Muawiya died of physical ailment and right before his death, he nominated his son Yazid as the new caliph. Muawiyah violated the peace agreement that he had signed with Imam Hassan. He not only nominated his son as his successor but also appointed a corrupt and impure person as the head of Islamic empire. The Muslims were frightened and confused and they were weak enough to stand against Yazid, so they decided to support him knowing the fact that he is a wicked person. Now there was only one man, the grandson of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), ready to help Islam and the fellow Muslims.
In order to learn more clearly as to how far the views expressed by Imam Hussain about Yazid are indisputable according to the history of Islam, one should refer to the following remarks of Mas’udi in respect of Yazid.
“Yazid was a pleasure-seeking person. He was a man, who kept beasts of prey. He had dogs, monkeys and panthers. He always arranged wine-drinking parties. One day after the martyrdom of Imam Hussain while he was sitting in such a party, Ibn Ziyad was seated on his right side, Yazid turned to the cupbearer and recited two couplets which are translated below:
“Give me a cup of wine which should satiate my bones. Then give another such cup to Ibn Ziyad, the man who is my confidant and who has strengthened my position and the foundation of my caliphate.”
Yazid meant to say that Ibn Ziyad by killing Imam Hussain had strengthened the foundation of his caliphate.
Thereafter Mas’udi writes about the injustice and oppressions committed by Yazid and then says: “In the Muslim ummah Yazid was like Pharaoh amongst his subjects” and then writes: “It is not so, because Pharaoh was more just to his subjects”.
He adds: “The injustice, intrepidity and impiety of Yazid also penetrated into the Muslim ummah”. The sins committed by Yazid were also committed by his favorites and they adopted his ways and manners.
During the period of his caliphate music became current in Makkah and Madina, and all sorts of amusements and funs began to be used. The people began to drink wine openly. It is also the more surprising that the man, who claimed to be the successor to the Holy Prophet and occupied the seat of the caliphate, had a pet monkey, which was named Abu Qays. Yazid used to bring it in his drinking parties and he spread a mattress for it. He also mounted it on the back of a she-ass, and made it participate in the horse-race. One day Abu Qays won the race. The monkey was then dressed in red and yellow silken clothes and cloak, and an embroidered cap was placed on its head”.
This was the import of the sentence that Imam Hussain wrote to Mu’awiya about Yazid. However, this person attained to the Islamic Caliphate and pressed Imam Hussain to take the oath of allegiance i.e. to acknowledge him to be the lawful successor of his (i.e. Imam Hussain’s) grandfather, the Prophet (PBUH).
Now let us see as to why Imam Hussain did not take the oath of allegiance to Yazid and preferred, instead, to lay down his life and be martyred.
Some writers have given a very flabby and incorrect answer to this question. They say that the Imam Hussain came to the conclusion that he would be killed whether he took the oath of allegiance or not. In no case would Bani Umayya spare him. He considered it preferable to be killed honorably and to lay down his life for the sake of Allah.
This answer appears to be very superficial and insufficient. The martyrdom of Imam Hussain is much above that it may be said that when he realized that he would inevitably be killed he sacrificed his life saying to himself: ‘Now that I am going to be killed let me be killed honorably and achieve martyrdom in the path of Islam’.
However, this is not the case, and it is necessary that the conditions prevailing in the Muslim society at that time should be studied more carefully and the sermons and addresses of the Imam himself should also be understood more accurately so that the facts may become clear.
Taking into account all the developments which had been taking place for 30 years Imam Hussain concluded correctly that at that time i.e. in the year 60 A.H. the Muslim ummah had deviated to such an extent that its deviation could not be remedied merely by means of speeches, preaching and writings and by delivering religious sermons and discourses.
Furthermore, it was a general and collective deviation and not of some individuals so that it could be reformed by preaching and exhortation. Corruption had penetrated into the entire society and could not be eradicated by these means. Imam Hussain, therefore, concluded that a severe and quick rising was necessary to obtain a final and decisive result from the elementary work done by the Commander of the Faithful and Imam Hassan, and the effects of the conditions created by Bani Umayya before the conquest of Makkah as polytheists and thereafter in the garb of Muslims could not also be eliminated without taking an earnest and energetic stand.
If the sermons and writings of the Imam are taken into account, especially in their chronological order, it appears that in the beginning he did not make an open announcement of his movement but when he began to advance towards his goal gradually he made the spirit of his movement and the causes of his rising known to the people. Commencing with the testament which he wrote in Madina for his brother Muhammad bin Hanafiya till the last speech which he delivered before Hurr bin Yazid Riyahi and his companions at the halting place named Bayzah, he gradually told the Muslims as to why he took that step and also that he had no other alternative. He made it clear that the grave corruption that had taken place in the Islamic Caliphate in the first instance and had then affected all social aspects of the Muslim society could not be remedied without earnest rising, self-sacrifice and martyrdom.
When the Governor of Madina pressurised Imam Hussain to take the oath of allegiance, Imam Hussain visited the grave of the Holy Prophet for two consecutive nights and offered prayers there. During the second night after he had paid homage to the sacred grave, he performed a few prayers and then said: “O Almighty Allah! This is the grave of Your Prophet and I, too, am the son of the daughter of Your Prophet. O Lord! You know with what predicament I am faced”.
While leaving their houses they prayed that they might not return alive and might attain to the divine blessing of martyrdom. Now how could it be that the son of the Holy Prophet, the spirit of Islam, and the off-spring of towering personalities like Imam Ali and Lady Fatima the daughter of the Holy Prophet should be afraid of martyrdom and beseech Allah and His Prophet to protect him from this calamity and let him remain alive?
In his supplication to Allah the Imam says: “O Lord! You know with what predicament I am faced”. Predicament means the condition which the Holy Imam mentioned clearly in his sermons, letters and discourses. It is the very assessment made by Imam Hussain. It is the same deplorable state of affairs and the serious deviation which had developed in the Muslim society at that time. Predicament means that after careful study of the conditions prevailing in the Islamic territories and the activities of the Umayyad Caliphate and the ways and manners adopted by the people, Imam Hussain came to the conclusion that the Muslim society could not be saved from the danger of serious deviation without rising, self-sacrifice and martyrdom.