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  • 2/9/2005

The Tragedy of the Lord of the Martyrs

Imam Hossein attained the Imamate in 50 A.H. after the death of his brother Imam Hassan.  Imam Hossein's Imamate extended for ten years, of which nine years and four months coincided with Mu'awiyah bin Abi Sufyan's governing and approximately six months with the goverening of his son Yazid

Mu'awiyah died in 60 A.H. after twenty years as the Governor.  Contrary to the terms of the treaty made with Imam Hasan, in which he promised not to appoint a successor, Mu'awiyah formally named Yazid as heir to the Governor. Mu'awiyah had secured allegiance for Yazid from the majority of the Moslims apart from a few renowned personalities of the day, among who were Imam Hossein, Abd-Allah bin Umar, Abd-Allah bin Zubayr and Abd al-Rahman bin Abi-Bakr.

The fear and concern that Mu'awiyah had because these individuals had not paid allegiance to Yazid is demonstrated in his last will to Yazid, written as he approached his death. He said to Yazid: "I have taken allegiance for your Governing from all the Moslims except for three people: Hossein bin Ali, Abd-Allah bin Umar and Abd-Allah bin Zubayr. As for Abd-Allah bin Umar, treat him well and you will find him an ally. As for Abd-Allah bin Zubayr, find him, kill him and cut him into pieces, because, at the first opportune moment, he will search you out and tear you apart like a hungry lion or trick you like a fox. As for Hossein bin Ali, the people of Iraq will only support his claim if they can persuade him to come out in revolt.  If he does come out in revolt against you, overcome him in battle.  However, you should not be hostile towards him because of his close family relationship with you and his great rights.

After the death of Mu'awiyah, Yazid dispatched a letter to the governor of Medina, Walid, who was also his cousin.  In the letter, he wrote: "O Walid! Extract the pledge of allegiance from Hossein bin Ali without delay and under no circumstances allow him respite."

Walid, acting in accordance with the instructions, sent for Imam Hossein in the middle of the night. Imam Hossein, surmising Walid's intentions, gathered a group of his family members and gave them their instructions: "Walid has summoned me and I fear that he may compel me to something I may not consent to. Consequently I am concern with my life. Gather your weapons and wait outside Walid's door. When you hear my voice being raised, come quickly to my defense."

Imam Hossein went to Walid in the night and found Marwan bin al-Hakam sitting next to him. Walid informed the Imam of Mu'awiyah's death.  At this the Imam, as was his usual practice, recited the verse: "Indeed to Allah do we belong and unto Him will we return."

Walid read Yazid's letter to the Imam in which he asked for the pledge of allegiance from the Imam. After hearing the contents of the letter, the Imam said to Walid, "I do not presume that you will be content at me giving the pledge of allegiance secretly. Would you not rather I gave the pledge of allegiance in the light of day in front of people?" Walid replied, "That is right."  Imam Hossein said, "In that case let the subject rest until tomorrow." At this Walid said, "In the name of Allah, return to your home and come to me tomorrow to make the pledge of allegiance before the people."

As this conversation ended, Marwan said to Walid, "If you allow Hossein to leave now, you will not find him again until much blood is spilt between you and him. Take his pledge of allegiance now. Otherwise behead him." Imam quickly moved from his place and angrily declared, "Will you kill me or will he. By Allah! You have lied and sinned."

Hearing the raised voice of the Imam, his family members quickly came to his aid with their swords drawn. The Imam calmed them and ordered them to return to his dwelling with him.


Imam's meeting with Walid took place on the night of Saturday, 27th Rajab in 60A.H. This night Imam spent at his house in Medina. In the evening of the next day, Walid sent a group of his people to the Imam to bring him to pledge allegiance to Yazid. Imam asked Walid's representatives to give him until the next morning in order for both the parties to consider the matter carefully. When Walid heard the Imam's request, he granted it.  On that very night, the night of Sunday, 28th Rajab, the Imam together with his sons, brothers, nephews and most of his family, except one of his brothers Muhammad bin Hanafiyyah, left for Mecca.


The news of Mu'awiyah's death, Imam Hossein's abstention from pledging allegiance and his arrival in Mecca reached the people of Kufah. The Shiite of Kufah gathered in the house of Sulayman bin Surad Khuza'i. After hearing his explanation of the situation, they decided to write a letter to the Imam inviting him to Kufah.
The letter was dispatched to Imam and reached him on 10th Ramadan. Subsequent letters from different people in Kufah were also sent to Imam. There were over a hundred and fifty letters inviting him to lead them against Yazid.


Imam Hossein chose Moslim bin Aqil, son of his uncle and the husband of his sister Ruqayyah, to take back the reply to the letters of the people of Kufah.

Moslim bin Aqil together with his companions set off for Kufah and arrived there on the 5th Shawwal, 60 A.H. Moslim bin Aqil stayed at the house of Mukhtar bin Abi-'Ubaydah Thaqafi. A large number of the Shiite gathered at the house and Moslim bin Aqil read to them the letter of the Imam. Upon hearing the contents of the letter, they wept.  The letter read: "In the name of Allah, the Merciful, and the Compassionate, from Hossein bin Ali to the Moslim believers. Hani and Sa'id have conveyed your letters to me. These were your last messengers to me. After reading your letters asking me to come to you in order for Allah to guide you, I have chosen to send to you my brother and my cousin, Moslim bin Aqil, who enjoys my confidence and trust. If Moslim bin Aqil advises me that the views and the opinions of your wise and learned men are in accordance with what you have stated in your letters, then, by the Will of Allah, I will soon be with you. By my life! An Imam is only one who rules by the Book, stands with justice, adheres to the true religion and restricts himself to what is pleasing to Allah."


Gradually the people started to visit Moslim bin Aqil and pledged allegiance to him on behalf of Imam Hossein. Eighteen thousand people gave the pledge of allegiance to Moslim bin Aqil. He then sent the news of this to Imam in a letter.

At that time Nu'man bin Bashir was the governor of Kufah. The supporters of Yazid were concerned that Nu'man had not been sufficiently watchful and wrote to Yazid informing him of the state of Kufah. When Yazid received this report, he consulted his advisors. After taking their advice, Yazid decided to designate 'Ubayd-Allah bin Ziyad, who was already the governor of Basrah, as the governor of Kufah as well. Yazid wrote a letter to 'Ubayd-Allah informing him of the events in Kufah and giving him full authority in order for him to regain full control of the town and to repress the rebellion of Moslim bin Aqil and his followers.Bin Ziyad immediately upon receiving the letter appointed his brother 'Uthman bin Ziyad as his deputy in Basrah while he himself set off for Kufah. As he approached Kufah he put a black turban on his head and veiled his face so that he resembled a Hashimite. In this state he entered Kufah with his entourage. The people of Kufah, anticipating the coming of Imam, mistook Bin Ziyad as the Imam due to the way he was dressed. As a result they welcomed him chanting, "Welcome! O son of the Prophet! We are with you. Allah is the greatest!"  The people, who thought that it was Imam arrived, grew in numbers until they reached forty thousand.  Moslim bin Amr, one of the parties that had come with Bin Ziyad, ordered the people to disperse and informed them that it was Bin Ziyad, the new governor of Kufah, that had arrived and not the Imam. On hearing this, some of people who had gathered dispersed while others remained still thinking that it was Imam who had arrived. As evening approached, Bin Ziyad reached the governor's palace. Nu'man bin Bashir, the governor of Kufah, bolted the doors of the palace thinking the Imam had come to take control of the palace. When he was ordered to open the doors, Nu'man stretched out his head from high in the palace and said, "O son of the Prophet! I will not hand this office, which has been entrusted to me, over to you and there is no need for a battle to take place between us." At this Bin Ziyad drew nearer to the palace. He introduced himself to Nu'man and ordered the doors to be opened. Hearing the voice of Bin Ziyad, the rest of the people of Kufah finally realized that this was Bin Ziyad and not Imam. Bin Ziyad entered the building and shut the doors in the faces of the people outside. At this point the gathering finally dispersed.

The next morning 'Ubayd-Allah bin Ziyad addressed the people saying: "The blood and wealth of anyone who opposes us will become lawful for us. I inform the heads and the chiefs of the communities that anyone who knows the whereabouts of the enemies of Yazid and does not inform us will be crucified on their own door and their monthly income will be discontinued."


When the news of Bin Ziyad's arrival and his warnings reached Moslim bin Aqil, he moved from the house of Mukhtar to the house of Hani bin 'Urwah, who was an important leader of the tribe of Madhhij. There the Shiite secretly went to meet with him.

Bin Ziyad called for his servant Ma'qal and gave him three thousand dirhams (money current). He told him to find Moslim bin Aqil and get close to him and his followers and in order to gain their confidence. He was to hand over the money to them and say that it was for fighting their enemies. Ma'qal was told to inform Bin Ziyad of Moslim bin Aqil's every move and of the people he met. Ma'qal did as he was told to the extent that he would be the first to come to Moslim bin Aqil and the last to leave the gathering.  He informed Bin Ziyad of the affairs of Moslim bin Aqil and his followers.

After Bin Ziyad had received information about Moslim bin 'Aqil, he summoned Hani. He demanded that Hani hand Moslim over to him. Hani refused to do that and Bin Ziyad had him thrown into prison. When Moslim got news of what had happened, he realized that his position had been compromised. He summoned the people to attack Bin Ziyad. Four thousand of them gathered outside the governor's palace. Bin Ziyad with his entourage remained inside and he summoned the tribal leaders to join him, for he had already won them over to his side by bribery.  They began to infiltrate among the people telling them to withdraw because the Syrians would soon arrive.  Some of their fellow tribesmen believed them and withdrew.  Others were persuaded to withdraw by their frightened wives and mothers.

Gradually the number of the people with Moslim bin Aqil decreased. When it was time for the evening prayer, Moslim bin Aqil went to the mosque and found that there were only a small group of people to pray with. This was a mosque where the congregation used to reach ten thousand people. When Moslim bin Aqil left the mosque, only ten people accompanied him. By the time he reached the gate of the quarter, there was no one with him. Moslim bin Aqil was made a stranger to Kufah.  He wandered the streets looking towards right and left. He was in a state of dire confusion not knowing where to go. He went into an alley that he did not know. There he found an old woman by the name of Taw'ah standing outside her house waiting for her son. Moslim bin Aqil asked the woman for some water. She gave him water and after drinking it, Moslim bin he sat near her door in exhaustion. Although Taw'ah was a member of the Shiite and a lover of the family of the Prophet, she did not recognize Moslim bin Aqil.  When Moslim sat down, she told him that it was not appropriate for him to stay there. Hearing this, Moslim bin Aqil said, "O maid of Allah! I do not have a place to stay. Will you allow me to stay in your house tonight? If Allah wills, I will pay back the debt." "Who are you?" asked Taw'ah. He replied, "I am Moslim bin Aqil. These people invited me here. Now they have abandoned and driven me away." Learning that the man was Moslim bin Aqil, Taw'ah allowed him inside the house.

When Taw'ah's son Bilal returned home, he enquired about the guest. Taw'ah made him take an oath that he would not tell anyone about their guest nor of his whereabouts.  Then unwillingly and with a heavy heart, she told him that it was Moslim bin Aqil. Bilal stayed the night at the house but on the following morning he went to Abd al-Rahman bin Muhammad bin Ash'ath and informed him of where Moslim bin Aqil was. Abd al-Rahman went and relayed this information to his father Muhammad bin Ash'ath. Muhammad bin Ash'ath, the tribal leader of Kindah, was a close associate of Bin Ziyad who went to Bin Ziyad and informed him of the whereabouts of Moslim bin Aqil.

Immediately Bin Ziyad ordered Muhammad bin Ash'ath to arrest Moslim bin Aqil and bring him from the house of Taw'ah.  Muhammad bin Ash'ath set off for the house of Taw'ah with Amr Ubayd Allah bin Abbas al-Sulami and seventy soldiers.

After Moslim bin Aqil had finished the prayer and was making prayers of supplication, he heard the sounds of the approaching soldiers.

A party of up to three hundred soldiers forced their way into the house of Taw'ah to arrest Moslim bin Aqil. Fearing that the soldiers would set fire to the house, he went out to fight them. Moslim bin Aqil fought single handedly even though he was surrounded and being pressed from all directions. It is reported that as he fought Moslim bin Aqil unhinged the door of the house and used it as his shield.  So fiercely did he fight that he killed a hundred and eighty of those who were on horses.

On two occasions Muhammad bin Ash'ath had to send to Bin Ziyad for help. On both occasions Bin Ziyad responded by dispatching soldiers.  At the third request, Bin Ziyad replied, "May your mother weep at the sorrow of your death! Can you not overpower a single person? What will become of you when faced with an opponent stronger then him?" By this he meant Imam. To this Muhammad bin Ash'ath replied, "Are you not aware that this man is the sword of the Prophet, a brave lion and a warrior, not a farmer or a grocer of Kufah?" Bin Ziyad sent a further five hundred men with instructions that Muhammad bin Ash'ath should grant safe-conduct to Moslim bin Aqil in order to secure the lives of his men.

As Moslim bin Aqil was continuing gallantly to fight the fierce battle, Muhammad bin Ash'ath called out to him, "O Moslim! Do not destroy yourself. We grant you safe-conduct. Stop fighting." Moslim bin Aqil was not convinced and continued to fight. Muhammad bin Ash'ath called out again, "O Moslim! It is not a lie or a trick. This is the son of your uncle (meaning Bin Ziyad) and he has given you his word that no harm will come to you."

Moslim bin Aqil was now covered in wounds from the constant hail of stones and arrows. Due to intense fatigue, he paused to rest and sat with his back to the wall of Taw'ah's house. Once again Muhammad bin Ash'ath shouted and asked Moslim bin Aqil to cease fighting and take the offer safe-conduct. At this Moslim bin Aqil asked, "Will you truly spare my life?" "Yes! Your life will be spared," came the reply from the host that surrounded him.

Moslim bin Aqil no longer had the strength to fight and was forced to agreed to the offer of safe-conduct. A mule was brought for him. No sooner had he mounted the mule than the soldiers surrounded him, took his sword away and made him their prisoner.  Tears rolled down his blessed cheeks as he said, "This is the first deception."


Moslim bin 'Aqil was extremely thirsty as he was brought wounded to the palace. A group of people was standing at the door waiting for the permission to enter. Standing with them was Amr bin Hurayth and next to the door was placed a pitcher of water. Moslim bin Aqil asked Amr bin Hurayth for some water as he sat at the door resting his back against the wall. Amr bin Hurayth ordered his servant to give Moslim bin Aqil some water. Water was brought to him but when Moslim bin Aqil tried to drink it, the dripping blood from his wounded mouth and lips poured into the water. New water was brought and again the same thing happened. At the third time when Moslim bin Aqil attempted to drink the water his front teeth that had been broken during the battle fell into the vessel. Moslim bin Aqil spilt the water and said, "All praise is due to Allah! Had provision been granted me, I would have surely drunk it."

Bin Ziyad's men led Moslim bin Aqil to him and after an exchange of words Bin Ziyad mercilessly said, "You will surely be killed." Moslim bin Aqil replied, "If you are determined to kill me, then allow me to make my last will" Bin Ziyad agreed that Moslim bin Aqil could do that.

Moslim bin Aqil called to Umar bin Sa'd who was standing nearby, "O Bin Sa'd! There is kinship between us. For the sake of that, I ask you to give me an oath of secrecy and to honor my last will." Bin Sa'd refused to listen. Seeing this, Bin Ziyad ordered Bin Sa'd, "Listen to what the your cousin has to say."

Under the eyes of Bin Ziyad, Bin Sa'd went to Moslim bin Aqil and they both retreated to a corner where they sat down. Moslim bin Aqil told Bin Sa'd, "I borrowed seven hundred dirhams in Kufah. Sell my coat of mail and my sword and pay off my debt. After I am executed, take my body from Bin Ziyad and bury me. Send word to Imam Hossein to not to come to Kufah; I have sent a letter to him informing him of the loyalty of the people of Kufah and their eagerness to be led by him. I fear he has commenced his journey towards Kufah."

Fearing Bin Ziyad may suspect him of something, Bin Sa'd went to him and informed him of Moslim bin Aqil's last will. Bin Ziyad taunted Bin Sa'd for his actions and said that a trustee does not betray a secret when it is entrusted to him. By this he meant that if Bin Sa'd been a trustworthy person, he would never have divulged what Moslim bin Aqil had told him in confidence. However, despite that, he ordered Bin Sa'd, "As for his debt, pay it off after his death if you wish. As for his burial that too I will allow if you wish to bury him. But as far as Hossein is concerned, we have no quarrel with him if he does not interfere with us."

Then Bin Ziyad turned towards Moslim Bin Aqil and began to insult him. After a heated exchange of words in which Moslim bin Aqil was accused of disuniting the people, Bin Ziyad said to Moslim bin Aqil, "What concern is the unity of the people to you? Why did you not concern yourself with that when you were drinking wine with the people in Medina?" At this Moslim retorted, "By Allah! You are lying! You, who lap the blood of Moslims and murder those whose life Allah has deemed sacred, are more correctly described as drinking wine than me." Bin Ziyad could no longer contain himself and ordered Moslim bin Aqil to be beheaded and his body to be thrown to the ground from the top of the palace.


Imam Hossein and his faithful supporters leftMedina on 28th Rajab, 60 A.H. and arrived in Mecca on 3rd Sha'ban in the same year. The Imam and his followers were constantly meeting people in Mecca and informing them of their resistance to the oppressive regime of Yazid. After the Imam perceived the danger of being assassinated or being captured by the spies sent by Yazid as pilgrims to the House of Allah, he changed his intention of performing hajj to 'Umrah (the minor pilgrimage) and decided to leave Mecca for Kufah with his family and followers. Imam left for Iraq on 8th Dhu-Hijjah 60 A.H., the same day on which Moslim bin Aqil was brutally slain by Bin Ziyad.

On his departure from Mecca Imam asked for some paper on which he wrote the following message for the Hashemites: "In the name of Allah, the Merciful, and the Compassionate. From Hossein bin Ali, to the descendants of Hashem, know that whoever joins with me will be killed, while whoever refrains from coming to my aid will not achieve success! May peace be with you."


On his departure fromMecca, the Imam wrote a will and handed it over to his brother Muhammad bin Hanafiyyah. The will read: "I have not risen against Yazid in order to create corruption or discord, nor to elevate myself in the eyes of the people, nor to oppress. I have only risen to rectify the affairs of the Ummah (followers) of my grandfather and the affairs of the Shiite of my father Ali bin Abi-Talib.  I wish to exhort to good and reprimand evil. Whosoever accepts my position will be on the side of Allah and the side of righteousness. Whosoever rejects me, may Allah be the final judge between them and me. He is the best judge. O my brother! Indeed success is from Allah. Upon Him do I rely and unto Him do I return." The Imam folded the letter and sealed it with his ring. Then he handed it to his brother Muhammad bin Hanafiyyah.


Before his departure, Imam delivered a wonderful sermon, both in its eloquence and its content. This sermon is known asthe line of death. From it we will cite his final statement because of its significance which has led to frequent references being made to it by one and all, historians, orators, revolutionaries and those who love him: "Let he who wishes his blood to be shed for our sake and has resolved to meet Allah, leave with us tomorrow, for I intend to depart tomorrow morning by the will of Allah."


The Imam and his party steadily advanced towards Iraq passing through the places and areas that lay betweenMecca and Iraq. The places they passed from Mecca onwards included the villages leading toKarbala and finally Karbala itself. Many people met Imam on his journey toIraq and on each occasion Imam explained the nature of the movement and invited the people to join his ranks against the oppressive regime of the Umayyads.

A few kilometers fromMecca at a place known as Sifah Imam met with Farazdaq, the famous poet and devotee of Imam Hossien. Farazdaq had just arrived from Kufah. Imam asked of him the state of Kufah and the sentiments of the people there. To this Farazdaq replied, "Their hearts are with you but their swords are with the Umayyads. The ultimate decree will descend from Heaven." Imam replied, "You have spoken the truth. Everything is from Allah. Indeed He is in a state of glory at every instance. If the decree of Allah has come to pass, we glorify and praise Him. If not, then a person whose intention is pure and whose heart is pious will not be overpowered"

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