Imam Hussein (a.s.): “The Chief of the Youth of Paradise”
Imam Hussein (a.s.) was born in Medina in 626 CE and, as a child, is believed to have been held in great affection by the Prophet Muhammad (s.a.s.). As a young man, he participated in the work of his father, Imam ‘Ali (a.s.), including in his military campaigns. After the death of his father (Imam Ali (a)) in 661 CE and the accession to power of Muawiyah taken away from his brother Imam Hassan (a), Imam Hussein maintained a low profile and, although dismissive of the usurpation of power by Muawiyah, did not seek to foment open rebellion.
When Muawiyah sought to impose his son Yazid as successor and thereby to institutionalise the rule of the Umayyad dynasty, Imam Hussein declined to offer allegiance (baya).
He was approached by the people of Kufa to oppose Yazid and accept the mantle of leadership, which they believed was his right. In response to their call, Imam Hussein left Mecca for Kufa.
On his way, he learned of the executions of some of his closest supporters by the Umayyads and decided to urge those from his group who were not willing to put their lives at risk to voluntarily depart. He continued on his way to Kufa with the rest of the group, camping at a place called Karbala. In the meantime, a contingent from Yazid’s army of about four thousand members arrived at the scene and ordered Imam Hussein’s small band to acknowledge Yazid’s authority while also cutting off their access to the river for water.
The final confrontation is the tragic account of the encirclement and massacre of Imam Hussein and his small army, which was said to number seventy-two men. They fought gallantly, but they were soon overpowered, and Imam Hussein, his brother, and some of his closest relatives were slaughtered. Imam Hussein’s head was taken to Damascus to be displayed before Yazid and his court.
Imam Hussein’s memory and death is commemorated in particular with great religious fervour and intensity during the first ten days of the Islamic month of Muharram, known as Ashura, which simply means tenth in the Arabic language. The 10th day marks the climax of the remembrance of Muharram.