Siege of Mecca (683)

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Siege of Mecca
Part of the Second Fitna
Kaaba Masjid Haraam Makkah.jpg
The Kaaba, which was severely damaged by fire during the siege
DateSeptember–November 683
Result Umayyad withdrawal
Umayyad Caliphate Meccans supporting Ibn al-Zubayr
Commanders and leaders
Husayn ibn Numayr al-Sakuni Abdallah ibn al-Zubayr

The Siege of Mecca in September–November 683 was one of the early battles of the Second Islamic Civil War. The city of Mecca served as a sanctuary for Abdallah ibn al-Zubayr, who was among the most prominent challengers to the dynastic succession to the Caliphate by the Umayyad Yazid I. After nearby Medina, the other holy city of Islam, also rebelled against Yazid, the Umayyad ruler sent an army to subdue Arabia. The Umayyad army defeated the Medinans and took the city, but Mecca held out in a month-long siege, during which the Kaaba was damaged by fire and burned to ground.[1] The siege ended when news came of Yazid's sudden death. The Umayyad commander, Husayn ibn Numayr, after vainly trying to induce Abdallah to return with him to Syria and be recognized as Caliph, departed with his forces. Ibn al-Zubayr remained in Mecca throughout the civil war, but he was nevertheless soon acknowledged as Caliph across most of the Muslim world. It was not until 692, that the Umayyads were able to send another army which again besieged and captured Mecca, ending the civil war.


At the death of the founder of the Umayyad Caliphate, Mu'awiya I (r. 661–680), in 680, the Muslim world was thrown into turmoil. Although Mu'awiya had named his son, Yazid I, as his heir, this choice was not universally recognized, especially by the old Medinan elites, who challenged the Umayyads' claim to the succession. Among them, the two chief candidates for the caliphate were the Alid Husayn ibn Ali (the grandson of Prophet Muhammad), and Abdallah ibn al-Zubayr. To avoid being forced to recant, on Yazid's accession the two men fled from Medina to Mecca.[2] Husayn at first attempted an outright revolt against the Umayyads, but this resulted in his death at the Battle of Karbala in October 680,[3][4] leaving Ibn al-Zubayr as the leading contender and rival for the Umayyads. As long as Yazid lived, Ibn al-Zubayr denounced his rule from the sanctuary of Mecca but did not openly claim the Caliphate, instead calling himself "the fugitive at the sanctuary" (al-‘a’idh bi’l-bayt) and insisting that the Caliph should be chosen in the traditional manner, by a tribal assembly (shura) from among all the Quraysh, not just the Umayyads.[4][5]

At first Yazid and his governors in Medina tried to negotiate with Ibn al-Zubayr, as well as the other dissatisfied Ansar families. The Medinan aristocracy, however, who felt their position threatened by Mu'awiya's large-scale agricultural projects around their city, and regarded Yazid as unfit for the office of Caliph due to his reputed dissolute lifestyle, led a public denunciation of their allegiance to Yazid, and expelled the Umayyad family members, some 1,000 in number (including the future Caliph Marwan ibn al-Hakam), from their city.[5][6][7] As a result, Yazid sent an army to subdue the province, and chose Muslim ibn 'Uqba al-Murri to lead it. Muslim's army of 12,000 Syrians indeed overcame the Medinans' resistance at the Battle of al-Harrah on 26 August 683 and proceeded to sack Medina—one of the impious acts for which the Umayyads are denounced in later Muslim tradition.[8][9][10][11]


After taking Medina, Muslim set out for Mecca, but on the way he fell ill and died at Mushallal, and command passed to his lieutenant Husayn ibn Numayr al-Sakuni. For his sack of Medina, subsequent tradition remembers Muslim ibn 'Uqba as the "heathen incarnate" (J. Wellhausen).[11][12][13] Husayn's army arrived before Mecca in September. Ibn al-Zubayr and his supporters refused to surrender, and after they were defeated in a first engagement, a siege of the city began, in which the Umayyad army employed catapults to bombard it with stones. Ibn al-Zubayr established his command post on the grounds of the Grand Mosque. On Sunday, 31 October, the Kaaba, over which a wooden structure covered with mattresses had been erected to protect it, caught fire and burned down, while the sacred Black Stone burst asunder. Many later sources ascribe the fault to the besiegers, with the result that "this siege and bombardment too figure prominently in the lists of Umayyad crimes" (G.R. Hawting), but other accounts attribute the event to a torch borne by one of Ibn al-Zubayr's followers, which the wind wafted onto the building.[11][12][14]

The siege continued until 26 November, when news of Yazid's death on the 11th reached the besiegers. Husayn now entered into negotiations with Ibn al-Zubayr. Although the Umayyad court at Damascus promptly declared Yazid's sickly young son, Mu'awiya II, as Caliph, Umayyad authority practically collapsed in the provinces and proved shaky even in the Umayyads' home province of Syria. Husayn was therefore willing to acknowledge Ibn al-Zubayr as Caliph, provided that he would issue a pardon and follow him to Syria. Ibn al-Zubayr refused the last demand, since this would place him under the control of the Syrian elites, and Husayn with his army departed for Syria.[12][15]


The retreat of the Umayyad army left Ibn al-Zubayr in undisputed control of Mecca. With the collapse of Umayyad authority, he was soon acknowledged as the rightful Caliph across most of the Muslim world, including northern Syria. The Umayyads, however, under the leadership of Marwan ibn al-Hakam, managed to consolidate their position in Syria in the Battle of Marj Rahit, and even reclaimed Egypt. An attempt to recover control of Iraq was defeated by pro-Alid forces under Mukhtar al-Thaqafi near Mosul in August 686. Abd al-Malik, who had succeeded his father Marwan I after the latter's death in April 685, thereafter restricted himself to securing his own position, while Ibn al-Zubayr's brother Mus'ab defeated Mukhtar and gained control of all of Iraq in 687. In 691, Abd al-Malik managed to bring Zufar al-Kilabi's Qays back into the Umayyad fold, and advanced into the Iraq. Mus'ab ibn al-Zubayr was defeated and killed, and Umayyad authority re-established across the East. In October 692, after another siege of Mecca, Abdallah ibn al-Zubayr was killed, and the civil war ended.[16][17]

Rebuilding of the Kaaba[edit]

After the Umayyads' departure, Ibn al-Zubayr initiated the rebuilding of the Kaaba, but most of the people, led by Ibn Abbas, had abandoned the city fearing divine retribution; it was only when Ibn al-Zubayr himself began to demolish the remains of the old building, that they were encouraged to return and aid him. Ibn al-Zubayr's reconstruction changed the original plan, incorporating modifications that Muhammad himself is reported to have intended, but which had not been not carried out during Muhammad's lifetime for fear of alienating the recently converted Meccans. The new Kaaba was built entirely of stone—the old one was of alternating layers of stone and wood—and had two doors, an entrance in the east and an exit in the west. In addition, he included the semi-circular hatīm wall into the building proper. The three fragments of the Black Stone were bound in a silver frame, and placed by Ibn al-Zubayr inside the new Kaaba. After the Umayyad reconquest of the city, the hatīm was separated again from the main building, and the western gate was walled up, reverting to the general outlines of the pre-Islamic plan. This is the form in which the Kaaba has survived to this day.[18]


  1. ^ "On this day in 683 AD: The Kaaba, the holiest site in Islam, is burned to the ground".
  2. ^ Hawting (2000), pp. 46–47
  3. ^ Hawting (2000), pp. 49–51
  4. ^ a b Kennedy (2004), p. 89
  5. ^ a b Hawting (2000), p. 47
  6. ^ Wellhausen (1927), pp. 149–154
  7. ^ Kennedy (2004), pp. 89–90
  8. ^ Hawting (2000), pp. 47–48
  9. ^ Kennedy (2004), p. 90
  10. ^ Wellhausen (1927), pp. 154–157
  11. ^ a b c Lammens (1987), p. 1162
  12. ^ a b c Hawting (2000), p. 48
  13. ^ Wellhausen (1927), pp. 157–160
  14. ^ Wellhausen (1927), pp. 165–166
  15. ^ Wellhausen (1927), pp. 166–170
  16. ^ Hawting (2000), pp. 48–49, 51–53
  17. ^ Kennedy (2001), pp. 92–98
  18. ^ Wensinck & Jomier (1978), p. 319


Coordinates: 21°25′00″N 39°49′00″E / 21.4167°N 39.8167°E / 21.4167; 39.8167