Hussain ibn Ali

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Hussain ibn Ali
Imam Hussain shrine.jpg
Native name
ٱلْحُسَیْن ابْن عَلِی ابْن أَبِی طَالِب‎
Born3 Sha'aban AH 4 (10 January 626)
Medinah, Hijaz
Died10 Muharram AH 61- aged 55 (10 October 680)
Karbala, Umayyad section of Mesopotamia
Resting placeKarbala Governorate, Iraq
Known forBeing a grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad, The Battle of Karbala, The third Imam of Shi'a
Spouse(s)Shahrbanu, Umme Rabab, Umme Laylā
ChildrenAlī Zayn al-'Ābidīn, Sakīnah (Mother: Shahrbanu), Alī al-Akbar, Fāṭimah aṣ-Ṣughrá (Mother: Laylā), Sukaynah, Alī al-Aṣghar(Mother: Rubāb)
Relatives (maternal grandfather), Hasan ibn Ali (brother), Zaynab bint Ali (sister) Muhsin ibn Ali (brother), Umm Kulthum bint Ali (sister), Abbas ibn Ali (brother)

Hussain ibn Ali was Muhammad's grandson and son of Fatima, the Prophet's daughter. His father was Ali ibn Abi Talib, Muhammad's cousin and devoted follower, who became the fourth Muslim caliph and the first imam of the Shi'i branch of Islam. The Shi'i revere Hussain as their third imam and as a martyr.

After Ali's assassination in 661, Hussain's older brother, Hasan, became caliph and second imam. Soon Hasan was forced to abdicate, however, in favor of Mu'awiya, a powerful clan leader and political rival who established the Umayyad caliphate. While Hussain reluctantly recognized Mu'awiya's rule, he refused to pledge allegiance to him. Hussain believed that, as direct descendants of Muhammad, Ali's sons were the rightful heirs to the caliphate. When Mu'awiya died in 680, the caliphate was passed to Yazid, Mu'awiya's son and chosen successor. Hussain refused to recognize the legitimacy of Yazid's rule and again withheld his allegiance to the Umayyads. Yazid, however, threatened to kill anyone not loyal to him, prompting Hussain to flee to Mecca seeking sanctuary.

Shi'i Muslims in Kufa, a city in Iraq, asked Hussain to lead them in a revolt against Yazid and to claim his rightful position as caliph. Hussain's cousin, Muslim ibn Aqil, verified that he had strong support in Iraq. Hussain then set out for Kufa with family members and followers. The governor of Iraq, a supporter of Yazid, sent 4,000 men to intercept the caravan. At Karbala, this force trapped Hussain's small band, which numbered less than 100. He refused to surrender, however, and led his men out into battle, where they were massacred. The Iraqi governor displayed the heads of Hussain and his followers in Kufa as a warning to other Umayyad enemies.

Hussain's martyrdom is considered a defining event in Shi'i Islam. Few personalities in Muslim history have had as enduring an influence on Islamic thought and piety as Hussain. His death provided his followers with a new passion. Shi'i Islam gained in strength, ensuring the continuance of Hussain's legacy. Shi'i Muslims still consider a pilgrimage to his tomb in Karbala second in importance only to the hajj. Modern Muslim political groups draw inspiration from Hussain as a symbol of resistance against tyranny.

After the Martyrdom of Hasan b. Ali[edit | edit source]

The death of Hasan in 50/670, apparently by poisoning, strained the relationship with Mu’awiya further. Hasan refused to name his suspect, probably Mu’awiya, to his brother since he did not wish to obligate him to retaliate. He asked to be buried with his grandfather Muhammad. If this demand were to provoke a danger of blood-shed, however, he wished to be buried next to his mother Fatima. When Marwan b. Hakam opposed Hasan’s burial near Muhammad on the grounds that ‘Othman had not been buried there, Hussain appealed to the helf al-fozul, a solidarity pact of several clans of Qoraysh, to back the right of the Prophet’s family against the Banu Umayya. His brother Muhammad b. Hanafiya and others, however, prevailed upon him to heed Hasan’s wish to avoid bloodshed and to bury him next to his mother. At the same time the Kufan Shiʿites shifted their allegiance to him. Their leaders met with the sons of Jaʿda b. Hobayra b. Abi’l-Wahb Maḵzumi, grandsons of ʿAli’s sister Omm Haneʾ, in the house of Solayman b. Sorad Khozaʿi and wrote Hussain a letter of condolence on the death of his brother in which they assured him of their loyalty. The Banu Jaʿda informed him of the high esteem of the Kufans for him, their longing that he would join them, their loathing of Mu’awiya, and their dissociation from him. Hussain wrote them that he was still bound to keep the peace concluded by Hasan as long as Mu’awiya was alive and asked them to conceal their feelings. If he were still alive at Mu’awiya’s death he would inform them of his views.

His supporters from Iraq, however, kept visiting him in Medina in large numbers, and ʿAmr, the son of the caliph ‘Othman, warned the governor Marwan. The latter informed Mu’awiya, who instructed him to leave Hussain alone as long as he would not display any hostility to him but also to withhold any sign of friendship from him. Marwan wrote Hussain a menacing letter, warning him against sowing renewed discord in the community. Hussain answered him, enumerating Mu’awiya’s offences, such as his recognition of Ziad as his brother in violation of Islamic law and his execution of Hojr b. Adi, and rejected his threats. Mu’awiya complained to his entourage about Hussain, but refrained from further threats and continued to send his regular subsidy and gifts.[1] Jointly with the sons of several other prominent Companions of Muhammad, Hussain resisted Mu’awiya’s demands that they pledge allegiance to his son Yazid, whom he had appointed as his successor in breach of both his treaty with Hasan and ʿOmar’s principle of election by the consultation (Shura).

After the Death of Mu’awiya[edit | edit source]

After Mu’awiya’s death on 15 Rajab 60/22 April 680, Yazid immediately instructed the governor of Medina, Otba b. Abi Sofyan, to compel Hussain, Abd-Allah b. Omar, and Abd-Allah b. Zobayr to pledge their allegiance. Abd Allah b. Zobayr and Hussain left separately for Mecca to seek asylum. The account of Waqedi [2] that the two left together is unreliable. Hussain was accompanied by his household, his sons, brothers, and the sons of Hasan. Muhammad b. Hanafiya did not join him and urged him not to move to Iraq before receiving the oath of allegiance there. Hussain should rather stay in Mecca or hide in the desert and mountains until the sentiments of the people became clear. Hussain traveled the main road to Mecca, refusing to avoid being pursued by taking a side road. Otba b. Abi Sofyan, in spite of Marwan’s prodding, did not wish to use violence against the grandson of the Prophet, and Yazid replaced him for his inaction. In Mecca Hussain stayed in the house of Abbas b. Abd-al-Mottaleb [3] and remained there for four months.

Oath of Allegiance to Hussain[edit | edit source]

In Kufa the leaders of the Shiʿa, on learning of Muawiya’s death, assembled again in the house of Solayman b. Sorad. They wrote to Hussain praising God for having destroyed the obstinate tyrant Mu’awiya, who had seized the rule of the Muslim community without its consent, appropriated its fayʾ (immovable properties acquired by conquest) and made it pass into the hands of the wealthy and powerful, who had killed their best men and retained the most evil among them. They urged Hussain to join them, since they had no imam. They informed him 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 Hussain 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 Ramadan 60/13 June 680. Hussain wrote the Kufans that he understood from their letters that they had no imam and they wished him to come to unite them by right guidance. He informed them that he was sending his cousin Muslim ibn Aqil b. Abi Taleb to report to him on the situation. If he found them united as their letters indicated he would speedily join them, for it was the duty of the imam to act in accordance with the Koran, to uphold justice, to proclaim the truth, and to dedicate himself to the cause of God.

Hussain was also visited by a Shiʿite supporter with two of his sons from Basra, where Shiʿite sentiment was otherwise limited. He then sent identical letters to the chiefs of the five divisions into which the Basran tribes were divided for administrative purposes. He wrote them that God had preferred the Prophet Muhammad above all His creatures and that his family were his legatees (awsiaʾ) and heirs of his position. Their people (Qoraysh) had illegitimately claimed the right which belonged exclusively to the Prophet’s family. The family had consented to their action for the sake of the unity of the community. Those who had seized the right of the Prophet’s family had set many things straight and had sought the truth. He, Hussain, prayed to God for mercy on them and on the Prophet’s family. He was now summoning them to the Book of God and the tradition (sunna) of His Prophet. The tradition had indeed been destroyed while innovation had been spread. Hussain promised to guide them on the path of righteousness if they would obey and follow him. The contents of the letter closely reflected the guideline set by Ali, who had strongly upheld the sole right of the family of the Prophet to leadership of the Muslim community but had also praised the conduct of the first caliphs Abu Bakr and Omar. While most of the recipients of the letter kept it secret, one of them suspected that it was a ploy of the governor Obayd-Allah Ibn Ziad to test their loyalty and turned it over to him. Obayd-Allah seized and beheaded Hussain’s messenger and addressed a stern warning to the people of Basra.[4]

Muslim b. ‘Aqil’s Martyrdom[edit | edit source]

The mission of Muslim b. Aqil was initially successful. The Kufan Shiʿites visited him freely, and 18,000 men are said to have enlisted with him in support of Hussain. He wrote to Hussain, encouraging him to come swiftly to Kufa. The situation changed radically when Yazid replaced Noʿman b. Bashir by Obayd-Allah b. Ziad, ordering the latter to deal severely with Muslim b. Aqil. Obayd-Allah succeeded in intimidating the tribal chiefs. A revolt collapsed when the rebels failed to capture the governor’s palace. Muslim b. Aqil was found and delivered to Obayd-Allah, who had him beheaded on the top of the palace and his body thrown down to the crowd. Haniʾ b. Urwa, chief of the tribe of Morad, was also crucified for having sheltered him. Yazid wrote to Obayd-Allah, commending him highly for his decisive action and ordering him to set up watches for Hussain and his supporters and to arrest them but to kill only those who would fight him.

Hussain’s Departure to 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 or 12 September 680, breaking off his hajj for the omra (the lesser pilgrimage). He was accompanied by some fifty members of his family, close kin, and a few supporters. He had been advised by Abd-Allah b. Omar and other prominent men of Qoraysh against his move. According to most accounts, Abd-Allah b. Zobayr, seeing him as a rival in his own bid for popular support, urged him to join his partisans in Kufa [5], but this is contradicted by other reports, according to which he offered to support him if he would rise in Mecca.[6] His uncle Abd-Allah b. Abbas in particular warned him not to trust the Kufans, who had betrayed his father and his brother and pleaded with him not to take his women and children along if he insisted on accepting their invitation. Hussain regularly thanked his advisers for their concern but replied that he must leave the outcome to the decision of God. After Hussain’s departure, his cousin Abd-Allah b. Jaʿfar sent him a letter with his sons ʿAwn and Muhammad, in which he implored him once more not to proceed. He further induced the governor of Mecca, Amr b. Saʿid Ashdaq, to write a guarantee of safety and protection for him if he would return to Mecca. The governor sent his brother Yahya b. Saʿid with a group of men and Abd-Allah b. Jaʿfar to persuade Hussain, but he told them that he had seen a vision of the Prophet, who had ordered him to proceed, whatever the outcome. As he continued on his way, there was a minor scuffle between his supporters and the messengers of the governor, who then returned to Mecca. The two sons of Abd-Allah b. Jaʿfar accompanied Hussain and were killed with him.

Obayd-Allah b. Ziad sent his police chief Hussain b. Tamim to Qadisiyya with the order to block the roads from Hejaz to Iraq. Hussain learned of this from some bedouins he met, who stated that they were cut off from Kufa, but he continued on his way. In Thaʿlabiyya he first received news of the abortive Kufan rising and the execution of Muslim b. Aqil and Haneʾ b. Orwa. The reliability of reports that he considered turning back at this stage and changed his mind only because of the resolve of Muslim’s brothers to seek revenge or death is to be doubted. In Zubala he was informed that a messenger he had sent to Kufa to announce his imminent arrival had been intercepted and killed by Obayd-Allah b. Ziad by having him thrown from the roof of his palace. In a written statement he broke the news to his supporters, acknowledging that the Kufan Shiʿites had deserted him, and encouraged anyone who so wished, to leave freely without guilt. Most of those who had joined him at various stages on the way from Mecca now left him.

Timeline of the Battle of Karbala
Rajab 15 Death of Mu'awiya b. Abi Sufyan
Rajab 28 Departure of Hussain ibn Ali from Medina.
Sha'ban 3 Arrival of Imam al-Husayn (a) to Mecca.
Ramadan 10 Arrival of Letters of the Kufians to Imam al-Husayn (a)
Ramadan 12 Arrival of 150 letters from Kufa
Ramadan 14 Arrival of the letter from leaders of Kufa
Ramadan 15 Departure of Muslim b. 'Aqil from Mecca toward Kufa.
Shawwal 5 Arrival of Muslim b. 'Aqil to Kufa.
Dhu l-Hijja 8 Departure of Imam al-Husayn (a) form Mecca
Dhu l-Hijja 8 Uprising of Muslim b. 'Aqil in Kufa
Dhu l-Hijja 9 Martyrdom of Muslim b. 'Aqil
Muharram 1 Asking for help of Ubayd Allah b. al-Hurr al-Juʿfi and 'Amr b. Qays in Banu Maqatil
Muharram 2 Arrival of Imam (a) to Karbala
Muharram 3 Arrival of Omar Ibn Sa’d with 4,000 people to Karbala
Muharram 6 Habib b. Muzahir's asking for help of Banu Asad
Muharram 7 Banding of water by 'Umar b. Sa'd
Muharram 7 Muslim b. 'Awsaja al-Asadi joined Imam (a)
Muharram 9 Arrival of Shimr b. Dhi l-Jawshan to Karbala
Muharram 9 Shimr's Safe conduct for Umm al-Banin's children
Muharram 9 Announcing of the Battle by 'Umar b. Sa'd and Imam's (a) asking for a delay
Muharram 10 Events of Ashura
Muharram 11 Moving the captives towards Kufa
Muharram 11 Burial of martyrs by Banu Asad
Muharram 12 Burial of a few member of martyrs
Muharram 13 Arrival of captives to Kufa
Muharram 19 Moving the captives from Kufa towards Syria
Safar 1 Arrival of the captives to Syria
Safar 20 Arba'in
Safar 20 Return of Ahl al-Bayt (a) to Karbala
Safar 20 Moving from Karbala toward Medina (in some accounts)

The Battle of Karbala[edit | edit source]

Soon after leaving Sharaf his supporters sighted a troop of 1,000 Kufan mounted men under the command of Hurr b. Yazid Riahi Tamimi. He turned off the road towards the left and alighted at Dhu Husam near Karbala, where he was joined by the Kufan troop. Hussain ordered the call to prayer to be made and addressed the Kufans, reminding them that they had invited him to come because they were without an imam. He told them that he intended to proceed to Kufa with their support, but if they were now opposed to his coming, he would return to where he had come from. The Kufans did not respond, but performed the midday prayer under his leadership. After the afternoon prayer he addressed them again. He stressed the prior right of the Prophet’s family to govern them and mentioned the letters he had received from them. When Hurr claimed that they knew nothing of these letters, he had the saddle-bags with them brought forward and scattered the letters before them. Hurr averred that they were not of those who had written them and that they were under order to bring him to Obayd-Allah b. Ziad. When Hussain set out to move, Hurr blocked his way. After a heated exchange, Hurr explained that he had not been ordered to fight Hussain but to bring him to Kufa. If Hussain would not follow him, Hurr would not allow him to take the route to either Kufa or Medina. He would write to Obayd-Allah for further instructions, and, also suggested that Hussain should write to Yazid or Obayd-Allah. Hussain did not accept the advice and turned left in the direction of Odayb and Qadisiyya. Hurr kept following him and warned him against a fight in which he would inevitably perish, but he was unable to prevent four Kufan Shiʿites from joining him. When they reached the district of Ninawa, a village near Karbala, a messenger arrived from Kufa with instructions for Hurr to force Hussain to camp in the open desert in a place without fortification and water. Obayd Allah’s aim evidently was to force Hussain to start fighting. As Hurr prevented him from alighting either in Ninawa or Ghazeriya (a village to the northeast of Karbala), on 2 Muharram 61/2 October 680, he set his camp in the desert land of Karbala at a location that was without water.

The following day a Kufan army of 4,000 men arrived under the command of Omar b. Saʿd b. Abi Waqqas. Omar b. Saʿd had been appointed by Obayd Allah governor of Rayy and been sent off to fight the Deylamites, but was recalled to lead the army against Hussain. As the son of one of the most eminent early Companions of Muhammad, he was loath to use force against the Prophet’s grandson and asked to be excused from the mission. Obayd Allah demanded that he return the letter of appointment for the governorship of Rayy if he refused to lead the campaign against Hussain. After some delay, Omar accepted the command, evidently still hoping that he could avoid a battle. He first sent a messenger to Hussain to inquire about the purpose of his coming to Iraq. Hussain answered again that he had responded to the invitation of the people of Kufa but was ready to leave if they now disliked his presence. When Omar b. Saʿd reported back to Obayd-Allah, the governor instructed him to offer Hussain and his supporters the opportunity to swear allegiance to Yazid. If they were to do so, he would judge the matter further. Shortly afterwards, he ordered Omar b. Saʿd to cut off Hussain and his followers from access to the water of the Euphrates. Omar stationed 500 men along the river, but was unable to prevent Hussain’s brother Abbas with fifty men from filling their water-skins in a night sortie.

While the formal standoff continued, Hussain sent a messenger to Omar b. Saʿd, suggesting that they meet privately at night between the camps. They met and are said to have talked for much of the night. No one was present to hear their conversation, but there were rumors that Hussain proposed that they both leave their armies and together go to see Yazid. Omar b. Saʿd, however, refused to do so, afraid of being punished by Obayd-Allah. The majority of the transmitters, rather, maintained that Hussain offered Omar three choices: Either he would return to where he had come from, or he would go to Syria to submit to Yazid personally, or he could be sent to one of the border stations to fight the infidels. Omar is reported to have transmitted these proposals to Obayd-Allah. This offer ascribed to Hussain was, however, emphatically denied by Oqba b. Semʿan, a client of Hussain’s wife Rabab, who survived the battle of Karbala. He testified that Hussain never offered anything but to depart and travel the land until the affairs of the people would clarify.[7] An offer by Hussain to submit to Yazid at this stage must appear unlikely in view of his religious convictions, and the reports are in line with the tendency of the early tradition to accent the primary guilt of Obayd-Allah in Hussain’s death.

Whatever proposals Omar b. Saʿd submitted to Obayd-Allah, they were evidently designed to avoid fighting or the surrender of Hussain to the governor in Kufa. Obayd-Allah is reported to have at first been ready to accept them. Shimr b. Dhi l-Jawshan advised him, however, not to allow Hussain to escape from his territory without having submitted to his authority, since this would be a sign of weakness on his part and an acknowledgment of the power of Hussain’s position; but if Hussain and his followers submitted, the governor could either punish or forgive them. Obayd-Allah now changed his mind and wrote to Omar b. Saʿd that he had not sent him to hold him off from fighting Hussain and to intercede on his behalf. If Hussain and his supporters submitted to his authority, Omar could send them to Kufa in peace. Otherwise, he should fight, kill, and disfigure them, as they deserved that. If Hussain was killed, he should make the horses trample on his chest and back since he was a disobedient rebel, an evil wrongdoer who split the community, since he, Obayd-Allah, had made a vow to do that to Hussain in case he was killed. If Omar refused to comply with these instructions, he should surrender the command to Shimr b. Dhi’l-Jawshan, with whom Obayd-Allah sent the letter. On reading it, Omar b. Saʿd cursed Shimr but agreed to carry out the orders himself.

Omar b. Saʿd now prepared for immediate battle in the evening of 9 Muharram/9 October. Hussain was sitting in front of his tent when his brother ʿAbbas informed him that the enemy was advancing towards them. He asked Abbas to inquire about the cause of the change of their attitude. They told him that an order of the governor had arrived to attack unless Hussain and his followers submitted to his authority. Hussain asked for a delay until next morning so they would have time to decide on the option. The account stresses that he did so only in order to arrange his affairs and give counsel to his family. Omar b. Saʿd was consulted and, on the advice of some of the army leaders, agreed to the postponement. Hussain once more encouraged all his supporters to leave and scatter in the desert under cover of the night, releasing them from their oath of allegiance. They might also take the members of his family along. He suggested that the enemy was looking only for him and would not search for them once they found him. Nearly all his followers, however, decided to stay and fight and to protect him. They spent the night in prayer and preparation for the battle. On the next morning, as Omar b. Saʿd arranged the Kufan army in battle order, Hurr b. Yazid challenged him and went over to Hussain. He vainly addressed the Kufans, rebuking them for their treachery to the grandson of the Prophet, and was killed in the battle.

The battle of Karbala lasted from morning till sunset on 10 Muharram 61/10 October 680. Omar b. Saʿd, evidently hoping to isolate Hussain and force him to surrender, did not order a general attack that would inevitably have resulted in a quick massacre. The reports rather describe numerous incidents of single combat, skirmishes, assaults, and retreat. Hussain ordered heaps of wood and reeds to be burnt in a ditch behind the tents to prevent an attack from the rear. From the front he was protected by his men, and he was not involved in actual fighting until close to the end. As the Kufans also suffered losses because of the self-sacrificing bravery of Hussain’s followers, the fighting gradually became more brutal. In one attack the enemy set the tents on fire, but the flames at first hindered their own advance. Shimr b. Dhi’l-Jawshan is mostly described as the moving spirit, viciously driving on the assault. Hussain was first wounded by an arrow hitting his mouth or throat as he was trying to reach the Euphrates to drink. After receiving further wounds, he eventually was stabbed with a spear by Senan b. Anas Nakhaʿi. As he fell, Senan and Khawali b. Yazid Asbahi joined to cut his head off. In accordance with Obayd Allah b. Ziad’s instructions, ʿOmar ordered his body to be trampled by horses. Later he was buried by the Banu Asad of the nearby village of Ghazeriya in the spot where the sanctuary of Hussain arose. His head was carried to ʿUbayd Allah b. Ziad in Kufa and then to Yazid in Damascus. Later there were claims in regard to several locations to be its burial place.

The dead on the side of Hussain are said to have numbered seventy or seventy-two. At least twenty descendants of Abu Taleb were among them. The first one of these to be killed was Hussain’s own son Ali Akbar. As a nephew of the caliph Yazid he was offered a safe-conduct, but he refused it, proudly proclaiming that he valued his descent from the Prophet more highly.[8] Hussain’s son Abd-Allah was still a child and is described as having been killed by an arrow while placed on his father’s knees. He can, however, hardly have been a baby as claimed in some accounts. Six of Hussain’s paternal brothers, sons of Ali, fell. Four of them were sons of Omm Banin bt. Hezam of the Banu Kelab. Her brother’s son, Abd-Allah b. Abi Mohell b. Hezam, obtained a letter of safety for them from Obayd Allah b. Ziad, but they rejected it. Three sons of Hasan and three sons of Abd-Allah b. Jaʿfar were killed, as well as three sons and three grandsons of Aqil b. Abi Taleb. Ibn Saʿd [9] lists among the dead two other Hashemites, a descendent of Abu Lahab, and a descendent of Abu Sofyan b. Hareth b. Abd-al-Mottaleb. Among the survivors of the Prophet’s family, being led off as captives, he mentions two sons of Hasan, a son of Abd-Allah b. Jaʿfar, a son of Aqil, and five women. According to Abu’l-Faraj Esfahani [10], three sons of Hasan survived, among them Hasan b. Hasan, who was severely wounded. Hussain’s other son named Ali survived because he was sick and unable to fight on the battle day. He was brought as a captive before Obayd Allah b. Ziad and then before Yazid in Damascus. The latter treated him well and sent him with the women to Medina. He thus became recognized as the fourth Imam of the Shiʿites.

The impact of the tragedy of Karbala on the religious conscience of Muslims has ever been deep and goes beyond its consecration of the passion and penitence motives in Shiʿism. The motivation of the major actors in it have often been debated. It is evident that Hussain cannot be viewed as simply a reckless rebel risking his and his family’s lives for his personal ambition. He refused to break his oath of allegiance to Mu’awiya despite his severe reproval of his conduct. He did not pledge allegiance to Yazid, who had been appointed successor by Mu’awiya in violation of his treaty with Hasan, and most likely never agreed to do so. Yet he also did not actively seek martyrdom. He offered to leave Iraq as soon as it became clear that he no longer had any support in Kufa. It was Obayd Allah who vainly sought to provoke him to start the fighting. His initial determination to follow the invitation of the Kufan Shiʿites in spite of the numerous warnings he received and his visions of the Prophet reflect a religious conviction of a mission that left him no choice, whatever the outcome. Like his father he was firmly convinced that the family of the Prophet was divinely chosen to lead the community founded by Muhammad, as the latter had been chosen, and had both an inalienable right and an obligation to seek this leadership.

The accounts of the early sources tend to put the responsibility for the death of Hussain mostly on Obayd-Allah b. Ziad and to exonerate the caliph Yazid, who is described as cursing his governor and stating that if he had been present he would have spared Hussain. Obayd-Allah certainly was eager to humiliate and kill Hussain, as is evident from his vow to have his body trampled by horses. His hatred ultimately sprang from the denunciation of Mu’awiya’s recognition of Ziad as his brother by the grandsons of the Prophet in the name of Islam. The prime responsibility for the death of Hussain, however, lay with Yazid, who knew that the grandson of the Prophet would constitute a menace to his reign as long as he was alive, even if temporarily forced to submission. Yazid wanted him dead but, as a caliph of Islam, could not afford to be seen as having ordered his death. He was aware of Obayd-Allah’s hatred of Hussain when he appointed him governor of Kufa and hinted in a letter to him that Hussain would reduce him to slave status again (Baladhori, II, p. 464). He commended Obayd-Allah highly for the execution of Muslim b. Aqil, and the governor could not be in any doubt as to what was expected of him. When the caliph sought in public, however, to place the onus for the slaughter of the Prophet’s grandson on him, Obayd-Allah reacted with resentment and declined Yazid’s wish that he next lead the assault on Abd-Allah b. Zobayr in the Kaʿba.[11]

The family of Hussain[edit | edit source]

Hussain’s first marriage was with Rabab, daughter of Emraʾ-al-Qays b. Adi, a chief of the Banu Kalb. Her father came to Medina early during the caliphate of Omar and was appointed by him amir (governor) over all tribesmen of Qozaʿa who would convert to Islam. Hussain later married Rabab, and in the later years of Ali’s caliphate, Emraʾ-al-Qays and his kin were referred to as his in-laws.[12] . Probably after Ali’s death, she bore him a daughter Amena (Amina, Omayma), commonly known as Sokayna. Later Rabab bore him his son Abd-Allah, who was still a child when he was killed at Karbala. He presumably had saved his own patronymic (konya), Abu Abd-Allah, for a son by her. In some late Shiʿite sources Abd-Allah is called Ali Asqar (q.v.), but this is without historical foundation. After Hussain’s death, Rabab is said to have spent a year in grief at his grave and to have refused to remarry. No details are known about Hussain’s marriage to Solafa, a woman of the tribe Bali of Qozaʿa. She bore him a son named Jaʿfar, who died during Hussain’s lifetime.

Imam Hussain had two other sons called Ali whose mothers were not the same. The older one whose mother was Layla, daughter of Morra b. Orwa Ṯaqafi and Maymuna bt. Abi Sofyan, sister of the caliph Muawiya was called Ali al-Akbar who was martyred in the battle of Karbala and the other was called Ali b. al-Hussain, Zayn al-Abedin who survived him and became the fourth Imam of the Shiʿites.

After the death of Hasan, Hussain married Omm Eshaq, daughter of the prominent Companion Talha. She bore Hussain’s daughter Fatima. Contrary to some reports, Fatima must have been younger than Sokayna. At the time of her father’s death, she was probably engaged, but not yet married, to Hasan b. Hasan, the primary heir of Hasan b. Ali.

References[edit | edit source]

  1. Baladhori, II, pp. 458-60
  2. apud Tabari, II, pp. 222-23; tr., XIX, pp. 9-10; Ibn Saʿd, p. 56
  3. Ibn Saʿd, p. 56
  4. Tabari, II, pp. 235-36, 240-41
  5. see esp. Ibn Saʿd, p. 56
  6. Baladhori, II, p. 467
  7. Tabari, II, p. 314; tr., pp. 108-9
  8. Ibn Saʿd, p. 73; Zobayri, p. 58
  9. p. 77
  10. Maqatel, p. 119
  11. Tabari, II, p. 408, tr. p. 204
  12. ashar; Thaqafi, p. 426

Bibliography[edit | edit source]

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Sources[edit | edit source]