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Captives of Karbala

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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)

Captives of Karbalā (Arabic: أسراء کربلاء) are the members of Ahl al-Bayt (a) and the families of some of the martyrs of Karbala who were captured by Kufa army led by 'Umar b. Sa'd during the Event of Karbala and after the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a). They were taken to Kufa and then to Damascus. There are disagreements about the exact number of the captives. However, Imam al-Sajjad (a) and Lady Zaynab (a) are the most famous and eminent figures among them, who inform people about the tyranny of Yazid by their fiery sermons during the captivity.


Historians disagreed about the number of captives form Ahl al-Bayt (a) and the survivors of Imam al-Husayn's companions. Some sources reported that there were 61 women among the captives.

These names have been reported as the captives of Karbala:

  • Men: Imam al-Sajjad (a), Imam al-Baqir (a), Umar b. al-Husayn b. Ali (a). Muhammad b. al-Husayn b. Ali, Zayd b. al-Hasan b. Ali (a),[1] Muhammad b. 'Amr b. al-Hasan b. Ali (a), two sons of Ja'far b. Abi Talib, 'Abd Allah b. 'Abbas b. Ali (a), Qasim b. 'Abd Allah b. Ja'far, Qasim b. Muhammad b. Ja'far, Muhammad al-Asghar b. 'Aqil, 'Uqbat b. Sam'an (Rabab's servant), servant of 'Abd al-Rahman b. 'Abd Rabbih al-Ansari, Muslim b. Ribah (servant of Imam Ali (a)), and 'Ali b. 'Uthman al-Maghribi.
  • Women: Imam Ali's daughters:[2] Lady Zaynab, Fatima, Umm Kulthum (or Nafisa or Zaynab al-Sughra), Umm al-Hasan, Khadija the wife of Abd al-Rahman b. Aqil, Umm Hani the wife of Abd Allah al-Akbar b. Aqil. Daughters of Imam al-Husayn (a): Sukayna, Fatima, Ruqayya, and Zaynab. Rabab (Imam al-Husayn's wife),[3] Umm Muhammad (Fatima the daughter of Imam al-Hasan (a) the Imam al-Sajjad's wife and Imam al-Baqir's mother), and Fakiha the mother of Qarib b. 'Abd Allah b. Urayqit.

Moving Towards Kufa

After the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a), Ahl al-Bayt (a) passed the night after Ashura' in Karbala. In the afternoon of 11th of Muharram, after that 'Umar b. Sa'd's army buried all the dead bodies of the army, they gathered Ahl al-Bayt (a) and the survivors from Imam's companions and took them to Kufa.

Passing by Martyrs

Umar b. Sa'd's army moved the caravan of captives toward the battlefield and passed them by the bodies of martyrs, while they were weeping, crying and hitting their faces. Qurra b. Qays al-Tamimi says, "Whatever I forget, I will not forget this saying of Zaynab, Fatima's daughter, when she was passing by the fallen body of her brother, al-Husayn: 'Oh Muhammad, Oh Muhammad! May the angels of the heaven salute you, this is al-Husayn, fallen on the desert, immersed in blood, his body torn to pieces. Oh, Muhammad! These are your daughters! They are being taken captives! Your children are slain! The zephyr is blowing on their bodies! ...'"

He adds, "She made the friend and enemy cry."

Army's Treatment of Captives

The enemy army mounted the captives on bareback camels and horses. When they entered Kufa, people came out to see them; women of Kufa were crying for them. Khidhlam b. Sitir says, "Amongst them I saw Ali b. al-Husayn (a) tied in chains and his hands were tied to his neck."

Entering Kufa

There is no explicit report about the exact date of their arrival to Kufa in early sources. However, according to a sentence of al-Shaykh al-Mufid, they entered Kufa on Muharram 12.

In Kufa

Delivering Sermons

After that the caravan of captives entered Kufa, the following figures delivered sermons to public:

In 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad Court

The captives were taken to the palace of 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad in Kufa. Harsh conversation between Lady Zaynab (a) and 'Ubayd Allah have been reported. It is also reported that 'Ubayd Allah ordered his soldiers to kill Imam al-Sajjad (a); but by intercession of Lady Zaynab (a) and the harsh words of Imam al-Sajjad (a), he avoided killing him.

Towards Damascus


The exact route of the caravan from Kufa to Damascus is unknown. However, considering the sacred places related to Imam al-Husayn (a) within that area shows the probable route they took toward Damascus. These sacred places are:

  • Maqam Ra's al-Husayn (shrine of the head of al-Husayn) in Mosul: according to Hirawi, this Maqam was there to the 7th/13th century.
  • Masjid Imam Zayn al-'Abidin (a) and Maqam Ra's al-Husayn (shrine of the head of al-Husayn) in Nusaybin: Currently, Nusaybin is a city in Turkey. It is said that the Imam al-Husayn's head was put there and his blood has dripped there. Hirawi have registered this shrine as Mashhad al-Nuqta.
  • Maqam al-Turh: Turh means a premature baby. Probably, there was a pregnant woman among the captives whose baby was born prematurely.
  • Maqam al-Hajar: The head of Imam was put there.
  • Maqam of the mountain of Jawshan: This mountain is located in Aleppo (Halab). It is said that its name was taken from the name of Shimr b. Dhi l-Jawshan. According to some historians a monk who lived there borrowed the head of Imam al-Husayn (a) from the army for one night. It is also known as Mashhad al-Siqt, as the grave of Muhsin b. al-Husayn is located there.
The stone said to be reddened with the blood from the head of Imam al-Husayn (a), Aleppo, Syria
  • Maqam al-Humat: This Maqam is placed inside Aleppo. Ibn Shahr Ashub has mentioned this place.
  • Maqam Homs: Likewise, Ibn Shahr Ashub has mentioned this place.
  • Maqam Baalbek: There is a mosque in this city, which is said that it was Maqam Ra's al-Husayn in the past.
  • Maqam Ra's al-Husayn (shrine of the head of al-Husayn) and Maqam al-Imam Zayn al-'Abidin (a) in Damascus: These two Maqams are located next to Umayyad Mosque. Ibn 'Asakir has mentioned Maqam Ra's al-Husayn and other sources reported that Maqam al-Imam Zayn al-'Abidin (a) is near that.

Accompanying Soldiers

'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad sent a group of soldiers along with the captives to Damascus. Famous people such as Shimr b. Dhi l-Jawshan and Tariq b. Muhaffiz b. Tha'laba were among them. Some reports also added that Zahr b. Qays accompanied them.

According to Ibn A'tham and al-Khwarazmi, the soldiers and agents of 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad mounted the captives on uncovered howdahs and moved them from city to city, and treated them like infidel captives.

Imam al-Sajjad (a) has been quoted: "They mounted me on a crippled skinny camel with a wooden howdah that did not have any mat in it, while the head of Imam al-Husayn (a) was at the top of a spear and the women were behind me and the spears were around us. If any of us shed a drop of tear, they would hit him on the head by the spears; until we arrived to Damascus. When we entered Damascus, I heard someone shouting: O people of Damascus! These are the captives of a cursed household!"

In Damascus

  • Decorating the city: Yazid gave his orders to decorate the city before the arrival of the captives. Sahl b. Sa'd al-Sa'idi is one of the narrators who reported that the city was decorated and people were happy when the captives entered the city.
  • The day of arrival: according to historical reports, on Safar 1 the captives and the heads of martyrs of Karbala entered Damascus from Bab Tuma or Bab al-Sa'at. They were taken to Umayyad Mosque and were kept on a raised platform there.
  • Report to Yazid: After that soldiers circled the captives in Damascus, they went to Yazid's court. Zahr b. Qays, in behalf of all the soldiers, reported what had happened in Karbala to Yazid.
  • Arrival of captives to Yazid's court: After the report, Yazid ordered to decorate his palace and invited the elites of Damascus, then ordered to bring the captives into his palace. Reports denote that they brought the captives into the palace while they were tied to each other by ropes. At this moment, Fatima bt. al-Husayn (a) said, "O Yazid! Do the granddaughters of the Prophet (s) deserve to be captives?" The people and the household of Yazid cried by her saying.
  • Yazid and the head of Imam al-Husayn (a): In the presence of the captives, Yazid had put the head of Imam al-Husayn (a) in a gold tub and was hitting it with his staff. When Sukayna and Fatima, the daughters of Imam al-Husayn (a), saw that; they shouted crying in a way that the wives of Yazid and daughters of Mu'awiya cried along. It is narrated form Imam al-Rida (a) that Yazid put the head of Imam al-Husayn (a) in a tub and put his food table on it and started eating and drinking beer at that table with his companions. Then they put the table of Chess on that tub and started playing it. Whenever he won, he drank a glass of beer and poured the rest of it on the ground near the tub in which was the head of Imam al-Husayn (a).
  • Objections: Some people who were present there opposed to Yazid's behaviors, including Yahya b. al-Hakam, Marwan b. al-Hakam's brother, whom Yazid punched on the chest, and Abu Barza al-Aslami, whom Yazid ordered to be taken out of the palace.
  • Delivering sermons: After that Imam al-Sajjad (a) and Lady Zaynab (a) saw that the people of Damascus do not know anything about the real Islam and the high status of Ahl al-Bayt (a), they delivered sermons to inform people about the tyranny of Umayyad dynasty and enlighten them about the truth.
  • Residence: According to historical and narrative sources, Ahl al-Bayt (a) resided in two locations in Damascus. First: a roofless ruins, in which the story of lady Ruqayya took place. The captives were there for two days; however after the sermons of Imam al-Sajjad (a) and Lady Zaynab (a) the public opinion changed about Ahl al-Bayt (a) and Yazid had to move them to a house near his palace.
  • Duration: Most of historians said that captives stayed in Damascus for three days; however 'Imad al-Din al-Tabari said that they stayed there for 7 days. In another account, Sayyid b. Tawus said that they stayed for a month; nonetheless, he pointed that this report is not reliable.

Returning Route

The exact date of the departure of captives from Damascus is unknown. There are disagreement between scholars whether the captives passed by Karbala on their way back to Medina or not. Sayyid Muhammad Ali Qadi Tabataba'i in his book Tahqiq darbari-yi awwalin arba'in-i Sayyid al-Shuhada' (a) (study about the first Arba'in of Sayyid al-Shuhada' (a)) tried to prove this; however, Muhaddith al-Nuri and Shaykh 'Abbas Qummi do not accept this.

Arriving in Medina

When the captives of Karbala got near to Medina, Imam al-Sajjad (a) ordered them to camp outside the city and sent Bashir b. Hadhlam to the city to inform the people about the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a).

Bashir went to al-Masjid al-Nabawi and recited this poem while crying:

"O people of Medina! Do not stay in Medina any more; al-Husayn has been killed so weep copiously.
His body, in Karbala, soaked in blood and his head, on the top of spear, is circled."

Bashir informed the people that Imam al-Sajjad (a) and Ahl al-Bayt (a) has camped outside the city. By hearing the news, women of Medina came out from their houses crying, weeping and shouting. No day people were seen crying like that day; it was the saddest day for Muslims after the demise of the Prophet (s).


  1. Abū l-Faraj al-Iṣfahānī, ‘’Maqātil al-ṭālibīyyīn’’, vol. 3, p. 198-199.
  2. Ibn Shaddād, ‘’al-Aʿlāq al-khaṭīra’’, p. 48-50.
  3. Muḥammadī Riyshahrī, ‘’Dānishnāma-yi Imām Ḥusayn (a)’’, vol. 1, p. 283.