What happened during the Battle of Karbala, and who were the individuals involved?
Karbala: The Story of the Individuals of Prophet Muhammed’s Family
The month of Muharram marks the beginning of the Islamic new year. Its historical and religious significance is defined by the martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad’s grandson Hussain who was killed in a battle at Karbala, in modern-day Iraq.
The procession is a remembrance of this sacrifice and the moral victory of Hussain. The martyrdom of Hussein is supreme in every sense and he will be the leader of all martyrs because of the fact that he just not defeated Yazeed – he defeated every tyrant, despot, and diabolical propaganda they carry against humanity. Karbala is just not about making Islam alive – it’s a triumph of good over evil.
On every Ashura, the 10th day of the Muslim calendar month of Muharram, millions of Muslims across the world commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad, in the Battle of Karbala. Imam Hussein (A.S.) was alone, one man against thousands. Imam Hussein stood his ground for principles that he considered crucial for the survival of the Muslim faith and ummah.
And that is precisely the reason that his oppressors have perished in the annals of history like a droplet in a sea, but the names of Imam Hussein and his family have become immortal until the end of times. At the toughest times, Imam Hussein (AS) declined to make his head down in front of the tyrants. He and his family wished a death of dignity instead of life with humiliation.
Therefore on the 10th of Muharram, Imam Hussein and Hassan (AS), the grandsons of our Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) embraced the martyr along with their families. Here is a brief overview of all of the courageous individuals who stood with Imam Hussein during the fateful Battle of Karbala.
Hazrat Muslim Bin Aqeel
Hazrat Muslim Bin Aqeel (A.S.) was the first cousin of Imam Hussein (A.S.) and when the people of Kufa invited Imam Hussein to come and lead them against the caliph of that time, Yazeed, Imam Hussein sent Hazrat Muslim as his ambassador to Kufa to confirm the loyalty of Kufians.
Upon receiving an overwhelming response by the Kufians, Hazrat Muslim wrote a letter to Imam Hussein and asked Imam Hussein to come to Kufa.
However, when the news of the rebellion reached Ubaidullah Ibn Zayed, governor of Kufa appointed by Yazeed, he announced that whoever gave shelter to Hazrat Muslim, he along with his entire clan will be murdered.
Out of fear, people started retracting their word that they gave to Hazrat Muslim. However, Ubaidullah knew that Hazrat Muslim has been meeting some followers discretely and hence vigilantly kept looking for Hazrat Muslim.
Even though Hazrat Muslim and his sons weren’t killed in the battle of Karbala, they still are considered as one of the martyrs.
Imam Hussein (A.S.) was already on his way and in fact, was very close to Kufa when he heard about the martyrdom of Hazrat Muslim Bin Aqeel (A.S.) as well as the betrayal of Kufians.
Hazrat Hurr intercepted the Imam on his way to Kufa, and told him to not proceed further. Hazrat Hurr and his army were extremely thirsty and even though they were against Imam Hussein, Imam Hussein ordered his companions to give water and quench the thirst of Hurr, his men, and even his horses.
Later on, during the confrontation of Imam Hussein and Hazrat Hurr, it was established that Hurr was sent to arrest Imam Hussein and bring him to Ubaidullah while Imam Hussein shared the various letter that he received from Kufians to lead them, of which Hazrat Hurr was completely unaware.
Imam Hussein asked Hazrat Hurr to let him continue his journey to Kufa or go back to Madina.
Since Hazrat Hurr wasn’t asked to fight against Imam, Hazrat Hurr refused and asked Imam to take a third route so that he can communicate with Ubaidullah and Yazid and understand the next possible steps. Imam Hussein started his journey with Hazrat Hurr’s army following him.
They reached Karbala on 2nd of Muharram and upon receiving Ubaidullah’s letter, Hazrat Hurr asked Imam Hussein to stop and camp near the Euphrates.
Events of the 2nd of Muharram
When Imam Hussein (A.S.) arrived in Karbala on the 2nd Muharram, they set up their camps near the Euphrates. He bought the land from the clan of Bani Asad and gifted them back saying that “in a few days we will be killed on this land and our bodies will be dishonored while our heads will be on the spikes, nobody will be there to bury us and perform our last rites, hence I request you to burry us in this land. If you are unable to do it, ask your women. If even they are unable do it, ask your children to throw fistful of mud every time they come out to play”.
Umar Ibn Saad, who was the commander of Yazeed’s army, arrived in Karbala and ordered Hazrat Abbas Ibn Ali (A.S.), who was the commander and flag bearer of Imam Hussein’s army, to relocate from the banks of the Euphrates and get away from water. This angered Hazrat Abbas and he drew a line on the ground in front of the camps of Imam Hussein saying that if anybody dared to cross this line, there will be consequences.
He ordered them to wait and went to get Imam Hussein’s order. When Hazrat Abbas explained the demands of Umar Ibn Saad to Imam Hussein, very patiently Imam replied that let’s move our camps where they want, I don’t want the world to ever conclude that we fought because of water. Imam Hussein and his companions relocated their camps and the supply of water was stopped on the same day. It is said that Imam Hussein, his family, and his companions completely ran out of water on the 7th of Muharram.
Hazrat Hurr’s Acceptance
While Hazrat Hurr was a part of Yazeed’s army and following his orders, he was ashamed and guilty for obstructing Imam’s way to Kufa and bringing him to Karbala. On the morning of the 10th of Muharram, Hazrat Hurr called his son secretly in his tent and shared his guilt and shame and told him that he has decided to leave the army of oppressors and join the side of Imam Hussein.
Hazrat Hurr, along with his son and slave, went to Imam Hussein with tears in his eyes, begging for forgiveness, and shared that he wishes to fight alongside Imam Hussein. Hazrat Hurr was received very warmly by Imam Hussein and his companions. Hazrat Hurr was amazed by the kindness and when the fight against the evil began, Hazrat Hurr and his son were the first ones who went into the field, fought bravely, and laid down their lives, after killing a lot of enemies.
When Hazrat Hurr called out, Imam Hussein rushed to the battlefield. The last thing Hazrat Hurr heard before he died was Imam Hussein telling him that his mother made the right choice by naming him Hurr (The Freeman).
Hazrat Aun & Hazrat Muhammad (Sacrifices of Bibi Zainab)
Hazrat Aun and Hazrat Muhammad were the sons of Bibi Zainab (A.S.). On the day of Ashoor, Imam Hussein wouldn’t give the boys permission to go for single combat. Both of them were very disappointed and went to their mother for help. Bibi Zainab asked someone to call Imam Hussein to her tent and when Imam entered she said,
“Hussein, in the battle of Siffeen, Abbas was only 8 years old and when he saw someone trying to attack you, he rushed into the battlefield and killed that man. Remember how proud Baba Ali was? Today I want to feel the same pride. I want my sons to go out there and defend Islam.”
On hearing this, Imam Hussein wrapped his arms around the boys, led them to their horses, and helped them mount. The boys rode out to the battlefield and fought bravely. At one point, Umar Ibn Saad inquired, “Who are these boys? They fight like Ali Ibn Abi Talib?”
When he was told who they were, he ordered his soldiers to give up single combat, surround and kill the boys. Hazrat Aun and Hazrat Muhammad were surrounded by all sides and soon brutally killed.
Imam Hussain and Hazrat Abbas carried the bodies back to the tent and when they came they found Bibi Zainab in Sajdah offering Shukar. At the time of the battle, Bibi Zainab’s boys were 13 and 14 years old respectively.
Hazrat Qasim (A.S.) was the son of Imam Hasan and Bibi Farwa (A.S.) and the grandson of Imam Ali and Bibi Fatima (A.S.). Even though Hazrat Qasim was only 13 years old at the time of the incident of Karbala, he was a great warrior since he learnt swordplay from Hazrat Abbas and Hazrat Ali Akbar Ibn Hussein.
On the day of Ashura, when Hazrat Qasim came to Imam Hussein and asked for his permission to go on the battlefield, Imam Hussein turned him away twice. Hazrat Qasim went to his mother and shared his disappointment. Bibi Farwa remembered that Imam Hasan had given her a letter before his death for Imam Hussein and said “whenever you find Qasim in difficulty then give him this letter.”
In the letter it was written, “My son Qasim, a day will come when my brother Hussein will be facing an enemy army of tens of thousands. That will be the day when Islam will need to be saved by sacrifice. You must represent me on that day.”
Hazrat Qasim read the letter, smiled, and rushed to his uncle Hussein with the letter. After reading the letter Imam Hussein said “how can I stop you from doing what your father wanted you to do?”
When Imam Hussein mounted Qasim on his horse, Qasim said, “O my uncle, don’t be upset. I don’t fear death, death for Islam will be sweeter for me than honey.”
Qasim came to the battlefield, introduced himself clearly, and finished several famous warriors in single combat. When the enemy saw his bravery they realized that they could not possibly overpower him in single combat, they came from behind and hit Hazrat Qasim on the head with a sword.
Qasim tried to go on fighting but since he was so young and very thirsty, he couldn’t carry on. After a while, Qasim fell from his horse crying out to Imam Hussein. When his tender voice called Imam for his final salam, Imam Hussein and Hazrat Abbas rushed fiercely to get to him.
In a rush to avoid them, the flanks of the army broke ranks and ran in all directions, crushing Qasim’s body under their hooves.
Imam Hussein picked the pieces of Hazrat Qasim’s body, gathered them in his robe, and carried them to the tents. Hazrat Qasim was the only martyr whose body was trampled by the horses when he was still alive.
Hazrat Ali Akbar
Hazrat Ali Akbar (A.S.) was the son of Imam Hussein and Bibi Umme Laila (A.S.) and was 18 years old at the time of the battle of Karbala. Hazrat Ali Akbar was extremely good looking and it is said that he used to resemble Prophet Muhammad (P.B.U.H.) so much that Imam Hussein was often heard saying that whenever I miss my grandfather, Hazrat Muhammad, I always look at Akbar.
Ali Akbar also had a loud and beautiful voice and used to recite Azaan. On the morning of Ashura, when Akbar recited the azaan, Imam Hussein and the women in the tents started weeping uncontrollably because they knew that this is the last time Akbar is calling out the azaan.
Imam Hussein helped Akbar mount on his horse and when Akbar began to ride towards the battlefield, he heard footsteps behind him. He turned around and saw Imam Hussein following him. Ali Akbar arrived on the battlefield and fought bravely. No one dared come close to him in single combat after he had killed many warriors.
While a few soldiers attacked Ali Akbar another (Haseen Ibn Nameer) slowly crept up to him and threw a spear at his chest with such ferocity that it penetrated his chest. As he was falling from his horse, he cried out to Imam Hussein, ‘Father, accept my last salam’. When he hit the ground, the spear broke but the blade remained lodged in Akbar’s chest. When Imam Hussein pulled it out, Akbar’s heart came out alongside it. Akbar took his last breath in the arms of Imam Hussein’s.
Hazrat Abbas Ibn Ali (The Flagbearer and Commander of Imam Hussein’s Army)
Hazrat Abbas (A.S.) was the son of Imam Ali and Bibi Ummul Baneen (A.S.) and his title was Qamar Bani Hashim (Moon of the Hashemites). Hazrat Abbas was so strong and powerful that he could easily fight the army of Yazeed but Imam Hussein never gave him the permission to fight.
When Hazrat Abbas expressed that he wanted to go first and fight, Imam Hussein explained to Abbas, “We have not entered Karbala for war. We could win because we have Banu Hashim men like you. However, our mission here is to serve Islam and now Islam requires our sacrifice. We are here to sacrifice our lives for this pure and noble religion.”
In Karbala, on the 7th of Muharram, Imam Hussein and his convoy went completely out of water and food.
On the day of Ashoor when the children of Prophet (P.B.U.H.) were extremely hungry and thirsty, Bibi Sakina (A.S.), the 4 years old daughter of Imam Hussein who was extremely close and the dearest to her Uncle Abbas, went to Abbas and pleaded him. Abbas couldn’t see her thirsty and crying ‘Al Atash’ (the thirst).
He asked Imam Hussein to let him go and fetch water for the children of Bani Hashim. Imam Hussein granted him permission and Hazrat Abbas made it all the way to the river crossing the battlefield. He filled the bag (Mushk) with water and even though he himself was extremely thirsty, his loyalty to Imam Hussein and his children was so great that he didn’t take a single sip.
None of the soldiers had the courage to confront and attack Abbas upfront. Hence, the army gathered around him, some hid behind the trees and when Abbas started his ride back to the tents, one of the merciless soldiers struck him from behind, amputating his right arm. He adjusted his flag and the water bag in the left arm; he was struck again and his left arm was amputated too.
Abbas was now carrying the water bag in his mouth. The army of Yazeed was shooting arrows at Abbas and one arrow hit the water bag and water poured out of it. At this moment, Abbas lost all hope. One of Yazeed’s men hit his head with a mace and Abbas fell off his horse without the support of his arms. He called for his master. Imam Hussein immediately came to him lifting his head and taking it into his lap.
He then expressed his last wish to not carry his body to the camp because he promised to bring water to Sakina and he failed in the attempt and hence cannot face her even in death.
Hazrat Ali Asghar
Hazrat Ali Asghar was the youngest son of Imam Hussein and Bibi Rabab (A.S.) and was only 6 months old when the Battle of Karbala happened.
On the 10th of Muharram, one by one Imam Hussein’s companions and the Hashemites men were martyred and by the time of Asr, Imam Hussein was left alone. Imam Hussein went into the tents and bid farewell to all ladies, children, and his eldest son, Hazrat Ali Zainul Abedin who didn’t fight in Karbala as he was unwell. Imam Hussein mounted on his horse named Zuljana and rode to a small mount; he then called out loudly:
“Is there anyone to help me?”
With this call, Imam Hussein was giving one last call to Yazeed’s men. No one answered Imam’s call. But Imam Hussein heard loud cries coming from his camps. Hussein turned around and returned to his tents. Imam went to Bibi Rubab and found Ali Asghar crying. Imam picked up the baby and comforted him. Ali Asghar looked up at his father and smiled.
Imam covered his thirsty baby with his robe to protect him from the scorching heat and carried him to the battlefield. Hussein walked to Yazeed’s soldiers and uncovered Ali Asghar. He held Ali Asghar high with both his hands. Not one of Yazid’s soldiers brought any water for Ali Asghar. Once more Imam Hussein begged.
Hurmullah aimed an arrow with three sharp heads at Ali Asghar. When the arrow was heading for Ali Asghar, Imam covered Ali Asghar with his arms. The arrow went through Hussein’s arm and lodged in the tiny neck of Ali Asghar. Ali Asghar died instantly. Imam Hussein gently pulled the arrow from Ali Asghar’s tiny neck. Blood gushed out from Ali Asghar’s neck.
Imam Hussein started walking towards his tents and saw Rabab standing by his tent. Rubab took her little child and hugged him. Imam Hussein and Rubab walked to the back of the tents. Imam Hussein dug a small grave with his sword and Rabab placed Ali Asghar in the grave. Umm Rubab placed Ali Asghar in the small grave.
Now where could Imam Hussein get water to sprinkle on Ali Asghar’s grave? Hussein sat by the grave crying. Tears poured on the grave. Ali Asghar’s grave was sprinkled with Hussein’s tears.
Bibi Sakina Bint Al Hussein
Sakina Bin Al-Hussein was the youngest daughter of Imam Hussein and Bibi Rabab. Sakina was Imam Hussein’s most beloved daughter and used to sleep on his chest every night. Like any four years old, Sakina loved spending time with her father every night before going to sleep and Imam Hussein would comfort her and tell her stories about Prophets and the battles fought by her grandfather Ali Ibn Abi Talib.
On the 10th of Muharram, when the Hashemite children couldn’t bear the thirst, Sakina came to her Uncle Abbas with her mashk and requested him to fetch water from the Euphrates. When Sakina got to know that Uncle Abbas lost his life while bringing her water, she never asked for water again.
After the demise of the Hashemite men, the beasts of Yazid’s army would torture the 4 years old orphan. They would slap her, would pour water on the ground but wouldn’t offer her and also snatched her earrings that her beloved father had gifted her. Her journey from Karbala to Kufa and to Shaam has been the most tormenting one.
Sakina was tied with a rope on a bare camel and once when she fell down the wretched army tied one end of the rope around Sakina’s neck and the other to Imam Zainul Abedin’s back so that Imam couldn’t stand straight. If he did try to stand straight, the rope used to get tight and strangle Sakina. Even during the most agonizing times, this 4 years old child would try comforting and consoling her mother on the death of her 6-month-old brother, Ali Asghar.
In the dungeon where Yazid had kept the family of Prophet (S.A.W.W), Bibi Zainab used to try to console Sakina every night saying “we will meet your father soon” and that would help Sakina sleep. One night, Sakina woke up crying and started looking for her father everywhere. The ladies tried to console her but Sakina kept on wailing and saying ”my father was here, he kissed me said ‘my dear Sakina you will be soon with me’ where is my father now?”
Upon hearing this, the ladies started to cry and the noise of crying was heard by Yazid at his court. Yazid sent the severed head of Imam Hussein to the prison and when Sakina received the head of her father, she started to cry even more. After a while, Sakina grew quiet and everyone thought that Sakina has finally slept, while in fact Sakina had passed away. Sakina’s clothes had burnt in Karbala and due to injuries, had intermingled with her flesh.
Imam Ali Zainul Abedin dug a grave in the dungeon and buried his little sister in those same burnt ripped clothes.
9th and 10th of Muharram, Ashoor
On the eve of Ashura, mothers were preparing their sons for the great jihad tomorrow, to die for their Imam and in the way of Islam. Imam Hussein, his family, and his companions spent the entire night worshipping. Ibn Saad shot the first arrow towards Imam Hussein at Fajr. The day started at Fajr, Hazrat Ali Akbar recited Azaan and Ahlebait started preparing for prayers. Imam’s companions decided to shield Imam and Ahlebait by standing in front of them so that they can offer their prayers.
The army of Ibn Saad kept shooting arrows, and the resilient companions stood there taking each arrow on themselves. The battle started and one by one Imam Hussein’s companions went into the battlefield and got martyred.
After Zuhr prayers, all of Imam Hussein’s companions were killed and it was time for the Hashemite men to show bravery and courage. When Imam Hussein had sacrificed everyone including his 6 months old baby, it was time for him to bid farewell and fight in the way of Islam and Allah. The women of Ahlebait wouldn’t let him go. They kept crying.
Imam Hussein bid farewell from the women, kissed his youngest daughter Sakina and told her to have patience. Imam Hussein helped mount everyone but when it was his time to go into the battlefield, he was all alone. He suddenly felt a hand on him. It was his sister Bibi Zainab, who helped him mount on his Zuljana. Imam Hussein was extremely injured since he was attacked every time he went to bring the martyrs from the battlefield. He was also hungry, thirsty, and heartbroken as he had lost all of his loved ones.
Bibi Zainab was standing and watching the battle of her brother from afar. Hussein Ibn Ali fought with such bravery and courage killing lots of men and then the soldiers of Ibn Saad surrounded Imam. They shot arrows, attacked him with their swords and those who didn’t have anything would throw stones at him. He had hundreds of arrows on his body; not a single part of his body was spared. When he came down from his horse, his body couldn’t hit the ground and was on the arrows. Imam Hussein was not visible to Bibi Zainab.
Bibi Zainab ordered “the earth to rise so that I can see my brother”. The place where Bibi Zainab was standing rose (this risen piece of land is still in Karbala and is know as Tilla-e-Zainabiya).
What Bibi Zainab saw was unbearable for any sister! She saw that Shimr was standing on Imam Hussein’s chest and was cutting his neck with a blunt dagger. He cut off Imam Hussein’s neck in 13 tries and Bibi Zainab kept wailing. After killing Imam brutally, the soldiers prepared their horses and to dishonor Imam, they ran those horses on the body of Imam Hussein.
Sham-e-Ghareeban (The Night of the Oppressed and Homeless), After Asr E Ashoor
After Imam Hussein (A.S.) was brutally killed and Imam’s head was on top of spears, the army of Ibn Saad prepared to loot the camps of Hussein. The soldiers advanced to the tents, started looting the women of their veils, dragging them, hurting them, making fun of them. When the women tried to save themselves and ran inside the tents, the soldiers of Ibn Saad started putting the tents on fire.
The women and children of Ahlebait who had already lost their husbands, fathers, brothers, and uncles were now pleading for their ‘Pardah’ and ‘Hijaab’. There was only one man left in the convoy of Imam Hussein, Hazrat Ali Zainul Abedin (A.S.) who couldn’t fight because of the severity of his illness.
When the pardah of the women of Ahlebait was looted, and the tents were put on fire, Bibi Zainab consulted her nephew (the successor and Imam after Imam Hussein) if they should stay in and burn to death or should they run outside and save their lives. Imam Ali Zainul Abedin said that it is obligatory to save your life no matter what. Bibi Zainab asked the women and children to rush out of the burning tents and helped her bedridden nephew to walk out.
When the soldiers were busy looting the women and their camps, Shimr advanced towards Bibi Sakina (Imam Hussein’s 4 years old daughter) and asked her to give him her earrings. Bibi Sakina refused as it was a gift from her father, Hussein. Upon refusal, Shimr started hitting the child on her face and snatched the earrings from her ears.
After that, the army of Ibn Saad spent the night celebrating their victory while the Ahlebait spent the night on the sand of Karbala, without a roof or veil on their heads.
Even after losing everything that she held close to her, Bibi Zainab didn’t abandon her Maghrib prayers and Namaz e shab (tahajjud), however, because of the weakness that had overcome her, she prayed sitting.
May the lessons and powerful histories of the individuals of the family of the Prophet Muhammed continue to teach us, humble us, and help us grow in our faith inshallah.
- The Shia: Identity. Persecution. Horizon (book) by Riyadh Al Hakeem.
- After the Prophet (book) by Lesley Hazleton.
- Sayed Ammar Nakshwani’s lectures. Easily available on YouTube.
- Mukhtaar Nama (series) available on YouTube.
- Caravan of Pride (movie) by Ahlulbayt TV. Easily available on YouTube