In the Islamic tradition, trials or temptations that test the unity of the Muslim community. The term may be used to describe insurrection or civil warfare or, more specifically, to define a tribunal over doctrinal issues, broadly similar to the Christian Inquisition. There were four fitnahs in the early history of Islam. The first (656–661) followed the murder of the third caliph, 'Uthman ibn 'Affan. It brought up the question of 'Ali's right to rule and prompted a military conflict that eventually resulted in the schism between the Sunnite and the Shi'ite branches. The second coincided with the caliphate of Yazid I (680–683); it was a continuation of the struggle between claimants to the caliphate and led to the death of al-Husayn ibn 'Ali at the Battle of Karbala'—another formative event in the Sunnite-Shi'ite split. The third fitnah (744–750) resulted in the ascendancy of the 'Abbasid dynasty. The fourth evolved from the caliphate's support for the Mu'tazilite theological school and successfully challenged the caliph's authority to enforce doctrinal rigour.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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