When thinking of the standard bearer of Karbala Abu Faḍl ʿAbbās (ʿa), one thinks of heroism, bravery, dedication, altruism and many more beautiful attributes. He was the younger brother of Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) and was known amongst people as the Moon of Banī Hāshim, the tribe of the Prophet (ṣ). His mother came from a noble family of warriors. According to historical narration, Imām ʿAlī (ʿa) asked his brother ʿAqīl, who was an expert on genealogy, “Find me a woman born to the bravest of the Arabs to marry, so that she gives birth to a courageous and brave child to support Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) in the land of Karbala.”
ʿAqīl said to him, “Marry Umm al-Banīn al-Kilābiyyah, as there is no one among the Arabs braver than her fathers.”
ʿAbbās (ʿa) was dedicated to the service of his brother. He knew the role his brother had as an Imām appointed by Allah. ʿAbbās (ʿa) knew that Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) is the son of the daughter of the Messenger of Allah (ṣ), the son of Fāṭimah (ʿa), that he is the proof of Allah on him and the worlds, the grandson of the Messenger (ṣ), and the Master of the Youth of Paradise. For this reason, he only spoke to him with complete respect, by calling him: “O’ son of the Messenger of Allah” or “O’ Master.” He would race to be the one who helped and supported his Imām. If Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) expressed his thirst, ʿAbbās (ʿa) would hurry to offer him a cup of water. He wanted to meet his Imām’s every need, because he knew serving Allah’s representative was the best deed he could do. The Imām is the one Allah told us that his obedience is binding:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوٓا۟ أَطِيعُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا۟ ٱلرَّسُولَ وَأُولِى ٱلْأَمْرِ مِنكُمْ ۖ
“O you who have believed, obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority among you.”
True bravery is not only bravery in battle against the enemies, rather it is all characteristics of humanity, such as courtesy, loyalty, sacrifice and sympathy. All of which were characteristics that ʿAbbās (ʿa) possessed. Simply, look at what he fought and was martyred for. ʿAbbās (ʿa) was martyred while bringing water for the thirsty. He prioritized the water over his own life. So, his primary objective was not to defend himself from the enemy, but rather to protect the water-skin at all costs in order to deliver it to the thirsty of the Household of the Messenger (ṣ).
When the children of the household of the Messenger of Allah (ṣ) began crying of thirst and were on the brink of perishing due to the exhausting heat, something had to be done. The enemy was blocking the water supply from the camp of the household of the Prophet (ṣ).Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) entrusted his noble brother ʿAbbās (ʿa) with the task of getting water for the children. It is told that when he successfully reached the bank of the river Euphrates, he knelt down to quench his thirst as he had not tasted any water for three days. Then as the water was in his hands, he thought of his beloved master Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) and his thirsty children. How could he drink before they quenched their thirst? How could he satisfy and put his needs before those of his master Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa)? With this thought, he cast the water from his hands back into the river. He then filled the container with water and was coming back to return it to the children when he was struck on the arm and his right hand was cut off, he said very clearly:
وَاللهِ اِن قَطَعَتُم يَميني
By Allah, if you cut my right (hand),
إِنّي أَحامي أَبَدًا عَن ديني
I will continue to defend my religion,
وَعَن إِمامٍ صادِقِ اليَقين
and the Imām with complete certainty:
نَجلِ النَّبيِ الطّاهِرِ الأَمين
Son of the virtuous, trusted Prophet (ṣ).
After they cut his hand, he did not pay attention, rather he poetically said:
يا نَفسُ لا تَخشي مِنَ الكُفّار
Oh, my soul do not fear the non-believers,
وَأبشِري بِرَحمَةِ الجَبّار
Rather, rejoice in the Almighty’s mercy
مَعَ النَّبِيِ السَيِّدِ المُختار
Alongside the chosen master, the Prophet (ṣ)
قَد قَطَعوا بِبَغيهِم يَساري
They have cut with their injustice my left (hand),
فَأَصلِهِم يا رَبِّ حُرَّ النّار
Thus, punish them, O’ Lord, with the heat of fire.
He continued carrying the water until another blow was given and his left hand was cut off. He was so determined that he continued to carry the container of water by holding the strap with his teeth! He was heading toward his master Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) when an arrow was shot that pierced his eye causing him to fall from his horse bursting the water bag. When we fall our first reaction is to put out our hands to brace our fall, but how could ʿAbbās (‘a) brace his fall when he had no hands?! This is the tragedy of one of the greatest warriors in history!
The story of ʿAbbās (ʿa) is heart wrenching and requires a deep look into this tragic event to extract some lessons from it. We see through this tragedy dedication to the Imām of the time, loyalty to the Imām even when times are tough, placing the needs of others above ourselves, bravery and steadfastness in the face of calamities, and more. When we look at the shrine of ʿAbbās (ʿa) or hear his blessed name, it should remind us that he gave everything for the sake of Allah, his religion and his Imām. He gave his two hands, his eye, and his life for Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa). We must ask ourselves, what are we doing with our lives? What have we done for the sake of Allah, our religion and our Imām (ʿaj)? We must make the best of our time and strive to follow in the footsteps of ʿAbbās (ʿa) the loyal supporter of Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa). He always placed the needs of his master Imām Ḥusayn (ʿa) over his own self. This is something we must take a lesson from. We must have submission and devotion to our Imām (ʿaj).