The story of Ashura and Karbala
Although the month of Muharram is a sacred month as a whole, the 10th of Muharram is the most sacred among all its days. The day is named ‘Aashurah’. It is one of the most important and blessed days of Allah Ta’ala in the Islamic calendar. This day has been accepted as having deep significance. Evidence of its significance has been clearly found in authentic traditions.
There are many Prophetic events of great historical importance and also events that happened after the Beloved and Final Messenger of Allah(peace be upon him) had left this world, such as the Battle of Karbala, that have taken place on this day.
The importance of the month of Muharram has been mentioned in the Qur’aan in Surah Taubah verse 36. This day of Aashura derives its importance from Prophetic Traditions. In the Ahadeeth (sayings of Rasulullah sallallaho alaihe wassallam) the following have been mentioned:
The Prophet Muhammad (Sallallahu-Alayhi-Wasallam) has exhorted and encouraged his Ummah to fast on this day. He said:
“This fast is a compensation for the (minor) sins of the past year.” (Hadith:Muslim)
The Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), when migrated to Madinah, found that the Jews of Madinah used to fast on the 10th day of Muharram. They said that it was the day on which the Prophet Musa (Moses), alayhis salam, and his followers crossed the Red Sea miraculously and the Pharaoh was drowned in its waters. On hearing this from the Jews, the Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, said, “We are more closely related to Musa, alayhi salam, than you,” …and directed the Muslims to fast on the day of ‘Ashura’. ( Hadith-Abu Dawood)
“Observe the fast of Aashura and oppose the Jews. Fast a day before it or a day after.” (Hadith:Baihaqi)
Hence, it is important to either fast on the ninth and the tenth or the tenth and the eleventh of Muharram. To fast only on the day of Aashora is Makrooh(undesirable).
One should be generous on one’s family and dependants and spend more on them than what is normally spent.
Rasulullah (Sallallahu-Alayhi-Wasallam) said: “One who generously spends on his family on the day of Aashora, Allah will increase (his provision) for the whole year.” (Hadith:Baihaqi)
There is no doubt on the blessedness of the The Day of Aashura. Many historical events of deep significance have also been recorded on this day. Hazrat Musa (as) and his people, the Bani Israel, were saved from the Egyptian Pharaoh by the miracle of the parting of the sea on the day of Ashura. It was for this reason that the Jews used to fast on this day.
The Tragic battle of Karbala was also fought on this day. This event has many important lessons for the Ummah (Muslim Nation) especially at this point in time when the Ummah is being maliciously targeted and persecuted just because of their attachment and love for Islam – The Religion of Truth.
The battle of Karbala
Close to the end of his life Ameer Muawiyyah bin Abu Sufyaan (RA-Radiallahu Anhu – May Allah be pleased with him) decided to appoint his son Yazid as Khalifa of the Muslims, this was an unprecedented act in the history of Islam. No ruler had prior to this appointed his son or family as successor. Several of the Sahaba (RA) were dissatisfied with this deviation from the standard established by The Messenger of Allah (Sallalahu Alaihi wasallam – Peace be upon him) and his righteous guided Khalufa.
Of the Sahaba (RA) present at that time Abdullah bin Umar, Abdullah bin Abbas and Abdur Rahmaan bin Abu Bakr (RA) opted to accept the reign of Yazid to avoid further bloodshed in the Muslim Ummah. They did not want to see the repeat of conflicts of Siffin and Jamal, which cost many Muslim lives and threw the Ummah into turmoil. Abdullah bin Zubair (RA) took refuge in Makkah and he remained the ruler of Hijaaz (Makkah, Medina and surrounding areas) for a further ten years.
The other objector to Yazid becoming the Khalifa was Husain (RA) the youngest son of Hazrat Ali (RA) and Hazrat Fatima (RA). Based on his understanding of the tenets of Islam he understood this to be a deviation from the path of his grandfather, Rasulallah (Sallalahu Alaihi wasallam). Husain (RA) escaped from Medina to Makkah when the pressures of the governor, Waleed bin Utba, intensified his efforts to compel Husain (RA) to accept Yazid as the Khalifa of the Muslim Ummah.
While in Makkah, he began receiving letters of support from Kufa – encouraging him to come to Kufa where he will find many supporters who will help him oppose Yazid. When the number of letters of support exceeded 10’000, Husain (RA) considered going to Kufa, despite the objections of the other Sahaba (RA). He sent his cousin, Muslim bin Aqeel to investigate the situation. Abdulla bin Abbas and Abdulla bin Umar (RA) tried in vain to dissuade Husain (RA) from leaving the sanctuary of Makkah and going to Kufa. Realising that he would not heed their advice, they tried to convince him to leave his family in Makkah and make the journey with a few of his companions. But Husain (RA) had committed himself to opposing this deviation from the Path of Islam; and was prepared to sacrifice his life and the lives of his family to ensure that the Sunnah (Path of Nabi Sallalahu Alaihi wasallam) is not altered. Shariah had established the rules for Mashwera (Mutual consultation) and had abolished any remnants of monarchy.
When the cousin of Hazrat Husain (RA), Muslim bin Aqeel arrived in Kufa he found tremendous support for Husain. Nearly 15’000 supporters gathered to pray with him demonstrating their backing of Husain (RA). Encouraged by this situation, Muslim bin Aqeel wrote back saying the situation was favourable and that Husain (RA) should come to Kufa. But the situation quickly deteriorated when the new governor of Kufa, Ubayd-Allah bin Ziyad took power and began persecuting the supporters of Husain eventually killing Muslim bin Aqeel on 9 Dhul-Haijjah 60AH (680 AD) without any resistance from the people of Kufa.
Husain (RA) departed for the 1100km long journey on the 8th Dhul-Hijjah to avoid any conflict in the holy city during Hajj. En-route he heard of the murder of his cousin, Muslim bin Aqeel and of his supporters deserting his cause, but decided to continue to Kufa saying these famous words:
“… The 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 Yaqoob to Yusuf (AS)… Everyone, who is going to devote his blood for our sake and is prepared to meet Allah, must depart with us…” (Lohouf, By Sayyid ibn Tawoos, Tradition No.72)
Two days outside of Kufa Husain’s group were stopped by the vanguard of Yazid’s army – Hurr bin Riyahi, who refused him to continue his journey to Kufa. Husain requested to return to Medina, but that too, was denied. Forced by the army of Hurr, Husain (RA) and his supporters camped in the barren, dry area of Karbala on the 2nd Muharram. The governor of Kufa, Ubayd-Allah bin Ziyad ordered Umar bin Sa’ad to lead the army of 5’000 strong against Husain with instructions to initiate the battle on the 6th of Muharram. With further instructions to prevent Husain from access to water despite the close proximity of the mighty Euphrates river.
On the afternoon of the 9th the army of ibn Sa’ad began advancing to attack – Husain (RA) requested them to delay for one day. That night he spent in prayer and devotion; at Fajr he gathered his men and informed them that they faced certain death and if anyone wished to leave they were free to do so. All his supporters, 32 horsemen and 40 foot-soldiers, emphatically opted to stay by his side. Hearing Husain’s emotional call to defend the family of Nabi (Sallalahu Alaihi wasallam), Hurr Al- Riyahi, the commander of one of the enemy battalions left the ranks of Yazid’s army and joined the small group of Husain.
Fearing that more people may defect to Husain Umar bin Sa’ad, commander of the army started the battle by firing an arrow saying: “Give evidence before the governor that I was the first thrower.” The army attacked with ferocity but were repulsed by the courage of Husain bin Ali (RA) followers. Despite being charged at by infantrymen these brave soldiers of Allah Ta’ala stood their ground and defended the family of Nabi (Sallalahu Alaihi wasallam).
Husain’s (RA) followers came to bid farewell to him as they plunged into the battle, sacrificing their lives in defense of the grandson of the Master, Rasulallah (Sallalahu Alaihi wasallam). Abbas bin Ali (RA) the half-brother of Husain (RA) could not tolerate the suffering of the women and children who had been without water for several days. Penetrating the enemy forces he reached the river and began filling water skins. Laden with water skins and hopelessly outnumbered he made his way back to the camp. The enemy surrounded him determined not to let this brave warrior of Islam succeed in getting water to the camp. Before he died, Abbas called out to his brother Husain (RA) asking forgiveness that he could not bring the water.
As the day drew to a close, only Husain (RA) remained from the men. Few of the enemy dared attack him, some out of the dread of attacking the grandson of Nabi (Sallalahu Alaihi wasallam) others from the fear of his ferocity. Umar bin Sa’ad, commander of Yazid’s forces ordered his men to murder the noble grandson – most were reluctant then Shimr ibn Dhiljawshan advanced to slit the throat of Husain (RA). He severed the head of this noble leader of Islam and placed it on a spear. History will always mark this day – 10th of Muharram 60AH (680AD) as the day the noble grandson of the Master Muhammad (Sallalahu Alaihi wasallam) gave his life in defense of the established Path of Islam. He would tolerate no deviation from the Shariah (Islamic legal code) or Sunnah. Leaving this world at the age of 57 he became the leader of the youth of Jannah (Paradise).
Umar bin Sa’ad ordered his men to gather all the women and children, and to set fire to the tents. The next morning the captives from the family of Nabi (Sallalahu Alaihi wasallam) were marched to Kufa and then to Damascus. In the court of Yazid bin Muawiyyah the heads were displayed and the prisoners were paraded. Zaynab bint Ali (RA) fearlessly condemned Yazid for his actions and eulogised Hazrat Husain (RA).
This is a mere recording of events from authentic Sunni sources. Allah is the Best Judge. Allah Ta’ala makes it clear:
“That was a people that hath passed away. They shall reap the fruit of what they did, and ye of what ye do! Of their merits there is no question in your case”(Qur’an-Surah Baqarah 2:141 and 2:134)
But it leaves us with the profound question: How much are we willing to sacrifice in the defense of Deen, Truth and the laws of Islam. If each of us were willing to make the sacrifice of Hazrat Husain (RA) then there would be no deviation from the True Path. The call is not only to give up our lives in preserving our religion, but to give up our desires in fulfilling the Orders of Allah Ta’ala