Just 48 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (Pbuh&hf), his grandson Hussein (a) was killed in the Battle of Karbala.
Why did this battle happen, and why is it so important to Islamic history?
After the fourth caliph Imam Ali (a) was assassinated in 661 a power vacuum emerged, leading to Muawiya assuming the role of caliph. Despite opposition from part of your Ummah who wanted Hassan (a) son of Ali who was the grandson of the Prophet as the caliph.
To avoid further bloodshed after years of conflict, Hassan (a) signed a peace treaty with Muawiya, this treaty stipulated that Muawiya would not appoint a successor after him.
In the year 670 Hassan(a) was assassinated, leaving his brother Hussein(a) to take on his duties. The treaty was breached when Muawiya named his son Yazid as his successor and 680 beginning the Ummayad Dynasty.
Yazid spread his power through corruption, bribery and the use of violence. To legitimise his rule, Yazid demanded the allegiance from Hussein (a). Hussein (a) refused, as Yazid was openly corrupt and known to be brutal.
Hussein (a) was forced to flee Medina under the threat of imprisonment and assassination. He had received thousands of letters from Kufa Iraq pledging support for an uprising against Yazid.
Of his refusal to pay allegiance, he said “I am ready to fight for the sole goal of seeking the reform of the Ummah of my grandfather the prophet of Allah I want to enjoy good forbid evil”.
Hussein (a) first went to Mecca for Hajj, but then left to avoid violence and preserve the sanctity of the holy city.
Hussein (a) departed with his family and companions to Kufa. In response to the threat of rebellion from the Kufan’s, Yazid dispatched the governor to Kufa to quash decent. This led to thousands of Kufan’s withdrawing their support in the threat of violence.
As they approached Kufa, Hussein’s caravan was intercepted by a battalion of Yazids army led by a man named Hurr. A greater army which numbered in the thousands led by Omar ibn Saed joined him and surrounded Hussein’s camp in what is now known as Karbala in modern-day Iraq.
The Army cut off access to water for Hussein (a) and his family, leaving the men women and children to suffer from days of thirst in Iraq’s blistering desert heat. The army demanded allegiance from Hussein (a) , threatening him with death, despite all the odds Hussein (a) refused to back down.
On the night before the battle, Hussein told his companions that they were free to leave, but they pledged to stand beside him in the face of certain defeat. The following morning on the 10th of Muharram known as the day of Ashura Hussein delivered a powerful speech reminding the opposition that he was still the grandson of the prophet (pbuh&hf) and that he still wished to leave, moved by his speech Hurr abandoned Ibn Saed’s army and Joined Hussein’s.
The battle commenced with Hussein’s 70 odd companions facing off against an army of what many historians number to be 30,000. The companions of Hussein (a) fought group by group and were martyred on the battlefield. Eventually Hussein (a) was left with a handful of remaining family members, they too were killed.
Hussein (a) now with no one beside him pleaded with the enemy forces for water for his 6-month-old baby. The enemy responded by firing a fatal arrow at the infant, killing Hussein’s child in his arms. Hussein (a) buried the child and bid farewell to the women and children of his camp. He fiercely charged into the battlefield, where after fighting valiantly eventually fell from his horse and was surrounded by the enemy soldiers. The grandson of the Prophet (pbuh&hf) was brutally attacked from all sides and beheaded.
The enemy forces attacked and plundered the possession of the dead bodies as well as the camp of Hussein’s family. The tents were set ablaze with women inside, which includes the granddaughters of the holy prophet. The Family were taken captive by Yazid’s army, later to be paraded to Damascus, Syria.
The story of Karbala shook the Muslim Ummah as the news spread, launching several uprisings across the Muslim empire. Many argue that the battle of Karbala forever changed the course of Islamic history.
The day of Ashura is mourned globally by millions of Muslims, both Sunni and Shia, to honour the heroic stand of the prophet’s grandson Hussein! (a)