The Events of Karbala
IN THE house of the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hf), which presented the best image of both the worlds – the heaven and the earth – a child who benefited humanity as if he was Divine Impression reflecting the earth, was born on the 3rd night of the month of Shaban. His father was Imam Ali (a.s.), the best model of kindness towards his friends and the bravest against the enemies of Islam, and his mother was Hazrat Fatimah (s.a.), the only daughter of the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hf) who had as universally acknowledged, inherited the qualities of her father. Imam Hussain (a.s.), is the third Imam. When the good news of his birth reached the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hf), he came to his daughter’s house, took the newly-born child in his arms, recited adhan and iqamah in his right and left ears respectively, and on the 7th day of his birth, after performing the rites of aqiqah, named him al-Hussain, in compliance with Allah’s (swt) command. Hassan (a.s.) and Hussain (a.s.), the two sons of the Holy Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) and Hazrat Fatimah (s.a.),our Lady of Light, were respected and revered as the “Leaders of the Youths of Paradise” as stated by the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hf).
The Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hf) had openly prophesied that the faith of Islam would be rescued by his second grandson Hussain (a.s.), when Yazid, son of Muawiayh, would endeavour to destroy it. Yazid was known for his devilish character and brutish conduct. He was known as the most licentious of men. The people having known and understood the character of Yazid, formed a covenant by which Muawiyah could not appoint Yazid as his successor. This undertaking was given by Muawiyah to Imam Hassan (a.s.) from whom Muawiyah had snatched power. Muawiyah violated this undertaking and nominated Yazid who succeeded his father. Immediately as he came to power, Yazid began acting in full accordance with his known character. He started interfering in the fundamentals of the faith and practised every vice and wickedness freely with the highest degree of impunity and yet held himself out as the successor of the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hf), demanding allegiance to himself as the leading guide of the faith. Paying allegiance to Yazid was nothing short of acknowledging the devil as God. If a divine personality like the Holy Imam Hussain (a.s.) had agreed to his authority, it would be actually recommending the devil to humanity in place of God. Yazid demanded allegiance from the Holy Imam Hussain (a.s.), who could have never agreed to it at any cost. The people fearing death and destruction at the hands of the tyrant had yielded to him out of fear. Imam Hussain (a.s.) said that come whatever may, he would never yield to the devil in place of God and undo what his grandfather, the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hf) had established. The refusal of the Holy Imam (a.s.) to pay allegiance to this fiend, marked the start of the persecution of the Holy Imam (a.s.). As a result he had retired to Medina where he led a secluded life. Even here he was not allowed to live in peace, and was forced to seek refuge in Mecca where also he was badly harassed, and Yazid plotted to murder him in the very precincts of the great sanctuary of Kaabah. The people of Kufa getting tired of the tyrannical and satanic rule of Yazid, had written innumerable letters and sent emissaries to Imam Hussain (a.s.) to come over and give them guidance in faith. Although Imam Hussain (a.s.) knew the ultimate end of the invitations, he as the divinely chosen Imam could not refuse to give the guidance sought for. When the Holy Imam (a.s.) with his entourage had reached Karbala, his horse mysteriously stopped and would not move any further. Upon this the Holy Imam (a.s.) declared: “This is the land , the land of sufferings and tortures.” He alighted from his horse, and ordered his followers to encamp there saying: “Here shall we be martyred and our children be killed. Here shall our tents be burned and our family arrested. This is the land about which my grandfather the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hf) had foretold, and his prophecy will certainly be fulfilled.” On the 7th Muharram water supply to the Imam’s camp was cut and the torture of thirst and hunger started. The Holy Imam’s (a.s.) camp consisted of ladies, innocent children including babies and some male members of the Holy Prophet’s (pbuh&hf) family; along with a small band of some faithful friends of Imam Hussain (a.s.) who had chosen to die with the Holy Imam, fighting against the devil for the cause of Allah (swt).
Imam Hussain (a.s.) sent out his companions from his camp one after another to fight and sacrifice their lives in the way of the Lord. Lastly, when all his men and children had laid down their lives, Imam Hussain (a.s.) brought his six- month old baby son Ali Asghar (a.s.), and offering him on his own hands, demanded some water for the baby, dying of thirst. The thirst of the baby was quenched by a deadly poisoned arrow from the brute’s forces, which pinned the baby’s neck to the arm of the helpless father. At last when the six-month old baby also was killed, Imam Hussain (a.s.) addressed Allah (swt): “O Lord! Your Hussain has offered in your way whatever your had blessed him with. Bless Your Hussain, O Lord! with the acceptance of this sacrifice. Every thing Hussain could do till now was through Your help and by Your Grace.” Lastly Imam Hussain (a.s.) came into the field and was martyred, the details of which merciless slaughter are heart rending. The forces of Yazid having killed Imam Hussain (a.s.), cut and severed his head from his body and raised it on a lance. The severed head of the Holy Imam (a.s.) began glorifying Allah (swt) from the point of the lance saying,` Allahu Akbar’. “All glory be to Allah Who is the Greatest!” After the wholesale, merciless and most brutal slaughter of the Holy Imam (a.s.) with his faithful band, the helpless ladies and children along with the ailing son of Imam Hussain (a.s.), Imam Ali Zain-ul-Abideen (a.s.), were taken captives.
Some Sayings of the Holy Prophet (sawa) During his Lifetime with Reference to Imam Husayn (as)
- Hassan (a.s.) and Hussain (a.s.) are the leaders of the Youths of Paradise.
- Hussain (a.s.) is from me and I am from Hussain (a.s.) , Allah befriends those who befriend Hussain (a.s.) and He is the enemy of those who bear enmity to him.
- Whoever wishes to see such a person who lives on earth but whose dignity is honoured by the Heaven dwellers, should see my grandson Hussain (a.s.).
- O my son! your flesh is my flesh and your blood is my blood, your are a leader, the son of a leader and the brother of a leader; your are a spiritual guide, the son of a spiritual guide and the brother of a spiritual guide; you are an Apostolic Imam , the son of an Apostolic Imam and the brother of an Apostolic Imam; you are the father of nine Imams, the ninth of whom would be the Oaim (the last infallible spiritual guide).
- The punishment inflicted on the murderer of Hussain (a.s.) in Hell would be equal to half of the total punishment to be imposed on the entire sinners of the world.
- When the Holy Prophet (phuh&hf) informed Hazrat Fatimah (s.a.) of the Martyrdom in store for his grandson, she burst into tears and asked, “O my father! when would my son be martyred?” “In such a critical moment,” he replied,” When neither I nor you, nor Ali would be alive. ” This accentuated her grief and she inquired again,” Who then, O my father, would commemorate Hussain’s martyrdom?”. The Holy Prophet (pbuh&hf) said, “The men and the women of a particular sect of my followers, who will befriend my Ahlul-Bayt, will mourn for Hussain and commemorate his martyrdom each year in every century.”
The Aftermath of Karbala
After the supreme sacrifice had been accepted and our Imam Hussain (as) had been martyred, a gloomy silence hung over the battlefield of Karbala.
Every now and then the silence would be broken by the sound of drum-beating to celebrate victory. Not content with spilling the innocent blood of Imam Hussain (as) and his companions, Amr ibne Sa’ad, the commander of Yazid’s army, ordered the horses to be shod afresh and then run over the bodies of the dead Muslims. Although some people from his army objected to this gross disrespect to the dead, he managed to enforce this horrible action. Having trampled over the bodies of the martyrs, the enemy next turned their attention to the defenseless camp of Imam Hussain (as).
Yazid’s soldiers marched into the camp where they subjected the grief-stricken ladies to further torment and indignity. They had expected to find luxurious articles in the tents of the family of the Rasulullah (S.A.W), but all they found were simple items and clothes, some of which had been stitched by Bibi Fatima (as) with her own hands. The ruthless soldiers snatched away these few possessions of sentimental value. They were angry at the lack of booty, and they took the veils off the struggling ladies forcing them to expose their hair and faces. This humiliation was almost too much to bear.
Not satisfied with this, the enemy set fire to the tents. The terrified ladies gathered their children and rushed from tent to tent, trying to escape the burning flames. One young child was seen rushing out of a tent with her clothes on fire. One of the enemy soldiers, seeing her pitiable condition came forward and put out the flames. The child looked at him, surprised at the unexpected kindness. Tearfully, the little child asked him, “O Shaikh, do me one more kindness and tell me the way to Najaf.” The soldier was very surprised at this unusual request, and replied, “Najaf is far away from here. Why do you want to know the way there?”.
The child said with heartbreaking innocence, “I want to go to the grave of my grandfather Imam Ali (as) and complain about what your people have done to us – how our men were butchered and how our ladies have been whipped. I want to tell him how the earrings were snatched from my cousin Sakina’s ears, leaving her earlobes torn and bleeding.”
Bibi Zainab (as), who had been left in charge of the camp by Imam Hussain (as), was at a loss as to what to do. She went to the seriously ill Imam Ali Zainul Abideen (as). He lay unconscious on the ground after the enemy had even robbed the mattress on which he lay. She shook him urgently to ask his advice. He was burning with fever but with a great effort he replied that it was compulsory on them to save their lives and he asked her to get everyone out from the burning tents into the open.
Soon the raging fires subsided leaving only one tent standing, although it was also damaged by fire. The ladies and children salvaged whatever they could of their few belongings and huddled together in that little shelter waiting for nightfall.
The night following the day of Ashura is known as Shame Ghariba. It was the night when the exhausted, hungry and tired families of Imam Hussain (as) and his companions sat in loneliness, each thinking about the loved ones they had lost in the unjust battle on that day.
Due to the illness of Imam Ali Zainul Abideen (as), Bibi Zainab (as) realised that she would have to take care of the small group of women and children herself. She called her sister Bibi Umme Kulthum (as) to help her and they decided to count all the children to see that none had gone missing in the confusion of the fire. To her horror and dismay Bibi Zaynab (as) found that Bibi Sakina (as), the beloved daughter of Imam Hussain (as), was not there.
The two ladies searched everywhere for the young girl but in vain. Finally, in desperation, Bibi Zainab (as) went to the place where the body of her brother Hussain (as) lay and cried, “O my brother, Sakina, who you left in my care, is nowhere to be found. Where shall I look for her in this wilderness?” Just then, the moon came out from behind a cloud and Bibi Zainab (as) saw that little Sakina (as) lay on her father, sleeping on his chest like she always used to. She shook the child awake and said, “My child, how did you find your father’s beheaded body in this darkness?”
The little girl replied innocently, “I wanted to tell my father about what the people had done to me. I wanted to tell him how Shimr had robbed the earrings that my father had so lovingly given me. I wanted to tell him how he had ripped them from my ears leaving my earlobes torn and bleeding. I wanted to tell him how the beast had mercilessly slapped me when I cried in pain. When I was running aimlessly in the desert I thought I heard my father’s voice telling me he was here. I followed the voice and I found him lying here. I told him everything and then I felt like sleeping on his chest the way I always did, for the last time. So I kept my head on his chest and slept till you came.”
Bibi Zainab (as) took the little child’s hand and led her back to the camp where her mother Bibi Rubab waited anxiously. She had just returned the exhausted child to her mother when she noticed that a group of people were advancing towards the camp carrying flame torches. She thought that some soldiers had returned to loot them and she hurried to stop them from disturbing the children who had finally gone to sleep despite their hunger and thirst.
However, it turned out that the arrivals were a group of ladies, the wives of some of the enemy soldiers. They were led by the widow of Hur, who had joined Imam Hussain’s (as) army from the enemy camp.
Hur’s widow said, “Dear lady, we have been asked to bring food and water for the children and bereaved ladies of your camp.” She continued sadly, “I am the widow of Hur who died fighting for your brother. When the soldiers of Amr ibne Sa’ad realised that all of you would perish of hunger and thirst, and that they would not be able to take you back to Yazid according to his command, they sent me to bring food and water to you.”
Bibi Zainab (as) offered her condolences at the death of Hur and apologised that they had not been able to offer him much hospitality. This remark prompted Hur’s widow to say, “My lady, I do not know how to offer you condolences, because you lost not one, but 18 members of your family.”
Bibi Zainab (as) supervised the feeding of all the children and ladies. She then took a broken sword in her hands and began going around the camp ensuring that the small group was safe from any further disturbances during that night.
Karbala has the unique feature of having its name engraved in the memory of generations and all along the history of the Muslim world. Believers recall this name with sorrow and distress, for they remember the grand sacrifice of Imam Hussain, peace be upon him (a.s.), and his family members and friends.
Up to this day, a huge number of devotees visit this holy place all year around to pay homage to the master of martyrs Imam Hussain (a.s.). Two main roads lead the visitor to Karbala. One is from the Iraqi capital Baghdad, through Al-Musails, and the other is from the holy city of Najaf. Upon reaching Karbala, the holy place would draw the visitor’s attention to its glorious minarets and domes shining due to the light of its lord.
Two grand holy shrines in Karbala are those of Imam Hussain (a.s.) and his brother Abul-Fazl al-Abbas (a.s.). Also present inside the shrine of Imam Hussain (a.s.) are the holy tombs of his two sons Hazrat Ali Akbar (a.s.) and 6-month old Hazrat Ali Asghar (a.s.) and his trusted friend Hazrat Habib ibn-e-Mazahir (a.s.). In one of the corners of the inside area of the shrine, is the Ganj-e-Shuhada where bodies of all the 72 martyrs of Karbala are buried. Next to one of the entrances “Bab-ul-Dhahab” , is the Qatl-gah, where the actual martyrdom of Imam Hussain (a.s.) took place. All the tombs and shrines are beautifully decorated with golden windows and beautiful illumination.
There are many opinions among different investigators, as to the origin of the word “Karbala”.
Some have pointed out that “Karbala” has a connection to the “Karbalato” language, while others attempt to derive the meaning of word “Karbala” by analyzing its spelling and language. They conclude that it originates from the Arabic word “Kar Babel” which was a group of ancient Babylonian villages that included Nainawa, Al-Ghadiriyya, Karbella, Al-Nawaweess, and Al-Heer. This last name is today known as Al-Hair and is where Imam Hussain’s (a.s.) grave is located.
The investigator Yaqut al-Hamawy had pointed out that the meaning of “Karbala” could have several explanations, one of which is that the place where Imam Hussain (a.s.) was martyred is made of soft earth – “Al-Karbalat”.
Other writers made the connection between the name and the disastrous event which painted the desert with blood, and so the word “Karbala” was said to compose of two Arabic words: “Karb” meaning grief and sorrow, and “Balaa” meaning affliction. Such a connection, in fact, has no scientific evidence, since Karbala was known as such even before the arrival of Imam Hussain (a.s.).
Karbala was at first an uninhabited place and did not witness any construction activity, although it was rich in water and its soil fertile. Following the tenth of Muharram 61 AH (680 AD), after the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (a.s.), people from far as well as tribes living nearby started visiting the holy grave. A lot of those who came, stayed behind and/or asked their relatives to bury them there after their demise.
Despite many attempts by successive rulers, such as Al-Rashid and Al-Mutawakkil, to put a restriction on the development of this area, it has nonetheless spread with time to become a city.
There is a lot of benefit and great spiritual reward in visiting the grave of Imam Hussain (a.s.). The Prophet Mohammad (saws) has said of his grandson Imam Hussain (a.s.): “Hussain is of me and I am of him”. Several narrations mention that visiting the grave of Imam Hussain (a.s.) relieves one of worldly afflictions as well as those after death. Believers, therefore, come from all parts of the world all year round to receive the honor, particularly during the first ten days of Muharram (Ashura) and the twentieth of Safar (the fourtieth).
One common Iraqi custom during that season is to go walking from Najaf to Karbala, reflecting their strong adhesion to and adoption of the morals and principles for which Imam Hussain (a.s.) struggled and attained martyrdom.
The historian Ibn Kuluwayh mentioned that those who buried Imam Hussain (a.s.) made a special and rigid construction with signs above the grave. Higher and bigger constructions above the grave started during the ruling of Al-Saffah, but Harun al-Rashid later on, put heavy restrictions to prevent people from visiting the grave.
At the time of Al-Mamun, construction around the grave resumed until the year 236 AH when Al-Mutawakkil ordered the destruction and digging of the grave, and then filling the pit with water. His son, who succeeded him, allowed people to visit the grave site, and since then building the precinct to the grave increased and developed step by step.
On the other hand, the historian Ibn Al-Athir, stated that in the year 371 AH, Aadod Al-Dawla Al-Boowayhi became the first to largely lay the foundations for large scale construction, and generously decorated the place. He also built houses and markets around the precinct, and surrounded Karbala with a high boundary wall turning it into a strong castle.
In the year 407 AH, the precinct caught fire due to the dropping of two large candles on the wooden decorations, but Hasan ibn Fadl (the state minister) rebuilt the damaged sections.
History has recorded the names of several rulers who shared the honour of widening, decorating or keeping the precinct in good condition. Amongst them is Fateh Ali al-Qajari, who in 1250 AH ordered the construction of two domes. One over Imam Hussain’s(a.s.) grave and the other over his brother Abul-Fazl al-Abbas(a.s.).
The first dome is 27 meters high and completely covered with gold. At the bottom, it is surrounded with 12 windows, each of which is about 1.25 m away from the other, from the inside, and 1.30 m from the outside.
The mausoleum has an area of 59 m / 75 m with ten gates, and about 65 rooms, well decorated from the inside and outside, used as classrooms for studying.
As for the grave itself, in the middle of the precinct, it is called the “Rawda” or garden and it has several doors. The most famous one is called “Al-Qibla” or “Bab al-Dhahab”. When it is entered, one can see the tomb of Habib ibn Madhahir al-Asadi (a.r.). Habib was a friend and companion of Imam Hussain (a.s.) since their childhood. He was one of those who was honoured with martyrdom at the battle of Karbala.
Abul-Fazl al-Abbas (a.s.) was the brother of Imam Hassan (a.s.) and Imam Hussain (a.s.) and the standard-bearer of Imam Hussain (a.s.) in the battle of Karbala. He is well known in history for his valour, loyalty and similarity to his father, the Lion of God, Imam Ali (a.s.).
The grave of Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) received similar attention as that of Imam Hussain (a.s.). In the year 1032 AH, the King Tahmaseb ordered the decoration of the grave’s dome. He built a window on the ‘darih’ around the grave and organized the precinct. Other similar activities were done by other rulers.