The story, in a manner of speaking started a long time before this tragic event. It started during the Khilafa of Sayyidina Othman ibn Affan (RA) (644-56). He was a member of the Makkan clan of Bani Umayya. He remained in power for 12 years. Due to many circumstances which are outside the scope of this article, rebellion against him started in Egypt. Among the grievances which are cited is the replacement of the governors of Basra and Kufa with his relatives and the summary dismissal of Amr Ibn Al Aas (RA) conqueror and governor of Egypt and the appointment of his own foster brother Abdullah Ibn Sa’ad in his place. In his favor it is argued that there were independent and valid reasons for all these actions, but they gave reason to people who used these incidents to foment discord.

Opposition to Sayyidina Othman (RA)’s rule became widespread and especially in Kufa, Basra and Fustat people began openly defying the central government. Egypt and Iraq were up in arms against the Khalifa though Shyam which was under the rule of Muawiyya Ibn Abi Sufyan (RA) was peaceful. The rebels led by Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr (son of Abu Bakr As-Siddique®) marched on Madinah from Egypt. The other leader of the rebellion was Malik al Ashtar who was an experienced soldier.

When Sayyidina Othman (RA) heard about this and was warned by his well-wishers that these people did not mean well, he in his typical peace-loving and kind manner told them to allow the group to come and that he was willing to talk to them. As this group traveled from Egypt, it gathered followers and a large armed group finally came to Madinah. Sahaba in Madinah including Sayyidina Ali ibn Abi Ta’alib (RA), Abu Hurairah (RA) and others offered to fight these people on behalf of Sayyidina Othman (RA) but he forbade them. Muawiyya ibn Abi Sufyan (RA), the Governor of Shyam, offered to send his army to fight these people. He offered to send the army even while they were traveling to Madinah and when Sayyidina Othman (RA) refused this help, he requested him to come to Damascus where he would be protected.

Sayyidina Othman (RA) refused saying that he would not leave the Madinatur Rasool for any reason. When the leaders of the rebels attempted to enter Sayyidina Othman (RA)’s house, Abu Hurairah (RA) stood before them and challenged them but Sayyidina Othman (RA) prevented him from fighting and physically pulled him inside the house and said that he would never allow Muslims to kill each other in the city of Rasoolullahﷺ.

Sayyidina Othman (RA) was fasting and reading the Qur’an when the rebels entered his house and demanded that he resign from the Khilafat. Sayyidina Othman refused and quoted the hadith of Rasoolullahﷺ when Rasoolullahﷺ ordered him and said, “O Othman, Allahﷻ will give you a garment to wear which you must never take off, of your own accord.” He said, “I am bound by the order of the Rasoolullahﷺ. Then they said to him, “In that case get ready to die.” He said, “Last night I saw the Rasoolullahﷺ in my dream and He said to me, “O Othman, tonight you will have your Iftaar with me.” So, I am ready. And he was martyred.

The Qur’an which was in his hands bears traces of his blood to this day and is preserved in the Topkapi Museum in Istanbul. Many tragic events of this day are narrated including the fact that one of the leaders of the rebels was the son of Abu Bakr (RA), Muhammad Ibn Abi Bakr. He caught the beard of Sayyidina Othman (RA) who said to him, “My son, if your father had seen you doing this, he would not have approved.” Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr got so frightened by this statement that he ran away. Interestingly Abu Bakr (R) married Asma (R) who was married to Jafar bin Abi Talib (R), the elder brother of Ali (R) after Jafar (R) was martyred in the battle of Moa’ta. They had a son, Muhammad ibn Abi Bakr who Ali bin Abi Talib (R) brought up as his own son after he married his mother and who (very sad to say) led the rebellion against Othman (R).

When this evil deed was done, the rebels went to Sayyidina Ali (RA) and compelled him to become the Khalifa and forcibly gave him the Bayah (Oath of Allegiance) threatening that they would massacre all the Sahaba in Madinah if Sayyidina Ali (RA) did not accept. At that time Sayyidina Ali (RA) said, “The breach that you have created in Islam today will remain till the Day of Judgment.”

And Allahﷻ knows this is true.

This was the first time that the blood of Muslims was shed by Muslims and that too in the holy city of Madinah Munawwarah. It is called the First Civil War. This event was a watershed in Islamic history, as a tragedy of a magnitude that was never imagined and the effects of which last to this day.

After the Shahada of Sayyidina Ali (RA) at the door of the mosque in Kufa, at the hands of a fanatic Kharijite (Kharijiyya – a group that formed who were against both Ali and Muawiyya – RA) his elder son, Al Hasan ibn Ali (RA) was declared in Kufa to be the legitimate Khalifa. However, Muawiyya ibn Abi Sufyan (RA) who was the Governor of Ash Shaam (comprising of what is today Syria, Jordan and Palestine) successfully persuaded Hasan (RA) to abdicate in his favor in return for a substantial pension for himself and his family. Hasan (RA) increasingly unwilling to plunge the Muslims into yet another civil war agreed to Muawiyya’s terms and abdicated after a shadowy rule of 6 months. He and his younger brother Hussain (RA) then left Kufa for Madinah leaving the way open for Muawiyya to enter Kufa with no serious contender for the Khilafat. Hasan (RA) lived in retirement in Madinah for 8 years where he died at the age of 45 in the year 669.

Muawiyya (RA) declared Yazid as his heir. Yazīd ibn Mu‘āwiya (647 –683), commonly known as Yazid I, was the second Khalifa of the Banu Umayyah (and the first one through inheritance). Yazid ruled for three years from 680 CE until his death in 683 CE. The concept of hereditary rule was alien to the Arabs and the Muslims who elected the Khalifa. Many senior people in the Ummah including Sahaba in Makkah and Madinah protested this decision. However, Muawiyya (RA) using his exceptional diplomatic skill persuaded many of the provincial delegations to recognize Yazid as his heir to the throne. In 680 Muawiyya (RA) died at the age of about 75.

Sayyidina Hussain (RA) who was living in Madinah from 661 onwards, refused to accept the Khilafat of Yazid. When he refused, they harassed him to the point where he decided to move to Makkah, a place declared by Allahﷻ as a place of peace where any kind of violence is prohibited and said that he would not accept the Khilafat but would also not contest it. He asked them to leave him alone to spend the rest of his life in Makkah in prayer. However, they did not leave him alone even there.

At that time many letters came to him from Kufa from people who invited him to come to Kufa and declare himself as the true Khalifatul Muslimeen and promising to support him. When these letters continued to come, and a large number had come, Sayyidina Hussain Ibn Ali (RA) sent Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) to Iraq to determine the actual situation on the ground.

When Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) reached Kufa, he was greeted by a huge crowd of several thousand people asking him to recommend to Sayyidina Hussain ibn Ali (RA) to come to Kufa and declare himself the Khalifa and saying that they would support his claim. Based on this intelligence Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) sent a letter to Sayyidina Hussain ibn Ali (RA) to travel to Kufa immediately.

Meanwhile however, when news of this gathering reached Yazid in Damascus, he sent an armed detachment under the command of Obaidullah ibn Ziyad to assess and control this rebellion. On reaching Kufa, when Obaidullah ibn Ziyad saw the gravity of the situation, he made an announcement at the time of Dhuhr salah that anyone found to be with Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) at the time of Asr would be arrested and executed. At Asr time, the number of people around Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) had reduced considerably. Then at Asr, Obaidullah ibn Ziyad made the same announcement that if anyone was found with Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) at Maghrib he would be executed. At Maghrib Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) found himself totally devoid of supporters. The very people who had invited Sayyidina Hussain ibn Ali (RA) to Kufa had all vanished in the face of Yazid’s army. Obaidullah ibn Ziyad then arrested Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA), took him to the top of the minar of the masjid in Kufa and decapitated him such that his head and body toppled off the minar and fell to earth. Thus, was Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) martyred.

Meanwhile, Sayyidina Hussain ibn Ali (RA) had already left Makkah for Kufa. Enroute several people came to him with news of what had happened to Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) and advised him to return to Makkah. But he preferred to go by the letter that he had received from Muslim ibn Aqeel (RA) and did not change his plans and continued to Kufa. When he reached Karbala, on the bank of the Euphrates and about fifty miles north-west of Kufa he was faced by Obaidullah’s army. Obaidullah insisted on an unconditional surrender and when Sayyidina Hussain ibn Ali (RA) refused, he murdered Sayyidina Hussain (RA) and his entire band. Thus, died the grandson of the Rasoolullahﷺ who stood for his principles even in the face of death.

The poet said:

KAAFIR HEY JO MUNKIR HEY HAYAT-I-SHUHADA KA

HAM ZINDA-I-JAAVEYD KA MAATAM NAHEEN KARTEY

Yazid then sent an army of 12,000 under the command of Muslim Ibn Uq’bah in August 683 to punish the people of Madinah. The Madinese fought with great bravery but were no match for the trained Syrian soldiers and were defeated in a desperate battle at a place called Harrah, a lava field just north of Madinah. When the army entered Madinah, Muslim Ibn Uq’bah declared to his soldiers that Madinah and all in it was ‘halaal’ to them for 3 days. Imam Ibn Katheer, in his history records that what this army did to Madinah and its people is beyond description. The things they did there, the extent of looting, murder and torture were such that one could not even imagine that such things could be done by people who called themselves Muslim to the people of Madinah, many of whom were Sahaba of Rasoolullahﷺ.

Imam Bukhari records in his Saheeh that all the Sahaba of Badr were martyred at the time of the martyrdom of Othman (RA) and all the Sahaba of Bayt-ur-Ridhwan were martyred at this time, the Battle of Harrah.  Among those killed were Ma’aqal Ibn Sinaan, Muhammad Ibn Hudhiafa and Ibn Abdillah Ibn Zama’a (RadhiAllahu anhum), all Sahaba of the Rasoolullahﷺ. It is recorded that for many, their arms and legs were chopped off and they were left to die slowly among the rocks in the lava field of Harrah.

This was a crime of a magnitude that had never been committed before and deprived the Ummah of the guidance of the Companions of the Rasoolullahﷺ and did harm to the Ummah that is impossible to calculate. One of the most famous of the Taabiyyun, Sa’eed Ibn Musayyib (Rahimahullah) records that for 3 days there was no Salah or Adhaan in Masjid An-Nabawi. He himself hid in the masjid and used to pray by himself. He said that he knew the times of the Salah by the voice he used to hear from the grave of the Rasoolullahﷺ. This is recorded by Imam Da’araami in his Sunan.

This army then moved to Makkah. Muslim died enroute to Makkah and was succeeded by Hussain ibn Numair who besieged Makkah in September 683. They first surrounded the city and then bombarded it from the surrounding hills using catapults throwing flaming shells. This set alight the Ka’aba and destroyed its cover and set fire to its roof and the Hajr Al Aswad (the Black stone) was split into pieces. Abdullah Ibn Zubair (RA) a grandson of Abu Bakr as Siddiq (RA) who had declared himself the Khalifa, put up a stiff fight. However, the death of Yazid in 683 made the army lift the siege and return to Damascus leaving Arabia under the sway of defiant Abdullah bin Zubair (RA). He rebuilt the entire Ka’aba and tied together the pieces of the Hajr Al Aswad and put it back in its place.

Abdullah ibn Zubair (624–692) was a Sahabi whose father was Zubair ibn al-Awwam (RA), and whose mother was Asma bint Abi Bakr (RA), daughter of Abu Bakr As-Siddique (RA). He was the nephew of Aisha (RA) Abduallah bin Zubair (RA) was the first Muslim to be born in Medina after the Hijra. Starting from 683, Abdullah bin Zubair (RA) contested the title of Khalifa and rebelled against the ruling Umayyad Khilafa for nearly a decade.  Ibn Zubair established his power in Iraq, southern Arabia and in the greater part of Syria, and parts of Egypt. Ibn Zubair benefited greatly from widespread dissatisfaction among the populace with Umayyad rule. Yazid tried to end Ibn Zubair’s rebellion by invading the Hejaz and took Madina after the bloody Battle of al-Harrah. He then invaded the Tihamah and lay siege to Makkah but his sudden death, in 683 ended the campaign and threw the Umayyads into disarray with civil war eventually breaking out.

Almost 10 years later (692), the Umayyad Khalifa Abd al-Malik bin Marwan then sent against ibn al-Zubair the general al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf. When Hajjaj approached Mecca, he sent a letter to Abdullah ibn al-Zubair (RA) telling him he had three choices; to be chained and taken to Abd al-Malik who was then the Khalifa in Damascus; to leave by himself wherever he wished, renouncing claim on all the lands he had under his control; or to continue fighting to the death.

Abdullah bin Zubair (RA) then went to his mother (Asma bint Abi Bakr ®) who was over a hundred years old for advice. Abdullah ibn al-Zubair (RA) said to his mother, “In death I will find peace and tranquility. My people have deserted me, even my children and my family, and I am left with a handful of men around me. And the people (al-Hajjaj) are willing to give me whatever I want from this world (i.e. they would let him leave freely without hindrance). What is your counsel?”

Asma (RA) replied, “You know better than me your circumstances. But I say to you this: if you know you are upon the truth, go forth and die like your companions; and if you are after this world, then you are the most wretched of men, for you have wasted yourself and those who are with you. And for how long shall you live in this world? And if you are upon the truth, but now that your companions have left you, you have become weak… this is not the action of a free man and a man of the Deen.”

He said to her, “I am afraid I will be mutilated by the people of al-Sham.” She replied, “My son, a slaughtered goat does not feel the pain when it is skinned.” He kissed her upon the forehead and said, “I swear by Allah, this is my opinion. I have no desire to live in this world, for my aspiration is the life of the hereafter, and all my life I have stood up for truth. But I wanted to know your opinion so that your opinion strengthens my opinion!”

His mother said, “Come closer my son!” When he came closer to her, she embraced him and when she did so, she felt that he was wearing chain mail. She exclaimed, “O’ my son! What is this? People who want Shahadah don’t wear this!” He said, “O’ my mother! I only did this to comfort you!”

She said, “My son, take it off. Tie your belt so when you fall, your ‘awrah is not exposed! Fight with bravery for you are the son of Zubair and the grandson of Abu Bakr and your grandmother was Safiyyah.”

That day he fought bravely and repelled huge numbers of men until finally, he was martyred. al-Hajjaj went to Asma bint Abi Bakr (RA) and wanted to break her resolve, and he said, “How has Allahﷻ dealt with His enemy?” She answered, “You have ruined his life, but he has ruined for you the hereafter!”

They beheaded Abdullah ibn Zubair (RA) and stuck his body up on a cross. The men of al Hajjaj shouted, “Allahu Akbar, Takbir!” Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (RA) went by and he heard them calling that. He turned towards the body of Abdullah bin Zubair (RA) and said, “I was there the day Abdullah was born and I am here the day he has died, and I heard those who said Takbir the day he was born, and I heard those who have said Takbir the day he has died. I swear by Allahﷻ those who said Takbir the day when he was born were far greater than those who have said Takbir today!”

The soldiers went to al Hajjaj and said, “Take his body down, it has been up for days.” to which he responded, “I swear by Allah I will not take it down until Asma’ begs me.” When they told Asma’ that, she said, “Take me to where the body of my son is.” She made dua for her son and said, “Isn’t it time that the knight of Allahﷻ was allowed to dismount from his horse?” And when they told al-Hajjaj this, he felt so ashamed and mean that he brought the body down.

Incidentally Al Hajjaj was the uncle and father in law of Mohammed bin Qasim, the great general and conqueror of Sindh.

Imam Bukhari in his Saheeh in Baab-ul-A’ataamil Madinah records a hadith where the Rasoolullahﷺ climbed a small hillock and addressed his Sahaba and said to them, “I see what you don’t see. I see a time that will come upon you when fitan (trials and suffering) will enter your homes and its landing places will be like the raindrops. And the people who do this will then melt away like salt.”

Muslim Ibn Uqabah died even before his army reached Makkah and Yazid Ibn Muawiyya died of a wasting illness with no apparent cause within a few months in 683. Haafiz Ibn Hajar al Asqalaani in his famous book Fath-ul-Bari writes that the time of Harrah, every word of this prophecy came true.

It must be remembered that none of the Sahaba who were alive at that time approved of or in any way supported the actions of Yazid. And that all the Ulama and people of knowledge of the Ahl-us-Sunnah (Sunni) have condemned these evil deeds. Unfortunately, despite this, much misinformation is spread, and much misunderstanding exists in the Muslim Ummah on this accord.

The biggest lesson we can learn from these tragic incidents in our history is that all that happened, the irreparable, incredible damage to Islam, its knowledge and traditions, the teachings of Rasoolullahﷺ , were all the result of greed and power politics. Yet centuries later we still see the same games being played between Muslims all over the world. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the greatest damage to Islam and Muslims was done by Muslims themselves, thanks to their love of Dunya (life of this world) and total ignorance and carelessness about the Aakhira. Who but someone with no Imaan on Allah, no love for Rasoolullahﷺ and no belief in the meeting with Allahﷻ would kill the grandson of Rasoolullahﷺ or the grandson of Abu Bakr Siddique (RA)? Yet they were both killed by people who called themselves Muslim.

We don’t mourn their deaths because they both died Shaheed in the path of Allahﷻ and Allahﷻ said about them and all such people:

وَلاَ تَحْسَبَنَّ الَّذِينَ قُتِلُواْ فِي سَبِيلِ اللّهِ أَمْوَاتًا بَلْ أَحْيَاء عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ يُرْزَقُونَ

A’al Imraan 3: 169. Think not of those who are killed in the Way of Allah as dead. Nay, they are alive, with their Lord, and they have provision.

They are alive as are all the Shuhada, so there is nothing to mourn on that account. What we need to mourn and try to learn from is the terrible lessons about the result of greed, hatred, naked ambition and a total ignorance about the Aakhira. May Allahﷻ have mercy on us all.

I hope that this article will help to dispel these mistaken impressions and bring the hearts of Muslims together.