I’ve been reflecting on the unrest that took place not long ago in Baltimore in which a big to do was made about a CVS being burned down. Many in the American Muslim community even picked up the meme of focusing more on property damage than the police homicide of Freddie Gray. Upon reflection of the burning of the CVS, I thought several times about an event in early Islamic history related to the burning of buildings as a form of protest. I’m sure that some people will be offended by the comparison that I’m about to make. The comparison is not to give proportionately nor is it an endorsement of CVS being set ablaze. It is, however, an acknowledgment of the drastic measures that people can be made to feel compelled to implement when oppression is systematic and widespread.
In the early Islamic history, there is no doubt that the most oppressed family was the Alawiyyeen, meaning the family Imam Ali bin Abi Talib (KW) and his offspring. Most of his sons, grandsons and subsequent generations were imprisoned and/or martyred through stabbings, beheadings and poisonings. Some of their names are Al-Hasan bin Ali bin Abi Talib (SA), Al-Husayn bin Ali bin Abi Talib (SA), Zayd bin Ali bin Al-Husayn bin Ali bin Abi Talib (SA), An-Nafs Az-Zakiyyah Muhammad bin Abdillah bin Al-Hasan bin Al-Hasan bin Ali bin Abi Talib (SA) and Musa Al-Kathim bin Ja’far bin Muhammad bin Ali bin Al-Husayn bin Ali bin Abi Talib (SA). The suppression and crimes against them started under the government of Bani Umayyah and continued under the government of Bani Abbas.
Within this context, Abdullah “Al-Ma’mun” bin Harun Al-Abbasi was the ruler of the Muslims. He beheaded his own brother, in fact, to ascend to the throne, which illustrates how vile the political leadership of Muslims had become. Though outwardly appearing to give felicity to Ali Ar-Rida bin Musa Al-Kathim (SA), who was from the Alawiyyeen, he too was involved in oppressing them as well. Moreover under Bani Abbasi, there was the oppression of Zanji people meaning black Muslims in Iraq, which also led to the famous Zanji rebellion. This is the contextually era of many uprisings including the extreme actions of a man by the name of Zayd An-Nar (RH).
According to Abu Nasr Al-Bukhari, As-Samarqandi, Fakhruddin Ar-Razi and others, Zayd An-Nar was the brother of Ali Ar-Rida bin Musa Al-Kathim. Zayd was given the title An-Nar, meaning The Fire, because while in Iraq during the rule of “Al-Ma’mun,” he rebelled against Abbasi authority in Basrah, which later included burning down the homes of Bani Abbas and their immediate supporters. Zayd was subsequently imprisoned.
My point of bringing Zayd An-Nar into the discussion of Baltimore is that systematic oppression will lead to rebellion including destruction of property owned by those who are seen as being active participants or complicit in oppression. Sometimes, extreme measures are taken by the marginalized to amplify their grievances with those who hold positional power. Definitely the numerous rebellions by the Alawiyyeen starting with Al-Husayn bin Ali and Zayd bin Ali bin Al-Husayn are not directly like the event which we saw in Baltimore. It is to say, however, that when the majority of society turns a blind eye to systematic oppression, there is guaranteed to be responses that appear extreme and “criminal.” Extreme circumstances eventually breed extreme responses. This is evident in the story of Zayd An-Nar.