The Poisoning of Sayyidina Hasan


Ml Mohammad Taha Karaan

28 February 1999


It has been alleged that either Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu or his son Yazid was involved in the poisoning of Sayyidina Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu. It is claimed that one of them persuaded one of Sayyidina Hassan’s radiya Llahu ‘anhu wives to administer poison to him. What is the truth of this claim?


Any claim of a historical nature must be substantiated with proof. An accusation made without providing proof is slanderous, and should accordingly be dismissed as such. But even the mere presentation of evidence is not sufficient to prove the claim. There is one very important condition that has to be met, and that is authenticity. The onus rests upon the claimant not only to provide evidence for his claim, but also to authenticate his evidence. For as long as he fails to prove its authenticity his claim is nothing more than an empty and worthless accusation. This is a general rule which applies to all historical claims, and not only those to do with alleged misdeeds of the Sahabah radiya Llahu ‘anhum. Let us look, for example, at the issue of the “satanic verses” which was so maliciously taken advantage of by the notorious Salman Rushdie. Mr. Rushdie did not suck the incident out of his thumb; he found it in historical books. However, what he failed to do was to authenticate. Why? The reason is obvious. He had his own agenda and his own preconceived notions. Thus when someone accuses Sayyidina Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu or anybody else of poisoning Sayyidina Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu, and does not care to examine the authenticity of the evidence for his accusation for no reason other than the fact that he dislikes Sayyidina Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu, he is no less guilty than Salman Rushdie and his ilk. Let not your enmity for a person become your only motivation for finding him guilty.

And do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah; indeed, Allah is [fully] Aware of what you do. (al Ma’idah: 8)

It is authentically narrated that when Sayyidina Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu lay on his deathbed, dying from poisoning, his brother, Sayyidina Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu came to him and asked him: “Brother, tell me who is the one who poisoned you.” Sayyidina Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu asked: “Why? That you may kill him?” Sayyidina Hussain said: “Yes,” to which Sayyidina Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu responded: “I will not tell you anything. If it is the one I think it is, then Allah’s revenge is harsher. And if it is not he, then by Allah, no innocent person will be killed on account of me.”1 This authentic narration shows that even Sayyidina Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu was not exactly sure of the identity of the poisoner. Over and above that, he refuses to tell his own brother who he suspects. It is strange that Sayyidina Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu himself displayed such great caution in the matter, fearing that he might be accusing an innocent person, but that people today can blurt out, without the blink of an eye, that “Muawiyah poisoned Hassan”. The greatest concern Sayyidina Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu had was the preservation of the ummah’s unity. It was on account of this concern that he made peace with Muawiyah in 41 A.H. It was also this outstanding accomplishment of his which was predicted by his grandfather, Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, in the well-known hadith:

This son of mine is a Sayyid, and soon the time will come when through him Allah will reconcile two great masses of Muslims.

He had this concern of not causing strife in the ummah, right up to the time of his demise. It was his dearest wish to be buried with his grandfather, Rasulullah salla Llahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, in the room of Sayyidah ‘Aisha radiya Llahu ‘anha, but he instructed Sayyidina Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu not to resort to violence in the event Banu Umayyah tried to prevent his burial there, and to bury him with his mother in Jannah al Baqi’. Sayyidina Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu was prepared to sacrifice the things nearest and dearest to him in order to preserve the peace and unity of the ummah. Therefore, if it was Sayyidina Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu whom he suspected of having him poisoned he would rather have been expected to tell Sayyidina Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu something like “I fear that you will cause civil war if you try to revenge yourself upon the one I suspect”. In the fact that he does not allude to the prospect of disunity and sedition at all, but rather expresses fear at an innocent person being killed on account of him, we therefore have reason to see that the one whom Sayyidina Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu suspected of poisoning him was not Sayyidina Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu. Sayyidina Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu lived for ten more years after the passing of Sayyidina Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu. In all that time the valiant and fearless Sayyidina Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu was alive, and so was his brother, Muhammad ibn al Hanafiyyah rahimahu Llah, his cousins ‘Abdullah ibn Jafar and ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas radiya Llahu ‘anhuma, and numerous other members of the Ahlul Bayt. However, not a single one of them ever confronted Sayyidina Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu on the poisoning of Sayyidina Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu. In fact, they maintained cordial relations with him, especially Ibn ‘Abbas and ‘Abdullah ibn Jafar radiya Llahu ‘anhuma. They never uttered a word about Sayyidina Muawiyah’s radiya Llahu ‘anhu alleged involvement in the death of Sayyidina Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu, neither in public nor to their closest followers. This gives us so much more reason to dismiss the allegation against Sayyidina Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu as unfounded. Now let us look at the material in the books of history on the basis of which the allegation is made. The only report in which Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu is implicated in the death of Sayyidina Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu is narrated by the historian, Muhammad ibn ‘Umar al Waqidi. This report appears as follows:

[Al Waqidi] says: I heard some people saying that Muawiyah secretly made one of his servants administer poison to him.2

As a report of history, this narration suffers from two fatally serious defects. The first is the universally recognised untrustworthiness of al Waqidi. Details of his unreliability as a narrator would probably fill several pages, but all of it may be suitably condensed into a statement by Imam al Shafi’i, who was his contemporary, and who knew him personally. Al Shafi’i has the following to say:

In Madinah there were seven people who used to forge chains of narration. One of them was al Waqidi.3

The second defect is much more glaring. Note that al Waqidi does not mention the names of his informants, and that he merely says “I heard some people say”. This particular report comes after a number of other reports in which al Waqidi clearly mentions the names of his informants. When he comes to this one, he merely says “I heard some people say”. Is it on the basis of such flimsy evidence that people today are bold enough to level an accusation of murder? Indeed, this smacks of a total disregard for academic integrity for the sake of nothing but personal sentiments and prejudice. There is another report in which the wife of Sayyidina Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu, namely Ja’dah bint al Ash’ath, is implicated in his murder by poisoning. This report has it that it was Yazid ibn Muawiyah who set her up to do it, promising to marry her thereafter. This report is narrated by Muhammad ibn Salam al Jumahi. It is reproduced by al Mizzi in Tahdhib al Kamal as follows:

Muhammad ibn Salam al Jumahi narrates on the authority of Ibn Ju’dubah that Ja’dah, the daughter of Ash’ath ibn Qais, was the wife of Hassan ibn ‘Ali. A message was sent to her in secret by Yazid, telling her: “Poison Hassan and I will be your husband.” So she did it. When Hassan died she sent a message to Yazid asking him to fulfil his pledge. But he told her: “By Allah, we did not approve of you as Hassan’s wife. Shall we approve of you as our own wife?”4

This is the way the report is found in the history books. To the uncritical reader who has no knowledge of the criteria of authenticity and their application, it might well appear to be acceptable evidence. To the one whose emotions have already caused him to be favourably disposed towards Sayyidina Hassan, and unfavourably disposed towards Yazid, it is nothing less than incontrovertible evidence. But the true scholar never lets emotion make his decision for him. He first weighs the evidence, examines it and scrutinises it, and only if it merits approval and acceptance will he accept it. To the discerning scholar, emotions are shaped by evidence and not evidence by emotions. Now we return to the report under discussion. Ibn Ju’dubah, who is Muhammad ibn Salam’s source for this report, is properly known as Yazid ibn ‘Iyad ibn Ju’dubah. He lived in Madinah during the time of Imam Malik. Imam Malik’s student, ‘Abdur Rahman ibn al Qasim, once asked his opinion about a person called Ibn Sam’an. The Imam replied: “He is a liar.” Ibn al Qasim then asked: “And Ibn Ju’dubah?” Imam Malik replied: “An even bigger liar, an even bigger liar.”5 All other rijal critics who ever expressed themselves on his status as a narrator have concurred with Imam Malik in some way or the other. Furthermore, Ibn Ju’dubah died in the days of the ‘Abbasid Khalifah, al Mahdi, whose reign came to an end in 169 A.H. If we assume that that he died in 165 A.H, and that he lived a life of 70 years, we could say he was born in about 95 A.H. In other words, by the time of his birth, almost a half a century had passed after the death of Sayyidina Hassan. The “Yazid-Ja’dah plot” therefore either came to his knowledge through sources whom he refrains to mention, or it was the product of his own mendacious and fertile imagination. In light of what his contemporaries thought of him (Ahmed ibn Salih al Misri, for example says of him “I think he used to invent hadith for the people.”6) one is inclined to believe that the whole plot was of his own invention. Looking at the times in which he lived — the early ‘Abbasid period—, we find more reason to believe that the report is a forgery by Ibn Ju’dubah. During the early ‘Abbasid times sentiments were running high against the recently ousted Umayyads, and a person like the notorious Yazid would have been the perfect scapegoat. To come back now to the alleged involvement of Ja’dah bint Ash’ath: There is one other report which implicates her in the poisoning of Sayyidina Hassan, but it does not mention anything about Yazid.7 It is narrated from Umm Musa, who was a bondswoman of Sayyidina ‘Ali.8 The chain of narration up to Umm Musa is reliable. However, we might pose a question here with regard to Umm Musa herself: Did she identify Ja’dah as the culprit out of knowledge of her guilt, or must her words here be construed as the emotional outburst of a bereaved woman who simply must find someone to blame for the cause of her bereavement? We do not pose this question out of unnecessary scepticism. There are two things which prompt us to ask it: Firstly, Sayyidina Hassan’s radiya Llahu ‘anhu own reluctance to name the person he suspected. Keep in mind also that he himself merely suspected, and did not know it for a fact. Secondly, if there were reasonable grounds for suspecting Ja’dah bint Ash’ath, no man would readily marry her, especially a man of the Ahlul Bayt. But with Ja’dah we find that after the demise of Sayyidina Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu she was married by his father’s cousin Sayyidina ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Abbas radiya Llahu ‘anhu, and that she bore him a son, Muhammad, and a daughter, Quraybah.9 From the above discussion we may then draw the following conclusions:

  • The report implicating Muawiyah radiya Llahu ‘anhu is narrated by an extremely unreliable narrator— al Waqidi— from unnamed people.
  • The report implicating Yazid and Ja’dah are narrated by a known liar— Ibn Ju’dubah— who was born almost 50 years after the incident and names no sources at all. His report comes into circulation during the early ‘Abbasid period in which anti-Umayyad sentiments, and more particularly anti-Yazid sentiments, are common.
  • The report from Umm Musa which implicates Ja’dah is more likely the emotional outburst of a bereaved woman than an allegation based on factual knowledge.
  • Sayyidina Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu himself refused to disclose the identity of the one he suspected. He restrained his brother Sayyidina Hussain radiya Llahu ‘anhu from taking any action.
  • After the death of Sayyidina Hassan radiya Llahu ‘anhu the Ahlul Bayt maintained good relations with Muawiyah in Damascus.

In light of the above we fully endorse the statement by Ibn Kathir that none of these reports are authentic.10 We hope that this demonstration — of how the words of a bereaved woman, a report by unknown reporters, and a forgery by a known liar came to be regarded as factual history — will bring to light the need of critically examining historical sources before levelling accusations against anybody.

Notes and References

  1. See Ibn Kathir, al Bidayah wa al Nihayah 7 p. 41 (Dar al Hadith, Cairo 1414/1994); al Dhahabi, Siyar A‘lam al Nubala’ vol. 3 p. 273 (7th ed., Mu’assasah al Risalah, Beirut 1410/1990); al Mizzi, Tahdhib al Kamal vol. 6 p. 251 (Mu’assasah al Risalah, Beirut 1413/1992); Ibn Hajar, al Isabah vol. 2 p. 13 (Dar al Kutub al ‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut, n.d.); Ibn ‘Abdul Barr, al Isti’ab vol. 1 p. 390 (Dar al Jil, Beirut 1412/1992). The narration is authentic on account of the fact that all its narrators are well known for reliability and trustworthiness, and that the chain of narration is uninterrupted from beginning to end.
  2. Al Bidayah wa al Nihayah 7 p. 41; Tahdhib al Kamal vol. 6 p. 251
  3. Tahdhib al Kamal 26 p. 194, in a footnote.
  4. vol. 6 p. 253
  5. vol. 32 p. 223
  6. vol. 32 p. 224
  7. vol. 6 p. 253
  8. Ibn Hajar: Lisan al Mizan 7 p. 543 (Dar al Fikr, Beirut 1407/1987)
  9. Ibn Sa’d: al Tabaqah al Kubra’ 5 p. 241 (Dar al Kutub al ‘Ilmiyyah, Beirut 1410/1990)
  10. Al Bidayah wa al Nihayah 7 p. 41