In the month of Muharram 61 Hijri (approx. 20 October 680 AD), an event took place in Iraq at a place known as Karbala on the bank of the Euphrates river, where a large army which had been mobilized by the Umayyad regime besieged a group of persons numbering 72 and put them under pressure to pay allegiance to the dictator of the time (Yazid bin Moawiya). The small group resisted and a severe battle took place in which they were all martyred.
It appeared at that time that like hundreds of similar events, this battle would be recorded in history and forgotten in time. However, the events that occurred on the 10th day of Muharram in Karbala were to become a beacon and an inspiration for future generations.
Hussein (A) said: “I am not rising (against Yazid) as an insolent or an arrogant person, or a mischief-monger or tyrant. I have risen (against Yazid) as I seek to reform the Ummah of my grandfather. I wish to bid the good and forbid the evil.”
It was in the month of Rajab 60 Hijri that the then king Moawiya died and his son Yazid succeeded his father on the throne of the Arab Empire with Damascus as its capital. Moawiya in his crafty cleverness had told Yazid that “whatever you do when you become ruler after my death, do not ask Hussein Ibn Ali for the oath of allegiance. Leave him where he is and you will have no problems.”
But the very first thing the arrogant Yazid did was to write a letter to his Governor in Madinah informing him of his succession to the throne of his father and ordering him to take the Oath of Allegiance from Hussein bin Ali (AS) or to cut his (Imam) head off. Yazid realized that although he had full temporal power and is the virtual ruler of the Arab Empire, but he has no spiritual strength unless the grandson of the Prophet accepts him as such.
Yazid was a pleasure-seeking person, given to wine drinking and playing with pets. It is no wonder that Hussein’s response to Yazid’s governor, when asked to pay allegiance to Yazid was:
“We are the household of the prophethood, the source of messengership, the descending-place of the angels, through us Allah had began (showering His favors) and with us He has perfected (His favors), whereas Yazid is a sinful person, a drunkard, the killer of innocent people and one who openly indulges in sinful acts. A person like me can never pledge allegiance to a person like him …”
Imam Hussein’s convoy arrives at Karbala
Such kind of oath was entirely out of question for Imam Hussein (AS) to accept, and the only alternative course open to him was to oppose Yazid to save and protect the values of Islam from further degradation. Thus, he decided to oppose Yazid’s might with his nobility of character, confront power and defy oppression with suffering and martyrdom. The momentous journey of Imam Hussein (AS) began from Mecca towards Kufa, in Iraq, but eventually ended at Karbala.
Imam decided to take the Iraqi city of Kufa as his destination point, after he received hundreds of letters from kufans stating they were keen for his leadership. However, Imam met on his way the messengers he sent to Kufa who told him that “Kufans could not be trusted,” and “Kufans’ hearts are with you but their swords are against you.” But Imam continued with his fateful journey after he was denied by Yazid’s army to turn back and he was forced to bypass Kufa and turn towards north. On 2nd of Muharram, his party arrived at a place called Karbala.
“Father, when we are on the Right Path, we have no worries whether death takes us or we fall upon death”.
Two days later on the 4th of Muharram, another contingent of 4000 men arrived at the place from Kufa. The next day Shimr arrived with another 10,000 men to fight an army of about 40 peaceful people, among them were men of over 80-year old and children of 13 and 11 and even a 6 month old baby, the youngest son of the Imam who was only a month old when Imam left Medina in the Month of Rajab 5 months ago.
“If we were killed 70 times and then were made alive again, we would still prefer to achieve martyrdom with you rather than live with the oppressive rulers like Yazid.”
On the 7th of Muharram, All water supplies were stopped for the Imam’s party. And on the afternoon of the 9th, Yazid’s army moved forward in a formation of attack after orders came from Kufa to commence fighting and finish off with the family of the Prophet. Imam asked them to give them a stay of one night for they all wished to spend their last night in meditation and prayers to God.
The night was dark and horrible, flickering lights from the Camp of the Imam was showing few people busy in prayers. The sound of their prayers in unison was coming out of the camp as if Honey bees were busy to build their nest; whereas on the enemy side music and dancing had gone on all night. About 32 people slipped away from Yazid’s camp towards the Imam’s camp during that time when they realized in awe who was on the path of God and who was not.
Imam Hussein at the battle
Morning appeared, but Imam did not give orders to commence fighting until arrows came from the enemy camp. Then one by one each companion of the Imam went and martyred.
Battle was raging, arrows were coming towards the Imam’s camp, The Last of the companions of the Imam died and only the relatives remained. First to go was Imam’s son Ali al-Akbar who fought bravely but thirst for three days was the most important factor in the fall of those martyrs. Then Imam’s nephew Qasim went and was martyred. Then four of his brothers, Osman, Jafar, Abullah and Abbas were also martyred.
Afterwards Imam himself went for battle. The enemy was thirsty for his blood, they were blind in their eagerness to kill the last of the family of the Prophet. They fell upon his injured and tired body like blood hounds and soon the Imam was also martyred. The battle ended in one day.
That day is well-known for the martyrdom of Hussein bin Ali, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad (S) and the third Imam of the Prophet’s Household, along with members of his family and close friends at the Battle of Karbala in the year 61 Hijri.
Master of Martyrs
Imam Hussein (A) is the “Master of Martyrs.” He was not just the victim of an ambitious ruler, but Karbala represented a conscious confrontation and a courageous resistance for a sacred cause. The whole nation had failed to stand up to Yazid, but Imam Hussein (A) took upon himself the responsibility of the whole nation.
It is for this reason that the sacrifice of Hussein (A) is commemorated annually throughout the Muslim world. Our sorrow never abates as we relive the tragedy. The commemoration of Ashura on the 10th of Muharram every year serves to remind us of the sacrifices of the family of the Prophet (S). It also makes us aware of the people, then and now, who tried to destroy Islam – as well as those who watched, listened and did nothing.
From Imam Hussein’s Ashoura’, we learn the lessons of dignity, proud, victory … and our everlasting slogan: “Disgrace! Never Ever.”