Imam al-Husayn b. 'Ali (a)
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|Al-Husayn b. 'Ali|
3rd Shia Imam
Darih of Imam al-Husayn (a)
c. 11 January 626 CE|
(Sha'ban 3, 4 AH)
|Beginning of Imamate||28 Safar 50/ 30 March 670|
|Duration of Imamate||10 years|
c. 13 October 680 (aged 54) |
(Muharram 10, 61 AH)
|Cause of Death||Martyred at the Battle of Karbala|
|Place of Burial||
|Successor||'Ali b. al-Husayn (a)|
|Father||'Ali b. Abi Talib (a)|
|Mother||Fatima bt. Muhammad (a)|
|Brother(s)||Al-Hasan, 'Abbas, Muhammad, ...|
|Sister(s)||Zaynab, Umm Kulthum, ...|
|Spouse(s)||Rubab, Layla, Umm Ishaq, Shahr Banu?|
|Son(s)||'Ali, 'Ali al-Akbar, 'Ali al-Asghar, ...|
|Daughter(s)||Sukayna, Fatima, Zaynab, ...|
Al-Shahid (the martyr),|
al-Sibt (the grandson),
Sayyid Shabab Ahl al-Jannah (the master of the youth of paradise),
Sayyid al-Shuhada (master of the martyrs)
'Ali, al-Hasan, al-Husayn, al-Sajjad, al-Baqir, al-Sadiq, al-Kazim, al-Rida, al-Jawad, al-Hadi, al-'Askari, al-Mahdi
Al-Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib (a) (Arabic: حسین بن علي بن أبي طالب) (b. Sha'ban 3, 4/January 11, 626 – d. Muharram 10, 61/October 10, 680) was known by the Kunya of Abu 'Abd Allah and also known as Imam al-Husayn (a). He is the third Imam of the Shi'a, the martyr of Karbala, one of the People of Kisa' [Cloak], the second son of Imam 'Ali (a) and Lady Fatima (a), and the grandson of the Prophet (s). The Prophet (s) introduced him and his brother, Imam al-Hasan (a), as the Masters of the Youth of Paradise. Imam al-Husayn (a) participated in the battles of Siffin, Jamal and Nahrawan alongside his father.
He obliged to the treaty between his brother and Mu'awiya during its validity. However, after Mu'awiya died, Imam al-Husayn (a) refused to give allegiance to Yazid and considered his rise to caliphate as illegitimate. When Walid b. 'Utba, the governor of Medina, was sent to order Imam al-Husayn (a) to either pledge allegiance to Yazid or be killed, Imam al-Husayn (a) made his way from Medina towards Mecca on Rajab 27, 60/May 6, 680. At the same time, the people of Kufa pledged their support to the Imam (a) as a ruler. As the Imam (a) and his companions made their way to Kufa, the army of 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad stopped the Imam's caravan on Yazid's order. For fear of retribution from Yazid's army, the people of Kufa broke their promise of support for the Imam (a). The battle of Karbala took place on the Day of 'Ashura'. Imam (a) along with his few companions (around 72) were martyred and the remaining companions were taken as prisoners to Kufa and Syria.
The martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) was decisive in shaping Islamic and Shi'a history. The timing of the Imam's (a) life and martyrdom were crucial as they were in one of the most challenging periods of the 7th century. During this time, Umayyad oppression was rampant, and the stand the Imam (a) and his followers took became a symbol of resistance inspiring future uprisings against oppressors during that time and future generations to come.
Religious sources and social traditions mark the timing of the events of 'Ashura' to fall within the month of Muharram, and that month is the focus of mourning for Shi'a Muslims. The event of Ashura has inspired a variety of artistic reflections on different levels of Shi'a thoughts; in literature, drawings and symbols for many centuries.
- 1 Lineage
- 2 Naming, Kunya and Titles
- 3 Birth
- 4 Wives and Children
- 5 Lifetime of the Prophet (s)
- 6 Rule of the Three Caliphs
- 7 Caliphate of Imam 'Ali (a)
- 8 Imamate of Imam al-Hasan (a)
- 9 Imamate
- 10 Rule of Mu'awiya
- 11 Rule of Yazid
- 12 Martydom
- 13 Attributes and Merits
- 14 Notes
- 15 References
- 16 Further Reading
- 17 External Links
|Family tree of Ahl al-Bayt (a)|
Naming, Kunya and Titles
According to Shi'a narrations, the Prophet (s) followed God's order and named him al-Husayn and thereby announced, "I received order to call my two [grand]sons al-Hasan and al-Husayn." "I name my two [grand]sons al-Hasan and al-Husayn the same names as Aaron named his two sons: Shubbar and Shubayr." (al-Hasan and al-Husayn have the same meaning in Arabic as Shubbar and Shubayr in Hebrew)
It is reported that the name of Imam al-Husayn (a) is written in the Torah as Shubayr and in Evangel as Tab. However narrations also report that the two names of al-Hasan and al-Husayn are names from paradise and have no historical precedence before Islam.
According to Ibn Sa'd, the Prophet (s) ordered Umm Fadl, wife of 'Abbas b. 'Abd al-Muttalib to take care of al-Husayn and thus he became the Rida'i (foster) brother of Qutham b. 'Abbas who was also an infant.
Kunya Imam al-Husayn's (a) Kunya was Abu 'Abd Allah which, like his name, was given by the Prophet (s) when the Imam (a) was a child. However, al-Khasibi said that Imam al-Husayn (a) was known by other Kunyas among his friends, most popularly, Abu 'Ali, Abu al-Shuhada [father of martyrs], Abu al-Ahrar [father of the free-minded] and Abu al-Mujahidin [father of the fighters (on the way of God)].
Many titles have been attributed to Imam al-Husayn (a), and some of them are similar to titles associated with his brother, Imam al-Hasan (a). Al-Zaki, al-Tayyib, al-Wafi, al-Sayyid, al-Mubarak, al-Nafi', al-Dalil 'Ala Dhat Allah, al-Rashid, and al-Tabi' li-Mardat Allah are among the special titles of Imam al-Husayn (a).
Ibn Talha al-Shafi'i reports al-Zaki as the most popular title and Sayyid Shabab Ahl al-Janna as the most important of the Imam's (a) titles.
There is no consensus regarding the day the Imam (a) was born but it is believed it was most likely on Sha'ban 3.
Wives and Children
- Rubab bt. Imru' al-Qays,
- Shahrbanu: some record that he was the daughter of Yazdgird the king of Iran, although contemporary researchers doubt this,
- Layli bt. Abi Murra al-Thaqafi,
- Umm Ishaq bt. Talha,
- Sulafa: Some sources also report that she was from Quda'a tribe named either Sulafa as narrated by Sibt b. Jawzi or Maluma narrated by al-Bayhaqi.
Al-Shaykh al-Mufid reports Imam al-Husayn (a) had six children, four boys and two girls. Some scholars such as Sayyid Muhsin al-Amin and Ibn al-Khashshab counted nine children, six boys and three girls, but others including Ibn Shahrashub in his al-Manaqib and al-Irbili in Kashf al-ghumma attributed ten children to the Imam (a), six of whom were boys, and four were girls. Few people have said his children were more than ten.
Early accounts recorded that Imam (a) had four boys and two girls, and later sources counted them as six boys and three girls. The two boys and girl who are only mentioned in later sources are 'Ali al-Asghar, Muhammad, and Zaynab. Ibn Talha al-Shafi'i attributed ten children to the Imam (a) but only mentioned the names of nine. In some later books of elegies, a four-year-old girl named Ruqayya is mentioned among the children of Imam (a).
Accordingly, the names of Imam's (a) children are mentioned as following:
- 'Ali, or 'Ali al-Awsat, the fourth Imam of Shi'a. He is titled and known as Zayn al-'Abidin [the Beauty of Worshipers] and al-Sajjad whose Kunya was Abu Muhammad, and it is said that his mother was Shahrbanu.
- Ali al-Akbar (a), the eldest son of Imam al-Husayn (a), who was martyred in Karbala. His mother was Layli bt. Abi Murra.
- Ja'far whose mother was from the Quda'a tribe. He passed away before the events of 'Ashura', and was survived by no children.
- 'Abd Allah, or 'Abd Allah al-Radi' [the infant], known as 'Ali al-Asghar, the son of Rubab.
- Sukayna, her mother is Rubab.
- Fatima, her mother is Umm Ishaq.
- Muhammad, his mother was Rubab. He was martyred in the event of 'Ashura'.
- Zaynab whose mother is unknown.
- Ruqayya, her mother is said to be Shahrbanu. Some accounts report her name was Umm Ishaq.
- Al-Muhsin; his mother's name is not known, but it is reported that she was pregnant and among the captives after the Event of Karbala. It is reported the mother suffered a miscarriage near Aleppo, where there is a shrine for people to visit.
Lifetime of the Prophet (s)
Imam al-Husayn (a) was seven years old when the Prophet of Islam (s) passed away; nevertheless, even in those short years, he was present in important events of that time together with the Ahl al-Bayt (a), such as in the Event of Mubahala with the Christians of Najran, the event of the Ashab al-Kisa' [the Cloak], giving allegiance to the Prophet (s) and being asked to be a witness when writing letters.
Ibn Sa'd mentioned Imam al-Husayn (a) in the last class (fifth class) of the Companions of the Prophet (s), he was a small child when the Prophet (s) passed away and did not accompany him in any battle.
Imam al-Husayn (a) was six years and eight months old when the Prophet (s) passed away. He was always especially favored by the Prophet (s). It is narrated from the Prophet (s), "Surely, al-Hasan and al-Husayn are the masters of the youths in paradise."
Ya'li al-'Amiri narrated from the Prophet (s) that, "Al-Husayn is from me and I am from him, God loves who loves him; al-Hasan and al-Husayn are two sons among the sons [of prophets]."
It is narrated from Salman al-Farsi, that the Prophet (s) put al-Husayn (a) on his lap and kissed him and said, "You are noble, son of a noble person and [will be] the father of noble ones; you are an Imam and son of an Imam and the father of Imams; you are the Proof of God, and son of the Proof of God and father of the proofs of God who are nine and the last of whom is their al-Qa'im."
Also, it is narrated by Salman al-Farsi, that the Prophet (s) said, "O Salman! Whoever loves these has loved me, and whoever loves me has loved God." Then, he (s) put his hand on the shoulder of al-Husayn (a) and told [me], "he is Imam and son of Imam; nine people from his progeny are righteous, trustworthy and infallible Imams and the ninth of them is their al-Qa'im."
The Prophet (s) is reported to have frequently said, "Al-Hasan and al-Husayn are my children; anyone who loves them, has loved me and anyone who loves me, has loved God; and anyone who loves God, He will grant him paradise; anyone who dislikes them, has disliked me; and anyone who dislikes me, has disliked God and anyone who dislikes God, He will enter him in hell."
Abu Hurayra narrated from the Prophet (s) saying, "Anyone who loves these two children of mine, al-Hasan and al-Husayn, has [actually] loved me; and anyone who is hostile to them, is [actually] hostile to me."
The Prophet's (s) love towards al-Hasan (a) and al-Husayn (a) was so much that when they entered the mosque, he (s) would stop his speech, and come down from the pulpit to welcome them with hugs. Anas b. Malik says, "When the Prophet (s) was asked whom he (s) loved more among his family, he (s) replied, 'al-Hasan and al-Husayn.'"
Rule of the Three Caliphs
Imam al-Husayn (a) spent around twenty five years of his life under the rule of the three caliphs. He (a) was seven years old at the beginning of the caliphate of the first caliph, nine years old at the beginning of the caliphate of the second caliph and nineteen years old at the beginning of the caliphate of the third caliph.
Caliphate of Abu Bakr
The caliphate of Abu Bakr was an intense period in the life of the Ahl al-Bayt (a). The Ahl al-Bayt (a) mourned the death of the Prophet (s) while simultaneously disputing over the caliphate. This made it a difficult time for the family of the Prophet (s). It is reported that in the first days of the caliphate of Abu Bakr, al-Husayn (a) together with his brother, al-Hasan (a), their mother, Lady Fatima (a) and their father, 'Ali (a) went to the houses of those who participated in the Battle of Badr to gain support for the rightful position of leadership which belonged to them.
Caliphate of 'Umar
There is not so much information available about the life of al-Husayn (a) during the caliphate of 'Umar which may be due to Imam 'Ali's (a) withdrawal from the rule. It is reported in some sources that one of the early days of the caliphate of 'Umar, al-Husayn (a) entered the al-Masjid al-Nabawi where he (a) saw 'Umar giving a speech on the pulpit of the Prophet (s). So, he (a) stepped up the pulpit and told him, "Come down from the pulpit of my father and go sit on the pulpit of your father!" 'Umar was astounded at this statement and said, "My father did not have a pulpit!" Then, he asked al-Husayn (a) to sit beside him. When 'Umar finished his speech and came down from the pulpit, he took al-Husayn (a) to his own house and asked him, "Who taught you to say that?" al-Husayn (a) answered, "No one taught me that!".
Caliphate of 'Uthman
Al-Husayn (a) was almost nineteen years old at the beginning of the caliphate of 'Uthman. It is mentioned in some Sunni sources that al-Husayn (a) accompanied his brother al-Hasan (a), 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas, 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar, and 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr led by Sa'id b. al-'As in the Battle of Tabaristan during the time of 'Uthman.
When 'Uthman exiled Abu Dhar to Rabadha, he forbade anyone from accompanying or bidding him farewell. Al-Husayn (a) with his father, his brother al-Hasan (a), his uncle ('Aqil b. Abi Talib), his cousin ('Abd Allah b. Ja'far), and 'Ammar b. Yasir disregarded the caliph's order and bid farewell to Abu Dhar.
The great socio-political insight and the power to perfectly distinguish issues was a great attribute of the Ahl al-Bayt (a). Despite the existence of dissatisfaction regarding the leadership of the Third Caliph, Imam 'Ali (a) ordered al-Husayn (a) and al-Hasan (a) to go and protect 'Uthman's house, when people rose against his oppression and stormed towards his house. Standing against the angry mobs proved too difficult and eventually 'Uthman was killed.
Caliphate of Imam 'Ali (a)
Al-Husayn (a) participated in the battles of Jamal, Siffin, and Nahrawan. He gave a speech in the Battle of Siffin to inspire the army for jihad. Imam 'Ali (a), appointed al-Husayn (a) to be the administrator for his Mawqufat [endowed properties] after al-Hasan (a). There is a report that at the time of the martyrdom of his father, al-Husayn (a) was in Mada'in for a task his father had given him and was informed about his father's martyrdom through Imam al-Hasan's (a) letter, so he came back to attend his father's funeral.
Imamate of Imam al-Hasan (a)
During the ten-year imamate and the six-months caliphate of Imam al-Hasan (a), al-Huayn (a) accompanied and served alongside his brother. After Imam 'Ali's (a) martyrdom, Imam al-Hasan (a) became the Imam and leader of the Muslims. Al-Husayn (a) gave allegiance to his brother Imam al-Hasan (a) and greatly helped in mobilizing and dispatching forces to the camp of Nukhayla and the camp of Maskin. He (a) accompanied Imam al-Hasan (a) to Mada'in and Sabat for military recruitment.
According to reliable reports, at the time of the treaty of Imam al-Hasan (a) and Mu'awiya, some followers of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) asked al-Husayn (a) to oppose this political peace treaty and stand against Mu'awiya. However, he (a) firmly supported his brother's treaty and gave allegiance to Mu'awiya. When Qays b. Sa'd asked al-Husayn'a (a) view on the treaty, he (a) openly shared his support for Imam al-Hasan's (a) decision. After the peace treaty was signed, al-Husayn (a) returned to Medina and remained there.
|Mourning of Muharram|
Proofs of Imamate
In addition to this, there are other hadiths narrated from the Prophet (s) in which he (s) has explicitly mentioned the number of Imams, the imamate of 'Ali (a), al-Hasan (a), al-Husayn (a) and the nine descendants of Imam al-Husayn (a).
In Imam al-Hasan's (a) will, there was clear direction regarding the succession of Imam al-Husayn (a) following his death, as well as direction to Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya to follow Imam al-Husayn (a). Al-Shaykh al-Mufid believes the imamate of Imam al-Husayn (a) was clear even though he (a) did not announce out of Taqiyya and his belief in the cause of peace and abandoning hostilities. However, after Mu'awiya's death, Imam al-Husayn (a) openly declared his position as Imam.
The knowledge over all religious sciences is a requirement of imamate, and Imam 'Ali (a) asked al-Husayn (a) to make speeches to the people, just as al-Hasan (a) did. This stopped the Quraysh from claiming that he did not have the required knowledge. The available evidence is the Companions' quotations about Imam al-Husayn's (a) knowledge and people's requests from him for issuing legal rulings. Also, there are references mentioned about Imam al-Husayn's (a) own speeches about his imamate, miracles during that time, and acts of wonder as the proofs for his imamate.
Rule of Mu'awiya
Most of the duration of Imam al-Husayn (a) was in the time of the rule of Mu'awiya. After Mu'awiya, Imam al-Husayn (a) was martyred in the first year of the rule of Yazid.
Policy against Mu'awiya
Imam al-Husayn (a) was the most righteous person to rule after Imam al-Hasan (a). He (a) stood loyal to the peace treaty between his brother, Imam al-Hasan (a), and Mu'awiya, and refrained from uprising against Mu'awiya; even though, the people of Kufa wrote letters [to him] urging for action against Mu'awiya. Nonetheless, Imam al-Husayn (a) refused to approve the legitimacy of the government of Mu'awiya over Muslims and focused on enforcing Jihad with oppressors. Mu'awiya was worried about Imam's (a) uprising and after Imam al-Hasan's (a) martyrdom, he asked Imam al-Husayn (a) to stay away from uprising against him. The Imam (a) reminded Mu'awiya that he (a) will be respectful to that peace treaty and told those who encouraged him to uprise, "I do not have this thought now. May God bless you; stay in your land and hide in your houses and avoid from being accused while Mu'awiya is alive; if God brings forth something while I am alive, I will write to you." During this time, Imam al-Husayn (a) explained both directly and indirectly the rulings and qualifications of imamate, caliphate and the characteristics of the rightful caliph. While respecting the boundaries of the treaty, the Imam (a) stayed active in his responsibilities in speaking out and preaching. Among the preaching activities of Imam al-Husayn (a), he would continue to explain God's rulings in great gatherings of Hajj in the land of Mina and also his secret gatherings in Mecca.
During the ten year imamate of Imam al-Husayn (a), letters showing the Imam's (a) discontent were exchanged between him and Mu'awiya. These letters show Imam al-Husayn's (a) stance against Mu'awiya, specifically following every crime or non-Islamic deed of Mu'awiya. Mu'awiya's crimes such as murdering Hujr b. 'Adi, 'Amr b. Hamiq al-Khuza'i, al-Hadrami and his companions were among the reasons that deserved the most severe criticisms from the Imam (a).
During his rule, Mu'awiya tried to establish Yazid's succession to the throne, so he made a visit to Medina in order to gain the allegiance of the people of Medina, especially their noblemen, the top of them being Imam al-Husayn (a). He visited Imam al-Husayn (a) after he entered the city and during his speech to the people, he mentioned the succession of Yazid and tried to receive Imam al-Husayn's (a) agreement. However, the Imam (a) severely criticized Yazid's deficiencies and whimsical behaviors. He (a) advised Mu'awiya to refrain from appointing him as his successor. Imam al-Husayn (a) was among the few people who did not give allegiance to Yazid and condemned Mu'awiya following his speech.
Like the three caliphs, Mu'awiya pretended to revere Imam al-Husayn (a) because he knew that Imam al-Husayn (a) held a respected position among people of Mecca and Medina; the ill-treatment of Imam (a) would not go unnoticed. However, Mu'awiya regarded Imam (a) as an obstacle in the way of his government, and it worried him. On one hand, he did not disregard Imam's (a) position; he pretended to esteem and respect him and also ordered his agents not to disrespect the Prophet's (s) grandson. On the other hand, he kept Imam al-Husayn (a) under constant and daily surveillance to monitor his private and public life in the city and in travel. Mu'awiya never attempted to keep the surveillance a secret from Imam al-Husayn, so he (a) would not consider rising against him.
Mu'awiya had also advised his son, Yazid, that with all the fear he had from Imam (a), even if he could defeat the Imam (a), he would treat him (a) with forbearance and would not force Imam al-Husayn (a) to give allegiance.
Rule of Yazid
- Main article: Yazid b. Mu'awiya
|Timeline of the Event of Karbala|
|Rajab 15||Death of Mu'awiya|
|Rajab 28||Departure of Imam al-Husayn (a) from Medina.|
|Sha'ban 3||Arrival of Imam al-Husayn (a) to Mecca.|
|Ramadan 10||Arrival of Kufiyans' first letter to Imam (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. Hurr and 'Amr b. Qays in Banu Maqatil|
|Muharram 2||Arrival of Imam (a) to Karbala|
|Muharram 3||Arrival of 'Umar b. 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 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||Return of Ahl al-Bayt (a) to Karbala|
|Safar 20||Moving from Karbala toward Medina (in some accounts)|
Even before achieving caliphate, Yazid was famous for playing music, singing, and drinking alcohol. His sinning was prevalent to the point that Mu'awiya also admonished him and prohibited him from too much drinking.
The short period of Yazid b. Mu'awiya's rule was very turbulent. His tule of almost three years was mostly occupied with repressing uprisings and pacifying the situation in Islamic lands. During his rule, he repressed any opposition. The pressure on the society was so rife in his government that al-Mas'udi wrote: "Yazid's conduct was that of Pharaoh, who was even more just than Yazid among his people and more unprejudiced than Yazid among the noble and the laymen. He murdered Imam al-Husayn (a) and the Household of the Prophet (s) in the first year of his rule and in the second year, disrespected the holy mosque of the Prophet (s) in Medina and made plundering life, properties, and women of the city permissible for his army. In the third year of his rule, he stormed Ka'ba and set fire to it."
Reaction towards Yazid
Exiting from Medina
- Main article: Event of Karbala
Mu'awiya passed away in Damascus on Rajab 15, 60/April 24 680, when Yazid was in Huwwarin. When he arrived in Damascus and people gave allegiance to him, he sent Walid b. 'Utba, the ruler of Medina, with specific instructions to not let al-Husayn b. 'Ali, 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar, and 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr leave unless they received their promise of allegiance to his caliphate.
Ruler of Medina consulted with Marwan b. Hakam in this issue and Marwan told him, "If you accept my opinion, call 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr and al-Husayn b. 'Ali (a) at this moment before people know about Mu'awiya's death, if they accept to give allegiance, it will be fine, otherwise behead them! Because, if they do not give allegiance and people find out Mu'awiya is dead, they will gather around al-Husayn and the son of al-Zubayr and a great trouble will occur. However, the son of 'Umar is not a man of uprising, unless people go to him and ask him for caliphate."
Walid sent someone to summon them. 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr and Imam al-Husayn (a) were in the mosque when the representative of the ruler came and conveyed the message. They told him to go and tell the ruler they would go to Walid right away. When the messenger returned, 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr asked Imam al-Husayn (a), "Why have we been summoned?"
Imam al-Husayn (a) said, "I think Mu'awiya has passed away and Walid wants us give allegiance before anyone knows about his death." 'Abd Allah said, "I think the same; so, what do you want to do?" Imam al-Husayn (a) replied, "I will go to the ruler, but I will take some of my relatives so his agents do not hurt me. If they want to hurt me, my relatives can help me."
Imam al-Husayn (a) went to Walid, and when he told him about the death of Mu'awiya, and asked him to give allegiance to Yazid, Imam (a) said, "Someone like me would not give allegiance in secret. Ask people to come, then we will see what happens." Walid said, "Go back safely!" Marwan told Walid, "Do not let him go! If he goes without giving allegiance, you cannot take him back! Kill him if he does not give allegiance!" Imam al-Husayn (a) became angry and said, "Neither you, nor he can ever kill me!" Eventually, Imam al-Husayn (a) and 'Abd Allah b. al-Zubayr left Medina to head for Mecca without giving allegiance.
Letters from the People of Kufa
- Main article: Letters from the People of Kufa to Imam al-Husayn (a)
The government of Damascus was worried about those who refused to give allegiance, particularly when talks of uprisings became more popular, specifically from the people of Kufa. Many followers of Imam 'Ali (a) were martyred or imprisoned during the twenty-year rule of Mu'awiya, and upon hearing about his death, breathed in comfort and happiness. However, those who murdered 'Ali (a) unjustly and abandoned his son allowing Mu'awiya to do as he pleased, took this opportunity to take revenge, due to Mu'awiya having ignored their service.
People gathered in the house of Sulayman b. Surad al-Khuza'i and consulted about their next step. Sulayman knew how erratic and emotional his fellow citizens were, and said, "O, People! If you are not serious and fear for your lives, do not misguide this man!" People disagreed, "Never ever! We have forgotten about our lives and have vowed upon our blood that we will overthrow Yazid and make al-Husayn caliph!"
Finally, they wrote letters to Imam al-Husayn (a) saying, "Thanks and gratitude belongs to God who defeated your enemy. The enemy who murdered the righteous people of Muhammad and brought the worst of people to power. One who distributed the treasure of Muslims among the wealthy and unruly. Now, there is no obstacle in the way of your caliphate. The ruler of this city, Nu'mam b. Bashir, lives in the government palace. We neither consult with him, nor do we follow him in congregational prayer." This was one of the hundreds, even thousands, of letters sent to al-Husayn (a).
With this support, Imam al-Husayn (a) deemed it necessary to answer and not leave them waiting. Thus, he wrote a short letter saying, "I send to you Muslim b. 'Aqil, my cousin, who is trustworthy to me so that he may see the situation in the city and inform me about it. If what you have written is verified, I will come to you."
Concurrently, Umayyad advocates, particularly those who sought their personal interests in following orders from Damascus, sent letters to Yazid in Syria warning of possible uprisings. They wrote, "If you want the control over Kufa and Iraq, you need to send a competent ruler there, since Nu'man b. Bashir is an incompetent person or he tries to show himself as one." Yazid consulted with Sirjun, his Roman counselor and gave the government of Kufa to 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad who was the ruler of Basra.
As Yazid was working to replace Nu'man b. Bashir, Muslim b. 'Aqil arrived in Kufa with Imam's (a) letter in hand. People welcomed him, and he never thought such people who gave allegiance to him so warmly would soon abandon him. When he saw the people's eager welcome, he wrote a letter to Imam al-Husayn (a), "The people of Kufa and Iraq are all your followers and are waiting for you to arrive. It is good if you soon come to Iraq."
Moving towards Iraq
When Imam al-Husayn (a) received Muslim b. 'Aqil's letter, he moved towards Iraq accompanied by his family and companions. On the other hand, when 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad received Yazid's order, moved toward Kufa. Because of his father's history as a ruler of Kufa, he was familiar with the people who were going to rule. He knew what had to be done in order to control the people of Kufa. After he arrived, he began threatening and persuading the famous people of Kufa, and with their help, he began to repress others and used spies to find out where Muslim b. 'Aqil was hidden. He then imprisoned Hani b. 'Urwa who sheltered Muslim b. 'Aqil. Muslim b. 'Aqil and gathered nearly 100,000 individuals to revolt against the ruler, but they abandoned him in less than a day without ever raising arms against 'Ubayd Allah's forces. Muslim was abandoned to the point that when he did his 'Isha' prayer, he prayed in solitary. Finally, 'Ubayd Allah was informed of Muslim b. 'Aqil's hiding place. 'Ubayd Allah's soldiers captured him, killed him and Hani, and beheaded them both. He dragged their headless bodies in the city to scare the people of Kufa into abandoning the cause of Imam al-Husayn (a). Noble men of Kufa became silent and stayed in their houses as if nothing ever happened.
Imam al-Husayn (a) was informed of the martyrdom of Muslim b. 'Aqil and Hani b. 'Urwa as well as the betrayal of the people of Kufa on his journey to Iraq. He told his companions about it and gave them permission to leave before arriving to a most certain death. While some left, his relatives, and loyal companions stayed with him. When Imam (a) arrived near Kufa, he encountered the first people of the army of 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad, lead by Hurr b. Yazid from Banu Riyah tribe, they blocked the Imam's (a) path towards Kufa in the land of Karbala. When the ruler of Kufa heard that Imam al-Husayn (a) had arrived near Kufa, he sent an army led by 'Umar b. Sa'd. 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad wanted to force Imam al-Husayn (a) to give allegiance to Yazid, but even in the face of death, he (a) refused.
Imam al-Husayn (a) was martyred in Karbala, Iraq on Muharram 10, [the Day of Ashura], 61/October 10, 680 which has been reported to be a Saturday, Sunday, Monday, or most commonly believed, a Friday. Abu l-Faraj al-Isfahani argues that Sunnis commonly believe that it was a Monday, However calendar calculations have shown that the possibility of this is rather unlikely.
Depending on his birth, there are three possibilities of Imam al-Husayn's age (in lunar years) at the time of martyrdom: 56 years and 5 months, 57 years and 5 months, or 58 years old.
Event of Karbala
When Imam al-Husayn (a) refused to give allegiance to Yazid, the army of 'Umar b. Sa'd prepared to fight against him. They engaged in what would become known as the Battle of Karbala on Muharram 10, 61/October 13, 680 (cf. Day of Ashura, event of Ashura). Imam (a) tried his best to awaken the sleeping consciences of the army standing against him through his altruistic and benevolent speeches. He (a) told them it was their last chance to live free and that if they were to fail this test, they would never find happiness. He told them that if they ignored dignity, a life full of misery awaited them. The early hours of the tenth day was spent sending and receiving messages and giving speeches. Imam al-Husayn (a) and his companions made key speeches that have been recorded in the history showing their spirit of free-mindedness, dignity and piety, the peak of altruism, and benevolence towards ignorant people. Even as death came upon them, they made efforts to save the enemies from themselves. One of Imam al-Husayn's (a) speeches in those crucial hours read,
- "O people! Do not hurry! Listen to my words [first]. I wish only good for you. I want to tell you why I have come to your land! If you listen to my words and be fair and see that I tell the truth, this battle which may happen at any moment right now will be cancelled. If you do not listen to me, and if you do not follow the path of truth, you will suffer from its harms. O people, do you know who I am? Do you know who my father is? Is it just for you to kill me? And is it just for you to disrespect me? Am I not the son of the Prophet's (s) daughter? Is not my father the successor and the cousin of the Prophet (s) and the first Muslim? Have not you heard this hadith about me and my brother, where the Prophet (s) said, 'These two are my sons, the masters of the youths in paradise?' If you think I tell the truth, well, to God I swear I have not told a lie since I have known myself. And if you think I tell you lies, still there are few companions of the Prophet (s) alive, so that you can ask them [such as], Jabir b. 'Abd Allah al-Ansari, Abu Sa'id al-Khudri, Sahl al-Sa'idi, Zayd b. Arqam, and Anas b. Malik! They will tell you that what I say is true. O people! With what religious permission are you going to spill my blood?!"
When the battle finally began, it was only a few hours before Imam al-Husayn (a) and his companions were martyred. The enemy captured their women and children, and took them to Kufa, then onward to Syria. They did not kill Imam al-Sajjad (a) only because he was ill in Karbala.
Attributes and Merits
After the martyrdom of Imam al-Hasan (a), Imam al-Husayn (a) was the most honorable person of Banu Hashim, even though there were others elder than him. Regardless of his age, they consulted with him in their affairs and prioritized his opinion over others.
Imam al-Husayn (a) had a bright face. He sometimes wore a turban made of fur, and at other times, a black turban. He used to dye his hair reddish brown. In most hadith sources, he is likened to the noble Prophet (s), and he is described as the most similar person to the Prophet (s). In another hadith, Imam 'Ali (a) regarded al-Husayn (a) as the most similar to himself, regarding manner and behavior.
The lettering on his two rings read "La Ilah Illa Allah, 'Uddat li-Liqa' Allah" [(the word) "there's no god except Allah" is the supplement for meeting Allah] and "Inn Allah Baligh Amrih" [Indeed Allah carries through His command].
Imam al-Husayn (a) went to hajj on foot, accompanied by his relatives twenty five times in his lifetime.
Even his enemies recognized his pious attributes, as Mu'awiya said, "like his father, 'Ali (a), al-Husayn (a) is not a man of trickery". 'Amr b. al-'As knew him as the most beloved person on earth among the dwellers of skies.
He (a) always respected his brother Imam al-Hasan (a) and never spoke before him. He (a) never walked ahead of Imam al-Hasan (a) or prioritized his opinion over Imam al-Hasan (a) when he was present. Although Imam al-Husayn (a) was famous for his generosity and charity in Medina, he (a) respected Imam al-Hasan (a) even in this regard. It is reported that once a poor person came to Imam al-Hasan (a) asking him for some help, and Imam al-Hasan (a) gave him some money. Then that poor person went to al-Husayn (a) to ask for more. When al-Husayn (a) was informed of how much his brother gave to the poor person, he (a) gave the man one dinar less out of respect for Imam al-Hasan (a).
He used to sit with the poor, accepted their invitations, ate with them, invited them to his house, and never hesitated in giving charity. If a beggar asked him for help while he (a) was praying, he (a) tried to recite the remainder of his prayer quickly in order to give the beggar what he (a) had. He (a) used to free slaves and bondwomen for their good manners. It is reported that Imam al-Husayn (a) freed a bondwoman Mu'awiya had sent for him along with gifts and clothes, in return for reciting some verses of the Qur'an, and a poem about the mortality of the world and human beings. Imam al-Husayn (a) gave her all the gifts. Once, one of his slaves did something wrong, and even though he deserved punishment, the Imam (a) recited the verse "Wa l-'Afin 'An al-Nas" (3:134) - "And (those who) excuse [the faults of] the people." Thus Imam al-Husayn (a) forgave him and then the slave continued with "Wa Allah Yuhibb al-Muhsinin" - "And Allah loves the generous."; therefore, Imam (a) freed him for the sake of God. It is also reported that Imam al-Husayn (a) paid off the debt of Usama b. Zayd who was unable to take care of his debts due to a serious illness.
It is reported that Imam al-Husayn (a) spent the land, and whatever he (a) inherited before he (a) received them in the way of God. He (a) gave his ring and paid the full debt of a man in return for answers to three questions. His generosity was to the extent that a Jewish couple became Muslim when they saw this merit of his. Regarding his forbearance, it is reported that when a man from Syria insulted him and his father, Imam al-Husayn (a) forgave him and treated him with kindness. It is also said that the lasting marks of the bags of food he (a) carried for the orphans and the poor was clearly seen on his back, even to the day of his martyrdom.
- Da'irat al-ma'arif buzurg Islami. vol. 20. p. 664-665
- See: al-Kulayni, Muhmmad b. Ya'qub, al-Kafi, Vol. 6, p. 33-34; Al-Shaykh al-Saduq, 'Ilal al-shara'i', vol. 1, p.137-138; Al-Shaykh al-Tusi, Misbah al-mujtahajjid, p. 367
- Ibn Shahrashub, Manaqib al Abi Talib, vol. 3, p. 397; Al-Irbili, 'Ali b. 'Isa, Kashf al-ghumma, vol. 1, p. 525
- Ibn Shahrashub, Manaqib al Abi Talib, vol. 3, p. 397; Al-Irbili, 'Ali b 'Isa, Kashf al-ghumma, vol. 1, p. 525; Al-Shaykh al-Saduq, 'Ilal al-shara'i', Vol. 1, p. 138
- Ibn Shahrashub, Manaqib al Abi Talib, vol. 4, p. 86
- Ibn Sa'd, Muhammad, Tabaqat al-kubra, vol. 6, p. 400-401
- Ibn A'tham, al-Futuh, vol. 4, p. 323; Al-Irbili, 'Ali b. 'Isa, Kashf al-ghumma, vol. 2, p. 308-320, 348-349
- Mawsu'at kalamat Imam al-Husayn, p. 38
- The material for this article is mainly taken from امام حسین علیه السلام in Farsi Wikishia.
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