Kufa (Arabic,الكوفة ) is a city in modern 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, and Najaf, Kufa is one of four 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 Empire
Ruled by Sassanian Empire
as part of Suristan
province. See Middle Bih-Kavad
Umar's era — 637-644
The Arabs, led by Caliph ˤUmar ibn Khattāb
, conquer Iraq
and begin ruling Suristan
Founded by Saˤd — 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
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
before the consolidations of ˤAbdu l-Mālik
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
"The Two Cities" (Ctesiphon
); 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. ˤUmar deposed Saˤd, and by design or not averted a crisis.
At first, ˤUmar appointed Ammar ibn Yasir and secondly Basra's founder Abū Mūsā al-Ashˤarī; but the Kūfans accepted neither. ˤUmar and the Kūfans finally agreed on al-Mughīra ibn Shuˤbah.
Uthman's era — 644-656
Governor Walid — 645
Following Umar's death (644), his successor Uthman
replaced Mughira with Walid ibn Uqba
While this was going on, the Arabs were continuing their conquest of western Persia under Uthman ibn hakam from Tawwaj, but late in the 640s these forces suffered setbacks.
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. But while Basra's wing recovered its momentum in Khurasan
, Kufa's wing continued to fail in Tabaristan
, and in Khazar
territory it suffered a crushing defeat in 651
. The majority in Kufa chafed at their city's diminished status, and in 654
deposed Sa'id and elected Abu Musa
, which Uthman found expedient to recognise.
Kufa remained discontented with its lot; and this evolved into opposition to Uthman's clan, the Banu Umayyah. In 656 when Egypt sent emissaries to Uthman in Medina, Abu Musa counseled neutrality, but the Kufans sent a contingent despite him.
Ali's era — 656-661
Capital of Ali — 656
Upon Uthman's murder, governor Abu Musa attempted to restore a neutral state to Kufa; but the people of Kufa supported the right of Ali ibn Abu Talib
to the caliphate
. Ali found it easy to depose Abu Musa and to install Qarazah ibn Ka'b
in his place.
Not long after, Ali moved his headquarters to Kufa directly as he prepared for battle against Uthman's cousin Muawiyah, who was leading a revolt from Syria. Kufa remained loyal to Ali until Ali was killed there in 661. Ali's son Hasan later signed a peace treaty with Muawiyah. The Ummayyad house eventually reneged and that resulted in the Revolution of Husayn, Hasan's brother.
Muawiyah's era — 661-680
Governor Mughira — 661
In Kufa, Mu`awiyah found it expedient to reinstall Mughira
, an old follower of Umar acceptable to all parties of this divided city: Umayyads, Alids, and the older inhabitants of Kufa.
Governor Ziyad — 670
But Justinian's Plague
was still active in the cities of the Near East, and Mughira was becoming frail; Mughira fled Kufa and avoided it, only to fall to it on his return in 670
. Mu`awiyah then imposed upon Kufa the draconian Basran governor Ziyad ibn Abihi
. Ziyad immediately altered the structure of the city, for instance by consolidating the seven districts into four quarters. At this point the surviving supporters of Ali, such as Hujr ibn Adi
, began to foment rebellion.
Umayyad era revolts — 699-694
Throughout the Umayyad era Kufa's inhabitants would go on to support caliphal claimants from `Ali's descendents; for example Hussein
(on behalf of Ibn al-Hanifiya
), and Zayd ibn Ali
. Kufa also supported the mutiny of `Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Ash`ath in 699
. In response, the Umayyads and (in the 680s) the Zubayrids continued to impose their governors upon Kufa, such as al-Hajjaj
. These movements from Hujr onward were all defeated, and their leaders executed or killed in battle.
Abbasid era — 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
notes that by contrast with Medina
and to a lesser extent Syria
, in Iraq
there was no unbroken Muslim
population dating back to the prophet Muhammad
's time. Therefore Maliki
) 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.
People related to Kufa
- 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