What Ashura and Imam Hussain mean to me

Ashura procession

Shia Muslim Nazim Ali gives his perspective on what the day of Ashura means to him.

The 10th of Muharram is a sombre occasion for Shia Muslims across the world as they recount and cry over the tragedy of what befell Imam Hussain, the Prophet’s beloved grandson, and the family of the Prophet on Ashura.

The Shias mourn in their particular way by chanting “Labaik Ya Hussain!” and the Sunnis acknowledge the day in their own way respectively.

The message of Karbala and Imam Hussain is as relevant now as it was 1,400 years ago when the tragedy took place. Imam Hussain’s immortal words directed at Yazeed bin Muawiyyah – “A man like me can never give bayah to a man like you” – have deep meanings which challenge the Muslim conscience globally. Are we like Hussain or are we like Yazeed? Are we following the path of truth and justice at any cost or are we siding with those for whom truth and justice has no worth or is an excuse to commit oppression and spread mischief in the world?

It’s true that the Kufans abandoned Imam Hussain by reneging on their promises to the Imam and they stood back as his cousin and emissary Muslim bin Aqeel was left abandoned in Kufah and was then murdered by Ibn Ziyad.

But here’s a question: How many times have we abandoned the truth for fear of loss of this or loss of that? How many times have we made excuses for not standing with truth and justice even though we can see it black and white? And whilst we err, we see no contradiction in then offering our prayers and fasts, just like the army of Yazeed did after murdering the beloved of the Prophet (saw).

Today’s Yazeed – Israel

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Rachel Corrie and Tom Hurndall, may their souls rest in eternal peace, were murdered by the Israelis even though they were not Muslims. I don’t know if they even believed in God, but they had a fundamental belief in standing up for truth and justice even if it cost their lives.

It reminds me of the story of Wahab ibn Kalbi, a shaheed of Kerbala who a few days just before he was killed was a Christian. His meeting with Imam Hussain left him touched to such an extent that he offered his life for the embodiment of truth. This inherent love for truth made him stand for justice against Yazeed, and in the case of Rachel and Tom, against the Yazeed of our time – the Israeli army.

Israel soldiers

The epic call which Imam Hussain gave whilst all alone in Karbala after his family members and companions had been butchered is one which people of conscience and the love of truth and justice answer daily. His call was: “Is there any one there to help me?”

Who was that call for? It was for you and for me and al humanity! Are we willing to stand up to the brutality of today’s Yazeeds? Are willing to raise our voices to expose the Yazeeds of today? Or will we be like those who promised so much, but when the time came, delivered only humiliation and shame upon themselves?

There are those amongst us who look like us, pray like us and fast like us and yet have sold their souls to today’s forces of Yazeed, be they Zionist, imperialist or colonialist in nature, for luxury in this world at the expense of truth and justice. No doubt all those (thankfully few) Muslims who support Zionist Israel are prime examples of today’s face of Yazeed.

We should contemplate and be honest about our relationship with Imam Hussain and all that he embodied – truth, justice, peace, harmony and love. Are we really willing to suffer for showing solidarity with truth and justice?

Sheikh Zakzaky, the imprisoned leader of the Islamic Movement in Nigeria with 15 million peaceful followers, once said: “In the eyes of Imam Hussain, Islam was worth him sacrificing all he had including his head. What do we think Islam is worth and what are we willing to sacrifice for truth and justice?” Sheikh Zakzaky himself has lost six of his sons to the Yazeedi Nigerian army, as well as over 1,500 men women and children.

We would do well to be honest with ourselves on this day of Ashura and contemplate. After all, did the Prophet (saw) not say that one hour of contemplation is better than one year of (voluntary) worship?

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