Zufar ibn al-Harith al-Kilabi

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Zufar ibn al-Ḥārith al-Kilābī
Governor of Jund Qinnasrin
In office
Preceded by Sa'id ibn Malik ibn Bahdal
Succeeded by Aban ibn al-Walid ibn Uqba
Personal details
  • Hudhayl
  • Kawthar
  • Al-Rabab (daughter)
ParentsAl-Harith ibn Yazid al-Amiri (father)
Military service

Abū al-Hudhayl Zufar ibn al-Ḥārith al-Kilābī (Arabic : ابو الهديل زفر بن الحارث الكلابي); fl.656–692) was a Muslim commander, a chieftain of the Arab tribe of Banu Amir, and the preeminent leader of the Qays tribo-political faction in the late 7th century. He commanded his tribesmen in A'isha's army against Caliph Ali's forces at the Battle of the Camel near Basra in 656 during the First Muslim Civil War. In the following year, he relocated from Iraq to the Jazira and fought under Mu'awiya ibn Abi Sufyan, future founder of the Umayyad Caliphate, against Ali at the Battle of Siffin. During the Second Muslim Civil War he served Mu'awiya's son Caliph Yazid I (r. 680–683), leading the troops of Jund Qinnasrin (military district of northern Syria) against anti-Umayyad rebels in the Battle of al-Harra (683).


After Yazid died amid the civil war, Zufar supported Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr's bid to wrest the caliphate from the Umayyads, expelling the Umayyad governor of Jund Qinnasrin and dispatching Qaysi troops to back the pro-Zubayrid governor of Damascus al-Dahhak ibn Qays al-Fihri. The latter was slain and the Qays crushed by the Umayyads and their tribal allies from the Banu Kalb, rivals of the Qays, at the Battle of Marj Rahit in 684. Afterward, Zufar set up headquarters in the Jaziran town of Qarqisiya (Circesium) and led the Qays tribes against the Kalb, launching several raids against the latter in the Syrian Desert. By 688–689, he became embroiled in a conflict with the Taghlib tribe in support of his Qaysi ally Umayr ibn al-Hubab of the Banu Sulaym, despite previous efforts to mend their feud. After resisting three sieges from 685 to 691, Zufar negotiated a peace with the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik (r. 685–705), abandoning Ibn al-Zubayr's cause in return for privileges in the Umayyad court and army, as well as pardons and cash for his Qaysi partisans who were integrated into the military. The peace was sealed by the marriage of Zufar's daughter al-Rabab to the caliph's son Maslama. Under Abd al-Malik's successors, Zufar's family inherited his high-ranking position and prestige in the Umayyad government and his preeminence among the Qays. In 750 his grandson Abu al-Ward led an abortive Qaysi revolt against the Umayyads' successors, the Abbasids, in which he and several members of the family were slain.

Early career

Zufar was a descendant of a pre-Islamic chieftain of the Amr branch of the Banu Kilab, Yazid ibn al-Sa'iq. Zufar and his descendants were preeminent leaders of the Qays tribal faction in Syria. House of al-Sa'iq ibn Amr ibn Kilab.png
Zufar was a descendant of a pre-Islamic chieftain of the Amr branch of the Banu Kilab, Yazid ibn al-Sa'iq. Zufar and his descendants were preeminent leaders of the Qays tribal faction in Syria.

Zufar belonged to the Amr branch of the Banu Kilab, which itself was a major branch of the large Arab tribe of Banu Amir. The Amr branch was known to be one of the more militant and warlike divisions of the Banu Kilab. [1] A late 6th-century, pre-Islamic chief of the Banu Amir from the Amr division, Yazid ibn al-Sa'iq, was a paternal ancestor of Zufar. [2] Zufar's father was al-Harith ibn Yazid al-Amiri, who served as the commander of the Muslim army's vanguard during the Muslim conquest of the towns of Hit and Qarqisiya (Circesium), both located along the Euphrates River, in 637/638. [3]

Before the First Muslim Civil War (656–661), Zufar had lived in Basra. At the Battle of the Camel in November 656, he fought alongside the forces of A'isha, a wife of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, against Muhammad's cousin and son-in-law Caliph Ali (r. 656–661), commanding the men of the Banu Amir. [3] Accounts in the history of al-Tabari (d. 923) note that during the battle, Zufar was the last of a series of A'isha's partisans to hold and guide the nose rein of the camel she was seated upon, defending her against opposing soldiers. All the participating elders of the Banu Amir were slain in the battle with the apparent exception of Zufar. [4] Ali defeated A'isha, who retired to Medina. Zufar moved to the Jazira (Upper Mesopotamia). [3]

Zufar was given a senior command role in the right flank of the Syrian army by the governor of Syria, Mu'awiya ibn Abi Sufyan, in the Battle of Siffin in 657 when Ali and his Iraqi army entered the Jazira. [5] The battle ended in arbitration. Ali was assassinated by a Kharijite (a faction opposed to Ali and Mu'awiya) in 661 and Mu'awiya became caliph in the same year, founding the Umayyad dynasty. During the reign of Mu'awiya's son and successor Yazid I (r. 680–683), Zufar served as a commander in Muslim ibn Uqba's army in its 683 campaign to quash a rebellion in the Hejaz (western Arabia); the rebellion was in support of Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr's bid for the caliphate. [3] According to the historian Ya'qubi (d. 897), during the campaign, Zufar led a contingent composed of the men of Jund Qinnasrin (military district of northern Syria) at the Battle of al-Harra outside of Medina. [6]

Leader of the Qays in Syria

Rebellion against the Umayyads

The deaths of Yazid and his successor Mu'awiya II in 683 and 684, amid the revolt of Ibn al-Zubayr, left the Umayyad Caliphate in political disarray. [7] Yazid's and Mu'awiya II's governor in Qinnasrin was their maternal cousin Sa'id ibn Malik ibn Bahdal of the Banu Kalb tribe, [8] [9] which held a privileged position in Syria to the chagrin of the Qays. [10] The Qays of Qinnasrin resented being under the authority of a Kalbi in the district they dominated and under Zufar's leadership expelled Sa'id. [10] Zufar revolted against the Umayyads and gave allegiance to Ibn al-Zubayr. [3] While the Qaysi chieftains leaned towards Ibn al-Zubayr, the leaders of the Kalb and their allies scrambled to maintain Umayyad rule and nominated a distant Umayyad cousin of Mu'awiya I, Marwan I, to assume the caliphate. [7] The Qays rallied under the Qurayshite former aide of Mu'awiya I and Yazid, Dahhak ibn Qays al-Fihri, and challenged the Umayyad–Kalb alliance at the Battle of Marj Rahit in 684. [7] Some traditions hold that Zufar himself participated in this battle, but this was dismissed by the historians Ya'qubi and Awana ibn al-Hakam (d. 764); [11] al-Tabari held that Zufar dispatched troops from Qinnasrin to join Dahhak's forces near Damascus. [12]

Upon hearing of the rout of the Qays and the deaths of Dahhak and numerous Qaysi chieftains, Zufar fled Qinnasrin to Qarqisiya. [3] [13] The town's governor Iyad al-Jurashi initially refused entry to Zufar, who responded "I promise you on pain of having to divorce my wives and set free my slaves that once I have entered its bath I will leave the town." [13] He subsequently gained entry with his men and ousted Iyad. [13] Qarqisiya was fortified by Zufar and from there he assumed preeminent leadership of the battered, but still powerful, Qaysi tribes, while maintaining his recognition of Ibn al-Zubayr as caliph. [3] [13] [14]

Role in the ayyam tribal feuds

The Battle of Marj Rahit opened a bloody phase in the previously benign Qays–Yaman rivalry as the Qays sought vengeance for their heavy losses. [15] This phase in the conflict was characterized by tit-for-tat raids known as ayyam (days) because each raid was typically a day long. The dates of these raids were not recorded, but Zufar led the first raid in an attack that killed twenty Kalb tribesmen at a place called Musayyakh in the Syrian Desert soon after setting himself up in Qarqisiya. The Kalb retaliated by killing sixty men from the Banu Numayr sub-tribe of the Banu Amir in Palmyra. This prompted an attack by Zufar at a place called Iklil that ended with the deaths of 500–1,000 Kalb tribesmen and Zufar's escape to Qarqisiya unscathed. [16]

By circa 686, Zufar's participation in the Qaysi–Yamani conflict in the Syrian Desert was highly restricted by the persistent campaigns against his safe haven at Qarqisiya by the Umayyad caliph Abd al-Malik (r. 685–705) (see below); Zufar was replaced as the head of the Qaysi vanguard by Umayr ibn al-Hubab of the Banu Sulaym. Umayr's tribesmen had been encroaching on the lands of the Taghlib tribe along the northern Khabur Valley, causing tensions between the two tribes. [17] Violence ensued when a tribesman of the Harish, a branch of the Banu Amir, slaughtered a goat belonging to a Taghlibi, prompting its owner to raid the Harish. The Qays launched a counter-raid, killing three Taghlibis and seizing a number of their camels. [18] In response, the Taghlib requested Zufar's intervention to force the Sulaym to withdraw from the area, return the camels, and pay blood money for the dead tribesmen. [17] [18] Zufar accepted the last two demands, but was unable to persuade the Taghlib of the futility of forcing the Sulaym out of the Khabur Valley. The Taghlib then attacked Qaysi villages near Qarqisiya but were repulsed, while one of their men, Iyas ibn al-Kharraz, went to continue negotiations with Zufar. Iyas was killed by a Qaysi tribesman, prompting Zufar to pay compensation for his death. [18] While the historian Julius Wellhausen saw in Zufar's early attempts at reconciliation a desire not to push the neutral and Christian Taghlib into joining the Umayyad–Yamani cause, [19] the historian A. A. Dixon held that the Taghlib were already pro-Umayyad and Zufar attempted to enlist their support against the Kalb or at least their neutrality in the conflict. [18]

Zufar failed to stem the tensions between the Sulaym and the Taghlib. [19] In response to the Taghlib's demands to evict the Sulaym, Umayr opposed any peaceful settlement with the tribe and worked to expel them from the area. He obtained a writ from Ibn al-Zubayr's brother and governor in Basra, Mus'ab ibn al-Zubayr, to collect the traditional dues owed to the state from the Taghlib, with the condition that it was subject to Zufar's approval. Zufar, seeking to prevent a clash between the Taghlib and Umayr, sent emissaries advising the Taghlib to cooperate and pay the dues to Umayr in the latter's capacity as a representative of the governor of Basra. The Taghlib responded by killing the emissaries, which angered Zufar. He consequently sent Umayr and a Qaysi party against them at Makisin, where a Taghlibi chief and several of his men were slain. [20] In revenge the Taghlib and their Rabi'a relatives landed a heavy blow against the Sulaym at the Tharthar river, killing several of their tribesmen and thirty women. The scale of the Taghlibi raid compelled Zufar to directly participate in the Qaysi feud with the tribe, which he had hitherto avoided. He joined Umayr in a retaliatory assault against the tribe at the Tharthar. The Taghlib repulsed Zufar and the Amir, but the Sulaym held firm and defeated the Taghlib. [21]

After several more tit-for-tat raids across eastern Syria and the Jazira, Zufar and Umayr faced the Taghlib at Hashshak near the Tharthar in 689. Zufar retreated on account of the approach of an Umayyad army to Qarqisiya. Umayr remained and was killed. Zufar expressed his grief in verse, [22] and was obliged, as head of the Qays, to avenge his death. [23] Umayr's brother Tamim ibn al-Hubab made a request of Zufar to that effect. He was initially reluctant to act, but was persuaded by his eldest son Hudhayl to attack the Taghlib. He left his brother Aws ibn al-Harith to oversee Qarqisiya, while he and Hudhayl set out against the Taghlib. Ahead of him Zufar sent Muslim ibn Rabi'a, a man of the Banu Uqayl, a branch of the Amir, to ambush a group of Taghlibi tribesmen. Afterward, Muslim assaulted the main body of the Taghlib at al-Aqiq near Mosul. The Taghlib fled toward the Tigris River, but once they reached the village of Kuhayl on the river's western bank, they were ambushed by Zufar. Numerous Taghlibi tribesmen were slain, while more drowned in the Tigris. [24] Zufar executed two hundred Taghlibi captives taken in the raid. [25] Referencing this event, the poet Jarir ibn Atiya taunted his Taghlibi rival al-Akhtal in the Umayyad court, reciting:

The warriors of Qays bore down on you with steeds
Ungroomed and grim-faced, [their backs] bearing heroes
You kept thinking everything after them
Was steeds and men charging over and over
Zufar Abu al-Hudhayl, their chieftain, annihilated you[r men]
Then captured your women and plundered your herds. [26]

Umayyad assaults against Qarqisiya

Following his accession to the caliphate in Damascus in the summer of 684, Marwan dispatched the veteran commander and statesman Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad to wrest control of Iraq back from al-Mukhtar, the pro-Alid (supporters of Caliph Ali and his family) ruler of Kufa, and Mus'ab ibn al-Zubayr of Basra. On his way to Iraq, Ibn Ziyad campaigned against anti-Umayyad elements in the Jazira, besieging Zufar in Qarqisiya for about a year. Unable to dislodge Zufar, Ibn Ziyad continued on to Iraq where he was defeated and slain by the forces of al-Mukhtar at the Battle of Khazir in 686. [14] Umayr had commanded a brigade in Ibn Ziyad's army but defected during or after the battle. [27] The Qaysi defectors at Khazir were "still smarting from their defeat at Marj Rahit", according to the historian Fred Donner. [28]

Marwan died in the spring of 685 and was succeeded by his son Abd al-Malik, who initially refrained from confronting Zufar while consolidating his position in Syria. After achieving a level of security at home, the caliph instructed his Umayyad kinsman and governor of Jund Hims (military district of Homs), Aban ibn al-Walid ibn Uqba, to move against Zufar. In the ensuing battle at Qarqisiya, Zufar was defeated and one of his sons slain, but he remained in control of Qarqisiya. [29]

In 691, after stamping out a revolt in Damascus by his kinsman al-Ashdaq, Abd al-Malik led his army in person on a campaign to take over Iraq, which by then was controlled solely by the Zubayrids. Before entering Iraq, Abd al-Malik resolved to suppress Zufar and the Qays in the Jazira. He besieged Qarqisiya for the summer of 691. For forty days his catapults bombarded its fortifications followed by an assault by his Kalb-dominated Yamani troops. Zufar and his men repulsed them, prompting Abd al-Malik to work toward a diplomatic resolution. [29]

Reconciliation with the Umayyads

Abd al-Malik sent one of his top commanders, al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, and the prominent theologian Raja ibn Haywa as his envoys to Zufar. [30] Abd al-Malik may have sought to reassure Zufar by his choice of envoys. As a member of the Thaqif tribe, al-Hajjaj was a Qaysi like Zufar, while Raja was affiliated with the Yamani Kinda, with whom Zufar had blood relations. [31] They communicated Abd al-Malik's message to Zufar, namely that he should join the majority of Muslims in recognizing his caliphate, and would be rewarded for his obedience or punished for his recalcitrance. Zufar declined the offer, but his son Hudhayl gave it consideration. Abd al-Malik instructed his brother Muhammad, who had been appointed by their father to keep the Qays in check in the Jazira, to issue pardons and grant unspecified favors to Zufar, Hudhayl and their followers. Zufar was persuaded by Hudhayl to accept Abd al-Malik's entreaties on the condition that he would not have to join Abd al-Malik's forces and could maintain his oath of allegiance to Ibn al-Zubayr. The Kalb commanders in Abd al-Malik's army were opposed to the negotiations with Zufar. They counseled the caliph to reject Zufar's conditions and continue the assault against Qarqisiya, most of whose fortifications had been destroyed by then. Abd al-Malik accepted their counsel, but remained unable to dislodge Zufar. [32]

By the end of the summer, Zufar and the caliph reconciled. According to the terms of their agreement, safe conduct was granted to Zufar and his partisans, all of whom would be relieved of responsibility for their participation in the revolt, the tribesmen they killed, and the expenses incurred by the Umayyads in relation to the revolt. Zufar promised not to fight Abd al-Malik and instructed Hudhayl to join his army in the Iraqi campaign, while staying out of the campaign himself to avoid violating his oath to Ibn al-Zubayr. Abd al-Malik gave Zufar an unspecified sum of money to distribute among his followers. Consecrating the agreement, Zufar's daughter al-Rabab was wed to Abd al-Malik's son Maslama. [33] Zufar's abandonment of Ibn al-Zubayr's cause in return for a high position in the Umayyad court and army effectively broke the Yamani monopoly on the Syrian army. [34] According to the historian Julius Wellhausen, Zufar and his sons Hudhayl and Kawthar became "amongst the most eminent and notable people at the [Umayyad] court of Damascus". [35] By 692 Ibn al-Zubayr's revolt was suppressed and Zufar's war with the Kalb and Taghlib came to a halt. [36] Information about Zufar's later life is absent in the sources.


According to the historian David S. Powers, the sons of Zufar "inherited the respect accorded to him. They too were held in high esteem by the caliphs." [37] The historian Patricia Crone noted that Zufar and his family "were considered to be the very incarnation of Qaysiyya". [3] In an anecdote recorded in the history of al-Tabari, the Qaysi governor of Iraq, Umar ibn Hubayra, asked of his companions in 722/723, "Who is the most eminent man among the Qays?", to which they replied that he was; Ibn Hubayra disagreed, countering that it was Zufar's son Kawthar, for all the latter had to do was "sound the bugle at night and twenty thousand men will show up without asking why they have been summoned". [38] [39]

Zufar's family, the Banu Zufar, was granted by the Umayyad caliphs a village or estate in Jund Qinnasrin near the fortress at al-Na'ura, a place downstream of Balis on the Euphrates. [40] According to al-Tabari, this was the village of Khusaf, also called Zara'at Bani Zufar after the family, [41] located in the vicinity of the Sabkhat al-Jabbul salt flats in Jund Qinnasrin. [42] The estate was near the residence of Abd al-Malik's son Maslama. [3] Strong ties were maintained between the Banu Zufar and Maslama. Hudhayl became a commander in Maslama's service, [3] commanding the left wing of his army when it suppressed the rebellion of Yazid ibn al-Muhallab in Iraq in 720. [43] According to the history of Ibn al-Athir (d. 1233), during the campaign Hudhayl killed Yazid ibn al-Muhallab. [44] The sons of Zufar were supporters of Caliph Marwan II (r. 744–750), who appointed Kawthar governor of Mar'ash on the Byzantine–Arab frontier. [45] Zufar's grandsons Majza'a ibn Kawthar, better known as Abu al-Ward, and Wathiq ibn Hudhayl were part of Marwan II's Qaysi entourage, but following Marwan II's defeat at the Battle of the Zab in 750, they submitted to the Abbasid Caliphate. Later that year, Abu al-Ward led a Qaysi revolt against the Abbasids. [46] He was killed with many members of his clan. [47]

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Battle of Khazir Battle of Khazir, took place in August 686 near the Khazir River in Mosuls eastern environs, in modern-day Iraq

The Battle of Khazir took place in August 686 near the Khazir River in Mosul's eastern environs, in modern-day Iraq. The battle occurred during the Second Muslim Civil War and was part of the larger struggle for control of Iraq between the Syria-based Umayyad Caliphate, the Kufa-based pro-Alid forces of Mukhtar al-Thaqafi, and the Mecca-based caliphate of Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr. It ended in a rout for the Umayyads and the expansion of Mukhtar's rule into the region of Mosul.

Humayd ibn Hurayth ibn Bahdal al-Kalbi was a senior Umayyad commander and a chieftain of the Banu Kalb tribe. He was head of the shurṭa under caliphs Marwan I and Abd al-Malik, and may have served in the same capacity under their predecessor Caliph Yazid I. He commanded the Kalbi-dominated shurṭa in the Battle of Khazir in 686, and a year later joined the rebellion of the Umayyad prince Amr ibn Sa'id ibn al-As against Abd al-Malik. After the revolt's failure, Humayd reconciled with the latter. In the years following the battles of Marj Rahit (684) and Khazir, Humayd led the Kalb in numerous tit-for-tat raids and battles with enemy Qaysi tribes, including the Banu Amir, Banu Sulaym and Fazara.

ʿUmayr ibn al-Ḥubāb al-Sulamī was a chieftain of the Banu Sulaym tribe, an erstwhile Umayyad general and a main leader of the Qaysi tribes in the factional wars with the Banu Kalb and Taghlib.

Abū Unaysal-Ḍaḥḥak ibn Qays al-Fihrī was an Umayyad general, head of security forces and governor of Damascus during the reigns of caliphs Mu'awiya I, Yazid I and Mu'awiya II. Though long an Umayyad loyalist, after the latter's death, al-Dahhak defected to the anti-Umayyad claimant to the caliphate, Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr.

Nuʿmān ibn Bashīr al-Ansārī was a Companion of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He was also a commander and statesman of the Umayyad Caliphate. A supporter of Mu'awiya ibn Abi Sufyan during the First Muslim Civil War, he was appointed by him governor of Kufa in 678–680. Afterward, he was made governor of Homs by Caliph Yazid I. After the latter's death, he gave allegiance to the Mecca-based, Caliph Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr. When pro-Umayyad forces routed Ibn al-Zubayr's supporters in Syria, he fled Homs but was slain during his escape.

Natil ibn Qays ibn Zayd al-Judhami was the chieftain of the Banu Judham tribe and a prominent tribal leader in Palestine during the reigns of caliphs Mu'awiya I and Yazid I. In 684, he revolted against the Umayyads, took control of Palestine and gave his allegiance to Caliph Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr. He joined the latter in Mecca after pro-Zubayrid forces were routed at the Battle of Marj Rahit. He may have renewed his rebellion in Palestine in 685/86 and was slain during the hostilities.

Al-Jazira (caliphal province)

Al-Jazira, also known as Jazirat Aqur or Iqlim Aqur, was a province of the Rashidun, Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, spanning at minimum most of Upper Mesopotamia, divided between the districts of Diyar Bakr, Diyar Rabi'a and Diyar Mudar, and at times including Mosul, Arminiya and Adharbayjan as sub-provinces. Following its conquest by the Muslim Arabs in 639/40, it became an administrative unit attached to the larger district of Jund Hims. It was separated from Hims during the reigns of caliphs Mu'awiya I or Yazid I and came under the jurisdiction of Jund Qinnasrin. It was made its own province in 692 by Caliph Abd al-Malik. After 702, it frequently came to span the key districts of Arminiya and Adharbayjan along the Caliphate's northern frontier, making it a super-province. The predominance of Arabs from the Qays/Mudar and Rabi'a groups made it a major recruitment pool of tribesmen for the Umayyad armies and the troops of the Jazira played a key military role under the Umayyad caliphs in the 8th century, peaking under the last Umayyad caliph, Marwan II, until the toppling of the Umayyads by the Abbasids in 750.


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