Book Title: 
Muhammad Legenhausen
Number of pages: 
Publish Date:
Sun, 09/16/2018 - 15:01


The first historical questions to ask with respect to the politics of Karbala are: Who killed Imam Ḥussain (AS) and why? What was the political motivation for killing Ḥussain? In many of the histories of Islam, the answer given is that there was a disagreement over who should be caliph. Even in as sympathetic a history as that of Marshall Hodgson, the events are described briefly and dryly.

‘Alī’s second son and (through his mother, Fāṭimah) Muḥammad’s grandson, Ḥusayn, was invited to raise a rebellion in Kūfah; but then the Kūfans were cowed by the Syrian governor before he arrived. Ḥusayn and his tiny force refused to surrender; they were isolated in the desert at nearby Karbalā and killed (680). Then the Ḥijāz itself rose in revolt…

This is misleading because it suggests that Ḥusayn heeded the invitation of the Kufans to lead a rebellion, so that the events of Karbala are to be seen as the outcome of a struggle for power. If he did not intend to lead a rebellion, and if he did not intend to take power by force from the hands of Yazīd, then why did he set out for Kufa? In a prayer attributed to him, Imam Ḥusayn (‘a) says:

"O Allah! Surely You know that what we have done was not from aspirations for power and not to acquire luxurious vanities, but to show the characteristics of Your religion, to make manifest reform in your cities and security for the oppressed of Your servants, and so that the duties You have set would be carried out and so that Your ways and precepts would be put into practice."