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Ashura and the Martyrdom of Imam Hussein (ra)

November 21, 2013 by  


During the early period of Prophet’s (s) mission in Makkah, Muslims fasted on Muharram 10th and then they started fasting for two days in Medina on the 10th and 9th or 11th of the month. Ashura refers to the 10th of Muharram and according to Muslim beliefs in all religious traditions this day was of great significance.The literature about the fasting on the 10th of Muharram is all over the internet and one does not need to repeat that  here. It is a significant part of our faith and the entire Muslim world recognizes that.

But this article would focus on what was said by Imam Ibn Taymiya about one of the greatest events in the early history of Muslims.

وأما من قتل الحسين أو أعان على قتله أو رضي بذلك فعليه لعنة الله والملائكة والناس أجمعين, ابن تيمية في مجموع الفتاوى 4 / 487

“The curse of God, the angels, and the entire community is on those who killed al-Hussein, assisted in killing him, or accepted his killing. 

Ibn Taymiya, Majmou’ al-Fatawa 4 / 487

فإن قتل الحسين وقتل عثمان من قبله كان من أعظم أسباب الفتن في هذه الامة وقتلتهما من شرار الخلق عند الله, ابن تيمية411 /3 الفتاوى

The killing of Hussein and Uthman before him is one of the great reasons for the temptations in the Muslim community and God regard their killers as the worse of people / Majmou’ al-Fatawa, Ibn Taymiya

In our recent memory, the 10th of Muharram is remembered more for one of the greatest tragedies that occurred in the early history of Muslims. It was this day when Imam Hussein (ra), son of Ali (kw), the cousin and son-in-law of Prophet Muhammad (s) offered his life together with members of his family in the fields of Kerbala in Iraq. It was this day when an army claiming to be Muslims confronted the grandson of the Prophet (s) and denied him even water before decimating him and his family. It is a tragic day for Muslims, nay for all the people in the world, and the 10th of Muharram reminds us of that constantly.

Shias observe this day as a day of great mourning reminding them of the sacrifices of Imam Hussein (ra) and his family. Sunnis on the other fast on these days and usually avoid participating in events organized to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (ra).

Imam Hussein belongs to the entire ummah and his sacrifices are for the entire ummah and not just for one section of the community. He stood for the principles of Islam and not just for the interests of one section of the community. He stood for those eternal values of Islam that every Prophet (s) preached to his people. He knew that life is sacred and a gift from Allah, yet he realized that there may come times in the life of individuals when the goals of life may become more important than the life itself.

The goals of life he stood for are obvious. He believed that people should not be coerced to give political allegiance to leaders they disagreed with. People have a right to dissent with rulers and leaders with dignity and honor. The resources of a nation belong to all and not to one dynasty, or aristocracy or an elite group. Coercion and violence were weapons of despots in their campaign against truth and justice.

Thus, Imam Hussein (ra) challenged the decision of Ameer Mu’awiya (ra), the ruler of the Muslim world at the time, one of the companions of the Prophet (s), when he nominated his son Yezid as his successor. Imam Hussein (ra) was of the opinion that Islam was against dynastic rule and the one nominated was not qualified to lead the nation of Muslims. He was not alone in this opinion. Many of the companions in Medina and Makkah supported his ideas.

Against all odds, Imam Hussein (ra) challenged the forces of Yezid in Kerbala realizing that those who had promised to be on his side would betray him. He knew he would be crushed and his family would suffer the dire consequences. He knew that he would achieve martyrdom in the battlefield. Yet he decided to offer his life. Primarily to prove the point that goals of life are more important than the life itself. He knew that compromise was not an option in these situations. He also realized that when the choice is so clear between right and wrong, one should offer all one has in defense of one’s ideals. His ijtihad and actions were based on his understanding of the Quran and the teachings of the Prophet (s) and he stood by that.

It is this message Imam Hussein upheld and offered his martyrdom for. This message has been forgotten by one section of the community and highly expanded by the other. Shias mourn on this day. If they mourn the loss of the grandson as a token of love, it should be within the limits that his grandfather set for these occasions. Because the mourning and repentance should belong to those who betrayed Imam Hussein and refused to support him even after inviting him to continue his resistence. It does not behoove to those who see in the example of Imam Hussein a manifesto for the ummah to rid itself from all sorts of depots and tyrants in every aspect of life. By and large, Sunnis have remained silent on his martyrdom in general not realizing that he stood for the principles that Allah introduced to the world through his grandfather. 

Tenth of Muharram, thus, is a day of great significance in Muslim history as it is a day when one of the great leaders of the community, Imam Hussein, knowingly and consciously accepted martyrdom for saving the soul of Islam. It could be a day to bring Shias and Sunnis together. Because it is a day of pride when the divine cause was given the priority over one’s life and family. This day should be viewed as the day of deliverance.

Both Sunnis and Shias can focus on the message of the Imam and work together to rid their world of all sorts of despotism that have negated the essence of the divine guidance.

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