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Kufa founded in Iraq by early Islam. A permanent military establishment of the Arabs in Mesopotamia, Kufa retained the whole of the Iraqi Sawad [q.v.] under its control. It participated actively in the Islamic expansion into Iranian territory, and, throughout the 1st/7th century, was a hotbed of intense political ferment. It was there also, as at Basra, that there took place for three centuries the gestation of Arabo-Islamic civilisation and culture.

After death of Muawiya and the accession of Yazid b. Mu’awiya (r. 680-83), local leaders of Kufa wrote letters to Imam Hussain and asked him to lead a rebellion against the Umayyads, but then refrained from helping him, fearing the approaching Umayyad army.

Establishment During Omar’s Era[edit | edit source]

Kufa locates 105 kms south of Baghdad. Kufa was founded as a garrison city (mesr) in 17/638 by Saʿd b. Abi Waqqas, after his victory at the battle of Qadisiyya. It replaced Hira as the local administrative center for several former Sasanian provinces [1]. Unlike other garrison towns, it was not settled by one dominant tribe, but by small tribal groups from both southern and northern parts of the Arabian Peninsula. Many of these were early converts to Islam, who had participated in the first campaigns and as a reward for their commitment to the Muslim cause acquired wealth and status under the stipend system (ʿataʾ) established by the second caliph, ʿOmar b. al-Kattab.[2]

Othman’s Era[edit | edit source]

Kufa emerged as a center of opposition to the Caliph ʿOthman (r. 644-56) around two issues: First, the declining status of the early converts vis-à-vis the influx to the city of about 40,000 new converts to Islam (rawadef), who received lower stipends, and the question of whether or not surplus revenue from the provinces, that is after the local ʿataʾ had been paid, should be forwarded to Medina [3]. The internal social cleavages largely explain Kufa’s continuous rebelliousness, but also its political inconsistency and weakness for years to come. The early-comers became organized in opposition to ʿOthman’s policy with Malek al-Ashtar, a notable warrior, as their spokesman. They took the name of qorraʾ (lit. reciters, readers), which meant reciters of the Qurʾan and drew attention to their Islamic status. The qorraʾ deposed the governor, Saʿid b. ʿAs, replaced him by Abu Musa Ashʿari, marched to Medina, and took part in the murder of ʿOthman in 35/656 . [4]

In the time of Imam Ali[edit | edit source]

The new caliph, Ali b. Abi Taleb (r. 656-61; q.v.), chose Kufa, the base of the qorraʾ, his strong supporters, as his capital. Also in the Battle of Jamal, majority of people of Kufa supported Imam 'Ali. Yet, most Kufan clan leaders (ashraf) cared more for the preservation of the ʿʿataʾ system and wanted him to compromise with his rival Mu’awiya b. Abi Sufyan (r. 661-80). Concurrently, some of the intransigent qorraʾ abandoned ʿAli following the battle of Seffin (37/657) to become the Kharijites (Khawarej)[5] . With his powerbase weakened, ʿAli was murdered by a Kharijite while praying at a mosque in Kufa in 40/661[6] but Kufa remained a center of ʿAlid support in the centuries to come.

In the time of Ummayads[edit | edit source]

Kufa remained quiet under Mu’awiya’s rule, except for a minor pro-ʿAlid revolt by Hojr b. ʿAdi Kendi in 51/671. The population of Kufa population grew rapidly from about 20,000 to 30,000 inhabitants to around 140,000 Arabs during the early Umayyad period thanks to its location on the edge of the desert and the caravan routes.[7]

Battel of Karbala[edit | edit source]

With the accession of Yazid b. Mu’awiya (r. 680-83), local leaders (ashraf and roʾasaʾ) invited Hussain b. ʿAli to lead a rebellion against the Umayyads and promised to help him. Receiving letters of Kufa leaders, Hussain b. Ali wrote a letter to the people of Kufa and gave it to his cousin, Muslim b. 'Aqil to take to Iraq, analyses the situation there and reports to Imam. When Muslim ibn Aqil verified that he had strong support in Iraq, Hussain set out for Kufa with family members and followers. When Yazid heard the news of people's allegiance to Muslim b. 'Aqil and the lenience of Nu'man b. Bashir (the then governor of Kufa) towards them, appointed Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad (who was the governor of Basra) as the governor of Kufa. Finally, Muslim was arrested and executed in the day of ‘Arafa. Finally, people of Kufa refrained from helping Imam Hussain, fearing the approaching Umayyad army. The governor of Iraq sent 4,000 men to intercept the caravan. At Karbala, this force trapped Hussain's small group, which numbered less than 100. He refused to surrender, however, and led his men out into battle, where they were massacred. The Iraqi governor displayed the heads of Hussain and his followers in Kufa as a warning to other Umayyad enemies.

Shi’a Uprisings[edit | edit source]

Following the killing of Hussain and his companions at Karbala, three thousand Kufans, known as the Tawwabun (penitents), led by Sulayman b. Surad, went to die in battle against the Umayyads in order to atone for their sin of forsaking Hussain [8]

Under the banner of support for the cause of Ahl al-Bayt, Kufa continued to serve as the center of opposition to the Umayyads. Most significant was the revolt of Mukhtar b. Abi ʿObayd Thaqafi in 66-67/865-66 in the name of Muhammad b. Hanafiya, a son of ʿAli by a woman of the Banu Hanifa tribe. His movement was supported by dissident tribesmen, mawali, and slaves in as well as some of the ashraf of Kufa. However, his propaganda, which emphasized the interests of the downtrodden and the mawali, harmed his efforts to win over the ashraf, many of whom feared the radical nature of the movement. Together with about 10,000 of their supporters, they left Kufa and joined Mosʿab b. Zubayr, the military leader of the Medina-based rebellion against the Umayyads. Mosʿab moved against Mukhtar and besieged him in Kufa; Mukhtar was killed during an escape attempt in Ramazan 67/April 687, and Mosʿab subsequently executed about six thousand of his supporters. The Umayyads defeated the Zubayrid rebellion and recaptured Kufa in 691. Their governor, Hajjaj b. Yusof Thaqafi, established harsh rule over the city, discriminating against its inhabitants in the payment of ʿataʾ while forcing its warriors to fight the Kharijites. In response, the leader of the Iraqi tribal troops, ʿAbd-al-Rahman b. Mohammad b. Ashʿath, captured Kufa, his hometown, in 701. Under pressure from the qorraʾ faction, he rejected Umayyad offers of compromise and was eventually defeated by Hajjaj in Rabiʿ I 82/April 701.[9]

Following the rebellion, Kufa lost its political preeminence when Hajjaj built Waset to its south as the new administrative center of Iraq. Moreover, the Umayyad policy of large-scale land reclamations, mainly around Waset, and the intentional neglect of the lands around Kufa destroyed the power of the local élite.

Kufans promised their support to the revolt led by Zayd b. ʿAli b. Hussain, who had arrived in the city from the Hejaz in 740. But, as before, they deserted the ʿAlid cause in the face of the superior Umayyad army and Zayd was killed.[10]

In the Time of Abbasids[edit | edit source]

Kufa became one of three centers of ʿAbbasid revolutionary activity against the Umayyads, linking Homayma near the Dead Sea and Khorasan, with Abu Salama Hafs b. Solayman as chief organizer. Following the death of Ebrahim, the head of the ʿAbbasid family, in an Umayyad prison in 749, the other leading family members hid in Kufa[11] . Abu Salama negotiated with members of the ʿAlid family to appoint one of them as caliph. However, Abu Moslem Khorasani, the leader of the revolutionary army of Khorasan, preferred the ʿAbbasids and had Abu’l-ʿʿAbbas al-Saffah (r. 749-54) proclaimed as caliph in Kufa in RabiʿI, 132/October 749 .[12]

As the first ʿAbbasid administrative center, Kufa experienced a great influx of Khorasanis, which produced a partial Iranization in its toponymy, for example by crossroads being called Chaharsuq[13] . Yet, in view of its strong ʿAlid orientation, al-Saffah moved his capital to Hira [14].

The caliph al-Mansur (r. 754-75) began the construction in 762 of a new capital, Baghdad, which marked the beginning of Kufa’s decline as a regional political center. In 155/771-2, al-Mansur had Kufa surrounded by a wall and a moat[15] , probably for the first time in its history. Kufa gave its support to another ʿAlid revolt in Jomada II 199/January 815. The rebellion was initially very successful, and the rebels came to control most of southern Iraq and almost reached Baghdad, but it was eventually crushed. While the Shiʿis lost politically to the ʿAbbasids, Kufa remained an important center of Shiʿi learning and religious propagation for years to come.

Kufa School of Fiqh and Hadith[edit | edit source]

Alongside its political tribulations, Kufa had emerged as an important cultural center already under the Umayyads. Kufic script is regarded as the earliest form of post-Islamic Arabic writing, which was a result of imposing design, order, and organization on the Hejazi script (Kadri, p. 1). It was also the home of Abu Mikhnaf (d. 157/774), one of the first great Arab historians. Almost a century after Basra, the rival Kufan school of grammar emerged with the semi-legendary Abu Jaʿfʿar Mohammad Roʾasi and his students Abu’l-Hasan ʿAli Kesaʾi (d. 179/795), and Abu Zakariyaʾ Yahya Farraʾ (d. 207/822). This school was regarded as more deeply rooted in the Arab environment, with a passion for anomalies (Shawadd) and a more acute sense of poetry (Bernards, pp. 129-40).

In the 7th century, Kufa became a leading center of Hadith transmission under the leadership of Ebrahim Nakaʿi (d. 72/691), Saʿid b. Jobayr (d. 95/713), and ʿAmer b. Sharahil Shaʿbi (d. ca. 110/728). By the 8th century Kufa had emerged as a center for jurisprudence (feqh) emphasizing rational reasoning (raʾy), in contrast to Medina, where the agreed practices of the community relied only on transmitted reports from the Prophet. Kufan jurists led by Abu Hanifa (d. 150/767), founder of the Hanafi madhab (legal school), and his disciples Abu Yusof (d. 182/798) and Mohammad Shaybani (d. 188/804) rejected authority based on local practice as tantamount to equating contemporary practice with prophetic practice, positing instead authority based on local reasoning[16] .

Kufa also served as a leading center of Shiʿi intellectual activity. Over eighty percent of the more than three thousand individuals mentioned by Abu Jaʿfar Mohammad Tusi (d. 460/1067) in his list of those who related traditions from Imam Jaʿfar al-Sadiq bear the ascription “al-Kufi.” According to Liyakatali Takim, in Kufa, there was an uneasy juxtaposition of the reasoning of individual jurists, local consensus, and precedents reported from the Prophet. The friction between the Kufan school of reasoning (raʾy) and the local tradition of the Medinan school is reflected in the relations between the early Shiʿi jurists (rejal)and the imams. The freedom that the these jurists enjoyed in Kufa encouraged some of them to interpret the teachings of the imams based on the hermeneutical principles embodied in reason and deduction (raʾy and qias), eventually leading them to differ with the imams’ teachings and to promote their own juristic authority[17] .

The decline of Kufa became an established fact by the 10th Century. It suffered a series of attacks in 293/905, 312/924 and 315/927, by the Qarmatians (Qarameta, see CARMATIANS), from which it hardly recovered. The Shiʿi Buyid dynasty cultivated Najaf as the center of Shiʿi devotion and pilgrimage, a position previously held by Kufa. In 386/996 the Buyid Amir Bahaʾ-al-Dawla (r. 379-403/989-1012) gave Kufa to the chief of the Bedouin ʿOqaylid dynasty, nominally the vassals of the Buyids, as a military fief (eqtaʿ). Other tribes, namely the Banu Asad, Banu Tayyeʾ, and Banu Shammar, which settled and dominated Kufa in subsequent years failed to revive it. The founding of the town of Hella by the Mazyadid bedouin dynasty in 495/1102 dealt Kufa another blow by replacing it as the leading town of the area in future centuries.

Under Ottoman rule (1638-1918), Kufa was administered from Najaf. In the early 1680s, a canal was constructed to bring water from the Euphrates. Still, it remained a poor town whose charitable endowments (waqf) were insufficient to support the local mosques[18] . Around 1916, The British Admirality War Staff Intelligence division reported a population of 3,000 inhabitants, of whom about 75 percent were Shiʿi Arabs and the rest Iranians . [19]

In 1932, Kufa was the site, along with other Shici cities in Iraq, of large scale demonstrations in response to the publication in late 1932 of a fiercely anti- Shici book by a Sunni government employee (Hasani, III, pp. 267-68).

Kufa regained some of its political importance under Baʿthi rule in Iraq. In 1987, the regime built a university there in order to overshadow the Shiʿi seminaries (madares) of Najaf. The Shiʿi mojtahed Mohammad-Sadeq Sadr made his mosque in Kufa the center of his efforts to revive Shiʿi religious activism in Iraq following the Persian Gulf War (1991-92), which was triggered by the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. Following his assassination in 1999, his son Moqtada Sadr “continued with covert attempts to organize Shiʿi militias in Najaf and Kufa”[20] . Kufa, whose population amounted to about 119,000 at the beginning of the 21st century, had remained a stronghold of the Sadrist movement on the eve of the fall of the Baʿth regime in 2003.

Source[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Morony, p. 154
  2. Massignon, pp. 15 ff
  3. Hinds, pp. 351-53
  4. Tabari, I, p. 2928
  5. Hinds, p.  363
  6. Tabari, I, 3456-64
  7. Kennedy, p. 86
  8. Tabari, II, pp. 497-513, 538-74
  9. Shaban, p. 68
  10. Lassner, p. 141
  11. Lassner, p. 141
  12. Tabari, III, pp. 27-33; Shaban, pp. 164-66
  13. Djaït, EI2 V, p. 347
  14. Lassner, p. 147
  15. Tabari, III, p. 373
  16. Takim, pp. 18-21
  17. Takim, pp. 101-2
  18. Nakash, pp. 19, 236
  19. A Handbook of Mesopotamia II, pp. 405-6
  20. Stansfield, p. 77