Yazid bin Mu'awiyah & Karbala Incident

Yazid bin Mu’awiyah

He was born in 25 AH or 26 AH. He was very fat and hairy. He’s mother’s name was Maisoon bint Bahdal who came from the tribe of Banu Kalab. He loved hunting and was well versed in composing poetry. He was not present when his father passed away. He came to visit but then left again for his hunting while his father passed away. He came back several days later and prayed the funeral prayer. In life time of Amir Mu’awiyah, Bay’at was taken at his hand even though many were unhappy with it and a few great people of Madinah even refused to take it.  

Waleed bin Utba was the governor of Madinah and he was instructed to take Bay’at from the people on behalf of Yazid. Abdullah bin Zubair (r.a) and Husain bin Ali (r.a) requested some time and at night they left the city of Makkah. Since there was no danger from Abdullah bin Umar (r.a), no one forced him or asked him to take the bay’at.  Soon as Abdullah bin Zubiar (r.a) entered Makkah, Abdullah bin Safwan bin Umayya from among the nobles of the Makkah took bay’at at his hand followed by 2,000 noblemen and influential people. He put Harith under house arrest and took over Makkah. He took bay’at not for the sake of caliph but rather so Yazid is not accepted as caliph.

Yazid ruled for 3 years and 8 months. During his period no territorial victories outside of North Africa came to Muslims. Greatest blunder of his caliphate was the Imam Husain (r.a)’s martyrdom. He was first married to Umm Hisham bint Utba bin Rabiya and had two sons, Muawiya and Khalid. He loved Khalid more but made Muawiya his successor. He then married Umm Kulthum bint Abdullah bin Amir who gave birth to Abdullah bin Yazid. There were also few sons born of his female slaves.


Inhabitants of Kufa, since the time of Amir Mu’awiyah, used to write to Imam Husain (r.a) repeatedly to visit Kufa where they would take bay’at for his caliphate. They sent a letter stating:

“We are your father’s admirers and enemies of Banu Umayyah. We fought Talha (r.a) and Zubair (r.a) in support of your father. We created havoc in the battle of Siffin and made the Syrians acknowledge our superiority in valor. Now we are prepared to fight along with you also. Please leave for Kufa as soon as you read this letter. Come here so that we might kill Noman bin Bashir and hand over Kufa to you. 100,000 fighters are present in Kufa  and all of them are ready to take bay’at for your caliphate. We believe that you are the rightful and worthy caliph. Yazid does not deserve to be caliph in comparison with you. This is the time. Do not delay in the least. We want to make you caliph of the entire Islamic world by killing Yazid. Our elders have even stopped standing in prayer behind Yazid’s official, Noman bin Bashir, because we think you and your deputies to be worthy of the Imamat (Islamic leadership).

More and more letters followed after that one. Finally, Husain bin Ali (r.a) sent Muslim bin Aqil (r.a) to Kufa to find out the truth. When he arrived to Kufa, people started taking bay’at at his hand for Husian (r.a). Hearing about this Obaidullah bin Zeyad was sent to take charge of Kufa.  In Basra he captured the emissary of Husain (r.a) and did a public execution while no one showed any sign of disapproval. He then went to Kufa. He left his cavalry in Qadisya and went to Kufa on a camel while wearing a turban like the people of Hijaz. When he entered between Maghreb and Ishah time, the people thought he was Husain (r.a), he went straight to Noman’s house and entered in there. Soon the army started entering the city as well. Seeing all this Muslim bin Aqil (r.a) left the house he was staying at and took refuge in Hani bin Urawa’s house.  Through using his spies Zeyad found out and he and Hani both were brought out. Muslim bin Aqil (r.a) came out with a sword and called for those who had taken bay’at. Only 4,000 out of 18,000 showed up and the rest answered they agreed to fight but not until Husain (r.a) arrived. the friends and relatives of the 4,000 also persuaded them to disperse. After that only 30 remained. They both were arrested and taken to Noman’s house.

Next day 10,000 people who had taken bay’at came out demanding their release. Zeyad took them to the roof top and killed them in front of everyone and hung their bodies on a stake while their heads were taken to Yazid. Seeing them dead the crowd dispersed. Imam Husain (r.a) left Makkah thinking Muslim bin Aqil (r.a) was still taking bay’at. He was advised not to go but he didn’t listen, and then he was advised to leave the women and children but he refused that advice as well. From Hijr he sent Qais bin Mishar with a letter stating he is near and wait for him. But Qais was captured by Ibn zeyad’s soldiers and killed by being thrown off the palace’s roof. At next stage in his journey, he sent his foster brother Abdullah bin Yaqtur with a letter who also met the same fate. Husain (r.a) was intersected by Hur bin Yazsin Tamimi with 1,000 soldiers who would not let him proceed or retreat but was ordered to take him in custody. Seeing this Husain (r.a) moved to north and reached Qadisiya but Abr bin Sad along with a large army was camping there. So he left there and after covering 10 miles halted at Karbala.

The army had reached there as well and camped out. Ibn Sad said, “Undoubtedly, you deserve the caliphate more than Yazid does but it is not the intention of Allah to let both prophethood and caliphate come into your family. You have seen the circumstances and conditions of Ali bin Abi Talib (r.a) and Hasan bin Ali (r.a). If you give up the thought of this sultanate and rule, you can easily become free otherwise your life will be in jeopardy and we have been ordered to arrest you.”

Imam Husain (r.a) said, “I put three alternatives before you, you may choose any of them for me.

1.      Let me go the way I came so that I may remain absorbed in prayer in Makkah.
2.      Let me move to any border so that I may be martyred while fighting the unbelievers.
3.      Leave my way free and let me go to Yazid in Damascus. For your satisfaction, you may follow me. I shall go to Yazid and settle my affairs directly with him as my elder brother Imam Hasan (r.a) did with Amir Mu’awiyah (r.a).

Amr bin Sad was very pleased to hear this and informed Obaidullah bin Zeyad with full details. Shimr Dhul Jaushan told Ibn Zeyad, “O Amir! You have an opportunity now. You may kill the Imam without hesitation. No one will blame you. However, if he goes to Yazid, you will no longer be honored and respected in comparison to him and he will be able to enjoy a greater status than you.” Upon hearing this he ordered Amr to deny all alternatives and have Husain (r.a) surrender before him and take oath of allegiances for Yazid at his hands and then he will send him to Yazid.

Ibn Sad tried to avoid bloodshed and was corresponding back and forth for a week on this. In that time, Imam Husain (r.a)’ s men used to make prayer with Ibn Sad’s soldiers while Imam Husain (r.a) used to straighten their rows. Hearing of this Ibn Zeyad become worried. He sent Jowira bin Taimimi with a letter stating to either arrest him, fight him or cut of his head and send it to me and if you can’t then this officer is given authority to dispose you and bring you to me. Ibn Sad presented the letter to Imam Husain (r.a) who asked for one day’s time and Jowaira agreed to it. Ibn Zeyad sent Shimr Dhul Jaushan to take over the army if Ibn Sad has been arrested and to fight the imam and cut of his head and bring it to me. Shimr agreed one condition. His sister Umm Lambeen bint Haram was Ali (r.a)’s wife and bored him 4 sons, Obaidullah, Jafar, Uthman and Abbas. Shimr wanted their protection since they too were in Karbala with their brother Husain (r.a).

Shimr took over the army and wanted to fight but it was already night time and imam Husain (r.a) asked could they not wait till tomorrow to fight and so they agreed to wait. They also cut of the water supply and would not let the companions of Husain (r.a) get water. Imam Husain (r.a)’s Young son Ali bin Husain (Zain al-Abedeen) was lying ill in the tent and his sister Umm Kulthum was with him. Husain (r.a) told his companions that they are free to go wherever as they will not be bothered and the enemies only wanted him. They refused stating their desire to stay with him no matter what. Later that night, a man named Tarmah bin Adi who was visiting the vicinity went to the Imam and asked imam Husain (r.a) to go with him to the Tribe of Tai where they will give him 5,000 soldiers from their tribe to use as he likes. He thanked the man but declined, desiring to stay with his companions.

Martyrdom of Husain (r.a)

Next morning Shimr came and called on Obaidullah, Jafar, Uthman and Abbas saying Ibn Zeyad had given them protection, but they replied that Allah’s protection is better than his and made Shimr look like a fool. The battle started on the morning of Muharram 10, 61 AH.  One tradition says there were 72 people present on Husain (r.a)’s side while another tradition puts it at 140 and another at 240. Husain (r.a) went to the troops of Kufa alone and addressed them saying:

“O people of Kufa! I know quite well that this speech will not yield any results at this time and whatever you have to do, you will not desist from doing it. But I think it necessary to end by a plea to all for Allah’s sake and my excuse should also be made clear to you.”

At this point the women and children started crying and he went back to quite them down and then continued his speech.

“O People! Let it be known to you who know me and also to those of you who do not know me that I am the grandson of the Prophet (s) and the son of Ali bin Abi Talib (r.a). Fatima bint Prophet (s) was my mother and Jafar bin Abi Talib (r.a) was my uncle. Besides these genealogical pride, I have also another pride to my credit: that the Prophet (s) called me the chief of the Youths of Paradise. If you do not believe me, you may have it confirmed by a number of the Prophet (s)’s Companions who are still living. I never broke a promise, I never missed a Salat, I neither killed a Muslim nor did  harm to anyone. If Jesus’ donkey was still alive, the whole Christendom would be busy feeding and taking care of it until the Day of Judgment. What sort of Muslims and followers are you who want to kill the grandson of your Prophet (s)? You have neither the fear of Allah nor are you ashamed on behalf of the Prophet (s). As I did not kill anybody in my life, I do not deserve to be subjected to retaliation. Tell me how have you concluded shedding my blood to be lawful. Having retired from worldly pursuits and disputes, I was staying in Madinah at the feet of the Prophet (s) but you did not let me live even there. I was then engaged in Allah’s worship in the House of Allah in Makkah. You people of Kufa did not let me take rest there and continued sending letters to me stating that you think me the rightful claimant to the Imamate (leadership), and want to take bay’at for my caliphate. When I responded to your call and came here, you revolted against me. If you want to help me even now, I want that you should not kill me and let me alone so that I may go to Makkah or Madinah and become absorbed in prayer and Allah will judge in this very world who was right and who was wrong.”

All kept silent on hearing the speech and no one answered. Then he called some of them by  name, Shabt bin Rabiya, Hajjaj bin Al-Hasan, Qais bin Al-Ashas, Hur bin Yazid Tamimi, and others stating did you not write me letters insisting me to come and now you want to kill me. They denied writing letters or calling Husain (r.a) to them. He then took out their letters and read them out loud and showed it to them. They replied that whether they wrote them or not, they are sick of him now.

Hur bin Yazid Tamimi, posing as if he was attacking, put his shield before him and went on his horse towards Husain (r.a). As he got closer threw his shield away and went to him. He said he was the many who kept Husain (r.a) surrounded and not let him go but now to make up for his mistake he will fight against the Kufa soldiers alongside Husain (r.a) and requested the imam make dua for his forgiveness. First all the companions of Husain (r.a) fought until they were martyred and then all his brothers and sons fought till they were martyred and then he started fighting them. None of his enemies wanted to kill him with their own hands so they avoided and evaded him. Finally, Shimr took 6 soldiers and attacked him. Imam Husain (r.a)’s left hand was chopped off and his right hand was injured so he could not lift the sword. Sanan bin Anas Nakhi speared him from behind and it passed through his abdomen. He drew out his spear and with it Husain (r.a)’s soul was taken. Then Shimr or someone at his order severed the Imam’s head from his body and 12 horsemen were chosen to trample his body.

They arrested the family of Husain (r.a). when Shimr saw Zain Al-Abedeen, the child, he wanted to kill him but Amr bin Sad prevented him from doing so. They all were taken to Yazid who then sent them to Damascus. Seeing the head of Husain (r.a), Yazid burst into tears and abused Obaidullah bin Zeyad saying he had never ordered Summayya’s son to kill Husain bin Ali (r.a). Shimr and his associates were expecting some kind of reward and honor from Yazid but only expressed his displeasure and ordered them to leave. After releasing the captives he made them honored guests at his palace until they returned to Madinah.

Hearing the martyrdom of Husain (r.a), Abdullah bin Zubair (r.a) gathered all the people and made a speech:

“O people! No other people are worse than Iraqis and among the Iraqis, the people of Kufa are the worst. They repeatedly wrote letters and called Imam Husain (r.a) to them and took bay’at for his caliphate. But when Ibn Zeyad arrived in Kufa, they rallied around him and killed Imam Husain (r.a) who was pious, observed the fast, read the Quran and deserved the caliphate in all respects.”

Opposition to Yazid’s Caliphate

Abdullah bin Zubair (r.a) wrote to Yazid stating Waleed bin Utba is a great fool and should be replaced by another. Yazid replaced him with another of his cousins, Uthman bin Mohammad, as governor of Madinah. Soon as he came he started drinking, which displeased the people. He chose 20 people and sent them to Yazid in Damascus where they were well received and given great wealth. On their return back, one went to Obaidullah bin Zeyad and 9 to Madinah. When they came back they said that Yazid was seen indulging in unlawful acts and it was doubtful if he was a Muslim and Jihad should be waged against him. The people of Madinah made two of them, Abdullah bin Muti and Abdullah bin Hanzla, their chiefs and took over Madinah while Uthman bin Mohammad and all of Banu Umayyah, who numbered in 1,000, went out of Madinah and some took refuge in the house of Marwan bin Hakam.

The people of Madinah arrested and imprisoned all of Banu Ummayyah they could find. Yazid sent Muslim bin Oqba to take care of the situation. Madinah put up a fight but were defeated and Muslim bin Oqba continued a general massacre with looting and arson for 3 days, resulting in 1,000 dead including 300 noblemen of the Quraish and the Ansar. On the 4th day he stopped the massacre and took bay’ah of those who were willing and killed those who refused. The massacre was started on 27th of Dhul Hijja 63 AH which is the same day Mohammad bin Abdullah bin Abbas bin Abdul Muttalib was born. He is known as Mohammad Abdul Abbas Safar and is regarded as the first caliph of the Abbasids.

He then moved towards Makkah to conquer it. He was already ill and when it got worst at Abwa, he appointed Haseen bin Numer as the commander in his place and died. The attack on Makkah started on Muharram 27th 64 AH. The siege and stone firing continued until Rabia Al-Awwal 3, 64 AH. The walls of Kaba were broken under the impact of the flying stones and its roof caved in. with new reinforcements the army numbered 5,000. While this was going on, Yazid died on 10ths of Rabia Al-Awwal at Hawarin at the age of 38 or 39 after governing for 3 years and 8 months.  Hearing the death of Yazid, Haseen bin Numer offered to give the caliphate to Abdullah bin Zubair (r.a) if he goes to Syria as that would be better way to do it but Abdullah bin Zubair (r.a) didn’t go. Madinah also revolted hearing Yazid was dead and so the Banu Ummayya ended up going to Syria with the army of Haseen bin Numer.

Source: BOOK 2:  The History of Islam (vol. 1-3) - by Akbar Shah Najeebabadi - Revised by: Safi-ur-Rahman Mubarakpuri


See also,

Ruling: Our attitude towards Yazeed ibn Mu'aawiyah - Muharram

Ruling: What the Shiah do on Ashoora is bidah (innovation)

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