Notes on Muharram Commemoration: A Universal Philosophy

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Tajamul Ahmad Sheikh

Muharram, which is often considered as a heart-rending chapter in the history of Islam, is a philosophy that distinguishes good from evil, honesty from wickedness, and honor from shame. On the desert plains of Karbala, in present day Iraq, the rebellion of the grandson of the Prophet of Allah (SAW) against Yazid was mostly for promoting good and prohibiting evil instead of a political cause or tussle for power. In other words, it was the movement which has restored Islam to ascendancy in the world and completely defeated evil from society. As Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar wrote, “Qatle-e-Hussain asl Main marge-e-Yazid hai, Islam zindaa hota hain har Karbala ke baad” (In the murder of Husain lies the death of Yazid, For Islam resurrects after every Karbala).
The importance of Muharram and Karbala goes ahead of time and space, devoid of which, the pillars of Islam would have been completely destroyed. As Imam Jafar Sadiq (AS) famously said, ‘Qul u Yumi Aashura, Qul Arzi Karbala’ (every day is Ashura and every place is Karbala).
In every age and time, the world is filled with tyrants whose hands are drenched with blood and who have left no stone unturned to disrupt the peace and order of world either by killing innocent people or creating civil unrest and so on. Across the globe, these remorseless people exist even today in the various shapes. The incident of Karbala teaches us how to resist and defeat such wicked people and how to stand up against the injustices and atrocities which are happening day to day throughout world. When Yazid, the drunkard and the killer of innocent people, demanded that Imam Hussain (AS) should pay allegiance to him, Imam Hussain rebuffed and said, “We are the household of the Prophethood, the descending place of the angels, through us, Allah had began sprinkling His favours.” ‘Mithli la yubayi’u mithlah’—‘a person like me can never do bay’aa (pay allegiance) to a person like him (Yazid’). Despite the insistence of coward puppets of Yazid, he never bowed down his head and rejected him, as he was not fit to rule.
People should draw inspiration from the epic battle of Karbala, struggles of Prophet Ibrahim and Namrod, Prophet Musa and Firaun, Prophet Dawood and the tyrant Jaloot in order to resist tyranny of traitors and tyrant people instead of only listening sermons from pulpits of mosque regarding different struggles of prophets with tyrants. These despots were present in this world since the time immemorial or the origin of the world; see for instance the incident of Habil and Qabil, Firoon and Asiya and so on. But, in the end only good outweighs the bad, as clearly indicated in the Holy Qur’an. “The truth has come and falsehood has vanished, for falsehood by its nature is bound to perish.” (Chapter Al-Israa, Verse 81).
Each year, in the Islamic month of Muharram, millions of Muslims across the globe commemorate the supreme sacrifice of Imam Husain (AS) and his dearest kin for the humankind but, alas most of the people among Muslims nowadays are reluctant to act on his mission. The first commemorations of Muharram were held by sister of Imam Husain (RA) Sayyeda Zainab (RA), who is known to the history as the Messenger of the Karbala Revolution. Sayyeda Zainab (RA), who also came to be known as Fasihah (skilfully fluent) and Balighah (intensely eloquent), played an indispensable role in the propagation of the heart wrenching incident of Karbala to the rest of the world and that’s why Iranian revolutionary thinker Dr Ali Shariati calls her “the saviour of humanity”. Without feeling tiredness, people from past 14 centuries held events in remembrance of martyrs of Karbala. This depicts the heroic acts of martyrs of Karbala.
In this month, throughout the world huge processions and gatherings are organized to highlight the unconditional commitments, sacrifice, martyrdom of Imam Husain (AS) and his companions for the sake of mankind. These gatherings describe the tearful stories of Karbala and atrocious carnage of Yazid, endurance of Imam Husain (AS) and courage of Sayyeda Zainab (RA), who, aftermath of Karbala, led the caravan to Madina from Kufa, comprising of women and children. Such was the intensity of atrocities on Ahlul Bayat, the renowned historian al-Biruni has stated as, “… then fire was set to their camp and the bodies were trampled by the hoofs of the horses; nobody in the history of the human kind has seen such atrocities.”
Despite facing such atrocities and agonies , Imam Husain (AS) and his companions remained steadfast and faithful to Islam but , alas, we Muslims nowadays fail to act upon their noble mission of truth. If we see today, Islam , , in general and Muslims, in particular are being attacked far and wide in the world just as it was in the time of Imam Husain (AS). It’s imperative now for us to speak out against oppressors, corruption and recognize the truth, the way Imam Husain (RA) and Ahlul Bayat taught us through the battle of Karbala some fourteen centuries ago.
I conclude with the words of Hamid Algar, Professor of Persian and Islamic Studies at University of California, Berkeley, “Karbala is the cruellest tragedy humanity has ever seen. Yet, the startling (though appalling) events in Karbala proved like a powerful volcano that shook the very foundation of Muslims, it stirred their consciousness, ignorant or learned alike. For sincere Muslims, Karbala turned into a triumph. The tragic event became the very beacon of light to always remind Muslims to practice Islam honestly and sincerely, to do what is right irrespective of consequences, and fear no one except Allah (SWT).”

The author is a Doctoral Fellow at the University of Kashmir. He can be reached at: