Battle of Karbala

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The Battle of Karbala, which led to the martyrdom of Imam al-Hussain and his companions on Muharram 10th, 61 AH and the captivity of his family, can be considered the most important part of the Imam's life. According to some reports, the Imam was aware of his martyrdom before travelling to Iraq. The battle took place as a result of his rejection of paying allegiance to Yazid.

Death of Muawiya[edit | edit source]

Yazid wrote a letter to Walid b. Utba, the governor of Medina, and ordered him either to compel Hussain ibn Ali, Abd-Allah b. Omar, and Abd-Allah b. Zubayr to pledge their allegiance or send their heads to Damascus.

After the governor of Medina informed Imam Hussain of this demand, the Imam asked for a delay and overnight started with his family toward Mecca. He sought refuge in the sanctuary of God which in Islam is the official place of refuge and security. This event occurred toward the end of the month of Rajab and the beginning of Sha'ban of 60 AH.

Moving from Medina to Mecca[edit | edit source]

In Mecca[edit | edit source]

For nearly four months, Imam Hussain stayed in Mecca in refuge. This news spread throughout the Islamic world. On the one hand many people who were tired of the iniquities of Mu'awiya's rule and were even more dissatisfied when Yazid became caliph, corresponded with Imam Hussain and expressed their sympathy for him. On the other hand, a flood of letters began to flow, especially from Iraq and particularly the city of Kufa, inviting the Imam to go to Iraq and accept the leadership of the populace there with the aim of beginning an uprising to overcome injustice and iniquity.

Kufans informed Imam Hussain that they did not attend the Friday prayer with Mu’awiya’s governor Noʿman b. Bashir Ansari and would drive him out of the town as soon as Imam agreed to come to them. They sent him in short order seven messages with bags of letters of support by Kufan warriors and tribal leaders. The first two of them arrived in Mecca on 10 Ramazan 60/13 June 680. To evaluate the situation, imam sent his cousin Muslim b. Aqil to Kufa.

Muslim b. Aqil in Kufa[edit | edit source]

Muslim’s mission was to measure the extent of Kufan support for the Prophet’s grandson. He set off from Mecca on 15 Ramazan 60/19 June 680 in the company of a number of Kufans who had come to al-Hussain with messages of support. On 5 Shawwal 60/9 July 680 Muslim reached Kufa and stayed at the house of al-Mukhtar b. Abi Ubayd al-Thaqafi, later known as Dar Salim (or Salm or Muslim) b. al-Musayyab. Other accounts maintain that Muslim proceeded first to the house of Muslim b. Awsaja al-Asadi.

In his place of hiding, he received the oath of allegiance on behalf of al-Hussain; the number of men who gave the oath is reported between 12,000 and over 30,000. Muslim, encouraged by this response, sent a letter to al-Hussain urging him to come. When Yazid heard the news of people's allegiance to Muslim b. 'Aqil and the lenience of Nu'man b. Bashir (the then governor of Kufa) towards them, appointed Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad (who was the governor of Basra) as the governor of Kufa, and ordered him to have Muslim b. Aqil killed. Finally, Muslim was arrested by ibn Ziad’s force and executed in the day of ‘Arafa.

According to historical reports, before execution Muslim who was worried about Imam al-Hussain made a will to Umar b. Sa'd who was originally from Quraysh. The first will of Muslim b. 'Aqil was that 'Umar sends a person to Imam and stops him from coming to Kufa. In the station of Zubala, the message of Muslim b. Aqil upon his martyrdom reached Imam.

Departing Mecca[edit | edit source]

The stay of Imam Hussain in Mecca continued until the season for pilgrimage when Muslims from all over the world poured in groups into Mecca in order to perform the rites of the hajj. The Imam discovered that some of the followers of Yazid had entered Mecca as pilgrims (hajjis) with the mission to kill the Imam during the rites of hajj with the arms they carried under their special pilgrimage dress (ihram). The Imam shortened the pilgrimage rites and decided to leave Mecca. At this time, Hussain was unaware of the change of political circumstances in Kufa and decided to depart.

Amidst the vast crowd of people, Imam stood up in a short speech announced that he was setting out for Iraq. In this short speech he also declared that he would be martyred and asked Muslims to help him in attaining the goal he had in view and to offer their lives in the path of God. Some of the outstanding people of Mecca stood in the way of Imam Hussain and warned him of the danger of the move he was making. His uncle Abd-Allah b. Abbas in particular warned him not to trust the Kufans, who had betrayed his father and his brother. Imam Hussain regularly thanked his advisers for their concern but replied that he must leave the outcome to the decision of God. He added that he knew that wherever he turned or went he would be killed. He emphasized that he would leave Mecca in order to preserve the respect for the House of God and not allow this respect to be destroyed by having his blood spilled there.

Journey Towards Kufa[edit | edit source]

Before news of the adverse turn of events arrived in Mecca, Hussain set out for Kufa on 8 or 10 Dhu’l-Hejja 60/10, breaking off his hajj for the omra. He was accompanied by some fifty members of his family, close kin, and a few supporters. A few others joined him while he was on his way to Kufa. In every station, Imam tried to clarify the situation for people in order to either attract them or make them aware.

At al-Sifah station, Imam met Farazdaq who was among famous Arab poets. Farazdaq advised Imam not to go to Kufa and said, “Their hearts are with you; the swords are with Banu Umayyah, and Destiny descends from the heavens!” At Zarud station, Imam Hussain met Zuhayr b. Qayn and encouraged him to join his caravan to Kufa. The meeting changed the course of Zuhayr b. Qayn’s life and caused him to join the path of Truth.

Sending Emissary to Kufa[edit | edit source]

Before receiving the news of the martyrdom of Muslim ibn Aqil, Imam wrote a letter to inform Kufans of his journey and sent it by Abd Allah b. Yaqtar, Imam’s Rida'i brother (brother through milk-feeding),. When 'Abd Allah arrived in Qadisiyya, he was captivated by Hussain b. Numayr’s force and taken to ibn Ziyad. Before he was captivated, he had torn up the letter to prevent the leak of information to the enemy. Ibn Ziyad asked him to go up on the roof of the Dar al-Imara palace and curse at Imam al-Hussain and his father. He did go up on the roof of the palace, but instead of cursing, said, "O people, I am sent by al-Hussain. Help him against Ibn Marjana and Ibn Sumayya!" He also called Ibn Ziyad, "Vile, the son of vile". Ibn Ziyad ordered to throw him off the roof of the palace.

Other sources attribute this event to Qays ibn Musahir al-Saydawi and have included 'Abd Allah among the martyrs of Karbala.

Receiving News of Martyrdom of Muslim ibn Aqil[edit | edit source]

While on the way to Kufa and still a few days journey away from the city, Imam Hussain received news of the martyrdom of Muslim b. Aqil and Hani b. Orwa at the station called Zarud. But the Imam did not change his route, he continued ahead with his plan to go to Kufa.  At Zubala, Imam Hussain learned of the capture and execution of his messenger Abd Allah b. Yaqtar, whom he had sent to Kufa to announce his arrival. He informed his followers of the situation and asked them to leave. Most of the people who had joined him on the way left, while his companions from Mecca decided to stay with him.

He was also told that the way to Kufa had been closed by the army of Yazid under the command of Hasin Bin Namir who was stationed at Qadsiyya.

Encounter Hurr’s Army[edit | edit source]

Soon after leaving Zubala, Imam’s Caravan encountered with the soldiers of Yazid under the command of the Hurr Bin Yazid Riyahi in an area called Dhu Husam, and was forced to change his route as a result.

When Imam found the army of enemy thirsty, he ordered his companions to give water to Hurr’s army. Hurr’s mission was to stop Imam Hussain from going forward to Kufa or back to Medina or going anywhere

else. After Asr prayer, Hurr came to Imam Hussain and asked him to change his course and follow him to ibn Ziad’s court. In response, Imam informed Hurr of the letters of support, he had received from the Kufans, towards whom his party was heading.

Hurr further obeyed Ibn Ziad’s subsequent order to force Imam’s caravan to stop in a deserted area. Thus, Hussain was led to the plain of Karbala, where he was encircled by the troops dispatched by Ibn Ziad under the command of Omar b. Saʿd. On 2nd Muharram 61 AH, Imam Hussain landed on the shores of the Euphrates at Karbala.

Imam’s Route to Kufa[edit | edit source]

On the way from Mecca to Kufa, Imam Hussain’s caravan stayed at several station at which Imam met some people and tried to speak with them and clarify the situation. The stations were as follows:

  1. Tan'im (Seizing the caravan led by Buhayr b. Raysan al-Himyari),
  2. Sifah (meeting Farazdaq who advised Imam not to go to Kufa),
  3. Dhat 'Irq (meeting Bushr b. al-Ghalib, 'Awn b. 'Abd Allah b. Ja'far and some others),
  4. Al-Hajir (sending 'Abd Allah b. Yaqtar to Kufa to inform people of his arival),
  5. Khuzaymiya (where Zaynab heard a voice warning about moving the caravan towards death)
  6. Zarud (receiving the news of the martyrdom of Muslim b. Aqil and Hani. Zuhayr b. al-Qayn joined Imam’s caravan),
  7. Al-Tha'labiyya
  8. Shuquq (encountering a man who informed Imam that Kufans would refrain from helping him)
  9. Zubala (receiving the news of the martyrdom of Abdullah B. Yaqtur. Other sources attribute this event to martyrdom of Qays b. Musahhar and have included 'Abd Allah among the martyrs of Karbala.)
  10. Sharaf (where Imam Hussain’s companions filled their bags with water)
  11. Dhu Husam (Imam's encounter with the army of Hurr b. Yazid al-Riyahi. When Imam found the army of enemy thirsty, he ordered his companions to give water to Hurr’s army).
  12. Bayda (Imam's speech before al-Hurr’s army)
  13. 'Udhayb al-Hijanat (Imam’s caravan was forced to change his route away from Qadisiyya, where leading to Kufa, and move to 'Udhayb al-Hijanat)
  14. Qasr Bani Muqatil (meeting Ubayd Allah b. Hurr al-Ju'fi and inviting him to join his camp. But he refused to help Imam)
  15. Karbala, Al-Taff (Imam and his companions entered Karbala on Muharram 2, 61/680).

Tasua[edit | edit source]

Once again the Imam assembled those who were left and put them to a test. He addressed his companions and Hashimite relatives, saying again that the enemy was concerned only with his person. Each could benefit from the darkness of the night and escape the danger. But this time the faithful companions of the Imam answered each in his own way that they would not deviate for a moment from the path of truth of which the Imam was the leader and would never leave him alone. They said they would defend his Household to the last drop of their blood and as long as they could carry a sword.

On the ninth day of the month the last challenge to choose between "allegiance or war" was made by the enemy to the Imam. The Imam asked for a delay in order to worship overnight and became determined to enter battle on the next day.

Sources[edit | edit source]