Chapter 18: Imam Husayn’s journey to Karbala

Those, who strive for a cause, do not care for the odds or the consequences. Imam Husayn (a.s.) left Medina for the cause of Islam; to save Islam from the corruption, innovation and distortions introduced by the Banu Umayya. Islam was no longer the simple way of life, in which bereft of pomp and pretensions, the ruler was hardly distinguishable from the ruled. When Imam Ali (a.s.) went into the bazaar of Kufa, he could not be differentiated from the ordinary citizens. As the Caliph, Imam Ali (a.s.) made it clear that he was not to be feared and shunned. He was one among them, though he held the ultimate authority. Even people, who did not profess Islam, felt safe under his rule.

The Banu Umayya always considered Islam the religion to be an empire and nothing more. They could hardly understand, nor did they care to understand the philosophy of Islam. For them, Islam was a monarchy heritable by those who had the money, means and power to suppress the masses. Instead of being the creed providing to the poor, help in this world and hope of salvation in the life to come, Islam was made into the creed of the oppressive ruler wielding his sword in the name of Islam while they were, in fact, cutting the faith into shreds. This terrifying image of the Banu Umayya is now being imposed upon Muslims allover the world by the opportunistic detractors of Islam. This terrorist image is the only everlasting contribution of the Banu Umayya to Islam.

It was then high time for someone to take up the cause of the real Islam, to bring out and expose the corruption, innovation and distortions introduced by the Banu Umayya in Islam. It was time for somebody to take up the cause of the poor and the oppressed, and to retrieve for them the Islam that had changed their very way of life and made them intellectuals instead of the robbers, dacoits and murderers that they were before the advent of Islam. When Imam Husayn (a.s.) took up this cause, he had no fear of numbers or the immediate result. He knew that he was grossly outnumbered. He knew that he and his followers would certainly loose their lives in the strife. He also knew that ultimately posterity would realise that the truth would prevail over falsehood. He established that even in the face of huge numbers and heavy odds, the truth never bows down to falsehood. It is for these reasons that we find Imam Husayn (a.s.) ignoring what appears, at first look, to be sound advice from Abdullah Ibn Abbas, Muhammad ibn al-Hanafyyia, Abdullah ibn Ja’far, Jabir ibn Abdullah al-Ansari, Ibn az-Zubair, Umar ibn Abdurrahman, Musawwar ibn Makhramah, Abdullah ibn Umar and a great number of relatives and friends.1

His relatives and friends were more concerned with the worldly outlook of extreme odds and immediate fatal result. Therefore, they tried to persuade him from going to Kufa, for they were fully aware from the days of Imam Ali’s Caliphate that the people of Kufa were weak-hearted, irresolute and most untrustworthy. They were also aware that Yazid and his men were capable of terrorizing and committing the greatest atrocities, even on women and children, in order to retain their power. However, Imam Husayn (a.s.) himself gave his reason for not listening to their apparently advice, “I shall not be blamed by Allah for shrinking from the religious duty of training and guiding people to be pious and simple. If the people of Kufa prove disloyal and if I am killed in the discharge of my duty, my position will be much nearer to God and they will be responsible for their disloyalty and evil deeds.2

According to the historian ibnul Atheer,3 Abdullah ibn Ja’far himself, and according to other historians,4 the Governor of Mecca Amr bin Sa’eed either by himself or at the instance of Abdullah ibn Ja’far, wrote a letter to Imam Husayn (a.s.). The letter was taken by Abdullah ibn Ja’far and Yahya bin Sa’eed, the brother of the Governor of Mecca. At-Tabari5 sets out the contents of the letter as follows:“I am told that you are proceeding towards Iraq. May God protect you from any evil that may befall you. I am afraid you may be killed. I am sending this letter through Abdullah bin Ja’far and my brother Yahya bin Sa’eed so that you may come back with them to me. I assure you that in me you will find asylum, protection, kindness and good company, and for what I have written I hold God as my witness.” Imam Husayn (a.s.) wrote back, “You have offered me asylum and protection. In Allah is the best asylum and refuge. He does not give refuge in the hereafter to those who do not fear Him in this world. We pray that we may fear and abide by Him in this world so that we may hope for and find His refuge on the Doomsday. May Allah reward you for your offer to be kind and good to me.”6

Realizing that Imam Husayn (a.s.) was ready to sacrifice himself for his cause, Abdullah ibn Ja’far left his two teenaged sons Oun and Muhammad as his representatives to fight against evil.7 Then, Abdullah ibn Ja’far and Yahya bin Sa’eed returned to Medina.

Muhammad bin Abu Talib Musavi writes that when al-Waleed bin Utba, the governor of Medina learnt that Imam Husayn (S) was proceeding towards Iraq, he (al-Waleed) who knew the cruel nature of Ubaidullah ibn Ziyad, the recently appointed Governor of Basra and Kufa, wrote to ibn Ziyad as follows:“Al-Husayn is coming towards Iraq. He is the son of Fatima who is the only child of the messenger of Allah. See that no harm comes to him nor should his family members be harassed in any manner. If any irreversible damage is caused by you, the world will never forgive or forget you.” Ibn Ziyad read the letter but he did not heed the advice.8

Imam Husayn’s caravan stopped at a place called al-Abtah where Yazid ibn Thabit al-Basri met Imam Husayn (a.s.) and learnt about the reasons of the Imam’s migration.9 The caravan halted for a short while at some place where Imam Husayn (a.s.) purchased food and other stock from a caravan that brought goods from Yemen.

At a junction of roads called Thatul Araq, Imam Husayn (a.s.) met Bishr bin Ghalib who was coming from Iraq. When Imam Husayn (a.s.) enquired, Bishr said, “Their (the people of Kufa) hearts are with you, but their swords are against you.”10 According to ath-Thahabi, at Thatul Araq, Imam Husayn (a.s.) met the famous poet al-Farazdaq who was going with his mother to Mecca to perform the Hajj. According to some authors, their meeting took place at Mecca near the Kaaba. Yet, others report that their meeting took place at a place called al-Sifah.11 Al-Farazdaq tried unsuccessfully to dissuade Imam Husayn (a.s.) from going to Kufa. When Imam Husayn (a.s.) resumed the journey towards Kufa, he found that all crossroads were manned by ibn Ziyad’s military and check-posts were set up barring all roads except the one leading to Kufa. Hussayn bin Numeir was in charge of these operations. By doing so, ibn Ziyad ensured that Imam Husayn (a.s.) had no other option but to take only the road to Kufa. Imam Husayn (a.s.) and his caravan reached a place called Tha’labiyyah where he met Abu Hurrah to whom Imam Husayn (a.s.) explained why he had to leave Mecca.

As there was no fresh news from Muslim, Imam Husayn (a.s.) sent, according to some historians, Qais bin Musahhir as-Saidawi, and according to some others, Abdullah bin Yaqtur, to go speedily in advance and get news about Muslim ibn Aqeel. It is quite probable that Imam Husayn (a.s.) sent both Qais bin Musahhir and Abdullah bin Yaqtur, one after another within a short span of time.

At a place known as Qadisiyya, Qais bin Mushir was intercepted by Hussayn bin Numeir. Before he could be searched, Qais destroyed the letter written by Imam Husayn (a.s.) to the people of Kufa. Hussayn bin Numeir arrested and sent Qais bin Musahhir to Ubaidullah ibn Ziyad in Kufa. Ubaidullah asked Qais to curse Imam Husayn (a.s.) from the on pulpit. Qais ascended the pulpit and praised the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) and cursed Mu’awiya, Yazid and Ubaidullah ibn Ziyad, who ordered Qais to be thrown from above the roof of the palace and later beheaded.

At a place called Wadi al-Aqiq, Abdullah ibn Ja’far’s two sons Oun and Muhammad brought and delivered a letter from their father addressed to Imam Husayn (a.s.). They told the Imam that Abdullah himself had gone to meet Amr bin Sa’eed, the Governor of Mecca, to persuade him to provide all comforts to Imam Husayn (a.s.) when he would arrive in Mecca. Later, Abdullah ibn Ja’far himself met Imam Husayn (a.s.) and left his two sons to serve him as his representatives.

The next day, Imam Husayn’s caravan reached Waqisa, which was turned into a garrison of Yazid’s Syrian soldiers. A short distance from Imam Husayn’s caravan, another caravan was following and pitching its tents. Imam Husayn (a.s.) sent his men to inquire who the members of the other caravan were and what there intention in following his caravan was. They found that the caravan belonged to Zohair bin al-Qain al-Bajali12 of the Nukheilah tribe and that they were following Imam Husayn’s caravan from Mecca, and out of the fear of the Umayyad soldiers, they were pitching their tents at a distance. When they heard the invitation of Imam Husayn (a.s.), they hung their heads and dared not visit him for fear of persecution by the Umayyad army that was posted all along the route taken by the caravans. When their women folk saw this, they blamed them for their meekness. Zohair ibn al-Qain then went to Imam Husayn (a.s.) and after a short conversation, he returned and asked his men to pitch their tents near Imam Husayn’s caravan. Thus, Zohair’s men joined the small band of Imam Husayn’s followers and their women joined the company of Lady Zainab (a.s.).13

On the next day, Imam Husayn (a.s.) halted at a place called al-Khuzaimiah.14 He found a man hurrying past his tents. He sent Abdullah bin Sulaiman and Munthir bin Isma’il to find out who the rider was. The rider informed Sulaiman and Munthir that he was Bakr from the Bani Asad tribe and that he was coming from Kufa where he had witnessed the torture and beheading of Hani ibn Urwa and Muslim bin Aqeel. They narrated the details of the incidents leading to the martyrdom of Muslim ibn Aqeel and Hani ibn Urwa. When questioned about Abdullah bin Yaqtur, he said, “Abdullah was captured by Hussayn bin Numair who searched his bags and found letters addressed by Imam Husayn (a.s.) to some nobles of Kufa. Abdullah bin Yaqtur snatched and tore the letters into small bits and scattered them into the wind. Being Enraged, Hussayn sent bin Yaqtur to Ubaidullah ibn Ziyad, who in turn, tortured and threatened to kill him if he failed to either disclose the names of persons to whom Imam Husayn (S) had addressed letters or alternatively to curse Imam Husayn (a.s.) from on the pulpit of the mosque of Kufa. Bin Yaqtur chose the second alternative. When being brought before the congregation in the mosque, bin Yaqtur ascended the pulpit and instead of cursing Imam Husayn (a.s.), he praised his noble qualities and he cursed Mu’awiya, Yazid, Ibn Ziyad and the Banu Umayya, and exposed their cunning, lawlessness, cruelty and evil intentions to retain the power illegally grabbed by them. The enraged ibn Ziyad killed bin Yaqtur by throwing him down from the highest building.”15

On hearing this, both Abdullah bin Sulaiman and Munthir bin Isma’il were so much grieved that they did not disclose the sorrowful incidents to Imam Husayn (a.s.) except after two days. When the caravan halted at Zobala, they narrated the incidents related to them by Bakr at al-Khuzaimiah. Meanwhile, Hilal bin Nafi’ and Uthman bin Khalid brought the news confirming Bakr’s narration gathered through others.

When being told about Muslim’s martyrdom, Imam Husayn (S) called Muslim’s teenaged daughter Ruqayyah and placed his hand on her head. The young girl realized that her uncle was treating her as if she was an orphan. Imam Husayn (a.s.) said, “My daughter, from today I am your guardian in place of your father.”

The next morning, a resident of Kufa called Abu Harrah came to Imam Husayn (a.s.) and said, “In these awful times, what made you leave the safe precincts of your grandfather and the Holy Kaaba?” The Imam (a.s.) replied, “O Abu Harrah, I showed restraint when the Banu Umayya usurped my properties. I showed restraint when they spread falsehood and they cursed me and the Ahlul Bayt openly. Now they have sworn to kill me. I have no other option but to migrate since it is obligatory on me to avoid bloodshed as far as possible.”16

Wherever Imam Husayn (a.s.) made a halt, people joined his caravan, hoping that he was going to Kufa to remove the tyrant governor and that there would be a war resulting in acquiring territory and treasury. They had no other desire but to take a share in the spoils of a possible war. By the time, Imam Husayn’s caravan reached a place called Zobala, the number of persons accompanying had swelled into several thousands.

According to some historians, it was at Zobala that the Imam (a.s.) received the details of the martyrdom of Muslim ibn Aqeel, Hani Ibn Urwa and Abdullah ibn Yaqtur, through the messengers sent by Muhammad bin al-Ash’ath and Umar ibn Sa’d, as the last wish of Muslim ibn Aqeel.17 Some other historians say that this happened at Tha’labiyya.18 Some historians record that it was at Tha’labiyya that a Christian man met Imam Husayn (a.s.), became a Muslim and joined the caravan and was martyred at Karbala.19

Realizing the materialistic objective of several persons who joined his company, Imam Husayn (a.s.) called together all of them and said,

You are aware of the grievous murder of Hani, Muslim, bin Yaqtur and other supporters of the Ahlul Bayt. We are betrayed by the very people who wrote letters welcoming us to Kufa. Yazid is only demanding me to give my allegiance to him and recognize him as the leader of all Muslims. He seeks only to punish me if I did not comply. If you choose to continue to follow me, you will be exposed to severe torture before losing your life. Whoever wants to leave may do so now. It will not be a sin to leave me now nor shall I have any complaint against those who wish to leave now.”20

A majority of the people who accompanied Imam Husayn (a.s.) in the hope of acquiring the spoils of war, departed, leaving only a small contingent of a few hundred people.

Throughout his journey, Imam Husayn (a.s.) frequently gave such sermons and advised the people to leave him. As a result, at every stage the number of followers dwindled, so much so that only those accompanying him from Medina or a few more of persons who joined him remained with him, in the ranks of those who were later martyred at Karbala.

Imam Husayn (a.s.) left Zobala after a few days. When the caravan passed a place called Batnul Aqabah, an old man called Amr bin Louthan from the tribe of Bani Ikrima told Imam Husayn (a.s.), “I see nothing but the tips of lances and the glint of swords as far as the eye could see in Kufa. The very people, who had written letters requesting you to come, have now turned against you. They will not stop short in killing you. Please turn back and to any place except Kufa.”

Imam Husayn (a.s.) replied, “I am aware of the situation, but I can not act against the Will of God. By God, these people will surely slay me.”21

A short distance from Batnul Aqabah, the caravan came across an oasis in a place called Shiraf with many wells and ponds. Here, Imam Husayn (a.s.) halted the caravan and asked his men to fill all leather bags and every utensil they had with water. This move perplexed his companions as so much water added to the weight and slowed down the journey.

Hussayn bin Numair (whose father’s name is mentioned as Tameem instead of Numair by a few authors) was given charge of sealing all the roads except the one leading to Kufa. Al-Hurr ibn Yazid ar-Riyahi was sent by Ubaidullah ibn Ziyad with a thousand horsemen as an advance force to intercept, surround and prevent Imam Husayn (a.s.) from going anywhere else except Kufa, where Yazid’s forces had already assembled in great numbers and strength.

After a short journey in the midst of barren and arid desert, a cavalry of al-Hurr’s one thousand tired and thirsty horsemen approached Imam Husayn’s caravan. Several of them fainted due to dehydration and their horses were stumbling due to the severe thirst under the scorching sun of the desert. The contingent was headed by al-Hurr bin Yazid ar-Riyahi, who said that before he could utter anything he and his men and horses needed water to quench the thirst that was nigh killing them. Imam Husayn (a.s.) ordered his men to supply water to all of them including their horses.

Ali Bin at-Ta’’aan al-Muharibi says, “On that day, I was present as one of the soldiers in al-Hurr’s cavalry. I was so thirsty and weak that I could hardly drink the water offered by al-Husayn’s men. Al-Husayn helped me in drinking the water. When all the men and horses of al-Hurr were satiated and it was time for the noon prayer, al-Husayn asked al-Hajjaj bin Masruq to call out the Azan for prayers. When men from al-Husayn’s camp and the cavalry of al-Hurr had assembled for prayers, al-Husayn addressed them as follows:‘I have not come to you of my own accord, but only in response to your written requests and personal pleadings in which you stated that you are without an Imam [guide in religious matters]. You expressed the desire that I should guide you in religious matters and you had covenanted and bound yourself to abide by my religious guidance. Tell me clearly if you are firm, even now, in your covenant to take and abide by my guidance in religion, so that I may be assured once again about the genuineness of your need and your promise. On the other hand, if you do not intend to keep your covenant made to me or if you do not want my presence, I shall return to where I have come from’.

When nobody gave any reply, al-Husayn asked al-Hajjaj Bin Masruq to call out the Eqamah. Then al-Husayn asked al-Hurr if he wished to separately offer the prayer along with his men or wished to pray under al-Husayn’s Imamate. Al-Hurr replied that he and his men would offer the prayer under the leadership (imamate) of al-Husayn, and then we rested until evening.”22

Ali Bin at-Ta’’aan al-Muharibi continues, “When the time for the Evening Prayer came, al-Husayn asked the Azan be called out. Once again, when all the men from both camps assembled, they requested al-Husayn to lead the prayers… After offering the prayer, al-Husayn addressed the men as follows:“Fear God and do justice by giving the rightful person his due. We the Ahlul Bayt have the rightful and superior claim, and we deserve to be the successors of the messenger of Allah instead of those who have now usurped the seat of Caliphate. The usurpers are oppressing you and are indulging in excesses. But in spite of your numerous letters and representations, if you now choose to deny my rights and if you do not wish to welcome me amidst you, I will return back to whence I have come’.

Al-Hurr replied, ‘I know nothing about the letters of which you speak’.

Thereupon, Imam Husayn (a.s.) called Uqba bin Sam’an who brought the bag containing the letters. On seeing thousands of letters written by the people of Kufa, al-Hurr said, ‘We did not write these letters. We are bound by the orders to surround and bring you to Ubaidullah ibn Ziyad in Kufa’. Then al-Hurr read out a letter sent by Ubaidullah ibn Ziyad under orders of Yazid, with specific instructions directing the cavalry headed by al-Hurr to surround Imam Husayn’s caravan and lead it straight to Kufa. Imam Husayn (a.s.) said, ‘Your death will overtake you before you could accomplish that task’. Imam Husayn (a.s.) asked his men to prepare for the journey back to Medina. When they were about to proceed, al-Hurr’s forces obstructed the way. Imam Husayn (a.s.) rebuked al-Hurr for obstructing the passage. Al-Hurr told Imam Husayn (a.s.) that he had no personal ill will against Imam Husayn (a.s.) and that he was constrained to obey Ibn Ziyad’s order; otherwise, Ibn Ziyad would carry out the threat to confiscate all his properties and kill him and all his children and family members for disobedience. Al-Hurr said that since Imam Husayn (a.s.) did intend to go to Kufa, he would also not be allowed to go to Medina. Al-Hurr suggested that Imam Husayn (a.s.) might take any road except the road to Medina or Kufa. On hearing this, Imam Husayn’s caravan turned right and proceeded towards al-Uthayb and al-Qadisiyya.23

On the way, the caravan halted at al-Badiyah. Al-Hurr and his one-thousand-man army were closely following Imam Husayn (a.s.), and were praying behind him. At-Tabari reports from Abu Makhnaf that Uqba bin Abul Khirad has narrated a lengthy sermon of Imam Husayn (a.s.) addressed to his followers and to al-Hurr and his men at al-Badiyah. The sermon is as follows:

“God will punish those who do not oppose, by word and deed, a tyrant who legitimizes what is forbidden, transgresses the limits prescribed by God, breaks his covenant and flouts the traditions of the messenger of Allah (S) and terrorizes and tyrannizes his subjects and leads a sinful life. The Banu Umayya have become the disciples of Satan and forsaken God. They have forbidden what is lawful and made lawful what is forbidden by God. They have appropriated the public treasuries as if they are their personal properties. I am the first one to oppose and protest against their evil deeds. You wrote letters to me and your representatives came to me. I am told that you have made a covenant that you will not betray me to my enemies nor will you desert me in times of need. It is but just that you should abide by your covenant. I am Husayn son of Ali and Fatima the only child and daughter of the Messenger of God (S). I am with you and my family is with your family. We are not those who misappropriate public funds. We are those who do not touch or use public funds. We lead our lives as any common man, so that you may emulate us by leading a simple life bereft of wasteful pomp. On the contrary, if you choose to ignore and break your pledge and wish to absolve yourself from the promised obligations, it will not surprise me, for you have broken your covenants made with my father Ali, my brother Hasan and my cousin Muslim ibn Aqeel. Only a conceited and inexperienced person will be misled by your vain promises. Whoever makes a pledge and then breaks it is in deed at a great loss.”24

Imam Husayn’s caravan halted at a place that was the pasture of an-No’man bin al-Munthir’s horses. It was near the border between the Arabia, Iraq and Persia. Here, Thur-Rimma bin Adi, Nafi’ bin Hilal, Majm’a bin Abdullah and Umar bin Khalid met Imam Husayn (a.s.). Thur-Rimma was an expert guide of the desert roads. Thur-Rimma recited a poem eulogizing Imam Husayn (S) and his noble cause and cursing the Banu Umayya and their evil deeds.25 All the four men pledged their support to Imam Husayn (a.s.). Al-Hurr said that since they were from Kufa, they should be sent back to Kufa or in the alternative, they should remain in al-Hurr’s army. Imam Husayn (a.s.) told al-Hurr that they were his sincere followers and they should remain with him and be considered among those who had accompanied him from Medina.26

Thur-Rimma informed Imam Husayn (a.s.) that many of the people of Kufa, under mortal fear of being killed by ibn Ziyad, and several others having succumbed to his bribery were ready to take up arms against Imam Husayn (a.s.). When asked about Qais bin Mussahir, the messenger sent by Imam Husayn (a.s.) to Kufa, they replied that he too, like Abdullah Bin Yaqtur, was killed when he refused to curse the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) and to praise Yazid from on the pulpit in the mosque of Kufa. Thur-Rimma told Imam Husayn (a.s.) that ibn Ziyad has filled up the open lands of Kufa with a great number of soldiers from Syria and other places, with orders to intercept and immediately kill Imam Husayn (a.s.).

Thur-Rimma then came near Imam Husayn (a.s.) and whispered, “I have seen a great army in Kufa gathered by Yazid and Ubaidullah ibn Ziyad in order to surround and kill you. I like that you avoid Kufa at all cost. You have such a small group of men that even al-Hurr’s thousand horsemen can overpower and kill you all. If you want, I can show a safe place in the mountains of Aja’. It is a safe valley surrounded by mountains where my tribe lives in a fortification that is safe from marauders and neighboring kings. From there, you can write to the tribe of Tay who inhabit the mountains and within ten days, their warriors will come to guard you. I promise you that as long as we, the tribe of Tay, live no harm will come to you.”

Imam Husayn (a.s.) thanked and blessed Thur-Rimma for his offer and said that he was under a binding promise that he would not betray al-Hurr by leaving with Thur-Rimma.

Thur-Rimma said that though he wished to join Imam Husayn’s caravan and sacrifice his life along with him, he had to bring essential goods to his people on whose behalf he was acting as a trustee and also that the yearly sustenance of his large family was with him to be delivered to them. Thur-Rimma promised that as soon as he had discharged his trust, he intended to rush back to Imam Husayn (a.s.) to sacrifice his life for him. Imam Husayn (a.s.) bade farewell to Thur-Rimma.

According to Jamil bin Marsad, Thur-Rimma narrated that after discharging his trust, he (Thur-Rimma) made his last will and bade farewell to his family, saying that Imam Husayn (a.s.) was in need of assistance and that he had to hurry to sacrifice his life for the Imam (a.s.). When Thur-Rimma was on his way, he met Samat bin Badr near the place called Uthayb al-Hijanat. Samat bin Badr informed Thur-Rimma that Imam Husayn (a.s.) was already martyred. Thur-Rimma returned to his people to narrate the above incidents.27 Another weak report relates that Thur-Rimma was present with Imam Husayn (a.s.) in the battle of Karbala and suffered several wounds due to which he fainted and was later rescued by some people.28

When the caravan pitched the tents at some place on its way, Imam Husayn (a.s.) gathered his small group of companions and spoke to them saying,

“You see what matter has happened. The world has changed its colours; virtue has almost vanished. This is the age of Wrong and the followers of Right have passed away. A time has come when a true believer has to separate himself from the mischievous mutineers and turn towards his Creator. Do you not see that the Divine Commands are neglected and what is forbidden is practiced with relish? Life under tyrants is hard to live and I consider death a great honor.”29

Imam Husayn (a.s.) then tried to dissuade his companions from accompanying him, as he wanted to face the situation alone. He did not want to expose his companions to any harm. Hearing this, Bilal bin Nafi’, Burair bin Khudhair and other companions of Imam Husayn (a.s.) protested saying that if they would be slain, then revived to be slain again a hundred times, they would not leave him, for he was fighting against an evil tyrant, and therefore would attain martyrdom and they too have chosen to fight against evil and attain martyrdom. Thus, the companions, despite Imam Husayn’s entreaties, refused to leave him. Zuhair ibnul Qayn got up and said, “Even if life in this world becomes everlasting, we would prefer to leave [give up our lives] this world behind to follow and serve you.”30

This situation is unique and exceptional in the history of humankind. It is natural for anybody facing imminent threat to his life to assemble as many of his supporters as possible to defend himself. Here, we find Imam Husayn (a.s.) dissuading his companions from accompanying him. This is not the conduct of one who desires to wage war. Imam Husayn’s companions were also unique in that they knew that they were few in number and would be annihilated by the huge army that had gathered, and yet they willingly chose to stand against tyranny along with Imam Husayn (a.s.).

In stark contrast is the case of Ubaidullah ibn al-Hurr al-Ju’fi who was a sympathizer of the third Caliph Uthman. He had fought in the war of Siffin as a supporter of Mu’awiya against Imam Ali (a.s.). When Imam Husayn’s caravan made a short halt at Qasr Bani Muqatil, they found Ubaidullah ibn al-Hurr Ju’fi in a tent. When Imam Husayn (a.s.) met him, he said that he had left Kufa as it was filled and fortified with the military of Yazid with instructions to kill Imam Husayn (a.s.) and his family members even if it were to be in the premises of the Kaaba. Imam Husayn (a.s.) said, “All of you have led a sinful life. Here is an opportunity to be absolved of your sins. If you support me, my grandfather the messenger of Allah (S) will intercede for you.”

Ubaidullah replied, “I know that what you say is true, but I have seen Yazid’s forces in such great numbers that it is impossible for me to fight them, and I do not want to lose my life. Anyway, I offer you my horse. He is a fast steed and he has always brought me safe from my pursuing enemy.”

Imam Husayn (a.s.) replied, “I am in no need of your horse. I advice you to go so far away that when I call out, my voice would not reach you, for then if you hear me and do not come to my aid, you will be a transgressor who will surely be thrown into hell.”31

Al-Hurr and his cavalry was following Imam Husayn’s caravan at some distance and some times, he purposefully halted for long time so that there was great distance between the two caravans. When Imam Husayn (a.s.) and his small caravan reached a placed called Nineveh, a rider came from Kufa and gave a letter in which Ibn Ziyad directed al-Hurr to surround Imam Husayn’s caravan and take it to a parched, arid open land away from any source of water. On hearing this, a follower of Imam Husayn (a.s.) called Yazid bin Ziyad bin Muhajir Abu Sha’tha al-Kindi and an-Nahdi asked the messenger:“Are you not Malik bin Nusair al-Beddi?” The man replied affirmatively. Then, Yazid bin Ziyad bin Muhajir said, “You are indeed an evil messenger.” Malik said, “I have been sincere to my leader and I did what he bade me.”

Yazid said, “Indeed, you have chosen an evil leader; for the Qur’an reveals that such leaders will be deemed to be the ones who invite people to the fire of Hell and they shall not receive any help [on the Day of Judgement].32

It has been the shameful conduct of the infidels and the hypocrites to deny water. In the same way, Mu’awiya had denied water to Imam Ali (a.s.) and his men before. Ibn Ziyad denied water to be given to Muslim ibn Aqeel too.

Thus surrounded, Imam Husayn’s caravan reached a place that was about forty miles from Kufa and three miles from the bank of the Euphrates. Here, Imam Husayn’s horse stopped and all efforts to goad him to go forward having failed. Imam Husayn (a.s.) took the unprecedented step of using his whip, which the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) never did as they loved their animals and always treated them kindly. Imam Husayn (a.s.) then changed several horses but to no avail. Then, camels were brought in and they too did not move from their place. At last, Imam Husayn (a.s.) asked some villagers about the name of the place, and some said it was al-Jazeerah, some others said Nineveh, and others said the Land of Taff. Yet, another said it was known as as-Saqiya, but Imam Husayn (a.s.) kept on inquiring. An old man, who had seen over a hundred summers said, “This place, I heard from my elders, was called Karbala in ancient times and that every Prophet (S) who passed by this place was afflicted with severe grief.” Imam Husayn (a.s.) said, “Verily, Karbala is composed of two words Karb (sorrow) and Bala (affliction).”

In the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 1:19 says that the Prophet Moses (a.s.) lost his way and wandered for forty years around a place called ‘the Terrible Wilderness’ near Kadesh Barnea which later came to be known as Qadisiya. It was also the place foretold for sacrifice near the river Euphrates [Jeremiah 46, 9]. According to the Prophetic traditions, Noah’s ark was caught in a whirlpool and Jesus Christ suffered and cried at Karbala. Imam Husayn (a.s.) then ordered the tents to be pitched. It is unanimously agreed by all historians that it was Thursday, the second day of Muharram of the year 61 A.H. Imam Husayn (a.s.) sent his men to call the residents of the village inhabited by the Banu Asad, who owned the lands where he had pitched his tents. He offered to pay 60,000 dirhams and purchase the land. The tribesmen remonstrated saying that the accursed land was fallow and never did anything grow in it, and therefore no useful purpose would be served in buying it. Imam Husayn (a.s.) replied, “This land will become fertile with my blood and the blood of my kin and companions, and people will soon inhabit it and my Shia (followers) will visit it as a place of pilgrimage.”

Imam Husayn (a.s.) purchased the land for 60,000 dirhams and a purchase was made in the name of Ali al-Akbar bin al-Husayn ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s.). Imam Husayn (a.s.) asked Ali al-Akbar to immediately entrust the land back to the owners by declaring, “I donate this land back to you and make you its custodians so that you may keep the visitors of our graves as guests for three days.”

Then, Imam Husayn (a.s.) called all the men, women and children of the tribe of Banu Asad. He addressed their men saying, “My grandfather the messenger of Allah (S) has told me that after my martyrdom, Yazid’s army would severe the heads of the martyrs and leave the bodies on the open plains of Karbala. It is my desire that you should arrange to bury our bodies.” Imam Husayn (a.s.) turned to the women and told them, “If, out of fear of reprisal by Yazid’s men, your men fail to bury our bodies, please try to do so under the cover of night.” Imam Husayn (a.s.) then addressed the children of Banu Asad, “Oh children, if your men and women fail to bury our bodies, I entrust the responsibility to you to playfully come and throw a little soil to cover our headless bodies.”

The entire night of the second day of Muharram was spent by Imam Husayn (a.s.), his family and companions in offering prayers and glorifying God.

  • 1. Imam Husayn (a.s.) & Tragic Saga of Karbala, p. 108-115.
  • 2. Life of Husayn the Saviour, P. 124.
  • 3. Al-Kamil of ibnul Atheer.
  • 4. Al-Iqd al-Fareed.
  • 5. Tarikh at-Tabari.
  • 6. Nafasul Mahmoom, p. 245-248.
  • 7. Ibid., p. 247 quoting Tarikh at-Tabari.
  • 8. Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 44 p. 368, Nafasil Mahmoom, p. 249, Imam Husayn (a.s.) & Tragic Saga of Karbala, p.116.
  • 9. Imam Husayn (a.s.) & Tragic Saga of Karbala, p. 118.
  • 10. Nafasul Mahmoom, p. 249.
  • 11. Imam Husayn (a.s.) & Tragic Saga of Karbala, p. 119, Footnote 3.
  • 12. Some authors say that the name is Zohair ibn Qais instead of Zohair ibn al-Qain.
  • 13. Nafasul Mahmoom, p. 254-256, Life of Husayn, p. 127, Imam Husayn (a.s.) & Tragic Saga of Karbala, p. 127.
  • 14. A’tham al-Kufi says that the poet al-Farazdaq met Imam Husayn [s] at al-Khuzaimiah.
  • 15. Life of Husayn the Saviour, p. 128, Nafasul Mahmoom, p. 258-260 quoting al-Malhuf.
  • 16. Nafasul Mahmoom, p. 260.
  • 17. Al-Malhuf, al-Saduq’s al-Irshad, Nafasul Mahmoom, p. 262.
  • 18. Imam Husayn & Tragic Saga of Karbala, p. 128, Imam al-Husayn wa Asshabuh, p. 166.
  • 19. Ibid., p. 132, Ibid., p. 172.
  • 20. Nafasul Mahmoom, p. 261.
  • 21. Nafasul Mahmoom, p.263.
  • 22. Nafasul Mahmoom, p.266, Imam Husayn (a.s.) & Tragic Saga of Karbala, p. 132 quoting Tarikh at-Tabari, vol. 5 p. 403.
  • 23. Nafasul Mahmoom, p. 267.
  • 24. Nafasul Mahmoom, p.269, Imam Husayn (a.s.) & Tragic Saga of Karbala, p. 142, Maqtal al-Husayn of al-Muqarram, p. 184.
  • 25. Tarikh at-Tabari, ibnul Athir’s al-Kamil.
  • 26. Tarikh at-Tabari, ibnul Athir’s Kamil. quoted in Nafasul Mahmoom, p. 274.
  • 27. Nafasul Mahmoom, p.277 quoting Tarikh at-Tabari.
  • 28. Maqtal of Abu Makhnaf.
  • 29. Life of Imam Husayn the Saviour, p. 136, Nafasul Mahmoom, p. 270.
  • 30. Al-Malhuf.
  • 31. Imam Husayn (a.s.) & Tragic Saga of Karbala, p. 148, Maqtal al-Husayn, p. 189, Nafasul Mahmoom, p 278-289.
  • 32. Nafasul Mahmoom, p. 291.