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What Really Happened in Karbala?

Greatest Tragedy in Islamic History

Tragedy of Karbala marks the greatest shameful tragic day in Islamic history, when the blood of the noble people of God was shed in this merciless slaughter.

No doubt that Imam Al-Hussein, by giving his life, was teaching Muslim generations to come not to bow down to unworthy rulers who will do more harm to Islam than good.

Imam Hussein’s Stand Against Yazid

Unfortunately, a minority of Muslims consider Hussein’s rejection of Yazid as rebellion, and ignore the real reason why he was opposing the rulership of Yazid.

While the Sunni Muslims called the first 4 Caliphs, rightly guided, no one would give such title to Yazid. Imam Al-Hussein’s resistance was in order to remove a tyrannical despot, a self-appointed Caliphate, and thus safeguard the religion.

While Yazid was power hungry and blinded by the love of the world, Hussein was truthful and provided a pure model for future Muslims to follow.

Yazid died of an incurable disease only 3 years after he tasted his short-lived power.

Karbala and Drift Between Muslims

The Sunnis believe in the rulership of the 4 Caliphs starting with Abu Bakr.

The event of Karbala further deepened the Shia-Sunni split, with the Shias holding that Imamate (leadership) of the Muslim followers belonged to Ali and his family, whereas the Sunnis believe in the rulership of the 4 Caliphs starting with Abu Bakr. Many other differences later emerged in each group.

Each year in the first ten days of Muharram, many Shias around the world commemorate the martyrdoms of Imam Hussein, his family and companions. They recall and mourn that dreadful event that took place in the fields of Karbala over 1300 years ago.

Some take to the streets and wail excessively, beating their chests with their hands and other tools. Others take part in processions, specially organized functions and other events and gatherings in mosques and halls.

The media around the world is showing such processions with disgust while the Sunnis celebrate the days of Ashura as the day of victory Allah gave to Prophet Moses, peace be upon him, and the children of Israel and saved them from the tyrant Pharaoh. They fast for two days and serve sweets and are jubilant.

It is sad to see that both groups are ignorant of both events. One very happy one that happened a few thousand years ago and one very sad one that happened much later. Fasting may be great while remembering both events and pondering on lessons we can all learn from.

Lessons not Learned

We have observed divisions among the Muslims immediately after the Prophet’s death – which has continued to this day.

Every ruler, just or unjust, faced death at some point and will be facing his Creator with the Book of Deeds open in front of him. He will realize that the life of this world was so short compared to the ever-lasting life after death. He would clearly see how his justice or injustice affected multitude or may be even generations of humans.

Perhaps a ruler tried to safeguard continued succession for his own progeny. Yet all the power, fame and glory would avail them nothing but the fire of Hell if they were unjust. This may include many of them.

A closer look at history reveals that the two major powers after the four Caliphs were Bani Ummayah and Bani Abbas. Both managed to continue their oppression of the Prophet’s household, fearing to lose their so called kingdom to some righteous individuals. Many such great people were killed, poisoned or simply wiped out of existence.

Instead of following the footsteps of the rightly guided companions and family of the Prophet, such rulers turned their rule into kingdom and dynasties – only to be disgracefully defeated by subsequent rulers at some point.


The outrageous bloodshed among the Muslims within the same nations today is only indication that we have not learned any lessons from the past.

While millions are spent by each sect in propaganda against the other, which further inflames hatred among the sects, one would wonder if people decided to have a dialogue and understand each other. This does not mean to agree but only come from the position of understanding of why history turned the way it did and what we can do to learn and avoid further enmity.

Only if the earlier generations had heeded to Prophet’s comments about Al-Hassan and Al-Hussein, perhaps much of the future injustice would have been avoided.

(From Reading Islam archive.)

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About Raya Shokatfard
Raya Shokatfard holds an MA in Journalism/Mass Communications and an M.A.D. in TV journalism. BA in Communication and BA in Islamic Studies. She has been Islamic propagator in the U.S and Egypt for many years and academic lecturer, writer, international presenter, consultant, foreign correspondent. She can be reached at: [email protected]