Imam Husayn(AS), Ashura and the Epic of Karbala
Every year the religious calendar of the Muslims is marked by a particular commemoration, which although is not part of the religion itself, is of fundamental importance for Muslims in general and the lovers of the Ahl-ul-Bait(AS) (The Family of the Prophet) in particular.
The commemoration is centred on the remembrance of an historical event that took place in the year 680CE, equal to the year 61 of the Muslim era.
Prophet Mohammad(S) the last of God`s messengers sent to humanity, passed away in the 632CE after fulfilling his divine mission. He was sent, originally, to one of the most polytheistic people of that time, the Arabs.
In a relatively short time, he had transformed the idols worshippers Bedouins of the Arabian Desert, into people who worshiped the one and only God.
By the time he passed away, the majority of the people of Arabia had a monotheistic faith, just like the early Christians and the Jews before them.
Their entire ethical system was changed by Islam. People who lived in a barbaric manner were transformed by this man who brought a message of peace and devotion towards God.
Unfortunately, not all those who embraced Islam were sincere. Some of them had not given up their polytheistic vision of life.
Less than 30 years after the demise of Prophet Mohammad(S), those forces, who originally opposed his divine message, raised their ugly heads again. These were descendents of the old polytheist Mekkah aristocracy. They had conspired in silence to undo what the Prophet had done and to retake their positions of supremacy in the Arab society.
The ethical and spiritual teachings of the Prophet of Islam had been passed on to a new generation of Muslims. But their enemy had enormous financial resources.
These enemies knew that they could not destroy the new community with a frontal attack. Their strategy would be to work from within, undermining all the religious and divine teachings brought by Prophet Mohammad(S).
Mu`awiyya the unelected ruler, the self proclaimed caliph, took power by force around 661CE. A religious society requires that the ruler be similar to a prophet, pious and just. But Mu`awiyya was neither of the two.
The culmination of his rule come when he decided to appoint is son Yazid as ruler after his death. If Mu`awiyya was considered un-religious by the historians, his son Yazid was all together anti-religious.
In this situation, emerged the Grandson of Prophet Mohammad(S), Imam Husayn ibn Ali(AS) trained in the “school of the Prophet”, the school of spirituality, honesty, justice…. He possessed all that is good in the human character.
Imam Husayn(AS) was widely acknowledged by devoted Muslims to be the spiritual and temporal heir to Prophet Mohammad after his father Imam Ali(AS) and his brother Imam Hassan(AS).
However political circumstances were not favourable to him. Once in power Yazid, who had succeeded his father Mu`awiyya, demanded the oath of allegiance from the Grandson of the Prophet. This measure should would have silenced any opposition and given him legitimacy.
Imam Husayn(AS), who was entrusted to defend the divine principle of the religion of Islam, could not possibly accept to pay homage to Yazid and risk that the purity of the message brought by his Grandfather to humanity, be subverted forever.
He took a stand on the year 679CE and with a small caravan made up of family members and supporters left Arabia for Iraq where a larger number of supporters was waiting for him.
The Tragedy of Karbala
On the 10th (Ashura) day of the Islamic month of Muharram of the year 680CE the caravan of Imam Husayn(AS) which had been intercepted few days earlier and brought to a stop by a large army at a place called Karbala in Iraq, was attacked. From the military point of view the outcome was a forgone conclusion. The numeric superiority of the forces of the despotic Yazid were overwhelming.
Nevertheless Imam Husayn(AS) and his follower put up a valiant fight. Every able man was slaughtered, including the Grandson of the Prophet, Imam Husayn(AS). The surviving women and children were taken prisoner and dragged to the city of Damascus.
Every year, the heroic struggle of the members of this saintly caravan is retold, and new generations learn of how the Grandson of the Prophet stood against the oppressive tyrant Yazid. The brutality of the crime and the appalling conduct of the Yazid`s army shocked the Muslims. Within a few years many revolts took place under the slogan to avenge the blood of the Grandson of Prophet Mohammad(S). Finally Yazid and his dynasty were overthrown.
Why commemorate it every year?
Why commemorate any religious event?
In the history of humanity there have been individuals that have distinguished themselves for having stood firm in front of oppression and injustice. Their example has become like a flag which stands up for everyone to see and follow. They inspire other to resist in difficult situations. For the Muslims, Imam Husayn(AS) represents such an example.
Unfortunately in the today`s world, there is still suffering because of oppression, in whatever form. Every justice seeking person can understand why we Muslims are morally obliged to remember the struggle of Imam Husayn(AS). His blood has taught us to side with those who are oppressed and to be on the side of justice and to stand for the highest ethical and spiritual values, whatever the consequences.
Today like many generations before us we also keep alive the memory of Imam Husayn(AS) fulfilling a duty towards those who have given their life for the highest ideals: Justice for humanity under the banner of the religion of God.