Killers of Imam Husain (a.s.): A Historical Perspective
1. Yazid ibn Muawiyah
Without doubt, the biggest contributor to the shedding of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) blood and its main proponent was Yazid ibn Muawiyah. And that is not exactly surprising when we consider that Yazid is the one who inherited apostasy, tyranny and blasphemy from his father. He was the grandson of Abu Sufyan and the son of Muawiyah. The vicissitudes of time and his father’s political machinations played important roles in pivoting an unlikely Yazid to the highest religious position in the Islamic world. Yazid’s actions and words were unbecoming of a human being, let alone a Caliph of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.). His actions were so deplorable that they repelled everyone associated with him. Waaqedi narrates on the authority of Abdullah ibn Hanzalah – who enjoyed the epithet of Ghaseel al-Malaaekah (the one given the ritual bath by the angels) – page 11,
‘I swear by Allah, there came a time when we feared that stones would soon rain down upon us in Yazid’s reign. He was a man who did not even spare his own mother, daughters and sisters from his lecherous disposition. He drank wine freely and neglected praying (Namaz).’
(al-Sawaaeq al-Muhreqah by Ibn Hajar Makki p. 125, Egyptian edition)
2. Ubaydillah ibn Ziyaad
Another criminal who ranks high in the list of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) murderers is Ubaydillah ibn Ziyaad. He shares the position and status with Yazid in the perpetration of this heinous crime. He is the very person who Yazid has spoken of highly, as his treasured friend, helper, confidante and ardent supporter in the battlefield.
Ubaydillah’s disbelief, apostasy, infidelity and complete disregard for divine laws and edicts were not a secret. All and sundry in Kufa were aware of his disposition towards evil and falsehood. That is why Haani Ibn Urwah (r.a) tells Muslim ibn Aqeel (a.s.) ruefully (when the latter refused to kill Ubaydillah in a surprise attack):
‘By Allah, (you must know) that if you had killed him, (you would not have killed a Muslim), (rather) you would have killed a sinner, transgressor, apostate and rebel’.
(Tarikh-e-Tabari vol. 6, p. 204)
3. Umar ibn Sa’d
The third person who is directly responsible for the murder of Imam Husain (a.s.) is Umar ibn Sa’d. In fact, in Umar’s case, the association with this crime is most evident and the responsibility lies largely with him. His faith and religion are exposed with these couplets that he recited when Ibne Ziyaad short-listed him with the task of murdering Imam Husain (a.s.).
‘Should I let the opportunity to govern Ray (Suburb of Teheran, Iran) slip by, while it is my most ardent desire?
Or should I become accursed forever for killing Husain (a.s.)?’
‘The world is but a house of goodness and wealth.
‘Then the intelligent one never trades the wealth for debt.’
He then recites some more couplets, the essence of which is:
‘The people claim that Allah has created something called Paradise and likewise He has also created the Fire and Chastisement. If these people are true in their claims, then there is no problem. I intend to repent for my sin (of killing Imam Husain) within two years. However, if these people are proved wrong and there is no Paradise and Hell, then there is no absolutely no problem, for in that case we will have amassed a kingdom in this world whose bounties shall remain forever.’
These couplets clearly highlight the ridicule that Umar ibn Sa’d had for well-established Islamic beliefs regarding Paradise and Hell. If this was the condition of the governors and chiefs, then it is anyone’s guess as to how the commonality perceived Paradise and Hell! After all, the masses were deeply influenced by the views of the rulers. Calling theses governors as Muslims is akin to insulting to Islam. These are facts of history and there is no denying them. There is no question of debating whether these personalities were Sunnis or Shiites because a discussion on that can happen only after these personalities accept the fundamental Islamic principles of Paradise and Hell.
To which sect of Islam did the killers of Imam Husain (a.s.) belong to?
But the question remains that even if for argument’s sake we consider them as Muslims to which Islamic sect did the killers of Imam Husain (a.s.) belong to? To answer this question it is important to address the following queries:
a) What was the basis of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) murder?
b) The principles and teachings of which Islamic sect did the killers of Imam Husain (a.s.) embrace?
Once we answer these two questions, it should be fairly evident with which Islamic sect the murderers of Imam Husain (a.s.) were associated.
It is an undisputed fact of history that the only cause of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) assassination was the Emir of Syria, Yazid Ibn Muawiyah, demanding Imam’s (a.s.) explicit allegiance. Imam (a.s.) refused to give in to his demands and rejected his Caliphate and in the process endured the most telling hardships at the hands of Yazid and his cronies.
Ibne Hajar-e-Makki chronicles, “The Emir of Syria, Muawiyah Ibn Abi Sufyan, was blinded by the love for his son, Yazid. In order to appoint his son as the Emir after him, he undertook a huge campaign to extract the allegiance of all Muslims for his son. He employed all the wealth of Syria and Iraq and resorted to the dirtiest of tricks to buy the allegiance of Muslims. However, five persons remained firm in their commitment not to pay allegiance to Yazid. The foremost in this group was Husain Ibn Ali (a.s.) and the other four took a cue from him and also withdrew from paying allegiance.”
(Tatheerul Jinaan, A Commentary on the al-Sawaaeq al-Muhreqah, Old Egyptian Edition, p. 50)
Muawiyah died at the age of 75-80 years, in Rajab 60 A.H. Yazid ascended the throne. The Syrians paid their allegiance to him and accepted him as their Emir. He had all the comforts and luxuries of the world at his disposal. Apparently, this was not enough to satisfy his gluttonous appetite. One thought persistently irked him, ‘Why did Husain ibn Ali (a.s.) reject his allegiance?’ He dispatched a stern letter addressed to his governor in Madinah – Walid ibn Utbah ibn Abi Sufyan. He informed Walid about Muawiyah’s death and then ordered him:
‘Compel Husain (a.s.), Abdullah ibn Umar and Abdullah ibn Zubair to pay allegiance to me and be very exacting and forceful with them in this regard. Bear in mind that the only way out for them to pay allegiance to me. Peace be upon you.’
Walid was chicken-hearted and indecisive. He was not sure how Yazid’s explicit command could be obeyed in a manner without raising a controversy.
In this moment of uncertainty, Marwan ibn Hakam, the sworn enemy of the AhleBait (a.s.), who had been described by the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) as ‘the accursed son of the accursed (father)’ (Hayaat al-Haywaan Damiri vol. 1, p. 55 from Mustadrakul Hakim) had some typical words of advice. He counseled Walid that he must extract the pledge of allegiance from Imam Husain (a.s.) and if he refused, he must behead him and dispatch his head to Yazid.
Walid summoned Imam Husain (a.s.) to inform him about the developments in Syria. Imam (a.s.) was quick to perceive the repercussions of Yazid’s letter; he quickly vacated Madinah so as not to make it a theatre of assault and bloodshed.
(Tarikh-e-Tabari, vol. 6, p. 106-188)
Imam Husain (a.s.) embarked for Mecca. He instructed his cousin – Hazrat Muslim ibn Aqeel (a.s.) to proceed to Kufa to assess the situation there. Yazid was advised by his counselors that if he wished to secure Kufa, he would have to appoint an authoritarian governor.
For this task, Yazid aptly chose the vicious Ibne Yazid and commanded him to head for Kufa immediately with the clear mandate to apprehend Muslim ibn Aqeel (a.s.).
(Tarikh-e-Tabari, vol. 6, p. 199-200)
Imam Husain (a.s.) arrived at Karbala on 2nd Muharram 61 A.H. Thereafter Umar ibn Sa’d also reached Karbala with clear instructions from Ibne Ziyaad to kill Imam Husain (a.s.). He surrounded Imam (a.s.) from all sides, but sensed no evil or danger from him (a.s.). He wrote to Ibne Ziyaad that he did not find anything sinister in Imam Husain’s (a.s.) motives and therefore wished to return to Kufa. Ibne Ziyaad would have nothing of this – he ordered Umar ibn Sa’d to stay put in Karbala and extract the allegiance for Yazid from Imam Husain (a.s.). Umar replied that Imam Husain (a.s.) would never give his allegiance. Ibne Ziyaad replied that he would not have it any other way except that he puts Imam Husain (a.s.) and his small army to sword.
(Tarikh-e-Tabari, vol. 6, p. 234)
At long last, the world witnessed Imam Husain’s (a.s.) mettle and his steely resolve in the face of hardships and the most inhuman pressure tactics ever employed on a battlefield. He along with his family members and companions were massacred in the most barbaric manner by the evening of Ashoora.
By now the motives behind Imam Husain’s (a.s.) murder must be crystal clear to our readers. Yazid’s ascension to the throne of Syria and his unnecessary pursuit of Imam’s allegiance were the chief circumstances responsible for this tragedy.
Which Islamic sect advocates Yazid’s Caliphate
It is now time to address the more meaningful question – in the realm of Islam which sect considers Yazid’s Caliphate legitimate? As far as the Shias are concerned, they do not accord any worth to Yazid and his Caliphate; let alone Yazid, others far senior to him are not considered worthy of the caliphate that they assumed for themselves. Right from the first link in the chain of caliphate, the Shias have voiced their dissent making it abundantly evident that they have nothing to do with the Caliphs and their actions.
This fact has been adequately highlighted by the esteemed Ahle Sunnah historian – Hafiz Jalaluddin Suyuti in Tarikh al-Khulafa. At the beginning, he states clearly the reasons for compiling the book:
‘In this historical work I have recorded the biographies of those Caliphs who were known as Ameerul Momineen (Commander of the believers) and who were the Caliphs over the Muslims right from the era of Abu Bakr Siddiq (upto now).’
It is apparent from Hafiz Jalaaluddin’s comments that he considered the Caliphate of these individuals as legitimate and the title of Ameeerul Momineen (which they had sought for themselves although it was exclusively for Hazrat Ali (a.s.)) appropriate for them. Surprisingly, in his work, he does not list down the Egyptian Caliphs of Bani Fatimah (Fatimids), because he considers their Caliphate illegitimate:
‘Because their Caliphate was not legitimate for the following reasons.’
He enumerates the main reasons behind omitting their names from the list of legitimate Caliphs:
a) They were not Quraishi
b) Many among them were inclined towards apostates, oppressors and atheists i.e. they were not Muslims.
c) Some of them considered alcohol as permissible.
d) Even if they were sinless, they commanded the people to abuse the companions.
When such persons assume the mantle of Caliphate, paying allegiance to them cannot be considered correct and their leadership is without any basis.
By exposing his reasons and criteria for rejecting the Caliphs of Bani Fatimid, Hafiz Jalaaluddin Suyuti has opened the proverbial Pandora’s Box. His criteria must now stand scrutiny while enumerating the Caliphs of Bani Umayyah and Bani Abbas. Were these Caliphs not guilty of perpetrating some of the crimes that Hafiz Jalaaluddin Suyuti has listed above?
a) Did their rule not mark the advent of apostasy, oppression and atheism, thanks to their implicit and often explicit support?
b) Were alcohol, and even worse homosexuality, not a part of their lifestyles?
c) Didn’t they consider maligning the companions and even killing them (as in the incident of Harra) as perfectly legitimate?
Nonetheless, it is evident from Hafiz Jalaaluddin Suyuti’s rationale that all the Caliphs enumerated in his book are legitimate in the eyes of the Ahle Sunnah as it corresponds with their teachings and beliefs.
In addition to this, on the 9th page of his book, he records the famous prophetic saying:
‘This religion shall subsist till there exist 12 Caliphs.’
In his exegesis of this tradition, he asserts
‘The Muslims coincided in their view on Abu Bakr (i.e. there was a consensus), then Umar, then Usman, then Ali (a.s.). They then reached a consensus on Muawiya but only after the treaty with Hasan (a.s.), then they agreed upon his son – Yazid…’
As recorded in Sahih-e-Bukhaari, Ibn Hajar-e-Asqaalani has also advanced a similar exegesis of the Holy Prophet’s (s.a.w.a.) tradition. It is apparent from the support that Yazid’s caliphate has received from all quarters in the Ahle Sunnah, that he was a legitimate caliph who had the consensus of the Muslims of his period.
This very Yazid was responsible for killing the beloved grandson of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) – Imam Husain (a.s.) – because he failed to submit to the ‘legitimate’ caliph of his time – Yazid. In other words, those who set out against Imam Husain (a.s.) and killed him and deemed this act to be legitimate are the same people who believed that Yazid was the rightful caliph of the Muslims since he met all the criteria of their religion. It is clear that the teachings of their religion not only raised Yazid to the position of Caliphate, but also brought about Imam Husain’s (a.s.) murder, both of which in their eyes are valid. As we have already reiterated, the Shias have nothing to do with both these events (Yazid’s caliphate and Imam Husain’s (a.s.) killing) and deem both acts to be heinous crimes.
The Creed of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) Killers
1) Umar ibn Sa’d
When Muslim ibn Aqeel (a.s.) arrived in Kufa to take the allegiance of the Shias on behalf of Imam Husain (a.s.), some residents of Kufa reported this development to Yazid. The authors of this letter were Abdullah ibn Muslim ibn Saeed Hazrami, Ammarah ibn Utbah and Umar ibn Sa’d ibn Abi Waqqaas. In the letter, they warned Yazid thus
‘Muslim ibn Aqeel (a.s.) has arrived in Kufa and the Shias have pledged allegiance on behalf of Imam Husain ibn Ali. If you wish to secure Kufa, appoint an authoritarian governor.’
It is with reference to this letter that Yazid wrote to Ibne Ziyaad. The text of the letter is noteworthy:
‘My Shias of Kufa have written to me…’
(Taarikh-e-Tabari vol. 6, p. 199-200)
Readers would have understood by now where Umar ibn Sa’d’s loyalties resided. By writing to Yazid that Shias were pledging allegiance to Imam Husain (a.s.), he had announced his disassociation from them. More importantly, Yazid, in his letter to Ibne Ziyaad proclaims Umar ibn Sa’d as one of his Shias i.e. Umar ibn Sa’d was among those who submitted to Yazid’s Caliphate. An objective analysis will tell the readers to which Islamic sect Umar ibn Sa’d belonged.
2) Ubaydillah ibn Ziyaad
Ibne Ziyaad’s role in Karbala is sufficiently highlighted by his letter to Umar ibn Sa’d:
‘Create obstacles between Husain and his companions on one side and water (i.e. the Euphrates) on the other so that not a single drop of water reaches them. Make them suffer the thirst that the pious, the pure, the oppressed Usman ibn Affan suffered…’
(Taarikh-e-Tabari vol. 6, p. 334)
The same letter with minor changes has been recorded by Abu Hanifa – Ahmad ibn Dawood in ‘Akhbaarut Tiwaal’ Egyptian Edition p. 352.
Now, where are those who consider Imam Husain’s (a.s.) killers Shias? Let them read the historical records of their own historian – Muhammad Ibn Jurair al-Tabari (in his Taarikh) and then determine whether Imam Husain’s (a.s.) killers were Shias.
Which sect mourns the death of Usman ibn Affan? Which sect considers Usman to be pious and pure and the rightful caliph? Which sect considers it legitimate to seek vengeance for Usman’s murder? If they are the Shias, then even we proclaim that the killers of Imam Husain (a.s.) were also the Shias?
3) Ka’b ibn Jaabir
Ka’b ibn Jaabir was a warrior from Umar ibn Sa’d’s army in Karbala. He was the killer of Burair ibn Khozair, one of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) respected companions. After the battle of Karbala, he returned to his house in Kufa with the hope of bagging a reward for his feat. His sister (or wife) – Nuwaar ibn Jaabir, rebuked him for battling against the son of Janabe Fatima Zahra (s.a.) and murdering the Chief of Reciters (Burair). She swore that she would never speak to him again.
At that moment, to explain his stand, Ka’b recited some couplets the meaning of which is worth noting:
‘Have I not executed the task, which grieves you, in the best possible manner? I have shown no slackness in the battlefield while engaging in this mission. I was equipped with a lance and arrow that did not desert me in the battlefield and I had a sword that was very sharp. I drew my sword to engage in battle with a group that practiced a faith different from mine. I have submitted (my faith) to the children of Abu Sufyan. I wish someone would convey my message to Ibne Ziyaad that I am a faithful and obedient servant of the Caliph.’
(Taarikh-e-Tabari vol. 6, p. 247-248)
The words in his poem – ‘that practiced a faith different from mine’ indicates that the religion of Imam Husain (a.s.) and his companions was very different from his own. He followed the creed of Ibne Ziyaad and the children of Abu Sufyan.
4) Muzaahim ibn Haaris
One of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) companions by the name of Naafe ibn Hilaal Jamali used to recite this verse while fighting:
‘I am from Bani Jamal and am on the religion of Ali (a.s.)’.
He soon ran into a wretched person from the other side – Muzaahim ibn Haaris who declared:
‘I am on Usman’s religion’.
Muzaahim gave further proof of his wretchedness by slaying Naafe’ and elevating him to the status of the martyrdom.
(Taarikh-e-Tabari vol. 6, p. 229)
This is another instance in history clearly demarcating the practitioners of both the creeds – those of Usman and those of Hazrat Ali (a.s.). It leaves no doubt in the mind of the student of history that both these paths were as distinct as chalk and cheese and the follower of one path can never be considered as the believer of the other.
5) Amr ibn Hajjaaj
While the Battle of Karbala was being waged, Amr ibn Hajjaaj from Umar ibn Sa’d’s army cried out – ‘O People of Kufa! Be steadfast on the commands of your chief and be firm on the consensus. Do not deviate from the view that we have formed on those who have abandoned the religion and thus disobey the Imam.’
When Imam Husain (a.s.) heard this presumptuous announcement, he retorted,
‘O Amr ibn Hajjaaj! Do you dare to invite the people to wage a battle against me? Have we abandoned the religion while you are firm on it? By Allah! When death overtakes you, you will know who has abandoned religion.’
(Taarikh-e-Tabari vol. 6, p. 249)
Let readers decide the creed denounced by Imam Husain (a.s.). Isn’t it the same creed that considers the transgressing Yazid as a legitimate caliph, opposition to whom resulted in Imam Husain (a.s.) being branded a rebel and a renegade (we seek refuge in Allah)?
These were but a few of the many historical records concerning Imam Husain’s (a.s.) murderers. If these records were penned by Shia historians they would have been subject to accusations of bias and prejudice. But Allah, the Almighty, in His Infinite Wisdom made falsehood itself submit to the truth and so we have the historians from Yazid’s creed penning these historical records that clearly establish the creed of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) killers. We invite those who consider Imam Husain’s (a.s.) killers as Shias, to read the Taarikhe-e-Tabari which is compiled by a follower of Yazid’s caliphate.
At the end, we beseech Allah to hasten the reappearance of Imam-e-Zamana (a.t.f.s.) and to give us the opportunity to join Imam’s (a.t.f.s.) army and avenge the unjust killing of Imam Husain (a.s.).