MUHARRAM SERIES – Arrival of Imam Hussain in Karbala

SHAFAQNA – On Thursday, the 2nd of Muharram 61 A.H. Imam Hussain planted his tent in the plain of Karbala in the region of Naynaya.

This would come to be the place of his martyrdom. There, surrounded by enemies, surrounded by treachery and villainy Imam Hussain would awaken a revolution which has yet to be made silent.

There, over a millennium ago a light was set ablaze for those in need of guidance – for those hungering for righteousness and just liberation.

If you care to listen you can still hear the wind cry for Hussain – martyrs among martyrs.

A day after the Imam’s arrival, Umar ibn Sad ibn Abi Waqqas Zohari reached Karbala from Kufa with his 4000 men. Unhinged by the presence of AhlulBayt, he settled his encampment opposite Imam Hussain’s.

Umar ibn Sad belonged to the family of Bani Zohra ibn Kilab of the tribe of Quraysh. He was a near relative of Lady Amina, mother of the Holy Prophet. Umar’s father Sad ibn Abi Waqqas was one of the five people who first embraced Islam … His willingness to stand against the very legacy of the Prophet Muhammad, remains an indelible stain.

Umar sent a message to Imam Hussain enquiring to his intentions in Iraq. The Imam said in reply: “The Iraqis themselves sent letters to me inviting me to come. Now if you do not like my coming I am prepared to return to the Hijaz.”

Ibn Sad then wrote a letter to Ibn Ziyad and informed him of what the Imam had said. Ibn Ziyad noted in return: “Now that he has been caught in our clutches he hopes to escape and return to the Hijaz. There is now no question of showing indulgence and no way is open for him.”

Further he wrote to Ibn Sad: “I have carefully read your letter and understood what you have written. Tell Hussain bin Ali that he and all his companions should take oath of allegiance to Yazid. When this has been done we shall take some decision about them”.

Soon after, Ibn Sad received another letter from Ibn Ziyad asking him to prevent Hussain and his companions from utilizing water and not to allow them to drink even a drop of it. Umar immediately dispatched 4000 men under the command of Amr ibn Hajjaj to stand between Imam Hussain and the river Euphrates.

This event took place three days prior to the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. For three days, under the heat of the desert Sun, Ibn Ziyad watched as AhluBayt suffered – all to please Yazid, the tyrant.

What do you say before an evil so dark and profound that not even the sight of suffering women and children could soften their hearts? What to call those who claimed Islam to be their faith, and yet held a blade to the throat of their Imam?

Islam was being defiled in those days … today still, many are following in the footsteps of Ibn Ziyad and Umar ibn Sad, so that their masters could be pleased by the sight of righteous blood.





The Imam asked to see Ibn Sad. Maybe he wished to bring sense into him and reform him to the Truth.

When Umar bin Sad returned to his camp he wrote a letter to Ibn Ziyad which read: “Allah has extinguished the flames of war. We have reached an agreement and the matter has been settled according to national interest. Hussain ibn Ali is now prepared to return to the Hijaz or to proceed to some Islamic frontier”. In order to make Ibn Ziyad agree to his suggestion he also added a lie justified by its motive.

Ibn Ziyad cooled down and was impressed by the suggestions made by Ibn Sad. However, Shimr ibn Zil Jawshan, who was present said: “You are making a mistake. You should make the most of this opportunity and now that you have gained control over Hussain ibn Ali, you should not let him go, because you will not get such an opportunity again”.

Ibn Ziyad said: “You are right. You should, therefore, go to Karbala personally and deliver this letter to Ibn Sad telling him that Hussain and his companions should surrender unconditionally, and then he (Ibn Sad) should send them to Kufa, and failing that he should fight with them. If Ibn Sad is not agreeable to this and is not prepared to fight with Hussain bin Ali, you yourself should assume the command of the army and cut off his (Ibn Sad’s) head and send it to me”.


Then he ordered Ibn Sad the following: “I have not sent you to behave leniently toward Hussain Ibn Ali and to intercede with me for him and to make his life secure. Now you should note that if he himself (Hussain) and his friends surrender, you should send them to me, and if they decline to do so, you should attack and kill them and mutilate their bodies for they deserve this treatment. And if Hussain bin Ali is killed you should make the horses trample upon his chest and back because he is a cruel, quarrelsome and ungrateful man.

This does not mean that I wish to hurt him after his death. However, I have pledged my word that if I kill him I shall get him trampled upon by the horses. Now if you act according to my directions I shall reward you, but if you do not act as you have been advised, you should hand over charge of the army to Shimr ibn Zil Jawshan, who has been given necessary instructions by me”.

When Ibn Ziyad wrote this dangerous letter and gave it to Shimr, Ummul Banin’s nephew, Abdullah ibn Abil Mihal ibn Hizam was also present. He stood up and said: “O Emir! My cousins Abbas, Abdullah, Ja’far and Uthman, sons of Ali ibn Abutalib have come with their brother. If possible you may please write a letter of security for them.” To which Ibn Ziyad replied: “All right”.

What a great difference there is between the thinking and assessment of the two parties! The cousin of Abi Fazal renders, in his own opinion, a great service to his cousins (aunt’s sons) and obtains a letter of security for them from Ibn Ziyad. But the question is: Will they make use of this letter and go away deserting their brother, master and Imam?


When the slave of Abdullah brought the said letter of security to Karbala and called upon the sons of Ummul Banin he said to them: “Your cousin Abdullah has sent a letter of security for you”.

The sons of Imam Ali replied with one voice: “Convey our greetings to our cousin and tell him that we do not stand in need of security from Ibn Ziyad. Divine Security is better than the security granted by the son of Sumayya”.

When Shimr reached Karbala he delivered Ibn Ziyad’s letter to Umar Sad. Eventually Umar Sad agreed to carry out the Emir’s orders himself.

Umar ibn Sad then mounted his horse, occupied a place in front of his army and said: “O riders of Allah! Mount, and be it known to you that your place is in Paradise.”

Those were the words the Prophet Muhammad had told his men before battles many times over. Those were the words Umar ibn Sad saw fit to utter against the progeny of the prophet … how often since have we heard unjust men call for justice when they mean tyranny?

At this moment the Imam was sitting in front of his tent, with a sword in his hand and had gone to sleep with his head resting on his knees. Suddenly the uproar of the army approached nearer and nearer. Lady Zaynab ran to her brother in a state of perplexity and said: “Brother! Don’t you hear the uproar of the enemy army which has reached near? The Imam raised his head from his knees and said: “Just now I saw the Holy Prophet in a dream and he told me that I was going to him. On hearing this Zaynab slapped her own face and said: “How sad it is for me!” The Imam said: “Sister! Don’t be sad. Be tranquil. Allah will bless you.”

Right about then Abbas ibn Ali arrived to submit a military report, and said: “My master! The enemy has reached. What is to be done?”

The Imam stood up and said: “My brother Abbas! May my life be sacrificed for you. Mount your horse, go and ask them as to why they have launched an attack at this time and what new development has taken place.”

Abbas approached the enemy army accompanied by twenty horse-men including Zuhayr ibn Qayn and Habib ibn Mazahir Asadi to enquire about the army’s movement against Imam Hussain.

They replied: “We have received orders from our Emir that either you should surrender immediately or we should fight against you”. Abbas said: “Don’t be in a hurry. Let me go to the Imam and inform him of the position”.

While Abbas went and informed Imam Hussain of the situation, his companions remained in front of the enemy forces.

Imam Hussain instructed his brother: “Go back to them and, if possible, obtain extension of time from them till tomorrow morning, so that tonight we may offer prayers to Allah and make supplications and seek His forgiveness. Allah knows that I love to offer prayers, to recite the Quran, to make supplications and to ask His forgiveness.”

Respite was finally granted to the Imam … Understand here that it is not fear which animated his heart, only hope that closed hearts would reform.

It is mercy Imam Hussain ambitioned for – not for himself but those who wished his death.

By Catherine Shakdam for Shafaqna


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