Thursday 30th of March 2023
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The Journey to Damascus

The Journey to Damascus

On the morning of 11th Muharram, the army commander, Amr ibne Sa'ad called his officers to decide what steps they should take next. It was decided that the captives should be led through Kufa to Damascus to the court of Yazid. Amr ibne Sa'ad marched directly on to Damascus to inform Yazid about the events of Karbala, and to obtain his promised reward. He left Shimr and Khooli in charge of the captives.

With these arrangements completed, some soldiers were appointed to bind the ladies and children. They tied ropes and chains round their hands and feet. The ladies were put on camels with no saddles. The hands of some of the ladies were tied behind them and linked to the necks of the young children. Imam Ali Zainul Abideen (A) was heavily chained and made to walk on foot, despite his weakened condition. The heartless officers made the captives pass by the place where the bodies of their loved ones lay, headless and without even shrouds over them. Many of the ladies and children threw themselves down from the camels to the bodies of their dead relatives, only to be whipped by the soldiers. Even the innocent children were not spared the lashes.

Once the captives were made ready, the heads of all the martyrs were mounted on spears. Every soldier who was given a severed head was made in charge of it and marched at the front of the army. The head of Imam Husain (A) was given to Khooli, who was a hard-hearted tyrant.

Finally the caravan got underway for Kufa. The pitiful condition of the little children was such that they could not hold on to the camels due to their inexperience and the rapid pace of the march. Many children fell to the ground as a result. Despite the pleading of the mothers, the heartless soldiers would not halt the march to remount a fallen child. Today, the road from Karbala to Kufa has many graves of such children who were left to die in the hot desert.

Within a few hours, the caravan reached the outskirts of Kufa. Shimr decided to send a messenger to inform the governor, Ubaidullah ibne Ziyad, of their arrival. The messenger returned, saying that all preparations had been made, and the captives should be marched through the main streets of the town.

The people of Kufa lined the streets and looked from the balconies of their houses as the family of prophet Muhammad (S) was paraded in front of them. The announcer was saying, "O people of Kufa, we are bringing you the grand-daughters of the Prophet and other women and children of the family of Husain son of Ali. Husain, who had risen in rebellion against our Caliph Yazid, has been defeated and killed with his companions on the battlefield of Karbala. The members of his family are now being taken to the court of Yazid, to face whatever punishment he wishes to inflict upon them. People of Kufa, this is the fate that awaits all those who question the authority of Yazid, and no person who tries to rise against Yazid will be spared."

The people heard all this in astonishment. Not long ago Kufa was the capital of Imam Ali (A), and they all remembered the kindness shown to them by him and his sons and daughters. On seeing the pitiful condition of the captives, many were crying, but none dared to raise their voice against the oppressors, in case a similar fate befell them.

Finally the caravan reached the court of the governor. When he saw the condition of the captives, he mockingly said that it seemed that some slave girls had been brought before him, and not the grand-daughters of the Holy Prophet (S). This remark made Bibi Zainab (A) lose her temper and she addressed Ubaidullah ibne Ziyad with a fiery and eloquent speech.

Bibi Zainab (A) related the status of the Holy Prophet (S) and his Holy Ahlul Bayt (A). She reminded him of the teachings of Islam about the considerations to be given to prisoners, especially women and children. She warned him about the temporary nature of his victory and the doom that he and his evil master Yazid would soon face. She began to tell the assembled people about the inhuman crimes committed against Imam Husain (A) and his companions.

As she spoke, the people were reminded of the eloquence of her father Imam Ali (A). Ubaidullah became worried at the effect the speech of Bibi Zainab (A) was having on the people. He tried to shout her down by threatening the worst possible torture if she did not stop. Undaunted by his threats, the brave lady continued and her words moved many to tears. One of the aged companions of the Holy Prophet (S), Zaid bin Arkan, who was blind, rose up and protested at the cruel treatment of the members of the family of the Holy Prophet (S).

Ubaidullah realised at once that the situation could get out of hand. The speech of Bibi Zainab (A) could cause an uprising against him if he did not act quickly. He ordered his men to get rid of the companion of the Holy Prophet (S) and told Shimr and Khooli to get the captives out of Kufa immediately.

Arrangements were made for departure straight away, and Shimr chose the quietest route to Damascus so that he would not face any surprise attacks from anyone wishing to avenge the martyrs of Karbala. The caravan of the captive families of Imam Husain (A) and his companions was led by Shimr through the deserts of Iraq and Syria, from Kufa to Damascus (Sham).

Throughout the journey people noted with wonder that the lips of the cut head of Imam Husain (A) kept on moving, reciting verses from the Holy Qur'an. Clearly heard was the following verse:

Do you think that the people of the Cave and of the Inscription were of Our wonderful miracles? Surae Kahf, 18:9

By reciting this verse, the Holy Imam (A) was calling the attention of the people to the next verses of this chapter of the Holy Qur'an (18 : 9-14), where Allah relates how He increased the guidance and strengthened the hearts of the Companions of the Cave, when they stood up against the evil- doers. Even in death, our Holy Imam (A) was pointing out the similarity of the message of his stand in Karbala to the other event from ancient history.

The captives finally reached Damascus. On reaching the city gates, the caravan was halted and Yazid was informed of their arrival and his permission was sought to bring the captives into his court.

The Court of Yazid

By the time the captive ladies and children of prophet Muhammad's family reached Damascus, they were in a terrible state. Their bodies were covered in dust, their clothes were in rags and blood oozed from the wounds and cuts inflicted by the tight ropes and whips.

As the caravan was paraded through the streets, majority of the people of Damascus hurled stones at them. Some were moved by their pitiable condition. They could not believe that these ladies, who were covering their faces with their hair, were actually from the family of the Holy Prophet (S). They wondered how Yazid had dared to humiliate these holy people in such a manner.

Finally, the prisoners arrived at the court of Yazid. After a wait of one full hour under the scorching sun, the orders came from Yazid to admit the captives into the court. As they entered they saw that Yazid sat on an elevated gold throne while his courtiers and foreign envoys sat on gilded chairs around him. Yazid was already quite drunk. What a terrible spectacle the poor prisoners had to witness. They saw that the accursed oppressor had the head of Imam Husain (A) on a tray at his feet and he was rattling a cane against the teeth and lips of the Holy Imam (A). He was boasting, "Ah, aren't these the same lips that received the kisses of Muhammad? How delighted will be my ancestors when they see how I have taken revenge for their defeats in the battles of Badr and Hunayn." In his drunk state, Yazid could not believe that the people he saw before him were members of the family of the Holy Prophet (S). In a quivering rage he accused Amr ibne Sa'ad of substituting slaves instead of the relatives of Imam Husain (A).

Amr ibne Sa'ad knew that Yazid was more dangerous than normal when he was drunk so he quickly reassured him and began to point out the ladies. He said, "O Commander of the Faithful, your slave has done exactly what you asked. Those are the sisters of Husain, Zainab and Umme Kulthum. The young girls are Sakina and Rukayya, the daughters of Husain. That lady is Rubab, the widow of Husain, while the others are orphans and widows of Husain's friends and relatives. The man before you is Husain's son Ali."

Yazid turned his attention to the people that Amr ibne Sa'ad had identified. He noticed that an old lady was standing in front of one of the lady prisoners, as if shielding her from the gaze of Yazid. He pointed towards the direction of the lady and shouted, "Who is that one sheltering behind the old woman, and why?" Amr ibne Sa'ad replied, "Your Majesty, she is Zainab, daughter of Ali and Fatima and the old woman standing in front of her is Fizza, the Abyssinian princess, who calls herself the slave of Fatima and Zainab."

Yazid ordered Shimr, who was guarding the prisoners, to throw Fizza aside so he could have a full view of Bibi Zainab (A). Seeing Shimr advance towards her, Fizza turned to the Abyssinian slaves who stood armed behind Yazid as his bodyguards, and said, "O brothers from my native country, will you watch silently while an aged lady from your land is molested in this manner?"

Hearing the words of Fizza, some of the slaves stepped forward and warned Yazid, saying, "Your Majesty, ask Shimr to step back from our lady Fizza. If he does anything to her, blood will flow like water in your court."

Yazid was stunned at this threat and immediately stopped Shimr and assured his bodyguards that he would not harm Fizza. However, he was furious at the fact that he had been humiliated in this manner in front of everyone and he soon wound up the court session, deciding to imprison the captives in the dark dungeons of the fort of Damascus.


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