Every year millions of Muslims commemorate the sacrifice of Imam Husayn Ibn Ali(a), the grandson of the Prophet(s) in Karbala during the month of Muharram.
The story of his heroic martyrdom along with a small group of his followers against an army of thousands of men is retold every year with the purpose of reviving the true value of religion, to achieve greater spiritual insight and awareness of God.
This commemoration builds up until the fortieth day after their martyrdom marked by the day of Arbaeen on the 20th day of Safar. The events following the martyrdom of Imam Husayn(a) and the suffering of the family of the Prophet are remembered amongst Muslim communities in various parts of the world.
The yearly repetition of these commemorations could, if not properly understood, lead to misrepresentation. Every time the story of Imam Husayn(a) is retold, merely in cultural contexts, there is a risk of becoming repetitive over corollary notions, missing the real goal of Imam Husayn’s(a) sacrifice. Consequently it may lead to trivialising the spiritual message underlying the earthly event or the physical battle that took place.
What is crucial here is the reason why so many Muslims still remember the tragedies of Ashura and how they can rationalise these commemorations? It is an established belief of Muslims that the Prophetic mission ended with the departure of the Prophet Muhammad(s), supposedly leaving no room for the establishment and development of other practices in the name of religion.
Indisputably the Prophet Muhammad(s) brought the last revelation to humanity, a perfect law and a complete message in order to live a harmonious life according to spiritual teachings.
This message is to be preserved for future generations and it would not be rationally acceptable for a Muslim mind to let it die after the passing away of his founder. Preservation of the original message is, therefore, one of the most important reasons for the sacrifice of Imam Husayn(a).
From here, another important concept is the significance of interpretation. A message, as genuine as it may be, is subject to different interpretations. When someone with no familiarity with the original message uses religious texts and concepts with the utmost superficiality, the original interpretation can remain hidden, leading to wrong notions and ideas. Therefore, in this context, we must see Husayn Ibn Ali(a) not only as a member of the Prophetic House but as someone who stood up for the right interpretation of the religion received directly from his grandfather.
The true interpretation would lead to the next fundamental step which is a real connection to God. Having a personal relationship with God is very important in a believer’s daily life as it nurtures his soul and existence. When the connection stems from a sound interpretation of religion, which in turn stems from a correct preservation of its teachings, God willing, the desired goal of an everlasting peace is found.
In this way the commemorations of mourning hold a very powerful meaning and have the potential to change our lives. Mourning here is not a reconstruction of a mere historical event revived every year as a cultural appointment, but the opportunity to join Imam Husayn’s(a) path with the same purity of intentions and righteous deeds.
As result of mourning, the soul of the believer relives the battle of Karbala, joining Imam Husayn’s(a) ranks and family and sharing in their suffering. Therefore, purity, dedication, patience, honesty, bravery and sacrifice become the rightful interpretation of the prophetic legacy. In practical terms, the outcome is a firm implementation of what has been achieved by the spiritual experience.
Such preservation of the message, its interpretation and Godly connection were patently manifested amongst the surviving members of the family of the Prophet after the tragic events of Karbala. The great Imam Ali ibn Husayn(a) along with the women and children of the Prophet’s household were taken as captives and humiliated in front of the masses of Iraq and Sham.
An unbiased and thorough look at the scenario would enable us to underline their honourable, epic and eternal qualities manifested during moments of unbearable hardships and suffering. Everything they said and did in those terrible circumstances was in perfect accordance with the moral standards of the Qur’an. Their faith was not shaken but rather strengthened, and their pious conduct unaffected by the psychological and physical torture they were subjected to.
The lessons we learn from Ashura and its aftermath should assist us in facing difficulties in our lives. The faithful followers of Imam Husayn(a) at Karbala, remind us of the reason and the scope of our existence, something we often forget due to our preoccupation with worldly affairs.
Finding a way to increase faith and righteous deeds in moments of difficulty is the best lesson that can be learned in the school of Ashura and one of the noblest aims that believers should strive towards for their own upliftment and benefit.
“Those to whom the people said, ‘All the people have gathered against you; so fear them.’ That only increased them in faith, and they said, ‘God is sufficient for us, and He is an excellent trustee.’” (3:173).