As always there were unintended consequences. Muhammad the Prophet's followers launched their imperialism intending to be an elite caste garrisoned in the conquered areas keeping guard or order and enforcing taxation. It was the policy of the early caliph to disturb the conquered as little as possible, so long as they paid their taxes. There was no interest in converting the conquered to Islam. In the interest of order they left the social and religious order of the conquered intact – social order and religious authority having some connection. But also there were the old landowners, chiefs and headmen, and the conquering Muslims left them with their authority in the villages, subservient, of course, to the conquerors – a method of imperial administrations that was ages old. For the sake of order, the caliphate sent governors to the conquered areas to oversee the collection of taxes and to supervise the distribution of pay to the occupying Arab warrior elite.
Problems with this order of things in the conquered area were developing. It was a question of maintaining an elite through segregation versus integration, with segregation being historically difficult and diffusions common.
But a bigger problem concerning order came within the Muslim community. It was the old problem of succession and more civil war – boring for a reader in its repetition but dramatic for the participants.
Islam's Succession Problem and Civil War
In the late 670s the aging caliph Mu'awiyah nominated as his successor the son of his favorite wife, a Christian. That son was Yazid, and the nomination was confirmed by the consultative body Mu'awiyah had created from leaders of the Arab tribes. Helping Yazid's succession was his having been a heroic figure in the assault against Constantinople, and perhaps also some bribery.
Mu'awiyah died in 680, and a few prominent people were among those who did not accept his son's succession. One opponent was Abdullah ibn Zubayr from Medina. He had a following among those who disliked Umayyad rule and resented the shift of power from Medina to Damascus. Also opposed to Yazid were three men who believed that if power were to pass from father to son they had more right to rule than did Yazid. One was the eldest surviving son of Ali, a man by the name of Hussein. Another was the son of the former caliph Abu Bakr. The third was the grandson of the former caliph Umar (Omar). Moreover there was opposition to Yazid from those who believed that he was insufficiently pious.
In Kufa, supporters of Hussein invited him to make their city his capital, and they offered to fight for him. Hussein left Mecca and led a small band of relatives, his harem and a horde of followers that included some Bedouin tribesmen. Yazid sent a force of Syrian troops toward Kufa. Hussein was warned that a battle against the Syrians was hopeless. His Bedouin supporters abandoned him, leaving him with just seventy fighting men. The Syrians and Hussein met at the city of Karbala twenty-five miles northwest of Kufa. Hussein was determined to die fighting. One by one his warriors, including two of his sons and six brothers, were slaughtered, as was Hussein.
The heads of Hussein's men were sent as trophies to Damascus. Hussein's head was returned to be buried with his body at Karbala. Hussein became a Shia martyr. At Karbala the Shia built their holiest of shrines. And into modern times the day of Hussein's death would be commemorated as a day of grief.
In Medina and Mecca, Zubayr won additional support from those outraged by the deaths in Muhammad's family. Yazid tried reconciliation, but those from Medina who visited Yazid denounced upon their return the godless luxury they had found in Damascus. Yazid sent 12,000 Syrian troops against Medina and conquered the city in August, 683. Many nobles of the Quraysh tribe were annihilated in the process, and the surviving leaders of Medina's...