Two Lessons from the Catastrophe at Karbala

In early Islamic history, there is no catastrophe greater than the day of ‘Ashura, the tenth of Muharram, in which the beloved grandson of the Prophet ﷺ, al-Husayn bin Ali bin Abi Talib, and seventy-two of his companions were brutally massacred at the hands of a Muslim-led army. It was the day in which heaven cried, and according to an authentic hadith, the Mother of the Believers Umm Salamah (may Allah be pleased with her) heard the Jinn mourning over al-Husayn.1 He and his elder brother al-Hasan (may Allah’s blessings be upon him) were the sweet fragrance of the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him and his family) in this world and referred to by him as “my two sons.”2

Although there were many from the generation of the Sahabah, beginning with Sumayyah bint Khayyat (may Allah be pleased with her) in Makkah, to four of the first five khulafa who were killed, the brutality of the decapitations of al-Husayn and his companions, which included other members of Bani Hashim, made this event especially traumatic. The rippling effects of Karbala still reverberate among Muslims until today. Al-Husayn and the martyrs of Karbala, however, do not need our tears, nor do their martyrdoms mandate our cursing their killers. Besides learning about the merits of al-Husayn, it would benefit us more to learn lessons from their martyrdoms in hopes that Allah (Mighty & Sublime) may grant us greater spiritual insight and moral clarity.

Lesson #1: Al-Husayn Strove to Preserve Principles, Not Worldly Status

One of the misconceptions that some Muslims and Occidental historians have regarding the catastrophe of Karbala is that al-Husayn's martyrdom was due to his political ambition, which led him to not swear allegiance to the Umayyad king Yazid bin Mu’awiyah. Al-Husayn, however, refused to swear allegiance to Yazid due for the sake of virtue and to preserve the Prophetic way.

Prophet Muhammad (prayers and peace be upon him and his family) stated, “O people! Surely, I leave among you that which if you take, you shall never go astray, the Book of Allah, and the mantle of the people of my household.”3 Being the last member of Prophetic household from the generation of the Sahabah, it was beneath the station of al-Husayn to swear allegiance to Yazid, a man whom the people of al-Madinah saw as “a person with no deen that drank wine”4 and would “stay drunk to the point of refusing to make prayer.”5 Seeing the state of the leadership within the Ummah, Al-Husayn cried out to his Creator, “O Allah! Surely, I love good and despise evil.”6 He also said, “It cannot be fitting for a believing soul to see one who openly disobeys Allah but does not find it despicable.”7 Hence in the duty of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil and for reforming the Ummah, Al-Husayn simply could not put his hand into the hand of a man such as Yazid.

Furthermore, the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him and his family) said, “Al-Hasan and Al-Husayn are the leaders of the youth of the people of paradise.”8 It was simply beneath the character of a man of his caliber who was given glad tidings of being a leader in paradise and spiritual imamship to disavow Yazid due to craving for a worldly chair and access to power and money.

Lesson #2: The Doors of Repentance are Always Open While Alive

On the day of ‘Ashura at Karbala, an officer in the army of Yazid named al-Hurr bin Yazid decided to leave his post and join the small camp of al-Husayn. Al-Hurr confessed that he had taken the wrong position for being in the army opposed to al-Husayn and wished to join him knowing that he would face potential martyrdom. After asking for forgiveness, al-Husayn accepted him and said, “May Allah turn to you, and may He forgive you. What is your name?” He replied, “I am al-Hurr [meaning the Free] bin Yazid.” Al-Husayn then told him, “You are al-Hurr [the Free] just as your mother named you. You are free, inshaAllah, in this world and the hereafter. Come.”9

Not long after al-Hurr abandoned the army of tyranny for the camp of al-Husayn, he achieved martyrdom. Instead of being in the army which decapitated al-Husayn, al-Hurr chose to leave this life with a free conscience by repenting not only to Allah (Mighty & Sublime) but also to al-Husayn for his wrong.

There are many more issues which could be elucidated upon relating to the life and martyrdom of al-Husayn. Besides recognizing the special place which the Prophetic Household holds in the hearts of believers, it is important for us to learn the lessons that we should never turn our hearts over and assist corrupt leaders and oppressors. If we have done so, it is never too late for us to mend our ways.

1. At-Tabarani, Maqtal al-Husayn bin Ali bin Abi Talib, Hadith #102
2. Ibn ‘Asakir, Tahdhib Tarikh Dimashq, Volume 3, Page 207; Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidayah wa an-Nihayah, Volume 8, Page 35
3. At-Tirmidhi, Sunan at-Tirmidhi, Volume 5, Page 662; Al-Hakim, Fada’il Fatimah az-Zahra, Page 35, At-Tabarani, Mu’jam al-Awsat, Volume 5, Page 89
4. Ibn al-Jawzi, Ar-Radd ‘ala al-Muta’assib al-‘Anid al-Mani’ min Dhamm Yazid, Page 64
5. Ibn al-Athir, Al-Kamil, Volume 4, Page 103; Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidayah wa An-Nihayah, Volume 8, Pages 216 - 218
6. Al-Khawarizmi Al-Hanafi, Maqtal al-Husayn, Volume 1, Page 186
7. Ibn Abd al-Malik al-Hindi, Kanz al-‘Ummal, Volume 3, Page 85
8. At-Tirmidhi, Sunan al-Kubra, Hadith #3768; Ibn Majah, As-Sunan, Hadith #118; At-Tahawi, Mushkil al-Athar, Volume 2, Page 393; Ash-Shajari, Al-Amali, Volume 1, Page 33
9. Abu Mikhnaf, Nusus min Tarikh Abi Mikhnaf, Volume 1, Page 465


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