Imam Hussain(ra) and the Tragedy of Karbala

30 Comments | January 2011

Translated from Urdu by Amer Safir

Hadhrat Imam Hussain(ra) was the blessed grandson of the Holy Prophet(saw). On 4th Hijri (four years after the Prophet(saw)’s migration from Makkah to Madinah) he was born to the daughter of the Holy Prophet(saw), Hadhrat Fatimah(ra), and her husband Hadhrat Ali(ra). The child was named Hussain(ra). ‘Hassan’ means beauty in Arabic, hence ‘Hussain’ means one part of beauty. The Prophet(saw) himself recited the Adhan (call to prayer) in his ear, as is the custom for newly born Muslim children, and also performed the Aqeeqah ritual (when the baby’s hair is shaved off). (Al-Nisai).

Amongst the male progeny of the Holy Prophet(saw) none lived to adulthood, hence he naturally loved his young grandchildren, Hussain(ra) and his brother Hassan(ra)1.

A servant of the Holy Prophet(saw) Hadhrat Anas(ra), said that out of everyone in his household, Hassan(ra) and Hussain(ra) were most loved by the Holy Prophet(saw). The Holy Prophet(saw) would often go to their house to meet them. He would enjoy watching them play and would lift them and hold them against his chest with affection. Sometimes, when the Holy Prophet(saw) was in prostration during prayers, his grandchildren would climb on his back and the Prophet(saw) would remain in prostration for some time. After completing the prayers, the Holy Prophet(saw) would lift them onto his lap.

Once, the Holy Prophet(saw) was delivering the Friday Sermon in the Mosque. When Hussain(ra) entered, the Holy Prophet(saw)’s eyes turned to him. He stood down from the Minbar from where he was delivering the sermon, lifted Hussain(ra) and placed him against his chest. The Holy Prophet(saw) would especially pray for his grandchildren: “O Allah, I love both of them, Thou, too, love them similarly.” (Bukhari, Kitabul Fadha’il)

The Holy Prophet(saw) would say: “Whoever loves them loves me (and whoever bears a grudge against them bears a grudge against me. Hussain is mine and I am Hussain’s. Whoever loves Hussain will be loved by Allah)”. (Musnad Ahmad bin Hanbal).

For seven years Hadhrat Hussain(ra) was blessed with the good fortune of being educated by the Holy Prophet(saw). Hadhrat Abu Bakr(ra) and Hadhrat Umar(ra) the First and Second Khalifas after the Holy Prophet(saw) respectively, also looked upon Hadhrat Hussain(ra) with respect and reverence because of their nearness to the Holy Prophet(saw). In the era of Hadhrat Uthman(ra) the Third Khalifa, Hadhrat Hussain(ra) had the honour of waging Jihad in Tabiristaan (or Tapuria). (Ibn Kathir, vol.3, p.45).

During the besiegement of Hadhrat Uthman(ra), Hadhrat Hussain(ra) and Hadhrat Hassan(ra) were ordered by Hadhrat Ali(ra) to guard Hadhrat Uthman(ra), and hence they kept the rebellious people at bay. (Tarikh Al-Khulafa, Jalaludin Suyuti).

After Hadhrat Ali(ra)’s martyrdom, Hussain(ra) took the pledge of allegiance with his brother, Hadhrat Hassan(ra), and was involved in the reconciliation with Amir Muawiyah. His knowledge was exemplary and his oratory outstanding. His nights would be spent in worship, and he would give alms abundantly. The Holy Prophet(saw) once stated that “To me, Hassan and Hussain are both the best fragrance of the world”. (Bukhari Fadha’il Sahaba)

According to Hadhrat Anas(ra), Hassan(ra) and Hussain(ra) bore the greatest resemblance to the Holy Prophet(saw). (Bukhari Kitabul Fadha’il).

The Holy Prophet(saw) stated that Hassan(ra) and Hussain(ra) “are the leaders of youth in paradise”. He said “whoever wages war against them wages war against me, and whoever reconciles with them reconciles with me.”

The martyrdom of Hadhrat Hussain(ra) was one of the most tragic incidents in Islamic history. No Muslim can read the accounts of the events that unfolded, without being extremely hurt and aggrieved.

The two main people, Yazid and Hadhrat Hussain(ra), both claimed to be Muslims, and both professed the Muslim creed. Yet one of them – Yazid, did not truly understand the meaning of Islam. He disregarded the Islamic faith and injunctions regarding honesty and justice, and hence became the oppressor. Hadhrat Hussain(ra), on the other hand, immersed himself in the true Islamic spirit, displaying bravery, tolerance and steadfastness, and was the oppressed. (Friday Sermon, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba), Khalifatul Masih V, 10 Dec 2010).

The Incident of Karbala

In 56 Hijri Amir Muawiyah (who claimed he was the Khalifa after Hadhrat Ali(ra)), appointed his son Yazid heir-apparent. A large section of the Muslims took the pledge of allegiance at the hand of Yazid to prevent divisions. However Hussain(ra), Abdullah bin Umr(ra), Abdullah bin Zubair(ra) and some others, felt that due to Yazid’s impiety, he was not worthy, nor possessed the right to the Khalifat. Amir Muawiyah retorted that after his appointment of Yazid as heir-apparent, it was not appropriate for anyone to reject or oppose this decision.

Shrine of Hussain, holy site of Shia Islam in the city of Karbala, Iraq

After the demise of Amir Muawiyah in 60 Hijri, Yazid ordered the Amir of Madinah to immediately take the oath of allegiance from these three i.e. Hussain(ra), Abdullah bin Umr(ra), Abdullah bin Zubair(ra), upon which, Hussain(ra) and Abdullah bin Zubair(ra) went to Makkah. Numerous letters were sent from Iraq stating a desire to take the pledge of allegiance at the hands of Hussain(ra). He sent Muslim bin Aqeel(ra) to Kufa to find out about the 18,000 apparently ready to take the pledge of allegiance. He intended to go to Kufa, but Abdullah bin Abaas(ra) and other elders opposed this decision. Hussain(ra) told them to perform Istikhara prayers and said: “Make your mind up according to the Divine Will”. Thus finally, they decided to go to Kufa.

Meanwhile, Yazid found out that the people of Kufa had taken the pledge of allegiance of Imam Hussain, through Muslim bin Aqeel(ra). Yazid sent the Amir of Basra, Ibn Ziyaad, to Kufa and the situation reached a stage where Muslim bin Aqeel was martyred.

Hussain(ra) had taken stock of the precarious situation in Kufa, and decided that everything was in the hands of God. He thought that whatever He Wills would occur. Indeed, every day He manifests Himself in a new splendour. “If the Divine Will is with our objective,” he thought, “then we will be grateful to God for this. But if the Divine will prevents our objective from being accomplished then that is not something erroneous, for a person who fears God and whose intention is pious.”

Hussain(ra) found out about Muslim bin Aqeel(ra)’s murder. Aqeel(ra)’s brother went to Kufa to exact revenge. During this time Hussain(ra) saw the Holy Prophet(saw) in a vision, who provided him with some instructions. He interpreted this dream to mean that whatever may happen to him now, there was no turning back.

He gave everyone in his group the choice to return. The general public dispersed and only the Ahle Ba’ait (family of the Holy Prophet(saw)) and a few Companions remained – there were in total approximately 72 people in Hussain(ra)’s camp. In the meantime, Yazid brought an army of 1000, and wanted to detain Hussain(ra)’s group and take them to Kufa.

Hussain(ra) stated plainly, “I was going to Kufa on the beckoning of the people of Kufa; if they have changed their minds then I shall return”.

He showed Hurban Qais the letter from Kufa. Hurbain replied; “We have not written this letter, and we have instructions from the Amir to send you to Kufa”.

Hussain(ra) responded, “Death would be better than this”.

The option of returning was no longer possible. The Divine Will had determined. Imam Hussain(ra) suddenly woke from his sleep. He said “InnaLillah” (surely to Allah we belong, and to Him we shall return) and then “Alhumdulillah” (all praise belongs to Allah), and said “in my dream a traveller stated that the nation is moving towards its death”.

His son Zain ul Abideen(ra) said, “what does it matter if death comes on the path to the truth?”.

On the 3rd day of the month of Muharram, Ibn Sa’ad arrived with an army of 4000. He read out the directive of Ibn Ziyaad, “Hussain should come to Kufa and pledge allegiance to Yazid”. (Ibn Kathir)

On the 7th of Muharram they turned off the water source to Hussain(ra) and his family. His family started becoming extremely distressed due to this. In fact, one person from Yazid’s camp could not tolerate this act of cruelty and defected to Imam Hussain(ra)’s group.

The 10th of Muharram was the last night of the esteemed delegation of Imam Hussain(ra). Hussain(ra) and his people prepared for death. They sharpened their weapons and spent the night in deep worship. Upon seeing this his sister, Zainab, said to Hussain(ra):

“If only death would cause my end today! After my mother Fatima, father Ali and brother Hassan (passed away), you alone were our support”.

Hussain replied “Zainab do not hand over your honour to Satan”.

She said, “Brother, for you I can sacrifice my life”.

Tears started flowing from Hussain(ra)’s eyes. Zainab(ra) also started crying. Hussain(ra) told her to be patient and said, “One day we all have to return to our Lord. Promise by God that after my death you will not act contrary to the example of the Holy Prophet(saw). Do not defame anyone, saying anything untowardly” (Tarikh Ibn Kathir, p.514).

Finally, on the morning of Ashura (the 10th of Muharram), judgment day arrived. There were only 72 people with Hussain against 4000 soldiers. The flag of the Hussain(ra) camp was in the hands of Abbas(ra).

Before entering the field of battle Hussain(ra) placed the Qur’an in front of himself, raised his hands and prayed: “Lord, You are the One I rely on in every affliction, and You are the reliever of every difficulty; You have always been my protector and I have always submitted before You alone. You alone are the Master of all goodness.”

Once again he demanded safe passage to a peaceful place from the enemy, however they insisted he pledge allegiance to Yazid first.

Hussain(ra) performed the Zuhr (noon) prayers in this atmosphere of danger. Heavy fighting then ensued. The famous warrior Hanafi(ra) stood in front of Hussain(ra) and gave his life protecting him. After this Zahir bin Qais(ra) was martyred. One by one the others came forward until finally all of Hussain’s companions were killed fighting, desperately trying to defend him.

They exclaimed, “We were unable to help you!”.

“May Allah grant you the reward due for the righteous”, was Imam Hussain(ra)’s reply.

After the martyrdom of all these loyal people it was now the turn of the Ahle Ba’ait (family of the Holy Prophet(saw)). The young Ali Akbar(ra) stepped onto the field of battle and said; “I am the son of Hussain, son of Ali. I swear by God, I am the Companion of the Holy Prophet”. He sacrificed his life fighting with great bravery, in battle. His paternal Aunt, Zainab(ra), was unable to hold herself back. Thus, Hussain(ra) sent her back to the camp. Ali(ra)’s body was placed near one of the tents.

Subsequently Abdullah(ra) son of Muslim bin Aqeel(ra) and grandson of Jaafar Tayyar(ra), Addi(ra), rushed into battle and were killed. Abdul Rahman(ra) son of Aqeel(ra), and Qasim(ra) son of Hassan(ra), next attained martyrdom.

Witnessing this on the beckoning of Abbas(ra), Abdullah(ra), Jaafar(ra) and Uthman(ra) – three brothers, formed a wall-like barrier in front of Imam Hussain(ra). They too were murdered. Abbas(ra) was the last remaining person with Imam Hussain(ra). He also was killed and thus attained martyrdom.

20 members of the family of the Holy Prophet(saw) had been killed in the field of Karbala.

Imam Hussain(ra) was now left alone. He went towards the river to quench his thirst, when an arrow fired at him hit him on his face, causing blood to spurt out like a fountain. Yet, he fought valiantly until his last breath. He said to the enemy:

“I swear by God, anyone you kill after today will not incur God’s fury to a greater extent than (anyone you kill) today”

After this the people of Kufa started looting the Muslim camp. They even began taking off the headscarves from the women.

Horse riders instructed by Umar bin Sa’ad, rode forth and trampled upon the dead body of Imam Hussain(ra).

Umar bin Sa’ad then exclaimed; “Who amongst the horse riders will trample over Hussain(ra)?” 10 horse riders answered this call and trampled over Hadhrat Imam Hussain’s body, to the extent that his chest and back were completely disfigured.

Imam Hussain(ra) had been hit 45 times by arrows, 33 times by spears and over 40 times by sword blows. In an act of excessive cruelty, Hadhrat Hussain’s head was severed and sent to Kufa, where the governor had it displayed for public view.

In short this was a tragic day in Islamic history, when the blood of the noble people of God was shed in this merciless slaughter. However, Imam Hussain(ra) had given his life to uphold the truth, of this there can be no doubt.

Many a people wrote eulogies after the barbaric murder of Imam Hussain(ra), such as Sakeena his daughter, who wrote:

O eye, thou shall not shed lifelong tears on thy children, mother, father and friends,

But on the bloodshed of the grandchild of the Messenger

Imam Hussain(ra)’s stand against Yazid

Unfortunately, a minority of Muslims consider Hadhrat Hussain(ra)’s rejection of Yazid as rebellion, whereas this is contrary to the reality. Hadhrat Imam Hussain(ra)’s stand against Yazid was not for the reason that Yazid had claimed he was a rightly guided Khalifa. The Khilafat Rashida (rightly guided succession of Khilafat after the Holy Prophet(saw)), had come to an end thirty years after the demise of the Holy Prophet(saw), as the Prophet had prophesied himself. Imam Hussain(ra)’s resistance was in order to remove a tyrannical despot, a self-appointed Khalifa, and thus safeguard and help the oppressed.

Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as), the Promised Messiah and Imam Mahdi, has stated in his writings that Yazid was an impure worm of the earth, blinded by the love of the world. Whilst Hussain(ra) was truthful and provided a pure model for future Muslims to follow. He writes that it is extremely wrong to discredit Hadhrat Hussain(ra), and one who does so wastes his faith.

Once in the house of the Promised Messiah(as), the incident of Hadhrat Hussain(ra)’s martyrdom was being related. Upon hearing this the Promised Messiah(as) started crying profusely, and stated with immense pain: “Yazid performed this cruel act against the grandson of the Holy Prophet(saw), but God also rapidly brought His wrath down upon the oppressors.” (Seerat Tayyiba, Hadhrat Mirza Bashir Ahmad(ra), p.36)

 

Remembering Karbala

The martyrdom ultimately led to the Shia-Sunni split, with the Shites holding that Imanat (leadership) of the Muslim followers belonged to Hadhrat Ali(ra), whereas the Sunnis adhere to the Traditions of the Holy Prophet(saw). Many other differences later emerged in each group.

Each year in the first ten days of Muharram, some Muslims around the world commemorate the martyrdoms of Hadhrat Imam Hussain(ra), his family and companions, and mourn that dreadful event that took place in the fields of Karbala over 1000 years ago. Some take to the streets and wail excessively, beating their chests with their hands and other weapons. Others take part in processions, specially organised functions and other events and gatherings in mosques and halls.

The best way of remembering Karbala as expounded by the Head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, Hadhrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad(aba), Khalifatul Masih V, in his Friday Sermon of 10th December 2010, is to send Darud, invoking salutations and blessings upon the Holy Prophet(saw) and his family, and to bring about pure reformation within ourselves. He said that all Muslims feel sorrow and grief regarding the incident of Karbala. Whilst certain Muslim groups adopt customs which appear quite extreme in our view, that is their own way of recalling the incidents of Muharram. Darud, however, has been expounded by the Holy Qur’an, the Traditions of the Holy Prophet(saw) have drawn attention to it, as has the Promised Messiah, Hadhrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad(as), Founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community. It is a most excellent way of professing love for the Holy Prophet(saw) and his family. Just as Hadhrat Hussain(ra) and those with him, stood firmly in the face of certain death, Muslims should similarly display this forbearance and steadfastness in front of people with Yazid-like natures and be resolute. Hussain(ra) expressed the truth despite facing a huge army; hence Muslims should present the truth without regard for the consequences for their own persons.

Endnotes

1 Hadhrat Imam Hassan(ra) was the elder brother of Hadhrat Imam Hussain(ra). The Holy Prophet(saw) held them in equally high regard and in the Traditions the Prophet(saw) normally referred to them together (Ed).

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  1. This was so terrific for me when I was reading this. This is described properly and wonderfully.

  2. Well this cleared my concept of the Shia-Sunni problem. May Allah bless my Prophet(saw) and his family’s soul. Ameen.

  3. MashAllah very brief but a complete article. I was trying to find an authentic source to read the story of Karbala. JazakAllah for the article.

  4. It’s really amazing and very important for the young generation. JazakAllah for the article.

  5. MashaAllah such a nice and good article.

  6. MashaAllah, a very informative and heart touching article.

  7. MashaAllah, a great effort put into this, especially in order to educate all the youths of what the real tragedy of Karbala was, and it’s impact within Islamic history.

  8. May God bring mercy on this world and I hope all Muslims and Non Muslims find the light and cherish it. Jazakumullah Khayrun.

  9. The narrator and writer have put a great effort to prepare the tragedy of Karbala and involvement of munafiqeen and it’s impact within Islamic history.

    I hope my Sunni brothers read this article and clear their opinion about events leading to the tragedy of Karbala and clear misconceptions propagated by the Wahabi/Salafi Movement about the Holy Prophet(saw)’s family.

    Thank You

  10. Excellent description of such a tragic event in such a short space. Great effort.

  11. MashaAllah the article is beautiful. Tears were continuously flowing down from my eyes. May Allah bless all the Ummah with his blessings. Ameen.

  12. Very informative and heart touching which eliminates the barrier between Shia and Sunni brothers.

  13. MashaAllah. Very well written, I was not too clear about the month of Muharram, but after reading this, I understand Muharram much better. JazakAllah.
    Zakia

  14. This article made me cry. It was very touching truth about what happened in Karbala. Every Muslim who reads this article will feel the pain of the brave Hussain(ra). May Allah(swt) bless our Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw) and his family. Ameen

  15. Really touching. Tears flow from my eyes. I cannot resist them. May Allah bless our Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw) and his family. Ameen

  16. It’s the first time I really understand what really happened in the Karbala war and the concepts of the Shia and Sunni conflict.
    May Allah bless our Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw) and his family. Ameen
    May Allah give us all the strength to stand up for the right and just.

  17. Absolutely a very impressive article.

  18. MashaAllah, very thought provoking.

  19. It is a very informative and heart touching article. After reading this article, I have a clear concept about the month of Muharram.

  20. It’s a heart touching article – really made me cry.

  21. It is very informative and presents the full story in a condensed form.

  22. MashaAllah, this article really touched my heart.
    May Allah bless our Holy Prophet Muhammad(saw)and his family. Ameen

  23. Thank you very much for this article .

  24. This article is really very informative and very nice. May Allah bless you, thanks.

  25. This article was very informative, brought tears in my eyes. MashaAllah. Good work

  26. Great article, I broke out into tears; I can’t stop crying.

  27. Masha allah, this article has given clear information regarding karbala I read it more than 5 times because when I am reading it i felt as if this was happening infront of me . If the writer will keep paintings of karbala battle it can give more impact to the readers

  28. MASHAALLAH I WAS VERY GLAD FOR THIS TRUE ARTICLE.MAY ALLAH BLESS YOU.

  29. people who dont understand the tragic story of karbala should come here .im a shia myself and i dont get why the sunni-shia spilt occured. This mae me understand. no matter how many times i research about karbala i cry. This article has clear infomation on everything

  30. When I started to read this article.and I started cry.bcoz the story made me cry.great sacrifice in Karbala.he is legend.and his family.masha allah

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