Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) as the survivor of the Karbala tragedy and as the son and successor of the Prophet’s grandson, held aloft the torch of genuine Islamic teachings. Although a captive in the aftermath of the tragedy, even in the court of Yazid he made the mission of his martyred father echo to the horror of the tyrant who had tried to mislead the people. On returning to Medina, the 4th Imam carried the Jihad or striving in the path of God in his own unique way, through prayers and supplications, as well as grooming a select group of devotees, who in turn propagated the message of genuine Muhammadi Islam to the masses. This was indeed the conveyance of the martyred Imam’s famous call on the afternoon of Ashura after having lost all dear and near ones including the 6-month old infant, Ali Asghar.
What was Imam Husain’s call? He said: Hal min naserin yansarouni. It means: Is there anyone who will come to my assistance? Or, is there anyone to respond to my call for aid? It is said he repeated the call four times. The question that arises here is that: Whom was he calling out to? Surely he was not expecting anyone to come to his aid. Those who wanted to help him had already laid down their lives for the cause. He knew there was no one left. He knew that there was no other man of conscience in the enemy’s camp like Horr, who earlier that day had left Yazid’s army and come over to the Imam, knowing very well that only death in martyrdom was his fate. And yet, Imam Husain (AS) made sure that his call reverberated in all directions. Of course that call was a call to conscientious people of every generation in every land. It was a call even to us wherever we might be. It was a call for help; help against tyranny which in every age rears its ugly head to oppress justice, truth and morality. He was calling out to people of faith, who were still unborn. This was actually his battle cry for Jihad al-Akbar. He had already demonstrated that his objective had always been to create a spiritual awakening through the Islamic principles of amr bi'l-ma'ruf and nahi an'il-munkar, which means enjoining good and forbidding evil. Thus Imam Husain (AS) was calling out for continuation of this jihad at the individual, social and political levels. This was now left to Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) to convey this call of his father in his own unique way to the ummah, and he did it in the novel manner of commemorating the Majales-e Aza or the Mourning Ceremonies that had the desired impact on the society and carried the message of the Martyrs of Karbala far and wide.
Muslims, as well as conscientious non-Muslims have answered this call with the unique institution of Azadari, as is evident by the commemoration of the martyrs of Karbala even among the Hindus of India. M.K. Gandhi who led the struggle against British colonial rule in India has said that he was inspired by Imam Husain (AS) to launch his non-violent movement for independence. It means that with every tear that we shed for Imam Husain (AS) we pledge to resist the oppression of injustice, immorality, inequity and falsehood. Every time we raise our hand and bring it down on our chest in matam, we are saying: “Labbaik, Labbaik Ya Husain!”
For long the word Aza al-Husain (A.S.) has been exclusively used in connection with the remembrance ceremonies for the martyrs of Karbala. Azadari thus includes mourning congregations, lamentations, matam and all such actions which express the emotions of grief, anger and, above all, repulsion against what Yazid stood for. These emotions, however, remain futile and hypocritical unless accompanied by a will to reform both at the individual level and the community level. The term Majlis has both a grammatical meaning and a meaning which relates to Aza al-Husain.In its technical sense, a majlis is a meeting, a session or a gathering. According to narrations the first majlis on the tragedy to befall Imam Husain (AS) was recited before creation of the world and mankind itself in the celestial heavens, when it is said God the Almighty Creator assembled the souls of the Prophets and the virtuous, Whom Divine Providence had decided to give shape and form as human beings in the future, and informed the angels and the denizens of the heavens of the Great Tragedy that was to happen in the world of creation.
After the world came into existence and Adam was created and placed on earth, he along with the prophets of his progeny, were reminded of what the tragic martyrdom to befall grandson of the Last and Greatest Messenger, Prophet Mohammad (SAWA). Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus and several others around the face of the earth were informed by God of the tragedy of Karbala and wept. Following the birth of Imam Husain (AS), the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) on being reminded of the tragedy to befall his younger grandson, wept, and on being asked the reason for his weeping by his daughter, Fatema (peace upon her), informed of her of the future events. It was natural for the parents of the child, that is Imam Ali and Hazrat Fatema (peace upon them) to mourn, and when the grieved mother asked the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) as who will weep for her son when, she was informed that God would create a nations whose elders, youths, children, men and women, will commemorated forever the martyrdom of Imam Husain (A.S.), his children, and companions.
After the martyrdom, the first Majlis of Husain (A.S.) was recited in the market-place of Kufa by a lady from whose head her abaya had been ripped off, whose hopes and aspirations had been destroyed on the blood-drenched sands of Karbala but whose indomitable spirit stepped forward to free the Islamic values from the yoke of tyranny and oppression. She was the first one to answer the call of her brother Imam Husain (A.S.). Standing on her unsaddled camel, Zainab (peace on her) looked at the multitude that had come out to watch the arrival in the city of the womenfolk and children of the Prophet’s Household. As soon as people saw her, they were quiet. Looking straight at them, the daughter of Ali and Fatema (peace upon them), said: “Woe upon you O people of Kufa. Do you realise which piece of Mohammad's heart you have severed! Which pledge you have broken! Whose blood you have shed! Whose honour you have desecrated! It is not just Husain whose headless body lies unburied on the sands of Karbala. It is the heart of the Prophet. It is the very soul of Islam!”
The effect of her words was electrifying on the crowd and tears rolled down their eyes. They froze into silence, and even horses and camels stopped whinnying. A narrator says that he had never heard anyone deliver such a highly eloquent speech and it made him recall the matchless eloquence of her father Imam Ali (AS). After praising God and sending blessings on Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) and his infallible progeny, she reprimanded the Kufans for their weak faith and double crossing, questioning the reason for their tears now when it was because of their treachery the Ahl al-Bayt have suffered and the tears of the blessed household have never stopped flowing. She likened their tears to moonlight that falls on a grave but has no benefit for the buried corpse. She said, the Kufans because of their dubious traits invited Imam Husain (AS) and then deserted him to be tragically martyred, thereby earning for themselves divine wrath. “May your tears never stop,”she said in her highly eloquent speech likening the treacherous Kufans to a woman who after toiling to weave the thread undoes her endeavours herself. She reprimanded them for their sedition and sycophancy and said they resembled the grass that grows in unclean soil that even animals are unwilling to smell. She told them that their crime of inviting Imam Husain (AS), betraying him to the forces of Yazid and participating in the shedding of his innocent blood will remain till the Day of Resurrection as an ugly blot upon them, since they have badly hurt the soul of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). She warned the deceitful Kufans that if today blood has fallen from the sky because of the martyrdom of Imam Husain (AS), tomorrow they should be prepared for the more grievous punishment of afterlife. Hazrat Zainab (peace on her) would have continued this highly eloquent sermon of her if her nephew Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) had not stepped forward and requested her to have patience.
The first Majlis touched and moved the people of Kufa so deeply as to give rise to both the movement of the Tawwabin or the Penitents, and subsequently the quest of avenging the blood of Imam Husain (A.S.) by Mukhtar ibn Abi Obaid al-Saqafi, whose uprising attracted not just the people of Iraq, but also Iranians, and it is said that a group came to Kufa even from far off India. Mukhtar managed to inflict heavy defeats on the Omayyad and brought to justice most of the main culprits who carried out the heinous crime against the Prophet's family, especially the chief ones, such Obaidollah ibn Ziyad, Khouli, Ibn Anas, Hormala and last but not the least, Omar ibn Sa'd despite the fact that he was his sister's husband. Mukhtar was on the verge of wiping out the Omayyad dynasty, but for the treachery of the Abdullah bin Zubayr.