Imam Husayn from Revolt to Martyrdom 2

A variation of this is quoted by most sources where he leaves the city so that the sanctity of the house of God would be violated by the shedding of human blood in it. Again he met a man on the way to Iraq who asked why Husayn left the proximity and protection of the sacred house. He answered: "The Umayyads usurped my wealth and I was patient; they insulted me and my family and I said nothing; and now they seek my life so I went away."

All this suggests other aspects of the story of the conflict of Husayn with the Umayyads and his martyrdom which we do not know. From all avail­able sources one must conclude that he had such definite fears and resolu­tions that cannot be explained as obduracy or love of power when he would not flinch from his resolve to continue to his death, even when that became an increasing certainty at every stage. It is suggested by all sources that Husayn received the news of the death of Ibn Aqil even before he left Makka.'(1)

The great poet al‑Farazdaq met Husayn as the latter was leaving the Ka'bah and advised him against going to Iraq saying I left the hearts of the Kufans with you but their swords with the Umayyads. Husayn answered that things happen according to a divine decree and God's will is not know­able to man. Then he continued with these verses: "If this world be counted precious, the pleasure of God is more elevated and more knowable. And if bodies be created for death then the death of man by the sword in God is best. And if wealth be given according to a divine decree, why should then man cling to wealth. And if treasures be gathered to be in the end left behind why then should a man be grasping after that which he must abandon.(2)

It is impossible in this short essay to recapture the deep emotions evoked by narrators of a tragedy of Karbala in their listeners, of Husayn's long hours of solitude and prayer at the tomb of the Prophet, his sorrow, weeping and resignation. The Prophet, and all the family of Husayn are pictured as shar­ing the same sentiments with Husayn. We read that at the time .of this tragedy a general lamentation was raised in Paradise by all prophets, by the father, mother and brother of Husayn, for the great suffering in store for him, his thirst, complete abandonment by all except for a small group of his friends and relatives. The journey which he made from Makka was indeed the Via Dolorosa with the Mask of the prophet as the guardian of sorrows, intense suffering and heroism.

Suffering and. the agonies of expected death are for the devotees of Husayn not sentiments of cowardice and fear. They are rather sentiments of abso­lute courage and victorious struggle against the powers of evil and darkness. Husayn wrote a letter, we read, to his relatives of the Hashimite clan calling them to share in his great conquest in these words: "He of you who joins us would be martyred, but he who remains behind shall not attain to conquest". We shall return again to this theme later. But let us now follow our martyr to the final act of his great tragic drama.

From Makka to Karbala: Final

As Husayn and his small party proceeded towards Kufa in Iraq, the certainty of the futility of discussion became increasingly apparent to all. He sent another messenger to the people who invited him to come and assume leader­ship, and with them to fight against the rule of Yazid which was not yet recognized by many Muslims. The messenger was discovered on the road taking him to Ibn Ziyad who ordered him to curse 'Ali and his family or be killed. He went up on the roof of the palace and instead blessed 'Ali and his family and cursed Yazid and Ibn Ziyad and called the people to the support of Husayn. He was thrown down and killed. Muslim also waged a valiant fight against the soldiers of Ibn Ziyad and came close to victory until some notables from the palace balconies threatened the people with the Syrian armies and everybody left Muslim at the last moment.

He roamed the streets aimlessly and in the end was betrayed by the son of a woman who gave him shelter and treacherously put to death. Through threats and bribery of the people Ibn Ziyad gained full control of the situation just before Husayn arrived in Karbala. So Ibn Ziyad sent first an army under the leadership of Hurr Ibn Ziyad ar‑Riyahi who was ordered to compel Husayn to give allegi­ance to Yazid and bring him alive to Ibn Ziyad.

Thus Husayn was sure of what was to come. He therefore gathered his followers and relatives and asked them to flee for their lives and leave him alone as he was the only one wanted. "Behold the night has come, take ad­vantage of it as you would a camel for you and let every one of you take the hand of one of my family and scatter throughout the land. For they want me alone and if they take hold of me they would not seek to harm any of you". When before he hesitated and thought of going back, the sons of Muslim said: "No by God! we shall not go back until we either avenge the blood of our father or suffer his fate." Husayn answered: "There is no good in life after you."(3) This was the last real chance for him to be saved from death and he refused it. His followers and relatives, likewise, al! in one voice cried out that they would not abandon him but would rather die with him or live with him.

The tendency by later writers has been to deny any such hesitation on the part of Husayn and his followers. This however, is a thing unecessary, for whatever we say of Husayn he was a man who, like all men, loved life and wished to avoid suffering and death. The real test is rather whether even when later 'Umar Ibn Sa'd and his generals urged him to accept the Caliphate of Yazid and submit to Ibn Ziyad he would have really given up his struggle. This he did not do and it is in this that his greatness lies, and that his opposi­tion could be truly called a revolution. During the last days of his life when death was imminent, and even to the last moment, he sought rather to save his opponents from committing such a grievous sin against the grandson of the Prophet, his family and pious followers.

Husayn reached the spot of Karbala on the second of Muharram 61 A.H. Later traditions record the story that when his horse reached the spot it refused to move any further. Husayn asked what the place was called and people answered Naynawa. He asked again whether it was known by any other name. He was told that it was also known as al‑Ghadiriyya. Is there any other name by which it was known? he asked. This time the answer came: "Karbala". He then remarked: "We are God's and to Him we return. This is the spot of Karb (sorrow) and Bala (calamity). This is the last station of our journey, this is the place wherein our blood will be shed," then to his followers: "Let us make this our halting place".(4)



1. Al‑Khawarizmi op. cit., Vol I, 213

2. Al‑Khawarizmi op. cit., Vol I, 223

3. Tabari, op. cit., 217

4. Tabari, Tarikh, op. cit., p. 229