Who Is Husain and How Does His Sacrifice Matter in 2019?

Iraqi government says Karbala receives 10-20 million pilgrims annually

The Imam Husain Shrine or the Station of Imam Husain ibn Ali (Arabic: مَقـام الإمـام الـحـسـيـن ابـن عـلي‎, romanized: Maqām al-Imām al-Husain ibn ‘Alī) is the mosque and burial site of Husain ibn Ali, the third Imam of Islam, in the city of Karbala’, Iraq. It stands on the site of the Mausoleum of Imam Husain.

Hyderabad (Rahnuma): Arrows through the eyes. Spears piercing the midst of an infant’s torso. Women shackled in heavy chains. A valiant soldier beheaded for his unshakable stance against tyranny.

This is the story of Karbala, the gruesome saga you were never taught, the epic that your children will never learn if not narrated.

History will never illuminate your conscience of a man named Husain (peace be upon him) or edify you about a land named Karbala. You may never have read or heard of the day 72 braves who faced an army of 30,000 strong and won emphatically.

No one has ever recounted the chronicles of the plight that the great British historian Edward Gibbons said will “awaken the sympathy of the coldest reader.”

You may never have truly felt the gravity of events encompassing Imam Hussein, Karbala, or Ashura, and you probably didn’t need to for reasons unknown! Not anymore, this time in Islamic and global history it never meant anything, until now.

More than 1300 years ago back then, the virtuous Husain, the grandson of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), rode on with his family, accompanied by a bunch of loyalists to Kufa in present-day Iraq.

On growing cognizant of the anguish of the people of the city who pleaded with him earnestly to save them from the tyranny of their caliph, Yazid the son of Muawiyah.

The Imam Husain Shrine or the Station of Imam Husain ibn Ali (Arabic: مَقـام الإمـام الـحـسـيـن ابـن عـلي‎, romanized: Maqām al-Imām al-Husain ibn ‘Alī) is the mosque and burial site of Husain ibn Ali, the third Imam of Islam, in the city of Karbala’, Iraq. It stands on the site of the Mausoleum of Imam Husain.

During his journey to Kufa, the caravan was intercepted by the minions of Yazid and they forced the caravan to divert towards Karbala, Iraq.

On their way, Husain’s family was denied access to drinking water in the blistering sands for three agonizing days as a reprisal for their defiance against the rule of Yazid. Husain’s family and companions were followed constantly and were under the watch of Yazid’s men, who made sure their journey towards Karbala gets appalling.

The stand-off between the stooges of Yazid and Husain ended when it transpired that Husain’s murder and of his people is what Yazid intended, thus setting an example for those who cried foul against his despotism.

The army of the Yazid butchered the 72 braves on the arid sands of Karbala, took the helpless women of the family of the Prophet Muhammad and their children as prisoners.

This isn’t one of a lesson in history, a parable, or an allegory. There have been battles throughout known history that have been just as spiteful and evocative. None of those have been as deliberately overlooked and neglected, as the battle of Karbala.

In this day and age, the saga of Karbala means more to Islam and the world given the existing state of affairs, especially regarding social or political issues.

An aerial view shows Iraqi pilgrims gathering at the shrine of Imam Abbas ibn Ali, the brother of Imam Husain, in the holy city of Karbala, 80 kilometers south of the capital Baghdad.

This gives us ample reasons to know more about the Battle of Karbala –

Oppression In The Name of Religion

If one thinks ISIS has only been around of late, it’s because of lack of awareness of the heart-wrenching events of Karbala that took place ages ago and are now a vague memory in the 21st century.

It is quite evident that Husain was opposing the same ideology almost 1300 years ago. He refused to pledge allegiance to Yazid and his father Muawiyah, who killed, tortured, plundered, and denied their own subjects in the name of Islam.

Let the bitter truth be told, they neither practiced any of the pillars of Islam, nor cared about the fundamental principles of humanity on which the foundation of a society is laid that holds together people irrespective of their culture, race, or religion.

Was it not for Husain’s morality, Islam would have been in shambles long ago. The legend of Husain and the valor of 72 companions, still resounds loud and clear when narrated, it often invokes his spirit in every righteous person.

The psyche of the society to fight off injustice and deprivation has in return fortified Muslim profusion throughout the world.

However, to our misfortune the Yazidis of present-day in the form of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, you name them, are on a spree to tarnish the morally correct image of Islam.

Imam Husain’s Shrine, Imam Husain bought a piece of land after his arrival at Karbala’ from Bani Asad. He and his Ahl al-Bayt are buried in that portion, known as al-Ḥā’ir, where the Shrines are presently located.


Karbala and the day of Ashura (the day the massacre was witnessed) teaches us about unity. It is not about Good Islam versus Bad Islam.

It’s not about Husain versus Yazid. It’s not even about Right versus Wrong. It’s truly, and undisputedly all about Good versus Evil.

The fight against the evil is what united people to take up arms to fight for justice alongside Husain on that land called Karbala.

Let me tell you about an anomaly that happened during the trying times. A man named Hur (Arabic word for ‘free man’), who was one of the generals of Yazid broke away from his army and fought alongside Husain when he realized the corrupt ways of Yazid. He was the first to be martyred when the righteousness clashed with dread of evil.

An Ethiopian Christian John bin Huwai of that time fought alongside Husain on moral grounds. Despite being an old feeble man, and Husain urging him to keep away from the battlefield. John fought alongside Husain, he sacrificed his life for the greater good of humanity.

Husain, his family, friends, and companions were from different races, cultures, and religions, yet they stood hand in hand against the army of oppression. If we put aside our differences, the thirst for power and domination will die its own death.

Once united, we can easily defeat anyone who stands in the way of keeping humanity safe and inherently good.

To pass on Husain’s message of unity and righteousness to the next generation, many of his followers use Ashura and his defiance against injustice to bring people from different walks of life together for charity, tolerance, and goodwill.

In Iraq, where the shrine of Husain and his companions are located. Each year, thousands of Iraqi people, open their doors with open arms to the millions of visitors of Husain, no matter what their religion, ethnicity or economic situation is.

The painting depicts “The Battle at Kerbala” from the Middle East; 20th century

Resistance and Sacrifice

Perhaps, the most important of lessons one can learn from Husain and his army is that of perseverance and sacrifice.

Mahatma Gandhi once said, “If I had an army like the 72 soldiers of Husain, I would have won freedom for India in 24 hours.”

Each and every story of the martyrs of Karbala moistens my eyes. The sacrifices range from grown men to the 6-month old son of Husain who knew not of the skirmish of good versus evil but of thirst and hunger. When Husain held him up and begged that they be allowed access to water, Yazid’s army shot three spears into his heart as an act of barbarism.

The saddest of sacrifices one can recollect is of Husain’s brother, Abbas, who had crossed the battlefield to the river Euphrates to bring water back to quench the thirst of the parched throats of the infants and children. There, he filled a water skin bag in hopes of quenching their thirst. He was caught by the henchmen of Yazid who put an arrow through his eye and cut off his arms.

The brutal mutilation did not deter his courage as he kept on crawling on his knees by carrying the skin bag of water in his mouth towards the tents filled with children, he was humiliated and killed without any display of mercy.

Drenched in Abbas’s blood, the blood of his martyred teenage son, his companions, and infant child, Husain stood alone on the battlefield, with women, children, and the ailing biding time in their tents.

He bid them farewell and shouted at an empty desert behind him “Is there anyone to help me?”, His shouts for aid met with dead silence, he marched alone to fight the army of Yazid, eventually he was overpowered, beheaded, stomped on, and his head impaled on a pike.

They tied up the women and children and made them march from one city to other as a sign of total subjugation, the trail of tears of the grieving were left behind as they marched with the severed head of Hussein all the way back to their commander, Yazid.

All over the world, people today are resisting injustice, and they invigorate their panache from the sacrifice of Husain.

The tomb of Imam Husain is one of the holiest places for Muslims, outside of Mecca and Medina, and many make pilgrimages to the site. Every year, millions of pilgrims visit the city to observe Ashura, which marks the anniversary of Imam Husain’s death. Every year for Arba’een rituals that occurs forty days after the Day of Ashura up to 45 million people go to the city of Karbala.

The big fat book of history will never teach you of a strong-willed woman, like Zainab, the sister of Husain, who embodied true feminism and stood up to the tyrant Yazid in his castle, even as they were handcuffed and threatened to be raped and sold as slaves.

The books never enlighten you about the high regard with which so many great men and women (authors, historians, presidents, Nobel Prize winners, artists, etc) held Husain.

Charles Dickens is quoted as saying, “If Husain had fought to quench his worldly desires…then I do not understand why his sister, wife, and children accompanied him.”

The first President of India, Dr. Ragendra Pasad, said, “The sacrifice of Imam Husain is not limited to one country, or nation, but it is the hereditary state of the brotherhood of all mankind.”

Although, a victor in resistance and injustice, Husain did not live to speak of his victory. The people who witnessed his severed head being paraded through their cities did, and the families of those martyred did. They wrote and spoke a million words of his valor and his faith in peace.

However, the children will probably never read a history book about Islam that narrates the Battle of Karbala in the most heartfelt manner. Sadly, it is the last thing that you will remember when you recollect the greatest battles of mankind.

You won’t remember it when you read about ISIS or watch a CNN documentary about Islam.

Sad but true, our children need to know about the legend of Husain. His life teaches us endurance and the strength of unity in the face of injustice and deprivation. Feminism, ethics, morality, and unity are the biggest takeaways for anyone who knows about it.

Even if we are reticent to share the historical events of Karbala with our kids and students about Islam and Husain, we can do a whole lot of good by removing the religious factor from the equation and what remains is a tear-jerking epic battle of a man for justice that has welled so many eyes for centuries.

The Lebanese writer Antoine Bara once wrote, “No battle in the modern and past history of mankind has earned more sympathy and admiration as well as provided more lessons than the martyrdom of Husain in the battle of Karbala.”

Husain and Karbala should not just to be remembered in the month of Muharram, but are to be revered in every moment of our lives.

Ask yourself, if the Battle of Karbala can teach us so much about standing against the image of Islam that the world and media hold today, then why don’t we ever learn about it?

Persian Miniatures of the Battle of Karbala, Persia, Qajar, circa 1850
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