When people learnt of al-Husayn’s determination to revolt, they took up three different attitudes towards it. The first attitude was the attitude of the Shi’a of the Holy Family. It was to urge the revolution, to offer it promises of help and support and to undertake some actual tasks for its sake. The second attitude is the attitude of members of the clan of the Hashimites and the attitude of some of the tribal leaders. In principle, these men agree with the revolution but they are concerned about its results. The third attitude is represented by ‘men of piety’ who have withdrawn from politics under the slogan of keeping away from discord, even though, by this attitude of theirs, they have rendered a great service to the existing regime when they made themselves into a party which was impeding the progress of revolutionary forces in society.
1. The Eve of the Revolution
When people learnt of al-Husayn’s determination to revolt, they took up three
different attitudes towards it.
The first attitude was the attitude of the Shi’a of the Holy Family. It was to
urge the revolution, to offer it promises of help and support and to undertake
some actual tasks for its sake.
We find evidence for that in the event of al-Husayn’s revolution when he refused
to give the pledge of allegiance to Yazid ibn Mu’awiya and left Medina for
Mecca. Indeed we find evidence for it even before the death of Mu’awiya, in the
efforts of the Kufans to get al-Husayn to revolt and to rectify the situation-as
they claimed-which had arisen as a result of the ratification of the peace
treaty between Mu’awiya and Imam al-Hasan ibn ‘Ali.
After the death of Mu’awiya, the assumption of office by Yazid and al-Husayn’s
departure for Mecca, letters from the leaders of the Shi’a came continually to
him. Other leaders also participated in this call and this urging, and their
letters came in abundance to him. They dissociated themselves from the Umayyad
governor, al-Numan ibn Bashir al-Ansan, and then they gave a positive response
to al-Husayn’s messenger to them, Muslim ibn Aqil. Eighteen thousand of them
pledged allegiance to him.
Many of them remained faithful to their attitude after the Umayyad regime had
regained control over affairs in Kufa when the new governor, ‘Ubayd Allah ibn
Ziyad, arrived there and took over from al-Nu’man ibn Bashir. He exercised
absolute authority over Kufa with ferocity and speed. Some of them were
paralysed by fear; some of them were imprisoned after the abortive movement of
Muslim ibn ‘Aqil in Kufa; some of them were prevented from joining al-Husayn by
the blockade which ‘Ubayd Allah set up around Kufa; while others, who were able
to slip through the cordon which had been positioned around Kufa, joined al-Husayn
at Karbala’, fought with him and were martyred in his presence.
The second attitude is the attitude of members of the clan of the Hashimites and
the attitude of some of the tribal leaders. As for the attitude of members of
the clan of the Hashimites, it is portrayed by the words of Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyya
and ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abbas.
On the eve of Imam al-Husayn’s departure from Medina, Muhammad ibn al-Hanifiyya
gave him the following advice: ‘You should go to Mecca. If staying there
provides you with security, that is what we want. If it should be otherwise, you
should go to the land of Yemen. They are supporters of your grandfather, your
father and your brother. They are better-natured and have kinder hearts …’
He received similar advice from ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abbas when ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Abbas
said in a conversation which took place between him and the Imam: ‘I have learnt
that you are setting out for Iraq. They are treacherous people and are only
calling you to war. Do not hurry. If you refuse any other course but to fight
against this tyrant and yet are unwilling to stay in Mecca, then go to Yemen.
Write to the people of Kufa and your supporters in Iraq that they should drive
out their governor. If they do not do that, you should remain there until God
sends His commandment, for there, there are fortresses and mountain paths.’
As for the attitude of those who were not members of the clan of Hashim, it is
portrayed by the words of ‘Abd Allah ibn Muti al-‘Adawi: ‘O son of the Apostle
of God, I remind you of God and of the sanctity of Islam lest it be defiled. I
adjure you before God concerning the sanctity of the Apostle of God and the
sanctity of the Arabs. By God, if you seek what the Umayyad clan has in their
hands, it will kill you. If they kill you, they will never fear anyone after
you. By God, it is the sanctity of Islam which will be defiled, the sanctity of
Quraysh and the sanctity of the Arabs. Do not do it. Do not go to Kufa. Do not
expose yourself to the Umayyad clan.’
In principle, these men agree with the revolution but they are concerned about
its results. Some of them-like ‘Abd Allah ibn Muti-are absolutely certain of its
failure and express their feelings of consternation and alarm at the Umayyad
audacity against everything sacred which will follow this failure.
Others are doubtful about its result and advise him to take refuge in places and
among groups which will make the possibilities of success greater than the
possibilities of failure.
The third attitude is represented by ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘ Umar and other such men of
piety who have withdrawn from politics since the killing of ‘Uthman under the
slogan of keeping away from discord, even though, by this attitude of theirs,
they have rendered a great service to the existing regime when they made
themselves into a party which was impeding the progress of revolutionary forces
in society under the slogan of piety and keeping away from discord.
‘Abd Allah ibn ‘ Umar said to Imam al-Husayn: ‘Abu ‘Abd Allah, you know the
hostility of this clan towards you and their injustice to you. The people have
given authority to this man, Yazid ibn Mu’awiya. I cannot be sure that the
people would not favour him because of gold and silver (which he has given them)
so that they would fight against you and thus many men would be destroyed
through you. I advise you to enter into the agreement which the people entered
into and to be patient as you were patient before.’
‘Abd Allah ibn ‘ Umar and other such holders of this view were not from the
Shi’a of the Holy Family. Nor were they members of that second group which
believed in the justice of the revolution as a principle. In outward appearance
at least, they were not supporters of the regime. They were only looking
hostility at the revolution by starting out with a basic attitude in their
public and private lives, which was the maintenance and acceptance of the status
quo, not because it was just, but only because it existed, and because any
change would not agree with their temperaments and interests.
2. The Aftermath of the Revolution
The Muslims faced the distressing end of the revolution and the consequences
which followed (including the cutting off of heads and captivity) with three
The first attitude was the attitude of the Shi’a of the Holy Family. They
received the distressing end with sadness, regret and anger: they were sad
because of the atrocity which had taken place at Karbala’; they felt regret
because they had been remiss in their help and support; and they were angry with
the Umayyad regime because it had committed a dreadful crime.
The interaction of grief with sadness generated in them extreme anger and a
burning desire to atone, which they expressed against the regime and its
supporters in poetry and speeches, and in revolutions which continued through
generations. The slogan, ‘Vengeance for al-Husayn’, became a slogan for all
revolutionaries against the Umayyads.
The second attitude was the attitude of the general body of Muslims who were not
committed to the political policy of the Shi’a and the Imams of the Holy Family.
These met the disaster with shock and revulsion. The Umayyad techniques of
dealing with their political opponents, as revealed in their suppression of the
revolution, appalled them. These techniques showed no respect to law or
morality, nor did they set any store in social norms.
There is no doubt that this discovery prompted many of the tribal and communal
leaders to reconsider their attitude and friendship towards the Umayyad regime.
Among such men was ‘Ubayd Allah ibn al-Hurr al-Ju’fi who changed from being a
supporter of the regime, who had refused to answer the summons of al-Husayn when
the latter had asked him to help him, by becoming a revolutionary against the
regime, who wrote poems of lament about the martyrs of Karbala’ and proclaimed
Even the so-called pious who had received the decision to revolt with lassitude
and had given advice to stop it, even these men, were not able to maintain their
previous negative attitude towards the revolution and were forced to follow
popular opinion by showing shock and revulsion. Zayd ibn Arqam had been one of
those present at ‘Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad’s assembly in Kufa when the prisoners
and the heads of the martyrs were brought in. He wept when he saw Ibn Ziyad
poking at the teeth of Imam al-Husayn with a cane in his hand. When Ibn Ziyad
rebuked him for weeping and threatened him, he declared: ‘O people … you will
be slaves after today. You have killed the son of Fatima, and you have given
power to Ibn Murjana (i.e. Ibn Ziyad). By God, the best of your men have been
killed, and the worst of them have become masters. May God destroy those who
consent to humiliation and shame!’
When al-Hasan al-Basri learnt of al-Husayn’s martyrdom, he said: ‘How despicable
is an umma which has killed the son of the daughter of its Prophet!’
The third attitude was the attitude of adherents of the regime. These men
received the news of the end of the revolution with joy and delight. They
demonstrated their feelings of comfort and elation. Some of them could not
desist from showing feelings of revenge and gloating.
Yazid ibn Mu’awiya showed his feeling of happiness and elation. Indeed it seems
that he made the coming of the prisoners into an occasion for popular merriment
in which music and songs were used.6 He could not hide his delight when the
prisoners and the head of Imam al-Husayn were brought into him amid a lavish
The same is the case with regard to the rest of the members of the regime, like
‘Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad, Marwan ibn al-Hakam, ‘Amr ibn Sa’id b. al-‘As and
others. They expressed their delight in expressions which narrators have
recorded and historians have reported.
Soon, however, the adherents of the regime discovered that the matter did not
give rise to happiness. It was not the simple matter which they had envisaged.
This revolution was not just a simple insurrection which could easily be put to
an end, and then the regime would rid of its dangers.
The members of the regime discovered that the failure of the revolution
generated dangers which were much greater than those which had existed before.
The whole situation exploded. The failure of the revolution made the Shi’a of
the Holy Family become much firmer in their attitude whereas before, during the
reign of Muawiya, they had been more inclined to peaceful negotiations and
forbearance. Similarly in a way which got talked about so that Muslims heard it
from one another, the purifying effect of the revolution produced a great change
in the attitude of large numbers of the Muslims towards the Umayyads and their
government. We consider that this change made these groups equipped to adopt
effective negative policies against the regime after their psycho- logical
attitude against the regime had developed.
When the Umayyads discovered this new situation, they began to take practical
measures aimed at destroying the effect of this psychological activity which the
revolution had produced in the community. This activity had begun to turn the
umma away from friendship with the regime to the public declaration of attitudes
which resisted it and its institutions and policies.
Yet the adherents of the regime discovered the danger of the spiritual forces,
which were unleashed as a result of putting down the revolution by the savage
method which had been followed, and they brought into play every means of
seduction and intimidation which they possessed in order to prevent these forces
from working against the regime. In contrast to that, the Shi’ite leadership
with the Imams at its head had also discovered the awesome powers, which the
revolution had mobilized to work against the Umayyads and annihilate their
regime, and new circumstances which were appropriate to the success of this
work. This leadership prepared to use its energies against Umayyad activities,
by aiming at releasing the rays of the revolution and spreading its
psychological influence among the umma to the furthest extent and the widest
In the rest of this chapter we will present a brief picture of the Umayyad
activities which were aimed at thwarting the transforming effect of the
revolution within the umma in order to move from that to the presentation of a
detailed study of the efforts of the Shi’ite leaders, with the Imams of the Holy
Family at their head, which resisted Umayyad activities and which aimed at
stimulating the activity of the revolution to change the umma from friendship
with the Umayyads and to rally against them.
We will see that the activities of the Shi’ite leadership were the ones for
which success was ordained in the end.
Source: The Revolution of Al-Husayn, Its Impact on the Conciousness of Muslim
Society by Sheikh Muhammad Mahdi Shams Al-Din