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Imam al-Husayn b. 'Ali (a)

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Al-Husayn b. 'Ali
3rd Shia Imam
Zarih Imam al-Husayn.jpg
Darih of Imam al-Husayn (a)
Teknonym Abu 'Abd Allah
Born Sha'ban 3, 4/January 11, 626
Birthplace Medina
Imamate From Safar 28, 50/March 30, 670(for 10 years)
Contemporary Rulers Mu'awiya, Yazid
Martyrdom Muharram 10, 61/October 13, 680
Cause of Martyrdom at the Battle of Karbala
Burial Place Karbala
32°36′59″N 44°1′56.29″E / 32.61639°N 44.0323028°E / 32.61639; 44.0323028
Predecessor Al-Hasan b. 'Ali (a)
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) Rabab, Layla, Umm Ishaq, Shahr Banu (?)
Son(s) 'Ali, 'Ali al-Akbar, 'Ali al-Asghar, ...
Daughter(s) Sukayna, Fatima, Zaynab, ...
Titles 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)
The Twelve Imams
'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: الحسين بن علي بن أبي طالب) (b. Sha'ban 3, 4/January 11, 626 – d. Muharram 10, 61/October 10, 680) also known as Abu 'Abd Allah and Sayyid al-Shuhada', was the third Imam of the Shi'a who was martyred in the Battle of Karbala after 10 years of Imamate. He was the second son of Imam 'Ali (a) and Lady Fatima (a), and the grandson of the Prophet (s)

At the time of his birth, the Prophet (s) foretold his martyrdom and chose al-Husayn as his name. The Prophet (s) introduced him and his brother, Imam al-Hasan (a), as the Masters of the Youth of Paradise. The Prophet (s) loved the two (al-Hasanayn) and instructed people to love them. Al-Husayn (a) is one of the Ashab al-Kisa', one of the participants of the Mubahala, and one of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) about whom al-Tathir Verse is revealed. There is a lot of hadiths narrated from the Prophet (s) regarding the high position of al-Husayn (a).

There are few reports about his life in the three decades after the demise of the Prophet (s). In the period of the caliphate of Imam 'Ali (a) he accompanied his father and participated in the battles of Siffin, Jamal, and Nahrawan alongside his father. After the demise of Imam 'Ali (a), he followed and supported Imam al-Hasan (a). He confirmed the treaty between Imam al-Hasan (a) and Mu'awiya. Even after the martyrdom of Imam al-Hasan (a), Imam al-Husayn (a) adhered to the treaty until the Mu'awiya's death. In his answer to the letters from Kufa, which invited him to lead an uprising against Mu'awiya, he invited them to patience till the death of Mu'awiya.

The imamate of Imam al-Husayn was simultaneous with the rule of Mu’awiya, who apparently respected the Imam (a) but, at the same time, took all measures to oppress the Shi’a. Imam al-Husayn (a) rebuked Mu’awiyah in several cases: He wrote Mu’awiya a letter, condemning him for the murder of Hujr b. Adi. In another occasion, When Mu’awiya introduced Yazid as his successor, Imam al-Husayn (a) refused to pay allegiance to him, calling him unfit for leadership, and proclaimed himself as the rightful leader of the ummah. The sermon of the Imam (a) in Mina can also be regarded as a political lecture against the Umayyads.

After Mu'awiya died, Imam al-Husayn (a) refused to give allegiance to Yazid and considered his rise to caliphate as illegitimate. When al-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 28, 60/May 7, 680. In the four months he stayed in Mecca, the people of Kufa sent many letters supporting the Imam (a) as their 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 seventy-two) were martyred and the remaining companions were taken as prisoners to Kufa and Syria.

There are different views as to the purpose of the Imam’s (a) journey from Medina to Karbala. Some believe that the Imam (a) intended to establish a government, but others hold that the Imam (a) merely wanted to protect his life.

The martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) has had a deep impact throughout history on Muslims in general and on the Shi’a in particular; it has inspired various movements of resistance and revolts against oppressive rulers.

Following the instructions of the Imams (a), visiting the shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a) and the mourning ceremonies and rituals related to his martyrdom found a special place among the Shi’a, especially during the two months of Muharram and Safar.

Sunni Muslims, also, have a high regard for Imam al-Husayn (a), because of the hadiths they have transmitted about his virtues and also because of his resistance against Yazid.

Imam al-Husayn’s (a) hadiths, letters, sermons, poems, and supplications are collected in Mawsu’at kalimat al-Imam al-Husayn (The Encyclopedia of Imam al-Husayn’s [a] Words) and in Musnad al-Imam al-Shahid (The Musnad of the Martyred Imam). Many works have also been produced about different aspects of his life and personality.

Lineage, Naming, Kunya, and Titles

Al-Husayn b. 'Ali b. Abi Talib b. 'Abd al-Muttalib b. Hashim was a Hashemite and from the Quraysh tribe. His father was Imam 'Ali (a) and his mother was Lady Fatima (a). He is a grandson of the Prophet (s).[1] Imam al-Hasan (a), Abu l-Fadl al-'Abbas, and Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya are his brothers, and Lady Zaynab is his sister.

Family tree of Ahl al-Bayt (a)
'Abd Allah
Lady Fatima
Imam Ali
Umm al-Banin
Imam al-Husayn
Imam al-Hasan
Lady Zaynab
Umm Kulthum
Abd Allah
Umm Kulthum
'Abd Allah
'Abd Allah
Imam al-Sajjad
'Ali al-Akbar
'Ali al-Asghar
Imam al-Baqir
Imam al-Sadiq
'Abd Allah
'Ubayd Allah
Imam al-Kazim
Umm Farwa
'Abd Allah
Imam al-Rida
Imam al-Jawad
Imam al-Hadi
Imam al-'Askari
Imam al-Mahdi

According to Shi'a and Sunni narrations, the Prophet (s) followed God's order and named him al-Husayn[2] The names al-Hasan and al-Husayn have no historical precedence before Islam and are translations of Shubbar and Shubayr the names of the two sons Aaron.[3] There are other reports too about why he was named al-Husayn. It is reported, for instance, that Imam Ali (a) initially named him Harb or Ja’far, but the Prophet (s) chose the name al-Husayn for him. However, scholars have regarded such reports as inauthentic.[citation needed]

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.[4] Also, Imam al-Husayn (a) was known by other kunyas, Abu 'Ali, Abu l-Shuhada [father of the martyrs], Abu l-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 same as the titles associated with his brother, Imam al-Hasan (a), like Sayyid Shabab Ahl al-Janna (master of the youth of the paradise). 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. In some Shi'a hadiths, Imam al-Husayn (a) is referred to as al-Shahid or Sayyid al-Shuhada. Thar Allah and Qatil al-'Abarat are other titles which are mentioned in some ziyarah texts.

According to a hadith, which is recorded in many Sunni and Shiite sources, the Prophet (s) said, “Al-Husayn is a sibt from the asbat.” About the meaning of sibt and its plural asbat, it is said that asbat are those descendants of prophets who are chosen as leaders of people.


Imam al-Husayn (a) was born in Medina. While some have recorded that he (a) was born in 3/625, the most preferred account among historians and scholars is that his birth was in 4/626. There is no consensus regarding the day the Imam (a) was born but it is believed it was most likely on Sha'ban 3. Al-Mufid mentioned his birth in Sha'ban 5.

According to Sunni and Shiite reports, when al-Husayn (a) was born, the Prophet (s) wept and talked about his martyrdom. According to some reports, in his childhood, Umm al-Fadl, the wife of al-‘Abbas b. ‘Abd al-Muttalib, became his wet nurse.[citation needed]

According to Ibn Sa'd,[5] the Prophet (s) ordered Umm al-Fadl, wife of al-'Abbas b. 'Abd al-Muttalib to take care of al-Husayn and thus he became the Rida'i (foster) brother of Qutham b. al-'Abbas who was also an infant.[6]

Wives and Children

There is disagreement about the count of the children of Imam al-Husayn (a). Al-Shaykh al-Mufid reports Imam al-Husayn (a) had six children, four boys and two girls. Some scholars such as al-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.

Wife Lineage Children Comment
Shahrbanu daughter of Yazdgird the king of Iran Imam al-Sajjad (a) contemporary researchers doubt this, in some reports she is mentioned as Sindiyya, Ghazala, and Shah-i Zanan
Rabab daughter of Imru' al-Qays b. 'Adi Sukayna and 'Abd Allah She was present in the Battle of Karbala and went to Syria among the captives of Karbala. 'Abd Allah was an infant when he was martyred during the Battle of Karbala. Today, Shi'as name him as 'Ali al-Asghar.
Layla bt. Abi Murra al-Thaqafi daughter of Abu Murra b. 'Urwa al-Thaqafi Ali al-Akbar (a) 'Ali al-Akbar (a) was the eldest son of Imam al-Husayn (a), who was martyred in Karbala.
Umm Ishaq bt. Talha dauter of Talah b. 'Ubayd Allah Fatima Umm Ishaq was a wife of Imam al-Hasan (a), after his martyrdom, Imam al-Husayn (a) married her.
Sulafa or Maluma from Quda'a tribe Ja'far He passed away before the events of 'Ashura', and was survived by no children.

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:

Shia Islam

Lifetime of the Prophet (s)

Hadith of the Prophet (s) about Imam al-Husayn (a) at the entrance of Imam al-Husayn (a) Holy Shrine

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

Timeline of Imam al-Husayn's (s) Life

تابلوی عصر عاشورا.jpg

Sha'ban 3 or 5, 4/January 11 or 13, 626 Birthday[7]
7/728-9 Revelation of al-Tathir Verse about Ashab al-Kisa'[8]
Dhu l-Hijja 24 9/April 6, 631 Presence in Mubahala[9]
Rabi' I 11/June 632 Going with his father, mother, and brother to the houses of Ansar and those who participated in the Battle of Badr to gain support for rightful position of khilafa of his father.[10]
Dhu l-Hijja 35/June 656 Protection of 'Uthman's house by the order of Imam 'Ali (a) against oppressors.[11]
Dhu l-Hijja 35/June 656 Delivering a sermon for people after they gave allegiance to Imam 'Ali (a).[12]
Jumada II 36/December 656 Presence in Battle of Jamal[13]
Safar 37/July 657 Presence in Battle of Siffin[14]
Safar 38/658 Presence in Battle of Nahrawan[15]
41/662 Rrturn form Kufa to Medina[16]
Safar 28, 50/March 30, 670 Martyrdom of Imam al-Hasan (a) and the beginning of Imam al-Husayn's (a) Imamate[17]
51/671[18] or 52/672[19] or 53/673[20] Writing critical letter to Mu'awiya as he murdered Hujr b. 'Adi and his companions.
Dhu l-Hijja 58/October 678 Delivering a sermon in Mina[21]
Rajab 26, 60/May 5, 680 Summoned to Dar al-Imara to pledge his allegiance to Yazid.[22]
Rajab 28, 60/May 7, 680 Leaving Medina toward Mecca[23]
Sha'ban 3, 60/May 12, 680 Entering Mecca[24]
Ramadan 10-14, 60/June 17-21, 680 Arrival of Kufiyans' letters to Imam (a)[25]
Ramadan 15, 60/June 22, 680 Sending Muslim b. 'Aqil from Mecca toward Kufa as his representative[26]
Dhu l-Hijja 8, 60/September 12, 680 Departure form Mecca toward Kufa[27]
Muharram 2, 61/October 5, 680 Entering Karbala[28]
Muharram 9, 61/October 12, 680 Announcing of the Battle by 'Umar b. Sa'd and Imam's (a) asking for a delay.[29]
Muharram 10, 61/October 13, 680 Event of 'Ashura and martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) and his companions.[30]

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. There is not so much information available about the life of al-Husayn (a) during this period which may be due to Imam 'Ali's (a) withdrawal from the rule.

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 Imam 'Ali (a).

Caliphate of 'Umar

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!" There is reports about the special respect of the second caliph for al-Husayn (a).

Caliphate of 'Uthman

According to some Sunni sources, Imam al-Hasan (a) and Imam al-Husayn (a) participated in the Battle of Ifriqiyya in 26/646-47 and in the Battle of Tabaristan in 29/649-50 or 30/650-51. This report is not affirmed in any Shiite sources. Moreover, it is said that no fight occurred in those battles, and the two sides made peace. Scholars disagree as to the authenticity of the reports that indicate the presence of the two Imams (a) in these battles. For instance, considering the weakness of their chains of transmitters and the disagreement of the Imams with the conquests, al-Sayyid Ja’far Murtada al-‘Amili maintains that these reports are inauthentic. He mentions that the fact that Imam Ali (a) did not allow them to participate in the battle of Siffin is further evidence that those reports are fabricated. However, some other scholars hold that the participation of the two Imams (a) in those battles were for the greater good of the Ummah and in order to provide Imam Ali (a) with accurate information about the circumstances and also to acquaint people with Ahl al-Bayt (a).

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.

Despite 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. This report has supporters and deniers.

Caliphate of Imam 'Ali (a)

It is reported that when people paid allegiance to Imam Ali (a), Imam al-Husayn (a) delivered a speech. During the Battle of Jamal, he was the commander of the left part of his father’s army. In the Battle of Siffin, he delivered a speech, encouraging the people to Jihad, and became the commander of the right part of the army. It is reported that in this battle, al-Husayn (a) was present in the successful operation for regaining the water from the enemy. Imam Ali (a) described that operation as the first victory achieved because of the blessing of al-Husayn’s presence. Some sources report that al-Husayn (a) participated in the battle of Nahrawan as well.

It is reported that Imam Ali (a) was very concerned for the life of Imam al-Hasan (a) and Imam al-Husayn (a), and stated that his concern was because they were the ones through whom the Prophet’s (s) progeny was to be preserved. Some sources report that when Imam Ali (a) was martyred, Imam al-Husayn (a) was with him and participated in his burial ceremony. However, according to some other sources, Imam al-Husayn (a) was on a mission in Mada’in when his father was assassinated. He returned to Kufa when he received the letter of his brother informing him about the incident.

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.


After the martyrdom of Imam al-Hasan (a) in 50/670, al-Husayn (a) became Imam and took this responsibility until his martyrdom in 61/680. 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.

Proofs of Imamate

The hadith of the Prophet (s) says, "These two sons of mine are Imams, be they sitting or standing", and it is further proof of the Imamate of al-Hasan (a) and al-Husayn (a).

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.

Regarding the Peace Treaty of Imam al-Hasan (a)

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. He wrote to them: "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."

Nonetheless, Imam al-Husayn (a) refused to approve the legitimacy of the government of Mu'awiya over Muslims. During the ten years 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 crimes or non-Islamic deeds of Mu'awiya.

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.

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.

Against Mu'awiya's Murders

Mu'awiya's crimes such as murdering Hujr b. 'Adi, 'Amr b. Hamiq al-Khuza'i, al-Hadrami and his companions met the most severe criticisms from the Imam (a).

Against Succession of Yazid=

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.

Rule of Yazid

Main article: Yazid b. Mu'awiya
Timeline of the Battle of Karbala
Rajab 15 Death of Mu'awiya b. Abi Sufyan
Rajab 28 Departure of Imam al-Husayn b. 'Ali (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. al-Hurr al-Ju'fi 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 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)

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.

Despite the opposition of many Muslims, especially noblemen of Mecca and Medina, Mu'awiya insisted on the Muslims' allegiance to Yazid and finally succeeded in gaining support for Yazid in 56/676.

Exiting 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 al-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

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 "And (those who) excuse [the faults of] the people." (Quran 3:134) and forgave him. Then the slave continued with "And Allah loves the generous." (Quran 3:134); 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.

It is reported that when Marwan b. Hakam insulted his mother, Imam al-Husayn (a) reacted harshly to it, the same as when Umayyads swore about Imam 'Ali (a), he (a) reacted harshly towards them.


  1. Mufīd, al-Irshād, vol. 2, p. 27.
  2. See: Kulayni, al-Kafi, Vol. 6, p. 33-34; Saduq, 'Ilal al-shara'i', vol. 1, p.137-138; 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
  3. Ibn Shahrashub, Manaqib al Abi Talib, vol. 3, p. 397; Irbili, Kashf al-ghumma, vol. 1, p. 525; Saduq, 'Ilal al-shara'i', Vol. 1, p. 138
  4. Mawsu'at kalamat Imam al-Husayn, p. 38
  5. Ibn Sa'd, Muhammad, Tabaqat al-kubra, vol. 6, p. 400-401
  6. Ibn A'tham, al-Futuh, vol. 4, p. 323; Al-Irbili, 'Ali b. 'Isa, Kashf al-ghumma, vol. 2, p. 308-320, 348-349
  7. Ṭūsī, Miṣbāḥ al-mutihajjid, p.826; Mufīd, al-Irshād, vol.2 p.27
  8. Yūsufī Gharawī, Mawsū'a al-Tārīkh al-Islāmī, vol.3 p.130
  9. Mufīd, al-Irshād, vol.1 p.166-171; Ibn Shahrāshūb, Manāqib Āl Abī Ṭālib, vol.3 p.144
  10. Ibn Qutayba, al-Imāma wa l-sīyāsa, vol.1 p.29-30; Ṭabrisī, al-Iḥtijāj, vol.1 p.75
  11. Ibn Ḥajar al-ʿAsqalānī, al-Iṣāba, vol.4 p.379
  12. Majlisī, Biḥār al-anwār, vol.10 p.121
  13. Dhahabī, Tārīkh al-Islam, vol.3 p.485
  14. Ibn Shahrāshūb, Manāqib Āl Abī Ṭālib, vol.3 p.168
  15. Ibn ʿAbd al-Barr, al-Istīʿāb, vol.3 p.939
  16. Tabari, Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol.5 p.165
  17. Ṭabrisī, Taj al-mawalid, p.82
  18. Tabari, Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol.5 p.253
  19. Yaʿqūbī, Tārīkh al-Yaʿqūbī, vol.2 p.231
  20. Masʿūdī, Murūj al-dhahab, vol.3 p.188
  21. Ibn Shuʿba al-Ḥarrānī, Tuḥaf al-ʿuqūl, p.68
  22. Tabari, Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol.5 p.339
  23. Mufīd, al-Irshād, vol.2 p.34; Baladhurī, Ansāb al-ashrāf, vol.3 p.160
  24. Tabari, Tārīkh al-umam wa l-mulūk, vol.5 p.381
  25. Ṣibt b. al-Jawzī, Tadhkirat al-khawāṣ, p.220
  26. Masʿūdī, Murūj al-dhahab, vol.3 p.54
  27. Mufīd, al-Irshād, vol.2 p.66
  28. Mufīd, al-Irshād, vol.2 p.84
  29. Mufīd, al-Irshād, vol.2 p.90-91
  30. Mufīd, al-Irshād, vol.2 p.95-112


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Further Reading

External Links

Name Titles Kunya Day of Birth Year of
Day of Martyrdom Year of
Place of
Imamate Duration of
Mother's name
'Ali b. Abi Talib (a) Amir al-Mu'minin Abu l-Hasan 13 Rajab/1 October 30 'Am al-fil/600 Ka'ba 21 Ramadan/31 January 40/661 Kufa 11/632-40/661 29 years Fatima bt. Asad
al-Hasan b. 'Ali (a) Al-Mujtaba Abu Muhammad 15 Ramadan/4 March 3/625 Medina 28 Safar/30 March 50/670 Medina 40/661-50/670 10 years Lady Fatima (a)
al-Husayn b. 'Ali (a) Sayyid al-Shuhada' Abu 'Abd Allah 3 Sha'ban/11 January 4/626 10 Muharram/10 October 61/680 Karbala 50/670-61/680 10 years
'Ali b. al-Husayn (a) al-Sajjad, Zayn al-'abidin Abu l-Hasan 5 Sha'ban/9 January 38/658 25 Muharram/24 October 95/713 Medina 61/680-95/713 35 years Shahrbanu
Muhammad b. 'Ali (a) Baqir al-'ulum Abu Ja'far 1 Rajab/13 May 57/677 7 Dhu l-Hijja/1 February 114/733 95/713-114/733 19 years Fatima
Ja'far b. Muhammad (a) al-Sadiq Abu 'Abd Allah 17 Rabi' I/24 April 83/704 25 Shawwal /18 December 148/765 114/733-148/765 34 years Fatima
Musa b. Ja'far (a) al-Kazim Abu l-Hasan 7 Safar/12 November 128745 25 Rajab/5 September 183/799 Kadhimiyya 148/765-183/799 35 years Hamida al-Barbariyya
'Ali b. Musa (a) al-Rida Abu l-Hasan 11 Dhu l-Qa'da/2 January 148/766 End of Safar/9 September 203/818 Mashhad 183/799-203/818 20 years Najma
Muhammad b. 'Ali (a) al-Taqi, al-Jawad Abu Ja'far 10 Rajab/12 April 195/811 End of Dhu l-Qa'da/29 November 220/835 Kadhimiyya 203/818-220/835 17 years Sabika
'Ali b. Muhammad (a) al-Hadi, al-Naqi Abu l-Hasan 15 Dhu l-Hijja/10 March 212/828 3 Rajab/2 July 254/868 Samarra 220/835-254/868 34 years Samana al-Maghribiyya
al-Hasan b. 'Ali (a) al-Zakiyy, al-'Askari Abu Muhammad 10 Rabi' II/8 December 232/846 8 Rabi' I/5 January 260/874 254/868-260/874 6 years Hudayth
Hujja b. al-Hasan (a) al-Qa'im Abu l-Qasim 15 Sha'ban/2 August 255/289 Samarra
Since 260/874 up to(1439)