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Ḥusayn ibn ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib ( )‎ (3rd Sha‘bān 4 AH - 10th Muharram 61 AH; 8 January 626 AD - 10 October 680 AD) was the son of ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (final Rashidun Caliph and first Shī‘a Imām) and Fātimah Zahrā (daughter of Muhammad). Husayn is an important figure in Islām as he is a member of the Ahlul Bayt (the household of Muhammad) and Ahlul Kisā, as well as being a Shī‘a Imām, and one of The Fourteen Infallibles of Shī'a Twelvers.

Husayn ibn ‘Alī is revered by all Shi'a as a martyr who fought tyranny, as he refused to pledge allegiance to Yazīd I, the Umayyad caliph. He rose up to create a regime that would reinstate a “true” Islāmic polity as opposed to what he considered the unjust rule of the Umayyads. As a consequence, Husayn was killed and beheaded in the Battle of Karbalā in 680 (61AH) by Shimr Ibn Thil-Jawshan. The anniversary of his Shahid ("martydom") is called ‘Āshūrā ("tenth" day of Muharram) and is a day of mourning for Shia Muslims.Revenge for Husayn's death was turned into a rallying cry that helped undermine the Umayyad caliphate, and gave impetus to the rise of a powerful Shī‘ah movement.

Early life

According to the most reports, Imam Husayn ibn Ali was born on 3 Sha'aban 4 AH/10 January 626 CE.

He and his brother Imam Hassan were the only descendants of Muhammad who remained alive. Many of the accounts about Muhammad's treatment of his grandsons and his great love for them deal with them together and at times confuse them. Muhammad is reported to have said that "whoever loves them [his grandsons] loves me and whoever hates them hates me" and "al-Hasan and al-Husayn are the sayyids of the youth of Paradise". The latter saying has been particularly important for Shias who used it in support of the right of Muhammad's descendants to the imamate. Muhammad, according to other traditions, is pictured with his grandsons on his knees, on his shoulders, or even on his back during the prayer at the moment of prostrating himself. According to Madelung, Muhammad loved them and declared them as his Ahl al-Bayt frequently. The Quran has accorded the Ahl al-Bayt of the Prophet an elevated position above the rest of the faithful.

In addition to these traditions, a number of traditions also involve presence of angels. From a Muslim point of view, these traditions do not create any problem but to non-Muslims they appear as legends created under the Shi'i influence.

The Incident of Mubahala

According to hadith collections, it is narrated that during the 9th - 10th year after hijra an Arab Christian envoy from Najranmarker (currently in northern Yemenmarker and partly in Saudi Arabiamarker) came to Muhammad to argue which of the two parties erred in its doctrine concerning Jesus. After likening Jesus' miraculous birth to Adam's creation, Muhammad called them to Mubahala (Cursing), where each party should ask God to destroy the lying party and their families. Muhammad, to prove to them that he is a prophet, brought his daughter Fatimah (Taiba,Tahira) and his surviving grandchildren, Imam Hassan and Imam Hussain ibn Ali, and Ali ibn Abi Talib and came back to the Christians and said this is my family (Ahl al-Bayt) and covered himself and his family with a cloak.

Christians felt afraid as Muhammad was so confident about his teachings that the Christians felt that if they come on face to face with him, they would be proved wrong and Christianity might end. So they formed a peace treaty and told Muhammad that they would not come. It is written and confirmed by hadiths.

Husayn and Caliphate

Shias proclaimed that his eldest son Hassan, who was the successor to Ali's Imamate, should be the caliph and the Islamic tradition should not be discarded again. Muawiyah had fought Ali for the leadership of the empire and now prepared to fight Hassan. After a few inconclusive skirmishes between the armies of Hassan and Muawiyah, Hassan reminded his followers of Ali's position that Imamate is sufficient for successorship of Muhammad and that leading the Muslim state was not a criterion. Thus, to avoid agonies of another civil war, he signed a treaty with Muawiyah and relinquished the control of what had turned into an Arabian kingdom; while not having pledged his allegiance to Muawiyah. Even after taking such a stance, Hassan was poisoned and killed in 669 by Muawiyah. This left Husayn as the head of the Alids, the successor to Hassan's Imamate.

Husayn and Rashidun

At the time of the siege of the caliph Uthman's residence in Medina, by rebels from Basrah and Egyptmarker (led by Ibn Saba), when Uthman asked Ali to join the defender of his house, Ali sent Hassan and Husayn. When Uthman asked Husayn if he thought he would be able to defend himself against the rebels, he demurred, and Uthman sent him away.

During Ali's caliphate, the brothers Hassan, Husayn, Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah, and their cousin 'Abd Allah ibn J'afar appear as his closest assistants within his household.

Muawiyah era

When Imam Hassan ibn Ali agreed to a peace treaty with Muawiyah I, the first Umayyad caliph, he left Kufamarker and went to Medinamarker with his brother Imam Hussein.

According to Shia belief, he lived under the most difficult outward conditions of suppression and persecution. This was due to the fact that, first of all, religious laws and regulations had lost much of their weight and credit, and the edicts of the Umayyad government had gained complete authority and power. Secondly, Mu'awiyah and his aides made use of every possible means to put aside past disputes and move out of the way the Household of Muhammad and the lovers of Imam Ali and his sons and thus obliterate the name of Ali and his family.

Muawiyah I ordered for public curses of 'Ali and his major supporters including Imam Husayn and his brother.

According to Shia belief Imam Husayn became the third Imam for a period of ten years after death of his brother Imam Hassan in 669. All of this time but the last six months coinciding with the caliphate of Mu'awiyah.

Yazid caliphate

Muawiyah designated his son, Yazid I, as his successor before his death in 680CE.

The significance of Husayn's allegiance

When Yazid I became caliph he forced Husayn ibn Ali and Abd Allah ibn Zubayr to pledge alliance with him, but they refused and migrated from Madina to Meccamarker in that year.


Husayn left Medina with his sisters, daughters, his sons, brothers, and the sons of Hasan. He traveled the main road to Meccamarker, refusing to avoid being pursued by taking a side road. In Mecca Husayn stayed in the house of `Abbas ibn `Abd al-Muttalib and remained there for four months.

Husayn rose against Yazid I and declared Umayyad rule was not only oppressive but also religiously misguided. In his view the integrity and survival of the Islamic community depended on the reestablishment of right guidance.

When Husayn was in Mecca open revolt began in Kufamarker, due to the fact that succession of Yazid I was the first attempt to establish a hereditary dynasty. Religious attitude against Umayyad and Iraqi tendencies to recapture power inspired people alongside with those who believe that leadership of the Muslim community rightly belonged to the descendants of Ali to rose and invite Husayn to Kufa to establish his caliphate. They urged Husayn to join them, since they had no imam. They informed him that they did not attend the Friday prayer with governor of Kufa, No'man ibn Bashir and would drive him out of the town as soon as Husayn agreed to come to them. They sent him in short order seven messages with bags of letters of support by Kufan warriors and tribal leaders. Husayn wrote the Kufans that he understood from their letters that they had no imam and they wished him to come to unite them by right guidance. He informed them that he was sending his cousin Moslem ibn Aqil to report to him on the situation. If he found them united as their letters indicated he would speedily join them, for it was the duty of the imam to act in accordance with the Quran, to uphold justice, to proclaim the truth, and to dedicate himself to the cause of God. The mission of Moslem was initially successful. The Kufan Shias visited him freely, and 18,000 men are said to have enlisted with him in support of Husayn. He wrote to Husayn, encouraging him to come swiftly to Kufa.

Husayn was also visited by a Shia supporter with two of his sons from Basramarker, where Shia sentiment was otherwise limited. He then sent identical letters to the chiefs of the five divisions into which the Basran tribes were divided for administrative purposes. He wrote them that Muhammad's family were his legatees and heirs of his position. People had illegitimately claimed the right which belonged exclusively to Muhammad's family. The family had consented to their action for the sake of the unity of the Ummah. Those who had seized the right of Muhammad's family had set many things straight and had sought the truth. The contents of the letter closely reflected the guideline set by Ali, who had strongly upheld the sole right of the family of Muhammad to leadership of the Muslim community but had also praised the conduct of the first caliphs Abu Bakr and Omar. While most of the recipients of the letter kept it secret, one of them suspected that it was a ploy of the governor Ubayd-Allah ibn Ziad to test their loyalty and turned it over to him. Ubayd-Allah seized and beheaded Husayn’s messenger and addressed a stern warning to the people of Basra.

In Kufa the situation changed radically when Yazid replaced Noman ibn Bashir by Ubayd-Allah ibn Ziad, ordering the latter to deal severely with Moslem ibn Aqil. Ubayd-Allah succeeded in intimidating the tribal chiefs. A revolt collapsed when the rebels failed to capture the governor’s palace. Moslem was found and delivered to Ubayd-Allah, who had him beheaded on the top of the palace and his body thrown down to the crowd. Yazid wrote to Ubayd-Allah, commending him highly for his decisive action and ordering him to set up watches for Husayn and his supporters and to arrest them but to kill only those who would fight him.

On the other hand Yazid perceived Husayn's refusal to pledge allegiance as a danger to his throne. He plotted to kill the grandson of Muhammad during the Hajj, in the precincts of the Holy Kaaba, thus defiling and desecrating it (killing a person in Mecca is prohibited in Islam). In order to avoid this sacrilege, Husayn took along his wives, children, a few friends and relatives and headed towards Kufa to fulfill the responsibility of the bearer of Imamate and to fulfill his destiny as was prophesied by his grandfather, Muhammad.

On his way, he was offered military support by the tribe of Banu Tayy as well as sanctuary in their hills from where he could (if he wanted to) safely lead a revolt and overthrow Yazid. But Husayn refused the offer and continued his journey with his few companions.

Battle of Karbala

See also: Maqtal Al-Husayn.

Husayn in his path toward Kufa encountered the army of Ubayd-Allah ibn Ziyad, the governor of Kufa, led by al-Hurr al-Riyahi (a top commander in the Umayyad army who later changed sides).

At the Battle of Karbala it is recorded that seventy two people were killed. On his way toward Kufa, Husayn encountered the army of Ubayd-Allah ibn Ziyad, the governor of Kufa, which was led by Hurr. When he clashed with them he said:
Don't you see that the truth is not put into action and the false is not prohibited?
The believer should desire to meet his Lord while he is right.
Thus I do not see death but as happiness, and living with tyrants but as sorrow."

On 10 October 680 (Muharram 10, 61 AH), he and his small group of his followers and family members, who were between 72 or more, people of Husayn ibn Ali (the grandson of Muhammad)., fought with a large army of perhaps 30,000 men under the command of Umar ibn Sa'ad, son of the founder of Kufah. Husayn and all of his men were killed and beheaded. The bodies were left for three days without burial and survivors from Husain's family were taken as prisoners to al-Sham (Syria and Lebanon today) to Yazid.

Part of his speech on Ashura :
"Behold; the illegitimate, son of the illegitimate [by birth], has settled between two, between unsheathing [the sword] and humiliation, and how impossible is humiliation from us!
Allah refuses that for us, and his messenger, and the believers, and laps chastified and purified, and zealous noses [expression: heads that do not bow in humility], and repudiating souls [who repudiate/refuse oppression], that we desire obedience to the mean ones, than the killings of the honourable [martyrdom].
Behold that I move slowly with this family, despite the little number and deserting of helpers."

Today, the death of Hussein ibn Ali is commemorated during every Muharram by Shiite Muslims, with the most important of these days being its tenth day, Ashura. Ashura is also commemorated by Sunni Muslims, but not like Shia.


Husayn's body is buried in Karbala, near the site of his death. His head is said to have been returned from Damascus and interred with his body.

Husayn's grave became the most visited place of Ziaratmarker for Shias. The Imam Husayn Shrinemarker was later built over his grave. In 850 Abbasid caliph, al-Mutawakil, destroyed his shrine in order to stop Shia pilgrimages. However, pilgrimages continued. It is now a holy site of pilgrimage for Shia Muslims.

Commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali

See also: Mourning of Muharram, Arba'een, and Husaynia


Day of Ashura is commemorated by the Shi‘a as a day of mourning for the death of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad at the Battle of Karbala. In some countries and regions such as Iranmarker, Iraqmarker, Pakistanmarker, Indiamarker, Bahrainmarker, Trinidad and Tobagomarker and Jamaicamarker Commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali has become a national holiday and all ethnic and religious communities participate in it.

It is especially mourn on the first ten days of Muharram, first month of the Islamic calendar, and ends by the 10th day. Although, the mourning continues through the whole month and well into Safar till eighth rabi-ul-awal, the third month in the Islamic calendar.


Sunni Muslims fast on this day of Ashura based on narrations attributed to Muhammad. The fasting is to commemorate the day when Moses and his followers were saved from Pharaoh by Allah by creating a path in the Red Sea. The Jews used to fast on the 10th day. So Muhammad recommended to be different from the Jews and recommended fasting two days instead of one. 9th and 10th or the 10th and 11th day of Muharram.


In Indiamarker, Mohyal Brahmins also called Hussaini Brahmins (Brahmins are the highest caste in Hindu society) proudly claim that though being non-Muslim, a small number of them fought in the Battle of Karbala on the side of Husayn. Some Mohyal Brahmins migrated eastward and became as some sub-divisions of Bhumihar Brahmin, some of whom are also descendants of Hussaini Brahmins and mourn the death of Husayn. The Bhumihar Brahmin, of whom many, though not all, belong to the Saryupareen Brahmin division of Kanyakubja Brahmins.

Shia views of Husayn

Shias regard Hussein as an Imam (Spiritual leader) and a martyr. He is believed to be the third imam. He set out on his path in order to save Islam and the Ummah from annihilation at the hands of Yazid. According to Sunni belief he was a willing sacrifice to religious necessity, and Sunni view Hussein as an exemplar of courage and resistance against tyranny. Ashura, a day of mourning and self-reflection, is held in honor of his suffering.

The saying, "Every day is Ashura, every land is Karbala," is a reminder to live one's life as Husayn did on Ashura, with total sacrifice to Allah and for others. This saying also signifies "We must always remember, because there is suffering everywhere".

Sayings of Muhammad about Hussein ibn Ali in Sunni books

  • "Al-Hasan and al-Hussein are the chiefs of the youth of Paradise and Fatimah is the chief of their women."
  • Muhammad said, " Hussein is from me and I am from him."

  • Muhammad looked toward Ali, Fatimah, Hasan, and Hussein, and then said, "I am in war with those who will fight you, and in peace with those who are peaceful to you."

Time line

See also


  2. Gordon, 2005, pp. 144-146
  3. L. Veccia Vaglieri, (al-) Ḥusayn b. ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭālib, Encyclopedia of Islam
  4. Madelung (1997), pp. 14-16
  5. See:* Sahih Muslim, Chapter of virtues of companions, section of virtues of Ali, 1980 Edition Pub. in Saudi Arabia, Arabic version, v4, p1871, the end of tradition #32 * Sahih al-Tirmidhi, v5, p654 * Madelung, 1997, pp. 15 and 16
  6. Madelung (1997), p0. 324 and 325
  7. Tabatabaei, (1979), p.196
  8. Halm (2004), p.13
  9. Dakake (2007), pp.81 and 82
  10. Names of Martyrs at Karbala
  11. الا ترون الی الحق لا یعمل به و الی الباطل لا یتناهی عنه؟ لیرغب المومن فی لقاء ربه محقا. فانی لا اری الموت الا سعادة و الحیوة مع الظالمین الا برما Lohouf, Sayyid ibn Tawoos, Tradition No.99
  12. فهرست اسامي شهداي كربلا
  13. Battle of Karbala
  14. Halm (2004), pp. 15 and 16
  15. Halm (2004), p. 15
  16. Defence Journal, Pakistan- June 2003: Tribes and Turbulence by Hamid Hussain
  17. # Sahih al-Tirmidhi, v5, p660, on the authority of Abu Sa'id and Hudhayfa # Sunan Ibn Majah, Introduction 8 # al-Tabarani, on the authorities of: Umar, Ali, Jabir, Abu Hurayrah, Usamah Ibn Zaid, al-Baraa, Ibn 'Adi, and Ibn Masud. # al-Kubra, by al-Nasa'i # Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, v1, pp 62,82, v3, pp 3,64, v5, p391 # Fada'il al-Sahaba, by Ahmad Hanbal, v2, p771, Tradition #1360 # al-Mustadrak, by al-Hakim, v3, pp 166,167 # Hilyatul Awliyaa, by Abu Nu'aym, v5, p71 # Majma' al-Zawa'id, by al-Haythami, v9, p187 # Tuhfatul Ashraf, by Lumzi, v3, p31 # Ibn Habban, as mentioned in al-Mawarid, pp 551,553 # al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar Haythami, Ch. 11, section 3, p290 # Mishkat al-Masabih, by Khatib al-Tabrizi, English Version, Tradition #6154
  18. # Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, v4, p172 # Fadha'il al-Sahaba, by Ahmad Hanbal, v2, p772, Tradition #1361 # al-Mustadrak, by al-Hakim, v3, p 177 # Amali, by Abu Nu'aym al-Isbahani, p 64 # al-Kuna wal Asmaa, by al-Dulabi, v1, p88 # al-Tabarani, v3, p21 # Adab by al-Bukhari, also al-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah, as quoted in: # al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar Haythami, Ch. 11, section 3, p291 # Mishkat al-Masabih, by Khatib al-Tabrizi, English Version, Tradition #6160
  19. # Sahih al-Tirmidhi, v5, p699 # Sunan Ibn Majah, v1, p52 # Fadha'il al-Sahaba, by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, v2, p767, Tradition #1350 # al-Mustadrak, by al-Hakim, v3, p149 # Majma' al-Zawa'id, by al-Haythami, v9, p169 # al-Kabir, by al-Tabarani, v3, p30, also in al-Awsat # Jami' al-Saghir, by al-Ibani, v2, p17 # Tarikh, by al-Khateeb al-Baghdadi, v7, p137 # Sawaiq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar al-Haythami, p144 # Talkhis, by al-Dhahabi, v3, p149 # Dhakha'ir al-Uqba, by al-Muhib al-Tabari, p25 # Mishkat al-Masabih, by Khatib al-Tabrizi, English Version, Tradition #6145
  20. # Sunan Ibn Majah, # al-Mustadrak, by al-Hakim, from Abu Hurairah # Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, as quoted in: # al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqah, by Ibn Hajar Haythami, Ch. 11, section 3, p292




External links

See the articles and books of Battle of Karbala, Day of Ashura, Mourning of Muharram and Maqtal Al-Husayn in the relevant articles.

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