The grave of al-Mukhtar b. Abi ‘Ubayd, Mosque of Kufa, Kufa, Iraq
Al-Mukhtār b. Abī ʿUbayd al-Thaqafī (المختار بن أبي عبيد الثقفي) (b. 1/622-623 – d. 67/687) the leader of one of the uprisings to take revenge of Imam al-Husayn’s (a) blood, one of tabi’un and from Ta’if. He hosted Muslim b. ‘Aqil in Kufa and was imprisoned by ‘Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad when the Battle of Karbala was taking place. During his uprising many of those people who took part in killing Imam al-Husayn (a) were killed. There is a disagreement regarding al-Muhktar’s uprising, his religious sect, and his relation with the Ahl al-Bayt (a). Some believe his uprising was with the permission of Imam Zayn al-‘Abidin (a). After 18 months of rule in Kufa, al-Mukhtar was killed by Mus’ab b. al-Zubayr in 67/687. His grave, which is next to the Mosque of Kufa, is respected and visited .
Al-Mukhtar b. Abi ‘Ubayd al-Thaqafi was called by his teknonym, Abu Ishaq, and was nicknamed as Kaysan. Kaysan means smart and incisive. Asbagh b. Nubata narrates that one day Imam ‘Ali (a) seated al-Mukhtar on his knees and addressed him by saying, “O Kayyis, O Kayyis,” and since Imam ‘Ali (a) called him Kayyis twice, he became famous as such. Nevertheless, some believe that the word Kaysan was taken from one of his advisers and chiefs, whose teknonym was Abu ‘Amra.
Al-Mukhtar is originally from Ta’if, the Thaqif clan. His great grandfather, Mas’ud al-Thaqafi was one of the nobles of Hijaz, and was nicknamed ‘Azim al-Qaryatayn (The Great of the two tribes).
His father, Abu ‘Ubayd al-Thaqafi, was one of the noble companions of the prophet (s). He was killed in the Battle of al-Jisr, one of the battles fought during the era of the second caliph, known as the Qadisiyya Wars.
His mother was Dawma bt. ‘Amr b. Wahb. Ibn Tayfur has reported that she spoke eloquently and was articulate.
His uncle, Sa’d b. Mas’ud al-Thaqafi, was appointed as the governor of Mada’in by Imam ‘Ali (a).
His brothers, Wahb, Malik, and Jibr, were killed with their father in the Battle of al-Jisr.
Al-Mukhtar was born in 1/622-623. Before birth, his mother, Dawma, had seen someone read a poem to her in a dream:
Congratulations to you for a child who, Is similar to a lion more than anything else. When in troubles men… Quarrel over worthless things, He shall have the luck of a lion (He shall have the best).
His mother saw another dream after his birth where someone told her that her child will have many followers.
Al-Mukhtar took part in the Battle of al-Jisr when he was 13, where he lost his father and brothers. Regardless of his young age, he insisted on going to the battlefield, but was prevented by his uncle, Sa’d b. Mas’ud.
Sa’d b. Mas’ud al-Thaqafi was appointed as the governor of Mada’in by Imam ‘Ali (a). He appointed al-Mukhtar as his deputy when he left to fight the Kharijites.
Ibn Taqtaqi records that al-Mukhtar was a noble and effortful man. Given that the Thaqif tribe was known for their bravery, and al-Mukhtar’s father and uncle were of the great military leaders of early Islam, al-Mukhtar was nurtured in the same way.
In gratitude to his revenge from the murderers of Imam al-Husayn (a), al-Mukhtar used to fast most of the days. Minhal b. ‘Amr says, “I invited al-Mukhtar to my house on the day that Harmala was killed, but I was told that al-Mukhtar has fasted in gratitude.”
Before Imam al-Husayn’s (a) Uprising
During Mu’awiya’s Rule
In his book Siyar a’lam al-nubala’, Shams al-Din al-Dhahabi writes of al-Mukhtar’s activity in support of Imam al-Husayn (a) during Mu’awiya’s rule. Al-Dhahabi reports that during Mu’awiya’s rule, al-Mukhtar went to Basra and invited its residetns to Imam al-Husayn (a). He was arrested by ‘Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad, who was the governor of Basra at the time, and whipped one hundred time. Then he was exiled to Ta’if.
During the Battle of Karbala
Sources state that al-Mukhtar was absent in the Event of ‘Ashura, but his absence was not on purpose. He collaborated with Imam al-Husayn’s (a) representative in Kufa at first, and formed movements against the Umayyads.
Muslim b. ‘Aqil in al-Mukhtar’s House: al-Mukhtar was one of the individuals who rushed to the help of Muslim b. ‘Aqil. Muslim b. ‘Aqil went to al-Mukhtar’s house when he arrived in Kufa but moved out to Hani b. ‘Urwa’s house when ‘Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad found where he was settled.
Collaboration with Muslim b. ‘Aqil: Historical reports show that al-Mukhtar intended to support Muslim b. ‘Aqil, but on the day Muslim b. ‘Aqil was martyred, al-Mukhtar had left Kufa and went to Khatarniyya, a place outside of Kufa, to gather supporters. Muslim b. ‘Aqil and Hani b. ‘Urwa had been already martyred when he went back to Kufa.
Day of ‘Ashura’ in Prison: Upon Muslim b. ‘Aqil’s martyrdom, ‘Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad set to kill al-Mukhtar, but on ‘Amr b. Hurayth’s mediation, he was spared. Nevertheless, ‘Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad injured his eye with a whip and imprisoned him. Al-Mukhtar was incarcerated until the end of Imam al-Husayn’s (a) uprising.
Seeing Imam al-Husayn’s (a) Head: When the captives of ‘Ashura’ entered Kufa, ‘Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad brought the prisoners who supported Imam al-Husayn (a) to see the captives, one of whom was al-Mukhtar. A foul discussion ensued between the two. Upon seeing Imam Husayn’s (a) decapitated head, al-Mukhtar cried, grieved, and hit himself on his head.
After the Event of ‘Ashura’, al-Mukhtar was freed with ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Umar’s mediation with Yazid, since al-Mukhtar’s sister, Safiyya b. Abi ‘Ubayd, was ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Umar’s wife. Nonetheless, ‘Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad let him free on the condition that he leaves Kufa within three days, and if he is seen afterwards, he will be killed.
Allegiance to ‘Abd Allah b. Zubayr
Al-Mukhtar pledged his allegiance to ‘Abd Allah b. Zubayr on the condition that he would be consulted before ‘Abd Allah b. Zubayr did anything, and that he was not disagreed with.
When Yazid attacked Mecca and encircled ‘Abd Allah b. Zubayr, al-Mukhtar sided with ‘Abd Allah b. Zubayr and fought next to him against Yazid’s army, but when ‘Abd Allah announced himself caliph, al-Mukhtar separated and left for Kufa, and created the grounds for his uprising.
Six months had passed from Yazid’s death when al-Mukhtar reached Kufa in the middle of Ramadan.
‘Abd Allah b. Zubayr sent ‘Abd Allah b. Muti’ as his governor to Kufa. War broke out between the two and al-Mukhtar came out victorious.
Al-Mukhtar and the Uprising of the Tawwabun
Al-Mukhtar refused to participate in the Uprising of Tawwabun, because he believed it was useless, and that Sulayman b. Surad al-Khuza’i was unfamiliar with combat skills and tactics.
With al-Mukhtar’s refusal, four thousand individuals, of the sixteen thousand who had given their allegiance to Sulayman b. Surad retreated because they believed he was incompetent in combat tactics.
It should be mentioned that al-Mukhtar was in prison when the Tawwabun Uprising occurred. When the Tawwabun were defeated, he sent a letter to the family of the dead to express his sympathy to them. The leaders of the Tawwabun had decided to free him from prison, but al-Mukhtar cautioned them from doing so, since he would be freed soon. Once again, al-Mukhtar was released with ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Umar’s mediation.
On Rabi’ I 14, 66/October 19, 685, al-Mukhtar initiated an uprising in revenge of Imam al-Husayn’s (a) blood. The Shi’a of Kufa supported him. He said, “By God, if I kill two third of the Quraysh, I wouldn’t have sought the revenge of even one of Imam al-Husayn’s fingers.”
During his uprising, al-Mukhtar managed to kill Shimr b. Dhi l-Jawshan, Khawli b. Yazid, ‘Umar b. Sa’d, and ‘Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad, and some others who took part and have significant role in killing Imam al-Husayn (a) and his companions.
The commander of the army of the uprising was Ibrahim b. Malik al-Ashtar (the son of Malik al-Ashtar al-Nakha’i), and he was the one who killed ‘Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad in Mosul.
Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya was busy eating when al-Mukhtar sent the heads of ‘Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad and ‘Umar b. Sa’d to him to hang in Masjid al-Haram. He said, “Gratitude be to the Lord, that when Husayn’s head was taken to ‘Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad he was busy eating, and now his head has been brought to me while I am in the same situation.”
In order to encourage the Alawites to support him, al-Mukhtar used two phrases “Ya la-Tharat al-Husayn” (Arabic: یالثارات الحسین, lit.: O the avengers of Husayn) and “Ya Mansur, Amit” (Arabic: یا منصور أمِت, lit.: O the victor, kill) as his motto. When putting his war clothes on, al-Mukhtar informed his followers of the beginning of the uprising by chanting these mottoes. The second motto was first used in the Battle of Badr, and the first one was first used by the Tawwabun Uprising. Also, when ‘Umar b. Sa’d was killed, the people of Kufa celebrated by chanting “Ya la-Tharat al-Husayn”.
End of the Uprising
After eighteen months of rule and war with three groups, the Umayyads in Syria, the Zubayr Dynasty in Hijaz, and the nobles of Kufa, al-Mukhtar was killed on Ramadan 14, 67/April 3, 687, at his 67, by Mus’ab b. al-Zubayr. On Mus’ab’s command, al-Mukhtar’s hands were cut off and nailed to the wall of Masjid al-Kufa. When Hajjaj b. Yusuf gained power over Kufa, he ordered the hands be buried.
After al-Mukhtar’s death, his followers, consisting of 6000 people who were encircled in the palace, surrendered. Mus’ab b. al-Zubayr ordered all of them be killed. The decision was so horrifying that when ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Umar saw Mus’ab, said: “Even if they were 6000 sheeps which belonged to your father, you shouldn’t have done this.”
Death of al-Mukhtar’s Wife
Mus’ab pressurized ‘Umra bt. Nu’man b. Bashir, the al-Mukhtar’s wife, to express her abhorrence to al-Mukhtar. When she refused, Mus’ab decapitated her.
‘Abd al-Rahman b. Hassan said in a poem: “Death and killing has been written for us, and for beautiful women, prancing and romance.”
The event is recorded as such in a report: Mus’ab asked ‘Umra, “what is your opinion about al-Mukhtar?” She replied, “He was pious and fasted everyday”. Mus’ab ordered to decapitate her. She became the first woman in Islam to be beheaded.
Although al-Mukhtar used “Ya la-Tharat al-Husayn” (Arabic: یا لثارات الحسین) as the motto of his uprising, some doubt his intentions to be truly to avenge the martyrs of Karbala, believing that he misused this motto. A look at al-Mukhtar’s relation with the Ahl al-Bayt (a) and their opinion about him can help understand this important fact of history.
Relation with Imam al-Sajjad (a)
There are different reports on al-Mukhtar’s relation with Imam al-Sajjad (a). Some reports show that Imam al-Sajjad (a) did not welcome al-Mukhtar and rejected his gifts, whereas other reports show that he was approved by Imam al-Sajjad (a). With the censorship that existed because of the Umayyads and Zubayr dynasty, it was not possible for Imam al-Sajjad (a) to directly interfere. Therefore, he announced that Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya is his representative and referred al-Mukhtar to him.
According to this report, al-Mukhtar sent 20,000 Dinars to the Imam (a), which he accepted, and rebuilt ‘Aqil b. Abi Talib’s house, and the rest of the Banu Hashims’ houses which were ruined. Al-Mukhtar also gifted a slave which he had bought for 30,000 Dirhams to Imam al-Sajjad (a). Zayd b. ‘Ali was born from that slave.
Another report states that when a group of leaders from Kufa went to visit Imam al-Sajjad (a) and asked him about al-Mukhtar’s mission, he referred them to Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya and said, “Oh uncle, if a black slave shows intolerance for our sake, it is obligatory for us to rush to his help. Do whatever you want regarding this matter, for I have chosen you as the representative in this issue.”
Ayatollah Khoei and al-Mamaqani believe that al-Mukhtar had a specific permission from Imam al-Sajjad (a) for his uprising.
Connection with Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya
A study on some reports suggests that al-Mukhtar invited people to the Imamate of Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya, calling him the Mahdi; but in his book, Kashf al-ghumma, al-Irbili believes that this connection, and the leadership of the uprising by Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya, was a façade set up because of the aberrant condition Imam al-Sajjad (a) was in.
Muhammad b. Isma’il al-Mazandarani al-Ha’iri, author of Muntaha l-maqal believes that al-Mukhtar believed in the Imamate of Imam al-Sajjad (a), and rejects that al-Mukhtar believed in Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya.
Rescuing Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya
When ‘Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr was informed about al-Mukhtar’s uprising, he pressurized Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya and his relatives to give him their allegiance, otherwise they would be burnt to death. Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya sent a letter to al-Mukhtar, seeking his help. In response, al-Mukhtar sent an army of 4000 men to march to Mecca and rescue Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya.
Opinions about al-Mukhtar
In the Opinion of the Ahl al-Bayt (a)
Reports on al-Mukhtar can be categorized in two groups of approval and disapproval of al-Mukhtar, but Ayatollah Khoei trusts the reports that approve al-Mukhtar more.
Imam al-Sajjad (a): “May God reward al-Mukhtar.”
In a meeting with al-Mukhtar’s son, Imam al-Baqir (a) first honored, and then praised al-Mukhtar, “May God bless your father.” Al-Mamaqani believes that Imam al-Baqir’s (a) sympathy to al-Mukhtar is a reason to believe he was on the right path, “The Imams’ satisfaction follows and shows the satisfaction of God, therefore it is understood that al-Mukhtar did not have any deviated beliefs, and was a source of satisfaction for the Ahl al-Bayt (a).”
Imam al-Sadiq (a) has stated that al-Mukhtar’s sending of ‘Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad and ‘Umar b. Sa’d’s head to Medina made the Ahl al-Bayt (a) happy and said, “After the event of ‘Ashura, no woman of ours put on makeup, until al-Mukhtar sent the decapitated head of ‘Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad and ‘Umar b. Sa’d.”
In his book, Usd al-ghaba, Ibn Athir has an invected approach to al-Mukhtar and rejects his narrations. Even narrations have been forged against him claiming to be from the Prophet (s), such as, “A liar and criminal shall come from Ta’if.” The narrator of this Hadith is Asma’ bt. Abu Bakr, ‘Abd Allah b. Zubayr’s mother. According to Asma’, liar refers to al-Mukhtar, but it seems that Hajjaj b. Yusuf was the first person who used this word for al-Mukhtar, when he ordered the people to curse Imam ‘Ali (a) and al-Mukhtar.
Al-Mukhtar ruled over Kufa. The Umayyads ruled in the North, in Syria. To al-Mukhtar’s south, in Hijaz, the Zubayr dynasty ruled. Both groups considered themselves caliph and regarded al-Mukhtar someone who had separated a part of their land. Therefore, both groups put as much effort as they could to deny al-Mukhtar and compose false narrations against him.
Ibn Khaldun claims that al-Mukhtar had announced himself a prophet. This belief is more believed because of al-Mukhtar’s way of talking in rhymed prose, but since the establishment of his government in Kufa, the Muslim’s and the Ahl al-Bayt’s support in narration, this issue cannot be correct. Another reason for this accusation is his letter to Ahnaf b. Qays. Since Ahnaf supported the Zubayris, he libeled that this letter was al-Mukhtar’s claim as prophet and insisted on his claim even after al-Mukhtar’s death. The fact that in his meeting with ‘Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr, Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya was reluctant to calling al-Mukhtar a liar, is yet another reason regarding the falsity of this claim.
Al-Mukhtar sent gifts to ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Umar, ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Abbas, and Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya, all of whom accepted his gifts. ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Umar was the husband of al-Mukhtar’s sister, Safiyyah bt. Abu ‘Ubayd.
Wives and Children
First Wife: Umm Thabit, daughter of Samra b. Jundab. They had two children called Muhammad and Ishaq.
Second Wife: ‘Umra, daughter of Nu’man b. Bashir, who was killed after al-Mukhtar’s death by Mus’ab b. al-Zubayr.
Third Wife: Umm Zayd al-Sughra, daughter of Sa’id b. Zayd b. ‘Amr.
Fourth Wife: Umm al-Walid, daughter of ‘Umayr b. Ribah. She was the mother of al-Mukhtar’s daughter, Umm Salama, who married ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Umar b. al-Khattab.
Muhammad, his mother was Umm Thabit
Ishaq, his mother was Umm Thabit
Umm Salama, her mother was Umm al-Walid
‘Umar, who was in Rey and was a draper. He was appointed as the governor of Rey when Abu Muslim Khurasani came to power.