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Imam Hussein

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Imam Hussein

This article is about Husayn ibn Ali (626–680). For the modern political figure (1852–1931), see Hussein bin Ali, Sharif of Mecca.
Husayn ibn Ali

3rd Imam of Shia Islama
Born c. (626-01-10)10 January 626CE
(5 Sha'aban 38 AH)[1]
Died c. 13 October 680(680-10-13) (aged 54)
(10 Muharram 61 AH)
Karbala , Umayyad Empire
Cause of death Martyred and beheaded at the Battle of Karbala
Resting place

Imam Husayn Shrine , Iraq
32°36′59″N 44°1′56.29″E / 32.61639°N 44.0323028°E / 32.61639; 44.0323028

Ethnicity Arab (Quraysh)
Term 670 – 680 CE
Religion Islam
Denomination Shia
Spouse(s) Shahr Banu
Umm Rubāb
Umm Laylā.
Parents Ali
a 2nd Imam of Nizari Ismaili Shia

Al-Hussein ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib (sometimes spelled Husayn) (Arabic: الحُسين بن علي بن أبي طالب‎) (11 or 13 January 626 CE – 13 October 680 CE) (3rd / 5th Sha'aban 4 AH – 10th Muharram 61 AH) was the son of Ali ibn Abi Ṭalib (final Rashidun Caliph and first Shia Imam) and Fatimah Zahra (daughter of the Islamic prophet Muhammad) and the younger brother of Hasan ibn Ali. Hussein is an important figure in Islam, as he is a member of the Ahl al-Bayt (the household of Muhammad) and Ahl al-Kisa, as well as being the third Shia Imam.

Hussein is highly regarded by both the Shia and the Sunni as a martyr because he refused to pledge allegiance to Yazid I,[6] the Umayyad caliph because he considered the rules of the Umayyads unjust.[6] As a consequence, he left Medina, his home town, and traveled to Mecca. There, the people of Kufa sent letters to him, asking his help and pledging their allegiance to him. So he traveled to Kufa.[7] The people of Kufa then broke their pledge,[8] and his caravan was intercepted. He was killed and beheaded in the Battle of Karbala in 680 (61 AH) by Shimr Ibn Thil-Jawshan.[9] The annual memorial for him, his family, his children and his As'haab (companions) is called Ashura (tenth day of Muharram) and is a day of mourning for Shia Muslims.

Anger at Husayn's death was turned into a rallying cry that helped undermine and ultimately overthrow the Umayyad Caliphate.

Early life

According to most reports, Husayn was born on 11 / 13 January 626 CE (3 / 5 Sha'aban 4 AH).[11]

Hussain and his brother Hasan were the last descendants of Muhammad living during his lifetime and remaining after his death. There are many accounts of his love for them which refer to them together.[11]

Muhammad is reported to have said that whoever loves them has loved him and whoever hates them has hated him. A famous narration declares them the "Masters of the Youth of Paradise"; this has been particularly important for the Shia who have used it in support of the right of Muhammad's descendants to succeed him. Other traditions record Muhammad with his grandsons on his knees, on his shoulders, and even on his back during prayer at the moment of prostrating himself, when they were young.[12]

According to Wilferd Madelung, Muhammad loved them and declared them as his Ahl al-Bayt very frequently. The Quran has also accorded the Ahl al-Bayt an elevated position above the rest of the believers.[13]

The incident of Mubahala

Main articles: Mubahala and Hadith of Mubahala

A collection of Hadith tells that during the 9th – 10th year after Hijra an Arab Christian envoy from Najran (currently in northern Yemen and partly in Saudi Arabia) came to Muhammad to argue which of the two parties erred in its doctrine concerning Jesus (Isa).[14]

After likening Jesus' miraculous birth to Adam's (Adem) creation,[15] -who was born to neither a mother nor a father- Muhammad called them to Mubahala (the cursing of the lower party) where each party should ask God to destroy the false party and their families. Muhammad, to prove himself to them as a prophet, brought his daughter Fatimah, son-in-law Ali ibn Abi Talib and both of his grandsons, Hasan and Husayn and came back to the Christians and said to them "This is my family, the (Ahl al-Bayt)" and covered himself and his family with a cloak.

According to this story, the Christians then agreed to a peace treaty and told Muhammad that they would not return.[16]


In 639, Muawiyah I was appointed as the governor of Syria after the previous governor Abu Ubaidah ibn al-Jarrah died in a plague along with 25,000 other people.[17]

The Quran and Muhammad talked about racial equality and justice as in the The Farewell Sermon.[18][19][20][21][22][23][24] Tribal and nationalistic differences were discouraged. But after Muhammad's passing, the old tribal differences between the Arabs started to resurface. Following the Roman–Persian Wars and the Byzantine–Sassanid Wars, deep rooted differences between Iraq, formally under the Persian Sassanid Empire, and Syria, formally under the Byzantine Empire, also existed. Each wanted the capital of the newly established Islamic State to be in their area.[25] Previously, the second caliph Umar was very firm and his spies kept an eye on the governors. If he felt that a governor or the commander was becoming attracted to wealth, he had him removed from his position.[26]

In 656, the third caliph Uthman ibn al-Affan was killed by some Egyptians and Ali ibn Abi Talib was approached by the people and Ali ibn Abi Talib was made the fourth caliph. Ali then moved the capital to Kufa in Iraq. Muawiyah I the governor of Syria, a relative of Uthman ibn al-Affan wanted the culprits arrested. Muawiyah I inherited the old Roman Syrian army. The fault lines between Iraq, formally under the Persian Sassanid Empire and Syria formally under the Byzantine Roman Empire existed for hundreds of years and the Roman–Persian Wars and the Byzantine–Sassanid Wars had ran for hundreds of years. After the defeat of the Byzantine and the Sassanids, the tax systems, some of the armies, the fault lines and the problems were inherited by the Muslims.

Ali was assassinated by Kharijites in 661. Six months later in 661, in the interest of peace, Hasan ibn Ali, highly regarded for his wisdom and as a peacemaker, the fourth Rightly Guided Caliphs for the Sunnis and the Second Imam for the Shias and the grandson of Muhammad, made a peace treaty with Muawiyah I. In the Hasan-Muawiya treaty, Hasan ibn Ali handed over power to Muawiya on the condition that he be just to the people and keep them safe and secure and that he does not establish a dynasty. Hasan and Hussein then moved to Madina.[27][28] Following this, Mu'awiyah broke the conditions of the agreement and began the Umayyad dynasty, with its capital in Damascus.[29] This brought to an end the era of the Rightly Guided Caliphs for the Sunnis and Hasan ibn Ali was also the last Imam for the Shias to be a Caliph. On his death bed Mu'awiyah appointed his son Yazid I to succeed him. Yazid I was oppressive and Hussein felt that it was his duty to confront him because he was oppressive.

The state that Muhammad established was in accordance with Islamic economic jurisprudence. As the state expanded, the rights of the different communities, as they existed in the Constitution of Medina still applied. The Constitution of Medina instituted a number of rights and responsibilities for the Muslim, Jewish, Christian and pagan communities of Medina, bringing them within the fold of one community — the Ummah.[30][31] The Constitution established: the security of the community, religious freedoms, the role of Medina as a sacred place (barring all violence and weapons), the security of women, stable tribal relations within Medina, a tax system for supporting the community in time of conflict, parameters for exogenous political alliances, a system for granting protection of individuals, and a judicial system for resolving disputes where non-Muslims could also use their own laws. All the tribes signed the agreement to defend Madina from all external threats and to live in harmony amongst themselves. The same rights were later applied to for all the communities, as the state expanded outside Madina. The Quran also gave rights to the citizens of the state and these rights were also applied. In the past Ali, Hassan and Hussein had given allegiance to the first three caliphs when they abided by these conditions. But here Yazid I as oppressive and Husseins felt that it was his religious duty to confront him and send a message to the future generations that oppressive rulers who take away the rights of people should not be given allegiance. Sunnis and Shias may disagree on the details but they all accept Hussein and hold him in high regard. Marwan I was well known to be a trouble causer and well known for making everyone fight amongst each other and later became the ruler.

Sahih Al Bukhari Volume 6, Book 60, Number 352 : Narrated by Yusuf bin Mahak [32]

"Marwan had been appointed as the governor of Medina by Muawiya.[33] He delivered a sermon and mentioned Yazid bin Muawiya so that the people might take the oath of allegiance to him as the successor of his father (Muawiya). Then 'Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr told him something whereupon marwan ordered that he be arrested. But 'Abdur-Rahman entered 'Aisha's house and they could not arrest him. marwan said, "It is he ('AbdurRahman) about whom Allah revealed this Verse: 'And the one who says to his parents: 'Fie on you! Do you hold out the promise to me..?'" On that, 'Aisha said from behind a screen, "Allah did not reveal anything from the Qur'an about us except what was connected with the declaration of my innocence (of the slander)."

Many of Husseins friends in Mecca Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr the grand son of the first caliph Abu Bakr, Abdullah ibn Umar the son of the second caliph Umar and Abdullah ibn Abbas advised Husayn bin Ali to make Mecca his base and fight against Yazid I from Mecca. Hussein had a lot of support in Mecca and Madina and they advised him not to go to Kufa in Iraq.

Husayn and caliphate

According to the Shia, Hasan was supposed to be the successor to Ali after Muhammad. Muawiyah had fought with Ali during his time and after his death, as Hasan was supposed to take Ali's place in successorship, he was another threat to Muawiyah in which he prepared to fight with him again.

Muawiyah began fighting Hasan and it led to inconclusive skirmishes between the armies of Hasan and Muawiyah. Thus, to avoid the agonies of another civil war, he signed the Hasan–Muawiya treaty with Muawiyah. Hasan's only condition in the treaty was that Muawiyah wouldn't name a successor during his reign and let the Islamic world choose their successor after the latter. After establishing his power, Muawiyah poisoned Hasan in 50 AH . And after Hasan's death, he then named his son Yazid as his successor.

Husayn and Rashidun

During Ali's caliphate Hasan, Husayn, Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah and Abdullah ibn Ja'far appear as his closest assistants within his household.[11]

Muawiyah's era

When Hasan ibn Ali agreed to make a peace treaty with Muawiyah I, the first Umayyad caliph, he left Kufa and went to Medina with his brother Husayn.[34]

According to the Shia belief, he lived under the most difficult outward conditions of suppression and persecution. This was due in part to the fact that 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. Another reason was that Muawiyah and his aides made use of every possible means to put aside past disputes and remove the Household of Muhammad and the followers of Ali and his sons, and thus obliterate the name of Ali and his family.[35]

Muawiyah I ordered for public curses of Ali and his major supporters including Hasan and Husayn.[11]

According to the Shia, Husayn had gained the third Imam for a period of ten years after the death of his brother Hassan in 669. All of this time but the last six months coinciding with the caliphate of Muawiyah.[35]

Yazid's rule

One of the important points of the treaty made between Hasan and Muawiyah was that Muawiyah will not designate anyone as his successor after his death and the decision will be left to the Ummah (the Nation). But after the death of Hasan, he, thinking that no one will be courageous enough to object his decision as the Caliph, designated his son, Yazid I, as his successor in 680 CE, breaking the treaty.[36]


Husayn left Medina with his sisters, daughters, sons, brothers, and the sons of Hasan. He took a side road to Mecca to avoid being pursued, and once in Mecca Husayn stayed in the house of ‘Abbas ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib and remained there for four months.[11]

While in Mecca Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, Abdullah ibn Umar and Abdullah ibn Abbas advised Husayn bin Ali to make Mecca his base and fight against Yazid from Mecca.[37]

Husayn opposed Yazid I and declared that Umayyad rule was not only oppressive, but also religiously misguided. In his view the integrity and survival of the Islamic community depended on the re-establishment of the correct guidance.[38] Husayn also believed that the succession of Yazid I was an attempt to establish an illegitimate hereditary dynasty.

The religious attitudes of the Umayyad also inspired the people of Kufa to believe that leadership of the Muslim community belonged to the descendants of Muhammed, so they urged Husayn to join them and come to Kufa to establish his caliphate[36] since they had no imam. They told him that they did not attend the Friday prayer with the governor of Kufa, No'man ibn Bashir, and would drive him out of the town as soon as Husayn agreed to come to them.

To convince Husayn to come they sent him seven messengers with bags of letters of support by Kufan warriors and tribal leaders. As he prepared for the journey to Kufa, Abdullah ibn Umar and Abdullah ibn Abbas argued against his plan and, if he was determined to proceed to Kufa, asked him to leave the women and children in Mecca. Husayn wrote the Kufans and told them that he understood from their letters that they had no imam and they wished him to come to unite them by the correct guidance. He informed them that he was sending his cousin Muslim ibn Aqeel to report to him on the situation. If he found them united as their letters indicated he would quickly join them, for it was the duty of the imam to act in accordance with the Qur'an and to uphold justice, proclaim the truth, and to dedicate himself to the cause of God. The mission of ibn Aqeel was initially successful. The Kufans visited him freely, and 18,000 men are said to have enlisted with him in support of Husayn as their saviour and Caliph. He wrote to Husayn, encouraging him to come quickly to Kufa.[11]

According to Shia scholars, Husayn was also visited by a supporter with two of his sons from Basra, where Shia sentiment was limited. He then sent identical letters to the chiefs of the five divisions into which the Basran tribes were divided. He wrote them that Muhammad's family were his family and were the rightful heirs of his position, and that others had illegitimately claimed the right which belonged exclusively to Muhammad's family. The family had initially consented to the actions of the first caliphs for the sake of the unity of the Ummah. He said that the caliphs who had seized the right of Muhammad's family had done many good things, and had sought the truth. The letter closely reflected the guidelines set by Ali, who had strongly upheld the sole right of the family of Muhammad, who were the descendants of Fatima (Prophet Muhammed's daughter), to leadership of the Muslim community. The Sunnis, who compose the vast majority of the Muslims, believe that Husayn did not oppose Yazid I because he wanted to be a ruler but because he felt that it was his duty to oppose an oppressive ruler. Yazid I is regarded as an oppressive ruler by Sunnis too. While most of the recipients of the letter kept it secret, one of them suspected that it was a ploy of the governor Ubayd-Allah ibn Ziyad to test their loyalty and turned it over to him. Ubayd-Allah seized and beheaded Husayn's messenger and addressed a stern warning to the people of Basra.[11]

In Kufa the situation changed radically when Yazid replaced Noman ibn Bashir with Ubayd-Allah ibn Ziyad, ordering the latter to disperse the crowd supporting Muslim ibn Aqeel but without killing either Muslim ibn Aqeel or Al-Husayn. Ubayd-Allah succeeded in intimidating the tribal chiefs, and a revolt collapsed when the rebels failed to capture the governor's palace. ibn Aqeel was found and delivered to Ubayd-Allah, and after agreeing with Muslim bin Aqeel to send a message to Al-Husayn with the following: "return with your family, and don't be deceived by the people of Kufa. They have misled you and me", Ubayd-Allah bin Ziyad killed Muslim bin Aqeel. However, the message was not received by Al-Husayn when he decided to leave Mecca against the advice of a few of Muhammad's companions, including Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr.[39]

Battle of Karbala

Main article: Battle of Karbala

Shia view

Husayn in his path toward Kufa encountered the army of Ubaydllah ibn Ziyad, the governor of Kufa, led by Hurr ibn Yazid Riyahi, a top commander in the Umayyad army who later changed sides. It is said that when Hurr and his one thousand men army initially encountered Husayn on the day of 4th Muharram, Hurr and his army were thirsty as they had been on rounds to capture Husayn for many days. Husayn offered his storage of water to Hurr, his army, and the horses of his army. It is said that if Husayn had not offered the water to Hurr and his army, the water in Husayn's camp would have lasted until 19th day of Muharram. Hurr did not arrest Husayn, but told him to set a camp in Karbala and stop his journey to Kufa. Husayn and his family were also not allowed to set up tents close to the bank of the Euphrates. On the 7th day of Muharram, the water storage in Husayn's camp was finished. Husayn requested ibn Ziyad's army to allow him and his family members access to water, but his request was denied. Husayn sent his brother Al-Abbas ibn Ali to the river bank to bring water, but Ziyad's army fought with Abbas, cut off both his arms, and killed him. Husayn also went to ibn Ziyad's army and asked them to allow water for his six month old son, but the army launched arrows toward Husayn, one of which killed Ali Asghar.

At the Battle of Karbala it is recorded that seventy two people were killed.[40]

When Husayn clashed with Yazid's army, he said:[41]

... Don't you see that the truth is not put into action and the false is not prohibited? The believer should desire to meet his Lord while he is right. Thus I do not see death but as happiness, and living with tyrants but as sorrow.
—Husayn ibn Ali

On 13 October 680 (Muharram 10, 61 AH), he and his small group of his followers and family members, who were between 72 or more,[42][43] fought with a large army under the command of Umar ibn Sa'ad, son of Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas. Husayn and all of his men were killed and beheaded. The bodies were left for forty days without burial and survivors from Husain's family were taken as prisoners to al-Sham (Syria and Lebanon today) to Yazid.[44]

Part of his speech on Ashura:

Behold; the illegitimate, son of the illegitimate [by birth], has settled between two, between unsheathing [the sword] and humiliation, and how impossible is humiliation from us! Allah refuses that for us, and his messenger, and the believers, and laps chastified and purified, and zealous noses [expression: heads that do not bow in humility], and repudiating souls [who repudiate/refuse oppression], that we desire obedience to the mean ones, than the killings of the honourable [martyrdom]. Behold that I move slowly with this family, despite the little number and deserting of helpers.

Today, the death of Husayn ibn Ali is commemorated during every Muharram by Shia Muslims, with the most important of these days being its tenth day, Ashura. However, Ashura is commemorated by Sunni Muslims for reasons of martyrdom of Husayn ibn Ali and also involving Moses as mentioned in the hadiths.

Sunni view

On his way to Kufa, Al-Hussain encountered a small army led by Umar ibn Sa'ad, Shamar bin Thi Al-Joshan, and Hussain bin Tamim. Al-Hussain asked them to grant them one of three: Afterwards, Al-Hurr rode his horse towards Al-Hussain and his group who thought he came to fight them. But Al-Hurr changed his direction and went towards the army where he fought them and killed two men before getting killed.

Al-Hussain's followers were killed around him until he was left alone fighting. Soldiers on the other side were hesitant to kill Al-Hussain until Shamar bin Thi Al-Joshan throw his spear at Al-Hussain. It is said that Shamar bin Thi Al-Joshan was the one who beheaded Al-Hussain.[45]


The impact of the tragedy of Karbalāʾ on the religious conscience of Muslims has ever been deep and goes beyond its consecration of the passion and penitence motives in Shiʿism. The motivation of the major actors in it have often been debated. It is evident that Ḥosayn cannot be viewed as simply a reckless rebel risking his and his family’s lives for his personal ambition. He refused to break his oath of allegiance to Moʿāwia despite his severe reproval of his conduct. He did not pledge allegiance to Yazid, who had been appointed successor by Moʿāwia in violation of his treaty with Ḥasan, and most likely never agreed to do so. Yet he also did not actively seek martyrdom. He offered to leave Iraq as soon as it became clear that he no longer had any support in Kufa. It was ʿObayd-Allāh who vainly sought to provoke him to start the fighting. His initial determination to follow the invitation of the Kufan Shiʿites in spite of the numerous warnings he received and his visions of the Prophet reflect a religious conviction of a mission that left him no choice, whatever the outcome. Like his father he was firmly convinced that the family of the Prophet was divinely chosen to lead the community founded by Moḥammad, as the latter had been chosen, and had both an inalienable right and an obligation to seek this leadership.[46]

When Husayn was killed in Karbala, Husayns friend, Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr the grandson of Abu Bakr and the cousin of Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr collected the people of Mecca and made the following speech:

"O people! No other people are worse than Iraqis and among the Iraqis, the people of Kufa are the worst. They repeatedly wrote letters and called Imam Husayn to them and took bay'at (allegiance) for his caliphate. But when Ibn Zeyad arived in Kufa, they rallied around him and killed Imam Husayn who was pious, observed the fast, read the Quran and deserved the caliphate in all respects" [47]

After his speech, the people of Mecca also joined Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr to take on Yazid. When he heard about this, Yazid had a silver chain made and sent to Mecca with the intention of having Walid ibn Utbah arrest Ibn al-Zubair with it[47]

Eventually Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr consolidated his power by sending a governor to Kufa. Soon, Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr established his power in Iraq, southern Arabia and in the greater part of Syria, and parts of Egypt. Yazid tried to end Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr's rebellion by invading the Hejaz, and took Medina after the bloody Battle of al-Harrah followed by the siege of Makkah but his sudden death ended the campaign and threw the Umayyads into disarray with civil war eventually breaking out.

This essentially split the Islamic empire into two spheres with two different caliphs, but soon the Umayyad civil war was ended, and Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr lost Egypt and whatever he had of Syria to Marwan I. This coupled with the Kharijite rebellions in Iraq reduced his domain to only the Hejaz.

In Mecca and Madina Husayns family had a strong support base the people were willing to stand up for them. Husayns remaining family moved back to Madina.

Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr was the grandson of Abu Bakr and the cousin of Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr. Both Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr and Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr were Aisha nephews. Qasim ibn Muhammad ibn Abu Bakr was also the grandfather of Imam Jafar al-Sadiq.

Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr was finally defeated by Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, who sent Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf. Hajjaj defeated and killed Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr on the battlefield in 692, beheading him and crucifying his body, reestablishing Umayyad control over the Empire.

On his last hour he asked his mother Asmā' bint Abu Bakr what he should do. Asmā' bint Abu Bakr replied to her son, she said:[48]

"You know better in your own self that if you are upon the truth and you are calling towards the truth go forth for people more honourable than you were killed and have been killed and if you are not upon the truth, then what an evil son you are, you have destroyed yourself and those who are with you. If you say what you say, that if you are upon the truth and you will be killed at the hands of others then you will not truly be free, for this is not the statement of someone who is free".

Then Asmā' bint Abu Bakr said to her son, this is the statement of the mother to her son,

"how long will you live in this world, death is more beloved to me than this state you are on/ this state of weakness."

Then this conversation between Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr and his mother continued.

Then Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr said to his mother after she had told him to go forth and fight.

He said, "I am afraid I will be mutilated by the people of Sham, I am afraid that they will cut up my body after they have killed me"

So she said to her son,"after someone has died it won't make any difference what they do to you if you have been killed."

Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr then said to his mother,"I did not come to you except to increase myself in knowledge."

He said to her, "I did not come to you except to increase me in knowledge, look and pay attention to this day for verily I am a dead man, your son never drank wine, nor was he fornicator, nor did he wrong any Muslim or Non Muslim, nor was he unjust, I am not saying this to you to show off or show how pure I am but rather as an honour to you."

So then Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr left by himself on his horse to take on Hajjaj and he was killed by the Army of Hajjaj.

Then Hajjaj crucified him and said," No one must put down his body except Asmaa (radiallaahu anha ), she must come to me and ask permission of me and only then will his body be put down".

Asmaa refused to go and ask permission to put down her sons body and it was said to her,

if you don't go his body will remain like that. So she said let it be then.

Until eventually, Hajjaj came to her and said,

"what do you say about this matter " and she said,

" Verily you have destroyed him you have ruined his life and with that you have ruined your hereafter."

A few years later the people of Kufa called Zayd ibn Ali the grandson of Husayns over to Kufa. Zaydis believe that on the last hour of Zayd ibn Ali, Zayd ibn Ali was also betrayed by the people in Kufa who said to him: "May God have mercy on you! What do you have to say on the matter of Abu Bakr and Umar ibn al-Khattab?" Zayd ibn Ali said, "I have not heard anyone in my family renouncing them both nor saying anything but good about them...when they were entrusted with government they behaved justly with the people and acted according to the Qur'an and the Sunnah"[49][50][51][52]

Hussein ibn Ali's burial site

Shia view

Husayn's body is buried in Karbala, near the site of his death. His head is said to have been returned from Damascus and interred with his body.[53] Shia/Fatimid believe that Husain's head was first buried in the courtyard of yezid mahal (Umayyad Mosque) than transferred from Damascus to Ashkelon to Cairo.

Husayn's grave became the most visited place of Ziyarat for Shias. The Imam Husayn Shrine was later built over his grave. In 850 Abbasid caliph, al-Mutawakkil, destroyed his shrine in order to stop Shia pilgrimages. However, pilgrimages continued.[54]

Return of the head of Husayn to his body

Several Shia and Sunni sources confirm the return of Husayn's head to his body in Karbala. According to Shaykh Saduq, Husayn's son, Ali ibn Husayn, took it back from Shaam and returned it to Karbala.[55] Fetal Neyshabouri and Majlesi have confirmed this in their books, Rouzato-Waisin and Bihar al-Anwar respectively.[56][57] Sharif al-Murtaza also mentions this in his book Rasaael.[58] Ibn shahrashub verrifies Sharif al-Murtaza stating the same thing about head of Husayn. He also narrates Shaykh Tusi that this event, i.e. returning the head to the body, happened forty days after Ashura and it is for this reason, there are specific rituals for this day.[59] This day is recognized by Shias and is known as Arba'een. Similar statements are documented by famous Shia scholars e.g. Ahmad ibn Tawoos[60] and Muhaqeq Helli.[61] Among Sunni scholors, Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī in his famous work The Remaining Signs of Past Centuries has stated that Husayn's head was returned to his body and was buried altogether on 20th of the lunar month of Safar (Arba'een).[62] Similar statement is mentioned by Sunni scholar Zakariya al-Qazwini, in his book ʿAjā'ib al-makhlūqāt wa gharā'ib al-mawjūdāt.[63] Qurtobi narrates from Shias on the return of the head to the body on Arba'een.[64]

Transfer of the head of Husayn in Fatimid belief


On the second day after the battle of Karbala, the forces of Yazid I raised the head of Husayn on a lance. They took it to Kufa to present it to Ubayd-Allah ibn Ziyad, the governor of Kufa, leaving behind the mutilated body of Husayn. The headless body was thus buried there by the tribe of Bani Assad, who were living in the vicinity of Karbala. After the exhibition and display of the head of Husayn, ibn Ziyad dispatched it to Damascus to be presented to Yazid as a trophy.

Yazid celebrated the occasion with great pomp and show by displaying the head of Husayn in his crowded and decorated court. The head was then buried in a niche of one of the internal walls of Jame-Masjid, Damascus, Syria. Afterwards, the head of Husayn remained confiscated and confined in Damascus by the order of the Umayyad monarch, Sulayman ibn Abd al-Malik (d.86/705), in this condition for about two hundred twenty years.

When the Abbasids took power from the Umayyads, in the garb of taking revenge of Ahl al-Bayt, they also confiscated the head Husayn and proved to be worse enemies than the Umayyads. It was the Abbasid emperor Al-Muqtadir (d. 295/908), an enemy of the Ahl al-Bayt He attempted many times to stop the pilgrimage to the head, but in vain. He thus tried to completely eliminate the sign of the sacred place of Ziyarat; he transferred the head of Husayn to Ashkelon (located 10 km (6.2 mi) from the Gaza Strip and 58 km (36 mi) south of Tel Aviv, Israel) in secrecy, so that the pilgrims could not find the place.

It was the 15th Fatimid/Ismaili/Dawoodi Bohra Imam Abu Mansoor Nizar al-Aziz Billah (d.386 AH/996) who traced the site of the head of his great-grandfather through the office of his contemporary in Baghdad, in 985. In the city of Ashkelon, Israel, it remained buried at "Baab al Faradis", for a long time (about 250 years up to 1153).

Commander of the Fatimid forces Dai Badrul’jamali (d. 487/1095) conquered Palestine, during the period of 18th Fatimid Imam Ma'ad al-Mustansir Billah (d. 487/1094). The Fatimid Imam assigned him to discover the head of Husayn ibn Ali. The Dai, in 448 (A.H) discovered the place of Raas al Imam al Husayn.

Under the instructions of the Fatimid Imam Ma'ad al-Mustansir Billah, Badr al-Jamali constructed a mosque and donated several huge properties to meet the expenditure of the 'Trust', so as to maintain the affairs of the Mashhad the place of burial. He also prepared a wooden minbar (pulpit) and placed it in the mosque, where Raas al Imam al Husayn was buried. This minbar bears the historical account which is engraved in Arabi Fatemi Kufic script about the Raas al Imam al Husayn.

The following part of text is a translation of the Arabic inscriptions, which is still preserved on the Fatimid minbar:

".. among the miracles, a major glory with the wishes of Allah, is the recovery of the Head .. Imam.. Husain .. which was at the place of Ashkelon, .. hidden by the tyrants... .. Allah has promised to reveal.. wishes to hide it from the show it to Awliya ... to relieve the heart of ‘Devotees’ of Imam Husain, as Allah knew their pure heartedness in Walayat and Deen.

... May Allah keep for long our Moula .. Al Mustansir’billah.. .The .. Commander of the forces.. the Helper of Imam.. the leader of Do’at .. Badr al Mustansari has discovered Raas al Imam al Husain in Imam Mustansir’s period, and has taken it out from its hidden place. He specially built a Minbar for the Mashhad, at the place where this sacred Head lay buried. ..

He (..Badrul’jamali) constructed this building ..the revenue from which is to be spent only on this Mashhad ... ."[66]

The shrine was described as the most magnificent building in Ashkelon.[67] In the British Mandate period it was a "large maqam on top of a hill" with no tomb but a fragment of a pillar showing the place where the head had been buried.[68]

After the 21st Fatimid Imam At-Tayyib Abi l-Qasim went into seclusion, his uncle, Abd al Majid occupied the throne of the Fatimid Empire. Fearing disrespect and the atrocities of the traitors and enemies, the Majidi-monarch, Al-Zafir, ordered the transfer of the head to Qahera. The W’ali of the city of Ashkelon, Al Amir Sayf al Mamlaka Tamim along with the custodian of the Mashhad, Qazi Mohammad bin Miskin, took out the buried casket of Raas al Imam al Husayn from the Mashhad, and with due respect and great reverence, on Sunday 8 Jumada al-Thani, 548 (31 August 1153) carried the head from the city of Ashkelon to Qahera, Egypt. Syedi Hasan bin Asad (Hir’az, Yemen) discussed this event in his Risalah manuscript as follows: "When the Raas (head) al Imam al Husain was taken out of the casket, in Ashkelon, drops of the fresh blood were visible on the Raas al Imam al Husain and the fragrance of Musk spread all over."

Historians, Al-Maqrizi, Ahmad al-Qalqashandi, and Ibn Muyassar (d.1278) have mentioned that the casket reached Qahera on Tuesday 10 Jumada al-Thani (2 September 1153). Ust’ad Maknun accompanied it in one of the service boats which landed at the Kafuri (Garden). Buried there in the place known "Qubbat al Daylam" or "Turbat al Zafr’an" (currently known as "Al Mashhad al Husain", wherein lie buried underground thirteen Fatimid Imams from 9th Muhammad at-Taqi to 20th Al-Amir bi-Ahkami l-Lah). This place is also known as "B’ab Makhallif’at al Rasul" and located in Al-Hussein Mosque.

During the golden era of the Fatimid Caliphate, on the day of Ashurah, every year the people of Egypt from far and near used to gather and offer sacrifices of camels, cows, goats in the name of Allah, recite Marsiyah-elegies and pronounced L’anat (curse) loudly on Yazid, Shimr Ibn Thil-Jawshan, ibn Ziyad and other murderers of Husayn, the Ahl al Bait and the Ans’ar of Husayn. During the tenure of Saladin, all Marasim al Az’a or mourning commemorations for Husayn were declared officially banned as they were considered Bid‘ah.

The famous Mamluk historian of Egypt, Mohiyuddin Abd al Zahir (d. 1292) wrote:
"When Salahuddin came to power he seized all the Palaces of the Aimmat Fatemiyeen and looted their properties and treasures. He destroyed the valuable and rare collection of the hundred thousands books, available in libraries, in the river Nile. When he learnt through his intelligence.. that one of the.. custodians of Raas al Imam al Husain.. was highly respected by the people of ..Qahera, he surmised that perhaps he .. be aware of ..treasures of the Aimmat Fatemiyeen. Salahuddin issued orders to present him in his court. He inquired of him ..of the Fatemi..treasures. The nobleman flatly denied ..about the treasures. Salahuddin was angered, and ordered his intelligence .. to ask him through ‘third-degree-torture’, but the nobleman bore ..torture and repeated ..statement. .. Salahuddin ordered his soldiers to put a cap containing Centipedes on the head of the nobleman. ..such type of punishment was so severe and unbearable..none could survive even for a few minutes. Prior to putting the Cap of Centipedes on the head, his hair was shaved, to make it easy for the Centipedes to suck blood, which in turn made holes in skull. But! In spite of that punishment the noble custodian of Husain’s Head..felt no pain at all. Salahuddin ordered for more Centipedes to be put on .. but it could not kill or pain him. Finally Salahuddin Ayyubi ordered for a tight cap full of Centipedes .. to accomplish the result. Even this method could not torture or kill him. The Ayyubid brutes were greatly astounded further when they saw, on removing the cap, the Centipedes were dead. Salahuddin asked the nobleman to reveal the secret of this miracle. The nobleman revealed as follow: “When Raas al Imam al Husain was brought to Qasar, Al Moizziyat al Qahera, he had carried the casket on his head. ‘O Salahuddin! This is the secret of my safety."

The burial place is now also known as Raous (head)-us-Husain, A silver Zarih (Maqsurah) is made on the place by Dawoodi Bohra Dai, and the place is visited regularly by all Shia. The presentation of the Maqsurah is also unique in the history of loyalty and faithfulness. The Maqsurah of Raas al Imam al Husain was originally constructed for the Al Abbas Mosque at Karbala, Iraq. When this Maqsurah reached the mosque of Al-Abbas ibn Ali it would not fit on the place. The size of the Maqsurah and the site of the fitting place differed at the time of fitting, although every technical aspects and measurements of the site were taken into account very precisely. The engineers were astonished, as what had happened, although every minute detail was handled very professionally. The loyalty of Al-Abbas ibn Ali was also witnessed on that day too, as it had been witnessed on the day of Aashurah. There a divine guidance came to the effect by way of intuition that a sincere, faithful, loyal and devoted brother could not tolerate, that the head of Muhammad's grandson, Husayn, buried in Al Qahera, Egypt, should be without a Maqsurah, thus how could he accept this gift for himself. Hence even after Shahadat, Al-Abbas ibn Ali paid his tribute to Husayn and presented his own Maqsurah for Raas (head) al Imam al Husain. When this above-mentioned Maqsurah was brought from Karbala, Iraq to Al Moizziyat al Qahera, Egypt, it fitted upon the original position of the grave known as Mashhad of Raas al Imam al Husain in such a manner, as if it had been fabricated for Raas al Imam al Husain itself.

During the period of Saladin, and by his order, the minbar made by Dai Badr-ul Jamali was transferred from Ashkelon to the Masjid Khalil al Rahman (Ibrahimi Mosque), Al Khalil(Hebron), Palestine/Israel. Saladin did not know that this minbar contained an inscription showing the history of Husayn. The 51st al Dai al Fatemi/Dawoodi Bohra, Taher Saifuddin (d.1385/1965) got the honour to visit Masjid Khalil al Rahman, and he discovered the Fatamid minbar, one thousand years after the seclusion of the Fatamid Imams.

The Masjid of the Ashkelon known as "Masjid Al Mashhad al Husain" was blown up deliberately as part of a broader operation of defence force in 1950 at the instructions of Moshe Dayan, but the devotees of Ahl al Bait did not forgotten it.[69]

A few years ago, the 52nd Fatamid/Ismaili/Mustali/Dawoodi Bohra Dai Mohammed Burhanuddin, built a marble platform, as per traditional Fatamid architectural design, at the site, on the ground behind the Barzilai Hospital, Ashkelon and since then thousands of devotees have come from across the world, year round to pay tribute to Husayn.[70]


Main article: Family tree of Husayn ibn Ali

Husayn ibn Ali was the son of Ali, Muhammad's cousin, and his wife Fatimah, the daughter of Muhammad and his first wife Khadijah bint Khuwaylid. Husayn ibn Ali and his brother Hasan ibn Ali were regarded by Prophet Muhammed as his own sons due to his love for them and as they were the sons of his daughter Fatima and he regarded her children and descendants as his own children and descendants, and he said "Every mothers children are associated with their father except for the children of Fatima for I am their father and lineage" Thus only the descendants of Fatima are the descendants and progeny of the Prophet and his Ahlul Bayt.

Commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali


The Day of Ashura is commemorated by the Shia society as a day of mourning for the death of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad at the Battle of Karbala. The commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali has become a national holiday and all ethnic and religious communities participate in it.

Some say that a pilgrimage to Karbala and Husayn's shrine therein has the merit of a thousand pilgrimages to Mecca, of a thousand martyrdoms, and of a thousand days fasting.[71]

Shia view of Husayn

The Shia regard Husayn as an Imam (which is considered a spiritual leader ) and a martyr. He is believed to be the third of the Imams from the Ahl al-Bayt which are supposed to succeed Muhammad and that he set out on his path in order to save the religion of Islam and the Islamic nation from annihilation at the hands of Yazid.

The traditional narration "Every day is Ashura and every land is Karbala!" is used by the Shia to live their lives as Husayn did on Ashura with complete sacrifice for God and others. The saying also signifies what happened in Ashura on Karbala must always be remembered for there is suffering everywhere.

Sayings of Muhammad about Husayn ibn Ali

  • Hasan and Husayn are the masters of the youth of Paradise and Fatimah is the master of their women.[72]
  • Husayn is from me and I am from him.[73]
  • Muhammad looked towards Ali, Fatimah, Hasan and Husayn and said, "I am at war with those who fight you and in peace with those who please you."[74]
  • Allah will create a nation, who will mourn for Husayn till the Day of Judgement.


Husayn ibn Ali
of the Ahl al-Bayt
Clan of the Banu Quraish
Born: 3rd Sha‘bān 4 AH 11 January 626 CE Died: 10th Muharram 61 AH 13 October 680 CE
Shia Islam titles
Preceded by
Hasan ibn Ali
Disputed by Nizari
3rd Imam of Shia Islam
Succeeded by
‘Alī ibn Ḥusayn
Succeeded by
Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah
Kaysanites successor

See also


  1. Madelung, 1997, pp. 15 and 16
  2. Sunan Ibn Majah, Introduction 8
  3. al-Tabarani, on the authorities of: Umar, Ali, Jabir, Abu Hurayrah, Usamah Ibn Zaid, al-Baraa, Ibn 'Adi, and Ibn Masud.
  4. al-Kubra, by al-Nasa'i
  5. Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, v1, pp 62,82, v3, pp 3,64, v5, p391
  6. Fada'il al-Sahaba, by Ahmad Hanbal, v2, p771, Tradition #1360
  7. al-Mustadrak, by al-Hakim, v3, pp 166,167
  8. Hilyatul Awliyaa, by Abu Nu'aym, v5, p71
  9. Majma' al-Zawa'id, by al-Haythami, v9, p187
  10. Tuhfatul Ashraf, by Lumzi, v3, p31
  11. Ibn Habban, as mentioned in al-Mawarid, pp 551,553
  12. al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar Haythami, Ch. 11, section 3, p290
  13. Mishkat al-Masabih, by Khatib al-Tabrizi, English Version, Tradition #6154
  • Fadha'il al-Sahaba, by Ahmad Hanbal, v2, p772, Tradition #1361
  • al-Mustadrak, by al-Hakim, v3, p 177
  • Amali, by Abu Nu'aym al-Isbahani, p 64
  • al-Kuna wal Asmaa, by al-Dulabi, v1, p88
  • al-Tabarani, v3, p21
  • Adab by al-Bukhari, also al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah, as quoted in:
  • al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar Haythami, Ch. 11, section 3, p291
  • Mishkat al-Masabih, by Khatib al-Tabrizi, English ,Version, Tradition #6160
  • Sunan Ibn Majah, v1, p52
  • Fadha'il al-Sahaba, by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, v2, p767, Tradition #1350
  • al-Mustadrak, by al-Hakim, v3, p149
  • Majma' al-Zawa'id, by al-Haythami, v9, p169
  • al-Kabir, by al-Tabarani, v3, p30, also in al-Awsat
  • Jami' al-Saghir, by al-Ibani, v2, p17
  • Tarikh, by al-Khateeb al-Baghdadi, v7, p137
  • Sawaiq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar al-Haythami, p144
  • Talkhis, by al-Dhahabi, v3, p149
  • Dhakha'ir al-Uqba, by al-Muhib al-Tabari, p25
  • Mishkat al-Masabih, by Khatib al-Tabrizi, English Version, Tradition #6145
  • References

    • Los Angeles Times

    External links

    • Hussein ibn 'Ali an article of Encyclopædia Britannica.
    • Hussein ibn 'Ali by Wilferd Madelung, an article of Encyclopædia Iranica.
    • Hussein ibn 'Ali in popular Shiism by Jean Calmard, an article of Encyclopædia Iranica.
    • Imam Hussein in the eyes of non-Muslims
    • The Third Imam
    • Martyr Of Karbala
    • An account of the martyrdom of the third Imam
    • Interactive Family Tree by Happy Books

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