The Arrival in Karbala
When Imam Husain (A) left Makka for Kufa, a large group of people accompanied him. Many of these people thought that if the grandson of the Holy Prophet (S) was making a stand against Yazid, the whole Muslim world would support him and Yazid would surely be toppled. They thought that they would be able to share in the glory and war booty that would follow. Although Imam Husain (A) repeatedly warned them that they were mistaken in their thinking, the crowd persisted in travelling with him.
Imam Husain (A) continued on his journey towards Iraq until he neared Kufa. From there he wrote a letter to the people of Kufa and sent it through Qays bin Mashar Saidaawi (R). In the letter he informed the people of Kufa that he had received Muslim's letter and that he was on his way to Kufa and would arrive soon. Qays took the letter to Kufa but was arrested outside the city and taken to the governor, Ubaidullah ibne Ziyad.
As he was led to the governor, Qays managed to tell some people where Imam Husain (A) was, and the word spread secretly amongst the loyal Kufans, many of whom managed to reach Imam (A) in Karbala.
The governor told Qays (R) that the only hope he had to save himself was to mount the pulpit and publicly abuse Imam Husain (A). Qays (R) addressed the people by first praising Alláh and then said, "O People, Husain (A) is the best of men living at present and is the son of Fatima (A) the daughter of your Prophet (S). I have been sent by him. All of you should rise and assist him." He then cursed Ubaidullah and his father and praised Imam Ali (A). By this time, the governor had heard enough and ordered that Qays be thrown down from a high roof. Qays (R) did not survive this brutal treatment and was martyred. His broken body was left on the ground where it fell.
Meanwhile, Imam Husain (A) continued his journey towards Kufa until he reached a place called Zurud. There, he learnt about the martyrdom of Muslim (R) and Hani (R) and said: "We are from Allah and to Him we all will return." He prayed to Allah to bless them.
At the stopping place of Uzaybul Hajanaat, Imam Husain (A) received news about Qays. When the caravan stopped at Zabala, he informed his companions of the deaths of Muslim, Hani and Qays and the state of affairs in Kufa. Thereafter, he said, "Our supporters have withdrawn their support from us. Whoever wishes to leave us and go his own way should do so." At this time most of his companions left and very few remained. These few were his sincere followers and had not come with him for material gains. In response to the news of Imam Husain's (A) approach, several military parties had been sent out to search the desert and stop his advance. One such party, led by a famous commander, Hur ibne Yazid ar-Riyahi, met the caravan of Imam Husain (A) on the 1st of Muharram 61 A.H.
Arrival of Hur
When they met, Hur's army was exhausted and desperately thirsty. Imam Husain (A) instructed that water from their stores be provided to Hur's men and horses.
It was time for noon prayers. Imam Husain (A) led the Jamaat prayers and Hur's army also prayed behind him. After the prayers were over, Imam Husain (A) addressed Hur and his companions. He reminded them that he was only there in response to their written invitations. He also explained that he was the rightful Imam and that he was one of the people mentioned in the Holy Qur'an in the verses relating to Mubahila (3:61) and Purification (33:33). He warned them of the consequences of obeying a man like Yazid, and urged them to refrain from staining their hands with the innocent blood of the family of the Holy Prophet (S).
Hur did not accept these words of advice, and although there was no fighting, he diverted the path of Imam Husain (A) away from Kufa and led him into the desert. On Thursday, 2nd of Muharram 61 A.H., they reached a place where the horse of Imam Husain (A) stopped. Although he changed horses several times, the animals would not carry him further.
Gathering the people who lived there, Imam Husain (A) asked the name of the place. Some said that it was called Naynava, others said it was also called Mariya. Imam Husain (A) asked if there was any other name. Someone said it was also known as Shattul Furaat. Then one old man came forward and said that he had heard his ancestors say that one name for this area was Karbala.
When Imam Husain (A) heard this, he smiled and thanked Allah and then said, "Surely this is the plain where my Holy Grandfather has prophesied that I, with my faithful companions shall lay slain after suffering three days of hunger and thirst. We will not move from here - we have reached our destination."
Imam Husain (A) then ordered for his caravan to stop and tents were pitched next to the banks of the river Euphrates.
Events of the First Days in Karbala
The caravan of Imam Husain (A) had arrived in Karbala and their tents were pitched next to the river Euphrates. As his companions settled down, Imam Husain (A) took his brother Abbas (A) around the barren desert and pointed out the various places where each of his comrades would fall and be slain on the Day of Ashura.
The people living in the area were from the tribe of Bani Asad. Imam Husain (A) purchased the land of Karbala from them and then gifted it back to them. He then addressed the men of Bani Asad saying, "On the tenth of this month you will see our dead bodies lying on this plain with our heads severed and taken away. Please bury us, and when our devotees come to visit our graves, treat them with honour and point out to them the places of our burial." He then turned to the women of the tribe and said, "O virtuous ladies! If your husbands, fearing Yazid, do not bury us, then please encourage them to do so or do it yourselves." Finally, he turned to the children of Bani Asad and said, "O innocent ones! If your parents, out of fear of the ruler, do not bury us then, by way of playing, bring some earth and throw it on our bodies to hide them." This heartrending appeal of Imam Husain (A) made all the listeners weep.
When Ubaidullah ibne Ziyad, Yazid's governor in Kufa, learnt that Hur had brought Imam Husain (A) and his companions to Karbala, he sent his troops to surround them. The first man to arrive in Karbala on behalf of Yazid was Amr ibne Sa'ad, who was the commander-in-chief of all the forces. He brought with him 6,000 men. After that, regiment after regiment began to pour in onto the plains of Karbala. Historians all agree that at least 33,000 of Yazid's men gathered to fight Imam Husain (A), while some state that the figure was closer to 900,000 men. This large army was bent on the massacre of Imam Husain (A) and his companions for the sake of the rewards that Yazid had promised them. Many amongst them were the same people of Kufa who had invited Imam Husain (A) to come there in the first place.
The first act of the enemy was to order Imam Husain (A) to remove his tents from near the river. Abbas (A) objected to this demand, claiming priority of occupation and the right of the grandson of the Holy Prophet (S) to stay where he had first camped.
When the enemy threatened to march towards their tents, the lion-hearted Abbas (A) stood firm and drew out his sword shouting, "If anyone dares to advance one more step forward, he shall lay headless on the ground." His bravery was well known and none dared to step closer. However, Imam Husain (A) called to his brother saying, "Brother Abbas, do not let the bloodshed be started by our side. When Allah is with us, it does not matter how far the river is."
Imam Husain (A) then ordered for their camp to be moved further into the interior of the desert.
In the days that followed there were several meetings between Imam Husain (A) and Amr ibne Sa'ad. Amr kept on insisting that the only way to stop war was for Imam Husain (A) to give the oath of allegiance to Yazid. He said that once the allegiance was given, all worldly comforts would be at the disposal of Imam (A). However, Imam (A) remained firm on his stand and replied: "I shall never yield to the one who does not believe in Allah and one who defies Him, both by words and actions. I am willing to meet any calamity but will never surrender Truth to falsehood."
On the 7th of Muharram, Amr ibne Sa'ad received orders to block all sources of supply of water to Imam Husain (A). From that day onwards, not a single drop of water was allowed to reach the camp of Imam (A). The scorching desert sent heat waves everywhere and the little children began to cry with intense thirst. Even little babies could not receive milk, because their poor mothers were themselves suffering from thirst.
The brave group of Imam Husain (A) suffered these tortures with patience as they watched the enormous army that faced them prepare for war.