The Month of Muharram has arrived, the first month of the Islamic calendar in which Muslims commemorate a true epic of human history. On the 10th of the Islamic month of Muharram, Imam Hussein (PBUH) fought the battle of Karbala. Unlike all the battles fought throughout history until this time, Imam Hussein did not fight to realize greedy desires or interests; in fact, he fought for the well-being of humanity.
Hussein is the grandson of Prophet Mohammad and the fifth Imam of the infallibles, who fought Yazid (the second Caliph of the Umayyad Caliphate), whose corruption caused Muslims many misfortunes.
Tears pour down cheeks, and grief fills the hearts of Hussein’s lovers and loyalists, and why is that? Not only because the waves and tides of strong human feelings are raised on the annual basis during the commemoration ceremonies for this great personality, but also because there was nothing in his movement but chaste religious devotion and humanistic qualities.
The event of Karbala marks the commitment of the Prophet’s grandson and his household to the teachings of God, teachings that serve justice and right, hence serve humanity. The littlest details of this event have been written and survived from the very first day by the eye witnesses.
For the last fourteen hundred centuries, the battle of Karbala has reflected the collision of the good versus the evil, the virtuous versus the wicked, and the right versus the wrong. It was a battle to fight a corrupt leadership, which like many leaderships at present, use power to satiate greedy desires.
The Imam of the time (Imam Hussein) and true representative of his grandfather Prophet Muhammad (Seal of Prophets) stood up against the tyrant of the time to safeguard and protect Islam and guide fellow Muslims.
Reading the words of this great man make one wonder… So sublime are the principles of this man, who fought for nothing but righteousness. Imam Hussein explains the mission of his sacrifice in his own words: “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, forbid evil, and follow the tradition of my grandfather (Prophet Mohammad) and my father Ali bin Abi Talib.”
Hussein was martyred on the 10th of Muharram, referred to as the day of “Ashura”. His 72 companions were martyred as well, while the women and children were taken captives. It sounds like a big loss, a painful and bloody experience, but in all the fields of life, there is no gain without pain. When the gain is a universal goal then it requires a courageous stance in the face of the corrupt.
Imam Hussein’s martyrdom is a lesson of the lofty principles of humility and sacrifice, and the real achievement was the objectives realized. Imam Hussein’s martyrdom as well as his companions’ sent a wave of resentment throughout the Muslim lands against the oppressive regime at the time.
It opened the eyes of the masses and awakened the public mind. Also, the great courage and outspoken criticism of the captives, particularly the sister of Imam Hussein named Zeinab, shook the masses out of their submission to oppression and tyranny.
Imam Hussein, his family and his companions set a sublime example of human resistance against oppression and injustice for all mankind. Imam Hussein (AS) not only saved Islam from deviation, distortion and corruption by corrupt leaderships, but he also revived the institution of martyrdom in a world of cowardly men who were willing to bear even the utmost disgrace and indignity for their fear of death and their egotism in this world. His words echo through the long distance of centuries.
On the sight of such sacrifice and altruism, many intellects and philosophers around the world were touched by the greatness of this man, understood the core of his mission, and grasped the essence of the school of Karbala.
Edward G. Brown, a professor of Arabic and oriental studies at the University of Cambridge, said a few words on the Master of Martyrs Hussein: “… a reminder of 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 kinsmen, has been at anytime since then sufficient to evoke, even in the most lukewarm and heedless, the deepest emotions, the most frantic grief, and an exaltation of spirit before which pain, danger and death shrink to unconsidered trifles,” reads page 227 of his book A Literary History of Persia.
72 of Imam’s kinsmen accompanied him, and all were slain in the land of Karbala to achieve righteousness. He not only gave himself up but everything possible in the way of God, including his few months old baby Ali Al Asghar, and with unyielding steadfastness.
Thomas Carlyle (Scottish historian and essayist) explains: “The best lesson which we get from the tragedy of Karbala is that Hussein and his companions were rigid believers in God. They illustrated that the numerical superiority does not count when it comes to the truth and the falsehood. The victory of Hussein, despite his minority, marvels me!”
Purely for Islam and the revival of God’s religion…Charles Dickens (English novelist) writes: “If Hussein had fought to quench his worldly desires…then I do not understand why his sister, wife, and children accompanied him. It stands to reason therefore, that he sacrificed purely for Islam.”
Young and old, women, men, children and infants… inseparable despite the hunger, thirst, heat, torture, and death they were subject to…still unyielding , and their hearts and souls aflame with righteousness chose death rather than evil and weakness. Such are the principles that feed and nurture the hearts of the Muslims who over the past 1400 years have been reviving the epic of Karbala.
There is a saying that “Every day is Karbala, and every day is Ashura”, yes indeed. Hussein fought for justice, freedom, truth and enlivening human merits. But these are the same concepts we live today, those that our ancestors lived earlier, and those that generations to come will live tomorrow, because these concepts never become obsolete, never!
According to the great poet Rabindranath Tagore, Hussein’s sacrifice indicates spiritual liberation. He writes: “In order to keep alive justice and truth, instead of an army or weapons, success can be achieved by sacrificing lives, exactly what Imam Hussein (A.S.) did.”
Dr. K. Sheldrake, on his part writes: “Of that gallant band, male and female knew that the enemy forces around were implacable, and were not only ready to fight, but to kill. Denied even water for the children, they remained parched under the burning sun and scorching sands, yet not one faltered for a moment. Hussein marched with his little company, not to glory, not to power of wealth, but to a supreme sacrifice, and every member bravely faced the greatest odds without flinching.”
A few words by Indian scholar and philosopher, Dr. Radha Krishnan say “Though Imam Hussein gave his life years ago, but his indestructible soul rules the hearts of people even today.”
Mahatma Gandhi (Indian political and spiritual leader) writes: “I learned from Hussein how to achieve victory while being oppressed.” He adds “My faith is that the progress of Islam does not depend on the use of sword by its believers, but the result of the supreme sacrifice of Hussein, the great saint.”
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Indian Scholar describes the altruism of this great personality saying “Imam Hussein’s (A.S.) sacrifice is for all groups and communities, an example of the path of righteousness.”
More on the sacrifice of Imam Hussein, Dr. Rajendra Prasad writes “The sacrifice of Imam Hussain (A) is not limited to one country, or nation, but it is the hereditary state of the brotherhood of all mankind.”
Sarojini Naidu, a great poet writes, “I congratulate Muslims that from among them, Hussein (A), a great human being was born, who is revered and honored totally by all communities”
Edward Gibbon (1737-1794), considered as the greatest British historian of his time, in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire writes “In a distant age and climate the tragic scene of the death of Hussein will awaken the sympathy of the coldest reader.”
Lessons provided by Imam Hussein are lessons for today, as the world lives hegemonic and colonial schemes, witnesses thousands and thousands of innocents die over wars of greed while only a few fight for virtue. Lebanese writer Antoine Bara in his book Husayn in Christian Ideology writes: “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 Hussein in the battle of Karbala.”
Ignaz Goldziher (1850-1921), a Hungarian scholar writes “Karbala symbolizes the true face of struggle against injustice – non-violent resistance. Not taking life but sacrificing your life for Islam.”
Muhammad Iqbal, poet and philosopher of Pakistan says: “Imam Hussein uprooted despotism forever till the Day of Resurrection. He watered the dry garden of freedom with the surging wave of his blood, and indeed he awakened the sleeping Muslim nation. If Imam Hussein had aimed at acquiring a worldly empire, he would not have traveled the way he did (from Medina to Karbala). Hussein weltered in blood and dust for the sake of truth. Verily he, therefore, became the bed-rock (foundation) of the Muslim creed.”
Such an everlasting victory can only be achieved by the one who enjoys a absolute faith in God the Almighty, by that, the “Right becomes the Might”. This is the true face of Imam Hussein’s steadfast conviction, a boundless school of a perpetual goal in the way of God, and for the sake of humanity.