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Online Quran Academy - Islamic Mentors

The Battle of Karbala: A Tragic Chapter in Islamic History

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Introduction

The Battle of Karbala was a significant event in Islamic history. It occurred on the 10th day of Muharram in 680 CE (61 AH). The battle occurred between the forces of the Umayyad second Caliphate, Yazid I, which tried to strengthen their control over the Muslim world. On the other side was a small group led by Imam Husayn ibn Ali (RA), a grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

The battle of Karbala occurred near the city of Karbala in central Iraq and resulted in a complete victory for the Umayyad forces. Hazrat Husayn ibn Ali (RA), his followers, and many of his family members were martyred, while some were taken prisoner.

Hazrat Husayn (RA), Yazid, and the people of Kufa were the leading figures in this battle.

  • Imam Husayn (RA) was a beloved leader of the Muslim community known for standing for justice, truth, and righteousness.
  • Yazid was the ruler of the time and was known for his unjust. He demanded allegiance from Imam Husayn (RA) and other dissidents.
  • The people of Kufa invited Hazrat Husayn (RA) to their city, promising support against Yazid. However, due to fear and pressure from Yazid’s forces, many of them did not keep their promise, leaving Hazrat Husayn (RA) and his small group of supporters to face Yazid’s large army alone.

Background of the Battle

After the death of the fourth caliph, Ali ibn Abi Talib (RA), the people of Kufa in Iraq declared allegiance to Hasan ibn Ali (RA), his elder son, as the next caliph. Kufa was a significant center during Hazrat Ali’s (RA) caliphate, and its people were opposed to the Umayyad caliphs based in Syria, holding a strong affinity for Hazrat Ali’s (RA) family.

However, there were differences in opinions between Muawiya and Hazrat Hassan (RA). At one point, as part of a peace deal, Hazrat Hassan (RA) gave Muawiya the caliphate, which included several important clauses related to the Karbala battle background:


  • Muawiya (RA) couldn’t nominate the next Khalifa. The Shura committee would choose the next.
  • If Hazrat Hassan (RA) outlived Muawiya (RA), he would become the next Khalifa.

After Muawiyah’s death, his son Yazid became the next caliph of the Umayyads following Hazrat Hassan’s poisoning death. Yazid, who was only thirty years old, successfully took power and became Khalifa. Initially, people refused to accept him as a representative of the Prophet (SAW) and the Islamic Ummah. However, Yazid used various means, including bribery, pressure, threats, and force, to gain acceptance as a ruler.

However, the Prophet’s (SAW) most prominent companions, including Hazrat Husayn (RA), didn’t support Yazid’s succession to power. Therefore, from the beginning of Yazid’s rule, there were differences in opinions between Hazrat Husayn (RA) and Yazid.


Imam Husayn (RA) Movement


From Medina to Mecca

After Yazid took power, he ordered the governor, Walid Ibn Utba of Madina, to take his pledge of allegiance from Husayn ibn Ali (RA). However, Husayn (RA) refused. In response, Yazid ordered Husayn (RA) to be thrown in prison as punishment. The governor asked Husayn (RA) to leave Medina for safety, so Hazrat Husayn ibn Ali (RA) and his family migrated to Makkah.


From Mecca to Kufa

While in Makkah, Imam Husayn ibn Ali (RA) received multiple letters from the people of Kufa in Iraq. They expressed their dissatisfaction with Yazid’s activities and their desire to pledge allegiance to Imam Husayn (RA). In response, Hazrat Husayn ibn Ali (RA) sent his cousin, Hazrat Muslim bin Aqil (RA), to assess the situation in Kufa. Hazrat Muslim bin Aqil (RA) discovered that the people of Kufa genuinely wanted to give their allegiance to Hazrat Husayn (RA). Subsequently, Hazrat Muslim bin Aqil (RA) wrote to Husayn (RA) detailing the situation in Kufa.

After receiving confirmation from Hazrat Muslim ibn Aqil (RA), Imam Husayn (RA) intended to go to Kufa. He discussed it with the Prophet’s (SAW) companions, but most advised him not to go. However, Imam Husayn ibn Ali (RA) decided to go because the people of Kufa were ready to pledge allegiance to him.

When Yazid heard about Hazrat Muslim bin Aqil’s (RA) presence in Kufa, he replaced the governor, Numan ibn Bashir, with a new governor, Obaidullah ibn Ziyad. He instructed Ibn Ziyad to confront Hazrat Muslim bin Aqil (RA) and Imam Husayn (RA). Subsequently, Ibn Ziyad arrested the leaders of Kufa and, later, Hazrat Muslim ibn Aqil (RA).

In this situation, the people of Kufa abandoned Hazrat Muslim bin Aqil (RA), leading to his brutal killing by ibn Ziyad. Before his death, Hazrat Muslim bin Aqil (RA) informed Imam Husayn (RA) about the betrayal and urged him to return as the situation was unfavorable. Unfortunately, Hazrat Husayn (RA) had already left for Kufa and was unaware of the developments.

After traveling for several days, Imam Husayn (RA) received the news of Hazrat Muslim bin Aqil’s (RA) martyrdom. Realizing the gravity of the situation, Imam Husayn ibn Ali (RA) acknowledged the danger but remained determined to continue his journey to Kufa.


The Battle of Karbala


2nd of Muharram

On the 2nd of Muharram in 61, Hijri, Imam Husayn (RA) and his companions arrived at Karbala in Iraq. They were blocked by Yazid’s 4000-strong force, led by Umar ibn Saad. Imam Husayn ibn Ali (RA) and his companions had been traveling long and were tired and thirsty. However, Ibn Saad’s army denied them access to the Euphrates River for water. As a result, the women, children, and others suffered greatly due to the lack of water. In the following days, Ibn Saad’s army surrounded and attacked Hazrat Husayn’s (RA) companions.


3rd of Muharram

On the 3rd of Muharram, Ibn Saad demanded that Imam Husayn (RA) pledge allegiance to Yazid or surrender. However, he (RA) refused, as before, stating that death was preferable to him than pledging allegiance to Yazid. From the 7th of Muharram, Yazid’s army completely cut off access to water sources. Thus, Imam Husayn’s (RA) camp suffered terribly due to a lack of water. Nonetheless, they did not waver from their path.


Night of the 10th of Muharram

On the night of the 10th of Muharram, Imam Husayn (RA) and his companions engaged deeply in worship to Allah Almighty and prepared for battle. After the Fajr prayer on the 10th of Muharram, Imam Husayn ibn Ali (RA) delivered a speech. He (RA) addressed Yazid’s soldiers, stating that they had not come to fight or seize Yazid’s power but had responded to their invitation, only to be betrayed. Imam Husayn (RA) implored them to allow him, his companions, and family members to return to Madina or any Islamic border to fight there against the enemies of Islam or to meet Yazid and resolve matters. However, Yazid’s army refused. Consequently, war became inevitable in Karbala. However, some individuals from Yazid’s army, like Al-Hurr ibn Yazid Al-Tamimi, joined Imam Husayn’s (RA) side to defend him.

On the night before the Battle of Karbala, Imam Husayn (RA) announced that anyone from his group who wanted to return to Makkah could do so, as they would soon face death at the hands of Yazid’s force. However, every one with him remained steadfast in supporting Husayn ibn Ali (RA) until their last breath—Subhan Allah, like the leader, like the followers, exemplary righteous Muslims.


The morning of the 10th Muharram

From the morning of the 10th Muharram, Ibn Saad’s army attacked Imam Husayn (RA) and his companions. Yazid’s 4000 forces vastly outnumbered Hazrat Husayn (RA) and his companions. However, they fought courageously and eventually attained martyrdom.

Yazid’s army brutally killed 72 of Imam Husayn’s (RA) companions and even infants from Hazrat Husayn’s (RA) side. Only Hazrat Zainul Abedin (RA), the son of Imam Husayn (RA), survived as he was not present due to illness.

Explore the significance of the first 10 days, including the importance of Karbala and the fasting traditions on Ashura. Read our informative blogs:


Martyrdom of Hazrat Husayn

No one dared to strike Imam Husayn ibn Ali (RA) directly, but a man named Malik bin an-Nusair from the Banu Badda crew struck his head with a sword, causing a severe wound. Imam Husayn (RA) attempted to bandage his head, but the wound continued to bleed abundantly. An arrow struck him in the throat, further adding to his suffering.

After Imam Husayn (RA) was martyred, his enemies treated his body with great cruelty. They cut off their head and raised them on a spear as a scary sign of victory. This was done to make the remaining members of his family and supporters feel scared and hopeless.

To learn more about the life of Imam Hussain, Click on the link: Who was Hazrat Imam Hussain (AS)? What was His Life Like?


Challenges for Survivors

After the Battle of Karbala, Imam Husayn’s (RA) family faced severe hardships and mistreatment. Here’s what happened to them:


Captivity and Humiliation

Immediate Aftermath: After the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (RA), his companions, the surviving family members—mostly women and children—were captured by Yazid’s forces. The prisoners included:


  • Hazrat Zainab bint Ali (RA)
  • Hazrat Ali Zainul Abideen (RA)
  • Other women and children from the family
  • Treatment of the Captives: They were tied up and forced to walk from Karbala to Kufa. Along the way, they were mistreated and humiliated. When they reached Kufa, they were marched through the streets to show Yazid’s victory.

Journey to Damascus

  • Kufa to Damascus: They were taken to Damascus, the capital of Yazid’s rule. The journey was long and hard, which made the captives suffer even more after what happened in Karbala.
  • In Yazid’s Court: In Damascus, they were brought before Yazid himself. Yazid tried to defend his actions and humiliate the family of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Despite all the suffering, Hazrat Zainab bint Ali (RA) and Hazrat Ali Zainul Abideen (RA) gave powerful speeches. They cursed Yazid’s deeds and showed why Hazrat Hussayn (RA) was right.

Life After Release

After some time in prison and due to strong opposition from Hazrat Zainab (RA) and Hazrat Ali Zainul Abideen (RA), Yazid finally released them, allowing them to return to Medina.


Conclusion

The Battle of Karbala is a significant event in Islamic history that teaches us about courage, sacrifice, and the fight against injustice. The story revolves around Hazrat Husayn (RA) and his small group of supporters who stood against a larger army.

Reflecting on Karbala makes us think about the great sacrifices made by Imam Husayn (RA) and his companions. They were determined to uphold justice and righteousness, even though they faced overwhelming odds. Their bravery and commitment still inspire people today.

Understanding the importance of Karbala and its lessons helps us learn its impact on Islamic beliefs and practices. Learning more about its stories and lessons deepens our understanding of faith, sacrifice, and the ongoing struggle for justice.

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