Commemoration of Imam Husain's Martyrdom at Karbala - A Brief Introduction.
Karbala is the name of a place in Iraq associated with the great event of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain along with his seventy two and three days thirsty companions including his sons, brothers and other relatives, on the 10th of Muharram in the year 61AH.
Although it is an event but it is, in fact, the culmination of a chain of events leading to the event of Karbala. Without having a good understanding of that chain of events it is not possible to appreciate the real import and meaning of Karbala. Before coming to the chain of those events, it is significant to let the readers have the Islamic perspective of beliefs to help them mark the point of deviation involving these events which led to the martyrdom of Imam-e-Hussain(a.s)
Islamic Perspective of Religious Beliefs
God, Truth, Divine, Justice and Human Destiny or Human salvation have been the common subject matters of all religions. All religions claim to take humanity to the path of Truth. However they don't agree with each other. The question of Human Salvation remains still entangled with controversy. The Laws of Nature point to an Author of this Universe who’s Sovereign Authority has given the mandate to His creation and ordained its laws. Man is of the highest order in creation gifted with limitless potential to think, to reason to discover facts to formulate and invent new ideas of making headway into future. He can change the course of History. He can change the face of society. He can make or mar the world as he may choose because he has the autonomy of his will. To save his autonomy from becoming an autocracy, to save his 'self' from becoming an 'ego' a law is needed just as to save the order of nature from running into chaos, the laws of nature are indispensable. There has to be the law to hold mankind firmly on the axis of Truth and Justice. It makes little difference to call this law either a moral law or a spiritual law or call it a religion.
The main question is who is authorized to make this law? The answer to this question is naturally simple. The only authority entitled to make law for the human self is the one who has created 'human self' and accorded freedom to it by virtue of His knowledge and Wisdom. As the human free will is liable to be misguided into false philosophies, false vision and dangerous avenues of life the law must be perfect accurate and error free. It should not be speculative hypothetical and not troubled with doubt. Who can make such a law except the God who is Absolute in His Power, Knowledge and Wisdom?
Next to this main question is who will preach this law to mankind? Will it be God in human form as is believed by many? Associating anyone to God amounts to stripping him of his Absolute nature of being into a relative limited and confined into the outlines of a form made of physical dimensions, subject to the perception of senses, all contrary to the essence of His Absolute Uniqueness and Oneness. It would amount to lowering the Creator to the status of a creature. No philosophical arguments can justify this misadventure against the Absolutely Distinct Dignity of God.
In fact the sphere where the guidance of human thought and mind is most required is that of human belief about God.
Out of His Power, Knowledge and Wisdom, He has created the system of human guidance. In this system the human beings who have been created enlightened, educated and trained directly by God to make them infallible and error free to be able to serve as the Divine Guides on earth. They carry credential of their claim to be appointed by God for the sole purpose of educating and guiding mankind along the right path and lead them to right Destiny. These guides of necessity have to be sinless and infallible because no single person has the legal right to ask others to give up sinfulness. No fallible person has the legal right to ask others not to make errors. No liar has the legal right to ask others not to tell a lie. The Prophet sent by God has to be a human being but completely free from human weakness and perfectly equipped with human virtues.
All the Prophets and Messengers have been infallible (Masoom) by the Divine Code of Guidance. They were free from all sins. If any minor lapse could be traced in their conduct. It was the lapse of the degree of standard, not the outright lapse of a virtue, which were fit to be called a sin. This infallibility being the essential requirement in a Guide assigned by God to preach Moral Law to man cannot be compromised in Islam. The Prophets and Messengers have to be infallible, the Books revealed to them have to be infallible and error-free, the angels have to be infallible. As a matter of doctrine the whole structure of the Divine Guidance is based on the principle of infallibility. This is simply because if these intermediary links namely The Prophets, The Book and The Angels working between God and men are not infallible, the very act of submission to the Will of God (the essence of Islam) would then become meaningless. It would be the submission of the sinful to a sin-prone system, which is against Divine Justice. And the provision of Divine Justice is the soul of God's relationship with mankind. Therefore God cannot afford to let an unjust system obtain between Him and His creatures.
The Delicate Position of the Last Prophet
Of all the Prophets, the Last Prophet occupied the most delicate position as he had no Prophet to follow after him, nor was he to stay alive till the last day of human existence on earth to protect the Law from possible distortions. If distortions are made intentionally or unintentionally in the original content and form of the Law, who will protect it from getting it misrepresented or misinterpreted? If there were no arrangement made by God in advance to forestall such a situation the whole labour of the Prophet from Adam the first prophet down to the last Prophet, will be painfully and foolishly lost. The masses cannot be entrusted with this responsibility. Even the classes such as the close companions of the prophet cannot be officially entrusted this responsibility because in their knowledge and conduct they are prone to error and fallibility. It is only for God to produce such human beings whose minds are perfectly enlightened and whose hearts are perfectly fortified to face all afflictions in the cause of propagation of Truth and Justice. It is with this official responsibility of the Last Prophet that he was strictly commanded by God not to leave the earth unless he has announced the most trustworthy line of successors to him. The holy Prophet was infallible and no one but an infallible could occupy his place. The prophet left nothing to doubt that after him Ali would take the charge of Islam as he was qualified and competent in every respect to succeed the Prophet. He was declared the appointed leader of the Muslim nation as he was undisputedly the most knowledgeable, the most brave and steadfast to Justice the most conversant with the verses of Quran and the most expert in the theory and application of the Divine Law. He was publicly made the successor to the Prophet by the prophet as commanded by God in the huge gathering of hundred and twenty thousand Muslims at a place called Ghadir. This was made on their return from their pilgrimage along with prophet on the 18th of the Zul Hijja the last month of the Muslim calendar. The Prophet, having returned to Medina went to make this declaration documented in writing but he was simply not allowed to do so. This marked as the beginning of the split in Islamic Faith. The majority was skilfully overpowered by a few leading figures to strip Ali of his God-given right to guardian the Muslims after the Holy Prophet.
The Divine Guidance through the infallible line of the religious Guides was cut off from the majority which followed the rulers elected in a close-door election, the second ruler nominated by the first, the third ruler decided by a six-member advisory council constituted by the second caliph. Ali was the member of this committee but the vote went against him, as he was not willing to follow the conduct of the two previous rulers in addition to the conduct of the Prophet. This line of the rulers was passed on as the line of the Caliphs. The first three caliphs were styled as the rightly guided caliphs. The fourth was Muawiyah and he nominated his son Yazeed as the fifth caliph. It was this Yazeed who commanded Imam Hussain to pledge allegiance to him. Imam Hussain refused to do so. An ideological clash ensued. This was clash between the Divine authority and the human imperialism. This was a clash between the God-made leader and the manmade leader. This clash culminated into the event of Karbala the highest ever tragedy in the human history.
It will be in the fitness of things to closely observe the characters of Muawiyah and his son Yazeed to be able to understand how far the initial deviation can go down in religious corruption. The most corrupted fruit of this tree of deviation was Yazeed.
Only a few years after the death of the Prophet his foes began to infiltrate the Muslim government. Omar the second Caliph appointed Muawiyah the governor of Syria and Jordan. When Omar died Usman the third Caliph kept Muawiyah in his position. Muawiyah belonged to the clan of Bani Ummaiya. His father Abu Sufyan fought so many battles against Islam. At last he had no way to avenge himself except by infiltration himself into the Muslim community and damage Islam from within. With the passage of time Muawiyah became the ruler of the whole Muslim world. Under his regime the righteous Muslims were denied all natural rights, including the right to live. Hujr ibne Adi a very pious and distinguished Muslim was executed by Muawiyah for no reason
Other than being a sincere follower of Imam Ali and a critic of the unjust regime. He was asked to openly curse Ali whom he boldly denied and thus he along with his son and six other pious Muslims were massacred near Damascus. Thousands and thousands of innocent Muslims were executed in order to strengthen Muawiyah's hold on the Islamic State.
Muawiyah made his wicked son Yazeed his successor. Yazeed was extremely notorious and he reigned only for three years, but it was a nightmare for the Muslim World. The public wealth became the exclusive property of the Umayyad dynasty. Yazeed's motto was to jail on suspicion and kill on accusation. Ka'aba the Sacred House of God was demolished by his army. Yazeed's soldiers molested the women of Medina, the city of Mohammad, because the dwellers of this city revolted against his regime, the worst of Mohammed's enemies were now the leaders of his religion.
Hussain the grandson of Mohammad had to rise in order to deliver Islam from being misinterpreted as a religion of terror, injustice and royal pleasures. The burden of responsibility to fight for Truth and Justice rested on his shoulder. He fought it in a way, which caused a stir in the entire would of human thought and imagination for the first time to wonder that a tremendous power lies in Truth and Justice if handled by a true leader no less than Imam Hussain. He created an unbeatable history of human excellence in a variety of ways. This unique history is commonly referred to as 'Karbala".
A brief sketch of his martyrdom is given here for the independent judgement of the reader to find a parallel in history if they can of his martyrdom. The wisdom, the vision, the fortitude, the courage, the patience, the unity for purpose, the magnitude of hardship, the adherence to Truth and above all the serenity and composure of the heart and mind in the midst of utter adversity as witnessed in the event of "Karbala" is simply amazing.
Hussain is sought by the contemporary ruler Yazeed through the governor of Medina to pledge allegiance to him. In case of Hussain's refusal to do so, he must be beheaded and his head sent to yazeed.
Hussain replies, "The like of me can never pledge allegiance to the like of you". The governor of Medina, however, could not execute him as the brave and young members of his family unnerved his move to do so.
The very next morning Hussain leaves Medina along with his sons, kith and kin, his women and children for Mecca. He stays there for over four months and keeps making sermons to all the visitors to Mecca in this period and makes them aware of the crisis generated in an organised way in the Islamic faith, Islamic conduct and Islamic governance. He apprised them of the endeavour of the ruling powers to weaken the virtuous and strengthen the wicked. He told them how the worldly pleasures have enveloped the heart and mind of the affluent people and have eclipsed God's promise to reward the pains taken by following Truth and Justice. He told them how the material glory had got on the nerves of the majority under the influence of the royal family and how the awe of the King has displaced the awe of God.
On the main day of the big pilgrimage when the huge influx of the Muslims would pour into Mecca, Hussain started leaving Mecca having preformed only the smaller pilgrimage as he was informed of the danger to his life. The hired men had been sent with daggers hidden beneath their pilgrimage cloaks. Hussain disliked his blood to shed on the soil marked by God as the soil was for peace not for war and bloodshed.
From Kufa, the capital of Iraq, he had received numberless letters inviting him to come to Kufa and guide its people. In response to those letters, he had sent his cousin Muslim bin Aqeel to Kufa to assess the situation at Kufa. Muslim was welcomed by the people of Kufa as the emissary of Hussain. So he wrote to Hussain that Kufa was safe for him to come. On receipt of this assurance, Hussain set out for Kufa. On his way to Kufa, he was intercepted by an army of a thousand soldiers sent by the governor of Kufa to arrest and produce him in his royal court at Kufa. But the soldiers of the army including its commander Hur had gone thirsty to the point of dying for water. Hussain ordered his men to empty all their water bags for the thirsty human beings and for the thirsty horses and camels no matter even if they were his enemies. Their commander Hur, however, could not help feeling differently about Hussain because he had sacrificed even the share of his children’s water for the cause of saving the lives of his enemies. At last he dissociated himself from the army of Yazeed along with his son and apologized for his sin and became the most devoted and faithful companion of Hussain and laid his life after sacrificing his son and himself in Karbala.
On the 2nd of Moharrum 61A.H. Hussain reached the plain of Karbala where he asked his companions to mount down and pitch their tents as this was the plain chosen by God to see him martyred along with his sons, kith and kin and his companions. This was the plain where his women will be taken prisoners.
On the 4th of Moharrum, armies of Yazeed began to stream into Karbala and Imam Hussain was surrounded by huge contingents of armies. Hussain was asked to pitch off his tents from the bank of the river. A battle would have ensued but Hussain yielded and took away his tents far off the river Euphrates.
On the 7th of Moharrum, Hussain was denied the use of water from the river. His children endured pangs of thirst till the night of the 9th of Moharram. Yet Hussain kept on maintaining peace with utmost patience. He rather sent his brother Abbas to the commander of the Yazeed's army to ask to spare him one night as he wanted to say prayer throughout that night to his fill. And thus he let the army of Yazeed think over the issue who was on the right stand and who was on the wrong. The humming of the collective prayer of the men, women and children in the midst of the excruciating thirst melted the heart of Hur and he was sure of Hussain to be on Truth and so he became determined to leave Yazeed's army the following day.
On the 10th of Moharram at the outbreak of dawn, Hussain asked his son Ali Akbar to call Azan. Ali akbar was the true photo copy of the holy prophet and his voice was just as the voice of the Prophet. Hussain thus gave another occasion to his enemies to dwell as to who they are going to fight against. Hussain gave all possible chances for their enemies to avoid war. He even offered to leave the territory of Yazeed and settle with his people on another land. But no terms of peace were granted. Yazeed wanted him only to pledge allegiance or get beheaded. Now Hussain had no choice but to chose martyrdom and die with dignity rather than live with disgrace.
After the dawn had left and morning arrived, the Commander of Yazeed's army, Ibne Saad threw an arrow towards the men of Hussain calling upon his people to serve as witness that he battle was started by him. Then he commanded his army to crush Hussain's small army of 72 with a storm of arrows. Thirty men of Hussain side were killed in this attack. Now Hussain had full cause to fight them back so now he allowed his own commander to handle the battle. His commander Abbas was the bravest son of Hazrat Ali. He knew the art and had the nerve to make a small and thirst army fight the colossus army of Yazeed. He would send his soldiers one by one in the order sanctioned by Imam Hussain. Every single soldier of his army proved too brave to be resisted until hundreds among their fleeing soldiers would fall down the horse and get killed. Hussain’s soldiers would not come off his horse unless attacked from all around him.
The battle began early in the morning and continued till it was time for the noon prayer. Hussain sent his companion Habib bin Mazahir to ask them to halt fighting and let the prayer be said. Their reply was that Hussain's prayer was not acceptable. Habib stayed to give a befitting reply to them. The arrows kept raining on Hussain's men. Hussain asked two of his companions Saeed and Zuhair to come out in front of the row of men saving payer and stop the arrows on their chest till the Imam has led the prayer. They forthwith came forward and obeyed as they were commanded to do by the Imam. As the prayer was over the Imam came over to them, put their heads on his lap and said. "What a pain you have suffered in making your Imam lead the prayer!" They replied, "O Imam are you but pleased with us? Imam greeted them with his pleasure and they closed their eyes in his lap. Now again the battle started and Hussain's companions then his relatives and sons and brothers came to fight one by one. The battle pulled up to the time the sun had inclined towards the West. Hussain made his last sermon asking them to think of their fate in the life to come. His sermon had no effect on them. Then he raised his voice calling loudly, "Is there no one to support my cause?" He heard the crying of his women from their tents, so he went there to find the cause of this cry. Now coming to the tent he was told that in response to his call for support his six-month old baby had thrown himself off his cradle. He took the baby, covered with the end of his garment to protect him from the parching sun. With this baby he went over to a high mound in the battle-ground and stood in deep silence. People began to guess as to what might be under the cover of his garment, was it the Quran with which Hussain wanted to appeal for mercy? But as Hussain uncovered the baby it caused a ripple of wonder. Hussain now began to address the enemies, "This is my son still on breast feeding, but his mother's mild has gone dry and he is too thirsty to live any longer, please be so kind as to give him some water" There was no reply, Hussain said, "If you fear that I shall partake of that water, I lay him on the ground, do come and quench with your own hands." Still there was no response. Hussain said, "Considering that I am the grandson of the Prophet and this child is the great grandson of the Prophet give him water". Still there was no response. Hussain said, "Considering that you are Arabs famous for respecting your guests and I am your guest as you have called upon me to come to you in your letters, do give a little water to the child. Again there was no response. Hussain said "Considering that I am a human being and this is the child of a human being dying of thirst, do give him water and save his life." Still there was no response. Then Hussain lifted the child up on his lap and said to him, "May son, now no one trust my words now you tell them by showing your tongue that you are thirsty. Upon this the child getting the hint from his father turned his face to the army and took out his tiny tongue and began to roll it on his dry lips. This caused a stir in the army and the soldiers could not help rushing to the river to get water for the child. This made their commander panicky and he shouted, "Where is the Hurmula?" Hurmula the famous archer appeared before him. The commander ordered him, "Cut off the worlds of Hussain!" Hurmula knew what the commander wanted him to do. He took out the arrow of three blades and aimed at the child and let go off his bow. The arrow pierced the tender and tiny neck of the child and went past his ear and got into the arm of Imam Hussain. Hussain sat down on earth and began to take off the arrow from the body of the child. He collected the blood trickling from the child's neck into his handful and raised it above towards the sky and invoked God, "O Lord this is the most innocent bloodshed in thy Path so preserve it for the Day of Judgement!" Now Hussain was reminded that he had brought this child from his mother with the promise to get him quenched and give him back to her. He was deeply worried how to inform that child's mother waiting for him. He covered the pierced neck of the child, covered him the end of garment and walked a few steps forward, then walked a few steps backward then again walked forward and came again backward. This he repeated seven times while saying: "I exist for Allah and to Him I return, I am satisfied with the verdict of Allah and submit to His Will". This voice of Hussain echoed in the air and alerted the women in their tents. They began to wonder if the child was not killed. Hussain reached near the tent and called out his daughter Sakina. She came at the doorstep of the tent followed by the mother. Hussain uncovered the martyred child and the sight was too unbearable for the child's mother and his sister as small as four years. Hussain soon buried the child behind the tent but he had no water to sprinkle on the child's grave, so he burst into tears and brought his weeping eyes over the grave which soaked his tears and got moist. Hussain now went into the tent to take leave of his sister, his daughter and his wife and other women to go to the battleground and fight until his martyrdom. It was really a difficult moment for the women especially for his sister Zainab and samll daughter Sakina to see him off to the battle field. Hussain came over to the battle field and gave his last and final sermon exhorting the soldiers to fear God and mind their return to God on the Day of Judgement. He further said,
"If some of you repent your sins and think that now it is too late for your sins to be forgiven, come to me, I am the "Baabul Hitta", "Baabu-ttuba", "Baabul Maghferah" (the gateway of pardon and atonement of sin). Come I am still ready to pray God to forgive you because still your sword is not dipped in the blood of a Hujja (a Prophet or an Imam)"
There was no impact to be seen on the people.
Then Hussain Said'
"I know that my sermons would not move your hearts as your bellies are full of the unlawful stuffs. Tell me what is my crime you are killing me for? Have I changed the text of the Holy Quran? Have I changed the Divine Law (Sharia)? Have I altered the religion? Have I taken any one's life that you are taking my life for life?
Is there any debt not yet paid by me? What is my fault, my crime? There was a silence for a few seconds. Then they said, "No you have done nothing of these things." Hussain then what is it you are killing me for. They replied "We are killing you in our spite and animosity against your father Ali" Then Hussain quoted The Prophet's Hadith in favour of Ali, "O Ali! The spite and animosity against you is either infidelity or hypocrisy"
Now Hussain pulled out his sword off the sheath and invoked God:
"O Lord, be my witness that my sword is not drawn against the Muslim but against the infidels and the hypocrites. And it is not drawn for shedding human blood but purely in defence of my life and Faith in the path of Truth and Justice."
He alerted the army to face his attack and he came down upon the army in a manner unseen and unimagined so far. No man so thirsty and so much wounded and with so heavy a load on his soul, could have fought so fiercely. He moved about in the midst of army like the wrath of God. At time he would fold up his sleeve catch hold of a soldier pull him off the horse and hurl him above. The army was in panic. The war reporter of the enemy has reported that the army was sure of killing Hussain within minutes and finishing the battle. He thought that the ocean of soldiers would engulf and suck in Hussain like a straw, but he says that it was not the army which had surrounded Hussain but it was Hussain who like a flash would be seen once on the right again on the left and again in the middle as if he had surrounded single handed the entire army. There was a loud cry among the fleeing soldiers of "Al Amaan" and "Al Hafeez" (Safety, Safety). Imam had chased off the army so far by the shear awe of his attack that he had time to stand alone in the battle ground. The commander fearing that Imam might not reach the river dirnk water and get added strength, commanded the army to surround him, Buy this time Hussain heard a voice calling upon him to put his sword in the sheath and get ready to return to His Lord. Hussain put back his sword in the sheath and the soldiers now closed up and encircled him with all kinds of weapons they had with them---the sword, the lance, the arrow, and those who had no weapons had gathered stone pieces in bags to throw at him. Hussain became the object of all kinds of attack at one and the sometime. Severally and profusely wounded by arrows he came down borne upon the arrows stuck into his body. He forced his body to be freed from the arrows and began to reach the place where he was supposed to lower his forehead in his last prostration to God. Having put his forehead in prostration, he prayed his Lord saying. "I have fulfilled my promise to you - so do fulfil yours". Shimr-e-Ziljaushan the assassin of Imam-e-Hussain came near with his dagger to severe Hussain's head lying in prostration. He put his dagger on the back of Hussain's head lying in prostration. He put his dagger on the back of Hussain's throat and severed his head. A voice was heard in the air reciting the verse of the holy
"O soul (which is) completely in rest and peace(even in utter torture and pain),come back thou to thy Lord, well pleased (thyself)and well pleasing unto Him"
(Quran, 89:27, 28)
The Achivement of Hussain's Martyrdom
>> The false face of Islam was exposed. The greatest enemies in the grab of Islam were those, who’s sole object was to change the Divine order into an imperial order. The true successors of the holy Prophet, the infallible Imams who were spiritually and morally at the same footing as the holy Prophet were appointed by God. They were an obstacle in the way of the worldly caliphs elected by political design, so their strategy required having their way cleared of these Imams. So the first Imam Hazrat Ali was usurped of his right to succeed the Prophet and finally he was murdered in mosque of Kufa in the 40th A.H. The second Imam Hasan was poisoned, and the third Imam Hussain was mercilessly killed along with his companions at Karbala. In fact the Ummayyad and the abbasid dynasties could never tolerate their existence so they did not sit at rest unless they got all but one Imam secretly poisoned. The histories of the Muslims are soaked in the blood of the prophet's holy progeny and the imperial throne of their rulers projected as caliphs had been set on the corpses of the Imams. The genuineness architectonic of Karbala exposed them all in an amazing manner.
Karbala established beyond doubt the reality and validity of "The Day of Judgement" as the inseparable supplement of the existence of God. When the unjust, unrighteous and the oppressors must be duly punished and the just and the virtuous rewarded.
Karbala established the fact that those killed in the path of Allah cannot be imagined as dead but they in fact are alive and receive their sustenance from God. Hussain's severed head was seen and heard reciting the verses of Quran.
>> Hussain showed the power of the belief in the oneness of God by producing a miraculous unity in the diversity of his people (diversity of age, colour, race, accent, etc.) in the midst of life-taking thirst and the magnitude of tortures. His men had many eyes but one vision, many feet but one step, many hearts but one beating and many minds but one judgement. History cannot produce a second Karbala in terms of courage, patience, perseverance, unity, wisdom and knowledge, Devotion to God and passion for laying life for the cause of Truth and Justice.
>> But the highest distinction and the noblest achievement of the Imam was the tranquillity and the utter piece at the core of his heart under the heaviest strain on his soul and copious wounds on his body. It was this poise in his consciousness with which he handled the challenge of "Karbala" and gave it the form and shape as desired by the
Supreme Lord. At the most tense of the moments when man is prone to reject the existence of God or curse his Mercy, he had the perfect faith and trust in the Justice and Mercy of God. The stability of his faith was never shaken even at the highest moments of the peril. The power of faith was never seen at such a height as was demonstrated by Hussain and his companions including his six months old baby together with his women and his four-year daughter who survived him and never bowed down by the imperial horror and terrorism.
For Shias the event of karbala is the mighty code in which the history of Truth with its Power and Beauty is congealed and preserved for the whole humanity to decode and unfold the secret of life and death, here and hereafter for all time to come.