ʿALĪ AṢḠAR (ʿABDALLĀH), Imam Ḥosayn’s youngest son, killed at Karbalā (10 Moḥarram 61/10 October 680). His mother was Rabāb bent Emrāʾ al-Qays b. ʿAdī Kalbī (Ṭabarī, p. 387; Mofīd, al-Eḵteṣāṣ, Tehran, 1379/1959-60,p. 83). According to various sources, he was a new-born child (Yaʿqūbī, II, pp. 290f.), or an infant (one-year-old in Baḷʿamī; Tārīḵ, p. 268; Chronique IV, p. 43; six months in the Arabic “historical romance” of Ebn Ṭāʾūs Ṭāʾūsī, tr. F. Wüstenfeld, Der Tod des Husein ben ʿAli und die Rache, Göttingen, 1883, p. 91). After trying to reach the Euphrates River, Ḥosayn, surrounded by his enemies and badly wounded, took ʿAbdallāh in his lap. A man from the Banū Asad shot an arrow into the baby’s neck, killing him; Ḥosayn gathered his blood in his hands, spilled it on the ground, and invoked God against the evil-doers (Ṭabarī, II, pp. 359-60; Baḷʿamī, p. 268; Chronique IV, p. 44). Various later accounts confuse ʿAbdallāh b. Ḥosayn and ʿAbdallāh b. Ḥasan, the latter of whom was killed defending his uncle Ḥosayn. According to Ṭabarī (II, p. 387), the ʿAbdallāh b. Ḥosayn was killed by Hānī b. Ṯabīt Hażramī, and ʿAbdallāh b. Ḥasan by Ḥarmala b. Kāhel. According to the later Persian tradition, ʿAbdallāh b. Ḥosayn was killed by Ḥarmala b. Kāhel Azdī, who shot an arrow through the baby’s throat (Ḥosayn Wāʿeẓ Kāšefī, Rawżat al-šohadāʾ, ed. M. Ramażānī, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962, p. 343; Ḥabīb al-sīar [Tehran], II, p. 55). Rawżat al-šohadāʾ adds that the arrow also penetrated Ḥosayn’s arm; he removed it, stanched the bleeding, and took care not to spill a drop of blood on the ground. In various chronicles not concerned with Shiʿite tradition regarding the three sons of Ḥosayn named ʿAlī, there are further confusions; thus ʿAlī Zayn-al-ʿābedīn is sometimes called ʿAlī Aṣḡar instead of ʿAlī Awsaṭ (e.g., Dīnavarī, Cairo, 1330/1912, p. 256; Ḥabīb al-sīar II, p. 61). In Tārīḵ-eQom (ed. S. J. Ṭehrānī, Tehran, 1313 Š./1934, pp. 195ff.) “Emām ʿAlī Akbar” refers to Šahrbānūya’s son (i.e., Zayn-al-ʿābedīn), and “ʿAlī Aṣḡar, the son of Laylā,” to ʿAlī Akbar; ʿAbdallāh (= ʿAlī Aṣḡar) is killed by an arrow in his mother’s arms.
In Moḥarram ceremonies and commemorations, ʿAlī Aṣḡar is represented as an innocent child suffering unbearable thirst; his martyrdom provokes loud lamentations in the whole harem (and in Moḥarram assemblies). Popular iconography represents Ḥosayn, generally riding a white stallion, holding ʿAlī Aṣḡar in his arms before the enemy ranks; he says to them, “Oh people, even if in your opinion I am a sinner, this baby is sinless. Give him a sip of water!” (Rawżat al-šohadāʾ, p. 342; Ḥabīb al-sīar II, p. 55). ʿAlī Aṣḡar’s martyrdom is celebrated at length in rawża-ḵᵛānī literature (e.g., Jawharī, Ṭūfān al-bokāʾ, Tehran, n.d., pp. 254-59); in Cerulli’s collection of taʿzīas, he is not specifically mentioned, though his martyrdom is represented in the maǰles dedicated to the death of Emām Ḥosayn (Rossi and Bombaci, Elenco, nos. 539, 576, 583, 603/1, 699). It seems that in earlier taʿzīa tradition a complete maǰles was dedicated to ʿAlī Aṣḡar (A. Chodzko’s collection, Cat. Bib. Nat., Supplément persan, no. 993, drame no. 23). The infant’s cradle is a conspicuous element on the stage (see, e.g., the list of properties in Rossi and Bombaci, Elenco, no. 603/1). ʿAlī Aṣḡar is also represented in Moḥarram processions (H. Massé, Croyances et coutumes persanes, Paris, 1938, I, p. 127, after S. G Wilson) and celebrated in folklore. His name is applied to a baby who has difficulty speaking or, scornfully, to a grown person who has a speech impediment (ʿA. A. Dehḵodā, Amṯāl o ḥekam, Tehran, 1352 Š./1973, I, p. 391). He is buried with other martyrs of Karbalā near Imam Ḥosayn’s grave.
See also Y. Lassy, The Muharram Mysteries among the Azerbeijan Turks of Caucasia, Helsingfors, 1916, pp. 39ff., 99, 124.
E. Rossi and A. Bombaci, Elenco di drammi religiosi persiani (fondo mss. Vaticani Cerulli), Vatican City, 1961 (indices).
H. ul-Ameene, Islamic Shiʿite Encyclopaedia, Beirut, 1973, IV, pp. 172ff.
J. Calmard, Le Culte de l’Imām Ḥusayn, Etude sur la commémoration du drame de Karbalā dans l’Iran pré-safavide, thesis, University of Paris III (Sorbonne), May, 1975, index and Tableau A, Tableau B.
Originally Published: December 15, 1985
Last Updated: August 1, 2011
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Vol. I, Fasc. 8, pp. 858-859