Sibt ibn al-Jawzi (d. 1256) on Yazid ibn Mu’awiya (d. 683)

Shams al-Dīn Yūsuf b. Qizughlī (d. 1256), better known as Sibṭ ibn al-Jawzī, was the grandson (through his mother’s side) of the great twelfth-century Ḥanbalī theologian and jurist Abū al-Faraj ibn al-Jawzī (d. 1201). Although raised in Baghdad during his earlier years, where he studied with his grandfather and other senior scholars, he moved to Damascus around the year 1202 where he joined the service of the Ayyubid Sultans of Syria. It was around this time that he abandoned the Ḥanbalī school in favor of Ḥanafism. One of the many fields in which he excelled was history. His monumental historical work, entitled Mir‘āt al-Zamān—much like his own grandfather’s al-Muntaẓam—is a wonderful work of history and contains a wealth of information. One of the most interesting facts about Sibṭ ibn al-Jawzī are his strong Alid tendencies (leading some of his later biographers to describe him as a Shi’ite), which are nowhere more clear than in his work entitled Taẓkirat al-Khuwāṣ al-Umma fī Khaṣā’iṣ al-A’imma. This work is essentially a narrative of the historical and religious importance of ‘Alī b. Abī Ṭālib (d. 661) and his descendants. The specific section translated here is taken from that particular work and is part of a broader project to make available in English different perspectives on Karbala from medieval Muslim sources. As can be seen, Sibṭ ibn al-Jawzī’s perspective on Yazīd is uncompromising and is particularly notable for the details that he provides about the latter’s actions against the people of Mecca and Medina. Although the section dealing with the history of Karbala itself occupies nearly 50 pages (not translated here), it is notable that a substantial amount of the work is devoted to making a case for the permissibility of the cursing of Yazīd. In many ways, as can be seen from the translation below, this section reads almost like a commentary on Abū al-Faraj ibn al-Jawzī’s treatise entitled al-Radd ‘ala al-Muta‘aṣib al-‘Anīd al-Mānī‘ min Dhamm Yazīd in which the author provides elaborate proofs for why it is permissible for the believer to curse Yazīd b. Mu‘āwiya. Although it is unsurprising for a major Sunni figure such as Sibṭ ibn al-Jawzī to speak negatively about Yazīd, it is nevertheless important that such a major figure would endorse cursing him, especially considering that other Sunni scholars have either forbidden cursing Yazīd (Abu Hamid al-Ghazali) or even considered him worthy of praise (Abu Bakr ibn al-‘Arabi).



It has been narrated by the scholars of history that al-Ḥasan al-Baṣrī (d. 728) said: Mu‘āwiya [ibn Abī Sufyān] had four major flaws, each of which constituted a very serious offense: his illegitimate seizure of the Imamate and granting himself absolute authority without consultation from the Muslim community; his declaring Ziyād [ibn Abīhī] to be his brother; his murdering [the Companion of the Prophet] Ḥujr b. ‘Adī (d. 660) and his companions; and his appointment of an individual such as Yazīd as the caliph of the Muslims.”

It is also said that Mu‘āwiyah himself declared: “If not for my affection for Yazīd, I would have exercised more discretion [with regard to selecting a successor].”

My grandfather Abū al-Faraj ibn al-Jawzī (d. 1201) stated in his book entitled al-Radd ‘ala al-Muta‘aṣib al-‘Anīd al-Mānī‘ min Dhamm Yazīd: “An individual asked me about my views on Yazīd b. Mu‘āwiya. I replied that he need not concern himself with that. He then asked if it is permissible to curse him. I stated that the pious scholars of the past, including Ahmad b. Ḥanbal, permitted this, with the latter making statements [against Yazīd] that far exceeded that of mere cursing.

My grandfather stated, and Abū Bakr Muhammad b. ‘Abd al-Bāqī—Abū Ishāq al-Barmakī—Abū Bakr ‘Abd al-‘Azīz b. Ja‘far—Ahmad b. Muhammad b. al-Khallāl—Muhammad b. ‘Alī—Mihnā b. Yahya informed us of the following: “I asked Ahmad b. Ḥanbal about Yazīd b. Mu‘āwiya, and he replied that he was the one who performed such infamous deeds. I asked what it was that he had done. Ibn Ḥanbal said that he had plundered the city of Medina and massacred its inhabitants. I asked if it was permissible to narrate hadith from him. Ibn Ḥanbal responded that it was impermissible to do so and added that not a single good deed should be narrated about [Yazīd] and that no one should ever write down a hadith attribute to Yazīd.”

My grandfather narrated from Qāḍī Abī Ya‘la b. al-Farrā’ (d. 1066) in his book al-Mu‘tamad fī al-Uṣūl with a chain of narration extending to Ṣālih b. Ahmad b. Ḥanbal that the latter said: “I related to my father that a certain group of people associate us with Yazīd and claim that we love him. He responded: ‘O my son, how can that be when it is impossible for anyone who truly believes in God to love Yazīd.’ So I asked him why he does not curse him, to which he replied: ‘O my son, when did you see me cursing anything or anyone? However, why should one not curse the one who was cursed by God Almighty in His Book.’ I asked my father where Yazīd is cursed in God’s Book. He responded: ‘in the verse: ‘Would you then, if you were granted authority, cause corruption upon the earth and break your ties of kinship? Such are the individuals whom God has cursed so that he has made them deaf and blinded their sight’ (Q. 47: 22–23) and is there any form of corruption and evil greater than murder?” And in another narration, when Ṣālih asked him this question, he responded: ‘O my son, what shall I say about an individual whom God has cursed in His Book’ and he mentioned the same verse.”

My grandfather said in his aforementioned book about cursing Yazīd—and Abī Ya‘la did also, in a book in which mentioned the various individuals who deserved to be cursed, among whom he included Yazīd—that the one who has hesitations about cursing Yazīd is one of three types of people: one who is unaware of the permissibility of doing so; an outright hypocrite; or an ignorant individual basing himself upon the hadith of the Prophet that proclaims that “a believer is not one who curses.”

Regarding the last category, the Qāḍī Abī Ya‘la states: “This hadith is in reference to cursing the one who is not deserving of being cursed.” And if it is said that the Qur’anic verse “Would you then, if you were granted authority, cause corruption upon the earth and break your ties of kinship?” (Q. 47: 22) was originally revealed as a reference to the hypocrites from among the Jews, my grandfather has responded to this point in al-Radd ‘ala al-Muta‘aṣib where he states that “this [particular exegetical interpretation] was narrated by Muqātil b. Sulaymān (d. 767) in his tafsīr. The majority of hadith experts—including [Muhammad b. Ismā‘īl] al-Bukhārī (d. 870), Waqī‘[b. al-Jarrāh, d. 813], [Zakarīyya b. Yahya] al-Sājī (d. 919), [Abū al-Ḥasan ‘Alī b. Ḥujr b. Iyās] al-Sa‘dī (d. 858), [Abū ‘Abd al-Rahmān] Ahmad b. Shū‘ayb] al-Nasā’ī (d. 915) and [Abū Ḥātim] al-Rāzī (d. 890)—have agreed that [Muqātil] was a liar whose narrations are unacceptable.” He [Ibn al-Jawzī] also said: “Ahmad [ibn Ḥanbal] interpreted the verse as referring to the Muslims, so how can we accept that the statement where he allegedly stated that it was revealed about the hypocrites [of Medina]?” And if it is said that the Prophet stated that “the first army that shall raid Constantinople will have its sins forgiven,” with Yazīd being among those who participated in the earliest raid on the city, then we affirm that the Prophet stated that “The curse of God is upon anyone who harms my city [Medina],” and the second hadith abrogates the first.”

Ahmad stated in his Musnad: “Anas b. ‘Iyāḍ—Yazīd b. Ḥafṣa—‘Abd Allāh b. ‘Abd al-Rahmān b. Abī Ṣa‘ṣa‘a—‘Aṭā’ b. Yassār—al-Sāyyib b. Khallād narrated that the Prophet said: ‘Whoever harms the people of Medina with oppression has harmed God Himself and the curse of God, the angels, and all the people will be upon that person, and God shall not accept from that person a single good deed or act on the Day of Resurrection [as recompense].’”

Al-Bukhārī has said: “Ḥusayn b. Ḥurayth—Abū al-Faḍl—Ju‘ayda—‘Ā’isha stated that she heard from Sa‘d that he heard the Prophet state: ‘The one who harms the people of Medina will be completely annihilated just as surely as salt dissolves in water.” Muslim also narrated a hadith of similar meaning, with the variation: “Verily, the one who approaches the people of Medina with the intent to harm them will be melted in Hellfire just as lead is melted.”

There is absolutely no difference in opinion about the fact that Yazīd harmed the people of Medina, enslaved its population, slaughtered its inhabitants, and plundered the city, following the Battle of al-Harra (683). This incident—as narrated by al-Wāqidī, Ibn Ishāq and Hishām b. Muhammad—came about when several of the people of Medina went to Damascus to see Yazīd b. Mu‘āwiya after al-Ḥusayn had been killed. At his court, they witnessed him drinking wine, using musical instruments, and playing with dogs. As a result, when they returned to Medina they openly cursed him, rebelled against his authority and expelled his governor, ‘Uthmān b. Muhammad b. Abī Sufyān. They stated that “we have returned from the presence of a man who has no religion, a drunkard who abandons prayer!” and gave their allegiance to ‘Abd Allāh b. Hanẓala. [Ibn] Hanẓala declared to the people: “Verily we have not rebelled against Yazīd until we feared that God would rain down his vengeance from the heavens. This is a man who engages in forbidden sexual union with mothers, daughters and sisters, drinks wine, abandons prayer and murders the descendants of the prophets…” When news of this reached Yazīd, he sent a large Syrian army against Medina under the leadership of his general Muslim b. ‘Uqba al-Murrī. He ransacked the city of Medina for three days, murdered [Ibn Hanẓala] and massacred the notables of the city. For three whole days, his army subjected the city to a sack, plundering its wealth and raping its women. According to Ibn Sa‘d, Marwān b. al-Ḥakam incited Muslim b. ‘Uqba against the people of Medina. When Yazīd learned of this, he expressed his gratitude to Marwān, elevated his position and was very beneficent towards him.

In his book entitled al-Ḥarra, [Abū al-Ḥasan] al-Madā’inī (d. 830) related from al-Zuhrī that “those killed on the day of al-Harra included over 700 notable people belonging to Quraysh, the Anṣār, the Muhājirūn, and the mawālī [non-Arab Muslims]. This is in addition to 10,000 less renowned individuals, whether slaves, free men, or women, who were massacred. The blood flowed through the streets of the city to such an extent that it reached the very walls of the Prophet’s tomb and filled the holy sanctuary and mosque. According to Mujāhid “the people sought refuge in the sanctuary of the tomb and pulpit of the Prophet’s mosque, but were still cut down by the swords [of Yazīd’s army].” The incident of al-Harra occurred in Dhul-Ḥijja of 63 A.H. [August 683 A.D.] and occurred about three months before Yazīd’s own death. The latter’s soul was taken from him suddenly and violently, while his soul was still in a state of oppression, and there are various prophetic traditions and subtle allusions from the Prophet Muhammad that discuss this [i.e. the nature of the death of tyrants].

Abū al-Ḥasan al-Madā’inī related from Umm al-Haytham b. Yazīd, who said: “I witnessed a woman from Quraysh circumambulating the Ka‘ba before embracing and kissing a dark-skinned man who had approached her. I asked her who he was in relation to her and she responded: ‘This is my son from the day of al-Ḥarra. His father forced himself upon me and then I gave birth to the child.’”

Al-Madā’inī also narrated from Abī Qurra who said: “Hishām b. Ḥassān said that over 1000 unmarried women gave birth [as a result of their being raped] after al-Harra.” Others have asserted that the more accurate estimate is over 10,000 unmarried women. Al-Sha‘bī said: “Yazīd had explicitly ordered the sacking of Medina and was well-pleased with it, and expressed his gratitude to Marwān b. al-Ḥakam for encouraging it. He then ordered his army led by Muslim b. ‘Uqba to attack Mecca. Muslim died along the way and was replaced by al-Ḥuṣayn b. al-Numayr, who attacked the Ka‘ba with catapults, destroyed its walls, and burned it. For this we proclaim: May the curse of God be upon Yazīd!”

My grandfather said: “The most despicable thing [about Karbala] was not that Ibn Ziyād ordered the killing of al-Ḥusayn, that he sent ‘Umar b. Sa‘d and Shimr to carry out the deed, nor even that he ordered the heads to be carried off to him. Verily, what is truly despicable were Yazīd’s own perfidious actions, especially his poking of al-Ḥusayn’s head with his staff [in mockery], his carrying off of the Prophet’s family on the backs of camels in the manner of captives, and his attempt to give Fāṭima b. al-Ḥusayn to the man in his court who demanded her for himself! Moreover, his recitation of the infamous verses of Ibn al-Zub‘arī—“I wish my forefathers at Badr were here to witness…”—and his sending the head of al-Ḥusayn to Medina in order for it to be displayed publicly as if he were a Kharijite rebel are just as deplorable! Yet, even Kharijites and rebels (bughāt) are given the dignity of being shrouded in cloth, prayed over, and buried! Yazīd’s statement that he had the right to enslave [the Ahl al-Bayt], as is evident from his treatment of Fāṭima b. al-Ḥusayn is itself sufficient proof that he should be cursed! If Yazīd was not driven by pre-Islamic inclinations and hatreds, he would not have disrespected the head of al-Ḥusayn by poking and mocking it; rather he would have allowed it to be shrouded in cloth, prayer over and buried in dignity; he would also have shown due respect to the family of the Prophet and treated them well.”

Further proof for Yazīd’s hatred and vile behavior can be seen in his summoning Ibn Ziyād to Damascus after Karbala and bestowing upon him illustrious gifts and large sums of money, elevating his status, granting him access to his women and making him his intimate boon-companion. One night, after becoming drunk, Yazīd ordered his slave-girl to sing but before she began he recited the verses:

“Pour me a drink that will satisfy my innermost soul! And fill a large cup like it for Ibn Ziyād.

Verily, he is my most intimate companion and I trust him absolutely!

For he realized my deepest goal and struggle!

He killed the Kharijite, the treacherous rebel al-Ḥusayn, and terrified my enemies and those who envy!”

Ibn ‘Aqīl (d. 1119) said: “Among the many things that reinforce the fact that [Yazīd] was a disbeliever and an apostate—and not merely someone who should be condemned and cursed!—are his poetic verses in which he makes his irreligion quite plain:

[Untranslated: what follows are several verses of poetry ascribed to Yazīd quoted by Sibt ibn al-Jawzī that seek to emphasize Yazīd’s irreverent attitude towards the Islamic faith]

There are many other such poems that can be found in his collection of poetry, and as a result this community should feel nothing but shame for having endured his governance over them. As Abū al-‘Alā’ al-Ma‘arrī (d. 1058) said, referring to that disgraceful fact:

“The days have witnessed the most abominable and reprehensible acts;

I am therefore not shocked by any strange occurrence or facts.

Was it not your Quraysh that murdered al-Ḥusayn?

Was it not Yazīd who once as your caliph reigned?”

When my grandfather, Abū al-Faraj, had Yazīd publicly cursed from the pulpit of the mosque in Baghdad in the presence of the [Abbasid] caliph al-Nāṣir [r. 1180–1225] and the senior religious scholars, a small group of uncouth individuals stood up and left the gathering, at which point my grandfather said: “Thus, Midyan perished just as Thamud had perished” [Q. 11:95].

Several of my teachers informed me about that day. A group of scholars in Baghdad had asked my grandfather about Yazīd. He responded: “What do you say about a man who ruled for three years, in the first he murdered al-Ḥusayn, in the second he pillage Medina for three days, and in the third he assaulted the Ka‘ba with catapults until it was destroyed? They said: Verily, we curse him! [Ibn al-Jawzī said:] So curse him!”

My grandfather said in his book, al-Radd ‘ala al-Muta‘aṣib: “In various prophetic hadith, individuals who have not even done one-tenth of the evil that Yazīd has done are cursed.” He then went on to mention the prophetic traditions narrated by Bukhārī and Muslim in this regard…Thus, it is clear that even individuals who committed lesser sins than Yazīd, such as drinking alcohol or dealing in interest, are cursed. How much more grievous then are Yazīd’s actions, ranging from his murder of al-Ḥusayn and his family to sacking Medina to assaulting the Ka‘ba with catapults until its walls were destroyed, to say nothing of his verses of poetry which make it clear that he was a disbeliever. Whosoever desires to read more in this regard should consult [Ibn al-Jawzī’s] book entitled al-Radd ‘ala al-Muta‘aṣib.

[Sibṭ ibn al-Jawzī, Taẓkirat al-Khuwāṣ al-Umma fī Khaṣā’iṣ al-A’imma (al-Najaf : Manshūrāt al-Maṭbaʻah al-Ḥaydarīyah, 1964), pp. 286–292]


2 thoughts on “Sibt ibn al-Jawzi (d. 1256) on Yazid ibn Mu’awiya (d. 683)

  1. Pingback: Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111) on the Evils of Cursing (La’n) « Ballandalus

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