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Slaying of Husayn Texts Perkins, Tasi


A series of succession crises followed the death of the Islamic Prophet Muḥammad. One such crisis took place in the year 680 CE. Those who favored Muḥammad’s bloodline believed ʿAlī’s eldest son Ḥasan (c. 625-670) to be the divinely appointed leader. Ḥasan capitulated to the Caliph Muʿāwiya in order to avoid bloodshed, but there seems to have been a tacit agreement that at Muʿāwiya’s death the leadership would return to the Prophet’s household. Ḥasan predeceased Muʿāwiya, leaving Ḥusayn as the supposed successor, but on his deathbed Muʿāwiya transferred power to his own son Yazīd. Unlike his older brother, Ḥusayn was not content to trade deference for peace, and in the 61st year of the Islamic calendar Ḥusayn and a handful of his companions met Yazīd’s forces on the plains of Karbalāʾ on the banks of the Euphrates River in Iraq. The outcome of the “battle” was a foregone conclusion—according to traditional sources of this narrative Ḥusayn’s band of a hundred-odd men, women, and children was several orders of magnitude smaller than Yazīd’s army. Virtually all who fought with Ḥusayn died in a massacre which has thence served as the definitive event for Shīʿite piety. From relatively soon after the battle Ḥusayn’s partisans have commemorated his martyrdom through a series of rituals, legends, and elegies which have grown increasingly elaborate through the centuries. This entry explores one type of pietistic commemoration—"maqtal al-Ḥusayn" texts from the late-Abbasid period when Twelver Shīʿism was crystalizing. These texts were compiled by three Muslims: ʿAbdullāh Muḥammad ibn Mūsā al-Khwārizmī (d. 1172); al-Jalīl Najm al-Dīn Jaʿfar ibn Muḥammad ibn Jaʿfar ibn Habatallah ibn Namā al-Ḥillī (d. 1247 or 1252); and ʿAlī ibn Mūsā ibn Jaʿfar ibn Muḥammad ibn Ṭāwūs (d. 1265).

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