Who Was Al Mukhtar Thaqafi

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Al Mukhtar ibn Abi Ubayd al-Thaqafi 

Al Mukhtar al-Thaqafi Al-Mukhtar ibn Abi Ubayd al-Thaqafi led a rebellion against the Umayyad Caliphate in 685 and dominated Iraq during the Second Fitna for 18 months.

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He was born in Ta’if, Saudi Arabia. He grew up in Kufa, Iraq. After the Umayyad army killed Husayn ibn Ali, a grandson of Muhammad, at the Battle of Karbala in 680, he allied with the rival caliph Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr in Mecca, but their alliance didn’t last long.

Mukhtar returned to Kufa and announced that Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya was the Mahdi and imam.

He also demanded an Alid caliphate and vengeance for the assassination of Husayn. After removing the Zubayrid ruler of Kufa in October 685, he gained control of the city and eventually had those responsible for killing Husayn executed. Mukhtar was executed by the soldiers of the Zubayrid ruler of Basra, Mus’ab ibn al-Zubayr, who had been in conflict with Ibn al-Zubayr.

Mukhtar’s defeat has far-reaching effects. After his death, his followers founded the Kaysanites, a militant Shi’a group that impacted later Shi’a philosophy. Mukhtar elevated mawali (non-Arab local converts to Islam) to a political entity.


Pro-Alid Kufans persuaded Husayn ibn Ali, Hasan’s younger brother, to rise against Yazid in April 680. Husayn despatched Muslim Ibn Aqil to Kufa to assess the political situation. Before Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad arrived, Al-Mukhtar hosted Ibn Aqil. Due to Ibn Bashir’s benevolent attitude toward Ibn Aqil and his followers, he replaced Al-Mukhtar’s father-in-law as governor. Ibn Ziyad’s persecution and political maneuvering caused Ibn Aqil’s support to wane, forcing him to proclaim the insurrection early.

Al-Mukhtar was not present. Ibn Aqil’s rebellion was put down, and he was beheaded before Mukhtar’s return to Kufa. Al-Mukhtar was arrested, but he denied involvement in the insurrection. On October 10, 680, Husayn was slain during the Battle of Karbala, while Mukhtar was imprisoned. Abdullah ibn Umar, the second caliph’s son, and Al-Mukhtar’s brother-in-law, intervened and ordered Al-Mukhtar to leave Kufa.

Al Mukhtar’s Exile in Mecca

The son of Muhammad’s companion Zubayr ibn al-Awwam, Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, had secretly gained allegiance in Mecca and commanded the Hejaz (western Arabia). Al-Mukhtar left Kufa and traveled to Mecca, where he pledged allegiance to Ibn al-Zubayr on the condition that he be consulted on critical matters and given a high position. Mukhtar left for Ta’if, and Ibn al-Zubayr acknowledged Mukhtar’s tribute a year later.

Al-Mukhtar defended Mecca in 683 when Yazid sent an army to reclaim it. After the death of Yazid, the Umayyad army fled, and Ibn al-Zubayr declared his rule. Kufans told Al-Mukhtar that the city was under Ibn al-power Zubayr’s, but they wanted an independent leader. He said he was whom they needed.

While in Mecca, he sought Ali’s son Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyah for permission to seek power and revenge on Husayn’s death. He said that he was neither in favor nor against it but that violence should be avoided. Mukhtar made a similar offer to Ali Zayn al-Abidin, the son of Husayn, but it was rejected. He returned to Kufa five months after Yazid’s death without informing Ibn al-Zubayr. According to some accounts, Ibn al-Zubayr sent him to Kufa as governor to thwart Umayyad ambitions to reconquer Iraq.

Al Mukhtar’s Return to Kufa

Al-Mukhtar recruited people in Kufa to avenge Husayn, promising them victory and wealth. Sulayman ibn Surat, a Muhammad associate, and Alid follower was recruiting a group of Kufans named Tawwabin to fight the Umayyads to atone for not supporting Husayn at Karbala. Tawwabin problems.

Most pro-Alid Kufans supported Ibn Surat, Muhammad’s companion. Therefore, Mukhtar couldn’t draw many recruits. He said Ibn Surat was old, frail, and militarily inexperienced. Thus, the Tawwabin’s activities were premature and sure to fail. He claimed to be Ibn al-Lieutenant, Hanafiyyah the Mahdi (Messiah). Mukhtar got a lot of Alid supporters, including 500 mawali, to believe that he worked for the Mahdi.

Kufa’s governor, Ibn al-Zubayr, became Kufa’s governor in 684. Ibn Yazid fearfully imprisoned Mukhtar. Abdullah ibn Umar later interceded on Mukhtar’s behalf, and he was released.

The overthrow of the Zubayrid governor

Mukhtar resumed revolutionary activity after his release. Most pro-Alid Kufans switched allegiance to Mukhtar after the Umayyads beat the Tawwabin at Ayn al-Warda in 685. Ibn al-Zubayr put Abd Allah ibn Muti in charge of the country instead of Ibn Yazid, but it didn’t work. Mukhtar and his men planned to take Kufa on October 19, 685. Mukhtar’s soldiers fought government forces on October 17. Mukhtar indicated his men’s insurrection with fires. The administration was defeated by Wednesday evening, October 18. With Mukhtar’s help, Ibn Muti escaped to Basra. Using the following arguments: “God’s Book, the Prophet’s Sunnah, retribution for the Prophet’s family, defence of the vulnerable, and war on sinners,” Mukhtar won over the Kufans in the mosque the following day.

Rule over Iraq

The Arab tribal nobility and mawali supported Mukhtar’s revolution. He initially tried to appease both parties. Most government positions, including Mosul and al-Mada’in governorships, are held by Arabs. Mawali, once thought of as low-class people, were given permission to ride horses and war loot and army pay. He promised to release Mawali enslaved people who joined him, gaining their allegiance. Abu Amra Kaysan led his mawali guard. His policy regarding the mawali troubled thebles. During the Duringis period, he ruled over Armenia, Adharbayjan, Jibal, and parts of Jazira (Upper Mesopotamia). His supporters were unable to take Basra from Zubayrid. Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan had taken over the leadership of the Umayyads in Syria and was reclaiming lost territory.


After Ayn al-Warda, the Umayyads seized Mosul and marched on Kufa. Mukhtar sent 3,000 cavalrymen to Yazid ibn Anas. July 17, 686, they destroyed a twice-their-size Umayyad army near Mosul. After executing all Syrian captives, Ibn Anas died of sickness. Losing their commander, the Kufans fled another Umayyad army. In Kufa, rumors arose that Ibn Anas and Mukhtar’s soldiers were slaughtered. Mukhtar dispatched 7,000 reinforcements with Ibn al-Ashtar. The Kufan nobility stormed Mukhtar’s palace when the troops were absent due to his favoritism for the mawali. Their prestige was supposedly stolen.

Mukhtar recalled Ibn al-Ashtar despite the siege. Ibn al-army Ashtar’s suppressed the insurrection three days after leaving Kufa. 

Kermanshah tiles represent Mukhtar overseeing Husayn ibn Ali’s murderers’ penalties.

Mukhtar punished Karbala battle participants after destroying his opposition. Umar ibn Sa’d, and Shimr ibn Ziljawshan were executed.

Battle of Khazir

Mukhtar sent Ibn al-Ashtar with 13,000 men to face Ibn Ziyad’s Umayyad army two days after retaking Kufa. Mukhtar’s men circled a chair they said belonged to Ali and would win the war. Mukhtar’s suggestion. He invented it to gain religious backing and compared it to the Ark of the Covenant. Julius Wellhausen says he didn’t create the concept. Because he needed their zeal, he let them carry the chair. Early in August 686, troops clashed near the Khazir River. Ibn Ziyad and Husayn ibn Numayr al-Sakuni were among the Umayyad commanders murdered. Some sources place the battle on August 6, coinciding with Husayn’s death on 10 Muharram. Ibn Ziyad’s death was Mukhtar’s revenge on Husayn’s killers.

Relations with Ibn al-Zubayr

Mukhtar protested to Ibn al-Zubayr about the broken promise, despite having served him well. He gave support, nevertheless. Mukhtar was loyal to Ibn al-Zubayr but refused to hand over Kufa to the caliph’s governor, Umar ibn Abd al-Rahman. Mukhtar bribed and threatened the governor, who fled. 

In 686, Mukhtar pretended to provide Ibn al-Zubayr military support against an expected Umayyad raid on Medina to remove him. Ibn al-Zubayr sought troops for Wadi al-Qura, a valley north of Medina. Still, Mukhtar sent 3,000 fighters under Shurahbil ibn Wars to Medina. He despatched Abbas ibn Sahl with a 2,000-man force to escort Ibn Wars and his troops to Wadi al-Qura in expectation of the Syrian army and slaughtering Mukhtar’s loyalists if they refused. Ibn Wars refused, and he and his soldiers were slain.

Mukhtar told Ibn al-Hanafiyyah about his aborted plan to conquer the territory for the Alid and offered to send another army to Medina if he told the city’s residents that Mukhtar was working for him. Ibn al-Hanafiyyah objected to bloodshed. Ibn al-Zubayr, fearing a pro-Alid insurrection in the Hejaz, jailed Ibn al-Hanafiyyah to force his loyalty, thinking Mukhtar would follow suit. Mukhtar sent a 4,000-strong force to release Ibn al-Hanafiyyah.

Al Mukhtar’s Death

In 687, Basra’s governor and Abd Allah ibn al-brother Zubayr’s attacked Kufa. His army included Kufan nobility who fled Mukhtar’s punishments. Mukhtar’s Kufan army number is uncertain, ranging from 3,000 to 60,000. After losing at Madhar and Harura, near Kufa, the Kufans retreated.

Four months later, Mus’ab assaulted Mukhtar’s palace. Ibn al-Ashtar, then governor of Mosul, did not try to relieve Mukhtar, either because he was not summoned or refused. Mus’ab later recruited him. Mukhtar stepped out of the palace with 19 allies (the rest declined to engage) and was slain fighting. Mus’ab then executed Mukhtar’s remaining 6,000 partisans. Umrah bint Numan ibn Bashir al-Ansari, one of Mukhtar’s wives, refused to repudiate his opinions and was executed; his other wife did and was spared. The mosque hanged Mukhtar’s severed hand. His burial is supposedly in Muslim ibn Ibnl’s shrine behind the Great Mosque of Kufa. Some say Mus’ab burned his body.

Al Mukhtar’s Legacy

Mukhtar reigned for two years, yet his ideas survived. During his leadership, the mawali gained prominence, to the Kufan Arab nobility’s dismay. He named Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah Mahdi and Imam. This was perhaps Islam’s first mention of the Mahdi. This belief later became a central tenet of Shi’a Islam. After his defeat at Madhar, for which he had been promised victory, he introduced the concept of Bada’ (changing in the divine will).

Kaysanites, his followers, are a Shi’a sect. They introduced the Mahdi’s Ghayba and Raj’a beliefs. Some Kaysanites believed Ibn al-Hanafiyyah was hiding on Mount Radwa and would return to end injustice. Most Kaysanites named his son Abu Hashim Imam. Before dying, he passed the Imamate to Muhammad ibn Ali ibn Abdallah ibn Abbas. During their revolt, the Abbasids utilized this as propaganda to appeal to the pro-Alid masses. As-Saffah and al-Mansur, Muhammad ibn Ali’s sons, founded the Abbasid Caliphate. Wellhausen compares Mukhtar to Abbasid revolutionary Abu Muslim Khorasani, who recruited Arabs and mawali and considered them as equals: “If the philosophy of Raj’a is accurate, then the Arab of Khutarnia [Mukhtar] came to life again in the Maula of Khutarnia [Abu Muslim].” 

Academic modernism

Early historical records portray Mukhtar negatively, but current historians disagree. Wellhausen claims that even though Mukhtar didn’t call himself a prophet, he acted and behaved like he was part of God’s council. He said Mukhtar was a conscientious individual who strove to eliminate societal disparities. He contends that Mukhtar made grandiose claims and used Ibn al-reputation Hanafiyyah’s out of necessity.

Well hausen deems him “one of the finest men in Islamic history” Hugh Kennedy claims that Mukhtar was a rebel who wanted to unite the Kufans but was let down by the Alids. Mukhtar reportedly claimed before his death, “I am an Arab. As a result of seeing Ibn Zubayr rise to fame in Hejaz, Najdah in Yamamah, and Marwan in Syria, I did not feel inferior to other Arabs. So I took over this territory and became like them. I only tried to avenge the Prophet’s family while they ignored it. I killed everyone who shed blood, and I still do it today. 

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