Hasan ibn Ali

Hasan ibn Ali (حسن ابن علي, Ḥasan ibn ʿAlīc. 625 – 2 April 670) was a prominent early Islamic figure. He was the eldest son of Ali and Fatima and a grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. He briefly ruled as caliph from January 661 until August 661. He is considered the second Shia Imam, succeeding Ali and preceding his brother, Husayn. In Sunni Islam, Hasan is considered part of Muhammad’s family; part of the ahl al-bayt and the ahl al-kisa and he participated in the event of Mubahala. During the caliphate of Ali (r. 656–661), Hasan accompanied him in the military campaigns of the First Muslim Civil War. After Ali’s assassination in 661, Hasan was subsequently acknowledged caliph in Kufa. His sovereignty was unrecognized by Syria’s governor Mu’awiya I (r. 661–680), who led an army into Kufa to press the former for abdication. In response, Hasan sent a vanguard under Ubayd Allah ibn al-Abbas to block Mu’awiya’s advance until he arrived with the main army. Meanwhile, Hasan was severely wounded in an abortive assassination attempt made by the Kharijites, a faction opposed to both Ali and Mu’awiya. This attack demoralized Hasan’s army, and many deserted. On the other hand, Ubayd Allah and most of his troops defected after Mu’awiya bribed him. In August 661 Hasan signed a peace treaty with Mu’awiya on the basis that the latter should rule in compliance with the Quran and the sunna, a council appointed his successor, and his supporters received amnesty. Hasan retired from politics and abdicated in Medina where he eventually died either by a long-term illness or poisoning at the instigation of Mu’awiya, who wanted to install his son Yazid (r. 680–683), as his successor.

Critics of Hasan call his treaty with Mu’awiya an indication of weakness, saying that he had intended to surrender from the beginning and fought half-heartedly. His supporters maintain that Hasan’s abdication was inevitable after his soldiers mutinied, and he was motivated by the desire for unity and peace in the Muslim community; Muhammad reportedly predicted in a hadith that Hasan would make peace among the Muslims. Another Sunni hadith (also attributed to Muhammad) predicted that the prophetic succession would endure for thirty years, which may have been interpreted by at least some early Sunni scholars as evidence that Hasan’s caliphate was rightly-guided (rāshid). In Shia theology, the divine infallibility (isma) of Hasan as the second Shia Imam justified his course of action. Shiites do not consider Hasan’s resignation from political power detrimental to his imamate, which is based on Nass (divine designation by Muhammad and Ali). In Shia theology, the imamate is not transmissible to another person by allegiance or voluntary resignation.

Early life

See also: Family tree of Ali and Family tree of Muhammad

Hasan was born in Medina in c. 625. Sources differ on whether he was born in the month of Ramadan or of Shaban. According to most traditional sources, Hasan was born on the 15th of Ramadan 3 AH (2 March 625 CE). He was the firstborn of Ali (Muhammad’s cousin) and Fatima, Muhammad’s daughter. Ali reportedly had chosen another name, but Muhammad chose the name Hasan for him. To celebrate his birth, Muhammad sacrificed a ram; Fatima shaved Hasan’s head and donated the weight of his hair in silver.

Muhammad was reportedly very fond of Hasan and his brother Husayn, carrying the boys on his shoulders, laying them on his chest and kissing them. Of the two boys, Hasan is said to have resembled his grandfather more in appearance. According to Wilferd Madelung, Muhammad’s statement that Hasan and Husayn would be the lords of youth in Paradise was widely reported. Hasan was raised in his grandfather’s household until age seven, when Muhammad died. Hasan later recalled the prayers Muhammad had taught him, as well as other sayings and deeds of Muhammad, including the time he took a date from Hasan’s lips and told him that receiving alms (Sadaqah) was not licit for any member of his family.

In October 631 (10 AH), Hasan reportedly participated in the event of Mubahala, a meeting between the Najranite Christians and Muhammad. The event occurred when Muhammad is said to have taken Ali, Fatima, Hasan and his brother, Husayn, under his cloak, addressed them as his ahl al-bayt (People of the House), and declared them free from sin and impurity. While all Muslims revere the ahl al-Bayt, it is the Shia who hold the ahl al-Bayt in the highest esteem, regarding them as infallible embodiments of divine wisdom and the perfect leaders for the Muslim community.

Coin minted in present-day Iran in 30 AH (661-662 CE), during Hasan's caliphate; the Arabic phrase lillah (lit. 'for Allah') appears in the margin.

Coin minted in present-day Iran in 30 AH (661-662 CE), during Hasan’s caliphate; the Arabic phrase lillah (lit. ’for Allah’) appears in the margin.

Rashidun Caliphate

Caliphate of Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman

Hasan remained politically inactive during the caliphate of Abu Bakr (r. 632–634). During Umar’s caliphate (r. 634–644), Hasan received 5,000 dirhams as a pension from the state revenue. In accounts preserved by Ibn Isfandiyar, Hasan reportedly took part in an expedition of Amol in Tabaristan along with Abd Allah ibn Umar. During the third caliph Uthman’s reign (r. 644–656), Hasan participated in the conquest of Tabaristan under Sa’id ibn al-As. Hasan joined his father (defying Uthman) in bidding farewell to Abu Dharr al-Ghifari, who was exiled from Medina after he preached against the misdeeds of the powerful. After Uthman’s half-brother, al-Walid ibn Uqba, was accused of drinking alcohol, Ali asked Hasan to carry out the punishment of forty lashes, though Hasan is said to have refused his father’s suggestion. Ali is said to have rebuked Hasan, and asked his nephew Abdullah ibn Ja’far to administer the punishment. Laura Veccia Vaglieri writes that some accounts report that Ali instead meted out the punishment. According to Vaglieri, Hasan and Husayn had no role in the important events of the caliphate of Abu Bakr, Umar and Uthman. Both Hasan and Husayn were obedient to Ali; they followed their father when he opposed Uthman.

In June 656, Uthman was besieged in his home by rebels. Hasan and Husayn were reportedly wounded, while guarding Uthman’s house at Ali’s request. Hasan laid down his weapons on the final day at Uthman’s request. Another report says that after Uthman was assassinated, Hasan arrived at the scene of the murder in time to identify his assassins. According to Madelung, Hasan criticized Ali for not doing enough to defend Uthman.

Caliphate of Ali

After Uthman’s assassination, Ali was elected caliph by the people of Medina. His election was opposed by Muhammad’s widow Aisha, and Muhammad’s companions Talha ibn Ubayd Allah and Zubayr ibn al-Awwam. Hasan was sent to Kufa to rally support with Ammar ibn Yasir, and raised an army of 6,000 to 7,000 men. Hasan’s mission with a group of 4 people to remove Abu Musa al-Ash’ari, who would not participate in the Battle of the Camel, from the rule of Kufa is one of his important political roles. In December 656, Hasan reportedly participated in the Battle of the Camel on his father’s side. In July 657, Hasan was present at the Battle of Siffin against the army of Mu’awiya I, though the former reportedly took no active part in the battle. Madelung writes that Hasan criticized Ali’s alleged aggressive war policy, saying that it stoked division among Muslims. However, one of the roles of Hasan in the Safin war, according to Encyclopaedia Islamica, was to bring with him some of the characters who had not appeared in the Battle of the Camel and were condemned by Ali. According to Ibn ‘Abd al-Barr, an Andalusian historian, Hasan was in command of the heart of the army in Siffin. After the arbitration incident and its outcome, Hasan in a sermon criticized the arbitration council, its people and its functioning. In November 658, Ali made Hasan responsible for his endowments of land.


In January 661, Ali was assassinated by Abd al-Rahman ibn Muljam, a Kharijite rebel. Hasan was subsequently acknowledged caliph in Kufa, the seat of Ali’s caliphate. Some authors have noted that the surviving companions of Muhammad were primarily in Ali’s army and must have pledged allegiance to Hasan, evidenced by the lack of reports to the contrary from Kufa, Medina, and Mecca. In his inaugural speech at the Great Mosque of Kufa, Hasan praised the ahl al-bayt and referred to the Quran:

I am of the Family of the Prophet from whom God has removed filth and whom He has purified, whose love He has made obligatory in His Book when He said, “Whosoever performs a good act, We shall increase the good in it.” Performing a good act is love for us, the Family of the Prophet.

Ali’s prominent staunch supporter and commander, Qays ibn Sa’d, is recorded to have been the first to swear an oath of allegiance to Hasan. Qays then suggested that the oath should be based on the Quran, precedent (sunna), and jihad against those who declared lawful (halal) what was unlawful (haram). Hasan, however, avoided the last condition by saying that it was implicit in the first two. Husain Mohammad Jafri says that Hasan was probably already apprehensive about the trustworthiness of the Kufans and wanted to avoid commitments with potentially-disastrous consequences. According to al-Baladhuri, the oath stipulated that people “should make war on those who were at war with Hasan, and should live in peace with those who were at peace with him.” This condition astonished the people, who suspected that Hasan might have intended to make peace with Mu’awiya. Madelung, however, notes that the oath was identical to the one demanded earlier by Ali and denounced by the Kharijites.

Conflict with Mu’awiya

Mu’awiya, who had been at war with Ali, condemned Hasan’s election and refused to recognize his caliphate. He began preparing for war and marched an army of sixty thousand men through al-Jazira to Maskin, about 50 kilometres (31 mi) north of present-day Baghdad. Mu’awiya negotiated with Hasan by letter, urging him to give up his claim to the caliphate. According to Jafri, he hoped to force Hasan to come to terms or attack the Iraqi forces before they were fortified. Mu’awiya believed that Hasan would remain a threat even if he was defeated and killed, since another Hashemite could continue the fight. If Hasan abdicated in favor of Mu’awiya, however, such claims would have no weight.

The letters revisit the succession of Muhammad. Hasan urged Mu’awiya to pledge allegiance to him by, invoking the same argument which Ali had advanced against Abu Bakr after the death of Muhammad. Ali said that if the Quraysh could claim leadership of the Ansar because Muhammad belonged to them, Muhammad’s family were the most qualified to lead. Mu’awiya acknowledged the ahl al-bayt, but said that the caliphate belonged to him because of his governing experience:

… You are asking me to settle the matter peacefully and surrender, but the situation concerning you and me today is like the one between you [your family] and Abu Bakr after the death of the Prophet … I have a longer period of reign [probably referring to his governorship], and I am more experienced, better in policies, and older in age than you … If you enter into obedience to me now, you will accede to the caliphate after me.

Mu’awiya’s response made explicit the separation of politics and religion, which became a tenet of Sunni Islam; Shia Islam vested all authority in the household of Muhammad.

Mobilisation of troops and mutiny

As the news of Mu’awiya’s advancing army reached Hasan, he ordered his local governors to mobilize and addressed the people of Kufa: “God had prescribed the jihad for his creation and called it a loathsome duty (Kurh)” (referring to verse 2:216 of the Quran). Madelung writes that there was no response at first, since some tribal chiefs (bribed by Mu’awiya) were reluctant to move. Hasan’s companions scolded the crowd and inspired them to leave in large numbers for Nukhayla, the army campgrounds. Hasan joined them, appointing Ubayd Allah ibn Abbas (or Abd Allah ibn Abbas) as commander of a vanguard of twelve thousand men tasked with holding Mu’awiya back in Maskin until Hasan arrived with the main army. He was advised not to fight unless attacked and to consult with Qays ibn Sa’d, the second in command. Hasan’s choice of Ubayd Allah ibn al-Abbas, who had surrendered Yemen to Mu’awiya without a fight, indicated that Hasan hoped to reach a peaceful conclusion.

While the vanguard was awaiting his arrival at Maskin, Hasan faced a mutiny at his military camp near al-Mada’in. Jafri writes that there are five accounts of the incident. According to Abu Hanifa Dinawari, Hasan was concerned about his troops’ resolve by the time he reached the outskirts of al-Mada’in. He halted the army at Sabat, and delivered a speech:

O people, I do not entertain any feeling of rancor against a Muslim. I am as much an overseer over yourselves [of your interests] as I am over my own self. Now, I am considering a plan; do not oppose me in it. Reconciliation, disliked by some of you, is better [under the circumstances] than the split that some of you prefer, especially when I see that most of you are shrinking from the war and are hesitant to fight. I do not, therefore, consider it wise to impose upon you something which you do not like.

Taking this as a sign that he intended to pursue peace, Kharijite supporters in Hasan’s army rebelled by looting his tent and pulling his prayer rug out from under him. While his loyalists were escorting him to safety in al-Mada’in, the Kharijite al-Jarrah ibn Sinan ambushed and wounded Hasan in the thigh and shouted: “You have become an infidel (kafir) like your father.” In retaliation, al-Jarrah was killed while Hasan was taken to the house of Sa’d ibn Mas’ud al-Thaqafi, the governor of al-Mada’in. Sa’d nephew Mukhtar ibn Abi Ubayd recommended Hasan to surrender to Mu’awiya in return for political favour. News of this attack further demoralized Hasan’s army and led to widespread desertion.

Vanguard at Maskin

When the Kufan vanguard reached Maskin, they realized that Mu’awiya had already arrived. Through a representative, he urged them not to begin hostilities until he concluded peace talks with Hasan. Madelung writes that Mu’awiya’s claim was probably false, but he had good reason to think that he could force Hasan to surrender. The Kufans, however, insulted Mu’awiya’s envoy and sent him back. Mu’awiya sent the envoy to visit Ubayd Allah privately, swear that Hasan had requested a truce from Mu’awiya, and offer Ubayd Allah 1,000,000 dirhams (half paid at once, and the other half in Kufa) to switch sides. Ubayd Allah accepted, and deserted at night to Mu’awiya’s camp; Mu’awiya was pleased, and fulfilled his promise to him.

The next morning, second-in-command Qays ibn Sa’d, took charge of Hasan’s troops and denounced Ubayd Allah in a sermon. Believing that Ubayd Allah’s desertion had broken his enemy’s spirit, Mu’awiya sent a contingent to force surrender but was pushed back twice. He sent a letter to the Qays, offering bribes which were refused. As news of the mutiny against Hasan and the attempt at his life arrived, however, both sides abstained from fighting and awaited further developments. Veccia Vaglieri writes that the Iraqis had no wish to fight, and a group deserted every day. According to one account, 8,000 men out of 12,000 followed Ubayd Allah’s example and joined Mu’awiya.

Treaty with Mu’awiya

See also: Hasan–Muawiya treaty

Mu’awiya, who had begun negotiating with Hasan, sent envoys to suggest that Hasan abdicate to spare Muslim blood. Mu’awiya, they said, would make him his successor and give him whatever he wanted. Hasan accepted the overture in principle, and sent two representatives to Mu’awiya with Mu’awiya’s two envoys. Mu’awiya wrote that he was making peace with Hasan (who would succeed him) and granting him safety, 1,000,000 dirhams annually from the treasury, and the land tax of Fasa and Darabjird. The letter, witnessed by the four envoys, was dated August 661.

When Hasan read the letter, he said that Mu’awiya sought “to appeal to his greed for something which he, if he desired it, would not surrender to him.” He dispatched Mu’awiya’s nephew, telling him: “Go to your uncle and tell him: If you grant safety to the people I shall pledge allegiance to you.” Muawiya gave Hasan carte blanche, inviting him to dictate what he wanted. According to Madelung, Hasan wrote that he would surrender Muslim rule to Mu’awiya if he would comply with the Quran and sunna; his successor would be appointed by a council (shura); the people would remain safe, and Hasan’s supporters would receive amnesty. His letter was witnessed by two representatives, who gave it to Mu’awiya. After concluding the agreement, Hasan returned to Kufa and surrendering his control of Iraq in August 661 after a seven-month reign.

Husain Mohammad Jafri, Ya’qubi, al-Masudi and others do not mention the treaty’s terms; historians al-Tabari, Abu Hanifa Dinawari, Ibn Abd al-Barr and Ibn al-Athir record its terms differently and ambiguously. Jafri finds the timing of the Mu’awiya’s carte blanche in al-Tabari’s account confusing, and says that the most comprehensive account (which must have been taken from al-Mada’ini) is by Ahmad ibn A’tham. Ibn A’tham recorded the terms in two parts. The first was proposed by Abd Allah ibn Nawfal, Hasan’s envoy who was authorized to negotiate with Mu’awiya in Maskin; the second part was Hasan’s carte blanche. If the two sets of conditions are combined, they include the scattered conditions in early sources.

Hasan’s final conditions for abdication, echoed by Madelung, were that Mu’awiya should act according to the Quran, sunna, and the conduct of the Rightly Guided Caliphs; that the people should remain safe, and Mu’awiya was not to appoint a successor. Since supporters of Ali have never recognized the first three caliphs, Jafri suggests that the clause about following the Rashidun might have been added by later Sunni authors.

Abdication and retirement in Medina

During the surrender ceremony after concluding the peace treaty, Mu’awiya demanded that Hasan publicly apologize. Hasan rose and reminded the people that he and Husayn were Muhammad’s only grandsons and the right to the caliphate was his (not Mu’awiya’s), but he had surrendered it to avoid bloodshed. In his speech, Mu’awiya recanted his earlier promises to Hasan and others and said that they were made solely to shorten the war. In another account, Mu’awiya added that he had not fought them so that they would pray, fast, make the Hajj and give alms (they were doing that already), but to be their master (amir); God had bestowed that on him despite their will. He then said,

God’s protection is dissolved from anyone who does not come forth and pledge allegiance. Surely, I have sought revenge for the blood of Uthman, may God kill his murderers, and have returned the reign to those to whom it belongs in spite of the rancor of some people. We grant a respite of three nights. Whoever has not pledged allegiance by then will have no protection and no pardon.

The people rushed from all directions to vow allegiance to Mu’awiya. Hasan left Kufa for Medina, but Mu’awiya ordered him to subdue a Kharijite revolt near Kufa. Hasan wrote back that he had given up fighting Mu’awiya (his legal right) for the sake of peace and community compromise, not to fight on his side.

For nine year, between his abdication in 41 AH (661) and his death in 50 AH (670), Hasan lived quietly in Medina and did not engage in politics. In compliance with the peace treaty, Hasan declined requests from (often small) Shia groups to lead them against Mu’awiya. He was still considered the head of Muhammad’s household by the Banu Hashim and Ali’s partisans, however, who had pinned their hopes on his succession to Mu’awiya. Al-Baladhuri writes that Hasan, in accordance with the treaty, sent tax collectors to the Fasa and Darabjird provinces of Iran; the governor of Basra, instructed by Mu’awiya, incited the Basrans against Hasan and his tax collectors were driven out of the provinces. Madelung regards this account as fictitious because Hasan had just refused to join Mu’awiya in fighting the Kharijites, suggesting that the relations between them deteriorated when Mu’awiya realized that Hasan would not actively support his regime.

19-century painting of Ali (center), Hasan, Husayn, and two angels

19-century painting of Ali (center), Hasan, Husayn, and two angels

Death and burial

According to the most credible reports, Hasan ibn Ali died on 2 April 670 (5 Rabi’ al-Awwal 50 AH) from an illness or poisoning. Madelung notes that early sources are nearly unanimous that Hasan was poisoned. According to some sources, he was poisoned by his Kindite wife Ja’da bint al-Ash’ath whereas other accounts accuse his Amirite wife Hind bint Suhayl. According to al-Waqidi (d. 823), one of Hasan’s servants gave a poisoned drink to the latter. In all cases, Mu’awiya is identified as the instigator. Mu’awiya reportedly convinced Hasan’s wife to poison him with the promise of a large sum of money and marriage to his son, Yazid. Al-Shaykh al-Mufid (d. 1022) said that Mu’awiya promised to pay Ja’da 100,000 dirham and marry Yazid (r. 680–683) to her. The modern Belgian historian Henri Lammens, however, considered these reports “insignificant”. Ahmed and Madelung wrote that the claims were Alid propaganda against Ja’da, who was considered a traitor. The early historian al-Tabari (d. 923) denied Mu’awiya’s alleged role in Hasan’s death; Donaldson and Madelung suggested that this may have been out of concern for the faith of the common people (awamm). Some sources report that Yazid I (r. 680–683), proposed to Zaynab bint Ja’far ibn Abi Talib, who refused and instead preferred Hasan. The enraged Yazid subsequently had Hasan poisoned. Hasan reportedly did not disclose the identity of his suspected poisoner to Husayn, fearing that the wrong person might be punished. Thirty-eight years old when he abdicated to 58-year-old Mu’awiya, the age difference presented a problem for Mu’awiya (who wanted to make Yazid his heir-apparent). The move would have been unlikely because of the terms on which Hasan had abdicated. Given their age difference, Mu’awiya could not expect Hasan to die before him; Jafri suggests that he should be suspected of complicity in removing an obstacle to the succession of Yazid.

A recent article by Burke et al. examined the circumstances surrounding Hasan’s death. Using mineralogical, medical, and chemical evidence, they suggested that the mineral calomel (mercury(I) chloride, Hg2Cl2), sourced from the Byzantine Empire, was the substance primarily responsible for Hasan’s death. Because historical sources indicate that another member of Hasan’s household also suffered similar symptoms, the article considers Hasan’s wife to be the prime suspect. The article cites a historical document, according to which the Byzantine emperor (likely Constantine IV) sent Mu’awiya a poisoned drink at the request of the latter. The authors thus conclude that their forensic hypothesis is consistent with the historical narrative that Hasan was poisoned by his wife, Ja’da, at the instigation of Mu’awiya and with the involvement of the Byzantine emperor.

Burial place

Before his death, Hasan had instructed his family to bury him next to Muhammad; if they “feared evil,” however, they were to bury him near his mother in the cemetery of al-Baqi. Sa’id ibn al-‘As, the Umayyad governor of Medina, was not opposed to burying Hasan near Muhammad; Marwan strongly objected, arguing that Uthman had been buried in al-Baqi. Aisha also reportedly opposed the burial of Hasan next to Muhammad. Abu Hurayra, who had served Mu’awiya, unsuccessfully attempted to persuade Marwan to allow Hasan’s burial next to Muhammad by reminding him of Muhammad’s high esteem for Hasan and Husayn. Supporters of Husayn and Marwan from the Banu Hashim and Banu Umayyad, respectively, gathered with weapons. Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya reportedly intervened, citing Hasan’s burial request to Husayn, and it was decided to bury him in al-Baqi. According to Madelung, Mu’awiya rewarded Marwan for his stand by reinstating him as governor of Medina.

As Hasan’s body was carried to al-Baqi, Marwan reportedly joined the procession and paid tribute to a man “whose forbearance (hilm) weighed mountains.” The governor of Medina, Sa’id ibn al-As, was said to have led the funeral prayer, in line with contemporary customs. Hasan’s tomb was later made a domed shrine, which was destroyed twice by the Wahhabis: in 1806 and 1927.

Family life

Sources differ about Hasan’s wives and children. According to Ibn Sa’d (whose account is considered the most reliable), Hasan had fifteen sons and nine daughters with six wives and three known concubines. His first marriage was to Ja’da bint al-Ash’ath, daughter of the Kinda chief al-Ash’ath ibn Qays, soon after Ali’s relocation to Kufa. According to Madelung, Ali intended to establish ties with the powerful Yemeni tribal coalition in Kufa with this marriage. Hasan had no children with Ja’da, who is commonly accused of poisoning him.

Umm Bashir was Hasan’s second wife. She was the daughter of Abu Mas’ud Uqba ibn Amr, who had opposed the Kufan revolt against Uthman. Madelung suggests that Ali was hoping to attract Abu Mas’ud to his side with the marriage. Hasan married Khawla bint Manzur ibn Zabban, daughter of the Fazara chief Manzur ibn Zabban, after his abdication and return to Medina. Khawla had been married to Muhammad ibn Talha, who was killed in the Battle of the Camel, and had two sons and a daughter from that marriage. After her father protested that he had been ignored, Hasan presented Khawla to her father and remarried her with his approval. Khawla bore Hasan his son, Hasan. Hafsa bint Abd al-Rahman was a daughter of Abd al-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr, and another wife of Hasan whom he married in Medina. It is said that al-Mundhir ibn al-Zubayr was in love with her, and his rumors compelled Hasan to divorce her. The rumors also ended Hafsa’s next marriage, and she eventually married al-Mundhir. Hasan also married Umm Ishaq, daughter of Talha. She was described as beautiful, but with a bad temper. In Damascus, Mu’awiya asked her brother Ishaq ibn Talha to give her in marriage to Yazid but Ishaq married her to Hasan when he returned to Medina, and she bore a son named Talha. Hind bint Suhayl ibn Amr, daughter of Suhayl ibn Amr, was another wife of Hasan. She had been married to Abd al-Rahman ibn Attab (who was killed in the Battle of the Camel) and Abd Allah ibn Amir, who divorced her. Hasan had no children with Hind.

According to Madelung, Hasan’s other children were probably from concubines: Amr ibn Hasan (married and had three children), Qasim and Abu Bakr (both childless and killed in the Battle of Karbala), Abd al-Rahman (childless), al-Husayn, and Abd Allah (possibly identical to Abu Bakr). Late sources add three other offspring: Isma’il, Hamza, and Ya’qub, all of whom were childless. Hasan’s daughters from concubines were Umm Abd Allah, who married Zayn al-Abidin and bore Muhammad al-Baqir (the fifth Shia Imam); Fatima and Ruqayya (not known to have married), and Umm Salama (childless).

Other accounts, described by Madelung as absurd, say that Hasan married seventy (or ninety) women in his lifetime and had a harem of three hundred concubines. Pierce wrote that the accusations were by later Sunni writers who were unable to list more than sixteen names. Madelung said that most of the claims were by al-Mada’ini and were often vague; some had a clear defamatory intent. Madelung wrote that the ninety-wives allegation was first made by Muhammad al-Kalbi and was picked up by al-Mada’ini, who was unable to list more than eleven names (five of whom are uncertain or highly doubtful). According to Veccia Vaglieri, the marriages received little contemporary censure.

The number of Hasan’s consorts has attracted scholarly attention. Henri Lammens wrote that Hasan married and divorced so frequently that he was called miṭlāq (lit. ’the divorcer’), and his behavior earned Ali new enemies. Madelung disagreed, saying that Hasan – living in his father’s household – could not enter into any marriages not arranged (or approved) by Ali. Madelung also wrote that narratives attributed to Ali in which he warns the Kufans not to marry their daughters to Hasan were not credible; Hasan’s marriages were intended to strengthen Ali’s political alliances, evidenced by Hasan’s reservation of his kunya (Muhammad) for his first son with Khawla, his first freely-chosen wife). Madelung wrote that Hasan intended to make Muhammad his primary heir; when he died in childhood, Hasan chose Khawla’s second son Hasan.

Allegations of Hasan’s readiness to divorce, according to Madelung, indicate no signs of an inordinate sexual appetite, he seemed as noble and forbearing in dealing with his wives as with others. Hasan divorced Hafsa (the granddaughter of Abu Bakr) out of propriety after she was accused by al-Mundhir, although he still loved her. When she married al-Mundhir, Hasan visited the couple and was quick to forgive al-Mundhir for spreading those false rumors out of love for Hafsa. Hasan returned Khawla bint Manzur to her father (who had complained about being ignored), remarrying her with his approval. Madelung cites Hasan’s readiness to divorce Hind bint Suhayl when he saw evidence of renewed love by her former husband and his advice to Husayn to marry his widow, Umm Ishaq bint Talha, after his death. When he was poisoned, Hasan reportedly refrained from identifying a suspect to Husayn. Hasan’s descendants are usually known as sharif, though the usage of the term is sometimes extended to Husayn’s descendants as well.

Assessment and legacy

Hasan has been described as physically resembling Muhammad more than Husayn did. According to Madelung, he might have inherited Muhammad’s temperament; Husayn was similar to Ali. Hasan reportedly named two of his sons Muhammad, and had no sons named Ali; Husayn named two of his four sons Ali, and had no sons named Muhammad. In Wilferd Madelung’s assessments, Hasan had a pacifist and conciliatory character whereas Husayn inherited his father’s fighting spirit.

According to Momen, Hasan has been criticized by Western historians more than any of the Twelve Imams; he has been called unintelligent, and derided for ceding the caliphate. These criticisms are dismissed by Shia historians who see Hasan’s abdication as the only realistic course of action, given the Kufans’ fickleness and Mu’awiya’s overwhelming military superiority. This view is echoed by Veccia Vaglieri, who cites Hasan’s love for peace, his distaste for politics and its dissension, and the desire to avoid widespread bloodshed as possible motives for abdication. The statement (attributed to Muhammad), “This son of mine is a lord by means of whom God will one day reunite two great factions of Muslims” might have identified Hasan’s abdication as meritorious. Hasan was criticized by some contemporary followers, who believed that he had humiliated the Muslims by surrendering the caliphate to Mu’awiya. Jafri attributes the criticism to the group’s hatred of Syrian domination.

Representation in Islam

Muslims regard Hasan and Husayn as participants in the event of Mubahala and members of the ahl al-baytahl al-kisa, and Muhammad’s love for them has been well-reported; a hadith attributed to Muhammad says that they would be sayyids (lit. ’chiefs’) of the youth in Paradise. Jami’a al-Tirmidhi (a canonical Sunni hadith collection) notes that, taking Hasan and Husayn by the hand, Muhammad said: “Whoever loves me and loves these two and loves their mother and father, will be with me in my station on the Day of Resurrection.” Muhammad is also widely reported to have said, “He who has loved Hasan and Husayn has loved me and he who has hated them has hated me.” Muhammad allowed the boys to climb on his back while he was prostrate in prayer, and reportedly interrupted a sermon to pick Hasan up after his grandson fell.

About Hasan’s abdication, historian Dakake said that sources hostile to Hasan interpret his peace treaty with Mu’awiya as a sign of weakness; Hasan intended to surrender from the beginning, and fought half-heartedly. Other sources reject this view, saying that Hasan’s abdication was as inevitable after the Kufan mutiny as Ali’s acceptance of arbitration; like Ali after Muhammad’s death, Hasan was motivated by the desire for unity and peace in the Muslim community. Muhammad reportedly predicted that Hasan would restore peace among the Muslims.


Among Muʿtazila Muslims, Hasan’s abdication became the source of debates about the possibility of ousting an Imam which were closely related to their view of the legitimacy of Mu’awiya’s caliphate. Muʿtazila theologians refused to recognize Mu’awiya caliphate, saying that Hasan remained Imam even after the peace treaty with Mu’awiya. Sunni theologians recognized Mu’awiya’s caliphate, however, and regarded the peace treaty as Hasan’s resignation from the imamate. According to the Muʿtazila, only a wrong deed by an unrepentant Imam would disqualify him from the imamate after receiving oaths of allegiance; otherwise, an Imam has no right to resign or pledge his allegiance to another person. According to al-Qadi Abd al-Jabbar, based on his ijtihad, Hasan felt that the Kufans would abandon him if he fought Mu’awiya and was compelled to pursue peace. In al-Jubba’i’s view, Hasan’s reluctant pledge of allegiance to Mu’awiya did not disqualify him from the imamate or legitimize Mu’awiya’s caliphate. As a person would not become an infidel if he professes disbelief to save his life, an Imam can pledge allegiance without believing in it. According to al-Jubba’i, others (such as Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqas, Sa’id ibn Zayd and Abdullah ibn Umar) might have also reluctantly sworn fealty to Mu’awiya. Ibn Mulahmi, a disciple of Abu al-Husayn al-Basri, echoed al-Jubba’i’s view of Hasan: “How can it be imagined that Hasan, who planned to fight Mu’awiya to secure his oath of allegiance, would agree to relinquish the caliphate without reluctance?”

Sunni Islam

Main article: Sunni Islam

During the eighth and ninth centuries, there was a diversity of opinions about which caliphs were “rightly-guided” (rāshidūn), meaning those whose actions and opinions were considered worthy of emulation from a religious point of view. After the ninth century, however, the first four caliphs became canonical in Sunni Islam: Abu Bakr (r. 632–634), Umar (r. 634–644), Uthman (r. 644–656) and Ali (r. 656–661). A fifth caliph, the Umayyad Umar ibn Abd al-Aziz (r. 717–720), was cited by ninth-century Sunni hadith collector Abu Dawud al-Sijistani. Another five-caliph hypothesis may have included Hasan as the fifth caliph, whose six-month reign was needed to complete the thirty-year period after Abu Bakr’s ascension (reportedly predicted by Muhammad as the length of the prophetic succession). This is also indicated by Abu Dawud al-Tayalisi’s version of this narrative, which avoided counting Hasan as the fifth caliph by adding six months to Umar’s caliphate.

Sunni Muslims accept Hasan’s peace treaty with Mu’awiya with a hadith, attributed to Muhammad, which reportedly predicted that Hasan would unite two warring Muslim parties. By legitimizing Mu’awiya’s caliphate, they view the peace treaty as voluntary resignation from the caliphate and imamate; the year of the treaty is called ʿām al-jamāʿa (lit. ’the year of unity’) in a number of early Sunni sources. According to Sunni Islam, an imam cannot be ousted or resign if he is aware of the divisiveness of his decision; however, he can abdicate if he considers his resignation to be in the best interest of Muslims. Hasan’s abdication was a voluntary decision to avoid bloodshed.

Shia Islam

Hasan is regarded by Shia Islam as its second infallible imam, who was designated by his father Ali. He is also venerated because he was born of a divinely-ordained marriage. Shortly after the migration to Medina, Shia sources say that Muhammad followed divine orders and gave Ali his daughter Fatima in marriage. In Shia belief, theirs was the only house that Gabriel allowed to have a door which opened onto the courtyard of The Prophet’s Mosque. In Shia Islam, his epithet is al-Mujtaba (“the chosen”). Shia theologians have examined the events leading to the peace treaty, citing the disintegration of Hasan’s corps, abandonment by his allies, the looting of his military campground, and his assassination attempt as reasons to pursue peace. His infallibility (ismah) as the second Shia imam further justifies this course of action. Sharif al-Murtaza wrote that Hasan reluctantly agreed to peace, and his abdication has been viewed by the Shia as an act of taqiya; he pledged allegiance to Mu’awiya to end the civil war, and Shia theologians have referred to the treaty as a ceasefire (muhādana) or agreement (muʾāhada). According to Shia author Muhammad ibn Bahr al-Shaybani, Mu’awiya did not comply with any of the articles of the treaty (indicating that the compromise was not an alliance). The treaty did not elevate Mu’awiya above Hasan and did not require obedience, evidenced by reports that one condition was that Mu’awiya not be called amir al-mu’minin (lit. ’the commander of the faithful’). This, and reports that Hasan refused to join Mu’awiya in fighting the Kharijites, indicate that he did not recognize Mu’awiya’s caliphate.


See also: Imamate in Shia doctrine

Madelung wrote that although Ali had apparently not nominated a successor before his sudden death, he said several times that only members of Muhammad’s household (ahl al-bayt) were entitled to the caliphate. Hasan (whom Ali had appointed his legatee) must have been the obvious choice, and was elected the next caliph soon after Ali’s death. Ali reportedly regarded Hasan as his waliu’l amr (with his own authority to command), and saw him as his waliu’l dam; avenging Ali’s murder was up to Hasan.

In Shia theology, the designation of Hasan as imam was made through nass: the divine decree of Ali. According to a Shia tradition recorded by al-Kulayni, Ali gave al-Jafr and his armor to Hasan in front his family and the Shia leaders before his death and said:

O my son, the Apostle has commanded me to give you the designation and to bequeath to you the secret books and the armor, in the same way that he gave them to me. And when you die you are to give them to your brother Husayn …

Donaldson wrote that there was originally no significant difference between the divine right of imamate, with each imam designating his successor, and other concepts of succession. Veccia Vaglieri said that Hasan’s abdication (criticized by some contemporary followers) has not affected his position as imam in Shia Islam, and is viewed in light of his pious detachment from worldly matters. Since the designation of Hasan as imam was made through nass, his imamate could not be annulled by abdication; only the outward function of the caliphate transferred to Mu’awiya. In Shia Islam, the imamate cannot be transferred to another person through allegiance or voluntary resignation. A hadith, attributed to Muhammad and present in Shia and Sunni sources, states that Hasan and Husayn were imams “whether they stand up or sit down” (ascend to the caliphate or not). A hadith, attributed to Muhammad and present in Shia and Sunni sources, states that Hasan and Husayn were imams “whether they stand up or sit down” (ascend to the caliphate or not).


According to Donaldson, fewer miracles are attributed to Hasan than to other Shia imams. Veccia Vaglieri disagreed, citing the following: when he was born, Hasan recited the Quran and praised God. Later in life, a dead palm tree produced ripe dates; he fed seventy poor people, and the food did not diminish. Hasan also resurrected a dead man.

Literature and TV


Persian literature inspired by Hasan can be divided into two categories: historical and mystical. Historical literature includes Hasan’s life, imamate, his peace with Mu’awiya, and his death. Mystical literature showcases his virtues and his prominent position in Shia spirituality. Hasan’s life has been the subject of poetry from Sanai to the present. Themes are his virtues, Muhammad’s admiration of him, and his suffering and death. Poets include Sanai (Hadiqat al Haqiqa), Attar of Nishapur, Ghavami Razi, Rumi, ‘Ala’ al-Dawla Simnani, Ibn Yamin, Khwaju Kermani, Salman Savoji, Hazin Lahiji, Naziri Neyshabouri, Vesal Shirazi, and Adib al-Malak Farahani.


The series Loneliest Leader, directed in 1996 by Mehdi Fakhimzadeh, narrates Hasan’s life, his peace with Mu’awiya, and the condition of the Islamic community after his assassination. The events leading up to Hasan’s peace and his attempted assassination in al-Mada’in are also mentioned in the series Mokhtarnameh by Davood Mirbagheri. Muawiya, Hasan and Husayn, a series about Hasan and Husayn, has been criticized as anti-Shia.

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Leave a Reply