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Contemplations on the Ashura Tragedy

"O Allah, exalted is Your station, great is Your power, and stupendous Your might! You have no need of the creatures, Your supremacy is all-embracing, and You have the power to do whatever You wish. Your mercy is near, Your promise is true, Your blessings are plenteous, and Your tests are beautiful…
"I call You in the hour of my need and beseech You in the moment of my destitution! … I turn to Your help in my weakness and put my trust in You as being sufficient for me.

"Judge between us and our people [with justice], for indeed they have dealt with us deceitfully and treacherously, forsaken us and betrayed us, and spilled our blood, though we are the progeny of Your Prophet and the offspring of Your beloved, Muhammad ibn Abdullah, whom You chose for Your apostleship and trusted with Your revelation…!"

The above passages are excerpts from the famous supplication recited on the day of his martyrdom in Karbala on the 10th of Muharram 61 AH (680 AD) by Imam Husain (AS).

Today, a millennium, three centuries and seventy years after history's most bloodcurdling tragedy the immortal saga of the grandson of the Seal of Divine Messengers, continues to be commemorated, not just in the land where he was treacherously martyred but all over the world wherever the devout followers of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) are found.

I use the term "devout followers", since devotion is the highest degree of love and affection for a person and his God-given position, coupled with practical adherence to his way of life and teachings (Sunnah/Sirah).

Moreover, without devotion, the mere claim to be a follower could be dubious, as is clear from the words of Imam Husain (AS) in the above supplication that he and the other members of the Prophet's family were the victims of the treachery and deceit – not of adherents of other creeds but of those styling themselves as Muslims.

It is an irony of Muslim history that Imam Husain (AS) – as a member of the immaculate Ahl al-Bayt whose spotless purity God has vouched in the Holy Qur'an (33:33), and decreed love and affection for them as token of a believer's gratitude to the Prophet for enlightening him/her with the message of Islam (42:23) – was slain on the orders of a person claiming to be the political heir of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).

Thus, although the Day of Ashura and the mourning ceremonies of Muharram and the subsequent month of Safar, might be expressions of devotional grief by the faithful and renewal of their allegiance to Imam Husain's (AS) ideals of justice and refusal to bow to tyranny, this annual commemoration definitely raises questions in the minds of conscientious non-Muslim observers.
They ask: How Yazid and the Omayyad regime climbed to the apex of power of the Islamic realm, since as late as 8 AH and the fall of Mecca (two years before the Prophet's departure from the world), Yazid's father Mua'wiyah, and grandfather, Abu Sufyan, were hardcore heathens, never missing an opportunity to strike at Islam and Muslims?

And if Omayyad rule was legitimate and as per the commandments of God in the Holy Qur'an and the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), what unpardonable offence had Imam Husain (AS) committed to deserve such a tragic death along with 18 other male members of the Prophet's family including his 6-month old infant son?

Both Muslims and non-Muslims ought to ponder on these questions. If the verdict is in favour of the righteousness of the stand of Imam Husain (AS) and against Yazid and his Omayyad hordes, then they should be true to their conscience and probe in a diligently scientific manner as to what went wrong after the passing away of the Prophet that a tragedy of such a bestial magnitude occurred in Karbala, which did not even spare the womenfolk and children of the Prophet's Household from imprisonment.

A short newspaper column is not the place to delve into the dubious gathering of Saqifa Bani Sa'da while the Prophet's body lay unburied. Nor does time permit me to focus on the blasphemous attack by a mob of ruffians on the house of his daughter Fatema az-Zahra (SA) with threats to burn down the entire household – with the then small boys Imam Hasan (AS) and Imam Husain (AS) and their two sisters inside – if Imam Ali (AS) does not give oath of allegiance to the coup leaders in Medina.
To be frank and forthright, it were the neo-Muslim rulers of Medina, posing as caliphs or political heirs of the Prophet (despite the absence of any ayah of the Holy Qur'an or the Prophet's explicit instructions to support their claim), who gave Mua'wiyah the governorship of the vast province of Shaam – made up of today's Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine including the illegal entity called Israel.

In the subsequent years, Mua'wiyah, who is on record as saying that every time the Muezzin recites the Prophet's name in the Azan, he feels deep hatred deep down in his heart, came out into open armed rebellion against Imam Ali (AS). He next bribed and intimidated the Iraqis to betray Imam Hasan (AS) so as to seize the caliphate. Then in violation of the clauses of the treaty with the elder grandson of the Prophet, he nominated the libertine Yazid as his successor.

These are the bitter realities of Muslim history that climaxed at Karbala, where only the sacrifice on such a grand scale by the Prophet's younger grandson could salvage Islam. It ripped off the mask of hypocrisy from the face of Yazid, for the tyrant on seeing the head of Imam Husain (AS) in a tray before him, said he had avenged his heathen ancestors killed in the battles of Badr and Ohad, which his grandfather Abu Sufyan had imposed on the Prophet and Muslims.

Thus we understand what Imam Husain (AS) means and to whom he refers in his supplication to God when he speaks of the treachery, deceit and betrayal of the Ahl al-Bayt – undoubtedly right since the passing away of the Prophet. Ashura and the ziyarats we recite on this day have drawn the clearest line between truth and falsehood for the guidance of human societies.

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