The day of Ashura, 10th of Muharram 61 Hijri, is the darkest day in the history of Islam. The day marks the great tragedy of Karbala and the great sacrifice of Hazrat Imam Hussain (A.S) and his companions. The day is unparalleled in its significance in the entire Islamic history since it serves as a defining point in Islam where a clear distinction was made between good and evil. The day is also significant since it serves as a climax of the great schism that developed in Islam after the death of the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.W). The day is observed by Muslims all over the world in great mourning and in remembrance of Imam Hussain`s (A.S) martyrdom.
The caravan of Imam Hussain (A.S) along with members of the Ahl e Bait (A.S) had reached Karbala on 2nd Moharram 61 AH. Despite his requests to leave for foreign territories beyond the control of government of Yazid, the commander of Yazid`s army refused to let his caravan depart, and instead demanded that he claim allegiance to Yazid. Yazid had ignored his father Muawiya`s (L.A) advice to leave the family of the Prophet (S.A.W.W) alone, and instead insisted on claiming an oath of allegiance from them. He ordered his commanders to get allegiance from Hussain (A.S) or send his head back to Damascus. The Imam, on several occassions, had spoken about how Yazid epitomized evil and how someone like Hussain (A.S) cannot claim allegiance to someone like Yazid (L.A). On reaching Karbala, Imam (A.S) said:
"O God! We, the family of the Prophet Muhammad, were chased out of our homes in the city of our Prophet (Medina). The children of Umayya harmed us. O, Lord! Secure our rights for us and help us against the unjust people."
Then he faced his followers and said, "People are slaves of this world. The religion is just what they say. They use it as long as it provides them with their living. When they are tested, the true religious people are few." Then he said, "All of you know what has happened to us and you know how the world has changed its face towards us. The good is now considered bad and no good remains except for a little. You see that truth is not acted upon and the wrong is not prevented. Indeed, a believer does not wish anything but to meet his Lord. Indeed, I do not see death [for freedom] as but happiness and life with unjust people as nothing but grief."
In the sweltering heat of the Arab desert, the family of the Prophet (S.A.W.W) had taken shelter by the banks of the river Euphrates. Umar ibn Saad had arrived in Karbala along with 4,000 troops. However, Ibn Ziyad did not settle for this army and kept sending more troops until the 6th of Moharram. People such as Shimr ibn Ziljoshan, Hussain ibn Numair, Kalb ibn Talha, Shabas ibn Rabii among others arrived with more soldiers in Karbala and finally the total count of enemy solders reached approximately 30,000. This overhelming display of force was meant to scare the apparently small force of the Imam (A.S). On the 7th of Moharram, water was cut off completely from the tents of Imam`s (A.S) caravan. By the night of 9th Moharram, it had become clear that the army of Yazid were bent on gaining Imam`s submission and were willing to go to any lengths for it. Therefore, a battle was inevitable. That night, Imam (A.S) gathered his companions and gave them a short speech saying that there was nothing ahead but martyrdom. He added that since the enemy was concerned only with his blood, he would free them from all obligations so that any one who wished could escape in the darkness of the night and save his life. Then he ordered the lights to be turned off, but the faithful companions answered each in own way that they would not deviate from the right path and would never leave him alone. They said that they would defend the Household of Prophet to the last drop of their blood as long as they could carry a sword.
Another important event took place on the night of the 9th Moharram. Hur ibn Yazid Riyahi, the commander who had initially stopped Imam`s caravan and led them to Karbala, joined the Imam in his jihad. Hurr appeared before the Imam with tears in his eyes and begged for forgiveness from the Imam. The Imam received Hurr warmly and forgave him. In his own words, Hurr said: "For God`s sake, I am choosing between heaven and hell and by God I will never choose but heaven even if I am to be cut into pieces and burnt!". Such loyalty and devotion from Hurr and the rest of the Imam`s companions had not been seen before. On one occassion Imam commented that his sahaba were of such high standing in faith and devotion to God that even the companions of the Prophet (S.A.W.W) could not match them.
On the morning of the tenth of Moharram, the inevitable war began. Umar ibn Saad, who had been promised the governsorship of the city of Ray, fired the first arrow towards the army of the Imam (A.S) and said, "Give evidence before the governor that I was the first thrower of the arrow". The army of Yazid then proceeded to fire hundreds of arrows in the direction of Imam`s forces, and many of Imam`s companies embraced martyrdom as a result. After a number of open assaults by the enemy`s forces were repelled, Imam`s companions started going to the battlefield one by one. They fought bravely and often had to face several foes at a time. They stayed true to their word and laid down their lives for their Imam and great religion of Islam. These included prominent Sahaba such as Habib ibn Mazahir, Muslim ibn Awsaja, Zuhair ibn Qain, Burair ibn Khudair to name a few.
Soon it was the turn of Imam`s relatives. The men of Banu Hasim, the house of the Prophet (S.A.W.W), were martyred one by one as well. These included the sons of Ali ibn Abi Talib, sons of Hassan ibn Ali, sons of Aqeel ibn Abi Talib, sons of Abdullah ibn Jafar and Zaynab binte Ali, and Imam`s own sons. As the time of Asr approached, Abbas ibne Ali, the commander of the army was left all alone. He had not been allowed to fight by the Imam (A.S) despite his many requests. Imam (A.S) finally allowed him to get water from the river Euphrates, but took his sword from him. Showing such remarkable courage and devotion, Abbas marched towards the river with a broken spear. He successfully reached the river and gathered water, but was ambushed by Yazid`s forces. His hands were cut, and he embraced martyrdom by the river. Upon his death, Imam lamented, "Abbas your death is like the breaking of my back".
When Imam himself was ready to fight, he saw his six-month-old baby is dying from thirst. Imam brought his infant near to enemy demanded some water for baby, saying: "You want me but not this baby so take him and give him some water". The words of Imam has not been finished that the thirst of the baby was quenched by a deadly poisoned arrow from Hurmala which pinned the baby`s neck to the arm of his father. Imam threw some of his blood toward sky saying: "O` Lord! Your Husain has offered whatever You have given him. Bless me by acceptance of this sacrifice."
The inevitable moment had now arrived and the Imam bid farewell to his family and rode for battle himself. In single combat, nobody could match him and the Imam penetrated the ranks of Yazid`s army forcing them to retreat at several times. But he could not prevent the inevitable outcome, and like many of his companions, was ambushed on orders from Shimr ibn Ziljoshan. The forces inflicted many injuries on the Imam`s body and he became very weak. Even at this point, no one had the courage to go close to the Imam. Only someone with pure evil and hatred could dare to touch his body, and so Shimr dismounted from his horse and attacked the Imam himself. Imam soon fell to the ground, and Shimr (L.A) sat on his chest. He took out a blunt knife and started rubbing it on Imam`s throat. The final test for Hussain (A.S) was now complete, as Shimr (L.A) removed Imam`s head from his body earning for himself hellfire like no other. After that, the soldiers came forward to loot the Imam`s belongings from his body. Ibn Hayway took his shirt. Ibn Marthad took his turban. Ibn Khalid took his shoes. Ibn Khal took his sword. Bajad wanted his ring, but he could not get it off, so he cut off the Imam`s finger just to get the ring. Qays took his velvet Qatifa. Ja`wunah took his old clothes. Rahil took his bow. Then, they left the headless bodies to rot in the desert.
The barbarism and inhumane behavior of Yazid`s forces stands out in history as unprecedented. This treatment of any human being, let alone the members of the Prophet`s (S.A.W.W) household, is extremely shameful for all Muslims. Demonstrating their vileness and hatred for Muhammad (S.A.W.W) and Ali (A.S), Umar ibn Saad called volunteering horsemen to trample Imam Husain`s body. Ten horsemen trampled his body such that his chest and back were ground. The trampling and mutilating beyond recognition of the slain corpses of Hussain (A.S) and his followers continued till sunset. The trampled remains were left to feed the vultures and other carrion eaters in the desolation of Karbala. However, Umr Ibn Saad ordered proper Islamic burial of his own army`s slain with Namaz e Janazah being offered by their soldiers.
Allahumma La`an Qatlatal Hussain (A.S) wa Ashabihe.
"O Allah! Curse the killers of Hussain (A.S) and his companions."
Allama Muhammad Iqbal said:
"Imam Husain uprooted despotism forever till the day of Judgment. He watered the dry garden of freedom with surging wave of his blood, and indeed he awakened the sleeping Muslim nation. If Imam Husain had aimed at acquiring a worldly empire, he would not have traveled he did. Husain weltered in blood and dust for the sake of truth. Verily he, therefore, became bed-rock (foundation) of the Muslim creed; There is no God but Allah."
Charles Dickens had said the following about Imam Husain (AS):
"If Husain fought to quench his worldly desires, then I do not understand why his sisters, wives and children accompanied him. It stands to reason therefore that he sacrificed purely for Islam."
Thomas Carlyle has relayed this about the Tragedy of Karbala:
"The best lesson which we get from the tragedy of Karbala is that Husain and his companions were the rigid believers of God. They illustrated that numerical superiority does not count when it comes to truth and falsehood. The victory of Husain despite his minority marvels me!"
The famous, Dr. K. Sheldrake on Imam Husain (AS) said this:
"Husain marched with his little company not to glory, not to power or wealth, but to a supreme sacrifice and every member of that gallant band, male and female, knew that the foes were implacable, were not only ready to fight but to kill. Denied even water for the children, they remained parched under a burning sun, amid scorching sands yet no one faltered for a moment and bravely faced the greatest odds without flinching."
World famous Arab historian al-Fakhri has said this about Imam Husain`s sacrifice:
"This is a catastrophe whereof I care not to speak at length, deeming it alike too grievous and too horrible. For verily, it was a catastrophe than that which naught more shameful has happened in Islam. There happened therein such a foul slaughter as to cause man`s flesh to creep with horror. And again I have dispersed with my long description because of it`s notoriety, for it is the most lamented of catastrophes."