Karbala (Arabic: كربلاء; BGN: Al-Karbalā’; also referred to as Karbalā' al-Muqaddasah) is a city in Iraq, located about 100 km (62 miles) southwest of Baghdad. Karbala is the capital of Karbala Governorate, and has an estimated population of 572,300 people (2003).
The city, best known as the location of the Battle of Karbala, is amongst the holiest cities for Shī‘ah Muslims after Makkah, Madinah, and Najaf. The city contains the Imam Husayn Shrine which is considered sacred by Shias, as well as the shrine of his half brother, al-Abbas ibn 'Ali.
Only the Shia believe that Karbalā is one of the holiest places on Earth according to the following traditions.
The Battle of Karbala took place on Muharram 10, in the year 61 of the Islamic calendar (October 10, 680) in Karbala, in present day Iraq. On one side of the highly uneven battle were a small group of supporters and relatives of Muhammad's grandson Husain ibn Ali, and on the other was a large military detachment from the forces of Yazid I, the Umayyad Khalipha, who Husain had refused to recognise as Khalipha. Husain and all his supporters were killed, including Husain's baby son, and the women and children were taken as prisoners. The dead are regarded as martyrs by Shi'ah Muslims, and the battle has a central place in Shi'ah history and tradition, and has frequently been recounted in Shi'ah Islamic literature.
The Battle of Karbala is commemorated during an annual 10-day period held every Muharram by the Shi'ah as well as many Sunnis.
History has seen numerous massacres of innocent people, but the tragedy of Karbala is one of the few where men, women and children voluntarily allowed themselves to be subjected to hunger, thirst, humiliation and death on the burning sands of Karbala because they believed that Imam Hussein stood for righteousness. Little wonder that for over 1200 years Muslims, have been nurturing the tale of Karbala in their hearts like an open wound, lest they should forget the supreme sacrifice of Imam Hussein and his followers.
Great spiritual leaders are known to make great sacrifices, but at Karbala, common men and women with infants at their bosom, their hearts and souls aflame with righteousness, choose death rather than evil and weakness. Such was the greatness of Imam Hussein such was his spiritual power, which could uplift common mortals to heights of supreme courage and sacrifice.