The month of Muharram is the start of the Islamic calendar. The first ten days of this month are marked by
the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (Ra) and his family (ra) and companions. This tremendous sacrifice has taken on different religious
and political meaning within the numerous factions in Islam. The events at Karbala are either rarely known or understood whilst
on the other end of the scale are commemorated with great vigour using innovative practices that are far from the teachings
in Islam. The facts about these events have largely been lost and the real issues are now clouded as the magnitude of the
tragedy are played ceremoniously every year. The questions and issues surrounding the martyrdom of Karbala has far reaching
effects and we have lessons to learn. The questions we need to ask are ; How much do we know? What do we understand? When will we learn?
The facts of the Karbala martyrdom have been confined to the history books while Muslims around the world relate the incidents
from stories they have heard or from the scriptures that have included more legend than fact. Often these sermons are designed
to dramatise and heighten the tragedy of the martyrdom bringing as much grief as possible to the listeners. This practice
in itself can be viewed as dis-respectful because our emotions for imam Hussain (ra) and his family and supporters should
exist without the need to relate those heart-breaking events in such an explicit manner.
The Events that made Karbala
There are two main schools of thought that have divided the Muslim Ummah ever since the Prophet (saw) departed.
The mainstream believe that all the companions (Ra) are equal in status and leadership as they all were rightly guided. The
other faction that emerged have the belief that only the blood line of the Prophet (saw) should be followed in Caliphate,
which means in leading the Muslim Ummah. The feud between the different ideologies that existed in Islam were growing with
the appointment of Hasrat Abu Bakr (ra), Hasrat Umar Farooq (ra) and then Hasrat Usman (ra) as Caliphas before Hasrat Ali
ibn Talib (ra). Ali Ibn Talib (ra) being the cousin of the Prophet (saw) and also married to the Prophet’s (saw) daughter.
The first civil war in Islam took place after the martyrdom of Hasrat Usman (ra). Supporters of Hasrat Ali (ra) battled against
Hasrat Muawiya and his supporters for the next position of Calipha. Hasrat Muawiya (ra) was a companion of the Prophet (saw).
The appointment of Hasrat Ali (ra) brought some calm to the situation but after he was also martyred there
was turmoil once again. Now the followers of the ‘Ahl-e-bayt’ which literally means ‘people of the house’
in their belief that only the blood line of the Prophet (saw) can lead the Ummah, demanded that the son of Hasrat Ali (ra)
succeed as Calipha. This was Hassan ibn Ali (ra). These demands were over-ruled as Hasrat Muawaiya took his role as Calipha.
These events actually put the wheels in motion for the inhumane and tragic events that resulted in Karbala.
(The history of the Caliphate will be explained and followed in greater detail in our forthcoming ‘Islam and History’
Hassan ibn Ali (ra) signed a treaty with Muawiya, on the understanding as alleged that after his death, the
people will choose the successor. This was in order to ensure that the son of Muawiya Yezid was not appointed automatically.
In the following years the dynasty of Islam separated with Muawiya becoming based in Kufa, which is now Iraq and the Prophet’s
(saw) family was based in Medina. Imam Hussain ibn Ali, the son of Hasrat Ali (ra) and brother of Hassan who had passed away,
was being sent letters and messages from Kufa to come and take the Caliphate as the demise of Muawiya was approaching. However
before Muawiya passed away he appointed his son Yezid as the next Calipha. This was an injustice to the people and the family
of the Prophet (saw). Only Allah (swt) knows why the appointment of Yezid ibn Muawiya was made without consideration given
to the male members of the Prophet’s (saw) family but the implications were obvious. Yezid aimed to have pledges of
oath to his rule, known as ‘ba’ith’. This is very important to the rulers in order for them to be
assured of support and allegiance. Yezid told the minister of Medina to have the oath from Imam Hussain (ra), full knowing
that he presents the obvious danger. Imam Hussain (ra) rejected this demand probably feeling it unnecessary and inappropriate
to swear allegiance to a ruler who was appointed without people’s acceptance.
Imam Hussain (ra) was a very modest man, he was very strong in religion and had no ambition of leadership
or prosperity. Let’s remember the connection Imam Hussain (ra) had, he was the grandson of Imam-ul Ambiya - Prophet
Muhammad (saw), and the son of Hasrat Ali (ra) and Hasrat Fatima (ra), the daughter of the Prophet (saw). Imam Hussain (ra)
had no need to swear his allegiance to any ruler as his allegiance was with Islam and the truth. After the decision to reject
the oath of allegiance, there were further letters and requests from the people of Kufa who had sworn their allegiance to
the Imam and his family. Despite these requests Imam Hussain (ra) left for Mecca to perform the pilgrimage.
However at this point realising the people of Kufa have rejected Yezid’s rule, the decision was taken
by Imam Hussain (ra) to embark on the journey to Kufa and accept the role of Calipha. Imam Hussain (ra) was joined with his
family and a small band of followers on the ill-fated journey.
The convoy was intercepted by Umar bin Sa’ad who was sent by the governor of Kufa, at a place called
Karbala. This plain of land was on the western bank of the Euphrates about fifty miles from Kufa. The governor of Kufa was
Ubaidullah bin Zaid, appointed by Yezid. Imam Hussain (ra) was being accompanied by only seventy five people approximately
whereas the army facing them was said to have been around thirty thousand. Imam Hussain (ra) had no intention of fighting
and was only carrying out the wishes of the people of Kufa. There were negotiations with Umar bin Sa’ad but the army
general refused to allow Hussain to proceed to Kufa. Even Bin Sa’ad refused to allow Imam Hussain and his family to
return to Medinah. The orders were now to instruct Hussain to take the pledge of alliance to Yezid. This was refused by Imam
Hussain (ra). During the ten days of the start of Muharram (680) the army aimed to force Hussain and his supporters to surrender
by cutting their supply of water. These attempts failed so now the order was to annihilate this small convoy.
Even on this juncture, Imam Hussain (ra) addressed the large army calling for peace. He explained that they
were about to carry out the greatest sin imaginable, to fight the family of the beloved Prophet (saw). Imam Hussain appealed
that the orders given to them would take away their place in Paradise. Imam Hussain (ra) may have had thirsty children in
the tents but never appealed for water or any other mercy but was appealing for them to uphold truth and the deen -
religion of Allah (swt). This address by the Imam was so powerful and moving that some people from Ibn Sa’ad’s
army refused to fight the beloved family of the Prophet (saw) and Hurr who was one of the army generals defected and joined
the convoy of Imam Hussain (ra). The realisation that the conscience of these soldiers may weaken their position, the governor
bin Zaid ordered to attack discriminately. The fighting began and the odds were completely against Imam Hussain (ra) and his
supporters. The courage shown by these rightly guided believers was witnessed by history. Even the children of Prophet’s
(saw) family joined the battle desperate to uphold the truth or be amongst the fallen. The daughter of Hasrat Ali (ra) and
sister of Hussain (ra); Zainab bint Ali allowed her young children to join the battle alongside her brothers Hussain and Abbas.
The young children were martyred as they were outnumbered by the brutal army. Hasrat Qassim, son of Hassan
(ra) along with Hasrat Aun and Hasrat Muhammad, the dear sons of Zainab were amongst the first children who lost their lives.
Imam Hussain and Hasrat Abbas had the tremendous weight of not just fighting but also bringing the bodies of these young,
innocent children back to the tents. This battle claimed the lives of Abbas and then of Imam Hussain’s son Hasrat Ali
Akbar (ra). The youngest child to be mercilessly taken away on the land of Karbala was Imam Hussain’s youngest child
Ali Asghar who was just six months old.
By the tenth of Muharram, Imam Hussain had lost his entire family. His children and nephews had been martyred
in front of his eyes along with his brother. The blessed women were now left mourning their children in the tents. Imam Hussain
had one surviving son who was too ill to fight Hasrat Ali Zainaul Abidin and daughter Hasrat Sakina (ra). On the tenth
of Muharram, once again Imam Hussain spoke with the opposing army not for clemency but to reason with these perpetrators.
The Imam appealed to them to uphold the truth and give up this campaign of annihilating the blessed family of the Prophet
(saw). This call was rejected and then alone and thirsty the Imam fought to the end. Imam Hussain and his family with his
supporters had battled valiantly against insurmountable odds and every person that had been martyred even the children were
surrounded and then attacked. The battle of Karbala had set unashamedly high standards of brutality and savagery from this
military force while the valour and patience from the household of the Prophet (saw) had reminded Islamic history of the qualities
seen in Badr and Uhud. Imam Hussain (ra) was martyred while praying his salaat and he was beheaded. May Allah
(swt) Bless him and give him Peace.
The trials on the Prophet’s (saw) family continued as the tents - Khaime were set on fire and
looted. The blessed women of our beloved Prophet (saw) were left without their veils and any place of refuge. As the courage
of Imam Hussain and the male members of the household passed it was now Hasrat Zainab (ra) who had to show great courage and
patience. That night they spent in the open land of Karbala, having lost everything and now facing humiliation is called ‘Shaam-e-Garibain’.
This means the ‘Night of the Poor’. Hasrat Zainab along with the other women and
children were made prisoners and taken through the streets of Kufa and then Sham (later known as Damascus). They were paraded
in front of the people being called the household of traitors. From this point the courageous and crucial role of Hasrat Zainab
(ra) began as she made valiant speeches on every corner to the people of Kufa and then to the people of Sham, where Yezid
was based. Hasra Zainab (ra) delivered the truth of what had happened, relating how the family of the Prophet (saw) who we
should send blessings on have been martyred and humiliated. Then in Sham when Hasrat Zainab (ra) was to be presented in the
court of Yezid, some accounts confirm that the sun set on Sham rather than any man in that disgraced court see Zainab without
her veil. The sermons of Zainab continued in front of Yezid and even while she was imprisoned her campaign continued. These
events even when told briefly are completely shocking and the mind finds it hard to contemplate how this occurred with the
blessed family of the Prophet (saw). The daughter of Hussain (ra) passed away in captivity and later Zainab (ra) was released
and returned to Medinah. These events led to the downfall of Yezid even though most historical references confirm that Yezid
did not order this martyrdom and himself mourned the loss. However many people within Islam have charged Yezid with these
crimes and is therefore considered an enemy of Islam.
These events demonstrated how truth can never bow to falsehood and patience will overcome tyranny. How can
we ever complain at the difficulties in our life or claim it is difficult to follow the true path of Islam when the blood
of the blessed family of Prophet Muhammad (saw) have left an indelible example for all to follow.
The Prophecy of Karbala?
Lo! We have given thee Abundance,
So pray unto thy Lord, and sacrifice.
Lo! it is thy insulter (and not thou) who is without posterity.
Prophet Muhammad (saw) had the ability to forecast future events as
revealed to him by Allah (swt). In fact the Ahadith of the Prophet (saw) contain great detail of the times that were to come
and have since occurred. The revelation of one particular Surah – chapter in the Qur’an is Surah Kauthar, which many scholars believe actually revealed the events of Karbala indirectly. Surah Kauthar was revealed at the time
the Prophet (saw) was being mocked by the people of Quraish. As the Prophet’s (saw) sons died in infancy and only his
daughters survived till later life, this became a point which the opponents of the Prophet (saw) used against him claiming
that as he had no son there would be no-one to carry his name and religion forward. However Surah Kauthar told the
Prophet (saw) that he will receive in abundance but to remain steadfast in the way of Allah (swt) and then sacrifice what
he has. Many scholars of the Qur’an believe that this revelation was assuring the beloved Messenger (saw) that he will
receive many successors to his name, as he will have many grandchildren through his daughter Hasrat Fatima (ra) and Hasrat
Ali (ra). The Prophet (saw) loved children and absolutely adored Fatima’s (ra) children. There are many hadith that
relate this love and mercy the Prophet (saw) had for the young ones. He never scolded them even when his daughter Hasrat Zainab
(ra) climbed onto him while he was in prostration. The Prophet (saw) stayed in that place until Zainab (ra) climbed down as
moving would have meant her falling. The Prophet (saw) dearly loved his grandson Hussain (ra) and would carry him on the shoulders
and spend much time with him. The beloved Prophet (saw) liked to kiss the lips of Hussain (ra) and stroke his face. According
to many scholars this love was also mixed with grief as though the Prophet (saw) knew of Hussain’s fate. In the hadith,
there is also the unique example of when the Prophet (saw) left the minbar - pulpit while delivering a khutbah –
sermon upon seeing a young Hussain crawling into the Masjid. The Prophet (saw) picked up Hussain and brought him into
These were the beautiful grand-children the Prophet (saw) loved and knew he would lose one day. He often cried
while cradling Hussain in his arms knowing that the sacrifice as revealed in Surah Kauthar was to be his family.
The significance of the martyrdom of Karbala is in the courage of the Prophet’s (saw) family and the
divisions that continue to hurt and kill our Ummah. The term ‘ashuara’ actually means ‘the tenth’,
referring to the date in Muharram when Imam Hussain (ra) was martyred. Muslims today also fast on the tenth of Muharram but
it is not in remembrance of the martyrdom. This tradition comes from the sunnah of the Prophet (saw) who also used to fast
on this date as a tribute to Prophet Musa (as). Prophet Musa (as) – Moses took the children of Israel on the
journey rescuing them from the Pharoah.
The historians continue to ponder over whether the intention of Yezid was to commit this terrible atrocity
or whether it was his general who acted on his own. The great Islamic scholar and historian Imam Ghazali (rh) was quoted as
saying that The person who thinks that Yezid had given orders to kill Hussain is a fool’. Therefore we must remember
that actual events of history should be read from the accounts of historians and scholars rather than what has happened all
too frequently that local religious leaders relate the accounts and we follow their versions.
The legacy of Karbala is that Imam Hussain (ra) accepted his fate and even accepted the fate of his family
without surrendering his will to any other apart from Allah (swt). Such courage against tyranny displays the fact that putting
our faith in Allah (swt) is enough and victory will be achieved in the hereafter Inshallah. The courage of those young children who faced grown
men on the battlefield showed that the strength of emaan – faith can overcome all fears of death or loss. The role of Hasrat Zainab (ra) was an exemplary
lesson for all believing women as she kept her faith in Allah (swt) despite watching the massacre of her entire family. She
even found the courage to withstand the attempts to degrade the women of the most blessed house. Hasrat Zainab (ra) did not
even curse the people who committed these shameful acts and instead stood and preached the message of Islam to all the people
of Kufa and Sham. She told of the terrible crimes committed against the family of the Prophet (saw) and even in captivity
continued this mission of truth.
The martyrdom of Karbala has become in some factions of Islam, the most integral part of the beliefs. Every
year there are large gatherings in masjids and madrassahs to hear versions of the stories of the martyrs bringing grief into
the hearts. However we forget that the atrocities were committed because of sectarian feuds within Islam, because we would
rather kill our own brothers and humiliate them in order to settle our differences. May we pause and reflect that the family
of the Prophet (saw) was sacrificed because of the savagery and brutality that exists in the same Ummah that claim to be led
by the teachings of the Prophet (saw). We are still dis-united, pledging allegiance to corrupt leaders who divide us and lead
us against each other. Every year there are protests against the ashuara rituals sparking violence between Sunni
and Shia factions in countries all over the world. These are actually the real reminders of what happened to us
in Karbala and is still happening to us. The events and effects of Karbala are not about being Sunni or Shia, its about being