Imam Hossein (AS) was the second child of Hazrat Ali (AS) and Hazrat Fatimeh(AS). He was born in the year 4 A.H. It was by the divine command that after the martyrdom of his brother, Imam Hassan, that he became an Imam.
Imam Hossein was Imam for a total of ten years; the final six months of which coincided with the caliphate of Mu’awiyah. Imam Hossein and his family were subject to the most difficult outward conditions of suppression and persecution. Religious laws and regulations had lost much of their weight and credit under Umayyad’s tyrannical rule. Mu’awiyah and his aides used every possible means to put aside and remove the household of the Prophet and to obliterate the name of Hazrat Ali all so he could secure the position for the caliphate of his son, Yazid, who lacked principles and was opposed by so many. By force, Imam Hossein tolerated the injustice that brought forth both mental and spiritual agony for him and those with him until the year 60 A.H, when Mu’awiyah died and left the seat of Caliphate for his son, Yazid.
Paying allegiance was an important issue and was common practice among the Arabs. To break an allegiance was considered disgrace and dishonor. Mu’awiyah had asked important people around him to give their allegiance. He had asked Imam Hossein as well, but did not press or force the issue. His advice to Yazid was to do the same and not force the issue on Imam Hossein for Mu’awiyah understood the grave consequences of doing so. But, as the result of his recklessness and egoism, Yazid disregarded his father’s advice and after Mu’awiyah’s death ordered the Governor of Medina to either force a pledge of allegiance from Imam Hossein or to send his head to Damascus.
After hearing the request of Yazid, Imam Hossein asked the governor some time to think the matter over. That very night, he took his family and headed toward Mecca, seeking refuge in the sanctuary of Allah. He remained there for four months. Mean while, the news spread among the Islamic world. As people were fed-up with the government, they expressed their sympathy for the Imam. Letters poured in from all corners, especially Kufa, inviting him to go to Iraq and accept the leadership of the people and to eventually overcome the injustice brought forth by Yazid. Naturally, this posed a threat for yazid.
Imam Hossein decided to remain in Mecca till the time for pilgrimage so he could perform the rights of Hajj. It was then that he discovered that along side the pilgrims, Yazid’s followers had entered the city, with the mission to kill him. Imam Hossein decided to shorten the pilgrimage and to head toward Iraq. Amidst the vast crowd, he gave a short speech, announcing that he was leaving for Iraq and that he was to be martyred. He then asked Muslims to help him to attain the divine goal of protecting the truth and offering their lives in the path of Allah. The following day, he set out towards Iraq.
Imam Hossein was determined not to give Yazid his allegiance and he was aware of the consequences of his decision and knew that his death was inevitable. People of Mecca begged him not to go. He told them that no matter where he would turn, he would be killed. He told them that he chose to leave only to preserve the respect for the Kabba – House of Allah.
Several days in to his journey, Imam Hossein received word that a few of his influential supporters in Mecca were put to a crude death to teach the masses a lesson. Imam was forced to move forward.
About 70 kilometers from Kufa, in the desert of Karbala, Imam Hossein and his entourage found themselves surrounded by Yazid’s army – an army made of people who called themselves Muslims and followers of the Quran and the prophet, who were now after the prophet’s family only to murder them. The hold-up lasted for eight days as they were surrounded by an army of thirty thousand. On the last night, Imam Hossein called his companions and told them that death was the conclusion of the situation and that Yazid was only concerned with his person; should they wish to leave, they were free to do so. He then turned out the lights for those who wanted to leave, to have the privacy to do so. Those who had joined the Imam for their own benefit, left the group. Imam Hossein was left with only a handful of those who loved the truth and some of the Banu Hashim – a total of 72 all together.
On the 19th day of the month, the last chance to choose between war or allegiance was again proposed to Imam Hossein. Imam Hossein asked for a delay to worship overnight, knowing that he would enter battle the very next day. The day after, the battle began. The soldiers of truth, lead my their commander, son of Ali the lion heart, fought bravely till they were killed one by one and per Yazid’s order, were decapitated. Yazid’s army entered Imam’s tents and burned everything and took prisoner the women and children. There were three male prisoners among the group – the twenty-three year old son of Imam Hossein, who was very ill and unable to move, namely Ali Ibn Hossein – Imam Zayn al Abedin, the fourth Imam; his four year-old son, Muhammad Ibn Ali, who later became the fifth Imam; and finally Hassan Muthanna, the son of Imam Hassan.
The prisoners were taken to Kufa and then to Damascus before Yazid. The event of Karbala, the inhumane treatment of the household of the prophet, the speeches given by Hazrat Ali’s daughter, Hazrat Zeinab and the fourth Imam, Ali Ibn Hossein, disgraced the Umayyads. Eventually, the matter reached such proportions that Yazid in public disowned and condemned the actions of his agents.
The massacre of Karbala was the major factor in the overthrow of the Umayyad rule and it strengthened the roots of the followers of Ahleh Bayt.
This chapter of Islam has been told and retold in different versions that were twisted by clergymen in ways that displayed such graceful souls as weak beings who resorted to begging for mercy. For those who have studied Islam and are familiar with the strength of the divine souls of the house of Mohammad and those who were their true companions, know that the martyrs of Karbala willingly gave their lives for Hagh (the truth). Not for a split second, would Imam Hossein or his followers would have begged for mercy of the troops of the enemy to either spare them or spare their young infants.
The members of the house of Mohammad will forever be the pillars of Islam. They are the perfect models and it is in their footsteps that a righteous Muslim should follow.