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Unfolding Ashura: A Detailed Hour-by-Hour Historical Perspective of the Event

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To analyze Ashura, it is essential that we conduct a meticulous examination of the events of Ashura, recounted hour by hour as per historical accounts, to enable us to execute a precise and correct evaluation.

According to the late Dr. Ahmad Birashk’s calculations in ‘Iranian Chronology’, the Karbala event occurred on the 21st of Mehr, 59 AH, as per the solar calendar. The solar date, unlike the lunar date, does not change the times of the day. The Earth’s position relative to the Sun is fixed, and it is possible to convert the narrations of the Martyrdom Recorders to the exact hour and minute by determining the prayer times for the city of Karbala on this date. We have extracted the prayer times for the 21st of Mehr based on the horizon of Karbala (which can differ by a maximum of +/- 3 minutes over the centuries) and have coordinated the accounts of the Martyrdom Recorders with these times.

Please note these times are just estimates, rounded and not actual.

5:47 AM Morning Call to Prayer

After the morning prayer, Imam Hussein (Peace Be Upon Him) delivered a speech to his followers, inviting them to be patient and to strive. He then prayed, ‘O Allah, You are my trust in every calamity… O Allah, You are my supporter in every unpleasant incident.’

On the other side, Omar Saad led the prayer and after the morning prayer, they started arranging their army and positioning their forces.


6:00 AM

Imam Hussein (Peace Be Upon Him) ordered a trench to be dug around the tents and filled it with thorns and bushes. They then set it on fire to prevent the enemy forces from attacking from behind.”

7:06 AM Sunrise

Shortly after sunrise, the Imam mounted a camel to be better seen. He faced the Kufa army and delivered a loud sermon for them. Then reminded them of his own virtues and those of his father and brother, and the fact that the Kufans had written letters to him. The Imam even addressed a few leaders of the Kufa army, asking Hajar ibn Abjar and Shibth ibn Rab’i whether they had not invited him. They denied it. The Imam tossed their letters towards them and thanked Allah for having completed His proof against them. One of the opposition leaders asked the Imam why he wouldn’t accept Ibn Ziyad’s rule and spare them the disgrace of confronting the Prophet’s son? Here, the Imam uttered his famous phrase: “The illegitimate son of the illegitimate father has left me with two options: death or disgrace. And how far disgrace is from us!” The Imam’s speech lasted approximately half an hour.

8:00 AM

After the Imam’s speech, a few of his companions, including Burair, known as the “Master of Reciters” in Kufa, and according to another narrative, Zuhair, addressed the Kufans with similar remarks.

After the speeches of Zuhair and Burair, the Imam famously cried out, “Is there any helper to help me?” Some people, including Hurr, began to waver. Another man named Abul Sha’tha, and two brothers who were former Khawarij, might also have defected from the Kufa army as the likelihood of intense battle

9:00 AM

By mid-morning, Shimr had grown impatient with Omar Saad’s delay and started to rebuke him. Omar Saad finally agreed to start the war. He fired the first arrow toward the Imam’s army and shouted to his soldiers, “Bear witness before Ubaidullah that I fired the first arrow.” After Omar Saad’s arrow, the archers of the Kufa army began firing en masse. The Imam told his companions, “These are the messengers of this enemy. Get ready for the death that is inevitable.” Several people from the Imam’s army were killed in this barrage of arrows (We don’t know the exact number. The number of casualties from the initial attack is mentioned as 50).

10:00 AM

Following the archery exchange, Yasar, the slave of Ziyad’s son, and Salim, another of Ziyad’s slaves, emerged from Kufa’s army for the initial single combat of the battle. Abdullah bin Umar requested to duel. Imam Hussein (peace be upon him) glanced at him and declared, “I suspect you to be a formidable adversary.” Abdullah managed to slay both adversaries, though his left hand’s fingers were severed in the process.

Subsequent to this individual combat, a general assault was launched by the army of Imam Hussein (peace be upon him); Imam Husain, Habib, and his companions stood their ground. They knelt down and repelled the attack with their spears. Simultaneously, Shemr attacked the left flank of the Imam’s army. Zuhair and his associates joined the fight against the assailants. Shemr himself was injured in this assault. After the retreat of both Kufi flanks, Umar Sa’d dispatched 500 archers to once again shower the Imam’s army with arrows. In these attacks, in addition to the dismounting of 23 cavalrymen from the Imam’s army, several more companions were martyred. Al-Futuh records these martyrs as 50, while another source mentions 38.

The first martyr was Abu al-Sha’tha, who had thrown eight arrows, killing five enemies. Imam Hussein (peace be upon him) prayed for him.

A group from Shemr’s army sought to attack Imam Hussein (peace be upon him) from behind. Zuhair and ten others attacked them.

11:00 AM

After these events, the Imam ordered his companions to enter the battlefield one by one. They agreed amongst themselves not to let anyone from the Banu Hashim go into the battlefield. They were seemingly competing with each other to get martyred. Some were “martyred in front of the Imam’s gaze.” One of the first to be martyred was an elderly, devout Berber. Muslim bin Awsajah was martyred after him. Habib went to his deathbed and said, “I wish I could fulfill your will.” Muslim pointed towards Imam Hussein (peace be upon him) and said, “This man is my will.” At one point, seven of the Imam’s companions were besieged. Hazrat Abbas (peace be upon him) broke their siege and rescued them.

12:50 PM

Habib bin Mazahir was martyred at the call for midday prayer. It has been written that Imam Hussein (peace be upon him) told his companions to send someone to negotiate with Umar Sa’d and ask him to cease fighting for the midday prayer. A soldier from Kufa’s army shouted, “Your prayers are not accepted.” Habib responded, “You ass! Do you think your prayers are accepted and the prayers of the Prophet’s son (peace be upon him and his family) are not?” He engaged the soldier in battle but his friends came to his aid and Habib was killed. Imam Hussein (peace be upon him) was affected by Habib’s martyrdom and wept for the first time on the Day of Ashura. He turned towards the sky and said, “O Allah, I entrust the departure of my soul and my friends to you.”

1:30 PM

About 30 of Imam’s (AS) companions were alive until prayer time and were martyred afterward; including Zuhair and Hur. After the companions were killed, it was the turn of the Bani Hashem. The first person was Ali Akbar, the son of Imam Hussein (AS), though Al-Futuh has mentioned Abdullah bin Muslim bin Aqeel as the first martyr of Bani Hashem. This Abdullah bin Muslim was martyred in an unjust manner. His martyrdom weighed heavily on the youth of Bani Hashem, causing a collective surge of them to mount an attack on the enemy. The Imam calmed them down, saying, “Be patient with death, my cousins. I swear to Allah, after this, you will not see any disgrace or humiliation.”

2:00 PM

Around 28 men from Bani Hashem were killed: 7 brothers of Imam Hussein (AS), 3 sons of Imam Hassan (AS), 2 sons of Imam Hussein (AS), 2 grandsons of Ja’far ibn Abi Talib, 9 from the Aqeel family, and the rest were descendants of the Prophet’s remaining uncles. One of the martyrs was the grandson of Abu Lahab.

In the end, only Imam Hussein (AS) and Hazrat Abbas were left. They resolved to attack the enemy’s heart together in their last ride. The enemy created a distance between the two brothers. Abbas, the brave, was killed while surrounded.

After the martyrdom of Hazrat Abbas (AS), the Imam (AS) cried for the second time since his beloved brother’s death, saying, “Now my back is truly broken.”

3:00 PM

The Imam (AS) returned to the tents to bid farewell. He also tore his shirt and wore it, so that later when the enemy loots, they would not leave him naked. During his farewell to the Ahlul Bayt, his breastfeeding child (Ya’qubi says he was born that day, but others don’t agree) was killed by Hurmala’s arrow. The Imam (AS) looked at the sky and said, “O Allah, if you withhold your assistance from us, let it be in exchange for something better for us.”

The Imam (AS) entered the battlefield, but few were willing to confront him. Some threw arrows, and others threw spears from a distance. Shemr and ten others came forward to confront the Imam (AS). After the Imam’s (AS) martyrdom, 33 spear wounds and 34 sword wounds were counted on his blessed body.

The Imam (AS) was on the verge of departure, but no one dared to approach him. The people of the sanctuary realized what was happening from the sound of Dhuljanah and rushed out. A child named Abdullah bin Hassan (AS) ran towards the Imam. They killed him in his uncle’s arms. The Imam became distressed for the third time and cursed the Kufans, “O Allah, withhold the rain from the sky and the crops of the earth from them!”

4:06 PM Call to Asr prayer

The time of Imam Hussein’s (PBUH) martyrdom is said to be at the time of the Asr prayer. According to the historical narration cited by Tabari and reported by Hamid bin Muslim, a war chronicler in Umar Saad’s army: Hamid bin Muslim says, ‘By Allah, I had never seen someone so composed and resilient whose child, kin, and friends were killed.’ At this moment, Zainab (PBUH), daughter of Fatima, approached him, exclaiming: ‘I wish the sky would fall on the Earth.’ Zainab (PBUH) addressed Umar Saad: ‘Umar, they are killing Aba Abdillah (PBUH) and you are just watching?’ I could see tears streaming down Umar’s cheeks and beard; he turned his face away from Zainab. Hamid bin Muslim recounts that he heard the Imam saying, ‘By Allah, after me, you will not kill anyone whose murder would invoke Allah’s wrath upon you more than my killing.’ It was then that Shemr rallied his troops, shouting, ‘What are you waiting for? Your mothers should prepare to mourn you. Kill him!’ At this point, Sinan bin Anas attacked and thrust his spear…”

5:00 PM After the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (PBUH)

Following the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (PBUH), some individuals began to plunder his clothes. All of these individuals later fell ill with incurable diseases.

The general plundering of the properties of Imam Hussein (PBUH) and his companions began. Umar Saad, sometime later, ordered the plundering to stop and even arranged for the tents to be guarded.

A Shiite from Basra named Suwayd bin Muqatil arrived in Karbala after the martyrdom of the Imam. He fought to protect the sanctity of the Imam’s resting place and was killed.

Initially, the head of Imam Hussain was given to Khouli to take to Ibn Ziyad that same night. Then, on the order of Umar Saad, horses were run over the holy bodies of the Imam and his companions to crush their bones.

6:49 PM Call to Maghrib prayer

The fallen soldiers from the Kufa army are collected. The number of these individuals is 88.

The story ends with Umar Saad giving the order for the Maghrib prayer while Sinan bin Anas prances amongst the people, chanting, ‘You should make my horse’s bridle and stirrups out of gold; because I have killed the best of men!’

The number of the Imam’s army

It is commonly stated that 72 people were martyred at Karbala. This figure often seems inconsistent when reciting the saga with the names and numbers mentioned in the text; for example, it is noted that 50 people were martyred in the first attack, 28 were from the Bani Hashim, in addition to Burayr, Muslim, Habib, Sa’eed, Hurr, and Zuhair. The sum of these alone is more than 72. Some ancient chronicles also suggest different numbers. For instance, Mas’udi mentions the count of the martyrs as 87 (in Muruj al-Dhahab), Ya’qubi says 105 (in Tarikh Ya’qubi), and Baladhuri mentions 100 men (in Majma’ al-Ansab).

One approach is to compile all the names mentioned in the sources. This was first done by someone in the third century who listed 108 names. A person named Fadhil bin Zubair wrote a treatise titled ‘Naming those who were killed with Hussein bin Ali (PBUH)’ – modern researchers have extended this list to 120 names. Now, recall the report about approximately 50 companions killed in the first attack. 120 is the sum of this number and 72. Thus, the figure 72 might refer to the martyrs who were slain after the first onslaught and whose battles were more memorable.

Another possibility takes into account the report that when Umar Saad moved his army and the captives from Karbala on the 12th of Muharram, he ordered that 72 heads be put on spears. Presumably, the Kufans would have only taken the heads of notable and famous individuals, as the heads of less-known people would not have held any value for display.

A third conjecture relates to the significance of the number 72 itself. This number has long been a symbol of the multitude. Hafez says: ‘Excuse all the struggles of 72 nations.’ Or there’s the widely accepted Hadith in which the Prophet (PBUH) says: ‘My nation will divide into 72 sects, but only one of them will attain salvation.’ Perhaps this is another reason for the emphasis on the number of 72 martyrs.

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