Revolt of Zayd ibn Ali

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In 740, Zayd ibn Ali led an unsuccessful rebellion against the Umayyad Caliphate, that had taken over the Islamic Caliphate since the death of his great-grandfather, Ali.

Personality of Zayd ibn Ali and the reasons for his uprising[edit]

Unlike his brother, Muhammad al-Baqir, the fifth Imam of the Twelver Shi'as, Imam Zayd believed the time was ripe for renewing the rebellion against the Umayyad Caliphs in support of the claims of his own Hashemite clan. It is here where many parallels with the life of his more famous grandfather, Husayn, begin.

The revolt[edit]

Zayd began seeking followers for his revolt, and found support among the people of Kufa in Iraq. Kufa had previously been the capital of his great-grandfather Ali, and the place where his grandfather Husayn also sought support for his own rebellion in 680. Zayd moved to Kufa and spent more than a year among the Arab tribes in the region, gathering further support. The Umayyad governor of Kufa, however, learned of the plot, and commanded the people to gather at the great mosque, locked them inside and began a search for Zayd. Zayd with some troops fought his way to the mosque and called on people to come out.

Zayd's abandonment by his followers[edit]

However, in events that echoed Husayn's own abandonment by the Kufans decades earlier, the bulk of Zayd's supporters deserted him and joined the Umayyads, leaving Zayd with only a few dozen outnumbered followers. Accounts differ slightly on the circumstances of the desertion. Sunni sources attribute the desertion to Zayd's refusal to speak ill of the first two Caliphs, Abu Bakr and Umar, who most Shi'a don't follow and instead force their own point of view opposing their own Imams. Zaydi sources on the other hand attribute it to Zayd's refusal to acknowledge the authority of his nephew, Ja'far al-Sadiq (the sixth Imam according to the Twelver Shi'ites). In both accounts, Zayd bitterly scolds the "rejectors" (Rāfiḍah) who desert him, an appellation used by some Sunnis to describe non-Zaydi Shi'ites to this day.

Nevertheless, Zayd fought on. His small band of followers was soundly defeated by the much larger Umayyad force, and Zayd fell in battle to an arrow that pierced his forehead. The arrow's removal led to his death. He was buried in secret outside Kufa, but the Umayyads were able to find the burial place, and, in retribution for the rebellion, exhumed Zayd's body and crucified it. They then set it on fire and scattered the ashes, probably in order to prevent his gravesite from becoming an object of pilgrimage. When the Abbasids, who, like Zayd, were Hashemites, overthrew the Umayyads in 750, they in turn exhumed Hisham's body, crucified it, and burned it, out of revenge for Zayd.

Consequences of the Zaydi rebellion and the insurrection of Hasan ibn Zayd[edit]

Zayd's desperate rebellion became the inspiration for the Zaydi sect, a school of Shi'a Islam that holds that any learned descendant of Ali can become an Imam by asserting and fighting for his claim as Zayd did (the rest of the Shi'as believe, in contrast, that the Imam must be divinely appointed). However, all schools of Islam, including the majority Sunnis, regard Zayd as a righteous martyr (shahid) against what is regarded as the corrupt leadership of the Umayyads. It is even reported that Abu Hanifa, founder of the largest school of Sunni jurisprudence, gave financial support to Zayd's revolt and called on others to join Zayd's rebellion.

Zayd's rebellion inspired other revolts by members of his clan, especially in the Hejaz, the most famous among these being the revolt of Muhammad al-Nafs az-Zakiyya against the Abbasids in 762. Zaydi agitation continued until 785 and re-erupted in Tabaristan under the leadership of the Zayd's son, Hasan ibn Zayd ibn Ali His revolt attracted many supporters, among them the ruler of Rustamids, the son of Farīdūn (a descendant of Rostam Farrokhzād), Abd ar-Rahman ibn Rustam.[1]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Balcıoğlu, Tahir Harimî, Mezhep Cereyanları – Madh'hab trends, pp. 50, Hilmi Ziyâ Publications, Ahmet Sait Tab’ı, 1940.