History of the events leading the Shahada of Sayyidina Hussain Ibn Ali (RA)
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 the Rasoolullah
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 Rasoolullah when Rasoolullah ordered him and said, “O Othman, Allah 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 Rasoolullah. Then they said to him, “In that case get ready to die.” He said, “Last night I saw the Rasoolullah 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 Topcapi Musuem 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 Allah 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 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 Yazeed as his heir. Yazeed was known for a playboy kind of lifestyle and was not universally respected or admired. Also 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 against this decision. However, Muawiyya (RA) using his exceptional diplomatic skill persuaded many of the provincial delegations to recognize Yazeed 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 Yazeed. When he refused, they harassed him to the point where he decided to move to Makkah, a place declared by Allah 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 Yazeed 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 Yazeed’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 Rasoolullah who stood for his principles even in the face of death. The poet said:
Yazeed then sent an army of 12000 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 Rasoolullah.
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 Rasoolullah. 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 Rasoolullah 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 Rasoolullah. 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 Yazeed 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.
Imam Bukhari in his Saheeh in Baab-ul-A’ataamil Madinah records a hadith where the Rasoolullah 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 Yazeed 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 Yazeed. 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. 
I hope that this article will help to dispel these mistaken impressions and bring the hearts of Muslims together.