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The Ziyara to al-Husayn : Its Objectives and Aims

Perhaps, it may be that one of the things which distinguishes the Imamite Shi'a from many other Muslims is their extraordinary concern to make pilgrimages to saintly men and women in the history of Islam, and their intense eagerness to practise this continually.

The foremost of these saintly men is the Apostle of God and, after him, the Imams of the Holy Family. The foremost of the latter is Imam al-Husayn ibn 'Ali. Added to these are some women who enjoy a special status in the history of Islam, in general, or the history of Shi'ism, in particular. At the head of these women comes the Lady Fatima the Fair. Then there is the Lady Zaynab, daughter of Imam 'Ali ibn Abi Talib. After her, there are the women who have participated, in one way or another, in the history of Islam in general, or the history of Shi'ism in particular.

There is a widespread belief in the minds of the people, even in the minds of a great majority of the Shi'a themselves, in recent times, that the motives for making these pilgrimages (ziyara) are connected with the veneration of the persons to whom the pilgrimages are made, because they are noble in the eyes of God, and therefore the pilgrimages are connected with seeking intercession by them with God, and with seeking blessing from God through their mediation.

In short, the widespread belief is that these motives bring the persons to whom pilgrimages are made and the person who makes a pilgrimage to them into contact; and that this is everything.

This, however, is a great mistake.

The mistake of non-Shi'ites in the understanding of this Shi'ite practice is a result of judging it from the outside without understanding it from the inside, and without understanding its processes in the political and social ideas of the Imams of the Holy Family. The latter have made the pilgrimage (ziyara) an established practice in Islamic legal tradition and something the Muslim practises continually as a political, social and cultural institution which has been established at the heart of the Shi'ite cultural cosmology.

The mistake of the Shi'a, themselves in their practice of such pilgrimages arises out of their failure to understand it as an institution which represents, in the history of Islam, the revolutionary core which has set itself up as a permanent witness and critic of the existing government and its methods of dealing with the umma.

When the inner structure of the Shi'ite man begins to crack and abandon its basic virtue, his understanding of the practices, which were formed to nourish his soul and mind, changes. Then he changes them into practices which paralyse him and justify his defeatist position. This is what has happened to the Muslim individual in general, but here we are studying the special position of Shi'ite man.

The Imams of the Holy Family directed their Shi'a to make visitations to the Prophet and the Imams who preceded them in the service of a great aim. This was to keep the relationship between living Islam and the Shi'ite man throbbing with life lest Islam become transformed in his mind into mere ritualistic practices and dead jurisprudence. Lest the formal practical patterns of Islam, with which the Muslim lives in his daily life at the level of government and society, should become merely repetitive patterns which have been accepted from the past. Whereas they should be kept alive in his mind as the sound, healthy and pure patterns of Islam, and they should be kept alive in his mind as the faithfu1 trusted practices of Islam.

When the Imams of the Holy Family made the ziyara into an intellectual, political and social institution, they intended to put Shi'ite man in living and direct contact with the sources of his Islam in thought and ideology, in application and practice.

The texts concerning the ziyara to the Apostle of God bring light to bear on the efforts of the Apostle of God in the call to Islam, in its spreading and in its consolidation, in addition to the expressions of praise, honour and respect for the person of the Apostle which they contain.

The texts concerning the ziyara to the Commander of the faithful, 'Ali ibn Abi Talib, include an exposition of his intellectual and practical efforts in the cause of Islam.

The same is the case with regard to the texts concerning pilgrimages to the other Imams of the Holy Family. Each of the approved pilgrimages includes a commitment before God which the Shi'ite man makes, particularly, with the person to whom the pilgrimage is made and, generally, with the Apostle and the Imams of the Holy Family, that he will remain faithful to their covenant, their faith and their practice. Here, we will give some examples of that:

O God, make me, in this state that I am in, one of those who will receive Your blessing, mercy and forgiveness. O God, make my life the life of Muhammad and the family of Muhammad, and my death the death of Muhammad and the family of Muhammad, may the blessings of God be with him and his family. 8

O God, I testify before You to the authority (wilaya) of those to whom You and Your Apostle have dedicated it. I testify to my renunciation of those whom You and Your Apostle have renounced. 9

I testify before God, the Blessed and Exalted-and He is indeed a sufficient witness. I testify before You that I believe in You and will follow You in my very nature, in the legal requirements of my religion, in the impressions made by my actions and in my final destiny and resting place. 10

O God, I testify before You and before those of Your angels who are present that I believe in them and reject those who fight against them. O God, make what I say with my tongue be a reality in my heart and a religious precept in my actions. 11

There is much more of this material.

Among (the prayers of) these pilgrimages which are recited at the shrines or places of pilgrimages of the Holy Family, those of al-Husayn ibn 'Ali are the most numerous and the richest in intellectual and kinetic content.

The concern of the Imams of the Holy Family has been constantly and consistently intent on bringing light to bear on there volution of al-Husayn. It has made the memory of al-Husayn afirm and fiercely living presence in the public mind. It has put pilgrimages to al-Husayn at the head of religious festivals for the Shi'a in every part of the world.

The reason for that is that the revolution of Imam al-Husayn was the greatest event in tragedy and nobility in the history of the Shi'a. Even though Imam 'Ali waged many wars to correct the course of Islam, he waged them from a position of authority. On the other hand, Imam al-Husayn had embarked on his war of self sacrifice from outside authority, even against authority, and without worldly expectations. It is because of this that his revolution enjoys a greater power of revival and a greater ability to influence and to outline the sacrificial example for Shi'ite man to face the difficulties of his existence under oppressive governments. From another angle, it is an exemplary, intensely stimulating and practical application of the changing of an intellectual attitude into a course of action and activity in daily life.

It is, then, an absolute certainty that, in order for the pilgrimage to accomplish its influence, it must arise out of an awareness of the role played in Islam by the person, to whom it is made, and of his attitude towards the struggle for the sake of Islam. This state of awareness is the preoccupation of many of the texts which have reported that the character of a pilgrim to al-Husayn is of 'one who knows his right." 12

The knowledge of the right of the person, to whom the pilgrimage is made, means an awareness of the role which he carried out in his life, of his central position in the leadership of the movement of Islam in the two fields of legislation and application. Whenever a pilgrimage is carried out in the light of this awareness, it will strengthen the contact with dynamic and effective Islam in the heart and mind of the pilgrim because it will bring him into contact with dynamic and effective examples in the history of Islam.

Making a pilgrimage to the Apostle and the Imams of the Holy Family is not an idle pastime, nor is it a worldly activity. It is a spiritual act of worship. It is an action which is aimed at bringing oneself closer to God. Because it is an act of worship, the texts, which call for the practice of it and devotion to it, contain promises of reward from God, of forgiveness of sins and errors and of the granting of blessings.

This is a matter which can be understood when such a pilgrimage is put in the correct framework which we have elucidated, and when it does not become a mere act of celebration and veneration which a living man carries out to honour a dead man. When a Shi'ite carries out a pilgrimage, he is renewing his contact with Islam as a whole and he is promising God that he will hold fast to it, guard it and apply it in his life. It is an action which entitles him to reward and blessings from God in accordance with the principles of Islam.

From what we have mentioned the magnitude and great effect of this institution on the formation of Shi'ite man will be clear as well as the vast potentialities which abound in it and the extent of its ability to transform psychologically Shi'ite man from his position of surrender to a dynamic and active position when he regains the true concept of the pilgrimage and puts it into practice in the essential spirituality from which it sprung forth.

It also makes clear the extent of the burden of error into which Shi'ite man has fallen, as well as some of his spiritual leaders, when he conceives of the pilgrimage as being only a form of honour and veneration of a certain person and neglects the numerous aspects of the educational objectives which it aims at.

The field of study of the pilgrimage is very broad as must now be clear. It includes the pilgrimages to the Prophet, all the Imams of the Holy Family and other outstanding men and women in the history of Islam, generally, and in the history of Shi'ism, in particular.

We are, however, compelled to limit our present work to the specific field of our study, namely the pilgrimages made to Imam al-Husayn as a manifestation of the revolution of al-Husayn in popular consciousness.

This field, in terms of the material which can be studied, is, as we mentioned above, the fullest of the aspects of pilgrimage and the richest of them in ideas and emotions. This arises out of the special position which al-Husayn and his revolution enjoy in the Shi'ite mind in terms of his important position in the continuous movement of correction which began with 'Ali ibn Abi Talib and has, in no way, finished.

8. Ibn Qawlawayh al-Qummi, Kamil al-ziyara (Najaf, 1356 A.H.) 177-178.

9. Ibid., 197.

10. Ibid, 233.

11. Ibid, 240.

12. Ibid., 138-141,146.

Adapted from the book: "The Revolution of al-Husayn (a.s.)" by: "Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi Shams al-Din"

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