Rafed English

History of the Shrine of Imam Husayn(A.S.)

Unlike any other city, Karbala has its named engraved in the memory of generations, and in the expanse of the Muslim world...

Believers remember that name with sorrow and distress, for they remember the history of the master of all martyrs, Imam Husayn, peace be upon him, and his sacrifice for Islam.

The wave of visitors never stopped coming to Karbala, from the time the Umayyad and Abbaside caliphs prevented the construction of the shrines to the time the believers were able to build the precinct, despite the hardships and difficulties imposed on them.

And today, since Karbala is witnessing new calamities, and the mausoleums of Imam Husayn [a] and his companions are subjected to destruction and neglect, and visitors are prevented from reaching that place, it is suitable to familiarise ourselves with Karbala...

Two main roads lead the visitor to Karbala. One is from the Iraqi capital Baghdad, through Al-Musails, and the other is from the holy city of Najaf. However, either one excites the visitor with its greenish scenery along the sides.

Upon reaching Karbala, the holy place would draw the visitor's attention to its glorious minarets and domes shining due to the light of its lord.

At the city's entrance, the visitor finds a row of houses decorated with wooden columns, and while proceeding further towards the holy mausoleum, he sees architechture similar, to some extent, to modern ones.

Upon reaching the holy shrine, one finds himself in front of a boundary wall that surrounds wooden gates covered with glass decorations, and when one enters one of those gates, he enters a precinct surrounded by small rooms called "I wans".

The holy grave is located in the middle of the precinct, surrounded by square shaped structures called "Rawaq".

The grave itself is located in the middle of the grave site with golden windows around it, with beautiful illumination. It really is something great to see.

"Karbala" Origin & Meaning

There are many opinions among different investigators, as to the origin of the word "Karbala".
Some have pointed out that "Karbala" has a connection to the "Karbalato" language, while others attempt to derive the meaning of word "Karbala" by analysing its spelling and language. They conclude that it originates from the Arabic word "Kar Babel" which was a group of ancient Babylonian villages that included Nainawa, Al-Ghadiriyya, Karbella, Al-Nawaweess, and Al-Heer. This last name is today known as Al-Hair and is where Imam Husayn's [a] grave is located.

The investigator Yaqut al-Hamawy had pointed out that the meaning of "Karbala" could have several explanations, one of which is that the place where Imam Husayn [a] was killed is made of soft earth - "Al-Karbalat".

Other writers made the connection between the name and the disastrous event which painted the desert with blood, and so the word "Karbala" was said to compose of two Arabic words: "Karb" meaning grief and sorrow, and "Balaa" meaning affliction. Such a connection, in fact, has no scientific evidence, since Karbala was known as such even before the arrival of Imam Husayn, peace be upon him.

Martyrdom and Popularity

Karbala was at first an uninhabited place and did not witness any construction activity, although it was rich in water and its soil fertile.

Following the tenth of Muharram 61 AH (680 AD), after the martyrdom of Imam Husayn [a], people from far as well as tribes living nearby started visiting the holy grave.

A lot of those who came, stayed behind and/or asked their relatives to bury them there after their demise.

Despite many attempts by successive rulers, such as Al-Rashid and Al-Mutawakkil, to put a restriction on the development of this area, it has nonetheless spread with time to become a city.

Bounty of visiting Imam Husayn [a]

There is a lot of benefit and great spiritual reward in visiting the grave of Imam Husayn [a]. The Prophet [s] has said of his grandson Imam Husayn [a]: "Husayn is of me and I am of him". Several narrations mention that visiting the grave of Imam Husayn [a] relieves one of worldly afflictions as well as those after death.

Believers, therefore, come from all parts of the world all year round to receive the honour of visiting Imam Husayn [a], particularly during the first ten days of Muharram (Ashura) and the twentieth of Safar (the fourtieth).

One common Iraqi custom during that season is to go walking from Najaf to Karbala, reflecting their strong adhesion to and adoption of the morals and principles for which Imam Husayn [a] struggled and attained martyrdom.

Mausoleum of Imam Husayn(A.S.)

The historian Ibn Kuluwayh mentioned that those who buried Imam Husayn [a], made a special and rigid construction with signs above the grave.

Higher and bigger constructions above the grave started during the ruling of Al-Saffah, but Harun al-Rashid later on, put heavy restrictions to prevent people from visiting the grave.

At the time of Al-Mamun, construction around the grave resumed until the year 236 AH when Al-Mutawakkil ordered the destruction and digging of the grave, and then filling the pit with water. His son, who succeeded him, allowed people to visit the grave site, and since then building the precinct to the grave increased and developed step by step.

On the other hand, the historian Ibn Al-Athir, stated that in the year 371 AH, Aadod Al-Dawla Al-Boowayhi became the first to largely lay the foundations for large scale construction, and generously decorated the place. He also built houses and markets around the precinct, and surrounded Karbala with a high boundary wall turning it into a strong castle.

In the year 407 AH, the precinct caught fire due to the dropping of two large candles on the wooden decorations, but Hasan ibn Fadl (the state minister) rebuilt the damaged sections.

History has recorded the names of several rulers who shared the honour of widening, decorating or keeping the precinct in good condition. Amongst them is Fateh Ali al-Qajari, who in 1250 AH ordered the construction of two domes. One over Imam Husayn's [a] grave and the other over his brother Abu al-Fadl Abbas [a].

The first dome is 27 meters high and completely covered with gold. At the bottom, it is surrounded with 12 windows, each of which is about 1.25 m away from the other, from the inside, and 1.30 m from the outside.

The mausoleum has an area of 59 m / 75 m with ten gates, and about 65 rooms (I wans), well decorated from the inside and outside, used as classrooms for studying.

As for the grave itself, in the middle of the precinct, it is called the "Rawda" or garden and it has several doors. The most famous one is called "Al-Qibla" or "Bab al-Dhahab". When it is entered, one can see the tomb of Habib ibn Madhahir al-Asadi, to the right hand side. Habib was a friend and companion of Imam Husayn [a] since their childhood. He was one of those who was honoured with martrdom at the Battle of Karbala.

The resting place of Abbas b. Ali (A.S.)

Abu al-Fadl Abbas, peace be upon him, was the brother of Imam Hasan [a] and Imam Husayn [a] and the standard-bearer of Imam Husayn [a] in the Battle of Karbala. He is well known in history for his valour, loyalty and similarity to his father, the Lion of God, Ali b. Abi Talib, peace be upon him.
The grave of Abbas [a] received similar attention as that of Imam Husayn [a].

In the year 1032 AH, the King Tahmaseb ordered the decoration of the grave's dome. He built a window on the 'darih' around the grave and organized the precinct. Other similar activities were done by other rulers.

As a matter of fact, Karbala contains, besides the grave of Imam Husayn [a] and his brother, the grave of all the 72 martyrs of Karbala. They were buried in a mass grave which was then covered with soil to the ground level. This mass grave is at the foot of Imam Husayn's [a] grave. In particular, besides Imam Husayn's grave are the graves of his two sons Ali Akbar and 6-month old Ali Asgher.

Mullah Bashir Rahim

Part I: Evolution of Dhakiri

The term ‘Dhakiri’ (dh-aa-ki-ree), whatever its dictionary meaning or etymological derivation, has always been understood to relate to the remembrance of the tragedy of Kerbala in 61 A.H. With all its cultural variations and linguistics differences it has a central religious content. This is essentially to hold mourning ceremonies for the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (A.S.) and his companions as well as the brutal and inhuman manner in which the survivors of the house-hold of the Holy Prophet (SAWA) were taken prisoners, paraded through the cities of Iraq and Syria and finally brought before Yezid, the architect of the carnage and unparalleled atrocities.

Today we find these mourning ceremonies are held by our Shiah brothers and sisters in every continent. However small a community, with the advent of the months of Muharram and Safar the community leaders look for dhakirs to help the members in their aza-e-Hussain. The tragic tale remains the same. There is nonetheless a growing vigour amongst the participants in the aza. The hearts cry out "Ya Hussain!", the tears flow uncontrollably at the very mention of the name of a martyr. The audience may have heard it all hundreds of time, and yet the sorrow and grief never seem to abate.

To a dispassionate observer all this may seem to be incomprehensible. Yet he can not but appreciate the underlying strength of character, the devotion of the participants to their Imam and his followers and the determination of the traders, industrialists, working men and women and the youths constituting the community to preserve their identity as Shiahs. This is our resource. This is our strength. This is our dormant volcano which can unleash the lava of spirituality to enlighten not only the Muslim ummah but also the entire mankind. Sadly they remain as yet not fully exploited. In this paper I propose to suggest ways and means of how best we can tap this vast energy within aza-e-Hussain for the betterment of the community.

Let me make it clear. None of my suggestions is original. Some of them I have heard many a times from our ‘ulama. Mulla Asger has also on many occasions discussed them from minbar as well as at those meetings which I have had the privilege to attend. I would, therefore, request you take this paper as a collation of what I have heard and read.

The first majlis-e-Hussain was recited in the market-place of Kufa by a lady from whose head her veil had been ripped off, whose hopes and aspirations had been destroyed on the blood-drenched sands of Kerbala but whose indomitable spirit stepped forward to free the Islamic values from the yoke of tyranny and oppression. Standing on her unsaddled camel, she looked at the multitude rejoicing the victory of Yezid. As soon as people saw her, they were quiet. They knew that a historic moment for Kufa had arrived. Looking straight at them, the daughter of Ali said:

"Woe upon you O people of Kufa. Do you realise which piece of Muhammad’s heart you have severed! Which pledge you have broken! Whose blood you have shed! Whose honour you have desecrated! It is not just Hussain whose headless body lies unburied on the sands of Kerbala. It is the heart of the Holy Prophet. It is the very soul of Islam!"

The first majlis touched and moved the people of Kufa so deeply as to give rise to both the Tawwabun movement and al-Mukhtar’s quest for vengeance.

When the news of tragedy reached Medina in the third week of Muharram there was such intense weeping and wailing from the homes of Banu Hashim that the very walls of masjidun-nabawi began to tremble. Zainab, Umme Luqman, the daughter of Aqeel ibne Abi Talib came out screaming: "What will you say when the Prophet asks you: "What have you, the last ummah, done with my offspring and my family after I left them? Some of them are prisoners and some of them lie killed, stained with blood. What sort of ajr-e-risaalah is this that you disobey me by oppressing my children ?"
Fatimah Binte Huzaam, also known as Ummul Baneen, carried her young grandson Ubaidullah ibne Abbas and prepared to go out. When asked where she was going, she said that she was taking the orphan of Abbas to offer condolences to the mother of Hussain.

Marwan ibne Hakam reports that every afternoon men and women would gather at Jannat-ul-Baqee and there would be remembrance of the tragedy of Kerbala and the weeping and wailing could be heard miles away.

When the prisoners were finally freed by Yezid, Bibi Zainab asked for an opportunity to have rites of remembrance in Damascus. A house was made available to them and aza-e-Hussain went on for over a week. Bibi Zainab (A.S.) laid the foundation of aza-e-Hussain in the very capital of his murderer!

On their return to Madina, Bibi Zainab (A.S.) took over the leadership of aza-e-Hussain in the city of the Holy Prophet. This aroused such strong emotions in the people and such revulsion against the oppressor that Amr ibne Said ibne al-Aas wrote to Yezid to have Bibi Zainab exiled from Madina. This was done in the beginning of 62 A.H. Bibi Zainab (A.S.) died shortly afterwards.
We have no record of public orations by our Imams about the tragedy of Kerbala. We have, however, several ahadeeth about the merits of participating in the mourning ceremonies. In this connection we must remember that the regime was hostile to the shiahs and was anxious to cover up the tragedy of Kerbala.

Imam Zainul Abideen (A.S.) is reported to have said:

"When a believer’s eyes shed tears for the death of al-Hussain until they flow over his cheeks, Allah will provide for him rooms in Paradise which he will inhabit for a long time. When a believer’s eyes shed tears until they flow over his cheeks because of the atrocities inflicted upon us by our enemies in this world, Allah will provide him with a true abode in paradise." Ibn Qawlawayah p. 103
Imam Muhammad Baqir (A.S.) issued a directive which gave a definite form to the keeping of the memory of Imam Hussain (A.S.) alive. He recommended that for those believers for whom it was possible and convenient they should go for the ziyarah of the grave of Imam Hussain. For those for whom it was not possible or convenient, they should gather together and hold mourning ceremony and weep.

Ibn Qawlawayah p. 104

There is also the following tradition reported from the fifth Imam:

May Allah have mercy on a man who meets with another in order to remember our situation. There will be an angel with them who will seek forgiveness for them…………..If you gather together and occupy yourselves in remembering us, then our memory will be kept alive in your meetings and remembrances. The best of people after us are those who remember our situation and urge others to remember us.

Ibn Qawlawayah p. 174/5

It is reported that al-Fudhayl Ibne Yasaar came to pay his respects to the Imam Ja’far Sadiq (A.S.)
After the exchange of usual courtesies, Imam asked al-Fudhayl: "Do you people ever organise majaalis to recall the martyrdom of Imam Hussain?" Al-Fudhayl, with tears pouring down his eyes, replied: "Yabna Rasulillah, indeed we do." The Imam said: "May Allah bless you. I highly approve of such majaalis."

On another occasion, the poet Ja’far ibne Iffaan recited to our Imam al-Sadiq a poem on the tragedy of Kerbala. The Imam began to weep uncontrollably. He then addressed the poet in the following terms:

"O Iffaan, do not think that it is only those whom you can see here are listening to your poetry. In fact Allah’s closest angels are present here at this majlis and they are all listening to your recitation and they too lament and weep. May Allah bless you for what you have recited. He will, inshallah, reward you with paradise for your efforts on our behalf."

It must be borne in mind that the Arabs mostly expressed their emotion through poetry. Poetry thus became the medium of describing the horrors of the tragedy of Kerbala, the cause of Imam Hussain and the atrocities which the ahlul-bayt were made to endure. There are today extant several poems which the poets recited in presence of our holy Imams and as such can be regarded as having been approved by them both as to form and substance.

The only historical account in prose that was written not long after the massacre of Kerbala was that of Abi Mikhnaf. His account is relied upon both by Tabari and Shaykh Mufeed (A.R.). Many other accounts were written and published after the ghaybah. The most well known amongst these are the Aamali by Shaykh Suduq (A.R.) and the great work of Allamah Majlisi (A.R.), the Bihar-ul-Anwaar.
While we have evidence of many eminent fuqaha and muhadditheen lecturing to their students on the various aspects of Kerbala, we can not assert with any confidence that they delivered public lectures on the subject. It is, however, authoritatively reported that Shaykh Allamah Majlisi and Shaykh Shushtari, whenever they spoke, whether to the students or in the public, they would end their lecture with a brief reference to the masa’ib of Imam Hussain.

It is possible that during this early period, whenever the circumstances permitted, dhakirs began to appear and occupy the minabir to acquaint the people with the tragedy of Kerbala and the cause of Imam Hussain (A.S.). Poetry must always have played a part in the rendition of masa’ib. I recollect that in my childhood during the masa’ib the account would be interspersed with short poems, which were known as bandh.

Part II: Philosophy of Dhakiri

Aza-e-Hussain is a force that can be mobilised to take the community to the pinnacle of spiritual enrichment. The people who can make us attain this objective are our dhakirs. They have the undivided attention of their audience during the months of Muharram and Safar. The audience is there willing and waiting to surrender their emotions to the words of the dhakir. This also prepares them to listen to and imbibe the account of the cause of Imam Hussain (A.S.), the basic values of Islam and what is expected of them as good Muslims. They would be willing to be placed in the ‘discomfort zone’ by some home truths from the dhakir, so long as the dhakir does not go into personal attack of any person or group.

We must never lose sight of the fact that we have only two institutions to impart knowledge of Islamic precepts, ethics, the basic values and to deal with social and other problems confronting the community. One is the madressa and the other is the majaalis. For the adults and the youths no longer in the madaaris they have only one forum for spiritual enlightenment. This is the majaalis.
There may be dhakirs who may feel that in order for the masa’ib at the end to have the maximum impact they should not disturb the community’s personal equilibrium by transporting them to a discomfort zone. For this reason some of us prefer to devote the earlier part of the majlis by narration of munazirah or fadhail, often employing linguistic acrobatics, talking much, saying very little of any use to anyone.

In October 1984 the Irani magazine al-Tawheed published an editorial which was an eye opener to me. In my opinion it encapsulates the entire philosophy of dhakiri. For this reason I feel I must share excerpts from that editorial with you. Please forgive me for subjecting you to such a long quotation:

"Mourning ceremonies," writes the editor, "are held by Muslims throughout Muharram and Safar, and in gatherings which are called `Majaalis', elegies are recited and sermons are delivered from the minbar in which the sufferings undergone by al-Imam al-Hussain, the members of his household and his companions are narrated. For the Shiah sect, the majlis and the sermons delivered therein are the primary source of religious education for the children, the illiterate and even educated adults.
"However, with the general decline and deterioration in the Muslim Ummah, of which the Shiah community is a part, the great educational potential of the majlis has slowly eroded, to the extent that not only the great educational purpose that lies behind mourning for al-Imam al-Hussain has been forgotten, the majlis has become a platform for intensification of sectarian animosities and propagation of misconceived beliefs that conflict with the spirit of the Islamic faith.

"The lamentable ignorance of the masses and the deplorable negligence or absence of the sense of duty on the part of many dhakirs have converted most majlis into mere sources of nourishment of sectarian conceits and delusions. "Shi’aism, which implies a voluntary and aware choice to shoulder greater responsibility as member of the Ummah and devoted obedience to the wajib al-'ita`ah (i.e. those whose obedience is obligatory) Imams of the Household of the Prophet (A), its meaning has gradually degenerated into a mere emotional attachment for the Ahl al-Bayt (A), devoid of any sense of ethical or social responsibility for the present-day condition of Islam and Muslims.
We, the self-declared Shiah of al-Hussain ibn `Ali (A), should pause and meditate at the answer given by him to a man who proclaimed to the Imam, "O son of the Prophet, I am one of your. Shiah." A1-Hussain ibn `Ali (A) said to him:

Fear God, and do not make such a claim that God, the Almighty, should say to you, "You lied insolently by making this claim." Indeed our Shiah is one whose heart is free from every kind of deception, adulteration, hatred, malice, and corruption. If you are not such then say, "I am one of your admirers and supporters."

"Whereas the Holy Book calls the believers to emulate the Prophet (S) as the most sublime model of humankind, "You have a good example in God's Messenger for whosoever hopes for God and the Last Day, and remembers God oft. (33:21)

"The dhakir struggles to project the Prophet (S} and the Imams (A) as supernatural beings to be admired and extolled, not to be imitated and obeyed. He strives to drive home the point that the Qur'an is understandable only for God or the Holy Prophet (S) or the Imams (A), a book of sacred and abstruse meanings opaque to human understanding, a book so holy that it is impertinent even to try to understand it.

"The Qur'an and the ahadeeth lay great emphasis on the duty of al-'amr bil ma’ruf wa al-nahy `an al-munkar, and it is recognised as one of the most important duties of Muslims in general and the ‘ulama in particular. Unfortunately this duty is discretely shunned by the dhakir who is averse to disturb the complacence of his audience and to venture to guide them at the cost of his own popularity. The strategy of connivance, though full of perils in the Hereafter, yields immediate returns.

"The present situation in the Muslim world is no better than the conditions that prevailed during the later decades of the life of al-Hussain ibn Ali (A). All hallmarks of the Islamic culture have been washed away in the deluge of modern paganism. The greater part of the Muslim world is under direct or indirect domination of non-Muslims. The sad signs described in a prediction of al-Imam `Ali (A) have already come true:

A time will come when nothing will remain of the Qur'an except its script, and nothing of Islam except its name. The mosques in those days will be flourishing with regard to architecture, but desolate with regard to guidance. Those staying in them and those visiting them will be the worst of all on the earth. From them mischief will spring up and towards them all wrong will turn. If anyone isolates himself from it (mischief) they will fling him back towards it, and if anyone hesitates, they will push him towards it....

"In such conditions how can any discourse about the great struggle of al-Hussain ibn `Ali (A) be unaccompanied with a discussion of the lamentable condition of the Muslim Ummah? Is it not the height of callousness and even hypocrisy to pass by in silence the aims and ideals for which he took a stand against the regime of Yezid and sacrificed everything?

"Is it not the very extreme of injustice to deprive the Muslim children and adults of the great potential of the majaalis which are held in the memory of Imam Hussain? Is it right not to use the great devotion of the Muslim masses to the Ahl al-Bayt (A) and their great enthusiasm and zeal during the months of Muharram and Safar-a time when the hearts are softened by the stupendous tragedy of Kerbala' to receive the teachings of the martyrs who sacrificed their lives with al-Imam al-Hussain-to inform and educate our children and adults about the ahkam of the shariah and the Akhlaq of the Ahl al-Bayt (A)?

"The Shiahs have admired `Ali and his sons(A), their leaders and guides, for centuries, and wept over accounts of their sufferings. Is it not time that we should start following them in deed, in all walks of our life? After all they are our Imams, our leaders and our teachers, who underwent those sufferings and hardships in order to instruct us and guide us on the Straight Path of Allah? Should we not question our sincerity if we persist in our refusal to be benefited by their efforts to improve our lot, to purify our souls and to guide our intellects?

"The majlis should inform and instruct. It should inspire and enlighten. Like al-Hussain ibn `Ali (A), his dhakir, who occupies the minbar of the Ahl al-Bayt (A), should aim at resurrecting the spirit of Islam and the message of the Qur'an.

"Only when our majaalis become classes for dissemination of the teachings of the Ahl al-Bayt (A) which lie buried in hadith texts, only when our majaalis become platforms of Muslim unity instead of being instruments of division and disunity, only when our majaalis and minabir become the seats of the duty of al-'amr bil ma’ruf wa al-nahy `an al-munkar, only when the Qur'an is made again the book of our life and the light of our majaalis, only then can it be said that our majaalis and minabir are doing justice to al-Imam al-Hussain (A) and to the people whom the majaalis were originally instituted to nourish spiritually, morally, and intellectually."
Al-Tawheed Vol II: 1

Fourteen years have passed since that very painfully frank and poignant editorial was written and published. Sadly in most cases it is as applicable today as it was then. The community is torn by strife, self-interest, dissension and indiscipline. This situation must change. Only we the dhakirs can bring about that change.

Every dhakir must fully appreciate the fact that he sits on the minbar to continue the struggle of Imam Hussain and to endeavour and accomplish the cause of the great martyr. In order to fully comprehend this function we need to briefly examine the history.

From the day he left Madinah on the 28th Rajab in 60 Hijrah, at every stage, our Imam made his mission clear. He left no doubt as to his intentions. It was not to fight Yezid to get the throne of the empire over which the khalifah ruled. Imam’s mission was to reawaken the spirit of Islam and rekindle the Islamic conscience which was nearing extinction by the conduct of Muawiyah and Yezid. Justice and morality were gradually being destroyed by the greed for land and power of those who had become rulers. Qur'an insists that distinction can be accorded by piety alone. Since the death of the Holy Prophet a social order had come into existence creating an aristocracy based on nepotism and blood relationship.

Let us look at some of the statements by Imam Hussain. Before leaving Madinah Imam Hussain made a will and handed it over to his brother Muhammad Hanafiya. In this will Imam wrote: "My mission is to reform the muslim community which I propose to do by AMR BIL MA'RUF AND NAHYA ANIL MUNKAR, inviting them to the good and advising them against evil. It is not my intention to set myself as an insolent or arrogant tyrant or a mischief maker".

In Mecca Imam addressed a large group of scholars who had come for pilgrimage. He exhorted them to do amr bil ma'ruf and nahya anil munkar and not to pander to the philosophies of the rulers who paid them to keep away from truth. This was a long and powerful speech reminding the scholars of their duty to inculcate Islamic conscience and not to mislead the masses who trusted them.

The sole cause for which Imam Hussain set out from Madinah was to perform his duty to do amr bil ma'ruf and nahya anil munkar to the ummah which had not only apathetically accepted the evil that had been flowing from the court in Damascus but, sadly, begun to emulate it. The inevitable consequence of this would have been a total destruction of all Islamic values.

In a letter which he addressed to the people of Kufa Imam wrote: "An Imam is one who judges by the Holy Qur'an, upholds justice, professes the religion of truth and dedicates himself to obeying Allah and His Prophet."

When Hur and his army stopped Imam caravan from going to Kufa, and Hur told Imam that his order from ibne Ziyad was to ask Imam for Bai'at to Yezid, Imam refused to declare Bai'at to someone who was only serving his own ends and not of Islam. Hur said that such an attitude might cost Imam his life. Imam replied: "Are you threatening me with death? Death is many thousands of times better than the dishonour of Bai'at to an enemy of Islam. Do you not see that truth is not being practised and falsehood is not being prevented? I see death as a blessing and life with tyrants as the most disgusting state one can be in."

Imam addressed Yezid’s army and concluded his speech with these immortal words: "My parents did not raise me to submit myself to an evil tyrant. I am your Imam and it is my duty to tell you that you have surrendered the freedom of your mind to the evil ways of Yezid. If you do not care for Islam, and do not fear the day of judgement, at least do care for that precious gift from Allah, the freedom of your spirit!"

And then, realising that there was none amongst the enemy who was prepared to heed to his advice, he climbs a sand dune and cries out: "Who is there who would help us?" Was our Imam crying out for someone to come and help him in his plight or assist him in the battle against the forces ranged against him? There was no one left. Hur had come over and laid down his life. Even infant Asghar had been killed. Who was then our Imam calling out to? He was calling out to the future generations to continue his frustrated cause of doing amr bil ma'ruf and nahya anil munkar.

When a dhakir sits on the minbar he must remember that he has assumed the responsibility to help the holy Imam in his cause.

I would like here to make a respectful suggestion. We the dhakirs should during the months of Muharram and Safar repeatedly remind our audience that aza-e-Hussain is not a mere ritual. It is a commitment to Imam Hussain (A.S.). A commitment by each one of us, men and women, young and old, to uphold the values of Islam and to subordinate our hearts to the wishes of Imam Hussain. Aza is our way of responding to his call of ‘hal minnasireen yansuroona’ and we shall be miserably failing in our response if we treated this most important institution as a mere ritual. The responsibility lies with us, the dhakirs, and if we fail to discharge this responsibility we shall be answerable to Allah SWT.

I seek your indulgence to make two final points.

Firstly, every dhakir owes it to the minbar to cultivate and safeguard his credibility through his conduct, speech and behaviour.

Secondly the community must recognise that if the important institution of majaalis is to survive for the coming generations, especially here in the West, the reputation of the dhakirs should not be assailed in public, especially in front of one’s children. This could create disillusionment not only with the dhakir but also with the institution of majaalis

The Fast of 'Ashura

Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi

Some traditions are found in Sunni books to the effect that the Prophet (s.a.w.) on migrating to Medina found the Jews fasting on the 10th of Muharram. He asked them why, and was told: "It is an auspicious day; it is the day when God delivered the children of Israel from their enemy (i.e. Pharaoh); and, therefore, Moses fasted on that day." The Prophet (s.a.w.) said, "I am worthier of Moses than you are." Thereupon, he fasted on that day and ordered (the Muslims) to fast.

1. al-Sahih of al-Bukhari, Vol.3; Egypt ed.; p.54

2. Mishkatul-Masabih; Delhi ed.; 1307 A.H.; p.l72
It is noted by the commentator of Mishkatul-Masabih that "it was in the second year, because in the first year the Prophet had arrived at Medina after 'Ashura, in Rabi'ul-awwal."

How much importance was this fast supposed to have may be judged from another tradition narrated in al-Sahih of. al-Bukhari: "The Prophet (s.a.w.) ordered a man from the (tribe of) Aslam: Announce to the people that whoever has eaten should fast the rest of the day, and whoever has not eaten should fast (the whole day), because today is the 'Ashura (10th day of Muharram)."

That very year the fast of Ramadan was ordained and the obligation to fast on 'Ashura was abrogated, as has been claimed in other traditions narrated in the same book. Still, reportedly, it carries much importance as a voluntary fast.

Now let us look closely at these traditions:

First: The Jews had their own calendar and months. There is no logic in saying that they fasted on the 10th of Muharram - unless it could be proved that this date always coincided with a Jewish day of fast.

It was mentioned in my article, "Martyrdom of Imam Husayn and the Muslim and the Jewish Calendars" (Alserat, Vol.VI, No's 3 & 4; Muharram 1401 Nov.1980) that the first month of the Jews (Abib, later named Nisan) coincided with Rajab of the Arabs. W.O.E.Oesterley and Theodore H.Robinson have written that in Arabia "the most important of all the new-moon festivals was that which fell in the month of Ragab (sic), equivalent to the Hebrew month 'Abib, for this was the time when the ancient Arabs celebrated the Spring festival." (Hebrew Religion; S.P.C.K., London; 1955; p.128)

Probably, in ancient times the two branches of Abraham's house followed the same system of intercalating an additional month 7 times in a cycle of 19 years. And in this way the 7th Jewish month, Tishri I, coincided with Muharram. And the 'Ashura of Muharram synchronized with 10th of Tishri I, the Jewish Day of Atonement - a day of fast. In that article, it was observed that the two calendars lost their synchronization when Islam, in the 9th year of hijra, disallowed intercalation. But on deeper consideration it transpired that that parity was lost long before the advent of Islam, because the Arabs did not follow any mathematical calculation in their intercalation. That was why the Muharram of the 2nd year of Hijra began on 5th July, 623 C.E. (Al-Munjid, 21st ed.), months before Tishri I (which always coincides with September-October).

Clearly, 'Ashura of Muharram in that year (or, for that matter, during the Prophet's whole life at Medina) had no significance whatsoever for the Jews.
The question is: Why did they fast on that day?

Second: The Jewish Midrashic literature relates the 10th day of the 7th month (Yom Hakippurim - Day of Atonement) to the event of bringing the tablets of the Covenant from Mount Sinai, as Dr. Mishael Maswari-Caspi has written in his letter, quoted in my previous article, mentioned above.
The question is: If the Jews had wanted to keep the long-lost synchronization of Tishri I and Muharram in view, how was it that they forgot to narrate this tradition to the Prophet?

Third: The month in which God delivered the Israelites from Pharaoh was Abib (i.e. Rajab), as the Bible clearly says: "Observe the month of Abib, and keep the passover unto the Lord thy God: for in the month of Abib the Lord thy God brought thee forth out of Egypt by night." (Deut., 16:1)
The question is: How could the Jews transfer an event of Abib (originally coinciding with Rajab) to Muharram, in open defiance of their Torah?

And lastly here is a point to ponder for the Muslims: The Prophet (s.a.w.) was sent with a religion to abrogate all previous religions and shari'ah. How was it that he deigned to imitate the custom of the Jews?

It is clear from above-mentioned facts that the Jews had no reason at all to fast on 'Ashura of Muharram at that period; and this story, built on that premise, is just that - a fiction. Obviously, it was invented by a narrator who only knew that once upon a time Muharram coincided with the Jews' Tishri I; but was totally unaware of contemporary Jewish religion and culture.

One feels constrained to mention here that this and other such traditions were forged by camp-followers of the Umayyads, after the martyrdom of Imam Husayn, as a part of their campaign to turn the 10th of Muharram into a day of rejoicing. These traditions are of the same genre as those which say that it was on the 10th of Muharram that Noah's ark rested on Mount Arafat, the fire became cool and safe for Abraham, and Jesus ascended to the heaven. In the same category came the traditions exhorting the Muslims to treat 'Ashura as a festival of joy, and to store one's food-grain on this very day as it would increase one's sustenance and bring the blessings of Allah to the household.

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