Abdullah bin Zubayr, who reached Mecca before Hussain, had gathered people around him against Yazid, and he is reported to have been harbouring secret ambitions for the caliphate himself. But as soon as Hussain arrived in the city, the influence for Abdullah bin Zubayr's candidature melted away. The people abandoned Abdullah bin Zubayr and gathered around Hussain. In Kufa, as soon as the people received a word of Muawiya's death, they held a series of meetings expressing their support for Hussain. They sent out numerous letters and a succession of messengers, urging Hussain to come in Kufa to guide them, and release from the tyranny and oppression of the Umayyads.
The first letter Hussain received on 10th Ramdan, 60/June 15, 680; it was signed by Suleman bin Surad al-Khuzai, Al-Musayyab bin Najaba, Rifa bin Shaddad, Habib bin al-Muzahir, and Muslim bin Awsaja on behalf of the Kufans, and according to Tabari (2nd vol., p. 233), it reads:- "We thank God for casting down the tyrannical rule of your enemy, who had usurped the power to rule this community without any right, allowed the possession of God to pass into the hands of the powerful and the rich, and killed the best men while allowing the worst of the people to remain alive. We invite you to come to Kufa, as we have no Imam to guide us; and we hope that through you, God will unite us on the path of truth. We do not go to Friday congregational prayers to pray with Noman bin Bashir, the governor of Kufa, nor do we assemble with him at the occasion of the Id. If we hear that you are coming to us, we will oust the governor from our city. Peace and mercy of God be upon you."
Both eastern and western research alike do not lose sight of the fact that Hussain had no political ambition. His action, however, shows that from start to end his strategy was aimed at a much higher goal than simply accession to the caliphate. There is no evidence that he tried, while at Mecca, to enlist active supporters from among the people who gathered around him, or to propagate his cause among the mass of people who congregated in Mecca for the pilgrimage. There is also no evidence that he attempted to depute his emissaries to stir up any rebellion in provinces such as Yamen and Iran, which were sympathetic to the house of Ali. It must be pointed out to this effect that Hussain never mustered even a small force against the Umayyads which was an easy for him. And above all, had he acted promptly on the invitation of Kufans, while the governorship of the city was in the hands of the weak Noman bin Bashir, he might have had a fair chance of success. His speedy arrival would not only have forestalled any effective action on the part of the Umayyad government, but would also have stirred real enthusiasm among the Kufans. This was emphasized by the leaders of Kufa, when, according to Tabari (2nd vol., p. 234) they wrote, "In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate; to al-Hussain bin Ali, from his Shia, the faithful Muslims: Further make haste, for the people are awaiting you, as they have no Imam other than you! So haste, and again haste! Peace." In response to all these approaches, however, Hussain sent only one letter in reply. According to Tabari (2nd vol., p. 235), it reads:- "From Hussain bin Ali to the believers and Muslims. Hani and Sa'id came to me with your letters, they being the last among your messengers and delegations to come to me. I have understood what you said and that you have invited me to come to you because you have no Imam to guide you; and that you hope my arrival there will unite you in the right path and in the truth. I am sending my cousin and the trusted one from my family to report to me about your affairs. If his report conforms with what you have written, I will soon come. But you must be clear about the fact that the Imam is only one who follows the Book of God, makes justice and honesty his conduct and behaviour, judges with truth, and devotes himself to the service of God. Peace."
In spite of repeated appeals and hundreds of letters sent by the Kufans, Hussain did not take a hasty decision, and as a precaution, he sent his cousin, Muslim bin Aqil, to Kufa as his emissary with instructions to ascertain the truth of these representations, and report back of his survey. As soon as Muslim bin Aqil arrived in Kufa, there was held in the house of Suleman bin Surad a meeting, which for the sake of secrecy, was attended only by the leaders of Kufa. Very soon, Muslim bin Aqil quickly gathered thousand of pledges of support, and the number of people who registered their names and swore allegiance to Muslim bin Aqil in the name of Imam Hussain is variously given as 12,000 and 18,000. Soon the movement became so widespread that Muslim bin Aqil was able to preside over the public meetings from the pulpit in the cathedral mosque of Kufa. Confident of Kufan support, Muslim bin Aqil consequently wrote to Hussain to come to Kufa and assume spiritual leadership of the people. His letter was sent to Hussain by Abis bin Habib ash-Shakiri. Having been assured of the extent of Kufan enthusiasm, Hussain decided to go to Iraq.
Receiving word of Muslim bin Aqil's activities in Kufa, Yazid no longer trusting the mild-tempered governor of the town, Noman bin Bashir, and appointed his strong man Ubaidullah bin Ziyad, the then governor of Basra, to take charge of Kufa. Fully aware of the insurrection in Kufa in favour of Hussain, Ibn Ziyad rode into the city in disguise, wearing a black turban, covering his face, and surrounding himself with a small band of horsemen. According to Tabari (2nd vol., p. 241), the Kufans who were expecting Hussain's arrival, mistook Ibn Ziyad for the former, and gathered all around his horse, greeted him enthusiastically, and shouted: "Hail to you, O son of the Prophet; we have been awaiting you." Ibn Ziyad, quietly observing the people's enthusiasm for Hussain, entered the mosque alongwith the crowds, mounted the pulpit, and then suddenly tore the veil from his face. He delivered a terrifying speech, declaring death and unprecedented punishment for the sympathizers of Hussain, while making tempting promises for those who would prove their loyalty to Yazid. The Kufans were stricken by awe and fear, completely lost hearts, and ultimately abandoned Muslim bin Aqil. He was captured and beheaded together with Hani bin Urwa, in whose house he had stayed. This attitude of the Kufans once again demonstrated the weakness of their character and disloyalty.