Qasim ibn al-Hassan was one of the highly-respected sons of Imam al-Hassan who was present in Karbala and was martyred on the day of Ashura (tenth of Muharram). The date of birth of Qasim ibn al-Hassan has not been recorded in history. Therefore, there is a great deal of controversy as to the age of Qasim among scholars. In this article on Islam4u, we will try to discover the real age of Qasim ibn al-Hassan at the Battle of Karbala.
Was Qasim a Young Boy?
There is only one maqtal (a book narrating the events of Ashura) by a Sunni historian named Khwarizmi who says that in Karbala, Qasim was a sabiyy, meaning a boy who has not reached the age of puberty. Some have assumed that he was 11, 13, or 14 years old. However, there is no proof that he was a young boy based on other historical records. If he truly were that young, it would have been a strange thing that all other records would have mentioned. There is one record in a book titled Lubab al-Ansab that says Qasim was 16 when he was martyred. We will now prove that both records are incorrect and that Qasim was a youth of at least 18 years of age.
Imam al-Hussain (a) Would Not Let Boys Enter the Battlefield
Imam al-Hussain (a) never allowed boys who had not reached puberty to fight on the battlefield. Qasim’s brother, Abdullah ibn al-Hassan, was a young boy of around 11 years of age. He wanted to go to the battlefield too to defend his uncle. However, Lady Zainab held him tightly so he could not, but he broke free from her and went to defend his uncle and was martyred. On the other hand, when Qasim asked Imam al-Hussain’s permission to go to the battlefield, he gave him permission. If Qasim was still a young boy, how was it that Imam al-Hussain allowed him to go to the battlefield? We read about Qasim in Ziyarah Nahiyah, which is a ziyarah that is attributed to Imam al-Mahdi (a), “Salam on you whose head was struck and his armor plundered.” If Qasim was a young boy, how would armor fit him?
Other accounts state that he was on a horse when he fought. How could a little boy ride a horse and at the same time fight in battle?
It Was Uncommon for Boys to Participate in Battles
The participation of young boys in wars is uncommon and not customary among Arabs. If Qasim had been a young boy, his participation as a soldier in Imam al-Hussain’s (a) camp would have been an unusual matter. This would capture the attention of historians. How is it that no one except al-Khwarizmi mentioned this? Especially considering that they have gone to great lengths to note matters of lesser significance. When considering that no supporter of Imam al-Hussain (a) other than Qasim has been claimed to be a young boy, this inference strongly supports the notion that al-Khwarizmi’s claim is flawed.
As for what is said, that a boy who had not yet reached the age of eleven fought and his father sought permission from Imam al-Hussain (a) for him to participate, and after consulting with his mother, he was granted permission, and he went out saying, “My commander is Hussain, what an excellent commander…” This piece of information, though mentioned by some historians, none of them specifies that his age did not exceed eleven. According to Al-Khwarizmi’s narration, Imam al-Hussain (a) described him as a young man. Similarly, Al-Khwarizmi and Ibn Shahrazur described him as a young man. Some individuals in our time have claimed that his age did not exceed eleven, but their claims lack credibility, as is evident.
Qasim’s Height Proves He Was a Young Man
This is what a number of historians have reported regarding how Imam al-Hussain (a) carried Qasim after his death. Sheikh al-Mufid in “Al-Irshad” states: “Then he carried him on his chest as if I am seeing the legs of the boy dragging on the ground. He brought him until he placed him next to his son Ali ibn Hussain (Ali al-Akbar).”
In the history of Tabari, through his chain of narrators, Hamid ibn Muslim said: “Then he lifted him, and it was as if I am seeing the legs of the boy dragging on the ground, with al-Hussain placing his chest against his chest.” He continued, “I thought to myself, what will he do with him? Then he brought him until he placed him next to his son Ali ibn al-Hussain.”
Abu al-Faraj narrated in “Maqatil al-Talibiyyin,” with a chain of narrators that leads to Hamid ibn Muslim, a passage similar to this one: “Then he carried him on his chest, and it was as if I am seeing the legs of the boy dragging on the ground until he placed him next to his son Ali ibn al-Hussain.”
These mentioned accounts of how Imam al-Hussain (a) carried Qasim reveal that if Qasim was not taller than Imam al-Hussain (a), he was at least of similar height. The implication of these narrations is that Imam al-Hussain (a) placed Al-Qasim’s chest against his own chest while carrying him. The nature of carrying in this way implies that the person carrying would lean backward, yet the texts mentioned indicate that Qasim’s legs were still touching the ground. This suggests that Qasim was taller than Imam al-Hussain (a) or at least of the same height. Some speakers claim that Imam al-Hussain (a) was bent over while carrying Qasim, but this is not mentioned in any sources.
If Qasim’s height was similar to or greater than that of Imam al-Hussain (a), it becomes unlikely that he was a young boy who had not reached puberty. Generally, the stature of someone around the age of thirteen does not usually match that of an adult man, especially when the man is closer to average height, as was the case with Imam al-Hussain (a), whose physical features resembled those of Prophet Muhammad (s) according to some texts.
Although this implication might not be as strong as the initial one, it still supports the argument. This is reinforced by what Sheikh al-Saduq reported with a chain of narrators that reaches Imam al-Sadiq (a), stating that Qasim emerged into the battle as a horseman, not as a footman. It is unlikely that a young boy who had not reached puberty would have been capable of fighting as a horseman.
Qasim Is Counted as One of the Men Who Would Be Martyred
The author of “Lubab al-Ansab” – as per the accounts attributed to him – mentioned that Qasim was sixteen years old when he was martyred. While this statement might not be supported solely by historical evidence, it serves to undermine al-Khwarizmi’s claim, as it is more plausible than his assertion due to its alignment with the previous indications. Furthermore, supporting the claim of the author of “Lubab al-Ansab,” Sayyid Hashim al-Tubalani in his work “Madina al-Muajiz,” narrates: “Abu Hamza al-Thamali reported, saying: I heard Ali ibn Hussain Zain al-Abidin say, ‘On the day my father was martyred, he gathered his family and companions on the night of that day.'” The narration continues: ” Qasim ibn al-Hasan said to him, ‘And will I be one who gets killed?’ So he felt sorry for him. Imam al-Hussain (a) replied, ‘O my dear nephew, how do you perceive death?’ He replied, ‘O uncle, it’s sweeter than honey.’ Imam al-Hussain (a) said, ‘By Allah, then you will be among the men who get killed with me after you experience a great trial.'”
If this narration is authentic, it clearly indicates that Qasim was considered one of the men, as Imam al-Hussain (a) specifically included him among the men who would be killed alongside him in the battle. Imam al-Hussain (a) said, “By Allah, then you will be among those who get killed from among the men with me after you experience a great trial.” Some historians have mentioned that Qasim killed three individuals in the battle, and others have noted that he killed more. This was despite the unequal numbers and the hardships of the siege, including water scarcity that lasted for three days. This can be taken as another inference that adds to the preceding evidence.
Regarding the argument that Qasim was described as a “ghulam” in some texts and that the term “ghulam” linguistically refers to a boy, it can be addressed by clarifying that linguistic terms do not solely determine the intended meaning of a word, but also consider its contextual usage. Linguists have noted that the term “ghulam” is used to refer to a young boy as well as a young man. It has been pointed out that linguists indicate that “ghulam” encompasses a wider age range, including young boys and young men. The linguistic perspective on the term “ghulam” highlights that it refers to young individuals from birth to adulthood, and it can be found in dictionaries such as “Lisan al-Arab” and “al-Qamus” by al-Firuzabadi.
The Meaning and Usage of “Ghulam” in Arabic
Among these indications is what Abu al-Faraj al-Isfahani mentioned in “Maqatil al-Talibiyyin.” He said that when Ali al-Akbar (the elder) stood before al-Hussain (a), al-Hussain said, “O Allah, be You the witness upon them.” Then a youth, bearing a strong resemblance to Prophet Muhammad (s), stepped forward toward them. Al-Hussain (a) began to tighten his grip on him and then he returned to his father. Abu al-Faraj continued, “He kept pulling towards the people and saying, ‘I am Ali ibn Hussain ibn Ali.’ Until he mentioned, ‘A Hashemite Alawi “ghulam” (youth) was struck.’ “
According to this passage, Imam al-Hussain (a) referred to Qasim as a “ghulam” (youth), and he referred to himself as a “ghulam” as well, even though by the most conservative estimates, Qasim was eighteen years old.
Furthermore, among these indications is the statement of the martyr Ja’far ibn Aqil, as mentioned in “Manaqib” by Ibn Shahrazad:
“I am the ghulam, the Abtahi, the Talibi, from Hashim’s lineage, superior.”
At that time, Ja’far was a married man.
Additionally, in “Manaqib” by Ibn Shahrazad, it is stated: “In the book ‘Al-Ahmar,’ al-Awza’i said, ‘When Ali ibn Hussain and his father’s head were brought to Yazid in Sham, he said to a skilled orator, ‘Take this ghulam’s (youth’s) hand, bring him to the pulpit, and inform the people…’ When he descended, Ali ibn al-Hussain stood up and praised Allah with noble praises…”
In this text, the term “ghulam” was used to refer to Ali ibn al-Hussain Zain al-Abidin (a), despite the fact that he had surpassed the age of twenty at that time and was already married. This usage of “ghulam” in different contexts is abundant, while if “ghulam” were exclusively used for young boys, then its usage for Qasim would be metaphorical, supported by the indications we previously mentioned, that he was a young man.
Based on what we have presented, there is no definitive proof that Qasim ibn al-Hassan (a) was a young boy who had not reached the age of maturity. Additionally, this claim, even in itself, lacks credibility due to al-Khwarizmi’s singular transmission of it. The collective evidence decisively refutes its validity; rather, it assures that Qasim ibn al-Hassan (a) was among the men, albeit at a youthful age. Some historians believe that if Qasim was not at the same age as Ali al-Akbar (a), he would not have been significantly younger. The killing of a child is a grievous act, but the lofty stature of al-Hussain (a) and his noble stance demands attention. He did not permit an underage boy to fight. Nonetheless, the killing of a young man who, in the prime of his youth, defended the religion of Allah is indeed heart-wrenching, yet it is simultaneously a source of pride and honor.