Was Kufa a Shia centre accountable for Imam Husain’s (a.s.) killing

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The supporters of Yazid and critics of Shias claim that Kufa was a Shiite centre / stronghold, and its residents are accountable for Imam Husain’s (a.s.) killing in Karbala.

Kufa cannot be called a majority Shiite centre for the following reasons:

Shias were in minority
Most Shias in Kufa had already been eliminated
Shias have pledged never to harm the Ahle Bait (a.s.)
People are slaves of this world paying lip-service to religion
Ali (a.s.) laments on lack of support from the Kufans
Imam Husain (a.s.) received letters from Muslims not just Shias
Importance of Kufa is NOT same as importance of Kufans
At best they were has-been Shias, like the Kharijis or like Iblis

1. Shias were in minority Back to Top

Kufa had a small, loyal group of supporters of Ahle Bait (a.s.) it WAS NOT a majority Shiite centre. Majority of Muslims in Kufa were on the creed of the Shaikhain.

Ibn Abil Hadeed records:

The people of Iraq, Ali’s (a.s.) soldiers, his entourage, and his people, believed in the Imamate of Shaikhain, except for the odd few Shias.

  • Sharh Nahj al-Balagha v 15 p 185

There is no reason to believe that Kufa which was established under the rule of the second ruler, under an army commanded by Saad Ibn Abi Waqqas, remained a Muslim city for nearly 20 years, would suddenly blossom into a Shiite centre under Ali’s (a.s.) reign in a matter of few months!

The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) propagated in Mecca for 13 years and did not have more than a few dozen followers – can anyone claim that Mecca was a Muslim stronghold with a few dozen Muslims?! When this was the case with Mecca after 13 years, how can Kufa become a Shiite centre overnight?

2. Most Shias in Kufa had already been eliminatedBack to Top

In 61 AH at the time of Karbala battle, there weren’t that many Shias to account for the 18,000 or so letters pledging support to Imam Husain (a.s.). Twenty years ago, during Muawiyah’s reign, Shias were hunted down and excepting a few, all were eliminated.

Muawiyah directed one of his governors after signing of peace treaty with Imam Hasan (a.s.):
Beware that there will be no responsibility (on us) for anyone who narrates any report concerning Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.).

It was most difficult for the people of Kufa, because the Shias in Kufa were many and Muawiyah’s brother Ziyad was made the governor. Basrah, Kufa and the whole Iraq was given under his control. Ziyad had Shias under surveillance and he knew them all because he was himself at one time from the Shias. He was aware of their beliefs. He killed them under every tree, stone and piece of clay. They were thrown out of cities, were scared, their hands and feet cut off, hanged on the branches of date-trees, eyes pierced with iron rods and were thrown out until they abandoned the Mastership of Ali (a.s.). In Iraq, there was not a single popular Shia who was not killed or hanged or thrown out of cities. (In many cases, the weak-hearted Shias even abandoned the Mastership of Ali (a.s.) to save themselves and their families from these agonies.)

  • Sharh Nahj al-Balagha v 11 p 44
  • Kitab al-Sulaim trad 26

Ubaidallah Ibn Ziyad affirms to Hani Ibn Urwah that his father (Ziyad) as the Kufa governor had eliminated all the Shias of Kufa except for Hani’s father (Urwah) and Hujr Ibn Adi (who was subsequently killed by Muawiyah).

  • Tarikh Tabari v 4 p 269

Given their near complete annihilation, it is inconceivable that Shias numbered 18,000 in 61 AH, especially since Muawiyah had died just a few months ago and his policy of persecution and elimination of Shias continued all through his reign until 60 AH.

3. Shias have pledged never to harm Ahle Bait (a.s.)Back to Top

A true Shia cannot harm the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) progeny as per divine assurance. Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s.) informs regarding the verse

فَسَلَامٌ لَّكَ مِنْ أَصْحَابِ الْيَمِينِ

Then peace to you from those on the right hand. (Surah Waqiah (56): 91)

They are the Shias. Allah has assured Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) – you are secure from the Shias; they will not kill your sons.

  • Taweel al-Ayaat p 628
  • Behar al-Anwar v 24 p 1, 45, 53

With reports like this, it is inconceivable a Shia would even think of harming an Imam, leave alone join forces with Yazid of all people to annihilate Imam Husain (a.s.) along with his family and his companions in a strange land.

4. People are slaves of this world paying lip-service to religionBack to Top

Even when Imam Husain (a.s.) was apprised of the situation in Kufa with all his ‘supporters’ turning their backs on his emissary Muslim Ibn Aqeel (a.s.), he (a.s.) was not shocked or disturbed at the developments. In fact, he observed rather matter-of-factly:

People are the slaves of this world, giving religion their lip-service; they uphold it as long as their livelihood is profitable. Once they are afflicted with trials, those who uphold religion are few indeed.

  • Tohof al-Uqool p 245
  • Behar al-Anwar v 78 p 117

Imam Husain (a.s.) describes his supporters as fair-weather friends who change sides to suit their selfish interests, rather than the interests of the Imam of the era. Once they were with Imam Husain (a.s.) when they saw him as a likely victor, but when circumstances changed and Yazid and Ibn Ziyad appeared to gain the upper hand, they switched sides.

These ‘supporters’ of Imam Husain (a.s.) are like the supporters of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) in Uhud and Hunain who abandoned him in his hour of need. Only difference is these supporters continue to be referred as Sahabah, while those who abandoned Imam Husain (a.s.) in Kufa cannot be referred to as Shias anymore, even if they were Shias at one stage. The standards for a Shia are higher than the standards for a Sahabah, so a Shia can lose his status if he fails the test of Imamat, but a Sahabah will always be one even if he fails the test of prophethood!

5. Ali (a.s.) laments on lack of support from Kufans Back to Top

Interested readers can browse through the numerous sermons of Nahj al-Balagha on lack of support from the Kufans against Muawiyah and their various excuses at every stage.

Sample this complaint of Ali (a.s.) directed at the Kufans:

How strange! How strange! By Allah my heart sinks to see the unity of these people on their wrong and your dispersion from your right. Woe and grief befall you. You have become the target at which arrows are shot. You are being killed and you do not kill. You are being attacked but you do not attack. Allah is being disobeyed and you remain agreeable to it.

When I ask you to move against them in summer you say it is hot weather. Spare us till heat subsides from us. When I order you to march in winter you say it is severely cold; give us time till cold clears from us. These are just excuses for evading heat and cold because if you run away from heat and cold, you would be, by Allah, running away (in a greater degree) from sword (war).

I wish I had not seen you nor known you. By Allah, this acquaintance has brought about shame and resulted in repentance. May Allah fight you! You have filled my heart with pus and loaded my bosom with rage. You made me drink mouthful of grief one after the other.

You shattered my counsel by disobeying and leaving me so much so that Quraish started saying that the son of Abi Talib is brave but does not know (tactics of) war. Is any one of them fiercer in war and older in it than I am? I rose for it although yet within twenties, and here I am, have crossed over sixty, but one who is not obeyed can have no opinion.

  • Nahj al-Balagha Sermon 125

There are many more sermons like this one. Can anyone conclude on reading these complaints of Ali (a.s.) that Kufa was a Shiite centre brimming with support for the Ahle Bait (a.s.).

In one sermon Ali (a.s.) tells Amr Ibn al-Hamiq al-Khuzai (r.a.), his confidante – Wish I had 100 like you. (Sharh Nahj al-Balagha v 3 p 181 onwards).

And regarding Malik al-Ashtar (r.a.), Ali (a.s.) says – I wish I had two like you, rather even one like you. (Behar al-Anwar v 32 p 547)

This shows that even in the lifetime of Ali (a.s.) in Kufa, there were very few meritorious companions like Amr Ibn al-Hamiq (r.a.) and Malik al-Ashtar (r.a.) as most of the Muslims were on the creed of others and not with Ahle Bait (a.s.). When this was the woeful condition of Kufans in the very presence of Ali (a.s.), how can it blossom into a Shiite centre years later when there was no Ali or Hasan or Husain (peace be upon them) residing in Kufa!

6. Imam Husain (a.s.) received letters from Muslims not just ShiasBack to Top

It is a fallacy to claim that all those who wrote letters inviting Imam Husain (a.s.) were Shias. Most of those who invited Imam Husain (a.s.) were Muslims on the creed of the Shaikhain who were tired of the oppressive rule of Muawiyah for 20 years in which he persecuted the Iraqis and they saw matters getting even worse under Yazid, a well-known debauch.

This is the like large group of Muslims who were frustrated by the oppressive rule of Usman Ibn Affan and his Umayyad aides like Walid Ibn Uqbah, Saeed Ibn Aas and Marwan and demanded a change. They then gave allegiance to Imam Ali (a.s.) but that is not to say they became his loyal Shias. They remained loyal to the creed of the Shaikhain, else why would they fight him in a few months in Jamal by quashing his allegiance. Imam Ali (a.s.) has pointed out his frustration in dealing with the Muslims still attached to the creed of the Shaikhain:

I have really encountered burdensome things due to separation (from truth) and obedience (of Muslims) to the leaders of falsehood and the inviters to Hellfire (previous rulers)!

  • Al-Kafi v 8 p 58-63 under Sermon of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.)

So Kufans frustrated by Umayyad policies invited Imam Husain (a.s.) who they saw as a rallying figure in dark times as he was the son of Ali (a.s.) and the grandson of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and a man of immense virtue who stood head and shoulders over Yazid, the ruler of the time.

But to claim that the 18,000 plus letters written to Imam Husain (a.s.) were all Shias of the calibre of Amr Ibn al-Hamiq al-Khuzai (r.a.) is a fallacy. There just weren’t that many Shias at the time in Kufa even in the presence of Ali (a.s.), so how can one assume such a scenario 20 years later?

The real Shias of Kufa who invited Imam Husain (a.s.) either joined him in Karbala (Muslim Ibn Awsaja), while some were imprisoned (Mukhtar al-Saqafi) and others went underground (Habib Ibn Mazahir initially, Rushaid) and some were killed by Ibn Ziyad in Kufa before Karbala (Hani Ibn Urwah).

7. Importance of Kufa is NOT same as importance of Kufans Back to Top

Muslims confuse importance of Kufa with importance of Kufans. Kufa has much significance in Islam, but the significance does not automatically transfer to residents of Kufa.

Just like Mecca and Medina have many virtues but that does not mean that all residents of Mecca and Medina are pure Muslims who will have died migrating to Allah and will be resurrected with fighters of Badr on Judgment Day, which is one of the virtues of the residents of Mecca and Medina. (Kamil al-Ziyarat p 19)

If Mecca has such virtue, then why did Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) migrate from Mecca? It’s because he (s.a.w.a.) did not find adequate support from the residents of this holy city.

If Medina has such virtue, then why is Allah warning Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) about residents of Medina:

وَمِمَّنْ حَوْلَكُم مِّنَ الأَعْرَابِ مُنَافِقُونَ وَمِنْ أَهْلِ الْمَدِينَةِ مَرَدُواْ عَلَى النِّفَاقِ لاَ تَعْلَمُهُمْ نَحْنُ نَعْلَمُهُمْ سَنُعَذِّبُهُم مَّرَّتَيْنِ ثُمَّ يُرَدُّونَ إِلَى عَذَابٍ عَظِيمٍ

And from among those who are round about you of the dwellers of the desert there are hypocrites, and from among the people of Medina (also); they are stubborn in hypocrisy; you do not know them; We know them; We will chastise them twice then shall they be turned back to a grievous chastisement. (Surah Tauba (9): 101)

Same is the case with Kufa, a city that enjoys a status like Mecca and Medina. But that does is not to say that all the residents of Kufa are destined for greatness, loyalty, and obedience to their Imam. The people of Kufa betrayed their Imam on several occasions just like the residents of Mecca and Medina failed to submit to Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and were criticized for their hypocrisy by Allah in the Holy Quran.

8. At best they were has-been Shias, like Kharijis or IblisBack to Top

For argument’s sake, even if we consider the Kufans who penned letters to Imam Husain (a.s.) as Shias, they can no longer be considered as such after their betrayal. Their likeness is like the Khariji, who despite being in Ali’s (a.s.) army turned vehemently against him first in Siffeen and then rose against him in the battle of Nahrawan.

A person is labelled based on his current inclination and not his past belief. Having disobeyed Allah, Iblis is no longer referred to as Allah’s worshipper in the Holy Quran and the Sunnah, although he was once ranked alongside the angels. Nor do Muslims refer to companions like Abu Bakr, Umar and Usman as infidels, although they were on that creed for longer than on Islam.

As we find in the incident of Talut and Jalut in Surah Baqarah (2): Verse 249:
So when Talut departed with the forces, he said: Surely Allah will try you with a river; whoever then drinks from it, he is not of me, and whoever does not taste of it, he is surely of me, except he who takes with his hand as much of it as fills the hand; but with the exception of a few of them they drank from it…

All those who drank from the river and they were in the majority, were no longer among Talut’s companions and cannot be referred to as such.

Likewise, those who abandoned Imam Husain (a.s.) in Kufa and joined Yazid’s ranks cannot be called as Shias. They were ranked alongside Yazid’s forces and all attributes used for Yazid’s forces applies to these so-called Shias as well.

Clearly, Kufa a city of immense importance like Mecca and Medina, also had residents, like these two cities, who did not offer wholehearted support to the Ahle Bait (a.s.). In all these cities, there was a small band of loyal supporters to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and Ahle Bait (a.s.), with the majority either being opposed to or indifferent to them. Hence to claim that Kufa was a Shiite centre responsible for betraying Imam Husain (a.s.) is way off the mark.

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