The message of the Book, the Holy Qur'an, which the Prophet Muhammad spoke of was carried out, propagated, and upheld by the immaculate Imams (peace be upon them), who are this same Itra whom the Prophet had referred to.
Amongst our beloved Saint Imams who were truly valiant heroes, we see the clearly illustrated actions of obedience and submission to the Book as evident in the characteristics of our third Imam, Hussain the son of Ali, the Commander of the Faithful (peace be upon them both). This is surely why the Prophet Muhammad, the greatest of Allah's creation, was regarded as saying "Hussain is from me, and I am from Hussain." Imam Hussain carried out his duties as a Muslim and a believer throughout his lifetime. And he followed in the footsteps of his grandfather, the Apostle of God, just as it encourages us to do in the Noble Qur'an on so many occasions.
Shaikh al-Mufid quotes in his Kitab al-Irshad a letter which Imam Hussain would write to the people of Kufa prior to him accepting their invitation and embarking toward Kufa, he identifies and distinguishes his duties as an Imam. In the closing of that letter, Imam Hussain states, "If he (Muslim the son of Aqeel) writes to me that the opinion of your leaders and of the men of wisdom and merit among you is united in the same way as the messengers who have come to me have described, and as I have read in your letters, I will come to you speedily, God willing. For by my life, what is the Imam except one who judges by the Book, one who upholds justice, one who professes the religion of truth, and one who dedicates himself to the essence of God."
Imam Hussain carried out these duties of an Imam for the pleasure of Allah, and as a result today, Muslims throughout the world – in Nigeria, Iran, the United Kingdom, the United States, Indonesia Australia, Colombia, and countless other countries, Muslims across the globe, be they in remote villages or huge cities – mourn and remember the tragic day of Ashura which marks the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and so many of his faithful companions and family.
The Effect of Ashura
The quintessential element of man's ability to reach proximity towards God is also one of the most unique and powerful instruments man possesses: the human heart. What feeling does one feel when he hears or sees tragedies occurring throughout the world? We see many of mankind join in unison on many occasions when they feel a tragedy has come upon others, whether it is incidents such as "Columbine High", "September 11th", the Katrina hurricane, or numerous innocent women and children being killed in Palestine or Iraq.
How heavy does one's heart feel when he is brought the news of the death of a relative or perhaps a dear family member? How much more pain does one express when they know that the death of this family member was resulted in a tragic or catastrophic manner?
When I think about the day of Ashura and the tragedy that occurred there, the grief is incomparable, and the tragedy itself seems unparalleled, to say the least.
It is extremely difficult to imagine the Holy Progeny of the prophet Muhammad on that blazing hot desert plane of Karbala not being allowed to have even a taste of water. How could anyone not give a young girl like Sakina or even a six-month-old infant like Ali Asghar a drop of water to drink? It breaks my heart to know that the innocent women and children were forced to suffer with their throats parched and dry on that scorching day.
I am devastated to know that 72 soldiers fought gallantly and courageously for the sake of Islam but were outnumbered and murdered by individuals who supported oppression and tyranny. I weep when I realize that the oppressive opposition was not infidels, rather Muslims. People who claimed to be Muslims and believers would murder true Muslims and believers like Ali Akbar who would go forth to defend Imam Hussain. What type of Muslims would fight against Aba Abdullah and spill the precious blood of the Prince of Martyrs upon the battlefield of Karbala? What type of human beings would behead and decapitate the beautiful head of the grandson of the Seal of the Prophets, Prophet Muhammad, and then trample and crush his body into the sands of Karbala?
For me, to say that I feel sorrow, sadness grief, heartache, pain and deep compassion would only be an understatement. For me to refer to this event as only a tragedy would be simply unfair and unjust. This event was much worse than a tragic misfortune, mass murder, manslaughter, or massacre. That which occurred on this day was so tremendous that narrations say the sky blackened on the day of Ashura, and the earth became such that people feared that the Day of Judgment and Resurrection had begun. Of course for many people that day when it does come, will be the Day of Regret. The Heavens and the Earth and the angels wept on the day of Ashura. Surely Muslims and believers throughout the world from that day on would continue to weep and mourn on the day of Ashura.
This is my inspiration to cry out "Ya Hussain!" and to cry and remember this tragedy. I can now understand why the Prophet cried when Imam Hussain was a mere young child. He looked at him and wept. Lady Fatima (peace be upon her) asked the Prophet, "O father, why are you crying?" He was saddened and replied to her, "Because one day he will die, and there will be nobody to bury the body of my grandson."
Our Imam, Our Duty Today
Indeed time changes our way of life. And we can all agree that society and people have changed in many aspects since the time of the prophet Muhammad until now in this day and age where we live. Some people have come up with the misgiving that Islam is not a modern religion or that it does not conform to modern times. Some people also have similar misgivings about the events of Ashura and Karbala. These individuals feel that the events of Karbala have no relevance or affect on us today.
One of the attributes of Allah the Most High is that he is Just. It would be outside of Allah's justice to place mankind on Earth with free will and without guides or guidelines to recognize what is right and wrong. This is why the Holy Qur'an is an everlasting guide for mankind (2:2). And this is why Allah revealed the Qur'an to the Prophet to teach and propagate the complete religion of Islam. He has also used the Imams as the guides for mankind after the Last Prophet.
Today in the absence of our present Imam, Imam Mahdi (may Allah hasten his reappearance), we still have many ways that we can implement this message of Islam, this message which Imam hussain sacrificed his life to carry out. We have many ways that we are affected today by the occurrence of the events of Ashura and Karbala.
It is ironic that history often repeats itself, as there will be several instances similar between Imam Hussain and Imam Mahdi's situations.
When Imam Mahdi comes, like Imam Hussain, he too will be deserted by many people, even some of his so-called followers. It is narrated in a Hadith in Mizanul Hikmah that when Imam Mahdi begins his uprising, some people who thought themselves to be his clan will desert Imam Mahdi, and some others who used to worship the sun and stars will join and follow him. We can see how on the battlefield of Karbala many people called themselves followers of Islam but in reality they were pretenders and hypocrites – the same ones who would betray the Quran and the Holy Progeny of Prophet Muhammad.
Imam Mahdi's soldiers will be few. In a tradition from Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (peace be upon him), it is stated that he will have 313 close followers. Imam Hussain had a reported 72 soldiers.
Another common facet is the patience of these two Imams. Imam Hussain awaited the end of the truce which Imam Hasan had with Muawiya before he began to make his open invitation towards true Islam and the Right Path. Imam Hussain was patient in waiting for the readiness and willingness of the people and their support – or claim to support. Imam Mahdi is still waiting. Scholars have given the glad tidings and have acknowledged that we are approaching the end of times. Thus, each Muslim and follower and lover of the Ahlul Bayt, now more than ever, regardless of their race, color, citizenship or nationality, becomes affected, and hence each Muslim must prepare for the arrival of the Imam of Our Time. The reality is that Imam Mahdi is not just waiting and twiddling his thumbs. Imam Mahdi is waiting for us. Not as individuals, but as one Ummah, one Muslim nation to coming together in unison for the pleasure of Allah and for the sake of Islam.
This starts with a practical goal. I have to willingly choose to implement these lessons which we learn from Imam Hussain. This means that I must willingly decide that I want to elevate my faith to be like that of the brave Prince of Martyrs Imam Hussain, that I must raise my own standards, that I must elevate from being a Muslim to being a Momin (a true believer) and Muttaqi (God-fearing).
As the famous saying goes, "Every day is Ashura and every land is Karbala." This means that Ashura is not simply one day during which we mourn for our beloved Imam Hussain and his family and companions; rather, it is a day which we must remember every single day throughout the year. If I am truly affected and touched by these incidents, then I must make an effort to not forget them. Unfortunately for many of us who mourn for Imam Hussain during the first ten days of Muharram or during the tragic day of Ashura or even during Arba'een, we don't always make the effort to remember that we too have a duty to prepare for the return of the Imam of Our Time.
As Allah says in the Holy Qur'an, he will not change the condition of a people until they change what is in their hearts (13:11).
Born in the United States, Shaikh Husayn El-Mekki Abdullah-Aziz moved at an early age with his parents to the seminary in Iran, where he studied Islamic jurisprudence, philosophy, and exegesis. He is a popular speaker among the youth in several Shia communities around North America.