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‘Abbas (a): The Loyal Brother of Imam al-Hussain (a)

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Abu al-Faḑl al-‘Abbas (a) was the fifth son of Imam Ali ibn Abī Ṭālib (a), from his wife, Fatima bint Ḥizām, better known as Umm al-Banīn (a). ‘Abbas (a) was born on Sha‘ban fourth, 26 AH, and was martyred on Muharram 10th, 61 AH. This article aims to overview the life and character of this hero of Karbala.

His Mother and Brothers

Imam Ali (a) asked his brother ‘Aqeel, who was an expert in genealogy, to find a wife for him who would give birth to virtuous, brave, and formidable sons. ‘Aqeel introduced Fatima bint Ḥizām. She was a very honorable woman of noble and well-known descent. She gave birth to four sons by the names of:

1. ‘Abbas (a)

2. ‘Abdullah

3. Ja‘far

4. ‘Uthman

She asked Imam Ali (a) and others not to call her Fatima because it would remind al-Hassan and al-Hussain of Lady Fatima al-Zahra (a) and would thus make them sad. Instead, she was called Umm al-Banīn (a), meaning mother of the sons.

Before Karbala

History has not recorded much about ‘Abbas (a) before the events of Karbala. There is only one account of his presence in the Battle of Ṣiffīn. Reportedly, he was a teenager at that time. He covered his face and called for a fight. Muawiyah’s companions were afraid of fighting him. Muawiyah ordered a brave man called Ibn Sha‘thā’ to fight ‘Abbas (a). Ibn Sha‘thā’ said: The people of Syria consider me equal to ten thousand horsemen, allow me to fight him! I have seven sons; I will send one to kill him.

The seven sons of Ibn Sha‘thā’ went one after another, and ‘Abbas (a) defeated all of them. Finally, Ibn Sha‘thā’ went to the battlefield. The young warrior, ‘Abbas (a), attacked him and knocked him to the ground. No one from Muawiyah’s army dared to step into the battlefield alone. The Commander of the Faithful (a) said to Abbas (a): It’s enough, my son, come back! The whole army said: O Ali (a)! Let him finish the war. However, the Commander of the Faithful (a) said: No, he is my son ‘Abbas, the Moon of Banu Hashim. He is al-Hussain’s reserve![1]


Abu al-Faḑl al-‘Abbas has two famous titles. The first one is Qamaru Banī Hāshim (قَمَرُ بَني هاشِم), which means the Moon of Banu Hashim. People of that time gave him this title due to his handsomeness and great physical stature.

The second famous title that people gave him after his martyrdom is Bāb al-awā’ij (بَابُ الحَوائِج), which means the Door of Wishes. ‘Abbas (a) is called this because he grants the wishes of those who go to his shrine or even those who invoke him from afar.


Abu al-Faḑl al-‘Abbas was an extremely virtuous individual. He was highly pious, humble, compassionate, caring, faithful, and obedient to the Imam of his time, among many other virtues. His title Abu al-Faḑl means “Father of virtue.” This was because of his virtuousness. ‘Abbas (a) had never committed any sin his whole life. His nephew Imam al-Sajjad (a) said, ”May Allah have mercy on my uncle ‘Abbas who gave his life for his brother so much so that his hands were cut off. Allah gave him two wings instead so he could fly with the angels in paradise, just as he gave two wings to Ja‘far ibn Abi Talib. ‘Abbas has such a high station before Allah on the Day of Judgment that all martyrs envy him.”[2]

‘Abbas (a) in Karbala

We all know that Abu al-Faḑl al-‘Abbas (a) accompanied Imam al-Hussain (a) on his journey to Karbala. What was his role? ‘Abbas (a) was one of Imam al-Hussain’s (a) army commanders. He was the carrier of the army’s flag. The person who carried a flag in those times was considered the head of the army. So long as the flag was hoisted, the army was not defeated yet.

‘Abbas (a) very much respected and held Imam al-Hussain (a) in high regard. He never called him brother, but rather, my master. On the day of Ashura, Imam al-Hussain (a) asked his brother ‘Abbas (a) to get some water for the extremely thirsty children. Abu al-Faḑl al-‘Abbas (a) could have easily gone to the battlefield because he was an incredibly mighty warrior. However, he was so loyal and obedient to his brother Imam Hussain (a) that he did not hesitate to bring water for his nephews and nieces.

‘Abbas (a) Near the ‘Alqama Stream

According to some narrations, ‘Abbas somehow managed to go near the ‘Alqama stream, while others say he was martyred before reaching the stream. According to the former report, he was so fearsome to the enemies due to his strength and valor that he made all the guards near the stream run away. Some say that ‘Abbas (a) fought them and killed many of those guarding the stream. Either way, he was able to go near the ‘Alqama stream to get some water. ‘Abbas (a) cared so much for his brother that even though he could drink water, he did not drink a single drop of water because he knew that Imam al-Hussain (a) and the children were thirsty and thought it would be a deadly sin to drink water while they remained thirsty. So he filled his waterskin with water and set out to go back to the tents.

On his way back, the enemies surrounded him. They cut off his right hand. So he held the waterskin with his left hand. Then they severed his left hand. He held the waterskin with his teeth. Then as he was moving forward with his horse toward the tents, they shot an arrow at the waterskin. All the water spilled. Harmalah, the notorious archer of ‘Umar ibn Sa‘d’s army, fired an arrow at ‘Abbas’s (a) eye. ‘Abbas fell from his horse. As he was trying to take the arrow out with his knees, an enemy came and struck him with an iron mace. ‘Abbas (a) called out, “Help me, brother!”[3]

Imam al-Hussain (a) Rushes to ‘Abbas (a)

It was the first time that ‘Abbas (a) called Imam al-Hussain (a) brother. He always called Imam al-Hussain (a) “My master” because he thought it would be inappropriate and rude to call such a great personality as Imam al-Hussain (a), whose mother was Lady Fatima, brother. Some say that when he was about to die, he saw Lady Fatima al-Zahra (a), telling him, “Come here, my son.” Therefore, he felt he was her son, which is why he called Imam al-Hussain (a) brother. Allah knows best.

‘Abbas’s (a) Martyrdom

Imam al-Hussain rushed to ‘Abbas (a) with lightning speed. He held ‘Abbas’s (a) head on his lap. Thus, ‘Abbas (a) was martyred. Imam al-Hussain (a) said, “Now my back is broken….”[4]This was how important ‘Abbas (a) was for the Imam and the whole army and caravan. Later, ‘Abbas’s (a) body was buried in the same place he was martyred, not too far from the ‘Alqama stream. Today, people from all religions, denominations, and nationalities visit the shrine of ‘Abbas (a) to pay homage to him and have their wishes granted. 

[1] Muqarram, Al-‘Abbas, 1435 AH, pp. 247-251.

[2] Kirāmāt al-‘Abbāsiyyah.

[3] Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 45, p. 41.

[4] Ibid.

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