Death of Muawiya رضي الله عنه and Succession of Yezid;
Massacre of Hussain رضي الله عنه and His Party at Karbala 680CE & The rise of Shi'ites
Muawiya رضي الله عنه died in April at the age of about seventy-five after a long and prosperous reign. His son and nominee, Yezid, was acclaimed in Damascus as Caliph [680-3]. Most regions recognised Yezid but the opposition from the pro-Ali faction which his father had kept in check, rose against him. Yezid's main competitor for the Caliphate was Hussainرضي الله عنه , who, apart from being a son of the former Caliph Ali رضي الله عنه [r. 656-661], was also the surviving grandson of the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم. His elder brother, Hasan رضي الله عنه , had died in 669, and he himself had been living in retirement in Madinah since 661, when Muawiya رضي الله عنه took power, but now refused to swear the oath of allegiance to Yezid.
There were a number of followers of Ali’s رضي الله عنه cause in Iraq who thought that the time was ripe to regain a leading role. They declared Hussain رضي الله عنه the legitimate Caliph after Ali رضي الله عنه and Hasan, and repeatedly invited Hussain رضي الله عنه to come to Kufa and assume the leadership in Iraq; after much reluctance, he yielded to the pressure. He first went to Makkah and then left for Kufa on the fatal adventure across the Arabian desert with a small group of his relatives and followers.
In the meantime, Ubaidullah, son of Ziyad ibn Abihi and as ruthless as his father, had been appointed governor of Kufa by Yezid. Following in his father's footsteps, he arrested and executed a number of Hussain's رضي الله عنه supporters. On 10 October, Umar رضي الله عنه , son of the distinguished general and conqueror of Persia Sa'd ibn Abi Waqqas رضي الله عنه , in command of a large army, intercepted and surrounded Hussain's رضي الله عنه small convoy at Karbala, on the western bank of the Euphrates and about fifty miles north-west of Kufa. Ubaidullah insisted on an unconditional surrender from Hussain رضي الله عنه , and when he refused to do so, massacred him and his party in cold blood. 'The day of Karbala' later acquired a great and lasting religious significance with grave implications for the unity of Islam.
Thus died a grandson of the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم and his head was sent to Yezid in Damascus. The head was given back to Hussain's رضي الله عنه sister and son Ali (Zainul Abidin) who had gone with it to Damascus, and was then buried with the body in Karbala. The tomb later became a great centre of pilgrimage for the Shi'ites.
Almost immediately after the death of the Prophet Muhammad صلى الله عليه و سلم in 632, a small group of Muslims had felt that Ali ibn Abi Talib ضي الله عنه, being the Prophet's صلى الله عليه و سلم son-in-law (through the marriage of Fatima) and cousin, was his only legitimate successor. They had also believed that the Caliphate belonged only to the descendants of the Prophet صلى الله عليه و سلم through the line of Ali and his first wife, Fatima. When Ali, who was about thirty years of age at the time, was passed over, they had formed a group which came to be known as the Shi'ites, from Shia, meaning 'the Party' (of Ali).
Initially, the dispute had little to do with matters of doctrine as such but only with the question of succession. But as time went by it attracted non-Arab Muslims, largely of Persian origin, who resented their inferior status in the empire. It gradually broke away from the mainstream of Islam (the Sunnis) on both dynastic and doctrinal grounds and formed a separate sect.
The blood of Hussain ضي الله عنه , even more than that of his father Ali ضي الله عنه provided the Shi'ites movement with a martyr and a rallying point. The tragedy at Karbala on 10 October 680 CE (10 Muharram AH 61) has never been forgotten, and even now, after more than thirteen hundred years, a scene to commemorate the event is enacted in a frenzy of sorrow and indignation every year by millions of Shi'ites.