There may not be a better example of selflessness and sacrifice than that of Imam Hussain on Ashura on the 10th of Muharram (1st month of the lunar calendar) in the desert lands of Karbala. He took a stance more than 1,300 years ago against the unjust and ruthless leader of his time, Yazid, and the ideologies he wanted to spread in the name of Islam. The leader of his time forcefully wanted the Imam of the time to accept him as the true and righteous leader – the grandson of the Holy Prophet Muhammed would never give up the true and peaceful religion of Islam and hand it over to an open sinner and oppressor. He is quoted to say “A man like me can never give allegiance to a man like him”.
With the appearance of the new moon of Muharram, grief and pain is evident on the faces of Muslims worldwide and particularly the Shia community. The incident of Karbala goes much beyond the supreme sacrifice of Imam Hussain, the lessons we learn are plenty from the role of women to standing against oppression.
This was not a mere political battle, though some Muslim historians try to project it that way so as to cover up not only Yazid’s atrocities, but indirectly to defend their school of thought as well. The mainstream view, however, both among Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, is very sympathetic toward Imam Hussain.
Although the event of Karbala is a long chronicle and extremely heart breaking, this article will rather focus on the philosophical aspect of Karbala and Ashura and the message it carries for all Muslim’s and all of humanity.
If you would like to know more about the actual events of Karbala, please visit whoishussain.org
If you think ISIS and the like have only been around for the past couple of years, it’s because you were never taught about the story of Karbala, the story of 30,000 enemies against a small group of 72 true followers. Was it not for Hussain’s stand against the tyrannical leader Yazid, Islam as a religion would have died a long time ago.
For a long time, this stand against injustice kept Muslims safe and well – until the rise of terrorist groups who use the name of Islam to spread their oppression. These groups started with attacking and killing the followers of Imam Hussain, the shias, but soon they didn’t look at the faith and aimed at Shias, Sunnis, Druze, Ahmadies, Christians, and any person who stood in their oppressive way.
Karbala and the day of Ashura can also teach us about unity. It wasn’t a story about this Islam vs that Islam, nor right vs wrong but it can be seen as Good vs Evil! This simple message is what united the group who joined Imam Hussain to sacrifice themselves.
Never Too Late to Repent
A beautiful story of repenting is through a man named Hur (Arabic word for ‘free man’), who was the leader of the enemy’s army of Yazid, and who decided to break free from his army and fight alongside Hussein when he realized the corrupt ways of Yazid. He was the first to be martyred.
There was John bin Huwai, an Ethiopian Christian who sought to join Imam Hussain in the name of good and not evil. John was an elderly man, but this didn’t stop him from fighting against the evil powers. This is just one example, but the army of Hussain consisted of his family, and friends, all of different races, cultures, and religions that stood hand in hand against an army of cruelty.
Have an open Mind
On the day of Ashura, Imam Hussain addressed Yazid’s troops: “O followers of Abu Sufyan! If you are not following the teachings of Islam, then as freemen, be independent of judgment. On what basis do you fight me now?”. This teaches us to have an open mind.
Supporting the truth
Imam Hussain announced: “Don’t you see that truth has been replaced by falsehood? We must be prepared to sacrifice everything that is precious in support of Truth!”
Truth is the essence of Islam and fortifies the values emphasized in the Holy Qur’an. Ali Akbar asked his father: “Are we not on the right path?” The Imam replied in the affirmative. Ali Akbar then said: “Then, it makes no difference if death comes to us or if we approach death.”
The value of women
Without Imam Hussain’s sister Zainab and the other women who participated in Karbala, the mission of Imam Hussain could not have been fulfilled. Although they did not physically fight on the actual day of Ashura, they had the most important part to play. They spread the message of what took place, what injustice’s they suffered and above all they raised awareness through public speech and word of mouth on the aim of Imam Hussain.
Any unbiased reader of the tragedy of Karbala would find it dumbfounding how clear the Imam was in his intentions and foresight about spreading this message for the rescue of human soul, and in other words rescue of humanity itself. Quite contrary to the trend associated with Islam phobia, the message of Karbala stands out in clear contradiction of extremism, barbarism and terrorism. Karbala preaches patience, and discretion even in war against enemies. The very recent trend of propagating a violent Islam, marked by beheadings, mutilations and terrorising people has nothing to do with the personality of people who practiced restraint even when they were on the receiving end of worst possible human rights violations.
Why did Imam Hussain take his whole family, which included children and women to Karbala?
In his own words he says:
“I have taken this stand not out of arrogance’ or pride, neither out of mischief or Injustice. I have risen to seek reform in the community of my Grandfather. I would like to bid good and forbid evil, and follow the tradition of my grandfather and my father ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib”.
With this the Imam made it crystal clear even before leaving home that this was a caravan for humanity. To give a jolt to the sleeping conscience of people who had morally slumbered. To give a simple message of not to keep shut in the face of oppression, he had to sacrifice himself and his whole family.
Imam Hussain and Karbala are not just a story for Shia Muslims, they are a story for humanity.
Prophet Muhammed: “As a result of the assassination of Hussain such a warmth will be kindled in the hearts of the believers that shall not become cold till the Day of Ressurection.”