Muslims around the world, especially the Shia Muslims, are observing Ashura, the 10th of the month of Muharram, tomorrow on August 8. It is a day to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, in the year 680 CE in the land of Karbala. It is a time to pay tribute to him and his family and companions of 72 people fighting the army of the tyrant and corrupt leader at the time, Yazid son of Ma’awiyah.
Muslims commemorate this day in a wide variety of ways, ranging from complete apathy to complete dedication. For some, this is just another day. It may also have different meaning and significance to Muslims around the world. . Many Sunni Muslims fast based on a hadith, which I consider fake and I have posted on this subject, outlining my rationale. For Shia Muslims, it means one, and one thing only- this is the day Imam Hussain and his family and friends were brutally butchered by the army of the tyrant ruler of the time, Yazid. Many Sunni Muslims around the world also commemorate the martyrdom, paying their tribute in different ways.
Shia Muslims go through a number of rituals, including chest-beating, holding ‘majalis’- gatherings of hundreds of people doing poetry and listening to the speeches by a local scholar. These gatherings typically end with a story from the battle of Karbala, highlighting the tragedy involving a particular member of Imam Hussain’s party and their sufferings- including being cut off from water for three days before the adult members of his party (except for his sol, Ali- the 4th Imam in Shia Islam). They also mourn the grave mistreatment of the women and children after the killing of the men during the battle that lasted for only several hours, since the party of Imam Hussain were vastly outnumbered by Yazid’s sophisticated and well-equipped army of several thousand.
So what led to this tragedy? Well, there are voluminous books written on this topic. I will try to explain it in a few words here to maintain brevity. The seeds of this tragedy were laid a few decades before the Karbala tragedy. The immediate events that triggered this started when Yazid came into power after the death of his father Ma’awiyah, one of the first things he wanted to do was to seek the pledge of allegiance or endorsement from Imam Hussain, as he was seen as the symbol of Islam. His pledge would give Yazid the stamp of approval and credibility. However, Imam Hussain, like so many others at the time, knew about Yazid’s corrupt life style, his ruthlessness and Un-Islamic ways. He refused to give the pledge of allegiance and eventually he and his family and small group of companions were led to a bare, faraway desert land- the present day Karbala.
His sacrifice is like no other in the entire human history- one of bravery, steadfastness despite facing severe adversity, truthfulness, standing up to a tyrant ruler to protect the dignity of an entire religion.
It is a reminder of the battle between the good vs evil, oppressed vs oppressors, the just vs the unjust, moral vs immoral, ethical vs unethical.
Through their apparent defeat, they won the hearts of billions of people over the past 1400 years or so, and saved Islam from corruption and immorality. They gave their lives, subjected their women and children to being taken captive, insults and humility. This was no ordinary family. They were the family of Prophet Muhammad- and it happened just 50 years after his death!
What if Imam Hussain had given his pledge of allegiance (and approval) to Yazid? Put simply, Islam would have been corrupted. Everything good his grandfather struggled for would have been wiped out. Immorality would have become moral. Oppression would have been normalized. Islam was in its infancy. It is like a small plant. If you let it grow crooked, it would grow into a crooked tree-one that would fall easily.
Death with dignity is better than a life of humiliation. Imam Hussain
The respect is not limited to Muslims only. Here is small sample of the tributes by Non Muslims.
If Husain fought to quench his worldly desires, then I do not understand why his sisters, wives and children accompanied him. It stands to reason therefore that he sacrificed purely for Islam. Charles Dickens
Though Imam Husain gave his life almost 1300 years ago, but his indestructible soul rules the hearts of people even today. Dr. Radha Krishnan
The sacrifice of Imam Husain is not limited to one country, or nation, but it is the hereditary state of the brotherhood of all mankind. Dr. Rajendra Prasad
Imam Husain’s sacrifice is for all groups and communities, an example of the path of righteousness. Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru-Ex PM of India
Here is a video by Dr. Chris Hewer-a Christian scholar, and his perspective on the lessons learned from Imam Hussain and Karbala.
What can we learn from his sacrifice? A better question is, are we just mourning Imam Hussain’s sacrifice or are we really following his teachings? It is a time to reflect and a time for some introspection.
Imam Hussain stood up for the tyrant of his time. He gave his life to protect the pillars of Islam and its principles.
We see tyrant rulers all around us today. We see injustice and oppression all around us today. What are we doing to speak up against oppression and injustice in our communities and around the world? How are we standing up against the tyrants of our time? Are we steadfast in our desire to help the oppressed, or are we just giving lip service to their plight?
We have to keep in mind what Imam Hussain was doing at the time of his death. He was in prostration, THANKING God, despite his entire house hold being killed and knowing what would happen to the women and children in his party. In our remembrance of Imam Hussain, are we neglecting our prayers? Are we being grateful for all the bounties of God?
How do we keep the memory of Karbala alive? How do we best pay tribute to him and his family, and small group of helpers? The best way is indeed to follow the path shown by him- to be steadfast in adversity, to stand up for the truth and justice and love and follow God Almighty and Prophet Muhammad. To love and remember Imam Hussain is loving Prophet Muhammad. But this love must translate into action.