Yazid I – Second Sufyanid Umayyad Caliph

Rule of the Son of Muawiyah in the History of Islam

The rule of Yazid I, second of the Sufyanid Caliphs (who represented the first three Umayyad Caliphs after the four Rashidun Caliphs) was littered with controversy.

Yazid I assumed the role of Caliph, the political and religious leader of Islam, after his father Muawiyah I died in 680 AD. Yazid was the second of the Umayyads, and the second Sufyanid, descendants of Abu Sufyan, an early Sunni who at first rejected the Prophet Muhammad, but then accepted and directed Islam. The Sufyanid Umayyads were the first Caliphs after the four Rashidun.

Muawiyah I and His Son, Yazid I of the Umayyad Caliphate

After the four Rashidun (“rightly guided,” according to Shia Islam) Caliphs, the Umayyad Dynasty began, which saw 14 Caliphs who were descendants of Umayya, a descendant of Abd Manaf ibn Qusai, from whom Muhammad also descended. Muawiyah I expanded the rule of the caliphate, conquering much of North Africa and Central Asia, as well as parts of modern Spain. Upon his death in 680 AD, his son Yazid I assumed command. Yazid’s rule was greatly disputed by several prominent Muslims, and an Islamic civil war, known as the Second Fitna, began during his reign.

Yazid I, Second Sufyanid of the Umayyads, and the Oath of Allegiance

Yazid I, upon assuming command after his father Muawiyah’s death requested an oath of allegiance from all of the governors of all Islamic provinces, as well as from a few notable Muslims. Husayn ibn Ali, son of Ali, the final Rashidun Caliph (the Rashidun were the first four Caliphs after Muhammad’s death, who served before the Sufyanids, first of the Umayyads, took command) refused to honor Yazid’s rule. Yazid demanded his allegiance, and upon his steadfast refusal, sent assassins to kill Husayn, who set up plans to leave Damascus for Iraq. Yazid considered Husayn a threat to his rule.

Umayyad Caliph Yazid I, Husayn ibn Ali, and Ibn az-Zubayr

Husayn ibn Ali’s father Ali ibn Abi Talib had ruled as the fourth Caliph, and final Caliph before the Umayyads, from Kufa, in present Iraq. Yazid commanded the governor of Kufa to reject Husayn if he should seek refuge there, and the governor agreed to maintain diplomacy with Yazid and his Damascus-based caliphate, rather than accept the son of the Kufa-based Caliph Ali. Another who rejected Yazid’s caliphate, Abdullah ibn az-Zubayr, commonly known as Ibn al-Zubayr or Ibn az-Zubayr, advised Husayn not to travel to Kufa, fearing what awaited him there. These two began to be viewed as insurgents by Yazid and his governors.

Death of Husayn ibn Ali at Battle of Karbala and Ibn az-Zubayr of Mecca

Despite Ibn az-Zubayr’s advice, Hausayn departed for Kufa, and he and his followers were intercepted at Karbala in present Iraq by a detachment of Yazid’s army, under the direction of the governor of Kufa. Approximately 30,000 troops attacked Husayn and his followers, who numbered less than 80. All of Husayn’s followers and family members were either killed or taken captive. Husayn ibn Ali and his infant son were among those killed. That left Ibn az-Zubayr as the prime insurgent, and he was posted in Mecca. This time of Islamic civil war is known as the Second Fitna.

Yazid’s siege of Mecca and Ibn az-Zubayr Until the Death of Yazid

Yazid I, still Caliph, sent forces to Mecca, who laid siege to the city, where Ibn az-Zubayr, now a pronounced opponent of Yazid’s rule, was held up along with his followers. During the time of the siege, Yazid died in 683 AD, and his troops withdrew and returned to Damascus. Yazid’s son, Muawiyah II ruled for just 4 months before the Sufyanid Caliphate was ended, though the Umayyads retained the Islamic Caliphate.

The rule of Yazid I was a very significant time in the history of Islam, as it saw corruption, and the type of civil war (Fitna) that would continue to result from disputes regarding rightful Islamic rule. The story of his rule is told in al-Tabari’s recordings, found in The History of al Tabari, volume 19.

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