Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib, also known as Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah (15 AH – 81 AH; c. AD 636 – 700) and surnamed Abu’l-Qasim was an early Muslim leader. He was a son of Maula Ali ibn Abi Talib, the first Imam and the fourth Caliph.
Hazrat Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah (Muhammad Akbar) was born in Medina about AD 633 (though also said to be during Umar’s era), the third of Maula Ali’s sons. He was called Ibn al-Hanafiyyah after his mother, Khawlah bint Ja’far; she was known as Hanafiyyah, “the Hanafi woman”, after her tribe Banu Hanifah. After the wisal of Rasool s.a.w , the people of Yamamah were declared apostates by the Muslims for refusing to pay the zakat(religious tax); the men were killed (see Ridda wars), and the women were taken to Medina as slaves, Khawlah bint Ja’far among them. When her tribesmen found out, they approached Hazrat Ali ibn Abi Talib a.s and asked him to save her from slavery and to protect her family’s honor and prestige. Consequently, Muala Ali ibn Abi Talib a.s purchased her, set her free, and, after the wisal of Hazrat Fatimah a.s , married her. Hazrat Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah was the only child of Khawlah bint Ja’far. During his father’s lifetime he distinguished himself for piety, rectitude, and courage and effectiveness in war. During Maula Ali’s caliphate at Kufa he was one of the caliph’s four chief lieutenants. He particularly distinguished himself at the battles of Jamal and Siffin.During the Battle of Siffin, Ali described al-Hanafiyyah as his hand due to his bravery and strength while fighting.
Ash-Shaykh al-Baha’i has written in al-Kashkul, that Ali ibn Abu Talib kept him abreast in the battles and did not allow the second Shi’a Imam (Hassan ibn Ali) and the third Shi’a Imam (Hussain ibn Ali) to go ahead, and used to say, “He is my son while these two are sons of the Prophet of Allah.”
When a Kharijite said to Ibn al-Hanafiyyah that `Ali thrust him into the flames of war but saved away Imam Hassan ibn Ali and Imam Hussain ibn Ali he replied that he himself was like the right hand and Imam Hassan ibn Ali and Imam Hussain ibn Ali like `Ali’s two eyes and that `Ali protected his eyes with his right hand. But al-`Allamah al-Mamaqani has written in Tanqih al-Maqal that this was not the reply of Ibn al-Hanafiyyah but of Hazrat Ali ibn Abu Talib a.s himself. When during the battle of Siffin Muhammad mentioned this matter to Hazrat Ali ibn Abu Talib a.s in complaining tone he replied, “You are my right hand whereas they are my eyes, and the hand should protect the eyes.”
It is said that the Roman Emperor sent two herculean athletes to Muawiya to measure their strength with the Muslim athletes. One of them was tall and corpulent and the other was powerful with a strong grip. Muawiya said to Amr bin As: “We have got a match for the tall man in the person of Qays bin sad bin Ubada, but as regards the other man you should think over it as to who can measure his strength with him and defeat him”.Amr said: “I have two persons in view but you are inimical towards both of them. One of them is Muhammad bin Hanafiya and the other is Abdullah bin Zubayr”. Muawiya said: “You should summon him who is nearer to us at present. Amr asked Muhammad bin Hanafiya to meet the challenge. Muawiya took his place in the general assembly and the dignitaries of the State also attended. The powerful person was the first to enter the field and came face to face with Muhammad. Muhammad said to him: “Either you should sit down and let me hold your hand so that I may pull you off from your seat, or I may sit down and you may lift me from my place. Now let me know whether you are going to sit down or I should do so?”
The Roman said: “You may sit down. Muhammad sat down and let the Roman hold his hand. In spite of his best efforts, however, the Roman could not move Muhammad from his place, and acknowledged his weakness. Then Muhammad stood up and the Roman sat down and let Muhammad hold his hand. Muhammad immediately lifted him from his place with one jerk, held him in the air, and then threw him on the ground.
When Imam Husayn a.s, then in Mecca, was considering the expedition to Kufa that ended at Karbala, Hazrat Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah advised him not to go,pointing out that the men of Kufa had betrayed and turned against their father Maula Ali a.s and their brother Imam Hasan ibn Ali a.s and saying that he feared that they would betray Imam Husayn a.s as well. Imam Husayn a.s replied that he feared that if he stayed in Mecca, Yazid ibn Muawiya would have him killed there, and violate the sanctity of the Holy City. Muhammad ibn al-Hanifiyyah then urged him to go instead to Yemen, where he could indefinitely elude an army. The next day Imam Husayn a.s replied that Rasool s.a.w had appeared to him in a dream and required him to undertake this sacrificial expedition.
After Imam Husayn a.s and so many of his kinsmen got shaheed at Karbala and the young Imam Ali ibn Husayn a.s adopted a life of retirement and prayer.It was in his name that Al-Mukhtar rebelled in Kufa in 686. Mukhtar Thaqafi rose in Kufa against the Umayyad to take revenge of Imam Hussainâ€™s blood. He turned to Imam Zayn al-Abidin to seek his support. Baladhuri (d. 279/892) writes in â€œAnsab al-Ashrafâ€ (5th vol., p. 272) that, â€œMukhtar wrote to Zayn al-Abidin to show his loyalty to him, asking if he could rally the Kuffans for him. He sent with the letter a large sum of money. Zayn al-Abidin refused this offer and declared Mukhtar publicly to be a liar who was trying to exploit the cause of Ahl al-Bayt for his own interests.â€ Ibn Saâ€™d (d. 230/845) also writes in â€œKitab al-Tabaqatâ€ (5th vol., p. 213) that, â€œImam Zayn al-Abidin had publicly denounced Mukhtarâ€™s mission.â€ Mukhtar lost all hopes of winning Imam Zayn al-Abidin; he then turned to Ibn al-Hanafia in Mecca, the third son of Hazrat Ali from a Hanafite woman. On his part, Ibn al-Hanafia did not repudiate Mukhtarâ€™s propaganda for his Imamate and Messianic role; he nevertheless, maintained a non-committal attitude and never openly raised his claims to the heritage of Imam Hussain. Baladhuri (5th vol., p. 218) writes that, Ibn al-Hanafia gave Mukhtar only a non-committal reply. He neither approved nor disapproved of Mukhtarâ€™s intention to avenge Imam Hussain, and only warned him against bloodshed.â€ In the event, however, the hesitation and political inactivity of Ibn al-Hanafia induced Mukhtar more and more to exploit his name for his own interest. In Kufa, Mukhtar propagated that Ibn al-Hanafia was an awaited Mahdi, and he was his minister (vizir) and commander (amir).
In the meantime, the circumstances changed when Abdullah bin Zubayr proclaimed himself caliph in 64/683 in Mecca. Ibn al-Hanafia refused to pay homage to Abdullah bin Zubayr in Mecca. In 66/685, Abdullah bin Zubayr detained Ibn al-Hanafia and his family and threatened them with death if they did not pay homage within a specific time. Ibn al-Hanafia wrote letter to Mukhtar, apprising him of his perilous condition. Mukhtar marshaled out four thousand soldiers and managed to liberate Ibn al-Hanafia, who left Mecca for Taif. Mukhtar was killed in 67/687 in an another encounter with Musab bin Zubayr in Kufa, while Ibn al-Hanafia died in 81/700 at the age of about 70 years, and was buried in Mecca.