Friday 1st of March 2024
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Ashura; the Tenth of Muharram

The battle of Karbala was foretold in almost all religions. The Bhaunik Puran of the Hindus was translated into Urdu by Maulvi Abdurrahman Chishgti, a prominent Sunni scholar under the title ‘Mir’atul Makhlooqat’. In that book, Mahadev relates to his wife Parbati all the future things that were to happen, including the birth of Prophet Mahamat (Muhammad) who will preach a great religion and that a few years after his death some evil men would unjustly murder his grandson.[1]

Among the Zoroastrians Jamasp Nama is a famous book of predictions. It was translated into Urdu by Mulla Wahidi, editor of Nizamul Mashayakh, Delhi. Jamasp predicts the birth of the Prophet (a.s.), the spread of Islam and the chaos after the Prophet’s death. He writes, “Religion shall become a stepping stone to rulership. People will wage war against his son-in-law. The son-in-law will have two sons. One will be poisoned and the other will be martyred along with his friends in the desert. The leaders opponent to the Prophet’s progeny will be men of low morals.[2]

The battle between Imam Husain (a.s) and the forces of Yazid took place on the tenth of Muharram, the year 61 A.H corresponding to October 9, 680 A.D.

Mirza Ghulam Abbas Ali writes, “Adib, the first month of the Jews, corresponds to Rajab of Moslems; and Nisan, the seventh month of the former, to Muharram of the later. But, during the time of Moses [Exodus Ch.12 V. 2], the seventh month of the civil year was changed into the first month of the sacred year, and hence Muharram that was originally the seventh month is now considered the first month of the year by Muslims.[3]  

[1] Understanding Kerbala by Sayyid Sa’eed Akhtar Rizvi, Eng. Tr. By Sayyid Ather Husain S.H Rizvi, Ansariyan Publication [2006], p. 70-73.
[2] Understanding Kerbala, p. 74.
[3] Life of Imam Husain [The Saviour], p. 170.

He writes further, “The Jewish months as well as those of Hindus and Moslems have always been Lunar. The difference in the dates calculated by the Jews and the Hindus from those of Moslems is due to the fact that the Jews give the month of Nisan 40 days and the Hindus give every third year an additional month, so as to make their years keep pace with solar years; otherwise, the Day of Atonement, Dasara and Muharram, all being the tenth day of the seventh month, would fall on the same day.” [1]

The tenth day of the seventh month has great importance in every true religion. The Christian and the Jews consider it as the Day of Atonement or the Day of Sacrifice. They are directed to observe Sabbath and rest, and a day of convocation in which they should afflict their souls and give offerings of fire to the Lord on that day.[2] There is no explanation with Christian and Jewish theologists as to why they are commanded to afflict their souls on the tenth day of the seventh month.

In the Hindu mythology, Pandavas got the permission to untie their weapons from the Jimmi plants in preparation of regaining their lost empire from the Kauravas. Until date, the Hindus celebrate it as Dasara, the tenth day of their seventh month. On this day, Hanuman found out the place where Ravana had hidden Sita, and informed it to Rama.

According to Muslim traditions, it was on the tenth day of the seventh month, at the place now called Karbala, Noah’s Ark was caught in a whirlpool and barely escaped drowning. On that day while passing the plains of Karbala during their times, the Prophets Abraham, Moses and Jesus stumbled, suffered bleeding injuries and cried when their hearts suddenly became heavy with inexplicable deep sorrow. Suffice it to say that the Tenth day of the Seventh month is of great importance in every religion, signifying war or sorrow.

It was the invariable custom among the Arabs in their wars to challenge the opponent into a single combat. Those who were at the bottom of the hierarchy came out first to throw or face the challenge, followed progressively by the best, bravest, and renowned warriors, sparing the commander until the last. If the single combat was indecisive, in rare cases, recourse was to be a general onslaught by the  

[1] Ibid., p. 170-171.
[2] Leviticus, Ch.16 vol. 29, Ch.23 vol. 23 to 32, Revelations 12:1-11.

entire army, but, ordering a general onslaught was looked down upon by valiant and noble soldiers as a mean and cowardly act of a vile and weak commander.

In the battle of Karbala, the tradition of single combat was adopted in the initial stages. The hostilities were invariably commenced by Yazid’s forces, who, finding confidence in their numbers, challenged Imam Husain’s small number of companions and family members in single combat. Imam Husain (a.s) being steeped in his father Imam Ali’s tradition, advised his small group of companions to refrain from commencing any hostility, and only to defend themselves whenever the enemy threw a challenge.

The scribes present in the battlefield were not in agreement as regarding who was the first martyr or the sequence in which Imam Husain’s companions went forth to meet the enemy’s challenge. The differences in their reports may be due to their situation, exact spot and time of their observation.

There also appears to be some difference, among various narrators, regarding the number of martyrs from Imam Husain’s camp. It is commonly asserted by the Shia sources that the total number of martyrs is seventy-two, comprised of fifty-four companions of Imam Husain (a.s) and eighteen members from his family including Ali al-Asghar, the six-month-old son of Imam Husain (a.s).

Moulvi Mirza Ghulam Abbas Ali Sahib writes, “… Thus, the whole number of Imam Husain’s companions ranges between seventy-two and one hundred and twenty according to different authors.” [1] According to him, the total number of companions, identified by name, is ninety-five and the number of Imam Husain’s family members is twenty-seven, thus making a total of one hundred and twenty-two martyrs. This figure takes into account twenty-eight companions of Imam Husain (a.s) who were martyred during the frequent shower of the enemy’s arrows,[2] shot blindly towards Imam Husain’s camp. Sheikh Abbas al-Qummi gives a list of twenty-nine companions of Imam Husain (a.s.) who were martyred in the first raid.[3] S.V. Mir Ahmed Ali has appended a brief  

[1] Life of Imam Husain, p. 203.
[2] Life of Imam Husain, p. 194, quoting at-Tabari who gives the names of 28 martyrs, killed by the shower of arrows at Karbala. 
[3] Nafasul Mahmoom, p. 353.

note on 105 martyrs of Karbala in his book ‘Husain, the Saviour of Islam’.[1]

All narrators, however, unanimously record that it was Umar ibn Sa’d who emerged from his tent, called his slave Duraid to whom he handed over the standard and stood under the shade of the banner with bow and arrow in his hand and shouted “My warriors! Bear witness before God and people that it is me, Umar son of Sa’d, who is the first to attack al-Husain.” Umar, then, shot the first arrow towards Imam Husain’s camp, signifying the commencement of war.

According to some narrators, al-Hurr, who crossed over to Imam Husain’s camp early that morning, was the first person to seek permission to face the challenger. Having got the permission from Imam Husain (a.s), al-Hurr was preparing to go into the battlefield, when his servant Urwa approached him saying that the slave cannot live to see his master facing the enemy. He begged to be allowed to go first. He first dispatched triumphed over several warriors in single combats and then killed many of the enemy who surrounded him before falling down a martyr. Thus, Urwa, Al-Hurr’s slave, according to some historians. was the first to face the enemy and to attain martyrdom, followed by al-Hurr’s son, brother Mus’ab and al-Hurr himself in that order.

According to Moulvi Mirza Ghulam Abbas Sahib, the first to face the enemy was Abdullah son of al-Hurr who attained martyrdom after slaying a good number from the enemy. He was followed by al-Hurr’s slave, son, brother and al-Hurr himself. [2]

However, there is unanimity among all the writers that the last person to face the enemy was Imam Husain (a.s). They also agree that just before his martyrdom, Imam Husain’s six-month-old infant son Ali al-Asghar (a.s) was brought into the battlefield to get for him some water, but Harmalah martyred him by slitting his parched throat with his powerful arrow.

Umar ibn Sa’d gave his army’s standard to his slave Duraid, the command of the left flank to Umar bin al-Hajjaj and the right flank to Urwa bin Qeis. He gave the command of the cavalry to Khouli and the infantry to Shabath bin Rib’iy.  

[1] Husain the Saviour of Islam, Ansariyan Publications, [2005], p. 198 to 213.
[2] Life of Imam Husain [A.S], p. 182.

Imam Husain (a.s) gave the standard to his brother Abul Fadhl al-Abbas (a.s), who in turn appointed Zohair ibn al-Qain to command the right flank and Habib ibn Mudhahir to command the left flank.

A detailed account of the battle itself is found in the various ‘Maqatil’.[1] Mirza Ghulam Abbas Ali’s book “Life of Husain” and the English translation of Nafasul Mahmoom provide the details for those who read English. Late S.V Mir Ahmed Ali, the well-known translator of the Qur’an into English, has also written a book under the title of “Husain; the Saviour of Islam” in 1964. Curiously, Ghulam Abbas Ali, S.V. Mir Ahmed Ali as well as this humble servant all belong to Madras. Another excellent book is Yasin T. al-Jubouri’s “Kerbala and Beyond.” Our object is not to go into lengthy details of the battle but to bring out the words uttered by Imam Husain (a.s) and his companions, so that we may understand the object and motive that propelled them to fight Yazid’s forces and attain martyrdom. Detailed accounts of the battle can be found in several books, which establish the ferocity and inhuman nature of the vile Yazid and his forces, and in contrast, the just cause and the spirit of independence from tyranny in which Imam Husain (a.s) and his noble companions defended themselves. Historians are also unanimous in recording that it was Yazid’s forces that always initiated the attack and that Imam Husain’s companions went forth, as a last resort, in response to the enemy’s challenge.

In the following pages we give a general account of the battle with some details about Imam Husain’s brother Abbas (a.s), his sons Ali al-Akbar (a.s) and Ali al-Asghar (a.s). Whenever anyone from Imam Husain’s camp emerged to meet the challenging enemy, they reminded their opponent about the Qur’anic verses and sayings of the Prophet (s) which praised and demanded adherence and obedience to the Ahlul Bayt (a.s). They emphasised that Imam Husain (a.s) was the last of those Ahlul Bayt (a.s). They also demanded to know what crime Imam Husain (a.s) had committed and the reason why they were after his blood.

Moulvi Mirza Ghulam Abbas Ali Sahib recounts the various sermons addressed by Imam Husain (a.s) and his companions Brurair, Muslim, Zohair, Habib and several others before the enemy commenced the war.

According to some other authors, al-Hurr was the first to address the  

[1] The plural form of Maqtal that means the record of the murder of so-and-so, but somehow particularly the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (a.s.) and his family and companions.

enemy, perhaps hoping that he would be able to persuade the thousand horsemen he commanded to see reason and leave their services under the aggressor and to shift their support to the righteous cause. Al-Hurr along with his son, brother, and servant were some among those who had crossed over from Yazid’s army. Therefore, his address to the forces that he commanded until recently was very significant.

In his speech, al-Hurr praised the Lord and the Prophet (s) and he recited verses from the Qur’an glorifying the Ahlul Bayt (a.s) one of whom Imam Husain (s) was. Al-Hurr recited the verses relating to the Prophet Salih (a.s.), the killing of whose camel had brought down the wrath of God. He reminded them that the killing of Imam Husain (a.s) who was from the very the flesh and blood of the Prophet (s), for no fault, would be a major sin inviting greater wrath of God both in this world and the hereafter. He reminded them that the pleasures and promises of this world were merely a transitory mirage and that the life to come would be the everlasting one. He then recounted his own experience saying that until the last night he commanded Yazid’s cavalry and that he realized that never had Imam Husain (a.s) done anything unjust, illegal or contrary to Islam, while Yazid was an imposter, debauch and hypocrite undermining Islam from within. It was this reason why he left the command of Yazid’s cavalry though knowing that he would be martyred.

The enemy had no answer to al-Hurr’s arguments. Realising that al-Hurr’s speech had caused a stir in the rank and file of the enemy, Shimr, the most cruel and stonehearted of all, advised Umar bin Sa’d that they should immediately attack and kill al-Hurr before he could utter another word. Al-Hurr went back to seek Imam Husain’s permission to fight the enemy.

Burair took permission to address the enemy. In his address, Burair told the enemy, “Would you deny and refuse to recollect the tradition in which the messenger of Allah had said that he was leaving, among the people, two inseparable and essential things, namely the Qur’an and the Ahlul Bayt and that following both is obligatory and that if they forsake anyone of the two, Muslims will be confounded and led astray.” In unison, the enemy forces replied, “We admit that the messenger of Allah had done so.”

Burair said, “Would you deny that in the Qur’an God declares that the Ahlul Bayt are Immaculate, free from the possibility of committing error?”

The enemy soldiers replied, “We can not deny what you say as it is the truth.” Burair said, “Do you admit that al-Husain is one of the Ahlul Bayt and the Imam of the time and that he is pious and righteous?” The soldiers replied, “We do admit.”

Burair said, “Has al-Husain committed any transgression of divine laws, killed anyone, deprived anyone of his property or has he committed any act that demands his execution?” The enemy forces admitted that Imam Husain (a.s) had not committed any such act. Burair continued, “Do you not remember that Yazid’s father Mu’awiya prevented water in (the battle of) Siffin and that when Ali gained possession of the river, he acted magnanimously in giving water and he refused to act like Mu’awiya or to prevent water to be given to the thirsty enemy.” The enemy concurred.

Burair then said, “You know that there are women, children and infants in al-Husain’s camp who are being denied even a drop of water since the past three days. You allow heathens, atheists, Christians and Jews and even animals to drink water from the river, but you refuse to allow even a drop of it, to your Prophet’s grandson and his children.” The enemy replied, “We are soldiers employed by Yazid to wage war. We obey his orders and there is no room for sympathy in a war.”

Burair cursed their blind following and lack of humanitarian considerations, and came back to Imam Husain’s camp.

Then, Zohair ibn al-Qain took permission to address the enemy ranks. Zohair said, “O you people who have gathered here, have you forgotten that the messenger of Allah had advised you to adore and follow the Ahlul Bayt of whom al-Husain is the most prominent of those present here? This is the time of your test regarding that advice. You claim to be Muslims. Your action will show how you treat al-Husain now in the context of the Prophet’s advice.”

Shimr shot an arrow towards Zohair saying, “O old Man, will you face us in combat or you will waste the breath of your old lungs with unnecessary talk? I am anxious to kill all of you.” Zohair replied, “Life among people like you is a disgrace and a burden. Death for al-Husain’s cause is indeed a grace, blessing and everlasting pleasure.”

Muslim ibn Awsaja and Habib ibn Mudhahir went and addressed the enemy similarly, but Shimr, Ibn Sa’d, Harmala and Khouli interfered and disturbed their speech to prevent the soldiers from being impressed with the unassailable arguments put forth before them.

Imam Husain (a.s) then addressed the soldiers of Kufa saying, “Have you not written to me and requested me to come to you for providing religious guidance? Did you not assert that you are left without an Imam? Have I not written in reply promising to be among you to provide religious guidance? Have we done anything wrong? Have we committed any crime? Did you ever find me negligent in my religious obligations or in the adherence to the Islamic tenets?”

The soldiers replied, “You are not guilty of any of these.”

Then, Imam Husain (a.s) said, “On the other hand, Yazid himself and his men who have gathered here are guilty of making innovations, discarding religious injunctions, indulging in worldly carnal pleasures, and mocking the messenger of Allah by saying that there is nothing but this life in this world, and that there is no accountability or reward or punishment and no life hereafter. Has not Yazid persecuted and killed several noble scholars who were pious Muslims? Do you then take sides with such men against me? Have you lost your sense of justice? Have you forgotten that Islam teaches austerity and piety? Is not this worldly life transitory and the gain you hope to get is not going to provide eternal comfort to you? Do you not realize the consequences of the evilness of your act in seeking to slay me? ”

The enemy soldiers were spell bound. Imam Husain (a.s) continued, “You have fallen in serious error. You are misled and baffled by your own ignorance and the incitement of Yazid and his men. You have lost your sense of Judgement and the desire to distinguish and accept good instead of evil. You are tempted by vain promises of worldly wealth and comfort. I assure you that you shall not have it. In fact, your guilt will torment you in this world and you will suffer punishment in the next. Take heed and listen. I have not done anything wrong nor harmed any of you, as you never met me before. There is no cause for enmity between you and me. You know that God will punish those who kill an innocent person. Desist from your evil plan, and even this moment let us part ways and avoid bloodshed.”

Umar bin Sa’d at the head of the enemy soldiers shouted, “We will not let you go. We have gathered here to fight and kill you and your companions.”

Imam Husain (a.s) replied, “Disgrace be upon you! You have forsaken your religion and become Satan’s disciples. The ill-gotten and prohibited food that you consume has imbibed disloyalty, uttering falsehood, injustice, oppression and shamelessness into your very blood and nature. Yet, you seek my allegiance so that you may later claim that I had assented to your evil deeds? I would rather sacrifice my life than to succumb to the threats of a tyrant. I

have placed all facts before you to show who I am, and that we have not done anything wrong to warrant your wrath. I have also warned you sufficiently and if you do not heed my words, you shall be eternally held responsible in this life and in the hereafter.

On hearing this, Umar bin Sa’d shot the first arrow towards Imam Husain (a.s) saying, “Bear witness O you God and men, that I am the first to shoot this arrow in token of initiating this war against al-Husain and his companions.

Thereafter, one after another, Imam Husain’s companions went, as per the custom of the Arabs, to meet the challenge in a single combat. They told the enemy about their noble ancestry and depending on their age, their achievements in various wars fought alongside the Prophet, Imam Ali, or Imam Hasan (a.s) and explained the relationship of Imam Husain with the Prophet, his daughter Fatima, and Imam Ali (peace be on them). They explained the justness of Imam Husain’s cause for which they were ready to sacrifice their lives in accordance with the Qur’an and the Holy Prophet’s traditions. Each of them prevailed over several opponents in single combats and were martyred when they were slyly attacked from behind or when Yazid’s soldiers made a concerted onslaught.

source : http://www.maaref-foundation.com
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