Chapter 10 : YAZID AND THE MARTYRDOM OF IMAM HUSAYN
In Rajab 60 AH / March 680 CE, Mu’awiya died at the age of 77. His son Yazid assumed the Caliphate in accordance with his father's unprecedented testament. Due to Mu’awiya meticulous arrangements and his formidable military grip on the Muslim world, the transition went smoothly. The only major setback to Yazid's complete domination was the refusal of the four prominent figures of the tabi'un or second generation after the Prophet (pbh), to recognize him.
Before the news of Mu’awiya’s death became known to the people, Yazid quickly ordered the governor of Medina, Al-Walid b. 'Utba to extract homage from the refractory; Husayn b. Ali, 'Abd Allah b. az-Zubayr, 'Abd Allah b. 'Umar and 'Abd ar-Rahman b. Abi Bakr, in order to secure his position. When summoned by Al-Walid, Ibn az-Zubayr departed for Mecca while Husayn confronted him and challenged him to arrange a public ceremony for the bay'a or swearing of allegiance. Refusing to accept the suggestion of Marwan al-Hakam to arrest or behead Husayn, Al-Walid let him go.
To avoid any further confrontation, two days later, Husayn departed for Mecca. News of Mu’awiya’s demise brought renewed enthusiastic support for Husayn not only from the people of Mecca who welcomed him warmly but also from the people of Kufa. They sent letters upon letters inviting them to be their Imam or leader.
Yazid however got word of Muslim's presence in Kufa and the support which was pledged to Imam Husayn and therefore sent his strong man 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad, the governor of Basra to handle the situation. Arriving in Kufa, Ibn Ziyad declared that any sympathizers of Imam Husayn would have their house burnt and property confiscated and their selves put to death. He captured Muslim and had him beheaded leaving the Kufans terrorized.
Meanwhile in Mecca, pilgrims were arriving for the Hajj or pilgrimage. Imam Husayn became aware that Yazid had sent agents masquerading as pilgrims to kill him so to avoid bloodshed and sacrilege during the religious ceremonies, Imam Husayn left Mecca on 8th. Dhul-Hijja 60 AH / 10 September 680 CE, just a day before the Hajj commenced.
Making his way to Kufa with just 50 men, Imam Husayn learnt that all normal routes to and from Kufa were blocked by the Umayyad army. At Ath-Thl'libiya, he learnt of the execution of Muslim; at Zubala he learned that the messenger he had dispatched to inform the Kufans of his imminent arrival, had be brutally killed. Upon learning of the strong military force stationed at an outpost called Al-Qadisiya, he took and alternative route to Kufa but was intercepted by Hurr b. Yazid
at-Tamimi and his 1,000 troops. Hurr however dreaded to kill the grandson of the Prophet (pbh) and simply followed Imam Husayn as the latter proceeded. On the 2nd Muharram 61 AH / 2 October 680 CE, Imam Husayn made an encampment at the plain of Karbala. The next day a reinforcement force of 4,000 arrived led by Umar b. Sa'd to join Hurr.
Although he tortured his enemy with thirst by blocking access to a nearby river, Umar Sa'd did not attack Imam Husayn but was hoping for a peaceful breakthrough. Orders brought to him by Shamir from Ibn Ziyad however, commanded him to either attack or hand over command to Shamir.
Seeing Ibn Sa'd preparing for attack, Imam Husayn sent his half-brother 'Abbas to request one night of respite. The Imam was aware of the impending defeat and needed that night to tell those who wanted to leave to do so. He was also very much aware that the price for reawakening the religious consciousness of the Muslims towards the ideals taught by the Holy Qur'an and Sunnah of his grandfather the Holy Prophet (pbh) was his own life.
From among the 50 who were with Imam Husayn since Mecca plus others either from Kufa who were able to join him along the way, or of those who had defected form the Umayyad army and joined Husayn, only a few took leave, leaving a force of 72 fighting men on the Imam's side.
So on the 10th Muharram, the day known as al-Ashura, one by one the army of the Holy Prophet's grandson (pbh) were massacred. Their bodies were then denuded and their heads
The Umayyads departed for Kufa in a procession of 72 heads raised on the points of lances held by 72 soldiers, followed by the women, whose chadors were snatched off, and the children of the Prophet's (pbh) family (pbt), all now captives. These included the 22 year old son of Imam Husayn named Ali, who was very ill and unable to move and had not been able to take up arms, his four year old son Muhammad, Hasan al-Muthanna, the son of Hasan b. Ali b. Abi Talib and Zainab, daughter of Ali b. Abi Talib.
After being displayed in public at Kufa, the severed head of imam Husayn, the Holy Prophet's grandson (pbh) was taken to Damascus to be presented to Yazid in a lavish court ceremony along with the other captives. Yazid did not have any remorse for the slaying of Imam Husayn and treated the captives harshly and imprisoned them for a year.
After being released, the Prophet's family (pbt) went back to Karbala before settling in Medina. During his reign as the Caliph, Yazid continued to openly flaunt his disregard for Islam which had brought him notoriety since even before his father's death. If the Caliphate could have still be argued as having some religious significance, Yazid's behavior ensured that the Caliphate was in fact a monarchy.