Significant events in Allah’s plan for delivering guidance to mankind are not sudden, unexpected and unforetold events. The tragedy of Karbala was known and announced by the Prophet (saw) long before it happened. But maybe it is mentioned even in the earlier scriptures. What follows is one line of reasoning derived from the Biblical scriptures.
The successorship of prophethood and Imamate is a history with Allah beginning with Adam (peace be upon him) and continuing to Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny), firmly established in a covenant between the Prophet Ibrahim and Himself. This covenant between Abraham and God as written in the existing form of the Bible apparently includes mention of the 12 imams, the third of which is Imam Hussain (peace be upon him), the champion of Karbala:
Genesis 17:10,23 “This is My covenant which ye shall keep between Me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised…. And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day as God had said unto him.”
In Genesis 17:20, we find part of God’s promise in this covenant that is signified and remembered by circumcision. “And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee; Behold I have blessed him and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly: Twelve Princes shall he beget and I will make him a great nation.”
Some wording in translations of the Bible try to imply the covenant only goes through Isaac, but 17:23 above shows clearly it is between Abraham and “thy seed after thee” which includes Ishmael. The twelve princes are not descended from Isaac, so they can in no way be associated with twelve tribes of Israel nor the twelve disciples of Jesus (peace be upon him); the only people who fulfill this promise of God are the Twelve Imams (peace be upon them) descended from Ishmael.
Therefore it seems probable that the act of circumcision, the sign of this covenant between God and Abraham, is a sign for humanity of this promise of the coming of the Twelve Imams and the prophets so that we all may be aware of them, listen to them, and follow the right guidance to our own benefit and blessing. God has told us from the time of Prophet Ibrahim, then, that all the prophets including “that prophet” Muhammad (peace be upon him and his progeny), mentioned in other verses of the Bible, and the “twelve princes” from Ishmael would come.
Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son. Prophet Ibrahim obeyed God, as did his son, and they prepared for the sacrifice. But at the last minute, Ibrahim was spared of the task, and the sacrifice of the ram was used to replace it and to become a symbol of the later Greater Sacrifice.
Qur’an 37:105-108 “O Abraham! Of course thou hast faithfully fulfilled the dream, thou art of the truthful ones, but verily it is an open test, we have substituted it with a Greater Sacrifice. We have transferred it to later generations.”
Hajj commemorates many aspects of Prophet Ibrahim’s life. Perhaps there is some significance that the covenant is established with Prophet Ibrahim, and it is through this covenant that Prophet Muhammad and the Imams (peace be upon them) are promised. One of the Hajj rituals centers on this test to sacrifice his son, and the Hajj rituals wind down with the reminder of the Greater Sacrifice that is in its place, via the symbol of the slaughter of an animal that is then ideally given to the needy.
What is this Greater Sacrifice transferred to later generations? The Hajj ritual? Or could it be the sacrifice of Imam Hussain in Karbala? The Islamic new year begins right after the Hajj, and the dates of the sacrifice of Imam Hussain occur. It is as if the Hajj itself is a reminder of the fulfillment of this covenant in Prophet Muhammad and the Twelve Imams (peace be upon them), and a sign of Imam Hussain’s role in this covenant that is to come very soon on the calendar.
At the time of the symbolic sacrifice of Hajj, the head is shaved. In the old scriptures, shaving the head is a symbol of mourning, as is wearing plain clothes like Hajis do. Note also the weeping and beating the breast, both of which are central in the modern practices of memoriam of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and his companions in Karbala: in the Bible those practices are called for by God for mourning.
Isaiah 22:12 “On that Day the Lord called for weeping and beating the breast, for shaving the head and putting on sack cloth.”
The Christians believe that the sacrifice that replaced the one tasked upon Abraham was that of Jesus. But the Qur’an tells us this is not the case.
Qur’an 4:157 “And their saying: Surely we have killed the Messiah, Isa son of Mary, the apostle to Allah; and they did not kill him nor crucify him, but it appeared to them so and most surely those who differ therein are only in a doubt about it; they have no knowledge respecting it, but only follow a conjecture, and they killed him not for sure.”
Further the Christians say that Isaac was the one to be sacrificed and thus the replacement comes from his line, in Jesus. But the earlier scriptures and the Qur’an tell us it was Prophet Ismail who was to be sacrificed, and Imam Husain (peace be upon him) is from his line.
There are numerous prophecies relayed from the Holy Prophet about the martyrdom of Imam Hussain at Karbala. By contrast, in the Bible, there is no clear prophecy of the crucifixion.
But there is a prophecy that some believe is associated with the events of Karbala.
Jeremiah 46: 10 “For this is the day of the Lord God of hosts, a day of vengeance, that he may avenge him of his adversaries; and the sword shall devour, and it shall be satiate and made drunk with their blood; for the Lord God of hosts has a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates.”
The sacrifice is presented here as the means of the vengeance against those who reject the covenant between God and man, those who reject the prophets and Imams (peace be upon them). Or some say this verse may allude to events yet in our future, of the Imam of Our Age securing vengeance for the tragedy of Karbala according to the command of God.
Allah knows best what has been told in the prophecies and what lies in the imagination. We do not need the previous scriptures to verify the supreme importance of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom for all of humanity. But it is intriguing to consider the possibility of these connections remaining in what survives of God’s previous revelations.