On Thursday, the 2nd of Islamic month of Muharram 61 A.H. Imam Hussain camped at a place in the region of Naynava called Karbala. On the following day Umar bin Sad bin Abi Waqqas Zohari reached there from Kufa with 4000 soldiers and encamped opposite the camp of Imam Hussain.
Sad belonged to the family of Bani Zohra bin Kilab of the tribe of Quraysh and was a near relative of Lady Amina, mother of the Holy Prophet. Umar’s father Sad bin Abi Waqqas was one of the five persons who embraced Islam, in the beginning of the Holy Prophet’s mission, owing to their acquaintance with Abu Bakr. He is well-known in the history of Islam and in connection with the Islamic conquests.
Umar bin Sad sent someone to the Imam Hussain enquiring of him as to why he had come to Iraq. The Imam said in reply, “The Iraqis themselves sent letters and invited me. Now if you do not like my stay I am prepared to return to the Hijaz”.
Ibn Sad wrote a letter to Ibn Ziyad and informed him of what the Imam Hussain had said. Ibn Ziyad said, “Now that he has been caught in our clutches he hopes to escape and return to the Hijaz. There is now no question of showing indulgence and no way is open for him”. Further he wrote to Ibn Sad, “I have carefully read your letter and understood what you have written. Tell Hussain the son of Ali that he and all his companions should take oath of allegiance to Yazid. When this has been done we shall take some decision about them”.
Soon after Ibn Sad received another letter from Ibn Ziyad, Umar immediately dispatched 4000 men under the command of Amr bin Hajjaj to stand between Imam Hussain and the river Euphrates and to check the use of water by the Imam and his companions. This event took place three days before the martyrdom of the Imam.
The Imam asked Ibn Sad to see him. They met at night at a place situated between the camps of the two armies and had protracted discussions. When Umar bin Sad returned to his camp he wrote a letter to Ibn Ziyad saying, “Allah has extinguished the flames of war. We have reached an agreement and the matter has been settled according to the national interests. Hussain bin Ali is now prepared to return to the Hijaz or to proceed to some Islamic frontier”. In order to make Ibn Ziyad agree to his suggestion he also added a lie justified by its motive.
Shimr bin Zil Jawshan, who was present there said, “You are making a mistake. You should make the most of this opportunity and now that you have gained control over Hussain bin Ali, you should not let him go, because you will not get such an opportunity again”.
Ibn Ziyad said, “You are right. You should, therefore, go to Karbala personally and deliver this letter to Ibn Sad telling him that Hussain and his companions should surrender unconditionally, and then he (Ibn Sad) should send them to Kufa, and failing that he should fight with them. If Ibn Sad is not agreeable to this and is not prepared to fight with Hussain bin Ali, you yourself should assume the command of the army and cut off his (Ibn Sad’s) head and send it to me”.
Then he wrote a letter to Ibn Sa’d saying: “I have not sent you to behave leniently toward Hussain and to intercede with me for him and to make his life secure. Now you should note that if he himself (i.e. Hussain) and his friends surrender, you should send them to me, and if they decline to do so, you should attack and kill them and mutilate’ their bodies i.e. cut off their ears and noses, for they deserve this treatment. And if Hussain bin Ali is killed you should make the horses trample upon his chest and back because he is a cruel, quarrelsome and ungrateful man.
When Shimr reached Karbala he delivered Ibn Ziyad’s letter to Umar Saad and they exchanged views. Eventually Umar Sad agreed to carry out the Emir’s orders himself. At last on the 7th MUHARRAM 61 A.H. (October 680 A.D) the Commander of YAZID’S forces received orders to cut off all sources of supply to the holy Imam’s camp and not to allow even a drop of water to reach any of the inmates therein. It can better be imagined than described what the condition of HUSSAIN’S camp would have been under the scorching Arabian sun. the camp was in the midst of the burning desert, with the heat-waves blowing from all sides. The unavailability of water, with nothing to feed even the young children, the wriggling of the babies for mild which the poor mothers, who were themselves suffering from the killing it must be, and how did those holy ones suffer all these unbearable tortures, it is very difficult for any human mind to conceive, but all these are facts which the holy Imam and his godly companions suffered with wonderful fortitude and patience. Over and above all these tortures, the sight of the enemy’s forces preparing all around for the massacre and a wholesale destruction was there, before the ladies and the children in the besieged camp.
On 9th of Muharram, Umar Sad mounted his horse, occupied a place in front of his army and said: “O riders of Allah! Mount, and be it known to you that your place is in Paradise”. Strangely enough this is the same expression which was uttered by the Holy Prophet in a battle when he invited his companions to defend Islam, and Ibn Sad uttered the same words on the 9th of Muharram against the son and the right successor of the Holy Prophet and his sons and dear ones.
At this moment the Imam was sitting in front of his tent, with a sword in his hand and had gone to sleep with his’ head resting on his knees. Suddenly the uproar of the army approached nearer and nearer. Lady Zaynab ran to her brother in a state of perplexity and said, “Brother! Don’t you hear the uproar of the enemy army which has reached near? The Imam raised his head from his knees and said, “Just now I saw the Holy Prophet in a dream and he told me that I was going to meet him. On hearing this Zaynab said: “How sad it is for me!” The Imam said, “Sister! Don’t be sad. Be tranquil. Allah will bless you”.
In the meantime, Abbas the son of Ali and brother and commander of imam hussain’s army arrived, submitted a military report, and said, “My master! The enemy has reached. What is to be done?” The Imam stood up and said, “My brother Abbas! May my life be sacrificed for you. Mount your horse, go and ask them as to why they have launched an attack at this time and what new development has taken place”.
Abbas approached the enemy army accompanied by 20 horsemen including Zuhayr bin Qayn and Habib ibn Mazahir Asadi and enquired from them about the reason for their sudden attack. They replied, “We have received orders from our Emir that either you should surrender immediately or we should fight against you”. Abbas said: “Don’t be in a hurry. Let me go to the Imam Hussain and inform him of the position”.
While Abbas went and informed Imam Hussain of the matter, his companions remained in front of the enemy forces and counseled them. Imam Hussain said to his brother, “Go back to them and, if possible, obtain extension of time from them till tomorrow morning, so that tonight we may offer prayers to Allah and make supplications and seek His forgiveness. Allah knows that I love to offer prayers, to recite the Qur’an, to make supplications and to ask His forgiveness”.
Somehow they granted respite to the Imam and his friends till the following morning. The Imam also availed of this short opportunity and prepared himself for martyrdom. He tested his companions once again so that if anyone had been ignorant of the result of the rising, he should come to know that the Imam had no way before him except martyrdom and sacrifice, and whoever had not stayed on with a view to meeting martyrdom should go away and vacate the field of sacrifice for those noble persons who did not care for their lives.
Imam Zaynul Abidin Ali the son of imam Hussain, the fourth Imam, who had accompanied his father during this journey, says: “My father called his companions after sunset and addressed them. Although I was ill I went there to hear his speech”. It should be kept in mind that this speech was delivered by a person, who had less than a hundred supporters with him and was encircled by more than 20,000 men of the enemy and had been given extension of time till the following morning only.
The Holy Imam knew very well that he could not agree to surrender and take the oath of allegiance and tolerate the ignoble persons. He also knew that the enemy would not leave him alone and the matter would not be settled without fighting and in the circumstances his own martyrdom as well as that of his companions at the hands of the Iraqis, who had gathered to kill him, was certain. In spite of all this he spoke to his companions with perfect composure and confidence.
He pointed out to them that the following day was the day of martyrdom, and insisted upon them that each one of them should hold the hand of one of the members of his family and get out of trouble, and then they could go to their respective cities, so that Allah might grant them relief, because the enemies were after him only, and, after having overpowered him, they would have nothing to do with anyone else.