Battle of Karbala
The Battle of Karbala took place on Muharram 10, in the year 61 AH of the Islamic calendar (October 10, 680 AD)a in Karbala, in present-day Iraq. The battle took place between a small group of supporters and relatives of Muhammad's grandson, Husayn ibn Ali, and a larger military detachment from the forces of Yazid I, the Umayyad caliph.
|Battle of Karbala|
Abbas Al-Musavi's Battle of Karbala, Brooklyn Museum
|Umayyad Caliphate||Husayn of Banu Hashim and his Shia|
|Commanders and leaders|
Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad|
Umar ibn Sa'ad
Shimr ibn Dhil-Jawshan
Al-Hurr ibn Yazid al Tamimi
Husayn ibn Ali †|
Al-Abbas ibn Ali †
Habib ibn Muzahir †
Zuhayr ibn Qayn †
Al-Hurr ibn Yazid al Tamimi †
|Casualties and losses|
|88 killed, several wounded||72–110 casualties Including a six month old baby|
|^A Hurr was originally one of the commanders of Ibn Ziyad's army but changed allegiance to Husayn along with his son, servant and brother on 10 Muharram 61 AH, October 10, 680 AD|
When Muawiyah I died in 680, Husayn did not give allegiance to his son, Yazid I, who had been appointed as Umayyad caliph by Muawiyah; Husayn considered Yazid's succession a breach of the Hasan–Muawiya treaty. The people of Kufa sent letters to Husayn, asking his help and pledging allegiance to him, but they later did not support him. As Husayn traveled towards Kufa, at a nearby place known as Karbala, his caravan was intercepted by Yazid I's army led by Al-Hurr ibn Yazid al Tamimi. He was killed and beheaded in the Battle of Karbala by Shimr Ibn Thil-Jawshan, along with most of his family and companions, including Husayn's six month old son, Ali al-Asghar, with the women and children taken as prisoners. The battle was followed by later uprisings namely, Ibn al-Zubayr, Tawwabin, and Mukhtar uprising which occurred years later.
The dead are widely regarded as martyrs by Sufi, Sunni and Shia Muslims. The battle has a central place in Shia history, tradition and theology and it has frequently been recounted in Shia Islamic literature. Mainstream Sunni Muslims, on the other hand, do not regard the incident as one that influences the traditional Islamic theology and traditions, but merely as a historical tragedy.
The Battle of Karbala is commemorated during an annual 10-day period held every Muharram by Shia and Alevi, culminating on its tenth day, known as the Day of Ashura. Shia Muslims commemorate these events by mourning, holding public processions, organizing majlis, striking the chest and in some cases self-flagellation.
The Battle of Karbala played a central role in shaping the identity of the Shia and turned them into a sect with "its own rituals and collective memory." For the Shia, Husayn's suffering and death became a symbol of sacrifice "in the struggle for right against wrong, and for justice and truth against wrongdoing and falsehood." Hence, the battle becomes more than a politically formative moment of the Shia faith within Islam. It also defines the theological origin of the Shia martyr ethos, and it provides members of the faith with a catalogue of heroic norms. Therefore Gölz argues that the commemoration of the Battle of Karbala must be seen as a paradigm (i. e. the "Karbala paradigm"), since the view of history conveyed by it claims to provide a self-contained cosmology applicable to all aspects of life.
During Ali's Caliphate, the Muslim world became divided and rebellion broke out against the ruling Ali by Muawiyah I. When Ali was assassinated by Ibn Muljam, (a Kharijite) in 661, his eldest son Hasan succeeded him but soon signed a peace treaty with Muawiyah to avoid further bloodshed. In the treaty, Hasan was to hand over power to Muawiya on the condition that he be just to the people and keep them safe and secure and that he would not establish a dynasty. After the death of Hasan in 670, his younger brother Husyan became the head of Banu Hashim. His father's supporters in Kufah gave him their allegiance. However, he told them he was still bound by the peace treaty between Hasan and Muawiyah as long as the latter was alive.
Yazid's succession to Mu'awiyah
The Battle of Karbala occurred within the crisis environment resulting from the succession of Yazid I. In 676, Muawiyah announced his nomination of Yazid. With no precedence in Islamic history, hereditary succession aroused opposition from different quarters and the nomination was considered the corruption of the caliphate into monarchy. Muawiyah summoned a shura in Damascus and persuaded representatives from various provinces by diplomacy and bribes. He then ordered Marwan ibn al-Hakam, then the governor of Medina, to inform the people of Medina of the decision. Marwan faced resistance to this announcement, especially from Husayn, Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, Abd Allah ibn Umar and Abd al-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr, the sons of Muhammad's prominent companions, all of whom, by virtue of their descent, could also lay claim to the caliphal title. Muawiya himself went to Medina and pressed the four dissenters to accede, but they fled to Mecca. Muawiya followed and threatened some of them with death, but they still refused to support him. Nonetheless, he was successful in convincing the people of Mecca that the four had pledged their allegiance, and received allegiance for Yazid. On his way back to Damascus, he secured allegiance from the people of Medina as well. Yazid's opponents were silent thereafter. According to historians Fitzpatrick and Walker, Yazid's succession, which was considered as an "anomaly in Islamic history", transformed the government from a "consultative" form to a monarchy. Before his death in April 680, Muawiyah cautioned Yazid that Husayn and Ibn al-Zubayr might challenge his rule and instructed him to defeat them if they did. Yazid was further advised to treat Husayn with caution and not to spill his blood, since he was the grandson of Muhammad.
On his succession, Yazid charged the governor of Medina, Walid ibn Utbah ibn Abu Sufyan, to secure allegiance from Husayn, Ibn al-Zubayr and Abd Allah ibn Umar, with force if necessary. Walid sought the advice of his close relative Marwan ibn al-Hakam. He suggested that Ibn al-Zubayr and Husayn should be forced to pay allegiance as they were dangerous, while Ibn Umar should be left alone since he posed no threat. Walid summoned the two, but Ibn al-Zubayr escaped to Mecca. Husayn answered the summons but declined to pay allegiance in the secretive environment of the meeting, suggesting it should be done in public. Marwan threatened to imprison him, but due to Husayn's kinship with Muhammad, Walid was unwilling to take any action against him. A few days later, Husayn left for Mecca without paying the allegiance. He arrived in Mecca in the end of the month of Rajab 60 AH  and stayed there until the beginning of Dhu al-Hijjah.
Husayn had considerable support in Kufa, which had been the capital during the reigns of his father and brother. The Kufans had fought the Umayyads and their Syrian allies during the First Fitna. They were dissatisfied with Hasan's abdication and strongly resented Umayyad rule. While in Mecca, Husayn received letters from pro-Alids of Kufa inviting him to lead them in revolt against Yazid. To assess the situation, Husayn sent his cousin Muslim ibn Aqil. Ibn Aqil attracted large scale support in Kufa and informed Husayn of the situation, suggesting he join them there. Yazid removed Nu'man ibn Bashir al-Ansari as governor due to his inaction, and installed Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad, then governor of Basra, in his place. Ibn Ziyad suppressed the rebellion and killed Ibn Aqil.
Husayn was unaware of the changing circumstances of Kufa and decided to depart. Abd Allah ibn Abbas and Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr advised him not to move to Iraq, or if he was determined to move, not to take women and children with him in this dangerous journey. Sincerity of Ibn al-Zubayr is doubted by many historians, however, as he had his own plans for the future and was supposedly happy to get rid of Husayn. Nevertheless, he offered Husayn to stay in Mecca and lead the opposition to Yazid from there. Husayn refused this citing his abhorrence for bloodshed in the sanctuary, and decided to go ahead with his plan. He gave a speech to people the day before his departure and said:
... Death is a certainty for mankind, just like the trace of necklace on the neck of young girls. And I am enamored of my ancestors like eagerness of Jacob to Joseph ... Everyone, who is going to devote his blood for our sake and is prepared to meet Allah, must depart with us...
He left Mecca on 8th Dhu al-Hijjah 60 AH (9 September 680 AD), just a day before Hajj and was contented with Umrah. On the way to Kufa, the small caravan received the news of the execution of Muslim ibn Aqil and the indifference of the people of Kufa. Husayn at this point is reported to have considered turning back, but was persuaded to push forward by Ibn Aqil's brothers who wanted to avenge Ibn Aqil's death. According to historian Wilferd Madelung, these reports are doubtful. Some time later at a place called Zubala, Husayn learned of the capture and execution of his messenger Qays ibn Musahir Al Saidawi, whom he had sent from Hejaz to Kufa to announce his arrival. He informed his followers of the situation and asked them to leave. Those who had joined him on the way left, while his companions from Mecca decided to stay with him.
Ibn Ziyad had stationed troops on routes coming to Kufa. Husayn and his followers were two days away from the city when they were intercepted by the vanguard of Yazid's army; about 1,000 men led by Hurr ibn Yazid al-Tamimi. Husayn said:
I did not come to you until your letters were brought to me, and your messengers came to me saying, 'Come to us, for we have no imam.' ... Therefore, if you give me what you guaranteed in your covenants and sworn testimonies, I will come to your town. If you will not and are averse to my coming, I will leave you for the place from which I came to you.
He then showed them letters he had received from Kufans. Hurr exclaimed that they knew nothing of the letters and that Husayn must go with him to Ibn Ziyad, which Huasyn refused. Hurr responded that Husayn can neither enter Kufa nor go back to Medina but can go in any other direction he wished. Husayn's caravan started march left towards Qadisiyyah and Hurr kept following them. At a place called Nainawa, Hurr received orders from Ibn Ziyad to force Husayn's caravan to halt in a desolate place without fortification and water. On 2 Muharram 61 AH (October 2, 680 AD), Husayn arrived at a desert plain called Karbala and made camp.
On 3 Muharram, a 4,000-strong Kufan army arrived under the command of Umar ibn Sa'ad. He had been appointed governor of Ray and was sent to fight local rebels there, but recalled to deal with Husayn. Initially, he was unwilling to undertake the task of fighting Husayn, but Ibn Ziyad's threat of revoking his appointment of governorship forced him to comply. After negotiations with Husayn, Ibn Sa'ad wrote to Ibn Ziyad that Husayn was willing to go back. Ibn Ziyad wrote back that Husayn must surrender else he should be subdued by force.
Order of battle and water denial
Ibn Ziyad sent a brief letter to Umar ibn Sa'ad that commanded, "Prevent Husain and his followers from accessing water and do not allow them to drink a drop [of water]". Ibn Sa'ad followed the orders, and 500 horsemen blockaded the Euphrates. One of Husayn's followers met Umar ibn Sa'ad and tried to negotiate some sort of access to water, but was denied. The water blockade continued up to the end of the battle on Muharram 10th (October 10, 680 AD).
Umar ibn Sa'ad received an order from Ibn Ziyad to start the battle immediately and not to postpone it further. The army started advancing toward Husayn's camp on the afternoon of Muharram 9th. At this point Husayn sent Al-Abbas ibn Ali to ask Ibn Sa'ad to wait until the next morning, so that he and his men could spend the night praying. Ibn Sa'ad agreed to the respite.
On the night before the battle, Husayn gathered his men and told them that they were all free to leave the camp in the middle of the night, under cover of darkness, rather than face certain death if they stayed with him. None of Husayn's men defected and they all remained with him. Husayn and his followers held a vigil and prayed all night.
The day of the battle
On Muharram 10th, also called Ashura, Husayn ibn Ali completed the morning prayers with his companions. He appointed Zuhayr ibn Qayn to command the right flank of his army, Habib ibn Muzahir to command the left flank and his half-brother Al-Abbas ibn Ali as the standard bearer. Husayn ibn Ali's companions numbered 32 horsemen and 40 infantrymen. Husayn rode on his horse Zuljanah.
Husayn ibn Ali called the people around him to join him for the sake of God and to defend Muhammad's family. His speech affected Hurr, the commander of the Tamim and Hamdan tribes, who had stopped Husayn from his journey. He abandoned Umar ibn Sa'ad and joined Husayn's small band of followers.
The battle begins
Umar ibn Sa'ad advanced and shot an arrow at Husayn ibn Ali's army, saying: "Give evidence before the governor that I was the first thrower." Ibn Sa'ad's army started showering Husayn's army with arrows. Hardly any men from Husayn ibn Ali's army escaped from being shot by an arrow. Both sides began fighting. Successive assaults resulted in the death of a group of Husayn ibn Ali's companions.
The first skirmish was between the right flank of Husayn's army and the left of the Syrian army. A couple of dozen men under the command of Zuhayr ibn Qayn repulsed the initial infantry attack and destroyed the left flank of the Syrian army which in disarray collided with the middle of the army. The Syrian army retreated and broke the pre-war verbal agreement of not using arrows and lances. This agreement was made in view of the small number of Husayn ibn Ali's companions. Umar ibn Sa'ad on advice of 'Amr ibn al Hajjaj ordered his army not to come out for any duel and to attack Husayn ibn Ali's army together.
`Amr ibn al-Hajjaj attacked Husayn ibn Ali's right wing, but the men were able to maintain their ground, kneeling down as they planted their lances. They were thus able to frighten the enemy's horses. When the horsemen came back to charge at them again, Husayn's men met them with their arrows, killing some of them and wounding others. `Amr ibn al-Hajjaj kept saying the following to his men, "Fight those who abandoned their creed and who deserted the jam`a!" Hearing him say so, Husayn ibn Ali said to him, "Woe unto you, O `Amr! Are you really instigating people to fight me?! Are we really the ones who abandoned their creed while you yourself uphold it?! As soon as our souls part from our bodies, you will find out who is most worthy of entering the fire!
In order to prevent random and indiscriminate showering of arrows on Husayn ibn Ali's camp which had women and children in it, Husayn's followers went out to single combats. Men like Burayr ibn Khudhayr, Muslim ibn Awsaja and Habib ibn Muzahir were slain in the fighting. They were attempting to save Husayn's life by shielding him. Every casualty had a considerable effect on their military strength since they were vastly outnumbered by Yazid I's army. Husayn's companions were coming, one by one, to say goodbye to him, even in the midst of battle. Almost all of Husayn's companions were killed by the onslaught of arrows or lances.
After almost all of Husayn's companions were killed, his relatives asked his permission to fight. The men of Banu Hashim, the clan of Muhammad and Ali, went out one by one. Ali al-Akbar ibn Husayn, the middle son of Husayn ibn Ali, was the first one of the Hashemite who received permission from his father.
Casualties from Banu Hashim were sons of Ali ibn Abi Talib, sons of Hasan ibn Ali, a son of Husayn ibn Ali, a son of Abdullah ibn Ja'far ibn Abi-Talib and Zaynab bint Ali, sons of Aqeel ibn Abi Talib, as well as a son of Muslim ibn Aqeel. There were seventy-two Hashemites dead in all (including Husayn ibn Ali).
Death of Al-Abbas ibn Ali
There are two accounts regarding the death of Abbas ibn Ali; One is by Abu Mikhnaf which mentions no detail on the death and, however, the other well known report clearly details how he was killed somewhere near the river and far from the camp while fetching water with a large skin of water, since the besieged Ahl al-Bayt were thirsty. Al-Abbas ibn Ali advanced towards a branch of the Euphrates along a dyke. Al-Abbas ibn Ali continued his advance into the heart of ibn Sa'ad's army. He was under a shower of arrows but was able to penetrate them and get to the branch, leaving heavy casualties from the enemy. He immediately started filling the water skin. In a gesture of loyalty to his brother and Muhammad's grandson he did not drink any water despite being extremely thirsty. He put the water skin on his right shoulder and started riding back toward their tents. Umar ibn Sa'ad ordered an assault on Al-Abbas ibn Ali saying that if Al-Abbas ibn Ali succeeded in taking water back to his camp, they would not be able to defeat them till the end of time. An enemy army blocked Al-Abbas' way and surrounded him. He was ambushed from behind a bush and his right arm was cut off. Al-Abbas ibn Ali put the water skin on his left shoulder and continued on his way but his left arm was also cut off. Al-Abbas ibn Ali now held the water skin with his teeth. The army of ibn Sa'ad started shooting arrows at him, one arrow hit the water skin and water poured out of it, now he turned his horse back towards the army and charged towards them but one arrow hit his eyes and someone hit his head with a gurz and he fell off the horse. In his last moments when Al-Abbas ibn Ali was wiping the blood in his eyes to enable him to see Husayn's face, Al-Abbas ibn Ali said not to take his body back to the camps because he had promised to bring back water but could not and so could not face Bibi Sakinah, the daughter of Husayn ibn Ali. Then he called Husayn "brother" for the first time in his life. Before the death of Abbas, Husayn ibn Ali said: "Abbas your death is like the breaking of my back". Zayd ibn Varqa Hanafi and Hakim ibn al-Tofayl Sanani are reported to be Abbas ibn Ali's murderers.
Death of Husayn ibn Ali
Husayn ibn Ali told Yazid's army to offer him single battle, and they gave him his request. He killed everybody that fought him in single battles. He frequently forced his enemy into retreat, killing a great number of opponents. Husayn and earlier his son Ali al-Akbar ibn Husayn were the two warriors who penetrated and dispersed the core of ibn Sa'ad's army, a sign of extreme chaos in traditional warfare.
By the afternoon of the tenth day, Husayn was left alone surrounded by the enemy. There were hesitation among the individuals over accepting the responsibility of Husayn's death. According to Lohuf, Husayn advanced very deep in the back ranks of the Syrian army shouted:
Woe betide you oh followers of Abu Sufyan ibn Harb's dynasty! If no religion has ever been accepted by you and you have not been fearing the resurrection day then be noble in your world, that's if you were Arabs as you claim.
They continuously attacked each other, until his numerous injuries caused him to stay a moment. At this time he was hit on his forehead with a stone. He was cleaning blood from his face while he was hit on the heart with an arrow and he said: "In the name of Allah, and by Allah, and on the religion of the messenger of Allah." Then he raised his head up and said: "Oh my God! You know that they are killing a man that there is son of daughter of a prophet on the earth except him." He then grasped and pulled the arrow out of his chest, which caused heavy bleeding.
A man from Banu Badaa' tribe, reportedly Malik ibn al-Nusair, struck Husayn's head with his sword causing it to bleed.
According to Sayyed Ibn Tawus, the enemies hesitated to fight Husayn, but they decided to surround him. At this time Abdullah ibn Hasan, an underage boy, escaped from the tents and ran to Husayn. When a soldier intended to slay Husayn, Abdullah ibn Hasan defended his uncle with his arm, which was cut off. Husayn hugged Abd-Allah, but the boy was already hit by an arrow.
Husayn got on his horse and Yazid's army continued pursuit. According to Shia tradition, a voice came from the skies stating: "We are satisfied with your deeds and sacrifices." Husayn then sheathed his sword and tried to get down from the horse but was tremendously injured and so the horse let him down. He then sat against a tree. Husayn's attempt to reach water of Euphrates failed and he was soon after injured on his neck by an arrow thrown by a man reportedly, Husayn ibn Numair.
Husayn's murder is attributed to either Sinan ibn Anas or Shimr bin Thiljoshan. According to Sayyed Ibn Tawus, Umar ibn Sa'ad ordered a man to dismount and to finish. Khowali ibn Yazid al-Asbahiy preceded the man but became afraid and did not do it. Then Shimr bin Thiljoshan dismounted from his horse to do the job. Husayn ibn Ali asked for the permission to do Asr prayers. Shimir gave the permission to say the prayers and Husayn ibn Ali started prayer and when he went into Sajda, Shimr ibn Dhiljawshan betrayed and said: "I swear by God that I am cutting your head while I know that you are grandson of the Messenger of Allah and the best of the people by father and mother." He cut off the head of Husayn ibn Ali with his sword and raised the head. Then ibn Sa'ad's men looted all the valuables from Husayn's body.
Following the battle, Umar ibn Sa'ad's army stormed the camp of the family of Husayn, looting any valuables and setting fire to the tents. They captured the family of Husayn and sent Husayn's head and the deceased to ibn Ziyad in Kufa in the afternoon. Subsequently, Husayn's family were moved to the Levant by the forces of Yazid.
Prisoners' Journey to Damascus
The sermon of Zaynab bint Ali in the court of Yazid
According to an account by Rasheed Turabi, on the first day of Safar, they arrived in Damascus and the captured family and heads of the dead were taken to Yazid. Yazid asked the identity of each dead person and then noticed a woman with a defiant demeanour and asked, "Who is this arrogant woman?" The woman approached him and retorted: "Why are you asking them [the woman]? Ask me. I will tell you [who I am]. I am Muhammad’s granddaughter. I am Fatima’s daughter." People at the court were awestruck by her oratory skills. Zaynab bint Ali then proceeded to give a sermon which according to Turabi is among the three most memorable sermons by the family of the Prophet.
According to the narration of Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid, a man with red skin asked Yazid one of the captured woman as bondwoman. Yazid is also said to have knapped at Husayn's teeth with the staff of his hand while saying: "I wish those of my clan who were killed at Badr, and those who had seen the Khazraj clan wailing (in the battle of Uhud) on account of lancet wounds, were here. At this time, Zaynab bint Ali began to give her sermon to stop Yazid.
The sermon of Ali ibn Husayn in Damascus
According to Bihar al-Anwar, in Damascus Yazid ordered a pulpit to be prepared. He appointed a public speaker to bash Ali and Husayn ibn Ali. The public speaker sat on the pulpit and began his lecture by praising Allah and insulting Ali and his son, Husayn. He devoted a long time to praising Yazid and his father Muawiyah. In the meantime Ali ibn Husayn seized the opportunity and began to give a sermon by Yazid’s permission, introducing himself and his ancestors. He also related the story of Husayn ibn Ali's murder.
Burial of dead bodies
After ibn Sa'ad's army went out of Karbala, some people from Banu Asad tribe came there and buried their dead, but did not mark any of the graves, with the exception of Husayn's which was marked with a simple plant. Later Ali ibn Husayn returned to Karbala to identify the grave sites. Hurr was buried by his tribe a distance away from the battlefield. The prisoners were held in Damascus for a year. During this year, some prisoners died of grief, most notably Sukayna bint Husayn. The people of Damascus began to frequent the prison, and Zaynab and Ali ibn al-Husayn used that as an opportunity to further propagate the message of Husayn and explain to the people the reason for Husayn's uprising. As public opinion against Yazid began to foment in Syria and parts of Iraq, Yazid ordered their release and return to Medina, where they continued to tell the world of Husayn's cause.
Battle of Karbala and Husayn's death proved to be the start of the Second Islamic Civil War and Umayyads faced opposition from various quarters of the caliphate.
Ibn al-Zubayr's revolt
Following Husayn's death, Yazid faced increased opposition to his rule from Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr. Ibn al-Zubayr secretly started taking allegiance in Mecca, although on the surface called for a shura to elect a new caliph. Ibn al-Zuabyr's influence reached Medina, where citizens were already disillusioned with Umayyad rule and Muawiyah's agricultural projects, which included confiscating lands from them to increase the government's revenue. Yazid invited the notables of Medina to Damascus and tried to win them over with gifts. They were unpersuaded, however, and on their return to Medina narrated tales of Yazid's lavish lifestyle and practices considered by many to be impious. The Medinese, under the leadership of Abd Allah ibn Hanzala, renounced their allegiance to Yazid and expelled the governor and the Umayyads residing in the city. Yazid sent an army of 12,000 men under the command of Muslim ibn Uqba to reconquer Hejaz. After failed negotiations, the Medinese were defeated in the Battle of al-Harrah, and the city was plundered for three days. Having forced the rebels to renew their allegiance, the Syrian army laid siege to Mecca. With Yazid's death in November 683, besiegers retreated to Syria and Ibn al-Zubayr declared himself caliph, receiving widespread recognition throughout the caliphate. Nevertheless, Mukhtar al-Thaqafi, his former ally, captured Iraq from Ibn al-Zubayr's governor, and Kharijites in Iraq, Persia and Arabia weakened his authority. Although he was able to defeat Mukhtar, Umayyad Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, who assumed power in Syria in 685, eventually defeated and killed him in 692. The defeat of Ibn al-Zubayr re-established Umayyad control over the caliphate.
A few prominent Alid supporters of Kufa were struck by a sense of guilt for abandoning Husayn after having invited him to revolt. To atone for what they perceived to be a sin, they began a movement under Sulayman ibn Surad, a companion of Muhammad, to fight against the Umayyads. As long as Iraq was in Umayyad hands, the movement remained underground. After the death of Yazid in November 683, the people of Iraq drove out the Umayyad governor Ibn Ziyad. Tawwabin now came out in the open and called on the people to avenge Husayn's death, attracting large-scale support. Lacking any political program, they intended to either punish the Umayyads or sacrifice themselves. Their motto was "Revenge for Husayn". Mukhtar al-Thaqafi, another prominent pro-Alid of Kufa, attempted to dissuade Tawwabin from this endeavor in favor of an organized movement to take control of the city, but Ibn Surad's stature as a companion of Muhammad and an old ally of Ali, prevented most of his followers from accepting Mukhtar's proposal. Although 16,000 men enlisted to fight, only 4,000 came to the mustering location. In November 684, the Tawwabin left to face the Umayyads, after mourning for a day at Husayn's grave in Karbala. The armies met in January 685 at the Battle of Ayn al-Warda in northern Syria. The battle lasted for three days during which most of the Tawwabin, including their leader Ibn Surad, were killed. A few successfully retreated to Kufa and joined the movement of Mukhtar.
Revolt of Mukhtar al-Thaqafi
Mukhtar al-Thaqafi was an old settler of Kufa, having arrived in Iraq following early Muslim conquests of the region. He had participated in the failed rebellion of Muslim Ibn Aqil, for which was imprisoned by Ibn Ziyad for some time before being released upon intervention of Abdullah ibn Umar. Mukhtare then went to Mecca and had a short-lived alliance with Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr. After Yazid's death, he returned to Kufa where he advocated revenge against Husayn's killers and the establishment of an Alid caliphate in the name of Husayn's half-brother Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah, and declared himself his representative. The defeat of the Tawwabin left the leadership of the Kufan pro-Alids in his hands. In October 685, Mukhtar and his supporters, a significant of number of whom consisted of local converts (mawali), overthrew Ibn al-Zubayr's governor and seized control of Kufa. His control extended to most of Iraq and parts of north-western Iran. His attitude towards mawali, whom he awarded many favors and equal status with Arabs, provoked rebellion of dissatisfied Arab aristocracy. After crushing the rebellion, Mukhtar executed Kufans involved in the killing of Husayn, while thousands of people fled to Basra. He then sent his general Ibrahim ibn al-Ashtar to fight an approaching Umayyad army, led by Ibn Ziyad, which had been sent to recapture the province. The Umayyad army was routed at the Battle of Khazir (August 686) and Ibn Ziyad was killed. Meanwhile, Mukhtar's relations with Ibn al-Zubayr worsened and Kufan refugees in Basra persuaded Mus'ab ibn al-Zubayr, the governor of the city and younger brother of Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, to attack Kufa. After facing defeat in open battles, Mukhtar and his remaining supporters took refuge in the palace of Kufa and were besieged by Mus'ab. Four months later in April 687, Mukhtar was killed along with some 6,000–8,000 of his supporters. According to Mohsen Zakeri, Mukhtar's attitude towards mawali was one of the reasons behind his failure as Kufa was not ready for such "revolutionary measures".
Impacts on culture and politics
Battle of Karbala played a central role in shaping the identity of Shia and turned the already distinguished sect into a sect with "its own rituals and collective memory." Husayn's suffering and death became a sacrifice symbol "in the struggle for right against wrong, and for justice and truth against wrongdoing and falsehood." Historian G. R. Hawting describes Battle of Karbala as a "supreme" example of "suffering and martyrdom" pattern for Shia.
The battle was a determining event in the schism between Sunni and Shia Muslims.
As the "height of oppression" and "the peak of Umayyad brutality against the Prophetic family", "Karbala paradigm" had its own political impacts since pre-Safavid times and oppressors were often called "Yazids of the age." Revenge for battle of Karbala became "the core of the Shia collective memory and sentiment" since then and it had a determining role on "shaping religious perceptions." From political viewpoint, "Karbala-oriented epic literature" acted as an ideological stimulus to the Safavid revolution and Mourning of Muharram kept its political functions under the Islamic Republic of Iran.
The first political uses of Karbala symbols date back to the year of the battle. Buyid rulers promoted the public rituals of Muharram, the earliest documented account of Muharram procession, along with a celebration of Ghadir Khumm "to promote their religious legitimacy and to strength of Shia identity in and around Baghdad." Similarly, Safavid rulers fairly used the rituals to promote their legitimacy, with their Sunni rivals in east (the Uzbeks) and west (the Ottomans). Moḥarram festival then became a unifying force for the nation.
The Islamic revolution of Iran was inspired by Ashura uprising with its first sparks lit during Muharram. June 5, 1963 demonstrations in Iran, a turning point in history of Iranian revolution, happened two days after Khomeini’s speech on the afternoon of Ashura. Ashura uprising was not merely a historical issue at the time and was "the axis of mobilization" against Pahlavi regime. In Bahrain, calling for Muharram processions and commemorating Husayn ibn Ali's memory in public led to 1979 Qatif Uprising, when the procession was "brutally" repressed by the Saudi government.
Historiography of the battle of Karbala
The first historian to systematically collect the reports of eyewitnesses of this event was Abu Mikhnaf (died in 157 AH/774 AD) in a work titled Kitab Maqtal Al-Husayn. Abu Mikhnaf's original seems to have been lost and that which has reached today has been transmitted through his student Hisham Ibn Al-Kalbi (died in 204 AH) There are four manuscripts of the Maqtal, located at Gotha (No. 1836), Berlin (Sprenger, Nos. 159–160), Leiden (No. 792), and Saint Petersburg (Am No. 78) libraries.
According to Rasoul Jafarian, among the original works on maqātil (a generic name for narratives of Hosayn bin ‘Ali’s tragic death in Karbala) the ones that could be relied upon for reviewing the Karbala happenings are five in number. All these five maqtals belong to the period between the 2nd century AH (8th century AD) and the early 4th century AH (10th century AD). These five sources are the Maqtal al-Husayn of Abu Mikhnaf; the Maqtal al-Husayn of Ibn Sa'd al-Baghdadi, Sunni historian; the Maqtal al-Husayn of Al-Baladhuri, Sunni Historian; the Maqtal al-Husayn of Abū Ḥanīfa Dīnawarī, and the Maqtal al-Husayn of Ahmad ibn A'tham. However, some other historians have recognized some of these as secondary sources. For example, Laura Veccia Vaglieri has found that Al-Baladhuri (died 279 AH/892-893 AD) like Tabari has used Abu Mikhnaf but has not mentioned his name. On the basis of the article of "Abi Mikhnaf" in "Great Islamic Encyclopedia" Ahmad ibn A'tham has mentioned Abu Mikhnaf in "Al-Futuh" thus he should be recognized as a secondary source.
Then latter Muslim historians have written their histories on the basis of the former ones especially Maqtal Al-Husayn of Abu Mikhnaf. However they have added some narrations through their own sources which were not reported by former historians.
Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari narrated this story on the basis of Abu Mikhnaf's report through Hisham Ibn Al-Kalbi in his history, History of the Prophets and Kings. Also there is a fabricated version of Abu Mekhnaf's book in Iran and Iraq. Then other Sunni Muslim historians including Al-Baladhuri and Ibn Kathir narrated the events of Karbala from Abu Mikhnaf. Also among Shia Al-Shaykh Al-Mufid used it in Irshad. However, followers of Ali attached a much greater importance to the battle and have compiled many accounts known as Maqtal Al-Husayn.
Salwa Al-Amd has classified Shia writings in three groups:
- The legendary character of this category associates the chronological history of Husayn ibn Ali with notions relating to the origin of life and the Universe, that have preoccupied the human mind since the beginning of creation, and in which Al-Husayn is eternally present. This category of writing holds that a person's stance toward Husayn ibn Ali and Ahl al- Bayt is a criterion for reward and punishment in the afterlife. It also transforms the historical boundaries of Husayn ibn Ali's birth in 4 AH and his death in 61 AH to an eternal presence embracing the boundaries of history and legend.
- This category comprises the literary works common in rituals and lamentations (poetic and prose) and is characterized by its melodramatic style, which aims to arouse pity and passion for Ahl al- Bayt's misfortunes, and charge feelings during tempestuous political circumstances on the memory of Ashura.
- This category is the nearest to Sunni writings because it fully cherishes the historical personality of Husayn ibn Ali and regards the Karbala incident as a revolt against oppression; dismissing the legendary treatment, while using the language of revolt against tyranny and despotic sovereignty. A model writer of this category is Mohamed Mahdi Shams Al-Din.
As Jafarian says "The holding of mourning ceremonies for Husayn ibn Ali was very much in vogue in the eastern parts of Iran before the Safavids came to power. Kashefi wrote the "Rawzah al-Shuhada" for the predominantly Sunni regions of Herat and Khurasan at a time when the Safavid state was being established in western Iran and had no sway in the east."
After the conversion of Sunni Iran to the Shia faith, many Iranian authors composed poems and plays commemorating the battle. Most of these compositions are only loosely based upon the known history of the event.
Some 20th-century Shia scholars have protested the conversion of history into mythology. Prominent critics include:
- Morteza Motahhari
- Abbas Qomi, author of Nafas al-Mahmoum
- Sayyid Abd-al-Razzaq Al-Muqarram, author of Maqtalul-Husayn
Impact on literature
Va'ez Kashefi's Rowzat al-Shohada (Garden of Martyrs) authored in 1502, is one of the main sources used for quoting the history of the battle and aftermath in later histories. Kashfi's composition was "a synthesis of a long line of historical accounts of Karbala," such as Said al-Din's Rowzat al-Islam (The Garden of Islam) and al-Khawarazmi's Maqtal nur 'al-'a'emmeh (The Site of The Murder of the light of The Imams). Kashefi's composition was an effective factor in formation of rowzweh khani, a kind of ritual. The name of Husayn ibn Ali appears several times in the work of the first great Sufi Persian poet, Sanai. According to Annemarie Schimmel, the name of the martyred hero can be found now and then in connection with bravery and selflessness, and Sanai sees him as the prototype of the shahid (martyr), higher and more important than all the other martyrs who are and have been in the world.
The tendency to see Husayn ibn Ali as the model of martyrdom and bravery continues in the poetry written in the Divan of Attar. When Shiism became the official religion of Iran in the 15th century, Safavid rulers such as Shah Tahmasp I, patronized poets who wrote about the Battle of Karbala, and the genre of marsia, according to Persian scholar Wheeler Thackston, "was particularly cultivated by the Safavids."
Azeri and Turkish literature
Sindhi poet Shah Abdul Latif Bhittai of Bhitshah (1689–1752) devoted "Sur Kedaro" in his Shah Jo Risalo to the death of the grandson of Muhammed, and saw the battlet of Karbala as embedded in the mystical tradition of Islam. A number of poets in Sindh have also composed elegies on Karbala, including Sayed Sabit Ali Shah (1740–1810).
In the Adil Shahi and Qutb Shahi kingdom of Deccan, marsia flourished, especially under the patronage of Ali Adil Shah and Muhammad Quli Qutb Shah, marsia writers themselves, and poets such as Ashraf Biyabani. Urdu marsia written during this period are still popular in South Indian villages. Ghalib described Husayn ibn Ali, by using metaphors, similar to the ones he used in his odes. Mir Taqi Mir and Mirza Rafi Sauda wrote marsia in which the Battle of Karbala was saturated with cultural and ceremonial imagery of North India.
Josh Malihabadi known as "Shair-i inqilab", or the poet of revolution, used the medium of marsia to propagate the view that Karbala is not a pathos-laden event of a bygone era, but a prototype for contemporary revolutionary struggles.
Vahid Akhtar, formerly Professor and Chairman, Dept. of Philosophy at Aligarh Muslim University, has been crucial in keeping the tradition of marsia dynamic in present-day South Asia. Akht disagrees with the interpretation of the deaths at Karbala as mere Islamic history; but sees them as part of the revival of an ideal Islamic state of being.
The events of the battle and the following rebellion of Mukhtar al-Thaqafi of 66 AH have been the subject of major works in the Albanian Bektashi literature of the 19th century. Dalip Frashëri's Kopshti i te mirevet (Garden of the martyrs) is the earliest and longest epic so far written in Albanian language. It seems that Frashëri's initial idea was to translate and adapt Fuzûlî's work with the same name, it ended up as a truly national and comprehensible composition on its own. The poem is made of around 60,000 verses, is divided in ten sections, and is preceded by an introduction which tells the story of the Bektashism in Albania. The poem cites the sect's important personalities, latter additions, and propagation. It follows with the history of the Arabs before Islam, the work of the Prophet, his life and death, and events that led to the Karbala tragedy. The Battle of Karbala is described in detail; Frashëri eulogizes those who fell as martyrs, in particular Husayn ibn Ali.
His younger brother Shahin was the author of Mukhtarnameh (Book of Mukhtar), Albanian: Myhtarnameja, an epic poem of around 12,000 verses. It is also one of the longest and earliest epics of the Albanian literature.
Both works established a subgenre in the Albanian literature of the time, and served as the model for the better known work Qerbelaja (Karbala) of Naim Frashëri, the Albanian national poet and a Bektashi Sufi follower as well.
Commemoration of Husayn's death commenced soon after year 61 AH with small gatherings. By the time of Muhammad al-Baqir and Jafar al-Sadiq, two of Husayn's descendants and Shia Imams, Karbala had become an important Shia pilgrimage site. Shia ritual during Muhraam, i.e. mourning of Muharram, was not documented until the tenth century and the earliest account concerning this public ritual is the one concerning the events took place in 963 during the reign of "Moe'z al-Dowleh, the Buyid ruler of southern Iran and Iraq." Shi'a rituals developed mostly during Safavid state in 1501, and took a new meaning in that era.
According to Yitzhak Nakash, rituals of Muharram has an "importance" effect on the "invoking the memory of Karbala", as it induces moods and motivations in the believers via the symbol of Husayn's "martyrdom surface" and fuses the world as lived and the world as imagined.
Shia Muslims commemorate the Battle of Karbala every year in the Islamic month of Muharram. The mourning of Muharram begins on the first day of the Islamic calendar and then reaches its climax on Muharram 10, the day of the battle, known as Ashurah. It is a day of Majlis, public processions, and great grief. In the Indian sub-continent Muharram in the context of remembrance of the events of Karbala means the period of two months & eight days i.e., 68 days starting from the evening of 29 Zill-Hijjah and ending on the evening of 8 Rabi-al-Awwal. Men and women chant and weep, mourning Husayn ibn Ali, his family, and his followers. Speeches emphasize the importance of the values the sacrifices Husayn ibn Ali made for Islam. Shia mourners in countries with a significant majority self-flagellate with chains or whips, which in extreme cases may causing bleeding. This mainly takes place in countries such as Iraq, Iran, India, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. Most Shias show grievances, however, through weeping and beating their chests with their hands in a process called Lattum/Matam while one recites a Latmyah/Nauha. Forty days after Ashurah, Shias mourn the death of Husayn ibn Ali in a commemoration called Arba'een.
In South Asia, the Battle of Karbala has inspired a number of literary and non-musical genres, such as the marsia, noha, and soaz. In Indonesia, the Battle of Karbala is remembered in the Tabuik ceremony.
- ^a When converting the date for the day of Ashura into the Christian calendar, it is possible to produce an error of plus or minus two days. Such discrepancies may arise because a source may be using a date in the tabular Islamic calendar, which is not necessarily the date if the month begins with the first visibility of the crescent. One source may be using the Julian calendar, another the Gregorian calendar. The day of the week may be miscalculated. The dates in this article are all Julian. According to the book Maqtal al-Husayn, Muharram 9th was a Thursday (i.e., October 11, 680); if that source is correct Muharram 10th was Friday October 12, 680 AD.
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