Chapter 1: Imam Husayn – a Brief Biography
Imam Husayn alayhis-salam is the son of Imam Ali alayhis-salam and Fatima alayhas-salam the daughter of the holy Prophet Muhammad sallallahu- alayhi-wa-aalih. He was the second grandson of the prophet Muhammad salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih, and he was the holy prophet’s third caliph successor, after his father and brother Hasan alayhis-salam.
Like his father and brother, he was the Imam (leader) of the people. [On instructions from Allah Almighty, prophet Muhammad salla-llahu-alayhiwa-aalih announced the twelve Imams6 who would succeed him in leading the Muslim nation.] Imam Husayn is the father of the nine Imams who followed him in succession.
He was born in Medina on the third of the month of Sha‘ban, in the third year after Hijra – 624 CE.
On the day of Ashura, while suffering from extreme thirst, he was brutally killed and his head severed by the swords of the army of Yazid-bin- Mo‘awiyah on Saturday the tenth of Muharram in the year 61 after Hijra –around 681 CE – in Karbala, Iraq.
His son and successor, Imam Ali ibn7 Husayn, Zayn-al-Abidin alayhissalam prepared his headless body, after being left in the field for three days, and buried him in the fields of Karbala, where his shrine stands today.
The holy Prophet has said in the praise of Imam Hasan and Imam Husayn alayhum-as-salam8:
"My two grandsons are the delights of my eyes."
6 Imam – literally meaning leader – and in the scope of this work Imam refers to one of the twelve Ma’soom (impeccable) Imams who in turn succeeded Prophet Muhammad after his death as appointed by him. The first of the twelve Imams is Imam Ali alayhis-salam, followed by his son Imam Hasan alayhis-salam, followed by Imam Hasan’s brother Imam Husayn alayhis-salam, followed by nine Imams, all descendents of Imam Husayn alayhissalam.
On instructions from Allah Almighty, Prophet Muhammad salla-llahu-alayhi-waaalih appointed the twelve Imams beginning with Imam Ali alayhis-salam as his immediate successor and stated the names of all twelve imams, even though only three were born at the time. Translator.
7 ibn, also written as bin or ben depending on relevant pronunciation, is Arabic for ‘son of’.
"Hasan and Husayn are the leaders of the youth in Paradise."
"Hasan and Husayn are both Imams whether they rise up or not."
He was the most knowledgeable and the best worshipper among the people of his time. He would pray one thousand Rak'ahs every night like his father, and on many nights he would carry sacks of food to the needy, to the extent that the marks of carrying heavy sacks were clearly visible on his back after his death. He was very kind, had a great and forbearing personality, and was hard on those who disobeyed Allah.
When a Bedouin Arab came to Imam Husayn seeking help he recited the following poem for the Imam:
Disappointed will not be he who makes a request from you.
For you are generous and trustworthy and your father was the killer of the profligate and the corrupt individuals.
If it was not for the former (members) of your (family)9, we would still have been in hell.
Then Imam Husayn alayhis-salam, while avoiding eye contact with the man, gave him four thousand gold coins (Dinars) and apologized to the man saying:
Take this for I apologise to you, and rest assure that you have my sympathy For if I were in a different situation and I had more (money) to offer you, I would have given you far more.
Through his courageous revolution, the like of which there has been none in the world, he revived the Islamic Law and the religion of his grandfather, and furthermore he even revived the whole world until the Day of Judgment. He is the leader of the martyrs and the best among people after his elder brother.
Throughout his life the Muslims used to revere and adore Imam Husayn alayhis-salam, and used to see in him what they had seen in his grandfather, the Messenger of Allah salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih. Their adoration for Imam Husayn was not just because he was the grandson of the prophet salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih, but also because he was the manifestation of the teachings of Islam and the conducts of the Messenger 9 i.e. the Prophet Muhammad, Imam Ali, Lady Fatima al-Zahra, and Imam Hasan.
of Allah salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih, no one could fail to see examples of the highest moral qualities in his behaviour.
The holy Prophet has said in the praise of Imam Husayn alayhis-salam:
"Husayn is from me and I am from Husayn."
Chroniclers and historians have individually remarked that Imam Husayn was the manifestation of the best examples of noble manners and conduct,as well as his vast knowledge, which he inherited from the Messenger of Allah salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih. His actions spoke before his words.
Imam Husayn alayhis-salam was humbly gracious and generous to the poor and those in need. He used to support what is right and fight what was wrong. People always noticed such attributes in his conduct and behaviour as perseverance, forbearance, and magnanimity. He was the most pious and God-fearing of all people of his time.
In his book Master of the People of Paradise Dr Ahmad Ashur says:
“If you browse through the pages of the Sihaah books you could not fail to come across many tens of hadith about the merit and superiority of Imam Husayn alayhis-salam and the love of the Messenger of Allah salla-llahualayhi- wa-aalih for him.”
In his book al-Fusul al-Muhimmah Ibn al-Sabbagh al-Maliki, quotes Anas ibn Malik who said, “I was with al-Husayn alayhis-salam when a servant entered and in her hand a bouquet of basil. She saluted al-Husayn and gave him the bouquet. Al-Husayn alayhis-salam said to her ‘You are free for the sake of Allah.’ I said to al-Husayn ‘She gives you a bouquet of basil and salute you and you set her free?’ He said ‘This is how Allah has taught us! Almighty He says: “If you are saluted, salute back in a better way or return the same salute” and the better way is to set her free.”10 10 At the time of the prophet salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih and the Imams alayhum-as-salam slavery was common in the society. One of the most important values in Islam is freedom and therefore it always aimed to gradually eliminate slavery from society. Therefore Islam encouraged people to set their slaves free, and many rewards are prescribed for setting a slave free. The Prophet and the Imams lead the way in this process in two ways. One was to setexamples for the Muslims by buying salves and setting them free at the first possible opportunity. The second policy of the Imams was to buy as many salves as they could, educate them and then free them into society as free, well mannered, and responsible adults.
In this way, this policy gave a good chance to a slave to attain his/her freedom, set an example for other Muslims to practice, and give less chance to those who wanted to see slavery ripe in society.
In his Chronicles, Ibn Asaakir reports that Imam Husayn alayhis-salam used to receive money (Khums and Zakat) from Basra and other destinations and he used to distribute the money between the poor and the needy there and then. Imam Husayn alayhis-salam is best known for his revolt against the status quo. By that time the socio-political situation had deteriorated to an extreme and intolerable state, fundamental measures needed to be taken.
The main aim and objectives of Imam Husayn’s revolt, which are in fact the aim and objectives of Islam at any time and in any place, may be summarised as follows:
• To bring about a responsible community in order to implement and convey the message and teachings of Islam.
• To build an Islamic society which takes Islam as its sole source of reference.
• To rescue the Islamic civilisation from deviation.
This is because the Islamic Ummah (Community) suffered from various diseases in different domains:
• In the social domain it suffered widely from corruption, bribery, cheating, oppression, favouritism and nepotism.
• From the law and order point of view, the criminal was not being prosecuted, and therefore crime was ripe.
• From the ethical viewpoint, they had turned the moral values upside down.
• From the economic viewpoint, the ruling elite and their cronies monopolised the wealth of the nation.
For such reasons, and for the fact that the Muslims had remained indifferent to these issues to the extent that these had become the norm,that Imam Husayn rose against the injustice and corruption that was being conducted in the name of Islam.
In the course of his jihad in the cause of Allah, Imam Husayn was brutally beheaded and his body mutilated, alongside his sons, relatives, and some seventy of his followers. Furthermore the women and children, who were subsequently captured, including Imam Husayn’s sisters Zaynab alayhassalam and Umm Kolthoum alayhas-salam as well as Zayn-al-Abidin alayhis-salam, were taken as prisoners and paraded in towns and villages as villains.
And since then the movement of Imam Husayn alayhis-salam inspired the reform movements against despot rulers all over the world and the Muslims continue to reap the fruit of the event of Karbala and every year during the month of Muharram the memory of Ashura is commemorated with vigour by hundreds of millions of Muslims all over the world.
As it was mentioned earlier, Imam Husayn alayhis-salam was the third of twelve Imams who succeeded the holy prophet Muhammad salla-llahualayhi- wa-aalih. On instructions from Allah Almighty, prophet Muhammad salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih announced the twelve Imams who would succeed him in leading the Muslim Ommah (nation). Although at the time of the prophet Muhammad, only the first three Imams were alive, however, the prophet salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih named all twelve Imams who have been appointed as the Ma’soom Imams or leaders11. The first caliph (successor) of the prophet Muhammad salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih whom he appointed to lead the Ommah after him was Imam Ali alayhissalam.
The prophet appointed Imam Ali alayhis-salam immediately after his last pilgrimage, in Ghadir Khum, and instructed the Muslims to pay homage of allegiance (Bay‘ah) to Imam Ali alayhis-salam as the Imam and the leader of the Muslims, and commander of the faithful, Amir-ul- Mu’minin, which they dutifully did. Given the number of people present at the time, some reports put the figure at more than one-hundred-andtwenty- thousands12; it took more than three days for them to pay thehomage of allegiance to Imam Ali alayhis-salam.
The names and titles of the twelve Ma‘soom13 Imams are as follows (year of birth given in brackets):
11 for example see “Yanabi‘ al-Mawaddah”, p 529 by al-Qandozi al-Hanafi;“Fara’ed al-Semtayn”, vol. p 132; “Ghayat al-Maram”, p 743; Masnad Ahmad, hadith 19944, 20000, 19875, 19884, 19887, 19892, 199101, 19914, 19925, 19944; Sahih Muslim, hadith # 3394, 3395, 3396, 3397; Sahih Bukhari, vol. 8, p 104 (al-Ahkam); al-Tirmidhi, vol.
2, p 35; Kanz al-Ommal, vol. 6, p 201; Mustadrak al-Sahihain, vol. 4, p 501 12 See for example: “Tathkirat al-Khawas”, by al-Sibt ibn al-Jwazi al-Hanafi, p 30;“al-Sirah al-Halabeyyah”, vol. 3, p 257; al-Sirah al-Nabawiyyah” by Zeyn Dahlan.
13 Ma‘soom (plural, Ma‘soomeen) is an individual who has attained a state of perfection and self-discipline such that they are in total harmony with the will of Allah, and as such they are, for example, able to refrain from the slightest error or overlook the smallest matter. In Islam the Ma‘soom individuals are fourteen; they are Rasulollah, his daughter Fatima al-Zahra’, and the twelve Imams alayhum-as-salam. The 14 Ma‘soomeen are also referred to as the
- Imam Ali, Amir-ul-Mu’minin alayhis-salam, (10 BH, 600 CE)
- Imam Hasan al-Mujtaba alayhis-salam, (2 H, 623 CE)
- Imam Husayn al-Shahid alayhis-salam, (3 H, 624 CE)
- Imam Ali ibn Husayn, al-Sajjad / Zayn-al-Abidin alayhis-salam,(28 H, 649 CE)
- Imam Muhammad ibn Ali al-Baqir alayhis-salam, (57 H, 676 CE)
- Imam Ja‘far ibn Muhammad al-Sadiq alayhis-salam, (83 H, 702 CE)
- Imam Mosa ibn Ja‘far al-Kadhem alayhis-salam, (128 H, 745 CE)
- Imam Ali ibn Mosa al-Ridha alayhis-salam, (148 H, 765 CE)
- Imam Muhammad ibn Ali al-Jawad alayhis-salam, (195 H, 810 CE)
- Imam Ali ibn Muhammad al-Hadi alayhis-salam, (212 H, 827CE)
- Imam Hasan ibn Ali al-Askari alayhis-salam, (232 H, 846 CE)
- Imam Muhammad ibn Hasan al-Mahdi / al-Hujjah / Sahib al-Zaman alayhis-salam and may Allah hasten his reappearance.
The twelfth Imam, Imam Mahdi alayhis-salam is alive but ‘hidden’ from the views of the general public, and by the will of Allah he will reappear to fill the world with justice, after it has been overwhelmed by tyranny andinjustice. Imam Mahdi was born in 255 Hijra, 868 CE, and he went into occultation when his father, Imam Hasan al-Askari was killed by the Abbasid ruler in 260 Hijra, 873 CE.
Ahl-ul-Bayt, meaning members of the house, as in the Qur’anic verse Allah only wishes to remove all abomination from you, and thoroughly purify you, O Ahl-ul-Bayt (Members of the House). [33: 33].