The Memory of Karbala

Husayn was the second son of Ali ibn Abu Talib and Fatimah bint Muhammad, the last Prophet. He was born in the 4th year after the hijra. His older brother, Hasan was named as the successor to his father, after Ali was murdered in the mosque in Kufah, Iraq. After Ali's death, people pledged their allegiance to Hasan as the khalifa (successor). Soon after he took office, however, Mu'awiyah, who had fought with Ali over the caliphate, formed an army to attack Hasan. In the interests of peace and unity, Hasan handed over the position of khalifa to Mu'awiyah who ruled until his death and passing of the caliphate to his son, Yazid.

Mu'awiyah, who was the son of Abu Sufyan (the arch enemy of Islam until he accepted Islam after the Muslims returned to Makkah), was not well liked among the "religious" Muslims. They disliked his son, Yazid, even more. Yazid's open disregard for Islamic law (shariah) and practices made many Muslims cringe at the thought of him taking the caliphate. Mu'awiyah, however, who insisted on turning the caliphate into a monarchy, pushed people to pledge allegiance to his son. On his deathbed, Mu'awiyah told Yazid not to try to force Imam Husayn to give allegiance to him because this would cause too much trouble. Soon after, in 60 A.H., Mu'awiyah died.

Little time passed before Yazid made it clear to his governors in Madinah that they were to force Imam Husayn to pledge allegiance to him or send Imam Husayn's head to him in Damascus. Representatives of Yazid came to Husayn in Madinah and asked for his allegiance. Imam Husayn asked for some time before he made his decision. In the meantime, he was able to move his family to Makkah where they were protected by the Sacred Precincts, Masjid-al-Haraam. It is forbidden in Islam to harm anything within these precincts.

Many people in the Ummah at that time who were already dissatisfied with the caliphate began to send letters to Imam Husayn urging him to join them in the city of Kufah in Iraq. They swore to defend him to the death and gave their allegiance to him. To investigate the situation, Imam Husayn sent his cousin, Muslim ibn Aqil to Kufah. After discussing the situation with the people of Kufah, he was killed and beheaded by supporters of Yazid on Wednesday, 9th of Dhul-Hijja, the Day of Arafat, in the year 60 A.H. (680).

It was the time of pilgrimage in Makkah, and Imam Husayn had begun to perform the pilgrimage rites. When he learned that some of Yazid's men had come dressed as pilgrims to kill him in Makkah, he gathered his people together to leave for Iraq. He did not want his blood to be spilled within the sacred precincts and to have the sacred rite of Hajj dishonored by that violence. Thus, he, some members of his family, and a group of followers set out towards Kufah on 8th of Dhul-Hijjah.

As the Imam approached Iraq, he was informed that many of the people who had voiced their support for him had turned and now supported the reign of Yazid, possibly to save their own lives. It was then that many of his representatives, including Muslim Ibn Aqil were abused and killed.

As he and his followers marched closer to Iraq, a person that he met along the way who learned where he was going urged and pleaded with him not to continue his journey towards Kufah, but the Imam replied:

"Servant of God," he answered, "wise decisions are not hidden from me. yet the commands of God, the Exalted, cannot be resisted. By God, (my enemies) will not leave me till they have torn the very heart from the depths of my guts. If they do that, God will cause them to be dominated and humiliated until they become the most humiliated of the factions among nations."

Before the Imam and his followers were able to reach Kufah, Yazid's army surrounded them about 44 miles outside of Kufah in a desert called Karbala. At this point, Yazid's army cut off Imam Husayn's water supply, and his followers began to suffer from extreme thirst. Among these people were members of the Prophet's family, companions, and some women and children.

As the days passed in the month of Muharram, the first month of the new year on the Islamic calendar, Yazid's army, numbering 30,000, closed the circle around Imam Husayn's followers who were suffering from dehydration.

On the tenth day of Muharram, called Ashura, Imam Husayn and his followers went out with less than 100 people to meet the army of 30,000.

Ali Zayn al Abidin, son of Imam Husayn, peace be upon them, reported:

When the cavalry began to approach al-Husayn, he raised his hands and said:

"O God, it is You in Whom I trust amid all grief. You are my hope amid all violence. You are my trust and provision in everything that happens to me, (no matter) how much the heart may seem to weaken in it, trickery may seem to diminish (my hope) in it, the friend may seem to desert (me) in it, and the enemy may seem to rejoice in it. It comes upon me through You and when I complain to You of it, it is because of my desire for You, You alone. You have comforted me in (everything) and have revealed its (significance to me). You are the Master of all grace, the Possessor of all goodness and the Ultimate Resort of all desire."

The Imam and his followers fought all day and fell to their deaths fighting in the cause of Allah. That day, all who fought were martyred. Among them were two children of Imam Hasan, and Imam Husayn's five year old child.

"When the Imam himself was ready to fight, he saw his six-month-old baby was dying from thirst. The Imam brought his infant near to the enemy and demanded some water for baby, saying: You want me but not this baby so take him and give him some water. The words of the Imam had not been finished that the thirst of the baby was quenched by a deadly poisoned arrow from the enemy which pinned the baby's neck to the arm of his father. The Imam threw some of his blood toward the sky saying: "O' Lord! Your Husayn has offered whatever You have given him. Bless me by acceptance of this sacrifice." Finally Imam came to the field and fought for a long time and was finally martyred. The army of Yazid having killed Imam Husayn, cut his head and raised it on a lance.

"The army of the enemy, after ending the war, burned the tents of the women and children accompanying the Imam and his companions, and plundered those helpless women. They decapitated the bodies of the martyrs, denuded them and threw them to the ground without burial. Then they moved women and children along with the heads of the martyrs to Kufah. They took with them the daughters and sisters of al-Husayn, peace be on him, together with 'Ali b. al-Husayn, peace be on him. The latter was still sick with a dysentery and was almost on the point of death. The bodies of the martyrs were under the sunshine for three days till a tribe passing that place found them and performed the burial.

"The event of Karbala, the capture of women and children of the Household of Prophet, their being taken as prisoners from town to town, and the speeches made by Zaynab, the daughter of Ali, who was one of the prisoners, became a scandal for the Umayyad Kingdom. Such abuse of the Household of Prophet nullified the propaganda which Muawiyah had built up for years. The scandal reached to the extent that Yazid denounced the actions of his agents in public. That was exactly what Imam Husain wanted to do, otherwise he would not bring women and children with him and sacrifice some, and let the rest to become captives. That was the only way to make a wave in order to awaken the Muslim nation.

"The event of Karbala was a major factor in the overthrow of Umayyad kingdom though its effect was delayed. Among its immediate results were the revolts and rebellions combined with bloody wars which continued for twelve years. During those riots none of the important elements in Karbala could escape revenge and punishment, including Yazid.

The Memory of Karbala lives on...

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