Paying allegiance (bay'ah)
was an old Arab practice which was carried out in important
matters such as that of kingship and governorship. Those who were ruled, and especially
the well known among them,would give their hand in alleging, agreement and obedience
to their king or prince and in this way would show their support for his actions.
Disagreement after allegiance was considered as disgrace and dishonour for a people
and it was like breaking an agreement after having signed it officially, it was considered
as a definite crime. Following the example of the Holy Prophet (sawas), people believed
that allegiance, when given by free will and not through force, carried authority and
Mu'awiyah had asked
the well-known among the people to give their allegiance to
Yazid, but had not imposed this request upon Imam Husayn. He had especially told Yazid
in his last will that if Husayn refused to pay allegiance he should pass over it in silence
and overlook the matter, for he had understood correctly the disastrous consequences
which would follow if the issue were to be pressed. But because of his egoism and
recklessness, Yazid neglected his father's advice and immediately after the death of his
father ordered the governor of Medina either to force a pledge of allegiance from
Imam Husayn or send his head to Damascus.
After the governor of
Medina informed Imam Husayn of this demand, the Imam, in
order to think over the question, asked for a delay and overnight started with his family
toward Mecca. He sought refuge in the sanctuary of God which in Islam is the official
place of refuge and security. This event occurred toward the end of the month of Rajab
and the beginning of Sha'ban of 60 A.H. For nearly four months Imam Husayn stayed in
Mecca in refuge. This news spread throughout the Islamic world. On the one hand many
people who were tired of the iniquities of Mu'awiyah's rule and were even more
dissatisfied when Yazid became caliph, corresponded with Imam Husayn and expressed
their sympathy for him. On the other hand a flood of letters began to flow, especially
from Iraq and particularly the city of Kufa,inviting the Imam to go to Iraq and accept
the leadership of the populace there with the aim of beginning an uprising to overcome
injustice and iniquity. Naturally such a situation was dangerous for Yazid.
The stay of Imam
Husayn in Mecca continued until the season for pilgrimage when
Muslims from all over the world poured in groups into Mecca in order to perform the
rites of the hajj. The Imam discovered
that some of the followers of Yazid had entered Mecca as pilgrims (hajjis) with the
mission to kill the Imam during the rites of hajj with the arms they carried under their
special pilgrimage dress (ihram).
The Imam shortened the pilgrimage rites and decided to leave. Amidst the vast crowd
of people he stood up and in a short speech announced that he was setting out for Iraq.
In this short speech he also declared that he would be martyred and asked Muslims to
help him in attaining the goal he had in view and to offer their lives in the path of God.
The next day he set out with his family and a group of his companions for Iraq.
Imam Husayn was determined
not to give his allegiance to Yazid and knew full well that
he would be killed. He was aware that his death was inevitable in the face of the
awesome military power of the Umayyads, supported as it was by corruption in certain
sectors, spiritual decline, and lack of will power among the people, especially in Iraq.
Some of the outstanding people of Mecca stood in the way of Imam Husayn and warned
him of the danger of the move he was making. But he answered that he refused to pay
allegiance and give his approval to a government of injustice and tyranny.
He added that he knew that wherever he turned or went he would be killed.
He would leave Mecca in order to preserve the respect for the house of God and not
allow this respect to be destroyed by having his blood spilled there. While on the way
to Kufa and still a few days' journey away from the city, he received news that the
followers of Yazid in Kufa had put to death the representative of the Imam in that city
and also one of the Imam's determined supporters who was a well-known man in Kufa.
Their feet had been tied and they had been dragged through the streets.
The city and its surroundings were placed under strict observation and countless
soldiers of the enemy were awaiting him, There was no way open to him but to march
ahead and to face death. It was-here that the Imam expressed his definitive
determination to go ahead and be martyred; and so he continued on his journey.
seventy kilometres from Kufa, in a desert named Kerbala, the Imam
and his entourage were surrounded by the army of Yazid. For eight days they stayed
in this spot during which the circle narrowed and the number of the enemy's army
increased. Finally the Imam, with his household and a small numbers of companions
were encircled by an army of thirty thousand soldiers. During these days the Imam
fortified his position and made a final selection of his companions. At night he called
his companions and during a short speech stated that there was nothing ahead but death
and martyrdom. He added that since the enemy was concerned only with his person he
would free them from all obligations so that anyone who wished could escape in the
darkness of the night and save his life. Then he ordered the lights to be turned out and
most of his companions, who had joined him for their own advantage, dispersed. Only a
handful of those who loved the truth--about forty of his close aides--and some of the
Banu Hashim remained.
Once again the Imam assembled those who were left and put them to a test.
addressed his companions and Hashimite relatives, saying again that the enemy was
concerned only with his person. Each could benefit from the darkness of the night and
escape the danger. But this time the faithful companions of the Imam answered each in
his own way that they would not deviate for a moment from the path of truth of which
the Imam was the leader and would never leave him alone. They said they would defend
his household to the last drop of their blood and as long as they could carry a sword.
On the ninth day of the
month the last challenge to choose between "allegiance or war"
was made by the enemy to the Imam. The Imam asked for a delay in order to worship
overnight and became determined to enter battle on the next day.
On the tenth
day of Muharram of the year 61/680 the Imam lined up before the enemy
with his small band of followers, less than ninety persons consisting of forty of his
companions, thirty some members of the army of the enemy that j joined him during the
night and day of war, and his Hashimite family of children, brothers, nephews, nieces
and cousins. That day they fought from morning until their final breath, the Imam, the
young Hashimites and the companions were all martyred. Among those killed were
two children of Imam Hasan, who were only thirteen and eleven years old; and a
five-year-old child and a suckling baby of Imam Husayn.
The army of the
enemy, after ending the war, plundered the haram of the Imam and
burned his tents.They decapitated the bodies of the martyrs, denuded them and threw
them to the ground without burial.Then they moved the members of the haram, all of
whom were helpless women and girls, along with the heads of the martyrs, to Kufa.
Among the prisoners there were three male members: a twenty-two year old son of
Imam Husayn who was very ill and unable to move, namely Ali ibn Husayn, the fourth
Imam; his four year old son, Muhammad ibn Ali, who became the fifth Imam; and finally
Hasan Muthanna, the son of the second Imam who was also the son-in-law of
Imam Husayn and who, having been wounded during the war, lay among the dead.
They found him near death and through the intercession of one of the generals did not
cut off his head. Rather, they took him with the prisoners to Kufa and from there to
Damascus before Yazid. The event of Kerbala, the capture of the women and children
of the Household of the Prophet (sawas), their being taken as prisoners from town to
town and the speeches made by the daughter of Ali; Zaynab, and the fourth Imam who
were among the prisoners, disgraced the Umayyads. Such abuse of the Household of
the Prophet (sawas) annulled the propaganda which Mu'awiyah had carried out for years
. The matter reached such proportions that Yazid in public disowned and condemned
the actions of his agents.
The event of Kerbala
was a major factor in the overthrow of Umayyad rule although
its effect was delayed. It also strengthened the roots of The Followers of Ahlu Bayt.
Among its immediate results were the revolts and rebellions combined with bloody
wars which continued for twelve years. Among those who were instrumental in the death
of the Imam not one was able to escape revenge and punishment. Anyone who studies
closely the history of the life of Imam Husayn and Yazid and the conditions that
prevailed at that time, and analyses this chapter of Islamic history, will have no doubt
that in those circumstances there was no choice before Imam Husayn but to be killed.
Swearing allegiance to Yazid would have meant publicly showing contempt for Islam,
something which was not possible for the Imam, for Yazid not only showed no respect for
Islam and its injunctions but also made a public demonstration of impudently,treading
under foot its basis and its laws. Those before him, even if they opposed religious
injunctions,always did so in the guise of religion, and at least formally respected religion.
They took pride in being companions of the Holy Prophet (sawas) and the other religious
figures in whom people believed. From this it can be concluded that the claim of some
interpreters of these events is false when they say that the two brothers, Hasan and
Husayn, had two different tastes and that one chose the way of peace and the other the
way of war, so that one brother made peace with Mu'awiyah although he had an army
of forty thousand while the other went to war against Yazid with an army of forty.
For we see that this same Imam Husayn, who refused to pay allegiance to Yazid for one
day, lived for ten years under the rule of Mu'awiyah, in the same manner as his
brother who also had endured for ten years under Mu'awiyah, without opposing him.
be said in truth that if Imam Hasan or Imam Husayn had fought Mu'awiyah
they would have been killed without there being the least benefit for Islam. Their deaths
would have had no effect before the righteous appearing policy of Mu'awiyah, a
competent politician who emphasised his being a companion of the Holy Prophet(sawas),
the "scribe of the revelation," and "uncle of the faithful" and who used every stratagem
possible to preserve a religious guise for his rule. Moreover, with his ability to set the
stage to accomplish his desires he could have had them killed by their own people and
then assumed a state of mourning and sought to revenge their blood, just as he sought
to give the impression that he was avenging the killing of the third caliph.
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