Syed Ashraf Ali :
Ashura, on the tenth day in the month of Muharram, occupies a very important place in the annals of history. It is sacred and important not only for the Muslims. It is the only occasion which is regularly celebrated with due solemnity and sobriety by two religious communities, the Muslims and the Jews. Thomas Patrick Hughes testifies in his world-renowned Dictionary of Islam that this particular day was also respected by the Christians when the holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) made his Hijrah to Madinah. What is more, it was on this auspicious day 1362 lunar years ago (1343 solar years according to the Gregorian calendar) that Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA), the illustrious grandson of the holy Prophet (pbuh), shuffled off the mortal coil and reached the shore from which no traveler returns. But Ashura on the tenth day of the first month in the Islamic calendar occupies an important place in history not only because the grandson of the holy Prophet (pbuh) embraced martyrdom on the plains of Karbala on this sacred occasion but also because many other glorious incidents took place on this auspicious day. Mention of Ashura can be found even in the days of yore. For example, in Lev. xvi 29, this sacred day has been hailed as the Great Day of Atonement. Ashura indeed has a sacred entity of its own and it enjoyed a very high and respectable position in the eyes of other religions long before the advent of Islam on the clay of this cold star.
It is claimed that it was on an Ashura that the Prophet Noah (pbuh) and his companions alighted from the Art after the Great Deluge. It was also on this sacred day that the Prophet Moses (pbuh) and his followers crossed the Nile on foot whereas the Pharaoh and his army all perished under the raging waves of the same. Some also claim that out of a total number of one lac and twenty-four thousand Prophets at least two thousand were born on this red letter day (Razin). Although the first "Tenth of Muharram Procession" with "solemn wailings and lamentations" was brought out in Mesopotamia in 962 AD, some of the Islamic rites being performed on Ashura were practised by the Arabs long before the revelation of the Holy Quran. According to the Hadith many of these were introduced by the Prophet Abraham (pbuh) himself, testifying to the claim that the Arabs in the ancient day, used to practise fasting on Ashuras.
It is learnt from Hadith that the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) came to know from the Jews in Madina that on the auspicious day of Ashura Prophet Musa (peace be upon him) liberated the Bani Israel from the captivity of Pharaoh, and that Pharaoh and his army were drowned in the Nile on this sacred day. The holy Prophet (peace be upon him) was also informed that it was as a mark of gratitude to Benign Providence that Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) fasted on the sacred day of Ashura, and the Jews followed that practice of fasting on the tenth day of Muharram.
Ibn Abbas (Ra) reported that the God's Messenger (pbuh) came to Madinah and found the Jews there observing the fast on the day of Ashura, so he asked them what was the significance of that day which they were observing. The Jews replied, "It is a great day on which God delivered Moses (pbuh) and his people and drowned Pharaoh and his people; so Moses (pbuh) observed it as a fast out of gratitude, and we do so also." The holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, "We have more rights, and we have a closer connection with Moses (pbuh) than you have", so God's Messenger (pbuh) observed it as a fast himself and gave orders that it should be observed. (Bukhari and Muslim).
The success of Hazrat Musa (peace be upon him) against the tyranny and evil designs of Pharaoh was indeed a glorious example of the ultimate triumph of truth over falsehood. The above Hadith testifies eloquently to the fact that the holy Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), who had every respect and confidence in all the Prophets who were sent before him, himself considered Ashura to be an auspicious day of Divine excellence.
Fasting on Ashura is indeed beneficial for the mankind. According to the Mishkat, the fasting in the month of Muhnrram comes next only to the Sawm in the month of Ramadhan in order of beneficence. Ibn Abbas (Ra) reported that the holy Prophet. Muhammad (pbuh) himself ordained: "You should fast on the 9th and 10th days of Muharram to differentiate between the practice of the Muslims and that of the Jews."
A good number of Hadith also claim that the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) used to encourage and instruct his followers to fast on Ashura. He, however, did no longer instruct or ordain his followers to fast on Ashura after Siyam in the month of Ramadhan was made obligatory for the Muslims. But he (peace be upon him) also did not forbid or prevent them from fasting on Ashura. Hadith testifies to the fact that the holy Prophet (peace be upon him) himself used to practice fasting on the day of Ashura even after Siyam in the month of Ramadhan was made obligatory.
Ashura, testifying to the great success of Moses (peace be upon him) and celebrated with due solemnity through prayers and fasting by the holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) himself, has some additional significance and importance which also create a great impact on the Muslims all over the world. It reaches us every year tinged with the sacred memory of a great Martyrdom. It was in the year 679 AD (61 AH), that Hazrat Imam Hussain (Ra), the grandson of the holy Prophet (peace be upon him), embraced Shahadat on the battle-field of Karbala, and with him perished all the male members of his family, old and young-with the solitary exception of a sickly child, whom Imam Hussain's sister, Zainab, saved from the inhuman and cruel massacre. In the words of Allama Iqbal, "Although all deaths are sweet for the Mumin, the death of Ali's son is unique, indeed", for "it passes beyond the death that is content with the grave."
The Great Shahadat at Karbala inspired by the highest love-love for Allah, indeed showed superhuman courage and endurance, enabling Imam Hussin (RA) to overcome so easily the well-nigh insuperable forces of contemporary evil and untruth. It is this dying nobly in the cause of truth and justice that confers immortality on man, the immortality which the great son of Hazrat Ali (peace be upon him) won on the banks of the Euphrates. The Holy Quran clearly states:
"And say not of those who are slain in the Way of God : "They are dead." Nay, they are living though ye perceive (it) not." (Sura Baqara-2 : 154) The heroic episode of Hazrat Imam Husain, the apple of the holy Prophet's eye and the pride of his heart, has indeed become a legend. The deeds of this 'Prince of Martyrs' are sung by Ministrels throughout the Islamic world, he reigns supreme in the hearts of thousands and millions of persons, both Muslims and non- Muslims. He has indeed passed into history, he has become a name.
With the rise of Mu'awiyah, the oligarchical rule of the heathen times displaced the democratic rule of Islam. Paganism, with all its attendant depravity revived and vice and immorality followed everywhere in the wake of Ummayyad Governors and the Syrian soldiery. The wealth which he pitilessly extracted from his subjects, he lavished on his mercenaries, who in turn helped him to repress murmurings.
Before his death, Mu'awiyah convened the chief officers of his army and made them take the oath of fealty to his son Yezid, whom he had designated as his successor to the throne-a gross and treacherous violation of the terms of peace signed between Mu'awiyah and Hazrat Imam Hussain (Ra), the eldest son of Hazrat Ali (Ra).
On Mu'awiyah's death, Yezid ascended the throne founded by his father on fraud and treachery. As cruel and treacherous as his father, Yezid however lacked the cunningness and capacity of his father to clothe his cruelties in the guise of policy. An out an out sadist as he was, he killed and tortured just for the sake of pleasure. Addicted to the grossest of vices, his close companions were the most abandoned of both sexes. Imam Husain (Ra), on the other hand, had inherited the chivalric nature and all the virtues of his great and illustrious father. He united in his person the right of descent from the Sher-e-Khuda Ali (Ra) with the holy character of the grandson of the Apostle of Allah (peace be upon him). Great as a patriot, great as an idealist, great as a devout Muslim, great as a valiant warrior, great as a man of action, a dreamer of dreams, he was a man daring and adventurous, reckless of consequences and yet intensely practical, one who embodied the highest qualities that a giant among men might desire.
Hazrat Hussain (Ra) never deigned to acknowledge the title of the tyrant Yezid, whose vices he despised, and whose character he regarded with abhorrence. Naturally, therefore, when the Muslims of Kufa be sought his help to release them from the curse and cruelty of Ummayyad's rule, he felt it his duty to respond to the Iraqians' appeal for deliverance, and with the assurance that the whole of Iraq was ready to rise to the occasion to hurl the despot from his throne, he set out for Kufa with his family. He traversed the desert of Arabia unmolested, accompanied by his brother Abbas (Ra), a few devoted followers, and a timorous retinue of women and children. But as he approached the confines of Iraq, he was alarmed by the solitary and hostile face of the country. He saw no signs of the Kufan army which had promised to meet him. Suspecting treachery, he encamped his small band at a place called Karbala near the western bank of the Euphrates.
The great Imam's apprehensions of betrayal proved to be only too true and he was evertaken by an Ummayyad army under the command of the brutal and ferocious Ubaidullah ibn Ziyad. For days their tents were surrounded. The cowardly hounds dared not come within the reach of the sword of Ali's (Ra) son, but they cut the victims off from the waters of the Euphrates. Three days and nights of intense agony ensued, but the indefatigable Imam and his dedicated followers endured this unflinchingly. But everything has a limit and the sufferings of the poor entrapped band were too terrible. As a last resort Imam Hussain besought the cruel monsters not to war upon the helpless women and children, but to kill him and be done with it. But the brutes knew no pity. He pressed his comrades to consult their safety by a timely fight but none would desert their beloved master. The sacrilege of warning against the grandson of the holy Prophet (peace is upon him) struck one of the enemy's chiefs with horror and he deserted with thirty followers "to claim the partnership of inevitable death".
On the morning of the fateful day on the tenth of Muharram, the auspicious day of Ashura, Hussain's (Ra) faithful band of heroes arrayed themselves in battle formation. No hope of victory was there against the thousands of well-equipped and merciless mercenaries of Yezid. Yet they knew that they had come to fulfill their destiny-not to win a battle but to achieve a moral and spiritual victory which was definitely much more glorious and lasting than a victory on the field of battle.
The valour and indomitable spirit of the Fatimides were invincible and every single combat and close fight was readily won by them. But the enemy's archers treacherously picked them off from a safe distance. One by one the defenders fell, until at last there remained but the grandson of the holy Prophet (peace be upon him). Severely wounded and dying, he dragged himself to the river-side for a last drink, they turned him off with arrows. As he returned to his tent he took his infant child in his arms but they transfixed him with a dart. Alone and weary, he seated himself at the door of his tent. One of the women handed him a cup of water to assuage his burning thirst; as he raised it to his lips he was pierced in the mouth with a dart; and his son and nephew were killed in his arms. He lifted his hands to heaven,-they were full of blood-and he uttered a funeral prayer for the living and the dead. Raising himself for the last desperate charge, the great fighter threw himself among the Ummayyad brutes, which fell back on every side. The beautiful lines from the great poet Anis gives a graphic description of the sword and its strokes :
And driven by hand alone wherever it smashed
There out a gushing pool of blood had splashed;
And changing a hundred colour it flew;
And drinking blood, it vomiting rubies flashed.
But the grueling ordeal was too much even for the great and indomitable Hussain, and faint with the loss of blood he sank to the ground. The murderous cowards rushed upon the dying hero like vultures, they cut off his head which never- bowed to any human agency, trampled on the holy body and subjected it to every ignominy they knew. They carried the martyr's head to the castle Kufa, and the inhuman Ubaidullah struck it on the mouth with a cane. "Alas", exclaimed a devout and aged Musalman, "On to lips have I seen the lips of the Apostle of Allah (pbuh)."
So ended the great and thrilling episode of the great Imam Hussain. His last days have made him immortal. When the stories of the great battle reached his country, people realised how great were his human qualities, how deeply he loved his comrades, how passionately he clung to truth and justice, how ready he was to sacrifice everything in the cause of Islam. In the words of Gibbon, "In a distant age and climate, the tragic scene of the death of Hussain will awaken the sympathy of the coldest reader." "In cruelty, in malignity, in criminality, in brutality, in barbarous savagery," says. Syed Badrudduja, "the tragic records on the Karbala surpasses any other record in the history of human conflict."
The fall of the great Hussain was no defeat; it was on the other hand a great and historic success of truth and justice and righteousness. Hussain (Ra) indeed did not die in the ordinary sense of the term. He simply shuffled off the moral coil and set sail towards the Great Unknown through the glorious channel of Shahadat. In the memorable words of Nazrul Óg"Zz¨ AvwR‡K nBj Agi ciwk †Zvgvi cÖvYÓ ("Death itself was immortalised at the touch of your life.") His precious life indeed was sacrificed for the salvation of the suffering humanity, testifying so eloquently to the fact that the brows of the martyr shall eternally reflect the brilliance of the elect of Allah, that those who submit to God and suffer and bleed unto death for the cause of righteousness, truth and justice, for the unfortunate millions that knock about the straits, for the sustenance and durability of their rights and privileges, never decay, never die, never perish; they live a newer life, a fresher life, a higher life, a sublimer life in the recurrent ethos of community and country. In the memorable words of the poet :
Khastegane Khanjare Taslim ra
Har Zaman Az Ghareb Jame Egar Ast
Let none of us forget even for a moment that Ashura comes back every year to rejuvenate and boost up the dormant vigour, stagnated spirit and dampened morale of the misguided and oppressed Muslims all over the world. In the inimitable words of Maulana Mohammad Ali Jauhar :
Katle Hussain Asal Me Margye Yezid Tha :
Islam Zinda Hota Hay Har Karbale Ke B'ad.
-The Martyrdom of Hussain was indeed the death of Yezid; Islam is rejuvenated after each and every Karbala.
-Blessed Nights And Days