The Excellences of the Imam Husayn
in Sunni Hadith Tradition
University of Toronto
Al-Serat, Vol XII (1986)
HUMAN history may be seen as a record of the eternal struggle between right and wrong, virtue and vice, good and evil, and righteousness and wickedness. This struggle was decreed by God when Adam, an earthly creature, was sent to earth to engage in this eternal battle. It is through this struggle that human beings can earn their eternal bliss in the Gardens of Paradise, or their eternal punishment in the Fire.
In the history of nations this struggle often attains universal significance as that moment of the struggle can speak to all subsequent times and situations. Thus the Qur'an urges us over and over again to ponder the end of those who were before us, and how God dealt with them. In every case, moreover, a prophet or messenger of God was rejected by his people and killed or driven out. In this sense, therefore, the struggle is in the end between God and humankind, between truth and falsehood, and between right guidance and manifest error.
Nowhere is this struggle placed in sharper relief than in the life of the Prophet Muhammad, and the lives of the people of his House. The life and witness of the Imam Husayn in particular, has acquired special significance in Muslim piety. This is because he has provided a model for all martyrs in the way of God, for all time.
The purpose of this paper is to emphasize the universal significance of the Imam in Muslim tradition. It is important to observe that all the traditions cited in this essay are found in both Shi'i and Sunni hadith literature. But while in the Sunni community such traditions remain purely pietistic, Shi'i tradition has made them the basis of a complex theological system.
However, to appreciate the place of Husayn, 'the prince of martyrs', in Muslim history, a word must be said about the place of the Prophet's family (the ahl al-bayt) in Muslim piety. At the same time the people of the House of the Prophet Muhammad are not unique in the prophetic history of human societies. A word is, therefore, necessary concerning the families of other prophets, if we are to appreciate fully the devotion which Muslims throughout their long history have accorded the people of the House of Muhammad, the seal of the prophets.
Prophetic history begins, according to the Qur'an, with Adam, called safwat Allah (the elect of God). He was followed by Noah, the first of the prophets of power or resolve (ulu al-'azm). Noah was sent as a messenger by God to his people who rebelled against God's message, and were thus destroyed by the flood. Then came Abraham, the father of prophets. With his son Ishmael he built the Ka'ba, the first house for the worship of God. Ishmael was also a prophet, and the ancestor of the prophets Shu'ayb, Salih, Hud, and finally Muhammad, the last messenger of God to humankind.
Isaac, Abraham's second son, was also a prophet and the father of prophets. Among his descendants were the family of 'Imran, the father of Moses, and Jesus, as well as other earlier prophets who were sent by God to the Children of Israel. The Qur'an declares that God has elected Adam, Noah, the family of Abraham and the family of 'Imran. It further states that they were a single progeny, one from the other'. All the prophets and their families are therefore of one physical and spiritual lineage They and their households are the elect of God, purified and honoured over the rest of humankind.
The people of the House of the Prophet Muhammad were likewise chosen by God and purified from all evil and sin. The Muslim community did not, however, infer the status of the family of Muhammad from that of earlier prophets and their families.
Rather they too were chosen by God and purified from all evil and sin. Yet because Muhammad was the last prophet sent to guide humanity to God and the good, his descendants could not assume his prophetic role. Their mission was to be the Imams, or guides, of the Muslim community. Their task is to safeguard the message vouchsafed to Muhammad by God for humankind.
Like many prophets, the Imams had to endure rejection by their people and much suffering at their hands; martyrdom in the cause of God was often their lot. Yet the greater the suffering, the greater is the reward and honour which God promises His prophets, friends (awliya'), and righteous servants. Thus the Prophet was asked: 'Who among men are those afflicted with the greatest calamity?' He replied:
The prophets, then the pious, everyone according to the degree of his piety. A man is afflicted according to his faith (din); if his faith is durable, his affliction is accordingly increased, and if his faith is weak, his affliction is made lighter. Afflictions continue to oppress the worshipful servant until they leave him walking on the face of the earth without any sin cleaving to him. 
EXCELLENCES OF THE AHL AL BAYT (A.S.)
In both Sunni and Shi'i Muslim tradition, one important event symbolizes the status of the ahl al-bayt and the human as well as spiritual dimensions of their relation to the Prophet. This is the tradition or episode of al-kisa' (the mantle, or cloak) which the Prophet spread over himself and Fatima his daughter, 'Ali, and their two sons Hasan and Husayn. This tradition has come down to us in a number of versions, each stressing one or another aspect of the excellences of the family of the Prophet and his love for them. Ahmad b. Hanbal relates on the authority of Umm Salama, the Prophet's wife, that he said to Fatima one day:
'Bring me your husband and two sons.' When they had all come together he spread over them a mantle, and laying his hand over them, he said: 'O God, these are the people of the House of Muhammad! Let therefore your prayers and blessings descend upon Muhammad and the people of the House of Muhammad; for you are worthy of all praise and glory.' Umm Salama continued: 'I then lifted the mantle to enter in with them, but he pulled it away from my hand saying, "You too shall come to a good end". 
The point which this version of the kisa' tradition emphasizes is that the ahl al-bayt are only the five: Muhammad, 'Ali, Fatima, and their two sons Hasan and Husayn. Umm Salama, one of the most highly venerated of the Prophet's wives, was denied this special status. We shall have more to say about this point, as it is emphasized in almost every version of this tradition.
In another highly interesting version of the kisa' tradition, related on the authority of 'Abd Allah b. Jafar b. Abi Talib, we read:
As the Apostle of God saw mercy descending, he demanded: 'Call them for me, call them for me!' Safiyya asked: 'Who should we call, O Messenger of God?' He answered: 'Call the people of my household: 'Ali, Fatima, Hasan, and Husayn.' When they were brought, he spread a mantle over them; then lifting his hands to heaven said: 'O God, these are the people of my House; bless, O God, Muhammad and the people of the House of Muhammad!' God then sent down the verse: Surely God wishes to remove all abomination from you, O People of the House, and purify you with a thorough purification. 
This version of the tradition provides the meaning of the kisa' and the basis of its significance. The mantle is a symbol of divine mercy and blessing covering the Prophet and his holy family. It is, moreover, a source or haven of consolation and serenity in the face of the great sufferings and martyrdom which the Prophet's family had to endure after him. In this infinite source of divine mercy, the pious also share in times of sufferings and afflictions. The kisa' finally sets apart the 'holy five' from the rest of the faithful, and distinguishes them from the rest of the Prophet's family.
The event of the kisa' provides the occasion for the revelation of the verse of purification just cited. Before the sectarian conflicts which split the Muslim community set in, classical tradition was almost unanimous in interpreting this verse as referring to the Prophet, his daughter Fatima al-Zahra' (the Radiant), her husband and cousin,' Ali, and their two sons Hasan and Husayn. 
In still another version of the kisa' tradition, the continuity of the Prophet's family with those of earlier prophets is clearly indicated. Wathila b. al-Asqa', on whose authority this tradition in most of its variants is related, reports the following prayer uttered by the Prophet:
O God, as you have bestowed your blessings, mercy, forgiveness, and pleasure upon Abraham and the family of Abraham, so they ['Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husayn] are of me and I am of them! Bestow, therefore, your blessings, mercy, forgiveness and pleasure upon me and them.' 
This prayer echoes a prayer which Muslims repeat daily:
O God, bless Muhammad and the people of the House of Muhammad, as you have blessed Abraham and the people of the House of Abraham among all beings.
The House of Muhammad is, therefore, for all Muslims, 'the household of prophethood and the frequenting place of angels'. The famous Qur'an commentator al-Suyuti quotes a tradition attributed to Umm Salama in interpretation of the verse of purification:
This verse was sent down in my house ... There were in the house then, seven: Gabriel and Michael, and 'Ali, Fatima, Hasan, and Husayn, and I stood at the door of the house. I asked: 'O Messenger of God, am I not of the People of the House?' He said: 'You shall indeed come to a good end! You are, however, one of the wives of the Prophet.' 
The close friendship between the Prophet and the holy family, a relationship which went far beyond the bond of blood relation, may be seen in the incident of the mubahala, or prayer ordeal, with which the Prophet challenged the Christians of Najran. In the mubahala verse of the Qur'an, God orders the Prophet and his opponents to 'Call together our sons and your sons, our women and your women, and ourselves and yourselves.' In the view of most Qur'an commentators and traditionists, the Prophet's sons are Hasan and Husayn, 'his women' refers to Fatima, and 'his self' refers, apart from himself, to 'Ali. When the people of Najran saw them, they recognized their high status with God, and with great trepidation they declined the mubahala and opted instead for peace.
Tradition asserts that the Prophet sensed the hostility which his community was to show to the People of his House after him. He is said to have often declared, 'I am at war against him who fights against you, and will show peace toward him who shows peace to you.' This invective is strongly put in a tradition related on the authority of Abu Bakr, the Prophet's famous Companion and the first caliph. He said:
I saw the Messenger of God pitch a tent in which he placed 'Ali, Fatima, Hasan, and Husayn. He then declared: 'O Muslims, I am at war against anyone who wars against the people of this tent, and am at peace with those who show peace toward them. I am a friend to those who befriend them. He who shows love toward them shall be one of a happy ancestry and good birth. Nor would anyone hate them except that he be of miserable ancestry and evil birth. 
Love for the Prophet's family is enjoined by God in the Qur'an, where He says: Say, 'I ask no other reward of you save love of my next of kin' (42:23). Qur'an commentators have generally agreed that 'the next of kin' here intended are the ahl al-bayt. 
The People of the House of the Prophet Muhammad have been for the pious an example of generosity, steadfastness in the face of hardship, and a source of solace in time of trials and afflictions. After days of fasting and prayers for the health of the two sick children Hasan and Husayn, the family fed the few morsels of dry bread and dates for which 'Ali had laboured so hard to the needy. On the first evening, we are told, a beggar came. On the second, it was an orphan, and on the third, a captive. To each in turn, they gave the loaf of barley bread and few dates which Fatima had prepared for the family to break their fast. Thus God sent down the verse: They give food to eat, even though they cherish it, to the needy, the orphan and the captive.  Yet, in the end, God sent down a celestial table to feed His friends.
Early tradition shows a tension in the relationship of the Prophet to the community and in the relationship of the latter to the holy family. Much of the literature reflecting this tension was most likely the product of a later age, but projected back to the time of the Prophet and his Companions. Here love for the Prophet's family is not simply recommended as a pious act, but is presented as a challenge, and in a harsh reproaching tone. Furthermore, it is on this love to the ahl al-bayt that rewards and punishments on the Last Day are predicated. Thus we are told that the Prophet said:
He who desires the pleasure to live my life, die my death and dwell in a garden of Eden which my Lord has planted, let him be a friend to 'Ali after me. Let him also be a friend to his friends. Let him finally be guided by the Imams after me, for they are my progeny. They were created of my clay, and have been vouchsafed knowledge and understanding. Woe to those of my community who deny their superiority, and those who violate the demands of kindness to my next of kin. May God not grant them my intercession.' 
In another tradition, the Prophet promises his intercession to those who honour his descendants, provide them with whatever needs they may have, and those who love them with their heart and profess this love with their tongues. 
It has already been stressed that the ahl al-bayt share with the prophets of old and their descendants a high status and divine favour, but not the office of prophethood. They share, moreover, with the Prophet Muhammad the prerogative of intercession. This is expressed in hagiographical language, a language common to both Sunni and Shi'i tradition. One such common example may suffice to demonstrate the devotion in the piety of both traditions to the Prophet and the people of his household.
The Qur'an tells us that Adam received certain words of God which earned him God's forgiveness and mercy: Adam received words from his Lord, and He turned towards him; for He is relenting, compassionate (2:37). Suyuti reports that Ibn 'Abbas, the famous traditionist and authority on the Qur'an, asked the Prophet about the words which Adam received. The Prophet answered: 'He prayed saying, "O God, for the sake of Muhammad, 'Ali, Fatima, Hasan and Husayn, do turn toward me", and He turned toward him.'  In another highly dramatic version of this tradition, Adam is taught the words as the only means by which God would accept his repentance and forgive him. 'Ali, we are told, enquired of the Prophet concerning the verse under discussion. The Prophet told him that when Adam and his wife were expelled from Paradise, Adam wept bitterly over his sin for a hundred years.
Finally, Gabriel came to him and spoke thus on God's behalf:
O Adam, did I not create you with my own hand? Did I not breathe into you of my spirit? Did I not command my angels to bow down before you? Did I not provide you with Eve my servant?' 'Yes', Adam answered. Gabriel asked: 'What then is the cause of this weeping?' Adam replied, 'Why should I not weep when I have been expelled from the proximity of the All-Merciful?' The angel then said: 'You must pray fervently with these words, and God will accept your repentance and forgive your sin. Say: "O God, I beseech you for the sake of Muhammad and the people of the household of Muhammad; nor is there any god but you. I have done evil, and have wronged my soul. Turn towards me for you are relenting, compassionate." 
HASAN(A.S.) AND HUSAYN(A.S.)
Islamic tradition has preserved numerous anecdotes depicting the tender care and love which the Prophet showed Hasan and Husayn. They were both born in Medina, and thus knew the Prophet only as children. It is therefore with the intimacy and love of a grandfather that the early life of the two Imams is coloured. Once more, these family anecdotes also reflect clearly the theological and political tension within the community, a tension which largely centered around Hasan and Husayn. One such anecdote is the following.
One day, we are told, Hasan and Husayn were lost, and their mother Fatima came to the Prophet greatly alarmed. The angel Gabriel, however, came down and told the Prophet that the two youths were asleep in an animal fold some distance away. God, the angel reassured the anxious family, had charged an angel to keep watch over them. The Prophet went to the spot and found the angel had spread his two wings: one under them and the other over them as cover. The Prophet stooped over the two children and began to kiss them until they awoke. He then carried them on his shoulders back to the city. A large crowd of Muslims followed the Prophet and his two grandsons to the mosque.
The Prophet then addressed the assembled people and said: 'O Muslims, shall I inform you of those who have the best grandfather and grandmother of humankind?' 'Yes, O Apostle of God', they all replied. 'They are Hasan and Husayn', he said. 'Their grandfather is the Apostle of God, the seal of the Messengers, and their grandmother is Khadija, daughter of Khuwaylid, mistress of the women of Paradise.' The Prophet then declared Hasan and Husayn to have the best maternal uncle and aunt: Jafar and Umm Hani', son and daughter of Abu Talib. Their maternal uncle and aunt were likewise the best of all uncles and aunts: they were al-Qasim, son of the Messenger of God, and Zaynab, daughter of the Apostle of God. The Prophet concluded:
'O God, you know that Hasan and Husayn shall be in Paradise, their uncles and aunt shall be in Paradise, and those who love them shall be in Paradise, while those who hate them shall be in the Fire." 
Abu Hurayra, the famous hadith transmitter, related that often when they prayed behind the Messenger of God Hasan and Husayn would jump on his back while he was prostrate in prayer. When he lifted his head, he would move them gently and place them beside him.
One evening, after prayers, Abu Hurayra offered to take the two youths home, but the Prophet wished them to stay. Soon, however, a flash of lightning illuminated the sky, and they thus walked in its light until they entered their home. 
The friends (awliya') of God, like the prophets, are favoured with miracles. These are not miracles proper (mu'jizat), but rather karamat (divine favours). The lightning incident was one such divine favour by means of which the Prophet wished to inform the community of the special status with which God had favoured the two Imams.
There is a unity between the Prophet and the ahl al-bayt, a unity not simply of blood, but also of the spirit. It is a unity symbolized by the kisa' event. It is, therefore, a unity of love, as the following statement of the Prophet clearly indicates. He said, as related on the authority of Salman the Persian: 'Whoever loves Hasan and Husayn, I love him, and whomsoever I love, God also loves, and whomsoever God loves, He shall cause him to enter into the gardens of bliss.' Likewise he who hates Hasan and Husayn shall be consigned to the Fire, because both God and his Messenger will hate him, 'and a terrible punishment awaits him'. 
Muslim hagiographical piety extended this unity and intimacy between the Prophet and his two grandchildren to include the angels of heaven. Thus Hudhayfa, a well known companion and traditionist, reported that the Prophet said: 'An angel is here who never came down to earth before this night. He sought permission from his Lord to come down and greet me, and to bring me the glad tidings that Fatima is the mistress of the women of Paradise, and that Hasan and Husayn are the masters of the youths of Paradise.' 
There is no doubt that the special status of the Imam Husayn in Muslim piety and devotion has in large measure been due to the Imam's great sacrifice of family, wealth, and life itself in the way of God. Husayn's martyrdom - his courage, steadfastness, dignity, and true devotion in times of great crisis - have inspired Muslims of all walks of life. Husayn has inspired the best poetry in all Islamic languages; even non-Muslim poets celebrated his great virtue and valour.
Above all, however, the Imam Husayn's martyrdom became a source of strength and endurance for Muslims in times of suffering, persecution and oppression. He has stood with every wronged man or woman before oppressive rulers, reproaching wrongdoers and encouraging the oppressed to persist in their struggle for freedom and dignity. The following encounter between Zayd b. Arqam, a venerable companion of the Prophet, and 'Ubayd Allah b. Ziyad is a living testimony to the struggle between illegitimate authority and the power of right. When the head of the Imam Husayn was brought before him, Ibn Ziyad began to poke its teeth and lips with a stick.
Zayd protested: 'Take away your stick! For, by God, I saw the Apostle of God often kiss these lips.' Saying this, Zayd began to weep. Ibn Ziyad reprimanded him, saying: 'May God cause your eyes to weep! Had it not been that you are an old and senile man, I would have cut off your head.' Zayd then walked away, exclaiming: 'O men, you are slaves after this day. For you have slain the son of Fatima and set as amir over you the son of Marjana [i.e., Ibn Ziyad]. By God, he shall kill the best of you and enslave the most wicked among you. Perish those who accept humiliation and shame.' Zayd then said, 'O Ibn Ziyad, I shall tell you something that will enrage you even more. I saw the Apostle of God seating Hasan on his left leg and Husayn on his right, and say, "O God, I commend them and the most righteous of the people of faith to your trust." How have you dealt with the trust of the Prophet, O Ibn Ziyad?' 
Divine wisdom in creation can be best discerned, according to the Qur'an, in the order of nature, and in the human individual and his society. Muslim hagiography has recorded the dramatic effect the death of Husayn had on nature. Thus the famous traditionist al-Bayhaqi reported that when al-Husayn b. 'Ali was killed, the sun was so deeply eclipsed that stars were seen at midday. People feared that it was the Day of Resurrection.
Nadra al-Azdiya, a woman who was contemporary with the Imam Husayn, is said to have reported: 'When al-Husayn b. 'Ali was killed, the sky rained down blood, so that next morning we found our wells and water jugs filled with it.' 
The memory of the martyred Imam has been kept alive and nourished by the tears of the faithful who vicariously share in the tragedy of the Imam Husayn and his loved ones and friends. Here again, tradition has extended the grief displayed by the pious for the tragedy of Karbala' to the cosmic order. Thus al-Suyuti reports in his commentary on the verse describing God's compassion towards the ancient martyr John son of Zachariah that 'The heavens did not weep for the death of anyone except John son of Zachariah and al-Husayn b. 'Ali. Its redness [at sunset] is the sign of its weeping.'
It has already been argued that there is an existential and all-inclusive unity between the Prophet and his daughter Fatima, her husband, 'Ali, and their two sons. This unity makes it impossible to discuss one without discussing all the others. We have, therefore, been concerned throughout this study with the Imam Husayn in the context of this essential unity. It must be added, however, that the Imam Husayn was especially close to the heart of his grandfather, the Prophet Muhammad. It is of Husayn alone that he declared:
'Husayn is of me and I am of Husayn. May God love those who love Husayn.' When sura 108 (al-Kawthar) was revealed, the Prophet announced this great favour to his close companion Anas b. Malik, on whose authority this tradition is reported. Anas asked: 'What is al-Kawthar?' He answered: 'It is a river in Paradise, but neither those who violate my covenant (dhimma), nor those who shall kill the people of my House will be allowed to drink of it.' 
Finally, Shi'i tradition has always insisted on the great merit the faithful earn in making pilgrimage (ziyara) to the tomb of the Imam Husayn and the tombs of the men who were martyred with him.
Yet Sunni tradition has likewise seen great merit in this pious act. The ziyara to the tomb of the martyred Imam has acquired this great significance in all Muslim tradition because the Imam and his fellow martyrs are seen as models of jihad in the way of God. It is related that the father of the Imams, 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, passed by Karbala' after the battle of Siffin. He took a handful of its soil and exclaimed: 'Ah, ah, on this spot some men will be slain, and will enter Paradise without reckoning!' 
The spiritual unity of the ahl al-bayt, symbolized by the kisa', is in turn a symbol of the unity of all Muslims. It is for the sake of this unity in faith and commitment (islam) to God and the truth that the Imam Husayn sacrificed his life. He refused a partisan Islam when he refused to legitimize Umayyad rule.
Because he refused humiliation, wrongdoing and deviation from the ideals of Islamic leadership as exemplified by the Prophet and his own father 'Ali, the Commander of the Faithful, the Imam Husayn drew once and for all the distinction between a true khalifa (representative) of the Apostle of God and the kings of this world. But above all, the Imam Husayn and his fellow martyrs accepted God's bargain with the people of faith to exchange their lives and wealth for the eternal bliss of Paradise. This divine challenge is no less relevant to the Muslim community today than it was fourteen hundred years ago. It invites us still to 'a garden whose breadth is greater than the heavens and earth, prepared for those who fear God'.
 See 2:127, 3:96.
 See 3:33.
 Musnad Ibn Hanbal, quoted in M. Ayoub, Redemptive Suffering in Islam (The Hague, 1978), p. 25, and see also pp. 25-6
 Ahmad b. Hanbal, Musnad (Cairo, 1313), IV, 323.
 Abu 'Abd Allah Muhammad b. Abd Allah al-Nisaburi, Mustadrak al-sahihayn (Haydarabad [Deccan], 1324), III, 147. See also 33:33.
 See, for example, the commentary on this verse in al-Zamakhshari and al-Tabari.
 Ala al-Din Ali al-Muttaqi b. Husam al-Din al-Hindi, Kanz al-'ummal (Haydarabad [Deccan], 1312), p. 217.
 See the commentary on 33: 33 in al-Suyuti, Al-Durr al-manthur.
 See 3:61. see also Muhammad b. 'Isa al-Tirmidhi, Sahih al-Tirmidhi (Cairo, 1920), II, 300, and Ibn Hanbal, I, 185.
 Abu Ja'far Ahmad al-Muhibb al-Tabari, Al-Riyad al-nadira (Cairo, n.d.), II, 199 For other versions of this tradition, see Murtada al-Husayni al-Fayruzabadi, Fada'il al-khamsa fi sihah al- sitta (Najaf, 1384), p. 252.
 See the commentaries on this verse in al-Zamakhshari, al-Tabari, and al-Suyuti.
 For a detailed discussion of this tradition, see M Ayoub, pp 43-5.
 Abu Nu'aym, Ahmad b. Abd Allah al-Isbahani, Hilyat al-awliya' (Cairo, 1351). I, 86.
 Al-Muttaqi al-Hindi, VIII, 151, and IV 217. See also Shihab al-Din Ahmad b. Hajar al-Haytami al-Asqalani, Al-Sawa'iq al-Muhriqa (Cairo, 1312), p. 150.
 See the commentary on 2:37 in al-
 Al-Fayruzabadi, III, 187. Suyuti.
 Al-Muttaqi al-Hindi, I, 234.
 Ibn Hanbal, II, 513; al-Muttaqi al-Hindi, VII, 109.
 Al-Muttaqi al-Hindi, p. 221
 Al-Tirmidhi, II, 307
 Ibn Hajar, p. 118.
 Abu Bakr Ahmad b Husayn b. al-Bayhaqi, Al-Sunan al-Kubra (Haydarabad, 1344), III, 337.
 Ibn Hajar, p. 291.
 See the commentary on 19:13 in al-Suyuti.
 Al-Tirmidhi, II, 306.
 See the commentary on sura 108 in al-Suyuti.
 Muhibb al-Din Ahmad b. Abd Allah al-Tabari, Dhakha'ir al- 'uqba (n.p., 1356), p. 151. Note also the popularity of the Mosque of the Head of the Imam Husayn in Cairo as a place of pilgrimage.
 Shihab al-Din Ahmad b. Hajar al-Haytami al-Asqalani, Tahdhib al-tahdhib (Haydarabad [Deccan], 1325), II, 348.
 See 9:111.
Why Prostrate on Karbala's Turba
Yasin T. al-Jibouri
The reason why Shi`as prostrate on the turba is based on two sound premises hinging upon two issues:
FIRST: It is commendable for one who prays to use a pure soil he is sure to be clean regardless of where he takes it from; there is no preference nor any distinction of one soil over another in as far as prostrating upon it is concerned. This is only an indication that the person offering his prayers demonstrates concern about the cleanliness of his body and clothes, and about the place where he offers his prayers. It is something which a Muslim regards as a good plateau upon which he prostrates when at home or when travelling, one which he may not find everywhere, i.e. other towns, bazaars, hotels, inns, rest areas, parks, traveller lodges, transportation stations, ports, shelters, etc.
How can one do so since such places may be frequented by non-Muslims and other people who are heedless of and indifferent to religion when it comes to a spot which by necessity has to be pure and clean?
What is wrong with a Muslim taking a precaution relevant to his creed by carrying with him a pure soil with which he feels comfortable and of the cleanliness of which he is sure to prostate upon when he offers his prayers rather than prostrating on filth, uncleanness and impurities? The latter never bring one closer to Allah, nor does the Sunnah permit prostrating upon them, nor doing so is accepted by sound reason once a person has made sure that his body and clothes are clean. Moreover, the Sunnah prohibits offering prayers in places such as: garbage collection sites, slaughter-houses, cemeteries, highways, toilets, places where camels rest, mandating that mosques should be cleansed and perfumed .
This terse and precious religious attitude was adopted by pious men of the first Muslim century. Such a very highly commendable precaution was adopted by the great tabi`i and faqih whose fiqh was unanimously agreed upon, namely Masrooq al-Ajda`  who used to carry with him whenever he travelled a block of baked clay upon which he would prostrate, as we are told by the head mentor and the trusted hafiz, the Imam of the Sunnah and the authority of his time, Abu Bakr ibn Abu Shaybah. In Volume Two of Al-Musannaf, it is recorded that "Whenever Masrooq travelled, he used to carry with him on board the vessel a block of baked clay upon which he would prostrate."
This is the first premise endorsed by the Shi`as. It has a precedent that goes back to the days of the early sahabah and their sincere tabi`in. As regarding the second premise, here it is explained:
SECOND: The rule of "absolute consideration" determines that some lands are better than others, and it acknowledges the differences between relics and the views in their regard. This is something normal, rational, agreed upon by all nations, governments, authorities, and all the world's rulers. Through relating or attributing one land, place, or area of a specific significance to another, decisions are made and injunctions are derived which should not be violated, nor should those who violate them be pardoned.
Can you not see how autonomous regions, parks, halls, homes, government-controlled offices, especially those owned by the royal palace and whereby the country's monarch is characterized, enjoy a special status and are subject to specific jurisdictions which people have to safeguard and the laws relevant to which have to be adhered to?
Such is the case with places, buildings, and edifices related to Allah Almighty. These enjoy a special status. Injunctions, rites, and obligations, from the adherence to which nobody who submits to Allah is exempted, are sanctioned and safeguarded. Anyone who lives under the banner of Tawhid and is a Muslim has to shoulder his full responsibility in safeguarding and following them.
It is according to this same agreed upon rule of "absolute consideration" that there is for the Ka`ba an injunction of its own, and so is the case with the Haram and with both Sacred Mosques of Mecca and Medina. There are injunctions relevant specifically to them both. There are other injunctions and restrictions relevant to public mosques and places of worship where the Name of Allah is celebrated. Such injunctions include sanctifying and venerating them and keeping them clean of any filth.
Those who are in the state of janaba, women during their menstruation as well as those during their post-natal periods, are all prohibited from entering them. They are not to be sold out at all under any pretext whatsoever, unlike the case of private trusts the sale or trade of which (for something better) is subject to other injunctions and regulations. Such a status is due to their being relevant to the King of Kings, the Lord of the Worlds.
The reason why Mecca is regarded as a safe haven sought by all people who perform the pilgrimage and by those who visit it from each and every distant land, and the fact that such pilgrimage rites are obligatory even when it comes to its plants and produces, is due to the mandate derived from such a relationship that necessitates edicts to be enforced, and the fact that Allah had chosen such places [for distinction] rather than any others.
So is the case with regard to considering Medina as a sacred Haram to be venerated. All sanctities relevant to it and to its people and soil [which we find] in the sacred Sunnah as well as those relevant to whoever reaches it or is buried therein, are all due to the same status, to its being belonging to Allah, the most Exalted One, and to its being the capital of the throne of His greatest Prophet, the one who conveyed His conclusive Message, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny.
This status, and its law of relationship, does not only concern the legislator, it is also something natural sanctioned by Islam. Not only is it better than all other places, it is the absolute criterion of preferring one piece of land over another when it comes to issues relevant to prophets and messengers and to their successors, to the truthful, to the martyrs, to the faithful and to their categories, up to whatever distinction one may conceive based on sacred Islam. Nay! Such a status is the axis upon which the cycle of existence revolves, one through which everything else stands, one to which all wishes aspire and from which every relationship and source of endearment, all links and connections, all factors of grudge and animosity, hostility and spite..., are rendered.
It is also the source of every disagreement, dissension, and hypocrisy. It also is the foundation of every unity and unification, every asylum, every accord and peace agreement. Upon it are the structures of totalities are built and social institutes are erected. In the light of its being the ultimate objective are states formed and governments dispute with one another, causing rivalries, discords, disputes, then punches, then bloody battles and wars. In its light do nations and tribes group together, then groups and societies abound. In its light do establishments get founded in order to deal with religious and secular issues and theological societies centralize, and so do scientific, social, sociological, nationalistic, sectarian, partisan, and political factions, during crises or ease, when at rest or in motion, when united or disunited, when in agreement or in disagreement.
The mighty and victorious government, the one which governs all humanity since its very first day and till eternity without any bias to anyone or without anyone freeing himself from its authority, day in and day out, is the relative government wherein there is the safeguarding of both the creed and the life in this world and at which man-made systems end, and so do the general social canon, as well as the human affairs of all individuals.
People, though numerous, are subjugated to its authority, shackled in its chains, tied in its webs, having no escape route therefrom. It is the one that rules and abrogates, over-rules and sustains, lifts and lowers, joins and disconnects, brings closer or distances, gives and takes, elevates and humiliates, rewards and penalizes, honors and abases.
It is the same one that makes the unknown soldier held in high esteem, honored and respected. It finds him worthy of all honoring; in it, he is glorified and dignified by the people and by the government. It scatters roses and flowers on his soil and grave, immortalizing him, keeping his memory alive on the pages of history for all time to come.
Such a government is the same one wherein catastrophes and disasters become tolerable. Through its criteria does man willingly work hard, facing trials, tribulations, and tremendous calamities headlong, [happily] sacrificing his all for its sake. It is the one that prompted the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny, as we are told by Lady Ayesha , to kiss the corpse of the great sahabi Othman ibn Maz`oon as tears were trickling down his cheeks...
It is the same that caused the Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny, to tearfully mourn his grandson al-Husain (as) and hold many a mourning ceremony in his memory and take the turba of Kerbala, smell it and kiss it, up to the end of the recorded tradition. It is the same that caused Lady Ummu Salamah, Mother of the Faithful, to keep a specimen of Kerbala's turba in her clothes. It is the same one that caused the Truthful Lady Fatima (as) to take a specimen of the soil of her father's pure grave and smell it.
It is the same that prompted Banu Zabbah during the Battle of the Camel to collect the droppings from the camel on which the Mother of the Faithful Ayesha was riding. They broke them up then sniffed them, as al-Tabari indicates [in his Tarikh]. It is the same that caused the Commander of the Faithful Ali, peace be upon him, to take a handful of Kerbala's turba when he reached that land, smell it then cry till the ground became wet with his tears as he said, "From this loin, seventy thousand shall be permitted to enter Paradise without being judged." This incident is transmitted by al-Tabrani and is recorded on p. 191, Vol. 9, of al-Haythami's book Majma` al-Rijal, a concordance of trusted transmitters of hadith.
It is the same that prompted a man from Banu Asad to smell the soil where al-Husain (as) was buried then cry. Hisham ibn Muhammad has said, "When water was released to overwhelm [and obliterate] the grave of al-Husain (as), it dried after forty days, and the grave was completely left without any trace. A bedouin from Banu Asad came and kept sampling one handful of soil of that site after another, smelling it each time, till he was able to identify al-Husain's grave, whereupon he wept and said, "May my parents be sacrificed for you! How sweet you smelled when you were alive, and how sweet your soil (turba) smells when you are dead!" Then he wept again and composed this verse of poetry:
Out of enmity did they want to obliterate his grave,
But the good smell of the grave's soil led to the grave.
Refer to page 342, Vol. 4, of Ibn `Asakir's Tarikh and also to p. 293 of the book written by hafiz al-Kanji titled Al-Kifaya.
A human being, whoever he may be, wherever, whenever, whatever race he belongs to, or however he may be, in all his life's stages remains a subject of such an authority, a hostage to expressions such as: my soul, my body, my wealth, my family, my offspring, my kinsfolk, my relatives, my extended family, my trade, my creed, my sect, my principle, my house, my property, my government, my leaders, my masters..., up to a countless such possessives...!
These are literally, in the possessive form, what are being given lip service by governments, states, societies, committees, creeds, faiths, kings, parties, and ruling authorities that chew their words when they discuss these issues and endlessly many more.
Once the possessive pronoun is applied and the attribution of something partial or complete is established, or when an individual, or a social issue raised by those mentioned above, there will be outcomes, and there will be injunctions which nobody has any choice except to submit and surrender to them, defend and uphold them.
This is a useful research which provides solutions for the society's problems with regard to its principles, views and beliefs, ties of love or grudge, intricate sects, decrees of the holiest legislative system, philosophy behind what the easy creed recommends. It is a discussion of what Islam and its rites hold as sacred, what it prohibits, the various levels of distinction it sets, and what it holds as holy.
Having provided such a detailed account, we reveal to the discreet and free-minded researcher the secret why the turba of the sacred land of Kerbala is thus honored, the extent of its relationship to Allah, Praised and Exalted is He, the extent of its sanctity and that of the one to whom it is related in the light of his nearness to the Sublime One, the most High. What would you think of the sanctity of a soil that is the burial ground of someone who was killed in the Cause of Allah, of a supreme leader of His army who never flinched from defending His cause? Surely it is the soil of one whom He loves, of one who invited others to Him, who led them to Him, who rose for His sake, who sacrificed his family and his own life and everything precious for Him, one who imperiled his blood for the sake of raising the status of His Commandments, for the dissemination of His Unity, so that His Commandments may rule, and so that His path and means may be firmly rooted.
Which of the world's kings or the land's monarchs, since the time of Adam, has a leader who is ever-ready to rise in the defense of such a king or monarch, one who is pure, honorable, faithful, truthful, valiant, dignified, exalted..., like the leader of those who remained sincere till they were all martyred at Taff, namely al-Husain (as) for whom our lives may be sacrificed?
Why does Allah boast about him, and why does He maintain his blood with Him and not permit a drop of it to fall upon the earth when al-Husain (as) hurled it above in the direction of the heavens ? Why should He not prolong the celebrating of his name on His earth and in His heavens, since all Husain's heart was filled with love for Him? Why should the face of the world not turn black on Ashura and not manifest the venues of His Wrath on the day when he was killed, and on the page of existence? And why should the earth not weep over him and the sky? This is exactly what Ibn Sirin records, and it is recorded by a multitude of huffaz. And why should the sky not rain blood on the day when he was killed? A consecutively recorded tradition details such an event.
Did not Allah send His messenger angels who are near to Him to His Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny, to give him a specimen of Kerbala's turba? Why did the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny, smell it, kiss it, then refer to it as long as he lived? Why did he (P)  even use it as a balsam in his own house?
Come along with me, O true Muslim! Is not prostrating on such a turba in order to seek nearness to Allah as one performs his prayers at the ends of the night and the day anything other than that? Is it, rather than any other soil, earth, hall, etc., more worthy of being held as pure and clean? Is it not better than rugs, sheets, or carpets woven by weaving machines operated by unknown hands? Moreover, there is nothing in the Sunnah that recommends prostrating on such items...
Is it not more worthy of seeking nearness to Allah and more fit to earn His favor and is more appropriate to do when we submit and solemnly surrender and worship Him, the most Exalted One? Is it not better to place the face's sides and forehead on such a piece of earth since doing so connotes lessons in defending the Cause of Allah, the manifestations of His Sanctity, and the symbol of defending His canon, holy Islam?
Is not a soil that symbolizes the signs of Tawhid and the defense of Tawhid to the end more worthy of prostrating upon? It surely invites one to be kind at heart, to be compassionate, to be affectionate and gentle.
Is it not most exemplary and the best thing to do to make the prostration on a soil from which springs of blood gushed out colored with the dye of love for Allah and crafted on the Sunnah of Allah and on pure and sincere loyalty to Him? Is there anything better than a soil kneaded with the blood of a pure and revered person, an individual the rewards of loving whom are the token of appreciation of the Conclusive Divine Message? It is a soil fermented with the blood of the Master of the Youths of Paradise, a symbol of love for Allah and for His Messenger (P) and the trust left by Muhammad (P) among his Muslim nation as we are told by the Sunnah.
It is based upon both premises that we take out of the soil of Kerbala such pieces to prostrate upon them just as the faqih of past generations, namely Masrooq ibn al-Ajda`, used to carry with him a block of baked clay taken out of the soil of sacred Medina to prostrate on. This man was the student of the righteous caliphate, the faqih of Medina and the teacher of the Sunnah. Far away from him to be charged of inventing a bid`a. Which of these premises causes us to really feel the pain of unfairness? Which one of them contradicts the call of the Holy Qur'an or the Sunnah of Allah and His Messenger (P)? Which one of them should we denounce and label as a bid`a? Which one of them violates reason, logic, or common-sense?
When the Shi`as use Kerbala's soil to prostrate upon, they do not claim that doing so is absolutely obligatory, nor do they claim that it is an obligation derived from the Shari`a or the creed, nor is it one of the sect's obligation, nor does anyone among them, from the very first day, distinguish between it and others collected from the earth's soil, when they regard prostrating upon it as permissible, contrary to what ignorant folks claim, those who base their claim on their own personal views.
To them [Shi`as], [such a turba] is mandated by reason and is highly commendable, that's all. It is opting for the best of what one should prostrate upon when one consults his reason and logic and common-sense alone, as you have already been told above. There are many followers of this sect who take with them when they travel any such thing other than Kerbala's turba upon which the prostration is valid such as a pure and clean rug woven of palm leaves they are confident to be clean, or anything like that upon which they prostrate when they perform their prayers.
We are of the view that anyone who adopts these sound premises and takes into consideration the issues relevant to precaution and to sanctity will conclude that the people who live at the Sacred Mosques: Mecca and Medina, and who seek shelter with them, as well as those who live around them, must take out of that soil round flat pieces or tablets upon which they should prostrate in accordance with both arguments and as a means to rid themselves of the heat of the gravel at the Sacred Mosque especially at noon and during hot weather to prostrate upon and to carry them as pure and blessed places of prostration whenever they travel as was done by their good ancestors, the peers of the faqih Masrooq ibn al-Ajda` whose story you have already heard.
They should make them available to those who visit these Mosques and to the pilgrims who go to those sacred lands from other Islamic countries. They should be adopted by the Islamic nation as a place of prostration when at home and when travelling, and they should regard them as souvenirs reminding them of Allah and His Messenger (P) and of the places where His angel of revelation descended, ones which remind them of their Lord and of His Prophet whenever they look at them, smell them, and smell in them the fragrance of Tawhid and Prophethood... They would be lanterns of guidance at Muslims' homes enlightening the hearts and the minds of those endowed with wisdom. The Muslims would then seek nearness to Allah Almighty in every part of the world by prostrating upon a soil taken from the very best spot chosen by Allah Himself to be a safe, secure, and holy House, a house of sanctity, honor, blessing, the sacred resting place of His Prophet.
Besides, it actually carries a great and effective publicity: It invites people to enter into the folds of Islam, to visit the Ka`ba, in order to worship Allah, to visit the capital of His Sunnah and the grave of the one who carried out the Message of such Sunnah. Indeed, whoever holds Allah's sanctities with high regards, it surely is better for him with his Lord.
Finally, such is our Husain (as), and such is our love for him. Such is his mourning. Such is Kerbala and its turba: the piece of earth upon which we prostrate. Allah is our Lord, and our Sunnah and its tradition is the Sunnah of our Prophet (P) and its tradition, and to Allah does all Praise belong.
And what reason do we have not to believe in
Allah and in the truth that has come to us while
we earnestly desire that our Lord lets us join the
(ranks of) the good people?
(Holy Qur'an, 5:84)
And so that those who have been given the
knowledge may know that it is the truth from
your Lord, so that they may believe in it and
their hearts may be humbled before it. Most
surely Allah is the Guide of those who believe
in a straight path.
(Holy Qur'an, 22:54)
Ahadith: singular of hadith, a statement (usually attributed either to the Prophet [pbuh] or to one of the members of his Progeny [as] or companions)
Bid`a: (singular of bida`) an innovation in the religion, something introduced as part of the Islamic creed, as a Sunnah, and which is not
Faqih: jurist, one who is knowledgeable in fiqh, Islamic jurisprudence
Fiqh: the science of Islamic jurisprudence
Hadith: (singular) tradition, a statement made by Prophet Muhammad (pbuh); its plural is: ahadith
Janabah: uncleanness caused by seminal discharge
Musnad: a compilation of traditions (ahadith) which are consecutively and chronologically traced to their transmitters
Sahaba: (plural) companions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh); singular: sahabi
Sahabi: companion (e.g. of the Holy Prophet), one of the sahabah
Sahih: literally: authentic, correct, accurate; it is generally used to refer to the collection, group of collections, or book, of verified and authenticated ahadith of the Holy Prophet (pbuh)
Shari`a: Islam's legislative system
Tabi`een: plural of tabi`, one who follows and learns from a Sahabi
Tabi`i: (singular:) one who accompanied for a good period of time and learned from a sahabi, a companion of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh); its plural is: tabi`een
Tawhid: the concept of the absolute Unity of God, the belief that God is One and indivisible, One__and Only One__God
Turba: literally: soil; in this text, it refers to a piece of soil taken out of the area where Imam Husain (as) is buried
And surely Allah knows best...
 Ibid., p. 256, in addition to other references.
 Masrooq ibn al-Ajda` is Abd al-Rahman ibn Malik al-Hamadani, "Abu Ayesha," who died in 62 A.H. He was a great tabi`i and one of the main authorities upon which the six sahih books, i.e. Al-Sihah al-Sittah, rely. He quotes Abu Bakr, Omer, Othman, Ali (as), and he was a pious faqih and a good trusted authority. He was one of the companions of Ibn Mas`ood who were teaching people the Sunnah. When he was drawing his last breaths, as Ibn Sa`d tells us in his Tabaqat, he supplicated saying, "O Allah! I do not die following anything which the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, never sanctioned nor sanctioned by Abu Bakr nor Omer." Refer to the major reference, namely Bukhari's Tarikh, Vol. 4, Chapter 2, p. 35, and to Ibn Sa`d's Tabaqat, Vol. 6, pp. 50-56, to Ibn Abu Hatim's book Al-Jarh wal Ta`deel, Vol. 4, Chapter 1, p. 396, and to Tahtheeb al-Tahtheeb, Vol. 10, pp. 109-111.
 This incident is detailed by Abul-Qasim Abd al-Malik ibn Bashran in his book Al-Amaali, by Abul-Hasan Ali ibn al-Ja`d al-Jawhari in Volume Ten of his Musnad, by al-Hakim al-Naisapuri in Volume Three of his book Al-Mustadrak, and by other huffaz and renown authorities.
 This incident is recorded by the hafiz al-Khatib al-Baghdadi. It is also discussed on p. 338, Vol. 4, of Tarikh al-Sham by the hafiz Ibn Asakir who relies on the authority of al-Khatib, and by al-Hafiz al-Kanji on p. 284 of his book Al-Kifaya relying on the authority of al-Hasan II who cites Muslim ibn Riyah, a freed slave of the Commander of the Faithful (as), saying, "I was with al-Husain (as) when he was killed. He was shot in the face with an arrow, so he said to me, `O Muslim! Bring your hands closer to the blood,' which I did. Once I had a handful of it, he said to me, `Pour it in my hand,' which I poured. He then hurled both his hands in the direction of the sky above as he said, `Lord! Avenge the shedding of the blood of the son of Your Prophet's daughter!' Muslim continues his narration by saying, "Not a drop of it fell on the ground." It is also recorded that al-Husain, peace be upon him, threw the blood drawn from his chin to the sky when an arrow shot it. A multitude of huffaz have recorded this incident in their books. [The word "heavens," though plural, is synonymous to "sky." In contrast, the singular "heaven" refers to Paradise. --Tr.
 Short for "Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny."