Among the heroes of Ashura, and from the righteous companions who have sold themselves to Allah and sacrificed their lives for the sake of the support of Imam Aba Abdillah al-Hussayn (peace be upon him): al-Hurr son of Yazid son of Najiyah son of Qa'nab son of 'Itab son of Harmi son of Riyah from Bani Tamim. Al-Hurr was from the nobles of Arabs and among the courageous Muslims. He was a leader of Tamim sent by the governor of al-Kufa; 'Ubaydullah Ibn ziyad with one thousand knights to repel Imam al-Hussayn (peace be upon him) from entering Kufa.
In Dhu Husam, the army of al-Hurr arrived at the campsite of Imam al-Hussayn’s (peace be upon him) caravan. Historical sources have explicitly mentioned that al-Hurr had been dispatched, not to start a war with the Imam but to take him to Ibn Ziyad; that's why he lined up his army before the campsite of Imam al-Hussayn (peace be upon him).
It is narrated from two men of Banu Asad who were in the caravan of Imam al-Hussayn (peace be upon him):
"When we departed from the region Sharaf, at the middle of the day, we noticed the scout of an army from far away, the Imam asked his companions: is there a safe haven nearby so that we can get stationed in it, and confront this army from one direction? They replied: yes, to the left, there's a campsite called Dhu Husam. Taking the left direction of the road, the Imam moved toward Dhu Husam; likewise, the opposite army hurried toward that position. However, Imam al-Hussayn's caravan reached that site earlier and Imam ordered his companions to camp there. Al-Hurr along his soldiers arrived there at noon and were thirsty. Although they lined up in battle stations, the Imam's reaction was not confrontational. He ordered his companions to give water to the army of al-Hurr, both soldiers and their horses. Then al-Hurr requested to pray the noon prayer, along his soldiers, behind the Imam; Imam al-Hussayn (peace be upon him) accepted and they prayed their noon prayer with the caravan of Imam al-Hussayn (peace be upon him), the Imam being the leader of prayer. Al-Hurr told the Imam about his mission. Imam al-Hussayn (peace be upon him) emphasized on the fact that the people of Kufa have invited him to Kufa by sending frequent letters and requested him to take over the affairs; however, the Imam explicitly stated that if the Kufans regret their decision, he would return.
Al-Hurr said he had been unaware of such correspondence, neither he nor his soldiers sent no letters and that he has the mission to take the Imam to Ibn Ziyad in Kufa.
When the Imam decided to continue his travel, al-Hurr stopped him from either heading toward Kufa or going back to Hijaz, al-Hurr suggested Imam to take a third route, neither to Kufa nor to Hijaz, so that he can ask Ibn Ziyad for further instructions. Al-Hurr told the Imam: "I have not been ordered to battle against you, but I am ordered not to let you go and take you to Kufa; yet if you refuse, take a third route rather than Kufa and Hijaz, so that I write a letter to Ibn Ziyad. If you wish, you can also write to Yazid; that might help the situation end in peace. To me this seems better than getting involved in a battle against you."
After this, Imam al-Hussayn (peace be upon him) and his caravan took the route of 'Udhayb al-Hijanat and Qadisiyya; and al-Hurr, along his army, followed them.
Although al-Hurr did not have the order to start a war with the Imam, the possibility of military confrontation had been worrying him from the start. It is even reported that he warned the Imam about the fatal result of such a war. Frequently and whenever suited, he would tell Imam al-Hussayn (peace be upon him): "by God please save your sacred soul, for I am sure if a war takes place, you will be killed." To this concern the Imam replied by reciting a poem, saying he is not afraid of death and martyrdom for the sake of God.
In 'Udhayb, four Shi'a from Kufa joined Imam al-Hussayn (peace be upon him). Al-Hurr intended to arrest or send them back to Kufa, but the Imam prevented him. They told the Imam about the tense situation in Kufa, the martyrdom of Qays Ibn Mushir al-Saydawi (Imam's envoy to Kufa) and the preparation of a great army to confront the Imam.
Muharram 2 was the deadline of al-Hurr's agreement with Imam al-Hussayn (peace be upon him). Both Imam's caravan and al-Hurr's army had arrived at a village called Naynawa when al-Hurr received a letter from Ibn Ziyad, ordering him to pressure the Imam and stop him and his companions in a plain area that has no water or tree. It was written in Ibn Ziyad's letter to al-Hurr: "upon the arrival of my messenger and receiving my letter, take it hard on al-Hussayn and never let him camp unless in a dry and treeless land. I have commanded my messenger not to leave you alone till he brings me the news about the fulfillment of my order. End." Al-Hurr came to Imam al-Hussayn (peace be upon him) and read Ibn Ziyad's letter for him. Imam said: let us camp in Naynawa or Ghadiriyya."
Being caught in a dilemma and feeling the surveillance of Ibn Ziyad's messenger, al-Hurr stopped Imam's caravan and refused their suggestion to camp in the nearby village Naynawa (or Ghadiriyya or Suqayh). Having no exit, the Imam's caravan camped in Karbala (according to some reports, close to the village 'Aqr) near the Euphrates. Zuhayr Ibn Qayn told Imam al-Hussayn (peace be upon him): "by God I feel that after this, it turns even harder on us, O' son of Allah's Apostle! Now fighting this group (al-Hurr and his soldiers) is easier for us than fighting those who come after this group, I swear by my own life that there will come a group after this whom we can't stand against.
Although al-Hurr was serious, his behavior with the Imam was respectful. Even once, he mentioned the special reverence for Imam's mother, Lady Fatima az-Zahra (peace be upon her).
On the day of 'Ashura, 'Umar Ibn Sa'd lined up his army and appointed commanders for all sections. He appointed al-Hurr Ibn Yazid al-Riyahi as the commander of Banu Tamim and Banu Hamdan. After military arrangements, the army prepared to fight Imam al-Hussayn (peace be upon him) and his companions.
When noticed the serious will of 'Umar Ibn Sa'd to confront Imam al-Hussayn (peace be upon him), Hurr went to him and asked: "do you really want to fight with this man (Imam al-Hussayn (peace be upon him))?" Umar replied: "yes, by God I will start a war the lightest [part] of which is dropping heads and chopping hands." Al-Hurr asked: "weren't his suggestions good enough for you?" Umar Ibn Sa'd replied: had it been up to me, I would have accepted, yet the commander (Ibn Ziyad) did not accept."
Then al-Hurr distanced from 'Umar Ibn Sa'd and went to a corner of the army and little by little, got close to the other side. Muhajir Ibn Aws –a member in Umar's army- asked al-Hurr: "Do you want to attack?" Al-Hurr did not reply and was shaking. Muhajir became suspicious and said: "by God I have never seen you in any war like this, if I was asked who the bravest man of Kufa was, certainly I wouldn't miss your name. Now, what is this state I see you in?" al-Hurr said: "truly I see myself between paradise and hellfire; and by God, if I get torn apart and burned, I will not choose anything but paradise." Upon saying this, al-Hurr directed his horse toward the campsite of Imam al-Hussayn (peace be upon him).
It is narrated that he went to Imam Hussayn (peace be upon him) and said, “May I be your ransom O son of the Prophet of Allah! I am the one who had stopped you from returning back and had accompanied you all along and had forced you to alight here. But I had not known that these people would directly refuse your proposal and bring you to this present state. By Allah! If I had known that they would do to you such, I would not have undertaken that what I have done. Hence now I apologize to Allah regarding that what I have done, then do you think that my repentance would be accepted”?
Imam Hussayn (peace be upon him) replied,
“May Allah accept your repentance! Thus alight from your horse.”
Hurr replied, “It is better for me to be mounted and serve you and fight with them, thus ultimately I will have to alight from my horse (when I am wounded).” Then Imam replied,
“May your Lord have mercy upon you, do as you desire.”
Then he stood in front of Imam Hussayn (peace be upon him) and said, “O Kufans! May your mothers be deprived of you! You invited the righteous slave of Allah, then when he came to you, you handed him over to the enemy, when you had intended to defend him with your lives? Then now you have begun to fight him so as to kill him. You have taken hold of him and seized his collar, and have surrounded him from all sides so that he may not be able to escape to the vast towns of Allah.
He is now left as a prisoner amongst you, then he cannot benefit himself nor can he ward off the evil from it. Then you have stopped him, along with his women-folk, his children and family, from the waters of Euphrates, which is open for the Jews, Christians and Sabians, and the pigs and dogs of Iraq roll therein, while they would perish because of thirst? How badly have you behaved with the Progeny of Mohammad (Allah’s prayers be upon him and upon his holy Household) after his death. May Allah not quench your thirst on the day of extreme thirst (Qiyamah)!” Hearing this some of the soldiers attacked him and started shooting arrows at him, then Hurr came and stood in front of Imam Hussayn (peace be upon him)
Imam al-Hussayn (peace be upon him) requested God's forgiveness for him and said: "You are hurr (a freeman) in this world and in the hereafter."
Shortly after joining Imam's camp, al-Hurr went to the battlefield and after his word with 'Umar Ibn Sa'd and his army. The narrator says that Hurr started reciting the following Rajaz: “I have sworn not to be killed until I do not kill, and I shall not be wounded except by advancing further, I will attack them with a sharp-edged sword, I shall not retreat back nor will I flee (from the battlefield).”
Furthermore he recited the following couplets: “I am Hurr, a host to the guest, I strike your necks with a swift sword, in defense of the one who has alighted at the ground of Kheef (in Mina), while I do not regret over it.”
He held such a sword in his hand whose edge was raining death. It is as if Ibn Mu’taz says about him, “I possess a sword which radiates death, then it is not unsheathed, except that it starts spilling the blood.”
Hurr, along with his companion Zuhayr Ibn Qayn, attacked obviously. If while fighting, one of them would get surrounded by the enemies, the other would come to his defense and rescue him. After several rounds of combat, he was martyred. He fought bravely and even though his horse was injured and was bleeding from forehead and ears, he kept reciting Rajaz and attacking the enemy on the same horse. He killed more than forty members of Umar's army. Then the infantry part of the army rushed to him at once and martyred him. It's been reported that two individuals killed him, Ayyub b. Musarrah and a horseman from Kufa.
Other companions brought the body of al-Hurr, Imam al-Hussayn (peace be upon him) sat beside his body, wiped off the blood on his face and said: "you are [truly] hurr (a freeman), like the way your mother has named you, you are a freeman both in this world and in the hereafter."
Then he recited the following couplets: “What a best Hurr is the Hurr of Bani Riyah, and the best Hurr during the exchange of spears, the best Hurr who was generous with regard to his life when Hussayn called out in the morning.”
Today, his shrine is located several kilometers far from Imam al-Hussayn's Holy Shrine to the west, with a dome upon it. We do not know the reason of his burial in this place, but some narrate that the people of his tribe took him from the battle place and buried him there.
Al-Hurr has been mentioned in Ziyarah al-Nahiyya al-Muqaddasa in the following phrase: Peace be upon al-Hurr b. al-Riyahi.