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“Yazid is not just the name of Hussain’s murderer, but he also represents an authoritarian mindset. Yazid represents totalitarianism, tyranny and brutal oppression against any dissent. He defines a system which has criminalized even the basic human rights. He is a perfect example of an oppressive ruler whose whole existence and regime is based on fraud, cruelty and large scale bloodshed.”

“Imam Hussain sacrificed his all, but he refused to submit to a tyrannical government.” – Mahatma Gandhi

The Islamic month of ‘Muharram’ started last week throughout the world. The first ten days of the month are observed by Muslims to remember the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. He was the son of Hazrat Ali and grandson of Prophet Muhammad. The month of Muharram not just holds great religious importance for Muslims, but is also remembered for the bravery of Imam Hussain and his comrades who refused to stand with tyranny and oppression, but fearlessly stood with truth, justice and equality, even at the cost of their lives, in the Battle (Tragedy) of Karbala. Even after 1400 years of this tragic event, the legacy of Karbala lives on!

“In a distant age and climate”, wrote Edward Gibbon in The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in 1911, “The tragic scene of the death of Hussain will awaken the sympathy of the coldest reader.” The tragedy of Karbala is observed every year by billions of people (not just Muslims) in this very month of Muharram, as a symbol of resistance against tyranny and oppression. Imam Hussain, with his family and just 72 companions, stood rock solid against the oppressive regime of Yazid and refused to bow down in front of his army of thousands. In fact, some sources state that Yazid’s forces were in lakhs. It was the day of 10th of Muharram (30th August of this year), 61 Hijri that corresponds with 680 AD, when Hussain fell on the battle ground of Karbala.

History of Karbala

“The Battle of Karbala”, or as I would prefer to call it, “The Tragedy of Karbala” was a result of the conflict between Imam Hussain and the caliph of that time, Yazid. Yazid wanted Imam Hussain to swear allegiance to him. He wanted Hussain (successor of Prophet), to endorse him so that he gets an acceptance from the society for all his bad deeds. Imam Hussain, being the true spiritual guardian of the time, clearly and rightly refused to do so. “It was possible for Hussain to save his life by submitting himself to the will of Yazid,” Edward Gibbon again wrote, “But his responsibility as a reformer did not allow him to accept Yazid’s Caliphate, He therefore prepared to embrace all sorts of discomfort and inconvenience in order to deliver Islam from Omayyad’s hands. Under the blazing sun, on the parched land and against the stifling heat of Arabia stood the immortal Hussain.”

It was after the death of Prophet Muhammad in the year 632 AD, that Islam started gaining public acceptance and was spreading at a rapid speed. Seeing this fast spreading of Islam globally, many opportunists, in lust of wealth and power, started gaining power, too. Their objectives were never to carry forward the legacy or the message of Muhammad, but to spread their own regime. This eventually started in the distortion and manipulation of the original ideas of Islam. Imam Hussain staunchly stood against this, and hence he refused Yazid’s offer in spite of knowing the outcome of this. Soon after, Hussain left for Mecca along with all his family and companions, leaving back his childhood home of Medina. Mecca was the city where the Ka’ba was and is still situated, it is also the birthplace of Prophet Muhammad. Yazid did not let Hussain and others live peacefully there too, and thus he again decided to leave for Kufa (present day Iraq). Then Imam Hussain turned towards Karbala, where he along with his seventy two men, including his six months old son were brutally attacked by Yazid’s army of thousands, they tortured and killed Imam Hussain’s family members including women, children and infants.

People sitting in a ‘majlis’ beating their chests and crying, remembering the tragic incidents of Karbala.
Source: AFP

Rituals of Muharram

The whole month of Muharram, specially the first 10 days (1st-10th of Muharram), Muslims mourn the brutal assassination and the tortures faced by the Prophet’s grandson and his caravan. The traditions and rituals which are followed vary from place to place and are different in the various Muslim sects all over the world during the month of Muharram. All people wear the colour ‘black’ to mourn the sacrifice of Imam Hussain. Majlis are organized throughout the period, which is a religious congregation where people gather and mourn the tragic happenings of Karbala. Muharram juloos or processions are taken out on the streets to spread the message of Imam Hussain and his comrades, as well as commemorate his martyrdom. In these processions most people walk barefoot, while reciting verses on the Tragedy of Karbala known as marsias and nauha. Large homemade taazias and taboots are also carried with these processions. People carry large banners with Labbaik ya Hussain!’ written on it. It is an Arabic phrase which literally translates to ‘I am here, O Hussain!’ which is a slogan to express solidarity with Imam Hussain’s life, his message of peace and his sacrifice for humanity. In Fact the martyrdom of Imam Hussain is the victory of good over evil.

A Muharram procession being carried out. The white horse in the middle is a replica of Imam Hussian’s horse, Zuljana, who was very dear to him.

All these and other rituals are of course not possible this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic. In fact, according to some sources this will be the first time in 700 years when no Muharram processions will be carried out on the streets of Delhi. Muharram processions are also a symbol of Hindu Muslim unity. People from all faiths and ages actively take part not just in these processions, but also in the other Muharram rituals throughout the mourning period. 

Teaching from Karbala

“There is a universal appeal in this martyrdom. Imam Hussain sacrificed his all,” Mahatma Gandhi once said, “But he refused to submit to a tyrannical government. He never gave any weight to the fact that his material force was far less in comparison with that of the enemy.” Yazid is not just the name of Hussain’s murderer, but he also represents an authoritarian mindset. Yazid represents totalitarianism, tyranny and brutal oppression against any dissent. He defines a system which has criminalized even the basic human rights. He is a perfect example of an oppressive ruler whose whole existence and regime is based on fraud, cruelty and large scale bloodshed.

On the other hand, Imam Hussain and his companions represent a different approach. He represents a system which stands tall against any kind of oppression, even at the risk of their own life. He stands for the values of peace, humanity, justice and brotherhood. Before heading for Karbala, Imam Hussain said, “A person of my type can never accept the allegiance of a person like Yazid.” This shows us the dedication he had for the principles he believed in. His life and deeds acts as a guiding light for all of us especially in the dark times we are living in. Hussain teaches us to act against the powerful oppressive forces in the society, even if we are less in force and not just stand as mute spectators.

Summing up, we can say that Imam Hussain’s sacrifice for the sake of equality and humanity is unparalleled. The whole event of Karbala teaches us to fight for what is right, just and in favor of humanity and mankind. Karbala teaches us to stand rock solid even in the darkest of dark times, no matter how extreme and harsh the conditions are.

Sahil Kazmi is a student pursuing BBA from Jamia Millia Islamia.

Edited by: Rutba Iqbal.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this publication are those of the author. They do not purport to reflect the opinions or views of The Jamia Review or its members.

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Written by Sahil Kazmi

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