The Happenings at Karbala – Part II  


Fazal Malik, 

Prince Edward Island, Canada


Hazrat Imam Hussainra was a pious, God-fearing person who could not bring himself to accept the morally corrupt Yazid as leader of the Muslims (Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, Majmu‘a Ishtiharat, Vol. 3, p. 844). 

The departure of Yazid from Islamic values, his consumption of alcohol, coupled with his taste for expensive pleasures were means of repulsion for Muslims who had believed in the values of a simple life. (Moojan Momen, An Introduction to Shi‘i Islam, p. 28)

Not desiring any confrontation with the soldiers of the new leader, he left for Mecca with his family. The people of Kufa found out about these events and started writing letters of support. They were anti-Umayyad, loyal supporters of Hazrat Alira and desired for Hazrat Imam Hussainra to be their spiritual leader ([Brill] Encyclopedia of Islam, Vol. 3, p. 608). “There is no Imam over us. Therefore come, so God may unite us in the truth through you.” (I K A Howard, The History of al-Tabari, Vol. XIX, The Caliphate of Yazid, pp. 1-3)  

When 70,000 such letters were delivered, Imam Hussainra decided to send an emissary who would establish the truthfulness of these claims. Acknowledging their letters, he wrote: 

“I am sending you my brother, Muslim bin Aqil, who is a trustworthy representative… If he writes to me that the opinion of your leaders and of the men of wisdom and merit among you is united in the same way as the messengers who have come to me have described, and as I have read in your letters, I will come to you speedily, God willing, for, by my life, what is the imam except one who acts according to the Book, one who upholds justice, one who professes the truth and one who dedicates himself to [the essence of] God? Peace be with you.” 

Muslimra bin Aqil received a warm welcome in Kufa. Notable persons of the city as well as a large number of people not only swore allegiance to Imam Hussainra but also stated on oath that they would help him every step of the way. Writing to the Imam, he confirmed exceptional support, encouraging the Imam to embark on the journey to Kufa  (Akbar Shah Najeebabadi, The History of Islam, Vol. 2, p. 60). A few days later, he was brutally murdered.

What transpired between the time Muslimra bin Aqil arrived, the unwavering support of the people of Kufa and his brutal murder must be understood in order to comprehend the fateful chain of events leading up to the Battle at Karbala.

While the majority of the people of Kufa were pledging their allegiance towards the Imam, a few opponents reported their activities to Yazid. The governor of Kufa at the time was Nu‘manra bin Bashir, a pious sahabi (companion of the Prophetsa) of virtuous personality. When he learned of the secret activity being carried out by Muslimra bin Aqil, he took no civil action, however, he reminded the people that they should remain peaceful and not oppose the Khalifa openly as he might be compelled to take stern action against them (Akbar Shah Najeebabadi, The History of Islam, Vol. 2, p. 61).  

Learning of the activities in Kufa, Yazid dismissed Nu‘man bin Bashir and appointed Obaidullah bin Ziyad, instructing him to “go to Kufa at once as Muslim bin Aqil has been taking Bai‘at for Imam Hussain.  Make him a captive or kill him and if those who took Bai‘at from him refuse to recant their Bai‘at, they should be put to death…” (Akbar Shah Najeebabadi, The History of Islam, Vol. 2, p. 62)

Within days of the new governor taking charge, the thousands who had taken an oath to stand guard for Imam Hussainra and were in sync with the voice of Muslimra bin Aqil left him standing alone with no protection or support (Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmadas, Malfuzat, Vol. 1, p. 375). Muslimra was put to death as were those who harboured him. Many of his supporters were handed out harsh punishments as a lesson for the remainder (Akbar Shah Najeebabadi, The History of Islam, Vol. 2, pp. 62-66). 

Unaware of the developing situation in Kufa, Hazrat Imam Hussainra decided to start his journey. Incidentally, the start of the journey occurred on the precise day as Muslimra was being put to death in Kufa. A small caravan of about 74 people, consisting of his wife, children and other devoted men and women, departed on 8 Dhul Hijjah, 60 AH (10 September 680), days before Hajj (Shah Moinuddin Ahmad Nadvi, Sirat-e-Sahaba, Vol. 4, p. 151). Many historians have questioned the haste of departure before Hajj. It appears that the Imamra was mindful of the situation and wanted to avoid any bloodshed in the Holy City. He had sensed that Yazid would send people to force him to perform Bai‘at, causing swords to be drawn and blood to be shed in Mecca. Being a peaceful person by nature, he departed with his family and a small band of followers, taking a path not commonly used by travellers, avoiding any chance of unnecessary confrontations near Mecca.

The journey from Mecca to Kufa is about 1800 kilometers. (The measurement of this distance has varied due to infrastructural transformations and other factors over the ages, and while today the distance is 1800 kilometers, it has also been said to be 1448 kilometers also.) Hazrat Imam Hussainra and his small caravan travelled this distance in a month, making thirteen stops before reaching the plains of Karbala. As the caravan progressed, people started joining them in their cause. It was at the point of al-Thalabiyya that they learned of the death of Muslimra bin Aqil. ([Brill] Encyclopedia of Islam, Vol. 3, p. 609) 

This is possibly the turning point in Islamic history. After learning about the fate of Muslimra, almost all people who had joined the small congregation left, leaving the original group from Mecca. People were consulted and some suggested that they should turn back, as it became apparent that the hearts of the people of Kufa had turned. Some historians have attributed the decision to press forward based on a vision he had of the Holy Prophetsa

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiahas, writes “Imam Hussainra would pray for the victory [of Islam]. One night, he saw the Holy Prophetsa in a dream, who said to him, ‘Martyrdom is your destiny. If you will not endure your fate with patience, then your name will be struck from the record of those who are piously devoted to God.” (Malfuzat, Vol. 3, pp. 388-389)

With full knowledge of what fate awaited them, this caravan of the faithful pressed forward.

On the way, they were met with al-Hurr bin Yazid Tamimi, Captain of the Kufa Police – sent by the Governor of Kufa, Obaidullah bin Ziyad – with an army of a thousand soldiers; their task was to stop the caravan from reaching Kufa. Addressing al-Hurr and his companions, Imam Hussainra reminded them:

“I did not come to you until your letters were brought to me, and your messengers came to me saying, ‘Come to us, for we have no imam. God may unite us in guidance through you…’ If you are averse to my coming, I will leave you for the place from which I came to you.” (I K A Howard, The History of al-Tabari, The Caliphate of Yazid, p. 93)

Addressing the army from Kufa, Imam Hussainra reminded them, “We are the Ahl-e-Bait… If you dislike us and your view is different from what came to me in your letters and what your messengers brought to me, I will leave you.” (I K A Howard, The History of al-Tabari, The Caliphate of Yazid, p. 94) However, al-Hurr came with orders not to allow them to return and led the caravan towards the north, away from Kufa, eventually settling in the plains of Karbala, a dull desolate area on the west bank of the Euphrates. It was the 2 Muharram 61 (2 October 680) when they arrived. 

The situation worsened on 3 Muharram when there arrived from Kufa an army of four thousand men under the command of Amr bin Sa‘d, deputy governor of Ibn Ziyad. Amr bin Sa‘d and the Imam immediately met and after lengthy negotiations, Imam Hussainra set out three proposals: 

1. Let him go the way he came so that he may remain absorbed in prayer in Mecca

2. Let him move to any border so that he may be martyred while fighting with the unbelievers

3. Leave his way free and let him go to Yazid in Damascus. For their satisfaction, he said, they may follow him. He shall go to Yazid and settle his affairs directly with him as his elder brother, Imam Hasanra, did with Amir Muawiyara.

(I K A Howard, The History of al-Tabari, The Caliphate of Yazid, p. 75)

Amr was happy with the outcome and wrote to the governor, Ibn Ziyad, that peace was possible and war was not required. Ibn Ziyad was pleased with the outcome as well. 

However, a court advisor – a heartless creature named Shimr – opposed the proposal and encouraged the Governor to declare war. Ibn Ziyad then sent out the orders that “these alternatives cannot be accepted. Let Imam Hussainra surrender before me and take the oath of allegiance for Yazid at my hands as his deputy and then I shall send him to Yazid on my own.” The date was the 4th of Muharram. (I K A Howard, The History of al-Tabari, The Caliphate of Yazid, p. 110)

On 7 Muharram, the caravan was stopped from filling their depleted water supply, hence worsening the situation. The same night, Imam Hussainra called for Amr and admonished him to pay heed and avoid any bloodshed with the Ahl-e-Bait.  

The governor, ibn Ziyad, now increasingly irritated and concerned that Amr might compromise the situation, allowing Imam Hussainra to escape to Mecca, sent a message, saying, “It was your duty to have arrested him and brought him to me. If you were unable to do so, you should have brought his head to me.” (Akbar Shah Najeebabadi, The History of Islam, Vol. 2, p. 72)

In addition, he sent Shimr for additional supervision, who, upon arrival, declared that war should be started immediately. It was the ninth day of Muharram. Once that letter was received, Amr immediately got ready for war and sent out for Imam Hussainra. He read out the instructions from ibn Ziyad; Imam Hussainra requested that they be allowed that night. The night between the ninth of Muharram and the fateful day of the tenth of Muharram was spent in prayers, consoling the women and children and preparing the men for the last battle. Hazrat Imam Hussainra called his small group and said that they were free to leave and that there would be no burden on them, should they have chosen to take this option. They opted to stay and fight to the death. (I K A Howard, The History of al-Tabari, The Caliphate of Yazid, pp. 112-114)


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