Meaning of KARBALA', BATTLE OF in English


(Oct. 10, 680 [10th of Muharran AH 61]), brief military engagement in which Husayn ibn 'Ali, grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and pretender to the caliphate, was defeated and killed by an army sent by the Umayyad caliph Yazid I. The battle helped secure the position of the Umayyads, but, among Shi'ite Muslims, followers of Husayn, the 10th of Muharran (or 'Ashura') became an annual holy day of public mourning. When Yazid I succeeded his father to the caliphate (spring 680), the many partisans of Muhammad's late son-in-law 'Ali rose in the city of Kufah and invited Husayn to take refuge with them, promising to have him proclaimed caliph in Iraq. Meanwhile, Yazid, having learned of the rebellious attitude of the Shi'ites in Kufah, sent 'Ubayd Allah, governor of Basra, to restore order. The latter did so, summoning the chiefs of the tribes and making them responsible for the conduct of their people. Husayn nevertheless set out from Mecca with all his family, expecting to be received with enthusiasm by the citizens of Kufah; but, on his arrival at Karbala', west of the Euphrates, he was confronted by an army sent by 'Ubayd Allah and under the command of 'Umar ibn Sa'd, son of the founder of Kufah. Husayn gave battle, vainly relying on the promised aid from Kufah, and fell with almost all his family and followers. Though it was a rash expedition, it did involve the grandson of the Prophet and thus many members of his family. Husayn's devout partisans at Kufah, who by their overtures had been the principal cause of the disaster, regarded it as a tragedy, and the facts gradually acquired a romantic and spiritual colouring. 'Umar, 'Ubayd Allah, and even Yazid came to be regarded as murderers, and their names have ever since been held accursed by Shi'ite Muslims. Shi'ites observe the 10th of Muharram as a day of public mourning; and, among Iranians especially, as well as in Karbala', passion plays are enacted, representing the misfortunes of the family of 'Ali. The tomb of the decapitated martyr Husayn at Karbala' is to them the holiest place in the world.

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