The immortal saga of the Ashura tragedy
Heartfelt condolences to all our listeners on the anniversary of the most heart- wrenching event the world has ever seen, and which despite the passing over a millennium and three-and-a-half centuries, continues to interact with human conscience in every age and era to guide people and nations towards reforms and the quest for social justice based on dignity.
The whole of Iran, as well as Iraq, and many other Muslim lands, are draped in black and are in a state of mourning since the sighting of the crescent of Muharram, the month of grief, which has reached its climax today on the 10th of this month – the day of the immortal epic of Ashura.
Today is the day on which we renew our pledge of allegiance to the person who transcends history and historical developments for having refused to give pledge of allegiance to a tyrannical and ungodly ruler. When pressed further by the enemy forces, who threatened him with death, he gladly preferred to drink the elixir of martyrdom – not through a poison-filled cup, but in manly manner on the battlefield in an unequal combat
It is obvious to our listeners, who he was, but we prefer to introduce him in his own words that reverberated on the plain of Karbala in 61 AH (corresponding to 680 AD), so clearly and so impressively that even the horses stopped whinnying, when he delivered his famous sermon, after having seen his companions, his brothers, his nephews, and his sons, including the 6-month infant, slaughtered before his eyes:
“Now then! Consider my family, and ponder as to who I am and then admonish yourselves. Do you consider that killing me and harming my sanctity and respect is lawful for you? Am I not the grandson of your Prophet and the son of his “Wasi” (or Testamentary Legatee) and cousin, who was the foremost in belief and the bearer of witness upon everything that the Prophet had brought from Allah? Was not Hamza, the Chief of Martyrs, the uncle of my father? Was not Ja'far, who flies with two wings in Paradise, my uncle? Did not the Hadith of the Prophet reach you in which he has said about me and my (elder) brother that we two are the Leaders of the Youths of Paradise? ... By Allah, between the East and the West there is no son of the Daughter of a Prophet except me, either amongst you or amongst others.”
This was Imam Husain (AS), the son of Hazrat Fatema and Imam Ali (peace upon them), whose immortal saga continues to inspire the seekers of truth all over the world to this day, even after the passing of a millennium, three centuries and 80 lunar years.
As the grandson and the 3rd Infallible Heir of Prophet Mohammad (blessings of God upon him and his progeny), the Imam did everything he could to avoid a battle and prevent unnecessary bloodshed. He did not want to fight, if there was any way of avoiding or preventing combat. Not that he was afraid of facing the Omayyad hordes, but because he wanted to avoid spilling of blood. Nonetheless, he refused to surrender or to give pledge allegiance to the Godless rule of Yazid, and was determined to show his skills in swordsmanship while courting immortal martyrdom.
Thus, on the morning of Ashura, when the Omayyad army was preparing for battle, the Imam personally approached the enemy forces, and in a loud and clear voice said: “O people, Listen to my words carefully and don’t make haste in starting armed battles, so that I can tell you what is your right to know. It is my duty to advise you, I need to make some points very clear for you. If you opt not to fight then prosperity will come your way. Do you know who I am? Do you know my lineage and household? Think about my forefathers!! Is it seemly and becoming of you to kill me?
Here is a passage from the sermon of Imam Husain (AS) to the enemy troops:
“The truth is what I have just told you. Aren’t the sayings of the Messenger of God sufficient to prevent the spilling of my blood? “If you doubt my words, then do you also doubt that I am the son of the daughter of your Prophet? I swear by Allah that I am the only son alive of the daughter of a Messenger of God in both the East and the West; there is no one but me, whether from among you or from other lands! Woe upon you! Have I killed anyone (from amongst you) so that you seek revenge for his blood? Have I usurped or stolen any property and wealth from you? Do you seek revenge from me for any past injury that I have inflicted upon you?”
As the Imam spoke these words, the whole Omayyad army was silent. No one uttered a single word. They all listened silently to Imam Husain (AS). Then the Imam looked directly at the Omayyad soldiers assembled in rows against him, and said in a loud voice: “Were it not you who wrote to me letters, saying the fruits are ripe, the orchards are lush and green and ready for picking. We have formed an army and we are ready to assist you?”
At this point, an enemy soldier, by the name of Qays Ibn Ash’as, replied to the Imam by saying: “We don’t know what you are talking about, so obey the orders of the governor Obaidullah Ibn Ziyad.”
The Imam took out a sack containing the letters written to him by the people of Kufa, making them hang their heads in shame for double crossing him.
Imam Husain (AS) said:
“By Allah I will not pledge allegiance to these people like weak and mean persons do, and will not flee the battlefield like slaves while fighting against rascals. I seek refuge in Allah from the mischief of you people and of every arrogant person who does not believe in the Day of Judgment.”
Thus, on the Day of Ashura, when the cowardly enemy forces started the attack and showered arrows at the encampment of the grandson of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA), several of his loyal companions were martyred. Omar ibn Sa’d the commander of the Omayyad army was the first to shoot his arrow at the Imam’s camp followed by thousands of volleys of arrows. Then individual combats started, as the companions of the Imam took to the battlefield and after brave struggle in dispatching several of the enemies to the bowels of hell, they achieved martyrdom in defence of Islam, in defence of humanitarian values, in defence of the Imam of the Age, and in defence of the Prophet’s Blessed Household, the Ahl al-Bayt.
After the Imam’s companions were martyred one by one, it was the turn of the male members of the Imam’s family to show their courage, skills, and bravery on the battlefield. The first person from the Imam’s Household to bravely stand against the barrage of arrows, spears and swords of the hostile Omayyads was the Imam’s young, valiant son, “Ali Akbar” (AS), who was in the prime of his youth.
When saying goodbye to his son, the Imam looked lovingly at him, and then turned his head towards the sky, and said: “O Lord! Be witness against these rebellious people, towards whom a young man is stepping forward, a young man who resembles your Prophet in appearance, closer than anyone else on earth; He resembles your Messenger in the way he looks, his face, in his mannerism, in his speech and the way he talks. Whenever we want to remember the face of your Prophet, we take a look at Ali Akbar’s face”.
Then the courageous Ali Akbar (AS) stepped forward, and faced the Omayyad army. He said the following words: “I am Ali, the son of Husain ibn Ali, and by the sanctity of the holy Ka’ba (the House of Lord) we are the first in line (and the closest) to the Messenger of God!
By Allah! This low and base child (Yazid) must not rule over us!”
After saying these words Ali Akbar (AS) bravely stepped into the middle of the battlefield and courageously fought the Omayyad hordes scattering them.
Many soldiers were reluctant to fight Ali Akbar (AS), and tried not to engage with him, but one of the Omayyad soldiers, named “Murrah bin Monqaz Abdi”, who was envious of Ali Akbar’s (AS) remarkable bravery and skills, swore to “kill this young man, and make sure that his father’s heart became heavy with the death of his son”. Murrah hid in a corner and waited for an opportune moment to pounce of the young “Hazrat Ali Akbar” (AS), taking him by surprise. He waited his time, and suddenly, he threw a spear towards Ali Akbar (AS) and brought him down from his horse. When “Hazrat Ali Akbar” (AS) fell to the ground, the Omayyad soldiers surrounded him, and struck him, while one assassin pierced his spear in his chest, twirled it to cause maxim pain and broke the wooden rod so that the spear point remains pierced in his chest.
Imam Husain (AS) approached his dyeing son and when he tried to pull out the spear point, the young man’s liver came with it. The son achieved martyrdom in his father embrace with a smile on his lips. The Imam brought to the encampment the body of his son, and putting his face close to the bloodied face of Ali Akbar (AS), said: “My son, you are now free from this earth, and I will soon join you in Heaven:”
Now came the turn of the Imam’s brother and standard-bearer, the valiant Abu’l-Fazl al-Abbas (AS). At the age of 35 years, he was in the prime of manhood, and so widespread was the reputation of his loyalty and valour that the enemies dare not harm Imam Husain (AS). In Karbala, the Omayyad enemy tried to lure him away from the Imam with offers of wealth and posts, which he spurned.
For several days on several occasions, he and his companions had boldly pierced the ranks of the enemies to fetch water for the camp of the Imam. On the Day of Ashura, when the Godless Omayyads had completely cut off access to the River Euphrates by placing rows upon rows of soldiers on its banks, Hazrat Abbas (AS) yet again scattered the cowardly enemies. When he plunged his horse into the fresh flowing waters, he refused to drink a drop, since the Imam, the noble ladies and the children in the camp were thirsty. He filled the goatskin carrier with water and made a dash for the encampment through the palm groves, but alas was struck on his arm by a dastardly Omayyad hiding behind a tree.
Undaunted, Hazrat Abbas (AS) recited the following words:
“By Allah! Even if you sever my hand, I will continue to support my religion forever I will perennially protect the ever-truthful Imam and the grandson of the pure and trustworthy Prophet.”
Moments later, as he progressed towards the encampment, another cowardly Omayyad using a palm tree as cover, struck at his remaining arm and managed to sever it. The indomitable spirit of the now armless Abbas made him spur his horse towards the encampment, before his heart was broken when an arrow pierced the goatskin carrier spilling in torrents the water he was transporting for the Imam, the ladies and the children.
Next his eye was pierced with another arrow, while an assassin smote his helmet from behind, making him fall on the ground, but without the use of any hand to act as support when he came down in acute pain on the stony soil.
Imam Husain (AS) rushed towards his brother only to find the valiant and loyal Abbas about to depart from the mortal world with a smile on his injured lips. The Imam saying "O Abbas your death has broken my back", referred to him as "Bab al-Murad" or the Gateway of Boons for all those who would invoke his right while supplicating to the One and Only God.
After he saw members of his family - his loved ones – martyred one after another on the battlefield, Imam Husain (AS) gathered all the ladies and children of his Household in one tent and tried to comfort and soothe them with his words. The Imam advised members of his household to have patience and forbearance after him. Almost all grown up male members of the Prophet’s Household had achieved martyrdom while fighting the aggressors. The sons of Imam Hasan Mojtaba (PuH), including the 13-year old handsome and virtuous youth, Hazrat Qassim (PuH), who a few days ago had said “martyrdom is sweeter than honey”, had achieved martyrdom. The sons of Hazrat Zainab (peace upon her), that is, Aun and Mohammad (peace upon them) had bravely drank the elixir of martyrdom. Suddenly there was sound of wailing among the ladies, as the Imam’s 6-month old infant, Ali Asghar (AS), who was also in acute thirst flung himself on the ground from the cradle. The Imam sighed and gently took the baby boy in his arms and said he will take him to the battlefield and request for water. Imam Husain (AS) took the innocent child outside the encampment and called on Omar Ibn Sa’d the Commander of the Omayyad forces to at least take the innocent baby and provide him water. The Imam placed his on the ground and the enemy forces wept at the sight of the parched lips of the infant who was trembling like a fish which is taken out of water. The heartless Ibn Sa’d, fearing compassion and sympathy for the Imam amongst his soldiers, called the expert marksman, Harmala Ibn Kahel, and asked him to kill the child. Suddenly, a three-pronged arrow pierced the neck of the infant, who splattered in blood turned upside down and died in front of the grief-stricken father. Ali Asghar (AS) is thus the youngest martyr of the Tragedy of Karbala.
After burying the baby behind the encampment, the Imam went to the tent of his ailing and bedridden son, 23-year old Imam Ali Zain al-Abedin (PuH), also known as Imam Sajjad, who due to sickness was not capable of fighting. Imam Husain (AS) embraced his son and successor and held him close to his chest. He advised his son for the last time with his final words of farewell, said: “My Son! My last will and testament to you are these words which my father, the Commander of the Faithful, Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb (AS) told me just before he was martyred. He told me: “My Son! Refrain from oppression and injustice particularly in relation to someone who is alone and who has no helper other than Allah!”
With these words Imam Husain (AS) said farewell to his son, and made his way to the battlefield. He courageously and singlehandedly fought the Omayyad army for several hours, scattering their ranks and bringing memories of the proverbial valour and swordsmanship of his father, Imam Ali (AS). Whichever flank he attacked, he managed to dispose off a number of Omayyad soldiers. This went on for some time, until the Omayyad army opted for the cowardly option of attacking the Imam’s encampment which was full of women and children!! A line of soldiers of the Omayyad army stood between the Imam and the encampment, and they decided to break the Imam’s morale by attacking defenceless women and children in the Imam’s camp. At this point, the Imam shouted loudly: “O followers of the family of Abu Soufyan, if you don’t believe in religion or the Day of Judgment, at least live as free men in this world.
One of the Omayyad commanders, by the name of Shimr Zi’l-Jowshan, told the Imam what are you saying? The Imam replied: “I am fighting you, and you are fighting me! These women are innocent, and as long as I am alive, do not attack my household. Stop the aggression of these rascals. If you think the Arabs have dignity, then maintain your human dignity”.
At this, on the orders of the accursed Shimr, all enemy forces concentrated their attack on Imam Husain (AS). Soon, suffering from quite a number of cuts and bruises to his body, the Imam lost his strength and fell on the scorching sands of the plain of Karbala. The Imam knew that his meeting with the Almighty Creator was not far away, and that he would soon “be a guest at the Divine Banquet”.
As the heartless Shimr started severing the head of the Imam, the Immortal Martyr of Karbala, for the last time the Imam supplicated to the Almighty with the following words: “O Hope of the oppressed, O Redeemer of those who seek justice. I have no Lord but You. I worship only You. I patiently accept Your order and whatever fate You assign for me, as You see fit.”