'Ashura - Misrepresentations and Distortions.
Martyr Ayatullah Murtada Mutahhari
Translated from the Persian by 'Ali Quli Qara'i
'Ashura - History and Popular Legend
responsible for these distortions
Further examples of distortions
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
belongs to Allah, the Lord of the worlds and the Maker of all creation, and may
Peace and benedictions be upon His servant and messenger, His beloved and
elect, our master, our prophet, and our sire, Abu al-Qasim Muhammad, may Allah
bless him and his pure, immaculate, and infallible Progeny.
I seek the
refuge of Allah from the accursed Satan:
So for their breaking their compact We cursed them and made their hearts
hard; they would pervert the words from their meanings, and they forgot a
portion of what they were reminded of. (5:13)
We said that
the event of 'Ashura' has been subject to tahrif
and it has occurred both in its outward form as well as its inner content. A
consequence of these distortions has been that this great historic document and
this great educative source has become ineffectual or less potent, in our
lives, leaving, at times, even an opposite effect. All of us have the duty to
purge it of the distortions that have polluted this sacred document. Tonight we
will discuss the general factors responsible for tahrif. Thereafter our discussion will focus on tahrif in the content and significance
of this event.
The Factors of Tahrif:
are of two kinds, one of which are of a general nature. That is, there are in
general certain factors that lead to the corruption of histories and these are
not limited to the event of 'Ashura' alone. For instance, the enemy's motives
are themselves a factor that distort an event. In order to achieve their
purposes, the enemies bring about alterations in historical texts or misinterpret
them. There are many examples of it which I do not wish to mention here.
All that I
would say is that this kind of tahrif
did play a role in distorting the facts of Karbala',
and the enemies did take resort in misrepresenting the uprising of Imam Husayn.
As usually happens, the enemies accuse sacred movements of causing conflict and
division and of disrupting social harmony and peace. The Umayyad regime also
made much effort to give such a hue to the Husayni uprising.
propaganda began from the very first day. When Muslim arrived in Kufah, Yazid,
while sending an order appointing Ibn Ziyad to the governorship of Kufah,
wrote: "Muslim, son of 'Aqil, has gone to Kufah and his aim is to disrupt
peace and to create social discord and disunity in the Muslim community. Go and
suppress him." When Muslim was captured and brought to the dar al-imarah, the governor's residency,
Ibn Ziyad said to Muslim: "Son of 'Aqil! What was it that brought you to
this city? The people here lived in satisfaction and peace. You came and
disrupted their peace, causing disunity and conflict amongst Muslims."
answered in a manly manner and said:
"Firstly, I did not come to this city on
my own account. It was the people of this city who invited us. They wrote a
great number of letters, which are in our possession. In those letters they
wrote that your father, Ziyad, who ruled this city for years, had killed its
virtuous men and imposed its scoundrels over the virtuous, subjecting them to
various forms of tyranny and injustice. They appealed to us to help them
establish justice. We have come to establish justice!"
regime did wage much propaganda of this kind, but their misrepresentations did
not affect the history of Islam. You will not find a single competent historian
in the world who might have said that Husayn ibn 'Ali, naudhubillah, made an unlawful uprising, that he rose to cause
conflict and disunity among the people. No. The enemy could not bring about any
misrepresentation in [the history of] the event of Karbala'. Most regrettably,
whatever tahrif has occurred in the
event of Karbala' has been at the hands of the friends.
The Second Factor:
factor is the human tendency towards myth-making and for turning facts into
legends. This tendency has been at work in all the world's historical
traditions. There is a tendency in men for hero worship which induces the
people to fabricate myths and legends about national and religious
evidence of it are the legends that the people have invented around the figures
of some geniuses such as Ibn Sina and Shaykh Baha'i. Ibn Sina, undoubtedly, was
a genius and was gifted with extraordinary physical and intellectual powers.
But these very gifts have led the people to weave out legends about him.
it is said that once Ibn Sina saw a man from a distance of one parasang and
remarked that the man was eating a bread made with oil. They asked him how
could he know that the man was eating a bread and that it was made with oil. He
replied that he saw flies circling the bread, which had made him conclude that
there was oil in the bread. Obviously, this is a legend. Someone who can see
flies from the distance of one parasang will see a bread made with oil much
sooner than he would see flies!
Or it is said that once during the time that Ibn Sina was studying at
Isfahan he complained that when he gets up in the middle of the night to study,
he was disturbed by the noise of the hammering of the coppersmiths of Kashan.
They went and made a test. One night they told the coppersmiths of Kashan not
to use their hammers. That night, said Ibn Sina, he had slept peacefully and
was undisturbed in his study.
is a legend. Many such legends have been made about Shaykh Bahi'i as well.
Such things are not confined to
the event of 'Ashura. However, let
the people say what they would about Ibn Sina. What harm does it do? None! But
in respect of individuals who are guides of mankind and whose words and deeds
and whose stands and uprisings serve as a model and authority, there should not
be any tahrif whatsoever in their
statements, in their personality, and history. How many legends have been fabricated by us Shi'is about Amir al
Mu'minin 'Ali, many Peace be upon him! There is no doubt that 'Ali ('a.s) was an extraordinary man. No one
has doubts about 'Ali's courage which was superior to that of any ordinary
human being. 'Ali did not encounter any contestant in battle without felling
him to the ground. But does that satisfy the myth makers? Never! For instance,
there is the legend about 'Ali's encounter with Marhab in the battle of Khaybar
with all the curious details about the physique of Marhab.
have also written that 'Ali's sword cut him into two from the middle (I don't
know whether the two halves were perfectly equal!). But here they found the
opportunity to weave out fables which are harmful for the faith. It is said
that God commanded Gabriel to go immediately to the earth lest 'Ali's sword
when it comes down on Marhab should cut the earth into two halves, reaching
right down to the Cow and the Fish. Gabriel was told to shield the blow with
his wings. Gabriel went and when 'Ali struck the blow with his sword, it
slashed Marhab into two halves which had they been put in a balance would have
turned out to be exactly equal. However, one of Gabriel's wings suffered injury
and he could not ascend to the heaven for forty days.
When at last he arrived
in heaven, God asked him as to where he had been all these days. He replied,
"O Lord! I was on the earth. You had given me an assignment to go
there." He was asked why he had taken so much time to return. Gabriel
said, "O God, the blow of 'Ali's sword wounded my wings and I was busy
bandaging and healing them all these forty days!" According to another
legend 'Ali's sword flew so swiftly and slickly through Marhab's forehead
cutting all the way to the saddle that when 'Ali pulled away his sword Marhab
himself did not know what had happened (he thought the blow had gone amiss).
He jeered at
'Ali, "Was that all of your swordsmanship?!"
'Ali' said to
him, "Just move yourself a bit and see." As soon as Marhab made a
movement, one half of his body fell on one side of the horse and the other on
the other side!
this great man, in his book Lu'lu wa
marjan, while condemning the practice of fabricating of such legends,
writes about legends that some people have put into circulation concerning the
valour of Hadrat Abu al-Fadl al-'Abbas. According to one of them, in the Battle
of Siffin (in which, basically, it is
not known whether he had participated, and even if he did he must have been a
boy of fifteen years) he threw a man into the air, then another, and so on up
to eighty men, and by the time the last one was thrown up the first one had not
yet reached the ground. Then when the first one came down, he cut him into two
halves, then the second and so on to the last man!
A part of the
interpolations in the narratives of the event of Karbala have resulted from the
myth-making tendency. The Europeans assert that one finds many exaggerations in
accounts pertaining to the history of the East, and there is some truth in what
they say. Mulla Darbandi writes in his book Asrar
al-shahadah that the cavalry of the army of 'Umar ibn Sa'd consisted of six
hundred thousand horsemen and twenty million infantrymen - in all a force of
one million and six hundred thousand plus all the people of Kufah!
Now how large
Kufah was a
recently founded city and not more than thirty-five years old, as it was built
during the time of 'Umar ibn Khattab. It was built at 'Umar's orders as a
military outpost for Muslim warriors near the borders of Iran. It is not
certain whether the entire population of Kufah during that time was even a
hundred thousand. That a force of one million and six hundred thousand could
have been assembled on that day and that Husayn ibn 'Ali' should have killed
three hundred thousand of them is not at all reasonable. Such figures cast a
shadow on the whole event. It is
said that someone once made exaggerated claims about the largeness of the city
of Herat in former days. He said, 'Herat was a very big city at one time.' 'How
big? he was asked. He said, 'At one time there were in Herat twenty thousand
one-eyed cooks named Ahmad selling head and totters stew. Now imagine, how many
men there must be in a city, and how many named Ahmad, and how many one-eyed
Ahmads, to have twenty-one thousand one-eyed Ahmads selling head and totters
myth-making tendency has always been very active; but we must not leave a
sacred document to the mercy of myth-makers. There is amongst us, the Ahl
al-Bayt, in every generation reformers who purge the faith of the
perversions of the extremists, of the false beliefs of the falsifiers, and of
the misinterpretations of the ignorant. 
We have a duty
here. Now let anyone say anything he likes about Herat. But is it right that
such legends as these should find way into the history of the event of Ashura', an event concerning which our
duty is to keep it alive and revive its memory every year?
The Third Factor:
The third factor is of a particular nature.
The two factors that we have discussed above, that is, the hostile ends of the
enemies and the human tendency for conjuring legends and myths, apply to all
histories of the world, but there is also a factor which is specific to the
event of Ashura' that has led to
fabrication of stories.
The leaders of the faith, from
the time of the Noble Messenger and the Pure Imams, have commanded in clear and
emphatic terms that the memory of Husayn ibn 'Ali must be kept alive and that
his martyrdom and ordeals should be commemorated every year.
Why? What is
the reason underlying this Islamic ordinance?
Why is there
so much encouragement for and emphasis on visiting the shrine of Husayn ibn
reflect over these questions. Some might say that it is for the sake of
condoling with Hadrat Zahra' and offering her consolation! But is it not
ridiculous to imagine that Hadrat Zahra' should still need consolation after
fourteen hundred years, whereas, in accordance with the explicit statements of
Imam Husayn and according to our creed, since his martyrdom Imam Husayn and
Hadrat Zahra have been together in heaven? What a thing to say! Is it correct
to think of Hadrat Zahra as a little child that goes on weeping, even after
fourteen centuries, and whom we have to go and console?
Such kind of beliefs are destructive for
religion. Imam Husayn ('a.s)
established the practical ideology of Islam and he is the practical model for
Islamic movements. They (that is the Prophet and Imams) wanted Imam Husayn's
ideology to be kept alive.
Husayn should reappear every year with those sweet, sublime and heroic summons
of his and declare" Don't
you see that what is right and true is not acted upon, and what is wrong and
false is not forbidden? [In such conditions] the man of faith should long to
meet his true Lord!  They
wanted the words:
better than a life saddled with indignity, 
to be kept alive forever, and so also the words:
To me death is
nothing but felicity, and life with oppressors is nothing but disgrace, 
such other saying of Imam Husayn to be kept alive:
of Adam carry the mark of death like necklaces that adorn the neck of
damsels!  Far from us is
disgrace and indignity! 
They wanted to
keep alive the memory of such scenes as that of Imam Husayn's confronting a
force of thirty thousand men, in a state when he and his family are faced with
a great ordeal, and declaring in a manly manner - and the world has never seen
such a manly personage!
Indeed, that baseborn son of a baseborn
father has left me only two alternatives to choose from: the sword or disgrace.
And far from us is disgrace! It is disdainful to God, His Messenger and the
faithful that we should yield to anything of that kind, and those born of
chaste mothers and high-minded fathers and possessing a lofty sense of honour
disdain that submission to vile men should be preferred to honourable
They wanted to
keep alive the formative school of Imam Husayn so that the rays of the Husayni
spirit may breathe life into this community. Its objective is quite
Do not allow the event of
'Ashura' to be consigned to oblivion! Your life, your humanity, and your
dignity depend on this event!
You can keep
Islam alive only by its means! That is why they have encouraged us to keep
alive the tradition of mourning Imam Husayn, and very rightly!
institution of mourning Husayn ibn 'Ali has a correct philosophy underlying it,
a philosophy which is also extremely sublime. It is fitting that we should do
all that we can to endeavour for the sake of this cause, provided we understand
its purpose and goal.
Unfortunately some people have not understood
it. Without making the people understand the philosophy of Imam Husayn's
uprising and without making them understand the station of Imam Husayn, they
imagine that if they just came and sat in mourning assemblies and shed tears,
without knowledge and understanding, it would atone their sins.
Marhum Hajji Nuri mentions a
point in the book, Lu'lu' wa marjan. That
point is the belief of some people that the reward (thawab) for mourning Imam Husayn is so great that it is justifiable
to employ any means whatsoever for this end. Nowadays a group which subscribes
to the views of Machiavilli in political thought says that ends justify the
means. If the end is a good one, it does not matter what means are used to
people also say that we have a sacred and exalted goal, which is mourning Imam
Husayn and it does not matter what means are used for this end. As the end is a
sacred one, it does not matter what the means are:
Is it correct
to perform ta'ziyahs - even ta'ziyahs which are vulgar - for this
They ask, 'Do
they make the people cry? If they do, there is so problem with such ta'ziyahs.' So also there is no problem
if we blow trumpets, beat drums, commit sinful acts, make men dress as women,
conjure a wedding for Qasim, or fabricate and forge episodes. Such things do
not matter in the tradition of mourning Imam Husayn, which is something
Here lying is forgiven, forgery and
fabrication are forgivable, making pictures, and dressing men as women is
pardonable. Here any kind of sinful conduct is forgivable as the end is most
sacred! As a consequence of such thinking, some persons have resorted to such tahrif and misrepresentation that are
About ten or fifteen years
ago when I was on a visit to Isfahan, I met a great man, marhum Hajj Shaykh
Muhammad Hasan Najafabadi, may God elevate his station. I recounted to him a rawdah that I had heard recently
somewhere. It was something which I had never heard until that time.
Incidentally, this man who had delivered that rawdah, an opium addict, had made the people weep profusely with
that rawdah of his. In it he
recounted the story of an old woman during the reign of Mutawakkil (the
'Abbasid caliph who persecuted the Shi'ah). The woman had set out with the
purpose of making a pilgrimage to the tomb of Imam Husayn, which was forbidden
at that time and they would cut off the hands of the pilgrims. He went on with
the narrative until the point when the old woman is taken and thrown into the
river. In that state she cries out for help, calling out, "O Abu al-Fadl
al-'Abbas!" As she is about to drown a horseman appears and tells her to
catch hold of his stirrup. The woman takes hold of the stirrups but she says,
"Why don't you give me your hand?' The horseman says, "I haven't any
At this point
the people wept a lot.
Shaykh Muhammad Hasan recounted for me the history of this legend. In a place
near the bazaar, in the near abouts of Madrasah Sadr, there used to be held a majlis which was one of the major majalis of Isfahan and which even the marhum Hajj Mulla Isma'il Khwaju'i used
to attend. One day there had occurred there an incident. (It had taken place
earlier and he had heard its account from reliable persons.) It involved a
well-known wa'iz; who himself had
recounted it in these words:
mine was the last turn to speak from the minbar.
had come and each one of them had exerted his skills to make the people weep.
Everyone that came would try to surpass his predecessor and having delivered
his rawdah would descend from the
minbar to sit among the audience and watch the art of the succeeding rawdeh-khwan.
until the time of noon. I saw that everyone had tried his prowess and together
they had drawn out all the tears that the people could shed. What should I do?
I thought for a while, and then and there I made up this story. When my turn
came, I went up and related the story, leaving all of them behind. In the
afternoon, the same day, while attending another majlis in the Char-suq locality, I saw that the one who took to the
minbar before me related this same story. Gradually it came to be written in
books and appeared in print."
The false and wrong notion that the
tradition of mourning Imam Husayn is an exception to all norms, that it is
justified to use any means to make the people weep, has been a major factor
leading to fabrication of legends and tahrif. Marhum
Hajji Nuri, that saintly man and teacher of marhum
Hajj Shaykh 'Abbas Qummi, who as confessed by Hajj Shaykh 'Abbas himself as
well as others was superior to his pupils, was an extraordinarily learned and
pious man. In his book he makes the point that if it is a correct notion that
the end justifies the means, then one may also justify the following line of
One of the
Islamic precepts is that bringing delight to the heart of a believer and to do
something to make him happy is a greatly commendable act. Such being the case,
according to this reasoning, it is justifiable to do backbiting in his
presence, as he loves listening to backbiting. And should someone say that it
is sinful to do so, the answer will be," No!
The purpose is a sacred one and the
backbiting is being done to make a believer pleased and happy!"
Hajji Nuri gives another example. A man embraces a non-mahram woman, which is
an unlawful act. We ask him why did you do that? He replies, "I have done
it for a believer's delight." The same reasoning can be applied to such
unlawful acts as adultery, drinking wine, and sodomy. Isn't this an absurd reasoning?
Wouldn't such a notion destroy the Shari'ah? By God, to think that it is
permissible to use any kind of means for making people cry in mourning Imam
Husayn is a notion that contradicts everything that Imam Husayn stands for.
was martyred to uplift Islam, as we confess while reciting his ziyarah: I bear witness that you established the prayer, gave zakat commanded what is right and
forbade what is wrong, and did such jihad
in the way of God as ought to be done. 
Imam Husayn was killed in order to revive
Islamic traditions, Islamic laws and regulations, not in order to create an
excuse for the violation of Islamic norms. Na'udhubillah,
we have changed Imam Husayn into a destroyer of Islam: the Imam Husayn that we
have conjured in our imagination is a destroyer of Islam.
In his book
Hajji Nuri mentions a story that was related to him by one of the students in
Najaf, who originally came from Yazd. "One day," he said, "in my
youth I made a journey on foot to Khorasan, going by the road that passes
through the desert (kawr). In one of
the villages of Nayshabur I went to a mosque, as I did not have any place to
stay. The imam of the mosque came and led the prayers. Afterwards he went on
the minbar to make a rawdah I was amazed to see the mosque attendant
bring a pile of stones which he handed over to the imam. When the rawdah started, he ordered the lamps to
be put out. When the lamps had been put out, he pelted the stones at the
audience and there arose cries from the people. When the lamps were lighted, I
saw bleeding heads. Their eyes were tearful as they walked out of the mosque. I
approached the imam and asked him why he had done such a thing. He said, 'I
have tested these people. There is no rawdah
in the world that will make them weep.
As weeping for
the sake of Imam Husayn has a great reward and thawab, I have found that the only way to make them cry is to throw
stones on their heads. This is how I make them weep.' "
that the end justifies the means. The end was to mourn Imam Husayn though it
should involve emptying a pile of stones on the people's heads.
Accordingly, this is a particular factor
which is specific to this historic event and it has led to much fabrication and
tahrif. When one studies history one finds what they
have done to this event. By God, Hajji Nuri is right when he says that if we
were to weep for Imam Husayn today, we should mourn for him on account of these
falsehoods, fabrications and tahrif!
There is a
well-known book called Rawdat al-shuhada'.
whose author was Mulla Husayn Kashifi. According to Hajji Nuri, he was the
first to write in his book the stories of Za'far the Jinn and the one about
Qasim's wedding. I have read this book. I used to imagine that it contained
only one or two of such cases. But afterwards when I read it I saw that the
matter was very much different. This book, which is in Persian, was compiled
about five-hundred years ago. Mulla Husayn Kashifi was a scholar and learned
man. He has authored several books including the Anwar suhayli.
His biographical accounts do not indicate
whether he was a Shi'i or a Sunni. Basically he was a Chameleon: among the
Shi'ah he would pose as an outright Shi'i, while amongst the Sunnis he would
pass as a Hanafi. He was a native of Sabzawar, a Shi'i centre whose people were
staunch Shi'is. In Sabzawar he would act as an out and out Shi'i, and at times
when he would go to Herat ('Abd al-Rahman Jami was the husband of his sister or
sister-in-law) he would give sermons for the Sunnis in the Sunni style.
Sabzawar he narrated the tragedies of Karbala'. His death occurred around
910/1504, that is, either at the end of the 9th or the beginning of the 10th
century. This was the first book, compiled about five hundred years ago, to be
written as an elegiac narrative (marthiyah).
Earlier the people used to refer to the primary sources. Shaykh Mufid, may God
be pleased with him, wrote the Irshad
and how sound is his narration! If we were to refer to the Irshad of Shaykh Mufid we would not stand in need of any other
source. Tabari, among Sunni authors, has also written about it. Ya'qubi, Ibn
'Asakir and Khwarazmi have also written. I don't know what this unjust man has
done! When I read this book I saw that even the names are spurious. He mentions
names among Imam Husayn's companions that never existed. He mentions names of
the enemy's men which are also spurious. He has turned the factual accounts of
the event into fables.
As this was the first book to be written in
Persian, the orators in mourning assemblies, who were mostly illiterate and
could not use the Arabic texts, would take this book and read from it in the
mourning sessions. That is why the gatherings that are held nowadays to mourn
Imam Husayn are called rawdeh-khwani.
Rawdeh-khwani was not in vogue during
the time of Imam Sadiq or Imam Hasan 'Askari, nor it was prevalent during the
times of Sayyid Murtada [d 436/1044] or even Khwajah Nasir al-Din al-Tusi [d.
672/1273]. Rawdeh-khwani came into
vogue since the last five hundred years and it came to be called as such. Rawdeh-khwani meant reading from the
book Rawdat al-shuhada', a pack of
lies. From the time that this book fell into the hands of the people, no one
has bothered to study the actual history of Imam Husayn.
sixty or seventy years ago, there appeared another man, the marhum Mulla Darbandi. He took all the
contents of the Rawdat al-shahuda'
and compiled them together with other material, collecting it all in a book
called Asrar al-shahadah. The
contents of this book make one lament for the fate of Islam. Hajji Nuri writes,
to attend the lectures of Hajj Shaykh 'Abd al-Husayn Tehrani (who was a very
saintly man) and benefited from his teaching. A sayyid from Hillah, who was a rawdeh-khwan, came to meet him and he
showed him a book written about the events of Imam Husayn's martyrdom (maqtal, plural: maqatil) to see whether its contents were reliable. This book did
not have any beginning or end. Only at one place in it was mentioned the name
of a certain mulla of Jabl al-'Amil who was among the pupils of the author of
the Ma'alim al-usul. Marhum Hajj
Shaykh 'Abd al-Husayn took the book to examine it.
studied the biographical accounts of that scholar and found that such a book
had not been attributed to him. Then he read the book itself and found it to be
full of falsehoods. He said to that sayyid, 'This book is a pack of lies.
circulate this book and don't quote anything from it, for it is unlawful to do
so. Basically this book has not been written by that scholar and its contents
are spurious.' " Hajji Nuri says that the same book fell into the hands of
the author of Asrar al-shahadah and
he copied all its contents into his book, from the beginning to the
Hajji Nuri relates another episode, which is
rather touching. Once a man came to author of the Maqami'  and said
to him, "Last night I saw a horrible dream." "What was it?"
he asked him. He said, "I saw that I am biting away flesh from the body of
Imam Husayn." The scholar trembled on hearing these words. He lowered his
head and thought for a while. Then he said, "Perhaps you are a marthiyeh-khwan?".
am," he replied. He said, "Hereafter, either abandon marthiyeh-khwani altogether or draw your
material from reliable books. You are tearing away the flesh Imam Husayn, with
these lies of yours. It was God's grace that He showed this to you in a
If one studies the history of 'Ashura' one
will find that it is the most vivid and well-documented of histories with
plenty of sources.
Akhund Khurasani used to say, "Those who are ever after 'new' rawdahs should go and read the true
accounts, for no one has ever heard them" One should study the addresses
of Imam Husayn ('a.s) delivered in
Makkah - in the Hijaz as a whole - at Karbala', during his journey, as well as
the sermons addressed to his companions, the questions and answers that took
place between him and others, the letters that were exchanged between him and
other people, the letters that were exchanged between the enemies themselves,
in addition to the accounts of those (from among the friends as well the
enemies) who were present on the occasion of 'Ashura'.
three or four persons from among Imam Husayn's companions who survived,
including a slave named 'Uqbah ibn Sam'an, who had accompanied the Imam from
Makkah and lived to write the accounts pertaining to the Imam's troops. He was
captured on the day of 'Ashura' but was released when he told them that he was
Muslim was another chronicler who accompanied the army of 'Umar ibn Sa'd. Of
those present on the occasion was Imam Zayn al-'Abidin ('a.s) himself who has recounted all the events. There is no blind
spot in the history of Imam Husayn ('a.s).
refers to a spurious story that relates to Imam Zayn al-'Abidin ('a.s). According to it when there
remained no companion with Hadrat Abu 'Abd Allah ('a.s), the Hadrat went into the tent of Imam Zayn al- 'Abidin ('a.s) to bid him good-bye. Imam Zayn
al-'Abidin ('a.s) asked him,
"Father! How did things come about between you and these people?
(that is, Imam Zayn al-'Abidin was unaware of what was happening until that
time). The Imam said to him, "Son, this matter has ultimately led to a
to Habib ibn Mazahir?, asked Imam Zayn al-'Abidin.
killed," replied the Imam.
about Zuhayr ibn Qayn?"
also killed," replied the Imam. "What happened to Burayr ibn
Hudayr?" "He was killed," said Imam Husayn ('a.s). Imam Zayn al-'Abidin continued naming each of his father's
companions one after another and the Imam's reply was the same Then he asked
concerning the men of Banu Hashim.
happened to Qasim ibn Hasan?" What happened to my brother 'Ali
Akbar?" "What happened to my uncle Abu al-Fadl
The answer was the same: "He has been
This is a
fabrication and a lie. Imam Zayn al-'Abidin, na'udhubillah, was not so sick and unconscious as not to know what
was going on. Historians have written that even in that state of illness he
rose from his bed and said to Zaynab, "Aunt, bring me my staff and give me
In any case,
Imam Zayn al-'Abidin ('a.s) was one
of those who were present on the scene and related the accounts of
should be penitent for these crimes and treacheries that we are guilty of in
respect of Abu 'Abd Allah al-Husayn ('a.s),
his companions, comrades and members of his family, and for effacing all their
achievements. He should do penance and then make effort to derive benefit from
this most educative source.
Is there any inadequacy in the life of 'Abbas
ibn 'Ali as recounted in the reliable maqatil
(accounts of martyrdom)? The single point that there was no danger to his own
life is enough to be a matter of pride for him. Imam Husayn had also told him,
"They are only after me, and if they kill me, they will not have anything
again anyone else."
At Kufah, when
Shimr ibn Dhi al-Jawshan was departing for Karbala', one of those who were
present said to Ibn Ziyad that some of his relatives on the mother's side were
with Husayn ibn 'Ali. He requested Ibn Ziyad to write a letter granting them
amnesty, and Ibn Ziyad wrote it. Shimr belonged to a clan that had remote ties
with the tribe of Umm al-Banin (the mother of Abu al-Fadl). Shimr personally
brought this letter of amnesty on the night following the ninth day of
approached the camp of Husayn ibn 'Ali and shouted, "Where are my
nephews!" (ayna banu ukhtina?!).
along with his full brothers, was sitting with Hadrat Abu 'Abd Allah ('a.s). He remained silent and did not
reply, until the Imam said to him, "Answer him, though he be an evil man (ajibuhu in kana fasiqa).
At the Imam's
leave, he answered Shimr, saying, "What do you want?" (Ma taqul?).
Shimr said, "I have come with some good
news for you. I have brought a letter of amnesty for you from the emir, 'Ubayd
Allah. You are now free, and you will be safe if you leave now."
said to him, "May God damn you and your emir, as well as the letter that
you bring. Do you think we will abandon our Imam and brother for the sake of
our own safety?"
On the night of 'Ashura', the first person to
declare his loyalty towards Abu 'Abd Allah was his brother Abu al-Fadl. Aside
from the foolish exaggerations that are often made, that which is confirmed by
history is that Abu al-Fadl was a very wise person, valiant and courageous,
tall and most handsome. He had been nicknamed 'The Moon of the Hashimis.'
are true. To be sure, he had inherited Ali's courage. The story is also true
regarding his mother, that Ali' had asked 'Aqil, his brother, to propose a
woman born of a heroic descent (waladatha
al-fuhulah)  who might give
birth to son who would be a warrior and man of valour (li-talidani farisan shuja'ah).
suggested Umm al-Banin. So much of it is true. 'Ali's wish was fulfilled in Abu
According to one of two reports, on the day
of 'Ashura' Abu al-Fadl came to the Imam and said, "Dear brother, now give
me the permission. This breast of mine is suffocated and I can bear it no more.
I want to sacrifice my life for your sake."
I don't know the reason why Imam responded to
Hadrat Abu al-Fadl's request in the manner that he did. Abu 'Abd Allah himself
knows better. He said, "Brother, now that you want to leave, try to get
some water for these children."
al-Fadl had already come to receive the nickname Saqqa (water carrier), as earlier, on one or two occasions, at
nights he had been able to pass through the enemy's ranks to fetch water for
the children in Abu 'Abd Allah's camp. It was not the case that they had not
drunk any water for three days and nights. Access to water had been closed for
three days and nights, but during this time they had been able to get some
water on one or two occasions, including the night of 'Ashura', when they had
taken bath and washed their bodies. Abu al-Fadl consented.
Now note this majestic scene! What greatness!
What valour! What a spirit of understanding and self-sacrifice! A lone warrior,
alone by himself, advances against a host. The number of men who guarded the
river bank was four thousand. He descends along the river bank and leads his
horse into the water (all historians have written this). First, he fills the
waterskin that he has brought and lays it on his shoulder. He is thirsty. The
air is hot and has been fighting. But as he sits on the back of his horse and
the horse stands in water reaching up to its belly, he lowers his hands into
water, takes water into them and raises them somewhat towards his sacred
Those who were
watching from a distance report that he hesitated for a while. Then they saw
that he threw the water back and came out of the river without drinking any. No
one knew why Abu Al-Fadl did not drink water there. But when he came out he
recited rajaz verses which were
addressed to himself. Now from these verses they understood why he had not
O soul of Abu al-Fadl! My wish is that you live not after
Husayn! Will you have a drink of cold
water, While there stands Husayn,
thirsty, near the tents, And about to
drink the cup of death!? Such is not
the way of my faith, Nor that of one
who abides in conviction and truth! 
become of manliness? Of honour? Of caring love? And of sharing in the hardship
of one's dear ones? Isn't Husayn your Imam, and you his follower? While Husayn is about to drink the cup of
death, Will you have a drink of cold
water? Never! My faith does not permit me to do that! My loyalty does not
allow me to do such a thing! Abu al-Fadl changed his route while returning and
now he came through the palm groves. Earlier, he had come by the direct way,
but he knew that he now carried a precious trust with him. So he changed his
route and all his concern now was to get the water safely to the camp, for it
was possible that a single arrow may pierce the waterskin and fail his task of
bringing the water to its destination. In the mean while they heard that Abu
al-Fadl had changed his rajaz.
that something had happened. Now he cried out:
By God! Even if you sever my right arm,
I will persist in defending my faith,
And the Imam, who is the true one, for certain, the Prophet's grandson, pure and
That is, by
God even if you cut my right arm I will not flinch from defending Husayn. Not
much time passed when his rajaz
changed again: O my soul, fear
not the faithless, And receive the good
news of Almighty's mercy, In the
company of the Prophet, the Master and the Elect, Though, insolently, they should slash my left arm! 
These rajaz verses signaled that his left arm
too had been severed. They write that with characteristic dexterity he somehow
turned the water-skin and bent himself over it. I will not say what happened
thereafter as it is most heart rending.
It is a custom to recount the account of the ordeals of this great human
being on the night of Tasu'ah (9th
Let me add that Umm al-Banin, the mother of
Hadrat Abu al-Fadl was alive at the time of the event of Karbala', though she
was in Madinah at the time. She was given the news that all her four sons were
martyred at Karbala'. This saintly woman would go to the Baqi' cemetery and
mourn over her sons. They write that her elegies were so full of pathos that
they brought tears to everyone who heard them, even Marwan ibn Hakam, who was
the staunchest of the enemies of the Prophet's family. Sometimes she would
remember all her sons and, at times, especially Abu al-Fadl, the eldest of
them, who was senior most of the brothers, both in respect of age as well as in
respect of spiritual and bodily merits. I remember one of her two elegies and I
will recite them for you. These are the elegiac verses that this grieved mother
recited in mourning for her sons (in general, the Arabs recite elegiac verses
in a very touching style):
You, who have seen 'Abbas make repeated
forays against the base hosts, And
following him were the Lion's sons, each a mighty lion! I have been told, my son's head was struck
when his arms were cut, Alas for my
Lion's cub! Did a club fall on his head?
O 'Abbas! None would have dared to approach it, Were your sword in your hand! 
is, 'O observant eye, tell me, you who have been in Karbala' and watched its
scenes and observed the moment when Abu al-Fadl, my son of a lion, with my
other lion's cubs following him, attacked that cowardly crowd - tell me is it
true what I have been told? They say that when they had cut my son's arms an
iron club fell on my dear one's head. Is that true?'
Then she says,
"Abu al-Fadl! My dear! I know that if you had arms there wasn't a man in
the whole world to have the guts to face you! They had the temerity to do that
because your arms had been severed from your body.
Continued in part 3 ...
During the nights of the 'id
of Ghadir, Dr. Shari'ati delivered an excellent lecture on this general human
tendency for hero-worship and making of myths and legends, turning historic
figures into legendary heroes with extraordinary and superhuman
 Al-Kulayni, Usul al-Kafi, "kitab fadl al-'ilm", p. 32; al-Saffar, Basa'ir al-darajat, p.10
 Bihar al-anwar, vol. 44, p. 381; Tuhaf al-'uqul, p. 176; al-Luhuf, 33; al-Khwarazmi's Maqtal al-Husayn, ii, p. 5.
Ibn Shahr Ashub, al-Manaqib, iv, p.
110; al-Luhuf, p. 50, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 45, p. 50;
al-Irbili, Kashf al-ghummah, ii, p.
al-anwar, vol. 44, p. 381; Tuhaf
al-'uqul, p. 176; al-Luhuf,
al-anwar, vol. 44, p. 366; al-Luhuf,
 Al-Luhuf, p. 41; Khwarazmi's Maqtal al-Husayn, ii, p. 7; Ibn 'Asakir,
Ta'rikh al-Sham, iv, p. 333;
al-Muqarrim's Maqtal al-Husayn, p.
287; al-Harrani, Tuhaf al-'uqul, p. 176;
Shaykh 'Abbas al-Qummi, Nafs al-mahmum,
p. 149, Mulhaqat Ihqaq al-haqq, xi,
al-janan, the ziyarah of Imam
Husayn ('a.s) for the nights of 'Id
al-Fitr and 'Id al-Adha.
 Marhum Aqa Muhammad Ali was the son of marhum Wahid Behbahani and both of them
were great men. Marhum Aqa Muhammad
Ali migrated to Kirmanshah where he wielded great influence.
al-Muqarrim's Maqtal al Husayn, p.
252, Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 44, p. 391,
al-Luhuf, p. 37
 al-Muqarrim's al-Abbas, p. 81; Ibn Shahr Ashub, al-Manaqib, iv, p. 108
al-Muqarrim's al-Abbas, p. 69
 Ibsar al-ayn fi ansar al-Husayn alayh
al-salam, p. 26
 Yanabi al-mawaddah, ii, p. 165; Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 45, p. 41
 Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 45, p. 40.
 Muntaha al-amal, i, p. 386