Hussain ibn ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib was the son of ‘Alī ibn Abī Ṭālib (ra) (final Rashidun Caliph and first Shia Imām) and Fātimah Zahrā (daughter of Muhammad (saw) and Khadija (ra)). Hussain is an important figure in Islām as he is a member of the Ahl al-Bayt (the household of Muhammad) and Ahl al-Kisā, as well as being a Shīa Imām, and one of The Fourteen Infallibles of Shīa Twelvers.
Hussain ibn ‘Alī (ra) is exalted by all the Shīa as a martyr who fought tyranny as he refused to pledge allegiance to the Umayyad caliph. He rose up to create a regime that would reinstate a “true” Islāmic polity as opposed to what he considered the unjust rule of the Umayyads.As a consequence, Hussain was killed and beheaded in the Battle of Karbalā in 680 (61AH) by Shimr Ibn Thil-Jawshan.The anniversary of his Shahid martyrdom is called ‘Āshūrā (“tenth” day of Muharram) and is a day of mourning for the Shīa Muslims*. Revenge for Hussain’s death was turned into a rallying cry that helped undermine the Umayyad caliphate and gave impetus to the rise of a powerful Shīa movement.
According to most of the reports, Hussain ibn Ali (ra) was born on 3 Sha’aban 4 AH/10 January 626 CE.
Hussain, and his brother Hassan, were the only grandsons of the Prophet of Islam (saw) living during his time and remaining after his death. There are many accounts of the Prophet’s (ra) love for them which refer to them together but at times confuse them with each other.
The Prophet (saw) is reported to have said that who loves them has loved him and who hates them has hated him and the famous narration stating them to be the Masters of the Youth of Paradise which has been particularly important for the Shī’ah who have used it in support of the right of the Prophet’s (saw) descendants to be the righteous ones to succeed him. According to other traditions, the Prophet (saw) is pictured with his grand sons on his knees, on his shoulders and even on his back during prayer at the moment of prostrating himself during their young age.
According to Madelung, Prophet Muhammad(saw) loved them and declared them as his Ahl al-Bayt very frequently. The Quran has also accorded the Ahl al-Bayt an elevated position above the rest of the believers. In addition to these traditions, a number of other traditions also involved the presence of Angels and Jinn.
According to the Shī’ah, Hassan was supposed to be the successor to Ali after Prophet Muhammad. Mu’awiyah had fought with Ali during his time and after his death, as Hassan was supposed to take Ali’s place in successorship, he was another threat to Mu’awiyah in which he prepared to fight with him again.
Mu’awiyah began fighting Hassan and after a few inconclusive skirmishes between the armies of Hassan and Mu’awiyah, Hassan reminded his followers of Ali’s position that being an Imam is sufficient for succeeding the Prophet Muhammad and that ruling the Islamic state was not a criterion. Thus, to avoid the agonies of another civil war, he signed a treaty with Mu’awiyah and relinquished the control of what had turned into an Arabian kingdom. A few years after making this treaty, Hassan was secretly poisoned by Mu’awiyah which left Hussain as the head of the Alids and the successor to Hassan after the Prophet of Islam.
One of the important points of the treaty made between Hassan and Mu’awiyah was that Mu’awiyah will not designate anyone as his successor after his death and the decision will be left to the Ummah (the Nation). But after the death of Hassan, he, thinking that no one will be courageous enough to object his decision as the Caliph, designated his son, Yazid I, as his successor in 680CE, literally breaking the treaty. When Yazid I became the Caliph, he forced Hussain ibn Ali and Abd Allah ibn Zubayr to pledge allegiance to him, but they refused and migrated from Medina.
Hussain left Medina with his sisters, daughters, sons, brothers, and the sons of Hassan. He took a side road to Mecca to avoid being pursued, and once in Mecca Hussain stayed in the house of `Abbas ibn `Abd al-Muttalib and remained there for four months.
Hussain opposed Yazid I and declared that Umayyad rule was not only oppressive, but also religiously misguided. In his view the integrity and survival of the Islamic community depended on the reestablishment of the correct guidance. Hussain also believed that the succession of Yazid I was an attempt to establish an illegitimate hereditary dynasty.
On 10 October 680 (Muharram 10, 61 AH), he and his small group of his followers and family members, who were between 72 or more, fought with a large army under the command of Umar ibn Sa’ad, son of the founder of Kufah. Hussain and all of his men were killed and beheaded. The bodies were left for fourty days without burial and survivors from Hussain’s family were taken as prisoners to al-Sham (Syria and Lebanon today) to Yazid.
Hussain’s body is buried in Karbala, near the site of his death. His head is said to have been returned from Damascus and interred with his body. Shia/Fatimid/Dawoodi Bohra believe that Hussain’s head was first buried in the courtyard of yezid mahal (Umayyad Mosque) then transferred from Damascus to Ashkelon to Qahera.
Hussain’s grave became the most visited place of Ziyarat for Shias. The Imam Hussain Shrine was later built over his grave. In 850 Abbasid caliph, al-Mutawakkil, destroyed his shrine in order to stop Shia pilgrimages. However, pilgrimages continued. It is now a holy site of pilgrimage for Shia Muslims.
*Ashura means “the tenth” in this case the tenth day of the first month of the Islamic calendar – Muharram. The tenth of Muharram was a fasting day before the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (ra) and remains a fasting day based on hadith of the prophet Muhammad (saw). The fast commemorates the freeing of the slaves from the Pharo in Egypt and God’s parting the waters of the Red Sea for them to escape. This fast coincides with the Jewish fast of the 10 of Tislev and at the time in Medina Rasul Allah (saw) said that his followers should fast for two days rather than one in order to distiguish their fast from that of the Jews in Medina. Whether it is the 9th and 10th or the 10th and 11th is a point of disagreement among the scholars. Shi’a Muslims commemorate this day of the murder of Imam Husayn with mourning and fasting but it came much later than the origins of the fast of Ashura.