The reasons behind Hussain’s journey can be found in his words from Medina where he began it and at the stopovers he had until he reached Karbala. Following is a timeline of events and an overview of the journey of Hussain with the names of the places and their approximate locations from Medina to Karbala. Important events at specific locations are also included.
This is a work in progress, and we will endeavour to provide our readers with the most accurate information. We invite you to share with us any information that you have access to, and you think we should add to the timeline.
The names of the places Hussain passed were mentioned in history books but their exact locations were not traceable in modern geographical maps. After searching in the archives of the British Museum Library some researchers found a map of the 9th Century Hijri was found in which all these names were clearly shown.
There were 14 places in all where Hussain was known to have passed during this journey.
After Mu'awiya's death, Medina’s governor Walid was ordered to ask Hussain to pay homage to Yazid.
To this Hussain replied,
“Yazid drinks wine and kills innocent people. He spreads vice, corruption and depravity in society. I will never swear allegiance to him.”
Hussain, on 28th Rajab in 60 AH, the 7th month Islamic calendar, with most of his relatives and some of his friends, after saying farewell to his grandfather Prophet Muhammad, moved from Medina to Mecca. Hussain accounted reason for this journey in his will:
‘It’s to set right the nation of my grandfather, that I am leaving on this journey: To invite them to enjoin good and prevent evil. This is the way of my father Ali, and my grandfather Muhammad.’
Hussain arrived in Mecca on 3rd of Sha'ban (8th month of Islamic Calendar) and went to the house of Abbas, son of Abdul Muttalib, Hussain’s great grandfather. Some of the Meccans and people from other cities met Hussain. When the number of letters from Kufa reached twelve thousand, Husain sent his cousin Muslim, the son of Aqeel, to Kufa as his representative on 15th of Ramadhan (9th month of Islamic calendar). Hussain sent many letters to Kufa and Basra and indicated that he was the lawful caliph and the Prophet’s household. When Hussain received Muslim’s letter implying that people of Kufa were his allegiants, he planned to move to Iraq despite opposition of many friends. He also noticed that there were Yazid’s soldiers in the garb of Ahram (specified dress to perform pilgrimage) to kill him in the vicinity of Ka’aba. He changed the rituals of Hajj into Umra (shorter ritual) and left. It was 8th Dhulhajjah 60 Hijri (The last month of Islamic calendar).
An excerpt from Husain’s last words in Mecca:
“We, the Prophet’s household, are dedicated to God’s decree. He who wishes to join us and sacrifice his life for the sake of God, should get ready to come with us.”
Here Hussain stayed for the night. The next morning when he was preparing to leave for his next destination, he came across with famous poet Farazdaq who was coming from Iraq and was going to Mecca for pilgrimage.
When he learnt that Hussain was proceeding for Iraq, he tried to persuade him not to go there. Hussain asked Faraqdaq about the condition in Kufa and the poet replied, ‘People’s hearts are with you, but their swords are against you.’
Hussain told him, ‘God does what he wishes, I leave it to Him who proposes the just cause.’
Farazdaq left the place for Mecca and Hussain’s caravan the next destination.
Here Husain met Bashar, the son of Ghalib and asked about people of Kufa. Bashar answered:
“Their swords are with Banu Umayya, but their hearts are with you.”
Abdullah, the son of Ja'far, husband of Hussain’s sister Zeinab and also his first cousin, secured a letter of protection for Hussain from the governor of Medina which read: “I want to prevent you from division, and I’m afraid that you may perish. Come back to me, to be secure.”
“Someone who invites to God and does good deeds and says I’m Muslim, will never dissent with God and His Prophet. If you have wished my welfare, I hope God rewards you.”
Abdullah enjoined his two sons Aun and Muhammad to be with Husain. Then, he left for Mecca.
A portion of Hussain's letter to the Governor of Medina:
‘Best protection is the one which is from God. We ask God to help us fear Him in this world so that we get His protection and forgiveness for the other world.’
Hussain sent some letters to Kufa which implied: “I received Muslim’s letter indicating you are willing to help us get our right. I pray God helps you. As my messenger Qays arrives in your city, be firm. I’ll come to you soon.” Qays was arrested in the midway. He tore the letters to deny the enemy its content. They brought him to Dar Al Imarah, the Governor’s palace in Kufa, to Obaidullah, the son of Ziyad. They asked him about the letters and to curse Husain, his father Ali and his brother Hassan in front of people. Qays went to the upper corner of the palace, and after praising Ali and his progeny, he cursed Obaidullah, the son of Ziyad and his cronies instead. Then he announced that Husain will come soon, and he encouraged people to help him. Obaidullah, the son Ziyad shouted to throw him from the top of the palace down to the floor. Thus, he lost his life in defence of Husain.
A piece of Husain’s speech on his way to Karbala:
‘I don’t see death but salvation, and I see living with tyrants nothing but disgrace.’
Husain and his friends stayed in Khozaimiyyah a day and a night. Zainab came to Husain in the morning and said: “Brother, I came out of the tent at the midnight and heard that Hatefi is rhyming this poem: “Hey Eyes! Cry! Who will cry for these martyrs after me? Death would bring them to where they fulfil their promise to God.”
Husain consoled his sister and encouraged her to be patient. Hussain told his sister Zainab:
‘Whatever God wishes, it will happen.’
Zuhair, the son of Qayn was traveling back to Kufa from Haj. He was pro-Uthman and disliked being with Hussain. He sent someone to Zuhair inviting him to his tent. Zuhair didn’t respond to the request.
His wife said: “Muhammad’s grandson is inviting you, how come you don’t accept it!”
Zuhair was ashamed, went to Hussain unwillingly, but when he came back, he was so joyful! He said to his friends:
“I have decided to join Hussain. He who likes to help the Prophet’s grandson should come with us. I say goodbye to the others.”
His wife was with him until the last moments of his life. After Zuhair’s martyrdom, Hussain said:
‘O Zuhair! God bless you and curse whoever killed you.’
Husain consoled his sister and encouraged her to be patient. Hussain told his sister Zainab:
‘Whatever God wishes, it will happen.’
It is important to mention that when Hussain was leaving Macca he was trying to persuade the hordes of people who wanted to come out with him, to go back. He was telling them that there is no reward of worldly goods at the end of his journey. But at the same time, he wrote letters to some people inviting them to accompany him to the end of his journey.
One of them was Zuhair as mentioned above. He wrote another letter to his Habib, the son of Mazahir al -Asadi in Kufa. Habib was an old companion of the Prophet, was much older than Hussain. Some historians mention Habib’s age at 82.
Another important point worth mentioning here is that these people invited by Hussain were each from different tribes of Arabia. Out of total number of 72 male warriors 18 were from his own family, all descendants of Abu Talib. But the rest of the martyrs were from different places and creeds covering almost all Islamic lands of the time.
There were men from Sham (Syria), Jaba el Amul (Lebanon), Armenia, Azerbaijan, Yemen, Abyssinia and Egypt. Hussain was taking special care that whoever is martyred with him on The10thDay comes from different tribes, lands, culture and creeds so his message reaches all corners of the Islamic lands through their relatives and friends.
Husain arrived Tha’labiyyah at night. He heard that Muslim and Hani, the son of Urwa, had been killed and whispered “We are from God and we’ll return to God. There is no point in living after them.” He cried with his friends cried too. Hussain told his friends of the course of events. Thus, some of his friends elected to leave Husain and return to their cities to save their lives.
A piece of Husain’s speech with a man from Kufa:
‘By God, if I had met you in Medina, I would have shown you signs of Gabriel’s descent in our home. The populace had taken knowledge from us.’
An old man told Hussain: “Return from here, because you will only face swords in this journey. The people who had invited you won’t fight for you. I think you’d better not continue.” Hussain said: “This is obvious for me, but none can change what God has decreed.” Hussain said to his friends: “I see myself die.” His friends wondered: “Why!?” He answered: “I dreamed of some dogs attacking me. One of them was wilder than others and they were tearing me to pieces!”
A selection from Hussain’s words:
“Banu Umayya [tribe of Umayya] won’t leave me until they kill me. When they will kill me, God will make some other people rule over them who will humiliate them.”
Hussain asked his friends to bring enough water for the next morning on the way. At the midway, at noon, they faced the enemy’s army [with Hurr commanding it]. Hussain commanded his friends to give water to the humans and the horses of Hurr’s army. Both sides said their noon and afternoon prayers with Hussain leading. Hussain told enemy’s army: “We, the Prophet’s household are the rightful leaders over you. We deserve it more than those treat you with injustice and are cruel to you. I came to you because you invited me. If you don’t like it, I’ll return.” When Hussain wanted to return, Hurr stopped him and said: “I have come to take you to Obaidullah, the son of Ziyad. If you don’t accept it, at least choose a way which goes neither to Kufa nor to Medina.”
A piece of Hussain’s speech at this place:
“Don't you see that the right is not conveyed and the wrong is not prohibited. Let believers wish to die and righteously meet their God.”
Both sides arrived in Baydhah. Husain said to Hurr’s army: “The tribe of Umayya listened to the devil and committed wrong. They crossed God’s limits and made public treasury exclusively for themselves. They made what God has made lawful, unlawful, and what God has made unlawful, lawful. You wrote to me a lot of letters indicating that you are my allegiants. If you remain my allegiants, you have done a wise act, because I’m the son of Muhammad’s daughter and your leader. If you break your covenant, I won’t be surprised, because you did the same with my father, Ali, and my brother, Hassan, and my cousin, Muslim. If you break it, you’ll lose your salvation.”
Twelve hundred years later in Gettysburg Abraham Linclon delivered a speech in which he said,
“To suffer in silence while they should protest makes cowards of men”.
A few people from Kufa met Hussain and described the condition of city: “They have given big bribes to influential people. Now, they all oppose you. Other people’s hearts are with you, but their sword will be against you tomorrow!” Hussain asked about Qays. They said: “Having been arrested, they brought him to Obaidullah. He went to the top of his palace and condemned Obaidullah and his father instead of you and your father. So they threw him from high up down and he got martyred.” Hussain cried and said:
“From the believers, some of them fulfilled their promise with God, and some of them are waiting for it.”
After hearing about martyrdom of Qays, Husain prayed:
‘O God! Gather us, the believers, at a high place near You.’
Hussain met Trimmah, the son of Adi. After having known about the Kufan’s abandonment of his envoy Muslim, it became clear that Hussain had no hope of support or even survival in Kufa.
Nevertheless, he refused an offer of safety extended to him by Trimmah, who was the leader of a powerful tribe Adi. He pleaded Hussain to accept his offer of 20,000 armed soldiers from his tribe if he wished to go to Kufa.
Adi even offered Hussain and his small entourage a hideout in the tribal hills away from Kufa. But Hussain rejected all such offers of safety and indulgence in war. Hussain replied, “Allah will bless you and your people for your good intentions. I cannot go from my word. Things are destined”.
It is clear from this reply that Hussain was fully aware of the impending dangers he and his family and friends would face if he continued with his journey without any help from outside forces. He had a certain strategy and plan in his mind to bring about a revolution in the conscience of the Muslims.
He did not mobilise military support which he could easily have mustered in Hejaz, nor did he try to exploit whatever physical strength was available to him. On the other hand, he was discouraging any such suggestions of an army to fight physically.
Some people from Kufa were there. Hussain asked them for help. Some of them said: “We don’t want to die!” and others said: “We have wives and children. We owe lots of money.” indicating no involvement. Hussain asked young men to bring water. Hussain slept on the way. When he woke up, he was repeating: “We are from God, and we’ll return to him.” Ali Akbar went to Hussain and wondered: “Father, why are you repeating these words?” Hussain answered: “I dreamed of a horse rider in front of me who said that these people are traveling at night and death is coming for them!”
Ali Akbar asked: “Father! Aren’t we on the right!?” Hussain answered: “No doubt we certainly are on the right.” Ali Akbar said: “Therefore, we are not afraid of death.” Hussain said: “May God reward you aplenty!”
His elder son ‘Ali Akber came forward and enquired about Hussain’s words. Hussain replied that while he was half a sleep he saw in his dream that someone was shouting loudly that this caravan was destined towards death. ‘Ali Akber asked, are we not on the Right Path.
An unusual question so it seems. But when Hussain replied that they were indeed on the Right Path, his son’s reply was again typical of this family of the Prophet. “Father, when we are on the Right Path, we have no worries whether death takes us or we fall upon death”.
They were fully aware that death of this kind transforms into the glory of martyrdom
Karbala is where Hurr was ordered to stop. There was no vegetation or water in that desert. When Hussain heard the area was called “Karbala”, he said: “Get off your horses. Here is where we will die. Here will be our graves. My grandfather had told me so.” Hussain’s companions grounded there. Hurr’s army grounded across from them. Hussain gathered his friends, took a look at them, and then cried. He said: “O God! They kicked us out from our grandfather’s city. Tribe of Umayya oppressed us. They opposed us. Help us get our right and win.”
Obaidullah wrote a letter to Hussain indicating: “I heard you have entered Karbala. Give homage to Yazid and be saved.” Hussain answered: “There is no answer for this letter, because God’s punishment is a must for Obaidullah!”
As Hussain read Obaidullah’s letter, he said:
“Never will be salvaged a nation who wins the happiness of the creatures at the cost of the displeasure of the Creator.”
At this place a messenger from the Governor of Kufa came to meet the army of Hurr and told them not to leave Hussain and his party under any circumstances. The battered Caravan passed through Ghaziriyah and arrived at a place by the riverbanks of the Euphrates.
Hussain asked the name of this place and he was told the name “KARBALA’”. Hussain replied, this is the place of Kerbin-wa-bala, i.e. the place of torture and pain. Let us stop here, Hussain ordered to dismount. We have reached our destination. Tents were pitched near the riverbank. The date was 2nd of Muharram 61 Hijri (3rd October 681 AD).
Omar Sa’d came to Karbala with an army of 4000 men. Omar Sa’d’s tribe came to him to prevent him from this war. One of his sons [Hafs] was encouraging him to fight but his other son was opposing him. So, Hafs went with his father to the war. Omar Sa’d sent a man to Hussain to find out why he had come. Hussain said: “Your people had sent me letters and invited me. If you don’t like me to be here, I’ll return.” When Omar Sa’d heard Hussain’s message, he said: “I hope God prevents me from fighting Hussain.”
A selection from Hussain’s words while entering Karbala:
‘People are slaves of the world, and as long as they live favourable and comfortable lives, they are loyal to religious principles. However, in hard times, the times of trials, truly religious people are scarce.’
The battlefield chronicler Abu Makhnaf records that in the course of two days, between third and fourth of Muharram the palains fo Karbala were filled with over a hundred and forty thousand warriors from Syria, Iran, Iraq other countries to oppose Hussain.
Obaidullah shouted to people in Kufa’s mosque: “O Men! You know that Yazid is benevolent and gracious. And his father was just like him. Now Yazid has commanded me to give you some money and send you to a war against Hussain, his enemy.”
Then he ordered people to go to the war. Shimr, son of Dhiljowshan with an army of 4000 men, Yazid, son of Rekaab with 2000 men, Hisin son of Numayr with 4000 men, Mazayer, son of Rahin with 3000 men, and Nasr, son of Harashe with 2000 men got ready for the war against Hussain.
Omar Sa’d wanted Urwa, the son of Qais, a prominent figure from Kufa to go to Hussain and inquire about his intentions. Urwa was one of those who had repeatedly written to Hussain inviting him to come to Kufa. He made lame excuses as he felt ashamed of facing Hussain. This happened to many of the prominent personalities of Kufa as they wrote to Hussain and now didn’t have the courage to face him.
Hussain answered Qays Ibn Ash’ath:
“By God, I won’t pay homage to them with ignominy, and I won’t escape the war.”
People joined Omar Ibn Sa’d’s army. Obaidullah ordered some men to look out on the way to Karbala and to stop people who were going to help Hussain. As most of the people knew that fighting against Hussain is equal to fighting against God and his Prophet, many of them escaped their armies in the midway. It is written that a commander with 1000 men on the way to Karbala would have reached there with only 300 or 400 men remaining. Others had escaped the army, as they had no belief in it.
From Hussain’s speech to the enemy’s army:
“We won’t live with ignominy. God and his Prophet and the believers never chose it for us. The pure people, who had nurtured us, would never let us choose ignominy instead of martyrdom.”
Omar Sa’d received a letter from Obaidullah indicating: “I have sent you enough men and cavalry. Beware that I have agents who tell me what is happening every day.” Hussain permitted Habib, the son of Mudhahir to go to people of Bani Asad, who lived somewhere near Karbala, for help. 90 men were coming with Habib. They faced Omar Sa’d’s army on the way, and they escaped. Habib narrated what had happened to Hussain.
Shimr ordered Hussain and his entourage to leave the riverbank and pitch their tents away from it. Hussain’s brother Abbas and others refused, but Hussain told them to move the tents. The tents were moved about 200 yards away from the riverbank and the river was immediately occupied by the soldiers of Yazid.
The number of people who received weapons, armour and money from Obaidullah for the war was more than 30,000. Omar Sa’d received a letter from Obaidullah indicating: “Try to make Hussain and his army distant from Furat river water, so you deny them water, like Uthman, the son of Affan who was denied water!” Omar Sa’d ordered 500 horsemen to stay near Furat. One of them shouted: “O Husain! By God you won’t drink a drop of this water, till you die from thirst.” Hussain prayed: “O God! Let his wishes against me inflict him instead.”
In Hussain’s tents, the thirst was increasingly severe. Hussain ordered his brother, Abbas and a few of his friends, to quietly go to Furat and bring some water at night. They attacked the enemy there at night and brought some water.
Hussain’s meeting with Omar Sa’d: Hussain said: “O Omar! Do you want to fight against me? Aren’t you afraid of God!?” Omar said: “If I leave this group, they will demolish my home, and take all my belongings. I fear Obaidullah’s anger at my family.” Hussain answered: “What will happen to you!? You’ll die in your bed soon, and God won’t pardon you. Do you think you’ll be governor of Ray and Gorgan!? By God, you won’t be.”
Obaidullah sent a letter to Omar and threatened him with dismissal. He said: “If you don’t obey me, I will replace you with Shimr as the commander-in-chief.”
Hussain said to his friends:
“O great people! Be patient as death is like a bridge which will let you pass over all pain and sufferings and reach the eternal blessings in the heaven of God.”
Shimr went near Hussain’s tents and shouted: “O Abbas and Hussain’s friends! Obaidullah sent you a letter of mercy and security.” They all answered: “Be damned, you and your letter. You want us to be secure while Hussain is in danger!?” The enemy’s army permitted Hussain and his army to pray and recite Quran, by Abbas’ request.
Hussain’s companions dug a ditch around their tents, so that the enemy could attack them only from one side, A group of Omar army, joined Hussain’s army. Hussain said to the enemy: “What will you lose if you listen to me!? I’m inviting you to the right way. But you don’t listen to me, because you have eaten foods bought from unlawful money, and your hearts are callous.”
Hussain performed his Fajr prayers with his companions. Then he said: “God has ordained my and your martyrdom. So you have to be patient.” Hussain assigned Zuhair to be in charge of the right flank of his fighting force, and Habib in charge of the left flank. He gave the war banner to his brother, Abbas. The enemy’s army was approaching, but Hussain didn’t take any action against them and said: “I don’t want to be the one who starts the war with them!” Omar Sa’d shot an arrow and shouted: “Behold! I am the first man who shot the arrow!” Then the army of Omar Sa’d began to shoot arrows too. Hussain said: “O My friends! Go and fight. God bless you.” In the first attack, more than 40 faithful followers of Hussain were martyred. The remaining men of Hussain went to the war one by one and got martyred. Then, it was Hashim’s family members’ turn. All of them got martyred including his six-month old baby, Ali Asghar. Hussain was the last remaining, after looking at the killed bodies. he went to the tents for the last time.
Alone, he went to the war and started to fight. He was stuck from every angle by the enemy. He received numerous arrows, cuts and lances, that finally he fell in shock: Bleeding, exhausted, Thirsty. The enemy were taken aback, they hesitated to cut his head. It is was Shimr who screamed, sat on his chest, then separated his head from the body! They heard Al-Husain uttering at that moment: “I am at peace with the decree of God and I have bowed to His order.” While all these atrocities were going on, his family, women and children were watching, alarmed, dumfounded, grief-stricken, and horrified.…
The enemy then attacked the tents and burned them and took his family as captives.