al-ḥusain b. ʿAli

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al-Ḥusain b. ʿAli (626–80 (AH 4–61)). Third Shīʿa Imām, known from his death as Sayyid al-Shuhadāʾ, ‘the Chief of Martyrs’. He was the son of ʿAlī and Fāṭima, and, acc. to numerous ḥadīth, was much loved by Muḥammad. During his youth, Ḥusain distinguished himself for his devotion and service to his father. He remained in the background during Muʿāwiyya's reign, but refused to acknowledge Yazīd as heir-apparent. Upon Yazīd's accession (680), he escaped from Madīna with his family and relatives to Mecca, and then headed for Kūfa to muster support for his cause. However, Ḥusain and his party were intercepted by Umayyad troops near Karbalā. They were surrounded, and cut off from access to water for ten days. On 10 Muḥarram, Ḥusain's weary supporters (92 males) gave battle against 4,000 soldiers. During the fierce engagement, Ḥusain's party was annihilated.

The Karbalā tragedy became the focus of the Shīʾa faith: Ḥusain, impelled by a desire to fulfil the demands of true Islam, had stood up against the evil Umayyads; his sacrifice was to redeem Islam, and to teach people the need of revolt against an unjust (zalim) government.