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The two men, both belonging to the tribe of Quraysh, were competing for the custodianship of the House of Kaaba in Mecca. When the Hashim clan was chosen to be the custodian of Mecca, Umayyad’s gave in and migrated to the Levant.
Over the years, Abu Sufyan ibn Harb ibn Umayya increased his influence in Hijaz and revived the Hashemite/Umayyad rivalry in Makkah. By then, Islam descended upon the Hashemite merchant Muhammad ibn Abdullah. Abu Sufyan perceived this as a sign of an unprecedented threat to the Umayyad influence.
Umayyads found themselves competing with the Hashemite Prophethood. But The Message was formidable, and Abu Sufyan couldn’t stop the Prophet and his Madinah army from entering Makkah in 630 A.D., with the Umayyad clan becoming one of the last to embrace Islam.
The rivalry between the two clans subsided during the reign of the first two Caliphs Abu Bakr and Umar. But signs of trouble appeared when Uthman ibn Affan, an Umayyad became the Caliph. Although Uthman was a just leader, he couldn’t stop the increasing influence of his wealthy family that caused a rebellion resulting in his martyrdom. The killing of Caliph Uthman enraged Damascus’s governor Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan, the Umayyad against Ali for not arresting the perpetrators of Uthman’s assassination. This was referred to as “Al-Fitnah” which led to the assassination of Caliph Ali. After the death of Ali, Muawiyah became the second Umayyad Caliph and the founder of the Umayyad ruling dynasty. Muawiyah later bequeathed the ruling authority to his son Yazid, who was an unpopular ruler.
Yazid at the age of 35 lacked the wisdom and political talent to run his caliphate and needed Hussain ibn Ali’s acceptance to overcome his lack of popularity. Hussain always thought Yazid to be unsuitable for the position of the chief of the Ummah. Caliphate reduced to a Sultanate resembling that of the Persians where the title gets passed on from father to son was new for Hussain who had witnessed the golden age of the rightly guided Caliphs who were chosen by public consensus.
Yazid needed the support of Hussain, a grandson of the prophet, to legitimize his caliphate. He sent Waleed ibn Utba to Madinah to force Hussein’s allegiance. Waleed did not get to see Hussain since he had already left Madinah to ponder on his next move.
Support from Kufa
While Hussien was in Makkah, he received news that the people of Kufa were swearing allegiance to him. Before traveling to Kufa, Hussain sent his first cousin Muslim ibn Aqil to know how many are standing by his cause. According to Ibn Kathir, Ibn Aqil counted around 18,000 in Kufa alone who would swear allegiance to Hussien. This motivated Hussain to leave for Kufa, despite Abdullah ibn Abbas's warnings to stay in Makkah or to travel to Yemen if he was tenacious enough to leave. Hussain did not follow his advice.
When Yazid heard of the news about the people of Kufa, he appointed a new governor, Ubayd-Allah ibn Ziad, who persecuted the people of Kufa and killed Ibn Aqil. Hussien received the news of his cousin’s death very late while in the middle of the journey but chose to proceed with his family knowing that martyrdom awaited them.
On the 2nd day of Muharram, Yazid’s army led by Ibn Ziad was able to prevent Al-Hussien from reaching Kufa. Hussain’s army of 32 knights and 40 infantrymen were facing Yazid’s army of 5000 soldiers, in the battleground of Karbala. This was no ordinary battle. An Umayyad army attempted to annihilate the Prophet’s bloodline. If Hussien saw this as a battle to restore the spirit of Islam, Yazid saw it as the old familial rivalry between the Umayyads and the Hashemites. On the 10th of Muharram, every member of the Hussain family was killed except his son Zayn Al-Abidin.
Hussien was defeated in Karbala, but his memory will live in the hearts and minds of Muslims as a symbol for the struggle against tyranny and injustice, even though some may argue that his personal desire for power destroyed his entire clan.