Karbala was the place where the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, grandson of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) took place. Imam Hussain’s (a.s.) movement was a way of dealing with his soul and that of others, as he wanted to teach us a lesson about servitude at every stage of his blessed movement. He fled from safety for the sake of Allah, exposing his family to captivity, when he saw that his God wanted them captured. He exposed himself to the greatest forms of humiliation and torture when he saw that his Lord wanted to him to die on the path of saving Islam, he was the vessel. The martyrdom of Imam Hussain remains the greatest tragedy in Islamic history. It is a tragedy that has affected all mankind no matter the religion, the region, the miles or color, it was a fight, a battle, for the salvation of humankind.
Controversy over Where Imam Hussain is Buried
Scholars or Ulema say that the head of Imam Hussain (a.s.) was buried in Karbala, not in Israel. However, there are hadiths which indicate that Imam al-Hussain’s head was buried in the tomb of Imam Ali (a.s). All forces forced Imam Hussain to fall to the ground and Khowla bin Yazid Asbahi came forward with the intention of beheading Imam Hussain.
It has also been reported that Imam Hussain’s (a.s.) head is next to his body in Karbala. Karbala is generally and famously considered as the burial place of Imam Hussain, but some of his admirers believed that his head was buried in Cairo Mosque for centuries before being moved. Some believe that they have buried Ali bin Hussain al Akbar (a.s.) at the feet of Imam Hussain (a.s.) with all the martyrs of his family and companions buried in one single grave at the side of his feet, where they recited prayer upon the corpse of the martyrs of Karbala.
It is also said that his head was placed there while the heads of martyrs of Karbala were taken from Karbala to Kufa. It is also believed that the Shitte figure, Sayf al-Dawla al-Hamdani, was the first person ever who built a chamber and a mosque over the rock in 350/961 and called it Masjid al-Nuqta (mosque of the spot [of blood]).
Masjid al-Hannana is a well-known place where it is said that Imam Hussain’s head is buried. Others assert that his head was hidden in Ashkelon during the 10th century before later being moved to its final resting place in Egypt. According to some other accounts, his head was buried in Fardis Gate in the Damascus Mosque. There exist other hadiths that confirm such story. So according to a belief, the head of Imam Hussain, peace be upon him, was buried where Badr al-Jamali made a mausoleum over the place.
According to one belief, Imam Hussain’s head was brought from Karbala to Ashkelon when the people of a caravan learned the story of his death and where he was buried and gathered around the rock and mourned their loss, and Yazid gave them the head.so according to the narration, they built a mausoleum over where they reburied the head.
There are people who believe that after the battle of Ashura, Imam Hussain’s (a.s.) body was not buried at all, and some scholars support the belief. They say when the Europeans invaded ‘Asqalan, Talaa’i Bin Razzeek who was known as ‘Saalih’, paid 30 thousand dinars to take the blessed head from the Europeans.
Others assert that the head of Imam Hussain was buried in Ashkelon (part of Palestine today) for 250 years. According to Shiite accounts, blood used to spring on that rock every year on the Day of Ashura, attracting the attention of many people of Syria.
Where is He Buried?
One should know that the body of Imam Hussain was buried in Karbala (Iraq), but the burial of his head remains open to discussion and the location is still not recognized as a fact. According to Shia scholars, the head of Imam Hussain (a.s.) was eventually attached to his torso in Karbala and buried where his torso was buried. The bodies of Imam Hussain (a,s,) along with other Hashimites were buried in a common cemetery on one side of Imam Hussain’s holy shrine, as we find them today in the miraculous shrine of Karbala (Ganj Shaheed).
The Holy Shrine of Imam Hussain
As mentioned above, Imam Hussain was martyred in Karbala along with many of his family members, friends and followers in a battle famously known as the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD. After his death, as the death of Imam Hussain (a.s.) was considered a powerful symbol for religious suffering, bravery and liberation from oppression, his holy shrine became a place of pilgrimage. Some devotees even came to believe that a pilgrimage to Karbala is equal to Hajj and of high value and importance.
In 684 AD, a mosque was build over his tomb and since then, a series of mosques were built in his honor by his loving devotees.
However, some were demolished and do not stand in the present time. The original mosque was enlarged with another dome in 749 but was destroyed in 787. The present mosque was built during the 11th century, with extensive reconstruction of the walls and dome in the 14th century later on.
Saddam Hussain, a Sunni ruler and oppressor, among others, regarded the happenings and events of Karbala and Ashura a potential threat to what he was trying to build and the empire he was trying to run; and so, he banned pilgrimage several times and when he did not succeed in keeping Muslims away, he even destroyed the shrines. However, they were later rebuilt and exist still today. When the city rebelled against Saddam Hussain, 32 mosques, 10 religious schools and 66 prayer halls were demolished. It is noteworthy that even with bringing Saddam down as the ruler, Karbala remains a focus of sectarian conflict.
Devotion to Imam Hussain is almost focused on his death, which is a symbol of suffering and freedom. Lamentations, public perceptions and expressions of grief over his murder are essential components of a visit to Karbala. When they reached the shrine, the pilgrims kissed the silver face of Hussain’s tomb (which has been stolen). The most important date for visiting Karbala is Ashura, which is a Muslim holiday on the 10th of Muharram (currently taking place in January according to the Western calendar). Demonstrations are held by Shiites around the world over public mourning and bloody reenactments of the events, but the most important of these is in Karbala.
Many elderly Shi’a Muslims visit Karbala when death is close because of the belief that Karbala is one of the gates to the Heavenly Paradise promised to the faithful in the Quran.
Today, the architecture of Imam Hussain’s holy shrine is still mesmerizing and remains of great importance. It is considered an Islamic building in which each element and piece is distinguished, characterized by authentic, precise and Islamic architectural elements and features.
These minds joined with the wealth of thousands of rich kings, sultans and businessmen to build houses and plots of houses, that includes the master of the martyrs, Hussain bin Ali (PBUH). Still, visited by many Muslims and non-Muslims each year, it remains a piece of history where visitors are in awe of what it represents as it is not solely a building built by believers skillfully and masterfully detailed and precise,.
but it stands for the belief that such people have held over centuries and what they tried to achieve and represent as their faith in God, his message and his warriors. It is a symbol of bravery, standing up to oppressions and sins, standing against anything impure and tyrannic, it is a symbol of the love Imam Hussain had for his Lord, his grandfather and the family he sacrificed on the path of saving Islam. It stands for the suffrage they had to bear as companions and families in order to establish what they believed was the true faith and love.
Iraq is known to both Sunni and Shiite Muslims as the place where Ali’s son, Imam Hussain, was brutally murdered by a caliph, in a place called Karbala, famously known as “a battlefield among battlefields.” The assassination of Imam Hussain is one of the most important martyrs in Islamic history. Unlike his brother Hasan, Hussain refused to accept the government of a new Muslim leader based in Syria. Hussain was killed as a result of his refusal to swear allegiance. Angered by Imam Hussain’s martyrdom, Muslims in Kufa, Iraq, formed a group of their own, which became known as ” Partisans of Ali ” or Shiites. Today, the Shiites reiterate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain on a day known as Ashura (the tenth day of the first month of Muharram in the Islamic calendar). Therefore, for Shiites, the meaning of martyrdom is understood in the context of the school of thought that embodies the struggle and death (i.e. martyrdom) of Imam Hussain.
Imam Hussain (A.S.): The End of a Tragedy and the Beginning of an Uprising by Mustapha Abdullah Kuyateh; P 1
The Architectural elements of the Holy Imam Hussain Shrine (history and development) by Dr. Amtithal Kadem al.Mosuei; P 71
The History and Evolution of Martyrdom in the Service of Defensive Jihad: An Analysis of Suicide Bombers in Current Conflicts by Farhana Ali; P 615