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Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf
|Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf
Seal of al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf
|Born||Kulayb ibn Yusuf
Early June AD 661 / AH 40
Ta’if, the Hejaz (modern-day Saudi Arabia)
|Died||714 (aged 53)|
|Occupation||Minister of defence, Politician, Administrator and Teacher|
|Known for||Governor of Iraq|
Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf (Arabic: الحجاج بن يوسف / ALA: al-Ḥajjāj bin Yūsuf (or otherwise transliterated), also known more fully as al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf al-Kulayb or al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf al-Thaqafi) (born early June AD 661 / AH 40 – AD 714 / AH 95) was a controversial Arab administrator, politician and minister of defence of the Umayyad caliphate.
Al-Hajjaj was an intelligent and tough ruler. He has also been described as draconian, although modern historical treatments acknowledge the influence of later Abbasid historians and biographers who were opposed to the fiercely loyal and pro-Umayyad al-Hajjaj. Al-Hajjaj bin Yousef played a crucial role in the selection of military commanders. He instilled discipline in the soldier ranks which led to the successful expansion of the Islamic empire to its farthest extent. He ensured all important records were translated into Arabic, and for the first time he convinced caliph Abd Al-Malik to adopt a special currency for the Muslim world. This led to war with the Byzantine Empire under Justinian II. The Byzantines were led by Leontios at the Battle of Sebastopolis in 692 and were decisively defeated.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Career
- 2.1 Soldier
- 2.2 Governor of Iraq
- 2.3 Asia
- 3 Reign as recounted in the Chach Nama
- 3.1 Palestine
- 4 Negative portrayal
- 5 Cultural influence
- 5.1 Linguistic reform
- 5.2 Coinage
- 6 References
- 7 Bibliography
Al-Hajjaj was born (661 AD) in the city of Ta’if in the Hijaz, in modern-day Saudi Arabia. His name at birth was Kulayb, but later he changed it to al-Hajjaj. He was a teacher of Quran to young students in Al-Taif. He migrated away from his city towards Damascus later on during his early life.
Al-Ḥajjāj first came to notice in the early years of the reign of Abd al-Malik when he set out from aṭ-Ṭā’if to Damascus to serve in the shurta “police force” under Rawh ibn Zinba’ al-Judhami, vizier of the Caliph. He attracted the attention of ‘Abd al-Malik because he rapidly restored discipline among the mutinous troops with whom the Caliph was about to set out for Iraq against Mus’ab ibn al-Zubayr.
During the campaign against Mus’ab, al-Ḥajjāj seems to have led the rearguard and to have distinguished himself by some feats of valour. After the victory over Mus’ab at Maskin on the Dujayl (Little Tigris River) in 72 AH/691, on the Caliph’s orders he set out from Kufa in the same month at the head of about 2000 Syrians against Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr. He advanced unopposed as far as his native aṭ-Ṭā’if, which he took without any fighting and used as a base.
The Caliph had charged al-Ḥajjāj first to negotiate with ibn al-Zubayr and to assure him of freedom from punishment if he capitulated but, if the opposition continued, to starve him out by siege, but on no account to let the affair result in bloodshed in Mecca. Since the negotiations failed and al-Ḥajjāj lost patience, he sent a courier to ask ‘Abdu l-Malik for reinforcements and also for permission to take the city by force.
Al-Ḥajjāj received both. Angered at being prevented by Ibn al-Zubayr from performing Hajj, al-Ḥajjāj bombarded Mecca, going so far as to target the Ka’bah and its pilgrims during the Hajj.
After the siege had lasted seven months and 10,000 men (among them two of ibn az-Zubayr’s sons) had gone over to al-Ḥajjāj, Ibn al-Zubayr and loyal followers, including his youngest son, were killed in the fighting around the Ka’bah on Jumadah I 73 AH/October 692 AD. Al-Ḥajjāj’s siege of the Hijaz resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent inhabitants. While subsequently governing the Hijaz, al-Ḥajjāj was known for his severe rule.
Governor of Iraq
In AH 75/AD 694, Caliph Abd al-Malik sent al-Ḥajjāj to govern Iraq. Al-Ḥajjāj continued to be viewed as cruel and his reputation was not helped when he fought and eventually crushed a Kharijite rebellion under Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn al-Ash’ath from 699-701 CE.
For his considerable successes, al-Ḥajjāj was also made governor of some provinces in Persia, where he was again tasked with putting down rebellions. However, his severe tactics led him to make many enemies, who would come to power after his death.
With the ascent of Al-Walid I, Ḥajjāj’s reputation grew due to the selection and deployment of numerous successful generals who expanded the empire. He was given these powers due to his high status in the Umayyad government and he exhibited a lot of control over the provinces that he governed.
Among these generals was the teenaged Muhammad ibn-Qasīm, who in 712 was sent to Sindh in Pakistan and Qutayba ibn Muslim who was sent to conquer Turkestan, which he did.
Al-Ḥajjāj’s most successful general was Mūsā ibn Nusayr, who consolidated control over North Africa and sent Tariq ibn Ziyād to conquer Spain.
Al-Ḥajjāj died at Wasit, in Iraq, in 714. The year after, al-Walid died as well, and his brother Sulayman ibn ‘Abdi l-Malik came to power. Sulayman was indebted to many opponents of al-Ḥajjāj for their political support in getting him elected Caliph, so he recalled all of al-Ḥajjāj’s generals and had them tortured to death in prison.
The relationship between al-Hajjāj ibn Yūsuf and Muhammad ibn Qasīm has always been one of great debate. Many accounts list al-Hajjāj as being his uncle or father-in-law.
Reign as recounted in the Chach Nama
The Chach Nama is the oldest chronicle of the Arab conquest of Sindh.
The primary reason noted in the Chach Nama for the expedition by al-Hajjaj against Raja Dahir, was the raid by pirates off the coast of Debal, resulting in the capturing both gifts to the caliph from the King of Serendib (modern Sri Lanka) as well as the female pilgrims on board who were captured.
The Chach Nama reports that upon hearing of the matter, al-Hajjaj wrote a letter to the Raja, and upon unsuccessful resolution being reached, launched a military attack. Other reasons attributed to al-Hajjaj’s interest was in (1) gaining a foothold in the Makran, Balochistan and Sindh regions, (2) protecting the maritime interests, and (3) to teach the armies from Sindh a lesson, for participating alongside Persians in various battles such as those at Nahawand, Salasal and Qādisiyyah and the granting of refuge to fleeing rebel chieftains.
There is another untold history that al-Hajjaj’s decision to send a powerful army of soldiers, commanded by his nephew, Muhammadibn Qasim, was actually an act of revenge which was spurred by Raja Dahir’s refusal of handing over some Arab exiles who had fallen out of favour with Hajjaj and had taken asylum in Sindh.
The two sons of al-Muhallab, an Azdi former governor of Khorasan and a military commander under al-Hajjaj, took refuge in Palestine with two Azdi retainers of the governor there, finding themselves now hounded angrily by al-Hajjaj against a background of inter-tribal rivalry and accused by him of embezzlement. The caliph, al-Walid I, issued an order to his brother, Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik, the pro-Azdi governor of Palestine, to send the sons of al-Muhallab to Damascus. Sulayman sent the elder brother, Yazid, and his own son in chains to the caliph, who, however, showed them mercy.
It is said, although without any certainty, that Al-Hajjaj killed the last companion of the Prophet Muhammad, Jabir ibn Abd-Allah. He is recorded by Tha’ālibī (Laţ’āif, 142) as one of the four men to have killed more than one hundred thousand men (the others being Abu Harb, Abu Muslim and Babak).
Al-Ḥajjāj bin Yūsuf’s period saw the Arabs on their zenith and he played an essential part in it. He is also credited for introducing the diacritic points to the Arabic script and for the first time Al-Ḥajjāj convinced the caliph to adopt a special currency for the Muslim world. This led to war with the Byzantine Empire under Justinian II. The Byzantines were led by Leontios at the Battle of Sebastopolis in 692 in Asia Minor and were decisively defeated by the Caliph after the defection of a large contingent of Slavs. The Islamic currency was then made the only currency exchange in the Muslim world. Also, many reforms happened in his time as regards agriculture and commerce.
The administrative language of Iraq officially changed from Middle Persian (Pahlavi) to Arabic during his governorship. The records of administrative documents (diwans) of Iraq transferred from Pahlavi to Arabic.
Al-Hajjaj was not happy with the prevalence of the Persian language in the dīwān and ordered the official language of the conquered lands to be replaced by Arabic.
When Qutaibah bin Muslim under the command of Al-Ḥajjāj ibn Yūsuf was sent to Khwarazmia with a military expedition and conquered it for the second time, he swiftly killed whoever wrote the Khwarazmian native language that knew of the Khwarazmian heritage, history, and culture. He then killed all their Zoroastrian priests and burned and wasted their books, until gradually the illiterate only remained, who knew nothing of writing, and hence their history was mostly forgotten.
It is written that Al-Ḥajjāj ibn Yūsuf once entered a city. There was an elder cleric whose prayers were widely believed to bring blessings. He asked the cleric to recite a prayer for him. The cleric prayed: “O God, take his life away!” Al-Ḥajjāj, startled, burst out: “Old man, what kind of prayer is this that you recite for me?!” The old man replied: “It is for your own good and the benefit of the people.”