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  The Origins and Early Development of Shi`a Islam

Chapter 7

The Martyrdom of Husayn

On Mu'awiya death, his son Yazid assumed the caliphate in
accordance with the former's unprecedented testament in
Rajab 60/March 680. A true representative of the way of life
common among the pre-Islamic youth of the Umayyad
aristocracy, Yazid commanded no respect in the community.
His anti-Islamic behaviour and openly irreligious practices
were well known throughout the Muslim world and earned
for him contempt and disfavour, especially among those who
cared for religion. Even those few writers who attempt to
hush up some of the information unfavourable to the
Umayyad house could not refrain from reporting that Yazid
was the first among the caliphs to drink wine in public and
that he sought out the Worst company, spending much of his
time in the pleasures of music and singing and amusing
himself with apes and hunting-hounds. He himself had no
use for religion, nor had he any regard for the religious
sentiments of others. Addicted to wine-bibbing, attracted to
singing-girls, and exposed to all sorts of vices, Yazid has never
been presented in good terms by any Muslim writer of any
period or by any school of thought.
1 His open and persistent
violations of Islamic norms were still more shocking to the
community because of his close proximity to the Prophet and
the Rashidun caliphs, of whom he claimed to be the successor
and from whose authority he derived his title. Nevertheless,
Mu'awiya's meticulous arrangements, coupled with his
formidable military grip on the Muslim world, ensured the
smooth succession of his son. Yazid was thus hailed as the
"Commander of the Faithful" by all the tribes and the
provinces; yet his title was not secure until he could receive
homage from the four most notable personalities of Islam,
whom Mu'awiya, in spite of his utmost efforts, could neither
buy nor coerce as he had done with all other men of
prominence and the chiefs of the tribes.
With the death of Mu'awiya the last of the first generation
who could claim for himself at least some political importance,
the caliphate had to pass on to the second generation (tabi'un)
after the Prophet. The grandees of this generation, as has
been described in the preceding chapter, were Husayn b. 'Ali,
'Abd Allah b. az-Zubayr, `Abd Allah b. 'Umar, and 'Abd ar-
Rahman b. Abi Bakr, the sons of the most prominent
Companions of the Prophet who were held in great respect
by the community; Husayn, also being the only surviving
grandson of the Prophet, enjoyed greater regard than the
other three. It was therefore obvious that without their
recognition Yazid's authority could not be firmly consolidated.
was fully aware of the importance of these four,
and having failed to secure their agreement to Yazid's
succession, he warned his son of the danger before he breathed
his last. On his deathbed Mu'awiya advised Yazid:
"O my son, I have arranged everything for you, and I have
made all the Arabs agree to obey you. No one will now oppose
you in your title to the caliphate, but I am very much afraid of
Husayn b. 'Ali, 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar, 'Abd ar-Rahman b. Abi
Bakr, and 'Abd Allah b. az-Zubayr. Among them Husayn b. 'Ali
commands great love and respect because of his superior rights
and close relationship to the Prophet. I do not think that the
people of Iraq will abandon him until they have risen in rebellion
for him against you. As far as is possible, try to deal with him
gently. But the man who will attack you with full force, like a lion
attacks his prey, and who will pounce upon you, like a fox when
it finds an opportunity to pounce, is 'Abd Allah b. az-Zubayr.
Whenever you get a chance, cut him into pieces."

Mu'awiya's advice, commonly reported by many sources,
confirms the reports that Mu'awiya's efforts to secure the
approval of these grandees of Islam for Yazid's succession
had not been successful.
In order to secure undisputed possession of the caliphate,
the first task Yazid undertook was to order the governor of
Medina, Al-Walid b. 'Utba, to exact homage from the
refractory, especially from Husayn and Ibn az-Zubayr. In his
letter to the governor, he gave strict orders that they should
not be allowed to delay, and if they refused, that Walid should
behead them at once. Some sources include the name of Ibn
'Umar as also having been specifically mentioned in this
3 Walid b. `Utba accordingly sent for Husayn and Ibn
az-Zubayr at an unusual hour of the night to oblige them to
pay homage to the new caliph. Both of them realized that
Mu`awiya was dead, and both had decided to stand by their
refusal to pay homage to Yazid. Ibn az-Zubayr did not go to
the palace and fled to Mecca the following night. Husayn
went to see the governor, but was accompanied by a strong
band of his supporters in case of a serious confrontation.
Leaving his supporters at the gate, Husayn went into the
palace alone. Walid read to him Yazid's letter and asked for
immediate recognition of the new caliph. Husayn replied
uncommittedly that the bay`a, in order to be valid, must be
made in public and that the governor should arrange a public
gathering in the mosque where he would also be present.
With this reply, when Husayn rose to leave the palace,
Marwan b. al-Hakam, who was present there as well, rebuked
the governor, saying: "By God, if you allow Husayn to leave
without paying the homage now, you will never be able to get
it from him; so arrest him and do not free him until he pays
the homage, or behead him." In fact, Marwan had already
advised Walid to call these two for the bay`a, and if they
refused, Mu'awiya kill them at once before the news of Mu`awiya's
death became known to the people. Walid, however, did not
accept this advice: as Husayn left the palace, the former
retorted to Marwan's harsh attitude, saying:

"Do not reproach me for this, O Marwan. You have advised me
to do something in which there lies complete destruction and the
ruin of my religion. By God, if the entire wealth and treasures of
the whole world were given to me I would not kill Husayn.
Should I kill him only because he refuses to pay homage, I would
suffer total destruction on the Day of Judgement, for in the sight
of God there cannot be anything more accountable than the
blood of Husayn."
The reply of Walid to Marwan, so commonly recorded by
the sources, reflects that particular regard and respect with
which the grandson of the Prophet was held not only by his
followers, but by a great number of Muslims in general.
Husayn, however, succeeded in avoiding the demand for the
Bay`a for two days and finally escaped at night with his family
and most of the Hashimites to Mecca. Walid b. 'Utba paid for
his lenient attitude towards the grandson of the Prophet: he
was shortly thereafter dismissed from his post as governor of
Ibn az-Zubayr, who reached Mecca before Husayn, had
gathered people around him against Yazid, and he is reported
to have been harbouring secret ambitions for the caliphate
himself. But as soon as Husayn arrived in the city, the people
abandoned Ibn az-Zubayr and gathered around Husayn.
This was only natural, for our sources clearly state that
"Husayn was much dearer and far more respected by the
people of the Hijaz than Ibn az-Zubayr, who knew that the
people there would never follow him as long as Husayn was
in Mecca."
5 So great were the inclinations of the people to
Husayn that after his arrival there people prayed with him,
performed the tawaf of the Ka'ba with him, and preferred to
stay around him most of the time.
Husayn, like his brother Hasan, combined in his person
the right of descent both from the Prophet and from `Ali; and
now after the death of Hasan he was the only candidate from
the Prophet's family. But in the preceding years he had done
very little to support his rights, restricting himself to a
negative attitude towards Yazid's nomination. Nor, due to
Hasan's treaty with Mu`awiya, was it possible for him to act
as long as Mu`awiya was alive. This he explained to the Shi`is
of Kufa whenever they approached him concerning an
uprising. The death of Mu'awiya changed the situation. On
the one hand, Husayn was now free from the treaty obligations
of his brother and, on the other, the demand for active
guidance and leadership from the Shi`is of Kufa became
increasingly pressing. As soon as this group received word of
Mu`awiya death, they held a series of meetings expressing
their renewed and enthusiastic support for Husayn. They
sent out numerous letters and a succession of messengers
urging Husayn to come to Kufa to take their leadership, as
they had no Imam other than him. The first letter Husayn
received on 10 Ramadan 60/15 June 680; it was signed by
Sulayman b. Surad al-Khuza`i, Al-Musayyab b. Najaba,
Rifa`a b. Shaddad, Habib b. al-Muzahir, and Muslim
b. Awsaja in the name of the Shi'is and Muslims of Kufa, and
"We thank God for casting down the tyrannical rule of your
enemy, who had usurped the power to rule this community
with out any right, allowed the possession of God to pass into the
hands of the powerful and the rich, and killed the best men [an
allusion to Hujr b. 'Adi and his supporters] while allowing the
worst of the people to remain alive. We invite you to come to
Kufa, as we have no Imam to guide us; and we hope that through
you God will unite us on the path truth. We do not go to Friday
congregational prayers to pray with Nu'man b. Bashir, the
governor of Kufa, nor do we assemble with him at the occasion of
the 'Id. If we hear that you are coming to us, we will oust the
governor from our city. Peace and mercy of God be upon you."

This letter, signed by the men named above, must have
served as a major incentive to Husayn, for the signatories had
been trusted followers of his house from the very beginning
and had proven their loyalty at the battles of Al-Jamal and
Siffin with 'Ali. Though they had been extremely perturbed
and disappointed by Hasan's abdication in favour of
Mu'awiya, they nevertheless remained loyal to the former
and hostile to the latter. Apart from these early Shi`is, a great
number of other Kufans also wrote letters to Husayn, each
signed by numerous individuals for the same purpose.
Similar letters urging Husayn to assume active leadership
were also sent by the Shi`is of Basra. Not all of them, however,
had the same degree of religious motivation: some had
political aspirations, hoping to throw off the yoke of Syrian
The actions of Husayn, however, show that from beginning
to end his strategy was aimed at a much higher goal than
simply accession to the caliphate. There is no evidence that
he tried, while at Mecca, to enlist active supporters from
among the people who gathered around him or to propagate
his cause among the great numbers of people who were
coming to Mecca for the Hajj; there is also no evidence that
he attempted to send his emissaries to stir up any rebellion in
provinces such as Yemen and Persia, which were sympathetic
to his house, even though advised by some of his family
members to do so. And above all, had he acted promptly on
the invitation of the Kufans, while the governorship of the
city was in the hands of the weak Nu'man b. Bashir, he might
have had a fair chance of success. His speedy arrival would
not only have forestalled any effective action on the part of
the Umayyad government, but would also have stirred real
enthusiasm among the Ku fans. This was emphasized by the
leaders of the movement when they wrote:
"In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate; to al-
Husayn b. 'Ali, from his Shi`a, the faithful Muslims: Further
make haste, for the people are awaiting you, as they have no
Imam other than you! So haste, and again haste! Peace."

This last letter was signed by a number of people and was
sent with a delegation consisting of Hani b. Hani as-Sabi'i
and Sa'id b. 'Abd Allah al-Hanafi, the two most trusted Shi`is
of Kufa. In response to all these approaches, however, Husayn
sent only one letter in reply through this last delegation. The
content of this letter is worthy of note; it reads:

"From Husayn b. 'Ali to the believers and the Muslims [note
that the word Shi`a is not used]. Hani and Sa'id came to me with
your letters, they being the last among your messengers and
delegations to come to me. I have understood what you said and
that you have invited me to come to you because you have no
Imam to guide you, and that you hope my arrival there will unite
you in the right path and in the truth. I am sending my cousin
and the trusted one from my family [Muslim b. 'Aqil] to report
to me about your affairs. If his report conforms with what you
have written, I will soon come. But you must be clear about the
fact that the Imam is only one who follows the Book of God,
makes justice and honesty his conduct and behaviour, judges
with truth, and devotes himself to the service of God. Peace."

The last sentence of the letter, explaining the duties of an
Imam and the nature of the Imamate, helps us to understand
Husayn's approach and attitude towards the whole problem.

Abu Mikhnaf has also preserved for us Husayn's letter to
the Shi'is of Basra, which is equally worthy of quotation here.
It reads:

"God has chosen Muhammad from among his people, graced
him with His Prophethood and selected him for His message.
After he admonished the people and conveyed His message to
them God took him back unto Himself. We, being his family
(ahl), his close associates endowed with the quality of guardianship
(awliya'), his trustees and vice regent (awliya'), and his heir and
legatee (warith), are the most deserving among all the people to
take his place. But the people preferred themselves over us for
this [privilege]. We became contented, disliking dissension and
anxious to preserve the peace and well-being [of the community],
though we were fully aware that we were more entitled to this
[leadership] than those who had taken it for themselves... I have
sent my messenger to you and I call you to the Book of God, and
the Sunna of his Prophet, the Sunna which has become obliterated
and innovations have become active and energetic. If you listen
to me and obey my orders I will guide you to the right path. May
the Peace and the Mercy of God be upon you."

The content of this letter is a complete statement of the
Shi`i doctrine of the Imamate even at this early stage. That
the historical sources have recorded little of what we may call
Shi`i religio-political theory is due to the fact that their main
interest has been in events, not in the underlying principles
behind those events. Yet in narrating the events the sources
have preserved certain documents such as letters or speeches
which give us a glimpse of those ideals which underly the
events. We have quoted one of Hasan's letters in the previous
chapter and pointed out the thinking of the Ahl al-Bayt. Now
in the time of Husayn, twenty years after, Husayn's letters
give exactly the same vein of thinking. In these letters Husayn
adequately explains the concept of walaya, which means that
God has bestowed upon the family of the Prophet special
honour and qualities, thereby making them the ideal rulers,
and that through their presence on earth His grace is
disseminated. The other two terms of doctrinal importance
are walaya, trusteeship or custodianship, and warith, heir and
legatee, which are used by Husayn. We have seen in Chapter
4 that at the time of `Ali election for the caliphate, he was
hailed in these terms by his closest associates. Now after
thirty-five years the same terms are being used by Husayn.
Both these terms carry the idea of God's recommendation of
the family of the Prophet to the people, that Muhammad
recommended 'Ali, and that at his death 'Ali recommended
Hasan, who left the legacy of the House for Husayn. It may,
however, be too early for these concepts to have assumed the
full flowering of their doctrinal content, yet one can see their
presence in their embryonic form.
The other important part of Husayn's letter is his
declaration that the right of ruling the community is the
exclusive right of the family of the Prophet and they alone
can guide the people in the right path; or in other words, they
alone, by virtue of their special qualities, can combine
temporal power and religious guidance together. Moreover,
by this statement Husayn made a judgement on the caliphates
of Abu Bakr, 'Umar and 'Uthman. Then, in the last part of
his letter, by calling people to the Sunna of the Prophet
Husayn implicitly rejected the interpretations of the first
three caliphs who were not among the Ahl al-Bayt. The
followers of the House of the Prophet would, therefore, go
back directly to the Sunna of the Prophet and their Imams,
who are divinely inspired (walaya).
However, Husayn decided to respond to the call. Two
obvious factors inspired him to act. Firstly, being the grandson
of the founder of Islam, he must have felt it his duty to
respond to the repeated appeals of these Muslims; and
secondly, Yazid's pressing demand for homage was such that
Husayn's filial piety and pride could not allow him to accept.
It was a difficult situation. Acceptance of the authority of
Mu`awiya as the head of the Muslim state was an entirely
different matter from the acceptance of Yazid. Mu'awiya, in
spite of his worldliness and indifferent attitude towards
religion, did not totally violate the norms of Islam, at least not
outwardly. Yazid not only violated Qur'anic norms and
Prophetic Sunna, but also openly subjected them to contempt
and ridicule, as has been the consensus of Muslim writers of
all times. Even Mu'awiya's own agents, in implementing the
plan for Yazid's nomination, were concerned about the latter's
character. Thus when Mu'awiya asked Ziyad to prepare the
people of Basra and Kufa to accept Yazid's nomination, the
governor advised Mu'awiya to try to mend the ways of his
son before asking people to swear allegiance to him.
It would indeed be a great mistake to assess the case of
Yazid without taking into consideration the living impact of
the Prophet and the first generation of Islam. The tense
contradiction between this and the character of Yazid
ultimately provoked the tragedy of Karbala, to which we
must now turn. In order to maintain the continuity of our
narrative, the sources of our information and their authenticity
will be discussed at the end of the chapter.
In spite of repeated appeals' and hundreds of letters sent by
the Ku fans, Husayn did not take a hasty decision, and as a
precaution sent his cousin, Muslim b. `Aqil, to Kufa as his
emissary with instructions to ascertain the truth of these
representations and report back on his findings. As soon as
Muslim arrived at Kufa there was held in the house of
Sulayman b. Surad al-Khuzai`i a meeting which, for the sake
of secrecy at this stage, was attended only by the leaders of the
movement. In response to Husayn's letter, read before those
present and quoted above, Shi`i leaders such as `Abis b. Abi
Habib ash-Shakiri, Habib b. Muzahir, and Sa`d b. `Abd
Allah al-Hanafi made passionate speeches and declared their
wholehearted support for Husayn until the last breath.
12 We
shall see shortly that their pledges were not empty words:
they remained loyal to the cause, fulfilled their promises, and
ultimately gave their lives with Husayn at Karbala. Apart
from these religiously devoted people supporting the cause of
the Ahl al-Bayt, the political supporters of `Ali from among
the people of Kufa did not think it wise to lag behind in
supporting a movement which they thought might be
successful in throwing off Umayyad domination and raising
new opportunities for them. Muslim b. `Aqil thus quickly
gathered thousands of pledges of support. The number of
people who registered their names and swore allegiance to
Muslim in the name of Husayn is variously given as 12,000
and 18,000, the majority of the sources recording the second
13 Soon the movement became so widespread that
Muslim b. `Aqil was able to preside over the public meetings
from the pulpit in the mosque of Kufa.
Confident of Kufan support, Muslim consequently wrote
to Husayn to come to Kufa and assume leadership of the
people. The letter of Muslim was sent to Husayn not by an
ordinary messenger, but by `Abis b. Habib ash-Shakiri, a
trusted leader of the Shi`is of Kufa.
14 Having been assured of
the extent of Kufan enthusiasm, Husayn decided to go to
Iraq. Already Ibn al-Hanafiya at Medina, and then `Abd
Allah b. `Umar and 'Abd Allah b. al-`Abbas, when they met
Husayn on the road between Medina and Mecca, had warned
Husayn against the dangers. Again at Mecca Ibn `Abbas,
along with many other friends, reiterated their advice with -
greater insistence and tried to persuade him not to rely on
Kufan promises, reminding him of their instability, their
treacherous nature, and how they had betrayed, at the hour of
trial, his father and brother.
15 On the other hand, 'Abd Allah
b. az-Zubayr first hypocritically voiced his concern for the
safety of Husayn in the enterprise
16 but nevertheless urged
him to go on with the plan, for he wanted to make a bid for
power himself. While Husayn was in the Hijaz this was
impossible, as the people would never give Ibn az-Zubayr
precedence over the grandson of the Prophet
17 The former
was thus pleased to see that Husayn should leave the field free
for him in Mecca. In spite of all the advice, however, Husayn
did not abandon his project, for he had in mind a definite
plan and strategy, as will be discussed later.
Receiving word of Muslim's arrival in Kufa and the
support given to him by the people there, Yazid, no longer
trusting the mild-tempered and weak governor of the town,
Nu'man b. Bashir, appointed his strong man 'Ubayd Allah b.
Ziyad, the governor of Basra, to take charge of Kufa as well
and to go there at once. The immediate task to be carried out
was to crush the Shi`i movement by taking whatever measures
were required for this purpose. The text of Yazid's letter is
preserved by various sources and gives a clear idea of his
violent attitude towards the movement in support of
18 Fully aware of the insurrection in Kufa in favour
of Husayn, Ibn Ziyad rode into the city in disguise, wearing
a black turban, covering his face, and surrounding himself
with a small squadron of horsemen. The Kufans, who were
expecting Husayn, mistook Ibn Ziyad for the former, gathered
all around his horse, greeted him enthusiastically, and
shouted: "Hail to you, O son of the Prophet; we have been
awaiting you."
19 Ibn Ziyad, quietly observing the people's
enthusiasm for Husayn, entered the mosque along with the
crowds, mounted the pulpit, and then suddenly tore the veil
from his face. He delivered a terrifying speech, declaring
death and unprecedented punishment for the sympathizers
of Husayn, while making tempting promises for those who
would prove their loyalty to the Caliph.
20 The Kufans,
known for their lack of resolution, were stricken by awe and
fear, completely lost heart, and ultimately abandoned Muslim,
who after attempting in vain to organize an immediate revolt,
was captured and beheaded together with Hani b. `Urwa in
whose house he had stayed.
21 This unreliable attitude of the
political supporters of Husayn, the so-called Shi`is of Kufa in
general, once again demonstrates the weakness of their
character, as had been pointed out to Husayn by those of the
travellers coming from Kufa who happened to meet him on
his way. For example, at a place called Sifah he met the poet
Farazdaq and inquired about conditions in Kufa. Farazdaq
replied: "Their hearts are with you, but their swords are with
your enemies."
Husayn left Mecca on 8 Dhu'l-Hijja/10 September 68o, the
same day Muslim b. `Aqil was beheaded in Kufa. He had
only about 50 men from among both his relatives and friends
able to bear arms, besides women and children, accompanying
him from Mecca on the fateful journey. Husayn's sudden
departure from Mecca, where he had been staying for the
past five months and where a great number of people were
arriving for the Hajj, only two days away, cannot have been
without some serious cause. Tabari and other sources, quoting
Husayn himself, report that the Umayyad government sent
some soldiers disguised as pilgrims to arrest him or even
assassinate him.
23 Though it is difficult to ascertain the
authenticity of this sort of report, still we cannot rule. out a
possibility of this kind in view of what happened to the holy
cities later at the hands of the army sent by Yazid in
connection with the rebellion of Ibn az-Zubayr.
While Husayn was heading towards Iraq, Ibn Ziyad, after
killing Muslim and Hani, made Kufa a scene of terror and
horror. First, he applied severe economic pressure on the
population through the 'arifs, whose function and importance
as being responsible for distribution of stipends and the
maintenance of law and order in their respective ~irafas has
already been discussed in Chapter 5. He exploited these state
functionaries and ordered them to write down the names of
any strangers or rebellious or suspicious people in their
irafas. He held the 'arifs responsible for any trouble that
might occur in their `irafa and threatened that the `arif would
be crucified and the entire `irafa would be deprived of its
stipend if anything was concealed from Ibn Ziyad. Secondly,
he made a declaration that anyone suspected of supporting
Husayn would be hanged without trial, his house would be
set on fire, and his property would be confiscated.
24 Kufa was
thus soon brought under full control. At the same time, Ibn
Ziyad blockaded all the roads leading from the Hijaz to Kufa
and gave strict orders forbidding anyone from entering or
leaving the territory of Kufa. At Al-Qadisiya, which by the
normal route links Kufa with the Hijaz, he set up a strong
military post with an army of 4,000 troops under the command
of Husayn b. an-Numayr at-Tamimi. Similarly, other border
areas like Qutqutana, La'la', and Kaffan, which link Kufa
with Basra and other parts of Iraq, were being heavily
patrolled by the Umayyad army;
25 and consequently it was
almost impossible for anyone to enter or leave Kufa. Husayn
learned of all these strict measures from the Bedouins, but
continued his journey undeterred. When he reached Ath-
Tha'libiya he received word from some travellers of the
execution of Muslim b. 'Aqil and Hani b. 'Urwa at Kufa;
then at Zubala he learned that his messenger Qays b. Mushir
as-Saydawi; whom he had dispatched from Hijir, the fourth
stage from Mecca, with a letter for the Kufans informing
them of his imminent arrival, had been captured at the
checkpoint at Al-Qadisiya and that he had been brutally
killed by Ibn Ziyad in Kufa: he was thrown from the top of
the governor's palace when he refused to curse Husayn to
save his own life.
26 Husayn could not control his tears at the
tragic fate of his trusted follower and, quoting a verse of the
Qur'an, said:

"'Among the believers are men who have been true to their
covenant with God. Some of them have completed their vow [i.e.
have sacrificed their lives in fulfilling their vow], and some others
are still waiting [to die]; but they have never changed [their
determination] in the least.' (Qur'an, XXXIII,. 23). O God, make
Paradise an abode for us [the surviving ones] and for them [the
ones who have been killed], and unite both of us in a resting place
under your mercy and make your reward our only object of
desire and our treasure."

This statement by Husayn is clear enough to demonstrate
that he was fully aware of what was going to happen to him
and that he was fully prepared for it. Another expression of
Husayn's thinking is reflected by his proclamation to his
companions which he made after receiving this news at
Zubala. He stood among those accompanying him and after
informing them of the doleful news and of the obvious danger
of death and complete destruction for which he was heading,
he asked them to leave him and withdraw to safety. Those
who had joined him during the journey with certain hopes of
material gains did depart, and there remained with him only
those who had followed him from the Hijaz.
28 These
statements by Husayn must be taken into consideration, for
they are important for an understanding of his thinking,
which will be discussed below.
Leaving Zubala, Husayn reached Batn 'Aqiq, a place a few
stages from Kufa; and upon learning in detail of the strong
military force stationed at Al-Qadisiya, he changed his route
to enter Kufa from another direction. Husayn b. Numayr, the
commander at Al-Qadisiya, was informed of Husayn's change
of route and sent a detachment of 1,000 troops under the
command of Hurr b. Yazid at-Tamimi al-Yarbu'i to intercept
him. When they appeared on the horizon, Husayn ordered
his people to pitch their tents at a nearby place called Dh(1
Husm (or Husam). The army of Hurr soon reached Husayn.
The day was hot and Hurr's army had run out of water; the
grandson of the Prophet could not tolerate that even his
enemies should suffer from thirst, and he ordered his men to
give water to the Umayyad troops and to their horses. Husayn
himself took part in serving water to those badly affected by
thirst and the heat.
29 Hurr had a certain regard for Husayn,
and ~t both prayers of the day he, along with his troops,
prayed behind him. Even when four of the leading Shi`is of
Kufa who had managed to escape from the city joined
Husayn at this point, Hurr, though he protested, did not dare
to use force.
30 After each of the two prayers, Husayn explained
to his adversaries the reasons which had caused him to set

"O people of Kufa! You sent to me your delegations and wrote
me letters saying that you had no Imam and that I should come
to unite you and lead you in the way of God ... You wrote that
we, the Ahl al-Bayt, are more qualified to govern your affairs than
those who claim things to which they have no right and who act
unjustly and wrongfully.... But if you have changed your minds,
have become ignorant of our rights, and have forgotten your
delegations and repeated appeals to me to come for the sake of
your religion... I shall turn back."
Then Husayn showed Hurr two sacks full of the letters
sent by the Kufans to him, but Hurr said he knew nothing of
these and that he had come with the orders of Ibn Ziyad to
arrest him and his party as prisoners to be handed over to Ibn
Ziyad. Husayn refused to submit, but still Hurr did not use
force against him. After some argument it was agreed that
Husayn should keep on travelling along the Euphrates in the
opposite direction from Kufa until fresh orders arrived from
the governor, and that Hurr would follow Husayn closely.
When they reached the district of Ninawa (or Naynawa) a
horseman arrived from Kufa. Without greeting Husayn, he
gave Hurr a letter from Ibn Ziyad ordering him not to allow
the "rebels" to make a halt except in a desert place without
fortifications or water.
32 Zuhayr b. al-Qayn, a companion of
Husayn, then suggested that he should attack Hurr's small
detachment and occupy a fortified village called Al-`Aqr, but
i;1usayn refused to be the one to initiate hostilities. Husayn,
however, managed to proceed only a little farther until they
reached the plain of Karbala and there pitched their tents. It
was 2 Muharram 61/2 October 680.
On the third of Muharram the situation deteriorated as
`Umar b. Sa`d arrived with the Umayyad army of 4,000 men
and assumed overall command on the field. Upon reaching
Karbala Ibn Sa'd learned that Husayn now intended to
return to Medina; but Ibn Ziyad, on receiving word of this
development, ordered that all the "rebels" should render
homage to Yazid. Meanwhile, they were to be prevented from
reaching the river. `Umar b. Sa`d accordingly stationed a
force of 500 cavalry on the road to the river, and for three days
before the massacre on the tenth of Muharram Husayn and
party suffered terribly from thirst. A daring sortie led by
`Abbas, Husayn's brother, managed to reach the river but
succeeded in filling only a few waterskins. Ibn Sa`d was still
trying to persuade the governor to find some peaceful means
to avoid shedding the blood of the grandson of the Prophet,
but all in vain. Ibn Ziyad sent his final orders through Shamir
b. Dhu'l-Jawshan (commonly written as Shimr) either to
attack Husayn immediately or to hand over the command of
the army to Shamir, the bearer of the letter.
33 The orders also
specified that when Husayn fell in the fighting his body was
to be trampled, because he was "a rebel, a Seditious person, a
brigand, an oppressor".
34 Ibn Sa`d had to act, as he was
anxious to retain his appointment as the deputy of the
governor of the province of Ray' and was well aware of the
fact that Husayn would never submit, for the latter ~'had a
proud soul in him".
Soon after receiving these new orders on the evening of 9
Muharram, Ibn Sa`d advanced with his army towards the
camp of Husayn. Noticing this, Husayn sent his brother
'Abbas, along with some followers, to ascertain the reason for
their approach. 'Abbas was told of the orders of Ibn Ziyad,
and when informed of this Husayn sent `Abbas back to
request a respite of one night. This was granted. At this point
Husayn assembled his relatives and supporters and delivered
a speech. This speech is unanimously reported in the events
of the night of 'Ashura by the sources through different
authorities, and it is useful in understanding Husayn's
thinking. He said:

"I -give praise to God who has honoured us with the
Prophethood, has taught us the Qur'an, and favoured us with His
religion ... I know of no worthier companions than mine; may
God reward you with all the best of His reward. I think tomorrow
our end will come ... I ask you all to leave me alone and to go
away to safety. I free you from your responsibilities for me, and
I do not hold you back. Night will provide you a cover; use it as
a steed ... You may take my children with you to save their

With only a few exceptions, his supporters, from among
both friends and relatives, refused to leave or survive after
him; through their speeches, to be discussed later, they
showed an unshakable devotion to his cause. After some
measures were taken for the safety of women and children
and for Defence by bringing the tents closer together, tying
them to one another, digging ditches in the rear and on the
flanks and filling them with wood, the rest of the night was
spent in prayer, recitation of the Qur'an, and worship and
remembrance of God.
The borrowed night ended, and the fateful morning of 10
Muharram brought with it the summons of death and the
tragic end of the family of the Prophet and its handful of
supporters. Husayn drew up in front of the tents his small
army of 72 men: 32 horsemen and 40 foot soldiers of varying
ages ranging from the seventy-year-old Muslim b. 'Awsaja to
the fourteen-year-old Qasim b. Hasan b. 'Ali The rear of the
tents was protected by setting on fire the heaps of wood and
reeds. Zuhayr b. al-Qayn was given command of the right
wing, Habib b. Muzahir al-Asadi of the left, and 'Abbas b.
'Ali was entrusted with the standard of the Hashimite house.
Husayn, preparing himself for the fateful encounter,
dressed himself in the cloak of the Prophet, perfumed himself
with musk, and rode on horseback with the Qur'an raised in
his hand. Addressing his enemies and invoking God in a long
and beautiful sermon, he said:

"O God, you are my only Trust in every calamity; you are my
only hope in every hardship; you are the only promise in the
anxiety and distress in which hearts become weak and [human]
action becomes slight, in which one is deserted and forsaken by
his own friends, and in which the enemies take malicious pleasure
and rejoice at his misfortunes. O God, I submit myself to You;
my complaint is to You alone against my enemies, and to You
alone is my desire and request. Who else other than you can
relieve me from grief. You alone are the custodian of every
blessing and the Master of every excellence and the last resort for
every desire."

The enemy replied to Husayn's discourse with the most
insulting and heinous remarks; among them, Shamir, seeing
the fire burning by Husayn's tents, said: "Husayn, you are
hastening for the fire in this world even before the Fire of the
Day of judgement." Husayn's companion, Muslim b. 'Awsaja,
could not control himself at this heinous insult and asked his
permission to reply with an arrow, but Husayn stopped him,
saying: "We will never start the fighting from our side."
38 As
the situation grew hotter and an attack from the Umayyad
army imminent, Husayn once again came forward; after
praising God and praying for His blessing on Muhammad,
he addressed his enemies:

"O people! you are accusing me, but think who I am! Then
search your hearts for what you are doing to me. Consider well if
it be lawful for you to kill me and violate my sacrosanctity. Am I
not the son of the daughter of your Prophet, the son of the
Prophet's wasi and cousin...? Did not the Prophet say of me and
my brother that 'they are the lords of the youth of Paradise'? You
cannot deny the truth of what I have said concerning the merits
of the family of Muhammad. Are all these not sufficient to
prevent you from shedding my blood?"

And again:

"If you search in the whole East and the West you will not find
a grandson of the Prophet other than me."
Husayn's numerous speeches and repeated appeals in the
name of the Prophet to his enemies' religious sentiments,
which he made throughout the day and after each loss of life
among his supporters, were all in vain. The only reply he
received was that he must submit himself to Yazid or be
killed. To this demand Husayn's reply was that he could
never humiliate himself like a slave.
The day-long battle-sometimes in single combat, some-
times collectively-began in the morning and ended shortly
before sunset. The phases of the battle can be followed fairly
clearly. After Husayn's first speech, the Umayyad army began
firing arrows and duels took place. For most of the day there
were series of single combats, with dialogues between the
adversaries which are vividly recorded in the sources and
which will be discussed in some detail later. It seems that two
major assaults were made by the Umayyads before noon and
were met with stiff resistance, but the Umayyad cavalry and
500 archers maintained steady pressure on Husayn's small
force. As the latter could be approached only from the front,
Ibn Sa`d sent some men from the right and left towards the
Talibi's tents to destroy them, but the supporters of Husayn,
slipping among the tents, defended them energetically.
Shamir, with a strong force under his command, approached
the tent of Husayn and his wives and would have set it on fire,
but even his comrades reproached him for this and he went
away ashamed.
At noon Husayn and his followers performed the prayer of
the Zuhr according to the rite of the Salat al-khawf(the prayer
prescribed for when one faces a disastrous situation and
calamity). It was in the afternoon that the battle became
fiercer, and Husayn's supporters one after the other fell
fighting in front of him. Until the last of them had perished
not a single member of Husayn's family came to harm,
41 but
finally it was the turn of his relatives. The first to killed was
'Ali al-Akbar, the son of Husayn, followed in quick succession
by the son of Muslim b. 'Aqil, the sons of 'Aqil, three brothers
of 'Abbas b. 'Ali from 'Ali's wife Umm al-Banin, then Qasim,
the son of Hasan, a young and beautiful boy whose body was
trampled and mutilated and whose death is described in
touching terms. Husayn watched the fall of each of them and
ran to the field to bring back their bodies and lay them in a
row before his tent.
42 One by one all the Talibi's gave their
lives fighting the enemy, and eventually there remained only
two: Husayn and his half-brother 'Abbas b. 'Ali; the standard
bearer of the vanquished army. Famous for his physical
strength and bravery and known as "the moon of the Banu
Hashim" because of his extraordinary beauty, the latter was
a great support to Husayn throughout the period of torture
and calamity. Now it was time for him to throw himself on to
the swords of the bloodthirsty Umayyad army. With broken
hearts, distressed and spattered with the blood of their dearest
ones, both brothers went together and fell upon the enemy.
The enraged 'Abbas penetrated deep into the ranks of his
foes, became separated from Husayn, and was killed some
distance away.
43 Alone and weary, Husayn returned to the
tents to console the terrified and grief-stricken women and
children for what would befall them after his demise and to
bid them farewell for the last time. Trying to calm his thirsty
and crying infant child, Husayn took him in his arms just as
an arrow struck the baby. Husayn lifted his hands with the
dead child toward heaven and prayed to God for justice and
rewards for his sufferings.
Exhausted and weary, lonely and dejected, wounded and
bleeding, Husayn seated himself at the door of his tent. The
Umayyad forces wavered for a moment, hesitant to kill the
grandson of the Prophet. Finally it was Shamir who advanced
with a small group of soldiers, but even he did not dare to
deliver the final blow on Husayn; there merely ensued an
altercation between the two. At last the son of 'Ali rose and
threw himself on the Umayyads. Attacked from every side,
he finally fell face-down on the ground just in front of his
tent, while the women and children watched the dreadful
-scene. A boy of tender age, 'Abd Allah, the youngest son of
Hasan b. 'Ali, in a fit of horror and terror, could not be
controlled by the women, rushed from the tent, and stretched
his hands around his uncle to protect him. A sword fell upon
him and cut off the hands of the young boy.
45 Finally, as
Sinan b. Anas b. `Amr raised his sword again to make the
final blow on Husayn, the latter's sister Zaynab came out of
the tent and cried, addressing Ibn Sa`d:

"O `Umar b. Sa`d, will Abu `Abd Allah [Husayn's kunya] be
killed while you are standing by and watching ?"
Nothing could help. Sinan cut off the head of the grandson
of the Prophet in front of the tent where the women and
children were watching and crying. Khawali b. Yazid al
Asbahi took the head into his custody to be taken to Ku~fa.
The combat having thus ended, the soldiers turned to
pillage and looting. They seized Husayn's clothes, his sword,
and whatever was on his body. They looted the tents and
seized from the women their ornaments, their baggage, and
even the mantles from their heads. The only surviving male
of the line of Husayn, his son `Ali, who because of serious
illness did not take part in the fighting, was lying on a skin in
one of the tents. The skin was pulled from under him and
Shamir would have killed him, but he was saved when
Zaynab covered him under her arms and Ibn Sa`d restrained
Shamir from striking the boy.
48 The tragic day is known as
Al-`Ashura, the tenth day of the month of Muharram.
The atrocities were not yet over. Husayn's body, already
torn by numerous wounds, was trampled by the horses often
mounted soldiers who volunteered to inflict this final
indignity on the grandson of the Apostle of God.
49 On the
morning of 11 Muharram, bodies of the Umayyad troops
who had fallen in the battle were collected together; and after
the prescribed prayer for the dead led by Ibn Sa`d, they were
buried. But the headless bodies of Husayn and of those killed
with him were even left uncovered. On 12 Muharram,
however, when the Umayyad forces left Karbala, the people
of the tribe of Bani Asad from the nearby village of Ghadiriya
came down and buried the bodies of Husayn and his
companions on the spot where the massacre had taken
50 It is of interest to note that those whose bodies were
left in such a pitiful and contemptible manner not long before
were so honoured and immortalized that their graves have
become one of the most venerated sanctuaries, have been
embellished with gold, and have been ornamented with
splendid decoration; they soon became the centre of pilgrim-
age for a countless number of devotees. There is hardly any
trace of the graves or of the memory of those who were the
victors at Karbala, whereas the tombs of Husayn and his
vanquished supporters with their lofty minarets have become
landmarks and symbols of grace and hope for the destitute.
The morning of 12 Muharram saw a peculiar procession
leaving Karbala for Kufa. Seventy4wo heads were raised on
the points of the lances, each of them held by one soldier,
followed by the women of the Prophet's family on camels and
the huge army of the Umayyads.
51 Abu Mikhnaf describes
the scene of the departure of Zaynab and other women of the
Prophet's family as captives from Karbala. Their lamentations
at the sight of the massacred bodies of their sons, brothers,
and husbands which were lying uncovered in front of them,
caused even their enemies to shed tears. Qurra' b. Qays at-
Tamimi, a member of the Umayyad army, is reported by
Abu Mikhnaf as saying that he could never forget the scene
when Husayn's sister Zaynab passed by the mutilated body
of her brother; she cried in hysterical fits, saying:
"O Muhammad! O Muhammad! The angels of Heaven send
blessings upon you, but this is your Husayn, so humiliated and
disgraced, covered with blood and cut into pieces; and, O,
Muhammad, your daughters are made captives, and your
butchered family is left for the East Wind to cover with dust?"

After reaching Kufa the captives and the heads of the
victims were presented to Ibn Ziyad, and the head of Husayn
was placed in a tray in front of him in a court ceremony
crowded with nobles and spectators. Ibn Ziyad, having a cane
in his hand, struck the lips of Husayn again and again. Zayd
b. Arqam, an old Companion of the Prophet present in the
court, not aware of what had happened, recognized Husayn's
face, was stricken by shock and grief, and shouted to Ibn

"Remove your cane from these lips! By God, on these lips have
I seen the lips of the Prophet of God, kissing and sucking them."

He left the court weeping; outside, people heard him saying:
"O people of the Arabs, after this day you have made yourselves
home-born slaves and cattle. You have killed the son of Fatima
and made your ruler Ibn Marjana [kunya of Ibn Ziyad], who will
now keep on killing your best men and force you to do the most
hateful things. You must now be ready for the utmost disgrace."

The head of Husayn was erected for public display in Kufa
before it was sent to Yazid in Damascus. How long the
captives were detained in Kufa in a dungeon is not quite
clear, but it seems that before long the captives and the heads
were dispatched to Damascus to be presented to the Caliph.
When the head of Husayn and the captive women and
children were presented before Yazid, in a court ceremony
equally as lavish as that of Ibn Ziyad, Zahr b. Qays, who led
the caravan as the representative of Ibn Ziyad, made a long
speech of presentation describing how Husayn and his
companions had been massacred and how their bodies had
been trampled and left for the eagles to eat.
55 The reaction of
Yazid is reported to have been different from that of Ibn
Ziyad, and he regretted the haste with which his governor
had acted. This seems to be contrary to all those reports
which describe Yazid's orders to his governor in Medina, and
then to Ibn Ziyad in which he clearly ordered them to either
exact homage from Husayn and his followers or behead them
without delay. The conversation which took place between
Yazid and both Zaynab and 'Ali b. al-Husayn, in which the
Caliph rebuked them and treated them harshly, also cast
doubt on his alleged feelings of remorse. Moreover, as is
pointed out by Ibn Kathir, a Syrian pupil of Ibn Tamiya
usually hostile to the Shi'i cause, if Yazid had really felt that
his governor had committed a serious mistake in dealing with
Husayn he would have taken some action against him. But,
says Ibn Kathir, Yazid did not dismiss Ibn Ziyad from his
post, did not punish him in any way, or even write a letter of
censure for exceeding his orders.
56 If Yazid at all expressed
his remorse it must have been due to the fear of reaction or
revolt by some section of the Muslim community.
After some time, however, Yazid released the captives and
sent them back to Medina. Thus ended the most pathetic
tragedy in the history of Islam. Edward Gibbon, with his
limited sources of Islamic history and mainly depending on
Ockley's narrative of Karbala, could not help but comment:
"In a distant age and climate, the tragic scene of the death of
Husayn will awaken the sympathy of the coldest reader."
We have seen in the previous chapter how ardently and
passionately the Prophet loved his grandsons Hasan and
Husayn, but only fifty years after the Prophet's death, as
Dinawari points out,
58 while many of the Prophet's Companions
who were well aware of this affection were still alive, one
of these beloved grandsons was brutally murdered at the
hands of those who claimed to be members of the Umma of
With this brief summary of the lengthy accounts of the
tragic end of Husayn, it is intended firstly to analyse how it
became so easy for the Umayyads to destroy him and crush
the Shi`i movement behind him; and secondly, to determine
the elements of purely religious sentiment among those who
readily sacrificed their lives with Husayn and thus made
another step forward towards the consolidation of Shi'!
thought in Islam.
It has already been pointed out that of those who invited
Husayn to Ku fa, and then those 18,000 who paid homage to
his envoy, Muslim b. 'Aqil, not all were Shi 'is in the religious
sense of the term, but were rather supporters of the house of
'Ali for political reasons-a distinction which must be kept
clearly in mind in order to understand the early history of
Shi'i Islam. They wrote to Husayn hundreds of letters, each
signed by groups, and when Muslim b. 'Aqil reached Kufa
they gathered around him; but this was for most of them an
expression of their desire to throw off Syrian domination, a
goal which at that time they thought was possible through
Husayn. But as soon as Ibn Ziyad, well known in Islamic
history for his high-handed policy, took over the governorship
of Kufa and after all those extreme and severe measures
carried out by him to crush the movement, the Kufans saw
their hopes gone, and their characteristic lack of resolution in
times of trial overcame their political aspirations. They thus
submitted to the reality of circumstances rather than endanger
themselves for the cause.
There was, however, a small group of the Ku fans who had
invited the grandson of the Prophet and led the movement
motivated purely by their religious feelings. Where were they
when Husayn was so helplessly killed at Karbala? We have
seen that after the execution of Muslim b. `Aqil and Hani b.
'Urwa, Kufa was kept under firm control. Anyone suspected
of sympathy for Husayn was to be executed. Naturally all the
sincere leaders of the movement adopted the stratagem of
hiding to escape arrest and execution, not because they
betrayed Husayn and wanted to save their lives, but, as we
shall see presently, because they wanted to make themselves
directly available to Husayn, then on his way to Kufa. This
may be seen by comparing the lists of names of those who
gave their lives at Karbala with Husayn or later with the
Tawwabun, with those who wrote the first letters of invitation
to him and who had been leading the movement in Ku fa. We
have seen that four of these Shi`i leaders of Kufa managed to
join Husayn at Dhu Husm in spite of Hurr's objection. As
soon as they heard of Husayn's arrival at Karbala, those who
could, in spite of all the obstacles, somehow manage to reach
Karbala did so; they laid down their lives before Husayn or
any one from among his family members were hurt.' And of
those who were not with Husayn at Karbala, some had
already been arrested and some others, due to the heavy
blockade of the roads, could not make their way to Karbala
until it was too late.
When Husayn had left Mecca there were only 50 persons
with him, 18 Talibi's or close relatives, and 32 others. After the
battle, however, 72 heads were taken to be presented before
Ibn Ziyad, 18 of them Talibi's and 54 Shi`is, though the real
number of those who fell at Karbala with Husayn seems to
have been more than 72. Samawi and some other sources
enumerate the non-Talibi's and give the total number of
victims as 92.
59 If this was the case, then it seems that the
heads of those who had no tribal identity were not taken to
Ibn Ziyad, thus resulting in the lower figure of 72 deaths.
Tabari and Dinawari list the names of the tribes and the
numbers of heads carried by them to Kufa as follows: Kinda,
thirteen; Hawazin, twenty; Tamim, seventeen; Asad, six;
Madhhij, seven; Thaqif, twelve; Azd, five; and another seven
of unknown tribal affiliation.
60 There is a slight variation
between the lists of Tabari and Dinawari. While Tabari
mentions the Madhhij as carrying seven heads and does not
record Thaqif's twelve, Dinawari omits Madhhij's seven and
mentions the Thaqif as having carried twelve heads, in
addition to mentioning five heads held by the Azd. Scrutiny
of other sources confirms both: seven heads carried by
Madhhij and twelve by Thaqif. This gives a total of 87 victims
of the massacre whose heads were presented at the court of
Ibn Ziyad.
Tabari and other sources also tell us in detail how Husayn's
true followers managed to escape secretly from Kufa and
reach Karbala.
61 In addition, we find a few names of those
who came to Karbala with the Umayyad army and, when
they saw the sacrilegious treatment by the Umayyads of the
grandson of the Prophet, could no longer resist their feelings
for the house of the Prophet, defected from the Umayyad
ranks, and cast their lot with Husayn. Besides Hurr, whose
defection is reported in great detail, it is also commonly
recorded that on the morning of `Ashura, just before the
battle began, thirty nobles of Kufa who were with the army
of Ibn Sa`d defected from him over to Husayn's side and
fought for him.
Furthermore, it should be noted again that the blockade of
all the roads coming into Kufa and its vicinity made it almost
impossible for the majority of those Shi'is of Kufa who were
in hiding, and also for those residing in other cities like Basra,
to come to the aid of Husayn. Nevertheless, a few persons
from Basra did reach Karbala and shared the fate of
63 We have, therefore, good grounds for supposing
that had there not been so many obstacles and had there been
sufficient time and opportunity to mobilize their strength,
quite a few of the Tawwabun (penitents), to be discussed in
the following chapter, who later on sacrificed their lives in the
name of Husayn, would have been with him at Karbala.
Circumstantial evidence allows us to suggest that those who
gave their lives for the sake of the slain Husayn would have
gone at least as far for the living Husayn. On the other hand,
the aim of elaborating this fact is not to suggest that had there
not been those unavoidable circumstances Husayn's fate
w~ou1d have been any different. It would certainly have been
the same in any case because of the well-organized and
formidable military strength of the Umayyads and the
characteristic fickleness of the majority of the Kufans, coupled
with the as yet weak and disorganized movement of the
religiously motivated Shi`is. Our purpose is to suggest that
under slightly better circumstances the defeat at Karbala
would not have occurred so helplessly and without there
being any conspicuous resistance, and thus we would have a
clearer picture of the physical strength of the Shi`i movement
at this stage. To support this hypothesis we can cite the
successes achieved not long after Karbala, but under better
circumstances and with better opportunities, by Al-Mukhtar
and Ibn az-Zubayr, both far less important than the grandson
of the Prophet.
We will only point out here in passing that Al-Mukhtar b.
Abi `Ubayda ath-Thaqafi seized possession of Kufa in 66/686-
687 and captured Mesopotamia and some parts of the eastern
provinces from the Umayyads mainly in the name of the
blood of Husayn. Re, however, lost control of the situation
and was killed in 67/687 or 68/688. 'Abd Allah b. az-Zubayr
proclaimed his caliphate in 61/680-81 and by 64/684 had
established his power in Iraq, in southern Arabia, and in the
greater part of Syria. Re was killed in battle against Hajjaj in
73/692 after ruling for almost nine years.
An analysis of the sources describing the movement of and
the support given to both Al-Mukhtar and Ibn az-Zubayr
leaves us in hardly any doubt that some of the component
parts of Husayn's movement, later on frustrated and per-
verted, gave vent to their indignation against the Umayyads
under the banners of these two adventurers. This comparison
leads us to another important point. Al-Mukhtar and Ibn az-Zubayr
achieved considerable political success in their
enterprises, and both were able to rule certain parts of the
Muslim world for quite a few years; but neither could leave
any religious following behind him after he had fallen, though
both were, in a sense, as much martyrs as Husayn himself.
There is no evidence at all that Ibn az-Zubayr left any
sectarian following behind him; the name of Al-Mukhtar
was kept alive for a very short time and was followed by a
small group, but it soon afterwards lost its identity and was
merged in a wider group.
64 The reason is both obvious and
vital. Neither Al-Mukhtar, nor Ibn az-Zubayr, nor their
supporters had any specific ideal or any particular view which
could keep their memory alive in the annals of religious
thought in Islam. Husayn and his cause, on the other hand,
though militarily a complete failure, were so conspicuously
upheld by a sizable part of the Muslim community that his
name became an emblem of the identity or entity of the
second largest group in Islam. This was due to the fact that
his movement was based on a particular view of the leadership
of the community, which has been elaborated in the first two
chapters above and which has also been pointed out in the
letters written by I;1asan to Mu`awiya and by Husayn to the
Shi'is of Kufa. The memory of Al-Mukhtar and Ibn az-Zubayr
died with the lapse of time and could only find place
in the annals of history. The memory of Husayn remained
alive in the hearts and minds of the Muslims and has become
a recurrent theme for certain values. The section of the
Muslim community which upheld the cause and memory of
Husayn at the expense of and in disregard for political
realities, but still remaining an integral part of the religious
entity of Islam, was thrust into a sectarian role by that
majority which, though unwillingly, compromised with the
political realities at the religious level.
Some Muslim historians writing directly under the
influence of the ruling authorities of the time, and those
theologians who by necessity tried to find a compromise
position between the ruling authorities on the one hand and
the Islamic community on the other, described Husayn's
action as an ambitious attempt to wrest political power and as
a mistake of judgement. Western scholars of Islam, in their
rather superficial attempts to study Husayn's action, have
subjected themselves to a certain mechanical methodology
which they term a "scientific historical approach". The
German school of orientalists, the first to enter the field of
modern orientalism, though it indeed made valuable and
solid contributions in certain branches of Arab-Islamic
studies with admirable thoroughness and depth, was so
committed to a particular historical methodology that it could
never grasp the "feelings" and "necessary aptitude" so vitally
important in understanding religious history and its development.
The impact of the German school has been so strong
that this trend has persisted, and the subsequent schools of
the French and British scholars, with very few exceptions,
have followed the same trend. It is thus rather regrettable that
the tragedy of Karbala has been regarded by these scholars
with the same mechanical historicism: none of them has ever
tried to study Husayn's action in its meaning and purpose. It
was therefore natural for these scholars to describe Husayn as
an ill-fated adventurer attempting to seize political power, his
movement as a rebellion against the established order, and
his action as a fatal miscalculation of Kufan promises.
We have already hinted in passing that Husayn had been
fully aware of the situation and the consequences. On the
road from Medina to Mecca, then at the time when he was
leaving the "House of God" for Ku fa, and finally throughout
the journey from Mecca to Ku fa, he was warned by dozens of
people about the danger and that "the hearts of the Iraqis
were for him but that their swords were for the Umayyads."
But I;1usayn's replies to all of those who attempted to deflect
him from his purpose were always more or less in the same
"God does as He wishes..., I leave it to God to choose what is
best..., God is not hostile to him who proposes the just

From these replies it is clear that Husayn was fully aware
of the dangers he would encounter and that he had a certain
strategy and plan in mind to bring about a revolution in the
consciousness of the Muslim community. Furthermore, it is
also very clear from the sources, as has been stated before, that
Husayn did not try to organize or mobilize military support,
which he easily could have done in the Hijaz, nor did he even
try to exploit whatever physical strength was available to
him. Among many instances in this respect we will restrict
ourselves to citing only one. At a place called `Uzayb al- Hujaynat,
after having already learned about the Kufan
abandonment of his envoy Muslim b. `Aqil and his subsequent
death, it was clear to Husayn that he had no hope of support
or even survival in Kufa. Nevertheless, he totally refused an
offer of safety, if not success, extended to him. Abu Mikhnaf
and other sources relate that at this place four of the leading
Shi`is of Kufa managed to reach Husayn with the help of
Tirimmah. b. `Adi at-Ta'i, who acted as a guide (dalil).
Tirimmah made a strong appeal to Husayn, saying:
"By God I have left Kufa in such a condition that when you
reach there you will not find a single person who could help you
against your enemies. By God, if you go there, you and those who
are travelling with you will be instantly butchered. For God's
sake, abandon your plan and come with me to the safety of our
mountains here. By God, these mountains have been beyond the
reach of the kings of Ghassan and Himyar, from Nu'man b. al-
Mundhir, and from any black and red [i.e., from any formidable
power]. By God, if you decide to come with me no one can
humiliate you or stop you from doing so [reference to Hurr].
Once you reach my villages on the mountains, we will send for
men of [the tribes of] Ba`ja and Salma of the Tayy'. Then, even
ten days will not pass before the horsemen and the foot soldiers
of Tayy' arrive to help you. You can stay with us as long as you
wish, and if then you want to make an uprising from there, or if
you are disturbed, I would lead a force -of twenty thousand men
of the Tayy' with you, who would strike [at your enemies] with
their swords in front of you. By God, no one will ever be able to
reach you, and the eyes of the people of Tayy' would remain
guarding you.'

Husayn's only reply to this extremely valuable and timely
offer, when all hopes of support in Kufa had already vanished,

"God bless you and your people, but I am committed to some
people, and I cannot go back from my word, though I did not
know what would happen between us and them. However, things
are destined."

One cannot help asking how it would be possible for a man
making a bid for power to refuse to accept such a promising
offer of support. Can anyone think that after knowing all of
the latest developments in Kufa Husayn was still hoping to
find any support or even the slightest chance of survival in
Kufa? Moreover, we have detailed descriptions of the fact
that when at Zubala I;1usayn learned of the brutal execution
of his envoy Qays b. Mushir, he gathered those accompanying
him and asked them to leave him alone and go to safety. After
Zubala, Husayn made this proclamation to his companions
time and again, the last of these being on the night of 'Ashura.
Is it conceivable that anyone striving for power would ask his
supporters to abandon him, no matter how insignificant their
number might have been? No one can answer these questions
in the affirmative. What then did Husayn have in mind?
Why was he still heading for Kufa?
It is rather disappointing to note that Western scholarship
on Islam, given too much to historicism, has placed all its
attention on the discrete external aspects of the event of
Karbala and has never tried to analyse the inner history and
agonizing conflict in Husayn's mind. Anatomy of the human
body can give knowledge of the various parts and their
composition, but cannot give us an understanding of man
himself. In the case of Husayn, a careful study and analysis of
the events of Karbala as a whole reveals the fact that from the
very beginning Husayn was planning for a complete
revolution in the religious consciousness of the Muslims. All
of his actions show that he was aware of the fact that a victory
achieved through military strength and might is always
temporal, because another stronger power can in course of
time bring it down in ruins. But a victory achieved through
suffering and sacrifice is everlasting and leaves permanent
imprints on man S consciousness. Husayn was brought up in
the lap of the Founder of Islam and had inherited the love
and devotion to the Islamic way of life from his father. As
time went on, he noticed the great changes which were
rapidly taking place in the community in regard to religious
feelings and morality. The natural process of conflict and
struggle between action and reaction was now at work. That
is, Muhammad's progressive Islamic action had succeeded in
suppressing Arab conservatism, embodied in heathen pre-
Islamic practices and ways of thinking. But in less than thirty
years' time this Arab conservatism revitalized itself as a
forceful~ reaction to challenge Muhammad's action once again.
The forces of this reaction had already moved into motion
with the rise of Mu'awiya, but the succession of Yazid was a
clear sign that the reactionary forces had mobilized themselves
and had now re-emerged with full vigour. The strength of
this reaction, embodied in Yazid's character, was powerful
enough to suppress or at least deface Muhammad's action.
Islam was now, in the thinking of Husayn, in dire need of
reactivation of Muhammad's action against the old Arabian
reaction and thus required a complete shake-up. Such a shake-
up would not have been so effective at the time of Hasan, for
his rival Mu`awiya, though he had little regard for religion, at-
least outwardly tried to veil his reactionary attitude of the old
Arabism. Yazid did not care even for this; he exposed these
pretensions and his conduct amounted to open ridicule of
Muhammad's Sunna and Qur'anic norms. Now, through
Yazid, reaction of the old Arabism was in direct confrontation
against the Islamic action of Muhammad. This could be seen
by such instances as when Yazid, during his father's reign,
once came to Medina in the season of the Hajj and became
badly intoxicated from wine-drinking. Ibn `Abbas and
Husayn happened to pass by him, whereupon Yazid called
his servant and ordered him to serve wine to Husayn,
insisting that the latter take it. When Husayn angrily refused
and rose to leave, Yazid, in his drunken stupor, sang:
"O my friend, how strange it is that I have invited you,
but you do not accept,
To women singers, pleasures, wine, and music,
And to a brimming full jar of wine on the lip of which sits
the master of the Arabs.
And among them [the singing girls] there is one who has
captured your heart, and she did not repent by doing this."

Husayn stood up and said:

"But your heart, O son of Mu'awiya."

Now this same Yazid was the Caliph of Islam and was
asking Husayn to accept his authority. Husayn's acceptance
of Yazid, with the latter's openly reactionary attitude against
Islamic norms, would not have meant merely a political
arrangement, as had been the case with Hasan and Mu'awiya,
but an endorsement of Yazid's character and way of life as
well. This was unthinkable to the grandson of the Prophet,
now the head of Muhammad's family and the embodiment of
his Sunna.
In order to counteract this reaction against Islamic action,
Husayn prepared his strategy. In his opinion he had the
right, by virtue of his family and his own position therein, to
guide the people and receive their respect. However, if this
right were challenged, he was willing to sacrifice and die for
his cause. He realized that mere force of arms would not have
saved Islamic action and consciousness. To him it needed a
shaking and jolting of hearts and feelings. This, he decided,
could only be achieved through sacrifice and sufferings. This
should not be difficult to understand, especially for those who
fully appreciate the heroic deeds and sacrifices of, for example,
Socrates and Joan of Arc, both of whom embraced death for
their ideals, and above all of the great sacrifice of Jesus Christ
for the redemption of mankind.
It is in this light that we should read Husayn's replies to
those well-wishers who advised him not to go to Iraq. It also
explains why Husayn took with him his women and children,
though advised by Ibn `Abbas that should he insist on his
project, at least he should not take his family with him. Aware
of the extent of the brutal nature of the reactionary forces,
Husayn knew that after killing him the Umayyads would
make his women and children captives and take them all the
way from Kufa to Damascus. This caravan of captives of
Muhammad's immediate family would publicize Husayn's
message and would force the Muslims' hearts to ponder on
the tragedy. It would make the Muslims think of the whole
affair and would awaken their consciousness. This is exactly
what happened. Husayn succeeded in his purpose. It is
difficult today to evaluate exactly the impact of Husayn's
action on Islamic morality and way of thinking, because it
prevailed. Had Husayn not shaken and awakened Muslim
consciousness by this method, who knows whether Yazid's
way of life would have become standard behaviour in the
Muslim community, endorsed and accepted by the grandson
of the Prophet No doubt, even after Yazid kingship did
prevail in Islam, and the character and behaviour in the
personal lives of these kings was not very different from that
of Yazid, but the change in thinking which prevailed after the
sacrifice of Husayn always served as a line of distinction
between Islamic norms and the personal character of the
Except for a few mediaeval writers committed to certain
interests, Muslim historians and authors have always paid
their utmost tribute in praising Husayn's heroic action. It is
indeed encouraging that in modern times more and more
Muslim scholars of all schools of thought have been
contributing independent works to explain Husayn's philosophy
of sacrifice and martyrdom. Among the numerous
books published in the past few decades, coinciding with the
reawakening of the Muslim world, we would refer our readers
to only two. One is by the famous Egyptian author `Abbas
Mahmud al-'Aqqad and entitled Abu ash-shuhada', al-Husayn
b. Ali
70 (Father of Martyrs, Husayn b. `Ali). The other is by
a great Lebanese scholar and shaykh, `Abd Allah al-`Ala'ili,
and is entitled Al-Imam al-Husayn, sumu'l-ma`na fi sumu'dh-
71 (The Imam Husayn, Loftiness of Purpose in a Lofty
-Personality), a comprehensive study of Husayn's life, times,
and martyrdom. Both writers, the former a secular scholar of
history and philosophy, the latter a religious scholar of very
high standing and scholarship, have discussed thoroughly
the meaning, purpose, philosophy and the highest ideal of
Husayn's deed.
Now we must turn to examine the second inference to be
drawn from the outline of the episode of Karbala given above:
to determine the religious feelings of those who willingly
gave their lives with Husayn. In describing the tragedy our
sources do not fail to provide ample material on those
doctrinal feelings which compelled the supporters of Husayn
to choose to die with him rather than to live in peace and
comfort, a choice which remained open to them even up to
the last moment. This can be elucidated by examining those
speeches and pledges of loyalty made by these persons on
several occasions. It is also illustrated by that war poetry in
rajaz (verbal duels) which was exchanged between the
combatants of both sides. In Arabian warfare it was customary
that when two combatants came to fight each other, each
would declare his tribe, its deeds and status, and the stand for
which he was going to fight. Only a few examples, however,
from each of these three categories will be cited here to show
that there was a particular doctrinal stand for which the
followers of Husayn stood and died.

We have seen that Husayn's messenger Qays b. Mushir,
whom he had sent from Hajir to inform the Kufans of his
arrival, was arrested at al-Qadisiya and sent to Ibn Ziyad for
trial. The governor ordered him to go to the top of the palace
and curse Husayn if he wanted to save his life. Qays used this
opportunity to propagate his cause; he addressed the people,
"O people of Kufi. I am Husayn's messenger, and I declare
before you that Husayn, the grandson of the Prophet, is the best
man of his time among the men of God on earth and has better
claims upon you than anyone else. It is therefore your duty to
respond to him."
Qays then called for the curse of God upon Ibn Ziyad and
God's blessing for `Ali
72 He was thereupon thrown to his
death. If we compare Qays' attitude with that of Hujr b. `Adi
al-Kindi about twelve years earlier, mentioned in the
preceding chapter, we find a consistent way of thinking which
links them in an unbroken chain of Shi`i thought. Qays'
introduction of Husayn with special reference to his relation-
ship with the Prophet and stating that he was the best man of
God of his time on earth goes back to the ideas promulgated
from the very beginning by the supporters of `Ali.
As mentioned above, on the eve of `Ashura (9 Muharram)
Ibn Sa'd ordered his forces to advance towards Husayn's
camp after receiving Ibn Ziyad's orders for an immediate
attack. Husayn sent his brother 'Abbas along with some
leading followers to ask for a night's respite. After some
argument this was granted, and `Abbas returned to inform
Husayn; but Habib b. Muzahir and Zuhayr b. al-Qayn, who
had come along with `Abbas, remained behind to try to
convince the Umayyad army of their wrongdoings. There
are some useful dialogues recorded between these two men
and their opponents. Habib b. Muzahir spoke first to the

"By God, how evil and wretched those people will be when
they appear before God after killing the family and the Ahl al-
Bayt of their own Prophet. The people of this sacred family are
those who are the best worshippers of God and who spend their
mornings striving in the devotion to God, devoting themselves to
the best of His remembrance."

Azra b. Qays from the Umayyad side tauntingly replied:
"You go ahead with the purification of your soul as much as
you like" (implying: "but do not try to convince us"). To this
Zuhayr b. al-Qayn responded:

"O Azra! God has indeed purified our souls and has guided us.
So fear God, O Azra, because I am one of your sincerest advisors.
May God make you think, O Azra. Would you like to be one of.
those who have fixed for themselves the path of error by killing
these sacred and purified souls [Husayn and other members of
the Ahl al-Bayt]?"

Azra b. Qays again retorted:
"O Zuhayr, you were not among the Shi'is of 'Ali, but were
known to be an 'Uthmani."

Zuhayr replied:

"But now being with Husayn you must recognize that I am a
Shi'i of 'Ali."

After this respite of only one night, and with all hopes gone,
it was certain that the following morning would bring the
summons of death for Husayn and his supporters. He
gathered his companions and asked them to leave him alone
as the enemy wanted nothing but his head. All the prominent
companions and relatives of Husayn, in reply to his address,
refused to leave him until all of them were killed. Perhaps we
should avoid considering the pledges made on this occasion
by the relatives of Husayn, like 'Abbas, his half-brother and
74 which may be interpreted as the clannish loyalty to
the head of the clan. We would, therefore, record here the
pledges of those who had no blood, clan, or even tribal
relationship with Husayn, but only ties of religious or
doctrinal loyalty.
From among the followers of Husayn the aged Muslim b.
'Awsaja stood up and exclaimed:

"How can we leave you? What excuse then will we have before
God in discharging our duty towards you? No, by God, we will
not depart from you. I will fight with you until my last breath and
until I die with you."

Then Sa'd b. 'Abd Allah al-Hanafi addressed Husayn,

"By God, we will not depart from you until by sacrificing our
lives we have proven to God that we have faithfully fulfilled the
duty we owe to the Prophet concerning you. By God, if I knew
that I would be killed and then again be given a new life, and that
then my body would be burned alive, all this being repeated
seventy times, I would still not leave you until I died in front of
you. And why should I not do that when I know that I can only
be killed once, leading to an everlasting honour and privilege.
[The last sentence in Bidaya reads:] By God, if I knew that I
would be killed before you a thousand times, and by this your life
and the lives of the other Ahl al-Bayt would be saved, I would
love to be killed a thousand times; but this is only to be killed
once, leading to an everlasting honour."
After quoting a similar speech by Zuhayr b. al-Qayn, our
sources say that all the companions of Husayn pronounced
more or less in the same vein and declared their complete
loyalties to Husayn, saying:
"By God, we will never leave you alone until all of us are killed
and our bodies are torn to pieces. By this we will have fulfilled our
duties to you."
The contents of all these statements and pledges provide
very useful points with which to emphasize that religious
urge which made the companions of Husayn so firm and
enthusiastic, even at that moment of calamity. The points
prevailing in these pledges are: I : emphasis on Husayn's close
and direct relationship with the Prophet, and not specifically
with 'Ali; 2: that to betray Husayn is to betray the Prophet, or
similarly, that loyalty to Husayn is loyalty to Muhammad,
the Prophet of God; 3: that to give up Husayn is to denounce
Islam, which was revealed by his grandfather, the Prophet;
4: that betrayal of Husayn this day would cause them to
perish on the Day of Judgement and would deprive them of
the intercession of the Prophet. The essence of all three
aspects, however, is that in their thinking there was an Imam
or central authority who was the focal point for the love
normally directed to the person of the Prophet himself.
On the day of 'Ashura, shortly before the fateful battle began,
Hurr b. Yazid, a respected commander of the Umayyad army,
the first who confronted Husayn and forced him to halt at
Karbala as mentioned above, was himself now confronted by
his own conscience and feelings. A great conflict arose in his
mind: he was forced to choose between either wetting his
hands in the sacred blood of the grandson of the Prophet or
giving up his rank, power, and a bright career lying before
him. His feelings ultimately won him over and he chose the
latter. He suddenly spurred his horse towards Husayn's
camp, threw himself at Husayn's feet, and exclaimed:

"O son of the Prophet! Here is the man who did you great
injustice in detaining you at this place and causing you so much
trouble. Is it possible for you to forgive a sinner like me? By God,
I never imagined that these people would go so far as to shed the
blood of the grandson of their Prophet. I only thought that they
would accept one of these three options you offered; and thus
some sort of reconciliation would ultimately prevail, and in this
way I would be able to retain my rank and position. But now,
when all hopes for peace are gone, I cannot buy Hell for this
worldly gain. Forgive my mistake and allow me to sacrifice
myself for you. Only by doing this can I redeem myself in the
eyes of God for my sin against you."

Husayn embraced Hurr and said: "You are as free-born
and noble (Hurr) as your mother named you." Hurr then at
once went before the Umayyad army and addressed his fellow
men in a long speech in favour of Husayn. Condemning their
sacrilegious actions against the grandson of the Prophet, he
put them to shame and reminded them of the Day of
80 Consequently, Hurr was among the first to
give his life for Husayn. The defection of Hurr to Husayn
shortly before the battle began and his being killed by the
Umayyad army is as historical as the event of Karbala itself;
to his defection all the sources bear unanimous testimony.
The physical defection of Hurr from the established order
was, however, not of much importance. It was the principle
on which Hurr defected from the Umayyad army which
should be considered seriously. This was, perhaps, the greatest
visible victory for the Shi'i point of view, for which the
companions of Husayn were fighting to the death. The
working of Hurr's mind at this last moment, as expressed in
his statements mentioned above, was exactly the same as that
of the companions of Husayn. This again supports the view
that there was a particular way of thinking directed to the
Shi`i doctrine.

5 Not of least importance in this connection are those rajaz
verses exchanged between Husayn's companions and their
opponents. Among the most illuminating are the following:

1: The same Hurr, when engaged in battle, proclaimed:
"I will strike my sword on your heads in the cause of that Imam
who is the best among all the inhabitants of Mecca."
2: Nafi' b. Hilal al-Jamali, of Husayn's camp, came forward
and asked for his combatant, proclaiming:
"I am from the tribe of Banu Jamal, and I am of the religion of
'Ali (din `Ali)."
From the opposite side one Muzahim b. Hurayth came
forward, saying:
"I will fight with you; I am of the religion of 'Uthman (din
Nafi' retorted:
"No, you are of the religion of Satan."
3: When Zuhayr b. al-Qayn came to fight he said:

"I am Zuhayr, and I am the son of Qayn; I will defend and
protect Husayn with my sword."
Turning to Husayn he said:
"I will proceed leading to a rightly guided path the day when
I meet your grandfather, the Prophet, [and the day] when I will
meet Hasan and 'Ali al-Murtada and the one of the two wings
[reference to Ja'far at-Tayyar]."

The war poetry in rajaz pronounced by the combatants of
both sides, which has come down to us from reliable sources
to be examined later, makes useful reading and provides
important points. We have quoted only three of them for the
sake of brevity. These pronouncements, however, sufficiently
indicate that the Shi'i trend of thinking was fully active
among those who chose to die with Husayn. The statement of
Hurr that Husayn was an Imam, the best of all the residents
of Mecca, and Nafi' and Zuhayr's declarations that they were
of the religion of 'Ali and on the rightly guided path, are
complete explanations in themselves and require no further
comment. Yet the pronouncement of Husayn's followers that
they were of the religion of 'Ali does not fail to suggest that
they meant this term in a strictly religious sense, in contrast
to those who had also called themselves by the same name at
Al-Jamal, at Siffin, and on other occasions with 'Ali, but on
political grounds, and who with the changing circumstances
assimilated with the ruling majority who were now going to
kill the son of 'Ali. On the other hand, by looking at all these
quotations referred to above we find that throughout the
incident of Karbala there had been a persistent and continuous
doctrinal tendency among the followers of Husayn, based on
their declaration of being of the religion of 'Ali. This very
tendency in course of time, as we shall see later, was translated
into a more elaborate form of Shi`i tenets and developed its
own theological doctrine (kalam) and legal system (fiqh) in
opposition to the rest of the Jama'a.
Commenting on the tragedy of Karbala, even a scholar like
Philip Hitti lets himself write that "Shi'ism was born on the
tenth of Muharram."
84 All the information derived from our
sources and all the evidence given above totally reject this
view. Instead, a careful study of the material handed down to
us from the sources of different schools of thought confirm
the fact that the Shi`i doctrinal stand had been in evidence
right from the time of the death of the Prophet, and the death
of Husayn only "set the seal of an official ShT'ism."
85 For that
purpose we have gone into the detail of citing from those
speeches, pledges, and war poetry pronounced before the
death of Husayn, all of which clearly demonstrates the nature
of the existing tendencies prevailing before the tragedy
occurred. What is really true to say, however, is that the
tragedy did play an immensely important role, not in the
creation of Shi`ism, but in the consolidation of the Shi'i
identity. The fate of Husayn was destined to become the most
effective agent in the propagation and comparatively rapid
spread of Shi'ism. It is also undoubtedly true that the tragedy
added to Shi'i Islam an element of "passion", which renders
human psychology more receptive to doctrine than anything
else. Henceforth we find that this element of "passion"
becomes a characteristic feature of the Shi'is. The tragedy of
Karbala in its immediate and far-reaching consequences
created three thousand Tawwabun (penitents) who let them-
selves die as a way of repenting for their inability to fulfil their
commitments to the grandson of the Prophet. It provided a
ground from which Mukhtar was able to launch his
movement. It provided an effective slogan to the `Abbasids
for overthrowing the Umayyad regime. And ultimately, the
name and memory of Husayn became an inseparable part of
Shi'i moral and religious fervour.
A brief comment on the authenticity of the sources of our
information for the whole account of Karbala, including the
speeches, pledges, and rajaz material pronounced by the
supporters of Husayn, is in order. The main source of our
knowledge of the tragedy is Abu Mikhnaf Lut b. Yahya (died
I 57/774) the first to produce a comprehensive account of
Karbala. This work was entitled Maqtal al-Husayn, and in
the list of Abu Mikhnaf's numerous works this one is
unanimously mentioned by all bibliographers.
Abu Mikhnaf, one of the earliest and best Arab historians,
has been thoroughly and critically studied by scholars such as
88 and others, and recently by Ursula Sezgin in
an admirable work entitled Abu Mikhnaf
89 All have found
him generally the most reliable and authentic writer on the
annals of Kufa and Iraq under the Umayyads. It is now
established that, as a rule, he does not take his material from
predecessors or far-distant sources, but rather collects it
himself by enquiring in the most diverse directions from all
possible people who could have first-hand information or
who had been present to see and hear for themselves. The
chain of transmitters with him is a reality and not merely a
literary form, and it is always very short. Writing shortly after
the events he describes, Abu Mikhnaf often relates from an
eyewitness account with only one intermediary between
himself and his source.
90 Gibb suggests that Abu Mikhnaf
presents an Iraqi or Ku fan, rather than purely Shi`i!, point of
view in his narratives.
91 In this his sympathies are no doubt
on the side of Iraq against Syria; for 'Ali, against the
Umayyads. Yet in the opinion of Welihausen there is not
much of a bias noticeable, at least not so much as to positively
falsify fact.
The Maqtal of Abu Mikhnaf has come to us through
numerous sources. It is, however, Tabari who used this work
in full for the first time and thus becomes our main source of
the text. In most cases Tabari quotes Abu Mikhnaf directly,
but quite a few traditions he quotes from Hisham b.
Muhammad al-Kalbi, most of these, no doubt, going back to
Abu Mikhnaf himself. Tabari sometimes begins his narrative
by saying: "Abu Mikhnaf said from so-and-so..."; and other
times by saying: "Hisham (b. al-Kalbi) said from Abu
Mikhnaf from so-and-so...,, This indicates that in the former
case Tabari is quoting directly from Abu Mikhnaf's work,
while in the latter he quotes Abu Mikhnaf in the recension of
Ibn al-Kalbi. Besides Abu Mikhnaf and Ibn al-Kalbi, Tabari
also quotes quite a few traditions transmitted from other
traditionists, which add a few variants to the preceding ones
and in most cases confirm Abu Mikhnaf.
Another source for Abu Mikhnaf is Baladhuri (died
279/892-893), whose Ansab al-ashraf pertaining to Husayn
has not yet been published, but has been used by Veccia
Vaglieri in her long and thorough article on Husayn in the
new edition of the Encyclopaedia of Islam. Vaglieri finds that
"Al-Baladhuri almost always used the same sources as At-
Tabari, but often made resumes of them, introducing them
by qalu (they said), and he provides some additional verses."
Our own examination of the manuscript leads us to agree
with her findings, thus detailed references to the Ansab
manuscript seem unnecessary.
Besides these two, who have used Abu Mikhnaf in full, we
have also referred to Ibn Kathir (died 774/1372-1373), a pupil
of Ibn Taymiyya and a committed Sunni of the Syrian school,
often very critical of the Shi`i, whom he often refers to as the
Rawafid. Ibn Kathir, often selective, naturally ignores those
parts of Abu Mikhnaf which are directly against his interests,
such as the references to 'Uthman, etc.; otherwise he accepts
most of the material of Abu Mikhnaf. On the other hand,
early Shi`i writers, like Shaykh al-Mufid (born 336/947, died
413/1022) in his Irshad, and others, relate the tragedy of
Karbala, apart from Abu Mikhnaf from their own sources,
often going back to 'Ali b. al-Husayn. This son of Husayn,
twenty-three years old when he was present at Karbala, could
not take part in the battle due to his illness and was thus saved
from the general massacre. This makes him a major narrator
of the tragedy. It is indeed very interesting and useful to note
that in general outline and in all the major events, the
renderings of Shaykh al-Mufid, a very committed die-hard
Shi'i, are closely paralleled by those of the Syrian Ibn Kathir.
In examining Abu Mikhnaf's Maqtal al-Husayn one must
particularly take into consideration the time factor to the
author's advantage. We do not know precisely the date of his
birth, but at the rising of Ibn Ash'ath against Hajj in 80-
94 Abu Mikhnaf had already reached manhood. 95
The tragedy of Karbala took place in 61/680. This means that
Abu Mikhnaf must have been born about the year of the
tragedy, and at the time of Ibn al-Ash`ath's revolt he must
have been somewhere between the ages of eighteen and
twenty-two. It is certain that many of those who took active
part in the battle of Karbala on the Umayyad side were still
living, and thus the author had the opportunity of meeting
and interviewing personally those who had witnessed the
event themselves. For this reason, in the Maqtal Abu
Mikhnaf cites his authority with the clear observation wa
kana qad shahida qatl al-Husayn (and he witnessed the
murder of Husayn). Without exception, throughout his
narrative he uses the verb haddathani (he told me); and if his
report is not directly from an eyewitness, he cites only one or
two intermediaries who had received the account from the
eyewitness himself. Thus in our quotations above concerning
the statements of loyalty, pledges, and rajaz, the isnad runs:

1: Abu Mikhnaf-Muhammad b. Qays (eyewitness).
2: Abu Mikhnaf-Harith b.Hasira and `Abd Allah b. Sharik
al-`Amiri (eyewitnesses).
3: Abu Mikhnaf-`Abd Allah b. `Asim and Dahhak b. `Abd
Allah (eyewitnesses).
4: Abu Mikhnaf-Abu Jana-b al-Kalbi and `Adi b. Hurmula
5: Abu Mikhnaf-Muhammad b. Qays (eyewitness).

Often he further strengthens his isnad by citing more than
one eyewitness, for instance in 2, 3, and 4 above. Reporting
the pledges of the supporters of Husayn on the night of
`Ashura, he says that `Ali b. al-Husayn said: "I was lying sick
in my bed and heard my father's speech and the replies of his
supporters thereto."
The Maqtal al-Husayn of Abu Mikhnaf must have soon
received widespread popularity, and numerous copies must
have been made and circulated. This is evident from an
examination of the isnads and reference to sources in which
the work is used by other authors. Tabari source was no
doubt mainly Hisham b. al-Kalbi directly. But Mufid, Abi'l-
Faraj (Maqatil al- Talibiyin), Ibn Kathir, and many others
give different sources and names through whom the work
reached them. For example, Mufid often begins his narrative
with the prefatory comment: "What is reported by Al-Kalbi,
Al-Mada'ini, and others than these two from among the
biographers (ashab a-b as-Siyar)."
97 Similarly, Abu'l-Faraj quotes
Abu Mikhnaf from Ibn al-Kalbi and Mada'ini, and addition-
ally from sources such as Husayn b. Nasr, the son of the
famous Nasr b. Muzahim al-Minqari, the author of Waq`at
and `Awana, the famous historian. Abu'l-Faraj alone
uses about five different isnads going back to Abu Mikhnaf,
and quite a few other independent isnads going back to `Ali
b. al-Husayn, and then as usual summarises the accounts of
all of them together. Basically, however, Abu'l-Faraj's source
for Abu Mikhnaf is Mada'ini.
98 Likewise still other authorities
and different sources are given by Ibn Kathir, through
whom he was able to use Abu Mikhnaf.
Mention must finally be made of the four manuscripts of
the Maqtal, located at Gotha (No.1836), Berlin (Sprenger,
Nos. 159-160), Leiden (No.792), and St. Petersburg (Am No.
78). It was from the first two that Ferdinand Wustenfeld
made a German translation of the work entitled Der Tod des
Husein Ben `Ali und die Rache (Gottingen, 1883). Wustenfeld,
while convinced of the early origin of these manuscripts,
doubts that the author was Abu Mikhnaf.
100 The foremost
argument he puts forward is that it contains some miraculous
and supernatural types of stories, such as terrible manifestations
of grief in natural phenomena: reddening skies, bleeding
sands, and so forth. Ursula Sezgin questions Wustenfeld's
criticism at several points and suggests that while the existing
manuscripts may be the recensions or rewritings made by
some later unknown writers, the fact remains that Tabari's
main source of Abu Mikhnaf was Ibn al-Kalbi.
However, some of these miraculous stories or fantasies have
found a place even in Tabari, which suggests that these might
have been originally written by Abu Mikhnaf himself or may
have been incorporated by Ibn al-Kalbi when he rewrote his
master's work. But to cast doubts on Abu Mikhnaf's
authorship of the Maqtal only on the grounds that some
supernatural and miraculous events are recorded, as Wustenfeld
is inclined to suggest, would mean to ignore certain
tendencies of the age. It would perhaps be a grave error to
expect that a book written in the early eighth century about
a great religious personality would not accept supernatural
occurrences as a matter of course, especially when the main
event itself is so charged with emotion and suffering. The
Near East has produced an enormous number of books on
the miracles of saints and holy men, and it would be strange
indeed if Islam had not followed in the footsteps of its
predecessors in glorifying the deeds of its Prophet and his
family, even at the expense of their human greatness.
Moreover, as explained in the first chapter, the Arabs always
believed in certain supernatural powers endowed on some
sacerdotal families. Similarly, certain reactions of natural
elements in certain conditions were also a commonplace
factor in the system of Arab beliefs. After the Arabs'
conversion to Islam, the miraculous stories were growing in
narration right from the time of the Prophet, to which the
Sira of Ibn Hisham bears testimony.
The most extraordinary circumstances of Husayn's death,
immediately followed by the Tawwabun Movement highly
charged with passion and remorse, and the propaganda
carried out by the Tawwabun and by Al-Mukhtar naturally
produced some supernatural stories alongside the accounts of
the tragedy. We can, therefore, conclude that even if a few
popular legends and supernatural events related to the
tragedy are described in the Maqtal, this does not mean that
the work is not of Abu Mikhnaf's authorship, nor that the
whole account is unreliable. The inclusion of such stories
does not eclipse the fact that the Maqtal also contains and
comprises the efforts of a prominent Arab historian to collect
and preserve the most reliable and the most contemporary
historical accounts of Husayn's martyrdom available to
scholarship at a time when many participants in the events
were still alive and able to contribute their knowledge to Abu
Mikhnaf's research.

Notes to Chapter 7

1 For the character and conduct of Yazid, see Jahiz, Rasa'il,
"Risala fi Bani Umayya", pp.294 ff.; Baladhuri, IVB, pp. 1-11;
Aghani; XV, p.232; Mas'udi, Muruj, III, p.67; Damiri, Hayat al-
Hayawan, pp. 261 ff.; Ya'qubi, II, p.228. It is indeed surprising to
note that Henri Lammens, in his Le califat de Yazid, contrary to the
unanimous reports of Muslim writers of all times, has taken great
pains to depict Yazid as an ideal character. Lammens' unusual
regard for the Umayyad house often led him to read the Arabic text
to suit his own purposes.
2 Baladhuri, IVB, pp.122 f.; 'Iqd, IV, p.226; Tabari, II, pp.196
f.; Dinawari, p.226
3 Baladhuri, IVB, p.12; Ya'qubi, II, p.241; Tabari, II, p. 216;
'Iqd IV, p.227; Bidaya, VIII, pp.146 f.
4 Tabari, II, p.219; Baladhuri, IVB, p. 15; Dinawari, p.228;
Bidaya, VIII, p.147
5 See Tabari, II, pp.233, 276; Baladhuri, IVB, p.13; Dinawari,
p.229; Mas'udi, Muruj, III, p. 55 Bidaya, VIII, p. 151
6 Tabari, II, pp.233 f.; Maqatil, p.96
7 Tabari, II p.234; Dinawari, p.229; Bidaya, VIII, pp. 151 f.
8 Tabari, II, pp.234 f.; Ya'qubi, II, p.242
9 Tabari, II, p.235; Mufid, Irshad, II, pp.35 f.
10 Tabari, II, p.240
11 See details in Tabari, II, pp.174 f.
12 Tabari, II, pp.237 f.; Mufid, Irshad, II, p.36; Bidaya, VIII,
13 Tabari, II, p.264; Mas'udi, Muruj; III, p.54; Dinawari, p.235;
Baladhuri, II, p. 80; Mufid, Irshad, II, p.38; Bidaya, VIII, p.152.
Ibn 'Abd Rabbih gives the figure as more than 30,000 in 'Iqd, IV, p. 378
14 This letter of Muslim was sent to Husayn on 12 Dhu'l-Qa`da
60/15 August 680, 27 days before the murder of Muslim; see Tabari,
II, pp.264, 271; Mufid, Irshad, II, pp.67, 72
15 Tabari, II, pp.220 f.; 223,274 f.; Dinawari, Pp.229,243 f.; 'Iqd,
IV, p.376; Maqatil, p.109; Bidaya, VIII, pp. 109 f.; 160 ff
16 Tabari, II, pp.274-76; Bidaya, VII I, p. 166
17 Tabari, loc. cit.; Baladhuri, IVB, p. '4; Dinawari, p. 229;
Maqatil, p.109; Bidaya, VIII, pp. 160, 163
18 See the text of Yazid's order in Tabari, II, pp.228, 240. A still
more detailed version is given by Jahshiyari, Al-Wuzara' wa'l-
Kuttab, ed. Saqqa, Ibyari, and Shibli (Cairo, 1938), p.3'; Dinawari,
pp.231, 242; Bidaya, VIII, p.152; Mufid Irshad, II, p.40
19 Tabari, II, pp.229, 241; Dinawari, p.232; Mas'udi, Muruj, III,
p. 57; Maqatil, p. 96; Bidaya, VIII, p.153; Mufid, Irshad, II, p.41
20 Tabari, II, p.242; Dinawari, p.232; Maqatil, p.97; Bidaya,
VIII, p.154; Mufid, Irshad, II, p.41
21 See Tabari, II, p. 267; Mas'udi, Muruj, III, pp.59 f.; Dinawari,
p.240; Maqatil, pp. i~8; Bidaya, VII I, pp.153-7; Mufid, Irshad,
II, pp. 42-67
22 Tabari, II, pp.242, 277; Dinawari, p.245; Bidaya, VIII, p. i66
23 Tabari, II, p. 278; Ya'qubi, II, p. 249;Bidaya, VIII, p. 167. Shi'i
sources state that Yazid sent some soldiers disguised as pilgrims to
assassinate Husayn amidst the crowds assembled for the Hajj; see
Mufid, Irshad, II, p.69
24 Tabari, II, p.242
25 Tabari, II, pp. 285, 288 f.; Dinawari, p.243; Mufid, Irshad, II,
26 Tabari, II, pp. 289 ff.; 293, 303; Dinawari; pp.247 f.; Bidaya,
VIII, pp. z68, 274; Mufid, Irshad, II, p.72
27 Tabari, II, p.303; Bidaya, loc. cit.
28 Tabari, II, p.294; Dinawari, p.248; Bidaya, VIII, p. 169;
Mufid, Irshad, II, p.77
29 Tabari, II, pp.296 f.; Dinawari, p.249; Bidaya, VIII, p.172;
Mufid, Irshad, II, pp. 78 ff
30 Tabari, loc. cit.; Dinawari, loc. cit.; Bidaya, loc. cit.; Mufid,
loc. cit.
31 Tabari, II, pp. 298 f. See also Dinawari, p.249; Bidaya, VIII,
p.172; Mufid, Irshad, II, p. 81
32 Tabari, II, pp.299-307; Dinawari, pp.249-51; Bidaya, VIII,
pp. 172-S; Mufid, Irshad, II, p.84
33 For details see Tabari, II, pp. 308-16; Dinawari, pp.253-5;
Bidaya, VIII, pp.175 f.; Mufid, Irshad, II, pp. 85-91
34 Tabari, II, p.316; Dinawari, p.255; Bidaya, VIII, p.175
35 Tabari, II, pp.319 if.; Bidaya, VIII, p. 176; Maqatil, p.112;
Mufid, Irshad, II, pp.93 f.
36 Tabari, II, pp.324 f.; Bidaya, VIII, p.177; Dinawari, p. 256;
Mufid, Irshad, II, p.97
37 Tabari, II, p. 227;Bidaya, VIII, pp. 169, 178; Mufid, Irshad, II,
38 Tabari, II, p. 328; Mufid, loc. cit.
39 Tabari, II, p.329; Bidaya, VIII, p.179; Mufid, Irshad, II,
40 See Tabari, II, pp.335 ff., 337 ff., 344, 346; Bidaya, VIII,
pp. 181 ff
41 Tabari, II, pp.347, 35' ff, 355 f.; Bidaya, VIII, pp.184 f.;
Mufid, Irshad, II, p.109; Dinawari, pp.256 f.
42 Tabari, II, pp. 356-9; Dinawari, loc. cit.; Bidaya, VIII,
pp.185-9; Mufid Irshad, II, pp. 110-4;Maqatil, pp. 80-113
43 Tabari, II, p.386; Dinawari, pp.257 f.; Maqatil, p.84; Mufid,
Irshad, II, p 113
44 Tabari; II, p.360; Dinawari, p.258; Mufid, Irshad, II, p.112;
Ya'qubi; II, p.240; Maqatil, p.115
45 Tabari, II, pp.361, 363; Bidaya, VIII, p. .187; Mufid, Irshad, II,
46 Tabari, II, p.365; Bidaya, loc. cit.; Mufid, Irshad, II, p. 116
47 Tabari, II, p.366; Bidaya, VIII, p.188; Dinawari; p.258;
Mufid, Irshad, II, p.117
48 For the details of these cruel acts, see Tabari, II, p.367; Bidaya,
loc. cit.; Dinawari; p.258; Mufid, Irshad, II, pp.117 f.; Maqatil,
pp. 117 ff.
49 Tabari; II, pp.368 f.; Maqatil, p.119; Mufid, loc. cit.
50 Tabari, loc. cit.; Dinawari; p.260; Bidaya, VIII, p.189
51 Tabari, II, p.369; Dinawari, p.259; Bidaya, VIII, p. 190;
Mufid, Irshad, II, pp. 118 f.
52 Tabari, II, p.370; Bidaya, VIII, p.193
53 Tabari; II, p.371; Dinawari, pp.259 f.; Bidaya, VIII, p.190
54 See sources cited in note 53
55 Tabari, II, p.375; Bidaya, VIII, p. 191; Mufid, Irshad, II, p.123
56 Bidaya, VIII, p.203. For Yazid's reported remorse see Bidaya,
VIII, pp.191 ff; Tabari, II, pp.376 ff
57 History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed.
J.B. Bury, 2nd ed. (London, '90'), V, p.391
58 Akhbar, p.259
59 Ibsar al-'ayn fi ahwal al-ansar al-Husayn (Najaf, 1341 AH),
pp.47 ff
60 Tabari; II, p.386; Akhbar, p.259
61 See Tabari, II, pp.303, 335
62 Bidaya, VIII, p.170; 'Iqd, IV, p.380
63 Tabari; II, p.236
64 See B. Lewis, Origins of Isma`ilism (Cambridge, 1940), p.27;
also Nawbakhti, Firaq ash-Shi'a, p.45
65 The best example of this, among many others, is Henri
Lammens' Le califat de Yazid and his El' article Husayn". Also see
Welihausen, Arab Kingdom, pp.145-7
66 Tabari, II, pp. 216-95; also note 14 above
67 Tabari; II, pp.304 f.
68 ibid.
69 Aghani XV, p.233
70 2nd ed. (Cairo, n.d.)
71 2nd ed. (Beirut, 1972)
72 Tabari, II, pp. 288, 303; Bidaya~ VIII, pp. I68, 174
73 Tabari, II, pp. 318 f.; Bidaya, VIII, p. 176, gives only a
summary of the address of Habib b. Muzahir;
74 For their pledges see Tabari, II, p.322; Mufid, Irshad, II, p.94;
Bidaya, VIII, p. 176;Maqatil,p. 112
75 Tabari, loc. cit.; Bidaya, VIII, p.177. Mufid, Irshad, II, p.95,
gives a longer and more forceful version.
76 Tabari, II, p 322; Bidaya, VIII, p.177; Mufid, Irshad, II, p.95
77 ibid.
78 A. A. A. Fyzee, "Shi`i Legal Theories," Law in the Middle East,
ed. Majid Khadduri and H. J. Lesbesny (Washington, '955), p.113
79 Tabari, II, pp.333 f.; Mufid, Irshad, II, pp.103 f. Bidaya, VIII,
p. 180, only summarises the statement of Hurr.
80 See Tabari, loc. cit.; Mufid, loc. cit. Bidaya, VIII, pp. 180 f.,
gives here the full text of Hurr's speech as in Tabari.
81 Tabari, II, p.350; Bidaya, VIII, p.183
82 Tabari, II, pp.342, 350; Mufid, Irshad, II, pp. 106 f. Bidaya
naturally does not mention this final retort of Nifi'.
83 Tabari, II, p. 380; Bidaya, VIII, p.183
84 History of the Arabs, p.191
85 Fyzee, op. cit., p.113
86 cf. Hodgson, "How Did the Early Shi'a become Sectarian?"
87 Ibn Nadim, Fihrist, p.93; Tusi, Fihrist, Nos. 155, 282; Najashi,
Rijal, p.245; Ahlwardt, Nos. 9028-9 9031-8; Ursula Sezgin, Abu
Mikhnaf Ein Beitrag zur Historiographie der Umaiyadischen Zeit
(Leiden, 1971), pp. 116-23, a discussion of the Maqtal itself. On
Tusi and his Fihrist, see Sprenger's preface to his edition of this
work in the Bibliotheca Indica (Calcutta, 1853), and Brown's
discussion of biographical authorities in A Literary History of Persia
(Cambridge, 1902-4), IV, pp. 3555. On Najashi also see Brown,
loc. cit.
88 See his preface to The Arab Kingdom and its Fall
89 See above, note 87
90 Wellhausen, loc. cit.
91 El2 article "Abu Mikhnaf'
92 Wellhausen, loc. cit.
93 In the Istanbul Ms. of the Ansab, Husayn is discussed in ML
597, ff. 219a-251b
94 For his revolt see Veccia Vaglieri, EI2 article "Ibn al-Ash'ath",
and sources cited therein.
95 Welihausen, op. cit., p. vii
9696 See Tabari, index
97 e.g. Mufid, Irshad, II, p.29
98 See Maqatil, p.95
99 See Bidaya, VIII, pp.60, 61
100 See Der Tod des Husein, Wustenfeld's preface
101 Sezgin, Abu Mikhnaf pp.190 ff