Husayn ibn Ali

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Husayn bin Ali bin Abi Talib

Third Imam of Shia Muslims
Abu Abd Allah
الحسين ابن علي.svg
Calligraphic representation of Husayn's name
Native name
ٱلْحُسَيْن ابْن عَلِي ابْن أَبِي طَالِب
Born10 October 626
(3 Sha'aban AH 4)[1]
Died10 October 680(680-10-10) (aged 55)
(10 Muharram AH 61)
Cause of deathBeheaded at the Battle of Karbala by Shimr
Resting placeHis shrine at Karbala, Karbala Governorate, Iraq
32°36′59″N 44°1′56.29″E / 32.61639°N 44.0323028°E / 32.61639; 44.0323028
MonumentsIraq, Syria
ResidenceMedinah, Hejaz
Known forBeing a grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad
The Battle of Karbala
TermAC 670–680
Predecessor(As Shia Imam) Hasan ibn Ali
Successor(As Shia Imam) Ali Zayn al-Abidin
Opponent(s)Yazid ibn Muawiyah
Umme Rubāb
Umme Laylā
Children'Alī Zayn al-'Ābidīn, Sakīnah (Mother: Shahrbanu)
'Alī al-Akbar, Fāṭimah aṣ-Ṣughrá (Mother: Laylā)
Sukaynah and,
'Alī al-Aṣghar(Mother: Rubāb)[7]
RelativesFamily tree of Husayn ibn Ali

Al-Ḥusayn ibn ʿAlī ibn Abi Talib (Arabic: ٱلْحُسَيْن ابْن عَلِي ابْن أَبِي طَالِب‎‎; 10 October 626 – 10 October 680; also transliterated as Husayn ibn Ali, Husain, Hussain and Hussein) was a grandson of the Islamic prophet Muhammad and a son of Ali ibn Abi Talib (the first Shia Imam and the fourth Rashid caliph of Sunni Islam) and Muhammad's daughter Fatimah. He is an important figure in Islam as he was a member of the Bayt (Household) of Muhammad and the Ahl al-Kisā' (People of the Cloak), as well as the third Shia Imam.

Prior to his death, the Umayyad ruler Muawiya appointed his son Yazid as his successor in a clear violation of the Hasan-Muawiya treaty.[8] When Muawiya died in 680 CE, Yazid demanded that Husain pledge allegiance to him. Husain refused to pledge allegiance to Yazid, even though it meant sacrificing his life. As a consequence, he left Medina, his hometown, to take refuge in Mecca in AH 60.[8][9] There, the people of Kufah sent letters to him, asking his help and pledging their allegiance to him. So he traveled towards Kufah;[8] however, at a place near it known as Karbala, his caravan was intercepted by Yazid's army. He was killed and beheaded in the Battle of Karbala on 10 October 680 (the 10th of Muharram in 61 AH) by Yazid, along with most of his family and companions, including Husayn's six month old son, Ali al-Asghar, with the women and children taken as prisoners.[8][10] Anger at Husayn's death was turned into a rallying cry that helped undermine the Umayyad caliphate's legitimacy, and ultimately its overthrow by the Abbasid Revolution.[11][12]

Husayn is highly regarded by Shia Muslims for refusing to pledge allegiance to Yazid,[13] the Umayyad caliph, because he considered the rule of the Umayyads unjust.[13] The annual memorial for him and his children, family and companions occurs during Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, and the day he was martyred is known as Ashura (the tenth day of Muharram, a day of mourning for Shi'i Muslims). Husayn's actions at Karbala fueled later Shia movements,[12] and the martyrdom of Husayn was decisive in shaping Islamic and Shia history. The timing of the Imam's life and martyrdom were crucial as they were in one of the most challenging periods of the seventh century. During this time, Umayyad oppression was rampant, and the stand of Husain and his followers took became a symbol of resistance inspiring future uprisings against oppressors and injustice. Throughout history, many notable personalities, such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, have cited Husain's stand against oppression as an example for their own fights against injustice.[14]


Ḥusayn ibn 'Alī

Shiism: Imam; Proof of God, The Martyr of Martyrs, Master of the Martyrs
All Islam: Ahl al-Bayt, Ṣaḥābī, Martyr; Master of the Youths of Paradise[15]
Venerated inAll Islam (Salafis honour rather than venerate him).
Major shrineImam Husayn Shrine, Karbala, Iraq

Husayn's maternal grandmother was Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, and his paternal grandparents were Abu Talib and Fatimah bint Asad. Hasan and Husayn were regarded by Muhammad as his own sons due to his love for them and as they were the sons of his daughter Fatima and he regarded her children as his own children and descendants. He said "Every mother's children are associated with their father except for the children of Fatimah for I am their father and lineage." Thus, the descendants of Fatimah are the descendants of Muhammad, and are part of his family.[16][17]

Husayn had several children:

Birth and early life[edit]

Husayn was born on 10 October CE 625 (3 Sha'aban AH 4).[1] However, Shia Hadith state that he was born AH 3.[18] Husayn and his brother Hasan were reportedly the last male descendants of Muhammad living during his lifetime and remaining after his death. There are many accounts of his love for them which refer to them together.[8][a] Muhammad is reported to have said that "He who loves me and loves these two, their father and their mother, will be with me at my place on the Day of Resurrection."[19] and that "Hussain is of me and I am of him. Allah loves those who love Hussain. Hussain is a grandson among grandsons."[19] A narration declares Hasan and Husain as the "Masters of the Youth of Paradise"; this has been particularly important for the Shia who have used it in support of the right of Muhammad's descendants to succeed him. The Shi'a maintain that the infallibility of the Imam is a basic rule in the Imamate. "The theologians have defined the Imamate, saying: "Surely the Imamate is a grace from Allah, Who grants it to the most perfect and best of His servants to Him"[20] Other traditions record Muhammad with his grandsons on his knees, on his shoulders, and even on his back during prayer at the moment of prostrating himself, when they were young.[21]

According to Wilferd Madelung, Muhammad loved them and declared them as people of his Bayt very frequently.[22] He has also said: "Every mother's children are associated with their father except for the children of Fatima for I am their father and lineage." Thus, the descendants of Fatimah were descendants of Muhammad, and part of his Bayt.[16] According to popular Sunni belief, it refers to the household of Muhammad. Shia popular view is the members of Muhammad's family that were present at the incident of Mubahalah. According to Muhammad Baqir Majlisi who compiled Bihar al-Anwar, a collection of ahadith ('accounts', 'narrations' or 'reports'), Chapter 46 Verse 15 (Al-Ahqaf) and Chapter 89 Verses 27–30 (Al-Fajr) of the Qur'an are regarding Al-Husayn.[citation needed]

Incident of the Mubahalah[edit]

In the year AH 10 (AD 631/32) a Christian envoy from Najran (now in southern Saudi Arabia) came to Muhammad to argue which of the two parties erred in its doctrine concerning 'Īsā (Jesus). After likening Jesus' miraculous birth to Adam's (Adem) creation,[b]—who was born to neither a mother nor a father — and when the Christians did not accept the Islamic doctrine about Jesus, Muhammad was instructed to call them to Mubahalah where each party should ask God to destroy the false party and their families.[23][24] "If anyone dispute with you in this matter [concerning Jesus] after the knowledge which has come to you, say: Come let us call our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves, then let us swear an oath and place the curse of God on those who lie."[c][23][25] Sunni historians, except Tabari who do not name the participants, mention Muhammad, Fatimah, Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn as the participants, and some agree with the Shia tradition that 'Ali was among them. Accordingly, in the verse of Mubahalah, in the Shia perspective, the phrase "our sons" refers to Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn, "our women" refers to Fatimah, and "ourselves" refers to Ali.[23][25]

Life under the first five Caliphs[edit]

Mu'awiyah, who was the governor of the Syrian region under Uthman ibn Affan, had refused Ali's demands for allegiance, and had long been in conflict with him.[26] After Ali was assassinated and people gave allegiance to Hasan, Mu'awiyah prepared to fight with him. The battle led to inconclusive skirmishes between the armies of Hasan and Mu'awiyah. To avoid the agonies of the civil war, Hasan signed a treaty with Mu'awiyah, according to which Mu'awiyah would not name a successor during his reign, and let the Islamic Ummah (Community) choose his successor.[27]

Era of the Umayyad Caliphate[edit]

Reign of Muawiyah[edit]

According to the Shi'ah, Husayn was the third Imam for a period of ten years after the death of his brother Hasan in CE 669. All of this time except the last six months coincided with the caliphate of Mu'awiyah.[28] After the peace treaty with Hasan, Mu'awiyah set out with his troops to Kufa, where at a public surrender ceremony Hasan rose and reminded the people that he and Husayn were the only grandsons of Muhammad, and that he had surrendered the reign to Mu'awiyah in the best interest of the community: "O people, surely it was God who led you by the first of us and Who has spared you bloodshed by the last of us. I have made peace with Mu'awiyah, and I know not whether haply this be not for your trial, and that ye may enjoy yourselves for a time."[d][29] declared Hasan.[27]

In the nine-year period between Hasan's abdication in 41/660 and his death in 49/669, Hasan and Husayn retired in Medina trying to keep aloof from political involvement for or against Muawiyah.[27][30]

Shia feelings, however, though not visible above the surface, occasionally emerged in the form of small groups, mostly from Kufa, visiting Hasan and Husayn asking them to be their leaders - a request to which they declined to respond.[23] Even ten years later, after the death of Hasan, when Iraqis turned to his younger brother, Husayn, concerning an uprising, Husayn instructed them to wait as long as Muawiyah was alive due to Hasan's peace treaty with him.[27] Later on, however, and before his death, Muawiyah named his son Yazid as his successor.[8]

Reign of Yazid[edit]

One of the important points of the treaty made between Al-Hasan and Mu'awiyah was that the latter should not designate anyone as his successor after his death. But after the death of Al-Hasan, Mu'awiyah, thinking that no one would be courageous enough to object to his decision as the caliph, designated his son Yazid as his successor in AD 680, breaking the treaty.[31] Robert Payne quotes Mu'awiyah in History of Islam as telling his son Yazid to defeat Al-Husayn – because Mu'awiyah thought he was surely preparing an army against him – but to deal with him gently thereafter as Al-Husayn was a descendant of Muhammad, but to deal with 'Abd Allah ibn al-Zubair swiftly, as Mu'awiyah feared him the most.[32]

In April AD 680, Yazid succeeded his father as caliph. He immediately instructed the governor of Al-Medinah to compel Al-Husayn and few other prominent figures to give their Bay'ah (Pledge of allegiance).[8] Al-Husain, however, refrained from it, believing that Yazid was openly going against the teachings of Islam in public, and changing the sunnah (Arabic: سنة‎, deeds, sayings, etc.) of Muhammad.[33][34] In his view the integrity and survival of the Islamic community depended on the re-establishment of the correct guidance.[35] He and his household left Al-Medinah to seek asylum in Mecca.[8]

While in Mecca, ibn al-Zubayr, Abdullah ibn Umar and Abdullah ibn Abbas advised Al-Husayn to make Mecca his base, and fight against Yazid from there.[36]

Battle of Karbala[edit]

Painting commemorating the death of Imam Husayn at the Battle of Karbala, though its focus is his half brother Abbas ibn Ali on a white horse[37]

The Battle of Karbala took place on 10 October 680 (Muharram 10, AH 61). All of Al-Husayn's small army of companions fought with a large army under the command of Umar ibn Sa'ad, and were killed near the river (Euphrates) from which they were not allowed to get any water. In total, around 72 men, and a few ladies and children, had been on the side of Al-Husayn.[38][39][40] The renowned historian Abū Rayḥān al-Bīrūnī stated "… then fire was set to their camp and the bodies were trampled by the hoofs of the horses; nobody in the history of the human kind has seen such atrocities."[41]


Imam Husayn Shrine, where Husain is buried, in the 21st century

Once the Umayyad troops had massacred Al-Husayn, his family members, and his male soldiers, they looted and burned the tents, plundered the body of Al-Husayn, stripped the women of their jewellery, trampled over the body of Al-Husayn with horses, and took the skin upon which Ali Zainal-Abidin was prostrate. Ali had been unable to fight in the battle, due to an illness.[38][39][40] It is said that Shimr was about to kill him, but Husayn's sister Zaynab was able to convince his commander, Umar ibn Sa'ad, to let him live. In addition, Zaynul-Abidin and other relatives of Husayn were taken hostage. They were taken to meet Yazid in Damascus, and eventually, they were allowed to return to Al-Medinah.[42][43]

After learning of the death of Husayn, ibn al-Zubayr collected the people of Mecca and made the following speech:

"O people! No other people are worse than Iraqis and among the Iraqis, the people of Kufa are the worst. They repeatedly wrote letters and called Imam Husayn to them and took bay'at (allegiance) for his caliphate. But when ibn Ziyad arrived in Kufa, they rallied around him and killed Imam Husayn who was pious, observed the fast, read the Quran and deserved the caliphate in all respects[44]"

After his speech, the people of Mecca joined him to take on Yazid. When he heard about this, Yazid sent a force to arrest him, but the force was defeated.[44] People of Medina renounced their allegiance to Yazid and expelled his governor. Yazid tried to end his rebellion by sending his army the Hijaz, and took Medina after the bloody Battle of al-Harrah followed by the siege of Mecca but his sudden death ended the campaign and threw the Umayyads into disarray with civil war eventually breaking out. Eventually ibn al-Zubayr consolidated his power by sending a governor to Kufah. Soon, he established his power in Iraq, southern Arabia, the greater part of Al-Sham, and parts of Egypt. This essentially split the Islamic empire into two spheres with two different caliphs. Soon afterwards he lost Egypt and whatever he had of Al-Sham to Marwan. This coupled with the Kharijite rebellions in Iraq reduced his domain to only the Hejaz. Ibn al-Zubayr was finally defeated and killed by Al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, who was sent by Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, on the battlefield in 692. He beheaded him and crucified his body, reestablishing Umayyad control over the Empire.

Yazid died in Rabi'al-Awwal, 64 AH (November, AD 683), less than 4 years after coming to power.[8][45] As for other opponents of Al-Husayn, such as ibn Ziyad and Shimr, they were killed in a rebellion led by a vengeful contemporary of Husayn known as "Mukhtar al-Thaqafi."[46][47][48][49]

Years later, the people of Kufah called upon Zayd ibn Ali ibn Al-Husayn to come over. Zaydis believe that on the last hour of Zayd, Zayd was also betrayed by the people in Kufah who said to him: "May God have mercy on you! What do you have to say on the matter of Abu Bakr and Umar ibn al-Khattab?" Zayd said, "I have not heard anyone in my family renouncing them both nor saying anything but good about them...when they were entrusted with government they behaved justly with the people and acted according to the Qur'an and the Sunnah."[50][51][52][53]


Husayn's body is buried in Karbala, the site of his death. His head is said to have been returned from Damascus and interred with his body,[54] although various sites have also been claimed to house, or have sheltered, Husayn's head, among others: Aleppo, Ashkelon, Baalbek, Cairo, Damascus, Homs, Merv, and Medina.[55]

Return of his head to the body[edit]

Husayn's son Ali returned his head from Ash-Sham to Karbala,[56][57][58][59] forty days after Ashura, reuniting it with Husayn's body.[60][61] Shi'a Muslims commemorate this fortieth day as Arba‘īn.[62][63][64][65] According to the Shia belief that the body of an Imam is only buried by an Imam,[66][67][68] Husayn ibn Ali's body was buried by his son, Ali Ibn Husayn.[69]

Husayn's head in Isma'ilism[edit]

Zarih of Husayn's head at Al-Hussein Mosque in Cairo, Egypt

After the battle of Karbala, the forces of Yazid I raised the head of Husayn on a lance. They took it to Kufa, then to Damascus to be presented to Yazid.

The head was then buried in a niche of one of the internal walls of Jame-Masjid, Damascus, Syria. It remained confiscated and confined in for about two hundred twenty years.

When the Abbasids took power from the Umayyads, in the garb of taking revenge of Ahl al-Bayt, they also confiscated the head of Husayn[citation needed]. The Abbasid caliph al-Muqtadir (d. 295/908) attempted many times to stop the pilgrimage to the head but in vain. He thus tried to completely eliminate the sign of the sacred place of Ziyarat; he transferred the head of Husayn to Ashkelon in secrecy, so that pilgrims could not find the place. It was the 15th Fatimid Imam Aziz who traced the site through his contemporary in Baghdad, in 985.[70]

According to an Arabic inscription, which is still preserved on the Fatimid-era minbar(kept at Ibrahimi Mosque, Hebron).[70] Fatimid vizier Badr al-Jamali conquered Palestine, during the period of 18th Fatimid Imam al-Mustansir and, discovered the head of Husayn ibn Ali in 448 (A.H). He constructed a mosque and the Mashhad the place of burial. [55][71] The shrine was described as the most magnificent building in Ashkelon.[72] The inscription's some wording are quoted below:

"..the miracles..a major glory ..wishes of Allah, is..recovery, .. hidden by... the tyrants(.) They tried to conceal..Allah has promised to reveal(.) Allah wishes to hide it from the show it to Awliya..(.) relieve the heart of ‘Devotees’ of.. Husain, as Allah knew their…heartedness..(.) ..Badr..has discovered Raas al Imam al Husain in..Mustansir’s period, and has taken it out from its hidden place(.) He..built a Minbar for the Mashhad, at the place where this sacred Head lay buried(.)...."[70]

In the British Mandate period it was a "large maqam on top of a hill" with no tomb but a fragment of a pillar showing the place where the head had been buried.[73] Israeli Defense Forces under Moshe Dayan blew up Mashhad Nabi Hussein in July 1950 as part of a broader operation.[74] Around the year 2000, Isma'ilis from India built a marble platform there, on the grounds of the Barzilai Medical Center.[75][76][74] The head remained buried in Ashkelon up to 1153(for about 250 years) only. Fearing atrocities of the crushaders, Al-Zafir, ordered the transfer of the head to Qahera. The W’ali of the city of Ashkelon, Al Amir Sayf al Mamlaka Tamim took out the buried casket of Raas al Imam al Husayn from the Mashhad, and on Sunday 8 Jumada al-Thani, 548 (31 August 1153) carried the head from the city of Ashkelon to Qahera, Egypt.[70][76]


Khema-gah, Memorial at Imam Husain Camp location, Karbala
Mourning of Muharram in cities and villages of Iran

The Day of Ashura is commemorated by the Shia society as a day of mourning for the death of Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad, at the Battle of Karbala. The commemoration of Husayn ibn Ali has become a national holiday and different ethnic and religious communities participate in it. Husayn's grave became the most visited place of Ziyarat for Shias. Some said that a pilgrimage to Karbala and Husayn's shrine therein has the merit of a thousand pilgrimages to Mecca, of a thousand martyrdoms, and of a thousand days fasting.[77] Shia have an important book about Al-Husayn which is called Ziyarat Ashura. Most of them believe that it is a Hadith-e-Qudsi (the "word of Allah").[78][79] The Imam Husayn Shrine was later built over his grave. In 850 Abbasid caliph, al-Mutawakkil, destroyed his shrine in order to stop Shia pilgrimages. However, pilgrimages continued.[80]

Shias mourn during Muharram to pay respect to Husayn whose sacrifices kept true Islam alive and to show their allegiance and love for Imamate. Many Christians and Sunnis also join them in their Mourning of Muharram.[81]

In culture[edit]

Historian Edward Gibbon was touched by the story of Al-Husayn, describing the events at Karbala as "a tragedy".[82][83] According to historian Syed Akbar Hyder, Mahatma Gandhi attributed the historical progress of Islam, to the "sacrifices of Muslim saints like Husayn" rather than military force.[84]

The traditional narration "Every day is Ashura and every land is Karbala!" is used by the Shia as a mantra to live their lives as Husayn did on Ashura, i.e. with complete sacrifice for God and for others. The saying is also intended to signify that what happened on Ashura in Karbala must always be remembered as part of suffering everywhere.

Inspiring modern movements[edit]

The story of martyrdom of Husayn has been a strong source of inspiration for Shia revolutionary movements. For Shias, Husayn's willing martyrdom justifies their own resistance against unjust authority. In the course of the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran against Pahlavi dynasty, Shia beliefs and symbols were instrumental in orchestrating and sustaining widespread popular resistance with the Husayn legend providing a framework for labeling as evil and reacting against the Pahlavi Shah.[85]

Photo Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

Quotations related to Imam Husayn at Wikiquote

A copy of the Quran reportedly written by Imam Husain ibn Ali, from over 1300 years ago


  1. ^ In the Shi'ite view, Muhammad had only one biological daughter, Fatimah.
  2. ^ Quran, 3: 59
  3. ^ Quran, 3: 61
  4. ^ Quran, 21:111


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External links[edit]

Husayn ibn Ali
of the Ahl al-Bayt
Clan of the Quraish
Born: 3 Sha'bān AH 4 in the ancient (intercalated) Arabic calendar 10 October AD 625 Died: 10 Muharram AH 61 10 October AD 680
Shia Islam titles
Preceded by
Hasan ibn Ali
Disputed by Nizari
2nd Imam of Ismaili Shia
3rd Imam of Sevener, Twelver, and Zaydi Shia
Succeeded by
'Alī ibn Ḥusayn
Succeeded by
Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah
Kaysanites successor