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Battle of Karbala


Battle of Karbala

Battle of Karbala

Abbas Al-Musavi's Battle of Karbala, Brooklyn Museum
Date 10 Muharram 61, October 10, 680 AD
Location Karbala

Umayyad military victory

  • Incident is mourned by Shia Muslims to date
The Umayyads Husayn of Banu Hashim
Commanders and leaders
Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad
Umar ibn Sa'ad
Shimr ibn Thil-Jawshan
Al-Hurr ibn Yazid al Tamimi (left his army and joined Husayn during the battle)  
Husayn ibn Ali  
Al-Abbas ibn Ali  
Habib ibn Muzahir  
Zuhayr ibn Qayn  
4,000[1] or 5,000[2] - 30,000[2] 70-150 (general consensus 110; including six-month-old baby).[3][4] The common number '72' comes from the number of heads severed.
Casualties and losses
88 killed, plus some wounded.[5] 72 casualties of Husayn's army
^A Hurr was originally one of the commanders of Ibn Ziyad's army but changed allegiance to Husayn along with his son, servant and brother on 10 Muharram 61 AH, October 10, 680 AD

The Battle of Karbala took place on Muharram 10, in the year 61 AH of the Islamic calendar (October 10, 680 AD) in Karbala, in present-day Iraq.[6] The battle took place between a small group of supporters and relatives of Muhammad's grandson, Husayn ibn Ali, and a larger military detachment from the forces of Yazid I, the Umayyad caliph.

When Muawiyah I died in 680, Husayn did not give allegiance to his son, Yazid I, who had been appointed as Umayyad caliph by Muawiyah, and considered this action as the breach of the Hasan–Muawiya treaty. The people of Kufa sent letters to Husayn , asking his help and pledging their allegiance to him, but they did not support him later. As Husayn traveled towards Kufa, a nearby place known as Karbala, his caravan was intercepted by Yazid I's army. He was killed and beheaded in the Battle of Karbala by Shimr Ibn Thil-Jawshan, along with most of his family and companions, including Husayn's six-month-old infant son, Ali al-Asghar ibn Husayn, with the women and children taken as prisoners.[6][7]

The dead are regarded as majlis, striking the chest and in some cases self-flagellation.[10]


  • Political background 1
  • Events before the battle 2
  • The events of the battle 3
    • The day of the battle 3.1
    • The battle begins 3.2
    • Death of Al-Abbas ibn Ali 3.3
    • Death of Husayn ibn Ali 3.4
  • Aftermath 4
    • Prisoiners Journey to Damuscus 4.1
      • The sermon of Zaynab bint Ali in the court of Yazid 4.1.1
      • The sermon of Ali ibn Husayn in Damascus 4.1.2
    • Burial of dead bodies 4.2
    • Later uprisings 4.3
  • Historiography of the battle of Karbala 5
    • Primary sources 5.1
    • Secondary sources 5.2
    • Shia writings 5.3
    • History distortion 5.4
  • Impact on literature 6
    • Persian literature 6.1
    • Azeri and Turkish literature 6.2
    • Sindhi literature 6.3
    • Urdu literature 6.4
  • Shia observances 7
  • See also 8
  • Footnotes 9
  • References 10
  • Bibliography 11
  • External links 12
    • Sunni links 12.1
    • Shia links 12.2

Political background

During Ali's Caliphate, the Muslim world became divided and war broke between him and Muawiyah I. When Ali was assassinated by Kharijites in 661, his elder son, Hasan ibn Ali, succeeded him but soon signed a peace treaty with Muawiyah to avoid further bloodshed.[6][11]

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 not establish a dynasty. Hasan and Husayn then moved to Medina.[12][13] Following this, Mu'awiyah broke the conditions of the agreement and began the Umayyad dynasty, with its capital in Damascus.[14] 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.

Husayn ibn Ali became the head of Banu Hashim after death of his older brother, Hasan ibn Ali, in 670 (50 AH). His father's supporters (Shi'a Ali) in Kufah gave their allegiance to him. However, he told he them he was still bound by the peace treaty between Hasan and Muawiyah I. Later, Husayn did not accept the request of Muawiyah for the succession of his son, Yazid I, and considered this action as the breach of the Hasan–Muawiya treaty.[6] According to Hasan-Muawiya treat, Muawiyah wouldn't name a successor during his reign and let the Islamic world choose their successor after the latter.[15][16][17] When Muawiyah I died in 680, Husayn refused to pledge allegiance to Yazid I, who had just appointed as Umayyad caliph by Muawiyah, because he considered Umayyads as oppressive and religiously misguided regime. He insisted on his legitimacy based on his own special position as a direct descendant of Muhammad and his legitimate legatees. As a consequence, he left Medina, his home town, to take refuge in Mecca in 60 AH.[6][18]

Ibn Katheer wrote in his book the Al-Bidayah wan-Nihayah [19] that "in the year 56 AH Muawiyah called on the people including those within the outlying territories to pledge allegiance to his son, Yazeed, to be his heir to the Caliphate after him. Almost all the subjects offered their allegiance, with the exception of Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr (the son of Abu Bakr), Abdullah ibn Umar (the son of Umar), al-Husain bin Ali (the son of Ali), Abdullah bin Az-Zubair (The grandson of Abu Bakr) and Abdullah ibn Abbas (Ali's cousin). Because of this Muawiyah passed through al-Madinah on his way back from Makkah upon completion of his Umrah Pilgrimage where he summoned each one of the five aforementioned individuals and threatened them. The speaker who addressed Muawiyah sharply with the greatest firmness amongst them was Abdurrahman bin Abu Bakr, while Abdullah bin Umar bin was the most soft spoken amongst them.

Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr and Abdullah ibn Umar were mid level Muslim commanders at the Battle of Yarmouk that took Syria. Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr's sister Asmā' bint Abu Bakr also fought in the Battle of Yarmouk and was opposed to Yazid.[20] Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr had been one of the first to duel in that battle, after taking a sword to hand over to a Qays bin Hubayrah who had lost his sword, while in a duel with the Roman Army's best horseman. Two more Roman horsemen then came forward saying "We see no justice when two of you come against one of us." Abdur Rahman bin Abu Bakr replied: "I only came to give my companion a sword and then return. Were 100 of you to come out against one of us we would not be worried. You are now three men. I am enough to take on all three of you." After which he took down the Roman horsemen on his own.[21] After seeing this, Bannes the Roman general said "Caesar really knew these people best. I now know that a difficult situation is to come on you. If you do not attack them with great numbers, you will have no chance". Abdullah ibn Umar had also been a mid level commander in the Battle of Yarmouk. Some Roman soldiers went to the house of Abu al-Jaid a local Christian in az-Zura ah and after eating all the food, raped his wife and killed his son.[22] His wife complained to the Roman general and he ignored her. Abu al-Jaid then went to the Muslims and told them that he knows the local area and if the Muslims exempt him and his descendants from taxes for ever he will help them defeat the Roman army.[22] He then took horsemen led by Abdullah ibn Umar to the Roman camp at night and attacked them and then ran away. The Romans chased them and in the dark tens of thousands of them fell down a cliff at the an-Naqusah Creek into a river.[23] Abdullah bin Az-Zubair had also been a commander in various battles including in North Africa and was also involved in the siege of Constantinople.

Muawiyah then delivered a sermon, having stood these five men below the pulpit in full view of the people after which the people pledged allegiance to Yazeed as they stood in silence without displaying their disagreement or opposition for fear of being humiliated. Saeed bin Uthman bin Affan, the son of Uthman also criticized Muawiyah for putting forward Yazeed.".[19] They tolerated Muawiyah but did not like Yazeed.

In his written instructions to Yazid, Muawiyah suggested specific strategies for each one of them. Muawiyah warned Yazid specifically about Husayn ibn Ali, since he was the only blood relative of Muhammad.[24] `Abd Allah ibn `Abbas and Abdullah ibn Umar did not want to start another civil war and wanted to wait. Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr challenged them and went to Mecca with Hussein. Some people claim that Hussein ibn Ali rejected the appointment of Yazid as the heir of the Caliphate as he was a tyrant and would destroy Islam. Therefore, he resolved to confront Yazid.[25]

Events before the battle

Before the battle near Karbala. Ottoman miniature

Muawiyah I died on Rajab 22, 60 AH (680 AD). In violation of Islamic tradition and his own written agreement with Hasan ibn Ali, Muawiyah I appointed his son Yazid as his successor, converting the caliphate into a dynasty. Few notables of the Islamic community were crucial to lending some legitimacy to this conversion of the caliphate into a dynasty,[26][27] even people like Said ibn Uthman[26] and Ahnaf ibn Qais[27] denounced his caliphate.[24] Husayn ibn Ali was the most significant threat to this dynastic rule, since he was the only living grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad. Yazid instructed his Governor Walid in Medina to force Husayn ibn Ali to pledge allegiance to Yazid. Husayn refused it and said that "Anyone akin to me will never accept anyone akin to Yazid as a ruler." Husayn departed Medina on Rajab 28, 60 AH (680 AD), two days after Walid's attempt to force him to submit to Yazid I's rule. He stayed in Mecca from the beginnings of the month of Sha'aban and all of the months of Ramadan, Shawwal, as well as Dhu al-Qi'dah.

It is mainly during his stay in Mecca that he received many letters from Kufa assuring him their support and asking him to come over there and guide them. He answered their calls and sent Muslim ibn Aqeel, his cousin, to Kufa as his representative in an attempt to consider the exact situation and public opinion.

Husayn's representative to Kufa, Muslim ibn Aqeel was welcomed by the people of Kufa, and most of them swore allegiance to him. After this initial observation, Muslim ibn Aqeel wrote to Husayn ibn Ali that the situation in Kufa was favorable. However, after the arrival of the new Governor of Kufa, Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad, the scenario changed. Muslim ibn Aqeel and his host, Hani ibn Urwa, were executed on Dhu al-Hijjah 9, 60 AH (September 10, 680 AD) without any real resistance of the people. This shifted the loyalties of the people of Kufa, in favor of Yazid and against Husayn ibn Ali.[28] Husayn ibn Ali also discovered that Yazid had appointed `Amr ibn Sa`ad ibn al Aas as the head of an army, ordering him to take charge of the pilgrimage caravans and to kill al Husayn ibn Ali wherever he could find him during Hajj,[29][30] and hence decided to leave Mecca on 8th Dhu al-Hijjah 60 AH (9 September 680 AD), just a day before Hajj and was contented with Umrah, due to his concern about potential violation of the sanctity of the Kaaba.[31][32]

He delivered a sermon at the Kaaba highlighting his reasons to leave, that he didn't want the sanctity of the Kaaba to be violated, since his opponents had crossed any norm of decency and were willing to violate all tenets of Islam.

When Husayn ibn Ali was making up his mind to leave for Kufa, `Abd Allah ibn `Abbas and Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr held a meeting with him and advised him not to move to Iraq, or, if he was determined to move, not to take women and children with him in this dangerous journey. Husayn ibn Ali, however, had resolved to go ahead with his plan. He gave a speech to people the day before his departure and said:

"... The death is a certainty for mankind, just like the trace of necklace on the neck of young girls. And I am enamored of my ancestors like eagerness of Jacob to Joseph ... Everyone, who is going to devote his blood for our sake and is prepared to meet Allah, must depart with us..."[33]

On their way to Kufa, the small caravan received the news of the execution of Muslim ibn Aqeel and the indifference of the people of Kufa.[34][35][36] Instead of turning back, Husayn decided to continue the journey and sent Qays ibn Musahir Al Saidawi as messenger to talk to the nobles of Kufa. The messenger was captured in the vicinity of Kufa but managed to tear the letter to pieces to hide names of its recipients. Just like Muslim ibn Aqeel, Qays ibn Musahir Al Saidawi was executed.

The events of the battle

Battle of Karbala, Iranian painting, oil on canvas, 19th century from the Tropenmuseum Amsterdam

Hussein and his followers were two days away from Kufa when they were intercepted by the vanguard of Yazid's army; about 1,000 men led by Hurr ibn Riahy. Husayn asked the army, "With us or against us?" They replied: "Of course against you, oh Aba Abd Allah!" Husayn ibn Ali said: "If you are different from what I received from your letters and from your messengers then I will return to where I came from." Their leader, Hurr, refused Husayn's request to let him return to Medina. The caravan of Muhammad's family arrived at Karbala on Muharram 2, 61 AH (October 2, 680 AD).[37] They were forced to pitch a camp on the dry, bare land and Hurr stationed his army nearby.

Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad appointed Umar ibn Sa'ad to command the battle against Husayn ibn Ali. At first Umar ibn Sa'ad rejected the leadership of the army but accepted after Ibn Ziyad threatened to take away the governorship of Rey city and put Shimr ibn Thil-Jawshan in his place.[38] Ibn Ziyad also urged Umar ibn Sa'ad to initiate the battle on the sixth day of Muharram.[39] Umar ibn Sa'ad moved towards the battlefield with an army and arrived at Karbala on Muharram 3, 61 AH (October 3, 680 AD).

Ibn Ziyad sent a brief letter to Umar ibn Sa'd that commanded, "Prevent Husain and his followers from accessing water and do not allow them to drink a drop [of water]. Ibn Sa'ad followed the orders, and 5,000 horsemen blockaded the Euphrates. One of Husayn's followers met Umar ibn Sa'ad and tried to negotiate some sort of access to water, but was denied. The water blockade continued up to the end of the battle on Muharram 10th (October 10, 680 AD).[40]

Umar ibn Sa'ad received an order from Ibn Ziyad to start the battle immediately and not to postpone it further. The army started advancing toward Husayn's camp on the afternoon of Muharram 9th. At this point Husayn sent Al-Abbas ibn Ali to ask Ibn Sa'ad to wait until the next morning, so that he and his men could spend the night praying. Ibn Sa'ad agreed to the respite.[38][41][42]

On the night before the battle, Husayn gathered his men and told them that they were all free to leave the camp in the middle of the night, under cover of darkness, rather than face certain death if they stayed with him. None of Husayn's men defected and they all remained with him. Husayn and his followers held a vigil and prayed all night.[43]

The day of the battle

On Muharram 10th, also called Ashura, Husayn ibn Ali completed the morning prayers with his companions. He appointed Zuhayr ibn Qayn to command the right flank of his army, Habib ibn Muzahir to command the left flank and his half-brother Al-Abbas ibn Ali as the standard bearer. Husayn ibn Ali's companions numbered 32 horsemen and 40 infantrymen.[44] Husayn rode on his horse Zuljanah.

Husayn ibn Ali called the people around him to join him for the sake of God and to defend Muhammad's family. His speech affected [45]

On the other side, Yazid had sent Shimr ibn Thil-Jawshan (his chief commander) to replace Umar ibn Sa'ad as the commander.[45][46][47]

There is controversy regarding the date for the day of Ashura in the Christian calendar. Such discrepancies may arise because a source may be using a date in the tabular Islamic calendar, which is not necessarily the date if the month begins with the first visibility of the crescent. One source may be using the Julian calendar, another the Gregorian calendar. The day of the week may be miscalculated. The dates in this article are all Julian. According to the book Maqtal al-Husayn, Muharram 9th was a Thursday (i.e., October 11, 680); if that source is correct Muharram 10th was Friday October 12, 680 AD.

The battle begins

The Battle of Karbala

Umar ibn Sa'ad advanced and fired an arrow at Husayn ibn Ali's army, saying: "Give evidence before the governor that I was the first thrower." Ibn Sa'ad's army started showering Husayn's army with arrows.[48][49] Hardly any men from Hussein ibn Ali's army escaped from being shot by an arrow.[49][50] Both sides began fighting. Successive assaults resulted in the death of a group of Husayn ibn Ali's companions.[49][51]

The first skirmish was between the right flank of Husayn's army and the left of the Syrian army. A couple of dozen men under the command of Zuhayr ibn Qayn repulsed the initial infantry attack and destroyed the left flank of the Syrian army which in disarray collided with the middle of the army. The Syrian army retreated and broke the pre-war verbal agreement of not using arrows and lances. This agreement was made in view of the small number of Husayn ibn Ali's companions. Umar ibn Sa'ad on advice of 'Amr ibn al Hajjaj ordered his army not to come out for any duel and to attack Husayn ibn Ali's army together.[52][53]

`Amr ibn al-Hajjaj attacked Husayn ibn Ali's right wing, but the men were able to maintain their ground, kneeling down as they planted their lances. They were thus able to frighten the enemy's horses. When the horsemen came back to charge at them again, Husayn's men met them with their arrows, killing some of them and wounding others.[53][54] `Amr ibn al-Hajjaj kept saying the following to his men, "Fight those who abandoned their creed and who deserted the jam`a!" Hearing him say so, Husayn ibn Ali said to him, "Woe unto you, O `Amr! Are you really instigating people to fight me?! Are we really the ones who abandoned their creed while you yourself uphold it?! As soon as our souls part from our bodies, you will find out who is most worthy of entering the fire![53][55]

In order to prevent random and indiscriminate showering of arrows on Husayn ibn Ali's camp which had women and children in it, Husayn's followers went out to single combats. Men like Burayr ibn Khudhayr,[56] Muslim ibn Awsaja[52][57] and Habib ibn Muzahir[58][59] were slain in the fighting. They were attempting to save Husayn's life by shielding him. Every casualty had a considerable effect on their military strength since they were vastly outnumbered by Yazid I's army. Husayn's companions were coming, one by one, to say goodbye to him, even in the midst of battle. Almost all of Husayn's companions were killed by the onslaught of arrows or lances.

After almost all of Husayn's companions were killed, his relatives asked his permission to fight. The men of Banu Hashim, the clan of Muhammad and Ali, went out one by one. Ali al-Akbar ibn Husayn, the middle son of Hussein ibn Ali, was the first one of the Hashemite who received permission from his father.[58][60][61]

Casualties from Banu Hashim were sons of Ali ibn Abi Talib, sons of Hasan ibn Ali, a son of Husayn ibn Ali, a son of Abdullah ibn Ja'far ibn Abi-Talib and Zaynab bint Ali, sons of Aqeel ibn Abi Talib, as well as a son of Muslim ibn Aqeel. There were seventy-two Hashemites dead in all (including Husayn ibn Ali).[62]

Death of Al-Abbas ibn Ali

The Al Abbas Mosque in Karbala

Al-Abbas ibn Ali advanced towards a branch of the Euphrates along a dyke. Al-Abbas ibn Ali continued his advance into the heart of ibn Sa'ad's army.[63] He was under a heavy shower of arrows but was able to penetrate them and get to the branch leaving heavy casualties from the enemy. He immediately started filling the water skin. In a remarkable and immortal gesture of loyalty to his brother and Muhammad's grandson he did not drink any water despite being extremely thirsty. He put the water skin on his right shoulder and started riding back toward their tents. Umar ibn Sa'ad ordered an outright assault on Al-Abbas ibn Ali saying that if Al-Abbas ibn Ali succeeded in taking water back to his camp, they would not be able to defeat them till the end of time. A massive enemy army blocked his way and surrounded him. He was ambushed from behind a bush and his right arm was cut off. Al-Abbas ibn Ali put the water skin on his left shoulder and continued on his way but his left arm was also cut off. Al-Abbas ibn Ali now held the water skin with his teeth. The army of ibn Sa'ad started shooting arrows at him, one arrow hit the water skin and water poured out of it, now he turned his horse back towards the army and charged towards them but one arrow hit his eyes and someone hit a gurz on his head and he fell off the horse. In his last moments when Al-Abbas ibn Ali was wiping the blood in his eyes to enable him to see Husayn's face, Al-Abbas ibn Ali said not to take his body back to the camps because he had promised to bring back water but could not and so could not face Bibi Sakinah, the daughter of Husayn ibn Ali. Then he called Husayn "brother" for the first time in his life. Before the death of Abbas, Husayn ibn Ali said: "Abbas your death is like the breaking of my back".

Death of Husayn ibn Ali

Shrine to those killed at the battle of Karbala

Husayn ibn Ali told Yazid's army to offer him single battle, and they gave him his request. He killed everybody that fought him in single battles.[64] He frequently forced his enemy into retreat, killing a great number of opponents. Husayn and earlier his son Ali al-Akbar ibn Husayn were the two warriors who penetrated and dispersed the core of ibn Sa'ad's army, a sign of extreme chaos in traditional warfare.

Husayn advanced very deep in the back ranks of the Syrian army. When the enemies stood between him and the tents he shouted:

"Woe betide you oh followers of Abu Sufyan ibn Harb's dynasty! If no religion has ever been accepted by you and you have not been fearing the resurrection day then be noble in your world, that's if you were Arabs as you claim."[65]

Then his enemies invaded back toward him. They continuously attacked each other,[66] until his numerous injuries caused him to stay a moment. At this time he was hit on his forehead with a stone. He was cleaning blood from his face while he was hit on the heart with an arrow and he said: "In the name of Allah, and by Allah, and on the religion of the messenger of Allah." Then he raised his head up and said: "Oh my God! You know that they are killing a man that there is son of daughter of a prophet on the earth except him." He then grasped and pulled the arrow out of his chest, which caused heavy bleeding.[67]

He became very weak and stopped fighting. The soldiers approaching him gave up confrontation, seeing his position. One soldier, however, walked up to Husayn and hit him on his head with his sword.

The enemies hesitated to fight Husayn, but they decided to surround him. At this time Abdullah ibn Hasan, an underage boy, escaped from the tents and ran to Husayn. When a soldier intended to slay Husayn, Abdullah ibn Hasan defended his uncle with his arm, which was cut off. Husayn hugged Abd-Allah, but the boy was already hit by an arrow.[68]

Husayn got on his horse and tried to leave, but Yazid's army continued pursuit. According to Shia tradition, a voice came from the skies stating: "We are satisfied with your deeds and sacrifices." Husayn then sheathed his sword and tried to get down from the horse but was tremendously injured and so the horse let him down. He then sat against a tree.[69]

Umar ibn Sa'ad ordered a man to dismount and to finish the job. Khowali ibn Yazid al-Asbahiy preceded the man but became afraid and did not do it. Then Shimr ibn Dhiljawshan dismounted from his horse and cut Husayn's throat with his sword whilst Husayn was prostrating to God. Just before his throat was about to be cut, Husayn asked Shimr ibn Dhiljawshan, "Have you done your prayers today?" and this shocked Shimr because he did not expect anyone in the position of Husayn to ask such a question. Then Imam Husayn asked for the permission to do Asr prayers (because it was the time of 3rd prayer). Shimir gave the permission to say the prayers and Imam Husayn started prayer and when he went into Sajda. Shimr ibn Dhiljawshan betrayed and said: "I swear by God that I am cutting your head while I know that you are grandson of the messenger of Allah and the best of the people by father and mother." He cut off the head of Hussein ibn Ali with his sword and raised the head.[70] Then ibn Sa'ad's men looted all the valuables from Husayn's body.


After battle of Karbala, Umar ibn Sa'ad captured family of Husayn and sent Hussein's head and the killed persons to ibn Ziyad in Kufa on Ashura afternoon. Then, Husayn's family and head of the killed persons were moved to the Levant by the forces of Yazid.[71][72]

Prisoiners Journey to Damuscus

The sermon of Zaynab bint Ali in the court of Yazid

At the first day of Safar,[73] due to narration of Turabi’s, they arrived to the Damascus and captured family and head were taken into Yazid presence.[74] First of all, the identity of each head and killed guys were explained to him. Then he paid attention to a woman who was an objector. Yazid asked "who is this arrogant woman?" The woman rose to answer and said: "why are you asking them [the woman]? Ask me. I will tell you [who I am]. I am Muhammad’s granddaughter. I am Fatmia’s daughter." People at the court were impressed and amazed by her. At this time Zaynab bint Ali gave her sermon.[74] According to narration of Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid, in Yazid presence a man with red skin asked Yazid one of the captured woman as bondwoman.[75] On other hand, Yazid knapped at his teeth with the staff of his hand while saying: "I wish those of my clan who were killed at Badr, and those who had seen the Khazraj clan wailing (in the battle of Uhad) on account of lancet wounds, were here.[76] At this time, For stopping Yazid, Zaynab bint Ali began to give her sermon.[77]

The sermon of Ali ibn Husayn in Damascus

According to Bihar al-Anwar, in Damascus Yazid ordered a pulpit to be prepared. He determined a public speaker to blame Ali and Husayn ibn Ali. The public speaker sat on the pulpit and began his lecture by praising Allah and insulting Ali and his son, Husayn. Also, he devoted long time to praising Yazid and his father Muawiyah.[78] During this time, Ali ibn Husayn seized the opportunity.[79] He began to give the sermon by Yazid’s permission and introduced himself and his descend. Also, he nominated to the adventure of Husayn ibn Ali killing.[78]

Burial of dead bodies

After ibn Sa'ad's army went out of Karbala, some people from Banu Asad tribe came there and buried their dead, but did not mark any of the graves, with the exception of Hussain's which was marked with a simple plant. Later Ali ibn Hussain returned to Karbala to identify the grave sites. Hurr was buried by his tribe a distance away from the battlefield.[80] The prisoners were held in Damascus for a year. During this year, some prisoners died of grief, most notably Sukayna bint Husayn. The people of Damascus began to frequent the prison, and Zaynab and Ali ibn al-Husayn used that as an opportunity to further propagate the message of Hussein and explain to the people the reason for Hussein's uprising. As public opinion against Yazid began to foment in Syria and parts of Iraq, Yazid ordered their release and return to Medina, where they continued to tell the world of Hussein's cause.

Later uprisings

Following the Battle of Karbala, Husayn ibn Ali's second cousin Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr the son of al-Zubayr ibn al-Awwam a cousin of Ali and Muhammad and the son of Asma bint Abu Bakr, Abu Bakr's daughter, then confronted Yazid. When Hussein ibn Ali was killed in Karbala, Abdullah, who had been Hussein’s friend, collected the people of Mecca and made speech for them:

“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 Hussein to them and took bay’at (allegiance) for his caliphate. But when Ibn Zeyad arrived in Kufa, they rallied around him and killed Imam Hussein who was pious, observed the fast, read the Quran and deserved the caliphate in all respects.”[81]

After his speech, the people of Mecca also joined Abdullah 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 Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr with it.[81] In Mecca and Medina Hussein’s family had a strong support base, and the people were willing to stand up for them. Husayn’s remaining family moved back to Madina. Eventually Abdullah consolidated his power by sending a governor to Kufa. Soon Abdullah established his power in Iraq, southern Arabia, the greater part of Syria and parts of Egypt.

Yazid tried to end Abdullah’s rebellion by invading the Hejaz, and he took Medina after the bloody Battle of al-Harrah followed by the siege of Mecca. 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. After the Umayyad civil war ended, Abdullah 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.

Following the sudden death of Yazid and his son Mu'awiya II took over and then abdicated and died in 683, Ibn al-Zubayr expelled Yazid's forces from most of Arabia. In Syria Marwan ibn Hakim, a cousin of Mu'awiya I, was then declared caliph. Marwan had a short reign, having died in 685 but he was succeeded by his able son Abd al-Malik. The Kharijite in Iraq weakened Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr and after a battle with the Umayyads in Syria, he was isolated in the Tihamah and the Hejaz regions.[82]

Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr was finally defeated by Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, who sent Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf. The defeat of Abdullah ibn al-Zubayr re-established Umayyad control over the Empire.

A few years later the people of Kufa called Zayd ibn Ali, the grandson of Husayn, over to Kufa. Zaydis believe that in Zayd’s last hour, he was also betrayed by the people of 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 either of them, 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.”[83][84][85][86]

Historiography of the battle of Karbala

Primary sources

The first historian to systematically collect the reports of eyewitnesses of this event was Abu Mikhnaf (died in 157 AH/774 AD) in a work titled Kitab Maqtal Al-Husayn.[87] Abi Mikhnaf's original seems to have been lost and that which has reached today has been transmitted through his student Hisham Ibn Al-Kalbi (died in 204 AH) There are four manuscripts of the Maqtal, located at Gotha (No. 1836), Berlin (Sprenger, Nos. 159–160), Leiden (No. 792), and Saint Petersburg (Am No. 78) libraries.[88]

Rasul Jafarian has counted five primary sources that are now available. Among the original works on maqātil (pl. of maqtal or place of death / martyrdom and hence used for books narrating the incident of Karbala) the ones that could be relied upon for reviewing the Karbala happenings are five in number. All these five maqtals belong to the period between the 2nd century AH (8th century AD) and the early 4th century AH (10th century AD). These five sources are the Maqtal al-Husayn of Abu Mikhnaf; the Maqtal al-Husayn of Ibn Sa'd al-Baghdadi, Sunni historian; the Maqtal al-Husayn of Al-Baladhuri, Sunni Historian; the Maqtal al-Husayn of Abū Ḥanīfa Dīnawarī, and the Maqtal al-Husayn of Ahmad ibn A'zham.[89] However, some other historians have recognized some of these as secondary sources. For example, Laura Veccia Vaglieri has found that Al-Baladhuri (died 279 AH/892-893 AD) like Tabari has used Abu Mikhnaf but has not mentioned his name.[90] On the basis of the article of "Abi Mikhnaf" in "Great Islamic Encyclopedia" Ahmad ibn A'zham has mentioned Abu Mikhnaf in "Al-Futuh" thus he should be recognized as a secondary source.[91]

Secondary sources

Then latter Muslim historians have written their histories on the basis of the former ones especially Maqtal Al-Husayn of Abu Mikhnaf. However they have added some narrations through their own sources which were not reported by former historians.

Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari narrated this story on the basis of Abu Mikhnaf's report through Hisham Ibn Al-Kalbi in his history, History of the Prophets and Kings.[92] Also there is a fabricated version of Abu Mekhnaf's book in Iran and Iraq.[87] Then other Sunni Muslim historians including Al-Baladhuri and Ibn Kathir narrated the events of Karbala from Abu Mikhnaf. Also among Shia Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid used it in Irshad.[93] However, followers of Ali – later to be known as Shia Muslims – attached a much greater importance to the battle and have compiled many accounts known as Maqtal Al-Husayn.

Shia writings

Salwa Al-Amd has classified Shia writings in three groups:[94]

  1. The legendary character of this category associates the chronological history of Hussein ibn Ali with notions relating to the origin of life and the Universe, that have preoccupied the human mind since the beginning of creation, and in which Al-Husayn is eternally present. This category of writing holds that a person's stance toward Hussein ibn Ali and Ahl al- Bayt is a criterion for reward and punishment in the afterlife. It also transforms the historical boundaries of Hussein ibn Ali's birth in 4 AH and his death in 61 AH to an eternal presence embracing the boundaries of history and legend.
  2. This category comprises the literary works common in rituals and lamentations (poetic and prose) and is characterized by its melodramatic style, which aims to arouse pity and passion for Ahl al- Bayt's misfortunes, and charge feelings during tempestuous political circumstances on the memory of Ashura.
  3. This category is the nearest to Sunni writings because it fully cherishes the historical personality of Hussein ibn Ali and regards the Karbala incident as a revolt against oppression; dismissing the legendary treatment, while using the language of revolt against tyranny and despotic sovereignty. A model writer of this category is Mohamed Mahdi Shams Al-Din.

History distortion

As Jafarian says "The holding of mourning ceremonies for Hussein ibn Ali was very much in vogue in the eastern parts of Iran before the Safavids came to power. Kashefi wrote the "Rawzah al-Shuhada" for the predominantly Sunni regions of Herat and Khurasan at a time when the Safavid state was being established in western Iran and had no sway in the east."[17] After the conversion of Sunni Iran to the Shia faith, many Iranian authors composed poems and plays commemorating the battle.[95] Most of these compositions are only loosely based upon the known history of the event.[96]

Some 20th-century Shia scholars have protested the conversion of history into mythology. Prominent critics include:

  • Morteza Motahhari[97][98][99]
  • Abbas Qomi, author of Nafas al-Mahmoum[100]
  • Sayyid Abd-al-Razzaq Al-Muqarram, author of Maqtalul-Husayn[101]

Also several books have been written in the Persian language about political backgrounds and aspects of the battle of Karbala.[102]

Impact on literature

Mourning of Muharram
  • Battle of Karbala
Related portals

Persian literature

Hussein ibn Ali appears several times in the work of the first great Sufi Persian poet, Sanai. The name of Hussein ibn Ali appears several times in the work of the first great Sufi Persian poet, Sanai. According to Annemarie Schimmel, the name of the martyred hero can be found now and then in connection with bravery and selflessness, and Sanai sees him as the prototype of the shahid (martyr), higher and more important than all the other martyrs who are and have been in the world.[103]

The tendency to see Hussein ibn Ali as the model of martyrdom and bravery continues in the poetry written in the Divan of Attar. When Shiism became the official religion of Iran in the 15th century, Safavid rulers such as Shah Tahmasp I, patronized poets who wrote about the Battle of Karbala, and the genre of marsia, according to Persian scholar Wheeler Thackston, "was particularly cultivated by the Safavids."[104]

Azeri and Turkish literature

Muhammed's grandsons played a special role in Sufi songs composed by Yunus Emre in the late 13th or early 14th century.[105]

Sindhi literature

Sindhi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai of Bhitshah (1689–1752) devoted "Sur Kedaro" in his Shah Jo Risalo to the death of the grandson of Muhammed, and saw the battlet of Karbala as embedded in the mystical tradition of Islam. A number of poets in Sindh have also composed elegies on Karbala, including Sayed Sabit Ali Shah (1740–1810).

Urdu literature

In the Adil Shahi and Qutb Shahi kingdom of Deccan, marsia flourished, especially under the patronage of Ali Adil Shah and Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, marsia writers themselves, and poets such as Ashraf Biyabani. Urdu marsia written during this period are still popular in South Indian villages.[106] Ghalib described Hussein ibn Ali, by using metaphors, similar to the ones he used in his odes. Mir Taqi Mir and Mirza Rafi Sauda wrote marsia in which the Battle of Karbala was saturated with cultural and ceremonial imagery of North India.[106]

Josh Malihabadi known as "Shair-i inqilab", or the poet of revolution, used the medium of marsia to propagate the view that Karbala is not a pathos-laden event of a bygone era, but a prototype for contemporary revolutionary struggles.

Vahid Akhtar, formerly Professor and Chairman, Dept. of Philosophy at Aligarh Muslim University,[107] has been crucial in keeping the tradition of marsia dynamic in present-day South Asia. Akht disagrees with the interpretation of the deaths at Karbala as mere Islamic history; but sees them as part of the revival of an ideal Islamic state of being.[108]

Shia observances

Shia Muslims commemorate the Battle of Karbala every year in the Islamic month of Muharram. The mourning of Muharram begins on the first day of the Islamic calendar and then reaches its climax on Muharram 10, the day of the battle, known as Ashurah. It is a day of Majlis, public processions, and great grief. In the Indian sub-continent Muharram in the context of remembrance of the events of Karbala means the period of two months & eight days i.e., 68 days starting from the evening of 29 Zill-Hijjah and ending on the evening of 8 Rabi-al-Awwal.[109] Men and women chant and weep, mourning Hussein ibn Ali, his family, and his followers. Speeches emphasize the importance of the values the sacrifices Hussein ibn Ali made for Islam. Shia mourners in countries with a significant majority self-flagellate with chains or whips, which in extreme cases may causing bleeding.[110] This mainly takes place in countries such as Iraq, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Most Shias show grievances, however, through weeping and beating their chests with their hands in a process called Lattum/Matam while one recites a Latmyah/Nauha.[111] Forty days after Ashurah, Shias mourn the death of Hussein ibn Ali in a commemoration called Arba'een.[112]

In South Asia, the Battle of Karbala has inspired a number of literary and non-musical genres, such as the marsia, noha, and soaz. In Indonesia, the Battle of Karbala is remembered in the Tabuik ceremony.

See also


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  83. ^ Islam re-defined: an intelligent man’s guide towards understanding Islam, p. 54 [6]
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  85. ^ Al-Tabari, The waning of the Umayyad Caliphate, Carole Hillenbrand, 1989, pp. 37, 38.
  86. ^ The Encyclopedia of Religion Vol.16, Mircea Eliade, Charles J. Adams, Macmillan, 1987, p243. "They were called "Rafida by the followers of Zayd”
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  89. ^ A Glance Into The Sources On The Incident Of Āshūrā
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  • (volume XIX.)


  • al-Tabari, Muhammad ibn Jarir, History of the Prophets and Kings; Volume XIX The Caliphate of Yazid b. Muawiyah, translated by I.K.A Howard, SUNY Press, 1991, ISBN 0-7914-0040-9.
  • Kennedy, Hugh, The Armies of the Caliphs: Military and Society in the Early Islamic State, Routledge, 2001.
  • al-Muqarram, Abd al Razzaq, Maqtal al-Husayn, Martyrdom Epic of Imam al-Husayn, translated by Yasin T. Al-Jibouri, pub Al-Kharsan Foundation for Publications, originally published Qum, circa 1990. (al-Muqarram was born in 1899 and died in 1971 - author's biography. This is a 20th Century book - see Islamic Historiography, by Chase F. Robinson, p35.)

External links

  • What is Muharram?
  • A Probe Into the History of Ashura by Dr. Ibrahim Ayati
  • Battle of Karbalāʾ, Encyclopædia Britannica
  • List of the casualties of Karbla

Sunni links

  • Karbala – A Lesson For Mankind

Shia links

  • Events of Karbala
  •, poetry on Kerbala by Mahmood Abu Shahbaaz Londoni
  •, Battle of Karbala (English)
  • Battle of Karbala

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