The story of KARBALA
The story of Imam Hussain (a.s) is a story of victory over the hearts and minds of people through martyrdom. His death was a wakeup call to a Muslim nation asleep and numb to the evil of those who had gone against the commands of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) and stolen the leadership positions from our Imams, starting with Imam Ali (a.s). The story of Imam Hussain (a.s) started many years before the events of Karbala and it was even foretold by the Prophet Mohammad (s.a.w).
Before the begining...
Imam Hassan proves Mauwya and Yazid cannot be trusted
Mauwya was an evil man who was raised in a family which hurt Prophet Mohammad and was not happy about the message of Islam. Mauwya helped kill Imam Ali (a.s) and after his death he took the leadership from Imam Ali's (a.s) eldest son - Imam Hassan (a.s).
Imam Hassan (a.s) was not able to take the leadership position back from Mauwya however he was able to force Mauwya to sign a treaty promising to follow several rules. Some of the rules Mauwya agreed to follow included:
Not killing Muslims
Following the rules of Islam
Letting the people decide who to lead after he dies.
Imam Hassan (a.s) knew that Mauwya would break all the rules, but he wanted the rest of the Muslims to also realise that Muawya was not a man of honour. Eventually Mauwya wanted to get rid of Imam Hassan and convinced Imam Hassan's wife to poison him.
Just as Imam Hassan (a.s) had suspected, Mauwya broke all of the promises he made and before he died instructed that his son Yazid is to become the Calilph (ruler) after him.
Like his father, Yazid used to steal from the Muslim treasury, drink alcohol, gamble and kill innocent people to keep his control. Yazid was more ruthless than his father and was even proud of all the evil things he did.
Like his father, Yazid also tried to force Imam Hussain (a.s) to accept him as a leader.
Hussain becomes Imam
Hussain (a.s) was chosen by Allah (s.w) to be the third Imam of the Muslims. His Imamat began after his older brother Imam Hassan was killed. He had the difficult task of trying to be an Imam to the Muslims during the time of the evil ruler Yazid.
Why Imam Hussain had to stand up to Yazid
Imam Hussain (a.s) did not accept that a criminal and liar could be the leader of the Muslims. Imam Hussain (a.s) knew that if he did not stand up to Yazid people would quickly forget that Islam is a beautiful and peaceful religion which aims to take people closer to Allah (s.w). Imam Hussain (a.s) wanted to remind people that Muslims are not allowed to kill innocent people, bully others and change the rules of Islam.
Fortunately his brother Imam Hassan (a.s) had proved that the evil father and son could not be trusted and now the people could understand why Imam Hussain had to reject Yazid as a leader.
However Imam Hussain's (a.s) strong stance made Yazid angry and afraid and he decided to kill the Imam. At that time Imam Hussain was living in Medina. Imam Hussain and his family left Medina and travelled to Mecca when he found out his life was in danger.
The people of Kufa want Imam Hussain to lead them
Kufa was a city in Iraq which was under the rule of Yazid, who lived in Damascus in Syria. When Yazid became the Caliph of the Muslims, the people of Kufa soon realised that he was a bad person and they wished that the prophets grandson, Imam Hussain could be their leader instead.
The people of Kufa wrote 500 hundred letters begging Imam Hussain (a.s) to travel to their city and lead them instead. They wanted a leader who was just, wise and strong. However, imam Hussain (a.s) knew that the people of Kufa changed their minds a lot. He therefore sent a trusted family member called Muslim ibn Aqeel to go to Kufa and make sure that the people there were ready for him to lead them.
The journey to Karbala begins
Muslim heads to Kufa
The story of Karbala begins when Muslim leaves Mecca with his two sons and travels to meet with the people of Kufa.
when Muslim arrives, he finds that the people are over-joyed to see him and they insist that they want Imam Hussain (a.s) to come to them. They also promise to stand by him if Yazid tries to attack him.
Muslim therefore wrote a letter to Imam Hussain (a.s) informing him that the people are certain they want the Imam to lead them. A man takes the letter and travels back to Medina to give it to Imam Hussain.
Muslim is betrayed and killed in Kufa
Yazid soon heard the news that Muslim ibn Aqil had been welcomed by the people of Kufa who wanted Imam Hussain (a.s) to lead them.
He became angry and sent a vicious man named Ubayd Allah ibn Ziad to Kufa. Ubayd Allah hurried to Kufa and entered the city wearing a black turban and scarf covering his face. The people thought that Imam Hussain (a.s) had arrived and they let him enter the city and into the castle.Ubayd Allah had tricked them.
Once he was in the castle, he took off his costume and ordered everyone to fight Muslim. Some people wanted to stay loyal to Muslim, however Ubayd Allah paid them money so they can take his side. Soon most of the people of Kufa had turned their backs on Muslim and wanted to kill him instead.
Imam Hussain was right for not trusting the people of Kufa, because they turned their backs on the same person they invited.
Muslim was left with very few supporters, and those supporters were quickly killed. Within days, Muslim found himself alone in a strange city whose people wanted him caught and killed. Sadly, the people of Kufa had betrayed Muslim for a small amount of money. Somehow, Muslim managed to send his sons out of Kufa with a message telling Imam Hussain (a.s) not to come to Kufa as the people had turned their backs on them.
Eventually Muslim ibn Aqeel was found and cornered by hundreds of soldiers. He fought bravely for many hours, however he was eventually captured and dragged to the castle to see Ubayd Allah.
Ubayd Allah son of Ziyad called his men and commanded Muslim son of Aqeel to be taken on the roof of a Castle to be killed and his body to be thrown down from the top, to the ground.
This did not scare the faithful Muslim who said “I am ready to pass on in the way of the Lord”
The people of Kufa all watch Muslim get killed, and they all cried silently, however none of them was brave enough to object.
Imam Hussain (a.s) leaves Mecca
Imam Hussain received Muslim’s letter while he was in Mecca wanting to perform the Hajj pilgrimage, however by the time the Imam received the letter Muslim had already been betrayed and killed in Kufa.
Whilst in Mecca, Imam Hussain soon found out there was another plot to kill him so he changed his plans and decided to head to Kufa sooner. Imam Hussain had knowledge of what happened to Muslim and he knew that Yazid was intent on killing him anywhere he went, but he decided to go towards Kufa because he knew that Allah’s ultimate plan was for him to go to a land called Karbala.
Map of the Movement of Imam Hussain (a.s) and his Noble Household
Imam Hussain (a.s) meets Hurr
On his way to Kufa Imam Hussain (a.s) arrived at a location called Sharaf. In the distance, one of the Imam’s sons excitedly said that he could see palm trees in the distance, however when got a better view they realised that it was men carrying hundreds of long spears.
The men were headed by a commander named Hurr who was famous for his bravery. Hurr approached Imam Hussain and told him that Ubayd Allah Ibn Ziad had ordered him capture the Imam and bring him to Kufa. However, Hurr and his army were nearly dying of thirst as they had been in the desert without water for many days. The Imam first gave Hurr and his army water, and then he told Hurr that he would not surrender. Hurr greatly respected the man he was ordered to imprison, so he and his troops started following the caravan of Imam Hussain (a.s).
Imam Hussain (a.s) arrives at Karbala
After some time travelling, Imam Hussain’s (a.s) horse suddenly stopped in its track and would not move further. Imam Hussain (a.s) tried six other horses but none of them would move from their spot. Imam Hussain gathered the people who were living in that area and asked them what the name of the place was. They gave him a name, but he asked if there were any other names used. An old man came forward and said, “I have heard my ancestors call this place Karbala” The Imam smiled. He had finally reached his destination.
Imam Hussain (a.s) knew that he was going to be killed on the land of Karbala by Yazid’s army. He was happy because he knew that his death was important so that future generations know what the real Islam is and how to stand up for it. He therefore purchased grave sites for himself and his companions and asked the people of Banu Assad to bury them once they are killed. The people of Banu Assad were so touched that they started weeping.
Imam Hussain and his followers then set up camp in Karbala
Yazid’s army arrives at Karbala
Ibn Ziad in Kufa heard the news that Imam Hussain was camping in Karbala so he sent an army of four thousand troops asking the Imam to surrender to Yazid. Imam Hussain refused.
Ibn Ziad ordered all the men in Kufa to join the army in fighting the Imam. He said that anyone who refuses to do so would be killed and anyone who kills him and brings back his head would get a great prize.
Yazid's army left the Imam and his family without a choice to go anywhere else and they were forbidden to use the river to quench their thirst.
The last night
On the night before Ashura, which was the 10th day of Muharram, Imam Hussain (a.s) asked his all the people who accompanied him on his journey to leave him if they did not want to die the next day. Then he blew out the candles so that those who did not want to stay with him can leave quietly. When he lit the candle again, many of the people had left, and the few who remained were his loyal companions.
Next Imam Hussain (a.s) then explained to the remaining men that they would all be killed the next day. This was good news to them as they only wanted to make Allah and Prophet Mohammad’s grandson happy.
Everyone then spent the night praying to Allah and thanking him for making them companions of the Imam of their time.
The day of Ashura
The day of Ashura is the 10th day of Muharram. Imam Hussain (a.s) started this day with prayer at the break of dawn.
The army soon wanted to start fighting Imam Hussain (a.s) and his followers. Imam Hussain (a.s) reminded the people in the army that it was they who sent him many letters asking him to come to Kufa. He reminded them that he was the grandson of the Prophet of Islam and that by killing him and hurting his women they are disobeying Allah. He also asked them to stop the fight and let him leave. However, they gave him the same reply as before. He can either accept Yazid as the leader or fight. This left Imam Hussain (a.s) no choice.
Hurr, who was on Yazid’s side, had a very good moral conscious and he felt very guilty about being a part of the injustice that was taking place. On the day of Ashura he finally decided that he wanted to change sides and be on the side of truth. Secretly he went to his son who was in a tent and asked him if he too wanted to join Yazid. His son quickly accepted and so did a servant who was in that tent. The three of them took their horses and approached Imam Hussain’s (a.s) camp. They asked to for his forgiveness and the chance to be a part of his small army. Imam Hussain (a.s) accepted and treated them very kindly.
The battle begins
The battle in Karbala began during the sweltering heat, but like iron, the beating of the heat and swords made the companions of the Imam shine stronger. All of them fought with great valour and each story has lived in the hearts and minds of the lovers of Ahlul Bayt ever since.
The first person on Imam Hussain’s (a.s) side who entered the battle was Hurr. He fought bravely but he was soon injured. Before he died, Imam Hussain (a.s) put him on his lap and told him “your mother was right when she called you ‘Hurr”. Hurr means “one who is free”, and indeed, Hurr died free from being bullied into doing what he did not think was right and free from the desire for this world.
Qasim was the youngest son of Imam Hassan (a.s). Imam Hussain (a.s) did not want his young nephew fighting but Qasim begged his uncle. Finally Imam Hussain allowed him to enter the fight. Qasim fought bravely and that made Yazid’s commander angry. He ordered 200 soldiers to surround Qasim. Once surrounded they finally gained control over Qasim who called loudly for his uncle. Imam Hussain (a.s) rushed into the fight to try and rescue Qasim. The battle was fierce but finally Imam Hussain reached Qasim. With the dust covering them from the surrounding fight Imam Hussain (a.s) held onto his beautiful nephew. Qasim died in the arms of his uncle the Imam.
Abbas the shining moon
Abbas was Imam Hussain’s (a.s) brother. He was in charge of holding the flag of the Imam. When the heat became unbearable, Sakina, the Imam’s daughter asked him for some water. His path to the water was blocked by four thousand enemies and after a long fight with the enemy Abbas finally reached the river.
The enemy however ambushed him on his way back. They were so afraid of him that they attacked him with swords and spears while hiding high up in the trees. Imam Hussain (a.s) reached him right before he died. When Abbas saw his brother, he said “my master, why did you trouble yourself and come back for me? Please go back and look after Sakina” Imam Hussain (a.s) replied saying “My dear brother, all your life you have served me and my children. Is there anything I can do for you at this last moment of your life?” Abbas replied, “My master, please, clean the blood from my eye so that I can see your beloved face before I die!” Imam cleaned the blood. Abbas looked at his beloved brother and said, “my master please do not carry my body to the camp. I do not wish Sakina to see me in this state!” Imam Hussain (a.s) took Abbas in his arms, and kissed his forehead.
Imam Hussain (a.s) said “O Abbas I also have one request for you, I have never heard you call me brother, for once I would like to hear you call me brother.” Abbas, with his dying breath called out “My brother”.Imam Hussain (a.s) cried “O Abbas my beloved brother what have they done to you? Who is now left to fight by my side now?” Just then Abbas, the moon of the hashimite tribe and son of Imam Ali (a.s) breathed his last. Imam Hussain was heart broken, he picked up the flag and went to Zainab’s tent. Imam Hussain (a.s) could not say a word. He gave the flag to Zainab and sat down on the floor.
Ali al Akbar
Ali al Akbar was the next to go the battle field. He was Imam Hussain’s (a.s) son and he was famous for his beauty and manners which were almost exactly like that of his grandfather, Prophet Mohammad (s.a.w). Ali al Akbar looked so much like the holy Prophet Mohammad that when the enemies saw him they all started climbing on their horses and camels just to have a better look at him. Rumours quickly started spreading that the young man was actually the Holy Prophet who had come back to life to defend his grandson Imam Hussain. Panic and excitment soon spread throughout the camp of Yazid.
However Omar ibn Saad sensed the hesitation of his troops. He demanded that they kill the young man and threatened them with punishment if they did not. Ali al Akbar fought bravely. When he became injured he went back to the camp of the Imam for the last time. He said his farewells to his family who knew that they would not see him alive again. Ali al Akbar returned to the battlefield and was again surrounded by hundreds of troops, he was wounded badly and before he died he called out to his father who came to him. The enemy scattered. Imam Hussain (a.s) picked up his beautiful son and carried him gently back to the camp.
Ali al Asghar
Ali al Asghar was Imam Hussain’s (a.s) six month old baby. After the death of so much of his friends and companions Imam Hussain was alone in the battlefield when he heard a call from his sister Zainab. He rushed back to the tent and found Ali Asghar limp from thirst and hunger. His wife Rabab had no milk to breast feed him and there was no water in the tents. This sorrowful sight broke Imam Hussain’s (a.s) heart and he knew he had to do something. He told his wife that the only way to save the baby would be to request water from the enemy side. Imam Hussain (a.s) took the baby to the battlefield and lifted him high so everyone can see and said in a loud voice that the baby was dying of thirst and they could save him by giving him even a few drops of water.
The sight of the imam and the baby was so sad that many of the enemy fighters wanted to help. At once, a man named Hurmula was ordered to kill the baby. Hurmula’s heart was harder than stone and he shot arrows at the limp baby and killed him. What could Imam Hussain (a.s) do now? How could he take Ali Asghar to his mother like this? Imam Hussain (a.s) stopped in front of Rubab’s tent seven times before he entered. However Rubab was a woman of strong faith and although her heart was broken at the sight of her lifeless baby, she kept her trust in her Imam and Allah (s.w) and requested Imam Hussain (a.s) to bury the baby with his own hands.
Imam Hussain’s (a.s) last words
Imam Hussain (a.s) was left alone in the battle field after all his friends and companions had been brutally killed. He knew that his time had come to sacrifice his life. He left the battle grounds and headed towards the tent of the woman to farewell and advise them. He told them that after he gets killed, their tents will be burnt and that they would be treated very badly. He reminded them to behave patiently when this happens and to have faith in Allah’s plan, that their enemies would be punished and that they would be rewarded. Imam Hussain (a.s) also asked his sister Zaineb to look after all the woman especially Sakina who did not ask for water after Abbas (as) was martyred. He then went to his son Ali al sajjad who was extremely sick and told him that he will be the Imam very soon. Imam Hussain (a.s) knew that this was going to be the last time he sees his beloved family, he fare-welled them and left bravely.
The everlasting call of the Imam (a.s)
Imam Hussain (a.s) knew that his actions were what Allah (s.w.t) wanted and that the enemy had no reason to commit the crimes that they did. However this did not stop him from demanding that they think about their actions. Before he started fighting he gave a powerful speech.
First he reminded them the importance of the love of God and obedience to his messenger, the importance of doing good in this life and staying away from evil. Then he challenged them to question themselves and to stop listening to instruction of evil rulers. He asked them “Why do you kill me?”, “Did I commit any sin or crime?”, “Did I plunder anybody?”, “Did I interfere with any one's affairs?” All stood ashamed and none answered. Then the Holy Imam continued: “Then why do you kill me? What answer have you to give to God, and to the Holy Prophet on the Day of Judgement?”
Imam Hussain (a.s) then reminded them of the ugliness of what they had done already by saying “You have killed all my companions, my children, my brothers and even my little baby; now I tell you to leave me, I will migrate to Yemen, to Iran or even to the far off Hind (India), stain not your hands with my blood, which is the blood of the Holy Prophet himself, you will not have salvation. It is for you; I tell you, shed not my blood and save yourselves.”
This speech was important because it gave the enemy fighters no chance to say that Imam Hussain (a.s) was stubborn, that he wanted death or that he was not reasonable. It was so strong and convincing that Umar ibn Saad became panicked and shouted, “Do not be fooled by Imam Hussain’s (a.s) words, attack him now!” Arrows were showered on Imam Hussain. He charged into the battlefield like a lion, saying “If you are determined to fight me then I am ready; watch how the Grandson of the Prophet fights; see how the son of Ali and Fatima fights. Even after three days of hunger and thirst, I am not afraid to die. For me death is better than surrender.” The enemy fighters were cowardly and weak and many were killed by the Imam.
Although he was in the middle of the battle, the Imam did not forget the woman and the fear that they would be feeling.
Therefore he stayed close to the tents and would say loudly “There is no power or strength to save that which derives from God, the Exalted and the Almighty” whenever he defeated someone to re-assure the woman that he was still alive and strong.
Imam Hussain (a.s) knew he was fighting against men who were cowards with no honour to stop them from hurting defenceless women. Therefore during the fight he would try and stay as close as possible to the tents because his mind was always attached to the safety of the women and whenever the enemies fled from his attacks he would not run after them. In between the havoc of battle the beautiful and kind Imam would also run over to the woman even after he fare-welled them just to re-assure them and reduce their fears.
Imam Hussain's (a.s) Martyrdom
Before he went into battle for the last time, he asked the women to give him a priceless shirt so that when he is killed his shirt is not taken from his body. He even cut stips into the shirt so that the cowardly, scavanger soilders would not steal it. The Imam was thinking about modesty even when facing death.
Finally, Imam Hussain (a.s), heavily wounded from the battle was surrounded by thoulsands of people, his body became heavy with the amount of spears that hit his body. Finally, a large three headed spear was shot into the chest of the Imam (a.s). The Imam knew his end was coming, he took the blood from his chest in his hand and threw it in the air, it flew high and did not land.
When the noble, innocent Imam (a.s) finally fell, the cruel Shimr sat on his chest and severed his head.
Eventually Shimr the cruel man killed Imam Hussain (a.s) and the Imam became Sayed al Shoohadaa which means the master and/or prince of martyrs.
Seyeda Zainab's (a.s) time to rise
The woman are attacked
After the death of the Beloved Imam, the troops rushed over to the tent of the women and set them on fire. The women ran outside and were attacked by the troops who tore off their head veils and stole their jewellery. These shameful acts carried out right after the killing of the Imam left the women of the Prophet Mohammad (s.a.w) terrified and in shock, but as
always one person remained strong and constant- lady Zaineb.
When it became dark, Zainab (a.s) gathered all the ladies and children, into one small space in between the burnt tents. Ali ibn Al Hussain Zainul Abideen (a.s) was now the Imam and he lay on the ground surrounded by these widows and orphans.
Journey to Damascus
The widows children and Imam (a.s) were taken to Damascus as prisoners. They had to walk shackled in the extreme heat for many days. Yazid was very arrogant and he imagnined that the family of the prophet would be so terrified from what happened that he could make fun of them in front of the people he ruled. He therefore set up a large crowd in his palace and tried to say things to upset lady Zainab (a.s) and the Imam in front of the crowd.
But lady Zainab (a.s) is not someone to be intimidated, she gave a fiery speech and reminded the crowds of all the horrible things Yazid had done and that he was not someone who was worthy of being a ruler.
Yazid (a.s) realised Zainab was very good at making him seem foolish in front of everyone so he turned to Imam Zain al Abideen (a.s). He asked one of his speakers to get up on a stage and say bad things about the family of the Prophet, he hoped this would make Zain al Abideen (a.s) angry and say something wrong. However Zain al Abideen (a.s) responded in a strong way without losing his nerve.
“O People! Those who are acquainted with me, know me and those who do not know me then recognize me. I am the son of Makkah and Mina; I am the son of Safa and Marwah. I am the son of the one who was elevated, who ascended so high that he went beyond the heights of Sidratul Muntaha... I am the son of one who was not given water till his last breath. I am the son of one who rolled in his own blood in the sands of Karbala. I am the son of one whose turban and robe were looted. I am the son of one on whom angels of heaven have wept. I am the son of one was placed atop of spear and presented as a gift. I am son of one whose womenfolk were made prisoners and dragged from Iraq to Syria... O People! Praise be to God, who tested us firmly and gifted us with the knowledge of Guidance, Justice and Piety. The way he gave the sign of deviation to our enemies. Almighty God bestowed six privileges on us Ahlul Bayt. He bestowed knowledge, forbearance, bravery, generosity, love and respect for us in the hearts of the believers”
This speech made the audience weep with grief at what happened to Imam Hussain (a.s) and the family of the Prophet (s.a.w) and that made Yazid very worried. He quickly tried to silence him but the Imam was clever and he still managed to expose the lies of Yazid in front of everyone. Yazid’s plan had failed and he felt humiliated. He ordered his guards to take the holy household away to prison before the people turned on him completely.
The release of the holy Household
Sakina was the daughter of Imam Hussain and along with her aunt Lady Zainab (a.s) and the rest of the Prophet’s family she was kept prisoner in the palace of Yazid. She was so heart broken at being separated from her father that she would cry for many hours. One night her weeping was so sorrowful that it made others in the castle weep. The weeping became so loud that it reached Yazid who was asleep in his bed. When he asked who was crying, his guards told him that it was Sakina, the daughter of Imam Hussain (a.s) who missed her father. Yazid was heartless and he ordered them to give Sakina the head of her father which was removed from its body. When Sakina saw the head she ran to it and hugged it, while sobbing she started complaining to it about how she was treated badly, how her jewellery was stolen and how she was hurt. just then her body became still. She had died from grief and shock.
The news about Sakina’s death and the imprisonment of the people of the Holy Household reached the people of Syria who started getting angry that their leader was responsible. Yazid became aware of this, and fearing that people might turn against him decided to free the family of Imam Hussain (a.s).
Out of fear, Yazid allowed lady Zainab (a.s) to use a part of his palace to hold a 'Majlis al Azza' - which is a spiritual gathering for the remembrance of loved ones who have passed away. In the Majlis Zainab (a.s) held for her brother, the terrible story of what happened in Karbala was recited. Many woman attended wearing black, and they all cried when they found out what happened to Imam Hussain and his group.
After a few days in Syria, the Grandchildren of the Holy Prophet left for Karbala with Imam Zain al Abideen (a.s) in the lead. When they arrived they sat by the graves and cried and remembered that tragic day on the tenth of Muharram when they lost so many of their loved ones. Finally, after saying goodbye to their martyrs they started the journey back to Madina. This was a tragic goodbye, but they knew that many good things were going to result from the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (a.s) and his followers, and indeed we feel the effects today.
Imam Hussain (a.s) today
Imam Hussain's (a.s) Majlis in the 21rst century
Lady Zainab (a.s) continued holding gatherings of remembrance for her brother. In these gatherings the story of Imam Hussain (a.s) is recited in a special way to allow people to envison what happened to the Imam and to elicit the emotions of the audiance. These gatherings were called Majaalis (which is plural for Majlis) Through these special gatherings the Muslim world started to understand the ugliness of what had happened to the grandson of Prophet Mohammad (s.a.w). Whilst people felt sad when they heard the terrible story, they also started to understand the important reason behind Imam Hussain's (a.s) stance against Yazid. They started to know the importance of standing up to evil, how to be brave and also how important the daily Islamic rules we have to follow like prayer and remembrance of Allah are. After all, Imam Hussain did not delay his prayers even during battle.
It has been more than one thousand four hundred years since the events of Karbala. However the remembrance of Imam Hussain (a.s) among the people only increases. Every year in Muharram millions of people travel to Karbala in Iraq to give their Salam (greetings) to Imam Hussain (a.s).
This journey creates a personal relationship between people and the Imam and it has helped people enter and stay on the path towards Allah (s.w).