There can be little debate that the catastrophe that engulfed the Islamic nation on the demise of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was of a staggering magnitude. For the beloved progeny – Ahle Bait (a.s.) of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) the sorrow was two-fold. On one hand, they were permanently separated from the beloved Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and on the other hand, this proved to be the trigger for the deluge of tragedies and oppressions that befell them. Hazrat Ali’s (a.s.) right to caliphate and successorship to the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was usurped in a most scheming manner. Few could have imagined that there would come a day when Ali (a.s.) – the victor of Khaiber and Khandaq would be dragged from his house for allegiance. Janabe Fatima Zahra (s.a.), the beloved daughter of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), had to appeal to the caliph of the nation, in the mosque of her own father, to demand her inheritance and financial dues. Her appeals fell on deaf ears and instead she was recompensed with oppression that first took the life of her unborn son and ultimately her own.
The demise of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and his dearest daughter in a span of a few months left an indelible mark on Hazrat Ali’s (a.s.) persona. His grief was uncontrollable and his sorrow was beyond description. Allah, the Almighty, alleviated his mourning and distress through a newborn son. This son had the desired effect on all the grieving members of Hazrat Ali’s (a.s.) household. Imam Hasan (a.s.) rejoiced because his arms were strengthened through the infant. Imam Husain (a.s.) saw in him his most trusted aide and standard-bearer. Janabe Zainab (a.s.) got a younger brother who would protect her. Hazrat Ali (a.s.) held the newborn close to himself and saw in him the nobility of martyrdom and christened him – Abbas, which means a lion.
Hazrat Abbas’ (a.s.) personality
Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) is one individual whose advent was awaited with great fervor and anticipation. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) prophesied his unparalleled bravery. Hazrat Ali (a.s.), a man of few wants and needs, none the less desired him. Janabe Zahra (s.a.) referred to him as her own son. Imam Hasan (a.s.) introduced him as his helper and supporter. Imam Husain (a.s.) proclaimed about him, ‘may my life be sacrificed upon you’. And once Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) was born the Ahle Bait (a.s.) took great pride in him and his unique traits.
Apart from the five infallibles (a.s.) from the ‘Incident of the Cloak’, even the Imams (a.s.) spoke of Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) in a most venerating manner. Imam Zainul Abedeen (a.s.) gave testimony to his elevated status. Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s.) acquainted him as ‘Abdus Saleh and one with vision and foresight and Imam Mahdi (a.t.f.s.) has sent his salutations upon him.
Hazrat Ali’s (a.s.) desire
Hazrat Ali (a.s.) was well-aware that there would come a distressing time upon his younger son – Imam Husain (a.s.) when the trials and tribulations would engulf him and he would be all alone without a helper and supporter. What was particularly painful for Hazrat Ali (a.s.) was his own absence at that delicate moment in history when his son would need him the most. Hazrat Ali (a.s.) was seized with a desire to raise a son who would represent him at that moment of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) anguish. It was with this objective that Hazrat Ali (a.s.) requested his brother – Aqeel: ‘Search for a lady from the Arab tribes with a pedigree of brave warriors so that I may marry her. She will beget a brave son who will be a helper for my son – Husain in Karbala.’ (Tanqeehul Maqaal Chapter of Abbas pg. 28, Asraarush Shahaadat, pg 319, Umdatul Mataalib, pg. 352)
Janabe Aqeel’s quest led him to the personality of Janabe Fatima Kelabiyya (r.a.) who Hazrat Ali (a.s.) finally married. This union resulted in the birth of Hazrat Abbas (a.s.), who gained the titled.
Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) was blessed with two sons who had no equal in the heavens and the earth. For him to desire another son like Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) tells us something about the latter’s glorious personality. For not only was Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) just his son, but he was his emissary in the battle of Karbala , one of Islam’s greatest struggle against falsehood and tyranny. Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) was to be the defendant of Imam Husain’s (a.s.) right, which is why Hazrat Ali (a.s.) put everyone under the care of his eldest son and successor – Imam Hasan (a.s.); but when it came to Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) he directed him under the supervision of Imam Husain (a.s.).
Imam Husain (a.s.) and Hazrat Abbas (a.s.)
Imam Husain (a.s.) tended the gift of Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) entrusted to him by his father with great care. He always kept Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) with himself and did not like being separated from him. When on 9th Muharram 61 AH at Karbala , Umar-e-Saad’s army ventured towards Imam Husain’s (a.s.) tent, he requested Hazrat Abbas (a.s.):
‘May my life be sacrificed for you, O my brother, go and ask them the purpose of their visit.’
(Tarikh-e-Tabari vol. 6, pg. 237)
Indeed, this statement highlights the affection that Imam (a.s.) had for Hazrat Abbas (a.s.). An Imam of the time uttering a statement of such gravity – ‘may my life be sacrificed upon you’ for someone highlights the latter’s position and status. It is not merely one brother’s sentiment for his sibling. In any case, the Imam does not make a proclamation out of mere sentiment; his love and hatred are purely for the sake of Allah, not for his own self. This statement underlines the importance of Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) in the eyes of Allah and Imam Husain (a.s.).
On the Day of Aashoora, Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) was given Imam’s (a.s.) consent to fight the enemies after much deliberation. And when after some time, Imam (a.s.) heard Hazrat Abbas’ (a.s.) plea for help, he clutched his back and cried – ‘O my brother, with this (tragedy) my back is now broken.
It is for this reason we find Imam Husain (a.s.) calling out to Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) for help whenever his body was struck by the enemy.
(Maqtal-e-Abi Mikhnaf pg. 377)
Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) in Ziarat-e-Nahiyah
We find Imam Zamana (a.t.f.s.) reminiscing about Hazrat Abbas’ (a.s.) indomitable bravery in Ziarat-e-Nahiyah,
‘Peace be upon Abul Fazlil Abbas, the son of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.), who sacrificed his life for his brother. He protected him through his soul and in his struggle to fetch water, lost his arms. May Allah curse his killers – Yazid b. Riqaad Al-Haibi and Hakeem b. Tufail Al-Mataaiee.’
Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (a.s.) on his uncle Abbas (a.s.)
In Umdatul Mataalib, the great scholar – Abu Nasr Bukhaari records Imam Jafar Sadiq’s (a.s.) narration:
‘Our uncle Abbas Ibne Ameeril Momineen (a.s.) had sharp foresight and firm faith. He fought alongside Husain (a.s.) and gave ample evidence of his bravery and courage until he was martyred.’
(Umdatul Mataalib pg. 323, Maqatilut Taalibeen)
Allamah Kinturi writes that ‘Baseerat’ means in-depth understanding of and reflection on religious beliefs. ‘Na’fiz’ means to distinguish clearly between truth and falsehood. ‘Na’fizul Baseerat’ means Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) had amazing vision and foresight about religious beliefs and could clearly discern between truth and falsehood. He had scaled all the levels of faith and this is what Imam Sadiq (a.s.) is referring to in the above tradition.
(Miatain fi Maqtalil Husain, Pg. 444)
Then Allamah elaborates that Imam’s (a.s.) at tribute ‘Na’fizul Baseerat’ underscores the reality that Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) was at an elevated stage of recognition and action.
(Miatain fi Maqtalil Husain, Pg. 463).
It was this recognition with which Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) was stationed at a lofty level of faith and certainty and achieved such proximity with Imam Husain (a.s.), so much so that ultimately he submitted his life in the obedience of his master culminating in his martyrdom.
The Virtuous (Al-Abd Al Saleh)
In the special Ziarat of Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) narrated on the authority of Abi Hamza-e-Somali from Imam Sadiq (a.s.), the latter declares, ‘Salutations upon you O virtuous worshipper who was obedient to Allah, His Messenger, Ameerul Momineen, Hasan and Husain (peace be upon all of them)’
In Arabic literature, ‘Aabid’ means a worshipper or a sincere worshipper.
‘The worshipper who has devoted his entire life for the service of his master and has never separated from him.’ (Al-Munjid, pg. 316)
Over here ‘Abd’ means Allah’s worshipper. At one level we are all Allah’s worshippers because Allah has created man to worship Him.
(Surah Zaariyaat: 56)
However, there are some worshippers who have excelled in worship so much so that Allah is proud of their worship and considers them as His worshippers. Allah has mentioned many Prophets by name in the Quran. However, not all of them are referred to as ‘Abd’. There are only a few Prophets referred to as ‘Abd’ in the Quran by Allah – Hazrat Nuh (a.s.) in Surah Israa: Verse: 3, Hazrat Dawood (a.s.) in Surah Swaad: Verse: 17, azrat
Zakariyya (a.s.) in Surah Maryam: Verse: 2, Hazrat Isa (a.s.) in Surah Nisa: Verse: 20, Hazrat Ayyub (a.s.) in Surah Swaad: Verse: 41 and our beloved rophet Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) in Surah Israa: Verse: 1 for whom in particular, this word has been used on more than one occasion.
The position of servitude (being a slave or worshipper of Allah) is a status that is much sought after and only a handful of Allah’s most beloved creatures can attain it. One day Hazrat Jibraeel (a.s.) descended on the earth to convey the divine message to the Prophet, he informed, ‘Allah has conveyed His greetings and salutations to you. He has given you a choice, either you can choose to be His slave or you can be the king of the world.’ Expectedly the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) selected the position of servitude and relinquished the right to rule over the world. That is why in every obligatory and recommended prayers, we first give testimony to the Prophet being Allah’s slave and then testify to his prophethood.
On many an occasion Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) has expressed his satisfaction and pleasure at being Allah’s slave.
Indeed Hazrat Ali (a.s.) was granted the good fortune of serving Allah and His Messenger (s.a.w.a.). According to Imam Sadiq’s (a.s.) tradition Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) was granted the opportunity (taufeeq) of serving the five immaculate ones of ‘The Cloak’ in addition to serving Allah. This shows the status of Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) in the eyes of Allah, His Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and the infallibles (a.s.).
Salutations recited just before the conclusion of namaz is an important pillar of namaz. The worshipper recites three salutations at the end. Of these salutations, the second and the third are imperative and omitting either or both will make the prayers void. In the first salutation we recite:
‘Salutations upon us and Allah’s virtuous slaves.’
Over here we recite ‘Allah’s virtuous slaves’ which is the plural of ‘Allah’s virtuous slave’. Now if we take the aforementioned words of the Ziarat and weigh it alongside the salutations in namaz, we can appreciate that Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) is among those included within the ambit of ‘Allah’s virtuous slave’ in prayers. If one does not recite this salutation and declines from paying tributes to the ‘Allah’s virtuous slave’, his prayers will not be worthy of acceptance in the divine court.
The Guardian of Islam
In the salutation for the entry in the shrine of Hazrat Abbas (a.s.), Imam Sadiq (a.s.) recites
‘I bear witness and take Allah as a witness that you tread on the path of warriors of the Battle of Badr.’
As is well known, the Battle of Badr was the premier battle of Islam fought under the direct leadership of Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.). Then, Islam was only finding its feet and was slowly coming into its own. A defeat at that stage with the martyrdom of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) would have obliterated Islam and the divine message along with it. Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.a.) and Islam would have been nothing but obscure specks in the pages of history. The Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) was not prepared for the battle. However, the infidels of Mecca had intensified their efforts against the Muslims and matters reached a head when battle was the only way out. Divine decree commanded as much and the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) began mobilizing men and weapons for Islam’s first battle. The infidels, numbering over a thousand, also prepared themselves for battle and came out armed with the best of weapons and mounts. They had all the means necessary for a resounding victory. The Muslim army on the other hand were puny in size – a little over 300, which was less than 1/3rd the size of the infidels. They had a mere two horses, one was with Murtadd Ibne Abi Murtadd and the other with Miqdad , and only seven camels. Despite their poor numbers and lack of resources, their enthusiasm and spirit of faith was at a high. They entered the battlefield with a clear objective to protect Islam with their lives. Quran says that on that day, Allah helped them with 3,000 angels.
A fierce battle waged between the unequal parties. The Muslims with their small numbers but fierce loyalty and strong faith overcame the more powerful infidels. Islam got a new lease of life and Muslims got strengthened with this victory.
The situation in 60 AH was similar to the pre-Badr days. In fact, if anything, it was even more dismal. Islamic laws were given mere lip service; they did not exist in the hearts of the Muslims. Slow by but steadily, the soul of Islam was being strangulated. The line between truth and falsehood had vanished and Muslims were no longer discerning between the two. Conditions conspired to propel the successor and grandson of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.), to rise against the polytheistic and hypocritical forces of society. The groundwork for battle was laid down and both parties were prepared for it. Imam Husain (a.s.) arrived at Karbala with a small band of family members, companions and loyalists. The situation resembled closely that of Badr. On one side, there was a large army of rabid warriors armed to the eeth and on the other side, there was a small group of devout Muslims, interested only in protecting the grandson of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) and through it, Islam. Like Badr, this was a battle between the pure tree and the accursed tree. Like the Muslim army in Badr, Imam Husain’s (a.s.) army was small in number, but there was no dearth of certainty and self-sacrifice to protect Islam. Only difference was unlike in Badr, Imam Husain’s (a.s.) army did not accept the help of angels to fight the enemy. In Badr, the enemy was vanquished to save Islam; in Karbala , the Muslims offered their souls in a supreme sacrifice. This resulted in Islam getting lease of life till the Day of Judgment.
The credit of marshalling this small army to an unqualified, moral victory over the enemies goes to the standard bearer of the army. Maybe that is why Imam Sadiq (a.s.) reminisces about Hazrat Abbas’ (a.s.) supreme sacrifice in his salutation at the threshold of his shrine at Karbala ‘Surely you walked on what the people of Badr walked’
Obedience of the Imam of the era
Imam Sadiq (a.s.) continues further in this Ziarat, Then may Allah reward you with the most elect reward, the most numerous reward, the most abundant reward, the most faithful reward, that He has given to one who was loyal in his allegiance, responded to his call and obeyed the master of his affair.’
Undoubtedly, Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) till the end of his life served and submitted to the wishes of his Master – Sayyedush Shohada (a.s.). He endeavoured to fulfill the smallest desire of Imam Husain (a.s.) with all eagerness and promptness. For instance, one day in the mosque, Imam Husain (a.s.) expressed his desire for water. Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) rushed to get the water because he did not like his Master’s wish to remain unfulfilled even for a moment. (Chehl Majlis pg. 282) Hazrat Abbas’ (a.s.) promptness in fulfilling Imam’s (a.s.) wish to the extent of a glass of water underlines that he did not like anyone to supersede him in answering to Imam’s (a.s.) call. It is famous that Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) used to trace Imam’s (a.s.) footsteps and apply the dust of his feet to his eyes as a measure of his love and submission to the Imam.
(Zikrul Abbas pg. 24).
This is the level of obedience, compliance and recognition that Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) had for Imam Husain (a.s.) and carried with him to Karbala. Over there he attended to Imam (a.s.) as a slave. And more importantly, experienced great satisfaction and pride in fulfilling his role as a slave and helper of Imam (a.s.). At a time in Karbala when his own children were grappling with intense thirst, hunger and searing heat, he submitted to the wishes of his master – Imam Husain (a.s.) without sparing a thought for his own condition and that of his family.
Normally, a brave man does not easily accept circumstances that are incompatible with his nature and mental makeup. But Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) reconciled himself to the difficulties of Karbala. Despite his courage and valor, to witness the painful and miserable condition of Imam Husain (a.s.) and his family, was in itself an achievement for him. Else in Hazrat Abbas’ (a.s.) presence, it was not possible for anyone to get even a mile within Imam Husain (a.s.) and his family, let alone harass them and ultimately martyr Imam Husain (a.s.). For Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) to witness this as a mute spectator was in many ways more difficult than sacrificing both his arms and his life in the way of Islam. This was because he was capable of warding off the difficulties and tribulations from Imam Husain (a.s.) and his family, but circumstances compelled him to adopt a stance incompatible to his natural disposition.
In line with the divine command and the explicit instructions of his Master – Imam Husain (a.s.), Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) chose to embrace martyrdom rather than take the enemy to task in a fitting manner, which was what he wished to do. To act against his own temperament was the most striking trait of Hazrat Abbas’ (a.s.) personality in Karbala and earned him the reputation of being the most fierce and self-sacrificing warrior in Karbala, reserving for himself a special niche among the companions of Imam Husain (a.s.). That is why Imam Zainul Abedeen (a.s.) informs,
‘May Allah have mercy on my uncle – Abbas b. Ali (a.s.). He fought valiantly and ransomed himself upon his brother until both his arms were severed. Then Allah granted him wings in place of his arms due to his love or us (Ahle Bait). He now soars with his wings along with the angels in Pardise just like Jafar b. Abi Talib (his own uncle). Surely Abbas (a.s.) is placed at such an elevated rank and position in front of Allah, the Almighty, that all the martyrs shall envy him on the Day of Judgment.
(Khesaal, vol. 1, pg. 36)
Hazrat Abbas’ (a.s.) sacrifice is an intercession for the nation
Aga Darbandi writes, ‘When the Day of Judgement shall dawn,the people shall be gathered in a state of intense anxiety and apprehension. Under these circumstances, the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) will request Hazrat Ali (a.s.) to ask Janabe Zahra (s.a.) what she had in store to rescue the nation from chastisement. Janabe Zahra (s.a.) will say, ‘The severed hands of Abbas are sufficient for salvaging the nation.’
(Asraarush Shahadat pg. 325, Jawaherul Ayqaan pg. 194, Qamare Bani Hashim pg. 51)
In this brief statement Janabe Zahra highlights the eminent rank of Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) near Allah, which shall result in the intercession of the Islamic nation as a result of his supreme sacrifice, the proof of which are his severed hands.
Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) served the successor of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.a.) till the last breath of his life under the most trying circumstances. Near his Lord he was a virtuous slave and near the Prophet (s.a.w.a.) he was a submissive and obedient Muslim. He submitted completely to the wishes of the Imam of his era and eventually sacrificed his life to safeguard the Imam and thus, earned the latter’s satisfaction and approval. Therefore we find the infallibles (a.s.) speaking of Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) with such high regard and respect. As devotees of this personality and his ardent lovers, we must strive to emulate the actions of our Master – Hazrat Abbas (a.s.) by supporting the Imam of our era till the dying moments of our lives.