60-61 A.H.   /   680 A.D.

Death of Mu'awiya, vii. 60 A.H. 680 A.D.

AFTER a long and prosperous reign, Mu'awiya died about seventy-five years of age. As he felt the end approach, he brought forth a casket, carefully kept, with parings of the Prophet's nails. Of these, ground fine, he bade them sprinkle the powder in his eyes and mouth when dead, and bury him, for a winding-sheet, in a garment given to him by Mohammad. Fortune had favoured his protracted rule. Since the abdication of Al-Hasan, there had been peace throughout the Empire. Wise, courageous ,1 and forbearing, he held the dangerous elements around him in check; con­solidated and extended the already vast area of Islam; and nursed commerce and the arts of peace, so that they greatly flourished in his time. The secret of his success probably lay in the fact that he always took the offensive. All through his Caliphate he waged unremitting war against the Emperor. Domestic affairs he left to his stadtholders. But he looked to the future with anxiety

1 His courage, however, was moral rather than physical Both he and 'Ali, as already stated, had become obese (at Al-Kufa 'Ali went by the nickname of "the pot-bellied") and in their later years there was little occasion for active bodily exertion Still, even as late as Siffin, we have seen that 'Ali fought with his early gallantry; while Mu'awiya shrank from a personal encounter. 'Ali was, without doubt the braver of the two in physical courage; but Mu'awiya, beyond comparison, the abler, and bolder ruler. Mu'awiya was a politician rather than a soldier. He preferred to gain his end by money rather than by force. And he is a fine example of l'homme qui sait attendre.


Dying caution to Yezid.

The nomination of Yezid as successor was sure to meet with opposition when he was gone. From his deathbed, therefore, he sent a message to Yezid, who was absent at his hunting-place, warning him of the rocks that lay ahead.

Three men to beware of.

There were three, he said, of whom he must beware—the two 'Abdallahs, sons of 'Omar and Az-Zubeir, and Al-Hosein son of 'Ali. The first, a pious devotee, would easily be put aside. "As for Al-Hosein," he continued, "the restless men of Al-'Irak will give him no peace till he attempt the Empire; when thou hast gotten the victory, deal gently with him, for truly the blood of the Prophet runneth in his veins. It is 'Abdallah son of Az-Zubeir that I fear the most for thee. Fierce as the lion, crafty as the fox, destroy him root and branch."

Hosein and 'Abdallah ibn Zubeir escape to Mecca.

The first care of Yezid on assuming the Caliphate—the date was I vii. 60 A.H., April 7, 680 A.D.—was to require those who had before refused to swear allegiance at Medina, now to take the oath, the order being written on a leaf no larger than a mouse's ear. Two of these, the sons of 'Omar and Al-'Abbas,1 complied with the command. But the sons of Az-Zubeir and Al-Hosein, both feigning time for con­sideration, escaped to Mecca.

Ibn Zubeir dissembles.

Since its capture by Mohammad, no enemy had cared to go up against the Holy City; and there, inviolate as the doves that fluttered around the Temple, conspirators abusing the asylum were wont to plot against the Empire. As Mu'awiya had foreseen, 'Abdallah, the ambitious son of Az-Zubeir, aimed at the Caliphate; but so long as Al-Hosein survived he dissembled, professing to bow to the Superior claims of the Prophet's grandson.

Citizens of Kufa invite Hosein thither.

At Al-Kufa, the house of 'Ali was still after a fashion popular. Al-Hasan, it is true, found little support during his short-lived Caliphate there; but the fond and fickle populace now turned eagerly to Al-Hosein his brother. Promises of support poured in upon him, if he would but appear at Al-Kufa and there claim regal rights. His friends at Mecca besought that he would not trust to the slippery missives of that factious city. But the son of Az-Zubeir, to be rid of his rival, fostered the design; and Al-Hosein,

1 'Abbas, uncle of the Prophet, and progenitor of the 'Abbasid dynasty.


yielding to his advice, in an evil hour was tempted to accept the call. His cousin, Muslim, was sent before to prepare the way for his approach.1

Muslims, sent in advance is put to death at Kufa, xii. 60 A.H. Sept. 680 A.D.

The plot becoming known at court, Yezid deputed 'Obeidallah, son of Ziyad, from Al-Basra (whose rule there was as stern as had been his father's), to take command at Al-Kufa. On his arrival, search was made, and Muslim was discovered lurking under protection of Hani', a friend to the house of 'Ali. The populace, suddenly siding with the pretender, rose on 'Obeidallah, and besieging him in his castle, went near to turning the tables against him. The ebullition, however, soon subsided. 'Obeidallah regained the lead, and Muslim with his protector was put to death.

Hosein set out for Kufa, 8 xii. 60 A.H. Sept 10, 680 A.D.

Meanwhile, towards the close of the year 60 A.H., on the first day of Pilgrimage—it was the same day on which Muslim was put to death—Al-Hosein, heedless of the remonstrances of faithful friends, started from Mecca with his family and a little band of devoted followers. He had already passed the desert, advancing upon Al-Kufa, when tidings reached him of the fate of Muslim. He was staggered, for it might well have seemed a mad attempt to venture, with the ladies of his household, into that fickle city. It was yet possible to retrace his steps. But Muslim's brethren were clamorous that he should avenge his blood; and there was still the forlorn hope that those who had drawn Al-Hosein by their specious promises thither, would rally round his person so soon as he appeared. But each succeeding messenger was fraught with darker tidings. Al-Farazdak, the poet, chanced to pass that way from Al-Kufa; all that he could say to his princely friend was,—The heart of the city is with thee; but its sword against thee. The Bedawin, ever ready for a fray, had been swelling the little band to a considerable force; but now, seeing the cause hopeless, they drew off; and so Al-Hosein, already two or three weeks upon his journey, was left with nothing but his original following of some 30 horse and 40 foot.2 A chieftain

1 Muslim was son of 'Ali's brother 'Akil. The actors in this melancholy chapter have become household names,—words either of love or intensest hate, in the mouths of Muslims, especially of the Shi'a.

2 The number varies; but none place it higher than 40 horse and 100 foot. Seventy heads were brought into Al-Kufa, probably those of all the combatants. The rest were no doubt, camp followers, etc.


by the way besought him to divert his course towards the hills of Aja and Selma, "Where," said he, "in ten days' time, 20,000 lances of the Beni Tai' will rally round thee."

Met by Horr near Kufa, 1st Moharram, 61 A.H., Oct. 1, 680 A.D.

"How can I," replied Al-Hosein, "surrounded as thou seest I am by women and children, turn aside with them into the desert? I must needs go forward." And so forward he went to his sad fate. They had not proceeded far when they were met by a troop of Kufan horse under an Arab chief of the tribe of Temim named Al-Horr, who courteously but firmly refused to let him pass. "My orders," he said, "are to bring thee to the Governor; but if thou will not go, then turn to the right hand, or turn to the left, as thou choosest, only the way back again to Mecca that thou mayest not take." So the little band, leaving Al-Kufa on the right, marched to the left, skirting the desert for a day or two along the western branch of the Euphrates. In so doing Al-Hosein had apparently no immediate object beyond avoiding attack from Al-Kufa. Al-Horr kept close by, and courteous com­munications still passed between them.

Stopped by 'Omar at Kerbala.

But it was dangerous to leave the pretender to hover about the city already excited by the affair of Muslim. So 'Obeidallah sent 'Omar son of Sa'd with 4000 horse and a second summons.1 Thus arrested, Al-Hosein pitched his camp on the field of Kerbala on the river bank, five-and ­twenty miles above Al-Kufa. At repeated interviews, Al-H­osein disclaimed hostilities, which indeed, with his slender following, and no prospect now of a rising in the city, were out of thought. He would submit, but only thus, he said:—"Suffer me to return to the place from whence I came; if not, then lead me to Yezid, the Caliph, at Damascus, and place my hand in his, that I may speak with him face to face; or, if thou wilt do neither of these things, then send me far away to the wars, where I shall fight, the Caliph's faithful soldier, against the enemies of Islam." But 'Obeidallah insisted upon unconditional submission; and,

1 His father Sa'd was the hero of Al-Kadisiya. The story goes that 'Obeidallah offered 'Omar the government of Ar-Reiy on condition of bringing in Al-Hosein dead or alive. 'Omar wavered between duty to the grandson of the Prophet and the bribe. He yielded, and for mammon sold his soul. But all this, cum grano; for we find tradition now rising to fever heat.


to effect this without resort to arms, he ordered 'Omar to cut off access to the river, hoping that thirst might thus force surrender.

Shamir to bring to Kufa Moharram

But Al-Hosein, who feared the cruel tyrant to 'Obeidallah worse than death, stood firm to his conditions. He even prevailed on 'Omar to urge that he might be sent direct to the Caliph's court. Well had it been for the Umeiyad house, if the prayer had been agreed to. But impatient of delay, 'Obeidallah sent instead a heartless creature called Shamir (name never uttered by Muslim lips without a shudder) to say that 'Omar must dally no longer with Al-Hosein, but, dead or alive, bring him in to Al-Kufa; should 'Omar hesitate, Shamir was to supersede him in com­mand.1 Thus forced, 'Omar forthwith surrounded closely the little camp. Al-Hosein resolved to fight the battle to the bitter end. The scene that followed is still fresh in the believers' eye; and as often as the fatal day comes round, the 10th of the first month, it is commemorated with the wildest grief and frenzy. Encircled with harrowing detail, it never fails to rouse horror and indignation to the utmost pitch. The fond believer forgets that Al-Hosein, leader of the band, having broken his allegiance, and yielded himself to a treasonable, though impotent, design upon the throne, was committing an offence that endangered society, and demanded swift suppression. He can see nought but the cruel and ruthless hand that slew with few exceptions all in whose veins flowed their Prophet's sacred blood. And, in truth, the simple story needs no adventitious colouring to touch the heart.

1 Shamir ibn Dhi'l-Jaushan is a name never pronounced by the pious Muslim but with ejaculatory curse. 'Obeidallah (so the story goes) was at first inclined to concede the prayer of Al-Hosein, as urged by 'Omar, for a safe-conduct to the Caliph at Damascus, when Shamir stepped forward, and said that 'Obeidallah, for the credit of his name, must insist on the pretender's surrender at discretion. So he obtained from 'Obeidallah a letter to 'Omar, threatening that if he failed to bring Al-H­osein in, Shamir should take the command, and also obtain the government of Ar-Reiy in his stead. The name is variously pronounced as Shamir, Shomar, or Shimr.
The whole of the sad tale becomes at this point so intensified, and so overlaid with 'Alid fiction, that it is impossible to believe a hundredth part of what the heated imagination of the Shi'a has invented. The names are all ranged, either on one side or on the other (especially with the Shi'a) as models of piety, or as demons of apostasy.


Al-Hosein obtained a day's respite to send his kinsmen and family away. But one and all refused to leave him.

Hosein's preparations for defence, 9th Moharram.

The tents were then rudely staked together, and barricades of wood and reeds set round, a poor defence against the overwhelming foe. During the night, Zeinab overheard her brother's servant furbishing his sword and singing the while snatches of martial verse on the impending combat. Her heart sank at the thought; drawing her mantle around her, she stole into the dark to her brother's tent, and flinging herself upon him in wild grief, beat her breast and face, and fell into a swoon. Al-Hosein poured water on her temples; but it was little that he could do to comfort her. 'Ali, Al-­Hosein's little son, lay sick of a fever, but they could find no drop of water to slake his parched lips. The women and children passed the night in wailing and in terror.

Attacked and with all his company slain, 10th Moharram, 61 A.H. Oct. 10, 680 A.D.

On the morning of the fatal 10th, Al-Hosein drew out his little band for battle. There was a parley; and again he offered to retire, or be led to the presence of the Caliph. Finding all in vain, he alighted from his camel; and, surrounded by his kinsmen, who stood firm for his defence, resolved to sell life dear. There was a moment of stillness. At length, one shot an arrow from the Kufan side, and amid the cries of the women and little ones, the unequal fight began. Arrows flew thick, and did their deadly work. Al-K­asim, the nephew of Al-Hosein, ten years of age, betrothed to his daughter Fatima, was early struck, and died in his uncle's arms. One after another the sons and brothers, nephews and cousins of Al-Hosein fell before the shafts of the enemy. Some took shelter behind the camp. The reeds were set on fire, and the flames spreading to the tents added new horror to the scene. For long none dared attack Al-H­osein, and it was hoped he might even yet surrender. At last, driven by thirst, he sought the river bank. The enemy closed up, and he was cut off from his people The "cursed" Shamir led the attack. Al-Hosein, struck by an arrow, fell to the ground, and the cavalry trampled on his corpse.

Not one of the band escaped. Fighting bravely, they left of the enemy more than their own number dead upon the field. Two sons of Al-Hosein perished early in the day and at its close there lay amongst the dead six of his brothers, sons of 'Ali; two sons of his brother Al-Hasan; and six


others, descendants of Abu Talib, 'Ali's father.

Their heads taken to the governor.

The camp was plundered; but no indignity was offered to the survivors, mostly women and children, who were carried, together with the ghastly load of seventy trunkless heads, to 'Obeidallah's palace. A thrill of horror ran through the crowd when the gory head of the Prophet's grandson was cast at 'Obeidallah's feet. Hard hearts were melted. As the governor turned the head roughly over with his staff (though we must be slow to accept the tales of heartless insult multiplied by Shi'a hate), an aged voice was heard to cry: "Gently! It is the Prophet's grandson. By the Lord! I have seen these very lips kissed by the blessed mouth of Mohammad."

Hosein's family sent to Medina.

The sister of Al-Hosein, his little son 'Ali al-Asghar (the younger), and two daughters, sole survivors of the family, were treated by 'Obeidallah with respect, and sent, along with the head of the pretender, to Yezid at Damascus. Whether sincerely, or to escape the execrations already heaped upon the actors in the tragedy, the Caliph disowned responsibility for the death of Al-Hosein, and reproached 'Obeidallah for the deed. The ladies and children were honourably received into the royal household, and sent eventually, with every comfort and consideration, to their Medina home. This destination, meant in kindness by Yezid, turned out badly for the Umeiyad house. At Medina, their return caused a wild outburst of grief and lamentation. Everything around intensified the catastrophe.

Reaction in favor of the house of 'Ali.

The deserted dwellings inhabited heretofore by the family and kinsmen of the Prophet, the widowed ladies, the orphaned little ones,—all added pathos to the cruel tale. That tale, heard yearly by groups of weeping pilgrims at the lips of the women and children who survived to tell it,—and coloured, as oft repeated, with fresh and growing horrors,—spread over the Empire. The tragic scene was repeated in every household, and bred pity for the lineage of 'Ali. It soon was seen that the zeal of 'Obeidallah to suppress the rebellion of Al-Hosein had overshot the mark. The claim of 'Ali's line to rule, heretofore unknown, or treated only with indifference, now struck deep into the heart of multitudes; and a cloud of indignation began to gather, which ere long burst upon the Dynasty which had caused the sacrilegious massacre. The tragedy of Kerbala decided


not only the fate of the Caliphate, but of Mohammadan kingdoms long after the Caliphate had waned and disappeared.

Mourning for Hosein.

Who that in the East has seen the wild and passionate grief with which, at each recurring anniversary, the Muslims of every land spend the live-long night, beating their breasts and vociferating unweariedly the frantic cry—

The Moharram.

Hasan Hosein! Hasan Hosein!—in wailing cadence, can fail to recognise the fatal weapon, sharp and double-edged, which the Umeiyad dynasty had thus allowed to fall into the hands of bitter enemies?1 'Ali, the little son of Al-­Hosein, introduces a new thread into the tangle of claimants for the headship of Islam. His mother was a daughter (it is said) of Yezdejird, the last of the Sasanids. He had, there­fore, the support of the Persians, and is acknowledged by all the Shi'a as the fourth Imam, under the title Zain al-'Abidin ("Glory of the Devout").

1 In this outburst the name of Al-Hasan is added to that of Al-­Hosein, not only because the Shi'a hold him to have been entitled to the Caliphate (though he resigned it), but because he, too, is regarded as a martyr poisoned by his wife, at the instigation, they say, of Mu'awiya, but (as we have seen) without any sufficient presumption.
The tragedy is yearly represented as a religious ceremony, especially by the Shi'a, in the "Passion Play," throughout which are interwoven, in a supernatural romance, the lives of the early worthies of Islam, ending with the pathetic tale of the martyr company of Kerbala; while Abu Bekr, 'Omar, and 'Othman are execrated as usurpers, and the whole Umeiyad crew, 'Obeidallah, Al-Hajjaj, etc., are held up to malediction

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