The Ninth of Muharram
The ninth day of Muharram was the successive third day without water in Imam Husayn’s camp. The children, particularly, suffered greatly from the agony of thirst. Sukaynah (a.s.) the daughter of Imam Husayn (a.s.), who was a child then, later narrated, “By the nightfall of the ninth day, I and the other children in the camp were almost dying due to thirst. There was not a drop of water available. We went around to find out if any water is available. I found that my brother Ali al-Asghar, who was six months old, had turned pale and was crying incessantly due to lack of water and milk, as my mother’s breasts had dried up due to her not getting any food or water for the last three days. My aunt Zainab was unsuccessfully trying to console the infant. We were crying out aloud. My father’s companion Burair al-Hamadani, who happened to pass by our tents and see our plight, was greatly distressed.”
Burair called some of his friends and insisted that each one of them should hold a child by the hand and approach the enemy guarding the banks of the Euphrates. Burair hoped that on seeing small children crying for water the guards might allow them to drink water. One of Burair’s friends, Yahya al-Muzani said that if the stonehearted enemy refused and a skirmish ensued, the children would be exposed to mortal danger. He therefore thought it unwise to take the children with them. It was then decided that only Burair and his friends would approach the riverbank from the road leading to Ghazaria.
Once, Ishaq, a relative of Burair, was in charge of that part of the riverbank. He allowed Burair and his companions to go forward and drink as much water as they liked. When they reached the river, Burair’s friends were overjoyed at their good fortune and without even sipping a drop of water, collected it in the leather bag brought by Burair. When the enemy soldiers found that instead of drinking water, for which they had permission, Burair and his men were trying to take water to Imam Husayn’s camp, which was strictly prohibited by their commander. An altercation ensued in which Burair shouted that it was shameful that he and his friends should be allowed to drink water but the grandson of the Prophet (S) and his small children were forbidden. An arrow pierced the leather bag and pinned it to Burair’s neck.
The intense arguments were heard in the camp and immediately Imam Husayn (a.s.) asked some of his friends to rescue Burair. On seeing several persons approaching them, Ishaq’s men were subdued lest there should be bloodshed. Bleeding profusely, Burair proudly set down the leather bag and asked the children in the camp to drink. The anxious crowd of jostling children upset the vessel and in no time, the water flowed out and was absorbed by the parched earth. Burair was grieved that the water brought at the risk of life could not pass the thirsty throats of the children in Imam Husayn’s camp.1
Imam Husayn (a.s.) came to know that the vile Umar bin Sa’d was planning a sneak attack by his entire force from behind to kill everyone including women and children and destroy Imam Husayn’s camp. To safeguard against such an event, a trench was dug all around the camp, leaving a small passage in the front. Firewood and other available fuel was lit and thrown into the trench. The heat of the burning trench was added to the agony of the three-day’s thirst.
One of Umar’s soldiers called Jawairia, mocked saying, “O associates of Husayn, this fire should remind you of the fire of Hell that is waiting for you.” Imam Husayn (a.s.) replied, “You mention my connection with fire, while I am expecting eagerly to meet my Creator.”
Thereafter, Imam Husayn (a.s.) raised up his arms and prayed, “O Lord, make this man taste the fire in this world before the one that awaits him in the next.” Jawairia’s horse suddenly shied and threw him straight into the burning trench, reducing him to ash.2
Imam Husayn (a.s.) deputed his brother Abbas (a.s.) to go and speak to Umar bin Sa’d. Abbas (a.s.) went with about twenty companions. He asked Umar bin Sa’d, “Why have you surrounded us? What crime has Husayn committed ?.”
Umar replied, “Our chief [ibn Ziyad] has ordered that we should either make Husayn accept Yazid as the leader of Muslims and pay allegiance to him, or kill him along with all those who support him.”
Abbas (a.s.) asked his companions to stay back and he said to ibn Sa’d, “Do not take any hasty step till I give your message and get the reply from al-Husayn.” When Abbas (a.s.) left, Habib ibn Mudhahir addressed the surrounding army, “You are a wretched gathering who have assembled here to kill the only surviving son of Fatima and the grandson of the messenger of Allah. You should know that the Prophet not only loved Husayn, but also commanded you to love and respect him. You have gathered at the instance of Yazid who is a hypocrite and a sinner. His father Mu’awiya, grandfather Abu Sufyan and grandmother Hind hated the Prophet (S) and openly fought against him till they were overpowered and pretended to become Muslims. Have you forgotten that Husayn is the last of the five persons about whom Allah has revealed the verse of purification?”
Zohair ibn Al-Qain said, “You are a cruel and heartless assembly of people who deny water to infants, children and the old and ailing. Do you not hear the voices of the children crying for water