Ali al-Asghar ibn Husayn

Abd-Allah ibn al-Husayn (Arabic: عَبْد ٱللَّٰه ٱبْن ٱلْحُسَيْن), also known as Ali al-Asghar (Arabic: عَلِيّ ٱلْأَصْغَر, lit.'Ali, the junior'), was the youngest son of Husayn ibn Ali, the third Shia Imam. A young child, likely an infant, he was killed in the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE, alongside his father, family members, and a small number of supporters, all of whom were massacred by the forces of the Umayyad caliph Yazid (r. 680–683), who first surrounded them for some days and cut off their access to the nearby river Euphrates. Abd-Allah is commemorated in Shia Islam as the quintessence symbol of the innocent victim.

Abd-Allah ibn al-Husayn
عَبْد ٱللَّٰه بْن ٱلْحُسَيْن
TitleAli al-Asghar (عَلِيّ ٱلْأَصْغَر)
Died10 Muharram 61 AH
(10 October 680 CE)
Resting placeImam Husayn Shrine, Karbala

Birth and backgroundEdit

Husayn imploring the Umayyad army for water for his infant son Ali al-Asghar, a common narrative in the Shia commemoration of the Battle of Karbala
An act of commemoration for Ali al-Asghar

Abd-Allah was the youngest son of Husayn ibn Ali, the third Shia Imam.[1] His mother Rubab was the first wife of Husayn and the daughter of Imra' al-Qais ibn Adi, a chief of the Banu Kalb tribe.[2] Husayn's kunya, Abu Abd-Allah, probably refers to this son.[2] His birthdate is not known with certainty,[3] but he was a young child in the Battle of Karbala in 680 CE,[2] likely an infant.[4][5] Late Shia sources commonly refer to Abd-Allah as Ali al-Asghar (lit.'Ali, the junior'),[2][3] as early as the Twelver jurist Ibn Shahrashub (d. 1192) in his biographical Manaqib ale Abi Talib.[3] This might be a reference to the tradition in which Husayn expressed his wish to name all his sons Ali after his father Ali ibn Abi Talib, the first Shia Imam and the fourth caliph (r. 656–661). Husayn indeed had two more sons named Ali, namely, Ali al-Akbar and Ali ibn al-Husayn Zayn al-Abidin.[3] There are further confusions as some Shia and Sunni authors variously refer to one of these two sons as Ali al-Asghar. Among them are the polymath Abu Hanifa Dinawari (d. 895) and the fifteenth-century historian Hasan ibn Muhammad Qomi, the author of Tarikh-i Qom.[1]

Battle of Karbala and death (680)Edit

Husayn denounced the accession of the Umayyad caliph Yazid ibn Mu'awiya in 680. When pressed by Yazid's agents to pledge his allegiance, Husayn first fled from his hometown of Medina to Mecca and later set off for Kufa in Iraq, accompanied by his family and a small group of supporters.[6] Among them was Rubab, according to the Sunni historian Ibn al-Athir (d. 1232-3) in The Complete History.[7] With her were her two children, Sakina and Abd-Allah,[6][2] who was at the time a young child,[2] likely an infant, as reported by the early historian Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani (d. 967) in his biographical Maqatil al-Talibiyyin,[4] and by the Shia-leaning historian al-Ya'qubi (d. 897-8) in his Tarikh al-Ya'qubi.[1] The tenth-century historian Abu Ali Bal'ami and the Twelver jurist Ibn Tawus (d. 1266) report the age of Abd-Allah as one year and six months, respectively.[1] That he was an infant is the prevalent Shia view.[5]


The small caravan of Husayn was intercepted and massacred on 10 Muharram 61 AH (10 October 680) in Karbala, near Kufa, by the Umayyad forces who first surrounded them for some days and cut off their access to the nearby river Euphrates.[2] Abd-Allah was also killed during the battle by an arrow,[2][5] though the manner of his death is uncertain. The Twelver theologian al-Mufid (d. 1022) writes in his biographical Kitab al-Irshad that Abd-Allah was killed in his father's arms by an arrow, as Husayn was preparing to leave his family and enter the battlefield.[3][8] The arrow also pierced Husayn's arm, adds the Hanafi scholar Husayn Kashefi (d. 910) in his martyrology Rawzat al-shuhada.[1] Husayn then dug a small grave with his sword and buried the child, according to the Shia author al-Muwaffaq al-Kharazmi of the biographical Maqtal al-Husayn.[3] The account in Rawzat al-shuhada is that Husayn brought Abd-Allah to the battlefield, held him up, and implored the enemy to have mercy on the thirsty children and allow them some water. The response was an arrow that killed Abd-Allah.[1][9] Alternatively, Tarikh-i Qom reports that Abd-Allah was killed in his mother's arms,[1] while the Sunni historian al-Tabari (d. 923) records that a badly wounded and surrounded Husayn had failed to reach the Euphrates when a man from the Banu Asad tribe shot and killed Abd-Allah in his father's lap.[1] The man who killed Abd-Allah ibn Husayn is identified as Hani ibn Thabit Hadrami by al-Tabari, who adds that Harmala ibn Kahel killed Abd-Allah ibn Hasan, Husayn's nephew.[1] In contrast, some others report that it was Harmala who killed Abd-Allah ibn Husayn.[3][10] These authors include al-Mufid,[3] Husayn Kashefi,[1] and the Sunni historian al-Baladhuri (d. 892) in his Genealogies of the Nobles.[3]


The battle ended when Husayn was beheaded, whereupon the Umayyad soldiers pillaged his camp,[8][11] and severed the heads of Husayn and his fallen companions, which they then raised on spears for display.[11] The women and children were then taken captive and marched to Kufa and later the capital Damascus.[8] The captives were paraded in the streets of Damascus,[12] and then imprisoned for an unknown period of time.[13] They were eventually freed by Yazid and returned to Medina.[13][14]


Shia Muslims commemorate the events of Karbala throughout the months of Muharram and Safar,[15] particularly during the first ten days of Muharram, culminating on the tenth (Ashura) with processions in major Shia cities.[16][17] The main component of these ritual ceremonies (maj'alis, SG majlis) is the narration of the stories of Karbala,[18][16] intended to raise sympathy and move the audience to tears.[19] In the Shia commemoration of Karbala, Abd-Allah is represented as an innocent child who suffered unbearable thirst,[1] described as "the quintessence of symbol of the innocent victim."[20] His death carries perhaps the heaviest emotional weight for the Shia mourners,[21] and replicas of his empty cradle are often present in mourning processions.[1] Abd-Allah is also heavily featured in the verbal narratives of the ritual practices (rawza khani) and a complete majlis is sometimes dedicated to him.[1] As an act of commemoration, Iranian mourners often dress their baby boys in white jacket and green headband, which is how Abd-Allah is often represented in religious paintings.[22]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Calmard 1985.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Madelung 2004.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i Mir 2014.
  4. ^ a b Tabatabai 1975, pp. 178, 188n37.
  5. ^ a b c Haider 2014, p. 68.
  6. ^ a b Burney Abbas 2009, p. 143.
  7. ^ Reyshahri 2009, p. 291.
  8. ^ a b c Veccia Vaglieri 2012.
  9. ^ Hazleton 2009, p. 186.
  10. ^ Hyder 2006, p. 212.
  11. ^ a b Momen 1985, p. 30.
  12. ^ Esposito 2022.
  13. ^ a b Qutbuddin 2005, p. 9938.
  14. ^ Qutbuddin 2019, p. 107.
  15. ^ Hyder 2006, p. 9.
  16. ^ a b Osman 2014, p. 133.
  17. ^ Momen 1985, p. 240.
  18. ^ D'Souza 1997.
  19. ^ Pinault 2000, p. 77.
  20. ^ Flaskerud 2010, p. 136.
  21. ^ Hyder 2006, p. 92.
  22. ^ Flaskerud 2010, p. 139.


  • Burney Abbas, Shemeem (2009). "Sakineh, The Narrator of Karbala: An Ethnographic Description of a Women's Majlis Ritual in Pakistan". In Aghaie, Kamran Scot (ed.). The Women of Karbala: Ritual Performance and Symbolic Discourses in Modern Shi'i Islam. University of Texas Press. pp. 141–160. ISBN 9780292784444.
  • Calmard, J. (1985). "ʿALĪ AṢḠAR". Encyclopaedia Iranica. Vol. I/8. pp. 858–9.
  • D'Souza, Diane (1997). "The Figure of Zaynab in Shi'i Devotional Life". Bulletin of the Henry Martyn Institute of Islamic Studies. 16.
  • Esposito, John L., ed. (2022). "Zaynab". The Islamic World: Past and Present. Oxford Reference. Oxford University Press.
  • Flaskerud, Ingvild (2010). "Ali Asghar". Visualizing Belief and Piety in Iranian Shiism. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 134–139. ISBN 9781441149077.
  • Haider, Najam (2014). Shi'i Islam: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9781316061015.
  • Hazleton, Lesley (2009). After the Prophet: The Epic Story of the Shia-Sunni Split in Islam. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 9780385532099.
  • Hyder, Syed Akbar (2006). Reliving Karbala: Martyrdom in South Asian Memory. Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780190451806.
  • Madelung, Wilferd (2004). "Ḥosayn b. ʿAli i. Life and Significance in Shiʿism". In Yarshater, Ehsan (ed.). Encyclopædia Iranica. Vol. XII. New York: Bibliotheca Persica Press. pp. 493–498.
  • Mir, Mohammad-Ali (2014). "حسین ابن علی, امام (۲)" [Husayn ibn Ali, Imam (II)]. Encyclopaedia of the World of Islam (in Persian). Vol. 13. Encyclopaedia Islamica Foundation.
  • Momen, Moojan (1985). An Introduction to Shi'i Islam. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-03531-5.
  • Osman, Rawand (2014). Female Personalities in the Qur'an and Sunna: Examining the Major Sources of Imami Shi'i Islam. Routledge. ISBN 9781317671510.
  • Qutbuddin, Tahera (2005). "ZAYNAB BINT 'ALĪ". In Jones, Lindsay (ed.). Encyclopedia of Religion. Vol. 14 (Second ed.). Macmillan Reference USA. pp. 9937–9. ISBN 0-02-865983-X.
  • Pinault, David (2000). "ZAYNAB BINT 'ALI AND THE PLACE OF THE WOMEN OF THE HOUSEHOLDS OF THE FIRST IMĀMS IN SHI'ITE DEVOTIONAL LITERATURE". In Hambly, Gavin (ed.). Women in the Medieval Islamic World: Power, Patronage, and Piety. Macmillan. pp. 69–98. ISBN 9780333800355.
  • Qutbuddin, Tahera (2019). "Orations of Zaynab and Umm Kulthūm in the Aftermath of Ḥusayn's Martyrdom at Karbala: Speaking Truth to Power". In Korangy, Alireza; Rouhi, Leyla (eds.). The 'Other' Martyrs: Women and the Poetics of Sexuality, Sacrifice, and Death in World Literatures. Eisenbrauns. ISBN 9783447112147.
  • Reyshahri, Mohammad (2009). دانشنامه امام حسين [The Encyclopedia of Imam Husayn] (in Persian). Vol. 1. ISBN 9789644931.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: ignored ISBN errors (link)
  • Tabatabai, Sayyid Mohammad Hosayn (1975). Shi'ite Islam. Translated by Sayyid Hossein Nasr (First ed.). State University of New York Press. ISBN 0873953908.
  • Veccia Vaglieri, Laura (2012). "ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib"". In Bearman, P.; Bianquis, Th.; Bosworth, C. E.; van Donzel, E.; Heinrichs, W. P. (eds.). Encyclopaedia of Islam (Second ed.). doi:10.1163/1573-3912_islam_COM_0046. ISBN 9789004161214.