It’s a must that I mention that the events, known today as the Massacre of Karbala’, which caused the execution of the maternal-grandson of Muhammad (Peace be upon him), al-Husayn ibn-`Ali ibn Abi-Talib (May Allah be pleased with him), was indeed a true tragedy, and is globally, Islamically, recognized, among all Muslim-sectarian lines, as something that should not have happened, and as well, didn’t even have to happen; but, unfortunately, it did happen, and we, as Muslims have to acknowledge this, objectively examine why it happened & move on in order to move forward, and unify one another, and to cease & desist some of the many unnecessary divisions between the Muslims, because of this issue, alone.
Now, obviously, this subject has caused great controversy, both historically, as well as in the present-day still, because of the magnitude of this event, even to the extent as to how this event should or should not be commemorated, among Muslims from various & all sectarian-persuasions-This event has grabbed the attention, emotions, and guilt of so many Muslims, that there are even celebrations, literally around the world, commemorating this event, with people doing & chanting all types of things. What I attempt to do is to bring some unbiased-light, as a Muslim, loyal to no religious-sect, to this event & the events surrounding & influencing it.
The following is based (primarily but not exclusively) upon the historical writings of Maqtal-il-Husayn/The Murder of al-Husayn, by Abi-Minkhaf Lut ibn-Yahya ibn-Sa`id ibn-Mikhnaf al-Kufi & Tarikh-il-Rusul wal-Muluk/The History of Messengers & Kings, by Abi-Ja`far Muhammad ibn-Jarir at-Tabari, two of some of the foremost Islamic-Historians of their time, as well as al-Khulafa’-ir-Rashidin/The Rightly-Guided Khalifahs, by, the famous Islamic-Historian, Jalaliddin as-Suyuti.
`Uthman ibn-`Affan: His assassination & civil-war-
Realistically, it would be unfair to mention the Massacre of Karbala’, without first mentioning & examining, with an unbiased-lens, all of the events which not only influenced what happened at Karbala’, but, what had directly caused it. Let’s start with the martyrdom of `Uthman ibn-`Affan (a Companion, twice son-in-law of Muhammad [making him a legitimate-member of Ahl-il-Bayt/Members of the Prophetic-Household of Muhammad] and 3rd-Khalifah [the globally-recognized/accepted leader of the Muslims] of Islam); after the vicious torture/assassination of `Uthman, at the hands of three cowardly assailants, from among the Khawarij (the 1st recognized sectarian-group from among the Muslims, thus personally prophesied by Muhammad, during his own lifetime[al-Bukhari & ibn-Majah]), `Ali ibn Abi-Talib (a Companion, paternal 1st-cousin, son-in-law of Muhammad [making him a legitimate-member of Ahl-il-Bayt ] and 4th Khalifah of Islam) had been selected & nominated, by the senior-leadership of the Companions of Muhammad, to succeed `Uthman, as the Khalifah; he accepted the appointment.
Upon this confirmation of `Ali’s ascension to the helm of the Muslim-World, immediately, Mu`awiyah ibn Abi-Sufyan (a Companion, brother-in-law [making him a legitimate-member of Ahl-il-Bayt] and 6th Khalifah of Islam, known historically as Mu`awiyah I) had petitioned that the murderers of `Uthman be brought to justice. However, `Ali had thought it wiser to suspend the pursuit of the assassins of `Uthman and bring political-stability back to the Islamic-Empire first. Unfortunately, that wasn’t good enough for Mu`awiyah & as a direct-result, when `Ali had commanded all the current governors of the provinces, of the Islamic-Empire, serving under `Uthman, to resign from their positions, he refused to step-down from his current position as the governor of Syria.
Now, of course, this was a major-problem-At this particular time, Syria was the wealthiest province, with the largest army within the Islamic-Empire; so, as we all know, unfortunate, bloody civil-war took place. The most historically famous military confrontation during this period was none other than the Battle of Siffin-The painful, shameful, irony is that even many of the Companions of Muhammad (May Allah be pleased with them all-together), who had all fought together, side-by-side, nearly 40-years prior, had taken sides between `Ali & Mu`awiyah, and were fighting, even killing one another. After the Battle of Siffin, a much-need peace-treaty, as well as territorial-partition, was established, between `Ali & Mu`awiyah: basically, as a result of this treaty & partition, all of the territories north & west of the Arabian-Peninsula went under the jurisdiction of Mu`awiyah & all of the territories south & east of the Levant went under the jurisdiction of `Ali.
`Ali is betrayed & slain, and Mu`awiyah stands alone-
There is immediate dissent, as a result of `Ali agreeing to the terms of this treaty with Mu`awiyah, and many of his supporters turn-tail on him & defect to the already-established sectarian-group, the Khawarij, who end up plotting, and unfortunately are successful in their assassination-attempt upon him. So, after the assassination of `Ali, naturally, the still-loyal-supporters of `Ali, looked to al-Hasan ibn-`Ali (the eldest maternal grandchild of Muhammad & older-brother of al-Husayn) for leadership & lay claim to head the Khilafah (the Islamic ruling position & government over the Muslim-World). With the support of his followers he in fact was selected, nominated and confirmed to be the next Khalifah.
However, he very shortly after made a very noble decision to completely end this political/military stalemate with Mu`awiyah, and in the same year as the death of his father (which was actually `Ali’s 6th & final year as the Khalifah), popularly known as “The Year of Unity”, al-Hasan had abdicated his power & claim as the Khalifah & there was a legitimate transfer of power from al-Hasan to Mu`awiyah; shortly after this abdication, al-Hasan ends up dead, in a very straight-forward, sad manner. It has long be eluded, assumed, speculated, believed, etc., that Mu`awiyah had a direct-hand in the death of al-Hasan; yet, to date, there is no standing, surviving, legitimate, credible evidence, supporting this claim. At any rate, as a result of all that went down, Mu`awiyah was the last-man-standing, in this first of many unfortunate political-upheavals within the 1400 year-old history of the Khilafah.
al-Husayn, Yazid, and Karbala’-
Now, to our main point of discussion: Mu`awiyah by this time is dead, after surviving one of the bloodiest in-house political-periods the Muslim-World had ever known, having been the Khalifah for the last 2-decades of his life; his son, upon his request, Yazid (known historically as Yazid I) becomes selected, nominated as the Khalifah, which sets a trend, that had remained until the end of the `Uthmani-Period/Ottoman-Empire, of having one’s family member (typically father-to-son) be a succeeding Khalifah, thus replacing a former Khalifah. There were still a great deal of understandable animosity between Bani-Hashim (the sub-tribe of `Ali ibn Abi-Talib) & Bani-Umayyah (the sub-tribe of Mu`awiyah ibn Abi-Sufyan). However, the consolidation of the Umayyi-Period/Umayyad-Dynasty was set, and, honestly, there were no serious military-threat to the authority of the rule of Yazid.
However, al-Husayn, based upon his conviction, as well as tension between the himself & Yazid, fueled by the deaths of both his father & brother, caused him to rebel against Yazid, a decision which cost him his life. Yazid being the new Khalifah & all (the 7th Khalifah generally & the 2nd Umayyi-Khalifah), in my opinion handled the situation between himself & al-Husayn very prematurely, as well as foolishly. Likewise, I also view al-Husayn’s decision to pursue a military confrontation against Yazid, against the advice of many still-surviving Companions, including his own cousin, `Abdullah ibn-`Abbas, one of, if not the single most respected religious figure of his lifetime, after the death of Muhammad, equally as foolish & reckless.
He was outmanned, out-weaponed and out-supported. Even as he had made preparations to meet the forces of Yazid, headed by the then governor of `Iraq, `Ubaydullah ibn-Ziyad, it was very clear that from the start, it would’ve been a losing-battle, even before it had began. However, like his father & brother before him, he stuck to ideals that he had deep-conviction in, and was not fearful of the consequences thereof. He was initially welcomed to come to establish a resistance in Kufa, `Iraq & make this city his base. However, this plan was immediately scrapped, as a result of `Ubaydullah executing several messengers of al-Husayn, including one of the sons of `Aqil ibn Abi-Talib, one of the brothers of `Ali, Muslim ibn-`Aqil-Muslim was savagely executed at the hands of `Ubaydullah, after even Yazid had ordered that the rebellion stirring up in `Iraq be quelled without bloodshed, particularly, without the bloodshed of either al-Husayn or Muslim. By this point, al-Husayn had officially made up his mind that he would descend upon Kufa and lead his insurrection against Yazid from there.
Unfortunately, what he did not expect was for the people of `Iraq to abandon him, when he needed them the most. In fact, one of the most notoriously famous statements of the betrayal of al-Husayn, by the people of `Iraq, Kufa particularly, was the following, “Our hearts are with you; but, our swords are not with you.”. This was a most devastating blow to the morale of what was left of the ever-dwendling forces of al-Husayn, and there was no turning back: he couldn’t get adi from anyone else in `Iraq, by virtue of them either being too cowardly to support al-Husayn & stand-up to Yazid, turned-tail on al-Husayn, or were just tired of fighting other Muslims generally & wanted this on-going conflict to come to an immediate end.
For whatever the reasons, for people bailing on al-Husayn last-minute, it happened; also, there was no way that he could’ve went back to Makkah or Madinah, to get support or refuge, because he was just too far away. Alas, his fate was sealed, and his life came to a tragic end. His final-stand, against Yazid, was at Karbala’, this was truly about one of the most unfairly matched military battles ever: the official accounts of the attendees of this battle vary greatly; but, it’s safe to assume that the forces of al-Husayn were outnumbered by at least 1,000-1; not only was al-Husayn slain at this battle, in a most inhuman way, but, also a whole slew of his own family-members, whom were with him, at Karbala’. along with his entire (what was left of that is) army. This was truly a sad event indeed.
Now, how can we learn & heal from this?
One particular suggestion is to not deny that the atrocities of this day actually happened: these events actually happened, to people beloved by Muhammad, the Messenger of Allah. At the same time, we must also keep this event in its proper context: this was purly politically-driven, power & control were the ultimate prize, let’s not be blinded by this fact, let’s not deny this. People wanted power, and others got it; people pursued what they deemed as justice, and ended causing more harm than good; there were a lot of betrayal, side-switching, loyalty-changing, and the like. However, as Muslims, we must not embody these political-events as though they are our burdens to bear: one, we weren’t there to prevent or promote any various political-agendas; if we were there we have absolutely no idea whose side we’d actually be on; it’s really easy to say, “Yea…yea…Ahl-ul-Bayt…all-day!!!”, outside of reality. But, in all reality, many of us may have very well been from among those who wanted `Uthman dead, `Ali dead, al-Hasan & al-Huasayn dead, we really don’t have a clue what conditions our hearts would’ve been in or what decisions that we would’ve made as a result of that.
So, in conclusion, before you attend any Muharram festival, any Muharram event, visit any gravesites of any members of Ahl-il-Bayt: one, make sure that your heart is right with Allah, by making sure that you’re not participating in any celebration, commemoration, festival, act of worship, which is completely against what Allah & His Messenger has allowed for us, as Muslims to partake in; two, make sure that you heart is right with Allah, in regards to your criticisms of either `Uthman, `Ali, Mu`awiyah, al-Hasan or al-Husayn or any other Companion of Muhammad involved in this conflict, leading up to the Massacre of Karbala’, because for whatever they may have did wrong, they are still among the Companions of Muhammad, the greatest generation of Humans to ever walk the face of this earth(al-Kaba’ir), those whom Allah is pleased with & they are pleased with him(Noble Qur’an: Chpt.98, V.8), and many of those who were a part of these conflicts were even promised paradise during their own lifetimes by Muhammad, personally(at-Tirmidhi, Abu-Dawud, ibn-Majah), as well as by virtue of the fact that they had given all that the had for Allah’s service by preserving Islam for us to inherit today, just so that we can have something to debate/argue about, concerning who was more right than who, or who was more wrong than who(al-Bukhari).