TOWARDS DEATH IN THE WILDERNES

AS the sun was receding in the horizon and the wind was Allowing ready the caravan after bidding adieu to Mecca began its journey in twilight towards Kufa. It appeared that the mountains which surrounded Mecca were not just in a trance but completely dumb struck at the sight of the Prophet’s family embarking on a journey from which there were no signs of return. Only a little distance had been covered when a body soldiers, led by Yahya bin Saeed came out of the town and obstructed his progress at the instance of the ruler of Mecca, Amar bin Saeed bin Aas, attempted to force him to retrace his steps to Mecca. Husain refused to go back to Mecca and a brief skirmish ensued between the parties. Since Husain’s companions were determined to valiantly resist all obstacles, the opponents were forced to withdraw and Husain’s caravan resumed its journey.

At the initial stages, the caravan moved swiftly. This was more so as there were speculations that more than ten thousand people were waiting eagerly for the auspicious arrival of Hussain, the son of Hazrat Fatima Zehra, the daughter of

the Messenger of God PBUH3. The journey was as easy as it was sixty years ago, when the helpers of the Prophet Mohammed were impatiently awaiting the auspicious arrival of the Prophet Mohammed PBUH.

Zainab, the protector of ladies, once or twice wistfully glanced back, at the sacred place of Mecca, her heart full of sorrow and grief.

She had travelled to Irag before also. At that time her father was alive and for this reason her position had commanded respect. Now she was travelling to Irag a second time. The severity of hardships and calamities which she had endured for the period of twenty years had taken its toll. She was now exhausted and infirm. She had lost her father, her elder brother, the days of prosperity and even her youth.

Zainab often glanced at the caravan with overflowing love and kindness. Brimming through her eyes were overtones of sorrow and pity. Her eyes would flood with tears. How could it be otherwise? The caravan was peopled by her relatives. Were they not her sons, brothers, nephews and cousins?

All of them were the children of the Messenger of God, the elegant ornaments of the Quraish, its shining stars. They all had bidden farewell to their homes and were forging ahead towards a definite but unknown destination.

Did Zainab know what will be the outcome of this mission? If we suppose she did not know the outcome, then she will not have too long to wait before the truth revealed itself.

The caravan had traversed not more than two or three days when they encountered two persons of the tribe of Bani Asad. Husain inquired about the prevailing political atmosphere in Kufa. It was expected that after imparting good tidings from Muslim, they would inform the Imam that troops were gathered to welcome them. While rejoicing they would recite verses as the girls of Medina did, in welcoming his grandfather. But alas! Events turned out to be diametrically opposite. They said, “May God have mercy on you. We know everything. Shall we tell in front of everyone or in privacy?”

Husain looked at his companions and said

are with you “I do not conceal anything from them.” Then they said, “O son of Messenger of God PBUH, the hearts of the people but their swords are against you. Please retrace your steps. Pray go back,” they entreated. They disclosed that even before they had turned their backs on Kufa, Muslim bin Aqil and Hani bin Urwa had been put to the sword and that they had seen their dead bodies being dragged in the bazaar.

On hearing the tragic news, a pall of gloom descended upon the caravan and distressing sounds of lamentation and moaning emanated from the ladies and fellow caravan travelers. Mourning and grief rent the air in the wilderness.

When the lamentation subsided, Husain expressed a desire to send back his co-travelers, but sons of Aqeel sprang to their feet and cried out, “By God! We shall not return till we have avenged Muslim’s death or have ourselves drunk the cup of death as Muslim has done. And we will all be martyred.” Husain glanced at the Arabs who had so fervently advised him with all the good intentions to turn back the path he had come from. He said in an anguished but firm tone. “After the death of my beloved Muslim and esteemed Hani, life indeed

doesn’t look pleasant, but I remain steadfast in my resolve Fate had determined it such. All of them would be martyred and would not return.

After this interaction with the two well meaning Arabs, the caravan did not move ahead in haste. It stayed there throughout the day and the greater part of the night.

At the break of dawn, Imam Husain asked his young men and slaves to fill the water to the full. Once again, they reembarked on the journey towards their destination.

When only some distance remained to be traversed, in their minds they had no iota of doubt that the caravan was to face a terrifying end. Husain did not want to hide the facts from people who might have accompanied him for the love of worldly and material assets. Therefore, he addressed his companions and said, “I have received the painful news that Muslim B. Agil and Hani B. Arwa have been put to the sword. Those who professed to be prepared to help us, have gone back upon their promises. Who so ever of you, therefore, wishes to go back may do so with my blessings; he owes no explanation to me.” As expected, Hazrat Imam Husain was mostly left with those who had accompanied him right from Medina,

The tribal Arabs left them and dispersed quickly. Silently the caravan started towards its destination. It was voluntarily moving towards death.

The caravan was crossing the barren and waterless wilderness, when news of the death of the Imam Husain’s foster brother Abdullah bin Yastar reached them.

Imam Husain had sent him as an emissary to Muslim before he had heard the news of Muslim’s death. The spies

of Ibne Ziyad had arrested him and had taken him to Ibne Ziyad who ordered that Abdullah should be taken to the top of the palace where he should curse Imam Husain and then return to Ibne Ziyad and wait for his orders. Abdullah went to the top of the palace and from there he informed the people of Kufa about the arrival of Imam Husain and cursed Ibne Ziyad and his father. Ibne Ziyad ordered that Abdullah bin Yastar should be thrown down from the terrace and his bones should be broken into pieces His dictate was followed and there was still a little life left when Abdullah Bin Yastar’s body was beheaded.

This time the people of the caravan did not weep as loudly as they had done when they heard the news of martyrdom of Muslim. They heard the sad news with their heads bent in grief and then proceeded on with their journey.

A little later, a man from the caravan sighted something in the distance and thought it was a date tree. All the people of the caravan cried, “Allah ho Akbar” in union and talked amongst themselves that before the beginning of hostilities, for a short period of time, they will rest under the shadow of date trees. Husain inquired from his companions, “Why did you raise the cry of “Allah ho Akbar.”

They replied, “We see trees of date palm in the distance.” Another man who was thoroughly acquainted with the area called loudly and said, “By God! These are no date trees! I do believe, these are the ears of horses and the points of lances and nothing else.” Imam Husain looked attentively in that direction and said

“By God, I am also seeing lances and ears of the horses.”

A deep silence descended on the caravan and except for the sighs of the ladies, murmur of the camels and their soft steps nothing else was audible.

It appeared that this strong willed but stoic human assembly was moving slowly and silently towards annihilation. Death was hovering on them and was plotting to kill them when they assembled at a predestined place.

The noon wind was extremely hot. Husain took his companions towards a tall mountain and let the camels rest.

At that time, huge billows of sand were seen rising and it soon became clear that Hur Bin Yazeed had come with a thousand horse men on behalf of Obaidullah Ibne Ziyad, Commander of Kufa to accost Husain and convey the tyrant’s message to Hussain. Yet when his troops reached Husain, both the army and the leaders were in great distress. Hur’s soldiers and their horses made their appearance panting and gasping. Their throats were parched on account of extreme thirst. Full of empathy as Husain was, he could not bear to see even the enemy in such distress and immediately ordered his men to give the soldiers and horses water to drink as plentifully as their hearts desired, so that their thirst gets quenched, completely.

After quenching their thirst, Hur bin Yazeed conveyed the tyrant’s message to Husain. He had been charged to escort him to Ziyad’s son. On hearing this, Husain said in a raised voice, “Death shall be nearer to you.” Hur said, “I have been ordered not to allow you to change your position. I have not been enjoined to fight you, yet I cannot leave you until I have coerced you to travel to Kufa. And if you don’t want to go to Kufa then select such a passage which neither goes to Kufa nor to Medina, so that I may write a letter to Ibne Ziyad and

you send a letter to Yazeed. May God have mercy on me and it will be in my interest that I may not have to deal with you.”

Husain moved slightly towards the passage of Qadsiya, which lay to the left, and he opened the letters which the Kufis had written to him. Later on he looked towards the people who had accompanied Ibne Ziyad’s army and addressed Hur and his soldiers saying, “Let me lay bare my position to you. By God! I did not embark on this journey until your welcoming letters reached me, inviting me to furnish guidance to you so that you may truly unite in the path of righteousness through me. Your emissaries had stated that you people have paid allegiance to me. If you stand by your word, I am already here to fulfill my mission. If, however, you do not relish my coming to you, I may go back where I came from.” No one replied. The speech was received in utter silence. Husain continued, “If you persevere in your allegiance to me then you have achieved righteousness and are blessed. If you break your covenant and break your oath of homage, then understand that you no longer pay fealty to me. This misdemeanour was shown to my father, my brother and my cousin Muslim also. If a person breaks his trust, the ill effects of this undoubtedly will reach him and by God, the merciful will make me unconcerned and indifferent to you.”

“Hur requested Husain to take pity on himself for the sake of God, and warned him that war with Yazeed would surely spell his slaughter and ruin.” Husain replied, “Do you wish to put me in fear of death? Can you do more than slay me?” He said, “I would remain steadfast in my resolve. Death holds no disgrace for him who is brave and whose intentions are pure and who fights to defend what is right.”

Husain continued, “You want to scare me from death. I am resolute and firm in my mission. Death for a brave man

is not something to be scared of. A life of disgrace is a life of indignity and baseness.”

When Hur heard Husain’s talk, thus he bent his head in humility and implored God to save him from fighting Husain He soon wrote a letter to son of Ziyad, asking him to permit Husain to go back from where he has come. Hur had hoped feverently that the reply will be positive.

When the news of Husain’s arrival spread amongst the people of Kufa, five mouted men and a riderless horse arrived from Kufa to offer support and defend Husain, yes only five men… Hur wanted to stop them but Husain prevented him and announced that Husain would himself fight to support them as he would fight to protect himself. Therefore, Hur was obliged not to stop them.

Later on Husain inquired from them the affairs of Kufa. They described the events of Kufa and said that the leaders of Kufa have taken huge bribes and their chests were full of money. “Therefore, they have gathered to fight you. Rest of the people are inclined in their hearts towards you but they will raise their swords against you.” Then they described the calamities which had fallen upon Muslim bin Aqeel Husain’s ambassador. Husain could not hold his tears and a recited verse from Quran (Para- 21 Sura Ahzab Ayat 23).

Among Muslims are men who have made true the covenant they had made with Allah. There are some of them who have fulfilled their vows and some who are still waiting and they are not changed in the least.

Then he bent his head and sank into deep thought and remained silent. They spent the night in prayer expectation and readiness.

When dawn appeared, Husain performed his salat and bade his companions to move right wards while, Hur strenuously tried to push them towards Kufa. But the caravan determinedly kept moving to the right until they reached the wilderness of “Nainawa”. Upon learning that the name of the place was Karbala, Husain said, “This is the stage of karb (distress) and bala (trial) and got down from the horse. Just then a horseman appeared from the direction of Kufa. He gave a letter to Hur, the contents of which were as follows

“As soon as my letter reaches you, you should start being harsh towards Husain. Lead them towards an area which is devoid of water and shade. I have ordered my messenger to keep an eye on you. And he will keep me informed immediately about the obeyance of my orders.”

After that injuction, water was heartlessly stopped and the companions of Husain spent that night in thirst.

In the morning the advance battalion of the army at Kufa under the command of Umar Ibne Sad bin Abi Waqas arrived. When they reached Husain, Umar Ibne Sad said, “I have only come to inquire why have you come here?”

Husain replied, “People of Kufa had invited me. If you people don’t like my arrival then I can go back.” It was learnt quickly that Husain was prepared to give up his stay in Iraq, if necessary or even leave Arabia and retire to some remote place, rather than cause strife and unrest among people.

Umar Ibne Sad informed Ibne Ziyad in detail what had come to pass and what had transpired between him and Husain, and thought that it may be instrumental in bringing peace. He received the following reply, from Ubaidullah through Shimr, his emissary, “They cannot escape from us. I have received your letter and gathered from it, how things

stand. You may now suggest to Hussain that he along with all his companions may take the oath of allegiance to Yazeed, If he agrees to do so then I will consider the matter again. In the mean time, continue the ban on water for him and his companions.”

“I did not send you to Husain to pay attention to him or to give hopes of continued survival to him or to make recommendation in his favour to me. Note it carefully, that if Husain and his friends submit themselves entirely to my mercy, send them directly to me. If they refuse to do so, advance against them, put them to the sword and tear them to pieces, for this is what they deserve. If Husain is slain, his bosom and back should be trampled under the hoofs of horses since he is a rebel. If you obey my order, then the rewards for the execution of the command will be in plenty. If you refuse to obey the command of the army will be transferred to Shimr.

Omar appointed five hundred more soldiers on the canal on the 7th of Moharrum so that the passage for carrying water was absolutely closed.

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