The Tragedy of Karbala

Islam draws no line between spiritual and secular authority. It unites the two in the hands of the pious head of state who excels (surpasses) all in self-lessness.


The first example was set by the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) who ruled over the whole of Arabia and yet was the humblest man in the country. The public treasury at Medina overflowed with revenues, but he and his family lived on the verge (edge) of starvation. The public revenues were spent on public needs.


The head of the state and his relatives, enjoyed no special privilege. Political power and public pursuits were used for promoting the general well-being, rather than the interests of a ruling family. This spiritual form of Democracy devised by Islam was the surest guarantee that the power would not corrupt the hands that wielded it. The result was the kingdom of heaven for people on earth.


In keeping with the whole spirit of his teaching the Prophet Muhammad (S.A.W.) nominated no successor. He left it to the people to choose their head.


People elected Abu Bakr (R.A.) who became the first Caliph. He was succeeded by Omar (R.A.) the second Caliph. Osmaan (R.A.) third and Ali (R.A.) was the fourth Caliph respectively.


The essence of the Caliphate lies in its spirituality and ultra democratic character.


Islam vests all power in Allaah, the Almighty. This power passes on to the people who delegate it to the most God (Allaah) fearing capable man among them. This man is the Caliph. He holds power as a sacred trust. He is not to use his position for advancing personal interests. He is to act as an instrument for preserving the kingdom of heaven on earth.


Abu Bakr (Rd.A), Omar (Rd.A), Osmaan (Rd.A) and Ali (Rd.A) performed this duty manfully. They preserved the kingdom of heaven established on earth by the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.).


After the martyrdom of Hazrat Ali (Rd.A) the fourth Caliph, the Islamic Government passed into the hands of Ameer Muawiya (Rd.A). He was undoubtedly a great ruler. Islam’s mission was not the founding of ruling dynasties.


Islam believes in equal justice for all and makes merit the sole yard-stick of a man’s position in society. The first four Caliphs faithfully lived up to this great tradition of Islam, but according to Moulana Abu Kalam Azad (Rd.A), Ameer Muawiya (Rd.A) is the first person who transferred the Caliphate into kingship.


Ameer Muawiya (Rd.A) succeeded in winning over the hearts of the Syrians. They stood solidly behind his policies. But things were different in other parts of the Muslim Empire. A large section of the people supported the cause of the Banu Hashim, and considered Hazrat Husain (Rd.A) entitled to the Caliphate. There was yet another group of people who were opposed both to the Omayyas and Hashimites. These were the Kharijije.Their view was that the Caliphate is not hereditary. They thought that the Caliph must be elected by the free vote of the people.


Ameer Muawiya (Rd.A) was the greatest diplomat of his time. He knew full well how to go ahead with his political plans. With amazing fore-thought and tact, he started preparing the grounds for the Caliphate of his beloved son, Yazeed.


Islam is the religion which wants to create one nation under universal ideals of brotherhood without the distinction of caste, creed, sex or colour. Unnatural division among Muslims are contrary to the teachings of the founder of Islam.


It must be remembered here that according to the political canon of Islam, only the most God (Allaah) fearing man has the right to be a ruler of the Muslims. According to this canon, Yazeed’s succession to the caliphate was most un-Islamic.


True Islamic traditions expect a Caliph to be the top man in piety and in political wisdom. Yazeed had neither of two qualities. He was a drunkard most of the time and was surrounded by gay (fun loving) people of his own type.


Imam Hasan (Rd.A), the elder brother of Imam Husain (Rd.A) and first son of Hazrat Ali, succeeded his father. But soon after his succession to the Caliphate, he abdicated (give up) in favour of Ameer Muawiya (Rd.A) on condition that he would never nominate his successor, But Ameer Muawiya (Rd.A) nominated Yazeed his son as his successor.


Yazeed gave Imaam Hasan’s (Rd.A) wife poison which she gave to her husband (Imam Hassan). As a result Imaam Hasan (Rd.A) died. After the death of Ameer Muawiya (Rd.A) Yazeed occupied the throne without general approval. This was the first time that the greatest ideal of Islam was sacrificed. But to remove this blot from the fair face of Islamic history Imaam Husain (Rd.A) was yet alive to wash it off with his own blood.


When Yazeed came to the throne he proclaimed that the head of anyone who refused his sovereignty should be sent to him. This proclamation was conveyed to Imaam Husain (Rd.A) and others. Imaam Husain (Rd.A) flatly refused to accept Yazeed as the head of the Muslims.


Imam Husain (Rd.A) at the time was in Medina. He left medina and went to Mecca.


There were many in Iraq and especially in Kufa who professed to be the supporters of Hazrat Ali (Rd.A).The news of Ameer Muawiya’s (Rd.A) death raised new hopes in the minds of such people when they learnt that Imaam Husain (Rd.A) had refused to pledge allegiance to Yazeed. They met in a secret meeting. Finally, it was decided that Imaam Husain (Rd.A) be invited to Kufa to become Caliph, in place of his rival (opponent) Yazeed who was nominated by his father Ameer Muawiya (Rd.A) as a Caliph in Damascus.


Imaam Husain (Rd.A) was the rightful successor to the Caliphate. He was a pious Muslim in thought, word, and deed and he was a fearless warrior like his father, Hazrat Ali (Rd.A). He possessed all the elements of a Caliph, whereas Yazeed was unworthy to be Caliph as he was inclined to so many vices.


However, Imaam Husain (Rd.A) accepted the invitation of the Kufans. Before he left for Kufa, he consulted his friends and relatives. The general opinion was that the people of Kufa should not be trusted at all. It was necessary first to make sure of the actual situation of Kufa, so it was decided to send Muslim-Ibn-Aqeel, Imaam Husain’s (Rd.A) cousin, as his representative to Kufa to review the situation and report to him about the general conditions.


The people of Kufa gave Muslim-Ibn-Aqeel (R.A.) a hearty welcome. Twelve thousand Muslims assured him of their faithfulness to Imaam Husain (Rd.A). On this assurance, Muslim-Ibn-Aqeel (R.A.) was impressed by this show of sincerity, and he wrote to Imaam Husain (Rd.A) asking him to come to Kufa.


Imaam Husain (Rd.A) , depending on this report, left for Kufa. Though the people of Mecca stopped him, Muslim-Ibn-Aqeel’s (Rd.A) letter left him no choice but to go forward to Kufa.


Imaam Husain (Rd.A) left Mecca accompanied by his brothers, sons, nephews, his women folk and a number of friends. In all they numbered 72 people. (Imaam Husain (R.A.) was already on his way to Kufa).


In the meantime, the Kufans were bribed heavily by Abaidullah-Ibn-Ziyaad, governor of Kufa, on the orders of Yazeed. With the result that the people began to oppose Imaam Husain (Rd.A) and to make short work of Muslim-Ibn-Aqeel and his followers to block the way of Imaam Husain (Rd.A) to Kufa and to offer him no choice except surrender or death.


In the beginning the people of Kufa sided with Muslim-Ibn-Aqeel (Rd.A) but when they saw their leader Umm-E-Hanni cut down and rolled from the roofs and they witnessed the tragic end of the small sons of Muslim-Ibn-Aqeel (Rd.A) they cheered innocentl6y. One brother after another, lost courage and deserted the cause of truth like cowards.


Abaidullah-Ibn-Ziyaad declared Muslim-Ibn-Aqeel (Rd.A) an outlaw.  Kufa was frightened into obedience. His former friends had turned into spies and arrested Muslim-Ibn-Aqeel (Rd.A) and killed him.


The date on which Muslim-Ibn-Aqeel (Rd.A) was killed in Kufa, Imaam Husain (Rd.A) left the city of Mecca for Kufa.


When these scenes of murder and tyrannous massacre were being enacted in Kufa, Imaam Husain (Rd.A) was quite ignorant of the real situation till he came to Kufa.


On Muharram 2:61:A.H. Hazrat Imaam Husain (Rd.A) halted at Karbala at a little distance from the river, and ordered his followers to pitch their tents.


Umar-Ibn-Saad was sent by Ibn-Ziyaad with a force of four thousand to oppose Imaam Husain (Rd.A). He reached Karbala on 3rd Muharram 61 A.H. and negotiations took place between Imaam Husain (Rd.A) and Ibn-Saad.


Yazeed was bent on proving his theory of “MIGHT IS RIGHT” but he, Imaam Husain (Rd.A), wanted to prove that “RIGHT IS MIGHT”. Yazeed again sent him a letter to submit but Imaam Husain (Rd.A) tore it up.


A Muslim’s duty is to save his enemy from sin, and Imaam Husain (Rd.A) delivered a short touching lecture in which he warned his enemy of the heinous sin they were committing and made three valuable suggestions:-


1. YOU THE IRANIANS HAVE INVITED ME HERE” said Imaam Husain (Rd.A) and I have some of those letters in my possession. But if you change now then allow me to return to Hajaaz.


2. I should be permitted to go to any country other than Arabia, for the spread of truth.


3. I am ready to go to the court of Yazeed at Damascus and it will be a matter between him and me.


But those mad with power pressed him to accept allegiance to the government of Yazeed, which he bluntly refused to do. Finally, on the 9th Muharram 61 A.H. after the Asr salaat (Namaaz) Amar-Ibn-Saad, the commander in charge of Yazeed soldiers, decided to fight. Imaam Husain (Rd.A) then prepared to fight the powers of darkness. This battle began on the 10th Muharram.


The morning of the 10th of Muharram 61 A.H., the battle was about to commence. Imaam Husain (Rd.A) drew up the handful of his men, so as to keep his tents at the back. Soon they were to hurl themselves at the huge army of Ibn-Saad.


As the two armies stood poised (waiting) against each other, Imaam Husain (Rd.A) stepped out and addressed the enemy thus:


“O people, be not hasty. Listen to me very carefully so I may discharge the duty if explaining the truth to you. Understand the cause of my journey. I f you do justice to me, you will be very fortunate.If you don’t do so, it is entirely up to you.”


“O people! Recall to your minds the family to which I belong. Am I not the grandson of your Prophet (S.A.W.) and the son of his cousin Ali (Rd.A)? Don’t you remember that the Messenger of Allaah (S.A.W.) described me and my brother as the leaders of young people in Heaven (Jannat)?


Despite all this, does it bereave you to meet me with drawn swords?


This appeal fell on deaf ears. Commander Ibn-Saad led the assault, shooting the first arrow. He shouted, Bear witness, O people, that I shot the first arrow.


The battle of Karbala started. The warriors of Imaam Husain (Rd.A) fought bravely and fell one after another in the battlefield. The time of Zuhar salaat (Namaaz) came and Imaam Husain (Rd.A) asked to stop the fight, so as to offer the Zuhur Salaat. The evil force never allowed them to stop and went on fighting. Imaam Husain (Rd.A) had to offer his salaat amidst the thick of battle.


Even in that ordeal, Imaam Hussain (Rd.A) did not either forget or ignore the duty of Allaah. He then lost all his house-hold members. He saw before his very eyes beloved companions and his own family members dying one by one but he never became disheartened till the end.


Owing to the scorching (very hot) heat of the desert, the throats of the members of the family of Imaam Husain (Rd.A) and other followers were parched (dry). The river Euphrates (Furaat) was before their very eyes, but the enemy stopped them from drinking from it for three days.


When the young son of Imaam Husain (Rd.A) was dying of thirst, he requested those agents of darkness to give the innocent child a little water, but an arrow sank into the baby’s neck and sent it to eternal sleep.


The only survivor, Imaam Husain (Rd.A) fought courageously with great might against the thousands of soldiers, a single Holy soul to represent the truth and thousands of worthless bodies to represent the forces of evil.


He killed many and at last fell amidst the showers of arrows and swords.


Imaam Husain (Rd.A) knew that his hour had come. He was whirling (turning around) his sword and was shouting aloud


“Are you all bent upon killing me? By Allaah! No man’s slaughter will offend (make angry) Allaah more than mine. Surely Allaah is going to punish you in a manner which you can’t even dream of.”


Shimar saw that every one hesitated to strike at Imaam Husain (Rd.A). He ordered the archers to shoot. Then he howled out


”Woe to you! What is staying your hands? Why don’t you slay Husain?


So Shimar’s men at last fell upon Imaam Husain (Rd.A). With one blow of the sword, one cut off the left arm, another blow on the shoulder, made Imaam Hussain (Rd.A) stagger, another one’s spear threw him on the ground. Seeing that no one came forward to cut off the head, Shimar the most bare faced took advantage and cut off the head of Imaam Husain (Rd.A).




Imaam Husain (Rd.A) was 56 years at the time of his death. Seventy-two other men had laid down their lives for him. Of these twenty were his own kinsmen.


The death of Imaam Husain (Rd.A) should have ended the tragedy of Karbala. However Imaam Husain’s (Rd.A) dead body was trampled over by horses, and his head sent to Governor Ibn-Ziyaad at Kufa by commander Saad’s order.


Two days later, Ibn-Saad marched back to Kufa with the women and children of Imaam Husain’s (Rd.A) household.


Governor Ibn-Ziyaad sat in the government house at Kufa and before him lay Imaam Husain’s (Rd.A) head. A large crowd was present, among them was an aged companion Zaid-Ibn-Arqam (Rd.A).


Ibn-Ziyaad (Rd.A) had a stick in his hand. He hit Imaam Hussain’s (Rd.A) lips with the stick again and again. This so much outraged the aged companion (Rd.A) that he shouted out


“Don’t hit these lips with the stick. By Allaah who has no partners: I have seen with my own eyes the Messenger of Allaah put his lips on these lips and kiss them.”


As a protest, he walked out of the court in disgust. Presently Imaam Hussain’s (Rd.A) family entered the court. When the grief stricken women and children sat in a corner a strange hush fell upon the crowd.


However, on the following day, Ibn-Ziyaad sent Imaam Hussain’s (Rd.A) family to Damascus, Syria. When the grief stricken family entered Yazeed’s court, Imaam Hussain’s (Rd.A) head lay before him. Yazeed ordered the head of Imaam Hussain’s (Rd.A) to be removed. Then he bereaved family and said:


“Allaah, this took place without my knowledge,. If I had seen on the spot, I would have taken a lenient view of Husain’s step and would have overlooked it.”


Zainul Abedeen (Rd.A) the son of Imaam Husain (Rd.A) who miraculously survived the battle of Karbala was also in the court of Yazeed, and he (Yazeed) addressed him:


“O ! Your father Hussain (Rd.A) paid no heed to the ties of kinship with me. He over-looked my right and started a quarrel with respect to political power. The outcome of his action is before you.”


In reply Zainul Abedeen (Rd.A) quoted a verse of the Holy Qur’aan:


“No disaster befalls in the earth, or your slaves, but it is recorded in the book (of our Decrees) before we bring it to existence.” (Ch. 57. V: 22 Q).


Yazeed said no more. He ordered that a house adjoining the palace be vacated for Husain’s family. He also took steps to compensate for the plunder by his troops. He made inquiries from each lady and gave her double of what she had lost.


After somedays Yazeed sent the bereaved family to Medina with all the honour due to them. This took away some of their burden of grief.


Imaam Husain (Rd.A) did not die in vain. The mission for which he laid down his life gained strength till the Omayyad power finally crumbled down.


The tragedy of Karbala shook the foundations of the empire which had been built up with such foresight and tact. The Caliph is the successor of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.). To occupy that august (imposing) office one should be an embodiment (possessor) of all the Islamic virtues.


The Islamic conception of leadership is:


“A leader must have complete mastery over himself. He must seek nothing for himself, neither power, position nor pleasure, and he must remember Almighty Allaah twenty four hours a day.”


When one reads the life of Imaam Husain (Rd.A) one finds that he possessed the qualifications enumerated  above, and so he was entitled to the leadership of the Muslim world.


Yazeed did not possess any of these qualifications. But after killing Imaam Hussain (Rd.A) he proclaimed himself as the Caliph of Islam. The Karbala tragedy made Yazeed the most hated man of the Muslim world.


Under bad leaders the Muslim community declined or degenerated. But the sacrifice of a leader does not go in vain. The blood of a martyr purifies the community for whom he courts death.


The killing of Imaam Husain (Rd.A) at Karbala gave a death-blow to Yazeed. None of the villains (wicked men) taking part in the holocaust (sacrifice) at Karbala was able to escape divine retribution (punishment). Soon after Yazeed’s death, Kufa fell into the hands of Muktaar. His hand fell very heavily on the treacherous people of Kufa.


There was a ruthless hunt of Imaam Husain’s (Rd.A) murderer, all of whom perished.. The infamous (shameful) Shimar tried to escape but was caught. He was butchered and the dead body torn to pieces by hungry dogs.


Omar-Ibn-Saad was slain along with his son. The greatest villain of all, governor Ibn-Ziyaad, fell fighting against Muktaars troops. His head lay before Muktaar in the same government house were only a few years before Imaam Husain’s (Rd.A) head lay before him. The head of governor Ibn-Ziyaad and commander Ibn-Saad were sent to Zainul-Abedeen (Rd.A) who exclaimed:


“Glory to Allaah! Who had punished my enemies on my behalf.”


Imaam Husain’s (Rd.A) prophetic words, uttered a little before he was slain, proved literally true. His enemies were soon punished in a manner they had never dreamed of. He himself was exalted to a height which has become the envy of all good men. He attained this height because he was the embodiment of the true spirit of Islam.


The “Jihaad” – Holy war - of the martyr Imaam Husain (Rd.A) against tyrant Yazeed was to free the people from the tyrant’s rule. He fought for the just cause and died for it. His success was not that of a physical one, but of a spiritual and moral one. If Imaam Husain (Rd.A) had succeeded over Yazeed by gathering a large army, the incident would have lost its real significance and Imaam Husain (Rd.A) would have been considered as an ordinary warrior. But the true success and honour of Imaam Husain (Rd.A) lies in his martyrdom at Karbala.


The tragedy of Karbala is a challenge to mankind today. Which path is humanity prepared to tread, the path of Yazeed or the path of Imaam Husain (Rd.A)? The future of the world depends on the choice it is prepared to make.


What is the world to learn from the sacrifice of the great Imaam Husain (Rd.A)? Imaam Husain (Rd.A) gave a practical application of the Kalimah article of faith.




When a Muslim utters these words he affirms that he would not bow down before evil and asserts that


“A Muslim is free and will forever be free”,


and for the attainment of this freedom he considers martyrdom and honour.


When the soul marches toward perfection, the power of darkness always tries to bring it down, and death in such a struggle is not a death, but a revival and creation as the Holy Qur’aan says:




(Ch: 3 V. 169 Q)





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