Both Ibn Qawlawayh and al-Mas’udi1 have said that when it was the tenth of Muharram, al-Husayn (‘a) led the morning prayers for his band then stood up to deliver a sermon. He praised Allah and glorified Him then said, “Allah Almighty has permitted your being killed today; so, you should persevere, and you should fight.”
Then he prepared them for the battle in one line. They were eighty-two horsemen and two footmen. He let Zuhayr Ibn al-Qayn be in the right wing and Habib Ibn Muzahir on the left. He and his family members remained in the center.2
He gave his standard to his brother al-’Abbas3, having found the moon of the Hashemites the best qualified of all the men with him to carry it, the most safeguarding of the trust, the most kind, the most zealous in calling for his principles, the one who was the best to unite his kinsfolk, the most valiant in protecting them, the most firm in the battle, the most composed and the most courageous.4
Commanding a force of thirty thousand strong, ‘Umar Ibn Sa’d marched to confront al-Husayn, peace be upon him. Chiefs of the Kufa quarters at that time were: ‘Abdullah Ibn Zuhayr Ibn Salim al-Azdi, who headed the Medenites, ‘Abdul-Rahman Ibn Abu Sabrah al-Hanafi, who headed Mathhaj and Asad, Qays Ibn al-Ash’ath, who headed Rabi’ah and Kindah, and al-Hurr Ibn Yazid al-Riyahi, who headed Tamim and Hamdan5.
With the exception of al-Hurr al-Riyahi, all the other men took part in fighting al-Husayn (‘a).
Ibn Sa’d put ‘Amr Ibn al-Hajjaj al-Zubaydi in charge of the right wing. On the left wing, he gave charge to Shimr Ibn Thul-Jawshan al-’Amiri. The cavaliers were commanded by ‘Izrah Ibn Qays al-Ahmasi. The footmen were commanded by Shabth Ibn Rab’i. The standard was with the latter's slave, Thuwayd.6
They came circling around the tents, seeing how the fire was raging in the ditch. Shimr shouted as loud as he could: “O Husayn! Have you resorted to the fire soon enough before the Day of Judgment?”
Al-Husayn (‘a) asked, “Who is the inquirer? It seems as if he is Shimr Ibn Thul-Jawshan!” The answer came in the affirmative, whereupon the Imam (‘a) said to him, “You son of the goat herder! You are more worthy of the fire than I!” Muslim Ibn ‘Awsajah was about to shoot him with an arrow, but al-Husayn (‘a) prohibited him saying, “I hate to start fighting them.”7
1. Ibn Qawlawayh, Kamil al-Ziyarat, p. 73. Ithbat al-Wasiyya, p. 139 (Najaf, Iraq: Hayderi Press).
2. al-Khawarizmi, Maqtal al-Husayn, Vol. 2, p. 4.
3. al-Tabari, Tarikh, Vol. 6, p. 241. Ibn al-Jawzi, the grandosn, Tathkirat al-Khawass, p. 143 (old edition).
4. Historians differ with regard to the number of al-Husayn's companions. One view says they were thirty-two horsemen and forty footmen; this is what al-Shaikh al-Mufid says in his book Al-Irshad, al-Tabarsi on p. 142 of his book I’lam al-Wara, al-Fattal on p. 158 of his book Radwat al-Wa’izin, Ibn Jarir [al-Tabari] on p. 241, Vol. 6, of his Tarikh, Ibn al-Athir on p. 24, Vol. 4, of his book Al-Kamil, al-Qarmani on p. 108 of his book Akhbar al-Duwal, and al-Dinawari on p. 254 of his book Al-Akhbar al-Tiwal.
A second view says they were eighty-two footmen, as we are told on p. 327 of Al-Dam’a al-Sakiba of Muhammad Jawad Shubbar where al-Mukhtar is cited. A third view says they were sixty men. This is what al-Dimyari states on p. 73, Vol. 1, of Hayat al-Haywan as he discusses Yazid's reign. The fourth view says that they were seventy-three. Such is the view stated by al-Sharishi on p. 193, Vol. 1, of his book Shar Maqamat al-Hariri. The fifth view says they were forty-five horse-men and about one hundred footmen; this is what Ibn ‘Asakir says on p. 337, Vol. 4, of his book Tahthib Tarikh al-Sham. The sixth view says they were thirty-two horsemen and forty footmen; this is what al-Khawarizmi indicates on p. 4, Vol. 2, of his book Maqtal al-Husayn.
The seventh view, which is expressed by al-Mas’udi on p. 35 of his book Ithbat al-Wasiyya (published in Najaf at the Hayderi Press), counts sixty-one men. An eighth view says they were forty-five horse-men and one hundred footmen as stated by Ibn Nama on p. 28 of his book Muthir al-Ahzan and on p. 56 of his other work titled Al-Luhuf, where he relies on a tradition wherein Imam al-Baqir, peace be upon him, is quoted.
The ninth view says they were seventy-two men; this is what al-Shabrawi states on p. 17 of his book Al-Ithaf bi Hubbil-Ashraf. The tenth view, which is indicated on p. 31, Vol. 1, of al-Thahabi's book Mukhtasar Tarikh Duwal al-Islam, says that the Imam (‘a) was escorted by seventy horsemen as he departed from Medina. (And Allah surely knows best).
5. On p. 81, Vol. 1, of his book Sharh Nahjul-Balagha (Egyptian edition), the author says that their respite in Kufa lasted for one week.
6. al-Tabari, Tarikh, Vol. 6, p. 241.
7. al-Shaikh al-Mufid, Al-Irshad. al-Tabari, Tarikh, Vol. 6, p. 242.