For the inaugural post in this occasional series of posts, Views from the Occident presents a Shi'i, but not an Ithna 'Ashari Shi'i, view on the battle of Karbala in 680 C.E. in which Husayn bin 'Ali and several dozen of his companions were killed fighting a military force led by 'Umar bin S'ad sent by the Umayyad caliph Yazid I, through his governor in Iraq 'Ubaydullah bin Ziyad.
Instead, I present a short lecture by the late leader of the Houthi rebellion against the Yemeni government of 'Ali 'Abdullah Saleh, Husayn Badr al-Din al-Houthi, who headed the "Believing Youth" Movement (Shabab al-Mu'mineen, which translates more closely to "Youth-Believers"). He was killed by the Yemeni military in September 2004, and was succeeded by his brother, 'Abd al-Malik al-Houthi, as head of the rebellion. The Houthi family's base of support is among Zaydi Shi'i tribesmen in the north of the country, primarily around the city of Sa'dah. They are not, however, supported by all of Yemen's Zaydis and have been condemned by several important Zaydi tribal leaders, including Shaykh Sadiq al-Ahmar, head of the powerful Hashid tribal confederation.
In the Ithna 'Ashari (Twelver) and Isma'ili Shi'i views, their "Imams" were imbued with special abilities to interpret the esoteric meanings of the revealed text (to Muslims), the Qur'an. Twelvers and Isma'ilis differ on the number of Imams from the death of the Prophet Muhammad as well as to the identities of the rightful Imams after the sixth, Ja'far al-Sadiq. Isma'ilis are split into several sub-groups who also differ in their line of Imams. The most well-known Isma'ili sub-group in the modern period, the Nizaris, follows the Aqa Khan (Agha Khan), Karim al-Husayni (the fourth Aqa Khan), who they believe to be the "living" Imam. The Zaydis have a much looser definition of who can be an Imam and they do not share the view held by Twelvers and some Isma'ilis in an "infallible" Imam who cannot be challenged. Indeed, Zaydi Imams not only had to come from a particular line of descent from the Prophet Muhammad (which in the Zaydi view is also looser than certainly the Twelver view as it developed), but also had to prove themselves to be capable leaders. Otherwise, they could be, and sometimes were, overthrown.
I have written previously on the historical background on the events of 'Ashura HERE.
Husayn Badr al-Din al-Houthi, "Inspired by 'Ashura," Part I
Husayn Badr al-Din al-Houthi, "Inspired by 'Ashura," Part II