Rafed English

The ziyara of the Martyrs of Karbala'

Adapted from: "The Revolution of Imam al-Husayn (a)" by: "Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi Shams ad-Din Al-Amili"


The martyrs of the revolution of al-Husayn at Karbala' have a very strong presence in popular consciousness. Their hearts encompass the emotions of love, wonder and sanctity which arise out of their attitude and devotion at Karbala.46

The scope for any discussion of these pious men, may God be pleased with them, is broad and extensive. Their lives, which they directed towards their struggle is full of lessons and morals for every generation which aspires to take any part in the noble search for peaceful social change.

It is not one of the purposes of this brief section to include studies of their numbers, accounts of all their lives and details of the participation of each of them at Karbala '. We have devoted a book to these studies, as already indicated.47 We only intend here to show their existence and presence in popular consciousness as reflected in the prayers of ziyara in which they are addressed by the pilgrim as has been reported from the Imams of the Holy Family, together with an indication of their existence in popular consciousness as reflected in poetry and the rites of remembrance.
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The martyrs of the revolution of al-Husayn expressed their high degree of awareness in the revolution until the end which they knew would be martyrdom. They refused to take advantage of al-Husayn's offer to them that they should leave him and that each one should try to save his own life. This was when he gathered them together on the evening of 10th Muharram and spoke to them.

Among the things he said to them was: '. . . Indeed I think that tomorrow will be the day when we meet these enemies. I have already given you permission to go. Therefore you are all released s you in darkness. Take advantage of it to ride away. Let each of you take the hand of a member of my Holy Family. Then God give you all a good reward. Scatter to your lands and towns. These people are not pursuing you. If they could strike me down, they would not bother to pursue anyone else.'

Muslim ibn 'Awsaja spoke: 'Are we to leave you? How would we excuse ourselves to God for not carrying out our duty towards you? By God, I will not leave you until I lunge my spear into their breast, until I strike them with my sword for as long as its hilt remains in my hand. If I no longer have any weapon to fight with, I will hurl stones against them until I die with you.'
Then Sa'id ibn 'Abd Allah al-Hanafi spoke: 'We will not leave you so that God may know that we have remained loyal to the absent Apostle of God through you. By God, if I knew that I would be killed, then brought back to life, then burnt alive, then scattered in the wind, and that was done to me seventy times, I would not leave you until I meet my death in defence of you. How, then, could I not do so when death only comes once? It will be an honour which will have no end.'

Zuhayr ibn al-Qayn, next, spoke: 'By God, I want to be killed, then brought back again so that I may be killed in that way a thousand times. Indeed God, the Mighty and High, will guard my soul and the soul of these young men from the Holy Family through that death.'48

The rest of his followers spoke similar sentiments.
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In the same way they refused to let any of the Holy Family go into battle before them. They went forward towards the Umayyad army until they were all killed.

Al-Husayn spoke words of praise when they were killed, some of which have been preserved by the narrators. These words express his esteem and love for them. An example is the words he spoke over the dead body of Muslim ibn 'Awsaja: 'May God have mercy on you, O Ibn 'Awsaja. Of them are some who have fulfilled their pledge (met their death) and of them are some who still wait but have not changed their mind.'49

He addressed al-Hurr when he had been killed: 'You are a free man (hurr), al-Hurr just like your mother named you. You are free in this world and in the Hereafter.' To the corpse of Zuhayr ibn al- Qayn, he said: 'God will not destroy you, Zuhayr. May He curse your killers and may He curse those who turned themselves into baboons and pigs.'

Al-Husayn had said of them: '. . . I do not know of followers more faithful than my followers, nor a family more pious and generous than my family.'50

Lamentation poetry also alludes to the followers of al-Husayn, commending them and praising their attitude and devotion. Only a few of the names of the martyrs are mentioned in lamentation poetry, and then it is some of the famous among them who are mentioned, men like al-Hurr ibn Yazid al-Riyahi, Muslim ibn 'Awsaja and Zuhayr ibn al-Qayn. However, we have not come across any poetry which has been specially composed about them.

The same is the case with regard to the rites of remembrance. The rites of rememberance for al-Husayn do mention them when the appropriate subject requires it. Sometimes some of the famous ones among them are mentioned by name when the subject requires the reporting of an incident in which one of them was involved.

Lamentation poetry and the rites of remembrances are only incidentally concerned with them, and it does not happen that they are made an independent topic, by itself, in lamentation poetry and the rites of remembrance. As we have observed in our book, Ansar al-Husayn (the Supporters of al-Husayn),51 they have not been given the attention which they deserve by narrators, researchers and authors.

There we commented: 'Perhaps the glorious radiance which emanates from the personality of Imam al-Husayn, and the great shadow which this great personality leaves on the spirit of the researcher, has been responsible to some extent for the neglect of historians and Traditionists in providing us with the basic material for a better study.'52

Here we might add that perhaps it may be the glorious radiance, which emanates from the personality of Imam al-Husayn, and the great shadow, which this great personality leaves on the spirit of the poet and the preacher at rites of remembrance, has been responsible for the deficiency which has occurred with regard to these martyrs in the poetry of lamentation for al-Husayn and the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn.

We consider that the poets of lament would find a rich spring of images, emotions and feelings as well as struggles full of human ideals in the lives of these martyrs. In the same way the preachers at the rites of remembrance would find, in their lives, material of great value for education and direction which would make the rites of remembrance richer and more engrossing.

It would seem that there would be the possibility, at the end of the second stage of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn, of making the followers of al-Husayn an independent topic in the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn. We already find the first beginnings of this tendency from al-Shaykh Fakhr al-Din in his book, al-Muntakhab, in a number of the accounts of gatherings (majalis) in that book.53 Yet it still seems to be a tendency which has not established any permanence.

We have drawn attention to this problem so that it may be given the regard which it deserves from all those who are concerned in reciting poetry for al-Husayn and in the rites of remembrance so that they should develop in the best and most beneficial way, both in form and content. We will return to dealing with this problem in the chapter about the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn.

Although the martyrs of Karbala ' have been deprived of their right to be honoured and extolled in the poetry of lament for al-Husayn and in the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn, although the Shi'ite individual has been deprived of deriving full benefit from their lives in those two fields, the matter is different in the ziyara, insofar as none of the pilgrimages to al-Husayn, whether of a general or particular nature, is likely to be without a prayer of ziyara to them, which will be full of expressions of honour and love, drawing attention to their role in the service of Islam by their struggle and self-sacrifice.

The following is one of the prayers of a ziyara which has been reported about them.

Peace be with you, O men associated with God. You are our predecessors and fore-runners, and we are your followers and supporters. I testify that you are the supporters of God, as God has said in His Book: How many a prophet has fought, with whom were men worshippers of the Lord and they were not weak because of what they had been struck by for the sake of God and they were not humiliated.54

You have not been feeble, you have not been weak and you did not surrender until you met God on the path of truth and in support of the complete words of God. May God bless your souls and your bodies and grant them peace.

In the form of the call for peace, the prayer of the ziyara, attention is drawn to the quality of rabbaniyya. This word means 'a relationship with the God at a high level' which makes the life of a man who worships the Lord (rabbani) an act which is dedicated to God insofar as personal desires are united with responsibilities imposed by the Divinely inspired way of life and morality. There can be nothing opposed to these responsibilities.

Thus the quality in man of being associated with God entails 'loving through God and hating through God'.

Then the pilgrim expresses the idea that is associated with them, has embraced underlying principle and is following their path. He considers himself to be their follower and supporter, and he regards them as predecessors and fore-runners. There is one continuous path, a single path joined by links. They are an earlier link in it and the pilgrim is a link following them along this path. In this way the pilgrim expresses his commitment in principle to the revolution of al-Husayn.

The pilgrim goes on to testify that they are defiant, strong and noble supporters of God. They are like the devoted supporters of prophets, who fight with their supporters in the cause of God.

Rejoice at the promise of God, which will not be altered, for God does not alter His promises. God will attain the vengeance for you which He promised you. You are masters of the martyrs in this world and the Hereafter. You are the one who went first, the emigrants (muhajirin) and the supporters (ansar).

I testify that you fought for the sake of God. You were killed fighting for the policies of the Apostle of God and the son of the Apostle of God. Praise be to God, Who has kept Faithful to His promise to you and shown you what you love.55

In this passage of the pilgrim's prayer of the ziyara, he expresses this deep-rooted hope that the lofty aims, for the sake of which the supporters of al-Husayn fought, will be achieved because that is God's promise and He does not alter His promise. For this reason, the pilgrim does not despair because the followers of al-Husayn were martyred without achieving their aims during their lives.

After this, the pilgrim describes them with Qur'anic expressions which were revealed concerning a select band of believers. They are those who went first to the faith, they were emigrants to God and they were supporters of the religion of God.

They were those who went first in terms of all the bravery involved in the quality of being first. It is a bravery which enables the one who has such a quality to go beyond the stagnant imitative attitudes of the people of his time and to realise his dreams of the future in a movement of defiance which has taken over his life.

It does, however, provide an ideal model and example for future generations. Thereby great honour is achieved. In this respect, the followers of al-Husayn are those who went first, who went beyond the attitudes of their generation and the cowardly norms of their society in a movement of defiance in which they have cut a path for future generations.

They were the emigrants (muhajirin) in terms of all that the emigration (hijra) implies of leaving the usual, the familiar, the comfortable and the guaranteed for the unusual, hardship and danger for the sake of others, not for the sake of themselves. Emigration (hijra) goes beyond the self to others for the sake of God.

They were supporters (ansar) in terms of all that support implies of altruism, cooperation and enduring dangers for the sake of God.

The pilgrim brings this part of the prayer of ziyara to an end and giving testimony which springs from these qualities: they fought for the sake of God and they were killed defending the policies of the Apostle of God and Imam al-Husayn.
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Texts have been reported from the Imams of the Holy Family about the words of farewell to the martyrs when the pilgrim finishes his pilgrimage to al-Husayn. Among them is the following.

O God, do not make this my last pilgrimage to them. Rather make me close to them and bring me into the righteousness which you gave to them through their support for the son of Your Prophet and Your proof (hujja) to Your creatures and through their struggle alongside him for Your sake.

O God, unite us and them in Your Paradise with the righteous men, and may they be good companions.

I commend you to God's protection and I recite my prayer for peace to be with you. O God, grant me the chance of coming to them again. Gather me with them on the Last day, O Most Merciful of those who are merciful.56

These words of farewell throb with hope of what may come from God, with love for the martyrs and with the wish for God to allow the pilgrim to express his close ties of love by coming again to these martyrs, may God be pleased with them all.


46. We have published a book about them which we mentioned earlier in this book. Ansar al-Husayn Dirasa ‘an Shuhada’ Thawrat al Husayn: al-Rijal wa al-Dalala, (Beirut, 1975).

47. Cf. note 68 above.

48. Al-Tabari, op. cit., V, 419ff; al-Ya'qubi, op. cit., II, 231; al-Khawarizmi op. cit., I, 247.

49. Al-Tabari, op. cit., V, 435. The allusion is to Qur 'an, 33:23.

50. Al-Shaykh al-Mufid, al Irshad, op. cit., 231.

51. Cf. Ansar al-Husayn, op. cit.

52. Ibid, 11

53. Al-Turayhi, al-Muntakhab, 36, 76, 100, 415.

54. Qur 'an, 3:146.

55. Ibn Qawlawayh, op. cit., 204.

56. Ibid, 209


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