The Massacre of Karbala

Some sources report one of the witnesses of the battle of Alhusein standing alone against an army , as having said the following: “Deity by Allah! Never have I seen a man, standing alone amidst a crowd of people attacking him, conquering him; killing his sons, his family and his companions, who maintained a more balancedcomposure and self-possession.


The general dominating circumstances on the eve of Al-Hussein’s (a.s.) rebellion

As Imam ‘Ali (a.s.) was martyred, the equations of the conflict changed drastically. A forceful trend towards adopting the Umayyad’s proposition was clearly emerging. The Umayyads worked towards consolidating their power as the first military operations, that took place outside the land of Al -Hijaz, were launched. The Umayyads saw that some crucial obstacles were hindering the implementation of their project and the presence of Al Hussein (a.s.) was the most important one. Hence, they exerted all their efforts right from the beginning to overcome these obstacles.

They started by launching a pitiless and relentless war against their enemies, nourishing the tribal conflicts, touching on a sensitive spot which is some people’s self-interest and benefits, resorting to money and the psychological publicity to buy people’s conscience, and adopting a tyrannical and repressive policy against their opponents.

In order to achieve their aim, the Umayyads did not hesitate to make some intrinsic changes in the way their power and authority operated. Those changes were extremely fundamental to the extent that justice was way far from being carried out, and despotism and oppression became the Umayyad’s primary motivators. Numerous revolts and riots were lead against the Umayyads but the most considerable rebellion was that of Imam Al Hussein (a.s.) who raised the slogan of reform in the Nation of his Grandfather, Muhammad (p.), to enjoin the right and to forbid the wrong.

Al-Hussein (a.s.); the challenge and the confrontation

Thanks to Zyiad and his son ‘Ubaidullah, two of the Umayyad’s most arbitrary and authoritarian governors, Al- Kufah was brought totally under the control of Muawiyah and it was subjugated through the adoption of all oppressive measures. Upon Muawiyah's death, ‘Ubaidullah Bin Zyiad was on a visit to Al -Basra and Al -Nu’man Bin Bachir Al Anssari, one of the Prophet(p.)’s companions - with no importance or competence, was his substitute during his absence.

In view of the existing situation, the Shiite leaders met in Al -Kufa and decided to call for Al- Hussein (a.s.); so they wrote him a letter in which they refuted and denounced the Umayyad’s policy and invited him to get there to lead the rebellion. Al Hussein (a.s.) responded to the call and informed the people who had sent him the letter that he intends to join them. However, before heading towards Iraq, Al Hussein (a.s.) dispatched his cousin, Muslim Ibn Aqil, to Al- Kufah. By the time Muslim reached Al- Kufa, Al Nu’man Bin Bachir was gone. The Shiites made themselves known. Muslim was about to head back towards Al Hussein (a.s.), to report to him the homage and allegiance of the people of Al -Kufa, when he thought that the situation had become stable favoring their position; so he wrote back to Al- Hussein (a.s) confirming the Kufis’ support and invitation.

Coming back from Al -Basra, wearing a disguised costume, ‘Ubaidullah Bin Zyiad managed to sneak into Al- Kufa and then into the palace of the emirate. After fortifying and entrenching the palace very well, ‘Ubaidullah, surrounded by his supporters, revealed himself to the public from the balcony of the palace. Some stories relate that Muslim approached the palace and tried to besiege it with the help of the Kufis. Nevertheless, ‘Ubaidullah was able to disperse this force by bribing the leaders of the clans, tribes and the notables of the city which was still divided according to tribal basis. It did not take too long. Muslim found himself standing alone and had to hide.Before receiving the news of Muslim’s ultimate death, Al- Hussein (a.s.) was already inside the Iraqi territories. Al- Hussein set off for Al -Kufah accompanied by a small party of his family’s men and by seventy to ninety persons of his companions. After having crossed a short distance towards Karbala, Al Hussein (a.s.) and his followers were attacked by a flock of Umayyad soldiers led by Al -Hur Bin Yazid Al- Riyahi who was charged to prevent Al Hussein (a.s.) from changing the course of his destination.

The stream of events would, later on, redound to the benefit of Al- Hussein’s (a.s.) opponents. The plan of ‘Ubaidullah Bin Zyiad aimed at imposing a blockade on Al -Hussein (a.s.) in some place outside Al- Kufa after keeping him from taking another direction or route. The plan intended to make sure of keeping Al -Hussein (a.s.) outside the city of Al- Kufa for fear of having its people follow him once again because, as Al -Farazdak said, while the swords of the Kufis were set against Al- Hussein (a.s), their hearts did acknowledge his cause. As Al- Hussein (a.s.) approached the area of Karbala, which is about eighty kilometers from Al Kufa, the main force which was responsible for getting back at Al- Hussein (a.s.) has finally arrived.

The Umayyad soldiers who were sent to fight Al- Hussein (a.s) at Karbala were led by ‘Amr Bnu Saad Bnu Abi Wakkas - commanded by ‘Ubaidullah Bin Zyiad - and their number varies, according to the different related stories, between four and thirty thousand soldiers. It is known that Saad, the father of ‘Amr, was one of the opposers of ‘Ali Bin Abi Taleb (a.s.) and he refused to show allegiance to his Caliphate - succession. As ‘Ubaidullah Bin Zyiad came to learn that Al -Hussein (a.s.) has embarked on his journey towards Al -Kufa along with his followers, he called for ‘Amr Bnu Saad and offered him to be appointed the governor of Al- Rey - a large Iranian city, now situated near Tehran - provided that he fights Al- Hussein (a.s.) before holding the reins of government in the province. ‘Amr Bnu Saad accepted the conditions of ‘Ubaidullah so not to loose the governorship. However, once reaching Karbala, he waited too long before giving the army the order of attack. He resorted first to the negotiations with Al Hussein (a.s) trying to resolve the problem peacefully by convincing him that any fight would be vain and useless.

The journey of heroism and bravery

Then, Al Hussein (a.s) delivered his brief and powerful sermon in which he said: “Verily, that claimer, the son of a claimer, [pointing to ‘Ubaidullah Bin Zyiad] is overwhelmed by shame and disgrace! And how far disgrace is from us! Allah refuses us the life of disgrace, His Messenger and believers do too. Indeed, proud, exalted and lofty spirits will never prefer to obey the vile people rather than the death of the honorable ones.”

The combat began with dual sword fighting in which Imam Al -Hussein (a.s.) and his companions had shown extreme courage and had defied death boldly. Afterwards, the army led a comprehensive and hostile attack that resulted in the killing of fifty persons of Al- Hussein’s (a.s) companions. Ibn Saad hastened immediately to order his army to stop the fight because he was hoping that Al Hussein’s (a.s.) would surrender and yield after the blood shedding of such a great number of his companions, which left him with few efficient combatants. Nonetheless, Al -Hussein (a.s.) refused to comply and he continued the fight, which turned into fencing, as well as rapid and swift attacks from both sides. This round of the combat ended up by the slaying of the rest of Al- Hussein’s (a.s.) companions and family members.

The final round at last was the most dramatic and tragic one, for Al -Hussein (a.s.) stood alone confronting the army. Some sources report one of the witnesses of the battle, as having said the following: “Deity by Allah! Never have I seen a man, standing alone amidst a crowd of people attacking him, conquering him; killing his sons, his family and his companions, who maintained a more balancedcomposure and self-possession. Truly, if men were to harass him hard, he would respond by tormenting them even harder making them to dispel just like goats are dispelled by the attack of a wolf. He fought them in such a way that forced them to be dispersed everywhere as if they were the widespread locusts. Then, he would draw back and say: ‘upon Allah and only Allah we count in expectation of strength and power’” .

The cause and the stand

This scene throws light on more than one point of concern: Al -Hussein (a.s.) was, in fact, an advocate of a cause while the opposing party was fighting as an organized and directed army which means that a lack of harmony between the both parties’ spirits prevailed. Another important element, pointed out by the studies that treated the cause of Al -Hussein (a.s.), was that all of the army tried to avoid killing Al -Hussein (a.s.), and most probably the fact that they were dispelled as he attacked them was, more or less, affected by their caution and self-restraint. Actually, little facts and information were reported to us regarding those who harmed Al- Hussein.

Some sources had mentioned their names and it is conveyed that most of them fell a prey to the hands of Al Mukhtar Bnu ‘Ubaid Al Thakafi during his short sway over Al -Kufa where he punished them severely before killing them. Being able to recognize and learn all the names of Al -Hussein’s (a.s.) slayers is a clear sign that they were too few and Shiites think of those people as the worst of disbelievers. As for the rest who only participated in the fight, Shiites consider them as deserving the torture of hell for they ‘increased Al Sawad (the multitude) that attacked the family of the Messenger of Allah’ meaning that, by being present in the battle, the army became larger and mightier; that is what is meant by the word ‘Al- Sawad’ which, in the Semitic languages, signifies ‘the crowd’.

During the last phase of the fight, which took more than half the day of Muharram 10th, 61 A.H., Al -Hussein (a.s.) was weakened by inflicting wounds, afflicted by fatigue and exhaustion and overtaken by thirst. He soon lost the capacity of moving; however, he endeavored to stay on his feet struggling not to fall. Some people started to throw stones at him and to pelt him with their arrows, so he fell on the ground and remained lying face down for a period of three hours, as the narrators estimate .After lots of argumentation and hesitation, some men rushed towards him and beheaded him.

Thus, Al- Hussein (a.s.) was martyred in his late fifties. The head of Al- Hussein (a.s.) was carried to Al -Kufa along with the heads of the rest of the murdered persons and the captives of women and children, while the bodies were left to be disfigured by the horses’ hooves.

Three days after the departure of the army, a group of Bani Assad, who lived near Karbala, arrived at the spot and buried the bodies. After the collapse of the Umayyad dynasty, shrines were built on the graves of the martyrs. Those shrines are still standing straight upward in the middle of the new city of Karbala after having gone through reparation more than once, and after having its minarets and cupolas plated with gold. Afterwards, the head of Al -Hussein (a.s) was transported with the heads of his companions to Damascus to be presented to the Umayyad governor.

As to what happened to the head thereafter, stories differ. While some of these accounts relate that it was brought back to Karbala; others claim that it was interred in Damascus. Some people maintain that the head of Al -Hussein (a.s.) is inhumed in a little dome that lies somewhere in the Umayyad Mosque. Another story says that the Fatimis had carried it to Cairo after capturing Damascus; and based on this particular story, the Great Mosque of the ancient Cairo was called the Mosque of Al- Hussein (a.s), because it is claimed to have been built on the place in which the head was buried.

Ashura, a day of mourning for the followers of the ahl al-Bayt ('a).

To follow their leaders, the followers of the ahl al-Bayt ('a) of divine message have still been marking this day for 14 centuries; they mourn this day, hold azadary meetings, cry for its martyrs and visit his mausoleum.

Tyrants and enemies of the ahl al-Bayt ('a) did not allow any azadary be officially and extensively held during the Amavid and Abasid governments. But whenever Shiis were able and had chance, they held enthusiastic and extensive mourning ceremony in the days of Ashura. They also observe the rites of this day. For instance, they observe the state of azadary and matam; they give up enjoyments; they do not work; they do not keep any food at home; they mourn, cry and pretend to cry; neither do they eat nor drink; they read ziyarat-e Ashura, etc.

Ashura, Symbol of Freedom and Resistance

Although it is a great day of azadary and mourning, Ashura, as a manifestation of battle between right and wrong, has been known as a day of sacrifice in the way of religion and doctrine and inspiring for freemen, Muslim and non Muslim freedom-seekers.

On this day, along with few companions, but faithful, steadfast and might, as Imam Husayn bin Ali ('a) fought against stone-hearted and numerous of Yazid's troops and changed Karbala into an ever-living scene of love, epoch and freedom, the world freemen, without taking into account their own number and ability, fight usurpers and tyrants.

Though Ashura was one day, it has ever effect; it has affected consciences and hearts deeply so that since then continuous uprisings in the name of Imam Husayn and by his inspiration have been happened.,ashura.ashura