Orphan of Damascus

Ruqaya Bint Al-Hussein (Daughter of Imam Al-Hussein: Ruqaya)

By: Hussein Al-Hussein

Every single minute of the story of Ashura and Karbala is filled with sorrow and afflictions, which will bring the coldest hearts to tears and make anyone wonder about the types of creatures Imam Al-Hussein faced during that battle. Prior to the final battle of Imam Al-Hussein against the army of Yazid, he even called upon the army and said: “if you hold no faith, at least be freemen in your life”. However, neither the fact that Imam Al-Hussein is the grandson of Prophet Mohammad, stopped them from committing one of history’s most horrendous crimes, and neither the fact that after Imam Al-Hussein, there were only women and children left in the camp of the Imam.

Among the many stories of Ashura, one story stands out and gets mentioned on numerous occasions, as it can relate to many social classes and the level of calamity is outrageous and unbelievable. This story is about a small girl, who did not even pass four years old named Ruqaya.

Ruqaya is believed to be the youngest daughter of Imam Al-Hussein, and among the youngest children, who witnessed the tragedy of Ashura. The pains and afflictions of Ruqaya started on the day of Ashura, right after the martyrdom of her father, as the army commander (Omar Ibn Sa’ad) shouted: ‘burn the tents of the tyrants’. In addition, when Imam Al-Hussein asked the army of Yazid, why are they fighting him and aiming for his life, they replied: “we are fighting you, due to our hatred toward your father”. Therefore, instead of showing the slightest amount of humanity and mercy toward the grandson of Prophet Mohammad, they burnt the tents and lashed the women and children, they robbed the women and children and finally they placed the head of Imam Al-Hussein on a spear before his entire family and took women and children to captivity.

The women and children of Imam Al-Hussein were taken as captives in the most demeaning way possible, as they tied them all in robes and metals, and the entire way toward Kufa and Damascus, they were lashed and humiliated and cussed it.

Ruqaya Bint Al-Hussein

The story of Ruqaya, who was a small child starts, on the day of Ashura after her father was martyred, as she started crying and asking for her father, and would not stop. According to narrations, her aunt (Lady Zainab) told Ruqaya that her father had gone on a journey and he will be absent for a while. The entire way toward Kufa and Damascus, this child was asking for her father and would always complain about the weight of the metals on her shoulders and small hands. She would tell her aunt (Lady Zainab) that if her father would ever return, she will tell him how she was lashed and humiliated and how she was tied and had to carry heavy metals.

Finally when the Caravan of the captives gets to Damascus, and they are entered upon Yazid, where history narrates some of the heartbreaking details about this encounter, the family of Imam Al-Hussein are placed in a site of ruins and wreckage. The place had no roof and wasn’t a place with privacy, as people were able to pass by and stare and gaze upon the family of Imam Al-Hussein, which was Yazid’s intention to humiliate the household of Prophet Mohammad.

Sources indicate that one the 5th night of month of Safar, Ruqaya awakens from her sleep and starts crying very loudly and tells her aunt: “where is my father, I just saw him in my dream and he wanted me to come to him. Aunt Zainab, please tell me where is my father”. The screams and outcry of this child put rest of the kids and women in tears, as everyone knew that Ruqaya would not stop, unless she sees her father. Apparently the site of ruins was close to the palace of Yazid and as the weeping of the women and children got high, he was bothered and disturbed.

Yazid summons the guards and enquire about the source of the noises and weeping, and the guards tell him: “one of Al-Hussein’s daughters has awakens and she is asking for her father”. Yazid tells the guards: “if that is the case, then take her father’s head to her, maybe she would stop crying.

The guards place the head of Imam Al-Hussein in a basin and cover it with a piece of cloth and take it to the family of Imam Al-Hussein. Once Ruqaya sees the basin, she thinks that the guards have brought food and water, where she tells her aunt: “Aunt, I am not hungry, I don’t want food, I want my father”. The guards place the basin before Ruqaya and leave. Ruqaya takes the cloth away and sees her father’s head, she hugs it and falls on it.

Imam Al-Sajjad narrates that, Ruqaya hugged the head and started talking to her father: “O’ Father, who did this to you, O’ Father, who beheaded you, O’ Father, who made me an orphan at such a young age, O’ Father, you should see my black shoulders and back from the lashes of these brutal people, O’ Father, you should have seen how they burnt our tents and brought us here in this site of wreckage”. Then, Imam Al-Sajjad says: “The child cried and wept while hugging the head, as finally she stopped and there was no sound from her anymore”. Imam Al-Sajjad then tells his aunt (Lady Zainab): “O’ aunt, take my sister Ruqaya and prepare her body for burial, as she has passed away”.

That was one of the most painful nights upon the family of Imam Al-Hussein, as they had to witness that heartbreaking situation. The body of Ruqaya was prepared on that night, and it was buried in Damascus, where it still remains.

Centuries have passed by, and the tyrant of Damascus Yazid has not mark and trace there, even though Damascus was the capital of the Umayyad dynasty. Nonetheless, once one passes through the narrow allies of the old city in Damascus, he/she would come to a corner, where a small white dome is witnessed, which symbolizes the shrine of Ruqaya, the orphan of Imam Al-Hussein in Damascus. This three or four years old child, who passed away while hugging her father’s head in a site of ruins, is visited by thousands each year, and every year on the 5th’s day of month of Safar, Shia Muslims mourn the memory of this child, and remember her pain and affliction.

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