Most Muslims know about the fitnah (trial) at the time of Mu’awiyah/Ali (radi-Allahu ‘anhum), and that of Hussain (radi-Allahu ‘anhu) and Yazīd. They also know regarding the (2nd) siege of Makkah during which ‘Abdullah ibn Al-Zubair (radi-Allahu ‘anhu) was killed, but I have found in discussions about the Umayyad Caliphate that the Battle of Al-Harrah sometimes blurs into the background, and this tragic war is not as well-known.
The Battle of Harrah occurred in the 64th year of Hijrah or around 683 CE. After Yazīd had assumed the Caliphate, he was met with insurrection as is well known from several quarters, including Abdullah ibn Al-Zubair (r.a.) and Hussain (r.a.). The latter was murdered at Karbalah, but the former continued his opposition from Makkah. The people of Madina did not initially join him, but after disenfranchisement from Umayyad rule (i.e. the rule of Yazīd) they sent a delegation to Yazīd. The delegation returned, having witnessed first-hand his lifestyle and methods of ruling. Following a conference with the nobles of Madina, including some of the Sahabah of the Rasūl ﷺ who were still alive and many prominent Tabi’īn, it was decided to join opposition to Umayyad rule and to expel the 1000 or so members of the Banu Umayyah living in Madina. They were thus expelled, and other sources say besieged. The Banu Umayyah wrote to Yazeed requesting their help.
Yazīd was angered and appointed a man called Muslim Ibn ‘Uqbah Al Marri – known as one of the greatest criminals in the history of this Ummah for what he did – to lead a force of 12,000. Yazīd told him not to attack if the people of Madina were willing to pledge allegiance once more. After camping at Harrah close to Madina and after they refused to give Yazīd their allegiance, Al Marri ordered that fighting begin. The people of Madina did not have a standing army. The 12,000 force was naturally ascendant, and the “fight” descended into an orgy of murder and looting. Al Marri’s forces killed and massacred for three days and nights. During this time, the wealth of Madina was looted, and many of the nobles of Madina were ordered killed. They would be brought to Al Marri and he would either execute them himself or order their execution in the field.
The great Scholar Imam Ibn Kathīr rahimahullah wrote that the amount of Sahabah (may Allah be pleased with them) killed was so large that it is useless trying to recall and list how many died, but it included men such as Abdullah ibn Hanzalah radi-Allahu ‘anhu. He also mentions that Al Marri had “sexual intercourse with so many women that he impregnated a thousand women in those days outside marriage”. I don’t know if that is even possible, but it is mentioned, nonetheless.
One of the worst incidents was the treatment of Sa’īd ibn Al Musayyab – one of the greatest Scholars of the Ummah and a Tabi’i, who was about to be executed by Al Marri until someone intervened saying he was insane. On account of these various ignominious deeds, the Salaf used to call Al Marri “Musrif ibn ‘Uqbah” instead of his real name Muslim ibn ‘Uqbah. “Musrif” being the one who traverses all bounds.
Madina “fell” and the people were forced to give allegiance to Yazīd once more. It is said that thousands upon thousands died; some sources say 10,000+. Madinah was looted of its wealth and many of its greatest men killed.
Historically and discursively speaking, this incident is one of the reasons for which many (Sunni) scholars permitted the cursing of Yazīd, on account of the Hadith of Rasūlullah ﷺ where he said, “Whoever causes the Ansar (of Madinah) to fear them will be caused to fear what lies between these two.” (indicating himself). This is mentioned by Imam Daraqutni as being the opinion of Abu Ya’la, Sa’īd ibn Abdul Hamīd, etc.
This was another tragic incident amidst other turbulent incidents, which is often not described or well known. There are many lessons in it with regards to the Caliphate and how matters are to be dealt with. History is not a source, but it does provide many lessons.
May Allah have mercy on those martyred and deal with the murderer Muslim ibn ‘Uqbah as He sees fit, whom the ‘Ulema have constantly rained curses on since that day.