The tenth of Muharram is the day on which, according to some reports, Allah saved Prophet Moses/Musa from the tyrannical Pharaoh, that prototype of despotic authority. There are many pharaoh-like authorities who have appeared through history and there were those incorrigible standard-bearers of justice who opposed them. In the post-Prophetic period, one such person was Imam Husayn who took on the corruption of despotic Yazid and laid down his life on tenth Muharram in 61 AH (680 CE); an event that serves as a milestone in the history of the faithful; the martyrdom of the beloved grandson of the Prophet Muhammad at Karbala in Iraq.
The valiant Prophet Moses did not fight Pharaoh to become king, neither did the righteous Imam Husayn take on the army of the corrupt Yazid merely to become caliph. Their effort was in fulfilment of moral obligation which serves as a universal message which has left a lasting legacy of struggle and resistance against corruption and injustice. The lesson is not only in that they were prepared to fight for what is right, but were also willing to die for it; selflessness not selfishness, humility not ego, principle not power.
So cowardly and gruesome was the killing of Imam Husayn that the renowned Arab historian Al-Fakhri wrote: “This is a catastrophe, whereof I care not to speak at length, deeming it a like too grievous and too horrible. For it was indeed a catastrophe so odious that a more shameful incident has not occurred in Muslim history. There occurred such a foul massacre as to cause any person’s flesh to creep with horror. Again I have dispensed with my long description of this horrific incident because of its notoriety, for it is the most lamented of all catastrophes. ” Western historian, Dr Edward Browne in his ‘a Literary History of Persia’ writes: “as a reminder, the blood-stained field of Karbala where the grandson of the apostle of God fell at length, tortured by thirst and surrounded by the bodies of his murdered family; has been at any time since then been sufficient to evoke, even in the most lukewarm and heedless, the deepest emotion, the most frantic grief and the exaltation of spirit before which pain, danger, and death shrink to unconsidered trifles.” To compound the tragedy, it was the grandson of the final Messenger (and his close relatives) who were brutally killed. It was a massacre of the progeny of the final Prophet of Allah.
That family of the prophet of whom Allah invokes us through the Qur’an;
“Say (to the people, O Muhammad)! I ask of you no reward except that you love my family.” [Qur’an 42:23].
Yet, Imam Husayn was martyred at the hands of those who considered themselves followers of our beloved Prophet Muhammad, those who claimed to act in the name of Islam yet unremorsefully and shamelessly were prepared to obliterate its true exponent; those who (like so many today) are prepared to kill for Islam yet are unable to live by it. Yes, Imam Husayn was martyred at the hands of those who would kiss the Black Stone (because the Prophet kissed it), yet cut off the precious head of that dear grandson of the Prophet, a head which the Prophet so often caressed and kissed with affection
We bade farewell to the old year by celebrating Prophet Ibrahim’s commitment to Allah characterized by his valor against Nimrud, and proven through his willingness to sacrifice his patient son, Prophet Isma’il (pbuh). Now we welcome the new year by commemorating the martyrdom of Prophet Muhammad’s beloved grandson, Imam Husayn who fought to uphold the principles of his grandfather Prophet Muhammad and his forefather Prophet Ibrahim (pbuh).
The Makkan struggle for the manifesting and upholding the values of Islam was founded with love and veracity by the family of Ibrahim and continued with loveand patience through the family of Muhammad (pbuh), as ‘allama Iqbal says;
Sidq-e Khalil bhi hay ishq, sabr-e Husaynbhi hay ishqMa’rika-e-wujudmaynBadr-o-Hunaynbhi hay ishq
“The veracity of Prophet Ibrahim is love, so too the patient perseverance of Imam Husayn is love. Just as Prophet Muhammad’s selfless struggle at Badr and Hunayn too was love (for Allah, truth and justice).”
Iqbal thus concluded; Gharib-o sada o- rangeen hay dastane haram, nehayat is kiHusayn, ibtida hay Isma’il”
“Strange, simple yet colourful is the story of the haram. It begins with Prophet Isma’iland ends with Imam Husayn.”
The special status of Imam Husayn in Muslim history has in large measure been due to the his sacrifice of family, possession, and life itself in the cause of justice in the way of Allah. His courage, sincerity, steadfastness, dignity, and unwavering devotion in times of great crisis – have inspired and continues to inspire people ofall walks of life. His struggle and eventual martyrdom became a source of strength and endurance for the oppressed in times of suffering, persecution and oppression. He has been morally on the side of every person against unjust rulers, reproaching tyrants and encouraging the oppressed to persist in their struggle for justice, freedom and dignity. “No battle in the modern and past history of mankind has earned more sympathy and admiration as well as provided more lessons than the martyrdom of Husayn in the battle of Karbala.” [antoine Bara in ‘Husayn in Christian Ideology’]
We must reflect on that monumental moment, over thirteen hundred and fifty years ago, on the 10th day of Muharram 61 AH (680 CE) just before ‘Asr prayer, when Imam Husayn stood on a sand-dune at Karbala in Iraq. Blood was flowing all over his body from the wounds he had suffered; having lost virtually everything that day. He had carried several dead bodies into his camp and even buried his dear infant child. He looked at the murdered bodies of his loved ones. Tears flowed from his eyes. He looked skyward and prayed; “O Allah! In You I place my trust amid all grief. You are my hope amid all violence. You are my Refuge and Provider in everything that happens. How many grievances are there that weaken the heart, leaving me with no means to respond; during which friends desert me while enemies rejoice.”
Then, this beloved grandson of the Prophet and the apple of his eye, raised a call: “Is there anyone who will come to assist us? Is there anyone who will respond to our call for help?” He turned directions and repeated the call several times. Who was he calling out to? Surely he was not expecting anyone there to come to his aid since those who he had relied upon had already betrayed him? Perhaps it was a call to people of conscience of every period, every generation in every land. It was a call for help against corruption which everywhere in every age rears its ugly head to oppress justice and undermine the truth.
Imam Husayn’s martyrdom at Karbala provides evidence of the moral victory of right over wrong, of virtue over vice, of principle over compromise, of the oppressed over the oppressor, of the denied over the denier; the ultimate victory of blood over sword. A lesson teaching humankind through the inscription of blood on the scrolls of human history, how he conveyed to the world, through his struggle, the meaning of life; that that living is truly of value which offers itself for a cause greater than its self; that to die with honor is better than living in subjugation to injustice.
The commemoration of ‘Ashura on the 10th of Muharram every year serves to remind us of the sacrifices of the righteous throughout our glorious history. It reconnects us with our spiritual and moral legacy making us aware of the people, then and now, who bravely stood up for what was right; as well as those who tried to destroy the family of the Prophet and the noble ideals that the family stood for. More than that, it exposes those who watched what was happening, knew what was right; and yet did nothing.
How many are there even today who shy away; not only from mentioning the struggleat Karbala, but from the very memory of Husayn. God forbid that we ever become of those who forget.