Ziyad ibn Abi Sufyan

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This is an Arabic name; the family name is Sufyan.
Silver dirham following Sassanid motives, struck in the name of Ziyad

Ziyad ibn Abih (Arabic: زياد بن أبيه‎) (622 AD – 673 AD) was a Muslim general and administrator from the clan of Umayyah. He was a great orator, a formidable warrior and one of the four 'shrewds of the Arabs' (Duhat al-Arab) with Mu'awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan, 'Amr ibn al-'As and al-Mughira ibn Shu'ba.


Ziyad ibn Abih was born during the first year of Hijra in Ta'if to a member of the Banu Thaqif, of unknown parentage, due to the promiscuity of his mother, Sumaya, a maidservant of the famous Arab physician Al-Harith ibn Kalada. Ziyad was called 'ibn Abih' (son of his father) due to his problematic lineage. Some trace his lineage back to Ubayd al-Thaqafi while others to Abu Sufyan. He embraced Islam during the reign of Abu Bakr.

During the reign of Umar I, Ziyad worked as a scribe for the likes of Abdullah ibn Abbas, al-Mughira ibn Shu'ba, Abu Musa Ashaari and Abdullah ibn Aamir. He went on to hold many posts during his lifetime serving as the governor of Faris (Persia), Basra and Kufa.

After the Battle of the Camel, Ali moved to Kufa, entrusting Basra to his cousin, Abdullah ibn Abbas. Soon after, ibn Abbas left Basra to join Ali in the Battle of Siffin, leaving the city in the trust of Abu al-Aswad al-Du'ali, who led the prayers, and Ziyad, who oversaw the administration of taxes, bayt al-mal (house of treasury), and the diwan (army register).

In the wake of Uthman's murder, Mu'awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan demanded retribution for his kinsman by starting an uprising. He sent Abdullah ibn al-Hathrami, a strong Umayyad political figure, to take over Basra, then one of the most populous and strategic garrison towns in Iraq. Ziyad, who was entrusted with Basra during the absence of ibn Abbas, sent a letter to Caliph Ali asking him for aid in suppressing the rebellion. In response, the Caliph sent Jariah bin Qudamah from Banu Tamim who then succeeded in putting down the rebellion and killing al-Hathrami. Upon hearing this, the people of Eastern Persia and Kerman protested and refused to pay the kharaj (land tax). In 659 CE, Caliph Ali, consulting with Abdullah ibn Abbas and Jariah bin Qudamah, sent Ziyad ibn Abi Sufyan to suppress the Persian rebellion in Estakhr and Kerman. Ziyad succeeded at this and stayed on as governor in Estakhr.[1] During Ali's reign, Mu`awiyah repeatedly tried luring Ziyad to his camp. In 662 and a year after Ali's assassination, Mu`awiyah, now the caliph, sent al-Mughira ibn Shu'ba, his governor at Kufa, to Estakhr to recall Ziyad to Damascus. After two years, Muawiyah and Ziyad reached an agreement: the Caliph recognised Ziyad as a brother - Ziyad now adopted the name ibn Abi Sufyan - and appointed him governor at Basra. This act was then and later considered a scandal in Islam, criticised in contemporary satire and by the 13th-century historian Ibn al-Athir.[2] Al-Suyuti wrote that Mu'awiyah's decision to declare Ziyad as his brother, and thus allowing Ziyad to receive inheritance from Abu Sufyan, is against the Sharia.[3]

Ziyad's first act in Basra was to deliver a khutbah from the pulpit. This speech promised that Umayyad jurisprudence would be swift and talionic: "We have brought a punishment to fit every crime. Whoever drowns another will himself be drowned; whoever burns another will be burned; whoever breaks into a house, I will break into his heart; and whoever breaks into a grave, I will bury him alive in it."[4] And Ziyad warned: "I demand obedience from you, and you can demand uprightness from me... Do not be carried away by your hatred and anger against me; it would go ill with you. I see many heads rolling. Let each man see that his own head stays upon his shoulders!"[5]

In 670, the governor of Kufa, al-Mughira ibn Shu'ba, died of plague. With Mu'awiyah looking to crush the rebellion of Ali's followers in Kufa, Ziyad, being the ruthless governor that he was, proved to be the perfect candidate for the emirate. Caliph Mu'awiyah handed the administration of the city to Ziyad as well, who united Kufa and Basra under one administration. Ziyad altered the city's plan from seven districts to quarters. In Kufa, he continued the tradition of publicly cursing Ali from the Mosques' pulpits as it was customary during Mu'awiyah's reign. This caused the companion Hujr ibn 'Adi to agitate against Ziyad. As a result, Ziyad clapped him in irons and shipped him to Damascus where Mu'awiyah sentenced him and his followers to death under the false charge of sedition against the state.[6]

In 671, Ziyad sent 50,000 Arab troops to the Iranian oasis of Merv as a colony. This colony retained its native Kufan sympathies and became the nucleus of Khurasan.[7]

Ziyad died in 673, and Mu`awiyah appointed his son Ubayd-Allah ibn Ziyad as successor.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ e032 By IslamKotob
  2. ^ Tareekh of Ibn Atheer Volume3 p. 24, under the Chapter addressing the events of 44 Hijri:
  3. ^ Tarikh al-Khulafa, p. 175
  4. ^ The First Dynasty of Islam: The Umayyad Caliphate AD 661-750, p. 41
  5. ^ Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes, p. 76
  6. ^ Al-Bidaya wa al-Nihaya, Volume 8 page 53
  7. ^ Islamic History: Volume 1, AD 600-750 (AH 132): A New Interpretation By M. A. Shaban, p. 173

External links[edit]


  • Cresswell, K. A. C. "A Short Account of Muslim Architecture". Beirut, Librairie du Liban. 1958.
  • Morony, Michael G. "Tabari's History" vol. XVIII. 1987.