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The Power of Prayer — Vanquisher of Tyranny

One is well advised to recall every now and then that the wheels of history reveal lessons.

Photo by Toa Heftiba on

One such lesson is learned from the events that transpired in the nascent days of Islam, at a time of great change. It all began during the turbulent era of Fitnah (civil war), when the early Muslims - Prophet Muhammad's (ﷺ) companions - were fighting over the Caliphate. It was a traumatic and painful period for most of them, but also a golden age for some. For occasions of crises have always caused both the rise of some and the downfall of others. Yet they most importantly have always unveiled the true nature of man.

Everything started in what was once the land of ancient Sumer: the cradle of civilisation, where Tigris and Euphrates meet. In that portion of the newly formed Darul Islam, there emerged a man named Ziyad ibn Sumayyah, almost out of nowhere. Literary chronicles about his life before the golden age is sparse. All that's known about his origins is that he was an arabized fellow from Taif, Arabia, of obscure lineage, who embraced Islam around the time of Abu Bakr As-Sadiq ra (633 AD).

The scrolls of our predecessors mention him as a resourceful man full of ability, endowed with the gift of eloquence and the knowledge of books. Ziyad combined truly exceptional skills for his time, excelling in planning and administration, as well as feeding his insatiable thirst after glory. Fortunately for him, it wouldn't take long until he crossed paths with patrons who would facilitate his meteoric rise.

Ziyad landed his first job not long after the founding of Basrah. Though only employed in a minor administrative capacity in the Governorate of Basra, his talents caught the attention of the famous Sahabi Abu Musa al-Ash’ari (ra), who immediately took him to the Caliph Umar ibn al-Khattab (ra). Destiny, it seemed at the time, was a staunch fan of Ziyad. From Diwan Assistant to Gubernatorial Scribe, he continually strove to earn the praise and reward of his bosses, rapidly rising through the ranks.

Some sources even state that he bagged 1,000 silver coins as a bonus from Umar (ra), with which he purchased the freedom of some of his enslaved relatives. And even though he didn’t boast the noble Qurayshite lineage like many of his rivals, Ziyad eventually climbed the career ladders of the Caliphate. To the dismay of critics, the born-slave of unknown lineage, sometimes called ibn Sumayyah or ibn Abihi, finally reached the pinnacle of success. Ziyad got appointed to the position of Viceroy of Iraq in 670AD. This he achieved while Mu’awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan firmly held the levers of power in the Islamic world.

Yet that didn’t feel like enough power, prestige and pre-eminence for him. Writing a rather bizarre letter to his boss Mu’awiya, Ziyad exclaimed the following:

“Verily, my leader, I’ve taken hold of Iraq using my right hand. Yet my left hand remains empty [and devoid of possession].”

In this cunningly diplomatic manner, Ziyad actually meant to say that he desired the rulership of another region. The only province to the left of Iraq (from the vantage point of Basra) was the Hejaz of Arabia, the holiest region of the Caliphate, where both Makkah and Madina are located. Somehow, the word got round and people learned of Ziyad’s desire to grab the holy land.

Among the outraged was the ascetic, apolitical son of former Caliph Umar, Abdullah the pious (ra). It was said that Abdullah prayed to Allah incessantly, repeating the words: “Oh Allah keep us safe from the harm of Ziyad’s left hand”. His prayers were answered at long last, and a cancerous disease took hold of Iraq’s notorious governor. This was so because his rule had become more and more tyrannical as he acquired more and more power.

The peak of his misdeeds, according to narrations from Ibn Kathir (ra), was the killing of a famous prophetic companion: Hujr ibn 'Adi al-Kindi (ra), sometime around 673AD. Yet worth noting is that he "only" facilitated the beheading of him and his associates by sending out the search party which captured him. What did he do to be executed, you ask? All he and his acquaintances did during the civil war was siding with the Prophet Muhammad's (ﷺ) cousin and fourth of the Rashidun Caliphs. Hujr fought bravely alongside Ali ibn Abi Talib (ra) in the Battle of Siffin and remained a loyal supporter even beyond the latter's death.

In the wake of Ali's martyrdom, he went into hiding in Mosul, where he managed to hold out with his party until Ziyad's bounty killers captured and delivered them to Mu’awiyah. Hujr bravely refused to disavow of his beloved Ali, for which he and his friends were sentenced to death through beheading. Their graves lie in modern-day Syria.

But history doesn't always deny the righteous a happy ending. As reported in the books of Islamic history, Ziyad succumbed to the infection in the end, deprived of ever holding Hejaz with his left hand. The prayers of the wronged were eventually answered. Tyranny found its inevitable fate.

Just as Abdullah ibn Umar did in those days, we ask the Almighty today, during this blessed month of Ramadan, to protect Somalia from both the left and right hand of every would-be tyrant. Let us all pray that Allah may protect the little progress we’ve achieved painstakingly thus far. So that he may give guidance and sanity to our leaders, hopefully making things end either in peaceful transfer of power, or lawful continuity of the incumbent. Allaahumma amiin.

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