"Imam Hassan" redirects here. For places in Iran, see Imam Hassan, Iran.
This article relies largely and disproportionately on a single source. In particular: Madelung, Wilferd. The Succession to Muhammad (1997), and the objectivity of this article may be disputed. Relevant discussion may be found on the talk page. Please help improve this article by introducing citations to additional sources.(June 2017)
|Al-Hasan ibn Ali|
Caliph in Kufa
|Amir al-Mu’minin (Arabic: أمـيـر الـمـؤمـنـيـن, Commander of the Faithful)|
Calligraphic representation of Hasan ibn Ali
|2nd Imam of Shia Islam|
(Twelver and Zaydi view)
|Predecessor||Ali ibn Abu Talib|
|Successor||Husayn ibn Ali|
|1st Imam of Shia Islam|
(Musta'li Ismaili view)
|Successor||Husayn ibn Ali|
|Born||(624-12-01)1 December 624 CE|
(15 RamadhanAH 3 in the ancient (intercalated) Arabic calendar)
|Died||1 April 670(670-04-01) (aged 45)|
(5 Rabi' al-awwal AH 50)
Medina, Umayyad Caliphate
|Burial||Jannat al-Baqi, Medina, Saudi Arabia|
|Tribe||Quraysh (Banu Hashim)|
Al-Ḥasan ibn Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (Arabic: الحسن ابن علي ابن أبي طالب, 624–670 CE), commonly known as Hasan or Hassan, is the eldest son of Muhammad's daughter Fatimah and of Ali, and the older brother to Husayn. Muslims respect him as a grandson of the Islamic ProphetMuhammad. Among Shia Muslims, Hasan is revered as the 2nd Imam by Twelvers and Zaydis, and as the 1st Imam by Musta'li Isma'ilis. Hasan claimed the caliphate after his father's death, but abdicated after six or seven months to Muawiyah I, the second of the Umayyad caliphs after Uthman, and founder of the Umayyad dynasty. Al-Hasan was known for donating to the poor, his kindness to the poor and bondmen, and for his knowledge, tolerance and bravery. For the rest of his life, Hasan lived in Medina, until he died at the age of 45 and was buried in the Jannat al-Baqi cemetery in Medina. His wife, Ja'da bint al-Ash'at, is commonly accused of having poisoned him.
Birth and early life
Further information: The verse of purification and The verse of Mawadda
When Al-Hasan was born in the year 624 CE, Muhammad slaughtered a ram for the poor on the occasion of his birth, and chose the name "Al-Ḥasan" for him. Fatimah shaved his head and gave the weight of his hair in silver as alms. According to Shi'ite belief, theirs was the only house that archangelGabriel allowed to have a door to the courtyard of al-Masjid an-Nabawi (الـمـسـجـد الـنّـبـوي, "the Mosque of the Prophet"). Both Shi‘ite and Sunni Muslims consider Al-Hasan to belong to the Bayt (Arabic: بـيـت, 'Household') of Muhammad, Ahl al-Kisa’ (أهـل الـكـسـاء, "People of the Cloak"), and participants of the Event of Mubahalah.
There are many narrations showing the respect of Muhammad toward his grandsons, including the statements that his two grandsons would be "sayyedā šabāb (masters of youth) of Paradise", and that they were Imams "whether they stand up or sit down".[a] He also reportedly predicted that Hasan would make peace between two factions of Muslims.
The incident of the Mubahalah
Main article: Event of Mubahala
In the year AH 10 (631/32 CE) a Christian envoy from Najran (now in northern Yemen) came to Muhammad to argue which of the two parties erred in its doctrine concerning ‘Isa (Arabic: عـيـسى, Jesus). After likening Jesus' miraculous birth to Adam's creation,[b]—who was born to neither a mother nor a father — and when the Christians did not accept the Islamic doctrine about Jesus, Muhammad was instructed to call them to Mubahalah where each party should ask God to destroy the false party and their families. "If anyone dispute with you in this matter (concerning Jesus) after the knowledge which has come to you, say: Come let us call our sons and your sons, our women and your women, ourselves and yourselves, then let us swear an oath and place the curse of God on those who lie."[c] Except for al-Tabari, who did not name the participants, Sunni historians mention Muhammad, Fatimah, Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn as having participated in the Mubahalah, and some agree with the Shi'ite tradition that ‘Ali was among them. Accordingly, in the Shi'ite perspective, in the verse of Mubahalah, the phrase "our sons" would refer to Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn, "our women" refers to Fatimah, and "ourselves" refers to ‘Ali.
It is said that one day, the ‘Abbasid Caliph Harun al-Rashid questioned the seventh Twelver Shi‘ite Imam, Musa al-Kadhim, saying why he had permitted people to call him "Son of the Apostle of Allah", while he and his forefathers were Muhammad's daughter's children, and that "the progeny belongs to the male (‘Ali) and not to the female (Fatimah)". In response al-Kadhim recited the verses Quran, 6:84 and Quran, 6:85 and then asked "Who is Jesus' father, O Commander of the faithful?". "Jesus had no father", said Harun. Al-Kadhim argued that God, in these verses, had ascribed Jesus to descendants of Prophets, through Mary, saying "similarly, we have been ascribed to the descendants of the Prophet through our mother Fatimah". It is related that Harun asked Musa to give him more evidence and proof. Al-Kadhim thus recited the verse of Mubahalah, and argued "None claims that the Prophet made someone enter under the cloak when he challenged the Christians to a contest of prayer to God (the Mubahalah), except ‘Ali, Fatimah, Al-Hasan, and Al-Husayn. So in the verse, "Our sons" refers to Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn.
Life under the first four Caliphs
Al-Hasan was one of the guards defending ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan when the attackers went round the latter and killed him. During the reign of ‘Ali, he was a participant in the Battles of Siffin, Nahrawan and Jamel.
Ali's justification for the succession of Hasan
According to Donaldson there was not a significant difference between the idea of Imamate, or divine right, expressed by each Imam designating his successor and other ideas of succession at first. ‘Ali had apparently failed to nominate a successor before he died, however, on several occasions, reportedly expressed his idea that "only the Prophet's Bayt were entitled to rule the Community", and Hasan, whom he had appointed his inheritor, must have been the obvious choice, as he would eventually be chosen by people to be the next caliph.
Sunnis, on the other hand, reject Imamate on the basis of their interpretation of verse 33:40 of the Qur'an[d] which says that Muhammad, as the Khatam an-Nabiyyin (Arabic: خـاتـم الـنّـبـيّـيـن, "Seal of the Prophets"), "is not the father of any of your men"; and that is why God let Muhammad's sons die in infancy.[e] This is why Muhammad did not nominate a successor, as he wanted to leave the succession to be resolved "by the Muslim Community on the basis of the Qur’anic principle of consultation (Shura)". The question Madelung proposes here is why the family members of Muhammad should not inherit other (other than prophethood) aspects of Muhammad's character such as Hukm (Arabic: حُـكـم, Rule), Hikmah (Arabic: حِـكـمـة, Wisdom), and Imamah (Arabic: إمـامـة, Leadership). Since the Sunni concept of the "true caliphate" itself defines it as a "succession of the Prophet in every respect except his prophethood", Madelung further asks "If God really wanted to indicate that he should not be succeeded by any of his family, why did He not let his grandsons and other kin die like his sons?"
See also: Imamah (Shia doctrine)
After ‘Ali was assassinated, Al-Hasan became the caliph of the Ummah, in a manner which followed the custom established by Abu Bakr. He made a speech at al-Masjid al-Mu‘azzam bil-Kufah (Arabic: الـمـسـجـد الـمـعـظّـم بِـالـكـوفـة, "the Great Mosque in Al-Kufah") in which he praised the merits of his family, quoting verses of the Qur'an on the matter: "I am of the family of the Prophet from whom Allah has removed filth and whom He has purified, whose love He has made obligatory in ًHis Book when He said: "Whosoever performs a good act, We shall increase the good in it."[f] Performing a good act is love for us, the family of the Prophet."Qays ibn Sa'd was the first to give allegiance to him. Qays then stipulated the condition that the Bay'ah (Arabic: بَـيْـعَـة, Pledge of Allegiance) should be based on: on the Qur’an, the Sunnah (Arabic: سُـنَّـة, Deeds, Sayings, etc.) of Muhammad, and on the condition of a Jihad (Arabic: جِـهَـاد, Struggle) against those who declared Halal (Arabic: حَـلَال, Lawful) that which was Haram (Arabic: حَـرَام, Unlawful). Hasan, however, tried to avoid the last condition by saying that it was implicitly included in the first two, as if he knew, as Jafri put it, from the very beginning, the Iraqis' lack of resolution in time of trials, and thus Hasan wanted to "avoid commitment to an extreme stand which might lead to complete disaster."
Hasan and Muawiyah
As soon as the news of Hasan's selection reached Muawiyah, who had been fighting ‘Ali for the caliphate, he condemned the selection, and declared his decision not to recognise him. Letters exchanged between Al-Hasan and Mu‘awiyah before their troops faced each other were to no avail. However, these letters, which are recorded in Madelung and Jafri's books, provide useful arguments concerning the rights of caliphate which will lead to the origin of the Shi‘ah (Arabic: شـيـعـة, Party) (of ‘Ali and the Household of Muhammad). In one of his long letters to Muawiyah in which he summoned him to pledge allegiance to him, Hasan made use of the argument of his father, Ali, which the latter had advanced against Abu Bakr after the death of Muhammad. Ali had said: "If Quraysh could claim the leadership over the Ansar on the grounds that the Prophet belonged to Quraysh, then the members of his family, who were the nearest to him in every respect, were better qualified for the leadership of the community."
Muawiyah's response to this argument is also interesting. For Muawiyah, while recognising the excellence of Muhammad's family, further asserted that he would willingly follow Al-Hasan's request were it not for his own superior experience in governing:"…You are asking me to settle the matter peacefully and surrender, but the situation concerning you and me today is like the one between you [your family] and Abu Bakr after the death of the Prophet … I have a longer period of reign [probably referring to his governorship], and I am more experienced, better in policies, and older in age than you … If you enter into obedience to me now, you will accede to the caliphate after me."
In his book, The Origins and Early Development of Shi‘a Islam, Jafri comes to the conclusion that the majority of the Muslims, who became known as Sunnis afterwards, "placed the religious leadership in the totality of the community (Ahl al-Sunnah wal Jamaah), represented by the Ulama, as the custodian of religion and the exponent of the Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Muhammad, while accepting state authority as binding… A minority of the Muslims, on the other hand, could not find satisfaction for their religious aspirations except in the charismatic leadership from among the people of the house of the Prophet, the Ahl al-Bayt, as the sole exponents of the Qur’an and the Prophetic Sunnah, although this minority too had to accept the state's authority. This group was called the Shi‘ah."
Facing the Troops
There was more corresponding with no result, so as negotiations stalled, Mu‘awiyah summoned all the commanders of his forces in Ash-Sham (Arabic: اَلـشَّـام, the region that stretches from Syria and southern Anatolia in the north, to Palestine and Transjordan in the south), and began preparations for war. Soon after he marched his army of sixty thousand men through Mesopotamia to Maskin, on the Tigris boundary of Mosul, towards the Sawad. Meanwhile, he attempted to negotiate with Al-Hasan, sending the young heir letters asking him to give up his claim. According to Jafri, Muawiyah hoped to either force Hasan to come to terms; or attack the Iraqi forces before they had time to strengthen their location. However, Jafri says, Muawiyah knew if Hasan was defeated and killed, he was still a threat; for, another member of the clan of Hashim could simply claim to be his successor. Should he abdicate in favour of Mu‘awiyah, however, such claims would have no weight and Mu‘awiya's position would be guaranteed. According to Jafri this policy proved to be correct, for even ten years later, after the death of Al-Hasan, when ‘Iraqis turned to his younger brother, Al-Husayn, concerning an uprising, Al-Husayn instructed them to wait as long as Mu‘awiyah was alive due to Al-Hasan's peace treaty with him.
As the news of Muawiyah's army reached Hasan, he sent someone to his local governors ordering them to get ready to set out, then addressed the people of Kufah with a war speech: "God had prescribed the Jihad for his creation and called it a loathsome duty."[g] There was no response at first, as some tribal chiefs, paid by Muawiyah, were reluctant to move. Hasan's companions scolded them, asking whether they won't answer to the son of the Prophet's daughter? Turning to Hasan they assured him of their obedience, and immediately left for the war camp. Al-Hasan admired them and later joined them at An-Nukhayla, where people were coming together in large groups.
Hasan appointed ‘Ubayd Allah ibn al-Abbas as the commander of his vanguard of twelve thousand men to move to Maskin. There he was told to keep back Mu‘awiyah until Al-Hasan arrived with the main army. He was advised not to fight, unless attacked, and that he should consult with Qays ibn Sa'd who was appointed as second in command if he were killed.
Hasan's Sermon and its Aftermath
While Al-Hasan's vanguard was waiting for his arrival at Maskin, Hasan himself was facing a serious problem at Sabat near Al-Mada'in, where he gave a sermon after morning prayer in which he declared that he prayed to God to be the most sincere of His creation to His creation; that he bore no resentment nor hatred against any Muslim, nor did he want evil and harm to anyone; and that "whatever they hated in community was better than what they loved in schism." He was, he continued, looking after their best interest, better than they themselves; and instructed them not to disobey "whatever orders he gave them."
Some of the troops, taking this as a sign that Al-Hasan was preparing to give up battle, rebelled against him, looted his tent, seizing even the prayer rug from underneath him. Hasan shouted for his horse and rode off surrounded by his partisans who kept back those who were trying to reach him. While they were passing by Sabat, however, al-Jarrah ibn Sinan, a Kharijite, managed to ambush Hasan and wounded him in the thigh with a dagger, while he was shouting: "God is the Greatest! You have become a Kafir (Arabic: كـافـر, Infidel) like your father before you." Abd Allah ibn al-Hisl jumped upon him, and as others joined in, al-Jarrah was overpowered, and he died. Hasan was taken to Al-Mada'in where he was cared for by his governor, Sa'd ibn Mas'ud al-Thaqafi The news of this attack, having been spread by Mu‘awiyah, further demoralised the already discouraged army of Al-Hasan, and led to extensive desertion from his troops.
Hasan's Vanguard at Al-Maskin
When Ubayd Allah with the Kufan vanguard arrived al-Maskin where Muawiyah had already reached, the latter sent an envoy to tell them that he had received letters from Hasan asking for an armistice and that he asked the Kufans not to attack until he finished his negotiations with Hasan. Muawiyyah's claim was probably untrue; but he had good reason to think that he could make Hasan to give in. The Kufans, however, insulted Muawiyah's envoy and reviled him. Next Muawiya sent the envoy to visit Ubayd Allah in private, and to swear to him that Hasan had requested Muawiyah for a truce, and that Muawiyah was offering Ubayd Allah 1,000,000 dirhams, half of which to be paid at once, the other half in Kufa, provided he went over to him. Ubayd Allah accepted and deserted at night to Muawiyah's camp. Muawiyah was extremely pleased and fulfilled his promise to him.
The next morning, the Kufans waited for Ubayd Allah to emerge and lead the morning prayer. Then Qays ibn Sa'd took charge and, in his sermon, severely denounced Ubayd Allah, his father and his brother. The people shouted: "Praise be to God that He has removed him from us; stand up with us against our enemy." Believing that the desertion of ‘Ubayd Allah had broken the spirit of his enemy, Mu‘awiyah sent Busr with a troop to make them give up. Qays attacked and drove him back. The next day Busr attacked with a larger troop but was kept back again. Muawiyah now sent a letter to Qays offering bribes but Qays replied that he "would never meet him except with a lance between them." As the news of the riot against Hasan and of his having been wounded arrived, however, both sides abstained from fighting to wait for further news.
Treaty with Muawiyah
See also: Hasan–Muawiya treaty
Muawiyah, who had already started negotiations with Al-Hasan, now sent high-level envoys, while committing himself in a witnessed letter to appoint Hasan his successor and give him whatever he wished. Hasan accepted the offer in principle and sent ‘Amr ibn Salima al-Hamdani al-Arhabl and his own brother-in-law Muhammad ibn al-Ash'ath back to Mu'awiyah as his negotiators, together with the envoys of the latter. Mu'awiyah then wrote a letter saying that he was making peace with Hasan on the basis that Hasan would inherit the reign after him. He swore that he would not seek to harm him; and that he would give him 1,000,000 dirhams from the treasury (Bayt al-mal) annually, along with the land tax of Fasa and Darabjird, which Hasan was to send his own tax agents to collect. The letter was witnessed by the four envoys and dated in August 661.
When Hasan read the letter he commented: "He is trying to appeal to my greed for a matter which, if I desired it, I would not surrender to him." Then he sent Abd Allah ibn al-Harith, whose mother, Hind, was Muawiyah's sister, to Muawiyah, instructing him: "Go to your uncle and tell him: If you grant safety to the people I shall pledge allegiance to you." After which, Muawiyah gave him a blank paper with his seal at the bottom, inviting Hasan to write on it whatever he desired.
According to Jafri, historians like Ya'qubi and Al-Masudi do not mention the terms of peace treaty at all. Other historians such as Dinawari, Ibn Abd al-Barr and Ibn al-Athir record different accounts of the conditions, and the timing of the black sheet sent by Mu'awiyah to Hasan was confusing in Tabari's account. The most comprehensive account, which explains the different ambiguous accounts of other sources, according to Jafri, is given by Ahmad ibn A'tham, which must have taken it from al-Mada'ini.Madelung's view is close to that of Jafri when he stipulates that Hasan surrendered the reign over the Muslims to Mu'awiyah on the basis that "he act according to the Book of God, the Sunnah of His Prophet and the conduct of the righteous caliphs. Mu'awiyah should not be entitled to appoint his successor but that there should be an electoral council (Shura); the people would be safe, wherever they were, with respect to their person, their property and their offspring; Mu'awiyah would not seek any wrong against Hasan secretly or openly, and would not intimidate any of his companions." The letter was testified by Abd Allah ibn al-Harith, and Amr ibn Salima and transmitted by them to Mu'awiyah for him to take recognition of its contents and to confirm his acceptance. Hasan, thus, surrendered his control of Iraq in Rabi II 41/August 661 after a reign of seven months.
Abdication and retirement
After the peace treaty with Al-Hasan, Mu‘awiyah set out with his troops to Kufa, where at a public surrender ceremony Hasan rose and reminded the people that he and Al-Husayn were the only grandsons of Muhammad, and that he had surrendered the reign to Mu'awiyah in the best interest of the community: "O people, surely it was God who led you by the first of us and Who has spared you bloodshed by the last of us. I have made peace with Mu‘awiyah, and I know not whether haply this be not for your trial, and that ye may enjoy yourselves for a time,"[h] declared Hasan.
In his own speech Muawiyah told them that the reason why he had fought them was not to make them pray, fast, perform the pilgrimage, and give alms, considering that they had been already doing those, but to be their Amir (Commander or Leader), and God had bestowed him that against their will.[i] According to some sources, he also said "The agreement I made with Hasan is null and void. It lies trampled under my feet."[j] Then he shouted: "God's protection is dissolved from anyone who does not come forth and pledge allegiance. Surely, I have sought revenge for the blood of Uthman, may God kill his murderers, and have returned the reign to those to whom it belongs in spite of the rancour of some people. We grant respite of three nights. Whoever has not pledged allegiance by then will have no protection and no pardon." The people rushed from every direction to vow allegiance.
While still camping outside Kufah, Muawiyah faced a Kharijite revolt. He sent a cavalry troop against them, but they were beaten back. Mu'awiyah now sent after Hasan, who had already left for Medinah, and commanded him to return and fight against the Kharijites. Hasan, who had reached al-Qadisiyyah, wrote back: "I have abandoned the fight against you, even though it was my legal right, for the sake of peace and reconciliation of the Community. Do you think I shall fight together with you?"
In the nine-year period between Hasan's abdication in AH 41 (661 CE) and his death in AH 50 (670 CE), Al-Hasan retired in Al-Medinah, trying to keep aloof from political involvement for or against Muawiyah. In spite of that, however, he was considered the chief of Muhammad's household, by Banu Hashim themselves and the partisans of Ali, who pinned their hopes on his final succession to Mu‘awiyah. Occasionally, Shi'ites, mostly from Kufah, went to Hasan and Husayn in small groups, and asked them to be their leaders, a request to which they declined to respond. Hasan has been quoted as commenting "If Muawiyah was the rightful successor to the Caliphate, he has received it. And if I had that right, I, too, have passed it on to him; so the matter ends there."
Madelung has quoted Al-Baladhuri,[k] as saying that Hasan, on the basis of his peace terms with Mu‘awiyah, sent his tax collectors to Fasa and Darabjird. The caliph had, however, instructed Abdullah ibn Aamir, now again governor of Al-Basrah, to incite the Basrans to protest that this money belonged to them by right of their conquest. And that they chased Hasan's tax collectors out of the two provinces. According to Madelung, however, that Hasan would send tax collectors from Al-Medinah to Iran, after just having made plain that he would not join Mu‘awiyah in fighting the Kharijites, is entirely incredible. In any case as Mu‘awiyah came to know that Hasan would not help his government, relations between them became worse. Hasan rarely, if ever, visited Mu‘awiyah in Damascus, Al-Sham, though he is said to have accepted gifts from him.
Hasan's closeness to Muhammad was such that, for example, when Muhammad wanted to curse with the Najrani Christians, Hasan was with him.[Quran 3:61] Muhammad also said: "who worries him, has worried me," or "Hasan is from me, and I am from him."
It is related that Hasan spent most of his youth in "making and unmaking marriages", so that "these easy morals gained him the title mitlaq, the divorcer, which involved ‘Ali in serious enmities." According to his grandson, Abdullah ibn Ḥasan, he usually had four free wives, the limit allowed by the law.[l] Stories spread out on this subject and have led to the suggestions that he had 70 or 90 wives in his lifetime,[m] along with a harem of 300 concubines. According to Madelung, however, these reports and descriptions are "for the most part vague, lacking in names, concrete specifics and verifiable detail; they appear to be spun out of the reputation of al-Hasan as a mitlaq, now interpreted as a habitual and prodigious divorcer, some clearly with a defamatory intent." Living in his father's household, "Ḥasan was in no position to enter into any marriages not arranged or approved by him," says Madelung. According to Ebn Saa'd (pp. 27–28), whose information seems to be more reliable, however, Hasan had 15 sons and 9 daughters from six wives and three named concubines. Many of these children died in their early years. It is said that most of these marriages had a political intent in his father's interest, for he gave a part of his Kunya (Arabic: كُـنـيـة, Nickname), "Abu Muḥammad" (Arabic: أبـو مـحـمّـد, "Father of Muhammad"), to the first son from his first freely chosen wife after ‘Ali's death, Ḵawla bint Manẓur, daughter of a Fazāra chief and former wife of Muhammad ibn Talhah. He evidently wanted to make this son his primary heir. However, after Muhammad died, Al-Ḥasan chose his second son from Ḵawla, called 'Ḥasan', as his heir.
It is implied that frequently divorcing women was contrary to Hasan's wisdom, therefore, that the accusation that he did so was false. "Al-Nijah al-Taii" in "Al-Sirat an-Nabawiyyah" says that one of politics of Muawiyah was to destroy the image of ‘Ali and his family, in the eyes of Muslims.
In his book The Succession to Muhammad,Madelung manages to give a detailed account of Hasan's marriages, a summary of which goes as follows:
During the lifetime of Ali
- The first marriage of Hasan was probably with Salma or Zaynab, daughter of the renowned Kalbite chief Imru' ul-Qays who was appointed by Umar as commander over a region who would accept Islam. ‘Ali, together with his sons Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn, came forth to meet him and proposed establishing marriage ties. Born in the years 3/624—5 and 4/626, Hasan and Husayn were too young for the wedding to have taken place immediately. In the later years of Ali's reign, Hasan may never actually have married Salma, or may have divorced her before.
- Probably soon after Ali's arrival in Kufa, Hasan married Ja'da, daughter of the Kinda chief al-Ash'at (‘Ali evidently was eager at this time to establish an alliance with the powerful Yemenite tribal coalition in Kufa). Madelung relates two different accounts concerning how Ja'da's father or Hasan's father made them marry together. Although childless, she evidently was not divorced by him. She is commonly accused of having poisoned Hasan at the instigation of Muawiyah.
- Probably also soon after his arrival in Kufa, before the battle of Siffin, Al-Hasan married Umm Bashir (in some sources Umm Bishr), daughter of Abu Mas'ud who had settled in Kufa at an early stage and was among those opposed to the Kufan rebellion against Uthman. Ali evidently hoped to draw him to his side and presumably arranged the marriage of his daughter to Hasan. Then he appointed him governor of Kufa during his absence for the campaign to Siffin.
After the lifetime of Ali
- After his abdication and return to Medinah, Hasan married Khawla, daughter of the Fazara chief Manzur ibn Zabban (Fazara belonged to the large northern Arab tribal association claiming descent from Qays). Previously she had been married to Talha's pious son Muhammad, who was killed in the Battle of the Camel, and had two sons and a daughter by him. She is said either to have been given in marriage to Hasan by Abd Allah ibn al-Zubayr, who was married to her sister Tumadir, or to have herself given the choice to Hasan, who then married her. Upon hearing this, her father declared that he was not someone to be ignored with respect to his daughter. He came to Medina and planted a black flag in Al-Masjid an-Nabawi. All Qaysites (descent from Qays) present in Medina assembled under it in solidarity with him. Hasan now surrendered her to him, and he took her away to Quba'. She reproached him, quoting the hadith: "Al-Hasan ibn Ali will be the lord of the youth among the inmates of paradise." He told her: "Wait here, if the man is in need of you, he will join us here." Hasan came to them accompanied by his brother Husayn, his cousins Abdullah ibn Ja'far and Abd Allah ibn Abbas and took her back, marrying her this time with the approval of her father. Khawla bore Hasan his son al-Hasan, from whom the Najafi dynasty of Bengal claim direct descent.
- In Medinah, Hasan married Hafsah the daughter of Abdul-Rahman ibn Abi Bakr. Al-Mundhir ibn al-Zubayr was in love with her, and spread a false rumour about her. As a result, Hasan divorced her. The report characterises him in this context as Mitlaq, evidently meaning here: ready to divorce on insubstantial grounds. Next Asim, the son of Umar, married her. Al-Mundhir falsely accused her before him, and he also divorced her. Then al-Mundhir proposed marriage to her, but she refused, saying: "He has tried to destroy my reputation." He pursued her with further proposals, and she was advised to marry him so that it would become patent to everybody that he had falsely accused her. She did so, and the people realised that he had lied about her and what his motive had been.
- Hasan also married Talhah's daughter Umm Ishaq in Al-Medinah. Muawiyah had asked her brother Ishaq ibn Talha in Damascus to give her in marriage to his son Yazid. Ishaq told him that he was going to Medina; if Muawiyah sent a messenger to him there, he would conclude the marriage contract. After Ishaq had left, his brother Isa ibn Talha visited Muawiyah. When the caliph told him about Ishaq's promise, Isa offered to give Umm Ishaq immediately in marriage. He concluded the marriage contract with Yazid without consulting her. In the meantime, Ishaq had arrived in Medina and contracted her marriage to Hasan. It was not exactly known which of the two contracts was earlier, and Muawiyah advised his son to leave the matter. Her marriage with Hasan was now consummated, and she bore him his son Talha, who later died childless. Before his death, Hasan recommended to his brother Husayn that he marry her. She bore Husayn's daughter Fatima. Presumably still later she was married to Abu Bakr's great-grandson Ibn Abi Atiq Abd Allah, to whom she also bore a daughter, Amina.
- Hasan further married Hind the daughter of Suhayl ibn Amr, in Al-Medinah. She had been married first to the Umayyad Abd al-Rahman ibn Attab, who was killed in the Battle of the Camel, and then to Abd Allah ibn Amir ibn Kurayz. When the latter divorced her, Muawiyah wrote to Abu Hurairah in Medina to contract her marriage with his son Yazid I. On his way to meet her, Abu Hurayra met Hasan who inquired where he was going. When Abu Hurayra explained his mission, Hasan suggested that he mention him, Hasan, to her. Abu Hurayra did so, and Hind asked him to make the choice for her; Abu Hurayra chose Hasan. Some time later Abd Allah ibn Amir came to Medina and complained to Hasan that his former wife had a deposit belonging to him in her possession. Hasan allowed him to see her in his presence. As Ibn Amir looked at her sitting in front of him, he softened up towards her, and Hasan suggested: "Shall I relinquish her to you? I think you could not find a better husband to make remarriage licit (muhallil) for you than myself." Ibn Amir insisted: "My deposit." She produced two boxes filled with jewels. Ibn Amir took a handful out of each one and left the rest to her. Later she would comment about her three husbands: "The lord (Sayyid) of all of them was al-Hasan; the most generous of them was Ibn 'Amir; and the one dearest to me was Abd al-Rahman b. 'Attab."
Death and aftermath
The early sources are nearly in agreement that Hasan was poisoned by his wife, Ja'da bint al-Ash'at, at the instigation of Muawiyah and died in the year 670 CE.[n][o] Madelung and Donaldson further relate other versions of this story, suggesting that Al-Hasan may have been poisoned by another wife, the daughter of Suhayl ibn ‘Amr, or perhaps by one of his servants, citing early historians such as Al-Waqidi and Al-Mada'ini. Madelung believes that the famous early Islamic historian al-Tabari suppressed this tale out of concern for the faith of the common people. Al-Hasan is said to have refused to name his suspect to Al-Husayn, for fear that the wrong person would be killed in revenge. He was 38 years old when he abdicated the reign to Mu‘awiyah, who was 58 years old at the time. This difference in age indicates a serious obstacle for Mu‘awiyah, who wanted to nominate his son Yazid as his heir-apparent. This was unlikely due to the terms on which Al-Hasan had abdicated to Mu‘awiyah; and considering the big difference in age, Mu‘awiyah would not have hoped that Al-Hasan would naturally die before him. Hence, Mu‘awiyah would naturally be suspected of having a hand in a killing that removed an obstacle to the succession of his son Yazid.
The burial of Hasan's body near that of his grandfather, Muhammad, was another problem which could have led to bloodshed. Hasan had instructed his brothers to bury him near his grandfather, but that if they feared evil, then they were to bury him in the Cemetery of Al-Baqi. The Umayyad governor, Saʿid ibn al-ʿĀṣ, did not interfere, but Marwan swore that he would not permit Al-Hasan to be buried near Muhammad with Abu Bakr and Umar, while Uthman was buried in the Cemetery of Al-Baqi. Banu Hashim and Banu Umayyah were on the verge of a fight, with their supporters brandishing their weapons. At this point, Abu Hurairah, who was on the side of Banu Hashim, despite having previously served Mu‘awiyah on a mission to ask for the surrender of the killers of Uthman, tried to reason with Marwan, telling him how Muhammad had highly regarded Hasan and Husayn. Nevertheless, Marwan, who was a cousin of Uthman, was unconvinced, and Aisha, while sitting on a mule surrounded by her supporters, seeing the parties and their weapons, decided not to permit Hasan to be buried near his grandfather, fearing evil would occur. She said: "The apartment is mine; I shall not permit anyone to be buried in it."Ibn Abbas, who was also present at the burial, condemned A'ishah by comparing her sitting on the mule at the funeral to her sitting on a camel in a war against Al-Hasan's father at the Battle of Jamal. Her refusal to allow Hasan to be buried next to his grandfather, despite allowing her father, Abu Bakr, and Umar to be buried there, offended the supporters of Ali. Then Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah reminded Husayn that Hasan made the matter conditional by saying "unless you fear evil." Ibn al-Hanafiyyah further asked "What evil could be greater than what you see?" And so the body was carried to the Cemetery of Al-Baqi. Marwan joined the carriers, and, when questioned about it, said that he gave his respect to a man "whose hilm (Arabic: حِـلـم, forbearance) weighed mountains." Governor Sa‘id ibn al-‘As led the funeral prayer.
The shrine containing Hasan's tomb was destroyed once[clarification needed] in 1925 during the conquest of Medina as part of a general destruction of memorials in cemeteries for religious reasons. "In the eyes of Wahabis, historical sites and shrines encourage "shirk" – the sin of idolatry or polytheism – and should be destroyed."
- ^Allusion to whether they occupy the external function of caliphate or not. See also Irshad, p.181; Ithbat al-hudat, vol. V, pp- 129 and 134.
- ^Quran, 3: 59.
- ^Quran, 3: 61.
- ^Quran, 33:40
- ^See Goldziher, Muhammedanische Studien, II, 105-6; Y. Friedmann, 'Finality of Prophethood in Sunni Islam', JSAI, 7 (1986), 177-215, at 187-9.
- ^Quran, 42:23
- ^Quran, 2:216
- ^Quran, 21:111
- ^See also Ibn Abi l-Hadld, Shark, XVI, 15; Abu al-Faraj, Maqdtil, 70.
- ^See Ya'qubi; vol.ll, p.192; Abu'l-Fida, vol.l, p.183.
- ^Al-Baladhuri, Ansab, III, 47.
- ^See also Ebn Saa'd, p. 68.
- ^See al-Madāʾeni, in Ebn Abi'l-Ḥadid, XVI, pp. 21-22.
- ^See Mas'oodi, Vol 2: Page 47, Tāreekh - Abul Fidā Vol 1 : Page 182, Iqdul Fareed - Ibn Abd Rabbāh Vol 2, Page 11, Rawzatul Manazir - Ibne Shahnah Vol 2, Page 133, Tāreekhul Khamees, Husayn Dayarbakri Vol 2, Page 238, Akbarut Tiwal - Dinawari Pg 400, Mawātilat Talibeyeen - Abul Faraj Isfahāni, Isti'ab - Ibne Abdul Birr.
- ^These reports are also accepted by the major Sunnite historians Al-Waqidi, Al-Mada'ini, ‘Umar ibn Shabba, Al-Baladhuri and al-Haytham ibn ‘Adi.
The month of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, brings with it the memory of the sacrifice of Imam Husayn [radiallahu anhu], the grandson of Prophet Muhammad , and his noble family and friends. This short text reflects the deep admiration of its author towards Imam Husayn [radiallahu anhu] and an insight into the tragedy of Karbala, its reasons and its consequences. It is presented with the hope that it will foster the Islamic unity and the brotherly love that the author seeks in his preface.
The following pages are based on a report of an address which I delivered in London at an Ashura Majlis on Thursday the 28th May, 1931 (Muharram 1350 A.H.), at the Waldorf Hotel. The report was subsequently corrected and slightly expanded. The Majlis was a notable gathering, which met at the invitation of Mr. A. S. M. Anik. Nawab Sir Umar Hayat Khan, Tiwana, presided and members of all schools of thought in Islam, as well as non-Muslims, joined reverently in doing honour to the memory of the great Martyr of Islam. By its inclusion in the Progressive Islam Pamphlets series, it is hoped to reach a larger public than were able to be present in person. Perhaps, also, it may help to strengthen the bonds of brotherly love which unite all who hold sacred the ideals of brotherhood preached by the Prophet in his last Sermon. A. Yusuf Ali.
This article is a shorter version and has been excerpted from Progressive Islam Pamphlet No. 7, September, 1931.
Imam Husain And His Martyrdom
When we invite strangers or guests and make them free of our family circle, that means the greatest out-flowing of our hearts to them. The events that I am going to describe refer to some of the most touching incidents of our domestic history in their spiritual aspect. We ask our brethren of other faiths to come, and share with us some of the thoughts which are called forth by this event. As a matter of fact all students of history are aware that the horrors that are connected with the great event of Kerbela did more than anything else to unite together the various contending factions which had unfortunately appeared at that early stage of Muslim history. You know the old Persian saying applied to the Prophet:
Tu barae wasl kardan amadi; - Ni barae fasl kardan amadi.
"Thou camest to the world to unite, not to divide."
That was wonderfully exemplified by the sorrows and sufferings and finally the martyrdom of Imam Husain.
I propose first to give you an idea of the geographical setting and the historical background. Then I want very briefly to refer to the actual events that happened in the Muharram, and finally to draw your attention to the great lessons which we can learn from them.
Cities and their Cultural Meaning
The building of Kufa and Basra, the two great outposts of the Muslim Empire, in the 16th year of the Hijra, was a visible symbol that Islam was pushing its strength and building up a new civilization, not only in a military sense, but in moral and social ideas and in the sciences and arts. The old effete cities did not content it, any more than the old and effete systems which it displaced. Nor was it content with the first steps it took. It was always examining, testing, discarding, re-fashioning its own handiwork. There was always a party that wanted to stand on old ways, to take cities like Damascus readymade, that loved ease and the path of least resistance. But the greater souls stretched out to new frontiers - of ideas as well as geography. They felt that old seats were like dead wood breeding worms and rottenness that were a danger to higher forms of life. The clash between them was part of the tragedy of Kerbela. Behind the building of new cities there is often the burgeoning of new ideas. Let us therefore examine the matter a little more closely. It will reveal the hidden springs of some very interesting history.
Vicissitudes of Mecca and Medina
The great cities of Islam at its birth were Mecca and Medina. Mecca, the centre of old Arabian pilgrimage, the birthplace of the Prophet, rejected the Prophet's teaching, and cast him off. Its idolatry was effete; its tribal exclusiveness was effete; its ferocity against the Teacher of the New Light was effete. The Prophet shook its dust off his feet, and went to Medina. It was the well-watered city of Yathrib, with a considerable Jewish population. It received with eagerness the teaching of the Prophet; it gave asylum to him and his Companions and Helpers. He reconstituted it and it became the new City of Light. Mecca, with its old gods and its old superstitions, tried to subdue this new Light and destroy it. The human odds were in favor of Mecca. But God's purpose upheld the Light, and subdued the old Mecca. But the Prophet came to build as well as to destroy. He destroyed the old paganism, and lighted a new beacon in Mecca - the beacon of Arab unity and human brotherhood. When the Prophet's life ended on this earth, his spirit remained. It inspired his people and led them from victory to victory. Where moral or spiritual and material victories go hand in hand, the spirit of man advances all along the line. But sometimes there is a material victory, with a spiritual fall, and sometimes there is a spiritual victory with a material fall, and then we have tragedy.
Spirit of Damascus
Islam's first extension was towards Syria, where the power was centered in the city of Damascus. Among living cities it is probably the oldest city in the world. Its bazaars are thronged with men of all nations, and the luxuries of all nations find ready welcome there. If you come to it westward from the Syrian desert the contrast is complete, both in the country and in the people. From the parched desert sands you come to fountains and vineyards, orchards and the hum of traffic. From the simple, sturdy, independent, frank Arab, you come to the soft, luxurious, sophisticated Syrian. That contrast was forced on the Muslims when Damascus became a Muslim city. They were in a different moral and spiritual atmosphere. Some succumbed to the softening influences of ambition, luxury, wealth pride of race, love of ease, and so on. Islam stood always as the champion of the great rugged moral virtues. It wanted no compromise with evil in any shape or form, with luxury, with idleness, with the seductions of this world. It was a protest against these things. And yet the representatives of that protest got softened at Damascus. They aped the decadent princes of the world instead of striving to be leaders of spiritual thought. Discipline was relaxed, and governors aspired to be greater than the Khalifas. This bore bitter fruit later.
Snare of Riches
Meanwhile Persia came within the Muslim orbit. When Medain was captured in the year 16 of the Hijra, and the battle of Jalula broke the Persian resistance, some military booty was brought to Medina - gems, pearls, rubies, diamonds, swords of gold and silver. A great celebration was held in honor of the splendid victory and the valor of the Arab army. In the midst of the celebration they found the Caliph of the day actually weeping. One said to him, "What! a time of joy and thou sheddest tears?" "Yes", he said, "I foresee that the riches will become a snare, a spring of worldliness and envy, and in the end a calamity to my people." For the Arab valued, above all, simplicity of life, openness of character, and bravery in face of danger. Their women fought with them and shared their dangers. They were not caged creatures for the pleasures of the senses. They showed their mettle in the early fighting round the head of the Persian Gulf. When the Muslims were hard pressed, their women turned the scale in their favor. They made their veils into flags, and marched in battle array. The enemy mistook them for reinforcements and abandoned the field. Thus an impending defeat was turned into a victory.
Basra and Kufa
In Mesopotamia the Muslims did not base their power on old and effete Persian cities, but built new outposts for themselves. The first they built was Basra at the head of the Persian Gulf, in the 17th year of the Hijra. And what a great city it became! Not great in war and conquest, not great in trade and commerce, but great in learning and culture in its best day, - alas! also great in its spirit of faction and degeneracy in the days of its decline! But its situation and climate were not at all suited to the Arab character. It was low and moist, damp and enervating. In the same year the Arabs built another city not far off from the Gulf and yet well suited to be a port of the desert, as Kerbela became afterwards. This was the city of Kufa, built in the same year as Basra, but in a more bracing climate. It was the first experiment in town-planning in Islam. In the centre was a square for the principal mosque. That square was adorned with shady avenues. Another square was set apart for the trafficking of the market. The streets were all laid out intersecting and their width was fixed. The main thoroughfares for such traffic as they had (we must not imagine the sort of traffic we see in Charing Cross) were made 60 feet wide; the cross streets were 30 feet wide; and even the little lanes for pedestrians were regulated to a width of 10.5 feet. Kufa became a centre of light and learning. The Khalifa Hazrat Ali lived and died there.
Rivalry and poison of Damascus
But its rival, the city of Damascus, fattened on luxury and Byzantine magnificence. Its tinsel glory sapped the foundations of loyalty and the soldierly virtues. Its poison spread through the Muslim world. Governors wanted to be kings. Pomp and selfishness, ease and idleness and dissipation grew as a canker; wines and spirituous liquors, skepticism, cynicism and social vices became so rampant that the protests of the men of God were drowned in mockery. Mecca, which was to have been a symbolical spiritual centre, was neglected or dishonored. Damascus and Syria became centers of a worldliness and arrogance which cut at the basic roots of Islam.
Husain the Righteous refused to bow to worldliness and power
We have brought the story down to the 60th year of the Hijra. Yazid assumed the power at Damascus. He cared nothing for the most sacred ideals of the people. He was not even interested in the ordinary business affairs of administration. His passion was hunting, and he sought power for self-gratification. The discipline and self-abnegation, the strong faith and earnest Endeavour, the freedom and sense of social equality which had been the motive forces of Islam, were divorced from power. The throne at Damascus had become a worldly throne based on the most selfish ideas of personal and family aggrandizement, instead of a spiritual office, with a sense of God-given responsibility. The decay of morals spread among the people. There was one man who could stem the tide. That was Imam Husain. He, the grandson of the Prophet, could speak without fear, for fear was foreign to his nature. But his blameless and irreproachable life was in itself a reproach to those who had other standards. They sought to silence him, but he could not be silenced. They sought to bribe him, but he could not be bribed. They sought to waylay him and get him into their Power. What is more, they wanted him to recognize the tyranny and expressly to support it. For they knew that the conscience of the people might awaken at any time, and sweep them away unless the holy man supported their cause. The holy man was prepared to die rather than surrender the principles for which he stood.
Driven from city to city
Medina was the centre of Husain's teaching. They made Medina impossible for him. He left Medina and went to Mecca, hoping that he would be left alone. But he was not left alone. The Syrian forces invaded Mecca. The invasion was repelled, not by Husain but by other people. For Husain, though the bravest of the brave, had no army and no worldly weapons. His existence itself was an offence in the eyes of his enemies. His life was in danger, and the lives of all those nearest and dearest to him. He had friends everywhere, but they were afraid to speak out. They were not as brave as he was. But in distant Kufa, a party grew up which said: "We are disgusted with these events, and we must have Imam Husain to take asylum with us." So they sent and invited the Imam to leave Mecca, come to them, live in their midst, and be their honored teacher and guide. His father's memory was held in reverence in Kufa. The Governor of Kufa was friendly, and the people eager to welcome him. But alas, Kufa had neither strength, nor courage, nor constancy. Kufa, geographically only 40 miles from Kerbela, was the occasion of the tragedy of Kerbela. And now Kufa is nearly gone, and Kerbela remains as the lasting memorial of the martyrdom.
Invitation from Kufa
When the Kufa invitation reached the Imam, he pondered over it, weighed its possibilities, and consulted his friends. He sent over his cousin Muslim to study the situation on the spot and report to him. The report was favorable, and he decided to go. He had a strong presentiment of danger. Many of his friends in Mecca advised him against it. But could he abandon his mission when Kufa was calling for it? Was he the man to be deterred, because his enemies were laying their plots for him, at Damascus and at Kufa? At least, it was suggested, he might leave his family behind. But his family and his immediate dependants would not hear of it. It was a united family, pre-eminent in the purity of its life and in its domestic virtues and domestic affections. If there was danger for its head, they would share it. The Imam was not going on a mere ceremonial visit. There was responsible work to do, and they must be by his side, to support him in spite of all its perils and consequences. Shallow critics scent political ambition in the Imam's act. But would a man with political ambitions march without an army against what might be called the enemy country, scheming to get him into its power, and prepared to use all their resources, military, political and financial, against him?
Journey through the desert
Imam Husain left Mecca for Kufa with all his family including his little children. Later news from Kufa itself was disconcerting. The friendly governor had been displaced by one prepared more ruthlessly to carry out Yazid's plans. If Husain was to go there at all, he must go there quickly, or his friends themselves would be in danger. On the other hand, Mecca itself was no less dangerous to him and his family. It was the month of September by the solar calendar, and no one would take a long desert journey in that heat, except under a sense of duty. By the lunar calendar it was the month of pilgrimage at Mecca. But he did not stop for the pilgrimage. He pushed on, with his family and dependants, in all numbering about 90 or 100 people, men, women and children. They must have gone by forced marches through the desert. They covered the 900 miles of the desert in little over three weeks. When they came within a few miles of Kufa, at the edge of the desert, they met people from Kufa. It was then that they heard of the terrible murder of Husain's cousin Muslim, who had been sent on in advance. A poet that came by dissuaded the Imam from going further. "For," he said epigrammatically, "the heart of the city is with thee but its sword is with thine enemies, and the issue is with God." What was to be done? They were three weeks' journey from the city they had left. In the city to which they were going their own messenger had been foully murdered as well as his children. They did not know what the actual situation was then in Kufa. But they were determined not to desert their friends.
Call to Surrender or Die
Presently messengers came from Kufa, and Imam Husain was asked to surrender. Imam Husain offered to take one of three alternatives. He wanted no political power and no revenge. He said "I came to defend my own people. If I am too late, give me the choice of three alternatives: either to return to Mecca; or to face Yazid himself at Damascus; or if my very presence is distasteful to him and you, I do not wish to cause more divisions among the Muslims. Let me at least go to a distant frontier, where, if fighting must be done, I will fight against the enemies of Islam." Every one of these alternatives was refused. What they wanted was to destroy his life, or better still, to get him to surrender, to surrender to the very forces against which he was protesting, to declare his adherence to those who were defying the law of God and man, and to tolerate all the abuses which were bringing the name of Islam into disgrace. Of course he did not surrender. But what was he to do? He had no army. He had reasons to suppose that many of his friends from distant parts would rally round him, and come and defend him with their swords and bodies. But time was necessary, and he was not going to gain time by feigned compliance. He turned a little round to the left, the way that would have led him to Yazid himself, at Damascus. He camped in the plain of Kerbela.
Water cut off; Inflexible will, Devotion and Chivalry
For ten days messages passed backwards and forwards between Kerbela and Kufa. Kufa wanted surrender and recognition. That was the one thing the Imam could not consent to. Every other alternative was refused by Kufa, under the instructions from Damascus. Those fateful ten days were the first ten days of the month of Muharram, of the year 61 of the Hijra. The final crisis was on the 10th day, the Ashura day, which we are commemorating. During the first seven days various kinds of pressure were brought to bear on the Imam, but his will was inflexible. It was not a question of a fight, for there were but 70 men against 4,000. The little band was surrounded and insulted, but they held together so firmly that they could not be harmed. On the 8th day the water supply was cut off. The Euphrates and its abundant streams were within sight, but the way was barred. Prodigies of valor were performed in getting water. Challenges were made for single combat according to Arab custom. And the enemy were half-hearted, while the Imam's men fought in contempt of death, and always accounted for more men than they lost. On the evening of the 9th day, the little son of the Imam was ill. He had fever and was dying of thirst. They tried to get a drop of water. But that was refused point blank and so they made the resolve that they would, rather than surrender, die to the last man in the cause for which they had come. Imam Husain offered to send away his people. He said, "They are after my person; my family and my people can go back." But everyone refused to go. They said they would stand by him to the last, and they did. They were not cowards; they were soldiers born and bred; and they fought as heroes, with devotion and with chivalry.
The Final Agony; placid face of the man of God
On the day of Ashura, the 10th day, Imam Husain's own person was surrounded by his enemies. He was brave to the last. He was cruelly mutilated. His sacred head was cut off while in the act of prayer. A mad orgy of triumph was celebrated over his body. In this crisis we have details of what took place hour by hour. He had 45 wounds from the enemies' swords and javelins, and 35 arrows pierced his body. His left arm was cut off, and a javelin pierced through his breast. After all that agony, when his head was lifted up on a spear, his face was the placid face of a man of God. All the men of that gallant band were exterminated and their bodies trampled under foot by the horses. The only male survivor was a child, Husain's son Ali, surnamed Zain-ul-'Abidin - "The Glory of the Devout." He lived in retirement, studying, interpreting, and teaching his father's high spiritual principles for the rest of his life.
Heroism of the Women
There were women: for example, Zainab the sister of the Imam, Sakina his little daughter, and Shahr-i-Banu, his wife, at Kerbela. A great deal of poetic literature has sprung up in Muslim languages, describing the touching scenes in which they figure. Even in their grief and their tears they are heroic. They lament the tragedy in simple, loving, human terms. But they are also conscious of the noble dignity of their nearness to a life of truth reaching its goal in the precious crown of martyrdom. One of the best-known poets of this kind is the Urdu poet Anis, who lived in Lucknow, and died in 1874.
Lesson of the Tragedy
That briefly is the story. What is the lesson? There is of course the physical suffering in martyrdom, and all sorrow and suffering claim our sympathy, - the dearest, purest, most out-flowing sympathy that we can give. But there is a greater suffering than physical suffering. That is when a valiant soul seems to stand against the world; when the noblest motives are reviled and mocked; when truth seems to suffer an eclipse. It may even seem that the martyr has but to say a word of compliance, do a little deed of non-resistance; and much sorrow and suffering would be saved; and the insidious whisper comes: "Truth after all can never die." That is perfectly true. Abstract truth can never die. It is independent of man's cognition. But the whole battle is for man's keeping hold of truth and righteousness. And that can only be done by the highest examples of man's conduct - spiritual striving and suffering enduring firmness of faith and purpose, patience and courage where ordinary mortals would give in or be cowed down, the sacrifice of ordinary motives to supreme truth in scorn of consequence. The martyr bears witness, and the witness redeems what would otherwise be called failure. It so happened with Husain. For all were touched by the story of his martyrdom, and it gave the deathblow to the politics of Damascus and all it stood for. And Muharram has still the power to unite the different schools of thought in Islam, and make a powerful appeal to non-Muslims also.
Explorers of Spiritual Territory
That, to my mind, is the supreme significance of martyrdom. All human history shows that the human spirit strives in many directions, deriving strength and sustenance from many sources. Our bodies, our physical powers, have developed or evolved from earlier forms, after many struggles and defeats. Our intellect has had its martyrs, and our great explorers have often gone forth with the martyrs' spirit. All honor to them. But the highest honor must still lie with the great explorers of spiritual territory, those who faced fearful odds and refused to surrender to evil. Rather than allow a stigma to attach to sacred things, they paid with their own lives the penalty of resistance. The first kind of resistance offered by the Imam was when he went from city to city, hunted about from place to place, but making no compromise with evil. Then was offered the choice of an effectual but dangerous attempt at clearing the house of God, or living at ease for himself by tacit abandonment of his striving friends. He chose the path of danger with duty and honor, and never swerved from it giving up his life freely and bravely. His story purifies our emotions. We can best honor his memory by allowing it to teach us courage and constancy.
Abdullah Yusuf Ali is a renowned English translator and commentator of the Holy Qur'an. He died in 1952 in England. Little would he have known that his English translation and commentary of the Qur'an would become so popular in the West and East alike, wherever English is read and understood. This article has been excerpted from a longer version that was published in the Progressive Islam Pamphlet No. 7, September, 1931. The complete article can be viewed at al-islam.org.
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