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Political Effects of Karbala

No knowledgeable author has gone without commenting about the tragedy of Karbala, one way or the other. Dickens, Gibbon, Ockley, Henri Lammens, Wellhausen, Hodgson, Garcin de Tassey, are but a few names in a long list of western writers in addition to the numerous historians in Arabia, Iran and the Indo-Pakistan subcontinent. Even political leaders like Stalin and Gandhi have made reference to Husayn in their speeches.

Political Effect

It is not certain how long the prisoners were kept in captivity, in Damascus. The reporters of maqtal literature have given many reasons for their release, the most important among them being that Husayn's four year old daughter had died of starvation, dehydration and general exhaustion, in the prison. This turned many of Yazeed's supporters against him, even in Damascus. The prisoners were released and sent back to Madinah with an official escort. When the news of the massacre at Karbala broke out in Madinah, the city was taken over by tremendous grief and sadness. The survivors described their suffe-rings and the inhuman acts committed by the Umayya troops in various meetings with the citizens of Madinah. The elders then decided that an investigative commission should be set up and asked to produce a report on Yazeed's government. A delegation was sent to Damascus, which did produce a report.

The contents of this report make interesting reading. It said:

"We have seen a man who calls himself the Khaleefah of our Prohpet (p.b.h) but he drinks intoxicants openly, has baboons and dogs as pets and spends most of his time in the company of dancing girls."

The complete lack of any mention of the atrocities committed against the Prophet's family by Yazeed, from this report, is a curious fact. As if drinking and dancing were greater sins than the sacrilege caused by the murder of the Prophet's grandson. The revolution caused by the tragedy of Karbala had yet to happen. The people of Madinah were disgusted with Yazeed. A strong sentiment was building up among the citizens, which was further enhanced after the Madinan delegation returned from Damascus and produced its report.

The Umayyad governor of Madinah feared for his and his family's life and approached Ali Zaynul Abideen if he could take care of his wife. Zaynul Abideen displayed an unprecedented act of magnanimity and accepted the responsibility. The governor's wife was escorted to Ta'if with one of the Hashimites, while the governor himself was chased out of Madinah.

Yazeed was obviously furious at this. He immediately dispatched a division of his Syrian mercenaries accompanied by his Umayyad partisans. The people of Madinah, in the meantime, were preparing a local government and had severed all relations with Damascus. When they received the news of the impending attack, they too prepared a force to meet the challenge.

The two forces met at a place called Harrah, outside of the city limits. A battle took place, which ended in complete destruction of the Madinan forces. The Syrians moved into the city and razed it to the ground. People were killed indiscriminately. Schools, hospitals and other public-service buildings were destroyed. The prophet's mosque was completely desecrated. It was actually used by the Syrians for stables. Madinah, the city of the Prophet of Islam, which had reached a new epoch of civilization and culture during the last quarter of a century, was defaced beyond recognition for a long time to come. It was not until the beginning of the second century of Hijra, that the grandson of Ali Zaynul Abideen known as Ja'afar As-Sadiq, revived that old school of learning in Madinah, which was originally started by Ali bin Abi Talib.

All male survivors of the massacre were forced to take a humiliating oath of loyalty to Yazeed. Those who refused were branded on their necks.

The Syrian troops then proceeded towards Makkah where Abdullah Ibn Zubayr had installed himself as Khaleefa. Makkah was put under siege. Great damage was done to the grand mosque and K'abah. While this was going on, the news of Yazeed's sudden death arrived and made the Syrian army leave in a hurry for Damascus. Soon after this, many rebellions took place in the Arab lands against Umayyad rule. Yazeed's own son was disgusted with his father. He abdicated and was poisoned by the Umayyad king-makers. The signs of revolution were now showing.

The first manifestation of this was the move-ment of Tawwaboon or the penitents, led by a respected Koofan, Sulayman Ibn Surad. These were the people who were unable to reach Karbala to help Husayn. The movement took four years to materialize. An army of 4000 marched towards Syria for two specific purposes, either to defeat the Syrians and estab-lish a just rule, or to die fighting like Husayn did. Before heading towards Syria, the people stop-ped by at Karbala. Scenes of unprecedented grief, weeping and wailing were seen, for the tragic death and sufferings of the Prophet's grandson. Although, the first person who for-mally visited the tomb of Husayn was the old and respected Companion of the Prophet, Jabir Ibn Adullah Ansaree, this was perhaps the first time in history that Muslims had glori-fied publicly, a shrine other than Makkah.

The group then proceeded towards Syria. They met a Syrian force of 30,000 at a place called Ayn-al-Ward. The night before the action started, the leader, Sulayman Ibn Surad, addres-sed the group exactly as Husayn had done in the night before Ashoora. Sulayman explained that their mission was not to wrest political power but to do and die. The next morning 1000 of the men were missing. Sulayman's people were far outnumbered by the Syrians. The battle lasted three days. Tawwaboon fought furiously and the Syrians took great losses. But on the third day of the battle, the Tawwaboon themsel-ves were greatly reduced in number. Very few of them survived the battle. Sulayman and other leaders of the group were killed in action. This was in the month of Rabeec II, 65 Hijra/November 684 A.D.

Soon after this came the uprising of Mukhtar Ibn Abi Ubayda Thaqafee. He actually was successful in establishing a government in Koofa. Mukhtar rounded up a great number of those who fought Husayn at Karbala, including Ibn Ziyad and Umar Ibn S'ad. They were all tried for the atrocities committed against the Prophet's grandson and his family, and punished by a death similar and comparable to their own acts at Karbala.

The next major uprising was that by Zayd, another son of Ali Zaynul Abideen, in Safar of 122 Hijra/ December 740 A.D. Zayd was defeated by the Umayyad troops, killed in ac-tion and many of his followers massacred. The Umayyad ruler Hisham ordered that all people in Madinah should publicly denounce Zayd and dis-sociate themselves from such activities. However, J'afar Sadiq was left alone from this. This episode is very similar to what happened after the sack of Madinah at the Syrians' hands on Yazeed's orders. But Ali Zaynul cAbideen (Jafar Sadiq's grandfather) was left unmolested.
Since Karbala, even the most oppressive ruler and despot was afraid to bother the family of the Prophet, openly. The massacre at Karbala had sent a wave of horror across the Islamic empire. A new sentiment was setting in Iran. Some opportunists took advantage of the situation and set up an underground movement in Iran, their leader being Abu Muslim Khurasani. It was this mechanism, which caused the complete destruction of the Umayyad dynasty in the Arab lands and installed the first Abbaside ruler at Baghdad, in the year 132 Hijra, 70 years after the tragedy of Karbala took place.

It was the result of the teachings of the sixth Imam J'afar Sadiq that the call for avenging Husayn's killing was replaced by formal acts of lamentation, weeping and wailing to commemorate Husayn's sufferings and death. In Iran and Iraq it has transformed into Rawzeh Khwani and in India and Pakistan it is known as Majlis and Zakiree.

Since then, every oppressed person or group considers Husayn their hero. Such people revere Husayn and find solace in his memory during times of hardships. Husayn's tomb in Karbala has turned into a shrine of great sig-nificance, in the Muslim world. Conversely, every despot and dictator has always considered this relic and the commemoration of Husayn's martyrdom a direct threat to his authority. For this reason, the tomb has been desecrated and rebuilt many times. The present government in Iraq is no exception. All moneys the devotees dedicate to the shrines in Karbala and Najaf are taken away by the government authorities without any regard to the needs of the shrine. People are watched and discouraged from visiting the religious scholars based in Najaf.

Under the current tyrannical regime in Iraq, people are living a precarious life. The sanctions imposed by the UN Resolution, obviously, are not helping the situation either. Children are dying in large numbers, hospitals have run out of essential medical equipment and medicines. Supply of water and electricity is in a bad shape. In fact, all infrastructure is in ruins.

What are our duties as devotees of Imam Husayn, in these circumstances?

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