Middle East

Lessons from the Martyrdom of Hussein

Shiite Muslim men flagellate themselves during a Muharram procession ahead of the Ashura festival in Dhaka, Bangladesh, on Dec. 17, 2010. (Photo: Andrew Biraj, Reuters)

Whether it is the English Calendar or calendars adopted by different religions of the world, the beginning of most of them is welcomed with joy and happiness. But unfortunately, the first month of the Islamic year, the month of Muharram, brings to life the black episode of Karbala, which not only became the first act of religious terrorism in the world, but also put forward an example of sacrifice for truth, symbolized by the determination of Hazrat Imam Hussein. Like every year, the Muslim world observes the martyrdom of this grandson of Prophet Mohammad (SA) and son of Hazrat Ali and Bibi Fatima, which took place more than 1331 years ago.

This is a day of gloom for the Muslims, particularly the Shiites. Requiems are held and people hurt themselves with swords and knife chains and walk on fire, just to mourn the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussein and his family. Food and drinks are freely distributed among the poor to remember the three-day hunger and thirst of Hussein.

According to Islamic history, in 680 AD, Yazid, the king of Shaam (present day Syria), asked Hussein for his recognition as a Muslim king, since at that time, Hussein was the lone legitimate inheritor of the Prophet's legacy, i.e. Islam. Yazid was a cruel, raffish, characterless and destructive-minded despot. Hussein didn't want to recognize a despicable person like Yazid as the king. Shaam is said to be one of the most powerful kingdoms of those times. Initially, Yazid sent his messengers and ambassadors many a times to convince Hussein to provide him recognition as an Islamic ruler. But Hussein refused to get impressed by Yazid's allurements and his big army. Hussein wanted to foster true spiritual Islam. He was worried that posterity would talk of how the heir of the Prophet degraded Islam by handing over its reins to a characterless person like Yazid. Rather, he wanted that Islam should be presented to the world in its original, pristine form. He wanted to tell the world that Islam is a religion, whose true believers never bow down to tyranny, oppression, mendacity, cruelty and fear. Hussein used to say, "It's better to die respectfully rather than living a life of notoriety."

After being rejected, the furious Yazid decided to go on with war against Hussein. Yazid wanted to kill Hussein in Medina. But in order to avoid bloodshed in this holy city, Hussein decided to leave for Karbala (in today's Iraq), along with his 72 family members and colleagues. Before starting, he made known to his companions that there is every possibility that they would be killed by Yazid's humongous army. Hence, every person in his group was not only a true and dedicated Muslim, but also a savior of Islam and a real jihadi. On the second day of Muharram, Hazrat Hussein reached Karbala and camped on the bank of River Furaat (Euphrates). On the seventh day of Muharram, Yazid's army removed them from the riverbank. It is said that the summer season was on and heat was at its peak in that desert area. In such a condition, Hussein and his companions were denied food and water for the next three days. At last, on the 10th day, known as Youm-e-Ashura, all the males of the group were martyred by Yazid's troops one after another. Those killed by Yazid's men included Hussein's brother Hazrat Abbas, his 18-year-old son Ali Akbar and six-month-old innocent son Ali Asghar. According to the folklore, Hazrat Hussein himself went to the enemy to ask for water for the child. Instead of giving water, they killed Ali Asghar right there in Hussein's lap. Only Hussein's son, Zainulabideen, who was ill at that time, remained alive, and later on he was declared the heir of Hussein. After killing all the male members, including Hussein, on the evening of the 10th Muharram, all the female members and Zainulabideen were captured by Yazid's men. Their wrists were tied with ropes and they were publicly insulted on the way from Karbala to Kufa to Shaam. This black evening of the 10th Muharram is known as Shaam-e-Garibaan.

Shiites consider themselves the descendents of Hussein. But the martyrdom of Hussein shouldn't be seen as the legacy of any one sect or religion, particularly in today's scenario where once again terrorist forces are asserting themselves on Islam. The incident at Karbala inspires us to bravely combat and expose these terrorists. Not only Shiites or Muslims, but also modern-day intellectuals, historians and experts all have been influenced by this sacrifice at Karbala. In India, Mahatma Gandhi, Baba Saheb Ambedkar, Sarojini Naidu, Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru and others have paid their homage Hussein in one way or the other. Mahatma Gandhi's decision to take 72 people along with him during his famous anti-British Dandi March is said to be influenced by Hussein's group of 72 people. Even today, in different parts of India, a large number of non-Muslims pay homage to Hussein on this sad day. The sacrifice of Hussein and his colleagues is not only more relevant today than any other time in the history; this immortal story also reflects the Islamic principles in true form.