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The Death of al-Husayn.docx

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HIST 4150
Joseph Burdo

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The Death ofAl-Husayn Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari’s The History of al-Tabari: The Caliphate of Yazid b. Mu’awiyah (Volume XIX) relates the events and happenings within the Islamic Empire from 680-684 during which Yazid b. Mu’awiyah was Caliph. This volume (as well and the other 40 volumes) use akhbar as a method for relating the historical events. The akhbar tradition uses hadith (with validated isnads) to tell the story of what happened in that historical event. One major event Tabari reports on in Volume XIX is the death of al-Husayn inA.D 680. In the aftermath of the tragic death of al-Husayn, Tabari chooses hadith that show Abbasid remorse for the death of the grandson of the prophet, depicting theAbbasids in a more generous and blameless light. Tabari chooses hadith that paint al-Husayn and his followers as the aggressors in the conflict at Karbala which resulted in al-Husayn’s death. In one of the hadith Tabari chooses to include, one of Caliph Yazid b. Mu’awiyah’s men comes to Yazid to report on the conflict at Karbala. The man reports that al-Husayn “came against them [Abbasid troops]”(169) and when he asked al-Husayn’s men to cease and submit to the authority of the Caliph, they refused, “choos[ing] to fight, rather than surrender”(169). In this subtle wording of how the battle came about, theAbbasid men are painted as the merciful, allowing al-Husayn and his troops to give up their fight and live so long as they recognized the Caliph Yazid. Al-Husayn and his men chose to fight; they chose to die. Again, rather than painting theAbbasids as the murderers of the grandson of the prophet, Tabari uses hadith that make theAbbasids look like the good guys and making al-Husayn look like he was asking for death by stubbornly refusing to yield. Another way Tabari paints al-Husayn and his men as the aggressors in the conflict is through including three separate hadith, all different accounts of what Caliph Yazid b. Mu’awiyah said upon hearing about the death of al-Husayn. All three of these hadith are reports on the same meeting with the same people but the details vary slightly from each other. One thing that is consistent in all of them however, is that Yazid says word for word, “[Swords] split the skulls of men who are dear to us; but they were more disobedient and oppressive”(170, 174, 176). This phrase is repeated in each of the three similar hadiths, emphasizing its’importance. In this quote, Yazid is portrayed as mournful, referring to al-Husayn as someone who is “dear to him”. Yazid also seems remorseful but accepting of what happened because, as he sees it, al-Husayn was being “disobedient” and had to be dealt with. Here again, you have al-Husayn being described as the person who started the conflict and theAbbasids unable to stop what happened. Tabari also chooses hadith that use language to hint at the fact that al-Husayn and his men deserved and were meant to die. Ibn Ziyad, the man who supposedly killed al-Husayn (in this particular hadith) defends his decision to kill al-Husayn saying, “God killed him…It is not possible for a soul to die without God’s permission”(166). In choosing to incorporate this hadith with this quote by Ziyad, Tabari is trying to take the focus and blame away from theAbbasids and make Husayn’s death look like it was what God wanted and what God meant to be. The Abbasids are blameless and had could not have killed Husayn if God had not wanted Husayn dead in the first place. In a later hadith, Yazid b. Mu’awiyah explains Husayn’s death to Husayn’s son by quoting directly from the Qur’an, “Whatever misfortune has struck you is because of what your hands have earned, and [God] excuses much.” (171, 175). The fact that this quote appears twice in two separate hadith and is a direct quote from the Qur’an, emphasizes its’importance to Tabari to incorporate it. It strongly alludes to the fact that theAbbasids should not be blamed or condemned for what happened to Husayn, for he must have brought his death upon himself somehow. All misfortune people encounter happens because God
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