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The History and Philosophy of Aza of Imam Hussein (a.s.) - part 1

A. THE MESSAGE

Over one thousand three hundred and fifty years ago, on the 10th of Muharram, just before 'asr, a man stood on a sand-dune at Kerbala. He was bleeding from several wounds on his body. He had lost everything. Since early morning he had carried several dead bodies into his camp. He had even buried his infant child.

He looked at the bodies of his loved ones. Tears flowed out of his eyes. He looked at the sky and seemed to draw some strength from an unseen source. Then, like a muezzin from a minaret, he raised a call:

Is there anyone who will come to assist us ?

Is there anyone who will respond to our call for aid ?

He turned direction and repeated the call. He did this four times.

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 crossed the lines and laid down their lives for the cause. He knew there was no one left. He knew that there was no other Hur. And yet, meticulously and laboriously, he made sure that his call reverberated in all directions.

Of course that call was a call to Muslims of every generation in every land. It was a call to us where ever we may be. It was a call for help. Help against Yezeedism which in every age rears its ugly head to oppress justice, truth and morality. Our Imam was calling out to every Muslim of every age and time to combat Yezeedism, both within himself and as an external force. This was his battle cry for jihad-ul-akbar. He had already demonstrated that his objective had always been to create a spiritual awakening through amr bil ma'ruf and nahyi anal munkar. Now he was calling out for the continuation of this jihad at the individual, social and political levels.

B. EVOLUTION OF AZA

Muslims, and more particularly the Shiahs, have answered this call with the unique institution of aza-e-Hussain. With every tear that we shed for him 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 Mawla!" to our Imam, Hussain Ibne Ali, the grandson of the Holy Prophet (SAWA). For long the word aza-e-Hussain has been exclusively used in connection with the remembrance ceremonies for the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. Aza-e-Hussain includes mourning congregations, lamentations, matam and all such actions which express the emotions of grief, anger and, above all, repulsion against what Yezid 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-e-Hussain. In its technical sense, a majlis is a meeting, a session or a gathering. In reference to aza-e-Hussain, it means a gathering to mourn Imam Hussain. In this sense it was first used by our sixth Imam, Ja'far Sadiq A.S. It is reported that his companion al-Fudhayl Ibne Yasaar came to pay his respects to the Holy Imam.

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."

Aza-e-Hussain was a phenomenon which gripped Muslim conscience immediately after the tragedy of Kerbala.

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. She was the first one to answer the call of Imam Hussain. 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.

Ten days after Ashura, a messenger from Yezid arrived in Madina. His name was Abd al-Malik ibne Abi al Harith al-Sulamee. He came to tell the Governor, Amr bin Said al-Aas that Hussain ibne Ali had been killed in Kerbala. The Governor, more conscious of the mood of the people, said that he himself could not make the news public but Abd al-Malik, if he so wished, could make the public announcement. Abd al-Malik announced the news after the morning prayers.

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, they 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.

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