Chronicles of the Martyrdom of Imam al Husayn

Chapter 1 | Part 1 - Salient Aspects of the Epic of Ashura - A survey of the works on the history of Ashura

  • Sources for the events of Karbala broadly fall under two categories: Reliable & Weak

    • These divisions can only be made for sources which are extant, due to the fact that several sources mentioned in later catalogues which are no longer accessible

      • Therefore four specific categories can be made for sources: (1) - Reliable. (2) - Unreliable. (3) - Contemporary. & (4) - Lost Sources

      • The criterion used for differentiating between reliable and unreliable sources are: The time period for the source (earlier is better), the amount of corroborating evidences presented between sources, the reliability of the authors, the contents of the sources and whether they agree with the standards of infallibility attributed to the Imams (a), and the logical analysis of events to ascertain the plausibility of accounts. (no 'poetic license'). As a general rule, the general criticism of the sources used are more focused on the contents than the authors.

      • Unreliable Sources: A book which is considered unreliable (whether due to references to false reports or utilization of reports which have no historical basis) is not considered completely null and void as a resource, as it may still contain references to correct reports taken from early sources which are considered reliable. However it remains that the books cannot be fully relied upon and each report in them must be verified.

      • Contemporary Sources: disregarded due to the overall increased accuracy of earlier reports and the quantity of these reports, it is not required to rely on contemporary sources (which may contain additional distortions) in order to paint a full picture of the events of Ashura. (Note: Some of these sources may still contain accurate reports, and contemporary sources are not completely defined as unreliable).

Chapter 1 | Part 2 - Salient Aspects of the Epic of Ashura - The Objectives of the Stand of Ashura

  • The differing opinions regarding the objectives of Ashura from various analyses can be reconciled by examining the individual arguments and analyzing them as follows:

                  • a. Preliminary assumptions before the study about the objectives of Imam Husayn (a)

                  • b. The methodologies employed in analysis and deducing the objectives of Imam Husayn (a)

                  • c. A listing and critical review of the opinions expressed about the objectives of Imam Husayn (a)

                  • d. The multi-layered nature of the objectives behind the stand of Imam Husayn (a) at Karbala

  • a) Preliminary Assumptions

    • a.1) First Assumption: The established beliefs of the shi'i world view in regards to imamate.

    • a.2) Second Assumption: What conforms with rationality and common sense.

  • a.1) First Assumption: Established beliefs of shi'sm in regards to imamate

      • a.1.1.) Imams (a) exist to clarify and explain the Quran and the Sunnah of the Prophet PBUH

      • a.1.2.) Imams (a) strive to establish the truth of the religion while protect the religion from destruction and distortion, and to be role models for adherents of the religion.

      • a.1.3.) Imams (a) have knowledge of the unseen (Ilm'ul Ghayb) but they do not base their actions on this knowledge; rather they base their judgements/decisions upon information which is available and apparent.

      • a.1.4.) Imam Husayn (a) knew of his impending martyrdom at Karbala prior to departing towards Kuffa.

  • a.2) Second Assumption: What conforms with rationality and common sense

      • a.2.1. The Imams do not act in such a way which defies rationality and sense, and their actions are always predicated upon knowledge and intellect.

  • b) The Methodologies Employed in Analysis, and Deducing the objectives of Imam Husayn (a)

      • b.1. )Theological principles of Imamate AND the speeches and letters of Imam Husayn must both be taken into account

      • b.2.) A goal (maqsad) and true objective (maqsud) cannot be conflated. A man traveling to Mecca for Hajj has a maqsad of reaching Mecca, but his maqsud is Hajj. In the same way, the martyrdom at Karbala was not the true objective. The true objective was to revive the sunnah of the Prophet (s) and reform the Muslim Ummah. To clarify this point: the ultimate goal (maqsud) was reviving the sunnah of the prophet. The immediate goal (maqsad) was martyrdom. This is discussed later on in greater detail regarding the assumptions regarding the objectives of Imam (a) for traveling to Kuffa

      • b.3.) The objective of an event and the influence of the events afterwards cannot be conflated. The previous point established the true objective at Karbala. As an aftermath, believers during azadari receive a reward for their lamentation. It cannot be said, however, that the objective of Imam Husayn (a) was to provide a means of intercession or to provide a means of later generations to obtain reward via his remembrance.

  • c) Listing and Critical Review of the opinions expressed about the objectives of Imam Husayn (a)

      • c.1) Seeking Martyrdom

          • c.1.1) Martyrdom as a duty - The scene of Ashura and the martyrdom at Karbala was shown to Imam (a) as a product of 'ilm ul ghayb' and was predestined.

          • c.1.2) Martyrdom as a form of atonement (fidya) - A Christian based exegesis which has no basis in Islam and is rejected.

          • c.1.3) Martyrdom as a political action - A retroactively developed view originating from the rise of modern day Islamic political theory.

          • c.1.4) Martyrdom as an act of heroism - a theory put forth lacking proofs to indicate the Imam's (a) desire to create an eternal symbol of heroism and bravery

      • c.2) Intending on Forming a Government

        • c.2.1) A view held by such early scholars as al-Mufid and Sayyid Murtadha whom, with their contemporary counterparts, believe after Imam (a) rejected giving allegiance to Yazid Ibn Muawiya, he went from Medina to Mecca then towards Kuffa with the intention of establishing a new government and through it reviving the sunnah of the Prophet (s).

      • c.3) Protecting His Own Life

        • c.3.1) A contemporary view that describes Imam's (a) actions as having no intention of martyrdom nor establishing a government. Imam (a) had no intention of waging war and did not seek to make a stand in Karbala.

      • c.4) Both Intending on Forming a New Government and willing martyrdom in the process.

        • c.4.1) Narrations indicate that Imam (a) had resolved to obtain martyrdom. However through the Imams letters and sermons it can be ascertained he intended to establish a new government. The discrepancy between these two contradictory objectives can be resolved in four ways as follows:

          • c.4.1.1) A reassessment of the objectives at different stages - the objective to form a new government evolved into an objective for martyrdom as events unfolded.

          • c.4.1.2) A direct objective and an indirect objective - direct objective of gaining martyrdom in order to spark the secondary objective of inspiring the people to start a revolution against Yazid

          • c.4.1.3) To form a government, with the knowledge that he (a) would be martyred - Imam (a) did not leave for Kuffa intending to be martyred, but with the intention of creating a new government despite knowing that he would be martyred in the process.

          • c.4.1.4) Multi-layered objectives in Imam's (a) stand at Karbala: First aspect - the role of imamate and the duty of the Imam (a) to expound on the tenets of religion and to protect it from destruction and distortion. Second aspect - to create an eternally relevant symbol for nobility, enlightenment, and the fight against oppression and injustice (إِنَّ لِقَتْلِ الْحُسَیْنِ حَرَارَةً فِی قُلُوبِ الْمُؤْمِنِینَ لَا تَبْرُدُ أَبَداً). Third aspect - to establish truth and dispel falsehood. Fourth aspect - laying the groundwork for a new government (reconciling the knowledge of his martyrdom with the desire to re-establish a proper Islamic government)

Chapter 1 | Part 3 - Salient Aspects of the Epic of Ashura - An Assessment of the Journey of Imam al Husayn (a) to Iraq and the Uprising in Kufa

After leaving Medina, the Imam (a) went to Mecca, where he stayed from the 3rd of Sha'ban until the 8th of Dhu al Hijjah (4 months and 5 days) in the year 60/680

a) Reasons for choosing Kufa as the base for uprising

a.1) Political and Military Position (Note: Kufa was established in year 17/638 by Sa'ad ibn Abi Waqqas on the order of 2nd Caliph Umar, to serve as a garrison town for future
expansion of Muslim lands).

a.2) Geographic Location (Note: Imam Ali (a) moved the seat of his government from Medina to Kufa due to its centralized location in the Muslim Empire at the time)

a.3) It's Cultural Standing (Due to Imam Ali's (a) government and the senior companions of the Prophet, the people of Kufa enjoyed a high level of intellectual culture)

a.4) The hostility of Kufans towards the government of Syria

a.5) Presence of Partisans (though few in number) of the Ahl al-Bayt in Kufa

a.6) The invitations of the kufans towards Imam al Husayn (a)