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THE LIFE OF IMAM HUSAIN (a)
by late Dr. Syed Haider Hussain Shamsi
(an excerpt from his book, " and The Message Continues ".
HUSSAIN (a) DURING THE TIMES OF THE PROPHET
The birth of second grandchild made the Prophet very happy. He came to the house of Imam All and his beloved daughter Fatima and named the newborn Husain.
It is quoted by many narrators that the Prophet often used to carry his two grandsons on his shoulders. When people remarked on how much he loved his grandsons, he used to say, "Hasan and Husain are the two princes of the youth of paradise." People also quote from him as praying to Allah by saying "O Allah, befriend those who befriend them and be the foe to whoever designs to hurt them."
Regarding Imam Husain, it is quoted from him saying, "Husain is from me and I am from Husain." It can only be inferred that this was the utterance of no ordinary man, out of love with the progeny of his daughter, but that of the Prophet of Islam about whom Allah says "Nor does he speak out of desire. It is naught but revelation that is revealed...... 111:3.
For about six years, his grandfather, the Prophet of Islam, nurtured Husain just as his father had done before him. He was one of the five included in the Qur'anic verse of Tat-heer. He was the youngest of the representatives the Prophet of Islam took with him at the Mubahala with the Christians of Najran. The significance of this nurture and representation must not be underestimated. When the time came, he laid down his life and the lives of his family members, as well as his friends to defend the Message of Islam.
DURING THE TIMES OF IMAM ALI AND IMAM HASAN
After the death of his grandfather, Imam Husain grew up during the times of the first dm caliphs and saw the way his father, hnam Ali, conducted his affairs. When he was elected the Caliph to succeed Uthman, Husain actively participated in all assignments given to him by his father, whether in the mosque or in the battlefield.
Imam Husain manifested the acme of obedience towards Imam Hasan during his brief caliphate, and helped him actively on whatever was required of him. He concurred with him in the matter of the truce with Muawiyah. He never raised his voice in the presence of Imam Hasan, and would not interdict him when he was preaching or was replying to questions.
When Imam Hasan was dying from poison, given to him according to Muawiyah's plot, he called his brother Husain to his bedside and passed the leadership of the faithful to him. Muawiyah, who had taken his Treaty with Imam Hasan lightly, and had ignored it, made another violation, and a fateful one which was to change for ever the course of Muslim history, Muslim Ummah in the future. In total disregard of his explicit understanding with Imam Hasan that he (Muawiyah) was not to appoint his successor, he decided arbitrarily to appoint his son Yazid to succeed him as the ruler of the Muslim world.
Yazid was known for his open display of a vicious life. Even though some of his courtiers had cautioned Muawlyah against it, he started the campaign to recruit fealty for his son Yazid from all tribal chiefs and the prominent companions of the Prophet who were alive at the time. The Hashimite clan, led by Imam Husain refused to give their pledge of fealty to Yazid.
Muawiyah lived for ten more years after the martyrdom of Imam Hasan, but the Hashimite clan was not forced into submission or subjugation. However, the verbal abuse and other tactics used to reduce their influence continued.
Imam Husain continued his mission of peace and religious education to all those who sought it from him.
THE CONFRONTATION WITH YAZID BIN MUAWIYAH AND
THE TRAGEDY OF KARBALA
Yazid had been raised in a life of luxury, and the principles or the practices of Islam were remote to him. He had seen the success in his father's cunning maneuvers against Imam Ali, and witnessed the insults slung at the Imam and the Ahle Bait of the Prophet in the Friday congregational prayers. He must have been made aware of Imam Ali's contributions towards establishing the Islamic State under the Prophet of Islam, and during which his pagan ancestors perished under the sweep of Imam Ali's sword. History has accounted that eighteen of the clan of Umayyah were slain in the Battle of Badr. Thus Yazid could harbor no love for Imam Ali or his progeny. Now
that he himself controlled the vast Islamic empire, and that he himself wielded absolute power, he had the best opportunity of avenging the blood of his ancestors.
As soon as he assumed the reins of the empire, Yazid decided to either obtain the pledge of unconditional submission from the Imam or to have him executed.
His father had warned him about the steadfast nature of the Imam. It was not possible for the Imam to accept the wicked ruler as his religious leader; and he was also aware that Yazid would have him killed for this. In fact, Yazid had given specific orders to his cousin, Walid bin Uqba bin Abu Sufyan, the governor of Madinah that if the Imam did not submit to his orders, he should be killed and his head be sent to him (Yazid) for confirmation.
The Imam did not wish to be killed by a political plot in Madinah. He decided to leave the relative comfort of his home in Madinah and marched towards Makkah on Rajab 28,60AH. He care fully selected those who would accompany him in his fateful journey.
Upon arrival of the Imam's group in Makkah, Sa'id bin As, the governor of Makkah vacated his seat and rushed to Madinah to send first hand information to Yazid. Yazid appointed Umar bin Sad as governor of Makkah, again with the same specific orders against the Imam.
Yazid had realized that it was extremely difficult to have the Imam assassinated in Madinah or Makkah, and that it would be relatively easy to carry out his wicked plot elsewhere. Twelve thousand letters were sent to the Imam, inviting him to come to Kufa and establish the righteous rule of true Islam. Some of these letters were signed by the respected companions of the Prophet. Imam Husain was duty bound to respond to the call from the faithful.
The Imam sent his cousin Muslim bin Aqeel to Kufa to size up the apparent support for him. Muslim hurried to Madinah to pack for his long trip to Kufa, and took with him two of his young sons, Muhammad and Ibrahim aged 7 and 8 year respectively. As Muslim arrived in Kufa, he was greeted by thousands of apparent supporters. He sent a letter to the Imam saying that indeed there was a large enough support and that the people wanted the Imam to come and lead them on the path of Righteousness.
Yazid was waiting for his plan to mature. He sent Ubaidullah bin Ziyad to take charge from Nu'man bin Bashir, kill Muslim and send his head to him Damascus.
In the large mosque of Kufa, Muslim led the prayers with a huge number of apparent supporters. When Muslim turned to face the congregation at the end of his prayers, he found just a handful of believers staying behind him.
Alas! It was too late to inform the Imam of the treachery of the Kufans.
Muslim was unable to fight his way out of Kufa and was killed. This was followed by the slaughter of both of his young sons.
The Imam was in Makkah for about four months. He found that he could not perform his Haj with safety. Yazid had sent his men disguised as pilgrims, with orders to kill Imam Husain. He decided that he would not have his blood spilled in the Holy Sanctuary. He only performed the Umrah instead of the full rituals of Haj, and started his fateful march towards Kufa. His long supplication in Arafat is the epitome of the sincerity in prayers and exhibition of devout faith in the Will of Allah.
Umar bin Sa'd knew the price of failure. His counter part in Madinah had failed to kill the Imam or to prevent him from leaving. He sent Yahya bin Sa'id to stop the Imam from leaving Makkah. However, he was unable to stall or stop the Imam who continued his journey towards his destination.
While he was well on his way, he leamt of the martyrdom of his cousin Muslim bin Aqeel. At that point, there was no turning back for the Imam. He decided to continue his march to face his destiny. On the way, he was intercepted by the army of Hurr, which forced the Imam's caravan away from Kula on to a different direction, till it arrived in Karbala, a dreaded waterless desert.
It was in this wilderness that the small caravan of the righteous Imam was deprived of their basic necessities of food and water in the desert heat, and of their right to a safe passage out of the oppressive regime of Yazid. They were denied access to any support from their well wishers, and were instead encircled by a massive army of professional soldiers and were ruthlessly killed in the desert of Karbala on Muharram 10, 61 AH. In this massacre, eighteen Hashimites lost their lives. They were sons and grand sons of Ali, Ja'fare Tayyar and Aqeel, from the progeny of Abu Tallb, the protecting guardian of the Prophet of Islam.
After the bloody battle, the martyrs were beheaded and their bodies were run over by the mounted soldiers. The tents were put to flame and the belongings of the survivors were looted. The survivors were first led to Kufa and then onwards to Damascus via a less frequented route, lest there be reprisals from the believers for the massacre of the family of the Prophet.
Despite the extreme odds the Imam had faced in this confrontation, his strategy did not let this event emerge in the history as merely quelling of an insurgence from a dissident group against the power of the ruler of the time. Instead, he laid down his life and the lives of his family and friends as sacrificial offerings whose blood was spilled on the hot desert sand for no political ambition.
The survivors after the blood bath consisted of Ali ibn al-Husain, the sick young son of Imam Husain, who was unable to go out in the battle-field, but now had to assume the role of leadership, bound in shackles and hand-tied; Zainab binte Ali, the sister of the Imam; the widowed ladies and a bunch of children. The courageous captives could neither be silenced by the force of the army nor by the pain of the massacre of their loved ones they had just witnessed. They continued to introduce themselves at every stop made by the caravan, and in the court of Yazid the tyrant in Damascus. Whereas some members of this little 'army' of the righteous had fought in the battlefield with sermons and sword, the captives continued their mission by eloquent
sermons to the masses who gathered along the route. This not only told people on what had happened to the family of the Prophet, but also served to rekindle life of faith in the dead conscience of the Muslims of the time.
Whereas the kingdom of the tyrant is long gone, the candles of Faith left burning by the Imam and his companions enlighten the conscience of Islam each time this story is told and retold. The annual commemoration of this event with energy and commitment by the devout believers that has survived through centuries despite the forces of oppression, is nothing less than a miracle. The believers continue to take out processions to demonstrate against tyranny, injustice and oppression against the bearer of the Truth.
They congregate in gathering places and retell the painful story of the struggle between vice and virtue. They deny themselves comfort, food and water to relive the pain and suffering of their beloved Imam, his innocent family and his companions.
CHRONOLOGY OF IMPORTANT EVENTS
Rajab, 60 AH
Muawiyah bin Abu Sufyan died at the age of 75 years. Yazid wrote to the governor of Madinah, Walid bin Uqba to obtain the oath of fealty from Imam Husain. The Imam refused to relinquish his religious obligation to those who were steadfast in their practice of the Truth, and did not submit to the demands of Yazid.
Rajab 28,60 AH
The Imam gathered his select group of family and friends and left Madinah for Makkah.
Sha'ban 3,60 AH
The Imam arrived at Makkah. Sa'id bin As vacated his seat in Makkah, and arriving at Madinah, reported the popularity of the Imam among the Makkans. Yazid appointed Umar bin Sa'id as governor of Makkah and gave the same orders to him regarding the Imam. Imam Husain stayed in Makkah for approximately four months. It was here that the Imam received some twelve thousand letters petitioning him to come to Kufa and take charge of their religious needs.
Bound by his obligation to uphold the Truth and to serve Islam, the Imam had to respond to this apparently massive appeal by the people. He dispatched his beloved cousin Muslim bin Aqeel to Kufa to reassure the petitioners that he was prepared to come and live among them as they had wished. Thousands of Kufans apparently rallied behind Muslim. Encouraged by such response, Muslim wrote a letter to the Imam and appraised him of the situation in Kufa.
As the dates for Haj neared, Yazid sent Umar bin Sa’id with thirty Khawarij assassins and three hundred additional trained Syrian soldiers disguised as pilgrims to kill the Imam during the Haj.
Zil Haj 8,60 AH
The Imam received the letter written by Muslim calling him to come to Kufa.
Realizing the gravity of the plot to assassinate him in Makkah during Haj, the Imam performed Umrah (the lesser Haj) and left for Kufa.
Zil Hajj 9,60 AH
Muslim bin Aqeel and his two young sons were killed and beheaded in Kula.
The Imam leamt of the martyrdom of Muslim and his children when he had already covered his journey half way to Kula.
Muharram 1, 61 AH
The caravan of the Imam saw the crescent of Muharrmn at the caravan stop known as Sharaf, at the out-skirts of Kufa. Hurr bin Riyahi, with his detachment of over one thousand soldiers stopped the Imam and diverted him towards the wilderness of Karbala.
The Imam pitched his tents near the bank of Euphrates River. Now that he had fulfilled his obligation to the petitioners and, having written replies to as many of the letters as he could, he called upon them to come forward to fulfill their obligation towards him. On order from his commander-in-chief, Hur had the Imam remove his tents away from the waters of the Euphrates River.
Umar bin Sa'id arrived with an army of twenty two thousand soldiers. Habib ibne Mazaahir was able to recruit ninety committed believers from the tribe of Bani Asad to come out 'in support of the Imam, but Ibne Ziad sent an army of four hundred soldiers to prevent them from reinforcing the Imam.
Ibne Ziad addressed a large congregation of worshippers in Kufa and urged ail those who had pledged fealty to Yazid, to come out and join his forces to eliminate the (little) army of the Imam.
Shimr came out, and he was despatched with an army of thousand strong. Ibne Rikab was sent out with two thousand men; Ibne Numair was given an army of four thousand soldiers. Ibne Rabina was given three thousand men; and Ibne Kharsha' two thousand armed soldiers.
Sha'bath was despatched to Karbala with additional four thousand men. Urwah bin Qais was sent to join the others with four thousand soldiers. Ibne Anas was armed with ten thousand soldiers, Muhammad bin al-Ash'ath had one thousand men and Abdallah bin Hasein was given one thousand soldiers.
Yazid's forces were further augmented with ten thousand soldiers under Khuli bin Yazid Asbahi; three thousand men under Ka'b bin Hurr; one thousand men under Hujaj bin Hurr. Additional men and supplies were sent over to support the enormous gathering of forces against the tiny caravan of the Imam. Ibne Ziad wrote to Umar bin Sa'd that he had been given enough supplies and man power to carry out his assignment, and that he must not delay or fail in it.
Umar bin Hujaj was posted with four hundred of the best soldiers to guard the banks of river Euphrates. Additional forces were deployed to support the men under Umar bin Hujaj, four thousand soldiers were sent under Hajar and one thousand soldiers under Sha'bath bin Rabei. Having thus secured their positions around the riverbanks, the opponents of the Imam started off with verbal provocations.
Water supply in the camp of the Imam was totally depleted. Abbas bin Ali, brother of the Imam, along with some companions was sent to get some water. He was successful in this mission. It was at this mission that he became known as "Saqqa-e Haram" (the Water Bearer of the family).
Next morning the Imam made a formal plea for water for the thirsty children in the camp, but his plea was denied. The Imam ordered that a trench be dug between the camp and the enemy and for digging a well for water. The companions of the Imam attempted to a dig a well for water, but in vain.
Imam Husain, accompanied by Abbas, again appealed to Ibne Sa'd for water but it was turned down. Both returned to the camp without water. Abbas and other strong members of the camp dug four other wells for water and saw water at the last attempt. However, before the thirsty children could have a sip, the enemy swarmed in and refilled the wells with the excavated dirt. A fifth attempt was foiled with brutal force.
The Imam went out again, re-introduced himself with details about himself, his illustrious parents and his noble grandfather, the Holy Prophet of Islam, and asked the so called 'Muslims' in the opposite camp to allow him to obtain water for his companions on humanitarian grounds. His convincing address melted many hearts and there was some stir in the ranks. Shimr warned Umar bin Sa'd that if he wavered in carrying out the orders to kill Imam Husain without delay or compromise, he would be relieved of the charge.
With the final orders from Ibne Ziad on the ultimate fate of the Imam, Shimr offered Abbas and All Akbar safe passage out of Karbala, but these gallant soldiers of Truth refused to forsake the flag-bearer of Righteousness. Just prior to dusk, Shimr instigated an attack on the camp of the Imam. However, upon the request of the Imam, Abbas was able to win a reprieve from Ibne Sa'd on their final onslaught till the next morning.
The Eve of Muharram 10
The Imam addressed his friends and family and clarified his position to all of them. He told them that since the enemy wanted his head for refusal to accept Yazid as his superior, all others could leave the camp and save their lives. His devotees were deeply saddened at this address and reassured him that they had absolutely no doubt that they were on the right path, and there was nothing in the world that would make them forsake him at that hour.
Burair Hamdani could not bear the painful cries of the thirsty children. He went out with some companions to obtain water. The Imam sent Abbas for help. After a bloody fight in which some of the valuable companions lost their lives, they were able to return with only one bag full of water.
On reaching the camp, over twenty children rushed with their little cups for water. Unfortunately, this precious bag of water fell to the ground and its contents spilled on the desert sand. No one could get their thirst quenched. After that event, the Imam ordered every one to return to their respective tents and spend the remaining night in prayers, glorifying Allah and the Holy Prophet.
Muharram 10: Morning
At daybreak, the army of Ibne Sa'd got organized to run down the Imam's camp. The Imam got up from his prayers and hurriedly organized his ranks. He ordered to light up the ditch he had prepared earlier, and ordered Abbas to try yet another time to dig a well for water. A well was dug but there was no water in it.
The army encircled the camp of the Imam. The Imam and his companions tried to avert war and requested safe passage out of Yazid's dominion but the bloodthirsty enemy would listen to none of it. Hurr who had enough time to reflect over his conduct, became perplexed. His conscience rebuked him for having forced the Imam to follow the desert route to Karbala instead of Kufa. He came to realize the just stand of the Imam, and walked away from the ranks along with his son, and joined the Imam's camp.
Hurr was well received by the Imam. He asked for his forgiveness, and for his permission to go and sacrifice his life in defense of the Imam and his cause. The Imam not only excused him but also expressed his helplessness to even offer a cup of water to his guest.
Ibne Sa'd shot his first arrow over the Imam's camp, which was then followed by a rain of arrows by his army. Hurr and his son were amongst the first to lay their lives in Karbala defending the Truth.
At the initiation of the battle some of the Imam's companions fought with such an energy and valor that Ibne Sad realized that it would cost him a lot of lives and time before he could carry out his ultimate goal of killing Imam Husain. He ordered his best marksmen to use their skills to eliminate his opponents in Imam Husain's camp. This strategy paid him off by shooting down about fifty percent of the Imam's supporters.
The Imam came out with about thirty-two of his surviving force and
fought the enemy with great bravery on all fronts. Ibne Sa'd again ordered
his marksmen to do their precision shooting that reduced the Imam's ranks to
only a handful of men who were injured and were unmounted.
Muharram 10: Mid-day
Imam Husain and his remaining companions gathered to offer their Zuhr prayers. Two of the companions shielding the Imam died receiving arrows and spears on their bodies. As the prayer finished, another companion received his martyrdom. After the last of his companions had received their martyrdom, Imam Hussain was left with only the members of his family.
Abbas was killed at the bank of the river attempting to secure water for the remaining family and children. Imam Husain's son Ali Akbar was killed in battle. The Imam took his infant son Ali Asghar, only six months old, to the battlefield to show his enemies that the infants are innocent by all laws of humanity and that they should give water lest the child died of water deprivation. The throat of the infant was pinned down over the Imam's shoulder with an affow from Hurtnala, the best marksman from Ibne Sa'd's army. .
At the end, the Imam came out to fight a lonely but brave battle, cutting down many in the process. He himself received many wounds, and innumerable arrows pierced his body. As he fell down from the back of his horse, he bowed down in sajdah (prostration to Allah) and reached out to the Almighty, seeking His Grace and praying for accepting his service. Shimr slaughtered the Imam, and separated his head from his body. The headless body of the Imam and other martyrs was then run over by the mounted soldiers before returning to their ranks.
Muharram 10: Evening
The army now over-ran the camp and snatched every belonging the bereaved women and children had. The tents were put to flame, women were beaten and children teased and slapped. It is said that later in the evening, Hurr's widow brought food and water to the smoldering encampment of widows and beleaguered children.
The survivors were marched towards Kufa, women on camels without seats and the only adult male survivor, Ali Zain al-Abideen afoot, hand tied and in shackles. The captives were kept in jail in Kufa for a few days and then carried to Damascus via a less frequented route.
Rabi-ul Awwal 16, 61 AH
The caravan of the survivors of the Imam's army arrived in Damascus. The duration their captivity in Damascus is uncertain. By some accounts, it was for of about one year, after which they were then sent back to Madinah via Kufa.
Safar 20, 62 AH
The captives came back to Karbala with reminiscence of the fateful events of the previous year.
Rabi-ul Awwal 8, 62 AH
The caravan of the survivors returned to Madinah.
( The author's book, " And the Message Continues " can be read online by
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