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The History and Philosophy of Aza of Imam Hussein (a.s.) - part 3

In India, the Ashura processions became part of the Indian Muslim culture. Even the Hindus participated in these processions. The Maharajah of Gwalior was always seen walking behind the 'alam of Hadhrat Abbas barefooted and without any insignia of his exalted office. Marthiyas and majaalis were such strong influences on the Muslim population that they helped strengthen not only their Islamic beliefs but also their political resolve.

History reports that even Gandhi on his famous salt march to protest against the oppression of the British Raj took 72 people with him in emulation of Imam Hussain protest against Yezid's oppression.


The following excerpt from the last will and testament of the Late Ayatullah Ruhullah Khumayni (A.R.) is most touching and relevant:

"The memory of this great epic event (Ashura) must be kept alive. Remember, the cries of damnation and all the curses that are rightfully raised against the cruelty of the Bani Umayyayah caliphs towards the Holy Imams, are reflected in the heroic protests against cruel despots by the nations through the centuries. It is the perpetuation of such protests that shatter oppression and cruelty. It is necessary that the crimes of the tyrants in each age and era be indicated in the cries of lamentation and in the recitals of elegies held for the Holy Imams." Where ever the Shiahs have gone they have taken with them the cultural forms of aza-e-Hussain as practised in their country of origin. Today, aza-e-Hussain in one form or another, can be seen throughout the world.

Aza-e-Hussain is an important institution and we have to ensure that it is kept alive so as to cultivate and nurture Islamic conscience in each one of us and that our children and their descendants remain committed to the cause of Imam Hussain.


We must never lose sight of the fact that while the form of aza-e-Hussain may reflect the local indigenous culture, the essence of aza-e-Hussain must always be remembrance of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain and our re-dedication to his cause.

There is always the danger that if the form appears to be incongruent to the local norms and consequently incomprehensible to the young generation or to the indigenous population upon whom we wish to impress the message of Kerbala, the substance might gradually lose its significance. The fabric of the substance invariably depends upon the acceptability of the form.

Throughout history the form of aza-e-Hussain has always undergone changes to accommodate local norms. It is for us, therefore, to seriously re-evaluate the form in order to ensure that we can pass on to our children the substance of aza-e-Hussain in its pristine state and also make aza-e-Hussain an irresistible instrument of tableegh ! We are duty bound to Allah and His Prophet to ensure that our children grow up to accept aza-e-Hussain NOT as a ritualistic activity NOR as means for atonement, but as a serious commitment to the basic values of Islam.

Dr. Liyakat Takim in his speech in Toronto on the occasion of the last Hussain Day made this very profound statement: "The message of Imam Hussain can only be properly comprehended when we bear in mind the Qur'anic principle of tawheed which demands our undivided commitment to Allah only."

I accept that not all of us can suddenly make or honour such a commitment. But supposing on the day of 'Ashura, after performing our a'amaals or when the Ziyarah is recited after the aza, each one of us promises, in the name of Hussain ibne Ali, to give up one such activity as is contrary to the doctrines of Islam what a strong community we would be and what an excellent legacy we would leave for our children !! This in my opinion would be aza-e-Hussain par excellence !


It is our duty to deliver Imam Hussain's message to the indigenous population of the country we live in. We can succeed in this only if we ourselves appear to be true followers of Imam in all our interaction with the community at large. We must reflect the maximum integrity, Islamic values and our sincere commitment to Imam's cause. We can not possibly be making the commitment enshrined in Ziyarat-e-Waritha without the least intention of honouring that commitment.

Processions are of course the institution effectively used in the countries of the East and in Africa. We have to convince ourselves that this institution can be equally effective in the West. If not, we must explore other means of taking Imam's message to the people. We have to examine such activities as:

blood donation through Hussaini Blood Banks;

distribution of food to the needy;

maximum usage of media to explain the event and the fact the Holy Imam died to save the basic values cherished by all the communities;

publication and distribution of leaflets;

distribution of cold drinks in schools and colleges;

visiting the patients in hospitals with floral gifts. You may find that when you take a small gift to a patient in hospital you will have carried the message of Hussain to the entire family of that patient.

All these suggestions are based on the institution of the public "sabeels" which we still have in the East and in Africa. While mourning is important, perhaps we should limit that within the confines of our Imambargahs, and demonstrate the true spirit of Imam Hussain's generosity when he ordered Hadhrat Abbas to provide water to Hur and his army. Perhaps we too may see a large number moving towards Islam and Imam Hussain.


I seek, with utmost respect, to offer word of caution to all my zakir colleagues.

Exaggeration can only discredit us and the cause of Imam Hussain. The historical accounts must be adhered to although at times, in our anxiety to arouse emotion, we resort to exaggeration. We should have the recorded history as our guide and reason and logic as our limitations as do most of our 'ulema and fuqaha.

Abu Mikhnaf was the earliest historian who took testimonies from eye witnesses and compiled his maqtal. There is in existence today an book in Arabic called Maqtal Abi Mikhnaf. It is doubtful whether this is the original text. However we do have the excerpts quoted by Tabari and other historians. We zakireen have relied on various sources principally Allamah Majlisi's Biharul Anwar and others. Several very good books in English exist on this subject. Maulana Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi is the compiler of a book containing several very interesting articles relating to the history of the tragedy of Kerbala. Then there is Shaykh Mufid (a.r.)'s al Irshad.

Extrapolations of certain inferences from known facts are not, in my opinion or in the opinion of the 'ulema, objectionable. For example description of natural human emotions, though not chronicled in vivid detail may be extrapolated if the description is within the bounds of reason and does not detract from the character of the personalities involved.

Some of the maqaatil can be faulted in respect of certain statements For example Tabari records that the age of Imam Zain-ul-'abideen (A.S.) was questioned at Kufa and he was examined to determine whether he had attained buloogh. (See the History of al Tabari, Vol. XIX page 166). Shaykh Mufid gives the fourth Imam's age at the time as 23 years. It is well known the Imam was married and had a son .

Many such contradictions exist in the maqaatil but this does not mean that we have to reject any account in toto. Detailed events, and often the names of those involved, are very difficult to record accurately even by an honest and meticulous chronicler recording contemporaneously as the events are taking place. Abu Mikhnaf began to compile his history, mostly through eye witness account at least twenty five years after the tragedy. It is necessary for us to be eclectic for so long as we remain within the confines of reason. To be eclectic we must know what historical material is available and where to find it.

It is not within the scope of this article to deal with all the historical sources I would refer the reader to S.H.M, Jafri's the Origins and Early Development of Shi'a Islam, Chapter 7. I would also refer any reader interested in the subject to the following additional works:

The volume of Tabari referred to above.

Al-Irshad by Shaykh Mufid.

The article by Imam Hussain by Veccia Vaghliers in the Encyclopaedia of Islam which is based mostly Balaadhuri's account.

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