The Commander of the faithful, 'Ali ibn Abi Talib married her at the suggestion of his brother, 'Aqil ibn Abi Talib, who was an expert in the genealogy of the Arabs. He had asked 'Aqil to look for a woman for him who would give birth to Arab warriors so that he could marry her and she could bear him a noble son. 'Aqil indicated her to him.
After the death of Lady Fatima, the radiant, he had married her, or perhaps after his marriage to Umama, daughter of Zaynab, daughter of the Apostle of God.
She bore the Commander of the faithful four sons. They were al-'Abbas (he was the eldest of them), 'Abd Allah, Ja'far and 'Uthman. These were her sons (banin) and she was given her kunya after them so that she was called ' Umm al-Banin' .
They were all martyred in front of their brother, Imam al-Husayn, at Karbala'.
Al-'Abbas had lived with his father, Imam 'Ali, for fourteen years. On the day he was martyred, he was about thirty-four years of age.
He married Lubaba, daughter of 'Ubayd Allah ibn al- 'Abbas ibn'Abd al-Muttalib, and she bore him two sons. They were 'Ubayd Allah ibn al-Abbas ibn 'Ali and al-Fadl ibn al-'Abbas ibn 'Ali. Through the latter he received his kunya so that he is called Abu al-Fadl al-'Abbas.
He was a mighty horseman with tall stature. 'He used to ride a sturdy horse and his feet could trail along the ground.' He was brave and was given the nickname, 'the moon of the Hashimites', because of his beauty. At Karbala' after his martyrdom he was given the nickname 'the bringer of water', and 'the father of the water-skin', because he risked his life to provide water for al-Husayn's camp after the Umayyad army blockaded it from water.
Then he had made more than one raid to the Euphrates to bring water. He was martyred in one of these attempts on 10th Muharram after his hands had been cut off during the battle while he was holding a water-skin which he had filled with water in order to give a drink to the children who were parched with thirst.
He was the standard-bearer of al-Husayn at Karbala'. When al-Husayn put his followers into their positions early in the morning of 10th Muharram, his place was in the centre. He was martyred after his brothers whom he asked to go before him into the battle.
Al-'Abbas was a man of knowledge. In this connection, it is reported that the Commander of the faithful, 'Ali, said: 'My son, al-'Abbas, has fed well on knowledge.'
Concerning him, it is reported that Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq said: 'Our uncle, al-'Abbas, was penetrating in his insight and firm in faith. He had a position with God, for which all the other martyrs envied him.'
It seems from the rajaz poetry, which is attributed to him and which he used to recite at the battle in which he was martyred - it seems from this rajaz poetry that he was at a very high level of awareness of his faith. Despite the fact that he took part in a battle which his brother led against a family which was hostile to his family, not the slightest hint of his personal feeling appears in his rajaz verse. In it, he only speaks of the religion which his brother, al-Husayn, embodied by being Imam. He recited:
By God, if you cut off my right hand, I will still defend my religion. And an Imam who speaks truly and with certainty, the pure and faithful offspring of the Prophet.
Al-'Abbas is singled out from all the other martyrs, whether Hashimite or not, with an independent grave on which a great shrine has been built.
In all the poetry of lament which has been composed about Karbala', al-'Abbas is mentioned as one of the martyrs, most outstanding in rank, or the most outstanding of them in rank, after al-Husayn. Later poets of the Shi'a have composed special poems of lament for him.
In the rites of remembrance for the death of al-Husayn, he has a special position. Thus he is remembered with special honour and is favoured by the full description of his life and martyrdom. In the rites of 'Ashura' special rites of remembrance for his death are held. The preachers on the pulpit during the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn in Iraq, usually speak of him on the night of 7th Muharram.
Al-'Abbas enjoys a very strong presence in the popular consciousness of Iraqi and Iranian Shi'ites, which is clearly reflected in the intense and crowded thronging to perform a visitation to his tomb.
Al-'Abbas occupies a special place in the pilgrimage. Whenever his name is mentioned, it is associated with the call for peace to be with him and his position is praised in nearly every one of the prayers of pilgrimage for Imam al-Husayn.
Similarly pilgrimages specially concerned with him, have been reported from the Imams of the Holy Family. In what follows we will mention an example of one of them which Abu Hamza al-Thumali has reported from Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq. Ja'far al-Sadiq said: 'When you want to perform a pilgrimage to the tomb of al-'Abbas ibn 'Ali, it is on the bank of the Euphrates opposite the Ha'ir, stand at the door of the enclosure and say:
1. The peace of God, the peace of His angels who bring men close to God, of His Prophets who He has sent, of His righteous worshippers, of all the martyrs and men of truth, and the pure blessings, which come constantly, be with you, O son of the Commander of the faithful.
I testify to your submission to Islam, truthfulness, loyalty and devotion to the successor of the Prophet sent by God, the chosen grandson, the knowing guide, the one entrusted with authority who conveyed his mission, the man who was wronged and killed.
May God reward you with the best reward on behalf of His Apostle, on behalf of the Commander of the faithful and on behalf of al-Hasan and al-Husayn, the blessings of God be with them, for what you endured, sacrificed and suffered. May the result be blessings in Paradise.
May God curse those who killed you. May God curse those who were ignorant of your rights and who scorned your sacredness. May God curse those who prevented you from getting the water of the Euphrates.
Throughout the prayer for peace in this form, the prayer of the ziyara reveals the group to which al-'Abbas belongs. He belongs to the angels, the prophets, the martyrs and the men of truth. The passage which follows the section praying for peace explains the reasons for al-'Abbas belonging to these groups of righteous worshippers of God.
He is a Muslim, truthful, loyal and devoted to Imam al-Husayn. That is to say, he is loyal to his religious commitment which arises out of him being a sincere Muslim because, at this point, al-Husayn is not a brother, he is the leader of Islam.
This section of the prayer of ziyara ends with the prayer that God will reward al-'Abbas for his noble stance. Then it renounces, with a curse, his enemies as the enemies of religious law. In this section also the distinguished role of al-'Abbas is given prominence in a way which preserves his memory in popular consciousness as the most outstanding of those concerned to provide the thirsty camp with water.
2. I testify that you were killed unjustly and that God will fulfil his promise to you. O son of the Commander of the faithful, I have come as a pilgrim to you. My heart submits to you; and I will follow you. My support will always be ready for you until God gives His judgement, and He is the best of judges.
I will be with you, with you, not with your enemies. I am one of the believers with you and will suffer with you. I am not one of the unbelievers with those who oppose you and killed you. May God kill a people who killed you with their hands and tongues.
In this section, the pilgrim bears witness to the justice of the cause, for which al-'Abbas was martyred by saying that he was killed unjustly. Therefore his killers must be unjust. Yet the pilgrim is not in despair because the ultimate result of al-'Abbas' struggle is that he is certain of God's victory and the establishment of a state of truth and justice.
The pilgrim proclaims his commitment to the same policy of struggle, which al-'Abbas had followed and for which he had died. In the same way he proclaims his renunciation of the opposite policy, the policy of injustice which the Umayyads followed.
3. Peace be with you, O righteous worshipper, dedicated to God, to His Apostle, to the Commander of the faithful and to al-Hasan and al-Husayn, may peace be with them. Peace be with you and the mercy, blessings and favour of God be with you, your soul and your body.
I testify, and God is my witness, that you died like those who fought at Badr for the sake of God, who acted in good faith toward Him in fighting against His enemies who did their utmost in support of His chosen ones and who defended His loved ones. May God reward you with the best and most abundant reward of any one of those who fulfilled their pledge to Him, answered His call and obeyed those whom He had entrusted with authority.
I testify that you exceeded the utmost in good faith and that you gave the ultimate in striving. Then God raised you among the martyrs and put your soul alongside the souls of the marytrs. He has given you one of the largest and best places in His Paradise and has gathered you with the prophets, the truthful ones, the martyrs and the righteous men as a good companion for them.
I testify that you have never demeaned yourself nor recoiled. You died in full awareness of your situation, emulating the righteous and following the example of the Prophets. God will unite us with you, with His Apostle and with His saints in the mansions of those who are Humble before God. Indeed He is the most merciful of those who are merciful.
In this passage the pilgrim begins his address by asking for peace to be with him and by a prayer in which he demonstrates the element of the faithful obedience shown by al-'Abbas which arises out of an awareness of duty and a commitment to it.
After the call for peace and the prayer, the pilgrim gives testimony that this obedience was not formal; it expressed itself through practical commitment. Here a group is shown to which al-'Abbas belongs in a more defined way, namely those who fought at Badr. These men occupy the highest rank in the processions of noble martyrs who bore witness to the truth with their lives in front of the Apostle of God.
Then follows the testimony that in his striving al-'Abbas went beyond the standard required by virtue of being an obedient Muslim to a much higher standard. He ‘exceeded the utmost in good faith and gave the ultimate in striving.'
Next there is the testimony that he carried out his magnificent role at Karbala', resolutely facing death in the end through a conscience governed by principle. His was not an unconscious faith, nor a blind faith because there is no blind faith in Islam. '. . . You died in full awareness of your situation ....' Therefore there was, in his high moral attitude, that with which he achieved the highest Islamic moral standards in transcending one's personal nature.41 In this attitude, '. . . he never demeaned himself nor recoiled.' This is confirmation that his attitude was the result of consciousness, 'full awareness'.42
Abu Hamza al-Thumali has reported from Imam Ja'far al Sadiq that he said that when he parted from al-'Abbas, he should say:
4. I bid farewell to you, commending you to God and asking for your concern and attention. I recite my call for peace to be with you. We believe in God, His Apostle, His Book and what he brought from God. O God, decree that we should be with the martyrs. O God, do not make this the last pilgrimage to the grave of the cousin of Your Prophet. For as long as You preserve me, let me make pilgrimages to him. Then Bather me with him and his fathers in Paradise. O God, bring recognition between him, Your Apostle and Your saints and myself.
O God, grant blessings to Muhammad and the family of Muhammad and receive me as someone who believes in you, who acknowledges the truth of your Apostle and the authority (wilaya) of'Ali ibn Abi Talib and the Imams among his offspring and who renounces their enemies. O Lord, I have been pleased to do that.43
This form of farewell reveals the depth of the emotional association of principle between the pilgrim and al-'Abbas. It links them with bonds of love which arise out of both of them being committed to one principle in which the one to whom the pilgrimage is being made represents the role of the exemplary model.
Then the pilgrim declares his faith and directs his prayer towards God, asking Him to create a permanent association with al-'Abbas both in this world and the Hereafter. He asks God to strengthen him in faith and keep him loyal to Islam and to the authority of the Imams of the Holy Family.
41. Cf. my book Bayn al-Jahiliyya wa-al-Islam (Beirut. 1975), the chapter on morals (al-akhlaq).
42. Cf. my book Ansar al Husayn, op. cit., 165-70, where there is a study of 'the people of awareness'.
43. Ibn Qawlawayh, op. cit., 256-7