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Imam Husain’s Journey to Iraq

In: Muharram

Attempts to Dissuade Him From Departing

A group of his family members, in addition to others, asked him to postpone his trip till he could get to know the condition of the public. They feared the treachery of the Kufians and were apprehensive of a possible reversal in the situation. But the “Father of the Oppressed” was unable to reveal the knowledge with him about his fate to everyone he met. The facts, as they stand, are not to be revealed to just anyone who seeks them due to the different levels of people’s comprehension and the differences in their ability to absorb. He, peace be upon him, had to answer each person according to his own condition and ability to comprehend.

He, for example, said to [‘Abdullah] Ibn al-Zubayr, “My father told me once that there is a ram in Mecca through which its sanctity would be violated, and I do not like to be it. Should I be killed outside Mecca even the distance of a span, it is better for me than being killed inside it. [5] By Allah! Had I been inside one of these holes, they would have taken me out of it and done what they wish to do. By Allah! They shall oppress me and transgress just as the Jews oppressed and transgressed the sanctity of the Sabbath”

As soon as Ibn al-Zubayr had left, al-Husain (A) said to those in his company, “There is nothing in this world this man loves more than seeing me depart from Hijaz. He knows very well that people do not equate him with me, so he wished to see me leave so that the space will be all his.” [6]

During the same night following which al-Husain (A) left for Iraq, Muhammad Ibn al-Hanafiyya came to him and said, “You know very well how the Kufians betrayed your father and brother, and I fear lest your case should be like theirs. Stay here, then, for you are the most respected one in the Haram, and the most secure.” Al-Husain (A) said to him, “I fear lest Yazid son of Mu’awiyah should assassinate me inside the Haram, thus becoming the one on whose account the sanctity of this House is violated.” Ibn al-Hanafiyya suggested to him to go to Yemen or to other parts of the peninsula, so Abu ‘Abdullah (A) promised him to think about it.

During the early hours of the morning, al-Husain (A) started the preparations for his departure. Ibn al-Hanafiyya again came to him and held the reins of the she-camel upon which al-Husain (A) had already mounted, saying, “Did you not promise me to think about my suggestion?” “Yes,” al-Husain (A) answered, “But after your departure, the Messenger of Allah (S) came to me in a vision and said, ‘O Husain! Get out! Allah Almighty has decreed to see you slain.’” Muhammad Ibn al-Hanafiyya said, “Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajia’un” (We are Allah’s, and to Him is our return). He asked him about the reason for letting his family accompany him. Al-Husain (A) said, “It is the Will of Allah to see them taken captives.” [7]

‘Abdullah son of Ja’far at-Tayyar, and also his sons ‘Awn and Muhammad, wrote him saying, “I plead to you in the Name of Allah to go home once you read this letter, for I fear lest you should be killed and your Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) be eradicated. If you get killed, the light on earth will be put out, for you are the standard of guidance and the hope of the faithful. Do not hurry in marching, for I shall see you shortly after you read this letter, and peace be with you.”

‘Abdullah took a letter from Yazid’s governor over Mecca, ‘Amr Ibn Sa’id Ibn al-’As, granting al-Husain (A) security. He brought it to al-Husain (A) who was then accompanied by Yaya Ibn Sa’id Ibn al-’As, and he tried very hard to dissuade al-Husain (A) from marching to his destination, but Abu ‘Abdullah (A) refused. He informed ‘Abdullah that he had seen the Messenger of Allah (SAW) in a vision giving him an order which he had to carry out. He asked him what he had seen. “I have not narrated this vision to anyone,” said Imam Husain (A), “and I shall not narrate it till I meet my Lord, the most Exalted One, the most Great.” [8]

Ibn ‘Abbas said to him, “O cousin! I seek solace, but you are not solacing me, and I fear for you if you do it lest you should perish and be eliminated. The people of Iraq are treacherous; so, do not go near them. Stay in this land, for you are the master of the people of Hijaz. If the people of Iraq want you, as they claim, then let them unseat their governor and enemy, then you should go to them. If you insist on going out, go to Yemen, for it has fortresses and valleys, and it is a wide and spacious land, and your father has many supporters there. You will be insulated from [the evil] people. You will then be able to write people, dispatch your messengers and disseminate your message, for you will then realize your objective in good health” Al-Husain (A) said to him, “O cousin! By Allah! I know that you are an advisor with compassion, yet I have already decided to go.” Ibn ‘Abbas then said, “If you insist on going, do not take your women and children, for I fear lest you should be killed as they look on.” Al-Husain (A) said, “By Allah! They [the Umayyads] shall not leave me alone till I am dead. Should they do so, Allah will appoint over them those who will humiliate them till they become more degraded than a woman’s rag.” [9]

Why did the Imam Leave?

This is the ultimate end of anyone seeking to know why al-Husain (A) did not tarry before going to Iraq. The father of ‘Abdullah [Imam al-Husain, peace be upon him] was not unfamiliar with the nature of the Kufians or with their treachery and hypocrisy. But what could he do after they had expressed their loyalty, obedience and submission to his orders? Can the Imam of a nation be excused for not providing guidance when he is solicited, or from redeeming them from the claws of misguidance and guiding them to what best pleases the Lord of the World, especially since their dissension and disunity had not yet become manifest?

The reason he gave for marching to meet them, despite their treacherous nature, which manifested itself in the way they treated him, his father and brother (A), would prompt those who look at the exterior appearance of matters to blame him. The Imam chosen for the guidance of the public is greater than doing anything that would be used as an argument against him. The country to which Ibn ‘Abbas and others referred has no security, and what happened between Bishr Ibn Arta’ah and the people of Yemen underscores the latter’s weakness of resistance and inability to face an oppressor.

Such is the view expressed by al-Shaikh al-Shushtari, may Allah elevate his status. He has said, “Al-Husain (A) had two obligations: a real one, and an evident one: a) As for the real one that caused him to face death and to expose his family to captivity and his children to slaughter, despite his knowledge [of such an imminent fate], it is due to the fact that the tyrants from among Banu Umayyah had convinced themselves that they were right and that ‘Ali and his offspring and supporters were wrong, so much so that they made cursing him part of their Friday congregational prayers… One of them forgot once to curse ‘Ali (A) in his Friday sermon, so they had to remind him of it. Since he was travelling, he had to repeat his prayers as qaza! Had al-Husain (A) surrendered and sworn the oath of allegiance to Yazid, there would have been no trace of the truth left.

This is so because there were many who thought that entering into a covenant with the Umayyads was indicative of their legitimacy and good conduct. But after al-Husain (A) had fought them, exposing his sacred life and those of his family and children to the atrocities that befell them, it became quite clear to the people of his time, and to succeeding generations, that right was on his side and that those who oppressed him were the misguided ones. b) As regarding the superficially evident cause, he (A) sought to safeguard himself and his family by all possible means, but he could not do so. They prohibited him from going anywhere.

Yazid wrote his governor over Medina to kill him. He, therefore, had to get out of it fearing for his life, then he sought refuge with Allah’s Sacred House, the safe haven of anyone in apprehension. But they sought him even there to either arrest or to kill him even if he had been found clinging to the curtains of the Ka’ba. He had no choice except to perform a singular ‘umra rather than a complete Hajj. Then he went to Kufa because its people had written him and sworn the oath of allegiance to him, stressing the importance of his going to meet with them in order to save them from the evil of the Umayyads. He evidently was, therefore, morally obligated to go along with what they had suggested in order to bring his argument against them home, and so that they would not argue on the Day of Judgment saying that they sought refuge with him and solicited his help against the oppression of the oppressors, but he accused them of dissension and did not help them. Had he not gone to them, where else would he have gone especially since the earth suddenly became straitened before him despite its vastness? This is the meaning of his saying to Ibn al-Hanafiyya, ‘Had I entered inside one of these land cracks, they would have taken me out of it and killed me!’”

The Imam (A) had likewise said to Abu Harrah al-Asadi once, “Banu Umayyah confiscated my wealth, yet I remained patient. And they defamed my honour, and I again remained patient. Then they sought to kill me, so I fled.” [10]

Everyone in Mecca was grieved to see him leave. When they persisted in their attempts to dissuade him from leaving, he quoted poetic verses composed by a poet from the Aws tribe who had been warned by one of his cousins against participating in the jihad in support of the Messenger of Allah (SAW):

I shall proceed, for there is no shame
In death to a man who set his mind
To follow the truth
And to perform jihad as a Muslim.
He consoled the righteous men in person,
Leaving behind the depraved,
Opposing the criminals.
Then he cited the verse saying, “And Allah’s Command is a decree already passed.”(33:38) [11]
He loathed peace in humiliation,
Honour loathes a free man being subdued,
So he said: O soul! Refrain from shame:
At the time of death, what is bitter tastes good!
Surrounded he became by his family’s best youth
A family to which sublime honour and prominence belong
If it marches in the darkness of the night it shines:
Its shiny faces over-shining the brightest of the stars
By brave knights on wading steeds
In whose walk there is pride and grace.
Swift in the desert, dignified in stature,
Might in his help, subdued for him the conveyance.
Slapping the earth’s face, red in hue
Not by slapping reddened but by the enemy’s blood.
These are the folks from ‘Ali the conqueror
The darkness through them dissipates
And harm at bay is kept.
Thousands do they meet, courageous and bold
If and when their banners unfold
On a day when the face of death frowned,
When sharp swords did smile,
When the day of death is in black and in woe,
Their faces with delight become bright and mellow
As the faces of startled brave men turn yellow.
They stood on the battlefield only to cross
To death: the bridge is awaiting everyone who walks.
They assault, while heroes out of fear hesitate
And lions are accustomed to assault.
Till they were spent under the clouds of dust
On a battle resembling the Assembly Day!
Nay! Less terrifying is the Assembling Day!
They died in dignity, for them the war testifies
That they were men of honour when faced by what terrifies.
White bandages decorated their every head,
Blood outfitted them with outfits of crimson red.
Again and again the Oppressed One went back to his foes
With his sword and mare helping him to give them blows.
On the day of struggle with dust he covered every face
Of his troops as horizons grew pale shrouding the place.
If his lance composes poetry in one’s heart,
His sword writes prose on his foes’ necks on its part.
So one is not one when the swords clamour,
Nor two are two when lance clashes with the armour:
Had he wished to finish his foes at hand
He would have shaken existence itself at his command.
But decree had already passed, so he opted to march
To death patiently, for patient are the oppressed.
On the hot desert sands he dawned
A corpse that fell a prey
To every sword and lance in every way.
Between the ends of the lances he was spent
Thirsty, his corpse trampled upon by trained steeds
O son of Hasan! I complain to you for these are
Agonies crowding my heart
Do you know how much trial and tribulation
Your revered offspring faced at the Taff?
Let me console you in their regard,
For they approached death with heart.
Not a drop wetted their thirst,
Buried under the heat, in the desert,
Wind burying them with the dust…
What will you, O bereaved one, assault and be
Turning the blood of your foes into a sea?
Will you close your eyes when revenge can you take
From seeing the blood which, though on the right guidance
Dawned having none to console?
Near the Taff are the youths of Hashim
Buried under the lances’ tips, their blood is sought
By everyone! No respite there shall be till you
Raise it so nothing can stand in its way.
A fire you shall light, a war no mighty host can subdue
How many times did Umayyah stir your wounds
No healing of the wound till the Meeting Day,
No healing to babes whom Umayyah nursed with death
Instead of breasts’ milk, blood was given instead.
Here they lie dead, here the arrows embrace them,
Here the sands make their every bed.
A free lady who used to be confined
Dawned on the plains hot like timber lit by the heat
And a pure woman not used to mourning
Is now with whips driven, rebuked.
And a startled youth whose heartbeat almost
Sparks with fright… And another confused,
By the sight of steeds not at all amused,
Welcomed the night without a haven, without resort
Her veil, in enemy hands,
Is being passed from this to that,
So with her hands she seeks to hide
What with her veil she used to shield
Walked unveiled before the enemy eyes.
From one country to another she cries…
They grew up confined, they never knew
What slavery was, what’s the plain or the terrain.
Now they were insulted and dismayed,
By their enemy were they now displayed
For all to jeer at and to see:
A war trophy they now came to be…
Taken from land to distant land,
Handled by a filthy hand. [12]

To be continued….


Maqtal al-Husain: Martrydom Epic of Imam al-Husain (A) by ‘Abd al Razzaq al-Muqarram 
Published by: Al-Kharsan Foundation for Publications, Beirut, Lebanon, 1426 AH/2005 AD


[1] Shaikh Lufallah al-Gulpaygani, Muntakhab al-Athar fi Akhbar al-Imam al-Thani ‘Ashar, Raiyy ad-Din al-Qazwini, p. 304, 10th night.

[2] Ibn Nama, Muthir al-Azan, p. 89. Al-Tabari, Tarikh, Vol. 6, p. 177.

[3] Ibn Tawus, Al-Luhuf, p. 33. Ibn Nama, p. 20.

[4] Shaikh ‘Abbas al-Qummi, Nafs al-Mahmum, p. 91.

[5] On p. 150, Vol. 2, of al-Azraqi’s Tarikh Mecca, it is stated that Imam Husain (A) made this statement to Ibn ‘Abbas.

[6] Ibn al-Athir, Al-Kamil, Vol. 4, p. 16.

[7] al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 10, p. 184.

[8] al-Tabari, Tarikh, Vol. 6, p. 219. Ibn al-Athir, Al-Kamil, Vol. 4, p. 17. Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidaya, Vol. 6, p. 163.

[9] Ibn al-Athir, Al-Kamil, Vol. 4, p. 16. The rag Imam al-Husain (A) is referring to is one used by a woman to absorb the blood during her menstruation.

[10]Al-Khasa’is al-Husainiyya, p. 32 (Tabriz edition).

[11] On p. 137 of Tathkirat al-Khawaof Ibn al-Jawzi, the grandson, al-Husain (A) cited these verses when al-Hurr warned him against disputing with Banu Umayyah.

[12] Excerpted from a poem by the Hujjah Sayyid Muhammad Husain al-Kayshwan published in ‘Allama Shaikh Sharif al-Jawahiri’s Muthir al-Azan.

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