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|Kufa Great Mosque, 1915|
Kufa (Arabic,الكوفة al-Kūfah) is a city in Iraq, about 170 km south of Baghdad, and 10 km northeast of Najaf. It is located on the banks of the Euphrates River. The estimated population in 2003 was 110,000.
Along with Samarra, Karbala, Kadhimiya and Najaf, Kufa is one of five Iraqi cities that are of great importance to Shia Muslims. The city was the final capital of ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib, and was founded within the first century of the 622 Hijra.
History of Al-Kufa
Part of Mesopotamia
See Ancient Mesopotamia.
Under the Sassanid Persian Empire
Umar's era — 637-644
Founded by Saˤd under the directions of Caliph Umar ibn Khattab — 637
ˤUmar ibn Khattāb became the second caliph in 634. after the Arab victory against the Roman-Byzantine Empire at Battle of Yarmouk in 636, Kūfah was founded and given its name in 637-638 CE, about the same time as Basra. The Companion Saˤd ibn Abī Waqqas founded it as an encampment adjacent to the Lakhmi Arab city Hīrah, and incorporated it as a city of seven divisions. The city was alternately known to non-Arabs as Hīrah and Aqulah before the consolidations of ˤAbdu l-Mālik in 691.
Islamic conquest of Persia — 638
As of 638, it was a base for those Arab armies which were fighting the Sassanid Persians (637-651) at Mahoze / al-Madā'in "The Two Cities" (Ctesiphon-Seleucia); the Kūfans succeeded and carried off the gates of Mahoze that year.
The tribes which came to Kūfah afterward tended to be Arabs of the Yemen, Hijaz and Najd, such as the Azdī and Kindī; there were also increasing numbers of mawālī or "foreign clients" who immigrated from Persia when their lands were overrun. None of these could or would claim to be descended from Ishmael as did the ruling Quraysh.
Saˤd deposed — 642
In the 640s, the Kūfan commons agitated that the Caliph ˤUmar's governor was distributing the spoils of war unfairly. In 642, ˤUmar summoned Saˤd to Medina with his accusers. Despite finding Sa'd to be innocent, ˤUmar deposed Saˤd to avert ill feelings.
At first, ˤUmar appointed Ammar ibn Yasir and secondly Basra's first Governor Abū Mūsā al-Ashˤarī; but the Kūfan instigators accepted neither. ˤUmar and the Kūfans finally agreed on al-Mughīra ibn Shuˤbah.
Uthman's era — 644-656
Governor Walid — 645
Setbacks, governor Abu Musa — 650-654
Uthman in 650 reorganised the Iranian frontier; both Basra and Kufa received new governors (Sa'id ibn al-A'as in Kufa's case), and the east came under Basra's command while north of that remained under Kufa's. The few but noticeable trouble makers in Kufa sought in 654 and had Sa'ed deposed Sa'id and instead showed satisfaction with the return of Abu Musa, which Uthman approved seeking to please all.
Kufa remained a source of instigations albeit from a minority. In 656 when the Egyptian instigators, in co-operation with those in Kufa, marched onto the Caliph Uthman in Medina, Abu Musa counselled the instigators to no avail.
Caliph Ali's era — 656-661
Capital of Fourth Caliph Ali — 656
Upon Uthman's murder by the Kufan instigators, governor Abu Musa attempted to restore a non-violent atmosphere in Kufa. The Muslims in Medina and elsewhere supported the right of Ali ibn Abu Talib to the caliphate. In order to manage the Military frontiers more efficiently, Ali shifted the capital from Medina to Kufa.
The people of Syria and their Governor, Muawiyah, who was in search to seize the initiative himself used the confusion caused by the assassination of Caliph Uthman and being disturbed by the brutal assassination of the Caliph Uthman at the hands of the few Kufan and Egyptian instigators, demanded retribution. Ali did not disagree except at the timing of the retribution as those instigators held tremendous power and had allinged themselves within the muawiyah's army in his region after the assassination of the Caliph. In an emotionally charged atmosphere, misunderstandings developed between Ali's camp and that of the Syrians and Muawiyah's blood thirst eventually, led to war.
The same Kufan instigators, who came to be known as Khawarij, assassinated the Caliph Ali at Kufa in 661. Ali's son Hasan later signed a peace treaty with Muawiyah , thereby, uniting the Muslims once again into one body, with Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan, as the Caliph. Muawiyah harassed Hasan and Hussein, the grandsons of the Prophet Muhammad and their followers and broke the treaty signed between him and Hasan ibne Ali ibne Abi Talib ultimately resulting in the assassination of Hussein and leading to the tragedy of Karbala.
Muawiyah's proposition to appoint his son as the next Caliph after him, Hussein along with a number of other prominent Companions (Sahabah), protested and rejected the proposal which was contrary to the peace treaty signed earlier on with Hasan.
Muawiyah's era — 661-680
Governor Mughira — 661
In Kufa, Mu`awiyah reinstalled Mughira, a notable Companion of the Prophet Muhammad, acceptable and loved by all parties in Kufa.
Governor Ziyad — 670
Mughira died in about 670. Mu`awiyah then appointed Ziyad ibn Abihi as the Governor of Kufa. After the death of Mughirah in Kufa and of Hasan in Medina, some, such as Hujr ibn Adi, who were previously unhappy with Hasan's peace treaty with Muawiyah, now became increasingly noticeable creating a movement of rebellion against yet another Caliph. The new Governor, Ziyad ibn Abihi, was equally firm and up to the challenge posed by the rebels among the Kufans.
Umayyad era revolts — 699-694
Throughout the Umayyad era, as was the case since the inception of the City by Umar ibn Khattab, there were those among Kufa's inhabitants who were opportunistic and rebellious against the ruling Caliph be that Ali himself or an Ummayad Caliph. With a history of assassinations, rebellions were dealt with firmly such as those by Al-Mukhtar (on behalf of Ibn al-Hanifiya). Many Kufans also supported the mutiny of `Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Ash`ath in 699-702 against al-Hajjaj but were defeated by al-Hajjaj. Some say, the Governors of Kufa or Basra, from Ziyad ibn Abihi to his son, Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad, to al-Hajjaj, were understandably firm given the frequent uprisings and assassinations (e.g. of Ali). However, it cannot be denied that al-Hajjaj, and before him, Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad ibn Abihi, were indeed very severe, and even cruel, against the rebels of Kufa especially and of Basra to a lesser extent.
Abbasid era — 749
In 749, the `Abbasids took Kufa and made it their capital. In 762, they moved their seat to Baghdad. Under the Umayyad and early `Abbasid decades, Kufa's importance gradually shifted from caliphal politics to Islamic theory and practice.
Kufa in Islamic Theology and Scholarship
Wael Hallaq notes that by contrast with Medina and to a lesser extent Syria, in Iraq there was no unbroken Muslim or Ishmaelite population dating back to the prophet Muhammad's time. Therefore Maliki (and Azwa'i) appeals to the practice (amal) of the community could not apply. Instead the people of Iraq relied upon those Companions of the Muhammad who settled there, and upon such factions from the Hijaz whom they respected most. A primary founder of a Sunni school of thought, Abu Hanifa, was a Kufan who had supported Zayd's rebellion in the 730s; and his jurisprudence was systematised and defended against non-Iraqi rivals (starting with Malikism) by other Kufans, such as al-Shaybani.
Shirazi's "Tabaqat", which Hallaq labels "an important early biographical work dedicated to jurists", covered 84 "towering figures" of Islamic jurisprudence; to which Kufa provided 20. It was therefore a center surpassed only by Medina (22), although Basra came close (17). Kufans could claim that the more prominent of Muhammad's Companions had called that city home: not only Ibn Abu Waqqas, Abu Musa, and Ali; but also Abd Allah ibn Mas'ud, Salman the Persian, Ammar ibn Yasir, and Huzayfa ibn Yaman. Among its jurists prior to Abu Hanifa, Hallaq singles out Sa'id ibn Jubayr, Ibrahim al-Nakha`i, and Hammad ibn Abi Sulayman; and considers Amir al-Sha`bi a pioneer in the science of judicial precedent.
Additionally, Shi'a Imams like Muhammad al-Baqir and his son Jafar al-Sadiq made decisions from Medina that contributed to the law of Kufa; and to this day Shi`ite law follows their example. Abu Hanifa too learnt from al-Baqir and especially al-Sadiq. As a result, while Hanafism is doctrinally Sunni, in practical terms Hanafi law is closer to Imami law than either is to the Medina-based schools of Malik, Shafi`i, and Ibn Hanbal.
Kufa was also among the first centers of Qur'anic interpretation, which Kufans credited to the exegete Mujahid (until he escaped to Mecca in 702). It further recorded general traditions as Hadith; in the ninth century, Yahya ibn `Abd al-Hamid al-Himmani compiled many of these into a Musnad.
Given Kufa's opposition to Damascus, Kufan traditionists had their own take on Umayyad history. The historian Abu Mikhnaf al-Azdi (d. 774) compiled their accounts into a rival history, which became popular under Abbasid rule. This history does not survive but later historians like Tabari quoted from it extensively.
Kufa is also where the kufic script was developed, the earliest script of the Arabic language. As the scholar al-Qalqashandi maintained, "The Arabic script [khatt] is the one which is now known as Kufic. From it evolved all the present hands." The angular script which later came to be known as Kufic had its origin about a century earlier than the founding of the town of Kufa, according to Moritz in the Encyclopaedia of Islam. The kufic script was derived from one of the four pre-Islamic Arabic scripts, the one called al-Hiri (used in Hira). (The other three were al-Anbari (from Anbar), al-Makki (from Mecca) and al-Madani (from Medina)). The famous author of the Kitab al-Fihrist, an index of Arabic books, Ibn al-Nadim (died ca. 999), was the first to use the word 'kufic' to characterize this script, which reached a state is decorative perfection in the 8th century, when surahs were used to decorate ceramics, for representations of nature were strictly forbidden under the Islamic regime.
In the first decades of Islam, Kufa was prominent in literacy and politics, it was founded before Uthman (whom Ibn Shihab al-Zuhri among others credited with the canonisation of the Qur'an's text), and it was opposed to the central authorities of Medina and Damascus. From the perspective of eighth-century CE (second-century AH) Medina and Damascus, Kufa was associated with "variant" readings and interpretations of the Qur'an, typically in the name of Ibn Mas'ud and often (it was claimed) read from the pulpit as if they were part of the Qur'an itself. It became said that Uthman had sent an exemplar of the text to Kufa, but that it was burnt during the wars of Mukhtar and Ibn Zubayr. Al-Hajjaj restored or at any rate promulgated the standard text under Abd al-Malik, castigating even the memory of Abd Allah ibn Mas'ud as "Ibn Umm Abd (son of a slave's mother)". But a faction in Kufa preserved the readings "of `Abd Allah / Ibn Mas`ud", whence Mujahid and his fellow mujtahids compiled them along with other readings and interpretations. From there these readings entered the vast repository of Near Eastern hadith, ultimately to be written down into collections of hadith and tafsir.
Kufa began to come under constant attack in the 11th century and eventually shrunk and lost its importance. Over the last century, the population of Kufa has begun to grow again. It continues to be an important pilgrimage site for Shi`ite Muslims.
Presently, Kufa and Najaf have joined into a single urban area that is mostly commonly known to the outside world simply as Najaf.
- ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib - Governor
- Husayn ibn ʿAlī ibn Abī Ṭālib - Battle of Karbala
- Yaqub ibn Ishaq al-Kindi - theologian
- Abu Hanifa
- Crone, Patricia. Roman, Provincial and Islamic Law: The Origins of the Islamic Patronate. Cambridge University Press, paperback ed. 2002
- Hallaq, Wael. The Origins and Evolution of Islamic Law. Cambridge University Press, 2005
- Hawting, Gerald R. The First Dynasty of Islam. Routledge. 2nd ed, 2000
- Hinds, Martin. Studies in Early Islamic History. Darwin Press, 1997
- Hoyland, Robert G. Seeing Islam as Others Saw It. Darwin Press, 1998
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