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Aspects of the Life of Imam Husayn

by: Sayyed Fadhil Bahr-ul-Uloom

The third infallible Imam is Husayn ibn Ali (peace and blessings be with them), grandson of the Last Messenger of Allah, The Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be with him and his progeny). His mother is The Holy Lady Fatima al-Zahra (peace be with her), the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. His elder brother was Imam Hasan al-Mujtaba (peace be with him). His kunya (agnomen) was Abu Abd'allah. His laqab (title) was al-Shaheed (the Martyr) or Sayyid as-shuhada (Lord of the Martyrs).

He was born in the city of Yathrib (Madinah) on Thursday 3 Sha'ban in the year 4AH /626 CE. His mother, the infallible Fatima al-Zahra, took him to her father, The Holy Prophet Muhammad, who was delighted with him and named him, Husayn. On the testament of the Holy Prophet, Imam Hassan and Imam Husayn are described as ... The Lords of the Youth of Heaven".

In Kitab al-Irshad Zirr bin Hubaysh reported on the authority of ibn Masud: "While the Prophet, may Allah bless him and his family, was praying, al-Hasan and al-Husayn came and stood behind him. When he raised his head he took them tenderly (into his arms) when he resumed (his prayers) and they resumed theirs. Then when he had finished, he sat one on his right knee and the other on his left knee and said: 'whoever loves me, should love these two. They are The Two Proofs (Hujjat 'Allah) of God and of His Prophet in the contest of prayer (mubahala)".

The Holy Imam played a significant role in Islam since he was very young. During the Imamate of his father, Ameer al-Momineen Ali, and with Imam Hasan, he took part in the important battles of Jamal, Siffin and Nahrawan. During the Imamate of Hasan, he lived his life and conducted his affairs as the most loyal and obedient soldier. The brothers shared the same views and always acted in unison. It was with his beloved brother, Hasan, that Husayn experienced events such as the signing of the peace document with the treacherous Mu'awiya, the father of Yezid and an enemy of The Holy Prophet.

After this, Husayn travelled to Madinah along with his brother and the members of the household of the Holy Prophet. There they did their best to carry out their mission of keeping the Divine Message pristine and pure, away from the current of mounting deviation under the likes of Mu'awiya and his descendants and cohorts. After Imam Hasan was poisoned, Imam Husayn succeeded his elder brother as the next infallible Imam after him. At this time Mu'awiya ibn Abi Sufyan, who had previously been appointed Governor of Syria by the caliph Uthman, was now himself caliph and had turned the caliphate into a defunct and corrupt monarchy.

Imam Husayn was Imam for a period of ten years and six months, coinciding with the rule of Mu'awiya. He lived under the most difficult outward conditions of suppression and persecution. This was due to the fact that, firstly, religious laws and regulations had lost much of their weight and credit and the edicts of the Umayyad government had gained complete authority and power. Secondly, Mu'awiya and his aides made use of every possible means, including the most hostile use of state propaganda, to throw aside the teachings of The Holy Prophet and his noble Household, as well as all their followers who were known as the Shi'a (from "the partisans of Ali", who had been appointed by the Holy Prophet as his successor), and thus obliterate the name of Ali and the Holy Prophet's family. Above all, Mu'awiya wanted to strengthen the basis of the caliphate of his son, Yezid who, because of his lack of principle and scruples was opposed by a large group of Muslims. Therefore in order to quell all opposition, Mu'awiya undertook newer and more severe measures against the followers of the true and original Islam.

When threats proved useless, he offered allurements by way of wealth to achieve his objectives. He sent a sum of 10,000 Dirhams to Abd al-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr who refused to barter his faith for worldly gain Abdullah ibn Umar's reaction was the same when he was approached with a similar gift. Imam Husayn naturally refused to accept any gifts or large amounts of money that were sent to him by Mu'awiya in the vain and desperate hope of buying allegiance. Through necessity and the use of force Imam Husayn had to endure these conditions and tolerate every kind of mental and spiritual agony and affliction brought upon him by the scheming Mu'awiya and his aides.

Mu'awiya violated openly the agreement which he had concluded with Imam Hasan. One of the conditions of that agreement was that the companions of Imam Ali would not be persecuted or killed. Mu'awiya in fact killed Hijr ibn Adi al-Kindi who was one of the esteemed companions of the Holy Prophet and a supporter of Imam Ali, as wen as six other companions, one of them being Abdur Rahman ibn Hanan Ghazi who was buried alive by Ziyad bin Abihi in Iraq. In the middle of the year 60AH Mu'awiya died and his son, Yezid, took his place. The struggle between Yezid's dynasty, the Umayyads, and Bani Hashim (the family of the Holy Prophet) started a long time before Islam and the acceptance of' Islam by Ummayad chiefs, including Abu Sufyan and his wife Hind bint Utba, and other opponents of Islam did not bring about a change in, nor disguise, their real negative feelings towards God, Islam and the Holy Prophet and his descendants and followers.

Yezid's mother, Maysun, was a daughter of Bahdal ibn 'Unaif al-Kalbi and Mu'awiya married her for her exceptional beauty. He built for her a magnificent palace in beautiful surroundings, furnishing it with regal splendour. All the luxuries in the world were placed at her disposal but Mu'awiya failed to impress his wife who was a child of the desert, accustomed to the hard life of the arid wastes and in love with it. Once, breaking spontaneously into a fit of crying, she said, "The tent unprotected against gusts of strong winds is dearer to me than this palace. The rough woollen gown I wore was far more precious to me than these fine dresses. I relished eating a crumb of dry bread in a corner of my dwelling better than these fresh loaves of white bread". When Mu'awiyah realised this he divorced Maysun who was at this juncture already pregnant with Yezid. He banished her to live with her relations in the desert of Najd and Yezid was born in 22AH. Receiving this news Mu'awiya sent for him immediately.

From early youth, Yezid took to evil ways and led a dissolute life. His habit of teasing and cruelty towards animals are well known to historians. He once forced a panther to ride a horse and he earned notoriety for his addiction to strong liquor, to the extent that Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr named him 'Sakran', meaning "drunkard".

AI-Masudi has stated that: "Yezid was a pleasure-seeking person. He was a man who kept beasts of prey. He had dogs, monkeys and panthers. He always arranged wine-drinking parties". Mu'awiya had asked the well-known among the people to give their allegiance to Yezid but had not imposed this request upon Imam Husayn. He had especially told Yezid in his last will that if Husayn refused to pay allegiance he should pass over it in silence and overlook the disastrous consequences which would follow if the issue were to be pressed. But because of his egoism and recklessness Yezid neglected his the advice of his father and immediately following the death of the latter ordered the governor of Madinah either to force a pledge of allegiance from Imam Husayn or send his head to Damascus.

The Holy Imam was determined, in accordance with Divine Will, not to give allegiance to Yezid and new full well that he would be killed. He went for Haj but had to shorten the pilgrimage rites and leave. He made a short speech there proclaiming that he intended to set out for Iraq. While on his way to the Mesopotamian city of Kufa, and still a few days journey away from the city, he received news that Yezid bin Abih, the governor of Kufa, had killed the representative of the Holy Imam along with the Imam's cousin, Muslim ibn 'Aqil, as well as one of the Imam's most important companions, Hani ibn 'Irwa, who was a Kufan leader.

The caravan of Husayn, which included his family, defiantly resumed its march deep into Iraq. It was not long that the soldiers blocked the way and forced the Imam and his followers to encamp at a place called Karbala. When the Imam learned of the name of this place he dismounted his horse and ordered the camp to be set up. He saih he had reached his destination.

Imam Husayn, together with his pious companions, passed the night before the tenth of Muharram (the day of Ashura) in prayers, supplications and contemplation. The long night came to an end. The truth of Muharram, the Day of Blood, Jihad and Sacrifice was already born. Umar ibn Sa'd, the leader of Yezid's armed forces, was arranging his troops in line. He subsequently fired the first arrow toward the camp of Imam Husayn.

The Battle was horribly ferocious. The Imam's fighters were only around seventy in number against the might of an entire Ummayad contingent. One after the other the followers of Imam Husayn and members of his noble family attained martyrdom. The last one to be martyred was Husayn himself. A three-pointed arrow hit the Holy Imam in the chest. Deeply embedded he was unable to dislodge it.

For three days the bodies of the martyrs lay in the deserts of Karbala before eventually men from the tribe of Bani Asad, who were living not far away from the battlefield buried them. Yezid, Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad, Umar ibn Sa'd and the other criminals, not yet satisfied, shackled the remaining children and women of the Household of the Holy Prophet, including the son of Imam Husayn, the then sickly Imam Zayn al-Abidin (peace and blessings be with him), and carried them away to Damascus as prisoners. At the front of this weeping procession, upon a lance held by the enemies of The Holy Prophet Muhainmad and the true followers of the original Islam, was the severed head of Imam Husayn, the revered Prince of Martyrs and Chief of the Youths of Paradise. The Truth of Islam, which Husayn showed in its purest form, will live on for eternity.