The Happenings at Karbala – Part I

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Present-day Arabia

Fazal Malik, 

Prince Edward Island, Canada

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas rested on a charpoy as his children played in the garden, still unaware of the grand status of their beloved father. It was the first third of Muharram and the Promised Messiahas called upon his children – Hazrat Nawab Mubaraka Begumra and Hazrat Mirza Mubarak Ahmadra – and narrated the story of Hazrat Imam Husainra. As he began narrating the story, deep emotions set in. With tears flowing from his blessed eyes, he recounted how the grandchild of his beloved Master, Hazrat Muhammad Mustafasa was martyred in the plains of Karbala; how the ahl-e-bait – members of the house of the Holy Prophetsa –  were deprived of food and water before the massacre took place of 10 Muharram (Tahrirat-e-Mubaraka, p. 22). The anguish was visible from his face as he ended the story and expressed, “Yazid the wicked carried out this injustice on the grandchild of the Holy Prophetsa but God rapidly brought His wrath upon them.” (Sirat-e-Tayyiba, Love for the Holy Prophetsa, narration no. 9, pp. 31-32)  

His love for the family of the Holy Prophetsa was profound and his respect for the grandchildren equally so.  

This article is a humble attempt to encapsulate the events leading up to the battle of Karbala and how Khilafat, the immense blessing of God, was taken away from Muslims for over a thousand years! More so, it is a narration of the sacrifices made by the family of the Holy Prophetsa to “establish the truth” (Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa, Friday Sermon, 10 December 2010) and the honour of Hazrat Imam Hussainra – the blessed grandson.

The events following the demise of the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa need to be understood to comprehend the complex developments of the early Islamic world. The departure of Holy Prophetsa of Islam caused great uncertainty and fear among the Muslims. Many tribes across Arabia responded by cutting political ties with the Muslims while some organised military attacks against them, and claimed prophethood, such as Musaylima of Yamama (Fred M Donner, The Oxford History of Islam, Muhammad and the Caliphate). In 632 AD, the communities of Mecca and Medina came together by performing the Bai‘at at the hand of Hazrat Abu Bakrra. He spent the next two years stabilising the tribes of Arabia and was able to reunite them once again under the banner of Islam. However, the roots of discontent were already planted at this stage.   

In 634, Hazrat Umarra became the Khalifa and through his impressive political and economic policies, transformed a diverse group of Bedouin tribes and townspeople into an organised community. His piety and his abilities as a leader won over most of the Muslims and he was widely referred to as Amir-ul-Momineen (leader of the faithful). The rapid expansion of Islamic State brought with it many challenges, one of which was moral education and deep understanding of faith, as compared with the people of Mecca and Medina, most of whom had spent a greater part of their lives learning from the Holy Prophet Muhammadsa or his closest companions. It is in these times that people like Abdullah bin Saba started gaining popularity and drove a wedge between Muslims (Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad, The Outset of Dissension in Islam, pp. 22-70).

In 644, Hazrat Umarra was martyred and the electoral council chose Hazrat Uthmanra as his successor. Throughout Hazrat Uthman’sra twelve years of Khilafat, there was constant political tension between the Umayyads, whose power base would become further enhanced in Syria, and the Hashemites, whose support became stronger in the Hejaz and Kufa. The pre-Islamic rivalries between Syria and Iraq during the Byzantine-Sassanid era resurfaced among the Arabs in the form of a Hashemite-Umayyad conflict. In 656, the situation worsened. The religious and tribal leaders of Kufa were ready to declare their independence from Hazrat Uthmanra, whose position was becoming unstable. However, his assassins would not come from Kufa. Instead, they would come from a group of discontented soldiers from al-Fustat (I K A Howard, The History of al-Tabari, The Crisis of the Early Caliphate, p. 24), a city that eventually became the first capital of Egypt under the Umayyad rule.   

After the martyrdom of Hazrat Uthmanra in 656, most Muslims in the Hejaz and Kufa declared their allegiance to Hazrat Alira immediately. With the support of Muslims in the Hejaz, it seemed as if Hazrat Alira was destined to control the Islamic world. However, the roots of political dissent in the Islamic community were deepening. Amir Muawiyara, the Umayyad governor of Syria, challenged Hazrat Ali’sra authority as the Khalifa, and the empire fragmented further. Amir Muawiyara demanded that the assassins of Hazrat Uthmanra be dealt with firmly and swiftly before the question of Khilafat is discussed. Hazrat Alira announced that only after due process will any action be taken against those found guilty. The situation escalated, leading to a complex series of events resulting in the first civil war, also known as the Battle of the Camel. Hazrat Alira proved himself a brilliant general in defeating the rebels and re-establishing the control. Following the victory, he moved the seat of Khilafat from Medina to Kufa. The stage was set for a confrontation with Hazrat Muawiya’sra forces in Damascus.  This confrontation came in the shape of the Battle of Siffin. No swords were drawn in this battle, and after much arbitration between Hazrat Alira and Amir Muawiyara, a consensus was reached. In retrospect, this war symbolises the deepening of the rift between Muslims.

In Kufa, Hazrat Ali’sra alliance had broken into quarreling factions with one denouncing him for his decision to accept the arbitration (Fred M Donner, The Oxford History of Islam, Muhammad and the Caliphate). In 661, after four years of political controversy, when peace was established between the forces of Alira and Muawiyara, a group within the bloc that initially supported Alira rebelled against him and formed their own faction, which came to be known as the Kharijites.  Furious at the possibility of peace among the Muslims, three of the Kharijites decided to “do away with the three men in power,” being Alira, Muawiyara and Amr bin Al-Asra.  While the other two assassins did not succeed, one assassin – Abdul Rahman ibn-Muljam – struck Hazrat Alira while he was praying in a mosque in Kufa.  He passed away shortly thereafter (Akbar Shah Najeebabadi, History of Islam, Vol. I).    

The demise of Hazrat Alira marked an end of an era, thus fulfilling two prophecies of the Holy Prophetsa – the end of the 30 years of rightly guided Khilafat (Mishkatul Masabih, Kitabul Fitan, Bab al-Malaham, p. 1484, Hadith 5395) and the martyrdom of Hazrat Alira (Hazrat Khalifatul Masih Vaa, Friday Sermon, 29 June 2018).  Following the demise of Hazrat Alira in 661, the Khilafat became a dynastic institution based on political, military, and economic legitimacy – not on a religious basis.

After Hazrat Ali’sra assassination, many of his supporters turned to his eldest son, Hazrat Hasanra, as his political successor. His appointment did not ease the tensions and after six tense months, the situation worsened for his supporters. Aware of the bleak situation and peaceful by nature, Hazrat Hasanra met with and formed a pact with Hazrat Muawiyara in Anbar, Iraq – the former Sassanid capital of Ctesiphon (a thriving capital city located southeast of current day Baghdad).   Initiating the negotiations, he stated that he was willing to accept the government of Hazrat Muawiyara only on the condition that there be no revenge against the people from the battles during the time of Hazrat Alira. After three attempts, Hazrat Muawiyara agreed to spare all and named Hazrat Hasanra as his official successor (Hafiz Muzaffar Ahmad, Ahl-e-Bait-e-Rasul, pp. 305-306). The treaty was signed and Hazrat Hasanra performed the Bai‘at, thus fulfilling another prophecy of the Holy Prophetsa which stated: “This leader son of mine will cause peace between two groups.” (ibid., p. 304) In 661, Hazrat Muawiyara became the Khalifa and Damascus became the center of a new Arab Empire, known in history as the Umayyad.  

After the demise of Hazrat Alira, Hazrat Imam Hasanra understood that the time of spiritual Khilafat had ended. If he had indeed believed Khilafat to be spiritual at that time, he would never have abdicated. Nonetheless, after denouncing his right to Khilafat, Hazrat Hasanra moved back to Medina where he would spend the rest of his life away from politics and working with Hazrat Muawiyara to ensure peace is established in the Muslim nation; he passed away in 670. Imam Hasanra worked tirelessly for the unity of Muslims and “formed a peace agreement with Hazrat Muawiyara and brought peace among the Sahaba [Companions].” (Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, Malfuzat, Vol. 2, pp.125-126) 

The peace negotiated by Imam Hasanra lasted twenty years leading up to the eve of Karbala. After the demise of Hazrat Muawiyara, the governor of Syria, his younger son, Yazid bin Muawiya, became the Khalifa. Yazid was nominated and accepted as the successor during the life of the late Syrian governor. (The nomination of Yazid as the successor to his father, Muawiyara, ensured that the peace established over twenty years – since the first civil war – remained in place.  Yazid’s mother was the daughter of a chief of Kalb tribe, the largest tribe in Syria and Palestine. His nomination was accepted by leaders of all tribes, except five people. For more details, see History of al-Tabari – Vol. XIX and The Caliphateits Rise, Decline, and Fall by Sir William Muir.)

Yazid, having inherited the Governors of Basra, Medina and Kufa, directed them to accept the oath of allegiance on his behalf from the general population. However, special instructions were dispatched to the Governor of Medina – Walid bin Utbah – to take Bai‘at from Husain bin Alira and Abdullah bin Zubairra, who had not acknowledged him as heir-apparent during the time of Muawiyara.  “Seize Hussain… to give the oath of allegiance. Act so fiercely that they have no chance to do anything before giving the oath of allegiance” wrote he (I K A Howard, The History of al-Tabari, The Crisis of the Early Caliphate, pp. 1-3).

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