The skeptics reject the notion that the Battle of Karbala was a conflict between truth and falsehood. They dismiss it as a battle between two personalities / princes over rulership.
Their argument against Imam Husain (a.s.) is that if indeed he was on truth:
- Why did the big names of the time, keep away from joining Imam (a.s.) in the battle. Instead we see mainly the recent converts, slaves and Imam’s (a.s.) family fighting alongside him.
- Why did the senior companions of the time – like the three Abdullahs (Ibn Abbas, Ibn Umar, Ibn Zubair) discourage Imam Husain (a.s.) from taking on Yazid. If it was about truth vs falsehood, they should have encouraged Imam Husain (a.s.), if not join him.
When one talks of big names and personalities, there is no bigger name or personality than Imam Husain (a.s.) himself. To demand participation in the Karbala battle from other big names when Imam Husain (a.s.) is in the midst, is like the Bani Israel demanding from Prophet Moosa (a.s.) ‘of what the earth grows, of its herbs and its cucumbers and its garlic and its lentils and its onions’ after Allah had bestowed them with heavenly food in the form of ‘manna and salwa’!
The Muslim nation is embellished with the Chief of Youths of Paradise and Muslims are busy looking for companions to prove that Imam Husain (a.s.) was on truth!
1. Virtues of Imam Husain (a.s.)
2. Prophet Moosa (a.s.) fights a lonely battle for the holy land
3. Prophet Nuh (a.s.) did not have big names backing him and was mocked for it
4. All big names abandoned Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.)
5. Imam Husain (a.s.) had the backing of the senior companions and wives
6. The big names were with Imam Husain (a.s.) but did not want to participate in a losing cause
7. The battle of Badr was fought by recently converted Muslims
Virtues of Imam Husain (a.s.)
Let us review some of the virtues of Imam Husain (a.s.) from the Ahle Tasannun books to understand why we don’t need senior companions when Imam Husain (a.s.) is present among the Muslims.
- Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) informed:
Hasan (a.s.) and Husain (a.s.) are the Chiefs of Youths of Paradise
- Sunan Ibn Majah v 1 book 1 trad 118
- Jame al-Tirmizi v 1 book 46 trad 3,768, 3,781
- Sa’d bin Abi Waqqas, companion of Prophet (s.a.w.a.) said:
2. When this verse (of Surah Ale Imran (3): 61)) was revealed:
‘Come, let us call our sons and your sons, our women and your women…the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) called Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husain (peace be upon them) and said: O Allah! This is my family.
- Jami al-Tirmizi, book 47, trad 3,269
3. Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) declared:
Husain (a.s.) is from me and I am from Husain (a.s.). Allah loves the one who loves Husain (a.s.).
- Musnad of Ahmed Ibn Hanbal v 4 p 172
- Al-Mojam al-Kabir v 3 p 22 trad 2,589
While we are narrating these and other virtues nearly 1,400 years after Karbala, the Muslims and companions of the time, were even more conscious of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) stature in Islam and near Allah and His Prophet (s.a.w.a.). They were just as aware of the standing of Yazid Ibn Muawiyah and Bani Umayyah near Allah and His Prophet (s.a.w.a.).
Then the question why more Muslims and companions did not join Imam Husain (a.s.) in Karbala against Yazid is the perfect question. However, this query must be addressed to the companions and Muslims missing in action in Karbala, and not to Imam Husain (a.s.) and his Shias.
Just like Allah will question the residents of Hell and not the residents of Paradise:
‘Whenever a group is cast into it (hell), its keeper shall ask them: Did there not come to you a warner?
- Surah Mulk (67): 8
Prophet Moosa (a.s.) fights a lonely battle for the holy land
If the skeptics challenge Imam Husain (a.s.) with the argument that big names were missing from his army, then what do they have to say about Prophet Moosa (a.s.) who didn’t even have an army in his battle against falsehood, leave alone senior companions.
As the Noble Quran points out:
They (Bani Israel) said: O Moosa! We shall never enter it so long as they are in it; go therefore you and your Lord, then fight you both surely we will here sit down.
He said: My Lord! Surely I have no control (upon any) but my own self and my brother; therefore make a separation between us and the nation of transgressors.
He said: So it shall surely be forbidden to them for forty years, they shall wander about in the land, therefore do not grieve for the nation of transgressors.
- Surah Maaedah (5): 24-26
Does this make Prophet Moosa (a.s.) any less of a prophet or his battle any less significant because he did not have the support and backing of a single companion?
Prophet Nuh (a.s.) did not have big names backing him and was mocked for it
The argument of the skeptics challenging Imam Husain’s (a.s.) stand against falsehood reminds one of a similar argument made by the nation of Prophet Nuh (a.s.). The chiefs of the disobedient ones from Prophet Nuh’s (a.s.) nation refused to accept him as a prophet as there were no big names among his followers.
But the chiefs of those who disbelieved from among his people said: We do not consider you but a mortal like ourselves, and we do not see any have followed you but those who are the lowest of us at first thought and we do not see in you any excellence over us; nay, we deem you liars.
- Surah Hud (11): 27
Does this mean that lack of big names and personalities makes Prophet Nuh (a.s.) ineligible for taking up the cause of truth against falsehood?
All big names abandoned Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.)
If indeed having senior companions and personalities on your side is a sign of truth, then what do the skeptics have to say about the many occasions when the biggest names abandoned Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) without a thought, in battle and even outside it.
Consider these verses on Battle of Uhud, Battle of Hunain and the Friday sermon respectively:
When you ran off precipitately and did not wait for any one, and the Apostle was calling you from your rear… (Surah Ale Imran (3): 153
Certainly Allah helped you in many battlefields and on the day of Hunain, when your great numbers made you vain, but they availed you nothing and the earth became strait to you notwithstanding its spaciousness, then you turned back retreating. (Surah Tauba (9): 25)
And when they see merchandise or sport they break up for It, and leave you standing. Say: What is with Allah is better than sport and (better) than merchandise, and Allah is the best of Sustainers. (Surah Jumua (62): 11)
If having companions on one’s side is sign of truth, then going by the skeptics’ reasoning, Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) can no longer claim to be representing the truth when his companions abandoned him on numerous occasions!
At least his small army remained faithful to Imam Husain (a.s.) till the end in his struggle against falsehood – and they rejected the multiple opportunities offered by Imam (a.s.) himself to withdraw from the battle.
In fact, Imam’s (a.s.) personality and stature in Islam even led some of the veterans from falsehood to abandon their path and come over to Imam Husain’s (a.s.) side.
What more evidence of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) rightfulness does one need after this?
Imam Husain (a.s.) had the backing of senior companions and wives and the opposition
Imam Husain (a.s.) was well aware of the importance of the senior companions. His own army had aged companions like Muslim Ibn Awsaja and Habib Ibn Mazahir.
Imam’s (a.s.) sermons addressing Yazid’s forces elaborating his own standing in religion fell on deaf ears, since they did not care and anyway belonged mainly to the second generation of companions (tabe’een), who never saw the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and could claim ignorance of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) virtues.
Hence Imam Husain (a.s.) evoked famous names like Jabir Ibn Abdillah Ansari, Abu Saeed al-Khudri, Zaid Ibn Arqam and Anas Ibn Malik in his sermons to prove his claim and rightfulness. (Maqtal al-Husain a.s. p 229 under Sermon of Imam Husain a.s. on Ashura).
Moreover, the respected wife of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.), Ummul Momineen – Umm Salma (r.a.) had already expressed her sympathy and anguish for Imam Husain’s (a.s.) safety in his stand against Yazid. (Maqtal al-Awalim p 47, Maqtal al-Husain of Al-Muqarram p 136)
On the other hand, Yazid’s appointment as heir apparent to Muawiyah, was vehemently opposed by nearly all Muslims of Medina in 57 AH, including Ayesha and her brother Abdul Rahman (Al-Taraif v 2 p 503 from Al-Awail). In this manner, Ayesha unwittingly lent her support to Imam Husain (a.s.) who was to rise against Yazid four years later.
After names like Umm Salma (r.a.), Jabir Ibn Abdillah Ansari, Abu Saeed al-Khudri, Zaid Ibn Arqam, Anas Ibn Malik, what big names and companions do the skeptics want to see in support of Imam Husain (a.s.)? In addition to companions like Muslim and Habib who fought in Imam’s (a.s.) army in Karbala.
Did Yazid have such names backing him?
Leave alone companions of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.), even senior commanders from Umar Ibn Saad’s army who knew of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) stature in religion were reluctant to fight him.
When Umar Ibn Saad ordered Shabath Ibn Rib’ee al-Riyahi (al-Tamimi), a senior commander, to fight Imam Husain (a.s.) when others were proving ineffective, Shabath seemed reluctant to advance against Imam Husain (a.s.).
Shabath was heard saying: For five years did we fight the offspring of Abu Sufyan on the side of Ali Ibn Abi Talib (a.s.) then on the side of his son (Imam Hasan a.s.) after him. Then we transgressed when it came to his other son (Imam Husain a.s.) who is the best man on the face of earth and we are now fighting him (a.s.) in support of Muawiyah’s offspring and in support of the son of Sumayya, the adulteress i.e. Ibn Ziyad! How we have strayed!
- Maqtal al-Husain (a.s.) p 242-243 of Al-Muqarram
The big names were with Imam Husain (a.s.) but did not want to participate in a losing cause
The companions of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) were always selective about their battles. They chose the ones that they were likely to end up winning.
That is why in the first battle – of Badr – many of the senior companions and future leaders were not keen to engage with the Meccans because they were afraid of losing.
That is also why the companions fled from Uhud and Hunain when they saw themselves losing.
While according to Islam and its tenets it is not about winning or losing the battle, it is about obeying the command of the divinely appointed representative be it for battle or for peace. But historically we find the companions desiring peace / surrender when it was time for battle and desiring battle when it was time for peace.
That is why the senior companions and common Muslims stayed away from Imam Husain (a.s.) because they knew this was a battle that would end up very badly for them. And Imam Husain (a.s.) himself emphasized on many occasions that all those who accompany him would be killed, since he did not want his army fleeing like the armies of his grandfather (s.a.w.a.) had fled in the past.
The big names of the time like the aforementioned Abdullahs (including Ibn Umar and Ibn Zubair) and Jabir Ibn Abdillah Ansari (r.a.) knew of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) position and his stand based on truth against the falsehood of Yazid’s regime. They were afraid of losing Imam Husain (a.s.), the last member of the ‘Companions of the Cloak’ and the final remnant from the Holy Prophet’s Ahle Bait (a.s.). Seeing Imam Husain (a.s.) reminded the Muslims of the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and by losing him (a.s.) they would lose their final link with the Prophet (s.a.w.a.).
That is why they discouraged Imam (a.s.) from undertaking the battle against Yazid, because they did not want to lose Imam (a.s.) at the hands of an oppressor like Yazid. There was no question in anyone’s mind in Medina (except Bani Umayya and Bani Marwan) that Imam Husain (a.s.) represented truth and Yazid falsehood.
The battle of Badr was fought by recently converted Muslims
The skeptics like to undermine Imam Husain’s (a.s.) challenge to Yazid by pointing out to the new Muslim faces in his army, some of whom had only recently converted to Islam.
What do these skeptics have to say about the battle of Badr where out of the 313 Muslim warriors as many as 216 (69% of the army) were Ansar – those who converted to Islam only recently. In fact, the Meccan army initially refused to engage with the Muslim army since they saw the Ansar dominating the forces, while the Meccans were bent on fighting the Muhajireen Muslims, their adversaries from Mecca. The battle did not start until the two forces mutually agreed to engage the best three muhajir from each side in a one-on-one encounter.
Are the skeptics willing to conclude that Islam’s first battle which ended in a resounding success for the Muslims was not a fight between truth and falsehood since the Muslims were represented mainly by recent converts, as noted even by the Meccans?
The objection of the skeptics therefore that Imam Husain (a.s.) cannot be considered as representing truth since he lacked support from senior companions and the Muslim majority, is misguided and betrays poor understanding of religion, the Quran and basic Islamic history. Their impudent arguments bring into question the rightfulness of other prophets of Allah who fought for truth without the backing of big names.