At Karbala, Imam Husayn (a.s.) changed the very meaning and connotation of the terms ‘victory’ and ‘defeat’, ‘life’ and ‘death’. He and his small group of his companions redefined human nature itself. They redefined the limits of human endurance of sufferings for a noble cause. In sacrificing their lives, they set an example to those who fight against anarchy and materialism to protect the freedom and independence of mankind. At Karbala, the conqueror became the loser and the vanquished became the victor. By sacrificing their lives, the martyrs of Karbala became immortal, while Yazid by killing them was erased out of the good books of history.
Imam Husayn (a.s.) showed that numbers and odds do not matter. What really matters, is the propriety, nobility and nature of the cause itself. Imam Husayn (a.s.) showed that truth and righteousness are ineffaceable and that the killing of a few persons, does not and cannot obliterate the truthfulness and nobility of their cause.
Before Imam Husayn (a.s.) and his companions sacrificed their lives in the battle at Karbala, a victorious person was the one who stood with a fluttering banner in his hand, while the vanquished lay slain on the ground, his flag lying limp beside him. The victor assumed the mantle of a successful mission, while the loser was clothed with the infamy of defeat and his unjust cause. Success in the battle was proof of victory of justice over anarchy and oppression. Victory was synonymous with a just and popular cause and the victor commanded the love, adoration and respect of the public. The victorious and their cause became immortal. The vanquished was buried in history, only to be remembered as a lesson to posterity, his defeat considered the defeat of his unjust cause.
Mothers loved to name their children after the victor and shunned the name of the vanquished. The victorious became heroes and the vanquished were treated as villains in the everlasting memory of a nation, country, tribe or culture. The epics, Iliad, Maha Bharatha, and Ramayana are some examples, depicting truth and justice as personified in the triumphant hero.
All these concepts were changed by Imam Husayn (a.s.). For the first and perhaps the last time in history, the battle of Karbala established that the vanquished might also be the victorious in his cause. The triumphant were the ones who lay beheaded in the battlefield, their lifeless bodies, proclaiming the victory of a living cause of immortal truth.
The popular source for eyewitness accounts of the battle at Karbala are the ‘Maqaatil’3 of Abu Makhnaf, and Hamid ibn Muslim, the latter being a scribe embedded with the army of Yazid. They meticulously recorded not only the events but also the conversation, sermons and challenges in the battlefield called ‘Rajaz’.4 If anyone of these two chronicles omitted a particular event or a dialogue or sermon, found elsewhere, it may be due to the scribe’s absence from that place and time. But, over all, their records are authentic and have never been disputed as the coinage of a fertile imagination.
The chief source for the Twelver Shia are the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) – members of the Prophet’s family – who were present at Karbala in Imam Husayn’s camp and related the correct versions which was then passed on to successive generations by the Infallible and Immaculate Imams (a.s.). The present book is an attempt to understand the correct facts and philosophy behind the Battle of Karbala, in the Shiite perspective.
- Biharul Anwar, Vol. 44 p. 329.
- Qur’an, 2:154, 3:169, 3:195.
- Maqtal literally means the ‘Manner (or\and Place) of Massacre’.
- Rajaz is the customary manner in which an Arab warrior addresses his opponent, in single combat, introducing himself, his lineage, his military exploits, combat acumen and success in earlier wars.