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Rites of Remembrance for Imam Husayn(A.S.) by Ahlul Bayt

1. Introduction

There is no doubt that the atrocities committed at Karbala' reached their brutal climax with the death of al-Husayn as a martyr in the afternoon of 10th Muharram in the year 61. It led to the performance of funeral and remembrance rites by the surviving family at Karbala' and in the houses of the Hashimites in Medina and elsewhere. The savage execution of vengeance, as represented by taking the families of the martyrs into captivity, among them were the 'Alid women, by driving the column of prisoners from Karbala' to Kufa, and then from Kufa to Syria, and by accompanying them with the heads of the martyrs, carried on spears and hung round the necks of horse, including the head of Imam al-Husayn ... this savage execution of vengeance led to spontaneous funeral and remembrance rites being performed in the towns and among other groups of people, through which the procession of prisoners and heads passed, as the inhabitants gathered, whether drawn to find out about it by curiosity or drawn to meet it by earlier information about the nature of the procession which was coming. When the people met the procession of prisoners, words would be exchanged and some of the Holy Family would make speeches which would arouse great sorrow and cause much weeping.

2. The Funeral and Remembrance Rites of the Family

i. At Karbala

There is no doubt that Karbala' witnessed the first funeral and remembrance for al-Husayn which took place immediately after his martyrdom. These must have been rites which were predominantly of a family nature, made up of the women and young girls from the family of 'Ali, wives, daughters and sisters of Imam al-Husayn and the Hashimites from the Talibid part of the family, who had been martyred with him. In the nature of the situation, they would also have been joined by the wives of the martyrs who were not Hashimites.

However, the latter's numbers appear small in proportion to the number of 'Alid women. [1] We consider that these funeral and remembrance rites occupied a relatively long time. As far as we can estimate, they began after the death of al-Husayn as a martyr after mid-day on 10th Muharram, continued throughout the night and ended in a distressing way in the afternoon of 11th Muharram. That was when the leaders of the Umayyad army gave the orders for the long sad journey to Syria and prepared the camels to carry the prisoners.

The hearts of those grief-stricken women and girls must have been torn asunder with torment and distress. They were being told to depart and leave behind the bodies of their beloved and blessed dead which had been thrown on the sand without being buried.

'Umar ibn Sa'd had buried his own dead but he showed no concern about burying the martyrs. On the contrary, he ordered that the body of al-Husayn should be trampled on by horses' hooves. For this reason, we are inclined to accept the reports which tell of some of the soldiers and leaders in the Umayyad army using violence to separate some of the women from the bodies of their dead. Among these is the report about Sakina, daughter of Imam al-Husayn.

She had embraced the body of her father and would not leave it until a number of bedouin Arabs gathered round her and pulled her away from it.

[2] Indeed we are inclined to accept the general evidence for these kinds of reports because the nature of things seems to require the reality of what they tell. We consider that these funeral and remembrance rites were held, for the most part, in the open air on the field of battle (after the burning of the tents) [3] under the sun as it shone over them for the rest of 10th Muharram, then under the frail light of the stars of that night which was weighed down by the grief of those women whose hearts were overflowing with torment and distress.

The Hashimite women and the others must have been tormented with worry about the begrimed bodies of the martyrs in the sand as they mourned and wept for them. We think that the greatest mour- ning must have taken place around the body of al-Husayn. These were certainly funeral and remembrance rites which took place in the most degrading and distressing situation, from which rose the quivering keening of these women, far from home with their children. They were thirsty, hungry and terrified at the sight of their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers Iying dead.

ii. In Damascus

The hails of the palace of al-Khadra' in Syria witnessed the second occasion for the family's rites of remembrance. It would have been appropriate if Syria had witnessed general spontaneous rites of remembrance as occurred in Kufa when the party of prisoners arrived there. However, we only consider what took place in Syria to have been private family rites of remembrance. As we see it, there were no general rites of remembrance in Syria because of the difference in the relationship with the Holy Family between the Kufans and the Syrians.

The Kufans had lived side by side with Imam 'Ali and his sons for several years during the period when Imam 'Ali was the caliph in Kufa which was the capital of the state during his period in office. Later the leaders of Kufa had sent to Imam al-Husayn asking him to come and promising to give him support. On the other hand, the Syrians had no direct contact with the Holy Family. Perhaps, they were not aware of their existence as a result of the policy of isolation which Mu'awiya had imposed on them so that they should not be influenced by the culture of the Iraqis or anyone else in this matter. [4]

It seems that, at that time, the coming of the prisoners did not arouse any sadness in the hearts of the Syrian people, nor did the Syrians show any concern. Some of the sources, even, say that the occasion was made into a festival in Damascus, perhaps under the slogan that some of the enemies of the state from the Kharijites had been killed. Yet even though the coming of the column of prisoners and the heads to Syria did not arouse any rites of remembrance to fill the streets and public squares as had happened in Kufa, great rites of remembrance were held in the halls of the palaces of the caliphate in Damascus which were made up of women from the family of 'Ali and women of the Umayyad family.

iii. In Medina

Shaykh al-Mufid has reported in Irshad that Yazid ibn Muawiya despatched'Abd al-Malik ibn Abi al-Harith al-Sulami to Medina to take the news of the death of al-Husayn to his governor there. 'Abd al-Malik reported: 'When I went to 'Amr b. Sa'd, he asked, "What is your news?" "Something which will please the governor," I replied. "Al-Husayn ibn 'Ali has been killed." He ordered me to go out and announce the news of his death. I announced it and I have never heard such wailing of the Hashimites in the houses for al-Husayn ibn 'Ali when they heard the announcement of his death.'
There is no doubt that when the men and women of the Talibid family learnt of the end of al-Husayn and his family at Karbala ', they held rites of remembrance in their houses, in the streets and in the public squares as the reports suggest. Umm Luqman Zaynab bint 'Aqil ibn Abi Talib came out with her sister when she heard the news of the death of al-Husayn to weep for their dead on the Bank of the Euphrates. She was reciting: 'What will you say if the Prophet asks you: "What have you, the last umma, 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 reward to me is this after I had advised you, that you should oppose me by doing evil to my family?'

After the arrival of the news of the dreadful event in Medina, the Talibids began rites of remembrance which continued and reached their climax with the arrival of the sad party in Medina. There were rites of remembrance which were carried out by the men and there were rites of remembrance which were carried out by the women. The men and women of Medina must also have attended these rites of remembrance, consoling, indignant and showing how they shared with the Talibids in their painful tragedy. We consider that the rites of remembrance held by the men used to begin with expressions of condolence After that the stories of the battle and its circumstances would be told. These stories would be full of cries for vengeance against the Umayyads and their followers. History has preserved for us a picture of rites of remembrance held by men.

These were the rites of remembrance for 'Abd Allah ibn Ja'far. The rites of remembrance of the women would have been more heated and emotional as is the nature of the case. Some of them would have been held in the houses and some would have been held in the cemetery of al-Baqi'. The Medinan women would have attended these rites of remembrances Perhaps, even some of the men attended them as well, as may be deduced from some reports. In our view the rites of remembrance of the Talibid women would have included an account of the battle in emotional language and an explanation of the great virtues of the martyrs.

That would be permeated with a wailing kind of poetry. It may also have been accompanied by the beating of faee and breasts. We believe that the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn carried out by women have preserved their basic characteristics through the ages. No change worth mentioning has been introduced into them other than the language of the wailing kind of poetry and of the story of the battle. Certainly this language has changed insofar as it was classical and it has become colloquial or almost colloquial. History has preserved a picture of some of these family rites of remembrance held by the women: 'Umm Banin-and she is Fatima bint Hizam al-Kilabiyya, the mother of al-'Abbas and his brothers, Abd Allah, Ja'far and 'Uthman, who were killed with their brother, al-Husayn on the Day of 'Ashura'_used to go every day to the cemetery of al-Baqi', carrying ' Ubayd Allah, the child of her son, al-'Abbas.

She would mourn for her four sons with the deepest and most tormented grief. The people would gather and listen to her grieving. Marwan ibn al-Hakam used to come with those who came for that purpose and he would continue to listen to her grief as he wept.' [5] Then there were the rites of remembrance of al-Rabab, the wife of al-Husayn. However the greatest of the family rites of remembrance held by the women was undoubtedly the rites which Zaynab, daughter of 'Ali, held. They were solemn rites under the leadership of Zaynab.

These rites and the anti-Umayyad reactions they generated in Medina prompted the governor of Medina, 'Amr ibn Satld ibn al-'As to write to Yazid ibn Mu'awiya: 'The presence of Zaynab among the people of Medina is inflAminatory. She is eloquent, clever, intelligent. She and those with her are determined to take vengeance for the death of al-Husayn.' This led to her being taken away from Medina and sent to Egypt where she died on 14th Rajab in the year 62.

3. The General Rites of Remembrance which Occurred Spontaneously

We mean by the rites of remembrance which occurred spon- taneously, those gatherings which took place as the column of prisoners and heads passed through the towns and scattered groups of people on its journey from Karbala ' to Kufa, then to Syria, and from there to Medina where the greatest of the spontaneous rites of remembrance was held. In our view, these rites of remembrance took place in many of the places inhabited by people who recognised the postion of the Holy Family in Islam and had been Abie to get to know something of what had taken place at Karbala'.
We will mention here two outstanding examples of these rites of remembrance. They were the rites of remembrance which took place in Kufa while the prisoners were about to set out for Syria and those which took place in Medina at the end of the journey of the revolution after the return of the rest of the Prophet's family from Karbala'.

i. In Kufa

When the column of prisoners with the heads of the martyrs arrived in Kufa they were met by what could now be termed 'a popular reception'.

Throughout the weeks of tribulation Kufa had been living on its nerves. The beginning had been represented by Muslim ibn' Aqil with his extraordinary success and then his dreadful end. It had watched the army being despatched to Karbala'. It had suffered the pains and oppression of the martial law which dominated it during the weeks of tribulation. Now it had to come to see the result of the treachery by its leaders, the desertion by its inhabitants and the tyranny of its rulers.

Kufa met the women of the Prophet's family who expressed their bitterness and their misfortune in speeches which they addressed to the groups of people who had come to meet them. Imam Zayn al-'Abidin 'Ali ibn al-Husayn spoke to them in a similar way. The historians have described the effect which these speeches had on the people. They have mentioned the effect of the speech of Imam'Ali ibn al-Husayn: '... The voices of the people were raised in weeping from every side. Some were saying to others "You have been destroyed while you did not understand."'

As for the effect of the speech of Zaynab, they have reported: 'Someone who heard it said: "By God, I have never seen a diffident lady speak more eloquently than her. It was as if she had borrowed the tongue of the Commander of the faithful, 'Ali ibn Abi Talib. By God, she had not finished speaking before the people were in a turmoil of weeping. They became utterly distracted with grief and dropped whatever they were holding at the horror of this black tribulation."'

The historians report about the effect of Umm Kulthum's speech with the words: 'The people were in a turmoil of weeping and lamentation. The women loosened their hair and covered their faces with dust. They scratched their faces and struck their cheeks. They prayed for woe and destruction. The men wept. I have never seen more men and women weeping than I saw on that day.' Of the effect of the speech of the young Fatima, they said, '... A little before the end of her speech, the Kufans raised their voices in weeping and lamentation. They said: "Enough, O Daughter of the best of men. Our hearts have become enflamed and our bodies have been set on fire." So she fell silent.'

ii. In Medina

When the sad party of the Holy Family were approaching the hills of Medina, Imam Zayn al-'Abidin asked Bashir to go ahead into Medina to announce al-Husayn's death and tell the people of the arrival of the Holy Family. Bashir reported: 'I mounted my horse and galloped into Medina. When I reached the Mosque of the Prophet, I raised my voice and recited: "People of Medina, you have no replacement there now that al-Husayn has been killed. So weep profusely. His body was dyed red with blood at Karbala ' and his head was swung around on the shaft of a spear. Here is coming 'Ali ibn al-Husayn with his aunts and sisters. They have reached your suburbs and have stopped there. I am his messenger to you to tell you where he is."'

Medina already knew about what had happened at Karbala' after 'Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad's messenger brought the news. The family rites of remembrance had been going on in the houses of the Talibid family which were full of people bringing their condolences and discussing the news of Karbala'. Here was what was left of the slaughter of Karbala' by the Umayyad sword, returning to their home draped in the cloth of sadness, with bleeding hearts and tearful eyes. Bashir ibn Jadhlam described the scene:

'There was not a woman who normally stayed in seclusion nor a woman who kept herself veiled who did not show her face as they were all calling for woe and affliction. Everybody in Medina came out making a great turmoil of weeping. I have never seen more people weeping than I saw on that day. Nor have I seen a more bitter day for the Muslims than it except for the death of the Apostle of God.' Bashir ibn Jadhlam continued: 'I whipped my horses and began to return. I found that the people were already taking to the roads and streets ... 'Ali ibn al-Husayn was entering ... He had come holding a cloth with which he wiped away his tears. Behind him, his servant had a chair which he put down for him. He sat down upon it while still not being able to control his tears. On all sides the voices of the people were raised in weeping as they tried to console him.

The place was in a great turmoil. He made a sign with his hand for them to be quiet and their uproar subsided. Then he made an emotional speech to them. Then he went into Medina ...' In this way the whole of Medina was transformed, after the arrival of the Holy Family from Karbala', into one great rite of remembrance which was nourished with emotional agitation by the very centre of sadness and tragedy, the houses of the Talibid family, with the family of Imam al-Husayn at their fore. This transformed their family rites of remembrance into the greatest lamentations.

These spontaneous and overflowing rites of remembrance, which were held in Kufa and Medina and at the stopping-places along the route in the journey of return from Karbala ', carry within them the seeds of the public rites of remembrance as an institution. This is so because those who participated in them only did so as people involved in the problem who claimed that the cause of al-Husayn was Islamic, not something which only belonged especially to one family, that is the Hashimites and the Talibids. Perhaps, even the family rites of remembrance performed at Karbala', Damascus and Medina also participated, in some way, in preparing the atmosphere appropriate for the growth of the foundation of the concept of the public rites of remembrance.

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