Muharram: A reminder to stand for truth and fight oppression

If Imam Hussain had aimed at acquiring a worldly empire, he would not have travelled the way he did—from Medina to Karbala. He weltered in blood and dust for the sake of truth.

“Among the believers are men who delivered their promise to Allah.” – Ayah 23/ Surah Al-Ahzab

On the 10th of Muharram, 61 after Hijrah (680 AD) Hz. Imam Hussain was martyred by the army of tyrant Yazid. This tragedy shook the Islamic world and continues to be remembered by all those who love the Prophet and his family. The martyrdom of Hz. Imam Hussain, his struggle for truth, justice and the greatness of Islam are still remembered and commemorated today. This year the day of Ashura was observed on 30 August 2020 amid the Covid-19 pandemic.  

 Hz. Imam Hussain ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib was the grandson of the Prophet. As a young man, he was very pious, intelligent and extremely handsome. Historians have said he looked very similar to the Prophet. The Prophet loved his grandson very much. On one occasion, the Prophet was leading the prayer. As he went into prostration (sajda), the young Hussain climbed onto his back but he remained in that position for a long time until the young boy climbed down. On another occasion the Prophet was passing his daughter Bibi Fatima’s house and heard young Hussain crying. The Prophet stopped and went into the house and said, “Fatima, don’t you know it hurts me to hear Hussain cry.” In a very famous Hadith, the beloved Prophet says, “Hussain is from me and I am from Hussain”. The meaning sheds light that Hussain is like me, Hussain’s line is similar to my line, Hussain’s message is my message, Hussain is from me and I am from Hussain.

Hz. Imam Hussain learned his knowledge from his father Hz. Mawla Ali. He inherited virtues and chivalrous character from him. If history has taught us anything, it has certainly delivered a message with unequivocal resonance that ‘Haqq’ and freedom are not something that is given. These are things people take and people are as free and on the ‘Haqq’ (truth) as they want to be. Islam, the religion of peace, truth, justice and freedom, came to a place and time where oppression was the rule, slavery was a tool to humiliate the weak and killings were a way to solve problems. A society fuelled by tribal feuds, raging by violence, and merely being born in the wrong family could mean eternal slavery, oppression, and stripping of any and all rights. The Holy Prophet emerged as the voice denouncing those ways while striving to ensure justice and equality. He gave us one of the most precious monotheistic gifts, namely the collective duty of selfcriticism, speaking the truth though against your own self, support and stand with the Haqq (truth), denounce Batil (falsehood), stand up to oppressors and tyrants, no matter of the price that one can end up paying to stand with truth and justice.

The Prophet has taught us many things and among those many, he taught us an important lesson. One that the Holy Quran amplified numerously: It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather a profoundly faithful few, who are keen to uphold the truth and sacrifice for it. To be the example of a candle that burns itself illuminating the way for others, to give the ultimate sacrifice to enlighten the path of the truth, as the truth and only the truth shall set you free. This is the month of Moharram which saw the beloved of the beloved demonstrating the highest of nobility, and offering the ultimate of sacrifice. It is no wonder that he is the grandson of the Prophet, the son of Amir ul Mominin Hz. Ali and Hz. Bibi Fatimah Az’Zahra. There was a noble reason that demanded the martyrdom of Hz. Imam Hussain.

The sacred month of Moharram is a reminder to people that one should fight against oppression and tyranny and help the cause of the oppressed. Islamic virtues of truth, justice, equality, freedom and liberty are all precious values that demanded precious sacrifices. That is the supreme significance of martyrdom. Hz. Imam Hussain chose the path of danger and hardships with duty and honour and never swerved from it giving up his life freely in the absolute bravest of ways ever known to mankind.

 In the history of Islam, Hz. Imam Hussain, the martyr of Karbala, wrote one of the most brilliant chapters; a chapter which still and after more than thirteen centuries echoes in the minds and hearts of people everywhere. The tragedy of Karbala took place in 680 AD on the banks of the Euphrates in Iraq but Karbala has a universal appeal and in today’s climate of violence and injustice it is more relevant than ever. The tragedy of Karbala and its spirit of non-violent resistance and supreme sacrifice have been a source of inspiration to the likes of Mahatma Gandhi. In Gandhi’s own words: “I learnt from Hussain, how to be oppressed yet victorious.” The observance of Muharram ceremonies in South Asia in general and India in particular have attracted the deep reverence and devotion for the performance of its rituals and customs by the Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Thus, the observance of Muharram ceremonies has introduced Islam as the harbinger for interfaith understanding in South Asia.

Imam Husain’s great sacrifice is commemorated by Muslims everywhere in the world, but it is observed with great emotional intensity in the subcontinent. What is particularly striking about the observances of the month of Muharram in India is the prominent participation of Hindus in these rituals. In India, many elders, brothers and sisters from Hindu, Sikh, Jain and Christian communities observe Muharram ceremonies with great devotion. Varanasi, one of the holiest cities of Hinduism in India and the city of famous ghats and Vedic saints, has a mixed tradition of commemorating Muharram where some respected Hindu families participate in the procession of Taziya Sharif. This also happens in Lucknow, Allahabad, Kanpur, Hyderabad, Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai, Amroha, Indore, Nagpur, Jaipur, Ajmer Sharif, Bhopal and other major cities and towns. I have many friends who observe and participate in the majlis (Muharram congregations); they also take part with enthusiasm in making the Taziyas Sharif (replicas of the Hz. Imam Husain’s mausoleum in Karbala).

Hussaini Brahmin community is also famous for their devotion and respect of Imam Hussain, located mostly in Punjab in India, also known as Dutts. Unlike other Brahmin clans, the Hussaini Brahmins have had a long martial tradition, which they trace back to the event of Karbala. They believe that an ancestor named Rahab travelled all the way from Punjab to Arabia and there developed close relations with Imam Hussain. In the battle of Karbala, Rahab fought in the army of the Imam Hussain against tyrant Yazid. His sons too joined him, and most of them were killed. Imam Hussain, seeing Rahab’s love for him, bestowed upon him the title of sultan or king and told him to go back to India. It is because of this close bond between their ancestor Rahab and Imam Hussain that the Hussaini Brahmins got their name and feel immense pride of their sacred ancestral legacy.

 Poet Allama Muhammad Iqbal says:

“Ronay wala hoon Shaheede-Kerbala key gham men main, Kya durey maqsad na dengey Saqiye Kausar mujhey.”

(I am one who weeps at the plight of the Martyr of Kerbala Won’t the reward be given to me by the Keeper of Kauser’.)

 In the words of Iqbal, Imam Hussain uprooted despotism forever till the ‘Day of Resurrection’. He watered the dry garden of freedom with the surging wave of his blood, and indeed he awakened the sleeping Muslim nation. If Imam Hussain had aimed at acquiring a worldly empire, he would not have travelled the way he did (from Medina to Karbala). Hussain weltered in blood and dust for the sake of truth. Verily he, therefore, became the bedrock (foundation) of the Muslim creed.

 The martyrdom has also prompted a vast body of literature in a multitude of languages all over the world, a phenomenon that continues to this day. Outstanding examples of this are the ‘Mersiye’ (elegies) written by Mir Anis, one of which holds the world record for the longest verse for the past two centuries. The heart rendering and soulful recitation of “Salam-iAkhir” which was written by Syed Nasir Jahan and often being recited during the final day MersiyeKhani:

“Bachay to aglay baras hum hain aur yeh gham phir hai Jo chal basay tou yeh appna salam-i-akhir hai”

One of the most recited and famous Persian poetry in the honour of Hz. Imam Hussain was written by the great Sufi master Hz. Khawaja Syed Moinuddin Hasan Chishty :

“Shah ast Hussain, badshah ast Hussain

Deen ast Hussain, deen panaah ast Hussain

Sar daad, na daad dast dar dast-e-yazeed

Haqu-e-binney la ilaahaa ast Hussain.”

(King is Hussain, King of Kings is Hussain

Faith is Hussian, Protector of Faith is Hussain

He gave his Head, but not his Hand in the hand of Yazid

Verily, truth is nothing but Hussain.)

The author is the chairman of Chishty Foundation.