More than 1300 years ago, and after 20 years in power, Muawiya Ibn Abi Sufyan the Umayyad Khalif, felt that his death was imminent.
He asked his son Yazeed to take over as Caliph once he died and passed on to him several commandments, one of which was to persistently make three men swear loyalty to him.
These men were al Hussain ibn Ali, Abdullah ibn Omar, and Abdullah ibn Zubayr.
Yazid was so infatuated in animal hunting and self-amusement that he immediately left Damascus to the prairies careless about his father’s illness.
Only a few days passed before Yazid received the news of his father’s death, he instantly returned to the palace and appointed himself as the second Umayyad Khalif. To gain the people’s approval he reversely offered them large sums of gold, and promised them more from the spoils of war, since he planned the invasion of neighboring Iraq. Henceforth, he sent two letters to the governor of the Madina Munawara.
The first one was to inform him of the death of his father. And the second secret one, was written in a small piece of paper, ordering the governor to force al Hussain ibn Ali, Abdullah ibn Omar, and Abdullah ibn Zubayr to pledge allegiance to him. He also declared that whoever refuses the allegiance should be beheaded. As soon as the governor received the letters, he called for Hussain and asked him to pledge allegiance to Yazid, however, Hussein rejected the governor’s orders, reasoning that the pledge must be in public and asked the governor one day to think it over and decided later to leave for Mecca with his family, as well as his relatives and supporters.
Before leaving, he handed his brother Muhammad ibn Al-Hanafiyyah a commandment, in which he explained the reasons for rejecting to pledge allegiance to Yazeed and declared that he will rebel against corruption and oppression. In Mecca, the people were overjoyed that Al Hussein was amongst them. They visited him frequently in the day and night, during which he devoted himself to fasting and praying.
During that time, Kufa was the stronghold of the Ummayad opposition party, and the people there gathered in Sulayman ibn Surad al-Khuza’i house to write the letter to Al Hussein, assuring him of the support and asked him to come, announcing the rebellion against the corrupted governor, and their complete readiness to fight with Al Hussein and sacrifice themselves.
When Al Hussein received their letter. He gave no answer at first, yet people of Kufa kept sending him tens of letters, asking him to promptly come to Mecca. He finally answered their call and sent Muslim ibn Aqil, his cousin to Kufa as His representative in an attempt to assess the exact situation and the public opinion. He also sent a letter to the people of Kufa asking them to pledge allegiance to Muslim.
Muslim arrived to Kufa and publicly read Al Hussein’s letter, most of the people swore allegiance to him, and soon the situation turned against the governor of Kufa.
When Yazeed received the news, he furiously called for his advisor Sir John to seek his advice, who advised him to substitute the governor of Kufa with the governor of Basra, Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad, who was known for his brutality, aggressiveness and strong loyalty to the Umayyad regime.
Ibn Ziad was prompt in executing his master’s order, and quickly left Basra, heading to Kufa. He entered the Governor’s Palace and delivered a speech in which he threatened all those who rebel with death by the hands of Al Shams brutal army when it arrives.
Nobody gave Ibn Ziad’s threat any attention, and once Muslim supporters was to 20,000, he sent a letter to Al Hussein, asking him to come to Kufa promptly. However, in only a few days, the situation in Kufa changed drastically. Ibn Ziad had succeeded in arresting a vast number of the rebellions leaders and forced Muslim supporters to abandon him through adopting the carrot and stick approach. The people of Kufa then shifted their loyalties in favor of Yazid against Al Hussein, and soon after that Muslim was arrested and executed, his corpse was dragged through the streets, and his head sent to Yazeed.
In Mecca, Al Hussein decided to leave and head to Kufa he started his journey on the 8th of Dhul Hijjah accompanied by his family and followers, not knowing that things had changed in the past few days. And it was not until on his way to Kufa that he realized what had happened there. He openly reported the circumstances to all his companions and consequently, those who followed him for their own gain decided to head back, only about less than 100 followers decided to stay with him.
Al Hussein and his followers were intercepted by the vanguard of Yazidi army about 1000 men led by Al Hurr al Riyahi. He prevented Al Hussein from approaching Kufa or to return to El Medina. Thus, Al Hussein delivered the speech stating the objectives of his March.
Al Hurr however, remain firm and wrote a letter to ibn Ziad, updating him with what had happened. The two convoys headed north until they reach Karbala, and were followed the next day by Omar ibn Saed, leading 4000 soldiers, who in the course of time grew in number.
At first, Omar ibn Saed avoided fighting against Al Husayn, until he received the letter from ibn Ziad, ordering him to force Al Hussein to pledge allegiance to Yazeed and ban him and his followers from accessing water. Al Hussein, on the other hand, tried hard to make him decide to change his mind. He met him multiple times to assure him of his complete denial of pledging allegiance to Yazeed, even if it meant sacrificing his own life to the cause.
Ibn Saed wrote a letter to ibn Ziad asking his permission to allow it Hussein to either return back to El Medina or to one of the foreign military bases. Ibn Ziad rejected the offer and ordered Shamir ibn Dhi’l-Jawshan, a military leader to take command if ibn Saed refused to fight Al Hussein. He also ordered the horsemen to step on Al Husseins corpse.
Al Shimr arrived at Karbala on the ninth of Muharram and handed the letter to ibn Saed who declared war. Al Hussein expressed his wish to Omar ibn Saed, to give him time until the next day, so he could prepare for battle, and at the same time, devote himself to worship knowing that it would be his last day alive.
He then gathered his men and delivered the speech, in which he told them that they were all free to leave the camp, rather than face certain death, If they choose to stay with him. None of Hussein’s men defected, and their old remained by his side. They expressed their desire to stay and sacrifice themselves, no matter what it would cost them.
He thanked them for their brave act. The men held a vigil and prayed all night, recited the Quran, and prepared themselves for the battle. On the dawn of Muharram 10th, Al Hussein mobilized his men led the prayers and prayed to Allah. He then rode his camel and delivered the speech to the Ummayad army, advising them and at the same time warning them of the consequences of their act. Unfortunately, they refused to obey him except for al Hurr Ar Riyahi and a few other soldiers, who Al Hussain thanked for their submission. When Al Hussain finished his final speech, Omar ibn Saed shot an arrow and said, bear witness that I’m the first to shoot. Both sides shot their arrows, then single combat, followed by a group attacks, arrows and spears showered, followed by single combat once more.
Al Hussein followers were wounding and killing large numbers of the Ummayad soldiers before perishing. Ali Akbar, the son of Al Hussain was the first Hashemite to be killed, followed by others until it was Al Abbas’s turn whose arms were cut off while he was carrying a water filled skin, which he planned to take back to the camp. Al Hussain was attacked from all directions, but he managed to kill a number of the Ummayad soldiers and dispersed ibn Saed’s troops. His enemy continued to shower him with arrows and spears until he fell on the ground, after which Sinan ibn Anas brutally cut off his head, Omar ibn Saed’s army looted the camp of Al Hussein’s family taken woman and children as prisoners afterwards, Omar ibn Saed order 10 of his men to tremble over Al Hussein’s corpes with their horses.
The heads of the martyrs were then carried through Kufa and to Damascus.
After 1300 years, people still revive the events of Karbala during the 10th of Muharram every year to commemorate Al Hussein bravery and sacrifice for good.