From Zurarah, from Abu Ja’far al-Baqir (‘a) who said: “Husayn ibn Ali wrote from Mecca to Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah: In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. From Husayn ibn Ali to Muhammad ibn Ali and the Hashimites who are with him. [Know that] anyone who joins me will be martyred and anyone who does not join me will not attain victory. Peace.”1
This brief letter comprises four fundamental issues that could be regarded as constants in the uprising of Imam Husayn (‘a). The four issues are:
1- Inevitability of getting martyred for anyone who accompanied Husayn (‘a) “Anyone who joins me will be martyred”
2- Certainty of victory for anyone who would be present in Karbala together with Husayn (‘a). This certainty is derived from the converse of these words: “Anyone who does not join [me] will not be victorious, which clearly implies that whoever joins Husayn (‘a) in this battle, would be victorious, keeping aside the question of the validity of the converse of the statement.
3- Relationship between victory and martyrdom. It was through martyrdom that those who went with Husayn (‘a) would attain victory.
4- This victory would never be repeated again “... and anyone who does not join me will not attain [this] victory.”
We shall talk about these four issues, God willing.
Among the salient features of Imam Husayn’s (‘a) uprising was the invitation to martyrdom and defying death, all for the sake of God. Since the time he left Mecca for Iraq until the day of Ashura, the Imam did not stop repeating to anyone who met or joined him that his path and theirs was that of martyrdom. Even if one entertains some doubts with regard to some aspects of this singular uprising one can never doubt that Husayn was in fact informing the people that he would die on his journey to Iraq. He also declared that the inevitable destination of those who were together with him was martyrdom. Martyrdom would not miss anyone who went with him.
A group of people, whom Husayn (‘a) did not doubt concerning their sincerity or understanding of the political condition of Iraq, warned him not to go there for death would be his end and that of his companions and family if he went. Husayn prayed for them for their sincere advice but he did not give up his resolve. We do not doubt the sincerity of those people, nor that Husayn (‘a) was suspecting sincerity in their advice, nor that the situation in Iraq was indeed what they expected. We also believe that the fickleness and perfidiousness of the Iraqis which they foresaw was not hidden from Husayn (‘a), but he was seeing what they saw not and knew what they knew not.
Husayn (‘a) was aware that the Umayyad-engendered state of tribulation which challenged the religion and the nation could not be rooted out except by being killed together with his family and companions. He knew this fact clearly and never doubted it. This is what was hidden to those people who were warning Husayn (‘a) not to be deceived by the letters the Iraqis wrote to invite him. However, there was no way he could have informed them what he knew.
The last time Husayn (‘a) disclosed to his family and companions that their end would be martyrdom was on the night before the 10th of Muharram. He gathered his companions and gave a speech in which he relieved them of their duty of allegiance to him. He said: “Leave me with these people, they are only after me. Should they get hold of me and be able to kill me, they will not pursue you.”2
When he became confident that they had resolved to face martyrdom together with him he said to them: “You will be killed tomorrow and not a single man among you will escape.” Then they replied: “Praise be to God who blessed us with the honour of being killed along with you”3 Anyone who, without prejudice, studies Husayn’s conduct as he traveled from Medina to Karbala will have no doubt that he did not make that journey with an eye on power and authority, and that he was not expecting anything for himself and for his supporters but death and nothing but captivity for his womenfolk and children.
Besides his brother, Muhammad ibn Hanafiyya, the four men, Abdullah ibn Ja’far, Abdullah ibn Abbas, Abdullah ibn Umar and Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr who advised Husayn to avoid Iraq were not better informed than him about the situation of Iraq and its people during that period.
As I said before, this is the most prominent feature of Ashura, and to suppress this feature is tantamount to strip it of its great historical value. This is the first inevitable issue and Imam Husayn (‘a) had stated it in his letter to his brother Muhammad in these words: “Anyone who joins me will be martyred.”
This is the second unchangeable aspect of the uprising led by Husayn (‘a) which he declared with the same decisiveness with which he declared the first. It is the converse of the second statement “and anyone who does not join me will not attain victory.” The direct meaning of this statement is obvious and the converse is: anyone who joins him attains victory, which is no less obvious than the direct meaning.
The Imam (‘a) declared this fact before he left al-Hijaz for Iraq, and it is very rare for a leader to firmly assert, even before the battle starts, that he would be victorious, except for a rash statement or where it is intended to boost the morale of the fighters. But certainly, Husayn (‘a) was not the type to make rash promises, and he was not intending to boost the people’s morale, in view of the known outcome of the battle.
In his movement, the Imam (‘a) was openly inviting the people to their death which was obviously incompatible with vain propaganda or a psychological boost for the fighters both in the theatre of battle and during preparations for it. So what was the sure guarantee which the Imam had for this matter? What did victory mean in the Imam’s political dictionary?
By victory, the Imam did not mean a military victory on the battlefield and it was impossible that he intended what military leaders seek in wars. We do not doubt this fact, nor do we consider his statement to have been simply arbitrary; the Imam was too well informed of the political and psychological state of the people in Iraq to have expected a military victory or to have been deceived by the people.
The Imam had seen that the Umayyads had tried to revive, as part of Islam, the jahiliyyah (pre-Islamic) system along with its ideas and concepts. Even the political and social positions which Islam had liberated from jahiliyyah influence had been re-incorporated into their sphere of influence. The Umayyad clan had now occupied the positions of power and influence, and the wealth and the propaganda machinery of the new Islamic society was in their hands exactly as their ancestors had occupied these positions in the small pre-Islamic Meccan society.
All this happened without any fundamental change having taken place in their jahiliyyah stands and concepts. The only difference was that their former positions were limited and weak and their society was isolated in the heart of the desert. But now, thanks to Islam, their new positions made them control a wide part of the world with large regions that were once ruled by the Persian and Byzantine empires.
These positions, with all the influence they commanded had fallen into the hands of the Umayyads without any real change having taken place in their thoughts and positions. These were the bitter facts that were expressed in Imam Husayn’s outpourings on the day of Ashura before the battle: “You have drawn on us the swords which we placed in your right hands and poked against us the fire which we kindled [in the first place] against our enemy and yours. Then you became your enemies’ support against [those who are supposed to be] your friends, without their upholding neither any justice nor you having any hope in them.”4
Syria was then the prime political centre of the inhabited world, exercising its influence over large portions and feared worldwide. This was the power and influence which Islam created for the Arabs who, hitherto, had no experience of extensive power.
Islam produced this great power in order to establish monotheism and justice, and to bring an end to the arrogant enemies of humanity. Unfortunately, this power fell into the hands of the leaders of Arab jahiliyyah after Islam had liberated it from them and from other leaders of world unbelief. Thus, the Umayyads took back those important positions without any fundamental change in their thought, their stand, their luxurious living and love for power, their hostility, and arrogance towards the people.
Husayn (‘a) described this power which was created by Islam and wielded by the Arabs as ‘the sword’, and with much grief lamented: ‘The Messenger of God (S) placed this power in your hands so that you may fight our and your enemies (i.e. the leaders of polytheism) but the Umayyads took hold of the reins of power through counter revolution (apostasy) and the people paid allegiance to them on their terms and inclined in favour of the reactionary forces.
They had drawn their swords on the Family of Muhammad (‘a) the leaders of monotheism, inspite of the fact that the Umayyad had not altered their jahiliyyah positions on behaviour, morality and civilization as a whole. The most dangerous of all was that they occupied that important position in Islamic society based on a supposed Islamic legal point of view, i.e. as successors to the Messenger of God (S).
Husayn (‘a) confronted the real catastrophe that befell this religion and this nation. His intention at that critical juncture was to nullify the legality of Umayyad government, and this was his greatest achievement in this uprising. This was a complete success because, although the Umayyad dynasty continued for a long time after Husayn, they could not regain, after the battle of Al-Taff, their religious legitimacy as successors of the Messenger of God and Commander of the faithful (‘a) even though they addressed themselves by these titles.
The general Muslim public henceforth considered them mere temporal rulers who came to the helm by force, and no longer respected them as they respected the caliphs who preceded them. They were no longer regarded as religious authorities nor did the position of caliph retain its former sanctity.
The second message of Husayn’s uprising was the revival of the spirit of jihad, responsibility and resistance in the people. The Umayyads had stripped the people, among other things, of the power of will so that they simply toed the line of the family of Umayyah.
What did the Umayyads do during that sterile period when Mu’awiya ibn Abi Sufyan and his son Yazid ruled, that the head of Husayn, son of the daughter of the Messenger of God was brought in a public gathering before Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad in his palace and he poked his lips with a staff, and no one opposed him except Zayd ibn Arqam (may God have mercy on him) ?
Then Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad assembled the people in the mosque of Kufa and abused and repudiated Ali and his son Husayn (‘a), and none among those present disapproved of it except Abdullah ibn ‘Afif (may God have mercy and be pleased with him) who, enraged by that, reviled Ibn Ziyad on his face, thereby annoying and humiliating him.5 History has not mentioned anyone who opposed Ibn Ziyad except those two people.
The terror that was unleashed during the reign of Mu’awiya and his son Yazid had dispossessed the people of the power to take a stand and to confront the oppressors, and no hope for good remains in a nation that slips into this level of impotence.
The second message of Imam Husayn (‘a) ’s uprising was to give Muslim conscience a violent jolt so that it may revert to its prior power and position of leadership and control over the world which God Most High wanted for it. What Husayn (‘a) sought by this uprising would not have been achieved except by shedding much blood that was very dear, in an unparalleled tragic event in which he would sacrifice himself, his family members and his companions.
This is what Husayn (‘a) requested and it is what he meant by victory. Husayn (‘a) never intended victory in the military sense, a victory military leaders seek. This would be the last thing he would seek because he knew his times and the prevailing circumstances more than the people who were advising him against going out for the war and warning him that the people would desert him if he went. Any observer of Husayn (‘a)’s conduct on his journey between Medina and Karbala will not doubt that he was not after that kind of victory.
The victory which the Imam implied in his letter to Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah and the Hashimites who were with him was the other type which we discussed above. The Imam was sure of victory in this journey and he believed that anyone who accompanied him would surely attain that victory and, he who stayed back was certain to miss it. What was the guarantee which made him so sure of victory?
The guarantee was God’s promise of support and victory to anyone who helped Him and God the Exalted does not go back on His word. He says:
“If you help God he will help you and make your feet steady.” (47:7).
“Do not weaken or grieve: you shall have the upper hand, should you be faithful.” (3:139).
“Indeed we shall help Our apostles and those who have faith in the life of the world...” (40:51).
“God will surely help those who help Him. Indeed God is All-strong, All-mighty.” (22:40).
The movement which Husayn (‘a) was about to embark on met all the conditions which God required of His servants before He granted them success. These conditions were: faith, sincerity, piety and striving (jihad) in God’s way.
Husayn (‘a) did not entertain a moment’s doubt that God Almighty would support him in his movement and that victory would be his. This is the second certainty of his movement. We have inferred this inevitability from the converse of his words which appeared in the letter: ‘and anyone who does not join us will not attain victory!’
This is the third issue that Husayn’s letter dealt with, which can be inferred from the first and the second issues.
In the first, the Imam informed us that whoever accompanied him to Iraq would be martyred and in the second he declared that only those who would go with him would attain victory. From these two statements it can be inferred that martyrdom was the only way to attain victory. This is not easy to comprehend unless we explain victory the way we did while discussing the second issue. Then the relationship between victory and martyrdom will become clear.
This victory could not take place except by liberating people’s minds and souls from subjugation to the Umayyads and freeing Islam from the process of distortion which was being carried out in their palaces in the name of Islam, and exploiting the position of Successor to the Messenger of God (S). Such a victory could not be achieved unless this band of people who accompanied Husayn (‘a) liberated the peoples’ conscience, mind and heart from the grip of the Umayyads, annulled the legitimacy of their palace in Syria, and freed Islam from Umayyad control.
This project would not come to light except by offering valuable blood in order to give the people’s conscience a strong jolt which would bring them back to their senses and the position God wanted them to take. This is what the Imam declared in the letter which he wrote to Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah.
This is the fourth thing that would surely happen as declared by Husayn (‘a): “And anyone who does not join me will not attain victory.” This statement explicitly supports our contention that the victory which God caused to happen at the hands of Husayn (‘a) and his helpers would not be repeated again in history.
There are two types of historical events: Those that repeat themselves such as war, peace, famine, weakness, strength, defeat and victory, and those that occur once. Islam has witnessed many bitter reverses, difficult times and adversity in its history but the crises of the battles of Badr and the Confederates will not be repeated. In those two cases the whole of Islam was gathered in a single spot and if unbelief had defeated Islam on those two occasions nothing would have remained of this religion. It is for this reason that the Messenger of God (S) accorded great value to Ali’s (‘a) stroke on the day of the confederates. Had it not been for Ali’s stroke on that day, had it not been for the defeat of the Confederates, nothing would have remained for Islam on the face of the earth. On the day of Badr, the Messenger of God (S) stood up in front of the Quraish multitudes beseeching God for succour: “O God, if you want not to be worshipped then You shall not be worshipped.”6
This statement precisely describes that critical condition which the whole of Islam was going through in the valley of Badr, not far from Medina. Thereafter, Islam went through many misfortunes and difficult situations such as when the Mongols invaded and destroyed Baghdad, the Abbasid capital, and wreaked havoc in the land. However, all these tribulations came to pass after Islam had come out of the straits of the battles of Badr, the Confederates and Al-Taff.
Events that do not repeat themselves through history are of two kinds: victories after which there is no defeat and defeats after which there is no victory. The victory of Ashura was a victory with no defeat after it... and this is what Husayn (‘a) stated in his letter which we are discussing. So what is that victory after which there will never be a fall? How can this be said when several drawback, defeats and tribulations visited the Muslims, and after them great conquests and successes came their way?
The answer is that these defeats and reverses affected Islam and the Muslims after Islam had emerged safely from straits and historical crises and spread all over the world. As such, those later events did not constitute a danger to the existence of Islam even though they brought widespread losses and great catastrophes like what happened during the Mongol invasion of Muslim lands. Badr and the Confederates were a different case altogether; they were unlike any other crises that the Muslims suffered.
The Umayyad-engendered tribulation was similar to those two. The Umayyads had extended their control over everything including the positions of power and influence in Islamic society. They achieved this through political legitimacy in the name of Successor to the Messenger of God (S). It was from this office that the people received the religious edicts regarding what is permissible and what is not, therefore, by relying on this very position, the Umayyads embarked on destroying the religion. If things had gone their way nothing would have remained of Islam except its name, as Husayn (‘a) said to the governor of Medina when he invited him to pay allegiance to Yazid ibn Mu’awiya: “Then farewell to Islam if the Muslims are put to test through a ruler like Yazid.”7
On the day of Ashura, Husayn (‘a) was able to annul the legitimacy of the caliphates of the Umayyads and the Abbasids. Thereafter, their palaces, dissipation, luxury, oppression and aggression no longer constituted any danger to Islam, however destructive its effect was on Islamic society. The Muslims no longer considered the position of caliphate as hallowed and legitimate; henceforth, they deemed them no better than other kings and rulers who indulge in oppression and excess and injustice.
The Ummayds continued to rule and political leadership passed from them to the Abbasids, but the people did not consider them the authority on religious law as they considered the earlier caliphs who ruled after the Messenger of God (S).
Therefore, the battle at Karbala on the day of Ashura was a special victory which God exclusively granted to Husayn (‘a), his Hashimite kinsmen and companions who accompanied him. They attained this victory by being killed—all of them.
- 1. Bihar al-Anwar, 45/87, Basa’ir al-Darajat, 481, Al-Luhuf, 28, Ibn Shahr Ashub’s Al-Manaqib 4/76, Mathir al-Ahzan, 39.
- 2. Ibn al-A’tham’s Al-Futuh, 5/105; Al-Tabari, 3/315; Al-Kamil, 2/559.
- 3. . Al-Kharaij wa al-Jara’ih, 2/847, Bihar al-Anwar, 44/298.
- 4. Al-Tabaraisi’s Al-Ihtijaj, 2/24; Ibn Shahr Ashub’s Manaqib Al Abi Talib, 3/257; Bihar al-Anwar, 45/83; Ibn Abi al-Fath al-Arbili’s Kashf al-Ghummah, 2/228.
- 5. Ibn Nama’ al-Hilli’s Muthir al-Ahzan, 72; Bihar al-Anwar, 45/119, Sheikh Abdulah al-Bahrani’s Al-Awalim, 386; Sayyid Muhsin al-Amin’s Lawa’ij al-Ashjan, 211.
- 6. Tafsir al-Mizan 12/238.
- 7. Muthir al-Ahzan 15; Bihar al-Anwar, 44/326; Al-Awalim, 175, Lawa’ij al-Ashjan, 27.