EBN SAʿD, ʿOMAR (k. Kūfa 66/686), commander of the Omayyad troops at Karbalāʾ. Son of the famous Arab general Saʿd b. Abī Waqqāṣ, he had just been made deputy-governor (nāʾeb) of Ray by ʿObayd-Allāh b. Zīād (see EBN ZĪĀD) and was to go to Dastabā to quell a Daylamite rising when he was called back to check Ḥosayn b. ʿAlī’s insurrection. It was only under the threat of losing his post that he finally obeyed and marched at the head of 4,000 men, reaching Karbalāʾ on 3 Moḥarram 61/3 October 680. Although he cut off Ḥosayn’s access to water, he tried to negotiate a settlement. At the urging of Šamer (known as Šemr by the Shiʿites) b. Ḏi’l-Jawšan ʿĀmerī, a former follower of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭāleb, Ebn Zīād ordered Ebn Saʿd to attack Ḥosayn immediately and threatened to give Šamer the command of the army. On the evening of 10 Moḥarram/10 October, Ebn Saʿd sent an ultimatum to Ḥosayn through ʿAbbās b. ʿAlī (Ṭabarī, II, pp. 308-20). The next morning Ebn Saʿd attacked, apparently hoping that Ḥosayn and his followers would surrender, but the circumstances ended in massacre. Historical evidence indicates that Ebn Saʿd was reluctant to fight Ḥosayn (Ṭabarī, II, pp. 309-11), and his intervention probably saved the life of ʿAlī b. Ḥosayn Zayn-al-ʿĀbedīn (q.v.). On the other hand, most traditions show him eager to obey Ebn Zīād’s orders. He thus had Ḥosayn’s corpse trampled by ten horsemen (Ṭabarī, II, pp. 365-68; Masʿūdī, Morūj III, p. 259; cf. Balʿamī, ed. Rowšan, p. 711, tr. Zotenberg, IV, p. 45). Ebn Saʿd was executed in Ḏul’-Ḥejja 66/July 686 by Ebrāhīm b. Aštar, at Moḵtār’s orders, during the latter’s rebellion, for his role in the tragedy of Karbalāʾ (Ṭabarī, II, pp. 671-74; Hawting).

Although Turco-Persian literature of Karbalāʾ has elaborated on Ebn Saʿd’s villainy, many historical features of his character have been retained down to the most recent taʿzīas, such as his eagerness to keep his post in Ray and his reluctance to kill Ḥosayn. In the Moḵtār-nāma, Ebn Saʿd is cursed by his own wife, who is the sister of the Shiʿite rebel Moḵtār, and his severed head is cursed by his Shiʿite younger son (pp. 209-11; Kāšefī, pp. 262 f.). An old tradition holds that Ray, the price paid to him for Ḥosayn’s blood, was under a divine curse (Yāqūt, Boldān, Beirut, III, p. 118; C. Barbier de Meynard, Dictionnaire géographique de la Perse, Paris, 1861, p. 278). Ebn Saʿd’s chastisement is sometimes shown as particularly horrible; in the story of Moḥammad b. al-Ḥanafīya, Ebn Saʿd and Ebn Zīād are smeared with naphtha and set on fire (Calmard, p. 267). In Safavid Persia ʿOmar b. Saʿd was sometimes burnt in effigy in a ritual similar to the “killing of ʿOmar” (ʿOmarkošān), perhaps because of a popular confusion with the caliph most hated by the Persian Shiʿites (Calmard, p. 500). In taʿzīas Ebn Saʿd is the only bad character who feels remorse for his own villainy; he is ashamed to have killed Ḥosayn and protects ʿAlī Zayn-al-ʿĀbedīn and the women of the Ahl-e Bayt, ordering them to be taken to Kūfa in covered litters (maḥāmel mastūra; Dīnavarī, ed. Guirgass, p. 270; Kāšefī, pp. 349-50, 360). In some taʿzīas, he even seems opposed to the killing of Ḥosayn (Mamnoun, pp. 67 ff.). But in spite of his hesitation and belated remorse, he remains a typical villain in the eyes of Moḥarram mourners. His arrogance while riding his horse and addressing himself to Ḥosayn has become proverbial (meṯl-e Ebn-e Saʿd; ʿA.-A. Dehḵodā, Amṯāl o ḥekam, Tehran, 1352 Š./1973, III, p. 1403).


Bibliography: (For cited works not given in detail, see “Short References.”)

The main historical source is the narrative of Abū Meḵnaf (on him see U. Sezkin, Abū Mikhnaf, Leiden, 1971.), preserved most completely in Balāḏorī and Ṭabarī. On Arabic sources in general, see I. K. A. Howard, “Husain the Martyr. A Commentary on the Account of the Martyrdom in Arabic Sources,” Alserāt. The Imam Husayn Conference Number, London, 1986, pp. 124-42.

L. F. Brakel, The Hikayat Muhammad Hanafiya. A Medieval Muslim-Malay Romance, doctoral dissert., Leiden, 1975.

J. Calmard, Le Culte de l’Imām Ḥusayn. Étude sur la commémoration du drame de Karbalā dans l’Iran pré-safavide, Ph.D dissert., University of Paris III (Sorbonne), 1975.

G. R. Hawting, “al-Mukhtār b. Abī ʿUbayd,” in EI ² VII, pp. 521-24.

Ḥosayn Wāʿeẓ Kāšefī, Rawżat al-šohadāʾ, ed. M. Ramażānī, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962.

P. Mamnoum, Taʿzija. Schiʿitisch-persisches Passionspiel, Vienna, 1967.

Moḵtār-nāma, Tehran, n.d.

ʿA. Rafīʿī, “Ebn-e Saʿd” in DMBE III, pp. 682-83.

L. V. Vaglieri, “Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib” in EI ² III, pp. 607-15 (contains an extensive bibliography on the battle of Karbalāʾ).

(Jean Calmard)

Originally Published: December 15, 1997

Last Updated: December 6, 2011

This article is available in print.
Vol. VIII, Fasc. 1, pp. 50-51