Yazid I served as the second caliph -- or the leader of the Muslim world thought to be Allah's representative on earth -- of the Umayyad Dynasty, the first Muslim dynasty to rule the political-religious state of the caliphate. In Islam, the story of Yazid goes beyond history -- it has become a moral legend. The most notable events surrounding Yazid's rule are closely tied to the history of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Islam's founder, the prophet Muhammad. Because of his death at Yazid's command, Hussain is now regarded as an Islamic martyr.

Appointment

Before Yazid I, his father Mua'wiyah I, the first ruler of the Umayyad Dynasty and a proponent of Islam, served as caliph. As caliph, Mua'wiyah had promised that he would not appoint his own successor; in a treaty, he pledged to leave the choice of successor up to the will of the people, who strongly favored Imam Hussain. However, Mua'wiyah appointed Yazid, who succeeded his father on the day of his death, April 7, 680. This established a tradition of hereditary succession among the Caliphate.

Battle of Karbala

Imam Hussain, at the time the guardian and figurehead of the newly established religion of Islam, refused to pledge allegiance to Yazid, whom he viewed as unjustly appointed. When Hussain, along with a group of his family and followers, was on his way to make a claim to the caliphate in 680, Yazid responded to Hussain's refusal by ordering his assassination. The Battle of Karbala was the result of this order. In this brief battle, Yazid sent an Umayyad army to kill Hussain, as well as some of traveling companions, including his six-month old son, Ali Asghar. After days of resistance from Hussain and his group,Yazid's forces were successful; in the small town of Karbala, they killed Hussain and company.

Islamic Perception of Yazid

Shi'ite Muslims consider the anniversary of the Battle of Karbala a holy day; they revere Hussain as a martyr and consider his tomb a holy site. This Islamic sect rejects the legitimacy of the first three caliphs. As such, these Muslims hold Yazid in low esteem, viewing his assassination of Hussain as a selfish attempt at increasing his political power. They view Yazid as an unjust and impious ruler, and an unworthy successor to the holy Prophet Muhammad. Yazid is sometimes looked down upon for his pleasure-seeking habits, which are said to include the keeping of birds of prey and other dangerous animals as pets, the spread of music and other amusements during his rule, and his frequent hosting of wine-drinking parties.

Another Viewpoint

Dr. Syed Kamran Mirza, author of books such as “Beyond Jihad” and “Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out,” contends that much of the hate directed toward Yazid I is the result of bias. Mirza points out that this bias favors the honorable eulogization of Muhammad's descendant Imam Hussain. He also notes that Yazid's rule led to the formation of the Abbasid Dynasty, which birthed the mu'atazila -- or rationalist -- movement of progressive freethinkers. This movement, widely accepted by Shi'ite Muslims, emphasizes unity with God and the free will of man. On the political end, Yazid made improvements to the irrigation system of the Damascus oasis and reformed the tax policies of his era.