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Battle of Karbala
Brooklyn Museum - Battle of Karbala - Abbas Al-Musavi - overall
Abbas Al-Musavi - Battle of Karbala - Brooklyn Museum
Date 10 Muharram 61, October 10, 680 AD
Location Karbala
Result Umayyad victory
Yazid of Umayyad Hussain of Banu Hashim
Commanders and leaders
Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad
Umar ibn Sa'ad
Shimr ibn Thil-Jawshan
Al-Hurr ibn Yazid al Tamimi (left his army and joined Hussein during the battle) A
Hussein ibn Ali
Al-Abbas ibn Ali
Habib ibn Muzahir
Zuhayr ibn Qayn
4,000[1] or 5,000[2] (at least) - 30,000[2] or 100,000[3][4] (at most) 70-150 (general consensus 110; including 6 month old baby).[5][6] Note the common number '72' comes from the number of heads severed.
Casualties and losses
88 killed, plus some wounded.[7] 72 Casualties of Hussain's Army
^A Hurr was originally one of the commanders of Ibn Ziyad's army but changed allegiance to Hussein along with his son, slave and brother on 10 Muharram 61, October 10, 680 AD

The Battle of Karbala took place on Muharram 10, in the year 61 AH of the Islamic calendar[2] (October 10, 680)[8][9] in Karbala, in present day Iraq. The battle was between a small group of supporters and relatives of Muhammad's grandson Hussein ibn Ali, and a much larger military detachment from the forces of Yazid I, the Umayyad caliph, whom Hussein had refused to recognise. Hussein and all his supporters were killed, including Hussein's six-month-old infant son, Ali al-Asghar ibn Husayn, and the women and children taken as prisoners. The dead are regarded as martyrs by Muslims, and the battle has a central place in Shia history and tradition, and has frequently been recounted in Shia Islamic literature.

The Battle of Karbala is commemorated during an annual 10-day period held every Muharram by the Shia as well as many Sunnis, culminating on its tenth day, Ashura.

Shias believe Hussain's sacrifice was ordered by God and was necessary to awaken the ummah and stop Yazid hijacking Islam.[citation needed]

Political backgroundEdit

The rule of the third Caliph, Uthman ibn Affan, concluded with a violent uprising. This uprising ended with the assassination of Uthman and for many days rebels seized and occupied the city of Medina. Under the overwhelming pressure of the Ummah, Ali (Ali ibn Abu Talib) was elected as the fourth caliph with massive numbers of people swearing their allegiance to him. His immediate steps were to ensure the unity of Muslims. He issued the orders of not attacking the rebels until order was restored. The governor of Syria, Muawiyah, kinsman to the murdered caliph Uthman, refused allegiance to Ali and revolted against him, using his cousin's unpunished murder as a pretext. This resulted in armed confrontations between the Islamic Caliph Ali ibn Abu Talib and Muawiyah. Practically, the Muslim world became divided. At the death of Ali ibn Abu Talib, his elder son Hasan ibn Ali succeeded him but soon signed a treaty with Muawiyah to avoid further bloodshed.[10]

One of Muawiyah's most controversial and enduring legacies was his decision to designate his son Yazid as his successor.

The appointment of Yazid was unpopular in Madina. Sahih Al Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Number 352, Narrated by Yusuf bin Mahak:

Marwan had been appointed as the governor of Hijaz by Muawiya. He delivered a sermon and mentioned Yazid bin Muawiya so that the people might take the oath of allegiance to him as the successor of his father (Muawiya). Then 'Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr told him something whereupon marwan ordered that he be arrested. But 'Abdur-Rahman entered 'Aisha's house and they could not arrest him. marwan said, "It is he ('AbdurRahman) about whom Allah revealed this Verse: 'And the one who says to his parents: 'Fie on you! Do you hold out the promise to me..?'" On that, 'Aisha said from behind a screen, "Allah did not reveal anything from the Qur'an about us except what was connected with the declaration of my innocence (of the slander)."

Ibn Katheer wrote in his book the Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah [11] that "in the year 56 AH Muawiyah called on the people including those within the outlying territories to pledge allegiance to his son, Yazeed, to be his heir to the Caliphate after him. Almost all the subjects offered their allegiance, with the exception of Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr (the son of Abu Bakr), Abdullah ibn Umar (the son of Umar), al-Husain bin Ali (the son of Ali), Abdullah bin Az-Zubair (The grandson of Abu Bakr) and Abdullah ibn Abbas (Ali's cousin). Because of this Muawiyah passed through al-Madinah on his way back from Makkah upon completion of his Umrah Pilgrimage where he summoned each one of the five aforementioned individuals and threatened them. The speaker who addressed Muawiyah sharply with the greatest firmness amongst them was Abdurrahman bin Abu Bakr as-Siddeeq, while Abdullah bin Umar bin al-Khattab was the most soft spoken amongst them.

Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr and Abdullah ibn Umar were mid level Muslim commanders at the Battle of Yarmouk that took Syria. Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr sister Asmā' bint Abu Bakr also fought in the Battle of Yarmouk and was opposed to Yazid.[12] Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr had been one of the first to duel in that battle, after taking a sword to hand over to a Qays bin Hubayrah who had lost his sword, while in a duel with the Roman Army's best horseman. Two more Roman horsemen then came forward saying "We see no justice when two of you come against one of us." Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr replied "I only came to give my companion a sword and then return. Were 100 of you to come out against one of us we would not be worried. You are now three men. I am enough to take on all three of you". After which he took down the Roman horsemen on his own.[13] After seeing this, Bannes the Roman general said "Caesar really knew these people best. I now know that a difficult situation is to come on you. If you do not attack them with great numbers, you will have no chance". Abdullah ibn Umar had also been a mid level commander in the Battle of Yarmouk. Some Roman soldiers went to the house of Abu al-Jaid a local Christian in az-Zura ah and after eating all the food, raped his wife and killed his son.[14] His wife complained to the roman general and he ignored her. Abu al-Jaid then went to the Muslims and told them that he knows the local area and if the Muslims exempt him and his descendents from taxes for ever he will help them defeat the Roman army.[14] He then took horse men led by Abdullah ibn Umar to the Roman camp at night and attacked them and then ran away. The Romans chased them and in the dark tens of thousands of them fell down a cliff at the an-Naqusah Creek into a river.[15] Abdullah bin Az-Zubair had also been a commander in various battles including in North Africa and was also involved in the siege of Constantinople.

Muawiyah then delivered a sermon, having stood these five men below the pulpit in full view of the people after which the people pledged allegiance to Yazeed as they stood in silence without displaying their disagreement or opposition for fear of being humiliated. Saeed bin Uthman bin Affan, the son of Uthman also criticized Muawiyah for putting forward Yazeed.".[11] They tolerated Muawiyah but did not like Yazeed.

In his written instructions to Yazid, Muawiyah suggested specific strategies for each one of them. Muawiyah warned Yazid specifically about Hussein ibn Ali, since he was the only blood relative of Muhammad.[16] `Abd Allah ibn `Abbas, Abdullah ibn Umar did not want to start another civil war and wanted to wait. Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr challenged them and went Mecca with Hussein. Hussein ibn Ali believed the appointment of Yazid as the heir of the Caliphate would lead to hereditary kingship, which was against the original political teachings of Islam. Therefore, he resolved to confront Yazid.[17]

Muhammad's prophecyEdit

According to the hadis book complied by the Sunni scholar Al-Tabarani, Muhammad told his wife Umm Salama Hind bint Abi Umayya:

"Hazrat Gabriel informed me that my grandson Hussain-ibne-Ali(R.A.) will be killed after me in the land of al-Taff and brought me this Turbah (mudd/soil) and informed me that this is the soil of the place he will be martyred."[18]

Events before the battleEdit

Muawiyah I died on Rajab 22, 60 AH (680 CE). In violation of Islamic tradition and his own written agreement with Hasan ibn Ali,[citation needed] Muawiyah I appointed his son Yazid as his successor, converting the caliphate into a dynasty. Few notables of the Islamic community were crucial to lending some legitimacy to this conversion of the caliphate into a dynasty,[19][20] even people like Said ibn Uthman[19] and Ahnaf ibn Qais[20] denounced his caliphate.[16] Hussein ibn Ali was the most significant threat to this dynastic rule, since he was the only living grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Yazid instructed his Governor Walid in Medina to force Hussein ibn Ali to pledge allegiance to Yazid. Hussein refused it and uttered his famous words that "Anyone akin to me will never accept anyone akin to Yazid as a ruler." Hussein departed Medina on Rajab 28, 60 AH (680 CE), two days after Walid's attempt to force him to submit to Yazid I's rule. He stayed in Mecca from the beginnings of the month of Sha'aban and all of the months of Ramadan, Shawwal, as well as Dhu al-Qi'dah.

It is mainly during his stay in Mecca that he received many letters from Kufa assuring him their support and asking him to come over there and guide them. He answered their calls and sent Muslim ibn Aqeel, his cousin, to Kufa as his representative in an attempt to consider the exact situation and public opinion.

Hussein's representative to Kufa, Muslim ibn Aqeel was welcomed by the people of Kufa, and most of them swore allegiance to him. After this initial observation, Muslim ibn Aqeel wrote to Hussein ibn Ali that the situation in Kufa was favorable. However, after the arrival of the new Governor of Kufa, Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad, the scenario changed. Muslim ibn Aqeel and his host, Hani ibn Urwa, were executed on Dhu al-Hijjah 9, 60AH (September 10, 680 CE) without any real resistance of the people. This shifted the loyalties of the people of Kufa, in favor of Yazid and against Hussein ibn Ali.[21] Hussein ibn Ali also discovered that Yazid had appointed `Amr ibn Sa`ad ibn al As as the head of an army, ordering him to take charge of the pilgrimage caravans and to kill al Hussein ibn Ali wherever he could find him during Hajj,[22][23] and hence decided to leave Mecca on 8th Dhu al-Hijjah 60 AH (12 September 680 AD), just a day before Hajj and was contented with Umrah, due to his concern about potential violation of the sanctity of the Kaaba.[24][25]

He delivered a famous sermon at the Kaaba highlighting his reasons to leave, that he didn't want the sanctity of the Kaaba to be violated, since his opponents had crossed any norm of decency and were willing to violate all tenets of Islam.

When Hussein ibn Ali was making his mind to leave for Kufa, `Abd Allah ibn `Abbas and Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr held a meeting with him and advised him not to move to Iraq, or, if he was determined to move, not to take women and children with him in this dangerous journey. Hussein ibn Ali, however, had resolved to go ahead with his plan. He gave a speech to people the day before his departure and said:

"... The death is a certainty for mankind, just like the trace of necklace on the neck of young girls. And I am enamored of my ancestors like eagerness of Jacob to Joseph ... Everyone, who is going to devote his blood for our sake and is prepared to meet Allah, must depart with us..."[26]

On their way to Kufa, the small caravan received the news of the execution of Muslim ibn Aqeel and the indifference of the people of Kufa.[27][28][29] Instead of turning back, Hussein decided to continue the journey and sent Qays ibn Musahir Al Saidawi as messenger to talk to the nobles of Kufa. The messenger was captured in the vicinity of Kufa but managed to tear the letter to pieces to hide names of its recipients. Just like Muslim ibn Aqeel, Qays ibn Musahir Al Saidawi was executed.

The events of the battleEdit

Iran Battle of Karbala 19th century

Battle of Karbala, Iranian painting, oil on canvas, 19th century from the Tropenmuseum Amsterdam

Hussein and his followers were two days away from Kufa when they were intercepted by the vanguard of Yazid's army; about 1,000 men led by Hurr ibn Riahy. Hussein asked the army, "With us or against us?" They replied: "Of course against you, oh Aba Abd Allah!" Husain ibn Ali said: "If you are different from what I received from your letters and from your messengers then I will return to where I came from." Their leader, Hurr, refused Hussein's request to let him return to Medina. The caravan of Muhammad's family arrived at Karbala on Muharram 2, 61AH (October 2, 680 CE).[30] They were forced to pitch a camp on the dry, bare land and Hurr stationed his army nearby.

Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad appointed Umar ibn Sa'ad to command the battle against Hussein ibn Ali. At first Umar ibn Sa'ad rejected the leadership of the army but accepted after Ibn Ziyad threatened to take away the governorship of Rey city and put Shimr ibn Thil-Jawshan in his place.[31] Ibn Ziyad also urged Umar ibn Sa'ad to initiate the battle on the sixth day of Muharram.[32] Umar ibn Sa'ad moved towards the battlefield with an 80,000[2]-strong army and arrived at Karbala on Muharram 2, 61 AH (October 3, 680 CE).

Ibn Ziyad sent a brief letter to Umar ibn Sa'd that commanded, "Prevent Husain and his followers from accessing water and do not allow them to drink a drop [of water]. Ibn Sa'ad followed the orders, and 5,000 horsemen blockaded the Euphrates. One of Hussein's followers met Umar ibn Sa'ad and tried to negotiate some sort of access to water, but was denied. The water blockade continued up to the end of the battle on Muharram 10th (October 10, 680 CE).[33]

Umar ibn Sa'ad received an order from Ibn Ziyad to start the battle immediately and not to postpone it further. The army started advancing toward Hussein's camp on the afternoon of Muharram 9th. At this point Hussein sent Al-Abbas ibn Ali to ask Ibn Sa'ad to wait until the next morning, so that he and his men could spend the night praying. Ibn Sa'ad agreed to the respite.[31][34][35]

On the night before the battle, Hussein gathered his men and told them that they were all free to leave the camp in the middle of the night, under cover of darkness, rather than face certain death if they stayed with him. None of Hussein's men defected and they all remained with him. Hussein and his followers held a vigil and prayed all night.[36]

The day of the battleEdit

On Muharram 10th, also called Ashura, Hussein ibn Ali completed the morning prayers with his companions. He appointed Zuhayr ibn Qayn to command the right flank of his army, Habib ibn Muzahir to command the left flank and his half-brother Al-Abbas ibn Ali as the standard bearer. There is controversy regarding the date for the day of Ashura in the Gregorian calendar. October 10 is a calculated date through calculators.[8][9] These calculators however, are not always correct. According to the book Maqtal al-Husayn, Muharram 9th is October 12, 680; if that book is correct Muharram 10th was October 13, 680 AD.

Hussein ibn Ali's companions numbered 32 horsemen and 40 infantrymen.[37] Hussein rode on his horse Zuljanah.

Hussein ibn Ali called the people around him to join him for the sake of God and to defend Muhammad's family. His speech affected Hurr, the commander of the Tamim and Hamdan tribes who had stopped Hussein from his journey. He abandoned Umar ibn Sa'ad and joined Hussein's small band of followers.[38]

On the other side, Yazid had sent Shimr ibn Thil-Jawshan (his chief commander) to replace Umar ibn Sa'ad as the commander.[38][39][40]

The battle beginsEdit

Umar ibn Sa'ad advanced and fired an arrow at Hussein ibn Ali's army, saying: "Give evidence before the governor that I was the first thrower." Ibn Sa'ad's army started showering Hussein's army with arrows.[41][42] Hardly any men from Hussein ibn Ali's army escaped from being shot by an arrow.[42][43] Both sides began fighting. Successive assaults resulted in the death of a group of Hussein ibn Ali's companions.[42][44]

The first skirmish was between the right flank of Hussein's army with the left of the Syrian army. A couple of dozen men under the command of Zuhayr ibn Qayn fought heroically and repulsed the initial infantry attack and in the process destroyed the left flank of the Syrian army which in disarray collided with the middle of the army. Seeing this, the Syrian army quickly retreated and broke the pre-war verbal agreement of not using arrows and lances. This agreement was made in view of the small number of Hussein ibn Ali's companions. Umar ibn Sa'ad on advice of 'Amr ibn al Hajjaj ordered his army not to come out for any duel and to attack Hussein ibn Ali's army together.[45][46]

`Amr ibn al-Hajjaj attacked Hussein ibn Ali's right wing, but the men were able to maintain their ground, kneeling down as they planted their lances. They were thus able to frighten the enemy's horses. When the horsemen came back to charge at them again, Hussein's men met them with their arrows, killing some of them and wounding others.[46][47] `Amr ibn al-Hajjaj kept saying the following to his men, "Fight those who abandoned their creed and who deserted the jam`a!" Hearing him say so, Hussein ibn Ali said to him, "Woe unto you, O `Amr! Are you really instigating people to fight me?! Are we really the ones who abandoned their creed while you yourself uphold it?! As soon as our souls part from our bodies, you will find out who is most worthy of entering the fire![46][48]

In order to prevent random and indiscriminate showering of arrows on Hussein ibn Ali's camp which had women and children in it, Hussein's followers went out to single combats. Men like Burayr ibn Khudhayr,[49] Muslim ibn Awsaja[45][50] and Habib ibn Muzahir[51][52] were slain in the fighting. They were attempting to save Hussein's life by shielding him. Every casualty had a considerable effect on their military strength since they were vastly outnumbered by Yazid I's army. Hussein's companions were coming, one by one, to say goodbye to him, even in the midst of battle. Almost all of Hussein's companions were killed by the onslaught of arrows or lances.

After almost all of Hussein's companions were killed, his relatives asked his permission to fight. The men of Banu Hashim, the clan of Muhammad and Ali, went out one by one. Ali al-Akbar ibn Husayn, the middle son of Hussein ibn Ali, was the first one of the Hashemite who received permission from his father.[51][53][54]

Casualties from Banu Hashim were sons of Ali ibn Abi Talib, sons of Hasan ibn Ali, a son of Hussein ibn Ali, a son of Abdullah ibn Ja'far ibn Abi-Talib and Zaynab bint Ali, sons of Aqeel ibn Abi Talib, as well as a son of Muslim ibn Aqeel. There were seventy-two Hashemites dead in all (including Hussein ibn Ali).[55]

Death of Al-Abbas ibn AliEdit


The Al Abbas Mosque in Karbala

Al-Abbas ibn Ali advanced towards a branch of the Euphrates along a dyke. Al-Abbas ibn Ali continued his advance into the heart of ibn Sa'ad's army.[56] He was under heavy shower of arrows but was able to penetrate them and get to the branch leaving heavy casualties from the enemy. He immediately started filling the water skin. In a remarkable and immortal gesture of loyalty to his brother and Muhammad's grandson he did not drink any water despite being severely thirsty. He put the water skin on his right shoulder and started riding back toward their tents. Umar ibn Sa'ad ordered an outright assault on Al-Abbas ibn Ali saying that if Al-Abbas ibn Ali succeeded in taking water back to his camp, they would not be able to defeat them till the end of time. A massive enemy army blocked his way and surrounded him. He was ambushed from behind a bush and his right arm was cut off. Al-Abbas ibn Ali put the water skin on his left shoulder and continued his way but his left arm was also cut off. Al-Abbas ibn Ali now held the water skin with his teeth. The army of ibn Sa'ad started shooting arrows at him, one arrow hit the water skin and water poured out of it, now he turned his horse back towards the army and charge towards them but one arrow hit his eyes and someone hit a gurz on his head and he fell off the horse. In his last moments when Al-Abbas ibn Ali was wiping the blood in his eyes to enable him to see Hussein's face,[citation needed] Al-Abbas ibn Ali said not to take his body back to the camps because he had promised to bring back water but could not and so could not face Bibi Sakinah, the daughter of Hussein ibn Ali. Then he called Hussein, "brother" for the first time in his life. Before the death of Abbas, Hussein ibn Ali said: "Abbas your death is like the breaking of my back".[citation needed]

Death of Hussein ibn AliEdit


Shrine to those killed at the battle of Karbala

Hussein ibn Ali told Yazid's army to offer him single battle, and they gave him his request. He killed everybody that fought him in single battles.[57] He frequently forced his enemy into retreat, killing a great number of opponents. Hussein and earlier his son Ali al-Akbar ibn Husayn were the two warriors who penetrated and dispersed the core of ibn Sa'ad's army (Qalb-e-Lashkar), a sign of extreme chaos in traditional warfare.

Hussein advanced very deep in the back ranks of the Syrian army. When the enemies stood between him and the tents he shouted:

"Woe betide you oh followers of Abu Sufyan ibn Harb's dynasty! If no religion has ever been accepted by you and you have not been fearing the resurrection day then be noble in your world, that's if you were Arabs as you claim."[58]

Then his enemies invaded back toward him. They continuously attacked each other,[59] Until his numerous injuries caused him to stay a moment. At this time he was hit on his forehead with a stone. He was cleaning blood from his face while he was hit on the heart with arrow and he said: "In the name of Allah, and by Allah, and on the religion of the messenger of Allah." Then he raised his head up and said: "Oh my God! You know that they are killing a man that there is son of daughter of a prophet on the earth except him." He then grasped and pulled the arrow out of his chest, which caused heavy bleeding.[60]

He became very weak and stopped fighting. The soldiers approaching him gave up confrontation, seeing his position. One soldier, however, walked up to Hussein and hit him on his head with his sword.

The enemies hesitated to fight Hussein, but they decided to surround him. At this time Abdullah ibn Hasan, an underage boy, escaped from the tents and ran to Hussein. When a soldier intended to slay Hussein, Abdullah ibn Hasan defended his uncle with his arm, which was cut off. Hussein hugged Abd-Allah, but the boy was already hit by an arrow.[61]

Hussein got on his horse and tried to leave, but Yazid's army continued pursuit. According to Shia tradition, a voice came from skies stating: "We are satisfied with your deeds and sacrifices."[citation needed] Hussein then sheathed his sword and tried to get down from the horse but was tremendously injured and so the horse let him down. He then sat against a tree.[62]

Umar ibn Sa'ad ordered a man to dismount and to finish the job. Khowali ibn Yazid al-Asbahiy preceded the man but became afraid and did not do it. Then Shimr ibn Dhiljawshan dismounted his horse and cut Hussein's throat with his sword whilst Hussein was prostrating to God. Just before his throat was about to be cut, Hussein asked Shimr ibn Dhiljawshan, "Have you done your prayers today?" and this shocked Shimr because he did not expect anyone in the position of Hussein to ask such a question. Then Imam Hussain (A.S) asked for the permission to do Namaz-e-Asr (because it was the time of 3rd prayer). Shimir gave the permission to say the prayers and Imam Hussain (A.S) started prayer and when he went into Sajda. Lanti Shimr ibn Dhiljawshan betrayed and said: "I swear by God that I am cutting your head while I know that you are grandson of the messenger of Allah and the best of the people by father and mother" he cut head of Hussein ibn Ali with his sword and raised the head .[63] Then ibn Sa'ad's men looted all the valuables from Hussein's body.

Alternative ending of the battle (Shia perspective)Edit

While Hussein was resting against the tree, Shimr knew that Hussein was unable to fight and sent one of his men to go and kill him. The man went and seeing Hussein's eyes, he got extremely scared and ran back to his camp. When Shimr asked why he had not killed Hussein, the man replied that looking into his eyes he saw Muhammad. Angrily, Shimr sent another man. This one was so frightened that he dropped his sword and ran back to his camp. This time when Shimr asked him why he had not killed him, he said he saw into his eyes and saw the angry look of Ali ibn Abi Talib. Shimr was angry, said that he would have to do it himself and wearing his armor, he went to where Hussein was. Using his iron boots he kicked Hussein in the ribs. Hussein fell to the ground, when Shimr sat on top of him. Using a blunt knife, he removed Hussein's head from his body.

The army of Ibn Sa'ad rushed to loot the tents. The daughters of Muhammad's family were expelled from the tents, unveiled and barefooted, while weeping and crying for their slain relatives. The army set all the tents on fire. The women were asking: "By Allah, will you make us pass the site of the murder of Husain?" And when they saw the martyrs and wailed.[64] Then Sakinah bint Husayn (died, 117 AH) embraced her father's body until some people dragged her away.[65]

Umar ibn Sa'ad called volunteering horsemen to trample Hussein's body. Ten horsemen trampled his body such that his chest and back were broken.


Umar ibn Sa'ad sent Hussein's head to ibn Ziyad on Ashura afternoon and ordered the army to sever the heads of his comrades and to send them to Kufa. The heads were distributed to various tribes enabling them to gain the favor of ibn Ziyad. Ibn Sa'ad remained in Karbala until the next noon.[66]

After ibn Sa'ad's army went out of Karbala, some people from Banu Asad tribe came there and buried their dead, but did not mark any of graves, with the exception of Hussain's which was marked with a simple plant. Later Ali ibn Hussain returned to Karbala to identify the grave sites. Hurr was buried by his tribe a distance away from the battlefield.[67]

On Muharram 11 (October 11, 680 CE), all captives including all women and children were then loaded onto camels with neither saddle nor shade and were moved toward Kufa. As they approached Kufa, its people gathered to see them. Some women of Kufa gathered veils for them after learning that they were relatives of Muhammad. Among the captives were Ali ibn al-Husayn Zayn al-'Abidin, who was gravely ill, as well as Hassan ibn Hassan al-Muthanna, who was seriously injured in the battle of Karbala.[68]

Zaynab bint Ali pointed at the people to be quiet. Then she addressed the people of Kufa:

"The praise is exclusively attributed to Allah. And greetings to my father (grand father), Muhammad, and to his pure and benevolent family. And then, Oh people of Kufa! Oh deceitful and reneger people! Do you weep? So let tears not be dried and let groans not be finished. ... Beware, such a bad preparation you have made for yourself that Allah became furious of you and you will be at punishment forever. Do you weep and cry? Yes, by Allah, do weep numerously and do laugh less! Since you brought its shame and fault on yourself and you will not be able to cleanse it forever. ..."[69]

During the journey from Karbala to Kufa, and from Kufa to Damascus, Hussein's sister Zaynab bint Ali and Umm Kulthum bint Ali, and son Ali ibn al-Husayn gave various speeches that exposed the truth about Yazid and told the Muslim world of the various atrocities committed in Karbala. After being brought to Yazid's court, Zaynab courageously gave a famous speech in which she denounced Yazid's claim to the caliphate and eulogized Hussein's uprising.

The prisoners were held in Damascus for a year. During this year, some prisoners died of grief, most notably Sukayna bint Husayn. The people of Damascus began to frequent the prison, and Zaynab and Ali ibn al-Husayn used that as an opportunity to further propagate the message of Hussein and explain to the people the reason for Hussein's uprising. As public opinion against Yazid began to foment in Syria and parts of Iraq, Yazid ordered their release and return to Medina, where they continued to tell the world of Hussein's cause.

Following the Battle of Karbala, Husseins second cousin Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr then confronted Yazid. Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr was the son of a al-Zubayr ibn al-Awwam a cousin of Ali and Muhammad and the son of Asma bint Abu Bakr, Abu Bakr's daughter.

Asma’s son, Abdullah, and his cousin, Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr, were both grandsons of Abu Bakr and nephews of Aisha. When Hussein ibn Ali was killed in Karbala, Abdullah, who had been Hussein’s friend, collected the people of Mecca and made the following speech:

“O people! No other people are worse than Iraqis and among the Iraqis, the people of Kufa are the worst. They repeatedly wrote letters and called Imam Hussein to them and took bay’at (allegiance) for his caliphate. But when Ibn Zeyad arrived in Kufa, they rallied around him and killed Imam Hussein who was pious, observed the fast, read the Quran and deserved the caliphate in all respects.”[70]

After his speech, the people of Mecca also joined Abdullah to take on Yazid. When he heard about this, Yazid had a silver chain made and sent to Mecca with the intention of having Walid ibn Utbah arrest Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr with it.[70] In Mecca and Medina Hussein’s family had a strong support base, and the people were willing to stand up for them. Hussein’s remaining family moved back to Madina. Eventually Abdullah consolidated his power by sending a governor to Kufa. Soon Abdullah established his power in Iraq, southern Arabia, the greater part of Syria and parts of Egypt.

Yazid tried to end Abdullah’s rebellion by invading the Hejaz, and he took Medina after the bloody Battle of al-Harrah followed by the siege of Mecca. But his sudden death ended the campaign and threw the Umayyads into disarray, with civil war eventually breaking out. This essentially split the Islamic empire into two spheres. After the Umayyad civil war ended, Abdullah lost Egypt and whatever he had of Syria to Marwan I. This, coupled with the Kharijite rebellions in Iraq, reduced his domain to only the Hejaz.

Following the sudden death of Yazid and his son Mu'awiya II took over and then abdicated and died in 683, Ibn al-Zubayr expelled Yazid's forces from most of Arabia. In Syria Marwan ibn Hakim, a cousin of Mu'awiya I, was then declared caliph. Marwan had a short reign dying in 685 but he was succeeded by his able son Abd al-Malik. The Kharijite in Iraq weakened Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr and after a battle with the Umayyads in Syria, he was isolated in the Tihamah and the Hejaz regions [71] the Kharijite rebels then established an independent state in central Arabia in 684.

Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr was finally defeated by Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, who sent Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf. Hajjaj was from Ta’if, as were those who had killed Hussein. In his last hour, Abdullah asked his mother Asma what he should do. Asma replied to her son:[72]

“You know better in your own self that if you are upon the truth and you are calling towards the truth go forth, for people more honourable than you were killed and have been killed, and if you are not upon the truth, then what an evil son you are, you have destroyed yourself and those who are with you. If you say what you say, that you are upon the truth and you will be killed at the hands of others then you will not truly be free, for this is not the statement of someone who is free... How long will you live in this world, death is more beloved to me than this state you are on, this state of weakness.”

Then Abdullah said to his mother after she had told him to go forth and fight: “I am afraid I will be mutilated by the people of Sham. I am afraid that they will cut up my body after they have killed me.” She said: “After someone has died, it won’t make any difference what they do to you if you have been killed.” Abdullah said to his mother:

“I did not come to you except to increase myself in knowledge. Look and pay attention to this day, for verily, I am a dead man. Your son never drank wine, nor was he fornicator, nor did he wrong any Muslim or non-Muslim, nor was he unjust. I am not saying this to you to show off or show how pure I am but rather as an honour to you.”

Abdullah then left by himself on his horse to take on Hajjaj. Hajjaj’s army defeated and Abdullah on the battlefield in 692. He beheaded him and crucified his body. He said, “No one must take down his body except Asma. She must come to me and ask my permission, and only then will his body be taken down.” Asma refused to go and ask permission to take down her son's body. It was said to her, "If you don’t go, his body will remain like that.” She said, “Then let it be.” Eventually Hajjaj came to her and asked, "What do you say about this matter?” She replied, “Verily, you have destroyed him and you have ruined his life, and with that you have ruined your hereafter.”

The defeat of Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr re-established Umayyad control over the Empire.

A few years later the people of Kufa called Zayd ibn Ali, the grandson of Hussein, over to Kufa. Zaydis believe that in Zayd’s last hour, he was also betrayed by the people of Kufa, who said to him: “May God have mercy on you! What do you have to say on the matter of Abu Bakr and Umar ibn al-Khattab?” Zayd ibn Ali said, “I have not heard anyone in my family renouncing either of them, nor saying anything but good about them... When they were entrusted with government, they behaved justly with the people and acted according to the Qur'an and the Sunnah.”[73][74][75][76]

The presence of MuhammadEdit

Although Muhammad had died before the Battle of Karbala. According to the hadith book complied by the Sunni scholar Mishkat al-Masabih. Salma went to visit Muhammad's wife Umme Salamah. Finding Umme Salma crying, she asked why was she crying.

"I went to visit Umm Salamah and found her weeping. I asked her what was making her weep and she replied that she had seen Allah's Messenger (meaning in a dream) with dust on his head and beard. She asked him what was the matter and he replied, `I have just been present at the slaying of al-Husayn.'"[18]

Historiography of the battle of KarbalaEdit

Primary sourcesEdit

The first historian to systematically collect the reports of eyewitnesses of this event was Abu Mikhnaf (died in 157 AH/774 CE) in a work titled Kitab Maqtal Al-Husayn.[77] Abi Mikhnaf's original seems to have been lost and that which has reached today has been transmitted through his student Hisham Ibn Al-Kalbi (died in 204 AH.) There are four manuscripts of the Maqtal, located at Gotha (No. 1836), Berlin (Sprenger, Nos. 159–160), Leiden (No. 792), and Saint Petersburg (Am No. 78) libraries.[78]

Rasul Jafarian has counted five primary sources that are now available. Among the original works on maqātil (pl. of maqtal or place of death / martyrdom and hence used for books narrating the incident of Karbala) the ones that could be relied upon for reviewing the Karbala happenings are five in number. All these five maqtals belong to the period between the 2nd century AH (8th CE) and the early 4th century AH (10th CE). These five sources are the Maqtal al-Husayn of Abu Mikhnaf; the Maqtal al-Husayn of Ibn Sa'd al-Baghdadi, Sunni historian; the Maqtal al-Husayn of Al-Baladhuri, Sunni Historian; the Maqtal al-Husayn of Abū Ḥanīfa Dīnawarī, and the Maqtal al-Husayn of Ahmad ibn A'zham.[79]

However, some other historians have recognized some of these as secondary sources. For example Laura Veccia Vaglieri has found that Al-Baladhuri (died 279AH/892-893CE) like Tabari has used Abu Mikhnaf but has not mentioned his name.[80] On the basis of the article of "Abi Mikhnaf" in "Great Islamic Encyclopedia" Ahmad ibn A'zham has mentioned Abu Mikhnaf in "Al-Futuh" thus he should be recognized as secondary source.[81]

Secondary sourcesEdit

Then latter Muslim historians have written their histories on the basis of the former ones especially Maqtal Al-Husayn of Abu Mikhnaf. However they have added some narrations through their own sources which were not reported by former historians.

Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari narrated this story on the basis of Abu Mikhnaf's report through Hisham Ibn Al-Kalbi in his history, History of the Prophets and Kings.[82] Also there is fabricated version of Abu Mekhnaf's book in Iran and Iraq.[77] Then other Sunni Muslim historians including Al-Baladhuri and Ibn Kathir narrated the events of Karbala from Abu Mikhnaf. Also among Shia Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid used it in Irshad.[83] However, followers of Ali – later to be known as Shia Muslims – attached a much greater importance to the battle and have compiled many accounts known as Maqtal Al-Husayn.

Shia writingsEdit

Salwa Al-Amd has classified Shia writings in three groups:[84]

  1. The legendary character of this category associates the chronological history of Hussein ibn Ali with notions relating to the origin of life and the Universe, that have preoccupied the human mind since the beginning of creation, and in which Al-Husayn is eternally present. This category of writing holds that a person's stance toward Hussein ibn Ali and Ahl al- Bayt is a criterion for reward and punishment in the afterlife. It also transforms the historical boundaries of Hussein ibn Ali's birth in 4 Hr. and his martyrdom in 61 Hr. to an eternal presence embracing the boundaries of history and legend.
  2. This category comprises the literary works common in rituals and lamentations (poetic and prose) and is characterized by its melodramatic style, which aims to arouse pity and passion for Ahl al- Bayt's misfortunes, and charge feelings during tempestuous political circumstances on the memory of Ashura.
  3. This category is the nearest to Sunni writings because it fully cherishes the historical personality of Hussein ibn Ali and regards the Karbala incident as a revolt against oppression; dismissing the legendary treatment, while using the language of revolt against tyranny and despotic sovereignty. A model writer of this category is Mohamed Mahdi Shams Al-Din.

History distortionEdit

As Jafarian says "The holding of mourning ceremonies for Hussein ibn Ali was very much in vogue in the eastern parts of Iran before the Safavids came to power. Kashefi wrote the "Rawzah al-Shuhada" for the predominantly Sunnis region of Herat and Khurasan at a time when the Safavid state was being established in western Iran and had no sway in the east."[85]

After the conversion of Sunni Iran to the Shia faith, many Iranian authors composed poems and plays commemorating the battle.[86] Most of these compositions are only loosely based upon the known history of the event.[85]

Some 20th-century Shia scholars have protested the conversion of history into mythology. Prominent critics include:

Also several books have been written in Persian language about political backgrounds and aspects of the battle of Karbala.[92]

Impact on literatureEdit

The theme of suffering and martyrdom occupies a central role in the history of religion from the earliest time. Sacrifices are a means for reaching higher and loftier stages of life; to give away parts of one's fortune or to sacrifice members of one's family enhances one's religious standing. Taking into account the importance of sacrifice and suffering for the development of man, Shia literature has given a central place to the death on the battlefield of Muhammed's grandson Hussein ibn Ali.[citation needed] The development of the whole genre of marsia poetry and ta'zieh theatre in the Persian and Indo-Persian world, or in the popular Turkish tradition is in this way.[citation needed]

Persian literatureEdit

The name of Hussein ibn Ali appears several times in the work of the first great Sufi Persian[93] poet, Sanai. Here, the name of the martyred hero can be found now and then in connection with bravery and selflessness, and Sanai sees him as the prototype of the shahid (martyr), higher and more important than all the other martyrs who are and have been in the world.[94]

The tendency to see Hussein ibn Ali as the model of martyrdom and bravery continues in the poetry written in the Divan of Attar.

When Shiism became the official religion of Iran in the 15th century, Safavid rulers such as Shah Tahmasp I, patronized poets who wrote about the tragedy of Karbala, and the genre of marsia, according to Persian scholar Wheeler Thackston, "was particularly cultivated by the Safavids."[95]

The most well-known 15th-century Persian marsiya writer was Mohtasham Kaashaani,[96] whose works consequently became a source of elegy emulation for Iranians.

Azeri and Turkish literatureEdit

Turkish tradition, especially in the later Bektashi Order, is deeply indebted to Shia Islam. But it seems that already in some of the earliest popular Sufi songs in Turkey, those composed by Yunus Emre in the late 13th or early 14th century, Muhammed's grandsons played a special role.[97]

Sindhi literatureEdit

As in many other fields of Sindhi poetry, Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai of Bhitshah (1689–1752) is the first to express ideas which were later taken up by other poets. He devoted "Sur Kedaro" in his Shah Jo Risalo to the martyrdom of the grandson of Muhammed, and saw the event of Karbala as embedded in the whole mystical tradition of Islam.

A number of poets in Sindh have also composed elegies on Karbala. The most famous of them is Sayed Sabit Ali Shah (1740–1810), whose specialty was the genre of "suwari". This genre, as well as the more common forms, persists in Sindhi poetry throughout the whole of the 18th and 19th centuries, and even into our own times. Sachal Sarmast, Bedil, Mir Hassan, Shah Naser, Mirza Baddhal Beg, Mirza Kalich Beg their devotion to Hussein ibn Ali is well known and deeply embedded in their Sufi teachings.[94]

Urdu literatureEdit

The most famous corpus of Urdu poetry on Karbala was produced by two poets of Lucknow named Mir Babar Ali Anis and Mirza Salaamat Ali Dabeer. Both these poets lived in the 19th century and they were the contemporaries of the Delhi based poet Mirza Ghalib. The genre of poetry that those two poets produced is known as marsia. Recently[when?], professor David Matthews of the School of Oriental and African Studies, London, has translated a full length (197 stanzas of six lines each) Marsia of Anis into English verse.[98] This was published in book form by Rupa and Co., New Delhi, India.

The legacy of Urdu Marsia has lasted to this day and many poets are still writing that kind of poetry. Both Josh Malihabadi and Muhammad Iqbal followed the genre of six-line stanza and have produced great poetry.

But there was also another way to understand the role of Hussein ibn Ali in the history of the Islamic people, and importantly, the way was shown by Muhammad Iqbal, who was a Sunni poet and philosopher.

The Adil Shahi and Qutb Shahi dynasties of South India (Deccan), predominantly Twelver Shia in religious persuasion, patronized Dakhini (an early South Indian dialect of Urdu) marsia. Although Persian marsia of Muhtasham Kashani were still recited, the Adil Shahi and Qutb Shahi rulers felt the need to render the Karbala tragedy in the language of ordinary Muslims. In the Adil Shahi and Qutb Shahi kingdom of Deccan, marsia flourished, especially under the patronage of Ali Adil Shah and Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, marsia writers themselves, and poets such as Ashraf Biyabani. Urdu marsia written during this period are still popular in South Indian villages.[99]

Ghalib described the "King of Martyrs", Hussein ibn Ali, by using metaphors, similar to the ones he used in his odes. Ghalib used regal imagery to underscore the virtues of Hussein ibn Ali. The marsia of Mir Taqi Mir and Mirza Rafi Sauda are similar to those of Ghalib in that they perform their panegyric function for the martyrs of Karbala; but these poets also wrote marsia in which the narration of the Karbala tragedy was saturated with cultural and ceremonial imagery of North India.[99]

Josh Malihabadi renowned as "Shair-i inqilab", or the poet of revolution, used the medium of marsia as a means to propagate the view that Karbala is not a pathos-laden event of a bygone era, but a prototype for contemporary revolutionary struggles. Josh's writings during the late 1930s and the early 1940s, when nationalist feelings were running high in South Asia, had a momentous impact upon his generation. Josh attempted to galvanize the youth of his day by intertwining their contemporary struggle of liberation from colonization with Hussein ibn Ali's battle:

"O Josh, call out to the Prince of Karbala [Husain],
cast a glance at this twentieth century,
look at this tumult, chaos, and the earthquake.
At this moment there are numerous Yazids, and yesterday there was only one.
From village to village might has assumed the role of truth,
Once again, Human feet are in chains"[99]

Vahid Akhtar, formerly Professor and Chairman, Dept. of Philosophy at Aligarh Muslim University,[100] has been crucial in keeping the tradition of marsia dynamic in present-day South Asia. His marsia rely on the images, metaphors, and nuances inherited from 19th century masters, and on the values invested in this genre by socio-religious reformers like Josh Malihabadi. On the back cover of his recently[when?] published marsia anthology, for example, is the famous Arabic saying: "Every place is Karbala; every day is Ashura." By positing a similarity between Hussein ibn Ali's historic battle and the present day struggle of human kind against renewed forms of Yazidian oppression, Akhtar deflects the interpretation of the martyrs of Karbala as mere insignia of Islamic history; they are instead posed as the sinews for the revival of an ideal Islamic state of being.[101]

Bengali literatureEdit

Mir Mosharraf Hossain wrote the novel Bishad Shindhu and Kazi Nazrul Islam wrote many poems on this incident. Marsias are still sung on 10th Muharram.[citation needed]

Shia observancesEdit

Kerbela Hussein Moschee

The Imam Husayn Shrine during Arba'een

Shia Muslims commemorate the Battle of Karbala every year in the Islamic month of Muharram. The mourning of Muharram begins on the first day of the Islamic calendar and then reaches its climax on Muharram 10, the day of the battle, known as Ashurah. It is a day of Majlis, public processions, and great grief. In the Indian sub-continent Muharram in the context of remembrance of the events of Karbala means the period of two months & eight days i.e. 68 days starting from the evening of 29 Zill-Hijjah and ending on the evening of 8 Rabi-al-Awwal.[102] Men and women chant and weep, mourning Hussein ibn Ali, his family, and his followers. Speeches emphasize the importance of the values the sacrifices Hussein ibn Ali made for Islam. Shia mourners in countries with a significant majority flagellate themselves with chains or whips, which in extreme cases may causing bleeding.[103] This mainly takes place in countries such as India, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq and the villages and poorer areas of Iran.[citation needed] Most Shias show grievances, however, through weeping and beating their chests with their hands in a process called Lattum/Matam while one recites a Latmyah/Nauha.[citation needed] Forty days after Ashurah, Shias mourn the death of Hussein ibn Ali in a commemoration called Arba'een.[104]

In South Asia, the Battle of Karbala has inspired a number of literary and non-musical genres, such as the marsia, noha, and soaz.

See alsoEdit


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External linksEdit

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Shia linksEdit

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