he intended to deal with Hujr ibn Adi.

One Friday, Ziyad was delivering a very long sermon. It was so long, people began to fear the time for prayer would expire.

Hujr ibn Adi was sitting in the audience and was getting impatient with Ziyad’s speech.

Finally, Hujr yelled out, “As-Salaat!” Meaning, the prayer.

Ziyad ignored him and continued to speak.

Again, Hujr yelled: “As-Salaat!”

Ziyad paid him no attention.

Grabbing a handful of dirt and pebbles, perhaps to throw at Ziyad, Hujr stood up and his companions followed him.

This time, Ziyad noticed. He stopped talking, glared at Hujr, then descended the pulpit to pray.

After the prayer, Hujr went to the local market, and Ziyad sent his police to arrest him.

When the police arrived, Hujr’s supporters chased them away.

The police reported back to Ziyad who called an emergency meeting of the elders of Kufah.

“Oh, people of Kufah! Why do you hurt with one hand, then comfort with the other? Your bodies are with me, but your hearts are with this obsessed, stupid, crazy Hujr. This is your fault!”

“God forbid!” replied one of the old chiefs. “We want nothing to do with this man. What can we do to help?”

“Go to your people and find those who support Hujr. Force them to abandon him and denounce him.”

Ziyad ordered his police back to the market. “Bring him back to me and beat anyone who stands in your way!”

The police returned to the market brandishing clubs. Once again, Hujr’s friends tried to intervene, but this time, the police were ready.

Chaos erupted in the market as the police attacked Hujr’s supporters. Hujr tried to help, but one of his supporters, a young man named Umayr, told him to leave and go hide among his people.

Show Notes

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Links related to this episode

2-3: Khalid and Persia

2-5: Yarmouk and Qadisiyya

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