It is surprising that al‑Ya`qubi, who was almost certainly a Shi’i, has devoted little space to the account of the martyrdom of the Imam al‑Husayn in his history1.

It seems to be a mere summary of Abu Mikhnaf's account, with the addition at the end of a miraculous tradition. According to this, the Prophet had given Umm Salama some soil which he had received from the angel Gabriel. This would turn red when the Imam al‑Husayn was killed. When that happened, Umm Salama tearfully announced the death of the Imam in Medina, at the time that it had happened at Karbala'.2

He strays slightly from Abu Mikhnaf's account in suggesting that both the Imam al‑Husayn and Ibn al‑Zubayr went to see al‑Walid together when he summoned them to pledge allegiance to Yazid3.

Generally al‑Ya'qubis account gives the impression of being a rather hurried summary of Abu Mikhnaf and it does not add appreciably to our knowledge of the historical tradition.

Al‑Tabari's account of the martyrdom of the Imam al‑Husayn has long been regarded as the definitive account. He gives the isnad of the account that he uses, and interrupts the narrative to give other alternative or confirmatory traditions. In the main he relies on Ibn al‑Kalbi and `Ammar b. Mu`awiya al‑Duhfi. Al‑Tabari seems to be using `Ammar's version as a means of interpreting Ibn al‑Kalbi’s.

Thus he gives the first half of `Ammar's version first, and then follows it with Ibn al‑Kalbis fuller version. He then presents the second half of `Ammar's version, followed by the second half of Ibn al‑Kalbi's. On two occasions he interprets Ibn al‑Kalbi with differing reports from `Umar b. Shabba4, and he concludes his account with the brief version of Husayn b. `Abd al­Rahman‑similar to that of al‑Baladhuri. What emerges looks at first glance to be the authoritative version of the martyrdom of the Imam al‑Husayn.

However, this is not quite the case. As already mentioned, the annalistic nature of the work means that the agreement made by Mu`awiya with the Imam al‑Hasan, and the death of the Imam al‑Hasan and the letters of the Kufans, are not reported. The surprising thing is that, in what purports to be a comprehensive history, they are not reported elsewhere in the text.

The other annalistic historians, al‑Ya'qubi, al‑Dinawari, and Ibn A'tham do not report them. These omissions must make us question al‑Tabari's motive. The answer to this problem will lie in a more comprehensive study than this, which is limited to the account of the martyrdom of the Imam al‑Husayn.

We have already noted that the use of 'Ammar's version is intended to be an interpretation of Ibn al‑Kalbi's, and thus weakens the stature of the Imam. This is probably deliberately done by al‑Tabari. However, he ignores, at least in this account, material from the `Uthmaniyya.

  • 1. Al‑Ya`qubi, Ta'rikh (Najaf, 1964), II, 229‑33.
  • 2. Ibid., p. 233.
  • 3. Ibid., p. 229.
  • 4. Al‑Tabari, op. cit., II, 242‑6, 272.