ʽASHĀʼIR AL-ṬAFF [The Karbala Tribes]

Author: Sayyid Ḥusayn al-Mūsawī Abū Saʽīdah
Reviewed by: Muhammad-Reza Fakhr-Rohani

The tragic Ashura episode that took place at Karbala, Iraq, in 61 AH/ 680 has since been the subject of many studies and controversies. Throughout history, particularly in Shi’i communities, there have been so many trends regarding how and why to focus on the Ashura episode. Apart from the political-cum-educational aspects of Ashura, there is still a branch of studies that focuses on its purely historical-cum-geographical aspects. Despite so many books written on the battle, there are still many points of disagreement among Ashura-oriented historians. One of these points of difference concerns the names and total number of non-Hāshimid Ashura martyrs. Amidst the reliable sources, the present book is a well-researched genealogical study of the present-day Arab tribes whose ancestors joined Imam al-Ḥusayn on Ashura and were martyred there. Prior to this book, there was, inter alia, a seminal book, Ibṣār al-ʽAyn fī Anṣār al-Ḥusayn [On the Companions of al-Ḥusayn] (1922) by al-Samāwī (d. 1950), a genealogical study of the Ashura martyrs, both Hāshimids and otherwise.

As most controversies deal with the non-Hāshimids, particularly the less famous martyrs, al-Samāwī set himself to the difficult and strenuous task of tracing back the non-Hāshimid martyrs, among them many (originally non-Arab) clients (mawālī). To make a worthwhile contribution, the book under review continues this line of inquiry in a brand new and innovative direction. It traces back the present-day Arab clans and tribes in various Muslim, mainly Arab, nations and indicates to which of the Ashura martyrs their origins trace back. Focusing on the non-Hāshimid martyrs, it lists more than 260 martyrs who were martyred on Ashura, in contrast to the famous myth of seventy-two martyrs. As to this great number, the author reasons that the people who accompanied Imam al-Ḥusayn must comprise a yet greater number, some of whom left him on the way. For example, on the day when Imam al-Ḥusayn was intercepted by the Umayyad army of at least 1,000 soldiers under al-Ḥurr, how was it feasible for just a small number of Imam al-Ḥusayn’s male companions to distribute fresh water among the large number of exhausted enemy forces and their horses to rescue them from certain death. The book under review has separate chapters for the names of Arab clans and tribes, all arranged alphabetically. Under the name of each tribe or clan, its major family branches are mentioned, followed by their geographical location, origin and distribution. Then comes a list of their Ashura martyrs. At the end of the book, there is a list of forty Ashura martyrs whose tribal traces could not be determined for sure. There is also a map of the regions from where the highest number of faithful people were martyred on Ashura. Such a scholarly work lacks both footnote references to the sources consulted and an index at the end.

Muhammad-Reza Fakhr-Rohani

University of Qom,