14 Infallibles

#5 - Imam al-Husayn b. 'Ali (AS)


Al-Husayn b. ʿAli b. Abi Talib (a) (Arabic: الحسين بن علي بن أبي طالب) (b. Sha'ban 34/January 8, 626 – d. Muharram 1061/October 10, 680) also known as Abu 'Abd Allah and Sayyid al-Shuhada', was the third Imam of the Shi'a who was martyred in the Battle of Karbala after 10 years of Imamate. He was the second son of Imam 'Ali (a) and Lady Fatima (a), and the grandson of the Prophet (s).

At the time of his birth, the Prophet (s) foretold his martyrdom and chose al-Husayn as his name. The Prophet (s) introduced him and his brother, Imam al-Hasan (a), as the Masters of the Youth of Paradise. The Prophet (s) loved the two (al-Hasanayn) and instructed people to love them. Al-Husayn (a) is one of the Ashab al-Kisa', one of the participants of the Mubahala, and one of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) about whom al-Tathir Verse is revealed. There are scores of hadiths narrated directly from the Prophet (s) that only add more to the distinctive status of al-Husayn (a).

There are few reports about his life in the three decades after the demise of the Prophet (s). In the period of the caliphate of Imam 'Ali (a), he accompanied his father and participated in the battles of SiffinJamal, and Nahrawan alongside his father. After the demise of Imam 'Ali (a), he followed and supported Imam al-Hasan (a). He confirmed the treaty between Imam al-Hasan (a) and Mu'awiya. Even after the martyrdom of Imam al-Hasan (a), Imam al-Husayn (a) adhered to the treaty until the Mu'awiya's death. In response to letters from Kufa which invited him to lead an uprising against Mu'awiya he recommended them to remain patient until the time of Mu'awiya's death.

The imamate of Imam al-Husayn (a) coincided with the rule of Mu'awiya, who supposedly respected the Imam (a) but, at the same time, took pleasure in weakening and subjugating the Shi'a. Imam al-Husayn (a) rebuked Mu'awiya in several cases, he wrote Mu'awiya a letter, condemning him for the murder of Hujr b. Adi. On another occasion, when Mu'awiya introduced Yazid as his successor, Imam al-Husayn (a) refused to pledge allegiance to him, calling him unfit for leadership and proclaimed himself as the rightful leader of the ummah. The sermon of the Imam (a) in Mina can also be regarded as a political lecture against the Umayyads.

After Mu'awiya died, Imam al-Husayn (a) refused to give allegiance to Yazid and considered his rise to caliphate as illegitimate. When al-Walid b. 'Utba, the governor of Medina, was sent to order Imam al-Husayn (a) to either pledge allegiance to Yazid or be killed, Imam al-Husayn (a) made his way from Medina towards Mecca on Rajab 2860/May 4, 680. In the four months he stayed in Mecca, he received many letters that urged him to assume the leadership of ummah. As Imam (a) and his companions approached Kufa, the army of 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad intercepted Imam's caravan on Yazid's order.

For fear of revenge from Yazid's army, the people of Kufa reneged on their promises to support the Imam (a). As a result, the Battle of Karbala took place on the Day of 'Ashura'. Imam (a) along with a handful of his companions (around seventy-two) were martyred and the remaining companions were taken as captives to Kufa and Syria.

There are differing views as to the purpose of Imam's (a) journey from Medina to Karbala. Some believe that Imam (a) intended to establish a government, but others hold that Imam (a) merely wanted to protect his own life.

The martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) has had a deep impact on Muslims in general and on the Shi'a in particular; it has been a source of inspiration for various resistance movements and revolutions throughout history.

Following the school of the Imams (a) visiting the shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a), the mourning ceremonies, and other associated rituals that ensued to commemorate his martyrdom, found their unique place among Shi'a circles especially during months of Muharram and Safar.

Sunni Muslims speak highly of Imam al-Husayn (a), because of a) the hadiths they have transmitted about his virtues and b) his resistance against Yazid.

Imam al-Husayn's (a) hadiths, letters, sermons, poems, and supplications have been collected in Mawsu'at kalimat al-Imam al-Husayn (The Encyclopedia of Imam al-Husayn's Words) and in Musnad al-Imam al-Shahid (The Musnad of the Martyred Imam). Many works have also been published regarding aspects of his life and personality.

Biographical Snapshot


Abu 'Abd Allah


Sha'ban 34/January 8, 626




From Safar 2850/March 27, 670(for 10 years)

Contemporary Rulers



Muharram 1061/October 10, 680

Cause of Martyrdom

At the Battle of Karbala

Burial Place



Al-Hasan b. 'Ali (a)


'Ali b. al-Husayn (a)


'Ali b. Abi Talib (a)


Fatima bt. Muhammad (a)




ZaynabUmm Kulthum


RababLaylaUmm IshaqShahrbanu


'Ali'Ali al-Akbar'Ali al-Asghar





Detailed Information

Al-Husayn b. Ali b. Abi Talib b. Abd al-Muttalib b. Hashim was a Hashemite and from the Quraysh tribe. His father was Imam Ali (a) and his mother was Lady Fatima (a). He is a grandson of the Prophet (s). Imam al-Hasan (a), Abu l-Fadl al-Abbas, and Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya are his brothers, and Lady Zaynab is his sister.[1]

According to Shi’a and Sunni narrations, the Prophet (s) followed God’s order and named him al-Husayn[2] The names al-Hasan and al-Husayn have no historical precedence before Islam[3] and are translations of Shubbar and Shubayr[4] the names of the two sons Aaron.[5] There are other reports too about why he was named al-Husayn. It is reported, for instance, that Imam Ali (a) initially named him Harb or Ja’far, but the Prophet (s) chose the name al-Husayn for him.[6] However, scholars have regarded such reports as inauthentic.[7]

His Teknonym was Abu Abd Allah[8] which, like his name, was given by the Prophet (s) when al-Husayn was a child.[9] Also, Imam al-Husayn (a) was known by other kunyas, Abu Ali, Abu l-Shuhada [father of the martyrs], Abu l-Ahrar [father of the free-minded], and Abu al-Mujahidin [father of the fighters (on the way of God)].[10]

Many titles have been attributed to Imam al-Husayn (a), and some of them are as the same as the titles associated with his brother, Imam al-Hasan (a), such as Sayyid Shabab Ahl al-Janna (master of the youth of the paradise). Al-Zaki, al-Tayyib, al-Wafi, al-Sayyid, al-Mubarak, al-Nafi’, al-Dalil Ala Dhat Allah, al-Rashid, and al-Tabi’ li-Mardat Allah are among the special titles of Imam al-Husayn (a).[11] Ibn Talha al-Shafi’i reports “al-Zaki” as the most popular title and “Sayyid Shabab Ahl al-Janna” as the most important of the Imam’s (a) titles.[12] In some Shi’a hadiths, Imam al-Husayn (a) is referred to as al-Shahid or Sayyid al-Shuhada.[13] Thar Allah and Qatil al-‘Abarat are other titles which are mentioned in some ziyarah texts.[14]

According to a hadith, which is recorded in many Sunni and Shiite sources, the Prophet (s) said, “al-Husayn is a sibt from the asbat.”[15] About the meaning of sibt and its plural asbat, it is said that asbat are those descendants of prophets who are chosen as leaders of people.[16]

Imam al-Husayn (a) was born in Medina. While some have recorded that he (a) was born in 3/625,[17] the most preferred account among historians and scholars is that his birth was in 4/626.[18] There is no consensus regarding the day on which Imam (a) was born but it is believed it was most likely on Sha’ban 3.[19] Al-Mufid mentioned his birth on Sha’ban 5.[20]

According to Sunni and Shiite reports, when al-Husayn (a) was born, the Prophet (s) wept and talked about his martyrdom.[21] According to some reports, in his childhood, Umm al-Fadl, the wife of al-Abbas b. Abd al-Muttalib, became his wet nurse.[22]

There is disagreement about the count of the children of Imam al-Husayn (a). Al-Shaykh al-Mufid reports Imam al-Husayn (a) had six children, four boys and two girls.[23] Some scholars counted nine children, six boys and three girls.[24] Few people have said his children were more than ten.  
Wife Lineage Children Comment
Shahrbanu daughter of Yazdgirdو the king of Iran Imam al-Sajjad (a) Contemporary researchers doubt this,[25] in some reports she is mentioned as Sindiyya, Ghazala, and Shah-i Zanan
Rabab daughter of Imru’ al-Qays b. Adi Sukayna and Abd Allah[26] She was present in the Battle of Karbala and went to Syria among the captives of Karbala.[27] Abd Allah was an infant when he was martyred during the Battle of Karbala.[28] Today, Shi’as name him as Ali al-Asghar.
Layla daughter of Abu Murra b. Urwa al-Thaqafi[29] Ali al-Akbar (a)[30] Ali al-Akbar (a) was the eldest son of Imam al-Husayn (a), who was martyred in Karbala.
Umm Ishaq bt. Talha daughter of Talha b. ‘Ubayd Allah Fatima[31] Umm Ishaq was a wife of Imam al-Hasan (a), after his martyrdom, Imam al-Husayn (a) married her.[32]
Sulafa or Maluma from Quda’a tribe Ja’far[33] He passed away before the events of Ashura’, and was survived by no children.[34]
In Lubab al-ansab,[35] a sixth/twelfth century source, it is mentioned that Imam al-Husayn (a) had a daughter called Ruqayya. Also, in Kamil-i Baha’i, from the seventh/thirteenth century, reports that the Imam (a) had a four-year old daughter, who passed away in Damascus.[36] The name Ruqayya appears in many later sources. Moreover, some sources mention Ali al-Asghar, the son of Shahrbanu, Muhammad, the son of Rabab, and Zaynab without mentioning her mother’s name as the children of Imam al-Husayn (a).[37] In his book Matalib al-sa’ul, Ibn Talha al-Shafi’i has stated that the Imam (a) had ten children.[38]

Imam al-Husayn (a) was seven years old when the Prophet of Islam (s) passed away; nevertheless, even in those short years, he was present in important events of that time together with the Ahl al-Bayt (a), such as in the Event of Mubahala with the Christians of Najran, the event of the Ashab al-Kisa’ [the Cloak],[39] giving allegiance to the Prophet (s) and being asked to be a witness when writing letters.

Ibn Sa’d mentioned Imam al-Husayn (a) in the last class (fifth class) of the Companions of the Prophet (s), he was a small child when the Prophet (s) passed away and did not accompany him in any battle.[40]

He was always especially favored by the Prophet (s). It is narrated from the Prophet (s), “Surely, al-Hasan and al-Husayn are the masters of the youths in paradise.”

Ya’li al-Amiri narrated from the Prophet (s) that, “al-Husayn is of me and I am of al-Husayn, God loves who loves him; al-Hasan and al-Husayn are two sons among the sons [of prophets].”[41]

It is narrated from Salman al-Farsi, that the Prophet (s) put al-Husayn (a) on his lap and kissed him and said, “You are noble, son of a noble person and [will be] the father of noble ones; you are an Imam and son of an Imam and the father of Imams; you are the Proof of God, and son of the Proof of God and father of the proofs of God who are nine and the last of whom is their al-Qa’im.”

The Prophet’s (s) love towards al-Hasan (a) and al-Husayn (a) was so much that when they entered the mosque, he (s) would stop his speech, and come down from the pulpit to welcome them with hugs.[42] Anas b. Malik says, “When the Prophet (s) was asked whom he (s) loved more among his family, he (s) replied, ‘al-Hasan and al-Husayn.'”[43]

Imam al-Husayn (a) spent around twenty five years of his life under the rule of the three caliphs. He (a) was seven years old at the beginning of the caliphate of the first caliph, nine years old at the beginning of the caliphate of the second caliph and nineteen years old at the beginning of the caliphate of the third caliph.[68] There is not so much information available about the life of al-Husayn (a) during this period which may be due to Imam Ali’s (a) withdrawal from the rule.[69]

Caliphate of Abu Bakr

It is reported that in the first days of the caliphate of Abu Bakr, al-Husayn (a) together with his brother, al-Hasan (a), their mother, Lady Fatima (a) and their father, Ali (a) went to the houses of those who participated in the Battle of Badr to gain support for the rightful position of leadership which belonged to Imam Ali (a).[70]

Caliphate of Umar

It is reported in some sources that one of the early days of the caliphate of Umar, al-Husayn (a) entered al-Masjid al-Nabawi where he (a) saw Umar giving a speech on the pulpit of the Prophet (s). So, he (a) stepped up the pulpit and told him, “Come down from the pulpit of my father and go sit on the pulpit of your father!” Umar was astounded at this statement and said, “My father did not have a pulpit!”[71] There are reports about the special respect of the second caliph for al-Husayn (a).[72]

Caliphate of ‘Uthman

When Uthman exiled Abu Dhar to Rabadha, he forbade anyone from accompanying or bidding him farewell. Al-Husayn (a) with his father, his brother al-Hasan (a), his uncle (Aqil b. Abi Talib), his cousin (Abd Allah b. Ja’far), and Ammar b. Yasir disregarded the caliph’s order and bid farewell to Abu Dhar.[73]

According to some Sunni sources, al-Hasan (a) and al-Husayn (a) participated in the Battle of Ifriqiyya in 26/646-7[74] and in the Battle of Tabaristan in 29/649-50 or 30/650-1.[75] This report is not affirmed in any Shiite sources. Moreover, it is said that no fight occurred in those battles, and the two sides made peace.[76] Scholars disagree as to the authenticity of the reports that indicate the presence of the two Imams (a) in these battles. For instance, considering the weakness of their chains of transmitters and the disagreement of the Imams with the conquests, al-Sayyid Ja’far Murtada al-‘Amili (d. 2019) maintains that these reports are inauthentic. He mentions that the fact that Imam Ali (a) did not allow them to fight in the Battle of Siffin is further evidence that those reports are fabricated.[77] However, some other scholars hold that the participation of the two Imams (a) in those battles were for the greater good of the Ummah and in order to provide Imam Ali (a) with accurate information about the circumstances and also to acquaint people with Ahl al-Bayt (a).[78]

Despite dissatisfaction regarding the leadership of the Third CaliphImam ‘Ali (a) ordered al-Husayn (a) and al-Hasan (a) to go and protect ‘Uthman’s house, when people rose against his oppression and stormed towards his house.[79] This report has supporters and deniers.[80]

It is reported that when people paid allegiance to Imam Ali (a), al-Husayn (a) delivered a speech.[81] During the Battle of Jamal, he was the commander of the left wing of his father’s army.[82] In the Battle of Siffin, he delivered a speech, encouraging people to jihad,[83] and became the commander of the warriors of the right wing of the army.[84] However, al-Hasanayn’s (a) role in Siffin was limited, according to sources that allude to Imam Ali’s (a) preference not to involve his sons in the fighting only to protect them, on one occasion, it is reported that in this battle al-Husayn (a) was present in a successful attempt to reclaim the control of water, which Imam Ali (a) later described the act as the first success achieved due to sheer blessing given upon the presence of al-Husayn.[85] Reports that al-Husayn (a) participated in the Battle of Nahrawan also exist.[86]

Some sources report that when Imam Ali (a) was martyred, al-Husayn (a) was with him[87] and participated in his burial ceremony.[88] However, according to some other sources, al-Husayn (a) was on a mission in al-Mada’in when his father was attacked and wounded by Ibn Muljam. He returned to Kufa when he received the letter of his brother informing him about the assassination.[89]

Al-Husayn (a) had the utmost respect for his brother. It is reported, for instance, that if Imam al-Hasan (a) was present in a session, al-Husayn (a) would not speak.[90] After the martyrdom of Imam Ali (a) a group of Khawarij, who did not want to give up fighting against the Syrians, refused to pledge allegiance to Imam al-Hasan (a) and came to al-Husayn (a) to choose him as their leader. He told them, “God forbid that I accept your allegiance while al-Hasan (a) is alive.”[91] When Imam al-Hasan (a) made peace with Mu’awiya, al-Husayn (a) defended his brother’s decision against the people who opposed it.[92] He stated that al-Hasan (a) “is my Imam.”[93] It is reported that when the peace treaty was made, Imam al-Husayn (a), like his brother, paid allegiance to Mu’awiya.[94] He remained faithful to the treaty after the martyrdom of Imam al-Hasan (a).[95] There are, however, some reports indicating that al-Husayn (a) did not pledge allegiance to Mu’awiya and was not pleased with the treaty,[96] but, considering the evidence against such reports, scholars have regarded them as unreliable.[97] According to reliable reports, at the time of the treaty of Imam al-Hasan (a) and Mu’awiya, some followers of the Ahl al-Bayt (a) asked al-Husayn (a) to oppose this political peace treaty and stand against Mu’awiya. However, he (a) firmly supported his brother’s treaty. When Qays b. Sa’d asked al-Husayn’s (a) view on the treaty, he (a) openly shared his support for Imam al-Hasan’s (a) decision. After the peace treaty was signed, al-Husayn (a) returned to Medina and remained there.[98]

The beginning of the imamate of Imam al-Husayn (a) coincided with the tenth year of Mu’awiya’s rule. After the peace treaty with Imam al-Hasan (a) in 41/661,[99] Mu’awiya became the caliph of the Muslim ummah and established the Umayyad dynasty. According to Sunni sources, he was a clever and patient person[100] and apparently a practicing Muslim, though he had gained power through political plots.[101] He pretended to be a righteous person and a defender of religion and its rulings. However, he turned the caliphate into a kingdom[102] and publicly stated that he did not care whether the people practiced their religion or not.[103]

One of the issues during the reign of Mu’awiya was the presence of Shiite beliefs among people, especially in Iraq. The Shiites, like the Kharijites, were the enemies of Mu’awiya, but unlike the Kharijites, the Shiites enjoyed strong popular support as a result of the influence of Imam Ali (a) and the Ahl al-Bayt (a). Because of this, Mu’awiya would demote and persecute the Shiites in different ways. One of the ways was to create hatred for Imam Ali (a) in the hearts of the people. Thus, he had the preachers curse Imam Ali (a) on the pulpits, a phenomenon which continued during the reign of the subsequent Umayyad rulers.[104] He wrote to his governors to delete the names of the Shiites from the treasury, stop paying them anything, and reject their testification in courts.[105] He also threatened the traditionists who quoted hadiths about the virtues of Imam Ali (a). Because of this threat, some traditionists would use expressions such as “a man from the Quraysh,” “one of the companions of the Prophet (s),” or “Abu Zaynab” when they wanted to refer to Imam Ali (a).[106]

Proofs of Imamate

Imam al-Husayn (a) became the Imam of the Shi’a after the martyrdom of his brother in 50/670, and his imamate continued until 61/680. In addition to general proofs, Shiite scholars mention specific proofs for the imamate of each Imam (a).[107] Al-Shaykh al-Mufid has mentioned a number of proofs for the imamate of Imam al-Husayn (a) in his al-Irshad, including a hadith of the Prophet (s) saying, “These two sons of mine are Imams, be they sitting or standing”,[108] and it is further proof of the Imamate of al-Hasan (a) and al-Husayn (a).

In addition to this, there are other hadiths narrated from the Prophet (s) in which he (s) has explicitly mentioned the number of Imams, the imamate of Ali (a), al-Hasan (a), al-Husayn (a) and the nine descendants of Imam al-Husayn (a).

In Imam al-Hasan’s (a) will, there was clear direction regarding the succession of al-Husayn (a) following his death, as well as direction to Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya to follow Imam al-Husayn (a).[109] Al-Shaykh al-Mufid believes the imamate of Imam al-Husayn (a) was clear even though he (a) did not announce out of taqiyya and his belief in the cause of peace and abandoning hostilities. However, after Mu’awiya‘s death, Imam al-Husayn (a) openly declared his position as Imam.[110]

Before he left Medina in 60/680, Imam al-Husayn (a) gave some of the trusts of imamate to Umm Salama, the Prophet’s (s) wife,[111] and gave the rest to his elder daughter, Fatima,[112] before his martyrdom in Ashura’ so that they deliver them to Imam al-Sajjad (a).

Regarding the Peace Treaty of Imam al-Hasan (a)

Imam al-Husayn (a) was the most righteous person to rule after Imam al-Hasan (a). He (a) stood loyal to the peace treaty between his brother, Imam al-Hasan (a), and Mu’awiya,[113] and refrained from uprising against Mu’awiya; even though, the people of Kufa wrote letters [to him] urging for action against Mu’awiya. He wrote to them: “I do not have this thought now. May God bless you; stay in your land and hide in your houses and avoid from being accused while Mu’awiya is alive; if God brings forth something while I am alive, I will write to you.”[114]

Attitude to Mu’awiya’s Actions

Nonetheless, Imam al-Husayn (a) refused to approve the legitimacy of the government of Mu’awiya over Muslims. During the ten years imamate of Imam al-Husayn (a), letters showing the Imam’s (a) discontent were exchanged between him and Mu’awiya. These letters show Imam al-Husayn’s (a) stance against Mu’awiya, specifically following crimes or non-Islamic deeds of Mu’awiya.

During this time, Imam al-Husayn (a) explained both directly and indirectly the rulings and qualifications of imamatecaliphate and the characteristics of the rightful caliph. While respecting the boundaries of the treaty, the Imam (a) stayed active in his responsibilities in speaking out and preaching. Among the preaching activities of Imam al-Husayn (a), he would continue to explain God’s rulings in great gatherings of hajj in the land of Mina and also his secret gatherings in Mecca.

Like the three caliphsMu’awiya pretended to revere Imam al-Husayn (a) because he knew that Imam al-Husayn (a) held a respected position among people of Mecca and Medina; the ill-treatment of Imam (a) would not go unnoticed. However, Mu’awiya regarded Imam (a) as an obstacle in the way of his government, and it worried him. On one hand, he did not disregard Imam’s (a) position; he pretended to esteem and respect him and also ordered his agents not to disrespect the Prophet’s (s) grandson. On the other hand, he kept Imam al-Husayn (a) under constant and daily surveillance to monitor his private and public life in the city and on travel. Mu’awiya never attempted to keep the surveillance a secret from Imam al-Husayn, so he (a) would not consider rising against him.

Mu’awiya had also advised his son, Yazid, that with all the fear he had from Imam (a), even if he could defeat the Imam (a), he would treat him (a) with forbearance and would not force Imam al-Husayn (a) to give allegiance.[115]

Mu’awiya’s crimes such as murdering Hujr b. AdiAmr b. Hamiq al-Khuza’iAbd Allah b. Yahya al-Hadrami and his companions met the most severe criticisms from the Imam (a).[116]

According to several sources, Imam al-Husayn (a) wrote a letter to Mu’awiyah and condemned the murder of Imam Ali’s (a) companions. After counting some of Mu’awiya’s wrong actions, the Imam (a) criticized him and said, “I do not know a greater fitna for this ummah than your rule over them.”[117]

Against the Succession of Yazid

Contrary to his peace treaty with Imam al-Hasan (a), Mu’awiya called the people in 56/676 to pledge allegiance to Yazid as his successor.[118] Some figures, such as Imam al-Husayn (a) refused to pledge allegiance to Yazid, so Mu’awiya went to Medina to convince them to do so.[119] In a session that Mu’awiya held for that purpose, Imam al-Husayn (a) rebuked Mu’awiyah, warned him against taking such a measure, considering especially the corrupt character of Yazid, and emphasized his own place and right to take the leadership of the ummah.[120]

In another session, in which ordinary people were present, Imam al-Husayn (a) reacted to Mu’awiya’s remarks about the qualification of Yazid for caliphate by proclaiming that Yazid was an alcoholic and corrupt person and that he himself was the one who deserved to be the caliph.[121]

Sermon in Mina

Main article: Imam al-Husayn’s (a) Sermon in Mina

In 58/677-8, two years before the death of Mu’awiya, Imam al-Husayn (a) gave a protesting speech in Mina.[122] At this time, Mu’awiya’s persecution of the Shi’a had become more than ever.[123] In his speech, the Imam (a) mentioned the virtues of Imam Ali (a) and the Ahl al-Bayt (a) and emphasized the importance of commanding good and forbidding evil and the necessity of scholars’ objection to the oppression and corruption of unjust rulers.

Rule of Yazid

Yazid succeeded his father when the latter died on Rajab 15, 60/April 21, 680.[124] He decided to force a number of noble figures, including Imam al-Husayn (a), who had refused to pledge allegiance to him to do so.[125] However, the Imam (a) refused to pledge allegiance again[126] and left Medina on Rajab 28th to Mecca. [127]

In Mecca, he was received warmly by the people.[128] He stayed there more than four months (from Sha’ban 3rd until Dhu l-Hijja 8th).[129] During this time, the Shiites of Kufa, who learned about the Imam’s (a) rejection of paying allegiance to Yazid, wrote him letters, inviting him to Kufa.[130] In order to ascertain the loyalty of the Kufans, the Imam (a) sent Muslim b. Aqil to Kufa to see the circumstances and report back to him. After being welcomed by the people and receiving their vows of allegiance, Muslim b. Aqil wrote a letter to the Imam (a) and affirmed that Kufa was ready to receive him.[131] Thus, the Imam (a) started his travel from Mecca to Kufa on Dhu l-Hijja 8th.[132]

According to some reports, the Imam (a) was informed of a plot for his murder in Mecca, so he left Mecca to preserve its sanctity.[133]

Battle of Karbala

Main article: Battle of Karbala

The Battle of Karbala, which led to the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) and his companions, can be considered the most important part of the Imam’s (a) life. According to some reports, the Imam (a) was aware of his martyrdom before travelling to Iraq. The battle took place as a result of his rejection of paying allegiance to Yazid. The Imam (a), who was on his way to Kufa with his family and companions, was encountered with the army of al-Hurr b. Yazid al-Riyahi in an area called Dhu Husam, and was forced to change his route as a result.[134]

Most sources report that the Imam (a) arrived in Karbala on Muharram 2nd.[135] The next day, the army of Umar b. Sa’d arrived in Karbala with four-thousand soldiers.[136] Some negotiations took place between the Imam (a) and Umar b. Sa’d,[137] but Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad refused to accept anything except the Imam’s allegiance to Yazid.[138]

In the afternoon of Muharram 9th, Umar b. Sa’d’s army got ready for the battle, but the Imam (a) requested the battle to be postponed until the next day so that he can spend the night praying and worshiping God.[139] On the eve of Ashura (Muharram 10th), the Imam (a) talked to his companions and gave them the permission to leave if they wished so, but they emphasized their loyalty and support for him.[140]

In the morning of Ashura, the battle started, and many of the Imam’s (a) companions were martyred.[141] During the battle, al-Hurr b. Yazid, who was one of the commanders of Umar b. Sa’d‘s army, repented and joined the Imam (a).[142] After the martyrdom of all his companions, the Imam’s (a) family members began to go to the battle, the first of whom was Ali al-Akbar.[143] The Imam’s (a) family members also were martyred one after another. Finally, Imam al-Husayn (a) himself entered the battlefield and was martyred in the afternoon of Ashura. His murderer was Shimr b. Dhi l-Jawshan[144] or, according to a report, Sinan b. Anas,[145] who beheaded him and sent his head to Ibn Ziyad the same day.[146]

In order to fully obey Ibn Ziyad’s command, Umar b. Sa’d commanded his soldiers to go with their horses on the body of the Imam and break his bones.[147] The women and children and Imam al-Sajjad (a), who was sick, were taken captive and sent to Kufa and then to Damascus.[148] The body of the Imam (a) and about seventy-two[149] of those who were martyred with him were buried on the 11th[150] or 13th of Muharram by a group of Banu Asad—and, according to a report, with the presence of Imam al-Sajjad (a)—in the place where they had been martyred.[151]

Purpose and Results

Main article: Uprising of Imam al-Husayn (a)

There are different viewpoints regarding the reasons behind Imam al-Husayn’s (a) travel from Medina to Mecca and then to Kufa and the Battle of Karbala. According to one viewpoint, the Imam (a) did not intend to rebel or fight; rather, he only wanted to save his own life.[152] According to another viewpoint the Imam (a) wanted to establish a government. Scholars such as al-Sharif al-Murtada[153] and Salihi Najaf Abadi maintain the latter viewpoint,[154] and others such as al-Shaykh al-Mufidal-Sayyid b. Tawus, and al-Allama al-Majlisi reject it.

The uprising of Imam al-Husayn (a) led to several uprisings and revolutionary movements immediately after his martyrdom. The first protest was by Abd Allah b. Afif[155] against Ibn Ziyad. Among other revolts are those of Tawwabunal-MukhtarZayd b. Ali, and Yahya b. Zayd. Moreover, the slogan of Abu Muslim al-Khurasani‘s revolt, which ended the Umayyad dynasty, was “Ya la-tharat al-Husayn” (O Avengers of al-Husayn!).[156] The Islamic revolution of Iran was also inspired by the uprising of Imam al-Husayn (a). According to Imam Khomeini, “Had it not been for the sessions and gatherings of preaching and mourning, our nation would not have become victorious. All rose up under the flag of Imam al-Husayn (a)”.[157]

Culturally, Muslims and even non-Muslims regard al-Husayn (a) as a paragon of self-sacrifice, resistance, fight for freedom, protecting values, and truth-seeking.

Main articles: Ahl al-Bayt (a)Ashab al-Kisa’al-Mubahala Verseal-Tathir Verse and Hadith al-Thaqalayn




Imam al-Husayn (a) had a bright face. He sometimes wore a turban made of fur, and at other times, a black turban. He used to dye his hair reddish brown.[158] In most hadith sources, he is likened to the noble Prophet (s),[159] and he is described as the most similar person to the Prophet (s).[160] In another hadith, Imam Ali (a) regarded al-Husayn (a) as the most similar to himself, regarding manner and behavior.


The lettering on his two rings read “la ilah illa Allah, uddat li-liqa’ Allah” [(the word) “there’s no god except Allah” is the supplement for meeting Allah] and “inn Allah baligh amrih” [Indeed Allah carries through His command].


Imam al-Husayn (a) went to hajj on foot, accompanied by his relatives twenty five times in his lifetime.


In the Words of the Prophet (s)


Several hadiths are quoted from the Prophet (s) regarding the virtues of Imam al-Husayn (a), some of which are as follows:


  • ◦ Al-Hasan and al-Husyan are the masters of the youth of Paradise.[161]
  • ◦ It is written on the right side of [God’s] Throne, “Al-Husayn is the lamp of guidance and the vessel of salvation.”
  • ◦ Al-Husayn is of me and I am of al-Husayn.[162]
  • ◦ who loves these two sons of mine [i.e., al-Hasan and al-Husayn] has indeed loved me, and who hates them has indeed hated me.[163]

High Status


According to Sunni and Shiite hadiths, al-Husayn b. Ali (a) was one of the People of the Cloak.[164] He was present in Mubahala;[165] the phrase “our sons” in Quran 2:246 [166], revealed on the occasion of Mubahala, refers to al-Hasan (a) and al-Husayn (a).[167]


After the martyrdom of Imam al-Hasan (a), Imam al-Husayn (a) was considered the most prominent Hashimite. According to al-Ya’qubi, after the martyrdom of Imam al-Hasan (a), Mu’awiyah told Ibn Abbas, “From now on, you are the chief of your people.” Ibn Abbas responded, “Not until al-Husayn (a) is there.”[168] There are also some reports indicating that Banu Hashim would consult with al-Husayn (a) about their affairs and prefer his opinion to that of others.[169]


It is reported that even Amr b. al-As considered al-Husayn (a) the dearest person on the earth to those in Heaven.[170]


Foreseeing of Martyrdom


There are many reports about foreseeing the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a),[171] including Hadith al-Lawh, in which the Prophet (s) stated, “God has honored al-Husayn by martyrdom and made him the best of martyrs.”[172] Al-Allama al-Majlisi has collected several traditions in Bihar al-anwar which indicate that God informed some of His prophets, including Adam (a)Noah (a)Abraham (a)Zechariah (a), and Muhammad (s), about the martyrdom of al-Husayn (a), and they wept for him.[173] It is also reported that when Imam Ali (a) reached Karbala on his way to Siffin, he pointed to a place and said, “This is where their blood will be shed.”[174]




In some traditions, extraordinary characteristics have been mentioned for the Imam (a), such as drinking milk from the Prophet’s fingers[175] and the healing of Futrus (an angel whose wings were broken but were healed when the Imam (a) was born).[176] It is reported that God has placed healing in the soil of al-Husyan’s (a) grave and the fulfilment of prayers under his dome.[177] A comprehensive list of these characteristics can be found in the book al-Khasa’is al-Husayniyya.


Morals and Manners


He used to sit with the poor, accept their invitations, eat with them, invite them to his house. He never hesitated in giving charity.[178] If a beggar asked him for help while he (a) was praying, he (a) tried to recite the remainder of his prayer quickly in order to give the beggar what he (a) had.[179]


He (a) used to free slaves and bondwomen for their good manners. It is reported that Imam al-Husayn (a) freed a bondwoman Mu’awiya had sent for him along with gifts and clothes, in return for reciting some verses of the Qur’an, and a poem about the mortality of the world and human beings. Imam al-Husayn (a) gave her all the gifts.[180] Once, a slave-girl gifted him a flower, and the Imam (a) freed her in return. Someone asked him, “Did you free her just because of a flower?” The Imam (a) cited Quran 4:86: “When you are greeted with a salute, greet with a better one than it, or return it” and said, “God has taught us to have such manners.”[181]


Imam al-Husayn (a) was very generous and known for generosity among people.[182] However, out of respect for his brother, he would give the poor a little less than his brother had given.[183]


It is reported that Imam al-Husayn (a) spent the land, and whatever he (a) inherited, before he (a) received them, in the way of God. He (a) gave his ring and paid the full debt of a man in return for answers to three questions. His generosity was to the extent that a Jewish couple became Muslim when they saw this merit of his. Regarding his forbearance, it is reported that when a man from Syria insulted him and his father, Imam al-Husayn (a) forgave him and treated him with kindness. It is also said that the lasting marks of the bags of food he (a) carried for the orphans and the poor was clearly seen on his back among his multiple wounds after his martyrdom.

Main article: mourning of Imam al-Husayn (a)


In the month of Muharram, Shiites hold a series of mourning ceremonies and rituals for Imam al-Husayn (a) and his companions. Mourning for Imam al-Husayn (a) started within days after his martyrdom.[184] According to a report, when the Captives of Karbala reached Damascus, the ladies mourned for the Imam (a) by wearing black clothes for several days.[185]


The Imams of the Shi’a emphasized the importance of mourning and weeping for Imam al-Husayn (a).[186] They also greatly encouraged the Shia to visit the grave of Imam al-Husayn (a), and, according to some hadiths, proclaimed its merit to be equal to hajj and umra.[187]


With the emergence of Shiite dynasties, mourning rituals for Imam al-Husayn (a) became officially recognized,[188] and various rituals such as chest-beating and ta’ziya developed. Reciting supplications such as Ziyarah Ashura’ and Ziyarah al-Warith, whether individually or collectively, were also among these rituals.


Day of Arba’in


Main article: Arba’in of Imam al-Husayn (a)


Forty days after the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) is called the day of Arba’in, on which many Shiites visit the shrine of the Imam (a). It is reported that Jabir b. Abd Allah al-Ansari was the first person who visited the Imam’s (a) grave on this day.[189] According to al-Luhuf, the family of the Imam (a), who were taken as captive to Damascus, also visited his grave on the same day on their way back to Medina.[190]


The instruction to visit the grave of Imam al-Husayn (a) on the day of Arba’in has caused Shiites, especially Iraqi Shiites, to go to Karbala on this day. This procession on foot, is one of the largest religious marches in the world. It is reported that in 2017, more than thirteen million pilgrims participated in this procession.

Main article: al-Ha’ir al-Husayni

The place where the shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a) is located is called al-Ha’ir al-Husayni (or simply al-Ha’ir). The area of al-Ha’ir has special merits and rulings. For instance, a traveler may perform all his prayers in the complete form when he is in al-Ha’ir and does not need to shorten them.[191]

There is disagreement as to the precise area of al-Ha’ir, but all agree that the area within eleven meters of the grave of the Imam (a) is inside al-Ha’ir.[192]

Main article: Holy Shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a)

The first shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a) seems to have been built at the time of al-Mukhtar and by his command. Since that time, the Imam’s (a) shrine was rebuilt and renovated several times,[193] as it was destroyed by Abbasid caliphs[194] and Wahhabis several times. The Abbasid caliph al-Mutawakkil even commanded the land of al-Ha’ir to be ploughed.[195]

Sunni hadith sources have recorded many hadiths on the virtues of Imam al-Husayn (a).[196] Apart from these hadiths, most Sunnis admire the Imam (a) because he sacrificed what he had for the sake of God.

However, some Sunni scholars have criticized Imam al-Husayn (a) for his uprising against Yazid. For instance, Abu Bakr b. al-Arabi accused the Imam (a) for dividing the ummah,[197] and Ibn Taymiyya maintained that the Imam’s (a) uprising only added to the problems.[198] These standpoints have been refuted by other Sunni scholars. For instance, Ibn Khaldun rejected Abu Bakr b. al-Arabi’s accusation, and maintained that when Yazid’s impiety became known for everyone, al-Husayn (a) regarded it an obligation upon himself to revolt and he was indeed the most righteous and qualified person of his time for such a task.[199] Al-Alusi too has cursed Abu Bakr b. al-Arabi for this accusation and regarded it as a big lie and slander.[200]

The famous Sunni writer, Abbas Mahmoud al-Akkad, writes, “The conditions at the time of Yazid were so bad that nothing could fix them but martyrdom.”[201] He maintains that such uprisings can only be undertaken by special human beings who are made for such purposes; the actions of such people cannot be compared with those of others, because they understand and seek what is beyond the understanding and wish of ordinary people.[202]

Taha Hussein, another contemporary Sunni writer, believes that al-Husayn’s (a) rejection of paying allegiance to Yazid was not out of stubbornness; rather, he believed that if he had paid allegiance to Yazid, he would have betrayed his conscience and rejected his faith; he considered paying allegiance to Yazid a sin.[203]

Umar Farrukh, another Arab thinker and writer, emphasizes that it is not right to remain silent against oppression and that we need a Husayn among us today to rise up and guide us to the right path of defending the truth.

Regarding the permissibility of cursing Yazid as the murderer of Imam al-Husayn (a), there have been two views among Sunni scholars, and the majority maintain that cursing Yazid is permissible.[204]

The spiritual legacy of Imam al-Husayn (a) is recorded in various historical and hadith sources and include sayings, sermons, supplications, letters, poems, and instructions. These are collected in the book Musnad al-Imam al-Shahid (The Musnad of the Martyred Imam) by Aziz Allah Utaridi and the book Mawsu’at kalimat al-Imam al-Husayn (a) (The Encyclopedia of Imam al-Husayn’s [a] Words).




The sayings of Imam al-Husayn (a) on different themes, such as God, the Qur’an, Ahl al-Bayt (a), rulings, and ethics, are found in various sources, most of which were delivered in the last few months of the Imam (a).




In the book Musnad al-Imam al-Shahid, about twenty supplications by the Imam (a) are collected, the most well-known of which is the Supplication of Arafa, which was recited by the Imam (a) on the Day of Arafa in Arafat.[205]




A number of poems are attributed to Imam al-Husayn (a). Muhammad Sadiq Karbasi has collected and analyzed these poems in a two-volume book entitled Diwan al-Imam al-Husayn (a).


Sermons and Will


sermon delivered in Mina,[206] another one on the Day of Ashura’,[207] and a written will addressed to Muhammad b. al-Hanafiyya, in which the Imam (a) explains his purpose,[208] are reported in the sources.




In Makatib al-A’imma, twenty-seven letters by Imam al-Husayn (a) are collected.[209] A number of these letters are addressed to Mu’awiya and the rest to other people and on various subject matters.


Some of Well-Known Sayings


  • ◦ If you do not have faith and do not fear the Day of Resurrection, be noble in this world.[210]
  • ◦ People are the slaves of this world, and religion is on their tongues; they abide by it as long as their livelihoods are granted; when they are tested with afflictions, religious people become rare.[211]
  • ◦ Death with honor is better than life with humiliation.[212]
  • ◦ I did not rise up arrogantly, but rather to reform the ummah of my grandfather Muhammad. I want to command good and forbid evil.[213]
  • ◦ who seeks to attain something by disobeying God, will lose what he wishes and will be afflicted by what he fears sooner than he expects.[214]
  • ◦ People bringing their needs to you is God’s blessing upon you. Do not get tired of blessings; otherwise, they will turn into afflictions.[215]

About the personality and life of Imam al-Husayn (a), many works have been produced in different formats, such as encyclopedias, biographies, maqtals (see below), and historiographies. There are more than forty books and articles that have introduced these works. For instance, in Kitab-Shinasi-yi Ikhtisasi-yi Imam Husayn, 1,428 works have been mentioned with their bibliographical information.[216] Agha Buzurg Tihrani also have introduced 985 works in this regard in his al-Dhari’a.[217]




Main article: Maqtal


Any written account of the murder or martyrdom of a prominent figure in history is called maqtal.[218] The earliest maqtal that presents an account of the martyrdom of Imam al-Husayn (a) was written by Abu Mikhnaf in the second/eigths century. Some other important maqtals of Imam al-Husayn (a) include Maqtal al-Husayn by Muwaffiq b. Ahmad al-Khwarazmial-Luhuf ‘ala qatla al-tufuf by al-Sayyid b. Tawus, and Maqtal-i jami’-i Sayyid al-Shuhada’, written by a group of researchers under the supervision of Mahdi Pishva’i.

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  • ◦ Ibn Tiymīyya al-Ḥarrānī. Minhāj al-sunna al-nabawīyya. Edited by Muḥammad Rashād Sālim. Riyadh: Jāmiʿat al-Imām Muḥammad b. Suʿūd al-Islāmīyya, 1406 AH.
  • ◦ Irbilī, ʿAlī b. ʿIsā al-. Kashf al-ghumma fī maʿrifat al-aʾimma. Qom, al-Radī, 1421 AH.
  • ◦ Isfandīyārī, Muḥammad. Kitābshināsī-yi tārīkhī-yi Imām Ḥusayn. Tehran: Sāzmān-i Chāp wa Nashr, 1380 Sh.
  • ◦ Ishtihārdī, ʿAlī Panāh. Haft sāla chirā ṣidā dar āward?. Qom: Intishārāt-i ʿAllāma, 1391 Sh.
  • ◦ Jaʿfarīyān, Rasūl. Ḥayāt-i fikrī wa sīyāsī-yi aʾimma. Sixth edition. Qom: Anṣārīyān, 1381 Sh.
  • ◦ Khwārizmī, Muḥammad b. Aḥmad al-. Maqtal al-Ḥusayn. Second edition. Qom: Anwār al-Hudā, 1423 AH.
  • ◦ Kilīddār, ʿAbd al-Jawād. Tārīkh-i Karbalāʾ wa ḥāʾir-i Ḥusaynī. Najaf: [n.p], 1376 Sh.
  • ◦ Kulaynī, Muḥammad b. Yaʿqūb al-. Al-Kāfī. Tehran: Dār al-Kutub al-Islāmīyya, 1365 Sh.
  • ◦ Majlisī, Muḥammad Bāqir al-. Biḥār al-anwār. Second edition. Tehran: Islāmīyya, 1363 Sh.
  • ◦ Maqrizī, Aḥmad b. ʿAlī. Imtāʿ al-asmāʾ bi-mā li-l-nabīyy min al-aḥwāl wa l-amwāl wa l-ḥafdat wa l-matāʿ. Beirut: Dār al-Kutub al-ʿIlmīyya, 1420 AH.
  • ◦ Minqarī, Naṣr b. Muzāhim al-. Waqʿat ṣiffīn. Sevond edition. Qom: Maktaba Āyatollāh Marʿashī al-Najafī, 1403 AH.
  • ◦ Aḥmadī Mīyānajī, ʿAlī. Makātīb al-aʾimma. Qom: Dār al-Ḥadīth, 1426 AH.
  • ◦ Motahharī, Morteza. Khadamāt-i mutaqābil-i Iran wa Islām. Tehran: Nashr-i Ṣadrā, 1380 Sh.
  • ◦ Mufīd, Muḥammad b. Muḥammad al-. Al-Irshād fī maʿrifat ḥujaj Allāh ʿalā l-ʿibād. Qom: Kungira-yi Shaykh al-Mufīd, 1413 AH.
  • ◦ Mufīd, Muḥammad b. Muḥammad al-. al-Jamal wa l-nuṣra li-sayyid al-ʿitra fī ḥarb al-Basra. Qom: Kungira-yi Shaykh al-Mufīd, 1413 AH.
  • ◦ Muḥaddithī, Jawād. Farhang-i ʿĀshūrā. Qom: Nashr-i Muʿarrif, 1380 Sh.
  • ◦ Muḥammadī Riyshahrī, Muḥammad. Dānishnāma-yi Imām Ḥusayn. Translated by Muḥammad Murādī. Qom: Dār al-Ḥadīth, 1430 AH.
  • ◦ Muqarram, ʿAbd al-Razzāq al-. Maqtal al-Ḥusayn. Beirut: Dār al-Kitāb al-Islāmīyya, [n.d].
  • ◦ Muslim b. Ḥajjāj. Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim. Beirut: Dār al-Maʿrifa, 1423 AH.
  • ◦ Nāṣirī Dāwūdī, ʿAbd al-Majīd. Inqilāb-i Karbalāʾ az dīdgāh-i ahl-i sunnat. Qom: Muʾassisa-yi Imām Khomeini, 1385 Sh.
  • ◦ Naṣr b. Muzāhim. Waqʿat al-ṣiffīn. Qom: Maktaba Āyatollāh Marʿashī al-Najafī, 1403 AH.
  • ◦ Pīshwāyī, Mahdī. Tārīkh-i qīyām wa maqtal-i jāmiʿ-i Sayyid al-Shuhadāʾ. Qom: Muʾassisa-yi Imām Khomeini, 1389 Sh.
  • ◦ Ṣadūq, Muḥammad b. ʿAlī al-. Al-Khiṣāl. Qom: Daftar-i Intishārāt-i Islāmī, 1403 AH.
  • ◦ Ṣadūq, Muḥammad b. ʿAlī al-. Iʿtiqādāt. Second edition. Tehran: Islāmīyya, 1395 Sh.
  • ◦ Ṣafar ʿAlīpūr, Ḥishmat Allāh. Kitābshināsī-yi ikhtiṣāṣī-yi Imām Ḥusayn. Qom: Yaqūt, 1381 Sh.
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  • ◦ Suyūṭī, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān b. Abī Bakr al-. Tārīkh al-khulafāʾ. Beirut: Maktabat Nazār Muṣṭafā l-Bāzz, 1425 AH.
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  • ◦ Tirmizī, Muḥammad b. ʿIsā al-. Sunan. Edited by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Muḥammad ʿUthmān. Beirut: Dār al-Fikr, 1403 AH.
  • ◦ Ṭūsī, Muḥammad b. al-Ḥasan al-. Al-Amālī. Qom: Dār al-Thiqāfa, 1414 AH.
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