Both Ibn Qawlawayh and al-Mas’udi1 have said that when it was the tenth of Muharram, al-Husayn (‘a) led the morning prayers for his band then stood up to deliver a sermon. He praised Allah and glorified Him then said, “Allah Almighty has permitted your being killed today; so, you should persevere, and you should fight.”
Then he prepared them for the battle in one line. They were eighty-two horsemen and two footmen. He let Zuhayr Ibn al-Qayn be in the right wing and Habib Ibn Muzahir on the left. He and his family members remained in the center.2
He gave his standard to his brother al-’Abbas3, having found the moon of the Hashemites the best qualified of all the men with him to carry it, the most safeguarding of the trust, the most kind, the most zealous in calling for his principles, the one who was the best to unite his kinsfolk, the most valiant in protecting them, the most firm in the battle, the most composed and the most courageous.4
Commanding a force of thirty thousand strong, ‘Umar Ibn Sa’d marched to confront al-Husayn, peace be upon him. Chiefs of the Kufa quarters at that time were: ‘Abdullah Ibn Zuhayr Ibn Salim al-Azdi, who headed the Medenites, ‘Abdul-Rahman Ibn Abu Sabrah al-Hanafi, who headed Mathhaj and Asad, Qays Ibn al-Ash’ath, who headed Rabi’ah and Kindah, and al-Hurr Ibn Yazid al-Riyahi, who headed Tamim and Hamdan5.
With the exception of al-Hurr al-Riyahi, all the other men took part in fighting al-Husayn (‘a).
Ibn Sa’d put ‘Amr Ibn al-Hajjaj al-Zubaydi in charge of the right wing. On the left wing, he gave charge to Shimr Ibn Thul-Jawshan al-’Amiri. The cavaliers were commanded by ‘Izrah Ibn Qays al-Ahmasi. The footmen were commanded by Shabth Ibn Rab’i. The standard was with the latter's slave, Thuwayd.6
They came circling around the tents, seeing how the fire was raging in the ditch. Shimr shouted as loud as he could: “O Husayn! Have you resorted to the fire soon enough before the Day of Judgment?”
Al-Husayn (‘a) asked, “Who is the inquirer? It seems as if he is Shimr Ibn Thul-Jawshan!” The answer came in the affirmative, whereupon the Imam (‘a) said to him, “You son of the goat herder! You are more worthy of the fire than I!” Muslim Ibn ‘Awsajah was about to shoot him with an arrow, but al-Husayn (‘a) prohibited him saying, “I hate to start fighting them.”7
Having cast a look at the troops that resembled a torrent, al-Husayn (‘a) raised his hands to supplicate thus:
“Lord! You are my trust in every adversity, my hope in every hardship! You are to me my trust and treasure for whatever afflicts me!
How many worries have You removed and dissipated that over-burdened my heart, exhausted my plans, betrayed my friends, and elated my enemy which I complained to You, having placed my hope upon You? You are the Originator of every blessing and the ultimate end of every wish”8
Al-Husayn (‘a) called for his camel. Having mounted it, he called out loudly enough to be heard saying:
“O people! Listen to my speech and do not rush till I admonish you with that which I owe you, and so that I tell you why I have come here; so, if you accept my excuse and believe my statement and fare with me with equity, you will be much happier, and you will see no reason to expose me to this.
But if you do not accept my reason and do not fare with me with equity, then gather your affair and your accomplices, and do not feel sorry for what you do but effect your judgment in my regard and do not grant me any respite; surely my Lord is Allah Who revealed the Book and He looks after the righteous”.
When the women heard his statement, they cried and wailed, and their voices grew loud, whereupon he sent them his brother, al-’Abbas, and his son, ‘Ali al-Akbar, to ask them to remain quiet and not to cry.
Once the ladies were quiet, al-Husayn (‘a) praised Allah again and glorified him, blessed Muhammad and all angels and prophets, delivering a speech that no orator before or after him was more outspoken9. Then he said,
“O servants of Allah! Fear Allah and be on your guard with regard to this life which, had it remained for anyone at all, the prophets would have been the most worthy of it and the most pleased with fate. But Allah created this life so that it would perish.
What is new in it will soon grow old. Its pleasure diminishes and its happiness is fleeting. A man's home is but a mound, and one's house is a fort; so, get ready for the next, for the best with which you prepare yourselves is piety. Fear Allah so that you may be the winners10.
O people! Allah, the most Exalted One, created life and made it a temporary abode, taking its people from one condition to another.
Conceited is whoever gets fascinated by it, and miserable is whoever gets infatuated by it. So, do not let this life deceive you, for it shall disappoint whoever trusts and desires it! I can see that you have all set your minds on doing something because of which you have caused Allah to curse you and to turn His Glorious Countenance away from you, causing you to be the object of His Wrath Kind is our Lord, and mean servants of His are you!
You declared obedience to and belief in Muhammad the Messenger (S), then you put your ranks together to kill his Progeny and offspring! Satan took full control of you, making you forget the remembrance of Allah, the Great.
Perdition, hence, is your lot and ultimate end! We belong to Allah, and to Him is our return. These are people who have turned apostates after having believed, so away with the oppressive people11.
O people! Identify me and find out who I am! Then go back to your evil selves and blame them, then see whether it is lawful for you to violate my sanctity. Am I not the son of your Prophet's daughter, the son of his wasi and cousin, the foremost to believe, the one who testified to the truth of what he had brought from his Lord?
Is not Hamzah, the Master of Martyrs, my uncle? Is not Ja’far at-Tayyar my uncle? Have you not heard that the Messenger of Allah had said about me and about my brother: “These are the masters of the youths of Paradise”?
So if you believe what I say, which is the truth, let me swear by Allah that I never deliberately told a lie since I came to know that Allah hates lying and liars, and that lying is detrimental to those who invent it.
But if you disbelieve in me, there are among you those who, if you ask them, can inform you of the same.
Ask Jabir Ibn ‘Abdullah al-Ansari, Abu Sa’id al-Khudri, Sahl Ibn Sa’id al-Sa’idi, Zayd Ibn Arqam, and Anas Ibn Malik, and they will tell you that they have heard these ahadith of the Messenger of Allah with regard to myself and to my brother. Is this not sufficient to curb you from shedding my blood?!”
Al-Shimr then said, “He worships Allah by a letter, had he known what he is saying!” Habib Ibn Muzahir said to him, “By Allah! I see you worshipping Allah on seventy letters, and I testify that you are truthful when you say that you do not know what he is saying! Allah has surely sealed your heart!”
Al-Husayn (‘a) then said, “If you doubt what I have said, do you doubt that I am the son of your Prophet's daughter?! By Allah, there is no son of a Prophet from the east of the earth and the west besides myself, be it among you or among others. Woe unto you! Are you seeking revenge on me for killing one of you? Or is it on account of your wealth which I devoured? Or are you seeking qisas?”
None of them spoke a word to the Imam (‘a), so he called out, “O Shabth Ibn Rab’i! O Hijr Ibn Abjar!
O Qays Ibn al-Ash’ath! O Zayd Ibn al-Harith! Did you not write me saying, ‘Come, for the fruits are ripe, the pastures are green, and you will come to troops ready for your command'?”
They said, “We did not do so.”
The Imam (‘a) said, “Subhan-Allah! [Glorified is Allah]. Yes, by Allah, you did exactly so!”
Then he said, “O people! If you hate me, let me go away from your sight to a safe place on earth” Qays Ibn al-Ash’ath said to him, “Are you not going first to accept the authority of your cousins? They surely will not deal with you except most amicably, and they will not harm you in the least.”
Al-Husayn (‘a) said to him, “Are you the brother of your brother?! Do you want Banu Hashim to demand that you pay for the blood of someone else besides that of Muslim Ibn ‘Aqil? No, by Allah! I shall not give them as the subservient ones give, nor shall I flee from them as slaves flee!12
O servants of Allah! I have sought refuge with Allah, your Lord and mine, against your stoning me, and I seek refuge with my Lord and yours against any arrogant person who does not believe in the Day of Reckoning.”
The Imam (‘a) alighted from his she-camel, asking ‘Uqbah Ibn Sam’an to tie it for him.13
A number of men, including ‘Abdullah Ibn Hawzah al-Tamimi15, came charging in the Imam's direction. “Is Husayn among you?” shouted ‘Abdullah once, twice, and thrice. After the third call, al-Husayn's companions said, “Al-Husayn (‘a) is right here; what do you want from him?”
He said, “O Husayn! Let me convey to you the good news of your going to hell!” Al-Husayn (‘a) said, “Liar! Rather, I shall meet a Lord Who is Forgiving, Gracious, Obeyed, and He accepts intercession..., but who are you?”
“I am the son of Hawzah,” the rogue said, whereupon al-Husayn (‘a) raised his hands till the whiteness of his armpits became visible as he supplicated thus: “O Lord! I invoke You to hurl him into the fire!”
Ibn Hawzah became so angry that he instantly charged at the Imam (‘a). A small dry rivulet was in the way between them. As the charger leaped over it, the rider fell. One of his feet remained hooked in the stirrup.
His other foot as well as leg and thigh remained hanging. The horse kept dragging him, causing him to hit the rocks and tree stumps in its way16, finally hurling him into the burning fire of the ditch. He died instantly by burning. It was then that Imam Husayn (‘a) prostrated to thank Allah, praising Him for swiftly responding to his invocation, raising his voice as he said,
“Lord! We are the Ahl al-Bayt of Your Prophet, his offspring and kinsfolk, so do split the spine of those who oppressed us and usurped what belongs to us, surely You hear, and You are ever near!”
Muhammad Ibn al-Ash’ath [sarcastically] asked the Imam, “What kinship do you have with Muhammad (S)?” Al-Husayn (‘a) said, “Lord! Muhammad Ibn al-Ash’ath says there is no kinship between me and Muhammad!
Lord! Show me today how You swiftly humiliate him!” Allah did, indeed, swiftly respond to the Imam's supplication: Muhammad Ibn al-Ash’ath came out of the army, alighted from his horse and started defecating. As he was thus engaged, a black scorpion bit him, leaving him polluted with his own feces17, killing him just as the villain's private parts were thus exposed18.
Masruq Ibn Wa'il al-Hadrami has said, “I was in the vanguard of the horsemen who came to fight al-Husayn son of ‘Ali (‘a) hoping to cut his head off and win by it favour with Ibn Ziyad. Having seen what happened to Ibn Hawzah, I realized that there is a sanctity and a special status of Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) with Allah, so I left the people saying, ‘I shall not fight them and thus be hurled into the Fire.'”19
Zuhayr Ibn al-Qayn came out on a horse with a huge tail, fully armed. He shouted out:
“O people of Kufa! Be forewarned of a torment from Allah! It is the obligation of each Muslim to admonish his brethren. Till now, we are still brethren following the same religion so long as the sword does not interfere between us.
You deserve to be admonished; so, once the sword starts doing its thing, none of you shall be protected from such a torment. We will then be one group and you will be another. Allah has tried us and your own selves through the offspring of His Prophet Muhammad (S) in order to see what we and you will be doing.
We call upon you to support them and to abandon the tyranny of Yazid and ‘Ubaydullah Ibn Ziyad, for you should not expect from them except evil so long as they rule over you. They will gouge out your eyes and amputate your hands and legs. They will mutilate you and crucify you on palm trees.
They will kill the best among you, and they will kill those among you who know and recite the Qur'an such as ‘Hujr Ibn ‘Adiy and his fellows and also Hani Ibn ‘Urwah and his likes”.
They taunted him and praised ‘Ubaydullah Ibn Ziyad and even supplicated for him. Then they said, “We shall not leave this place before killing your friend and all those who accompany him, or we safely send him and them to ‘Ubaydullah Ibn Ziyad.” Zuhayr said, “O servants of Allah!
The descendants of Fatima (‘a) are more worthy of being loved and supported than the son of Sumayya! But if you do not support them, I seek refuge with Allah against you killing them! Save this man from Yazid, for by my life! Yazid will be satisfied with your obedience to him even if you do not kill al-Husayn (‘a).”
Shimr shot him with an arrow saying, “Shut your mouth! May Allah forever silence your voice! You have bored us with talking too much!” Zuhayr said, “You! You son of the man who urinates on his heels! I was not addressing you, for you are, by Allah, an animal, and I do not think that you fully understand even two verses from the Book of Allah!
So, be prepared to be shamed on the Day of Judgment, and be prepared for a very painful chastisement!”
Shimr said, “Allah will soon kill you and your friend.” Zuhayr said to him, “Are you scaring me with death? By Allah! To die with him is more pleasing to my heart than having to live forever among you, folks.” He then loudly called out to them, “O servants of Allah! Let not this crude ruffian and his likes deceive you with regard to your creed!
By Allah! Muhammad's intercession shall never reach those who spill the blood of his offspring and Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) or those who kill their supporters and who protect their women.”
A man from among his group called out to him saying, “Abu ‘Abdullah is telling you to go back, for the believer from among the family of Pharaoh had admonished his people and was quite eloquent in doing so. You have admonished these folks and you have been quite eloquent had admonishment and eloquence been of benefit for such people.”20
Burayr Ibn Khudayr sought al-Husayn's permission to deliver a speech He was a mentor, a tabi’i, a qari, actually one of the most prominent qaris of Kufa's grand mosque. Among the people of Hamdan he enjoyed a great deal of honour and prestige.
Having acquired permission, he stood near the enemy and said:
“O people! Allah sent Muhammad (S) as bearer of glad tidings, a warner, a caller to Allah's Path and a lantern of noor. Here is the water of the Euphrates wherein black boars and dogs wade, yet it has been made taboo for the son of the daughter of Allah's Messenger! Is this how you show your gratitude to Muhammad (S)?!21
They said to him, “O Burayr! You have already said too much, so spare us for, by Allah, al-Husayn (S) shall suffer of thirst just as those before him had suffered.” He said, “O people! Muhammad's offspring are now among you!
These are his offspring, progeny, daughters and ladies; so, let us know what you have in mind, what you are planning to do with them.” They said to him, “We intend to put them at the disposal of the governor ‘Ubaydullah Ibn Ziyad who will fare with them as he sees fit.”
He asked them, “Are you not satisfied if they go back to whence they had come from? Woe unto you Kufians! Have you forgotten the letters you wrote and the pledges you made, invoking Allah to be a Witness over you and over what you said therein?!
Did you invite the family of your Prophet, claiming you would defend them with your own lives, then, when they came to you, you now want to hand them over to Ibn Ziyad and even prohibited them from drinking of the Euphrates' water?! Evil, indeed, is the way how you succeeded your Prophet (S) in faring with his offspring! What is the matter with you?!
May Allah deprive you of drinking on the Day of Judgment, for surely you are a most evil people!” Some of them said to him, “Man, we do not know what you are talking about!” Said he, “All Praise is due to Allah Who blessed me with more insight than you. Lord!
I invoke You to testify that I dissociate myself from the deeds of these people! Lord! Direct their mischief against their own selves so that they may meet You and You are angry with them.” It was then that arrows started pouring on him, forcing him to retreat.22
Al-Husayn (‘a) rode his horse and took a copy of the Holy Qur’an which he spread over his head then stood in front of those people and said, “O people! The Book of Allah and the Sunnah of my grandfather, the Messenger of Allah (S), are the arbitrators between you and me.”23
Then he asked them whether the sword, the battle gear, and the turban that he was wearing belonged to the Prophet (S), and they all testified that they, indeed, were. Then he asked them about the reason why they were planning to kill him. “In obedience to the governor ‘Ubaydullah Ibn Ziyad,” they said. He, peace be upon him, then addressed them in these words:
“Woe unto you, O people, shame and infamy! You sought our help in earnest, so we came to help you in apprehension, then you unsheathed your swords in violation of your vows, kindling a fire against us which we ignited against our enemy and yours.
Now you have sided with your own enemies against your friends. Such enemies have disseminated no equity among you, nor do you hope for their reform; so, be forewarned of calamities!
You abandoned us, keeping your swords resting in their scabbards, enjoying your comfort and ease, thinking you are acting wisely! But you opted to fall greedily upon life like the swiftest of all birds, throwing yourselves on it as butterflies fall into the fire! So, thus do you violate your vows!
May you be crushed, O slaves of this nation, splinters of the parties! You have forsaken the Book of Allah, distorted His Word, becoming the party of evil, the breath of the devil, the ones who put out the Sunnah! Woe unto you!
Are you really supporting such sort of people while thus betraying us?! Yes, by Allah! It is your same age-old custom of treachery which goes back to your own roots and upon which your branches grow! You, hence, are the worst fruit, an eyesore to the beholder, a morsel to the usurper!
Truly the bastard-son who is the offspring of the bastard-son has bidden us to either unsheathe our swords or succumb to humiliation! Far, it is, from us to do either!
Far, it is, from us to accept humiliation! Allah Himself refuses that we should ever be thus humiliated, and so does His Prophet, and so do the believers! Ours are honourable chambers, men of dignity, souls that refuse to prefer obedience to the lowly over dying in honour and dignity! I most surely am attacking with this family, though small in number, though being betrayed by those who promised to support me...”
Then the Imam (‘a) cited the following poetry verses by Farwah Ibn Musayk al-Muradi24:
Having said so, he continued his speech thus:
“By Allah! You shall not linger after this incident except as long as one stays on his horseback. The grinding stones shall then spin you, shaking you as the axis shakes; this is a promise which my father had been promised by my [grand]father, the Messenger of Allah (S): [then he cited the verse saying]:
“... then resolve your affair and (gather) your associates, then let not your affair remain dubious to you, then have it executed against me and give me no respite” (Qur’an, 10:71).
The Imam (‘a) then raised his hands as he supplicated thus:
“Lord! Keep rain water from them and send upon them years like those of Yousuf's, and send upon them the slave of Thaqif to make them drink of a most bitter cup, for they lied to us and betrayed us, while You are our God; upon You do we rely, and to You is our destiny.25
Allah will not let a single one of them without having sought revenge on him on my behalf: my killer shall be killed; whoever deals a blow against me shall be dealt likewise; He shall most certainly seek victory for me, for my Ahl al-Bayt (‘a), and for my supporters”.26
al-Husayn (‘a) called upon ‘Umar Ibn Sa’d to come forward. The latter very much hated to look the Imam (‘a) in the eyes. The Imam (‘a) said to him, “O ‘Umar! Do you really claim that you will kill me so that the bastard-son will make you the wali of the land of Rey and Jurjan?! By Allah! You shall never have such an enjoyment!
This is a promise already made; so, do whatever you wish, for you will not be pleased after my demise with either this life or with the life hereafter! It is as though I can see your head mounted on a stick and the children of Kufa tossing it from one to another, using it as a toy.” ‘Umar, outraged, turned his face away from the Imam (‘a).27
Having heard his speech and his plea for help, al-Hurr came to ‘Umar Ibn Sa’d and said, “Are you going to fight this man?” “Yes, by Allah,” said ‘Umar, adding, “a fight in the easiest part of which heads will roll down and hands will be cut off.”
Al-Hurr asked him, “What is your objection to his offer of departure?” ‘Umar answered: “Had it been up to me, I would have accepted it, but your governor refuses.”
Al-Hurr left him and stood by the others. Beside him stood Qarrah Ibn Qays whom he asked, “Have you watered your horse today?” “No,” came the answer. “Do you then wish to do so?” was al-Hurr's question.
Qarrah took that statement to imply that al-Hurr was reluctant to fight al-Husayn (‘a) and did not wish to be seen by him defecting, so he walked away from him. Al-Hurr kept getting closer and closer to al-Husayn (‘a). Al-Muhajir Ibn Aws asked him, “Do you want to charge at him?”
Al-Hurr remained silent. He felt chilled to the bones, so he shivered. Having seen him shiver, al-Muhajir felt terrified and said to him, “Had I been asked: ‘Who is the most daring of all the Kufians?', I would have given no name other than yours; so, why do I see you look like that?”
Al-Hurr said, “I am giving my soul the option between choosing Paradise or hell. By Allah! I do not prefer anything over Paradise even if it means I will be burnt alive.” Having said so, he beat his horse in the direction of al-Husayn (‘a).28
Turning his spear upside down and holding his shield the opposite way, he came lowering his head, feeling too shy to look at the Prophet's family in the eyes because of having exposed them to such hardship, bringing them to such a place where neither water nor grass could be found. Loudly he spoke these words:
“O Allah! To You do I surrender, so do accept my repentance, for I have filled the hearts of Your walis and the sons of Your Prophet with fear! O father of ‘Abdullah! I am repentant; so, can my repentance be accepted at all?”
Al-Husayn (‘a) said, “Yes. Allah will accept your repentance”.29 This statement found its place to al-Hurr’s heart, filling it with joy. He took a moment to contemplate upon the eternal life and the incessant bliss. It now became clear to him what that voice, which had addressed him, meant upon his departure from Kufa. He had a dialogue with al-Husayn (‘a). Among what he said to him was:
“When I went out of Kufa, I was addressed thus: “O Hurr! You are given the glad tidings of [going to] Paradise!” I said to myself, “Woe unto me! How can I be given such glad tidings since I am going to fight the son of the daughter of Allah's Messenger?!”30
Al-Husayn (‘a) said to him, “You have now acquired a great deal of good and a great reward.”31 A Turkish slave was with him. 32
Al-Hurr sought al-Husayn's permission to address the people, and permission was granted to him. As loudly as he could, al-Hurr called out to the Kufians thus:
“O people of Kufa! A foolish and a bad example for others have you surely set when you invited him to come to you then grieved him and surrounded him from all directions, forbidding him from going anywhere in Allah's spacious land so that he and his family might be safe, rendering him like a captive in your hands, unable to help himself.
You have prohibited him, his ladies, his children, and his companions from the flowing water of the Euphrates of which the Jews, the Christians, and the Zoroastrians drink and wherein black swine and dogs wade! Look and see how thirst has subdued them! Evil is the way whereby you have succeeded Muhammad (S) in treating his progeny! May Allah never permit you to drink on the Day of Thirst!”
His own men now started shooting him with arrows, so he was forced to retreat till he stood face-to-face with Imam Husayn (‘a).33
A second view says they were eighty-two footmen, as we are told on p. 327 of Al-Dam’a al-Sakiba of Muhammad Jawad Shubbar where al-Mukhtar is cited. A third view says they were sixty men. This is what al-Dimyari states on p. 73, Vol. 1, of Hayat al-Haywan as he discusses Yazid's reign. The fourth view says that they were seventy-three. Such is the view stated by al-Sharishi on p. 193, Vol. 1, of his book Shar Maqamat al-Hariri. The fifth view says they were forty-five horse-men and about one hundred footmen; this is what Ibn ‘Asakir says on p. 337, Vol. 4, of his book Tahthib Tarikh al-Sham. The sixth view says they were thirty-two horsemen and forty footmen; this is what al-Khawarizmi indicates on p. 4, Vol. 2, of his book Maqtal al-Husayn.
The seventh view, which is expressed by al-Mas’udi on p. 35 of his book Ithbat al-Wasiyya (published in Najaf at the Hayderi Press), counts sixty-one men. An eighth view says they were forty-five horse-men and one hundred footmen as stated by Ibn Nama on p. 28 of his book Muthir al-Ahzan and on p. 56 of his other work titled Al-Luhuf, where he relies on a tradition wherein Imam al-Baqir, peace be upon him, is quoted.
The ninth view says they were seventy-two men; this is what al-Shabrawi states on p. 17 of his book Al-Ithaf bi Hubbil-Ashraf. The tenth view, which is indicated on p. 31, Vol. 1, of al-Thahabi's book Mukhtasar Tarikh Duwal al-Islam, says that the Imam (‘a) was escorted by seventy horsemen as he departed from Medina. (And Allah surely knows best).
Khalid said, ‘He will have rewards greater than ours because we believed in our Prophet (S) who is alive among us receiving revelation from the heavens, and we witnessed the miracles. Whoever among you embraces Islam without having ever heard what we have heard nor seen what we have seen of the wonders and proofs, accepting it in a true intention, will be better than us.' It was then that George turned his shield upside down and inclined to Khalid saying, ‘Teach me about Islam.'”
On p. 42, Vol. 1, of al-Balathiri's book Ansab al-Ashraf (published by Dar al-Ma’arif of Egypt), “Whenever the Arabs felt they were in danger and sought refuge and asylum, they would turn their lances upside down.” The same author says the following on p. 43: “Al-Harith Ibn Zalim came to ‘Abdullah Ibn Jad’an at ‘Ukaz when everyone was embroiled in the Battle of Qays, so he turned his lance upside down. Once he was recognized and felt secure, he raised it.”