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An account of Imam Husain’s (as) severed head

The tenth of Moharrum; the day of the martyrdom of Imam Husain (a.s.). The army of Yazid, disregarding Allah and Holy Prophet (s.a.), burnt the tents of the Ahle Bait (a.s.), looted their camps and mutilated the bodies of the martyrs. The commander-in-chief of Yazid’s force, Umar ibn Sa’ad, sent the holy head of Imam (a.s.) to Kufa with Khooli ibn Ya’zid Asbahi and Hameed ibn Muslim and the blessed heads of the other martyrs  with  Shimr  ibn  Ziljaushan,  Qais ibn Ashath and Amr ibn Hajjaj to the governor of Kufa, Ubaidullah ibn Ziyad (may Allah curse them all)

Obaidullah ibn Ziyad tried his best  to show disrespect to the holy head. The holy heads were paraded in the streets of Kufa till, on receiving orders, they were dispatched to the court of Yazid in Syria. On the day following Ashura, Umar ibn Sa’ad lead the funeral prayers of his soldiers killed in the battle  and provided for them a burial. But, he left the bodies of the children of the Prophet (s.a.) and  Fatema  Zahra (a.s.) in  the scorching sun, unclothed, unsheltered and uncovered. Along with his cohorts, he hastened towards  Ibn  Ziyad  to  collect  his laurels. Only after a few days had passed that the people of Bani Asad  buried  the  bodies  of the martyrs in the presence of Imam Zainul Abedeen (a.s.) and under his directions. While he (a.s.) himself buried the blessed body of his father Imam Husain (a.s.). But, where and how were the holy of heads of the martyrs buried, and particularly that of Imam Husain (a.s.)? This is one of the moot questions in the scrolls of history. Places in Syria and Egypt are known as “Ra’sul Husain” (the head of Husain), and at the same time mention has been made about it’s burial in Iraq and Hejaz. Here,  briefly  we introduce these places and divide our study into two  parts.

(1) The views of the scholars of the Ahle Sunnah

(2) The Shia view


Sunni books have mentioned six probable places where the holy head of Imam Husain (a.s.) may be buried.

a)      Medina : Yazid sent the holy head to his governor in Medina, Amr ibn Saeed ibn Aas, who buried it near the grave of Imam’s (a.s.) grandmother, Janabe Fatema binte Asad, in Jannatul Baqi.

b)      Damascus : Mansoor ibn Jamhoor took the holy head from the  treasury of Yazid, wrapped it in a cloth, and  buried  it near “Babul Faraadees” in Damascus.

c)       Damascus :  Sulaiman ibn Abdul Malik al Marwan (died 99 A.H.), the seventh Caliph of the Bani Umayya, has  claimed that he found the  holy  head  of  Imam Husain (a.s.) in the treasury of Yazid and buried it in the Muslim  cemetery  of  Damascus.

d)      It is famous that the holy head is buried in the place known as “Ra’sul Husain” in Syria.

The last three views can, however, be counted as one.

 e)      When Umar ibn Abdul Aziz, the eighth caliph  of Bani  Umayya,  came  to  power,  he exhumed the holy head from the place where Subhan had buried it and buried it elsewhere. Some researchers are inclined towards believing that he buried it with the blessed body of Imam (a.s.) in Kerbala.

f)       Egypt : According to the most notable narration from the Fatimid Caliphs, the holy head  is  buried  in  the  place  well-known  as “Mashhad al Roos”.

In  addition  to  the  apparent contradictions above, the absence of any confirmation from the children  of  Imam  Husain (a.s.), the  infallible Imams,  makes  these  narration  all  the  more doubtful. The Imams are the cities of knowledge, knowing the unseen. Also, they are more conscious of the place of burial of the head of their ancestor as it’s a fact,

“People of the house know matters of the house better”.

As for the above views, it can be said that, since the holy head was taken to many places in Kufa, then sent to Syria, it had to pass from many places and was kept at different spots. People considering these places as sacred, named them “Ra’sul Husain“. Gradually, these locations came to be known as the places of burial (of the holy head). It is highly probable that the place which is called as Ra’sul Husain in Damascus might be an area  thickly inhabited by the lovers of the Ahle Bait (a.s.).

2)      THE  SHIA VIEW

The  Shia scholars hold two views about the place of burial of the holy head of Imam Husain
(a.s.), and the two can easily be consolidated.

a)      Najaf-e-Ashraf  : Imam ]afar Sadiq (as.) is reported to have many times said that the holy
head is buried besides Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) in  Najaf-e-Ashraf.  The noted scholars Shaikh Kulaini and Ibn Qoolvaih have quoted Yazid ibn Amr, making the famous narration that once he accompanied Imam Sadiq (a.s.) to Najaf-e-Ashraf. After the Ziarat of Ameerul Momineen (a.s.), Imam (a.s.) asked him to send salutations to his ancestor, Husain ibn Ali. Yazid ibn Amr wondered,

‘But Imam Husain (a.s.) is in Karbala’.

Hearing this, Imam (a.s.) replied,

“It is true, but when his holy head was in Syria, one of our friends obtained it and hurled it besides Ameerul Momineen (a.s.).”

(Al Kafi vol. 4, p. 571; Kaamel al-Ziaraat,p.24)

Shaikh-e-Kulaini and Shaikh-e-Tusi have narrated a similar tradition from “Mubarak” that he once accompanied Imam Sadiq (a.s,) in his journey to Najaf. Imam (a.s.) recited the Namaz-e-Ziarat thrice. Mubarak inquired the reason for his action. Imam (a.s.) answered,

The first two at the place of grave of Hazrat Ali (a.s), the next two at the place of the holy head of Imam Husain (a.s.) and the last two at the place of pulpit of Hazrat Qaim (a.s.).”

(Al-Kafi Vol. 4, p.571; Tahzeebul Ahkaam Vol.  2,p.12)

Similar narration can be found in nine other traditions. And it is for this reason the books of supplications and salutations it is emphasized to salute the holy head of Imam Husain (a.s.), besides the grave of Ameerul. Mornineen  (a.s.).

(Wasaail  al-Shiah Vol. 10, Chp. of tombs, No 32, p. 212-302; Behaar al-Anwaar, Vol. 10, Book
of Tombs, Chp. 12, p. 235-257; Mustadrak al-Wasaail (old edition), Vol. 2, p. 198).

b)      Kerbala  – The holy head is buried with the blessed body of Imam Husain (a.s.). It is popular amongst the Shia Ulema that after his release from Syria, Imam Zainul Abedeen (a.s.) brought along with himself the holy head of Imam Husain (a.s.) and buried it with the blessed body of Imam Husain (a.s.). Although this is not found in any tradition, yet it is prominent amongst the Shia scholars. Allama Majlisi has given preference to the first view, in his book, “Al-Uyoon”, Vol. 1, yet he wrote in Behaar al-Anwaar, thus:

“…It  is  well  known  amongst  our  Shia scholars that the holy head of Imam Husain (a.s.) is buried with his blessed body, and Imam Zainul Abedeen (a.s.) brought the holy head along with himself”        

(Behaar al-Anwaar, Vol.  45, p.  145).

Ibne Shahr-e-Aashob has also narrated this from Syed Murtuza (Manaqeb, Vol. 2, p. 200); Ibne Aajeli has also adopted this view (Mosheerul Ahzaan, p. 79); Syed Ibne Taoos has also accepted this theory (Lohoof, p. 112). Similar is the point of view of Ibne Fattal Neeshapouri (Rauzah al-Waaezeen, p. 165), and Shaikh Taharsi is also of the same opinion (A’laam al-Waraa, p. 151) while Shaykh Toosi has considered this as the reason of Ziarat-e-Arbaeen (Maqtal al-Husain, p. 456).

Even some of the Sunni scholars like Shabraawi subscribe to this view (Al-Athaaf be hubb Al-Ashraaf, p. 12). Qurtubbi too has subscribed to this as Munaadi has claimed in Al-Kaukab al-duriyah,  Vol. 1, p. 57 narrating from Paaraan. Sibte Ibne Jauzi has also endorsed this viewpoint.

(Tazkeratul Khawaas, Vol. 1, p.150).

Now what remains to be answered is as to how the holy head of Imam Husain (a.s.) was transferred from  Syria  to  Najaf-e-Ashraf or Kerbala? Those  subscribing to  the other viewpoints are of the opinion that Yazid ibne Moaviya, the accursed, handed  the  holy  head  of  Imam Husain (a.s.) along with those of the other martyrs, to  Imam Sajjad (a.s.) when he released the latter, who later buried it in Kerbala. On account of the first view some (like Syed ibn Taoos, Lohoof, p.  175) opine that Yazid refused to part with the old head of Imam Husain (a.s.), and as it is found in the tradition from Imam Sadiq (a.s.) one of the friends of Imam (as.) obtained  it  from  the  treasury  of  Yazid  and
according to another tradition it was the Holy Prophet (s.a.) himself who obtained it and buried it.

(Behaar al-Anwaar, Vol. 45, p.187).

Abdullah ibn. Bakr once asked Imam (a.s.) if the grave of Imam Husain (a.s.) is excavated, will anything be found in it? Imam (a.s.) replied,

 “0 Son of Bakr, how abstruse is your question. Imam Husain (a.s.) along with his mother, his father and his brother Hasan is in the house of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.). He is living there, and receiving his sustenance. If in the early  days had his grave been opened, he would have been found there, but now he is alive in the presence of his Lord.”

 Then in the end Imam (a.s.) said,

“He is watching those who cry for him, prays for their forgiveness and also requests his ancestors to seek forgiveness for those crying for him. And he says, ‘0 you who are crying! Had you known what all I have arranged for you, then you will be more joyous than sorrowful. All the angels in the skies and in Kerbala, hear him and seek forgiveness for him (the crying one). Consequently, he returns such that his records no longer contain any sins.”

(Kaamel  al-Ziaraat, p. 326)

Just as Allama Majlisi has said, in this tradition both the views have been confirmed. Even if the holy head of Imam (a.s.) is buried besides Ameerul Mornineen (a.s.), but presently Imam Husain(a.s.) is in the highest celestial world, living, near the throne of Allah.  Consequently, the holy head of Hazrat (a.s.) is with his blessed body. In short, it is prominent amongst the Shia scholars that the holy head is with the blessed body in Kerbala and according to traditions, it is buried besides Ameerul Momineen (a.s.) in Najaf-e-Ashraf. It can be explained that initially the holy head was buried in Najaf-e-Ashraf, then the angels at the time of ascending towards the celestial world attached it to the blessed body. Anyway, presently the holy head is with the blessed body. (Allah knows best, the Unseen).

September 2, 2020