Karbala: A Guiding Light for Humanity and the Essence of Islam
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By Dr Farah Naqvi, Copy Edited By Adam Rizvi, New Jersey, USA. TIO
An incident that occurred more than 1400 years ago that is commemorated every year, how could its fervour and zeal never fade away? All over the world people prefer to start their new year with celebration but why a section of community choose to begin their year with grief? What do these people gain by mourning over the same incident every year? Every single year the millions of people gathering to pay homage to Hazrat Imam Hussain (a.s) like a personal loss, like a death in their family on Arbaeen seems to be on the rise. Undoubtedly this pain is enriching their lives in some way, but how?
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Revisiting the historical incident by making a small azakhana (sacred place for mourning) where we keep the alams of martyrs, narrating the events through hadees, nauha and mourning, is not merely the expression of our deep respect and love for Imam Hussain (a.s), but a blessing that makes us look inward and reexamine our life in the light of lessons from Karbala. When people gather to recall and cry over the brutality meted out to Imam Hussain (a.s) , his family and followers, it unconsciously imbues a profound impact on one’s character and thinking. The beauty of this pain that moves a soul to tears not only softens the heart but enhances the virtues of empathy, compassion and humanity. Drawing from personal experiences and memories from childhood till date, I make a humble attempt to write on the essence of Muharram though it’s impossible to capture it in words.
Standing steadfast with truth and humanity: Karbala not only teaches us the significance of having values and principles to guide our life but to stand steadfast to it come what may. Centuries ago Yazid ibn Muawiya akin to current ISIS asked for a pledge of allegiance from Imam Hussain (a.s), the grandson of Prophet Mohammad (pbuh). Imam Hussain (a.s) refused to support the tyrant ruler and his unjust practices that were against the tenets of Islam. His refusal to support the so-called caliph led to the incident of Karbala, where Imam Hussain (a.s) along with his family and followers were brutally massacred by the army of Yazid. The martyrs included his five-year-old daughter Sakina (a.s) and his six-month old child, Ali Asghar (a.s). Imam Hussain (a.s) could have saved himself and his family by compromising on his principles but he chose to embrace death rather than siding with an oppressor. Commemorating the event serves as an inspiration to stand with the righteous and speak against any form of tyranny. A true Muslim and follower of Imam Hussain (a.s) refuse to be a silent spectator of injustice or discrimination in any form and is driven by purity of conscience and love for humanity.
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Etiquette of sabr or patience in testing times: Talking about the creation of man and the human being the Quran states, ‘We have indeed created man in the best of moulds (Quran, 95:4)’; meaning that God has created man in the most beautiful and excellent manner. The Quran is for all human beings, and it addresses not only Muslims but all people, including the members of other religions (Quran, 3.64). The seventy-sixth surah of the Quran is ‘Al Insan’ that emphasizes the point that human beings have been sent into the world to be tested. All of us in life go through our share of trials and tribulations, and how we respond to the challenging events of our life influence our thoughts, personality and behavior.
The battle of Karbala embodies the heights of cruelty in the history of humanity and the patience (sabr) demonstrated by Imam Hussain (a.s) sets an example for us to follow. One by one members of his family, beloved son, brother, nephew and followers got killed by the Yazid army but Imam Hussain (a.s) did not yield to the evil designs and provocations. He breathed his last surrendering himself to his creator choosing to die in prostration ‘Sajde e Shukr’. The barbaric pain meted out to Imam Hussain (a.s) and his family cannot be described in words, but his behaviour in such trying times gives us a lot to ponder and imbibe in our life. Recounting and crying over the pain doesn’t make us feel helpless or weak but strangely function to strengthen the soul to deal with life hardships with patience. No wonder majlis is organized by momineens not only during Muharram or Arbaeen but whenever someone dies in the family. Even the most tragic loss falls short before the masayeb (narration of the painful events) of Imam Hussain (a.s) inculcating in the person the virtue of enduring pain with patience and faith.
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Brotherhood and compassion: According to the Qur’ anic view, all human beings are of the same origin, ‘O mankind! Be careful of your duty to your Lord who created you from a single soul (Quran, 4.1).’ It further states that ‘Achieving honour and high position in the sight of Allah is through righteousness (taqwa), not the superiority of race (Quran, 49.13).’ This beautiful verse from the Quran makes the point that it’s a person’s amaal or deeds that makes him superior or closer to Allah. Still, we see a rise in hate crimes stemming from religious or ideological differences. Extremist Islamic groups perceiving themselves as all-knowing and superior killing people peacefully praying in mosques or bombing unarmed innocent people are terrorists maligning the name of Islam with their wrongful interpretation.
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For Islam is a religion of peace and our beloved Imam Hussain (a.s) taught us not only to be kind and compassionate to our fellow brethren but even to those who see us as enemies. He was after all the son of Hazrat Ali (a.s) who openly edified that, ‘Man is either your brother in faith or equal in humanity.’ An example of this is seen when Hurr the general of the enemy army on his way to obstruct Imam Hussain (a.s) ran out of water. Despite knowing them to be his enemies, Imam Hussain (a.s) served water to him, his people and even his horses. The Yazid’s army kept Imam Hussain (a.s) and his family captive without water for days before killing them on 10th of Muharram. On realizing his mistakes, the conscience of Hurr filled him with repentance. He sought forgiveness and chose to be on Imam Hussain’s (a.s) side, making him one of the 72 martyrs of Karbala. This behaviour of Imam Hussain(a.s) inspires one to be compassionate towards all. The response of Hurr teaches us that in life when presented with situations where we have to make a decision that may be ethically and morally right but doesn’t conform to the majority; one should opt to side with the truth even if it is in the minority or leaves you alone.
Courage: Post the battle of Karbala, Yazid men took the women and children as prisoners tying them with chains making them walk through towns and cities in Damascus and Kufa. On reaching the Palace of Yazid looking at the severed head of her brother Imam Hussain (a.s) on a spear being shown to his five-year-old daughter Sakina (a.s) in a crowd full of jeering people, lady Zainab (a.s), demonstrated unflinching courage by keeping her calm and bravely confronted and questioned the actions of Yazid. Her questions and sermons left the crowd speechless and restless. The apparent victory of Yazid was transformed into an eternal defeat where even after winning the battle they felt disgraced. Zainab (a.s) exemplifies the strong women who even after enduring immense pain, witnessing her loved ones martyred before her eyes refused to be silent. Adorning the leadership role, speaking fearlessly, she carried forward the legacy of her brother Imam Hussain (a.s) and saved Islam. It is due to the efforts of this great lady that Yazid is remembered for his shameless acts, Imam Hussain (a.s) is seen as a symbol of Humanity and Islam as a religion that propagates peace.
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Spiritual elevation: ‘The origin of man is dust (Quran, 3.59; 30.20; 35.11)’ and the first human body was brought to existence by turning that dust into mud, and passing it through various stages. The human being is thus a part of nature, and all the elements that exist in nature also exist in the human body. As per the teachings of Islam, humans have both negative and positive sides that influence one’s behaviour. The animalistic side of humans distances us from goodness, and the spiritual side distances us from the material world. The hope for enriching and enhancing the positive side in us comes from this verse in Quran that says ‘So, when I have made him and have breathed into him of my spirit.(Quran, 15.29; 38.72)’ The next question comes as to how does the Quran elaborate on the spirit of Allah?
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The spirit of Allah is exemplified in the 99 names of Allah. Some of them being Ar Raheem (bestower of mercy), As Salam (the giver of peace), Al Adl (the just), Al Lateef (the most gentle), Al Wadood (most loving), Al Haqq (the absolute truth), Al Barr (the source of goodness), and As Saboor (the forbearing and patient
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The examples set by Imam Hussain (a.s) that is commemorated each year provides an opportunity for spiritual elevation and nurturing the aforementioned spirit within us. Even in the face of harsh cruelties, the Ahlulbayt (the family of prophet) maintained their honour, refusing to be overpowered by negative emotions like anger, retaliation, despair, hate and loss of patience. Muharram is replete with such examples. One instance worth mentioning here is of Imam Sajjad (a.s) son of Imam Hussain (a.s) who was being taken as a prisoner to the court of Yazid in Damascus. A man came forward and abused the Imam saying, ‘Tell me who has come out successful you or Yazid?’ Without getting angry, Imam Sajjad (a.s) replied, ‘When you hear the Azaan you make your own decision as to who is successful and who is a failure.’
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The event of Karbala is embedded with examples of most ideal human relationships and extreme brutality in the history of mankind. There is a reason people recreate the pain and wish to pass on the wisdom acquired from it to their coming generations; as it infuses one with humanitarian thinking, love for all, courage, will power, loyalty, patience, sacrifice, faith and victory of truth over falsehood. To conclude, Karbala is not just an event in history but a movement against terrorism, standing up against oppression and a way of life. Perhaps this is the reason that the love for Imam Hussain (a.s) is not confined to any single community but by all those who believe in humanity.
References: Holy Quran
Complied and Curated by Humra Kidwai