Islamic History Podcast 3-2: Ziyad And Basra

Islamic History Podcast 3-2: Ziyad And Basra


Kufah, 5 years ago

The situation was grim, but there was still hope. No matter what Muawiyyah did, Ali would always have Iraq.

“Who can we send to Fars?” Ali asked.

Ali ibn Abi Talib had already lost Egypt to Muawiyyah’s general, Amr ibn Al-As. The Syrians defeated and killed Ali’s governor and stepson, Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr. They further desecrated the governor’s body by stuffing it into a donkey carcass and lighting it on fire.

Things had gotten worse as Muawiyyah grew bolder and launched attacks deeper and deeper into Ali’s territory.

These attacks from Muawiyyah weren’t large-scale invasions; they were more like pin pricks meant to distract and confuse Ali.

There were coming so fast, Ali could barely keep up with them.

Six thousand Syrians attacked Ali’s garrison in western Iraq.

After driving them off, another seventeen hundred Syrians attacked Bedouins in northern Arabia.

A few months later, three thousand Syrians plundered territory in central Arabia.

These quick attacks damaged Ali’s reputation. They showed he was weak and could not protect his people.

And on top of all this, he had to deal with yet another rebellion, this time in Fars in eastern Iran.

This was the second uprising in less than a year. Ali knew Muawiyyah was behind the first one.  But this new one in Fars was caused by locals taking advantage of the situation.

“Ziyad is just the man for this,” replied Ali’s general. “You should send him to Fars.”

Ali knew who he was talking about. Ziyad had helped put down the first rebellion, instigated by Muawiyyah’s spies in Basra. That he did so with very few casualties was even more impressive.

Ibn Abbas, Ali’s governor of Basra, agreed with the general.

“He is my deputy in Basra,” Ibn Abbas said. “I trust him with the people and the treasury when I am away.”

“He is definitely a man who stands for what he believes in,” the general added. “And when he sets out to do something, he always gets it done.”

Ali did not need any more convincing. “Very well,” he said. “The job is his.”

The Jizya

It is a common misunderstanding that the Muslim Arabs who conquered the lands of Syria and Persia, simply adopted the existing administrative structures of the Romans and Sassanids.

However, modern scholarship brings evidence of something different. It appears the Arabs brought their own financial system out of the deserts, and adapted it to the new empire they held.

This is most clearly evidenced in the Islamic system of taxation.

The Islamic jizya, or “non-Muslim tax”, is often portrayed negatively as a tribute to the conquering Muslims. Certainly, the Quran discusses it in an aggressive tone.

Fight those who do not believe in Allah or in the Last Day and who do not forbid what Allah and His Messenger have made forbidden, and do not adopt the religion of Truth from those who were given the Scripture, until they give the Jizya willingly and are humbled.

Chapter 9, verse 29.

At its root, the Jizya is simply a tax, similar to the Zakah which is a sort of charitable tax.

However, the Zakah has a spiritual and religious aspect. The root word of Zakah is za-ka-ya, meaning to purify. When Muslims pay Zakah, they’re purifying their wealth.

But since non-Muslims do not share the same beliefs, they can’t be asked to spiritually purify their wealth.

The root word of Jizya is ja-za-ah, meaning to “recompense” or “pay back”. A related phrase that Muslims use is “Jazak-Allah Khair” meaning “May God pay you back with good.”

The Jizya is a tax paying the government back for protection and the services it provides.

Muslim scholars have debated about who should pay the jizya. A minority have proposed that only the People of the Scripture, that is, Christians and Jews, must pay jizya. Others must either convert to Islam or leave the area.

But historically, it has been more common to apply the Jizya to all non-Muslim inhabitants of an area regardless of their faith. The Zoroastrians of Persia paid the Jizya during the time of the Righteous Caliphs. Many centuries later, the Hindus of the Indian subcontinent paid Jizya as well.

The Quran does not specify how much the Jizya should be. Generally, that is left up to the Muslim government to decide.

For the Righteous Caliphs and the rulers of the early Umayyad Dynasty, this system worked well. The Muslims were a ruling minority, and the non-Muslims living under them paid to keep the system running.

But as the Umayyad rulers became more extravagant, this system began to break down. This was further accelerated by the rapid growth of Islam in the Empire.

The Muslims did not remain a minority for long. Over the years, their non-Muslim subjects converted to Islam. When they did, the Umayyads were faced with a problem.

Initially, it was easy to tell who was Muslim and who was not. All of the Arabs were Muslim, and all of the non-Arabs were not.

Therefore, non-Arabs paid Jizya and Arabs paid Zakah.

But this line began to blur as more non-Arabs became Muslim. The government was receiving double the tax income from these non-Arab Muslims.

The new Muslims were religiously obligated to pay Zakah, yet the Umayyad government did not relieve them of the Jizya their Christian and Zoroastrian forefathers used to pay.

And as the Caliphs became more corrupt, they found it impossible to reverse this trend. Their lifestyles required the double-taxation of this new class of Muslim.

Naturally, this frustrated these new Muslims. This discriminatory practice brought social upheaval that would ultimately lead to the downfall of the Umayyads.

Abdullah ibn Amir

Abdullah ibn Amir had many things going for him.

He was a companion of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

He had previous administrative experience.

And he was from Banu Umayyah.

Yet, despite all of these positive factors, things just weren’t going right for him as the governor of Basra.

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