The events that led up to Karbala were crucial in determining the reason the Imam Hussain had to go to fight. Yazid had taken control and was demanding bayat (an oath of allegiance) from the imam. Imam Hussain refused to give bayat to Yazid, but after immense pressure from Yazid, the imam knew that he had to take action. Imam Hussain and his companions left Medina to go to Makkah to complete Hajj, but the Imam left early and went to Kufa. Before he could reach Kufa, however, the army of Yazid arrived and forced the companions and their families to divert to Karbala, in the plains of Iraq.
For ten days the 72 companions and their families were trapped in Karbala, confronted by the immense army of Yazid. On the 7th of Muharram, the army of Yazid took control of the Euphrates, denying water to Hussain and his companions.
On the tenth of Muharram, called Ashura, the fighting began. Seventy-two companions of the Imam fought valiantly against the Yazid’s army of 5000. The army of Yazid used brutal and cowardly techniques to fight the Imam’s army, and even killed the three-month-old baby Ali Ashghar. The army of Yazid was ruthless, incapacitating the dead bodies of the martyrs, beheading them, and abusing the women and children of the Imam’s companions.
After every companion of the Imam, as well as the Imam himself, had been killed in battle, the army of Yazid attacked the camp of Imam Hussain, burning and looting the tents of the women and children. They were put in chains and loaded onto camels, to be taken to Kufa. Their hijabs were stripped from them, and the chains were so tight around their limbs that they would bleed. They were paraded through the streets of Kufa, and verbally abused by the townspeople. Sayyida Zainab bravely spoke against the injustice, and raised her voice to let the people know what had happened. The women and children from Imam Hussain’s companions were kept in the harsh prison of Kufa before eventually being released back to Medina.
So, why do we commemorate Ashura? Because it is a permanent reminder of the battle between justice and injustice, between right and wrong, and between fighting for your beliefs, and taking the easy way out. Imam Hussain could have pledged bayat. He could have silently stepped aside and allowed injustice to rise. But he refused. Ashura reminds us of the constant duty to stand up for the truth, and how it is our obligation to stand up and fight for what is right.