Title: Sayyid al-Shuhada (the Master of Martyrs)
Kunya: Aba Abdillah
Father: Ali ibn Abu Talib (Peace be upon them)
Mother: Fatimah bint Muhammad (Peace be upon them)
Born: 3rd Shaban, 3 AH/626 CE in Madinah, Hejaz region of the Arabian Peninsula
Died: 10th Muharram, 61 AH/680 CE, after being martyred during the Battle of Karbala
Age at Martyrdom: 57
Period of Imamate: 10 years
Buried: Karbala, Iraq
Husayn ibn ‘Ali (as)
“Husayn is from me, and I am from Husayn – God loves those who love Husayn…”[i]
These were the words of the Muhammad, Messenger of God, concerning his young grandson. The Prophet Muhammad distinctly linked those loved by God to those who love Husayn.
On another occasion, when Imam Husayn came toward Prophet Muhammad, the Messenger of God said,
“Welcome O Aba ‘Abdillah (Husayn), O you who is the adornment of the heavens and earth!” Another person present was taken aback and asked, “How can anyone be the adornment of the heavens and earth other than you, O Messenger of God?” Prophet Muhammad replied:
“… (I swear) by the One who sent me as a Prophet with Truth that the remembrance of Husayn, the son of ‘Ali, is greater in heaven than it is on earth. On the right of God’s throne, he (Imam Husayn) is written as ‘the lamp of guidance and the ship of salvation’…”[ii]
This unique individual was to become the third immaculate Imam…
Imam Husayn felt the warmth of Prophet Muhammad’s love from the time of his early childhood. He grew up witnessing and enduring the hardships of Imam ‘Ali and Lady Fatimah. With unwavering loyalty and great patience, Imam Husayn stood by his leader and brother, Imam Hasan, even in the darkest moments.
Before departing this world, Imam Hasan reminded some of his close followers, “… Don’t you know that after my death and the separation of my soul from my body – Husayn, the son of ‘Ali, is the next Imam…?”[iii]
As with all the Holy Infallibles, Imam Husayn’s virtues span a multitude of dimensions which cannot be encompassed by this short pamphlet. However, in the mind of many sincere devotees, Imam Husayn is most remembered for his knowledge, piety, and revolution against tyranny.
Imam Husayn after Imam Hasan
Mu’awiyyah had long been planting the seeds of mischief and lies in his region of governance. Imam Hasan’s treaty with Mu’awiyyah was short-lived as Mu’awiyyah blatantly broke his vow to abide by it. Mu’awiyyah and his gang persecuted the followers of Imam ‘Ali wherever they were to be found.
The lies continued and terrorizing attacks became a common tool in the hands of Mu’awiyyah’s governors. Mu’awiyyah and his goons desensitized the general public by spreading fabricated sayings attributed to Prophet Muhammad and popularizing perverted interpretations of the Holy Quran – all in an attempt to justify tyrannical rule. [iv]
Mu’awiyyah arranged for his corrupt son, Yazid, to take over after him. Mu’awiyyah demanded that all Muslims pledge allegiance to the publically blasphemous Yazid. After Imam Hasan’s martyrdom, Imam Husayn maintained a strong political opposition to Mu’awiyyah. The third immaculate Imam sent several letters condemning Mu’awiyyah’s immoral actions and rejecting any demand for allegiance to the corrupt Yazid. Before Mu’awiyyah died, he had serious fears that Imam Husayn would lead a revolution against him.[v][vi]
Imam Husayn on Knowing God
Through Imam Husayn’s profound wisdom and unmatched devotion, he taught, and continues to teach, generation after generation about the way to know God. Let us take a moment to contemplate the following words from a prayer by Imam Husayn:
“…My Lord! Going back and forth between the effects (which lead to You) entails a distanced visit; So gather me unto You through a service which will lead me to You! How can You be proven through that which is in need of You in its very existence? Does something besides You have a manifestation that is not Yours such that it would be the one to manifest You?”
“ When have You ever been hidden, such that You need a proof to show You? When have You ever been distant, such that the effects are what lead to You? Blind is the eye which does not see You, Ever-Watchful over it! It has lost the deal – that of a servant for whom You did not set a share in Your Love…”[vii]
This excerpt represents a peek into the beauty which motivated Imam Husayn at the level of principles. It was with this certainty in knowing God that Imam Husayn made his every move. This deep connection to God enabled the third infallible Imam to lead and strive in defense of the principles which represent humanity.
The Reform: ‘Ashura’
With Mu’awiyyah’s death, Yazid quickly assumed the political throne and attempted to force his will upon Imam Husayn. Imam Husayn again rejected the sacrilegious Yazid as a ruler and the system of monarchical despotism established by Mu’awiyyah. As the Imam prepared for a stand against tyranny, Imam Husayn also received letters from the people of Kufah, who wrote, “Furthermore; the gardens have greened and the fruits have ripened; So if you wish, then come toward (us) – troops are assembled for you (to lead).”[viii]
Regardless what support Imam Husayn was to receive, he knew that an eternal stand against the camp of dehumanization was inevitable. The betrayal of Prophet Muhammad, the injustice suffered by Imam ‘Ali and Lady Fatimah, the treachery directed toward Imam Hassan, and the murder of innocent life, culminated in Imam Husayn’s movement. Before departing toward Iraq, Imam Husayn wrote the following in his will:
“Indeed, I did not leave out of self-conceit or vanity; neither to cause corruption, nor oppression. Rather, I left in order to seek reform in the nation of my grandfather (Prophet Muhammad) and father (Imam ‘Ali). I wish to promote virtue and prevent vice. So as for those who accept me in accepting the Truth, indeed God is of greater right over the Truth. As for those who reject, I will be patient until God judges between me and the people (who reject), with Truth, and He is the Best of Judges.”[ix]
Imam Husayn led a group of his close family members and companions toward Iraq. Even women and young ones passionately chose to join the third Imam in his epic struggle. On the way, Imam Husayn was informed that his emissary to Kufah had been executed and that the people of Kufah had deserted him. Upon hearing the news, Imam Husayn said, “Our Shia (supporters) have deserted us. Those of you who would like to leave may do so freely, without fault.”[x]
Those who remained committed to Imam Husayn’s mission were of the highest caliber in intellect, faith, and love. The tragic and heroic events that followed cannot be described adequately in these limited lines. However, every year, across the globe, the principled struggle of the noble 72 defenders – led by Imam Husayn – has been commemorated. The elegies, the reflections, the tears, and the principled actions of sincere devotees pronounce a glimpse of Imam Husayn’s universal message of Truth, Justice, and Love for humanity.
The holy month of Muharram was a month in which bloodshed was considered forbidden among the Arabs, even before the advent of Islam. However, on the tenth day of that month, on the day of ‘Ashura’, in the land of Karbala’, sacred blood was shed. Imam Husayn was martyred at the hands of heartless terrorists – criminals who falsely claimed to follow Prophet Muhammad. Little did they know that Imam Husayn’s revolution had only just begun.[xi][xii]
[i] Pg. 261, Vol. 43 of Bihar al-Anwar by ‘Allamah Majlisi
[ii] Pg. 204-205, Vol. 36 of Bihar al-Anwar by ‘Allamah Majlisi
[iii] Pg. 175, Vol. 44 of Bihar al-Anwar by ‘Allamah Majlisi
[iv] Pg. 133-134 of Siratul A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[v] Pg. 137, 139 of Siratul A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[vi] Pg. 54 of al-A’immah al-Ithnay ‘Ashar by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[vii] Pg. 50, Vol. 2 of Iqbal al-A’mal by Sayyid Ibn Tawus
[viii] Pg. 55 of al-A’immah al-Ithnay ‘Ashar by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[ix] Pg. 152 of Siratul A’immah by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[x] Pg. 56, 61 of al-A’immah al-Ithnay ‘Ashar by Sh. Ja’far Subhani
[xi] Pg. 283-285, Vol. 44, Bihar al-Anwar by ‘Allamah Majlisi
[xii] Pg. 63 of al-A’immah al-Ithnay ‘Ashar by Sh. Ja’far Subhani