What Muharram and Ashura mean to me

Ashura procession

Nazim Ali explains the importance of Ashura to Shia Muslims.

It’s the month of Muharram and Ashura is upon us. The day when the Prophet’s family was tortured, kept thirsty and then butchered on the plains of Karbala in 61 AH, just fifty years after the Prophet died.

The words of Imam Hussein, the beloved grandson of the prophet ring out clear: “How can a man like me give bayah to a man like him?” referring to Yazid ibn Muawiyyah, the then caliph, the man who ordered the killing of Imam Hussein.

So why is it that 1,400 years after the event Shia Muslims remember this event with more and more fervour and what is it in the message of Imam Hussein that encourages his followers to carry on spreading his message whilst facing death slaughter, especially in Iraq and Pakistan?

Consider this, as Muslims we know about the shaheeds of Badr, of Uhud, and the first shaheeds in Islam, Sumayah and Yassir. Yet truth be told, apart from reverence we don’t shed any tears or gather together as a community to remember them, even though the Prophet did shed tears on their demise.

Hazrat Omar and Hazrat Othman were also murdered yet many Sunni and Shia cannot even recall when.

Imam Hussein

So why Imam Hussein? And why since the time of Bannu Umayyah has his martyrdom been deliberately hidden, and why was his grave ransacked and demolished countless times by the Umayyads and Abbasids in times past? Why are the takfeeris hell bent on demolishing his sister’s shrine, Lady Zeinab, in Damascus and have sworn to demolish Imam Hussein’s grave too? And why was Ashura celebrated as a day of happiness in the times of the Umayyads and Abbasids?

Let me repeat, this is the grandson of the holy Prophet, the prince of the youth in Paradise! God just doesn’t hand out titles for no reason. Have we ever spent time to investigate the merits of Imam Hussein and of Imam Hassan for that matter? How many of their sayings do we know?

Imam Hussein was killed in Karbala
Imam Hussein was killed in Karbala

People ask so why do you cry?

Have you ever read the account of Karbala? According to Tahir Al Qadri , a renowned Sunni scholar, it is highly recommended to cry on the death of Hussein and his loved ones, as he proves from the sunnah of the Prophet. This is not a Shia or Sunni thing. Hussein belongs to all of mankind!

But tears alone are not enough. What is as important is to extract his message – the stand of ultimate truth against ultimate falsehood. According to many historians and philosophers – Muslim and non Muslim – Islam only survived because of Hussein’s sacrifice. The Islamic revolution in Iran was inspired 100% by the mourning rituals of Ashura, which transposed the message of “death with dignity is better than life of humiliation”, a saying of Imam Hussein.

All the Islamic books of history have written about the events of Karbala especially Tabari.

What led up to a man like Yazid coming into power? Who appointed him? Who gave bayah to a tyrant?

Prophet’s family

We owe it to the Prophet himself to investigate why his family was butchered just 50 years after his passing away! And it didn’t end there, the women folk of the Ahlul Bayt were paraded, chained, pelted with stones and dragged in front of Yazid. Do you know who Zeinab bint Ali is? Do you know what she said to Yazid as he played with the head of Imam Hussein with his cane?

Imam Hussein said that: “My companions were the best of all companions”. Let us learn about the Christian Wahab, let us learn about the black servant John.

Brothers and sisters, by all means don’t beat your chests, don’t go to a Shia centre, don’t even befriend a Shia, and consider me a kafir for all I care, but at least spend time learning what happened and create the love of Hussein in your hearts.

This is the Sunnah of the Prophet (saw) – to love his family. Through the love of Hussein we will learn what Islam truly stands for and I chose my words carefully. This was not just Hussein who was martyred this was the Prophet himself being martyred in Karbala. Did not the Prophet say Hussein is from me and I am from Hussein? They are both intertwined, inseparable.

Hussein is the rope of Allah he refers to in the Quran. Let us all hold onto him and be not divided, and stand up against injustice and tyranny, be it in Palestine, Kashmir, against Muslim or non Muslim.

Muharram and Ashura is a time to reflect, take stock and see if we are walking in the footsteps of Imam Hussein. The lectures we attend, the majalis, create introspection, create love and create brotherhood.

And the tears? They come from the heart, a Sunnah of the Prophet (saw), when he prophesised Hussein’s martyrdom.

Labaik Ya Hussain!

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