On the tenth day of Muharram (Ashura’ Day)1 in the year 61 of the Hijra (10.10.680), the Battle of Karbala’ broke out between Husayn Ibn Ali (the Prophet Muhammad’s grandson) and the armies of Caliph Yazid Ibn Muawiya (who ruled 680-83) on the western bank of the Euphrates River. Husayn and many of his family and supporters were slaughtered, and Husayn’s head was brought to Caliph Yazid in Damascus along with Husayn’s wives and sisters.2 Husayn’s head was decapitated by Shimr b. Dhi al-Jawshan al-Dababi (d. 686). At the battle’s end, Shimr stuck Husayn’s head on the point of his javelin and gave the javelin to Khawli b. Yazid al-Asbahi to carry from Karbala’ to Kufa, to the governor’s palace. When the caravan arrived in Kufa, the head was presented to Ubaydallah b. Ziyad (d. 686), the district governor, on behalf of Caliph Yazid. Subsequently Ibn Ziyad called for Umar b. Jabir al-Makhzumi and ordered

him to parade around the city carrying the heads of Husayn and his followers. Umar obeyed the governor’s order. The following day Ibn Ziyad called for Shimr and Khawli and instructed them to take 1,500 warriors to present Husayn’s head to Caliph Yazid in Damascus. As they marched through the towns, they were commanded to expose and display the decapitated heads and the prisoners to the local inhabitants. In the towns of Takrit, Musil, Qarib al-Daawat, Hims, Balbak and Damascus3

the residents celebrated the news of Husayn’s death: they decorated the town gates, waved banners, blew trumpets, and gathered in the streets to rejoice.4 In the towns of Qinnisrin, Shiyzar, Kafr Tab, Saybur, and Hamah,5 residents locked the city gates and began mourning Husayn’s murder; they threw stones at the bearers of the heads and cursed them. Eventually the head reached the palace of Caliph Yazid in Damascus and

was presented to him set in a golden bowl (in similar fashion to the head of John the Baptist, which was brought to Herod on a golden platter).6