The Wisdom and Greatness of Abal-Faḍl al-ʿAbbās by Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

The Wisdom and Greatness of Abal-Faḍl al-ʿAbbās by Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi

We must be careful never to become like those who sell their religion, neither for much worldly wealth, nor for little. In this issue, we must follow one who was faced with the greatest of tests but never sold his religion irregardless of its personal cost.‌

Abal-Fadl al-ʿAbbas was the standard bearer of the Ashura revolution and he was a manifestation of total devotion to Allah (swt). He was also a living manifestation of greatness and deep wisdom and he knew what it meant to protect the genuine Islam and to completely support his Imam, who was his brother. It is clear that Abal-Fadl al-ʿAbbas possessed many special characteristics. Let us better understand these special characteristics through the help of the knowledge and viewpoint of Ayatollah Makarem Shirazi:


It is clear that we must know the value of our forefathers who introduced us to the blessing of Wilāyah and the Ahl al-Bayt (ʿa). We are now honored to know this family and follow them, being guided by their pure Islamic principles.  


The Rejection of the Safe-conduct (document gaurenteeing someone’s security in the midst of war): A Manifestation of the Greatness and Wisdom of Abal-Fadl al-ʿAbbas

In order to better understand this great blessing, it is necessary to look at the life of Abal-Fadl al-ʿAbbas, particularly his actions at Karbala. Close to evening time on the day before Ashura, the enemy had decided to either take the pledge of allegiance from Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) or to attack them altogether.

When Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) saw this, he sent his brother ʿAbbas with twenty riders to meet and speak to them. So ʿAbbas went towards them and stopped in front of them.  At this time, he addressed the enemy and told them: O’ people, Abā ʿAbdillah (Imam Ḥusyan (ʿa)) seeks one night’s reprieve from you.

At this moment Shimr brought a safe-conduct document for the brother of Imam al-Husayn (ʿa), ʿAbbas.  ʿAbbas rejected the offer of safety in severe terms.  Similarly, when Zuhayr ibn Qayn spoke in regards to the need of helping Imam al-Husayn (ʿa), ʿAbbas responded to him, saying: Do you wish to encourage me in helping my brother [i.e. I am ready to sacrifice my life for my brother and my Imam more than anyone else]?.[1]   It is true that the enemy was finally able to kill these men and cut their bodies in to shreds but they could do nothing to lessen their greatness of spirit and their lofty humanity.  

Loyalty towards Imam al-Husayn (ʿa): The Pinnacle of the Wisdom of ʿAbbas on the Night before Ashura

The scene on the night before Ashura, where the companions expressed their complete loyalty to their Imam (ʿa) and to the cause of Islam, was one of the most beautiful and blessed of scenes in human history.  On this night, the true reality of ʿAbbas’s loyalty and greatness was also manifested. Even after Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) absolved all of his companions of their responsibility towards him and told all of them to leave him, since the enemy only wished to kill him, they refused, and the first person to express their refusal was ʿAbbas ibn ʿAli.

He told his brother, Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) that: Why should we leave you? Would we leave you so that we could remain alive after you? May Allah never let us see such a day!  At that point, the brothers of the Imam (ʿa), his children, his nephews, and the children of ʿAbdullah ibn Jaʿfar (the children of Zaynab) all followed the example of ʿAbbas and they all expressed similar sentiments, one at a time.  Naturally, the Imam (ʿa) became happy at the loyalty of his companions and at their courage to s e l e c t the best path.

There is a narration which has been narrated from Zaynab (‘a) where she has mentioned: On the night before Ashura, I came out of my tent, when I heard a commotion coming from the tent of ʿAbbas. I stood at the edge of the tent and I looked inside. Inside the tent, I saw my cousins, brothers, and my brother’s children all circled around ʿAbbas, while he was sitting much like a lion in the center. ʿAbbas then recited a sermon where he praised Allah and sent his greetings upon the Messenger of Allah (ṣ) and I had never heard such a sermon being recited by anyone other than Imam al-Husayn (ʿa). When he had finished, he said the following: O’ my brothers, O’ my brother’s children, O’ my cousins! When the whiteness of dawn arrives, what will you do? They all replied back: The command is your command and we will do whatever you say!

ʿAbbas then continued and he said: These companions have no blood-relation to Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) and this heavy burden [of loyalty to the Imam (a)] is shouldered only by those truly worthy of it. When the first light of dawn appears, the first people who will go towards the battlefield will be you.  We must be killed before them [i.e. the companions] so that the people do not say that the companions placed themselves before them and they delayed their own deaths with the swords of the companions. The Bani Hāshim stood up from their places, unsheathed their swords, and said to ʿAbbas: We are all under your command.

The Epic Story of the Water: A Manifestation of the Greatness and Self-Sacrifice of Abal-Fadl

ʿAbbas ibn ʿAli was the standard bearer of his brother Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) at the battle of Karbala. When he saw that all of the companions, brothers, and cousins had been martyred, he wept and he went towards Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) to seek his permission to go in to the field of battle.  The Imam (ʿa) wept so bitterly that his beard became soaked with his tears and he said to his brother ʿAbbas:[2]  Oh dear brother! you are the symbol of my army’s establishment and you are the pivot which holds us together. If you go (and are martyred), our small army will fall apart and get destroyed.  

When ʿAbbas heard this, he replied:[3]  May your brother be sacrificed for you! O’ my master, I can no longer bear the life of this world and I wish to seek vengeance from these hypocrites [because of the innocent blood that they have spilled].  When Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) heard this, he said to him:[4]  Since you desire the battlefield, then go and get some water for these children first.  ʿAbbas then prepared himself and went towards the battlefield. He warned the enemy forces against what they were doing and told them of the punishment of Allah (swt) but his words did not have any effect on them.  

When he saw that his words did not have any effect, he went back to his brother and told him what had happened. At this time, he suddenly heard the cries of the thirsty children as they screamed for water. Without any hesitation, he grabbed his spear and waterskin, mounted his horse and went towards the Euphrates River. Four thousand of the enemy soldiers surrounded ʿAbbas and attempted to stop him from reaching the river but he broke through their ranks repeatedly, killing eighty of the enemy soldiers until he reached the banks of the Euphrates.[5]

When ʿAbbas wished to drink some of the water (he was in a state of extreme thirst), he brought a handful of it towards himself but at that moment, he remembered the thirst of Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) and his family. When he remembered their thirst, he d r o pped the water back in to the river and filled his waterskin so he could take some water back to the camp. When he had filled his waterskin, he mounted his horse and began his journey back to the camp. While he was riding back, he was saying: O’ soul! Life after Husayn is nothing but disgrace and wretchedness, may you not live after Husayn is gone. Husayn is about to be martyred and you wish to drink cold and refreshing water? Never…never. Such behavior is against my faith…  

The Attainment of Honor and Greatness through the Connection between Religion and Martyrdom

One of the key elements in the greatness of ʿAbbas relates to his complete support and aid of the religion of Islam. He was willing to do anything for the sake of Allah (swt), even if it resulted in his martyrdom and death. After a number of the Banī Hāshim had been martyred, ʿAbbas called upon his brothers, ʿAbdullah, ʿUthmān, and Jaʿfar and said to them: Go and sacrifice yourselves for your brother and Imam…  When the time came for the martyrdom of ʿAbbas himself, he is narrated to have said: I have no fear of it (of death)… I have made my life as a shield for the grandson of the Prophet (ṣ). I am the same ʿAbbas who has the title of the water bearer…I am the same ʿAbbas who does not fear the difficulties of battle.[6]

It has been narrated that when the enemy cut off the hands of ʿAbbas, he recited the following war poetry:[7]  I swear by Allah that even if you cut off my right hand, I will still con-tinue protecting my religion and I will support an Imām who is truthful and trustworthy from the children of the pure and trustworthy Prophet (ṣ).  When we look at the battle of Karbala, it is clear that every single element is in reality a lesson for us. There are so many lessons on courage, self-sacrifice, loyalty, and other such virtues.

When we look at how the action and words of ʿAbbas were recorded at the edge of the Euphrates River, we really wonder where this narration came from. Who narrated this act of ʿAbbas when he refused to drink the water, remembering Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) and his family members? Was it Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) or his children who saw and narrated this? The fact of the matter is that they were quite far from the river. Was it the succeeding Imams (ʿa) who learned of it from divine sources? Or was it the angels who saw that act of great self-sacrifice and who relayed it to us through various sources? Or perhaps it came to us from another source? In any case, it has been recorded in the sourcebooks and it will forever remain an act of tremendous self-sacrifice which we should strive to emulate every single day of our lives.

A Final Word

We must be careful never to become like those who sell their religion, neither for much worldly wealth, nor for little. In this issue, we must follow one who was faced with the greatest of tests but never sold his religion irregardless of its personal cost. We must follow the likes of Husayn ibn ʿAli (ʿa) who sacrificed himself, his companions, and his family members but he never even contemplated selling his religion. He was ready for his family members, including his small children, to be taken as captives but he was never willing to fall short in regards to his beliefs.  We should follow the likes of the brother of Imam al-Husayn (ʿa), Abal-Fadl al-ʿAbbas. When Shimr Dhī al-Jawshan approached him in order to give him a safe-conduct document, he rejected it. This letter was essentially an offer for him to sell his religion for the sake of personal protection but he never once even contemplated it. These are the ones whom we must follow.

The manifestations of all of these amazing characteristics in ʿAbbas led Imam al-Husayn (ʿa) to say the following after his brother had been martyred:[8] “Now my back has been broken and my options have been made limited”.  Similarly, Imam Zayn al-ʿAbidīn said the following while he was burying his uncle:[9]  Oh bright moon of the Banī Hāshim clan, accursed be this world after you! I send my greetings upon you and may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon you.[10] These two lines are sufficient for us to understand how important ʿAbbas was to the cause of Islam and how he exemplified some of the loftiest of human characteristics possi-ble.


Researched and edited at editorial deputy of his eminence office



[1]. Maqtal al-Husayn (ʿa) by Muqarram, p. 209

[2]. يا أَخي كُنْتَ الْعَلامَةَ مِنْ عَسْكَري وَ مُجْمِعَ عَدَدِنا، فَإِذا أَنْتَ غَدَوْتَ يَؤُلُ جَمْعُنا إِلَى الشِّتاتِ، وَ عِمارَتُنا تَنْبَعِثُ إِلَى الْخَرابِ‏

[3]. فِداكَ رُوحُ أَخيكَ يا سَيِّدي! قَدْ ضاقَ صَدْري مِنْ حَياةِ الدُّنْيا، وَ أُريدُ أَخْذَ الثَّارِ مِنْ هؤُلاءِ الْمُنافِقِينَ

[4]. إِذا غَدَوْتَ إِلَى الْجِهادِ فَاطْلُبْ لِهؤُلاءِ الْأَطْفالِ قَليلًا مِنَ الْماءِ

[5]. فَلَمَّا أَرادَ أَنْ يَشْرَبَ غُرْفَةً مِنَ الْماءِ ذَكَرَ عَطَشَ الْحُسَيْنِ وَأَهْلِ بَيْتِهِ فَرَضَّ الْماءَ وَمَلَأَ الْقِرْبَةَ

 [6]. Aʿyān al-Shīʿah, vol. 1, p. 608; also refer to: Manāqib Ibn Shahr Āshūb, vol. 4, p. 117; Biḥār al-Anwār, vol. 45, p. 40

[7]. وَاللَّهِ إنْ قَطَعْتُمُ يَميني‏ إِنِّي أُحامِي أَبَداً عَنْ دينِي‏ وَ عَنْ إِمامٍ صادِقِ الْيَقينِ‏ نَجْلِ الْنَّبِيِّ الطَّاهِرِ الْأَمينِ‏

[8]. الْانَ إِنْكَسَرَ ظَهْري‏ وَقَلَّتْ حِيلَتي‏؛

[9]. عَلَى الدُّنْيا بَعْدَكَ الْعَفا يا قَمَرَ بَني هاشِمٍ‏ وَعَلَيْكَ مِنّي السَّلامُ مِنْ شَهيدٍ مُحْتَسَبٍ وَ رَحْمَةُ اللَّهِ وَبَرَكاتُهُ

[10]. Maqtal al-Husayn (ʿa) by Muqarram, p. 320; Kitāb al-Irshād, p. 471