Here is an exclusive feature on the immortal epic of Imam Husain (pbuh), the grandson of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), who taught us how to lead a life of faith and dignity without bowing to the demands and dictates of the unjust.
On the plain of Karbala, besides the River Euphrates, Imam Husain (pbuh) emerged as a symbol for free men and a slogan for the revolutionaries throughout the ages and generations. On the other hand, the Omayyad authorities, at the helm of which stood the brutal governor of Kufa, Obaidullah bin Ziyad, started sending reinforcements and mobolizing more forces for the small group of the Prophet's grandson in Karbala. They knew full well that Imam Husain (pbuh) was not someone unknown or with no weight. They were still obsessed by fear, in spite of the fact that the Imam would be defended by only a few men, and that the Kufans had failed him. The bloodthirsty Ibn Ziyad replaced Hurr with Omar bin Sa'd as the new commander to confront Imam Husain (pbuh).
First, Omar, the son of a companion of the Prophet, hesitated to accept the command, but finally he gave in to the lures of the governorship of the Iranian province of Rayy and imaginary wealth. He agreed to take up the task. At the head of an army of 4,000, he set off to fight Imam Husain (pbuh). He ordered his army to encamp nearby. The Imam started talks with Omar bin Sa'd. They sat down many times. At the end, Omar was convinced to lift the siege he had laid to the camp of the Imam, and open the way for him to leave Iraq. He sent a message to Obaidullah bin Ziyad notifying him of the result of their talks.
Obaidullah thought of putting it into effect, when Shimr bin Zil-Jawshan, an avowed enemy of Imam Husain (pbuh) interfered and warned Ibn Ziyad that the Imam would, after the lifting of the siege, act from a position of strength, and it would be extremely difficult to face him. The balance of power would tip in his favour.
Convinced, Obaidullah wrote a letter to Omar bin Sa'd, in which he threatened him and turned down his offer. He ordered Shimr to deliver the letter in person. Furthermore, he presented two choices before Omar; he should either start the battle with Imam Husain (pbuh), or he would be relieved of his post as commander of the army, which would mean giving up any hope of the governorship of Rayy in Iran. Shimr would occupy his place in this case and dispatch his head, as well, to Kufa. Omar bin Sa'd got the letter. He pondered over it for a length of time. He could either fight Imam Husain (pbuh) or lose power and his post as commander of the army. Satan, eventually, got the better of him. He thus chose the loss of this world and the hereafter as well. He would certainly fight the Imam.
Accordingly, he moved his troops, on the seventh of the sacred month of Moharram, to surround the Husseini camp. They cut his camp off from access to the river Euphrates, so as to deprive them of water to force them to surrender. Two days later, on the 9th of Moharram, the treacadherous Omayyad army began closing in on the camp of the Prophet's grandson. The Imam thought of a way to top the march of the enemies. He asked his brother, Abbas, to call on the army to stop their aggression. Their response was a reply of a weak-willed, helpless army manipulated by the rulers: Let the Imam accept the governor's demand or else we will fight him.
The Imam saw that he could not negotiate with this herd of weak-willed men devoid of faith. He asked his brother, Abbas, once again, to talk to the army and demand a delay of only one night. Omar bin Sa'd and his officers agreed to grant Imam Husain (pbuh) the delay he asked. On the morrow, history would turn a new page in the life of Islam. Truth and falsehood would fight one another in a great and glorious battle in Karbala. The Imam together with his pious companions, passed the night before the tenth of Moharram in prayers, supplications and getting ready for the following day. The night came to an end. It was as if a long history had elapsed.
The tenth of Moharram, the day of blood, jihad and martyrdom, the day of the decisive battle, was already born. Omar bin Sa'd was arranging his troops in line, and mobilizing his soldiers to fight an Infallible member of the purified family of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh), whose love was decreed by Allah on the ummah through the explicit words of the Holy Qur'an, as is evident in ayah 23 of Surah number 42. Imam Husain (pbuh) took a look at the great army which was equipped to the teeth. Like a towering mountain, determined and unshakable, never did he think of reconsidering his decision. There was no one but Allah to look to. He raised his hands in prayer: "O Allah! It is You in Whom I trust amid all grief. You are my hope amid all violence. You are my refuge and provision in everything that happens to me. How many grievances that weaken the heart, leaving me with no means to handle them, during which friends desert me while the enemy rejoices. I lay it before you and complain of it to You, because of my faith in You; You Alone. You are the Master of all grace, the Possessor of all good, and the Ultimate Resort of all desire."
Imam Husain (pbuh) went out of his tent, completely ready to engage the enemy. He started fortifying his camp where the children and women were waiting for what would happen next. He ordered the digging of a trench at the rear of the camp. This was to prevent the army from attacking the camp from that point. He set the trench ablaze. Secure as the back of the camp was, the battle would be fought in the front only. Once again, Imam Husain (pbuh) delivered a speech. He reminded the Kufans of their letters and envoys, combined with their pledge of allegiance, but to no avail. His call fell on deaf ears. He mounted his horse, and galloped to a place before the hostile army, in his hand he grasped the holy Qur'an. He opened it, raising it above his head, and said: "O people! Let us have the Book of Allah and the practice of my grandfather, the Prophet of Allah (pbuh), to arbitrate between us."
No one seemed to be influenced by the words of Imam Husain (pbuh). Rather, Omar bin Sa'd ordered his army to advance and gave the go-ahead for the war to start. He, himself, shot the first arrow toward the camp of the Imam, shouting, "All of you be witness that I am the first to shoot."
That was the outset of a catastrophe and tragedy which befell the basil of prophethood and the leader of the Muslims, the grandson of the Greatest Messenger of Allah (pbuh), that is, Imam Husain (pbuh).
It was only natural that strength would help the army of Yazid massacre this small group. The whole tragedy of the Ahl al-Bayt and their painful suffering at the hands of their enemies was incarnated in the battle of Karbala. History tells us of scenes and tragic sights which are extremely difficult for writers, poets and artists to depict. A 6-month old baby, for example, was in the arms of Imam Husain (pbuh). It was his son, Abdullah, sometimes called Ali Asghar. It is after this child that the father is known affectionately as "Abu Abdullah". He took Abdullah to the battlefield and asked the Omayyad forces to give the infant some water. Detachments were stationed at the banks of the Euphrates. With no access to the water, the family of the Imam and his companions were thirsty. He even told them to take the baby and give him water if they think that he is using the infant as a pretext to drink water himself. The Imam wanted to awaken their conscience and stir their human sentiments; but the stone-hearted enemies targeted the six-month old baby with an arrow which struck him in the throat and killed him instantly. The Imam felt unbearable pangs of pain at this tragedy. The sight of the slaughtered baby was etched forever in his mind. But his heart did not give way to weakness. He filled his palm with the blood of his little baby, and threw it upwards, saying: "I find consolation in the fact that what I am suffering is witnessed by Allah."
The battle got more horribly ferocious. One after the other the followers and the members of Imam's family attained martyrdom, including his dear brother Abbas, the valiant standard-bearer of the army, who drank the elixir of martyrdom while trying to fetch water from the Euphrates, as well as his 13-year nephew Qassem ibn Hasan, and his sister Zainab's sons, Aoun and Mohammad. Another heavy blow to the heart of Imam Husain (pbuh) was the martyrdom in combat of his youthful son Ali Akbar who bore striking resemblance to the Prophet, and this also did not prevent the faithless enemies from murdering this great grandson of the Prophet in the prime of his youth.
The last one to be martyred in this immortal epic was Imam Husain (pbuh) himself. He became the sacred offering and the "Great Sacrifice" to Allah, or in the words of the holy Qur'an the Zibhin Azeem that had ransomed Abraham's offering of Ishmael in antiquity. A three-pointed arrow hit the Imam in the chest. Deeply embedded, he could not dislodge it. The blood gushed out of his holy chest. He fell down to the ground swimming in a pool of his blood. The bloodthirsty Omayyad hordes were not satisfied. Their hatred for the Ahl al-Bayt was too blazing to be extinguished by this. The notorious criminal from the army of Yazid, Shimr Zil-Jawshan, walked over to the fallen Imam, sat on his chest and cut off his head from the back of his neck, while the Prophet's grandson was still alive.
Omar ibn Sa'd then ordered the horsemen to trample over the holy body of the noble grandson of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). The star of Imam Husain had set. The tragedy set in. The head of the Imam, along with the heads of his companions (and even the tiny head of the infant Abdullah) were distributed among the criminals, as gifts, carrying them to the criminal governor of Kufa. For three days the pure, holy bodies of the martyrs were left lying on the desert of Karbala before men from the tribe of Bani-Asad who were living not far away from the battlefield buried them. The criminals, not yet satisfied with all this, carried the noble children and women of the Prophet's household, in addition to the Imam's sick son and successor, Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS), as prisoners from Kufa to Syria. At the front of the sad procession were the heads of the martyrs mounted on lances. The question is that: could these heartless beasts who committed the goriest murder and that of the most pious and noble person of their age, be called human beings?
Definitely not, No doubt, the immortal saga of Imam Husain (pbuh) has acted as a catalyst in every age and era, inspiring the seekers of justice and freedom to stand steadfast against tyrants and oppressors.