Karbala:From history to epic

With the coming of the month of Muharram, the followers of the Ahl al Bayt of Prophet Muhammad(s) will have begun preparations for the commemoration of the sacrifice of Imam Husayn(a). Tahereh Shafiee discusses the significance of the remembrance of Ashura

Surely, there is a burning heat in the hearts of the believers with respect to the killing of Husayn that will never cool down!’ Imam Ja`far al-Sadiq(a)

Every year in Muharram, the first month of Islamic lunar calendar, people around the world partake in mourning ceremonies for Imam Husayn(a), the grandson of Prophet Muhammad(s), and his 72 loyal disciples who were killed in the desert of Karbala in southern Iraq. The remarkable thing about these mourning ceremonies is that after the passage of more than fourteen centuries, not only have their remembrance not faded away or been overshadowed by other events, they have actually become more widespread and majestic year by year. This appears to be in contrast to the idea that emotional pain will grow less as time passes, hence the more time elapsed from the martyrdom of the Imam and his companions, the more their feelings of sorrow should have faded and the story of Karbala should have remained a far-distant memory gathering dust in the history books. We have to ask ourselves as lovers of Ahl al Bayt who continue to bitterly wail each year as we are re-told the story of the martyrdom of our Imam, why we still beat our chests and heads in grief, expressing great sorrow. The killing of Imam Husayn(a) is grounded in an historical context in which the community established by Prophet Muhammad(s) finds itself at a dangerous turning point when an evil leadership intent on transforming the character of the Islamic faith was on the rise. Here the unfolding of the event of Karbala assumes a cosmic dimension, the perpetual re-enactment of an eternal conflict between the forces of good and the forces of evil. The promotion of the ideals of justice and freedom from all material and worldly bondage, which was the cornerstone of the Prophet’s teachings, have no place in the government of Muawiya ibn Abu Sufyan, the so called ‘Islamic ruler’ who deceptively came to power in 661 CE and established the Umayyad dynasty, the first Islamic monarchical system. Muawiya was aware of the legitimate claim to authority put forward by the descendants of Prophet Muhammad(s) through the line of Ali(a), which embodied the true ideals and character of Islam as conceived by the Prophet himself. Their ability to elucidate and explain the teaching of Islam in a convincing and authoritative approach turned Ahl al Bayt into a magnet for all those sincere people longing to emulate the true teachings of Islam. Imam Husayn(a) , along with his brother Imam Hassan(a) and his father Imam Ali(a), were the first line of resistance against an attempt to change the character of Islam right from the early stage of its existence. They willingly accepted the ultimate sacrifice in this line of defence, as did the Imams descended from their line until the 12th Imam, Muhammad ibn al-Hasan al-Mahdi(a) whose return is eagerly awaited. Their presence among the community provided about 250 years of a physically accessible source of true knowledge – even when imprisoned by the political authority of their time – not only about the faith of Islam but about the mystery of the scientific and natural world. They forever remain the ‘Gates to the City of Knowledge’. The reality is that those who have given their lives in this path are granted a perpetual remembrance and respect becoming a beacon of light for all freedom seekers of the world. Imam Husayn’s(a) rejection of the newly appointed monarch of the Umayyad dynasty, Yazid ibn Muawiya, was too much of a threat to the new king, even if Husayn(a) had not raised an army against him. The order given by Yazid was to bend him into submission or eliminate him. It is in such a context that the killing of Imam Husayn(a) and his heroic and tragic stand on the sands of Karbala has become an epic message which cannot be altered by any power or government nor can it ever be stopped. It is a movement that will attract generations of those who empathise with the message of justice and faith in God. That is why every year in the month of Muharram that sparkle of Divine Light hidden in our hearts begins to ignite, drawing us closer to the progeny of Prophet Muhammad(s) and enables us to commemorate such lofty personalities. We mourn outwardly by wearing black clothing, yet rejoice inwardly due to the eternal achievements of Imam Husayn(a), whose memory we partake in keeping alive. The rituals of Muharram comprise praying to God to bless the souls of our martyrs and to distance ourselves from those responsible for their killing. Traditions from the Imams have exhorted generations to keep the memory of this sacrifice alive. Although there are no specific forms for the method of remembrance, some people get too entangled in cultural expressions, which unwittingly introduce more prominence to the rituals than to the objective for the remembrance and the message – which is Imam Husayn(a) himself. One has to remember that some of these methods are not really in accordance with the Islamic rulings, and are solely rooted in cultural and regional settings. Above all, these rituals should present us with an opportunity to think about Imam Husayn’s(a) sacrifice as a tool that teaches us to not remain silent in the face of tyrants and dictators and to stand up against corrupt rulers who hold the religion of God and human values in little regard.. Peace be on Husayn, and on Ali son of Husayn, and on the children of Husayn, and on the friends of Husayn.


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