الموصول العراق واحد و سبعون سنة هجرية
Mosul, Iraq, 71 AH
Qasim ibn Habib walked through the Umayyad camp trying his best to blend in. He wanted to look like any other soldier.
He wore an armored breast plate over a red tunic with metal arm guards strapped to his wrists. A black turban sat upon his head, a small bag was slung across his back, and a thin dagger hung by his side.
There was an air of tension in the camp. Ibn Zubayr’s army was rumored to be headed for Syria and the Umayyads were determined to stop him at Mosul.
Qasim ibn Habib did not care about the politics or the war. All he cared about was finding the old man.
As Qasim walked towards the old man’s tent, he took in the sights and sounds around him. He was fascinated by the odd combination of energy and boredom inside a military camp.
There were women who had followed their men to the frontlines. There were hundreds of camp followers such as merchants, tailors, healers, and even fortune tellers. There were cooks and slaves and prisoners and even the occasional poet who would compose sonnets for the warriors.
Before long, Qasim ibn Habib found himself before the old man’s tent. A tethered horse stood next to the tent, slowly munching on dry grass.
He glanced around to make sure no one was looking. Then he stooped down and ducked inside the tent.
The old man was sleeping. His chest rose up and down gently, his gray beard covering much of his face.
Qasim knelt down besides the old man and tapped him on the shoulder.
The old man woke with a start. He sputtered and blinked at Qasim ibn Habib, trying to focus on him. “Who are you?” he asked.
“I’m from Kufah,” replied Qasim. “Someone told me you’re also from Kufah.”
“Yes,” said the old man, squinting at Qasim. “Do I know you?”
Qasim ignored his question. “Is it true you once fought for Muawiyyah ibn Abi Sufyan?”
“Yes, that’s true.” The old man sat up on his elbows. “I served under Ameerul Mumineen and his son Yazid.”
“I don’t remember much about Muawiyyah. But I do remember Yazid.”
“Well, it was a difficult time. Rebellions everywhere. The empire was split apart. The Romans were trying take advantage of it all. Just like it is now.” The old man took another look at Qasim. “What did you say your name was?”
“Did you know Ziyad ibn Abihi?” asked Qasim, ignoring the man’s question.
The old man chuckled. “You’re lucky he’s not alive to hear you say that. He hated that name. We always called him Ziyad ibn Abi Sufyan when he was around. Yes, I knew him. I was a young man when he became governor of Kufah.”
“What about his son?”
“Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad? Yep, I knew him too. He was a bigger head case than his father was, if you can believe that.” The old man started to rise.
“One last question,” said Qasim. “Were you at Karbala?”
The old man froze. His face hardened and his eyes narrowed as he studied Qasim’s face.
Suddenly, the old man tried to jump up, but Qasim hit him in the face and he fell right back down.
Qasim jumped on the man’s chest and whipped out the dagger. He rammed it down into the old man’s throat. Blood spurted out of the man’s neck and splattered against the insides of the tent. The old man tried to scream but no sound could get past the hole in his throat.
Qasim stabbed him three more times, twice in the chest and once in the ribs.
By the time he was done, Qasim was nearly covered in blood. Blood was pooling around the old man’s body and running towards the edge of the tent.
Qasim hurriedly stripped off his armored chest plate and arm guards. The red tunic underneath hid the blood stains. He untied his turban and used it to wipe the blood off his hands, knife, and face.
He stuffed them all into his bag, slung it over his shoulder, and made to leave. But before he did, he turned back to the dead man lying on the ground.
“My name is Qasim ibn Habib,” he told the corpse, “and I remember you.”
ذات العرق العراق واحد و ستين سنة هجرية
Dhat al-Irq, Iraq, 61 AH
Husayn knew they could not last much longer. The situation was getting worse by the day.
It was their third day in the village of Dhat al-Irq and little progress had been made.
Husayn had brought his group to the village because it was close to the Euphrates River. Unfortunately, Umar ibn Sa’d arrived the next day with four thousand five hundred men and blocked all access.
For three days, the two leaders tried to negotiate a truce, but nothing had come of their efforts.
Husayn knew it would be impossible to enter Kufah now. His dream of reestablishing his father’s Caliphate was over.
Banu Umayyah had full control of the city and the Kufans were mentally and spiritually defeated.
All Husayn could hope for, was an honorable end to this fiasco and his family’s safety. He told as much to Umar ibn Sa’d.
“It’s obvious the people of Kufah don’t want me here,” he had told the Umayyad commander. “Let me return to the Hijaz and this can end here and now.”
But Umar ibn Sa’d was beholden to the governor of Kufah.
“That is not an option,” Umar ibn Sa’d had responded. “The governor says you only have one option: Unconditional surrender.”
“I have children who are dying here!” Husayn had yelled back. “You want them to die because of what your governor says?”
“It is not about what I want. I am following orders. You’d be wise to do the same.”
They had run out of water the previous day and were suffering from severe thirst.
At first, the children cried relentlessly, grabbing at their helpless mothers. But by the end of the day, their bodies were too dry to produce any tears.
Husayn had walked by several children just laying down, tongues lolling from their mouths, lips peeling and blistered. Some of them raised a hand towards him, as if begging for relief.
His heart broke when he saw these sights. But he was just as helpless as their mothers. His children were suffering as well.
Husayn’s son Ali the Middle, the one they called Zaynul Abideen, had developed a fever. But, without water, they could not cool him down. The poor boy was burning from within.
That night, Husayn decided to take action. He commissioned twenty men to sneak past the Umayyads and fetch water from the river. They were to avoid violence if possible, but be ready to fight if necessary.
His half-brother, Abbas ibn Ali and a big, shaggy-haired Kufan Shi’ite named Nafi al-Jamali led the mission.
Less than an hour later, the men returned, all of them carrying skins full of water. Thankfully, none of them were injured. In fact, with the exception of Nafi stabbing one of the Umayyad soldiers, the water mission was a success.
كربلاء العراق واحد و ستين سنة هجرية
Karbala, Iraq, 61 AH
“That was very foolish, Husayn,” said Umar ibn Sa’d. “You’re going to turn this into something ugly.”
Umar had called this meeting with Husayn after several Shias had stolen water from the river. One of Husayn’s thugs had killed an Umayyad soldier.
They were standing in the open field of Karbala, each accompanied by twenty men.
Karbala was just west of the Euphrates between the village and the river. Its ground was flat and the soil was hard-packed clay, perfect for horses and marching soldiers.
“It is already something ugly,” replied Husayn. “My women and children are suffering and near death. What would you have me do?”
“Surrender. Submit. And pledge. Same as before.”
Husayn spat. “What is wrong with you Ibn Sa’d? You’re better than this. Your father was better than this.”
“I am not my father!” yelled Umar.
“Apparently not,” Husayn replied.
“You cannot win this Husayn. Surrender. Submit. And pledge. And this will all be over.”
“I’d like to propose three different options. First, you and I go to Damascus and I’ll give Yazid the pledge. Or you let me go back to the Hijaz. Or you may send me to the frontiers where I’ll spend my last days fighting the Romans. Either way, you will have no more trouble from me.”
Umar admitted those were all good options. But it was not up to him.
“I will send your terms to the governor. Perhaps he will accept one of them.”
Umar turned his horse around and headed back to camp, his men trotting close behind. He prayed Ubaydullah would accept one of Husayn’s proposals. Doing so would end this affair, and keep things from getting worse.
But Umar knew Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad always found a way to make things worse.
دار الإمارة الكوفة واحد و ستين سنة هجرية
The Governor’s Palace, Kufah, 61 AH
“What are you thinking, Shamir?” asked Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad.
“I don’t like this,” Shamir replied. “It makes you look weak.”
Ubaydullah nodded. Shamir ibn Dhi al-Jawshan was an Sharif from Banu Kilab, one of the oldest and most noble clans in Arabia. Many of them had settled in Syria after the Muslim conquest, and were staunch supporters of Banu Umayyah.
“How so?” asked Ubaydullah. They had just received Umar ibn Sa’d’s message with Husayn’s three proposals.
“All three options allow him to leave unscathed. Husayn came and camped on your land with the intention of overthrowing you. By Allah’s Mercy, he has failed in that objective. But if you let him leave without submitting to you, then you will look weak.”
Ubaydullah stroked his short beard. He liked the way Shamir thought. The man knew his politics.
“You are the governor,” Shamir continued. ‘He should submit to Ameerul Mumineen through you. And then, you will have the choice to punish him or forgive him. That is more fitting.”
“And if he refuses?”
“What of it? He would have no one else to blame but himself. This whole thing stinks of Umar ibn Sa’d. It sounds to me like he’s trying to wriggle out of his duty.”
Ubaydullah agreed. His spies in Umar’s army had confirmed he and Husayn were always meeting and negotiating.
Umar should have taken Husayn by surprise and killed anyone who tried to intervene. Had they done that, this whole thing would be over by now.
Instead, the standoff at Dhat al-Irq had gone on for nearly a week.
“You are right Shamir. It’s time to bring this foolishness to an end.”
ذات العرق العراق واحد و ستين سنة هجرية
Dhat al-Irq, Iraq, 61 AH
“Husayn, wake up!”
Husayn’s eyes fluttered open. He had dozed off in the shade of a dilapidated wall after the midday prayer. In his dream, he had seen his grandfather.
Zaynab and his half-brother, Abbas ibn Ali, were standing over him.
“Husayn!” Zaynab said. “They’re coming.”
“The enemy is advancing,” said Abbas ibn Ali.
Husayn shook the dream from his head. He did not understand what was going on.
Why were they advancing? He had offered to lay down his arms and pledge to Yazid. Isn’t that what they wanted?
Husayn stood up, dusting off the sand and leaves that had settled on him during his nap. “Ride out to meet them, brother. Find out what’s happening.”
Abbas returned half an hour later. “Ibn Sa’d said the governor has rejected all of your proposals. You must surrender to the governor immediately or they will fight us. There are no other options.”
Husayn grimaced. He could never surrender to Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad. The governor’s father had orchestrated Hujr ibn Adi’s execution and falsified his own lineage.
And Ubaydullah was directly responsible for the deaths of Muslim ibn Aqeel, Hani ibn Urwa, and many others.
Husayn would not suffer the humiliation of being paraded through Kufah in chains by a bastard branch of Banu Umayyah.
“Go back to Ibn Sa’d,” Husayn told Abbas. “Ask him to give us until the morning to consider his demands. He should have no problem agreeing to that.”
Abbas returned stating that Umar ibn Sa’d had agreed to give them one night to surrender.
Later that evening, Husayn gathered his men in his tent. His sister was near the back of the tent caring for Zayn al-Abideen who was still sick.
He began by praising Allah and sending blessings on Prophet Muhammad. Then he began.
“My brothers, you are the best of people in this world. You are my followers and my Ahlul Bayt. You have proven your loyalty and piety and have fulfilled your oaths. Our enemies are approaching and I believe my last day on this world will come tomorrow. These people want me; there is no reason for you to suffer on my behalf. Use this night as a cover and leave while you still can. I will hold nothing against you and I free you of all obligations.”
His cousin, Abdullah ibn Jafar spoke up. “Why would I want to stay alive while you are dead? May Allah protect me from that.”
The other men nodded in agreement. Then one of the Shia from Kufah spoke up next.
“How could we leave you, Ibn Rasulullah? How could we stand before Allah having abandoned His beloved servant, son of His beloved servant?”
“By Allah!” shouted another Shia, “I would rather be killed, brought back to life, burned to ashes, and scattered to the winds seventy times over than abandon you, Ibn Fatimah.”
Zuhayr ibn al-Qayn, the man who divorced his wife to join Husayn stood up. “I would rather die a thousand times if it meant protecting you and your Ahlul Bayt.”
Nafi al-Jamali, the big, shaggy-haired Kufan, spoke next: “By Allah! We will never leave you Ibn Ali. We will sacrifice our lives for you. We will protect you with our necks, our hands, and our heads.”
An older Shia named Habib al-Muzahir was next. “I am an old man, Ibn Ali, and death will come for me soon. If it comes tomorrow, then let it be with me fulfilling the promise I gave you and your father.”
One by one all of the men said the same thing. All of them pledged their lives to Husayn and his Ahlul Bayt.
Links related to this episode
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