By: Fatema Makki
More than 1300 years after his martyrdom, Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) still stands as an exemplary figure in terms of his leadership, bravery and patience. This memory of the greatest martyr in the Islamic history has affected Muslims and non-Muslims until today as many a lesson can be derived from his life.
Unfortunately, when one regards the majority of our knowledge concerning this figure, one realizes that it is only related to the last year of his life during 61 H.. If you are to ask anyone about the 56 years of the life of Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.), many will not be able to come up with anecdotes regarding his life.
It is sad that we only know about the last days of the life of the one who was very dear to both Allah and His Messenger (p) as the latter once narrated: “Hussein is from me and I am from Hussein, and Allah loves the one who loves Hussein.” We need to shed light on his life in order to examine the factors that governed it, leading to his martyrdom which ultimately affected Muslims and non-Muslims as well.
Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) was born on the 3rd of Shaaban in the 4th Hijri year. He was the second of the four children of the most beautiful marriage in the religion of Islam, between Imam Ali (a.s.) and Sayyeda Fatimah (a.s.). From his birth, Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) had an exemplary relation with his grandfather (p.), the Messenger of Allah (p.). The Prophet (p.) taught us how the grandfather-grandchild relation was essential in shaping the child’s personality. Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) was raised in an environment of warmth, humility and manners. He picked up after his grandfather (p.), the one with the highest morals.
At a very young age, Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) along with Imam Al-Hassan (a.s.), who were 5 and 6 at that time, accompanied the Prophet (p.) during the event of Mubahalah. The Christians of Najran visited the Prophet (p.) and had a dialogue with him. The envoys sent by the Christians were all above the age of 40, while the Prophet (p.) came along with Imam Ali (a.s.), Lady Fatima (a.s.), and the two Imams (a.s.). The Christians were amazed that Muhammad (p.) had trust in a five and six-year olds: the Prophet (p.) was showing us that if you give responsibility to the youth from a very young age, they would blossom and mature into trustworthy individuals.
The Prophet (p) passed away when Al-Hussein (a.s.) was seven years old. A couple of months later, Lady Fatima (a.s.), too, passed away. Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.), by then, grew very attached to his father, Ali (a.s.), and never left his side. He used to accompany his father (a.s.) to the mosque for prayer, sermons and the like…
Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) was thirty six when his father (a.s.) was martyred. After the martyrdom of his brother, Imam Al-Hassan (a.s.), the rule of Mu’awiyah aggravated until people could no longer tolerate it, and revolution became a natural reaction that everybody was talking about. Then, the whole situation was further aggravated, when Mu’awiyah asked the people to pledge their loyalty to his son, Yazid.
Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) stood up in a decisive stand that gave the issue its significant size and said: “we are the family of prophethood whom the Quran was revealed to, while Yazid is a dissolute man who drinks wine and kills innocent people despite Allah's prohibition,” and ended by saying: “A man like me does not pledge loyalty to a man like him.”
Thus, Imam Al-Hussein declared his opposition to the tyrant rule. Then, he started to prepare the psychological atmosphere for leaving Al-Medina. He chose to leave the people before the ninth of Thul-Hijja while the pilgrims were on their way to Mina. He transformed his Hajj into a Umra and left the people who were waiting for the Imam to be with them on the Mount of Arafah. The people were heading for Mina, while he was heading for Iraq.
He wanted the people to wonder about why he did not leave straight to Iraq from Mecca, but left the day the people were getting ready to stand at Arafah, to initiate a revolution against Yazid and the Umayyad rule.
He also left in an interesting way. Usually a rebel would not take with him his family and children and those of his, but the Imam did just that to create a feeling of protest in the eyes of everyone who saw the convoy making the people feel that even the Imam's family and children were threatened by the tyrant ruler, and that it would not be safe to leave them in Medina, the continuation of the revolution after his Martyrdom.
The Imam marched on. He was followed by many people. Some of them seeking the positions and other gains they would attain if he were to be successful. But the Imam was well aware of their motives, that is why he stood up and gave a sermon in which he told them about the inevitable fate and said: “It is better for me to receive death which I shall surely meet. I can see my limbs turn by wild beasts of the desert between Nawawis and Karbala.”
The ultimate figure that died in resistance of dictatorship and tyranny was the exemplary character of Imam Hussein (a.s.). He is a person of emulation: a prophetic leader, a social reformer, and a fighter for justice. In his quest for freedom of tyranny, he sacrificed his life with the deepest faith that “what is with Allah is better and more lasting for those who believe and rely on their Lord” (42:36).