Ali al-Akbar ibn al-Hussain
Ali al-Akbar ibn al-Hussain (d. 10 Muharram 61/10 October 680), commonly known as Ali al-Akbar, was Imam Hussain’s eldest son. He was killed at the age of 18, 19, or 25 at the battle of Karbala on the Day of Ashura. It is reported that nobody resembles the Prophet more than he (hence his surname Shabih-e Payqambar, the “Prophet’s Likeness”). His role in the Battel of Karbala is characterized by heroic acts and distinguished bravery.
Life and Martyrdom[edit | edit source]
His mother was Layla bint Morra b. ʿOrwa b. Masʿud Thaqafi. According to most historical sources, ‘Ali Akbar was the first of the Talebites to go out to the battle-field and be killed  His heroic deeds on the battlefield are told in semi-legendary accounts, and his fame as a valiant warrior of the Ahl-e Bayt might have preceded that of ʿAbbas b. ʿAli. Thus, according to Balʿami  ‘Ali Akbar charged the enemy ten times before his father’s eyes and killed two or three men each time. Exhausted and parched with thirst, he came back to Hussain, who put his own tongue in his mouth. When he returned to the fight, a man called Morra b. Saʿd struck him from behind; he fell and was immediately surrounded by foes who cut him to pieces. Seeing his son fall, Hussain, who had never been known to weep, burst into tears. According to most traditions, his murderer was called Morra B. Monqedh ʿAbdi. His head, along with those of the other martyrs, was brought to Ibn Ziad in Kufa and then to Yazid in Damascus, where, according to a tradition, it was buried in the Bab al-Saqir cemetery. Their bodies were buried by the Banu ʿAzera, a branch of the Banu Asad. His grave lies under the central dome of Imam Hussain’s mausoleum in Karbala. The two tombs are placed at right angles and are surrounded by railings. Bab ‘Ali Akbar is one of the seven gates of the shrine.
‘Ali al-Akbar in Later Sources[edit | edit source]
The Arabic “historical romance” of Ibn Taʾus Taʾusi (tr. F. Wüstenfeld, Der Tod des Husein ben ʿAli und die Rache, Göttingen, 1883), probably composed in the late ʿAbbasid period, contains further accounts of ‘Ali Akbar’s heroic deeds. Here, as in other such narratives, ‘Ali Akbar is one of the last to fall (just before ‘Ali Asqar and Hussain), killed treacherously after having dispatched eighty-one of his foes (Wüstenfeld, Der Tod, p. 90). The circumstances of his martyrdom are generally the same in subsequent popular literature. In the most comprehensive compilation of these early narratives, the Rawzat al-Shuhada , Waʿez Kashefi gives a detailed account of ‘Ali Akbar’s death, making him the 70th martyr at Karbala and the 17th among the Talebites. ‘Ali Akbar shows his eagerness to sacrifice his life; at first Hussain prevents him, but he finally yields and equips him for the fight. Weeping tears of blood, ‘Ali Akbar’s mother and sisters try vainly to hold back his horse. Hussain orders them to let his seventeen-year-old son meet his fate. ‘Ali Akbar heads toward the battlefield, his face shining like the sun and his hair as black as pure musk; nobody resembles the Prophet more than he. Upon seeing his face and hearing him sing his mofakhara (“boast”), none of the enemies dares to attack him; he throws himself upon them and slaughters many. Exhausted by thirst, he returns to Hussain, who places the Prophet’s ring, upon which is the miraculous seal of Solomon, in ‘Ali Akbar’s mouth. He returns to the fight and kills many enemies; ʿOmar b. Saʿd is able to send these against him only by promising great worldly rewards (e.g., Tareq b. Shayth is promised governorship of Raqqa and Mosul). ‘Ali defeats all his foes and even kills the valiant Mesraʿ b. Galeb, cleaving him in two with a single blow of his sword. After hearing from Hussain that his thirst will soon be quenched from the water of Kawthar in Paradise, ‘Ali Akbar goes forth for the third time and is killed by numerous foes. Hussain hears him cry out, rushes to the field, and brings him back to the camp. Kashefi’s account contains many features from the Iranian national epic, such as stereotyped battle scenes and the episode where ‘Ali Akbar’s horse guides Hussain to its dying master. Kashefi’s failure to mention ‘Ali Akbar’s mother Layla while describing Shahrbanu’s lamentation may have influenced the belief, sometimes encountered, that the latter was ‘Ali Akbar’s mother.
Commemoration and Shi’a Rituals[edit | edit source]
‘Ali Akbar’s memory is celebrated in Muharram ceremonies from the West Indies to Southeast Asia. Of all the young men of the Ahl-e Bayt, he is “the Persians’ most beloved, most exalted, most regretted; for he is Imam Hussain’s own son, he is the fatherland’s blood”. Many features of his story appear in taʿziya (passion play) rituals, such as the love and devotion shown ‘Ali Akbar by his sisters (Sakina/ Sokayna at Karbala, and Fatima Sogra, who was sick and remained in Medina) and his aunt Zaynab; separate platonic love stories have also developed. He is pictured as a brave and unfortunate youth martyred before he could marry; allusions to worldly and heavenly marriage abound. Chronology is reshuffled, and ‘Ali Akbar is martyred before Qasim, who competes with him in his eagerness to sacrifice his life for Hussain. In the dramatization of Qasim’s marriage and martyrdom, the dead bodies of ʿAbbas, ‘Ali Akbar, and Zaynab’s children appear on stage. Zaynab’s offering of her own children in sacrifice for ‘Ali Akbar was first dramatized as part of ‘Ali Akbar’s martyrdom. before becoming a separate play  ʿAbbas is shown testing and training ‘Ali Akbar before the battle. A parallel has been observed between Abraham’s sacrifice of his son Ismaʿil and Hussain’s sacrifice of ‘Ali Akbar. The actor playing ‘Ali Akbar had to be a young and handsome man with a slim waist, and melodious voice. In popular iconography, ‘Ali Akbar appears in a coat of mail (sometimes covered with a shroud) dying in Hussain’s lap, arrows stuck in his chest and his head wounded by a sword. Young Boys were often dedicated to ‘Ali Akbar as nadhr or ex-voto, and thus were made Muharram ceremony celebrants for ‘Ali Akbar. A tradition says that ‘Ali Akbar wore a scalp lock; young boys, especially in villages, used to wear scalp locks in his memory. Persons who do not expect to meet again may express the wish to meet on Judgment Day by quoting ‘Ali Akbar’s farewell words to the Ahl-e Bayt.
References[edit | edit source]
- Tabari, II, p. 387; Mofid, al-Ershad, pp. 222ff.; idem, al-Ekhtesas, Tehran, 1379/1959-60, p. 82; Tarikh-eQom, ed. S. J. Tehrani, Tehran, 1313 Sh./1934, pp. 195 ff; in this last work “‘Ali Akbar” refers to ‘Ali Zayn-al-’Abedinand “‘Ali Asqar” to ‘Ali Akbar
- Tabari, II, pp. 356ff.; Dinavari, al-Akhbar al-tewal, Cairo, 1330/1912, p. 254; Mofid, al-Ershad, Tehran, 1377/1957-58, pp. 222ff.
- p. 267; Chronique IV, pp. 42ff.
- H. ul-Ameene, Islamic Shi’ite Encyclopaedia IV, Beirut, 1973, p. 180; on the “Torbat-al-Shohada” in Bab al-Saghir, see J. Sourdel-Thomine, “Les anciens lieux de pèlerinage damascains d’après les sources arabes,” in Bulletin d’Etudes Orientales de l’Institut Français de Damas 14, 1952-54, p. 79, note 5
- Masʿudi, Moruj V, p. 147
- E. Aubin, La Perse d’aujourd’hui, Paris, 1908, p. 380
- H. ul-Ameene, Islamic Shiʿite Encyclopaedia, Beirut, 1973, IV, p. 207
- on 8th/14th century Turkish narratives, see I. Mélikoff, “Le Drame de Kerbéla dans la littérature épique turque,” REI, 1966, p. 142
- completed 908/1502-03; ed. M. Ramazani, Tehran, 1341 Sh./1962, pp. 336-42
- Rawza, p. 341
- according to Gobineau, not before Naṣer-al-din Shah’s reign; Les religions et les philosophies dans l’Asie Centrale, 10th ed., Paris, 1957, p. 347
- Gobineau, Religions, p. 347
- on Khotanese or Egyptian princesses in love with ‘Ali Akbar see Rossi and Bombaci, Elenco, indices, p. 355
- see I. N. Berezin, Puteshestvie po severnoĭ Persii, Kazan, 1852, p. 322
- ibid., pp. 316ff.; P. Chelkowski, Tarikh va janba-ye adabi-e taʿzia, thesis, Tehran University, 1347 Sh./1968, pp. 230-35
- Rossi and Bombaci, Elenco, indices, p. 356
- a scene apparently performed only in Caspian coastal areas; see Chelkowski, Tarikh, pp. 180-86; Rossi and Bombaci, Elenco, no. 716
- Lassy, Muharram Mysteries, pp. 79ff.; Chelkowski, Tarikh p. 211 In Jawhari’s Tufan al-bokaʾ, the story of Ismaʿil is related within that of ‘Ali Akbar. Tehran, n.d., pp. 249ff.
- ʿA. Mostawfi, Sharh-e zendegani-e man I, 2nd ed., Tehran, 1341 Sh./1962, p. 289
- B. A. Donaldson, The Wild Rue, London, 1938, p. 187
- ʿA. A. Dehkhoda, Amthal o hekam, Tehran , 1352 Sh./1973, II, p. 849
Bibliography[edit | edit source]
- See also Ḥabīb al-sīar (Tehran) II, pp. 52, 54ff., 61.
- Y. Lassy, The Muharram Mysteries among the Azerbeijan Turks of Caucasia, Helsingfors, 1916, pp. 39ff., 99ff., 106, 124.
- R. H. de Genneret, Le Martyre d’Ali Akbar. Drame Persan (ed. and tr. of drama no. 18 from Chodzko’s manuscript), Liège and Paris, 1947.
- E. Rossi and A. Bombaci, Elenco di drammi religiosi persiani (fondo mss. Vaticani Cerulli), Vatican City, 1961, indices (mostly p. 355).
- J. Calmard, Le Culte de l’Imām Ḥusayn, Etude sur la commémoration du drame de Karbaladans l’Iran pré-safavide, thesis, University of Paris III (Sorbonne), May, 1975, index and Tableau A, Tableau B.