How should we think about Yazid, Hz. Muawiya's son? How did Yazid become the caliph?

The Details of the Question
Can Yazid, Hz. Muawiya's son be criticized? Is he a Muslim? Is it permissible to pray for him? Can we have good thoughts for him?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

Yazid (646-683) is the second caliph of the Umayyads. The caliphate turned into a sultanate with him. Because he was held responsible for the martyrdom of Hz. Husayn and the Karbala Incidence, he led to a great reaction in the Islamic world. He was cursed by some scholars but others acted cautiously regarding the issue considering the possibility of his regret and repentance afterwards.  In Risale-i Nur, his name is mentioned in the context of the debate whether it is permissible to curse him; attention is drawn to the fact that cursing him will not gain a person anything and that there are disadvantages of it.

Yazid was born in Damascus in 646. His childhood and youth passed in Damascus due to the governorship of his father. He was well educated during his childhood. He was interested in art afterwards. He joined the army that was sent against Byzantium before he was appointed as the heir to the throne. This expedition was organized in order to help the Armenians who rebelled against the Byzantine Empire and who asked help from the Umayyads.

The Islamic army that was established against Byzantium took action in 668. When they arrived at Kadıköy, they asked for help. Thereupon, the auxiliary forces prepared under the command of Yazid crossed the Bosphorus and besieged Istanbul (669). The siege that  continued over the summer was lifted when winter approached. During this siege, some of the Companions including Abu Ayyub al-Ansari were martyred. As a result of the siege, a peace treaty was signed on the condition that Byzantium would pay tax.

After establishing the order and civil peace in the country, Hz. Muawiya, the Umayyad caliph, appointed his son, Yazid, as the heir to the throne upon the encouragement and suggestion of Mughira bin Shu'ba, the governor of Kufa. Muawiya wanted to learn the thoughts of the Islamic elderly in Madinah about this decision. However, Hz. Husayn, Abdullah bin Umar and Abdullah bin Zubayr opposed it. Despite this opposition, Muawiya summoned the administrators from different lands of the country and asked them to pay allegiance to Yazid as the heir to the throne.

In 679, Yazid became the Caliph when Muawiya, his father, died. With this, the caliphate was transformed into sultanate. Those who opposed him as the heir to the throne did not pay allegiance to him. He wrote a letter to Walid bin Utba, the governor of Madinah so that those people would accept his caliphate.  However, the governor of Madinah did not succeed in this attempt. Meanwhile, the people of Kufa sent envoys to Hz. Husayn and stated that they would recognize him as the caliph. Thereupon, Muslim, his paternal uncle's son, went to Kufa and accepted their allegiance on behalf of Husayn. The governor of Basra, who was also appointed as the governor of Kufa, took action and killed Muslim.

Unaware of his latest incident, Hz. Husayn set off to Kufa. On the way, he learned that Muslim had been killed. However, he did not return. An army of four thousand men was sent against Husayn, who reached Karbala. Seeing that there were not enough people with him and that he would not receive help from Kufa, Hz. Husayn wanted to return but, the governor, Ubaydullah bin Ziyad, told him to pay allegiance to Yazid and that he would allow him to return after that. Hz. Husayn did not accept his offer and was martyred in 680 (61 H, Muharram10) along with seventy people with him.

This event, which was known as the "Tragedy of Karbala" in the Islamic history, was a black mark for the Umayyads, especially Yazid. Before his death, Hz. Muawiya had asked, his son, Yazid, to treat Hz. Husayn and his family well. It is reported that when Yazid heard that Husayn was martyred, he was very distressed; he cursed the governor Ubaydullah, who had martyred Husayn and cried. There are some people who say that Yazid did not order Hz. Husayn to be killed but there are also some people who state that Yazid supported his governor fully. It is reported that Yazid took Hz. Husayn's his children to Damascus and that he treated them very well. However, all this could not prevent the reaction against him in the Islamic world.

This tragic incident that took place during the reign of Yazid caused great sadness among Muslims and in the world of scholars. Not only Shiites, but also Sunnis avoided the name Yazid.  Although they gave the names Ali, Hasan and Husayn to their children a lot, they avoided giving the name Yazid.  Among the scholars, there was a debate over this name. There were some scholars who cursed him but others acted cautiously regarding the issue considering the possibility of his regret and repentance afterwards.

His name and discussions about him are mentioned in Risale-i Nur.

“…no bearer of burdens can bear the burden of another…” (al-An’am, 6/164)

The following is pointed out in the interpretation of the verse above: Despite the divine warning, people act contrarily in social and political life and it causes big murders:

“A person is not regarded as an accomplice in a murder even if the murderer is his brother, tribe or party. He can only be held responsible in the hereafter, not in the world, if he agrees with it, becoming a spiritual sinner…”

After it is explained, it is stated that the students of the Quran try to prevent this big crime but those who accuse these people, who work altruistically, of being retrogressive reactionaries and act by

“… preferring the oppression of cursed Yazid to the justice of Umar…” (Emirdağ Lahikası, 1997, p. 319-320),

stating that they prefer the law of the jungle to the just decree of the Quran.

The word “cursed” is used for Yazid and some warnings are made regarding the issue:

“Sadaddin Taftazani, the great kalam scholar, said for people like Hajjaj az-Zalim, Yazid and Walid, 'It is permissible to curse (damn) Yazid' but he did not say 'cursing is wajib (necessary)'. He did not say, 'It is a good thing and you gain thawabs'. For, there are so many people who deny the Quran, the Prophet, and all the blessed talks of the Companions. There are a lot of people like that around. If a person does not mention and curse those cursed people, he will not be harmed religiously.” (Emirdağ Lahikası, p. 178)

For cursing is not like praising. Love is included among righteous deeds but cursing gains man no thawabs and rewards. What is more, cursing and defaming people wrongly and incorrectly can cause enormous harm.

Only Hz. Abdullah bin Zubayr was left to oppose Yazid after Hz. Husayn was martyred. The forces sent against Abdullah in Makkah could not be successful. Makkah was besieged in 683. As the siege was going on, the death of Yazid was heard. Thereupon, the siege was lifted without any success. At that time, forces were sent against the people of Madinah , who did not accept to pay allegiance to Yazid. First, they were given three days to pay allegiance. When this time expired and they did not pay allegiance, the soldiers entered Madinah and made those who did not pay allegiance pay allegiance by force.

Yazid died in 683 and at the age of thirty-seven in the Hawran village of Damascus. After his death, he was succeeded by his son. During the caliphate of Yazid, all of North Africa was conquered by the Islamic army under the command of Uqba bin Nafi. He has been mentioned badly among the Muslims because of the terrible incidents that took place during his sultanate. The appointment of him as the heir to the throne and his becoming the caliph after his father caused caliphate to be transformed into sultanate, ending the system of being the caliph through election.

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