By Dr. B. I. Beshir. Khartoum (Sudan)
Abu Abd Allah al-Husain b. Ahmad Muhammad b. Zakariya was a Yemenite
of Kufa. He was also known as al
He was a dedicated Shi'ite and highly versed in esoteric. Realizing
his promise and potential, the Imam sent him
to Yemen for apprenticeship at the hands of Abu'l Qasim b. Hawshab, the Ismaili da'i, who had succeeded in
establishing a foot-hold in that country, Abu Abd Allah stayed in Yemen for a year, in close association with
Abul Qasim and participated in missionary, administrative and military activities.
The Imam had earmarked Abu Abd Allah for conducting missionary work
in the Maghrib. At the end of his term
of apprenticeship, which coincided with the Pilgrimage season, Abu Abd Allah accompanied by a Yemenite
assistant, left 'Adan-La'a, Abu'l Qasim's headquarters, for Mecca.
During the Pilgrimage, he contacted the Kitama pilgrims at Muna and
he impressed them with his thorough
knowledge of the attributes of the Ahl Al Bayt. Accompanying the Kitama caravan to Egypt, he captured the
admiration of his fellow-travellers, with the unmistakable skill and craft of an Ismaili da'i. When he revealed that
he intended to stay in Egypt in order to undertake teaching for a living, he was conveniently prevailed upon by
the Kitama to accompany them to their country. Abu Abd Allah avoided Ifriqiya (Tunisia) by taking a route to
the south and he arrived in the Kitama country in the middle of 893 C.E.
He chose as headquarters lkdjan near Satif, a mountain stronghold that
dominated the Pilgrimage route. He
started to teach the attributes of 'Ali b. Abi Talib and his descendants, the Imams, and tribesmen began to trek
to lkdjan. It was during this period that Abu Zaki Tammahi b. Mu'arik, a member of the Kitama clan of Idjana,
arrived at Abu Abd Allah's headquarters. From that moment he was to become the Da'i's right-hand.
Abu Abd Allah set about organizing his followers whom he called lkhwan
i.e. brothers. To the Berbers he was
known as al-Mashiriqi, i.e. the Easterner, and his followers as the Mashariqa.
Abu Abd Allah organized classes - Majalis and collected a fee from students
- this was probably the fore-runner
of the Najwa.
The activities of the Da'i alarmed the neighbouring governor of Mila.
In vain he urged the Kitama to hand him
over. The autonomous governor, wary of Aghlabid intervention, belittled Abu Abd Allah when lbrahim b.
Ahmad, the Aghlabid ruler of lfriqiya, enquired about the Da'i's, activities. Eventually Ibrahim entered into
correspondence with Abu Abd Allah, courting his friendship at first and ending with threats. Recognizing his
vulnerable position at lkdjan, the Da'i retired to Tazrut under the protection of al-Hasan b. Harun, the powerful
leader of the Ghashman clan.
A number of Kitama sheikhs wary of Aghlabid inroads into their country,
sought to banish the Da'i, and in the
ensuing battle, Abu Abd Allah gained the upper hand. After his resounding victory, the Da'i built himself a palace
in Tazrut and his followers built living quarters around it. He embarked on a career of conquests that brought the
Kitama country under his control. Immediately, he set on laying the foundations of administration for his
principality. He divided the Kitama into seven units, each with its own army, commanders and sheikhs whom he
gave wide powers, a measure that sowed the seeds of a power struggle under the Mahdi and in which the Da'i
lost his life. Closely following the activities of his Da'i from his retreat in Salmiya, the Imam 'Ubayd Allah
al-Mahdi, decided to leave for the Maghrib in 289/902. Failing to join Abu Abd Allah the Imam took refuge in
Sidjilmassa where he was detained by its ruler lbn Midrar. The Da'i's brother, Abu'l 'Abbas Muhammad, who
accompanied the Imam in his journey, fell into the hands of the Aghlabids.
After consolidating his position in the Kitama country, Abu Abd Allah
embarked on his second phase of
conquests. After a short siege he took Mila. The new Aghlabid ruler, Abu'l 'Abbas b. lbrahim, promptly sent his
son Abu Hawwal with a strong army against the Da'i. Abu Hawwal defeated Abu 'Abd Allah in the country of
the Matusa, advanced on Tazrut which he took and burnt the Da'i's palace. He took Mila and Abu Abd Alla fell
back on lkdjan. Regrouping his troops the Da'i inflicted a heavy defeat on Abu Hawwal. A counter-attack by
the Aghlabid general was repulsed. The Da'i then marched on Satif and took it. He inflicted a series of defeats
on the Aghlabdis, notably those at Kabuna, Darmalul and Darmadyan.
On March 19, 909 C.E. Abu Abd Allah decisively defeated the Aghlabid
near Larybus. Six days later he
entered the Aghlabid capital, Raqadda.
After establishing a new fabric of administration in Ifriquiya, he left
for Sidjilmassa in order to liberate al Mahdi,
leaving Abu Zaki as his deputy. After a short siege, the Da'i took the town by storm and liberated al Mahdi and
Back in Ifriqiya Abu Abd Allah fell under the influence of his brother
Abul Abbas who, exploiting the discontent
of the Kitama Sheiks who were losing power under the Mahdi's set-up, urged rebellion. When the plot became
known he was put to death on Monday 15, Jumada al-Ukhra 298\18 February 911. Wrote Ibn Khalikan, "He
was one of those sagacious men who knew what they were doing."
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