Ibadi revolt

The Ibadi revolt was an Ibadi Kharijite uprising that occurred in ca. 747–748 against the Umayyad Caliphate. It established the first Ibadi imamate, a short-lived state located in the Arabian Peninsula.

Ibadi revolt (747–748)
Arabia Eighth Century.svg
Map of Arabia under the Umayyads, showing the key locations of the revolt
Dateca. 747–748 AD
Hadramawt, the Yemen and the Hijaz
Result Umayyad victory in the Hijaz and the Yemen; continued Ibadi presence in Hadramawt
Umayyad Caliphate Ibadi rebels
Commanders and leaders
Abd al-Malik ibn Muhammad ibn Atiyyah
Abd al-Wahid ibn Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik
Al-Qasim ibn Umar al-Thaqafi
Abd al-Aziz ibn Abdallah ibn Amr 
Abdallah ibn Yahya al-Kindi 
Abu Hamzah al-Mukhtar ibn Awf al-Azdi 
Balj ibn Uqbah al-Azdi 

Taking place during the tumultuous last years of Umayyad rule, the revolt initially broke out in Hadramawt in southern Arabia under the leadership of Abdallah ibn Yahya al-Kindi. The rebels were able to occupy Sana'a in the Yemen and then, under the command of Abu Hamzah al-Mukhtar ibn Awf al-Azdi and Balj ibn Uqbah al-Azdi, seize control of the cities of Mecca and Medina and threaten the traditional Umayyad power base of Syria. A Syrian army led by Abd al-Malik ibn Muhammad ibn Atiyyah eventually restored Umayyad rule in the Hijaz and Sana'a and killed Abdallah ibn Yahya, Abu Hamzah and Balj, but the remaining Ibadis were able to avoid total defeat when Ibn Atiyyah was recalled to Mecca.

Although the revolt failed to create a permanent Ibadi imamate, the sect was able to achieve some limited victories. As a result of the uprising, the Ibadis were allowed to retain their effective autonomy in Hadramawt, and they were to remain an influential force in southern Arabia for the next several centuries.


The Ibadis were members of a Kharijite sect formed in the seventh century. Centered in Basra in southern Iraq, they initially formed a moderate alternative to the more extremist elements of Kharijism, and sought to peaceably win over the Umayyad caliphs to their cause. By the second quarter of the eighth century, however, the prospect of a reconciliation with the Umayyads had become increasingly unlikely, and radical elements among the Ibadis eventually steered the sect toward active resistance against the ruling government. The Ibadis of Basra under Abu Ubaydah began planning for the establishment of a universal Ibadi imamate, forming a treasury for their operations and training teams of adherents for missionary work. These teams were dispatched to the various provinces of the caliphate, where they were tasked with spreading Ibadi propaganda and creating enough support to ultimately facilitate a revolution against the Umayyads.[1]

Following the death of Hisham ibn Abd al-Malik in 743, the Umayyads were beset by a series of disorders which posed a serious threat to their continued rule over the Muslim community. Infighting among the members of the Umayyad dynasty and tribal rivalries between the Qays and Yaman sapped the strength of the regime, and undermined its ability to deal with the outbreak of several rebellions throughout the provinces of the empire. The last Umayyad caliph Marwan II (r. 744–750) was forced to spend the first several years of his reign putting down revolts in Syria and Iraq and fighting against his relative Sulayman ibn Hisham, and was ultimately deposed by the Abbasid Revolution which put a complete end to the Umayyad Caliphate.[2] The relative weakness of the Umayyads, along with their preoccupation with threats on multiple fronts, made the final years of their rule an ideal time for groups such as the Ibadis to attempt their own revolts against the dynasty.[3]

Outbreak of the revoltEdit

During the reign of Marwan II, the Ibadis of Basra dispatched an agent named Abu Hamzah al-Mukhtar ibn Awf al-Azdi to spread their propaganda in Mecca and call on the people there to oppose the Umayyads. While undertaking his mission in Mecca, Abu Hamzah was approached in 746 by Abdallah ibn Yahya al-Kindi, called Talib al-Haqq ("The Seeker of Justice"), who was the qadi of Hadramawt. Abdallah informed him that he approved of his cause and enjoyed the obedience of his people, and convinced Abu Hamzah to come with him to Hadramawt to preach opposition against Marwan. The Ibadis of Basra, encouraged by the prospect of a revolt in Hadramawt, quickly threw their support behind Abdallah, and numerous Basrans arrived in the region to provide assistance.[4]

In 746-7 Abdallah launched his revolt in Hadramawt, where he quickly overcame the local governor Ibrahim ibn Jabalah al-Kindi and secured his hold over the region. After formally receiving the oath of allegiance from the Hadrami and Basran Ibadis and being recognized as imam,[5] he resolved to make an advance on Sana'a, the chief town of the Yemen, and set out with two thousand of his men. The town's governor, al-Qasim ibn Umar al-Thaqafi, attempted to stop the rebel offensive by marching against them with a much larger force, but he was defeated in the region of Abyan and forced to retreat back to Sana'a. The Ibadis soon reached the town and a second battle occurred, which ended with al-Qasim fleeing and many of the defenders killed; they then entered Sana'a and seized its wealth, and the town came under Abdallah's control.[6]

Occupation of Mecca and MedinaEdit

After spending some months in Sana'a, Abdallah dispatched Abu Hamzah and another Basran named Balj ibn Uqbah al-Azdi to take control of the Hijaz. They arrived at Mecca in August 747, in time for the pilgrimage season, and informed the pilgrims of their opposition to the Umayyads. The governor of Mecca and Medina, Abd al-Wahid ibn Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik, offered no resistance to the rebels, and Abu Hamzah was able to lead the pilgrimage on Abdallah's behalf. Abd al-Wahid then departed for Medina, allowing the Ibadis to enter Mecca without a struggle.[7]

Following Abd al-Wahid's arrival in Medina, the local army was organized and sent to fight the rebels under the command of Abd al-Aziz ibn Abdallah ibn Amr; at the same time, Abu Hamzah appointed a deputy over Mecca and began his own advance to the north, with Balj leading his vanguard. The Medinese force got as far as Qudayd, but there they were attacked by the Ibadis and a complete rout ensued. Many of the Medinese, including Abd al-Aziz and a large number of Quraysh, were killed, and the survivors fled the battlefield. With the way now clear before him, Abu Hamzah entered Medina in October 747; Abd al-Wahid fled for Syria, and the city fell to the Kharijites.[8][9]

End of the revoltEdit

Having secured control of both Mecca and Medina, the Ibadis next decided to head north to Syria, the former seat of the Umayyad caliphs.[10] By this time, however, the activities of the rebels had prompted Marwan to take action against them, and a Syrian force of four thousand cavalry was dispatched to dislodge the Ibadis from the Hijaz. Abd al-Malik ibn Muhammad ibn Atiyyah was placed in command of the expedition and was ordered by the caliph to move quickly against Abu Hamzah and Balj; if he succeeded in retaking the Hijaz, he was instructed to proceed to the Yemen and fight against Abdallah ibn Yahya as well.[11]

Ibn Atiyyah accordingly made his way south until he encountered Balj, who had reached the Wadi al-Qura with an advance force on his way to Syria. A battle took place between the two sides, which ended with Balj and a large number of his men dead and the Syrians victorious. Ibn Atiyyah then proceeded to Medina, where the local residents had turned on and killed the Ibadis there after receiving the news of Balj's defeat, and reclaimed the city for the caliph. Abu Hamzah, meanwhile, had retreated south to Mecca with the remaining rebels under his command, but Ibn Atiyyah soon caught up with and routed him. Abu Hamzah himself died in the battle, together with a significant number of rebels, and the Ibadi position in the Hijaz was destroyed.[12]

With the Hijaz now reconquered and controlled by his deputies, Ibn Atiyyah next headed for the Yemen, intending to combat Abdallah. The latter, receiving word of this advance, set out with a reported thirty thousand men from Sana'a to make his stand against the Syrians. The opposing forces met at Jurash, and after a long battle Ibn Atiyyah achieved another victory, killing Abdallah and defeating the Ibadis. Abdallah's head was sent to Marwan and Sana'a was reoccupied by Ibn Atiyyah.[13]

Following the death of Abdallah, Ibn Atiyyah was forced to spend some time dealing with two Himyari uprisings in the area of al-Janad and the coastal regions of the Yemen. Once these were put down, he proceeded to Hadramawt, where Abdallah's former lieutenant Abdallah ibn Sa'id still led a large group of Ibadis. Ibn Atiyyah began to attack the rebels, but at this point he received a message from Marwan that he had been placed in charge of the pilgrimage for that year, necessitating his return to Mecca. Seeing no other choice, he quickly made peace with the Ibadis without defeating them, and departed from the region.[14]


Although the revolt failed to fulfill the Ibadi goal of ultimately supplanting the Umayyads, it nevertheless marked the attempt of the Ibadis to create their own independent imamate.[15] Over the following decades the Ibadis continued their revolutionary activities and established a number of additional movements throughout the Muslim world. Several of these eventually ended in long term gains for the sect, notably in Oman, where two Ibadi imamates (750–752 and 793–893) were formed, and in the Maghreb, where the Rustamid dynasty lasted for over a century.[16]

The revolt also forced the already beleaguered Umayyad government to expend men and resources on a long and costly expedition in order to suppress it. This reduced the caliph's available military power and further weakened the dynasty in the face of the ongoing Abbasid Revolution, which overthrew the Umayyads in 750.[17]

The strength of the revolt demonstrated the success of the Ibadis in converting the tribes of southern Arabia to their cause.[18] The Ibadis remained a significant force in Hadramawt after the end of the uprising, and they represented a threat to caliphal security in the region until the reign of the second Abbasid caliph al-Mansur (r. 754–775).[19] In 944 the majority of the Hadrami population was still considered to be adherents of Ibadism, and the sect likely remained influential in the province until the rise of the Sulayhid dynasty in the mid-eleventh century.[20]


  1. ^ Lewicki 1971, pp. 648–50.
  2. ^ Kennedy 2004, pp. 112 ff.; Hawting 1990, pp. 623–624.
  3. ^ Al-Mad'aj 1988, p. 165.
  4. ^ Al-Tabari 1985, p. 53; Ibn al-Athir 1987, p. 23; Khalifah ibn Khayyat 1985, p. 384; Al-Mad'aj 1988, p. 165.
  5. ^ Khalifah ibn Khayyat 1985, p. 384; Al-Mad'aj 1988, pp. 165–66. According to Al-Tabari 1985, p. 53 and Ibn al-Athir 1987, p. 23, Abu Hamzah gave the oath to allegiance to Abdallah, recognizing him as caliph. See also Crone & Hinds 1986, p. 12 n. 16.
  6. ^ Khalifah ibn Khayyat 1985, pp. 384–85; Al-Mad'aj 1988, pp. 165–66.
  7. ^ Khalifah ibn Khayyat 1985, p. 385; Al-Tabari 1985, pp. 90–92; Ibn al-Athir 1987, pp. 39–40; Al-Ya'qubi 1883, pp. 405–06; Al-Mas'udi 1871, p. 66; Al-Mad'aj 1988, pp. 166.
  8. ^ Khalifah ibn Khayyat 1985, pp. 391–93; Al-Tabari 1985, pp. 112–18; Ibn al-Athir 1987, pp. 49–51; Al-Ya'qubi 1883, p. 406; Al-Mas'udi 1871, p. 66.
  9. ^ During his occupation of the Hijaz, Abu Hamzah preached one or more sermons, which were preserved by several historians. See Crone & Hinds 1986, pp. 129–31; Al-Tabari 1985, pp. 113–14, 115–17; Ibn al-Athir 1987, p. 50; Khalifah ibn Khayyat 1985, pp. 385–87.
  10. ^ Khalifah ibn Khayyat 1985, p. 393; Ibn al-Athir 1987, p. 51; Al-Ya'qubi 1883, p. 406; Al-Mad'aj 1988, pp. 166. Marwan II was the first Umayyad caliph to rule from outside of Syria, preferring the city of Harran in the Jazira instead; Hawting 1990, p. 624.
  11. ^ Khalifah ibn Khayyat 1985, p. 393; Al-Tabari 1985, p. 118; Ibn al-Athir 1987, p. 51; Al-Ya'qubi 1883, p. 406; Al-Mas'udi 1871, p. 66; Al-Mad'aj 1988, pp. 166.
  12. ^ Khalifah ibn Khayyat 1985, pp. 393–94; Al-Mas'udi 1871, pp. 66–67. According to Al-Tabari 1985, pp. 118–20 and Ibn al-Athir 1987, p. 51, Abu Hamzah was the one at the Wadi al-Qura, and do not mention a second battle in the Hijaz. Also Al-Ya'qubi 1883, p. 406; Al-Mad'aj 1988, pp. 166.
  13. ^ Khalifah ibn Khayyat 1985, p. 394; Al-Tabari 1985, p. 120; Ibn al-Athir 1987, p. 51; Al-Ya'qubi 1883, p. 406; Al-Mas'udi 1871, p. 67; Al-Mad'aj 1988, pp. 166.
  14. ^ Khalifah ibn Khayyat 1985, p. 394; Al-Mas'udi 1871, p. 67; Al-Mad'aj 1988, pp. 166–67. Ibn Atiyyah was killed on the return journey by a tribal cohort; Al-Tabari 1985, pp. 120–21; Ibn al-Athir 1987, p. 52; Al-Ya'qubi 1883, p. 406.
  15. ^ Lewicki 1971, p. 651.
  16. ^ Lewicki 1971, pp. 652, 653 ff..
  17. ^ Sharon 1990, p. 152.
  18. ^ Gaiser 2013, p. 48.
  19. ^ Al-Mad'aj 1988, pp. 185–86.
  20. ^ Smith 2004, p. 338; Al-Mas'udi 1871, p. 67.