What is Karbala, when and how did the Karbala tragedy happen?

The infamous tragedy of Karbala is remembered by all Muslims on the tenth day of the Islamic month of Muharram as the saddest day in the history of Islam.

What is Karbala, when and how did the Karbala tragedy happen?

The Karbala massacre is notoriously known for being one of the darkest and saddest days in Islamic history. On the tenth day of the sacred Islamic month of Muharram, in the year 61 A.H., approximately 50 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), his grandson Hussein was martyred along with all the members of his family, including women and children.

After leaving the region of Hejaz, Hussein and his followers made their way northwards on foot, hundreds of miles across the Arabian Desert, to the southern Iraqi city of Kufa. There, he was to meet an army that had pledged their allegiance to him via his representative in the city, in order to lead a rebellion against the Umayyad caliph Yazid I.

Yazid’s father Muawiyah had seized control of the Caliphate after his predecessor Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), was assassinated by a renegade. Upon this, many of Ali’s followers immediately pledged their allegiance to his first son Hassan. However, for the sake of uniting the Caliphate, which had fallen victim to a blood feud fuelled by sectarianism, Hassan ceded power to his rival Muawiyah on the condition that he did not appoint his son as a successor.

However, this promise was broken when Muawiyah passed the leadership down to his son Yazid, who was seated in the new capital city of Damascus. This move signified the hijacking of the Caliphate, which had previously appointed its leaders by holding a consultation council meeting, thus turning it into a Umayyad family dynasty. This also angered the citizens of the former capital city of Kufa, which was known to be Ali’s stronghold. Fearing that they would lose their political and economic significance, the people of Kufa called on Ali’s second son, Hussein, to lead them.

They were further enraged when two companions of Ali, Muslim bin Akil, and Hani bin Urwa, were executed by the new Yazid appointed governor of Kufa, Ubeydullah. The prominent Islamic scholar of the time, Abdullah bin Abbas, advised Hussein not to answer their calls for rebellion. A famous poet also said the words ‘Do not go to Kufa, their hearts are with you but their swords are with the sons of Umayya.’

However, Hussein refused to listen to their advice and left with his followers to Kufa. Before arriving, they were intercepted about 100 kilometers from Baghdad in Kerbela. There, a group of Hussein’s followers abandoned him and joined the ranks of the Umayyad commander Umar bin Saad, who had been sent to halt Hussein’s advance. In the pursuing battle, all of Hussein’s guards were slaughtered until Hussein was left utterly defenseless. It was then that Umar bin Saad gave the order to march on Hussein. Hussein was struck on the head with a sword and then hit in the throat with an arrow. The killer blow was delivered by a Umayyad soldier called Shamir, who also fought alongside Yazid’s father Muawiyah in the Battle of Siffin against Hussein’s father Ali. 72 members of Hussein’s family and 88 soldiers from Kufa were martyred alongside him. The heads of the slain were first taken to Kufa, and then to Damascus. Some women and children who survived the battle were held for one year before being released.

A large portion of the family and descendants of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) were wiped out on that day. The caliph Yazid was left without competition, but the absence of a strong political opposition only gave birth to a new religious sect. Originally the word Shia, which in Arabic simply means ‘faction’, was only used to identify the political affiliates of Ali. However, this faction transformed the political cause of Ahl-ul-Bayt, a term used to describe the household of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), to a new cult with its own religious creed and understanding. Those who ascribe to Shia belief, the Shiites, believe that leadership of the Islamic world belongs to the descendants of the Prophet as a distinguishing factor between themselves and the majority of Muslims.

However, the tenth of Muharram is not just a tragic day for the Shiites. Rather, it is also a tragic day for all Muslims. Instead of being a day of division between Shiites and other Muslims, it is a day where Muslims unite and remember the pain of that day. All Muslims are united in their condemnation of Yazid and his henchmen for their actions, and recite poetry in remembrance of Hussein and his followers.

Hussein’s body was buried by his supporters in Kerbela, and a shrine was erected over his grave by the Abbasid caliph Mutawakkil. This shrine was renovated a number of times by the Buweyhids, the Seljuk sultan Melikshah, Ilkhanid leader Ghazan Muhammad and the Ottoman sultan Murad III.

Last Mod: 20 Eylül 2018, 10:55
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