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Arbaeen Mystery: Did Imam Hussain’s Family Return in the Same Year?

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The matter of the Arba’een [40th] of the Master of Martyrs, Imam Hussain (peace be upon him), and whether his family intended to travel to Karbala after their release from Yazid’s captivity, and whether they managed to visit his holy shrine on that day, has been a topic of debate among scholars for ages. Each has cited historical evidence to either prove or refute this claim.


The entrance of the esteemed family of the Master of Martyrs to Karbala on their way back from Damascus to Medina on Arba’een, and the reunion of the sacred head of Aba Abdillah al-Hussain (peace be upon him) with his pure body on that day, is yet another enigmatic event of Ashura and the incidents that followed.

 Indeed, while the Ashura tragedy is the most heart-wrenching and sorrowful event that has wounded the hearts of the Shia and admirers of the household of purity and infallibility throughout history, one would expect its every detail to be meticulously recorded in historical books. However, unfortunately, since both during and after the Ashura incident, the Shias of Ali bin Abi Talib and his infallible descendants were under the most intense pressure and persecution, facing the harshest tortures and sanctions and were essentially marginalized, the recording of the sorrowful events of Ashura and what befell the noble family of the Master of Martyrs never fully materialized.

Certainly, when the fate of the holy head of Aba Abdillah al-Hussain (peace be upon him), which is arguably one of the most significant matters that should have garnered attention, remains unclear and opinions on the burial of his revered head vary widely, how can one expect other finer details, like the duration of the captivity of the family of the Master of Martyrs in Kufa, their departure day from Kufa, their travel route from Kufa to Damascus, their length of stay in Damascus, and their return route, to be documented clearly, comprehensively, and without any discrepancies?

We know that a majority of the Ashura events and subsequent incidents have been narrated by Sunni historians, some of whom tried to cleanse the reputation of Yazid and the Umayyad dynasty from this eternal stain, so one should not expect all events to have been recounted without some distortions. Furthermore, even if historians intended to document the events accurately and without any alterations, the rulers of the time would have obstructed them, and it’s uncertain what fate awaited both the writer and their writings.

It is well-known in Shia tradition that Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him), along with the household of the Master of Martyrs (peace be upon him), returned from Damascus to Karbala and managed to visit the sacred tomb of Hussain bin Ali (peace be upon him) and his loyal companions on the day of Arba’een. After three days of mourning and holding commemorations, they returned to Medina al-Rasul (peace and blessings be upon him and his progeny). It is also a popular belief among Shias that Zain-ul-Abidin (peace be upon him) rejoined the holy head of his father to his noble body on that day. However, since ancient times, there has been a difference of opinion among scholars and experts about the arrival of the captive caravan in Karbala on the first Arba’een. Some confirm it and establish historical evidence for it, while others deny the presence of the family of the Master of Martyrs (peace be upon him) on the first Arba’een, considering its realization as impossible or unproven.

In this article, we aim to review the events that took place after the captivity of the household of the Master of Martyrs (peace be upon him) and are directly related to the arrival or non-arrival of the captive caravan in Karbala on the first Arba’een, presenting brief research on the subject.

Review of Events Related to the Arba’een Incident

In general, the events that are directly related to the arrival of the captive caravan in Karbala can be summarized in the following matters:

  1. The duration of the imprisonment of the family of the Master of Martyrs (peace be upon him) in Kufa and the time of their departure to Damascus;
  2. The route of the captive caravan from Kufa to Damascus;
  3. The time taken to reach Damascus;
  4. The duration of the Imam’s family’s stay in Damascus;
  5. The return route from Damascus to Medina and the examination of the possibility that this caravan headed to Karbala and reached there on the first Arba’een;

Now, we will independently investigate each of the above-mentioned points.

1. Duration of Imprisonment in Kufa and Departure Time to Damascus:

There is hardly any doubt regarding the departure of the household of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) from Karbala and their movement towards Kufa in captivity on the 11th of Muharram. Similarly, according to popular belief, they entered Kufa on the 12th of Muharram. However, there is no precise and certain date regarding their journey to Damascus, as the duration of their stay and imprisonment in Kufa is not clearly known. Nevertheless, it’s a historical fact that the captives were imprisoned in Kufa for a certain period, as indicated by some reputable historians. Tabari, citing ‘Uwana bin Hakam Kalbi, refers to this matter [1], and Sheikh Saduq also emphasizes in his book about the captives being imprisoned, writing:

‘Then he (Ibn Ziyad) ordered Ali bin Hussain to be chained and taken, along with the women and orphans, to the prison…and then ordered them to be returned to the jail.’[2]

However, most accounts don’t mention the exact date of the departure of the captive caravan from Kufa and their movement towards Damascus, so there is no precise information about their exact departure from Kufa. One of the authors says about this:

‘Even though the captives from the household stayed for an unknown period in the prison of Ibn Ziyad in Kufa, Ibn Ziyad was informed by Yazid and sought directions about them, whether to kill them all or send them to Damascus.’[3]

But those experts who accept the first Arba’een (the 40th day after Ashura) and believe that the caravan of the captives managed to visit the holy graves of the martyrs of Karbala on the first Arba’een must explain the events in a way that their arrival in Karbala on Arba’een is justifiable. This means they must consider the duration of their imprisonment in Kufa to be very short. Hence, some believe that the captives of the Prophet Mohammad’s family (peace be upon him and his family) were imprisoned in Kufa for a very short time, and within two days, Ibn Ziyad sent his letter to Yazid using a messenger pigeon, and the response was to send the captives to Damascus. As a result, the captives set off for Damascus on the 15th of Muharram and entered Damascus on the first of Safar. To prove this claim, certain evidence has been cited, suggesting that messenger pigeons were used at that time.

The testimony cited for this is as follows:

The late Ahmad bin Taj al-Din Hasan Saif al-Din Istarabadi, one of the Shia scholars, says in his book ‘Athar-i-Ahmadi’ that it’s authentic that Abdullah Ansari says: ‘We were with a group of people in the service of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him). A great wind blew from the direction of Damascus. One of Muawiya’s followers, who was present, said, “O grandson of the Prophet, your grandfather used to tell people about the winds, can you also tell what this wind is saying?” The Imam replied, “It says that the ruler of Damascus is dead.” The statement of Imam (peace be upon him) weighed heavily on that cursed individual, but he saw no option but to remain silent. The next day, news arrived that Muawiya had passed away.’ Khayabani (may Allah have mercy on him) later said, ‘It becomes evident that, except for using the messenger pigeon, there would be no other way to convey this news.'[4]

The author of the book ‘Research on the First Arba’een of Sayyid al-Shuhada (peace be upon him)’ citing this tradition believes that the Umayyads used messenger pigeons to send their letters. Thus, Ibn Ziyad also used a messenger pigeon to seek guidance from Yazid regarding the captives. As a result, the captives from the Prophet’s family were sent to Damascus after just three days of being held in Kufa. Based on this, the duration of the imprisonment of Imam’s household in Kufa was from the 12th to the 15th of Muharram [5], during which time, Ibn Ziyad’s letter was sent to Yazid using a pigeon and Yazid’s response, which was about sending the heads of the martyrs and the captives to Damascus, was returned.

We do not insist on denying the arrival of the caravan of the captives of the Prophet’s family (peace be upon him and his family) to Karbala on the day of Arba’een. However, we believe that its occurrence is not definitively established in history, and there is credible evidence against it. For example, in critique of the claim made by one of the proponents of the arrival of the Imam’s family in Karbala on the first Arba’een, two historical events are clear:

First, the date of Muawiya’s death, which corresponds to the 15th of Rajab, and second, the date of Imam Hussein’s (peace be upon him) departure from Medina, which corresponds to the 28th of Rajab [6]. Another historical fact is clear: Walid, the governor of Medina, summoned Imam Hussein (peace be upon him) on the night he received Yazid’s letter announcing Muawiya’s death and the necessity of pledging allegiance to Yazid [7]. Two days after that event, Imam Hussein (peace be upon him) left Medina for Mecca.

Now, if we accept these three facts and since the date of Yazid’s letter arriving in Medina is not mentioned in the Maqatil, we conclude that the letter from Yazid, or in other words, the news of Muawiya’s death, must have reached Medina on the 26th of Rajab, not the 16th of Rajab. This is the first evidence proving that Yazid’s letter was not delivered by a carrier pigeon, but rather a human messenger brought it to Medina. The accuracy of the news from the late Astrabadi is evident because the date of the wind blowing and the Imam’s prediction is not mentioned. It becomes clear that this event relates to a day before the letter from Yazid arrived in Medina, and the Imam’s prediction happened before the news reached Medina, not simultaneously with Muawiya’s death.

The second reason: is that the author of Tabqat-e-Kubra writes in “The Fifth Class of Companions”:

“A messenger from Yazid came ordering Ubaydullah to send him the head of Hussein ibn Ali, the remainder of his children, his household, and his women.” [8] This statement indicates that Yazid’s messenger was not a pigeon, but a human. The word “messenger” was used for a courier or emissary responsible for delivering a letter or possibly conveying a message or news orally, not for a pigeon that was, at most, carrying a letter.

The third reason: for Yazid not using a pigeon to send the letter is based on a report by Tabari. It is mentioned that, along with Yazid’s main letter, there was a smaller note the size of a mouse’s ear, which instructed the arrest and harsh treatment of Imam Hussein (peace be upon him) and Abdullah bin Zubair if they refused to pledge allegiance [9]. From this, it can be inferred that a pigeon would not typically be capable of carrying such a letter (a main letter and an attached smaller note) for a long distance, such as from Damascus to Medina. Pigeons usually carried very small and concise notes, and it was not customary to send an official letter with a small attached note to a distant location using a pigeon.

As for the fourth reason: the late scholar Khayabani, whom Judge Qazi referred to, has also presented this as a possibility and does not consider it as a definitive fact. Moreover, assuming pigeons were commonly used, the security of cities, especially Medina, would necessitate the dispatch of the letter by a trusted and skilled courier to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Although pigeons delivered messages faster, they were not entirely reliable. There was always a concern about the pigeon making a mistake, or the message being intercepted by thieves or nosy individuals.

Now, considering it’s unlikely that Ibn Ziyad received instructions from Yazid regarding the family of the Martyr’s leader (peace be upon him) via a pigeon, and since no historical book has even hinted at the use of a pigeon for such a purpose, there are only two possibilities:

A) The captives of the Hashemite family were imprisoned in Kufa until Ibn Ziyad’s messenger delivered the letter to Yazid and received a reply, then returned to Kufa. Typically, his round trip would have taken two weeks. Therefore, the duration of Imam’s family’s imprisonment in Kufa must have been around two weeks. Consequently, their departure from Kufa to Damascus would also have been after two weeks of imprisonment in Kufa.[10]

Tabari recounts that the imprisonment of the family of Imam Hussain in Kufa lasted for consecutive days. He writes:

“As for Awana bin Al-Hakam Al-Kalbi, he said: When Imam Hussain was killed and the survivors and prisoners were brought until they were delivered to Ibn Ziyad in Kufa. They were detained in prison until one day, a stone with a note attached fell into the prison. The note said, “On such-and-such day, a messenger was dispatched to Yazid to determine your fate. He will travel for so many days and return on such-and-such day. If you hear the call of ‘Takbir’, be certain that you will be killed. But if you don’t hear it, it means you are safe, Allah willing.” He said that when there were two or three days left for the messenger to return, a stone fell into the prison with a letter attached to it saying, “Make your will and secure your covenants, as he will return on such-and-such day.” When the messenger returned, no ‘Takbir’ was heard. The letter brought by the messenger from Yazid stated that the prisoners should be sent to him.” [11]

Paying attention to this narration, two points become clear: First, the letter was sent to Damascus (Sham) by a human messenger or courier, not by pigeon. And second, the period of the family’s imprisonment in Kufa was extended such that it appears from the statement “when there were two or three days left for the messenger to return” that the return time must be more than three days, as the Kufans considered these three days to be the last of the waiting period. Therefore, if we accept this narration, the departure of the caravan of prisoners from Kufa should be considered after the 25th of Muharram because the minimum time for the messenger to travel to Damascus and return would have been around two weeks. Based on this, the caravan’s journey to Damascus could not have been before the 25th of Muharram.

B) Ibn Ziyad did not send any letter to Yazid before sending the caravan of captives and the heads of the martyrs from Kufa to Damascus. Instead, he sent the letter along with the noble head of Imam Hussein to Damascus and then immediately sent the heads of the other martyrs and the caravan of captives to Damascus. Based on this assumption, the stay and imprisonment of the Ahl al-Bayt in Kufa were not lengthy because Ibn Ziyad had to quickly dispatch the family of the Imam and the heads of the martyrs to Damascus to prevent unrest and uprising by the people of Kufa.

Perhaps from the reports that suggest the transfer of Imam Hussein’s sacred head to Damascus along with the captives, it can be inferred that this was an Arab tradition; after winning a battle, they would send the head of the opposing commander with a letter heralding their victory to their ruler. The army’s rear guard, along with the spoils and captives, would return in the subsequent days. In this context, when some historians acknowledge the accompaniment of Ibn Ziyad’s letter with the sacred head of the master of the martyrs, it can be concluded that Ibn Ziyad, in order to prevent unrest and rebellion in Kufa, dispatched the caravan of captives and heads of the martyrs to Damascus without waiting for orders from Yazid, refraining from imprisoning them for a long time.

Some reputable historical books confirm this hypothesis and do not mention Ibn Ziyad’s letter to Yazid or his inquiry about the captives and the heads of the martyrs. Moreover, some historians explicitly state that Ibn Ziyad sent a letter, which reported his task in Kufa, to Damascus along with the head of Imam Hussein.

Ibn Atham Al-Kufi quotes in his Maqtal:

“Zajr bin Qais al-Ja’fari, carrying the head of Hussein, raced to Damascus until he entered Yazid’s presence and delivered Ibn Ziyad’s letter to him. Yazid took the letter and placed it before him, then asked, ‘What do you have with you?'”[12][13]

2- The Route of the Captive Caravan from Kufa to Damascus

The three routes from Kufa to Sham
The three routes from Kufa to Sham

The reality is that there is no definitive and credible information about the route of the captive caravan from Kufa to Damascus. For this reason, the author of “Nafas al-Mahum” (may Allah have mercy on him) states in his book:

“Know that the sequence of the stops they made, whether they stayed overnight or simply passed through each phase, is not known, nor is it mentioned in any credible book. In fact, in most of these books, there’s hardly any mention of the journey of Ahl al-Bayt to Damascus.”[14]

However, considering the geographical map of the region and the routes between Kufa and Damascus that were common at that time based on some documents, it can be said that there were, in total, three routes between Kufa and Damascus:

First Route: As mentioned, there is no credible evidence indicating the direction the caravan of captives took from Kufa to Damascus. Yet, many weaker and less credible books mention the stops the caravan of captives made. These weak reports have popularized what is known as the “Sultani Route”. This has led some later historians and researchers of the Ashura history to confirm it, accepting the Sultani Route, which passes through cities like Tikrit, Mosul, Tal Afar, Nusaybin, and Ain al-Ward, as the route the caravan of captives took to Damascus. Perhaps the popularity of this route is because it was often used at that time to travel from Kufa to Damascus. However, it should be noted that this route was very long, and there were shorter routes available.

Second Route: Another route some researchers have mentioned, and considered likely for the transfer of the captives, is the direct route from Kufa to Damascus. This route passes through a barren, scorching desert known as Badiyah al-Sham, which doesn’t have any cities.

The first time this route was mentioned was in the book “A’yan al-Shi’ah”. The author introduces this direct route to justify how Ibn Ziyad’s messenger could travel from Kufa to Sham in just one week. The author first considers the idea of covering the distance between Kufa and Sham in one week, as mentioned by some chroniclers, to be unlikely. However, he then goes on to say:

“It is possible to refute this unlikelihood by considering the direct route between Sham and Iraq, which can be crossed in a week. This is because it is a straight path and the Arab tribes of ‘Aqil used to take it in our time. Some reports also suggest that mail couriers would travel from Sham to Iraq in a week, and the Arab tribe of Salib would travel from Hauran to Najaf in about eight days. Perhaps they took this route, carrying enough water with them, and made brief stops in Kufa and Sham. Only Allah knows for certain.”[15]

Muhammad Amin Amini also prefers this route in his book and writes:

“We also lean towards the idea that the enemies of Allah and His Messenger (peace be upon him and his family) took the shortest possible route with the remaining members of Imam Hussain’s caravan from Kufa to Sham. It doesn’t matter whether this route was the path of the Arab tribe of ‘Aqil or another. We find it unlikely that they would have taken the long route known as the Sultan’s route.”[16]

Finally, Ayatollah Shahid Qazi Tabatabai (may Allah have mercy on him) explicitly mentioned the existence of the direct route in his book. However, he did not express an opinion on whether the caravan of the survivors was transferred to Sham through this route or not [17]. Instead, from his words, it appears he agrees with the idea of taking the Sultan’s route. This is because he recounts some events that took place en route, which pertain to the Sultan’s route, based on weak reports and seemingly affirms them.[18]

However, the reality is that their passing through the direct route, which only two late researchers have confirmed, not only lacks any evidence or witnesses but there are indications to the contrary. As previously mentioned, some later, less reliable books have reported incidents during the caravan’s journey which are all related to the Sultan’s route, not the desert route of Badiya al-Sham. Furthermore, there’s another credible piece of evidence negating the journey through the desert route, and that is a statement from Zainab Kubra (peace be upon her) addressed to Yazid which goes:

“O son of the pardoned ones, is it just for your women and maidens to be in your protection while the daughters of the Prophet of Allah are taken as captives, their sanctity violated, their faces exposed, and the enemies of Allah driving them from one city to another?”[19]

It is evident that if the caravan’s route was through the scorching desert of Badiya al-Sham, she would have complained about the hardships of the journey, such as the thirst and hunger of the children of Aba Abdillah (peace be upon him) which they would naturally have faced or at least imposed on them by the captors. But Zainab (peace be upon her) only complained about being paraded from city to city in front of people as foreign captives and didn’t mention anything else. This itself is an argument in favor of their movement through a route like the Sultan’s route, not the desert route of Badiya al-Sham.

Third Route: The third route, which seems to be more likely than any other to have been the path of the captive caravan from Kufa to Damascus, is the apparently conventional and customary route between Kufa and Damascus; that is, the route that passes the western bank of the Euphrates River and goes through cities such as Anbar, Hit, Qarqisia, Raqqa, and the region of Siffin.

The characteristics of this route are: firstly, it’s a conventional and common route between Kufa and Damascus. Secondly, it is not so lengthy that it would have the issues of the Sultan’s route, nor is it a dry, scorching desert route, like the Badiya al-Sham, which would be avoided and only traveled during emergencies by expert and equipped individuals or locals familiar with the region.

This route is the same one that the troops of Amir al-Mu’minin (peace be upon him) took for the battle against Muawiya [20], and during the time of Imam Hassan al-Mujtaba (peace be upon him), Muawiya’s troops traveled it from Damascus to Maskan (where they clashed with Imam Hassan’s army).

However, observing a map of the region and all three existing routes between Kufa and Damascus, it becomes clear to any viewer that traveling this route is the most logical and reasonable. Choosing the Sultan’s route and heading to Tikrit, Mosul, and Nisibin is like taking a roundabout way to eat, and choosing the hot desert route is typically not done by experienced and seasoned men. So how could it be possible to move a group of women and children through that route, and no report mentions any description of it after traversing it?

Therefore, it seems that choosing the western side of the Euphrates, which is a middle route, is more likely than the other two routes. However, the evidence regarding the cities of Aleppo, Qinnasrin, Hama, Homs, and Deir Rahba, since they are common between both the Sultan’s route and the middle route, cannot serve as evidence for either of the two routes. However, if proven, it would be a reason to negate the Badiya al-Sham route.

3- Time taken to reach Damascus

It seems that the arrival of the captive caravan on the first of Safar in Damascus is not accepted. As mentioned, the author of the book, “Research on the First Arba’een of Sayyid al-Shuhada (peace be upon him)”, refers to the direct route between Kufa and Damascus. He considers the duration of this journey by the people of the region to be approximately seven days. He writes in his book:

There is a path between Syria (Sham) and Iraq, a direct and straight one. The Arabs of ‘Aqil travel through this route in our time, and they reach Iraq in a span of a week [21].

He further cites:

The Arabs of ‘Salib’ move from ‘Hauran’, a vast region belonging to the Damascus jurisdiction located to its south. This region is filled with numerous villages and vast farmlands, with its center being ‘Busra’. The name of this region frequently appears in Arab poetry. They travel for eight days from their place and reach Najaf al-Ashraf in Iraq [22].

From the account of Meesam Tamar, he deduces and writes:

From this incident, it is entirely evident that they traveled from Damascus to Iraq and Kufa within a week. The messenger took a week to reach Kufa, confirming that the news about Meesam Tamar, may Allah sanctify his soul, was accurate and true [23].

In conclusion, he also recalls:

Some have reported that they traveled for eleven continuous days from Damascus before reaching Kufa [24].

Considering the above information and based on the following evidence, we can conclude that the caravan of captives could not have reached Damascus on the first of Safar:

  1. The use of pigeon posts has no evidence or support. The letter of Ibn Ziyad was likely sent through a messenger or mail. Therefore, his return, along with the order of Yazid, apparently should have taken no less than two weeks. Consequently, the captive caravan probably spent at least two weeks in Ibn Ziyad’s prison in Kufa. Only after two weeks was the order for their transfer to Damascus issued by Ibn Ziyad.
  2. Due to the harshness of the desert route, Badiyat al-Sham, the captives were not transferred through this path. Moreover, no evidence, even in weak books, supports this [25].”
  3. There is evidence that the transfer from Kufa to Damascus took more than a week. Because when couriers or local natives traveled the direct route from Kufa to Damascus in one week, traveling the Sultani route, which is almost twice as long as the desert route (Badiyat al-Sham), or the intermediate route, which is also longer than the desert route, must have taken more time. This can be argued for four reasons:

A. Firstly, the caravan of captives consisted of women and children, and such a caravan could never have sustained the speed of travel that couriers achieved with their fast and tested mounts;

B. Group movement inherently adjusts to the pace of the slowest member. This even applies among mounts; meaning, if we want a group of mounts to move collectively, the movement speed must adjust to the pace of the slowest of those mounts. Otherwise, dispersion and scattering during movement would be inevitable;

C. Traveling a longer route naturally requires more time; that is, the desert route (Badiyat al-Sham) was traveled in one week, but the Sultani or intermediate route, which is longer, would definitely take more time;

D. The presence of multiple cities, as was the case on the Sultani route, or the cities on the intermediate route, would inevitably result in more stopovers and slow down the pace of movement.

Therefore, even with a very optimistic assumption, if the family of Sayyid al-Shuhada and the heads of the martyrs were moved 100 kilometers a day, reaching Damascus – considering the distance from Kufa to Damascus on the Sultani route was about 1500 kilometers – would have taken more than fifteen days.

However, if it becomes clear that the holy head of Sayyid al-Shuhada was sent to Damascus earlier than the captives, doubts in this regard will be eliminated, advancing our understanding and reinforcing the correctness of our claim. Although some narratives suggest that the head of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) was accompanied by the captives, many narratives indicate that Ibn Ziyad sent the Imam’s head to Damascus earlier.

In any case, one of the two narratives doesn’t align with reality, and in research, we should accept the narrative that seems more consistent with external reality and has more corroborative evidence.

Perhaps one could say that sending the holy head of the Imam (peace be upon him) to Damascus and the reduction of one head from the total number of martyrs’ heads might have gone unnoticed. This might have misled some historians, making them believe that the Imam’s head was also with the caravan of captives along with the other heads.

The evidence indicating the sending of the head of Imam (peace be upon him) before the caravan of captives and the other heads is as follows:

  1. All the books that have mentioned the first day of Safar and the entry of the head of Imam Hussein (peace be upon him) into Damascus, have made no mention of the entry of the captives on that date, as indicated in the two reports below:

On the first of Safar, the head of Hussein (peace be upon him) was brought into Damascus, and it was a holiday for the Banu Umayyah [25]. Al-Kaf’ami said: On the first (of Safar), the head of Hussein (peace be upon him) was brought into Damascus, and it was a holiday for the Banu Umayyah [26].

In some narratives, it is mentioned:

When Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad killed Hussein (peace be upon him), he sent Zajr ibn Qays al-Ja’fi to Yazid ibn Muawiya to inform him of this… [27].

Based on many historical books, including Futuh of Ibn A’tham and Maqtal Khwarizmi, Zajr ibn Qays took the head of the Imam to Damascus to announce Ibn Ziyad’s victory to Yazid. These sources confirm the sending of the Imam’s head (peace be upon him) before the caravan of captives and write:

Zajr ibn Qays al-Ja’fi, with the head of Hussein, arrived first in Damascus until he entered upon Yazid, submitting to him the letter of Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad. Yazid took Ibn Ziyad’s letter, placed it before him, and said: “Present what you have, O Zajr.” He then brought forth the sacred head, placing it before Yazid ibn Muawiya in a golden basin… [28].

  1. Another account mentions the sending of the sacred head of Aba Abdillah al-Hussein (peace be upon him) by Mahqur ibn Tha’laba. Even if in this account the bearer of the sacred head is known to be someone else, it still confirms the sending of the Imam’s head before the caravan of captives:

Mahqur ibn Tha’laba al-A’idhi brought the head of Hussein to Yazid and said: “O Commander of the Faithful, I have brought you the head of the most foolish and ignorant of people.” Yazid replied: “The one born of Mahqur’s mother is more foolish and ignorant.” [29].”

  • And lastly, another piece of evidence that suggests the absence of the holy head of the Master of Martyrs along with the caravan of prisoners is the story of Yazid’s assembly. It’s narrated in this context:

Then the women of Hussain were brought forth with the head in front of them. Fatimah and Sakinah, daughters of Hussain, tried to get a glimpse of the head, while Yazid tried to hide it from them. But when they saw their father’s head, they screamed.[30]

An important point that should be deduced from this narration is the daughters of Aba Abdillah’s (peace be upon him) eagerness to see the severed head of their father and their cries after seeing it. It indicates that the holy head of the Master of Martyrs (peace be upon him) was separated from the caravan of prisoners. Because if the Imam’s sacred head was with them throughout the journey and they were constantly seeing their father’s noble head, firstly, they wouldn’t strive to see it in Yazid’s assembly and secondly, they wouldn’t lose their composure and cry out upon seeing it. Therefore, it’s hard to believe that the martyrs’ heads, and especially Aba Abdillah al-Hussain’s (peace be upon him) head, would be paraded with a group of women and children towards Syria and displayed in every city they passed, yet the children of the Master of Martyrs hadn’t seen their father’s holy head throughout the journey.

Furthermore, as was customary at that time, after winning a battle, the head of the opposing leader would be sent with a messenger to the victorious ruler’s commander to quickly deliver the news of victory. This was so the ruler could make the necessary decisions and wouldn’t be the last to know such important news.

The conclusion is that apparently, we cannot accept that the entrance of the captives into Syria was on the first of Safar, because being imprisoned for two weeks in Kufa and then nearly two weeks traveling from Kufa to Syria makes it unlikely for them to reach Syria on the first day of Safar.

4- Duration of the stay of Imam’s family in Damascus

Another matter that is directly related to the arrival of the family of Sayyid al-Shuhada in Karbala on the day of Arba’een is clarifying the duration of their stay in Damascus. Just as the previous matters were somewhat doubtful and uncertain, this matter is also not definitively known. The diversity of opinions and narratives on this topic is even greater than the previous ones.

Among the opinions related to the duration of the stay of the family of Sayyid al-Shuhada in Damascus, the following can be mentioned:

1- The caravan of prisoners stopped in Damascus for 8 days; [31]

2- Qazi Nu’man describes their stay in a roofless place for one and a half months. Moreover, it is mentioned that they stayed for seven days in Yazid’s house, mourning:

It is said that this event (mourning in Yazid’s house for 7 days) occurred after they stayed for one and a half months in a house that neither protected them from heat nor cold until their faces darkened due to the sun’s heat and they had sunburns, then they were released; [32]. Al-Nuri confirms this opinion, considering the stay of the Imam’s family in Yazid’s house for ten days, separate from their imprisonment in a roofless place that didn’t protect them from the elements; [33]

3- Ibn Tawoos also mentions in Iqbal al-A’mal that they stayed for a month; [34].

Moreover, the late Tabassi Najafi believed that the imprisonment and stay of the Imam’s family in Damascus was no less than a month and writes in his book:

It seems from several historical sources that their stay in Damascus was not less than a month; [35].

4- Another opinion considers their stay to be six months, and Sayyid Ibn Tawoos mentions it without citing the source; [36]

5- Other narratives suggest the stay was 18 days [37], or 45 days [38], and even a year for the Imam’s family in Damascus, which are mostly unconventional and rare opinions.

This issue is more ambiguous among the Shia because, on the one hand, they agree with the narratives that speak of the prolonged imprisonment of the Ahl al-Bayt in a roofless place that did not protect them from the cold and heat to the extent that they emphasize that the faces of the Ahl al-Bayt of Imam (peace be upon him) had turned black and their skin had peeled off. On the other hand, to prove the arrival of the caravan of captives to Karbala on Arbaeen, they agree with the narrative of a short stay in Damascus. These two things are inconsistent, and this issue has made things more difficult for the followers of the Ahl al-Bayt.

However, referring to the reports related to the stay of the caravan of Sayyid al-Shuhada in Damascus almost convinces us that their stay was not just eight or ten days, because firstly: staying in a place that does not protect from the heat and cold of such an extent that the faces of the holy ones turn black and their skin burns cannot be a short period. According to credible reports, the caravan of captives was transferred to Damascus with animals that had no shade, and their faces were exposed. Therefore, if their faces were to get burnt and their skin to peel, it should have happened on the way, not during a short imprisonment in a roofless place. But the fact that several credible reports have attributed the burning of the faces of the holy ones to the time of imprisonment in a roofless prison, is in fact one of their goals, in addition to pointing out the heat and the roofless nature of the prison, to remind us of the long duration of imprisonment in such a place. Furthermore, it might also be inferred that the captives were not transferred to Damascus through the desert of Sham, because otherwise the cause of the burning of the skin of the faces of Ahl al-Bayt of Sayyid al-Shuhada (peace be upon them) would have been attributed to the route between Kufa and Damascus.

Also, we should add the stay at Yazid’s house and the seven days of mourning there to that apparently long imprisonment, as well as the option given to the Ahl al-Bayt to either stay in Damascus or return to Medina, and the time needed to prepare the caravan to transfer the family of Sayyid al-Shuhada (peace be upon him) from Damascus to a place further than Kufa, i.e., to Medina. Each of these would require some time that should be added to the previously calculated duration. Therefore, believing in an eight or ten-day stay of the captives in Damascus will not match reality, and choosing it is not very scientific.

The behavior of Yazid with the holy head of Imam (peace be upon him) and his family shows that there must have been a significant change in Yazid’s attitude over time. As the Caliph, or in other words, the absolute ruler of the vast land of Islam, Yazid could not drastically alter his harsh treatment, accompanied by mockery and ridicule of the survivors of the Master of Martyrs, in just a few days and then seek forgiveness from Imam Sajjad. It’s evident that initially, Yazid audaciously desecrated the holy head of the Master of Martyrs (peace be upon him) in various assemblies, belittling the Imam’s survivors, trying to suppress the flames of his hatred and enmity against the Prophet’s family. He treated them without compassion, imprisoning them in an unsuitable place without a roof. However, when he sensed unfavorable and tense situations and saw people’s objections, even from his own allies, he gradually shifted his stance to avoid public disapproval. He accommodated the captives of the Prophet’s family in his court and home, seated Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) at his dining table, allowed them to hold mourning sessions for the Master of Martyrs and his loyal companions, and in the end, sought forgiveness from Imam Sajjad, blaming Ibn Ziyad for the martyrdom of the Master of Martyrs and exonerating himself from this crime.

It’s obvious that for Yazid to realize his mistake, some time had to elapse, and he had to assess the current situation. Also, once he recognized his error, making such a dramatic shift in his position would require considerable time. He changed his stance when he realized that increased hostility against the Prophet’s family would destabilize his rule. He then saw the need to resort to deceit and trickery, like his father Muawiya, to regain control and prevent societal chaos. Therefore, gradually by adopting a friendly posture towards the household of the Master of Martyrs and housing them in his palace, allowing mourning sessions, he tried to shift public opinion in his favor and prevent unrest. In reality, Yazid had no choice but to resort to these pretensions and deceptions to douse the flames he had ignited and avert potential strife.

However, after suppressing his pride and recognizing the depth of the tragedy he had caused, to prevent public unrest and protests in Syria and other territories, he felt compelled to treat the captives leniently, express sympathy for them, put the heavy burden of the crime on Ibn Ziyad’s shoulders, and show the world that he was honoring and respecting the Imam Hussein’s family, all in an attempt to control the situation. Sending the captive family back to Medina, especially before they could fully recover from the grief and the exhausting journey from Mecca to Karbala and then to Syria, could have been nothing but laying the groundwork for potential uprisings in various parts of the Islamic nation. Even when he had imprisoned the family in a roofless place that didn’t protect against the elements, he could have spread among the people that he was accommodating them in his own house and respecting them.

Nevertheless, Yazid, although he couldn’t openly keep the family of the Prophet of Islam (Peace Be Upon Him and His Progeny) in captivity in Sham due to their heart-wrenching and pitiful state, as it would wound the sentiments of the Muslims there. However, he could apparently express sympathy with them, if only to prevent the eruption of anger from the followers of Ahl al-Bayt and to keep the regional situation under control. Once a relative calm was established and the tragedy of the master of martyrs faded from public memory, he planned to send the family of the Imam back to Medina.

It seems that not only could Yazid have kept the Ahl al-Bayt in this condition in Sham, but he was forced to do so to ensure peace and order. Releasing the family of the master of the martyrs, while the signs of mourning still showed on their faces, and grief was apparent in their hearts, was an unusual and politically imprudent decision. Naturally, this would provide grounds for any disturbance and unrest in areas the Ahl al-Bayt would pass through, making conditions unstable for the central government.

Therefore, retaining the Ahl al-Bayt in Sham for a period before what is commonly believed (eight or ten days) seems certain, and historical evidence also points to this.

A review of the events that occurred in Sham assures any person that these incidents couldn’t have happened in just eight days. Here, we mention the events that occurred in Sham, leaving the judgment to the respected reader:

  1. The arrival of the holy head of the leader of the martyrs in Sham on the first of Safar and some evidence suggesting the arrival of the captive caravan days after.
  2. Yazid’s assembly on the first day of the captive’s arrival in Sham, which, according to many pieces of evidence, wasn’t on the first of Safar but several days after.
  3. Imprisonment for an extended period in a place without a roof, unprotected from the cold and heat.
  4. Imam Sajjad’s speech in the Umayyad mosque after Yazid’s orator had spoken.
  5. Subsequent meetings of Imam Sajjad with Yazid. It’s clear that the possibility of Imam Sajjad’s speech in the Umayyad mosque or his meetings with Yazid required the passage of time and the right circumstances.
  6. Yazid invited Imam Sajjad to his feast and a session where Yazid wanted Imam Hasan’s son to wrestle with his child.
  7. Sessions where Yazid would drink wine in front of the Imam’s head. [39]
  8. Ahl al-Bayt was accommodated in Yazid’s house and mourned there for a week.
  9. The meeting between Manhal and Imam Sajjad in the Sham market, indicates the relatively long stay of the captives in Sham.
  10. The time required to prepare the caravan for the Ahl al-Bayt’s journey from Sham to Medina, a very long route.
  11. Payment of compensation and blood money for the martyrs and the family by Yazid and the strong protest of Fatimah, the daughter of Hussain.
  12. Yazid’s 180-degree change in stance, turning his evident enmity with Hussain bin Ali and his honorable father, Ali bin Abi Talib, into a friendly and compassionate attitude towards the fourth Imam and the family of Hussain bin Ali.”

Of course, what has been mentioned are only the events that are quoted in history books. But surely, other events have also happened that historians have refrained from mentioning due to brevity.

Now, it is up to the esteemed reader to judge whether it is usually possible for these events to occur within eight or ten days, or if they require a longer period.

Another point to consider is the state and time of the Ahl al-Bayt of Sayyid al-Shuhada (peace be upon him). The caravan, composed of twenty women and fifteen children, experienced suffering and torment. They were taken as prisoners, beaten, and traveled from the eighth of Dhu al-Hijjah to the beginning of Safar – almost two months. They endured the most intense physical pressures and the highest emotional and mental pressures. Could they have embarked on another journey to Medina just after eight or ten days of staying in Damascus, especially when they were in such a devastated state?

Although these points aren’t definitive proof of a longer stay in Damascus, they certainly provide indications and evidence that can bring us closer to the truth.

Regarding the order for the prisoners’ caravan to leave Damascus, considering what has passed, it is not possible to ascertain an exact date. However, based on some reports, the 20th of Safar was the day the Ahl al-Bayt left Damascus. Sheikh Tusi in “Misbah al-Mutahajjid” says:

‘On the twentieth day of Safar, the return of the family of our master Abi Abdillah al-Husayn bin Ali bin Abi Talib (peace be upon them) from Damascus to the city of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family) took place.’ [40]

Some other texts also confirm this statement and mention similar phrases [41]. However, the author of “Ma’ al-Rakib al-Husayni” interprets these statements as referring to the departure from Damascus, not the arrival in Medina [42]. As mentioned earlier, the Ahl al-Bayt’s stay in Damascus seemed to be extended, and accepting that they left Damascus on the 20th of Safar doesn’t align with previous statements that described their stay in Damascus. Thus, accepting this will also raise ambiguities.

5- Intending for Karbala and arriving there on the first Arba’een

The route from Damascus to Medina

The last issue related to Arba’een and the mourning observed by the household of Sayyid al-Shuhada near his sacred shrine is the intention to visit Karbala upon their return and reach there on Arba’een. This issue can be summarized in several questions:

  1. Can it truly be said that the caravan of the sanctuary of Sayyid al-Shuhada, when moving towards Madinah al-Rasul (the city of the Prophet), initially intended to visit the tomb of Aba Abdillah al-Hussein (peace be upon him) in Karbala and then returned to Madinah al-Rasul (peace and blessings be upon him and his family)?
  2. Did they initially intend to go to Karbala, or did they change their decision midway, diverting their path towards Karbala and deviating from the route to Madinah?
  3. Is it possible that the survivors of Sayyid al-Shuhada (peace be upon him) went directly from Damascus to Madinah without visiting Karbala?
  4. If they moved towards Karbala, on which day did they reach it? Did they arrive there on the first Arba’een or in the days that followed, managing to visit the sacred grave of Sayyid al-Shuhada (peace be upon him)?

These are all questions that can be raised at this point, and answering them isn’t straightforward. Reliable news that has no contradiction regarding any of the above questions is non-existent.

The author of the book “Research on the First Arba’een of Sayyid al-Shuhada (peace be upon him)” not only supports the arrival of the household in Karbala on Arba’een and their meeting with Jabir, but he is also a fervent defender of the burial of Sayyid al-Shuhada’s head and the joining of the revered head of the Imam to his holy body on that Arba’een day by Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him). After he quoted and examined the various reports about the burial of the sacred head in different locations, he concludes:

The correct opinion is that which the Imami scholars hold and practice: that the holy head of Sayyid al-Shuhada (peace be upon him) was brought by Imam Sajjad, peace be upon him, on his return from Damascus with the heads of the martyrs to Karbala. Although it’s not certain that he brought all the martyrs’ heads with him, he undoubtedly brought the sacred head with him. On Arba’een, the 20th of Safar, in the year 61 AH, he joined it to the purest and most aromatic body and also buried the heads of other martyrs in Karbala.[43]

He also states elsewhere:

Without a doubt, Imam Sajjad… brought the revered head of Sayyid al-Shuhada (peace be upon him) to Karbala and on Arba’een, the 20th of Safar, in the year 61 AH, joined it to the purest and most aromatic body.[44]

In another place, it is mentioned:

Without doubt, Imam Sajjad brought with him to Karbala the holy head of Sayyid al-Shuhada (peace be upon him) and reunited it with the sacred and pure body on the day of Arba’een, the 20th of Safar in the year 61 [AH].[44]

His primary reason for this claim is the narration of Atiyyah. Although, as narrated in Bisharat al-Mustafa, Atiyyah’s account specifically mentions Jabir’s visitation to the holy tomb of Sayyid al-Shuhada and doesn’t mention his meeting with Imam Sajjad and the caravan of captives, he asserts that the narration in Bisharat al-Mustafa is fragmented, and in the original version, it explicitly describes the arrival of the Ahl al-Bayt in Karbala on the day of Arba’een and Jabir’s encounter with Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) and the caravan of captives.[45] However, it seems that:

  1. The assertion of fragmentation in Bisharat al-Mustafa is solely based on the claims of Sayyid Amin, who was among the later scholars; we cannot assume the narration is fragmented based solely on his claim.
  2. Atiyyah’s account doesn’t specify the day of Arbaeen. It’s possible that Jabir visited the holy tomb of Sayyid al-Shuhada multiple times during his stay in Kufa, and on one of those occasions, Atiyyah accompanied him. Particularly, it seems from the beginning of Atiyyah’s narration that they embarked on their journey from a location near Karbala, not a distant place like Medina. This is because Atiyyah begins his narration as:

“I set out with Jabir bin Abdullah al-Ansari (may Allah be pleased with him) to visit the grave of Hussain (peace be upon him). When we entered Karbala…

It seems unlikely that Atiyyah meant departing from Medina because if he did, he would not have omitted it in such brevity. Surely, he would have mentioned Medina, the length of the journey, or certain events that took place en route. More importantly, Atiyyah himself was a resident of Kufa, and this fact is also emphasized by the esteemed Qazi [46]. Hence, it’s evident that Jabir must have stayed in Kufa for a while and visited Imam Hussain’s (peace be upon him) mausoleum multiple times. Atiyyah’s statement, “I set out with Jabir…”, likely refers to leaving Kufa, pointing towards Jabir’s stay in Kufa. Thus, Jabir’s visit to Karbala wasn’t limited to just one occasion where he met Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him), and that visit was not necessarily on the day of Arba’een.

The mistake some researchers make is to infer from two premises: “Jabir’s visit to Karbala on the day of Arba’een” and “his meeting with Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) and the family of Sayyid al-Shuhada (peace be upon him)” that the caravan of the Ahl al-Bayt (peace be upon them) arrived in Karbala on the day of Arba’een. However, these two premises do not negate Jabir’s visits on subsequent days. It’s possible that during one of Jabir’s later visits to Karbala, he met with Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him). This assumption gains strength knowing that Jabir was an elderly blind man. Logically, when a blind elderly man travels from Medina to visit the grave of his master in Karbala, he doesn’t return after just one visit. He would undoubtedly stay in Karbala or Kufa for some time, visiting the sacred tomb multiple times. Therefore, if there was a meeting between Jabir and Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him), it would likely have occurred days after the Arba’een.

As previously mentioned, the martyred scholar Qazi Tabatabai in his book not only emphasizes that the narration of Atiyyah is truncated based on what is mentioned in Bisharat al-Mustafa, but also in the original version, it further describes Jabir’s meeting with Imam Sajjad and the household (peace be upon them). He also believes that on that very day, the severed heads of these noble figures were rejoined in their honorable bodies.

However, upon reviewing the truncated part of Atiyyah’s narration, we cannot derive such a conclusion, as it apparently states in the deleted section of Bisharat al-Mustafa:

Atiyyah said, “While we were there, I saw a group emerging from the direction of Sham (Syria). I told Jabir, ‘This is a group emerging from Sham.’ Jabir told his servant, ‘Go to this group and bring us news. If they are the followers of Umar bin Saad, return quickly to warn us, and we might need to seek refuge. But if it is Zain ul-Abideen (peace be upon him), you are free for the sake of Allah Almighty.’ The servant left, and it wasn’t long before he returned, saying, ‘O Jabir, rise and welcome the sanctuary of the Prophet of Allah. This is Zain ul-Abideen (peace be upon him) coming with his aunts and sisters.’ Jabir rose and walked quickly, his head uncovered, towards the Imam. As he approached Imam Zain ul-Abideen (peace be upon him), the Imam asked, ‘Are you Jabir?’ He replied, ‘Yes, O descendant of the Prophet of Allah.’ The Imam then said, ‘O Jabir, by Allah, our men were killed here, our children were slaughtered, our women were taken captive, and our tents were burned.’ They then left Karbala, heading towards Medina.”[47].

Now, based on the above text, we would like to point out several points:

1- Why hasn’t Atiyyah mentioned anything about the reattachment of Imam Hussain’s (peace be upon him) head to his sacred body? Is it conceivable that, given the ceremony that should have been held for such a momentous event, and the various accounts about it, Atiyyah, as a narrator of the event, overlooked it? Or did not even make a passing reference to the sacred head of Sayyid al-Shuhada (Master of Martyrs)? Was there something more important that made him overlook it? Was the reattachment of the head of the son of Fatima Zahra (peace be upon her), which had been paraded around cities for forty days on the tip of spears and subjected to unspeakable indignities by the followers of Yazid, such a minor and insignificant matter that Atiyyah failed to mention it or forgot it?

2- If Imam Hussain’s head was to be handed over to Imam Sajjad (peace be upon them both), Yazid should have ordered that Imam’s family be taken to Karbala, and after burying Hussain’s (peace be upon him) head, they should then head to Medina. However, no existing reports mention such an order.

3- If Imam Hussain’s (peace be upon him) head was to be handed over to Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) from the outset, the officials accompanying the caravan of captives would have known and would have chosen Karbala as their destination. In that case, there would have been no need for the Imam’s family (peace be upon them) to plead with them to change the caravan’s route from Medina to Karbala.

4- Numerous accounts that suggest the burial of the sacred head of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) in places other than Karbala may sometimes present strong counter-arguments to this belief.[48]

In any case, our question is: given the presence of various pieces of evidence and opinions regarding the burial of the Imam’s (peace be upon him) sacred head, and the fragmentation of those opinions, of which he himself was aware and many of which he has mentioned in his book dedicating over fifty pages to them,[49], and also given the objections raised by some scholars and experts about the theory of burying Imam Hussain’s (peace be upon him) sacred head alongside his sacred body, how can one be so certain and conclusive in believing that Imam Hussain’s (peace be upon him) head was reattached to his sacred body by Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) on the day of Arba’een? Can such certainty and conviction be achieved in a historical matter, except in cases where there are numerous reports that explicitly describe something without any contradiction?

The result of not mentioning the attachment of the holy head of the Master of Martyrs to his noble body in the narrative of Atiyyah brings us closer to two possible outcomes, and based on both outcomes, it questions the arrival of the caravan of prisoners on the first Arba’een to Karbala and the burial of Imam Hussein’s (peace be upon him) head on the same day next to his holy body:

Firstly, if the segmented narrative of Atiyyah is correct, we must accept that the heads of the martyrs were not with Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) on the day of Arba’een, because if it were so, Atiyyah would surely have participated with Jabir in their burial and would have detailed this significant event in his narrative.

Secondly, Atiyyah’s narrative is the same as what is mentioned in ‘Basharat al-Mustafa’ and has no continuation. Thus, the family of Imam Hussein (peace be upon him) did not reach Karbala on the day of Arba’een, and Jabir on the Arba’een of Hussein, after visiting the holy shrine of Hussein bin Ali (peace be upon him), set off for Kufa. The survivors of the Master of Martyrs (peace be upon him) did not reach Karbala on Arba’een, and there was no meeting on that day between Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) and Jabir.

Another proponent of the family’s journey to Karbala is Sayyid ibn Tawus in his book ‘Luhuf’. He writes:

The narrator said: When the women of Hussein (peace be upon him) and his family returned from Sham and reached Iraq, they said to the guide: “Take us through the route to Karbala…” [50]

Accepting this statement from Sayyid ibn Tawus will be problematic in any case because the remaining family members’ journey to Karbala would have been in two scenarios: either they intended to go to Karbala from the start, or they changed their mind en route and decided to visit the holy shrine of Hussein (peace be upon him).

However, if the caravan of prisoners, after being freed, initially intended to go to Karbala, they would have taken the Iraq and Karbala route from the beginning and wouldn’t have needed to ask the guides to take them to Karbala. But if their primary intention was to return to Medina and they hadn’t intended to go to Karbala, they would have taken the route from Sham to Medina, which is different from the route from Sham to Iraq, and never would have passed through Iraq until they decided to divert their route towards Karbala to visit the holy shrine of the Master of Martyrs (peace be upon him).

Therefore, it seems that one cannot fully trust any of the evidence provided by those claiming the family of Imam Hussein (peace be upon him) reached Karbala on the day of Arba’een. This matter remains shrouded in ambiguity. Not going to Karbala on their return journey or, at the very least, arriving in Karbala after the Arba’een of the martyrs of Karbala seems more plausible.


In light of examining the five essential topics that are directly related to the arrival of the caravan of captives in Karbala on the day of Arba’een, the following results can be deduced:

  1. It is not precisely known how long the caravan of captives was imprisoned in Kufa. Considering the time needed for Ibn Ziyad to send a letter to Sham and receive a reply from Yazid, we cannot say that the captives left Kufa before the 25th of Muharram unless we believe that no correspondence about the captives was exchanged between Ibn Ziyad and Yazid. Naturally, if that was the case, the time the survivors of Imam Hussein (peace be upon him) spent imprisoned in Kufa was brief. Regardless, it’s challenging to make an exact statement about their stay in Kufa. Still, historical evidence suggests that the captivity of the Prophet Muhammad’s family lasted close to two weeks;
  2. The transfer of the caravan of captives via the desert route “Badiyat al-Sham” is ruled out due to its challenging terrain, its unconventional use for travel, and the absence of any evidence supporting this route. Hence, they must have been transferred to Sham through the main or the middle route, as detailed previously;
  3. Considering that the distance between Kufa and Sham could not be covered by the caravan of captives faster than by messengers, it is logical to assume a period of about two weeks for the journey;
  4. It’s impossible to conclusively determine the duration of the stay of the captives in Sham. Thus, pinpointing their departure from Sham also becomes challenging. However, what can be reasonably believed is that the captivity and subsequent stay of Imam’s family (peace be upon him) in Sham lasted more than seven or ten days;
  5. It’s unclear how the caravan of captives planned their journey to Karbala after being freed from Yazid. It’s unknown if they intended to go to Karbala from the time, they left Sham or if they changed their decision midway. Did they return via the main route or the middle route towards Medina, or did they take the direct route along the Mediterranean Sea?
  6. In summary, although the popular opinion is that the caravan of captives went to Karbala during their return, and there’s no strong reason to deny this, their arrival in Karbala on Arba’een is improbable given the many ambiguities and the evidence and indications, some of which were mentioned in this article. Insisting on this occurrence doesn’t seem very acceptable;
  7. While substantiating the arrival of the Prophet Muhammad’s family (peace be upon him and his family) in Karbala on Arba’een presents considerable challenges and appears almost unfeasible, it’s intriguing why certain researchers are so driven to validate it. Are the sacred traditions from the infallibles (peace be upon them) not adequate to establish the significance of the Arba’een visit to the master of martyrs (peace be upon him)? Is there a necessity to underscore the coincidental arrival of the Martyr leader’s family on that day?

Interestingly, even if there weren’t any traditions highlighting the merits of the Arba’een pilgrimage (although there exists a narration from an infallible indicating that such a visit is a hallmark of true belief), the supposed arrival of the captive caravan on Arba’een wouldn’t inherently bestow added virtue or endorsement to the pilgrimage.

And Allah knows best and to Him be the praise.


1- “Tareekh al-Tabari”, Vol. 5, p. 463.

2- “Aal Makbas”, “Mawsu’at Maqtal al-Imam al-Hussein (peace be upon him)”, p. 446; “Amali al-Saduq”, p. 140, Majlis 31, Hadith 3; and also see “Ma’a al-Rakb al-Husseini”, Vol. 5, p. 136.

3- Sayed Mohammad Ali Qazi Tabatabai, “Tahqiqi darbareye Awwal Arba’in Hazrat Sayed al-Shuhada’ (peace be upon him)”, pp. 41-42.

4- Ibid., p. 262.

5- Ibid., pp. 153, 261, and 273.

6- Tabari, Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 338 (regarding Muawiyah’s death on 15th Rajab) and p. 341 (on Imam’s departure from Madinah on 28th Rajab).

7- Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 339.

8- Mohammad bin Sa’d, “Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra”, Vol. 1, p. 485 and “Ma’a al-Rakb al-Husseini”, Vol. 6, p. 83.

9- Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 338.

10- Mohammad Ali Qazi Tabatabai, “Tahqiq darbareye Awwal Arba’in Sayed al-Shuhada'”, pp. 34-35.

11- Tabari, Ibid., Vol. 5, p. 463 and “Mawsu’at Maqtal al-Imam al-Hussein by Aal Makbas”, p. 746, cited from: “Al-Kamil fi al-Tareekh”, Vol. 3, p. 298.

12- “Aal Makbas”, Ibid., p. 410, cited from “Al-Futuh”, Ibn A’tham Kufi, Vol. 5, pp. 127 and 586.

13- [The text speaks about the perspective of Qazi Tabatabai.]

14- Muaddith Qumi, Abbas, “Nafs al-Mahum”, p. 227 (388).

15- Sayed Mohsen Amin, “A’yan al-Shia”, Part One, Section 4; Qazi Tabatabai, “Tahqiq Piramoon Arba’in SayedalShuhada'”, p. 193.

16- “Ma’a al-Rakb al-Husseini”, Vol. 5, p. 186.

17- Qazi Tabatabai, Ibid., p. 33.

18- Ibid., p. 151.

19- Tabarsi, “Al-Ihtijaj”, Vol. 2, p. 125; Ibn Tawus, “Allahuf”, p. 215; Maqtal Khwarazmi, Vol. 2, p. 62. Also, see “Al-Futuh”, Vol. 2, p. 180 and “Tasliyat al-Majalis”, Vol. 2, p. 379.

20- See: “Mawsu’at al-Imam Ali (peace be upon him)”, Vol. 6, Chapter 6, cited from “Masir al-Imam Ila al-Siffin”, p. 55.
[21] Qazi Tabatabai, op. cit., p. 33.

[22] Ibid., p. 34.

[23] Ibid., p. 34.

[24] Ibid., p. 38.

[25] Misbah Kufami, p. 676; Sheikh Abbas Qumi, Nafs al-Mahmum, p. 391.

[26] Misbah Kufami, p. 510; and Tawzih al-Maqasid, Issue 5.

[27] Al-Tabaqat al-Kubra (Fifth Category of the Companions): Vol. 1, p. 485; and Al-Akhbar al-Tawal, p. 260.

[28] Al-Futuh: Vol. 5, p. 127 and refer to Al-Irshad: Vol. 2, p. 118.

[29] Ibn Saad, op. cit., Fifth Category of the Companions (Tabaqat Kubra): Vol. 1, p. 486; Al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh, Vol. 2, p. 576.

[30] Al-Kamil fi al-Tarikh: Vol. 2, p. 577; Sirr A’lam al-Nubla: Vol. 3, p. 320; Yanabi al-Mawadda: Vol. 3, p. 16.

[31] Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar: Vol. 45, p. 196.

[32] Qazi Nu’man Maghribi, Sharh al-Akhbar, Vol. 3, p. 269.

[33] Najafi, Qazi Tabatabai, op. cit., p. 44.

[34] Iqbal al-A’amal: p. 589; I’lam al-Wari, p. 249.

[35] Tabsi Najafi, Maqtal al-Imam al-Hussein, p. 285.

[36] Qazi Tabatabai, op. cit., pp. 45-46.

[37] R.K: Muhij al-Ahzan.

[38] Cited from Taraz al-Mazhab.

[39] Kharazmi, Maqtal al-Hussein (Peace be upon him), Vol. 2, p. 72. However, this report might be related to a time when the Imam’s head was sent to Sham, but the caravan of captives had not yet arrived.

[40] Misbah al-Mutahajjid, p. 730; and Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 101, p. 334.

[41] Al-‘Udd al-Qawiya, p. 219; Misbah Kufami, pp. 489 and 510.

[42] Al-Rakb al-Husaini, Vol. 6, p. 270.

[43] Qazi Tabatabai, op. cit., p. 359.

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid., pp. 179-221.

[46] Ibid., p. 179.

[47] Ibid., p. 186.

[48] Kulayni, Al-Kafi: Vol. 4, p. 571; Ibn Quluwayh, Kamil al-Ziyarat, p. 83; Farhat al-Ghari, p. 92, Vol. 8; Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 45, p. 178, Hadith 28.

[49] Qazi Tabatabai, op. cit., pp. 304-352.

[50] Sayyid Ibn Tawus, Al-Lahuf, p. 225.

[51] Sheikh Tusi, Tahdhib al-Ahkam, Vol. 6, p. 52, Hadith 122; and Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, Vol. 101, p. 322, Cited from Tahdhib, Misbah al-Za’ir, Iqbal Sayyid, and Mazhar Shahid.

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