Mu'awiya died in Rajab 60/680, while his son Yazid was in Hawran, on a hunting trip. Yazid wrote a letter to al-Walid Ibn 'Utba, the governor of Medina, asking him to take the allegiance of the people of Medina by force if necessary. He added, “Take the allegiance of 'Abd Allah Ibn 'Umar, 'Abd al-Rahman Ibn Abi Bakr, 'Abd Allah Ibn al-Zubayr and al-Husayn Ibn 'Ali, allowing them no excuses, if anyone of them refuses, have him beheaded and send me his head”.
When al-Walid received the letter, he called for Marwan Ibn al-Hakam to consult with him concerning al-Husayn and Ibn al-Zubayr. Marwan advised him to send immediately for them and ask them to give their allegiance at once, if they refused, he should murder them before the news of Mu'awiya's death spread in the city. Late in afternoon, he called for al-Husayn and Ibn al-Zubayr. He read Yazid's letter to al-Husayn Ibn 'Ali reporting the death of Mu'awiya and asking the people of Medina to acknowledge him as his father's successor.
Al-Husayn answered that the governor would surely prefer to have him give his allegiance not in secret but rather openly with the rest of the people the following morning. Al-Walid agreed that al-Husayn should come with the rest of the people, but Marwan advised that he should imprison al-Husayn either until he would agree, or be executed. Al-Husayn, however, confronted Marwan with angry threats and left the governor's house.
That same night Ibn al-Zubayr fled secretly to Mecca, taking by-roads in order to avoid the pursuing forces. Al-Husayn headed towards Mecca by night, accompanied by his sons, his brother's (al-Hasan's) sons, and his brothers, except for Muhammad Ibn Hanafiyya, two days before the end of Rajab. Unlike Ibn al-Zubayr, however, he followed the main road refusing to hide his intensions of opposition and revolt. Al-Husayn left Medina repeating the Qur'anic verse,
So he left the city, fearful and vigilant. He said, 'My Lord, deliver me from the wrongdoing lot.' (Holy Qur’an, 28:21).
As he arrived in Mecca, he recited this verse,
Before his departure, al-Husayn wrote his final will and entrusted it to his brother Muhammad Ibn Hanafiyya at their last meeting. This contained another statement of the motives al-Husayn in championing the revolt against the Umayyad ruler. He wrote, “I have not risen up in revolt out of evil intent or greed, neither to perpetuate corruption nor wrongdoing. Rather I did so in quest of establishing right orders in the community of my grandfather. I wish to command right and forbid wrong and follow the example of my grandfather and my father 'Ali Ibn Abi Talib. If men would accept me in truth, it is to God that they would render acceptance, for He is worthy of truth. However, if they reject me I would bear it with patience and submit to God's judgment between the people, and me for He is the best judge”.2
He stayed in Mecca for about two months. In the meantime, he received many letters and emissaries from Kufa calling him to lead the opposition against Yazid, and pledging their absolute support. In their letters, the Kufans insisted that they had no imam, and thus they urged al-Husayn to come to them that God may bring them together with him to the path of truth and divine guidance.3
He sent his cousin, Muslim Ibn 'Aqil, to Kufa to see if the people were united, and had committed themselves to an agreement, he should speedily inform him of that. Muslim at first stayed in the house of al-Mukhtar Ibn 'Ubayd Allah al-Thaqafi when he arrived in Kufa. Ibn Ziyad, the governor of Kufa, began to spread informers to find out the location of Muslim, forcing the latter to shift his base of operations to the house of Hani Ibn 'Urwa al-Muradi. When Ibn Ziyad finally learned of Muslim's hiding place he sent for Hani, whom he beat severely and finally executed.
When Muslim heard of the death of Hani, he went out with his supporters to invade the palace and kill Ibn Ziyad. The latter, however, using threats and bribes, told the notables of Kufa to talk to the mob outside and persuade them to desert Muslim. At last, they left Muslim alone; after a bitter struggle, they captured and brought him before Ibn Ziyad. After a long exchange of harsh words between the two men, Muslim was taken up to the roof of the palace and martyred, his head and corpse thrown down into the marker-place below in order to threaten the masses. He was killed on Dhu al-Hijja 9, 60/680.
News of Muslim's disaster had not yet reached al-Husayn because it had only happened on the day he set out. He knew that he had only two alternatives: to give allegiance to Yazid, and thus disobey a divine command and live the life of a coward and a traitor, or to resist and be killed if necessary. He left Mecca before completing his pilgrimage rites. Just outside Mecca, he met the famous poet, al-Farazdaq, who, with great surprise, inquired why he had left Mecca before completing his pilgrimage. Al-Husayn answered, “Have I not left in haste I would have been arrested”.4
To another man who asked the same question, al-Husayn gave a revealing answer. “The Umayyad usurped my possessions, and I bore that patiently; they reviled my honor and I bore that patiently too. Then they sought my life, and so I left”.5
Al-Husayn pressed on swiftly and directly toward Iraq. He sent Qays Ibn Mushir al-Saydawi (or 'Abd Allah Ibn Yaqtur his foster brother) to Kufa.The envoy of al-Husayn Ibn 'Ali was arrested and sent to Ibn Ziyad. He ordered him to go up the pulpit and curse al-Husayn. Qays Ibn Mushir al-Saydawi went up the pulpit, praised, and glorified God. Then he said, “People, this man, al-Husayn Ibn 'Ali, the best of God's creatures, the son of Fatima, the daughter of Messenger of God is nearby. I am his messenger to you, answer him”. Ibn Ziyad ordered to have him thrown from the top of the palace. They threw him and he was smashed to pieces.6
Al-Husayn and his companions were proceeding towards Kufa, when they came across a man from Kufa, he told them that he had only left Kufa after Muslim and Hani had been killed, and he had seen them being dragged by their legs into the market place. News of Qays Ibn Mushir al-Saydawi (or 'Abd Allah Ibn Yaqtur) also reached him. He gathered his men and took out a written statement to the people and read it to them,
“In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful. News of the dreadful murder of Muslim Ibn 'Aqil, Hani Ibn 'Urwa, and 'Abd Allah Ibn Yaqtur has reached us. Our Shi'ite have deserted us. Those who would prefer to leave us may leave freely without guilt”.
Most of those who attached themselves to al-Husayn, thinking him to be a victorious conqueror and hoping for much booty, began to disperse from him to right and left until there were only left with him those followers who had come with him from Medina, and a small group of those who had joined him.7
Ibn Ziyad sent al-Hurr Ibn Yazid al-Riyahi with a thousand equestrians to intercept al-Husayn and bring him captive to Kufa. He met al-Husayn near al-Qadisiyya, not far from Karbala'. The men and horses of al-Hurr were exhausted from the heat of the desert sun and al-Husayn ordered his men to give both men and animals water to drink. Al-Hurr again told al-Husayn of the situation in Kufa, and warned him of the dangers that lay ahead. When the time for afternoon prayers came, al-Husayn led the prayers of both camps. After the prayers, he delivered a short sermon in which he reminded the men of their letters to him.
He also reminded them of his status as the grandson of the Prophet (S), that he was more worthy of their allegiance and leadership of the community than the Umayyad rulers were. Nevertheless, if they were now displeased with his coming, he indicated that he would return to the place from which he had come.
He spoke more specifically, of why he was taking such a risk, putting in danger his life and that of his family and friends,
“O people, the Messenger of God (S) said during his life. “He who sees an oppressive ruler violating the sanctions of God, revoking the covenant, opposing the Sunna of Messenger of God (S), dealing with the servants of God sinfully and cruelly; and does not show zeal against him in word or deed, God would surely cause him to enter his abode in the fire”.
Then he described the Umayyad rulers in the light of this prophetic hadith,
“These men have verily abided by the obedience of Satan and abandoned the obedience of the Merciful. They have displayed all corruption: annulling the limits of God, usurping the people's wealth, allowing what God had prohibited and prohibiting what He had sanctioned”.8
Al-Husayn declared that he was most worthy to be zealous in the cause of the divine law and Sunna of the Prophet. If those listening would join him in holy struggle, it would be for their good, if not, they would reject their share of reward for such an act of faith in the world to come. They protested that they were not among those who wrote to him. He brought out two saddlebags full of their letters, and put before them, and many were ashamed to see their names among those who had written.
On Muharram the second, 61/680 al-Husayn arrived in Karbala'. The next day a courier came from Ibn Ziyad and ordered al-Hurr to keep al-Husayn away from the water of the Euphrates, to deprive him of shelter and a place of refuge. He sent 'Umar Ibn Sa'd with four thousand men to Karbala'. There came a letter from Ibn Ziyad in which he ordered 'Umar Ibn Sa'd, “Prevent al-Husayn and his followers from getting water. Do not let them taste a drop of it just as was done with 'Uthman”. 'Umar Ibn Sa'd sent five hundred men as guards over the banks of the Euphrates, on the seventh of Muharram.
Ibn Ziyad, then, sent Shamir with a letter to 'Umar Ibn Sa'd ordering him to demand the unconditional submission of al-Husayn or, failing that, to kill him and his followers. Shamir carried Ibn Ziyad's message to 'Umar Ibn Sa'd on the ninth of Muharram. In the late afternoon 'Umar Ibn, Sa'd gathered his forces and marched towards al-Husayn's tents. Al-Husayn was sitting by his tent, leaning on his sword and dozing. His sister, Zaynab bint 'Ali, heard the scream of men and horses and ran up to alert him. He woke up, startled and related a dream that he had just had of the Prophet, who told him, “O Husayn my beloved, you shall be coming to us soon”.9
Al-Husayn sent his brother 'Abbas to ask 'Umar Ibn Sa'd to postpone the confrontation until morning so that they could pray to God and seek His forgiveness. Al-Husayn went to his followers and relatives and told them, “I permit you to leave me. All of you can go away with the absolution of your oath, for there will be no obligation on you from me. All of them answered that they would not leave him to live after him. Al-Husayn and his followers spent the night before their death in prayers and recitation of the Holy Qur'an, so that their voices could be heard like the buzzing of bees.10
In the morning, he mobilized his followers after the Morning Prayer. He had with him thirty-two equestrians and forty foot-soldiers. When he confronted the enemy, he called people to listen to his words; he praised and glorified God, and mentioned to what God is entitled. He called for blessings on the Prophet (S) and on the angles and other prophets. Then he continued:
“Trace my lineage and consider who I am. Then look back at yourselves and remonstrate with yourselves. Consider whether it is right for you to kill me and to violate the honor of my womenfolk. Am I not the son of the daughter of your Prophet, of his trustee and his cousin, the first of the believers in God and the man who first believed in what His Apostle (S) brought from his Lord? Was Hamza not, the lord of martyrs, my uncle? Was Ja'far not, the one who flies in Heaven, my uncle? Have you not heard the words of the Messenger of God (S) concerning my brother and me, 'These are the two lords of the youths of the inhabitants of Heaven?' There are among you, those, who if you asked them would tell you. Is this not sufficient to prevent you from shedding my blood?”
They answered him, “Submit to the authority of your kinsmen, the Umayyad, they have never treated you with anything, but what you liked”. Al-Husayn replied, “By God, I will never give you my hand like a man who has been humiliated; nor will I flee like a slave”. Then he called out
I seek the protection of my Lord and your Lord, lest you should stone me. (Holy Qur’an, 44: 20).
When al-Hurr heard al-Husayn's words and saw the uncompromising attitude of 'Umar Ibn Sa'd and his army, he defected to al-Husayn's camp with deep remorse and repentance. He stood facing to 'Umar's men and reproached them for killing al-Husayn. It was then that 'Umar himself drew an arrow, and shooting it at the direction of al-Husayn's camp. He said, “Bear witness for me before emir that I was the first to shoot an arrow”. 12
They attacked al-Husayn and his followers on every side, but al-Husayn's followers fought fiercely. Then the cavalry attacked them and even though they were only thirty-two equestrians, they did not attack any side of the Kufan cavalry without putting it to flight. One of the Kufan commanders sent words to 'Umar Ibn Sa'd, “Don't you see what my cavalry is receiving today from this small number? Send the foot-soldiers and archers against them”. Al-Husayn's followers continued to fight fiercely against the enemy until midday. The number of killed and wounded among the followers of al-Husayn continued to grow until the sun began to decline. The men in al-Husayn's camp were so few that their losses stood out much more clearly than those of 'Umar Ibn Sa'd.
By early afternoon, about half men were killed. Al-Husayn led the few that remained in the prayer of fear (salat al-khawf). One of his followers stood before him to shield him from the arrows of the enemy, but he was shot with arrows, and fell dead.13 When nobody except a group of three members of his family was left al-Husayn moved against the people, until all the three were killed, and he was left alone. Then al-Husayn sat in front of the tent. He brought his son, 'Abd Allah Ibn al-Husayn ['Ali al-Asghar], who was just a baby and sat him on his knee. However, one the Banu Asad shot an arrow, which slaughtered the child.14
Despite being weighed down by wounds in his head and body, al-Husayn began to strike against the enemy with his sword and they scattered, to right and left, away from him. When Shamir Ibn Dhu al-Jawshan realized the position, he called for the cavalry and they came up at the rear of the foot soldiers. He ordered the archers to shoot and they showered al-Husayn with arrows until he became as a hedgehog is with the spikes.15
As al-Husayn was swaying back and forth, unable to move, Shamir spurred the equestrians on, saying, “What are you waiting for?” One man ran and dealt him a blow with his sword, which severed his left shoulder. Another stabbed him in the back and he fell on his face. Shamir bent down and cut off his head. Then they began to plunder al-Husayn. They even took the veils and garments of the women. They did not left one of his women or daughters or the women of his family who did not have her clothes ripped from her back, taken away and removed from her forcibly.
Then 'Umar Ibn Sa'd called out his followers, “Who will volunteer to make his horse trample on al-Husayn's body?” Ten men volunteered and trampled on the body of al-Husayn with their horses until they had broken and bruised his back.16 As the women were carried away to Kufa, and passed by the corpses and dead still lying on the sand, Zaynab bint 'Ali Ibn Abi Talib cried out in lamentation,
“O Muhammad, on you the angels of heaven prayed. Behold al-Husayn naked under the sky, soiled with his blood and dismembered. O my Muhammad, your daughters are captives, and your male descendants lying dead blown about by the wind”.17
When the captive with the heads of the martyrs arrived in Kufa, Ibn Ziyad had given the people a general summons and had ordered them to be present to see the heads. He sat before the people, and put the severed head of al-Husayn before him. He began to poke at the teeth with a cane. Zayd Ibn Arqam, a Companion of the Prophet, saw him poking the teeth with the cane, said, “Take your cane away from those two lips, for by God I have seen the Messenger of God touch these lips countless times”.
The next morning Ibn Ziyad sent the head of al-Husayn to Yazid, after it had been taken through all the streets and tribes of Kufa. He ordered the women and the young boys to be made ready for traveling. He ordered 'Ali Ibn al-Husayn to be chained with a chain around his neck. Then he dispatched them, to follow the heads, with Shamir, the heads being put in front of him.18
When the heads were put in front of Yazid and among them was the head of al-Husayn he proudly gazed at the head before him and wished his ancestors of Badr were present before him to see how he had amply revenged them.
Forsooth the sons of Hashim played with power, for neither a word came [from God] nor was a revelation sent. I would not therefore be a true descendant of Khindaf [his ancestral tribe] if I would not take revenge on the house of Ahmad [Muhammad] for all he had done.19
Yazid's desire for drinking wine, singing girls, playing lute, and hunting, playing with his tame monkey, licentiousness and incestuous marriage (yashrabu al-khamr wa yankihu al-huram) showed him as a frivolous libertine.20
In the first year of his short reign of a little over three years, he martyred al-Husayn Ibn 'Ali. In the second year, he had his army pillage Medina. He summoned Muslim Ibn 'Uqba al-Murri, an old soldier who was deeply devoted to Umayyad. Since he was of great age and his infirmities had grown worse during the preparations for expeditionary force, Muslim set off in a litter. The army had been very well equipped, in anticipation of a difficult and detested campaign. Each soldier received a bonus of 100 dinars, in addition to his ordinary full pay. Reaching the oasis of Medina, Muslim went to pitch his camp on the Harra.
The Medinans had had time to dig and fortify a trench, on the vulnerable side of the town and it was there that a savage battle took place. At first, the battle went in the favor of the Medinan rebels, but it ended in the defeat of them, when Marwan obtained permission from the Banu Haritha to pass through their quarter with a detachment of cavalry and took the defenders the trench from the rear. The Medinans fled like ostriches. The Qurayshis were the first to take the flight and seek refuge in Mecca. Ibn Hanzala resisted bravely and fell with his eight sons (or most of them) and a number of men as resolute as himself.
The Syrians abandoned themselves to an appalling pillage that continued for three days. The soldiers took the opportunity to riot. The number of the victims differs from 4'000 to 10'000. They made the sacred district of the Prophet permissible for three days. They plundered the houses, killed the men and raped the women.
Many virgin girls were pregnant and gave birth to children with unknown fathers. Muslim compelled the defeated to renew their oath of loyalty to Yazid and demanded that they should recognize themselves to be the slaves of the caliph, who was thus free to sell them and their possession alike. Some individuals who refused to submit to this demand or who stipulated as a condition for their bay'a, that Yazid should undertake to follow the Holy Qur'an and the Sunna of the Prophet were executed.21 Muslim Ibn 'Uqba was then given the nickname Musrif Ibn 'Uqba (prodigal of human blood) because of the massacre of al-Harra.
In the third year of Yazid's reign, after a short stay in Medina, Musrif Ibn 'Uqba continued his way to Mecca where he had to fight 'Abd Allah Ibn al-Zubayr. Ka'ba was set on fire in the war against Ibn al-Zubayr. The town was bombarded with catapults (manjaniqs). They fought in the secure sanctuary of Mecca.22 Fighting continued until Yazid's death. He died in Hawwarin in 64/684. Ibn 'Arrada a minor Khurarsanian poet described the end of the kingdom of Umayyad as,
The body of Yazid laying in his pleasure palace at Hawwarin,
with a cup next to his pillow and a wine skin whose nose was still bleeding.23
Our Sunnite brother believes that, having elected [Abu Bakr in the Saqifa], the Muslim got rid of a hereditary government based on ancestry and blood. If one Hashimite, who was of course worthy for this task, had been elected at the first stage, both the worldly government, and religious and spiritual leadership would have been stabilized and limited to Banu Hashim. It would have led to a theocracy and priesthood ecclesiasticism, which now exists among the Christians.
Moreover, the same deviation that arose among the Christian, Magus and Buddhist priests would occur in the Muslim community, and the followers of this faith. The leadership of the community, the right to vote, and economical interest would be excluded to one family. During ages, a special group of people would be privileged to all other men. Abu Bakr's election was neither a precipitate and ill-considered deal, nor a predetermined plan, which came true. It was a divine arrangement that God the Powerful, His decree and His will wanted to make Islam prevail over all religions and to keep the unity of word.24
We believe that if 'Ali, a Hashimite, who was of course worthy for this task, had been elected at the first stage, the blessed tree (Ahl Al-Bayt) 25 would govern Islam, and the cursed tree (U mayyad) 26 would not grow. God explicitly and implicitly had introduced the Prophet's successor and the elevated position of the Apostle of God's family above the rest of the faithful. Certainly, if 'Ali, the Hashimite, had been elected, the Prophet would not witness people rush towards the house of Fatima, who was still bereaved of her father's death.
He would not view the martyrdom of his grandson al-Husayn and his naked body under the sky soiled with his blood and dismembered, his body trampled on with horses, broken and bruised back. He would not observe his daughters and his grandson 'Ali Ibn al-Husayn be captives and fastened with chains around their necks; his male descendants lie dead blown about by the wind and the severed head of al-Husayn be poked at the teeth with a cane. He would not see the Umayyad and the 'Abbasid be his successor and his progeny, the citadels of the pious and the repositories of knowledge, be removed from their office.
He would not examine the sacred district of Medina be permissible for three days. The houses in Medina be plundered. the men would be killed and the women be raped; many virgin girls be pregnant and give birth to children with unknown fathers and Muslims recognize themselves as the slaves of the caliph, who was thus free to sell them and their possession alike; Ka'ba be set on fire and the town be bombarded with catapults (manjaniqs).
We saw that a few years after the Prophet's death, the Umayyad collapsed the caliphate. The caliphate itself was transformed. No longer was the principle of early merit (sabiqa) and service in the cause of Islam, acknowledged. Instead, swords and soldiers, boots, the natural prop of despotism, determined thenceforth the identity of the vicegerent of God on earth! The caliph became counterpart of, and successor to the Roman-Byzantine emperor. He ruled Muslims as his subjects, absolute lord over their life and death.
Mu'awiya carried on successfully bribing, cheating, extorting, threatening, and murdering his way through his reign in order to consolidate his grip on money and power and to secure the succession of his unattractive son Yazid. Lacking Islamic legitimacy, his reign required the claim of revenge for the wronged caliph as a permanent legitimizing seal. This was the product of the Saqifa. The cursed tree succeeded the blessed tree.
'Umar Ibn al- Khattab says, “By God, the oath of the allegiance for Abu Bakr was merely a precipitate deal (falta) which then was carried out”.27 However, our brother says, “Abu Bakr's election was neither a precipitate and ill-considered deal, nor a predetermined plan, which came true”. We wonder which of them is right.
The unity of word and the privilege of Islam over all religions was an ideal that never came true. God says:
And obey Allah and His Apostle, and do not dispute, or you will lose heart and your power will be gone; and be patient, indeed Allah is with the patient. (Holy Qur’an, 8:46).
When the Prophet (S) passed away, 'Ali was faced with two problems: The problem of losing his legitimate right and the problem of vanishing Islam. He realized that Islam was more important than his right. Nevertheless, he did not split the unity of the Muslim community.
He renounced his claim rather than seeing harm to Islam. He found that endurance thereon was wiser. Therefore, he adopted patience “although there was mote in the eyes and suffocation in the throat”.28 However, his enemies ignored Allah and His Apostle's ordinance and a few years after the Prophet's departure, they initiated the first civil war in Islam.29
They revolted against the central caliphate and their then Imam and divided the community of Islam into two enemy groups. The gap between Muslim parties was deeper, the enmity between Muslims became severer during the Umayyad reign, and beyond, which has continued up to now. There is only one God, one Prophet, one Holy Qur'an and one Qibla, but there are some Islamic sects, which excommunicate other Muslims and kill each other.
The Muslim caliphs and emperors conquered many countries, but the Islamic virtues could not prevail over all territories. The Mongol emperors occupied more lands than that of the Muslims, but we do not appreciate them for their conquests. The ideal of Islam was to preach moral characteristics and prominent virtues. Many Muslim countries are now subjected to Christian or Jew governors. The Zionists govern Palestine and the Farther Mosque (masjid al-aqsa). The Americans occupied Afghanistan and Iraq. They imprison and kill Muslims, exploit their natural sources and rule over their people.
- 1. Tabari, Ta'rikh, 7/216-222.
- 2. Mulla Muhammad Baqir Majlisi (d. 1110/1699), Bihar al-anwar, al-Maktaba al-Islamiyya, Tehran, 1384, 44/ 329.
- 3. Tabari, Ta'rikh, 7/234.
- 4. Ibid, 278.
- 5. Ibn Tawus al-Baghdadi (664/1266), al-Luhuf 'ala qatla al-tufuf, 2nd edition, al-'Irfan, Sayda, 1347/1929, 39.
- 6. al-Mufid, Kitab al-irshad, 327-330.
- 7. Ibid, 333-334.
- 8. Tabari, Ta'rikh, 7/300.
- 9. Tabari, Ta'rikh, 7/307-318.
- 10. Tabari, Ta'rikh, 324-325.
- 11. Tabari, Ta'rikh, 330.
- 12. Ibid, 330.
- 13. al-Mufid, Kitab al-irshad, 357.
- 14. Ibid, 360.
- 15. Ibid, 362.
- 16. Ibid, 365.
- 17. Tabari, Ta'rikh, 7/370.
- 18. al-Mufid, Kitab al-irshad, 368.
- 19. Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani, Maqatil, 120.
- 20. Ibn Sa'd, 4: 212; Baladhuri, Ansab, 5/229.
- 21. Tabari, Ta'rikh, 7/421.
- 22. Ya'qubi, 2/250-252.
- 23. Tabari, Ta'rikh, 7/488.
- 24. Salimi, 8-9.
- 25. See Haskani, 1/406-409.
- 26. For more details about the Umayyads or the Hakamids as the cursed tree, see Holy Qur’an, 17:60; Ibn Abi al-Hadid, 9/220; Ibn Kathir, Tafsir, 5/85; Suyuti, al-Durr al-Manthur, 4/191.
- 27. See above 60 f.
- 28. See above 76.
- 29. See above 95.