IMAM HUSSEIN (A.S.) IN KARBALA'
Imam Hussein's (a.s.) caravan set off on the eighth day of the month of Dhul-Hijjah, (the day the pilgrims get ready to perform hajj), in the year of 60 A.H.
Many had questioned as to why he would leave without performing the hajj ceremonies. He replied:
"By Allah, should I be killed a span's distance away from Mecca, that would be more desirable for me than being killed in it. And should I be killed two spans' distance away from it, that would be more desirable for me than being killed a span's distance from it."(55)
On his way, at a place called al-Sifah, Imam Hussein (a.s.) came across al-Farazdaq, a poet known for his love for Ahlul-Bait (a.s.). Imam Hussein (a-s.) asked him about the public opinion and the political conditions in Iraq. "The hearts of the people are with you, but their swords are against you. The decision comes from Heaven and Allah does what He wishes."
"You have spoken truly of the affair belonging to Allah," replied Imam Hussein (a.s.). "Every moment He is in a state of glory. If fate sends down what we like, we praise Allah for His blessings. He is the One from Whom help should be sought. However although fate may frustrate our hopes, yet, It does not destroy the souls of those whose intention is the truth, and whose hearts are pious."(56)
The Ummayyad authorities in Kufa were confused. Measures were taken to prevent Imam Hussein (a.s.) from going on with his uprising. The governor of Kufa and chief administrator, Ubaidullah bin Ziyad, ordered the way to Kufa blocked and the traffic into and out of the city closed so that no one could contact Imam Hussein (a.s.) or find the chance to join him. He sent the head of his police, al-Husayn bin Numair al-Tamimi, to carry out his orders. Al-Husayn encamped at al-Qadisiyyah and deployed his troops on the main road to Kufa. The troops were widely positioned in an area extending from al-Qadisyyah to Khaffan, and from al-Qadisiyyah to Qatanah and the mountain of La'la'.
The plan to prevent people from entering and leaving Kufa was a successful for the most part. Only a handful of brave ones managed to reach Imam Hussein (a.s.) during his journey. The messengers whom Imam Hussein (a.s.) had sent to Kufa had all been captured and martyred. Even the deaths of Muslim and Hani were not known to him until these few men had managed to escape from Kufa and inform him.
At a place called Zubalah he heard of the martydom of both Muslim bin Aqeel and Hani bin Urwah. He gathered his companions and the members of his family and disclosed to them the news of the Kufans' failing of him.
"Our Shi'ah have deserted us," he told them. "Those of you who prefer to leave us, may do so freely and without guilt."
Some people had joined Imam Hussein (a.s.) in Mecca feeling sure that with the support of the Kufans he would be victorious and become the new caliph. When they heard this news they dispersed from him right and left until there were only left with him those close companions and his family members including the women.(57)
Deep inside Iraq, Imam Hussein (a.s.) came face to face with a great army led by al-Hurr bin Yazid al-Riyahi. He chose a good, fortified place and encamped there. The Ummayyad commander encamped, in a military broad line, in front of the camp of Imam Hussein (a.s.). Imam Hussein's (a.s.) army Wag, by then, facing the hostile army, but they were protected, from the rear, by the mountain of Dhi-Hasm. Obviously the enemies could not lay siege to them or surround them.
Tension was already mounting between the two camps facing each other. When it was midday, and the time for midday prayer entered, Imam Hussein (a.s.) ordered one of his companions to recite the call to prayer. He began to address the two sides. He conveyed to them his viewpoints concerning the general situation in the Islamic homeland. He explained to his enemies the motives behind his move, and asked them to honor their promises and the covenants they had made with him, and the pledge of allegiance they had given him. They only listened and said nothing.
Having finished his speech, Imam Hussein (a.s.) led both sides in prayer. All of them offered their prayer behind him.
Once again, after the afternoon prayer, Imam Hussein (a.s.) delivered another speech. In front of them, he emptied two bags full of letters sent by the Kufans to him, calling him to come to Kufa and giving their pledge of allegiance to him. Hurr replied that he and his men were not the writers of those letters. When Imam Hussein (a.s.) had addressed them he told that if they did not like him he was prepared to turn back toward Hijaz, al-Hurr bin Yazid al-Riyahi said:
"We are commissioned to follow you until we take you to Ibn Ziyad."
Imam Hussein (a.s.) replied:
"You will find your death easier than that."
Imam Hussein (a.s.) and his followers left the place with Hurr travelling parallel but at a distance. When Imam Hussein (a.s.) attempted to return to Medina, Hurr blocked his path.
Hurr then said:
"I have not been ordered to fight with you. I have to follow you until you reach Kufa. If you do not want to go to Kufa then I suggest to you to go towards a station which is neither Kufa nor Medina."
Imam Hussein (a.s.) considered this a fair proposal and turned his caravan to the left of the road which ran between Qadsiyyah and Azib.
Hurr marched along parallel to Imam Hussein (a.s.) While marching, the two spoke. Hurr said:
"I appeal to you in the name of Allah to avoid battle because you are bound to be killed."
Imam Hussein (a.s.) retorted:
"Do you think you can frighten me with death? Could a worse disaster befall you than killing me? I can only say to you what the brother of al-Aws said to his cousin when he wanted to help the Prophet of Allah (s.a.w.). His cousin feared for him and said: 'Where are you going, you will be killed.' But he replied: 'I will depart, for there is no shame for a young man whenever he intends to do what is right and fight like a Muslim. He who soothes righteous men through the sacrifice of his life, has partied with the cursed and opposed the criminal. If I live, I will not regret what I have done, and if I die, I will not be blamed. Let it be enough for you to live in humiliation and be reviled.'"
Al-Hurr gave up all hope of persuading Imam Hussein (a.s.) to go to Kufa, so he kept a good distance between the two armies. Imam Hussein (a.s.) continued his journey to the target he desired to reach. The Ummayyad army kept the other army under surveillance. The two armies reached a village called Nainawa. At it a messenger sent by Ubaidullah bin Ziyad, arrived and delivered a message to Hurr. The message read:
"When this letter of mine arrives and my messenger comes to you, force Hussein to a halt. But only let him stop in an open place, without vegetation or water. I have ordered my messenger to stay with you and not take his leave until he brings the news of your carrying out my instructions. Wassalam."(58)
Having finished reading, al-Hurr conveyed its contents to Imam Hussein (a.s.). Imam Hussein (a.s.) said: "Then let us stop at Nainawa, al-Ghadhiriyah or Shufayyah." Al-Hurr turned down the suggestion, saying that he feared the authorities and the spies in his army.
Imam Hussein (a.s.) thereupon, addressed his followers:
"No doubt you are aware of the gravity of the situation which you are witnessing yourselves here and now. Life has certainly changed disguises, and good has gone forever. This has continued till the remaining good in it amounts to the thin sediment at the bottom of a drinking utensil. Life is a mean food, like a pasture covered with bad grass. Do you not see that the truth is not followed and falsehood not discouraged? The faithful must certainly desire to meet his Lord righteously. I do not deem death other than martyrdom and life among the unjust other than suffering and boredom."(59)
Then Imam Hussein's (a.s.) army defiantly resumed its march deep into Iraq. It was not long before the Ummayyad army blocked his way and forced him to encamp at a place called Karbala'. That was the second day of the month of Muharram in the year 61 A.H.
When Imam Hussein (a.s.) learned of the name of the place he dismounted and ordered his camp to be set up. He had reached his destination. The plain of Karbala', the cradle of the uprising, the site of the massacre of the heroes, the beacon of glory, and the symbol of power. When he dismounted he stated that his father, Imam Ali (a.s.), on his way to Siffeen had passed by this desert plain when he himself had been in his company. Imam Ali (a.s) had informed him that he would be forced to camp here and his blood would be shed here.
On the desert of Karbala' Imam Hussein (a.s.) emerged as a symbol for free men, and a slogan for the revolutionaries throughout the ages and generations.
On the other hand, the Ummayyad authorities, at the helm of which stood Ubaidullah bin Ziyad in Kufa, started sending reinforcements and mobolizing more forces for Karbala'. They knew full well that Imam Hussein (a.s.) was not someone unknown or with no weight. They were still obsessed by fear, in spite of the fact that Imam Hussein (a.s.) would be defended by only a few men, and that the Kufans had failed him.
Ziyad replaced al-Hurr with Umar bin Sa'd as the new commander who would engage Imam Hussain (a.s.). First, Umar hesitated to accept the command, but finally he gave in to the lures of governorship and imaginary wealth. He agreed to take up the task. At the head of an army of 4,000, he set off to fight Imam Hussein (a.s.). He ordered his army to encamp nearby.
Imam Hussein (a.s.) started talks with Umar bin Sa'd. They sat down many times. At the end, Umar was convinced to lift the siege he had laid to the camp of Imam Hussein (a.s.), and open the way for him to leave Iraq. He sent a message to Ubaidullah bin Ziyad notifying him of the result of their talks. Ubaidullah conceeded and tried to put it into effect, when Shimr bin Dhil-Jawshan, a vowed enemy of Imam Hussein (a.s.) interferred. He warned Ziyad that Imam Hussein (a.s.) would, after the lifting of the siege, act from a position of strength, and it would be extremely difficult to face him. The balance of power would tip in his favor. Persuaded, Ubaidullah wrote a letter to Umar bin Sa'd, in which he threatened him and turned down his offer. He ordered Shimr to deliver the letter in person to Umar. Furthermore, he presented two choices before Umar; he should either go to war with Imam Hussein (a.s.), or he would be relieved of his post as commander of the army. Shimr would occupy his place in this case and dispatch his head, as well, to Kufa.
Umar bin Sa'd got the letter. He pondered over it for a length of time. He could either fight Imam Hussein (a.s.) or lose power and his post as commander of the army. Satan, eventually, got the better of him. He chose the loss of this life and the hereafter. He would certainly fight Imam Hussein (a.s.). Accordingly, he moved his troops, on the seventh of the holy month of Muharram, to surround the Husseini army. They cut his camp off from access to the river Euphrates, so as to deprive them of water to force them to surrender.
Two days later, on the ninth of Muharram, the treacherous Ummayyad army began closing in on the camp of Imam Hussein (a.s.). Imam Hussein (a.s.) thought of a way to stop the march of the enemies. He asked his brother, Abbas, to call on the army to stop their aggression. Their response was a reply of a weak-willed, helpless army manipulated by the rulers, "Let Hussein accept the judge of the prince, or, otherwise, we will fight him."
Imam Hussein (a.s.) saw that he could not negotiate with this herd of weak-willed men who dedicated themselves to win booty and wealth. He asked his brother, Abbas, once again, to talk to the army and demand a delay of only one night. Umar bin Sa'd and his officers agreed to grant Imam Hussein (a.s.) the delay he asked.
On the morrow, history would turn a new page in the life of Islam. Men would fight one another in a great and glorious battle in Karbala'.
Imam Hussein (a.s.), together with his pious companions, passed the night before the tenth of Muharram in prayers, supplications and getting ready for the following day.
THE DAY OF ASHURA'
That night came to an end. It was as if a long history had elapsed. The tenth of Muharram, the day of blood, jihad and martyrdom, the day of the decisive battle, was already born.
Umar bin Sa'd was arranging his troops in line, and mobilizing his soldiers to fight the fifth member of the purified family of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.), whose love was decreed by Allah on the ummah through the explicit words of the Holy Qur'an.
Imam Hussein (a.s.) stared unperturbably and strong-hearted at the great army which was equipped to the teeth. Like a towering mountain, determined and unshakable, Imam Hussein (a.s.) did not show the smallest sign of weakness.
Never did he think of reconsidering his decision. There was no one but Allah to look to. He raised his hands in prayer:
"O Allah! It is You in Whom I trust amid all grief. You are my hope amid all violence. You are my refuge and provision in everything that happens to me. How many grievances that weaken the heart, leaving me with no means to handle them, during which friend deserts me, and the enemy rejoices in it. I lay it before you and complain of it to You, because of my desire in You. You alone. You relieve me of it and remove it from me. You are the Master of all grace, the Possessor of all goodness, and the Ultimate Resort of all desire."(60)
Imam Hussein (a.s.) went out of his tent, completely ready to engage the enemy. The battle was unescapable. So he started fortifying his camp where the children and women were waiting for what would happen next. He ordered the digging of a trench at the rear of the camp. This was to prevent the army from attacking the camp from that point. He set the trench ablaze. Secure as the back of the camp was, the battle would be fought in the front only.
Once again, Imam Hussein (a.s.) delivered a speech. He reminded the Kufans of their letters and envoys, combined with their pledge of allegiance, but to no avail. His call fell on deaf ears.
He mounted his horse, and galloped to a place before the hostile army, in his hand he grasped the Qur'an. He opened it, raising it above his head, and said: "O people! Let us have the Book of Allah and the Sunnah of my grandfather, the Prophet of Allah (s.a.w.), to arbitrate between us."(61)
No one seemed to be influenced by the words of Imam Hussein (a.s.). Rather, Umar bin Sa'd ordered the standard-bearer of his army to advance and gave the go-ahead for the war to start. He, himself, fired the first arrow toward the camp of Imam Hussein (a.s.), shouting, "All of you be witness that I am the first to shoot."
That was the outset of a catastrophe and tragedy which victimized the scion of prophethood and the leader of the Muslims, the grandson of the noble Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.), Hussein bin Ali bin Abi-Talib.
The men lunged at one another, first in single battles, then in a full war. It was only natural that strength would help the army of Yazid bin Mu'awiyah massacre this small group of warriors.
The whole tragedy of the Ahlul-Bait (a.s.), and their painful suffering at the hands of their enemies was crystally incarnated in the battle of Karbala'.
History tells us of scenes and tragic sights which are extremely difficult for writers, poets and artists to depict. A baby, for example, was in the arms of Imam Hussein (a.s.). It was his son, Abdullah, sometimes called Ali Asghar. It is after this child that Imam Hussein (a.s.) was given the title "Abu Abdullah" recorded in many books and salutations when referring to Imam Hussein (a.s.). He took Abdullah to the Ummayyad camp asking them to give him some water. Detachments were stationed at the banks of the Euphrates. With no access to the water, the family of Imam Hussein (a.s.) and their followers felt thirsty. Imam (a.s.) wanted to awaken their conscience and stir their human sentiments; but the stone-hearted enemies targeted the six-months old baby with an arrow which struck him in the throat and slaughtered him instantly.
Imam Hussein (a.s.) felt an unbearable wave of pain. The sight of the slaughtered baby was etched forever in his mind.
But his heart did not give way to weakness. He filled his palm with the blood of his little baby, and threw it upwards, complaining to his Lord, "I find consolation in the fact that what I am suffering is witnessed by Allah."
The battle got more horribly ferocious. One after the other, the followers and the members of Imam Hussein's (a.s.) family attained martyrdom. The last one to be martyred in that eternal battle was Imam Hussein (a.s.) himself. He became the sacred offering and the "greater sacrifice" to Allah. A three-pointed arrow hit Imam Hussein (a.s.) in the chest. Deeply embedded, he could not dislodge it. The blood gushed out of his holy chest unhalted. He fell down to the ground swimming in a pool of his blood.
The Ummayyad were not satisfied. Their hatred for Ahlul-Bait (a.s.) was too blazing to be extinguished by this. One criminal from the army of the Ummayyad, Shimr bin Dhil-Jawshan, walked over to Imam Hussein (a.s.), sat on his chest and cut off his head from the back of his neck. Ibn Sa'd ordered the horsemen to trample over the supine body of Imam Hussein (a.s.).
The star of Imam Hussein (a.s.) set. The tragedy set in. The head of Imam Hussein (a.s.), along with the heads of his companions (and even the tiny head of Abdullah) were distributed among the criminals, as gifts, carrying them to the Ummayyad governor of Kufa.
For three days the pure, holy bodies of the martyrs were left lying on the desert of Karbala' before men from the tribe of Bani-Asad who were living not far away from the battlefield buried them. The criminals, not yet satisfied with all this, carried the children and women, in addition to the sick son of Imam Hussein (a.s.), Imam Zain Al-Abideen (a.s.), as prisoners from Kufa to Syria. At the front of the sad procession were the heads of Imam Hussein (a.s.) and his followers.