Is Democracy in Retreat?

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948, spells out a list of rights deemed to be non-negotiable:

  • Everyone has the right to life, liberty, and security of person.
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
  • Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; to freedom of peaceful assembly and associations; and to take part in their government, directly or through freely chosen representatives.

The declaration does not use the term democracy but that is exactly what it describes.
Even leaders who are undeniably authoritarian, make some claim to the mantle of democracy, either by holding sham elections or by trying to broaden the definition of rights to encompass goods they can deliver, like prosperity. Those who are not subject to popular will still crave legitimacy – or at least the appearance of legitimacy.

If democracy is broadly understood to mean

  • the right to speak your mind,
  • to be free from arbitrary power of the state, and
  • to insist that those who would govern you must ask for your consent,

then democracy – the only form of government that guarantees – has never been more widely accepted as right.

Yet while the voices supporting the idea of democracy have become louder, there is more scepticism today about the actual practice and feasibility of the enterprise. Scholarly and popular discourse is filled with declarations that democracy is in retreat. The pessimism is understandable, particularly given events in the Middle East, where the promise of the Arab Spring seems to lie in tatters. If there is cause for optimism, it is recognizing that people still want to govern themselves.

Freedom has not lost its appeal. But the task of establishing and sustaining the democratic institutions that will protect it is arduous and long. Progress is rarely a one-way road. Ending authoritarian rule can happen quickly; establishing democratic institutions cannot.
2016

Democracy’s story is evolving. There are always new challenges, new responses, and new possibilities – good and bad. So, it can be said of 2016 and the rise of populism, nativism and a tinge of isolationism. A revolt against political and economic elites, their institutions, and their globalizing and sometimes moralizing views has upended the status quo and left all to wonder, What comes next?

It is no surprise that this earthquake is shaking young democracies like Poland. But it is stunning that it has jolted the most mature of them – the United Kingdom, the United States, and much of Europe. In 2016, voters in the UK narrowly rejected continued participation in the European Union. Proponents of Brexit railed against economic red tape imposed by unelected EU bureaucrats and called for regaining control over their country’s borders. Brussels, they believed had become disconnected from their aspirations and their fears.

In the United States, a new president was elected with absolutely no experience in government of any kind – the first in the country’s history. He had made clear what he thinks of America’s political elites whatever their ideological stripe. They have ceased, he believes, to represent the American people – their aspirations and their fears.
Similar concerns have spread throughout European bloc – including to France and Germany – where the far left and the far right seem to have made a common cause of battling the establishment.

Some write darkly that these trends constitute a threat to democracy – if not the end of it as we know it. That seems alarmist and premature. Indeed, democracy is built for disruption with its institutions, its checks and balances, and its shock absorber – the ability of people to change their circumstances peacefully. People are exercising that right – at the ballot box, in the courts and some in the streets.

More troubling, though is whether the turn to nationalism and nativism will threaten the global order – the balance of power that favours freedom. Here we might ask whether history is repeating itself. Or, as Mark Twain said, whether it is at least about to rhyme.

The statesmen who inherited the broken post-war world of 1945 built a system that trusted free markets and free trade to create an international economy that would grow. They were chastened by the memory of the 1930s when beggar-thy-neighbour trading policies, protectionism, conflict over resources led to the Great Depression and World War II. This time, they insisted that the international economy would not be a zero-sum game. Countries would find comparative advantage, trade freely, and all would benefit. For the most part, they succeeded, restoring the economies of both the victors and the vanquished – and spreading prosperity to hundreds of millions of people across the globe.

They believed too that democratic governments in Germany and Japan would never make war again. The western part of Germany was encased in the European Union so that it could be powerful but not dangerous. There it waited for the time when the collapse of communism allowed the unification of all its territory as a stable democracy. Japan too would become a constitutional monarchy – prosperous and free and no threat to its neighbours. And free markets and free peoples would all be protected by American military power. This time, America would not withdraw and leave the world to its own devices. The United States would make a remarkable pledge to Europe: An attack upon one is an attack upon all. In commitments to Japan and eventually South Korea, the United States would become Asia’s shield against aggression.

Democracy has gained adherents in the context of this global order – though admittedly in fits and starts. Can it continue to do so if America and others withdraw from the responsibilities of the system they created? What will happen to those who still seek liberty in a world told to go its own way? What becomes of those still living in tyranny if we cease to tell others that democracy is a superior form of government and that its tenets are universal?

We cannot possibly know the answer to those questions, but we do know that the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse – populism, nativism, protectionism and isolationism-served neither democracy nor peace very well the last time around.

We can take solace in the fact that democratic institutions are stronger this time. Germany and Japan do not cast a shadow of aggression – they are stabilizing forces for good. But the same cannot be said about Russia and perhaps China – authoritarian states that seem determined to disrupt the global order – if less violently than those who came before.
The victory for democracy is that those who longed for change have done so through it, not around it. But if the lessons of 2016 are to be learned, both insurgents and those who wish to defend the global order will be required to step back and accept some very hard truths.

The standard-bearers for those who voted to shake up the system need to find the humility to know and accept democracy’s paradox: its genius is in its openness to change, but its stability comes through its institutions that embody constraint and reject absolute power. They will find that it is easier to tear down democratic institutions than to build them and work through them. And they must now deliver real prosperity for those who trusted them – not just assign blame to foreigners and immigrants who take their jobs.

On the other hand, those who would defend the status quo – the post-war global order – need to admit there are those who have not shared in its prosperity and are troubled by its rejection of more traditional values.in this regard, the trend towards dividing people into ever-smaller groups, each with its own particular grievance and narrative, comes at the expense of the unifying identity that all democracies need. This is especially true in the United States where we the people has no ethnic, national or religious basis. We reinforce those divisions at our peril.

Global leaders also need to accept that there is a growing gap between those who are comfortable breaking down borders and barriers between peoples – and those who find it dizzying and even threatening. But many people never live very far from where they were born. It is not surprising that their experiences, aspirations and fears are not the same. Increasingly, neither are their possibilities for a productive life.

America’s founding fathers understood that liberty was the necessary condition for citizens to find fulfilment. It is not, however sufficient. Human beings have to have the opportunity to develop their potential through education. A country that fails to provide all its people with equal access to education will most assuredly be a place of hardened inequality. In that regard, no foreign power can do more harm to us than we can do to ourselves.

The Founders’ prescription can be achieved – the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But the achievement involves taking a hard look at the realities facing so many Americans and making a commitment to address their fate. With that would come the confidence, as a nation, to insist that we are better off when we work to make this true not just for us- but for all humankind.

The United States has been a North Star for those seeking liberty not because it is perfect, but because it was born imperfect and is still struggling with imperfection. That has always been the best argument for America’s example – and America’s engagement. We are a living proof that the work of democracy is never done. For those who are just starting – stumbling and starting again – that is reassuring and inspiring. And it s a reason to be a voice for them as they struggle in their freedom – just as we do – to chart a better future.

By courtesy:

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War Inquiry Commission 1971

Hamood-ur-Rahman Commission Report

After the fall of Dhaka, eight days later, on Dec 24, 1971, the President of Pakistan Mr. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto set up the War Inquiry Commission, commonly known as the Hamood-ur-Rehman Commission. It examined 213 witnesses, mostly Pakistani army officers, hundreds of classified documents and army signals between East and West Pakistan. The final report was submitted in November 1974, detailing how political, administrative, military, and moral failings were responsible for the surrender in East Pakistan.

The Findings

The report said:

  1. The process of moral degeneration among the senior ranks of the armed forces was set in motion by their involvement in martial law duties in 1958; that these tendencies reappeared and were in fact intensified when martial law was imposed once again in March 1969 by General Yahya Khan.
  2. Due to corruption arising out of the performance of martial law duties, lust for wine and woman, and greed for lands and houses, a large number of senior army officers, particularly those occupying the highest positions, had not only lost the will to fight but also the professional competence necessary for taking the vital and critical decisions demanded of them for the successful prosecution of war, the Commission observed.
  3. According to the Commission, these perversions led to the army brass willfully subverting public life in Pakistan. In furtherance of their common purpose they did actually try to influence political parties by threats, inducements and even bribes to support their designs, both for bringing some of the political parties and the elected members of National Assembly to refuse to attend the session of the National Assembly scheduled to be held at Dhaka on March 3, 1971.
  4. A fully civil government could not be formed in East Pakistan as had been announced by the ex-President namely Dr. Malik- an old politician who had a weak personality. He could not annoy the Martial Law Administrator (Lt. Gen. A.A.K. Niazi) because of the unsettled conditions obtaining in the Eastern Wing. Gen. Niazi, on the other hand cherished and liked power, but did not have the breadth of vision or ability to understand political implications. He did not display much respect for the civilian Governor; the Army virtually continued to control civil administration. The Commission discovered.
  5. The installation of a civilian governor in September 1971 was merely to hoodwink public opinion at home and abroad. Poor Dr. Malik and his ministers were figureheads only, the Commission observed.
  6. Real decisions in all important matters still lay with the army. In the first picture of the new Cabinet, Maj. Gen. Farman Ali was prominently visible sitting on the right side of the Governor, although he was not a member of the Cabinet.
  7. The rot began at the very top from the East Pakistan army’s commander, Lt-General A.A.K.Niazi, who the commission said acquired a notorious reputation for sexual immorality and indulgence in the smuggling of paan (betel leaf) from East to West Pakistan. The inevitable consequence was that he failed to inspire respect and confidence in the minds of his subordinates with absolute absence of leadership qualities and determination; he also encouraged laxity in discipline and moral standards among the officers and men under his command, the Commission determined.

The Recommendations

The Commission recommended public trial of the following officers:

  1. General Yahya Khan, former Commander-in-Chief
  2. General Abdul Hamid Khan, ex-Chief of Staff to the President
  3. Lt. Gen. S.G.M.M. Pirzada, ex-Personal Staff Officer to the President
  4. Lt. Gen. Gul Hasan ex Chief of General Staff
  5. Maj. Gen. Ghulam Umar ex Second-in -Command of NSC
  6. Maj Gen A. O. Mitha ex Deputy Corps Commander
  7. Lt. Gen. Irshad Ahmad Khan, ex-Commander 1 Corps
  8. Maj Gen Abid Zahid, ex-GOC 15 Div.
  9. Maj. Gen B.M. Mustafa, ex-GOC 18 Div.

The Commission recommended court martial of the following officers:

  1. Lt. Gen. A.A.K. Niazi, ex Commander, Eastern Command
  2. Maj Gen. Mohammad Jamshed, ex-GOC 36 (ad-hoc) Division,
  3. Maj Gen. M. Rahim Khan, ex-GOC 39 (ad-hoc) Division.
  4. Brig. G.M. Baqir Siddiqui, ex COS, Eastern Command, Dhaka
  5. Brig. Mohammad Hayat, ex Commander. 107 Brigade. (9 Div.)
  6. Brig. Mohammad Aslam Niazi, ex Commander 53 Brigade (39 Ad-hoc Div.)

The Commission recommended departmental action against the following officers:

  1. Brig. S.A. Ansari, ex-Commander, 23 Brigade
  2. Brig. Manzoor Ahmad, ex-Commander 57 Brigade, 9 Div.
  3. Brig. Abdul Qadir Khan, ex-Commander, 93 Brigade, 36 Div.

The Commission observed that the suitability of the following officers for continued retention in military service would not be justified:

  1. Maj. Gen. M.H. Ansari, GOC 9 Div.
  2. Maj. Gen. Qazi Abdul Majid, GOC 14 Div.
  3. Maj Gen Nazar Hussain Shah, GOC 16 Div.
  4. Maj. Gen. Rao Farman Ali, ex Adviser to the Governor of East Pakistan.
  5. Plus 19 Brigadiers.

The Commission further recommended that armed services should devise ways and means to ensure:

  1. That moral values are not allowed to be compromised by disgraceful behaviour particularly at higher levels;
  2. That moral rectitude is given due weightage along with professional qualities in the matter of promotion to higher ranks;
  3. That syllabi of academic studies at the military academies and other service institutions should include courses designed to inculcate in the young minds respect for religious, democratic and political institutions;
  4. That use of alcoholic drinks should be banned in military messes and functions;
  5. That serious notice should be taken of notorious sexual behaviour and other corrupt practices.

The Action:

  1. Nothing ever happened. The army’s role in dismembering Pakistan after its greatest military debacle was largely ignored by successive Pakistani governments and many of those indicted by the Commission were instead rewarded with military and political sinecures.
  2. Bhutto, reportedly, as Prime Minister personally ordered that each and every copy of The Report be burnt.
  3. A copy of the Final Report was however saved, which was leaked and published in Indian magazine India Today in August 2000. The following day, Pakistani newspaper Dawn also carried the report.
  4. General Pervez Musharraf stated in October 2000 that the incidents in 1971 were a political as well as a military debacle, and that calls for generals to be tried were not fair.

The Aftermath

Had action been initiated against the accused, as recommended by the Commission, the nation could have averted the coup d’état of Zia-ul-Haq whose 11-year rule of infamy completely devastated the political as well as the socio-economic fabric of the state and society. Besides many irreversibles, it led to radicalization of the society, which is now clearly visible. The policies of that era invited foreign intervention which is so deep rooted now. And the role of intelligence agencies from media management to missing persons is so pervasive. We could have also averted the illegitimate takeover of Pervez Musharraf and whatever followed thereafter.

Fast Forward to 2018:

  1. The security establishment plays the most important overt and covert role in ruling this country. It also defines the contours of national interest.
  2. The security establishment is in full control of our economic, defence and foreign policy. The political government is in no position to make organic changes in policy formulation.
  3. Actual annual defence budget exceeding rupees 1100 billion (some estimates exceed rupees 2000 billion) is allocated on direction from the military and there is no parliamentary oversight.
  4. According to human rights groups, more than 5000 persons are missing in Pakistan and nobody has any access to them.
  5. Wiki leaks reports that in March 2009 the Chief of the Army Staff considered removing the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces and replacing him with the leader of ANP.

The elected Prime Minister and his daughter are in jail after a trial which has lost its credibility after the statement of a judge of the High Court that the army and the ISI manipulated the trial and influenced the courts. Drastic censorship, harassment and intimidation is the order of the day, may it be media, civil society or political leadership. The entire world media including China have termed the 2018 elections as a farce. The country is split on pro and anti-establishment camps which is most stark in the province of Punjab. Terrorist organizations have been allowed to contest elections and sectarian outfits are running political campaigns. Terrorists, whose backbone was claimed to have been broken are back in business and scores have been killed in recent terrorist attacks. First time in the history of Punjab, anti-army slogans have been raised on roads.

How long can this country survive in its present form is the million-dollar question?

Courtesy of:

The Aftermath by Waseem Altaf

Muawiya the Umayyad, Imam Hasan and Imam Husain

Hasan bent down to kiss his father’s wounded brow. He then went out from the house to announce the death of their Imam to the people of Kufa. It was still Ramadan and so the streets around the great central mosque, and the aisles within, were packed with Muslims listening to the all-night recitations of the Koran that were such a feature of the holy month of fasting. Hasan had been born with a slight speech defect but he had conquered this disability to become a slow but deliberate speaker, whose measured pace was in effective contrast to his quick-tongued and fiery contemporaries. That night he described his father as a man whose acts were unrivalled and would for ever remain so. He reminded the congregation of his father’s bravery and how in battle he had often protected the Prophet with his own life. As his legal legatee, Hasan also formally reported to the people that Ali held no government loans, no treasury hoard of bullion that now needed to be returned, just a purse of 700 dirhams that he had been saving up from his salary in order to be able to acquire a servant. At the memory of the man they had now lost, fit to stand beside Abu Bakr and Omar for the absolute moral rectitude of his administration, the thirty-seven-year old Hasan found himself too moved to continue his speech. The congregation wept for him, and at the end of his father’s elegy, Ubaydallah ibn Abbas stood up and called the people to pledge their loyalty to the grandson of the bringer of good tidings, the son of the warner, the son of the summoner to God (powerful and exalted) and with his permission, the shining lamp. The congregation needed no such prompting, Hasan was adored by all.

He was also, by all accounts, the spitting image of his grandfather, and a charming conversationalist, who never spoke evil of any man. He was also a genuine ascetic, who had already performed the pilgrimage twenty-five times, travelling the whole 250 miles between Medina and Mecca on foot. He was one of the great unsung heroes of Islam, a pacifist, a scholar with a totally independent mind that looked to the true nature of a cause. Typically it was Hasan who had stood guard over Uthman’s door until rendered unconscious by the assaults of the mutineers. For despite his own father’s opposition to Uthman’s last six years of rule, Hasan had always looked beyond the day to day disagreements over policy and appointments. He had appreciated Uthman’s brilliant achievements and also had a personal sympathy for this gentle, clever, scholarly man and could empathise with the personal reticence of his aristocratic and uxorious uncle. Above all, Hasan shared with Uthman an innate understanding that mercy, forgiveness and compassion were at the root of Islam. His Islam was such that he desired neither evil nor harm to anyone and enormously admired Uthman for being prepared to die for his beliefs but not to cause the death of any man. When he preached, he summoned up, out of the teachings of the Koran, not a cause for war but the call for peace. Again and again he stressed that the lesser jihad, the armed struggle, should be just a preparation for the greater jihad which was the lifelong struggle to master oneself. He quoted Sura 2, verse 216, God has prescribed the jihad for you though it is a loathsome duty.

Hasan was ahead of his time in his vision of Islam as religion of peace-perhaps he would still be if he were with us now. The soldiers of the Kufa garrison, the same men who had refused to fight for his father on the fourth day of Siffin and after that tragic day at Nahrawan, now angrily demanded he lead them to war.

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Those two decades of endless victories when the Arab armies had conquered half the known world had introduced a very dangerous imbalance into early Islam. For far too many young Muslims had grown used to the idea that their faith would be reflected in military victory. They erroneously saw glorious triumphs in this world, fame, glory and wealth as proofs of the rightness of Islam. They could no longer understand that Muhammad’s message was entirely about the individual’s relationship to God and was not a charmed banner under which they were destined to conquer the world.

In vain did Hasan preach that like all true Muslims they should aspire to abandon worldly ambition, that shame is better than hellfire and that he sought not a worldly dominion but to seek the favour of God, and to spare the blood of the people. Instead the soldiers began to publicly abuse their prince until they had worked up their passions into a riot. Hasan’s house was looted, his prayer mat was ripped from underneath him and his tunic pulled from his shoulders. Only the protection of the mounted warriors of the Rabi tribe, devoted partisans of Ali and his family, stopped Hasan from being martyred that day. The violence only made Hasan absolutely determined to end the schism within Islam and halt any further bloodshed between Muslims.

Muawiya for his part moved with speed and tact, once he began to fully appreciate that Hasan was not indulging in some per-fight propaganda but was genuinely seeking lasting peace. He led his army out of Syria, but showed a gracious forbearance to his opponents as he advanced ever closer to Kufa and Basra. He responded to Hasan’s pious modesty by dropping all his own claims to imposing titles of power, so that the correspondence between the two over the peace was simply addressed between Hasan ibn Ali and Muawiya ibn Abu Sufyan. Another chronicler recorded that Muawiya sent his seal already attached to a completely blank draft of the proposed treaty – so that Hasan could fill in whatever terms he desired. These charming gestures may well have occurred, a public duel in chivalry, even if no one was in any doubt of the true issues at hand. Hasan agreed to relinquish all authority to Muawiya in exchange for an agreement not to harm any of the supporters of Ali, and to govern by the book of God and the example of the Prophet. This he would do by letter and by word, explaining to the congregation in the Kufa mosque that he had ceded his right to rule for the best interest of the community and for the sake of sparing blood. Muawiya acknowledged that the reign would belong to Hasan after him (although this would soon be quietly forgotten) and that to avoid all future strife the next Caliph was to be decided by a formal electoral council. Hasan was assured of an annual salary of a million dirhams, with which he could generously support his companions, all the Beni Hashim and the old clients of his father.

In July 661 Hasan and his younger brother Husain rode out of Kufa and took the road back to Medina, Hasan had ruled for just six months

with the skills of the Arabs in my hand, for they were ready to make war on whomever I declared war, yet I abandoned it, seeking instead the face of God.

His enemies would later attempt to blacken his saintly pacific nature by naming Hasan al-Mitlaq, the great divorcer. Tales of his extravagant wedding parties, his boundless generosity and the hundred wives that he took in Medina, some for no more than a night, read like episodes from The Thousand and One Nights. Though the details of these fantasies are a still relished element of popular culture they must also be recognised as the traces of black propaganda designed to discredit this man of peace. Hasan’s seven marriages and descendants are exceptionally well chronicled, for practically all of the thousands of families of Shareefs that claim descent from the Prophet Muhammad trace their descent through one of Hasan’s two surviving sons, Zayd and Hasan.*

* The families who trace their descent from his brother are customarily known as Sayyid.

Muawiya entered Kufa as the sole recognised Caliph of the Arab Empire. He promised forgiveness to all those in the Kufa garrison who immediately came forth to pledge allegiance, though he warned that after three days the season for pardon and protection would be at an end. He also promised the assembled soldiers a vast new horizon for their ambitions: an ever-expanding Arab Empire to be forged from their future conquests. Salaries would be paid punctually from now on, wars would always be fought in the territory of the enemy, with campaigning seasons for border raids set a six months, while for more ambitious conquests the Arab warriors should be prepared for a whole year’s absence from their base camps and their families.

The armies of the Caliphate were soon to be on the march again, further extending the frontiers of the empire. Muawiya had always believed that the way to keep an army of Arabs obedient was to keep it well occupied. At the head of these Arab armies stood a man whom Omar had prophetically described as the Caesar of the Arabs. Muawiya was indeed a prince among the Quraysh, tall, tanned and handsome. He also had the common touch of Caesar, the ability to charm, persuade and delegate rather than merely to command. Muawiya had grown up in the political heart of Mecca with an instinctive grasp of Arab political culture: when it was expedient to listen, when it was time to consult and when to be patient. His most consistent military opponent, the Greek speaking Byzantine Empire, got to know the measure of the man through the constant shuffle of ambassadorial diplomacy. It is therefore especially intriguing that the Byzantine historian, Theophanes chose to describe Muawiya as neither the king if the Arabs nor their emperor but as their first counsellor. For as long as Muawiya could lead and direct the Arab armies to victory there was no doubt that they would accept his counsel. As a commander-in-chief, Muawiya was a near-genius, and the range of his strategic vision is astonishing to behold.

On the western front, the battle hardened nephew of Amr, Oqba ibn Nafi was dispatched to complete the conquest of North Africa. In 670, to facilitate this, an advance base would be established some 1500 miles west of Fustat in central Tunisia. This kairouan, a temporary halting place of the Arab cavalry army, was well sighted: it not only dominated the good grazing grounds of the steppe but it allowed Oqba to drive a strategic wedge between his two opponents, the walled Byzantine cities of the coast and the fierce Berber principalities of the mountains. Oqba’s halting place would eventually grow into the holy city of Kairouan. There was a setback, for after the death of his old uncle Amr (in Egypt) Oqba would row with the new governor-general and, like his uncle before him, Oqba would be sacked. But like his uncle, he would also return to take command and exact his revenge. In 681 he would make his exploratory ride across the southern steppe lands of North Africa, stopping only when he reached the end of the road, the shores of the Atlantic – known to the Arabs as the Sea of Obscurity. Here he protested that if there was a ford, he would cross it, in order to find new lands to conquer in the name of God. On his ride back Oqba would be killed by a Berber prince, Kusayla, outside the oasis of Biskra (in southern Algeria) after which the witch-queen of the mountains, the priestess Kahina, would raise the Berber tribes in a widespread revolt against the Arab Muslims. With this extraordinary narrative of events, North African Islam created its own historical mythology.

On the northern frontier, the Arab navy that Muawiya had so patiently created over the past two decades was at last given free rein and let loose on the sea lanes of the southern Aegean. Sicily and Crete were both repeatedly attacked and in 672 Rhodes was occupied. An Arab inscription recently found carved into a church floor in Cnidus (on the Turkish coast opposite Rhodes) may date from these swashbuckling years – in which case it is one of the earliest Arabic inscriptions in existence. An Arab colony was then settled on the island of Rhodes and an enterprising merchant from this vanguard community would make a fortune by smelting down the Colossus of Rhodes, the great brazen statue of Helios that had been toppled by an earthquake some 300 years before.

Using Rhodes as an advanced base, Muawiya launched his most ambitious operation, a marine-based assault on the triple-walled city of Constantinople. The siege, a series of attacks by the sea, would last for ten years, from 668 to 678. The mosque that was established at Eyup, the base camp just outside the land walls of Constantinople, would be rediscovered by Ottoman archaeologists in the fifteenth century and restored in magnificent style to become the oldest Muslim prayer hall in Europe. It was an extraordinary achievement to have kept an army in the field for that length of time so far from their homeland. They were entirely dependent on control of the sea route, so that when an Arab fleet was defeated by a Byzantine squadron, at the battle of Syllaeum in 678, Muawiya wisely called off the siege which had been commanded by his first-born son, Yazid. In the process of this orderly withdrawal, a truce was agreed with Byzantium that woulda last for a whole generation. The Muslim world would have to wait another 800 years before it had a leader who could breach the walls of the city of the Caesars. The Byzantine land frontier, embedded with the dozens of stout castles that guarded all the important passes through the Taurus mountains, had remained firmly in place throughout the ten-year siege. On this frontier Muawiya had raised up one of Khalid’s surviving sons, Abdal Rahman, to become governor of Homs and to lead the summer raids of the Arab armies against the mountain redoubts.

In the troublesome east Muawiya would leave nothing to chance. He chose the most resilient power-politicians of the day to govern the two potential trouble spots: the Iraqi cities of Kufa and Basra. So once again that one-eyed rogue Mughira was promoted to rule over Kufa, while his fellow Taif-born protege Zayyad, watched over Basra. Trusting in no one’s good faith, they established the infrastructure of state power complete with a police force (the dreaded shurta) , law courts, prisons, treasury officials and curfews as well as covert agents to report on the mood on the markets and the gossip at the doors of the mosque. Under these two political bosses the two garrison cities of Iraq were made to concentrate their energies ont the coordinated conquest of the far eastern frontiers of Persia. Muawiya had skilfully bound Zayyad into a position of personal loyalty by settling the delicate matter of his social origins (for he was literally the bastard son of a whore), by officially recognising Zayyad as one of his father’s lost sons. Zayyad was no longer to be referred to by the tongue-in-cheek patronymic ibn Abihi, the son of his father, but as the son of the great warlord of Mecca, Abu Sufyan. Later Muawiya would heap further rewards on this new brother by making Zayyad’s son Ubaydallah the governor of the new 50,000 strong garrison city in Khurasan, while Caliph Uthman’s son Saeed was given command of the newly conquered forward post of Bukhara.

Throughout Muawiya’s nineteen-year reign (AD 661-680) the centre of administrative power was firmly located upon Damascus. No longer did foreign ambassadors, confidential agents, officials and delegations make the long and arduous journey across central Arabia to Medina. Instead they once again made their way to the old commercial capital of Byzantine Syria, now doubly glorious as the new political centre of a worldwide empire. There was, however, no attempt to coordinate the vast conquests into a coherent Arabic -speaking-empire. Each conquered province continued to use its own language, it’ own indigenous class of state officials and units of measurement as well as retaining the exact units and shapes of the traditional coinages, the gold dinar of Byzantium and the silver dirham of Persia. The simplicity of the Prophet’s life and rule had now been totally transformed, so that even one of Muawiya’s deputy governors was now surrounded by the panoply of power consciously modelled on the Byzantine and Sassanid courts, and a visiting foreign ambassador could observe a crowd of silver-sticks and lectors, and at his gate 500 soldiers mounted guard.

At the beginning of his rule as Caliph, Muawiya had made the journey from Damascus to the oasis of Medina in order to accept the oath of allegiance from all the old revered Companions of the Prophet who dwelt there. Few came to the mosque to pledge their obedience, for though they might reluctantly accept the efficiency of his administration and the continued success of his armies, they could manage only a passive tolerance of his usurpation and would not give him their active support or blessing. It is remembered that Muawiya tried to take them to task over this indifference. He asked, How come all the people have come to swear allegiance except those from Medina? To which the laconic reply was, We have no riding camels. Muawiya, knowing full well that all the Companions now possessed sizeable herds, replied in the same offhand spirit, But what became of all those camels you used to use for fetching water? They were lamed when we chased after you and your father after the battle of Badr was the derisive reply. To drive the point home further they proceeded to inform Muawiya that the Prophet had warned them of a state of calamity after his death, to which he commanded us to be resigned. That was to be the extent of the loyalty he could expect from all the chief men of Islam-patient resignation. Others in the oasis remembered that Muhammad had predicted that the succession to his prophethood would last for thirty years, to be followed by a biting kingship. These beliefs were to be codified with the pleasing prospect of eternal damnation for the usurper Caliph, by a poet of Medina who sang at this time:

The Prince of the Faithful, Muawiya, we greet him
In his message from the Prophet’s own city:
We will be resigned till the Day when we meet him,
The last Day of Judgement,the Day without pity.

Towards the end of his reign Muawiya would once again try to win over the chief men of Islam to his rule. The empire had been ceaselessly expanded in every direction, their annual stipends had been paid with relentless punctuality and efficiency, but when the leading Muslims of the second generation of Islam heard that Caliph Muawiya was coming again to Medina they voted with their feet. Husain ibn Ali, Abdur Rahman ibn Abu Bakr, Abdullah ibn Zubayr and Abdullah ibn Omar waited until the old ruler was within a few days ride of the oasis before they saddled their camels and rode out of town. They feared that he had come to force them into accepting his son Yazid as a suitable candidate for the Caliphate. It was not just that Yazid was debauched and addicted to hunting that horrified them, for like his father he was also an experienced administrator and a proven army commander as well as being a poet and a patron of learning. What was even more insulting to them was that Yazid was being imposed upon them like a crown prince who had first been hailed by Muawiya’s generals and governors at the sycophantic court of Damascus. The shura, the Council of Companions at Medina, had been brushed aside and with it all their claims to an honoured place in the new society. All the first four Rightly Guided Caliphs had first been acclaimed by the people of Medina but this right and duty had now been brushed aside in favour of the courtiers at Damascus. Muawiya had also broken his solemn pledge to hold a shura, which had been part of the peace agreement with Hasan. None of the previous Caliphs had thought to impose their own sons on the community, and had looked beyond the narrow loyalties of a family towards their brothers in faith. Muawiya was turning a community of believers into a hereditary kingdom to be based on the military power of distant Syria. Rather than accept this ultimate degradation, these young men, the heirs of all the chief Companions of Muhammad and the first four Rightly Guided Caliphs, would each in his own way be prepared to die. This would form the last bitter act in the long-drawn-out tragedy of the Heirs of the Prophet.

In 680 the seventy-seven-year old Muawiya was buried, his body decorated with a carefully hoarded treasury of relics, for the nail clippings and hairs from Muhammad’s head and beard had already acquired a totem-like reverence that would have appalled the Prophet.*

*Though this treasury would be destroyed eighty years later by his dynastic rivals, his tomb can still be found in Damascus’s old cemetery.

In Damascus Yazid was acclaimed as the successor to the Prophet of God by all his father’s loyal placemen, that court of governors, generals, police chiefs and treasury officials that Muawiya had commanded for half a lifetime.

In Medina the mosque was filled with groans and silent tears at the decisive emergence of a dynastic monarchy triumphing over the religion of God. From Kufa streamed a series of messengers, calling upon Husain in Medina to ride north and lead them against the usurpation of the Islamic world by the thirty-seven-year old Yazid and to reclaim his rightful place at the head of the community. Husain, urged on by the chief men of Medina decided to respond and follow in his father’s footsteps by riding out of the oasis to assume the leadership of the true armies of Islam. Having summoned the last grandson of the Prophet to lead them out of slavery, they now failed to honour their own appointment. Watched over by the police and the secret agents of their implacable governor, not a man, not a youth left the teeming garrison city to join Husain on the desert trail. Instead Husain’s young cousin, Muslim, who had secretly journeyed up to Kufa and gone to ground in a safe house to await Husain, was betrayed. He was arrested with his host Hani by the shurta and led away to his death.
The governor Ubaydallah (who had succeeded his father Zayyad to both Basra and Kufa) now felt secure enough to order his own army out into the desert. Husain and his small body of devoted followers and family, numbering around thirty horsemen and forty warriors on foot, would not be deterred from their mission. The Bedouin tribes, through whose territory he rode, looked longingly at their potential young Caliph, though none of the chiefs (having heard of the silence at Kufa) would commit to rallying their men to the true cause. A fervent supporter, the poet, Farazdaq, rode out to warn Husain of the treachery of Kufa,

for though the heart of the City is with thee, its sword is against thee.

Still Husain rode on.

A detachment of cavalrymen under the command of Hurr from the Kufa garrison now emerged to bar the direct path to Kufa but also to stop Husain’s small caravan from turning back to Mecca. Then a few weeks later, a much larger force of 4000 cavalrymen issued out from Kufa to surround Husain and his men. They were now forced to make camp at Kerbala,* just above the bank of the Euphrates about 25 miles from Kufa.

* also spelled Karbala.

The commander of this new cavalry force was Amr, one of the sons of Saad ibn Abu Waqqas, the victor of al-Qadisiya. He had been ordered by Ubaydallah to deprive Husain and his supporters of any access to water until they had pledged unconditional submission. Husain for his part asked only to be allowed to meet Yazid face to face; or if that was impossible to be allowed to join the jihad on some forgotten frontier against the enemies of Islam. Despite the crippling thirst imposed upon his young family and his few faithful followers, Husain refused to submit to the unconditional pledge demanded of him. The dignity with which he conducted himself had by now so impressed Amr ibn Saad that he began to waiver in his mission. However, the arrival of Shamir, a confidential agent of Ubaydallah who demanded to take over the command if Amr proved himself incapable of acting, stiffened the resolve of the army. That evening Husain’s little camp at Kerbala, a cluster of tents reinforced by a small fence formed out of brushwood and thorns, was placed under close siege.

Husain now feared the worst, and on the evening of the 9th of the month of Muharram (9 October 680) he ordered his close kinsmen and young family to leave the camp and seek refuge with the enemy. This they would not do, even though Husain’s young son Ali now lay delirious with fever and there was no longer so much as a drop of water with which to relieve the parched lips of the Prophet’s infant great-grandson. That night the muffled cries of the children mingled with the sobs of the women and the soft screech of the whetstone as the small band of desiccated warriors carefully sharpened their swords and their lances for their last battle. In the morning they drew up their battle line, 70 men ranged against over 4000, and again Husain proudly offered his terms. As the small band advanced they were cut down by the massed ranks of archers, who fired shower upon pitiless shower, so that the arrows fell like a hailstorm upon them. Neither Husain’s ten year old nephew Kasim, nor even his infant son, was spared, as one by one the family of Muhammad fell writhing to the ground. Then the members of this mortally wounded clan were trampled into the dust by a cavalry charge, after which their heads were hacked off by swordsmen. Before dusk had settled over the fields of Kerbala, seventy heads had been rolled out from bloodied leather sacks on to the palace floor of the governor of Kufa. As Ubaydallah carefully turned these grim relics over with his staff, the better to make a positive identification, one of the old judges attached to his court cried out, Gently, it is the Prophet’s grandson and by God I have seen those very lips kissed by the blessed Apostle himself.

It is the memory of this fearful day* that unleashes the annual passion of regret and self-recrimination which is the Ashura (the tenth) on the 10th day of Muharram. Acknowledged by both Shia and Sunni as a day of mourning, the passionate commemoration of Ashura is perceived to be one of the distinctive signs of a Shiite community.

*The only survivor among the men was Husain’s son Ali Zayn al-Abidin, who lay transfixed by fever in his tent but would later recover his health.

The news of Kerbala sent a ripple of horror around the entire Islamic world. In Medina and Mecca, Abdallah ibn Zubayr now openly led defiance against those officials of Muawiya who sought to enforce the rule of his son Yazid. To complete the mortal tragedy perpetuated at Kerbala, there was now to be a physical defilement of the Holy Cities. Three years after Kerbala, in 688, an army sent out from Damascus, bolstered by regiments of Christians from Syria, first slaughtered the defenders of Medina in a battle fought out in the volcanic landscape of the Harran hills and then sacked, looted and raped its way through the capital of Islam for three days. Then holy Mecca itself was besieged. Two months into this offensive, the Kaaba was burned down to the ground when it was accidentally hit by the naptha-treated arrows launched by the besiegers. The sacred black stone that had been set into the Kaaba wall during the manhood of the Prophet Muhammad was fractured into three pieces by the heat of the blaze, like the torn bosoms of mourning women. This stone believed to be the altar of Abraham would henceforth be held together only by rivets of silver. At about the same time, the forty-year old Caliph who had ordered this conflict expired in his isolated hunting palace in the Syrian desert. A creative Persian poet commemorated his death with the immortal lines

the dead body of Yazid
lying in his pleasure palace at Hawwarin
with a cup next to his pillow
and a wineskin whose nose was still bleeding

When the news was brought to his army, they halted the siege and prepared to return to Damascus.

It was just fifty years since the death of Muhammad. A vast empire had been conquered from out of which poured an annual tribute of millions upon millions of gold and silver coins, which first filed into the coffers of the Caliph’s treasury in Damascus and from there flowed out to support a salaried ruling class. A hundred thousand Arab warriors now dwelt in half a dozen garrison cities, housed in comfort, equipped with the finest weapons, armour and horses cared for by the labour of slaves in a manner beyond the wildest dreams of their grandfathers. In Mecca the house of God was a burned-out ruin and in a neglected field at Kerbala the headless corpses of the murdered family of the Prophet of God lay buried. It was as if the things of this earth had been won but in the process the kingdom of heaven had been forgotten.

All Muslims feel the horror of this transformation, the gradual corruption of the moral rule of God as established by the Prophet Muhammad to a mere temporal empire ruled over by Muawiya’s heirs, the Umayyad dynasty. This forbidding example helps explain the political fatalism that is so often encountered among Muslim communities. If it was just fifty years after they had buried the Prophet of God that the godly rule of the saintly Companions was so decisively overthrown, what hope have we in this even more corrupt and less religious age? Did not the Prophet himself declare, No time cometh upon you but is followed by a worse and that The best of my people are my generation; then they that come after them; then they that come after them? Is it not true that this world is for the likes of Muawiya, Mughira, Amr and Zayyad rather than the saints?

To make a safe haven of the brief period of the true Islam on earth, the majority of Muslims continue to look back upon the rule of the first four Caliphs (Abu Bakr, Omar, Uthman and Ali, 632-661) as the Eden of good government before the fall from grace. This is the Sunni position. Others see even this period as a flawed and corrupted version of true Islam, and instead like to imagine the shape of a Muslim state if the true spiritual heroes, Ali and his sons, had been the leaders of this community of faith. That is the difference between how the Sunni and the Shia regard the story of the Heirs of the Prophet. From this small but passionately important detail, two distinct paths of Islam would develop, each with its own history of who is the true heir of the Prophet. There is no group within the vast body of Muslims, either now or back in the seventh century, who see the triumph of Muawiya and his brilliant team of political operators, Mughira, Amr and Zayyad, as other than a profound tragedy.

Those who have been born outside the Muslim heritage of faith are free to honour both pathways and to remember that two rival narratives can yet become one. For while the Sunni version tells of how the Prophet Muhammad died on the lap of Aisha, and while the Shia tell of how the Prophet Muhammad died leaning on the shoulder of Ali, we know that both versions may be literally as well as figuratively true.

Ten days before he had died the Prophet Muhammad had prayed over the tombs of the dead, Peace be upon you, O people of the graves. Rejoice in your state, how much better is it than the state of men now living. Dissensions come like waves of darkest night, the one following hard upon the other, each worse than the last.
It is a dispiriting testimony from a brilliantly successful leader at what is otherwise considered to have been the triumphant conclusion of his life. But then the future leadership and political organisation of mankind was never his purpose. As the Koran so clearly states (Sura 42:15), God is our Lord and your Lord. We have our words and you have yours. There is no argument between us and you. God will bring us together, for the journey is to him.

If one looks to find a true Heir to the Prophet Muhammad, look not for thrones, or through dynastic lists of kings, look not to the triumphant progress of a great conqueror or at the beaming smiles and promises of a popular politician. Look out for on who journeys towards God.

By courtesy

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KEY CHARACTERS IN THE LIFE OF PROPHET MUHAMMAD

Note: Arabic names usually indicate both whose child you are and who are your children. Abu translates as ‘father of’, ibn or ben as ‘son of’, bint as ‘daughter of’, Umm as ‘mother of’. A clan or tribe can be described as the Beni (or Banu), as they are ‘children of’ their common ancestor – for instance, the Beni Hashim or the Beni Umayya, who are also referred to as the Hashemites or the Umayyads.

Al-Abbas – the wealthy and influential paternal uncle of Prophet Muhammad, half brother to Abu Talib and from whom the Abbasid dynasty claims its descent.

Abdallah ibn al-Abbas – the son of Al-Abbas and so a first cousin of Ali. Abdallah was a key supporter and adviser to Ali during his Caliphate but was ultimately dismissed from the post of governor of Basra.

Abd al Muttalib – beloved grandfather of Prophet Muhammad, successful merchant and sheikh of the Beni Hashim clan of the Quraysh tribe.

Abder-Rahman ibn Awf – early convert to Islam and one of the Companions who formed the inner committee of six that elected Uthman, Caliph in 644.

Abdullah ibn Ubbay – one of the principal chieftains of Medina before the arrival of Prophet Muhammad.

Abu Bakr – father of Aisha; acclaimed first Caliph after the Prophet’s death. Arguably the first adult male convert to Islam, and a close colleague and devout disciple of Prophet Muhammad. The only man to accompany Muhammad when he escaped from Mecca. He was chosen to lead the prayers by the Prophet in the last week of his life, which gave him a critical edge to become his acknowledged successor.

Abu Jahl – ‘Father of Ignorance’, important figure in pagan Mecca and key early opponent of Muhammad.

Abu Lahab – ‘Father of Flames’, one of Muhammad’s half-uncles, but the one least well disposed to him.

Abu Musa al-Ashari – revered and pious commander of Arab armies on the Persian front and sometime both governor of both Basra and Kufa. Chosen by the army to be the representative for Ali after the battle of Siffin in 657, when he was outwitted by Amr ibn al-As.

Abu Sufyan – nobleman of Mecca who for ten years commanded the pagan opposition to early Islam after Muhammad’s migration to Medina. After his acceptance of Islam, prepared for by the marriage of his daughter Umm Habiba to Muhammad, he would become a loyal ally of the Prophet. He would serve as a provincial governor in the Yemen for the first two Caliphs and is traditionally considered to have fought at Yarmuk. Legitimate father of Yazid and Muawiya and possibly to others, such as Amr and Zayyad.

Abu Talibfather of Ali and the uncle of Muhammad who cared for and protected his young orphan nephew until his last dying breath, though he never accepted Islam.

Abu Ubaydah – chosen to be supreme commander in Syria by Omar, and would have been trusted with the Caliphate by Omar if he had not died during the plague of 639.

Aisha – beautiful young daughter of Abu Bakr and Umm Ruman who married Muhammad three years after the death of his beloved first wife, Khadijah. The most passionate, jealous and wonderfully animated of the Prophet’s many wives, a vital oral source and a key political figure.

Aliyoung cousin of Muhammad (the younger son of Abu Talib) who was brought up in the Prophet’s household. The first man to publicly accept Islam, a hero of the early Muslim community both as a warrior and as an inquiring champion of a living faith. The Prophet’s son-in-law through his marriage to Fatimah, father of Hasan and Husain, fourth Caliph in the Sunni hierarchy, sole Imam and only true Heir of the Prophet according to the Shi’a tradition.

Aminah – daughter of Wahb of the Zuhrah clan of the Quraysh and mother of Muhammad.

Amr ibn al-As – influential Meccan nobleman who fought against the Muslims in Medina but would later embrace Islam and rise quickly through its ranks. He was appointed by Abu Bakr one of the three commanders that led the first Muslim armies out of Medina for the conquest of the Holy Land. In 640 he led a raid that would lead to the conquest of Egypt, which he would conquer and rule over on three separate occasions. Dismissed by Uthman, he would regain his old position by a political alliance with Muawiya.

Barakah (also known as Umm Ayman) – slave girl whom Muhammad inherited from his father. Cherished figure of Muhammad’s childhood to whom he gave freedom on the day of his marriage to Khadijah. Many years later she became one of the wives of Zaidi ibn Haritha and although she must have been around twenty years older than her husband, they would have a child, Usama.

Bilal – Abyssinian slave and early Muslim convert. Much abused by his pagan master until Abu Bakr bought his freedom. Selected as the first muezzin (prayer caller) of Islam.

Cyrus – catastrophically incapable Byzantine official who ruled over the province of Egypt as both civil governor and Greek Orthodox patriarch.

Dhul Qina – ‘the Man of the Veil’, charismatic, Yemeni warlord who led the pagan resistance to Islam in the immediate aftermath of the death of Prophet Muhammad.

Fatimah (often spelled Fatima) – one of the four daughters of Muhammad and Khadijah. Wife of Ali, mother of Hasan and Husain, and a key early believer. Her patience, modesty and devotional practice provide an alternative Muslim female role model to Aisha.

Hafsahfourth wife of the Prophet and the daughter of Omar. Hafsah’s first husband died at the battle of the wells of Badr, leaving her an eighteen-year old widow. Known to be fiery tempered, literate and independent minded. She possessed the first written prototype of the Koran, the basis for the great compilation later achieved by Uthman.

Halimah – foster mother of Muhammad, of the Hawazin clan of the Beni Saad tribe of Bedouin.

Hamza – Muhammad’s boisterous uncle. A great fighter, hunter and wine drinker, around whom in later centuries the Persians would collect a whole cycle of legends.

Hasan (sometimes spelled Hassan) – first son of Ali and Fatimah, grandson of Muhammad, fifth Caliph of Islam. A heroic practitioner of Islam as the true religion of peace.

Hashim – Muhammad’s great-grandfather, whose numerous descendants would form the Beni Hashim clan – hereditary guardians of the Kaaba in Mecca for centuries and from whom the Hashemite dynasty would emerge.

Husain (sometimes called Hussein) – second son of Ali and Fatimah, grandson of Muhammad. After the death of his elder brother, Hasan, he took on the mantle of the Alid cause and, would respond to the call of the people of Kufa to lead them back into freedom. Abandoned by his own supporters, he chose martyrdom at Kerbala rather than dishonour.

Ibn Hadith, Muthana – chief of the Beni Bekr who had fought against the Persians as a young man and became military ally of Khalid in the first raids on Iraq. Fought at battles of Ullais, Al-Jisr and. Buwayba.

Jabala ibn al-Ayham – last prince of the Ghassanid dynasty who loyally fought for the. Byzantine Empire at the battle of Yarmuk in 636.

Jafar – young cousin of Muhammad, son of Abu Talib and one of the early believers who took refuge in Christian Abyssinia and who would be killed alongside Zayd, at the battle of Mutah in 629.

Juwayriyawife of the Prophet and daughter of the chief of the Beni Mustaliq Bedouin tribe.

Khadijahfirst wife of Muhammad, his senior in wealth and years. Mother of four daughters (Zaynab, Ruqayyah, Umm Kulthum and Fatimah) and two boys (both of whom died in their infancy). Chief confidante and colleague in Muhammad’s early search for religion and the first person to recognize him as Prophet of God.

Khalid ibn al-Walid – pagan Meccan nobleman who fought against the Muslims in Medina before converting and taking his place as the most talented general of early Islam, saluted and promoted by even the Prophet himself. A succession of three victories during the Ridda Wars culminated in his inspired manoeuvres during the conquest of the Holy Land which led to his ultimate achievement, the decisive victory at Yarmuk. He would later be reduced to the ranks by Omar and prosecuted into disgrace.

Mariyah or Marya or Meriem – Coptic concubine sent to Medina as a gift to the Prophet from Muqawqis, a ruler of Egypt. She was given her freedom after she gave birth to Muhammad’s son, Ibrahim, though she was never given the honour of being addressed like the Prophet’s other wives as a Mother of the Faithful.

Maymunahwife of the Prophet and widowed sister-in-law to Muhammad’s clever banking uncle, Abbas.

Muawiyafounder of the Umayyad dynasty, brilliant politician and army commander. The Caesar of the Arabs. The second son of Abu Sufyan and Hind, he may have briefly served Muhammad as a secretary after his submission to Islam in the last two years of the Prophet’s life. He rose to prominence when he assisted his elder brother Yazid in the conquest of the Holy Land, and would take over his command after Yazid’s death from plague. His outstanding military and organizational talents were recognized by Omar and Uthman, who both left him in command of Syria. Ali’s refusal to renew Muawiya’s command was one of the key motivations behind the civil war that would conclude with. Muawiya’s triumph.

Mughira ibn Shuba – renegade from the Thaqif tribe of Taif who greatly benefited from a timely early conversion to Islam. Despite his moral failings, his political insights made him an indispensable adviser who served both the Prophet and Omar and would seek to serve Ali before defecting to Muawiya’s camp during the civil war. He would die in office as Muawiya’s feared governor of Kufa.

Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr – last-born child of Abu Bakr who would grow up in the household of his beloved stepfather Ali. One of the assassins of Caliph Uthman; appointed governor of Egypt by Ali.

Musaylama – prophet of the Beni Hanifa tribe of eastern Arabia who would be killed during the battle of Aqraba during the Ridda Wars.

Omar ibn al-Khattab (often spelled Umar) – second Caliph of Islam is a major figure in the development of Muslim civilization who supervised the installation of Abu Bakr as the first Caliph as well as the victories over both the Byzantine and Persian Empires, He was the father of the Prophet’s wife Hafsah, an implacable puritan and the architect of the whole political shape of the Islamic Empire.

Oqba ibn Nafi – nephew of Amr and an almost legendary figure of conquest and exploration from the annals of the first Muslim conquests. He participated in the conquest of Egypt, commanded the raids that would penetrate the Libyan Sahara, and was repelled from the Sudan before founding the city of Kairouan as an advance base for the conquest of North Africa.

Ruqayyah – daughter of the Prophet Muhammad and Khadijah, and wife of Uthman; died in Medina the day that the battle of Badr was won.

Saad ibn Abu Waqqas – early convert to Islam who was among the first seventy believers to migrate to Medina and the first to draw blood in the subsequent ten-year war against the pagans of Mecca. He commanded the vast Arab army that achieved the decisive victory over the Persian Empire at the battle of al-Qadisiya, and would be among the group of six close Companions chosen by Omar to elect the next Caliph.

Saad ibn Ubadayah – chieftain of Medina’s Saidah clan who was a passionate early supporter of the Prophet and who called the meeting of the men of Medina after the Prophet’s death.

Safiyah – wife of the Prophet. She was the daughter of Sheikh Huayy, leader of the Jewish-Arab Bani Nadir clan of Medina, and the widow of another great Jewish sheikh who was executed during the siege of Khaybar.

Swadahsecond wife of the Prophet who came into his household after the death of Khadijah as a thirty-year old widow and a stepmother to his daughters. She had been one of the first Muslims to escape persecution by pagan Mecca and emigrate to Ethiopia.

Shurahbil ibn Hasana – one of the three army commanders appointed at Medina by Abu Bakr for the conquest of the Holy Land, alongside Yazid, son of Abu Sufyan and Amr ibn al-As.

Sophronius – Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem who would organize the surrender of the Holy City to Caliph Omar.

Talha ibn Ubaydallah – cousin of Abu Bakr, one of the early believers who would be chosen by Omar to sit in the committee of six that elected the next Caliph and who would with Zubayr join Aisha in her revolt against Ali.

Umamah – Muhammad’s granddaughter, the child of his daughter Zaynab and Abu al-As, the son of Rabi.

Umm Habibawife of the Prophet and daughter of Abu Sufyan, great sheikh of the Quraysh tribe that dominated pre-Islamic Mecca.

Umm Salamah wife of the Prophet. She was the widow of Muhammad’s first cousin, Abu Salama, who had died of wounds received in the battle of Uhud. She had been in exile in Ethiopia and brought her young children into the protection of the Prophet’s household. It was her sage advice that broke the spell of disobedience at Hudaibiya.

Usama – Muhammad’s grandson through his adopted son Zayd. He won Aisha’s friendship by supporting her in her hour of need and would (somewhat controversially) be placed in command of the Muslim army by the Prophet Muhammad in the last month of his life.

Uthman ibn Affanthird Caliph of Islam and the man who supervised the editing of the first written edition of the Koran. A wealthy, clever, scholarly early convert to Islam who was descended from one of the most important noble clans of Mecca. He would be trusted to marry two of the Prophet’s daughters and would be chosen as third Caliph in 644 owing to his skill as an administrator. His great failing was too great a dependence on his own family and clan, which may have been due to his personal failing as a warrior; he would yet redeem himself in the manner of his death.

Yazdegird – last Sassanian to rule over the Empire of Persia and its Zoroastrian faith.

Zayd ibn Harithah – captured in a Bedouin raid as a boy and brought to Mecca’s annual fair of Ukaz as a slave boy. He was bought at auction and give to Khadijah by one of her wealthy nephews. She in turn, gave Zayd to Muhammad as a wedding gift. Muhammad later offered Zayd his freedom and formally adopted him as a son and would give him Barakah as his first wife, from who he had a son, Usama. Zayd was one of the most devoted followers of Muhammad and latter rose to become one of the key military commanders of early Islam until his death at the battle of Mutah.

Zaynabdaughter of Muhammad, married to one of her mother’s favourite nephews, the handsome Abu al-As, who remained a pagan in Mecca until almost the last. Mother of Umamah.

Zaynab – daughter of Khuzaymah, the fifth wife of the Prophet was the daughter of an influential Bedouin chieftain of the Amir tribe. She was widowed after her first husband died at the battle of the wells of Badr. Famously generous to the poor; died eight months after her marriage to the Prophet.

Zaynab– Jewish sorceress at Khaybar who attempted to avenge her community by trying to poison the Prophet.

Zaynab bint Jaysh – cousin and sixth wife of the Prophet, first married to Muhammad’s adopted son, Zayd. This marriage was ended and she was given (as recorded in a Koranic verse) to the Prophet as an additional wife to bring his household in Medina up to five women.

Zayyad – shrewd political operator who, like Mughira, was from the Thaqif tribe of the city of Taif. As the bastard of a prostitute owned by a foreign merchant, he had no social status or clan allies to help him through life but he would nevertheless rise to become a trusted secretary, then governor, and finally governor of both Basra and Kufa and all Persia for Muawiya. Zayyad was officially adopted into Muawiya’s family and his sons were awarded lesser governorships within the regime which helped bind his family into total loyalty to the Umayyads. It was one of Zayyad’s sons, Ubaydallah ibn Zayyad, governor of Kufa, who masterminded the chain of events that led to the tragedy of Kerbala.

Zubayr ibn al-Awwam – early believer who would be placed in charge of an army of reinforcements sent by Omar to support Amr ibn al-As’s raid into Egypt. He would win renown among his men by leading an assault on the Byzantine fortress of Babylon. One of the committee of six chosen to select a Caliph after the death of Omar, he joined Aisha in her revolt against Ali.

Courtesy of

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KEY DATES IN POLITICAL AND MILITARY HISTORY FOR THE FIFTY YEARS AFTER THE DEATH OF THE PROPHET, MUHAMMAD, AD 632-83

Please note that the dates of all the key battles of the conquest cannot be definitive and may vary by as much as four years

632

  • Death of the Prophet, Muhammad, as an army under the command of Zayd’s young son, Usama, is mustered for a raid to avenge the defeat at Mutah in Syria in 629.
  • Accession as Caliph of Abu Bakr, who decides that the paying of the charitable tithe will remain the defining test of which tribes have accepted Islam; widespread opposition.
  • Death of Fatimah, leaving Ali to care for their two children, Hasan and Husain.

633

  • The Ridda Wars – the so-called War against Apostasy.
  • Abu Bakr appoints Khalid, army commander, who wins three victories:
    a. Battle of Buzakha-defeat of Ghatafan tribe and allies.
    b. Battle of Aqraba, day of the garden of death-defeat of Beni Hanifa tribe and death of their prophet Musaylama.
    c. Battle of Ullais, ‘river of blood’ (against Arab tribes loyal to Persian Empire).

634

  • Invasion of the Holy Land by four Arab armies, three advancing from Medina, one from the Iraq front under the command of Khalid. Three military victories in Palestine, Wadi al-Arabah, Ajnadayn and Dattin, and one in Syria, Marj al-Suffar.
  • Death of Abu Bakr in August; accession of Omar to Caliphate.
  • On Iraq front, Persian army defeats Muslim force at battle of al-Jisr just outside Hira.

635

  • Muslim armies occupy chief cities of Syria and Palestine.
  • On Iraq frontier, ibn Harith manages to repel Persian counterattack at battle of Buwayb.

636

  • Arab armies evacuate all their territorial gains in Syria and Palestine as full force of Byzantine Empire sent into battle.
  • In mid-August, Khalid destroys the Byzantine field army at the decisive battle of Yarmuk and speedily reoccupies all of the Near East.

637

  • Counter-offensive by imperial army of Sassanid Persia. Yazdegird’s (last Sassanian emperor) experienced commander Rustam drawn into four-day of al-Qadsiya.
  • In the aftermath of victory, Muslims occupy all of Iraq, while Sassanian forces withdraw into Persian mountains.
  • Surrender of Jerusalem by Patriarch Sophronius to Caliph Omar.

638

  • Muslim Arab armies push into northern Iraq and advance into Persia and northern Syria.

639

  • Year of plague and famine

640

  • Caliph Omar presides over conference of army commanders at Jabiyah.
  • Amr ibn al-As leads raid into Byzantine Egypt while bulk of Muslim forces engaged in advance on Anatolia and Persia.
  • Victory against Byzantine army in Egypt at battle of Heliopolis.
  • Amr advances north into Nile Delta, fights battle of Nikiou and attempts siege of Alexandria.

641

  • Emperor Heraclius dies in February.
  • Byzantine counterattack into Syria and rebellion among Arab tribes of Syrian desert.

642

  • Surrender of Alexandria to Amr by Cyril. Amr establishes Fustat as new garrison/administrative centre for Egypt.
  • Muslim victory at battle of Nehawand in Persia.

644

  • Assassination of Omar by Abu Lulu Firoz, a disgruntled prisoner of war/slave.
  • Election of Uthman by council of six leading Companions.
  • Amr and his nephew Oqba ibn Nafi return in triumph to Fustat having raided and conquered parts of Libya and the Sahara.

645

  • Widespread revolts against the Muslim Empire throughout Persia, Armenia, Azerbaijan and in Egypt, aided by the arrival of the Byzantine navy. General Manuel reoccupies the Nile Delta.

646

  • Amr (briefly appointed as commander) leads reconquest of Egypt with second battle of Nikiou and siege and sack of Alexandria.

647

  • Uthman’s governor of Egypt leads a 40,000 strong army out of Egypt into the west, defeating army of Byzantine governor of Tunisia at battle of Sbeitla.

648

  • Arab fleet skirmishes successfully with Byzantine fleet found off Alexandria.

649

  • Muslim occupation of Cyprus in combined operation organized by the Arab garrisons in Egypt and Syria.

650

  • Definitive edition of the Koran completed in Medina.

651

  • Uthman loses the seal of the Prophet.

652

  • Death of Yazdegird.

653

  • After renewed threat from Byzantine fleet, Cyprus is reconquered in second invasion the same year that an Arab army secures Armenia.

654

  • Rhodes raided by Arab fleet.

655

  • Battle of the Masts: Arab fleet wins command of the Aegean in naval battle fought off the coast of Lycia.

656

  • Assassination of Uthman in Medina by dissidents from army garrisons in Fustat, Kufa and Basra.
  • Ali acclaimed fourth Caliph in Medina.
  • Aisha plots rebellion in Mecca backed by Talha and Zubayr. Aisha and her confederates seize control of army garrison in Basra. Ali’s son, Hasan, takes command of garrison at Kufa.
  • Battle of the Camel outside Basra. Talha and Zubayr are killed and Aisha is returned to Medina having recognized Ali as Caliph.

657

  • Ali’s candidate, Muhammad ibn Bakr, becomes governor of Egypt.
  • Ali marches on Syria to depose Muawiya from the governorship of Syria.
  • Four day battle of Siffin culminates in a surprise decision to seek arbitration.
  • Schism as Kharijites attempt to secede from Ali’s Caliphate in fury at the decision to arbitrate.

658

  • Farcical chicanery at arbitration conference in Jordan as Amr outwits Abu Musa.
  • Muawiya is proclaimed Caliph by his supporters in Damascus.
  • Ali forced to fight militant Kharijites at battle of Nahrawan.

659

  • Amr, supported by Muawiya, takes command of Egypt for the third time in his life.
  • Death of Muhammad Ibn Abu Bakr.

660

  • Muawiya renews assault on Byzantine Empire.

661

  • Ali is assassinated in Kufa.
  • Ali’s son, Hasan acclaimed as Caliph but in order to halt bloodshed surrenders his title in Muawiya’s favour.

662

  • Zayyad and Mughira rule over Basra and Kufa as tough-minded governors of Muawiya.

663

  • First Arab raid on Sicily.

669

  • Muslim siege of Constantinople supported by command of the sea route.

670

  • Foundation of Kairouan as the advance base for the conquest of North Africa by Amr’s nephew, Oqba ibn Nafi.
  • Merv established as the new advance base for the conquest of Central Asia and Khorassan by drafts from Basra and Kufa.
  • Hasan dies at Medina.

671

  • Kharijite revolt suppressed by Zayyad.

678

  • Defeat of Arab fleet at battle of Syllaeum requires that the Arab siege of Constantinople be lifted.
  • Thirty-year peace is made between the two empires.

680

  • Muawiya dies and is succeeded to the Caliphate by his son Yazid.
  • Husain responds to calls of soldiers of Kufa garrison to lead them in revolt against this new hereditary monarchy. Abandoned by those whom he had come to aid, he and his band of followers are killed at Kerbala.
  • In Medina and Mecca, Abdallah, son of Zubayr leads revolt against Yazid.

681

  • Oqba ibn Nafi reaches the Atlantic coast of Morocco at the end of his legendary ride across North Africa

683

  • An Umayyad army marches from Damascus to Medina. It wins the battle of Harran, sacks Medina, then advances and places Mecca under siege. The city’s Kaaba is accidentally burned to the ground.
  • Yazid dies

By courtesy

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