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Yazid b. Mu'awiya

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Yazid b. Mu'awiya
Second Umayyad Caliph
Personal Information
Birth 25/645, Syria
Death 64/683
Father Mu'awiya
Mother Maysun bt. Bahdal
Children Khalid, Mu'awiya, Abu Sufyan, 'Abd Allah
Spouse(s) Fakhtah, Umm Kulthum, Umm Miskin
Burial Place Huwwarin, Syria
Dynasty Umayyad
Reign 60/680-64/683
Contemporary with Imam al-Husayn (a)
Capital Damascus
Activities Killing Imam al-Husayn (a), tragedy of Harra, demolishing Ka'ba
Predecessor Mu'awiya
Successor Mu'awiya b. Yazid

Yazīd b. Mu'āwīya (Arabic: یزيد بن معاویة), (b. 25/645 - d. 64/683) was the second Umayyad ruler by the order of whom, Imam al-Husayn (a) and his companions were martyred in Karbala and Imam's (a) family members were taken captive. Yazid ruled for three years after his father Mu'awiya and three important events took place during his caliphate:

According to historical sources, Yazid openly drank wine and had a poetic taste. He was the first person who was appointed as the caliph in a hereditary manner by his father contrary to the tradition of the previous caliphs. His appointment was against the peace treaty between Imam al-Hasan (a) and Mu'awiya. Some hadiths explicitly cursed Yazid and the murderers of Imam al-Husayn (a). All Shi'a and a group of Sunnis refer to what Yazid did during his caliphate and consider him deserved to be cursed.



Historians have recorded Yazid's genealogy, who is from the Banu Umayya clan of the tribe of Quraysh, as follows: "Yazid b. Mu'awiya b. Sakhr b. Harb b. Umayya b. 'Abd Shams b. 'Abd Manaf. 'Abd Manaf had two sons, Hashim and 'Abd Shams, who were the ancestors of Banu Hashim and Banu Umayya respectively. There is not much information about Yazid's mother, except that her name was Maysun bt. Bahdal, she belonged to the clan of Banu Haritha b. Janab al-Kalbi. Yazid's grandfather, Abu Sufyan, and his grandmother, Hind bt. 'Utba, were among the arch-enemies of the Prophet (s) of Islam before the conquest of Mecca. In the Battle of Uhud, when Hamza b. 'Abd al-Muttalib was killed and his liver was taken out by Wahshi, Hind bit into Hamza's liver out of anger and hatred.

After the conquest of Mecca, Prophet (s) forgave his enemies including Abu Sufyan and Hind, and called them Tulaqa' (the Freed). This epithet was later applied to them disparagingly. In some hadiths, Imam 'Ali (a) states that Mu'awiya and his father never believed in Islam but only accepted it out of fear, and therefore do not deserve to be successor of the Prophet (s). After 'Ashura, Lady Zaynab (a) made a speech and called Yazid, a son of Tulaqa'. In Ziyarat 'Ashura, he is referred to as "the son of the liver-eater woman".


According to some sources, Yazid born in 26 AH, his father was Mu'awiya b. Abu Sufyan and his mother was Maysun bt. Bahdal. His mother was a Bedouin, who married Mu'awiya and went to Damascus. But soon, she couldn't live in Damascus and so Mu'awiya divorced her, she returned to the desert. At this time, Yazid was either an infant or not yet born. Yazid spent his early childhood with the tribe of Maysun, whose people were of the tribes of Huwwarin (in Hums area) with a Christian or polytheist background before Islam. They also had literary and poetic inclinations. Some believe that growing up under the influence of these formerly Christian converts influenced Yazid and accounts for his later support for Christians and especially Christian poets, for hiring Christian consultants at his court, and for his peace agreement with Europeans. He had some children including Khalid, Mu'awiya, Abu Sufyan and 'Abd Allah. His wives were Fakhta, Umm Kulthum and Umm Miskin.


After ruling for three years and eight months, Yazid died on Rabi' I 14, (64 AH/683) at the age of 38 and was buried in Huwwarin. It is reported that when 'Abbasids took Damascus, disinterred him. It has been said that the cause of his death was that he had put his monkey on a wild running donkey; Yazid himself was chasing the donkey while being drunk and riding on a horse until he fell off and broke his neck. Some people mentioned that the cause of his death was too much drinking. Some others say that he died of pneumonia.

Personal Characteristics

In many sources, Yazid has been introduced as an immoral and corrupt person. Baladhuri considered him the first caliph who openly drank wine, kept women singers and players with himself and made dogs and roosters fight for his own pleasure. He had a monkey called Aba Qays and gave it wine and laughed at its'udi quotes Abu Mikhnaf that in the reign of Yazid, drinking and immoral acts were widely committed by his governors even in Mecca and Medina. Yazid's reputation for immorality was so widespread that some famous companions of the Prophet (s) and also Imam al-Husayn (a) straightforwardly called him a Fasiq (grave sinner). Because of this bad reputation, figures like Imam al-Husyan (a), 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr, and 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar, refused to pay allegiance to Yazid. It is reported that 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar said in this regard, "Shall we pay allegiance to a person who plays with monkeys and dogs, drinks wine, and commits grave sins openly?! What would be our excuse before God?" Some believe that the beliefs of Maysun's tribe who converted to Islam from the Christianity influenced the formation of his personality during his growth. They mentioned Christian advisers such as Sir John and Akhtal Nasrani in his court and his peace with Eastern Romans as evidences for this. Most historical sources have mentioned that he was a poet and also was profligate and drunkard.

His Poetic Taste

Yazid was a speaker and a poet. His book of poems is published and also translated to Persian as well. One of his poems which is narrated after the Event of 'Ashura reads:

"Give me a cup of wine to satiate my bones. Then, return and give Ibn Ziyad such a cup, whom is my confidant and trustee; and my caliphate was established by him."

Historians have reported that when Mu'awiya sent Yazid with the army of Islam toward Rome, the army went forth and were afflicted with pox and fever, but Yazid stayed back with his wife on the way and made himself busy with drinking and composed a poem, "fever and pox the army received and I have no worries, when in the abbey of Maran I lean on the couch beside Umm Kulthum." Yazid was so shameless that in his poems which he composed during the time of his father, he said that he does not care if Muslims die because of fever, small-pox, or cholera!

Taking Allegiance to Yazid by Mu'awiya

According to historical reports, when Mu'wiya decided to appoint Yazid as the crown prince, Ziyad b. Abih told him, "Yazid is a weak person who loves hunting more than being a caliph and he is not suitable for it." To show a valiant figure of Yazid, Mu'awiya sent him to Rome with the army of Muslims in 52 AH and also gave him the management of hajjis to prevent him from drinking and to decrease criticisms about him. He postponed taking people's allegiance for Yazid until after the martyrdom of Imam al-Hasan (a).

In the peace treaty of Imam al-Hasan (a), it was mentioned that Mu'awiya should not appoint a successor for himself and must leave choosing of the caliph to Muslim community. After the martyrdom of Imam al-Hasan (a), Mu'awiya did not respect the peace treaty and ordered his governors and agents to praise Yazid and send groups from big cities to give allegiance to him. People of Medina opposed to the allegiance more seriously than other cities. Mu'awiya gave gifts to the poets who were against Yazid and changed their ideas. He also travelled to Medina to take allegiance of people, but he could not force Imam al-Husayn (a), 'Abd Allah b. Zubayr and 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar and 'Abd al-Rahman to give allegiance to Yazid.

Caliphate of Yazid

After the death of Mu'awiya, Yazid became the ruler. He was the first person who reached caliphate by the appointment of his father in a hereditary manner contrary to the tradition of previous caliphs. According to historical sources, Yazid suppressed any objection during his rule. On the first day, he wrote a letter to the governor of Medina and informed him of the death of Mu'awiya and ordered him to force Husayn b. Ali (a), 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar, 'Abd al-Rahman b. Abi Bakr and 'Abd Allah b. Zubayr to give allegiance and to behead anyone who refused.

The short reign of Yazid was a period of great unrest, in which he tried to mercilessly extinguish any disagreeing current. Social and political freedom at his time was so limited. al-Mas'udi wrote, "The conducts of Yazid was the same as those of Pharaoh; rather, Pharaoh was more just than him among his people and more fair to the elite and masses". Yazid in the first year of his rule, killed al-Husayn (a) and the Ahl al-Bayt (a) of the Prophet (s); in the second year, he disrespected the sanctuary of the Messenger of God (s) in Medina, and made it permissible for his soldiers to do what they wanted with its people; and in the third year, he attacked Ka'ba and burned it.

The oppression and crimes that Yazid committed during his short reign marked the beginning of a series of uprisings and revolts against the Umayyad dynasty, and finally overthrew it.

The Event of Karbala

Main article: Event of Karbala

According to sources, when Yazid reached the power, ordered the governor of Medina, "force al-Husayn (a) to give allegiance and if he (a) refuses, send me his head." Imam al- Husayn (a) did not give allegiance to Yazid and went to Mecca with his family and some of Banu Hashim. People of Kufa sent many letters to Imam (a) and invited him to Kufa; so, Imam (a) moved toward Kufa. Yazid appointed 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad as the governor of Kufa and he could make people give up supporting Imam (a). After Kufis broke their promise, Imam (a) went toward Karbala. On Muharram 10th, he (a) encountered the army of 'Umar b. Sa'd who was appointed as the commander.

In this battle, Imam al-Husayn (a) and his children, his brother 'Abbas (a), 17 people of Banu Hashim and more than 50 of his companions were martyred. After the battle, the horsemen of Yazid's army trampled the bodies of the martyrs, attacked the tents of surviving ones, took anything which were left as booty and set fire to the tents. Due to illness, Imam al-Sajjad (a) could not fight and survived. He (a) and Lady Zaynab (a) together with other women and children were taken captives by the army of Kufa; who put the heads on spears and took them with the captives to Kufa to 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad and from there to Syria to Yazid.

Behavior of Yazid toward the Captives of Karbala

When the captives entered Syria, Yazid ordered to decorate the city. He also ordered to decorate the palace and summoned famous personalities of Syria. He put the head of Imam al-Husayn (a) in a golden basin in front of the eyes of the captives and hit it with a whip and repeated this poem of Ibn Zaba'ri, "how good was that if some of the great ones from my tribe who were killed in the battle of Badr were now alive to see the griefs of the tribe of Khazraj. They would then rejoice and say, 'Thank you O Yazid! Banu Hashim only played with the power, while, no news or revelation had come."

There is a hadith from Imam al-Rida (a), that Yazid put the head of Imam (a) in a basin and put a food table over it. Then, he and his companions began eating and drinking beer; then, they replaced that table with a chess table and began playing chess. When Yazid made a good move in the game, drank beer and poured the remaining beer beside the basin on the ground. Yahya b. Hakam objected to this behavior of Yazid, but Yazid punched him on the chest. Abu Barza Aslami objected too, and Yazid ordered to throw him out of the gathering. It can be understood from historical and hadith sources that first, Yazid placed the captives in roofless ruins which were known as ruins of Syria. After the speeches of Imam al-Sajjad (a) and Lady Zaynab (a), the captives were moved to a house near the palace of Yazid.

Incident of Harra

Main article: Incident of Harra

Yazid's rule led to increasing dissatisfaction of the people of Hijaz, which was due to his policies that did not pay attention to Mecca and Medina. This situation gradually led to a crisis. In order to alleviate the situation, the young governor of Medina, 'Uthman b. Muhammd b. Abi Sufyan, sent a group of Medinan nobles to Damascus, so that Yazid takes reconciliatory measures by honoring them.

Many of Medinan elites and nobles, including 'Abd Allah b. Hanzala and his sons, 'Abd Allah b. 'Amr, and Mundhir b. al-Zubayr, were in that group. Upon their arrival in Damascus, the group received many gifts from Yazid. However, Yazid committed inappropriate actions in the presence of the group, which offended them greatly. When the group returned to Medina, they openly cursed Yazid and talked about his immoral character, and thus an unrest broke out.

Following the unrest in Medina, Yazid wrote a threatening letter to the people of Medina, but the letter only intensified the unrest and led to the beginning of a revolt. Yazid sent an army of twelve thousand men to Medina with Muslim b. 'Uqba as its commander. When they reached Medina, They gave a three-day ultimatum to the people to stop the revolt and pay allegiance to Yazid again. But the people refused and the battle started, which led to the defeat of the Medinans and the killing of thousands of people and looting the city by the soldiers of Yazid for three days. This incident happened in 63/683.

Meccan Revolt

About the same time when the people of Medina revolted against Yazid, 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr and his companions took control of Mecca. So after the battle of Harra, the Syrian army moved towards Mecca to defeat Ibn al-Zubayr. The Syrian army besieged Mecca, and during the siege they attacked the city using catapults. As a result of these attacks, Ka'ba was damaged and burned. The siege lasted until the news of Yazid's death reached his army.

Military Conquests

During the reign of Yazid, due to internal conflicts, the expansion of Muslim territories stopped. Yazid put aside confrontational policies with European Christians; he even retreated from some of the lands that had been conquered at the time of Mu'awiya. He summoned his soldiers from Cyprus in return for money. He commanded Yazid b. Janada to destroy the Muslim fortress in Arwad Island and come back to Syria, and summoned his forces from Rhodes. However, in 61/680-1, he sent Malik b. 'Abd Allah al-Khath'ami to war with Romans; a war which was later called the Battle of Syria. In the East, Sogdia and Bukhara were conquered. In Africa, some conquests took place by 'Uqba b. Nafi'.

Muslims' Views about Yazid

Shi'a View

The Event of Karbala during the rule of Yazid made him one of the most hated individuals in the view of Shi'a. Shi'a considered Yazid deserved to be cursed and regarded denouncing him and other enemies of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) among the essential beliefs of their school of thought. In Shi'a hadith sources, there are hadiths from the Prophet (s) and the Ahl al-Bayt (a) in which Yazid and the murderers of Imam al-Husayn (a) are cursed. In Ziyarat 'Ashura, there is a statement which curses all Umayyad caliphs. Moreover, in the famous version of Ziyarat 'Ashura, the phrase, "O God, curse Yazid, the fifth [of them] and curse 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad" explicitly curses Yazid.

Sunni Views

Some Sunnis including Ahmad b. Hanbal, Dhahabi, Ibn 'Imad Hanbali, Ibn Jawzi and Ibn Khaldun believe in cursing Yazid. Ibn Khaldun claims that all Muslims agree on dissipation of Yazid. In al-Radd 'ala al-muta'assib al-'anid al-mani' min dhamm Yazid, Ibn Jawzi, the Sunni scholar, has discussed the reasons for cursing Yazid and says that in addition to breaking the sanctity of the sanctuary of the Prophet (s) (Medina), Yazid killed Imam al-Husayn (a) against the order of the Prophet (s) for [loving] him, and even afterwards, disrespected his head and also his family. Some other Sunnis including Ghazzali do not consider cursing any Muslim, including Yazid, permissible. Some others say that the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) was made by the order of Ibn Ziyad and because of the relationship Yazid had with Imam al-Husayn (a) and they were both from Quraysh, Yazid was not happy with fighting and killing him. Taftazani too says that Yazid deserved to be cursed, but in order to avoid extension of cursing to other companions of the Prophet (s), he should not be cursed.

See Also