Our 3rd Imam, Imam Hussein (as) was a man of faith and action. During nights, he worshipped Allah (SWT) in privacy, while during the day he worked hard and guided the people. He was constantly mindful of the poor and the needy, and he used to visit them and cheer them up. He used to tell his followers: "Be always in touch with the needy, for Allah (SWT) does not love the arrogant".
Imam Hussein (as) always helped the poor as much as he could. At night he would carry sacks of food to the houses of the poor by following the footsteps of his father Imam Ali (as) and leave them near the doors. He worked hard to eradicate poverty, establish justice and acquaint the people with Allah (SWT).
During the time of Imam Hussein (as) a tyrant called Yazid ibn Muawiya became the ruler. Yazid called himself the successor of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw), but this was a lie. He used to spend the income of the Islamic realm on drinking, gambling and wild parties. Public wealth was wasted for supporting his regime and the rights of the poor were trampled upon. In this way he totally scorned the instructions of Islam.
When Yazid ibn Muawiya became ruler of the Muslims he immediately demanded Imam Hussein (as) to recognize him as the ruler and accept his leadership (give Bayat); but Imam Hussein (as) was the true successor of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (saw) and could not accept and endorse the leadership of an oppressor. Imam Hussein (as) began to enlighten and awaken the people about Yazid ibn Muawiya and exhorted them to dissociate from him. He would tell them: "Do you not see that the truth is being trampled upon and the falsehood and oppression are prevailing? In such conditions, a Muslim must be ready for martyrdom in defense of the right. Martyrdom and self-sacrifice for the sake of truth is victory and success, while life with the oppressors is no more than shame and disgrace."
At that time the people of Kufa (Iraq) were loving followers of Imam Hussein (as) who had been suffering at the hands of Yazid and his father, Muawiya. They invited Imam Hussein (as) to Kufa to lead them against Yazid and his wicked rule. Imam Hussein (as) had indeed decided to rise up and fight, and so he accepted the invitation and set off for Kufa.
When Imam Hussein (as) and his followers were near Kufa, they were met by Yazid's troops under the leadership of Hazrat Hurr. The troops wanted to arrest Imam Hussein (as) and his followers and take them to Yazid. Imam Hussein (as) told them: "Never will I accept disgrace and surrender to Yazid ibn Muawiya. Death for me is superior to disgrace and I am ready to defend Islam and the Muslims until I get martyred."
At a place called Karbala Imam Hussein (as), his family and helpers were surrounded by Yazid's troops. Imam Hussein (as) and his followers stood firm as they fought against thousands of troops of Yazid. Finally, on 10th Muharram, 61 AH (the day we call 'Ashura'), they were martyred.
Imam Hussein (as) and his followers were martyred, but they did not submit to injustice and oppression. They defended Islam and the Muslims. With their blood they saved Islam and the Holy Qur'an from the danger of annihilation at the hands of Yazid ibn Muawiya. Imam Hussein (as) fought against oppression and defended the religion of Islam, and by doing so he taught the world the greatest lesson on freedom and righteousness.
For this reason we call Imam Hussein (as) "Sayyid al-Shuhada" which means lord of the martyrs. Now the turn has come for us to safeguard and defend Islam. We must shoulder this magnificent responsibility.