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The Noble Life and Martyrdom of al-Imam Husayn (r.a.a.)

by Sheikh Muzaffer Ozak al-Jerrahi

   It was in the fourth year of the Hijra that our Master the venerable Husayn (r.a.a) came to adorn this world in Madinah the Pure, on the fifth day of Sha'ban. It was fifty nights after the birth of his brother, the venerable Imam Hasan (r.a.a.), that he was conceived in the womb of the noble Fatima (r.a.a.). It was none other than our Master, the glorious Messenger, who performed the ritual of inserting his blessed saliva into the newborn baby's mouth. It was his blessed lips that recited the Call to Prayer in the infant's ear, prayed for him and gave him the exalted name Husayn when he was seven days old. It was he who made the sacrifice for his gandson at the time of the naming ceremony.

   The venerable Imam Husayn (r.a.a.) , so dearly loved by the glorious Messenger, was courageous and bold, learned, pious, eloquent, fluent, and concise, and fine and moving speaker, in every respect pleasing to let Lord, in Whom he placed all his trust. According to Hazrat Abu Hurayra, the Messenger to Men and Jinn would use words like: " Where is the tiny fellow?" when looking for the venerable Husayn as he sat in his noble Masjid. The venerable Husayn would come running immediately, sit on our Master's lap, hug him affectionately, then run his fingers through the blessed beard of the noble Messenger. The King of Ambiya would then kiss the venerable Husayn, saying: "O my Lord, I love this child. May You also love my Husayn and those who love him."

   Once, after the blessed time of the Nabi, the venerable 'Abdullah bin 'Umar was sitting in the shade of the honored Ka'ba when he saw our Master, the venerable Husayn, approaching. Turning to those at his side, he said: "Here comes the person most dear to those in heaven of all the people on earth." As he said these words he pointed to the venerable Husayn.

   Pressing himself against the honored Ka'ba, Imam Husayn communed with Allah, the Lord of Glory, saying: "My God, You have blessed me with Your bounties in abundance yet You have found me ungrateful. O Lord, You have put me to the test, yet You have found me impatient. In spite of my ingratitude, You have not deprived me; in spite of my impatience, You have not prolonged my hardship. My God, nothing but grace and generosity flows from the All-Generous."

  He always accompanied and served his noble father, Imam 'Ali, while he was in Madinah the Illuminated. He also went with him to Kufa. He fought alongside his revered father in all his battles and stood by him constantly until his martyrdom. After that he was with his brother, the venerable Hasan. After the latter resigned from the Khalifate, he returned to Madinah the Illuminated where he stayed until the year 60 of the Hijra, near the fragrant resting place of his noble grandfather, the Final Prophet.

   According to Imam Suyuti: "In the year 60, the people of Syria paid homage to Yazid. Yazid sent men to Madinah the Illuminated to call on the people there to pay homage to him also. Imam Hasan, Ibn 'Umar, and Abdullah bin al-Zubayr, may Allah be pleased with them all, refused to pay allegiance to Yazid. Abdullah bin 'Umar said: "I shall not pay homage to Yazid as long as there is no general consensus to give him allegiance." That same night he left Madinah the Illuminated and moved to Makkah the Ennobled.

   Abdullah bin al-Zubayr would neither pay homage to Yazid himself nor call on other people to do so.

   As for the venerable Imam Husayn, since he had been appointed heir to the throne of Yazid's father, he was invited by the people of Kufa. The Kufans kept writing letters urging him to come to their city. In spite of this the noble Imam neither accepted their invitation nor agreed with the Kufans' line of action. Since homage had been paid to Yazid, he was faced with making a decision either to stay as he was or to respond to the Kufans' invitation. He was finding it impossible to decide where his duty lay. He eventually consulted Ibn Zubayr, who advised him to accept the invitation of the Kufans.

   The venerable Ibn 'Abbas, however saw things differently: "Beware of accepting Kufans' invitation, O Imam," said he. "The Kufans betrayed both your father Imam 'Ali and your elder brother, Imam Hasan. The people of Kufa are not to be taken at their word."

   Abdullah bin 'Umar also advised him to beware of leaving Madinah the Illuminated. However, what had been divinely decreed would come to pass. Imam Husayn had decided to go to Iraq. The venerable Ibn 'Abbas implored him not to go but he could not persuade the venerable Imam to change his mind. "O Husayn," he pleaded, "I swear by Allah that you are likely to be slain like venerable 'Uthman in the midst of your own family." When this was of no avail, Ibn 'Abbas said: "O Husayn, by going to Iraq, you are leaving the Hijaz to Ibn al-Zubayr." Still he could not sway the venerable Imam, whose resolve was unshakable. He could not abandon the Community of Muhammad to a depraved ruler.

   Meanwhile, the people of Iraq were sending a stream of couriers with letters of invitation. Finally, on the tenth of Dhul-Hijja, the venerable Husayn set out from Makkah the Enobled with his family and retinue and started on the road to Iraq. Several members of the Prophet's household traveled with him.

   In reality the people who invited the venerable Husayn to Iraq were the mischiefmakers working for the cause of Yazid. When Yazid the Damned heard of his departure for Iraq, he sent written orders to Ubaydullah ibn Zayyad, commanding him to take military action against the venerable Husayn. On receiving these orders from Yazid, the accursed Ibn Zayyad dispatched four thousand troops, under the command of 'Umar bin Sa'd, against the venerable Imam.

   As for the people of Kufa, they gave the venerable Imam no more help than they had given his father before him. Indeed, they did not even attempt to join him. Some of the Kufans who had invited him to Iraq were actually enrolled among the four thousand troops sent to oppose the venerable Husayn.

   Seeing himself surrounded by four thousand armed soldiers, the venerable Imam Husayn made it known that he was willing to return to Hijaz in order to save his people from being cursed because of his murder, but he said that the proper course was either to pay homage to Yazid or else risk battle. Rejecting the idea of returning to the Hijaz, he entered the fray. The die was cast and there was no going back. They slew and martyred that beloved grandson of the Prince of the Universe, that dear child of Fatima, the best of women; they cut off his blessed head and brought it in a basin before the accursed Ibn Zayyad.

Surely the curse of Allah falls upon evildoers. [Holy Qur'an, 11:18]

Surely we belong to Allah and to Him we are returning. [Holy Qur'an 2:156]

   It is said that when Hazrat Imam Husayn (r.a.a) knew for sure that the approaching army would do battle with him, he gathered his companions and the members of the Prophet's household and delivered this brief sermon:

   "Praise and thanks to the Lord Allah and blessings and peace upon the noble Messenger...

   "O my companions, relatives, friends and fellow members of the Prophet's household (a.k.a. Ahlul Bayt)! You see the state of affairs we have reached. This world has changed and turned its face from us. Its goodness has retreated and very evil days lie before us. You must surely see that the truth is no longer put into practice. Falsehood is by no means at an end. Let those who are believers desire to meet Allah. For me there is no doubt that death is a blessing. I count it a crime to live in the company of tyrants."

   May Allah be pleased with him and make him pleased.

   His martyrdom occurred on the day of 'Ashura, the tenth of Muharram of the year 60, at a place in Iraq called Karbala, which lies between Hilla and Kufa. Martyred with him on that day were twenty-three members of the his household. These twenty three victims came of the pure line of our Master, the noble Messenger, and were close relatives of the revered Prophet. Among those martyred were cousins of our blessed Master, children of the venerable Hasan and the infant children of our Master the venerable Husayn, except for his son, Zayn al-'Abidin. The tears of the ladies of the Prophet's household flowed like the Nile and Euphrates and their sighs reached the Throne-on-High and made the soul of Fatima the Radiant weep. They distressed the blessed soul of the Prophet and threw the angels and jinn into mourning.

   When her noble brother Husayn was martyred, Zaynab screamed through her tears at the cruel murderer: "You tyrants! You do not know what you have done, whom you have martyred and whom you have caused to weep. How will you answer the glorious Prophet if he asks you on the coming Day of Resurrection: "What did you do to the people of my household and to my children after I was gone? Some of you made captive, some you enslaved and some you steeped in crimson blood. How will you look him in the face and how can you expect his intercession if he says: 'Is this how you display your gratitude to your Prophet? Is this how you show your affection?' Will you not be ashamed of yourselves if he says: Would you dare to drink from the fount of the Messenger, when you condemned the people of my household to go thirsty and refused a single drop of water to my beloved Husayn and his Innocents?' "

On those roads, in those deserts
throughout those lonely wastes,
Houries and jinn bewail poor
Zaynab's fate.

   On the night when Imam Husayn was martyred, our Mother Umm Salama, may Allah be pleased with her, dreamt that she saw the most Noble Messenger looking sorrowful and sad. She asked the reason for his grief and received this reply: "O Umm Salama, they have martyred my Husayn, that is why I am full of sorrow and despair."

Such cruelty the turning spheres
had ever known
The glorious Messenger was in despair
there by the most high Throne

   The venerable Ibn 'Abbas had a vision in the middle of the day, in which he say our blessed Master holding a bottle full of blood. "What blood is that, O Messenger of Allah?" he asked. The answer came: "This is the blood and tears of my Husayn and the people of my household. I am gathering from the ground the blood and tears they shed this day." The venerable Ibn 'Abbas checked the date and found that his vision had occurred on the day when the venerable Husayn was martyred.

   Our Mother, the venerable Umm Salama, said: "I heard the jinn weeping and mourning the venerable Husayn."

  We should not be surprised to hear that the very jinn wept at the martyrdom of Imam Husayn. All the angels in heaven and earth were weeping. Sun, moon, stars, and all the heavenly bodies trembled and made moan for the fear of Allah.

   How beautiful are these words of Sayyid Jalil Shihab al-Din Ahmad ibn Rufa'i in his elegy for the venerable Husayn: "Heaven and earth wept for the martyr cruelly wronged, as he lay with his radiant countanance all stained with blood. The blessed hands of Imam Husayn, so thirsty when he fell a martyr by the sword, were powerful enough to make the oceans flow."

While people at the Resurrection drink
Kawthar's water from Haydar's hand
You lie a thirsty martyr, O Husayn, in
Karbala's desert sand.

   Even as the treacherous Shimr was pinning him down and preparing to make him a martyr, Imam Husayn addressed these words to the man who refused him water: "You made me and my children wander thirsty in these desert wastes. You gave me no water and I know better than to expect any from you. But at least give my children a drop to drink, so that I may forgive you for the great wrong you have done to us."

   The brigand's only reply was to say: "If the earth and sky were full of water, I would not give one drop to you and your children."

   The venerable Imam Husayn then said to the accursed Shimr: "You have denied me water and refused my children even one drop. But at the Place of Resurrection we shall not sink to your level by letting you go thirsty. For the owner of Kawthar is my grandfather and the waterbearer of the fountain in Paradise if my father."

   He then quickly kicked the ground, from which a crystal spring burst forth. Pointing to this water, he said to the accursed Shimr, whose eyes had opened wide in amazement: "Now you see the quality of our patience. We have only suffered like this in order to teach the Community and make them understand that they must be prepared to sacrifice everything they have, when they engage in a necessary struggle agains the tyrannical and the corrupt. Otherwise, water was at our command. If we had wished, we could have drawn it up and drunk it before now. We refrained from doing so, however, in order to set the Community of Muhammad and example of self-sacrifice." As soon as he had uttered these words, the wine of martyrdom quenched his thirst.

   O Lord, do not deprive us of the Intercession of Husayn...

   The accursed Ibn Zayyad sent the blessed head of our Master Husayn to Yazid the Damned, who was safe and sound in Damascus, waiting impatiently for the fruits of his crime. Also sent to him were Imam Husayn's beloved son, Imam Zayn al-'Abidin, and the sister, the venerable Zaynab. The child and his aunt had been at Karbala that day, but they had been to sick to take part in the fighting and had somehow survived.

  The ill-famed Yazid stuck that blessed head on a rod in his hand and dared to mock it, carry disrespect for the Messenger's family to an extreme degreee. He appeared enormously pleased with his criminal act, never thinking that he would be damned and cursed till the Day of Resurrection, not only by all the Muslims but by all men od conscience and common sense.

   Even this did not satisfy Yazid. He gave orders for the blessed head to be exhibited throughout the lands of Islam. Only when he heard of the discontent expressed by all the Muslims when they heard of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, did he feel compelled to send the Imam's noble relatives back to Madinah in safety. The blessed head of the venerable Husayn was sent to 'Asqalan, where the local governer had it buried.

   When Ascalon was captured much later by the Crusaders, a Fatimid vizier called Salih Tala'i paid a lot of money to buy the blessed head from them. He received it with a great military parade. He bored the blessed head of the venerable Husayn upon his own head, set it upon an ebony throne and wrapped it in green silk. He had a casket made out of solid gold and lined with musk. The blessed head was placed in this casket and laid to rest in a special mausoleum in the Mosque of Husayn, which that vizier had built in Cairo. Despite the inevitable differences of opinion about what did actually become of that blessed head, the great saints and most Sufis maintain that it does indeed repose in Masjid al-Husayn in Cairo, where it is visited every day by the Qutb (Cardinal Saint) of our age.