Karbala is a medium-sized city in central Iraq, recently the scene of violent clashes between U.S. troops and Iraqi militants loyal to the young Shi’a cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. But for Shi’a Muslims around the world Karbala is both a town and a tragedy, the point at which history began to go wrong.
In the year 680 A.D., soldiers of the Sunni Ummayad dynasty, led by the depraved caliph Yazid bin Muwayiah (c 645-683 A.D.), confronted the Prophet Mohammed’s grandson Hussein in a fight at Karbala. Hussein was killed along with seventy-two of his relatives and associates. The battle marked the final defeat of the Prophet’s family in the succession struggles that followed the assassination of the fourth caliph, Ali.
Sunnis and Shi’as differ sharply and dogmatically on the central question of Islamic political theory: who shall lead the Muslim community? Sunni Muslims believe that the first four caliphs (Abu Bakr, Omar, Osman, and Ali) were the Prophet’s rightful successors. They venerate these four as “rightly guided” caliphs, but hold later caliphs in much less esteem on the grounds that many of them were personally corrupt and failed to heed the advice of the religious scholars of the day.
The Shi’a, or “partisans” of Ali, believe that the fourth caliph was the only rightful successor to Mohammed because he was the Prophet’s cousin and son-in-law. Regarding the first three Caliphs as usurpers, they thus differ from Sunnis in their emphasis on authority deriving from kinship with the Prophet. They reject the authority of all subsequent Sunni caliphs, giving their allegiance instead to the Imams, a genealogically anointed succession of Ali’s descendants. These doctrinal differences often escalate into sectarian strife: In the ideology of radical Sunni militants such as Al Qaeda, Shi’as are no less infidels than Christians and Jews.
While I was living in the Walled City of Lahore during the mid 1990s, I recorded and translated a series of Shi’a sermons on the theme of Karbala. In Pakistan as elsewhere in the Islamic world outside Iran and Iraq, Shi’as are a small but culturally distinct minority. Traditionally, Pakistani Shi’as commemorate Karbala during the first ten days of the month of Moharram, which is when the battle is said to have taken place. These particular sermons were sponsored by the Ali family, a clan of wealthy Shi’a industrialists who had decamped to the suburbs in the 1950s. They maintained their Walled City mansion out of sentiment, opening it for Shi’a prayer gatherings and for occasional seminars where architects and urban planners would gather to bemoan the decline of traditional north Indian architecture.
On the first night of Moharram, the great central courtyard was crowded with men in black pajamas, sitting on straw mats. Women watched through the windows of rooms at the rear of the courtyard. I noticed several Ali family men standing in the back of the congregation. They looked incongruous wearing black instead of their customary blue blazers and gray flannels. I greeted the elegant Shahid Ali, a star polo player whom I knew from matches and family gatherings. Shahid shook his head when I told him that I was taping the sermons for my dissertation.
“What’s the point?” he asked. “Moharram is a group experience where everybody comes together to mourn in the moment. You can’t possibly capture that emotion with a tape recorder.”
Undeterred, I sat in the front row with a Walkman Pro and a boom mike. None of the mourners objected to my presence. After the first night, I was a regular: the men in the front row called me “dear brother” and saved room for my recording gear and me.
The preacher had a rubbery, expressive face that reminded me of Walter Matthau as the broken-down Little League baseball coach in The Bad News Bears. His name was Sayyid Nasim Abbas. Over ten sermons, Sayyid Nasim told the entire story of Karbala to an audience of weeping mourners. Each sermon was about an hour long, of which roughly the first forty minutes were taken up by a didactic lecture about the religious duties of Shi’ism. In the last third of the sermon, Sayyid Nasim switched registers entirely, delivering a highly emotive serial account of the tragedy to which his black-clad audience responded with tears and lamentation.
Sayyid Nasim was fond of analogies that connected early Islam to modern Pakistan, usually at the latter’s expense. In one episode, Imam Hussein is riding toward Karbala with his party. The wicked caliph Yazid’s cavalry commander, Hur, intercepts them on the road. He has orders to arrest the holy Imam and his relatives. Instead of making a fuss, the Imam immediately orders his nephew and standard-bearer, Abbas, to share their scarce water with the enemy soldiers and even with their horses.
“This is the difference between the people’s representatives and God’s,” Sayyid Nasim thundered. “When the police stop a politician’s car here in Pakistan, he moves for privileges in the Assembly. But the Imam simply asked, ‘Why are you trembling?’ And Hur replied: ‘Maula,1 I’ve been chasing you for a long time. It’s very hot. There was no water on the road, and I’m thirsty.'”
As the mourners moaned and beat their breasts, the preacher pointed out that Imam Hussein and his family might not have gone thirsty on the field of Karbala had they not shared their water with Hur.
The discursive portion of each sermon established a philosophical framework for the dramatic horror of the Karbala portion. That horror peaked on the eve of Ashura, the fateful tenth day of Moharram when Imam Hussein himself is said to have died. In his sermon that night, Sayyid Nasim described Hussein’s martyred relatives as documentary evidence in a cosmic legal dispute between God and the caliph Yazid.
In the passion play that is Karbala, Yazid personifies evil, while Hussein and his relatives embody absolute goodness and innocence. And as in Christian mythology, the murder of innocents establishes both their virtue and the truth of their creed. The concept of proving the truth of Islam was central to Sayyid Nasim’s legal metaphor, which turned on an Arabic pun. The Arabic loan words shahid and shahadat are conventionally translated as “martyr” and “martyrdom.” In law, shahadat also means testimony or evidence: in Persian and Urdu legal terminology, “the law of evidence” is rendered as qanun-e-shahadat. In Islamic doctrine, a martyr is thus somebody who bears witness to the truth of Islam by dying in a righteous cause. That’s why Sayyid Nasim described Hussein as God’s lawyer and the other martyrs as documents in Hussein’s legal brief.
Sayyid Nasim’s audience knew the Karbala story by heart. So everyone but the anthropologist in the front row understood immediately that the “newly written six-month-old composition” refers to Hussein’s infant son Ali Asghar, who according to tradition was killed by an arrow shot down his throat when he opened his mouth to cry for water. The “thirty-two-year-old analogy” is Abbas, Hussein’s younger half-brother and standard-bearer. The “thirteen-year-old certificate” is Hussein’s nephew Qasim, and the “eighteen-year-old document” is the Imam’s son Ali Akbar. Among these textualized people is one real document, the Qur’an, which had first been revealed to Hussein’s grandfather Mohammed in Arabia, ninety years before.
Sayyid Nasim’s legal metaphor resonates in the Pakistani context. In a world where literacy is a measure of social rank and where worldly success depends on access to important people, the image of Imam Hussein as God’s lawyer establishes his superiority on two levels. Not only is he a man of superior education, he also represents the most important being in the universe. Yazid’s argument, on the other hand, denies both the truth of Islam and the Prophet’s right to pass the leadership of the Islamic community to his descendants. (The two ideas are nearly identical from a Shi’a perspective.) Yazid’s “evidence” is material power: “Soldiers, treasure, spears, swords . . . these were Yazid’s witnesses.” The conflict thus opposes literacy and materiality, the pen and the sword.
Sayyid Nasim described Hussein’s martyrdom in excruciating detail, saying that the Imam took nine minutes to fall from his horse to the ground. Pierced by spears and arrows from the right side, the Imam falls to the left, only to be pushed upright by spears and arrows from that side. Because Hussein is a martyr and not a corpse, he continues to speak even after his head has been severed and impaled on a spear. After giving nine consecutive sermons, meanwhile, Sayyid Nasim’s voice had dwindled to a hoarse rasp. Even though he spoke through a microphone, it was difficult to hear his final words above the wailing of the crowd.
At the end of the Ninth Moharram sermon, Hussein’s head anoints his ailing young son Zain ul-Abidýn as the new Imam by addressing him as the “Door of God” (Bab Allah): “the patient saw his father’s head . . . on the point of a spear, saying: ‘Peace be upon you, O Door of God! Peace be upon you, O offspring of the Prophet of God!” Like his late father, the young Imam is thus proclaimed a channel between humanity and God. In this dialectic of evil oppressor and innocent victim, Hussein’s murder affirms the moral transcendence of Islam and the genealogical transcendence of the Prophet’s family.
Sayyid Nasim’s legal metaphor would appear to rig the trial against Yazid. God acts as judge as well as litigant, hearing the testimony that proves his own case. It could not be otherwise, of course. Any external arbiter would imply a higher authority in the universe than God’s and would suggest the moral equivalence of good and evil. From a theological perspective, Sayyid Nasim’s text is thus perfectly orthodox. Because the battle opposes materiality and morality, there is also no doubt about the outcome. Yazid’s only weapon is violence: as he uses it, Hussein’s argument grows stronger.
Amid so much blood and pain, an outsider could easily forget that Karbala represents more than the gruesome murder of innocent people. It’s particularly hard to understand why the Imam would put the infant Ali Asghar in harm’s way. Yet from a Shi’a point of view, Ali Asghar is a hero. Like the other martyrs of Karbala, his death stands for nothing less than the redemption of Islam from injustice and tyranny. While the Imam may have lost the temporal battle, in other words, he won the spiritual war. A popular Urdu couplet makes this point clearly: “In truth, the murder of Hussein is the death of Yazid/Islam is reborn after each Karbala.”2
Similarly, Christians don’t commemorate the judicial murder of Jesus Christ for its own sake but because they believe that Jesus died to redeem mankind from sin. People of all faiths continue to sin, of course, while innocents are slaughtered in killing fields all over the world. But the blood of the great martyrs teaches us that the memory of righteous sacrifice lives on. The Muslim world is full of men named Hussein, after all, and every other Latin American boy seems to be christened Jesus. But I’ve never met anyone named Yazid.-Richard McGill Murphy
1An honorific used for the great spiritual leaders of early Islam. 2Asl mein qatl-e-Hussein marg-e-Yazid hai / Islam zinda hota hai har Karbala kai ba’d.
Sermon delivered at Mubarak Begum Haveli, Lahore, 9 Moharram, 1994
The respected men of religion mislead the people of Islam when they say that Karbala was a confrontation between Yazid and Hussein. By God, it was not. It would have been a confrontation between Hussein and Yazid had Yazid claimed: “I am a Sayyid. I am the maternal grandson of the Messenger. I descend from her excellency the Sayyida.1 I am of the Beni Hashim.”2 But he did not make this claim. What did he say? He said: “The Beni Hashim have deceived the nation. Neither did any angel come, nor was there any message. No Book came, and no messenger. This was all just a swindle perpetrated by the Beni Hashim in an attempt to take over the government.”
Now tell me, in faith, was this denial of the message, of the Qur’an, of the Messenger, a confrontation with Hussein or with God? By God, it was not a confrontation with Imam Hussein. Yazid confronted God directly. And God answered: “Yazid, you speak wrongly. I am truthful, my message is truthful, my Qur’an is truthful, and my Messenger is truthful.” Yazid replied: “No, I am truthful.” God said: “No, I am truthful.” There was a clash between the two of them. And God said: “All right, if this is how it is, then let’s go to some open court and fight a case, so that we can obtain a ruling as to which of us is right.”
Each accepted the other’s challenge. The plain of Karbala became a court. And God said: “Yazid, bring your witnesses.” Yazid gathered his witnesses and went to Karbala. Soldiers, treasure, spears, swords: these were Yazid’s witnesses. And God said: “Is there anyone in the entire world who will come and act as a witness for me, my Qur’an, and my Messenger?” There were gathered companions of the Prophet and subordinates, and praisers of God, but nobody replied. Then the son of a pestle-grinding mother stood up. His voice came from the roof of heaven and resounded through the alleyways of Medina. And Fatima’s son said: “Oh Lord, look no further. I am your witness. I am your witness. And I vow that I will bear such witness as will make the name of Yazid a curse until the Day of Judgment. If ‘Allahu Akbar’3 doesn’t ring out loudly from every mosque, then don’t consider that I have been your witness at all.”
God said: “Bravo, Hussein. Go then.” Hussein left to bear witness. My friends, on the way the entire world was asking:
“Hussein, why are you going? To fight with somebody?”
“To murder somebody?”
“To make war?”
“Then why are you going?”
One word was on his tongue. “I am going to give testimony. I am going to testify.”
The meaning of shahadat is “testimony.” So Hussein was saying, “I am going to testify for God, the Qur’an, and the Messenger.” And by God, in the court of Karbala how many vital documents [zoruri kaghazaat] supported his testimony. How many crucial chapters [faslain] there were that Hussein stored away and loaded onto camels.
Well, friends, I have overstayed my time, and it’s time to finish my statement. But consider what strange documents and what odd chapters Fatima’s son took along with him when he left. There was a ninety-year-old document [kaghaz]. There was a thirty-two-year-old analogy [masal]. There was an eighteen-year-old document. There was a thirteen-year-old certificate [dastaviz]. And there was a freshly written, six-month-old composition [tehrir].
And as he went, Fatima’s son said: “Come along Abbas, come on Qasim, you come too, Mohammed.”4 Suddenly he saw his sister, and said: “My sister, come along with me also.” Someone said: “Hussein, you are going to give testimony [shahadat]. You are going to testify. But why are you taking Zainab, taking the innocence of this virgin’s veil?”
Hussein answered: “It will be a very long case. There will be two fields of battle, one in Karbala and one in Syria. I will triumph on one field. My sister will triumph on the other. And after my testimony has decided the case in God’s favor, then my sister will take the remaining young documents over the bridge, and she will stand in front of the Sultan, and she will cause his entire sultanate to be forfeit.”
Zainab said: “Hussein, I accept this decision. You take the easy path. I will take the difficult path. I vow that if I am not your equal partner in this enterprise, then let me not be known as the partner of Hussein. Let the Prophet decide, Hussein. The men will be your responsibility. The women will be my responsibility. You will be responsible for granting the men permission to leave your presence. You will be in charge of arming them and sending them into the field. And listen, Hussein, it’s also your job to bring back their corpses. My job is to let down my hair and weep over them. Hussein, I will lead the women and you will lead the men. And listen, my brother, Ali Asghar5 is a little boy. Sakina6 is a young girl. Her innocent blood will be my responsibility. Hussein, my brother, you must bury Ali Asghar’s body at Karbala. Sakina is a little girl. I shall bury her body at Karbala. And Hussein, don’t worry. Your line shall endure until the Day of Judgment. Don’t worry, Hussein, I’ll be at your side all the way.”
My respected audience, after this exchange the witness of Karbala arrived at the court of Karbala. Hussein reached Karbala on the second day of Moharram. From the second through the eighth, until the night before Ashura, Hussein was busy with matters relating to the case. And I swear by God, from the seventh day onward Fatima’s son was too busy to drink water. He was too busy to drink water. He examined each document [masal] in turn. When today [9 Moharram] arrived, it was called the Night of the Martyrs/Witnesses [shaam-e-shahidon]. My friends, tonight is the Night of the Martyrs/Witnesses. And what is tomorrow night called? The Night of the Bereft [shaam-e-gharibon]. It will be called the Night of the Bereft. But on this very night, Hussein the son of Ali inspected each one of his documents. He examined each one, and separated those that were unnecessary. In the morning he argued his case in court. And Fatima’s son presented each of his witnesses at the court of Karbala. His witnesses proved their reliability when they rebutted/wounded their opponents [mukhaalif sai jara karna].
Jara means “to wound.”7 And all Hussein’s witnesses were severely wounded/cross-examined in their turn. One thirteen-year-old analogy was so severely wounded/cross-examined that my dear old Imam remarked: “My greetings to that sweet-tempered witness whose five ribs were broken and protruding from his body.”
His left ribs were broken and sticking out from the right side of his body. Fatima’s son presented each witness at Karbala. And each witness was wounded/cross-examined. My friends, when all the testimony [gowahiaan] had been accepted, Hussein’s face went red with happiness. Hussein’s face went red with happiness. He came straight back to the tents and said to Zainab: “My sister, the decision went in God’s favor. The decision went in favor of the Qur’an and of the Messenger. Bring fresh clothes and dress me, for now I am going to testify.” Zainab brought him his clothes, and he went off. As he was leaving he said: “I am liberality, and the son of liberality. I am going to the court of the greatest of all sultans. I’m ashamed to go empty-handed. Do any of you have gifts that I can take and present at God’s court?”
Zainab said: “Hussein, I had two diamonds. They will serve your purpose.” Laila said: “I had one lamp. It has already served your purpose.” Hasan’s widow said: “I had one light. It has gone out to serve your purpose. We have no children any more.” Suddenly a tearful voice was heard from the corner: “Great king, don’t be perplexed. There is a piece of sapphire here.” Saying this, that mother picked up her sapphire baby and brought him forward. His face had gone blue. His lips were dry, and his fists were clenched. And he was given into the care of Hussein.
As Hussein was leaving, Ali Asghar’s mother grasped her baby’s tiny feet. She said: “Asghar, I know that you will be struck by an arrow. But my son, don’t cry when the arrow hits you. When the arrow hits you, Asghar, you must laugh!”
Having said this, she wept. And Fatima’s son presented that sweet gift on the plain of Karbala, at God’s court. My friends, after the gift was accepted, Hussein buried it in the ground. And note that until then Hussein hadn’t buried anybody. So why did he bury Asghar? Because all the other casualties were witnesses [gowah], but Asghar was a gift [tohfa]. And having given that martyr-gift [shahid-tohfa], he never laid eyes on him again.
Afterward Hussein came back to the tents. I swear by God that I have not encountered any tradition that mentions any of the women asking after Asghar. I have never read that any one of them asked: “Where is Asghar?” Why? Because when Hussein returned he said something that made those descendants of the Prophet forget Asghar’s death. As soon as he arrived he said: “Zainab, Umm-e Kulsum, Raqiya,8, Sakina. O daughters of the Prophet, accept my final farewell.” I swear by God, the Prophet’s descendants mobbed Fatima’s son. Some kissed his hand, others kissed the skirt of his robe. And afterward he said: “Zainab, my sister, escort me.”
“Where to?” Zainab asked.
“To the patient’s bedside.”9
Fatima’s son reached the patient’s side. As his tears fell on the sick boy’s cheek, the boy opened his eyes. What did he see? He saw that Hussein’s face was wounded, his lips were wounded, his entire body was wounded. The patient said: “Father, how did you end up like this? What’s happened to you, Father?”
Hussein said: “My son, I’ve come to say good-bye for the last time. Listen, son, from now on you’re responsible for your aunts and for your sisters.” And I swear by God, now comes the most important thing that Fatima’s son wanted us to remember. Those of you with sick children in the audience, listen to what Hussein said next: “My son, when you leave the Syrian prison and return to Medina, greet my Shi’as for me. Greet them, and say: ‘Oh Shi’as, you must remember me, and remember that I asked for water to quench the thirst of a six-month-old baby. Whenever you drink cold water, remember my thirst. When you hear of any innocent person’s oppression, you should weep for me, loudly crying “hai, hai.” You should weep for me in a loud voice.'”
Why should we weep for Hussein? Listen, this next sentence was not uttered by any scholar or preacher. It comes from the mouth of Fatima’s son. He said: “Tell the Shi’as that I desire them to weep well for me. Why? Tell them that those oppressors made a sacrifice of our tears. . . .”
Then Zainab said: “My brother, come into my tent for a while.” She brought him into her tent, and said: “Hussein, sit down.” Hussein sat. Seven times Zainab walked a circle of reverence around her brother. She walked circles of reverence around her brother. Thus did Zainab sacrifice for her brother. Then she said: “Hussein, undo the button of your red tunic.”10 When the button was undone Zainab kissed Hussein’s neck. Hussein said: “My sister, what are you doing?” She replied: “It was our mother’s wish. She said to me: ‘When my Hussein departs, Zainab, I won’t be there. You must kiss his neck on my behalf.'”
After Zainab had finished kissing him, Hussein stood up. He said: “My sister, come here.” And when she had come to him, he lifted the shoulders of Zainab’s cloak [¡cadar] and started kissing her arms. She said: “My brother, what are you doing?” Hussein replied: “I’ve just remembered our father’s wish. He told me that before I left I should kiss Zainab’s arms on his behalf.”
This was because in the Syrian bazaars, Zainab’s arms would be bound with ropes. My friends, listen to these two final sentences. When they left the tent, Zainab walked in front and Hussein walked behind. The respected family women understood from this that Hussein was going to die. Why? Because until then Hussein had always walked in front of Zainab. But today Zainab walked in front of Hussein.
My brothers, my Sunni and Shi’a friends, outside the tent they saw Hussein’s horse Zuljina. Sighing, Hussein said: “Is there nobody to help me mount? Where has my Abbas gone? Where has my Ali Akbar11 gone? Today there is nobody to hold the bridle while I mount.”
Suddenly the tent flap opened and Zainab came out, saying: “My brother, don’t bother Abbas with this. Today I will be Abbas in place of Abbas. Today I will be Akbar in place of Akbar.” Zainab held the bridle while Hussein mounted. Hussein urged the horse forward, but the horse didn’t move. Hussein said: “This is the final obstacle in my grandfather’s ride.” The horse tossed its head. And the Maula saw a tiny girl asleep on her stomach, clinging to Zuljina’s feet as she slept. Sakina woke up and said: “Grandfather, the people who went where you’re going never returned. Uncle Abbas left, and he didn’t come back. Brother Akbar went, and he still hasn’t come back.”
The Maula dismounted and took Sakina in his lap. Then Sakina asked her grandfather a question, very much in the manner of innocent little children. People of Islam, hear my final remark. The little girl asked: “Grandfather, are you really truly going to die? Are you really truly going to die, Grandfather?” Sighing, Hussein replied: “My child, nobody could live through what’s about to happen.” Right away, the little girl replied: “All right, then Grandfather, off you go. God keep you, Grandfather. But there’s jungle and desert out there. It’s almost sunset. You’ll come back at night, won’t you?”
People of Islam, the little girl asked: “You’ll come back at night, won’t you?” Hussein kissed Sakina’s forehead, saying: “Child, nobody comes back from where I’m going.” In a trembling voice the little girl said: “But Grandfather, if you don’t come back then whose breast will I sleep on? Whose breast will I sleep on?”
The Maula said: “Child, your brother is sick. Make sure you don’t tease him.” She replied: “Grandfather, I can’t go to sleep by myself.” So Hussein said: “You can sleep on your mother’s breast.”
When she heard her mother’s name the little girl became agitated and jumped off her grandfather’s lap. All in a rush she said: “But Grandfather, my little brother Ali Asghar sleeps on mother’s breast. How am I supposed to sleep there?” Hussein replied: “Child, all your life you’ve slept on my breast, and Asghar has slept on your mother’s breast. Tonight you must sleep with your mother, and Asghar will sleep with me. You must sleep with your mother, and Asghar will sleep with me.”
Well, friends, my speech is finished. Fatima’s son left that place and rode out into the field, while Zainab stood at the door of her tent. And Fatima’s son said: “To avoid any misunderstanding, please allow me to introduce myself. I am the grandson of Mohammed-e-Mustafa. I am the son of Ali Murtaza. I am the son of Fatima al-Zuhra. And if you still don’t know who I am, then hear me. I am the grandson of your benefactress Khadija-e Kabra.”12
As Fatima’s son spoke those words, one of the oppressors threw a rock, striking him on the forehead. Fatima’s son swayed in the saddle. My late teacher says in his book that it took Fatima’s son nine minutes to fall from the saddle to the ground. Do you not understand why it took so long? My teacher writes that the oppressors surrounded Hussein and pierced his old ribs with knives and spears. When Fatima’s son started falling to the left, they pushed him back up toward the right. When he fell to the right, the knives and spears pushed him back up toward the left. In this way nine minutes passed. And when he finally fell off his horse, he didn’t hit the ground. My twelfth Imam said on this subject: “Peace be upon that victim of oppression who was neither in the saddle nor on the ground. His bier rested on a bed of arrows.”
Zainab didn’t see Hussein as he prostrated himself for the last time, but she heard his voice crying: “Will nobody help me in my affliction?” Again the voice came: “Is there no one who can help me?” Again it came: “Is there no one who will preserve the purdah of the Prophet’s daughters?”
I swear by God that once I heard Allama Haji Zabir Hussein sahib recount from this very pulpit the tradition that when Hussein’s voice reached the tents, Zainab leapt up and ran outside toward her brother. One corner of her veil was on her head, and another corner dragged on the ground. And as she ran, Ali’s daughter cried: “People, make way for Fatima’s daughter. Sit down and make way for the daughter of Ali!” Hearing her voice, Hussein shouted: “My sister, go back! Go back!” Zainab obeyed. She went back to her tent. She had one foot inside the tent and the other foot outside when she heard a voice crying: “An earthquake has shaken the ground of Karbala!”
Suddenly the sick boy opened his eyes and said to his aunt: “Auntie, lift the tent flap a little.” Zainab raised the flap. The boy saw his father’s head impaled on the point of a spear, saying: “Peace be upon you, O Door of God!13 Peace be upon you, O offspring of the Prophet of God!”
1The Prophet’s daughter Fatima. 2The Prophet’s Arabian tribe. 3Arabic: “God is supreme.” 4Abbas: Hussein’s younger half-brother and standard-bearer (killed at Karbala). Q’asim: eldest son of Hussein’s brother Hassan (thirteen years old when he was killed at Karbala). Mohammed: Hussein’s sister Zainab’s young son (killed at Karbala along with his brother Aun). 5 Ali Asghar, Hussein’s six-month-old son (killed by an arrow in the throat at Karbala). 6Hussein’s four-year-old daughter. 7In law, jara karma means rebuttal or cross-examination. 8Hussein’s younger sister. 9 The “patient” is Hussein’s young son Ali Zain ul-Abidin, who became the fourth Shi’a Imam after Hussein’s death. 10According to Shi’a tradition, when Hussein and his brother Hasan were children, they each received a tunic from heaven. Hasan’s tunic was green, foreshadowing his future death by poison. Hussein received a red tunic because God knew that he would die violently on the field of Karbala. 11Hussein’s eighteen-year-old son (already killed at this point, along with Abbas). 12The Prophet Mohammed’s first wife. 13“Door of God” [bab Allah]: title of honor for a Shi’a Imam. The martyred Imam Hussein is addressing his son Ali Zain ul-Abidin, who has just become the next Imam.