When they reached the district of Ninawa, a horseman arrived from Kufa, and gave a letter to Hur from Ibn Ziyad, ordering him not to allow Hussain to make halt except in a desert place without fortifications of water. Hussain, therefore, advanced a bit turning to the left when Hur's contingent stopped him from moving further and asked him to alight, adding that the Euphrates was not far from there. Hussain said, "This is the stage of distress (karb) and trial (bala)" and got down from his horse. (vide Tabari, 2nd vol., p. 232). This place henceforward became known as Karbala, about 25 miles north-west of Kufa; where Hussain pitched his tents when it was 2nd Muharram, 61/October 2, 680.
On the 3rd Muharram, the situation deteriorated as Umar bin Sa'd arrived with the fresh Umayyad force of 4,000 men and assumed overall command on the field. Ibn Sa'd learned that Hussain now intended to return to Medina, but Ibn Ziyad, on receiving word of this development, ordered that all the "rebels" should render homage to Yazid. On 7th Muharram, an embargo was placed on the water supply to the Imam's camp, and for that Ibn Sa'd stationed a force of 500 cavalry on the road to the river, and for three days before the massacre on the 10th Muharram, Hussain and his party suffered terribly from thirst. A daring sortie led by Abbas, the brother of Hussain, however, managed to reach the river, but succeeding in filling only a few waterskins.
Ibn Sa'd was still trying to persuade Ibn Ziyad to find some peaceful solutions to avoid shedding the blood of the grandson of the Prophet, but all in vain. Ibn Ziyad sent his final orders to Ibn Sa'd through Shimar bin Dhul Jawshan, either to attack Hussain immediately or to hand over the field command to the army of Shimar. Soon after receiving these fresh orders on the evening of 9th Muharram, Ibn Sa'd advanced with his forces towards the camp of Hussain, who sent Abbas to request for a respite of one night, which was granted. On this juncture, Hussain assembled his relatives and followers and induced them to abandon the field to his fate. According to Tabari (2nd vol., p. 319), he said:- "I give praise to God, Who has honoured us with the Prophethood, has taught us the Koran, and favoured us with His religion. I know of no worthier companions than mine; may God reward you with all the best of His reward. I think tomorrow our end will come. I ask you all to leave me alone and to go away to safety. I free you from your responsibilities for me, and I do not hold you back. Night will provide you a cover; use it as a steed. You may take my children with you to save their lives."
The relatives and followers of Hussain refused to leave or survive after him, and demonstrated in the same vein an unshakable devotion to the Imam, and said, "By God, we will never leave you alone until all of us are killed and our bodies are torn to pieces. By this we will have fulfilled our duties to you." (vide Tabari, 2nd vol., p. 322) Thus, the whole night was spent in prayer, recitation of Koran, and worship and meditation. The borrowed night ended, and the fateful morning of 10th Muharram brought with it the summons of the tragic result of the family of Ali bin Abu Talib and its handful supporters. Hussain drew up in front of the tents his small band of 72 men: 32 horsemen and 40 foot soldiers of varying ages ranging from 70 years old Muslim bin Awsaja to the 14 years old Kassim bin Hasan bin Ali. The rear of the tents was protected by setting on fire the heaps of wood and reeds. Zuhayr bin Qayn was given command of the right wing, Habib bin Mazahir al-Asadi of the left, and Abbas bin Ali was entrusted with the standard of the Hashimite house.
Tabari (2nd vol., p. 268) writes that Hussain rode on his camel, and came before his enemies and praised God and His Prophet, and related the dignity of Ahel-al-Bait, and said in conclusion, "Tell me! do you want me killed to avenge the death of one of you whom I have killed? Or because of property belonging to you which I have expropriated? Or to avenge some wound which I have inflicted upon you?" Hussain then spoke the names of the persons, who were now in the army of Umayyads, and said to them, "Did you not write me letters, inviting me to come in Kufa?" But they refused to accept it at that moment. Hussain soon returned to his camp.
Shortly before the fateful battle began, Hur bin Yazid, the Umayyad commander, the first who confronted Hussain and forced him to halt at Karbala, was himself now confronted by his own conscience and feelings. A great conflict arose in his mind. He suddenly spurred his horse towards Hussain's camp, and threw himself at Hussain's feet, and exclaimed: "O son of the Prophet! here is the man who did you great injustice in detaining you at this place and causing you so much trouble. Is it possible for you to forgive a sinner like me? By God, I never imagined that these people would go so far as to shed the blood of the grandson of their Prophet. I only thought that they would accept one of three options you offered; and thus some sort of reconciliation would ultimately prevail, and in this way I would be able to retain my rank and position. But now, when all hopes for peace are gone, I cannot buy hell for this worldly gain. Forgive my mistake and allow me to sacrifice myself for you. Only by doing this I can redeem myself in the eyes of God for my sin against you." (Tabari, 2nd vol., p. 333). Hussain embraced Hur and said, "You are as free-born and noble (hur) as your mother named you." Hur then spurred his horse towards the Umayyad army and condemned their sacrilegious action against Hussain. He said to Ibn Sa'd and his men, as describes by Washington Irving in his "Lives of the Successors of Mahomet" (London, 1905, p. 211) that: "Alas, for you, men of Cufa! you have invited the descendant of the Prophet to your city, and now you come to fight against him. You have cut off from him and his family the waters of the Euphrates, which are free even to infidels and the beasts of the field, and have shut him up like a lion in the toils." Hur then attacked with his single power and was killed. He had thus enlisted in history as the protomartyr of Karbala.