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Hussain is a role model that all human beings can aspire to; his spirit lives on forever in the human conscience. The way he lived and the way he died show us the value he placed on morality and honour. He taught us the true purpose of our existence – the perfection of our morals and ethics. In his own words he sums it up beautifully: “Death with dignity is better than a life of humiliation”
Their martyrdom is a sad day for all Muslims, especially the Shi’a, who hold mourning ceremonies to recall the righteous virtues for which the valiant martyrs stood and the grave calamities that they thus had to bear. The commemoration of this brutal massacre (Battle of Karbala) begins on the first day of Muharram and reaches its climax on the 10th of Muharram, the day of the battle, known as Ashurah and continues for 40 days or 69 days.
Battle of Karbala (Truth V/s Falsehood)
Yazid ibn Muawiya (la)He was not physically present in the battle as he send the troops under the command of Umar ibn Sa’ad
Husayn ibn Ali (The Grandson of the Last prophet Mohammad [P.B.U.H])
On the other side were the armed forces of Yazid I, about 30 - 40,000+ men led
by Umar ibn Sa’ad.
Hussein ibn Ali’s group consisted of notable members of Muhammad’s close relatives, around 72 men (Which were 18 family members and 54 supporters including a 6 month old baby and elderly persons) and their women’s and children’s
5000 + (according to Shia tradition)
123 (72 Men and 51 children)
Despite the figures of 72 men against thousands, it is recorded that the battle went on from dawn to dusk. Just Imagine the courage that 72 stood in front of thousands for such a long time while being Hungry & Thirsty for more than 3 days..
It intrigues historians that Hurr, one of the highest ranked commanders of Yazid’s army, who was the man responsible for stopping Hussein at Karbala, left the overwhelming force of thousands of soldiers and joined Hussein with his son and a slave. At the 10th of Muharram he died by Husain’s side in the battle killing 41 soldiers.
According to Arab culture, anyone accompanying women and children with him is a sign of peace. It was here that Hussain, his family and Shi’a (Partisans) were confronted by the army of Yazeed. Hussain refused to pledge allegiance to the tyrant and Yazeed declared war on him. Hussain was forced to battle the army of Yazeed, but before that the army had cut off their food and water supply for more than three days. For three whole days and nights, enduring temperatures around 55°C without food or water, the males of the camp, totaling 72 (including the elderly and children) fought valiantly and were all brutally slaughtered.
Hussain was forced to witness torture, murder, execution and mutilation of 17 male family members & 54 companions among them he witnessed the savage mutilation of Abbas – his brother, the callous murder of his nephew Qasim, the torture and execution of his innocent son AliAkbar (whose face was similar to the Holy Prophet [s.w.a]) and finally the depraved murder of his six month old baby boy – AliAsghar. Left alone finally in the battle filed Hussain was also attacked, his body was showered with arrows, sword, knifes and stones. His head was severed with blunt Knife/sword and the hooves of the horses of Yazeed’s cavalry trampled on his body. Husain and their supporters were decapitated; their bodies were mutilated and trampled by horses.
The aftermath of the battle led to the humiliation of the women of Hussain’s camp. Their tents were looted and burnt, leaving the women to the mercy of Yazeed’s soldiers. The aggrieved children who had lost their fathers were beaten.
The captives were made to travel from Karbala to Syria – Damascus, a journey of approximately 750 miles. Their Headscarves were snatched off and they were made to trek barefoot, chained, shackled, and taken on camels without saddles, due to which many of the children fell off the camels and the women were not allowed to even stop and help their children. The graves of these children can still be seen in the desert between Karbala and Kufa.
The heads of all the males including that of Hussain’s six -month old son were impaled on spikes (as war trophies) and paraded through the streets. On arriving at Damascus, they were paraded in the town, for all to see and shun. A barrage of stones, rubbish and verbal abuse bombarded them. They were kept in prison for over a year It is to be noted that people who did this with the family of Prophet Mohammad (P.b.u.h) were themselves called to be Muslims.
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The Route of Imam from Hussain Makkah to KarbalaResearch and preparation by Syed M.R. Shabbar
After leaving Makkah there were 14 places mentioned in history books where Imam either stayed Or met people or gave sermons.
- Saffah: Here Imam met Farazzdaq the poet whom Imam asked about conditions in Kufa. He said, ‘He said, ‘People’s hearts were with you but their swords were against you.’ Imam replied, ‘Allah does what he wishes. Ileave it to him who proposes the just cause.
- Dhat-el-Irq: Here Imam’s cousin Abdullah Ibne Jafar brought his two sons Auwn and Mohammed to their mother Hazrat Zainab and to help the imam. He tried to persuade the Imam to return to Madina but Imam replied, ‘my destiny is in the hands of Allah.’
- Batn-er-Rumma: Imam sent a letter to Kufa with Qais bin Mashir, met Abdullah bin Mutee who came from Iraq. When he heard of Imam’s intention, he tried to stop him. He said Kufans were not faithful and could not be trusted. But Imam continued his journey.
- Zurud: Imam met Zohair Ibne Qain. Zohair was not among the followers of Ahlulbait. But when Imam told him of the purpose of his journey Zohair gave all his possesions to his wife, told her to go home and said that he wished to be martyred with the Imam.
- Zabala: Imam learnt from two tribesmen coming from Kufa of the death of Hazrat Muslim. Imam said, ‘Innan Lillahe wa Inna Elaihe Rajeoon. Indallah-Nahtasib Anfusana.’ ‘We are for Allah and we shall return to Him who surely accouts for our sacrifices. Asadi Tribesmen tried to dissuade the Imam from his journey but he persisted. Here Imam told his companions the news of the death of Muslim and Hani and that people in Kufa were not prepared to be their helpers. Imam said, ‘Those who want to depart leave now.’ Hoards of various tribesmen who had followed the Imam in the hope of collecting the booty realised their false hopes and scattered to their own homes. Only 50 odd people remained.
- Batn-e-Aqeeq: Imam met a man from the Tribe of Akrama who told him that Kufa was no more a friendly town and was now surrounded by Yazid’s army. No one could get in or out of the town. But the Imam carried on.
- Sorat: Imam stayed the night here and in the morning ordered his companions to take as much water as they can.
- Sharaf: While the Imam was passing from this place, one of his companions shouted that he could see the approach of an army. Imam asked for a safe place, preferably a mountain behind them. A guide took them to the nearest mountain.
- Zuhasm: It was here that Imam met Hurr’s army of 1000 men. They wre thirsty so Imam ordered his men to give them water. Imam himself helped several thirsty soldiers to drink. Even animals were given water to drink. Zohr prayers were led by the Imam and all followed him including Hurr’s soldiers. Here Imam told hurr about many letters from Kufa. He said, ‘O People of Kufa, you sent me your delegations and wrote me letters that you had no Imam and that I should come to unite you and lead you in the way of Allah. You wrote that we Ahlulbait are more qualified to govern your affairs than those who claim things to which they have no right and act unjustly and wrongly. But if you have changed your mind, have become ignorant of our Rights and have forgotten your promises, I shall turn back. But he was denied to turn back by Hurr’s army and was lead to by-pass Kufa.
- Baiza: Imam reached Baiza the next day and delivered one of his most famous sermons. ‘O People, the Prophet has said that if a man sees a tyrannical ruler transgressing against Allah and the Prophet and oppressing people but does nothing by word or action to change the situation then it will be just for Allah to place him where he deservingly belongs. Do you not see to what low level the affairs have come down…? Do you not observe that truth has not adhered to and falsehood has no limit? And as for me, I look upon death as but a means of attaining martyrdom and I consider life among transgressors as nothing but an agony and an affliction.’
- Uzaibul Hajanat: Here Imam stayed away from the army of Hurr and met Trimmah bin Adi. After having learnt about the Kufan abandonment of his envoy it was clear that he had no hope of support or even survival in Kufa. Nevertheless he refused an offer of safety, if not success extended to him. Trimmah pleaded to him to accept the offer of 20,000 trained men of his tribe to help him if he wanted to go to Kufa or he could retire to the mountains and safety. Imam replied to Ibne Adi, ‘Allah bless you and your people. I cannot go from my word. Things are destined. It is clear from this reply that he was fully aware of the dangers he would face and that he had a certain strategy and plan in mind to bring about a revolution in the conscience of the Muslim Ummah. He did not try to mobilise military support which he could easily have done in Hejaz nor did he try to exploit whatever physical strength was available to him.
- Qasr-e-Bani Makatil: It was evident here that Kufa was no more his destination. As Hurr did not want to leave him, he by-passed Kufa and took a new route. Resting in the afternoon he uttered ‘Inna Lillah.’ His 18 years old son Ali Akber approached him and enquired. Imam said that in his sleep he had heard someone saying that these people were going to their deaths. Ali Akber asked, ‘Are we not on the Right path. Death meant nothing to them. Death of this kind transforms into the glory of martyrdom.
- Nainawa: At this place a messenger of Ibne Zaid brought a message for Hurr not to leave the Imam. The battered caravan passed through Ghaziriya to a place called Karbala. Imam sighed, asked for the name of the place. Someone said Kerbala. Imam said, yes, this is the place of Kerbin-wa-bala. (a place of pain and torture.) Let us stop here for we have arrived at our destination. This is the place of our Martyrdom. This is Karbala.
- Karbala: On the orders of the Imam, the tents were erected near the river which was a tributary of the River Eupheretes some miles away.
This is a day by day account of Husayn’s time in Karbala leading up to the massacre on Ashura.Day 1 AH 61 (1st October 680)
- Day 1: Husayn and his followers are prevented from reaching Kufa by Caliphate general, al-Hurr, at-Tamini’s 1,000-strong army, and are forced to make camp in the desert at Karbala, 75km from Kufa. It is here at this fateful place that Husayn and his followers’ torment began
- Day 2: Husayn speaks to his followers at the camp and assures them of their goodness and truth. In return, they pledge their loyalty to him. Then, foreseeing his death, Husayn purchases about four square miles of land to be the site for his and his family’s graves from the local residents of the area.
- Day 3: Four thousand additional troops under the command of Umar ibn Sa’d arrive with instructions from Ubaydu’llah ibn Ziyad that they should prevent Husayn from leaving until he signs a pledge to the Caliph, Yazid. Ibn Sa’d’s men prepare for battle and surround Husayn’s party, cutting them off from the river, their only source of water.
- Day 4: Husayn begins negotiations with ibn sa’d stressing he has no desire to initiate bloodshed and asks to be allowed to withdraw to Arabia but ibn sa’d refuse to relent. Meanwhile the situation in Husayn’s camp is becoming more and more desperate due to the lack of water and fresh supplies.
- Day 5: The size of the army facing Husayn’s small band of followers swells as even more troops arrive to join their brothers in arms on the banks of the Euphrates River.
- Day 6: The lack of water leads to desperate measures. Husayn uses a tent pole to dig a well, but their relief is short-lived as it dries up. Ibn Ziyad sensing their anguish sends 500 troops to reinforce the cordon around the Euphrates.
- Day 7: Fearing for the health of the women and children, Husayn asks his brother ‘Abbas to conduct a midnight raid past the Caliphate troops to bring back water from the river. Despite a brief skirmish ‘Abbas brings back some precious water to camp earning himself the title, ‘Saqqa’, or water bearer. The water is a godsend but does little to assuage the thirst of the entire camp.
- Day 8: In desperation Husayn sends a message to Sa’d requesting they meet, he questions Sa’d’s allegiance to Yazid by asking, “Don’t you fear God on the Day of Judgement? You know who I am”. Sa’d’s loyalty is unshaken; he considers trying to act as a peacemaker between Husayn and Yazid but is dissuaded when his supporters urge him not to compromise.
- Day 9: After a long, hot day in the desert filled with the cries of children for water, Husayn’s camp prepares for the attack they know is coming and are powerless to stop. Husayn gathers his companions together and pleads with them; “Whoever remains with me will be killed tomorrow; so consider this opportunity as Allah sent and take advantage of the darkness and go home to your villages.” He then extinguishes all the lights in the camp to allow those who want to leave to do so. His followers weep and reply, “Oh master do not thus shame us before Allah…were we to desert you, may the wild beasts of the jungle tear us to pieces.” Husayn sends one last message to Sa’d asking to be spared one last night so that they may pray to Allah and recite the Qur’an. Sa’d reluctantly agrees and the Imam gathers his followers together for one last sermon. Again, his followers protest their loyalty and vow to die alongside their master.Such was the power of their faith that when the enemy saw them praying 32 soldiers switched sides and joined them including Hurr, the commander of the original army that had routed Husayn from Kufa. He became one of the first martyrs to fall.
- Day 10: ‘Ashura’ Friday 10th Muharram, 61 AH (10th October AD680) On what was to be his last day Husayn and some of his followers implore the ibn Sa’d troops for the final time not to shed the blood of the Prophet’s house. Leading by example, ibn Sa’d is the first to shoot an arrow into the pitifully small camp. Despite their lack of numbers, Husayn’s followers’ fight ferociously refusing to give up.By mid-afternoon Husayn and his relatives face the marauding army, their defence spent. One by one they fall including Husayn’s sons aged just 11 and 13. Husayn continues to appeal to the enemy’s humanity; he takes his six-month-old baby son and pleads for water. The enemy responds by shooting poisoned arrows which pierce the neck of the baby killing it instantly. Finally Husayn is the last left standing finally falling on the battlefield next to his dead comrades. Covered in wounds, Husayn is then decapitated and his body is mutilated in order to send souvenirs back to Yazid. His followers suffer a similar fate. Their bodies are trampled by enemy horses and left where they fell denying them a Muslim burial.Yazid’s soldiers then loot and plunder the remains of the camp taking the women and children prisoner including ‘Ali, the only surviving son of Husayn.
Why it is called as Battle for Truth?
The battle of Karbala finds great similarity with the one at Badr – Islam’s first battle. It was the holy Prophet [PBUH] at Badr who fought with 313 die-hard supporters against a formidable army of some 1000 men. That day against all odds the small group won a decisive victory, and paved the way for a future Muslim empire. 56 years later it was his grandson with just 72 loyal men, who fought against an impossible opposition of several thousands to save Islam from the clutches of tyranny.
Karbala was a battle of truth against falsehood, humanity against villainy, righteousness against evil, justice against corruption. The much loved grandson of the Prophet [PBUH] stood in the scorching heat of Karbala along with his companions, devoid of water but determined. His loved ones, including his six month old son, fell martyr one after the other. In spite of this he repeatedly invited the other party towards righteousness and forbade them from evil and immorality, but it all fell on deaf ears. When the time arrived for him to march ahead all alone, he did it in a fashion which was reminiscent of his illustrious father Ali.
One of those who fought the battle of Karbala against him says, “I have never seen a person bereaved of his sons, menfolk and his companions more Lion-hearted than him. The foot soldiers were scattering to his right and left like goats when a wolf come upon them.” — –Ibne Aseer, Tareekh Kamil
Husain fell in the desert of Karbala on that fateful Friday, the 10th of Moharram 61H. Worse was to follow. The bodies of the martyrs including the Imam were not only refused a proper burial but were trampled under the horses’ hooves and were left for the birds. The Kufan army looted the belongings of Husain. Imam’s family including his women-folk and tender children were humiliated and taken captives after burning down their camps. The women were paraded with uncovered heads. It wasn’t Islam!
“If Hussain fought to quench his worldly desires, then I do not understand why his sisters, wives and children accompanied him. It stands to reason therefore that he sacrificed purely for Islam.” —Charles Dickens
The severed heads of the martyrs including Husain were raised on spears. How Yazid played with Husain’s head and the emotions of Imam’s family is a well documented fact. Karbala to this day remains a heart-wrenching story of exemplary courage and bravery to uphold the real principles of Islam.
“In a distant age and climate, the tragic scene of the death of Husain will awaken the sympathy of the coldest reader.” — Edward Gibbon
Abdullah Yusuf Ali, the famous English translator of Qurán, has beautifully summed up the whole essence of this epic battle. There is of course the physical suffering in martyrdom, and all sorrow and suffering claim our sympathy, —
- The dearest, purest, most out-flowing sympathy that we can give. But there is a greater suffering than physical suffering. That is when a valiant soul seems to stand against the world; when the noblest motives are reviled and mocked; when truth seems to suffer an eclipse. It may even seem that the martyr has but to say a word of compliance, do a little deed of non-resistance; and much sorrow and suffering would be saved; and the insidious whisper comes: “Truth after all can never die.” That is perfectly true. Abstract truth can never die. It is independent of man’s cognition. But the whole battle is for man’s keeping hold of truth and righteousness. And that can only be done by the highest examples of man’s conduct – spiritual striving and suffering enduring firmness of faith and purpose, patience and courage where ordinary mortals would give in or be cowed down, the sacrifice of ordinary motives to supreme truth in scorn of consequence. The martyr bears witness, and the witness redeems what would otherwise be called failure. It so happened with Husain. For all were touched by the story of his martyrdom, and it gave the deathblow to the politics of Damascus and all it stood for.
What Lessons do we learn from Karbala?
Karbala stands for courage, self-sacrifice, integrity, honesty, vision, and bravery beyond words. It symbolises all that is pure and true. Karbala teaches us that real battles are always fought in the minds and not on ground. Yazid was powerful and yet he lost the battle for truth. “I learned from Hussain how to be wronged and be a winner.” —Mahatma Gandhi
Mahatma Gandhi in 1924 writing in ‘Young India’’ about the battle of Karbala said among other things ‘’ I wanted to know the best of the life of one who holds today an undisputed sway over the hearts of millions of mankind….the utter self-effacement of Hussain, his fearlessness, his absolute trust in God and in his own mission to save Islam.’’
Also, being in the majority need not necessarily make you right. “The best lesson which we get from the tragedy of Karbala is that Hussain and his companions were the rigid believers of God. They illustrated that numerical superiority does not count when it comes to truth and falsehood. The victory of Hussain despite his minority marvels me! —Thomas Carlyle
As the old adage goes, “Nothing lasts for ever.” Husain and his followers made sure that their martyrdom gave a fatal blow to Yazid’s oppressive rule. Karbala haunted Yazid till his eventual death two years later.
“Imam Husayn uprooted despotism forever till the Day of Resurrection. He watered the dry garden of freedom with the surging wave of his blood, and indeed he awakened the sleeping Muslim nation. Husayn weltered in blood and dust for the sake of truth. Verily he, therefore, became the bed-rock (foundation) of the Muslim creed; la ilaha illa Allah (There is no god but Allah).” —Sir Muhammad Iqbal
It also teaches us to be patient and stand up against any form of wrong treatment. We curse Yazid and his army for their inhuman treatment of people, yet the cruel treatment of captives by the so called jihadis meets little protest. Muslims must recognize and protest against the savagery of inhuman treatment at all times, no matter who does it and where it takes place.
“If a man kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell, to abide therein (For ever): And the wrath and the curse of Allah are upon him, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him.” — Surah An-Nisa (Chapter 4), Verse 93
The best homage that we can pay to the great tragedy is to do some soul-searching. Do we have the right to be called the followers of the Prophet [PBUH]? Have we really understood the message of Imam Husain? Are the tears for Husain drawn merely by the scenes of mere butchery? Would we ever stand up to the false narrations of the events at Karbala by some maulanas to generate excessive grief? Was Karbala a political war or a struggle for true faith?
Are we ready to shed aside our differences and respect each others’ view during our religious discourses during Moharram?
And when we finally have all the answers then we would understand the real message of Karbala.