Muslims mark the Shahadah (martyrdom) of Imam Hussein, may Allah be pleased with him, the grandson of the Prophet (s) and son of Imam Ali ibn Abi Taleb (r) every year during the month of Muharram. 

His Shahadah on 10 Muharram 61 AH (1 October 680 CE) at Karbala, Iraq is highly significant in Islamic history with lessons for the entire Muslim community of all times. It teaches Muslims to be patient and to stand up against any form of injustice and oppression.

In the words of poet/philosopher of South Asia, Sir Dr Muhammad Iqbal “Imam Hussein uprooted despotism forever till the Day of Resurrection. He watered the dry garden of freedom with the surging wave of his blood, and indeed he awakened the sleeping Muslim Ummah. Hussein weltered in blood and dust for the sake of truth. Verily he, therefore, became the bed-rock (foundation) of the Muslim creed; la ilaaha il-lal Laah (There is no god but Allah).”

The following is an account of 10 day event leading up to the Shahadah of Imam Hussein’s and his small band of family and supporters at Karbala on the day of Ashura:

Day 1: Muharram 1, AH 61 (1st October 680) Imam Hussein and his followers were forced to make camp in the desert of Karbala, 75km from Kufa in Iraq. It is here that Imam Hussein and his followers’ torment began.

Day 4: Imam Hussein begins negotiations with ibn Sa’ad emphasising that he has no desire to initiate bloodshed and asks to be allowed to withdraw to Arabia but ibn Sa’ad refused to relent. Meanwhile the situation in Imam Hussein camp is becoming more and more desperate due to the lack of water and fresh supplies.

Day 6: The lack of water leads to desperate measures. Imam Hussein uses a tent pole to dig a well, but their relief is short-lived as it dries up. The commander of Yazid’s troops, Ibn Ziyad sensing their anguish sends 500 troops to reinforce the cordon around the river Euphrates.

Day 7: Fearing for the health of women and children, Imam Hussein asks his brother Abbas to conduct a midnight raid past the Yazid’s troops to bring back water from the river. Despite a fight Abbas brings back some precious water that does little to satisfy the thirst of the entire camp.

Day 8: In desperation Imam Hussein sends a message to Sa’ad requesting they meet, he questions Sa’d’s allegiance to Yazid by asking, “Don’t you fear God on the Day of Judgment? You know who I am”. Sa’ad’s thought of acting as a peacemaker between Imam Hussein and Yazid but is discouraged when his supporters urge him not to compromise.

Day 9: After a long, hot day in the desert filled with the cries of children for water, Imam Hussein’s camp prepares for the attack they know is coming and are powerless to stop. Imam Hussein gathers his companions together and pleads with them; “Whoever remains with me will be killed tomorrow; so consider this opportunity from Allah and take advantage of the darkness and go home to your villages.” He then extinguishes all the lights in the camp to allow those who want to leave to do so.

His followers wept and replied, “Oh master do not thus shame us before Allah…were we to desert you, may the wild beasts of the jungle tear us to pieces.” Imam Hussein sends one last message to Sa’ad asking to be spared one last night so that they may pray to Allah and recite the Qur’an.

Day 10: “Ashura,” Friday, 10 Muharram, 61 AH (10 October 680 CE). On what was to be his last day Imam Hussein and some of his followers implore the ibn Sa’ad troops for the final time not to shed the blood of the Prophet’s household. Hurr switched sides and fought to defend Hussein and he was the first martyr. One by one Imam Hussein’s supporters fell on the battlefield. He took his six-month-old baby son and pleaded for water for the baby. The enemy responds by shooting poisoned arrows which pierced the neck of the baby killing it instantly.

Finally, Imam Hussein is the last left standing on the battlefield next to his dead comrades and falls wounded. Covered in wounds, Imam Hussein is then decapitated and his body is mutilated in order to send souvenirs back to Yazid.

His followers suffer a similar fate. Their bodies were trampled by enemy horses and left where they fell denying them a Muslim burial. Yazid’s soldiers then loot and plunder the remains of the camp taking women and children as prisoners, including Ali bin Hussein, the ailing son of Imam Hussein, who survived.