|The Ashura and Muharrem- A Sunni Muslim's Perspective|
|Written by Dr. Shahid Athar|
While the Iranian revolution had increased apprehension and distance between Shia Islam and USA, the current situation in Iraq and war on terrorism has brought them closer to each other. Thus American people and policy makers must try to understand the core of Shia Islam.
Muhurram, the first month of the Islamic calendar which marks the concept of emigration (Hjjra) in the cause of God is also sacred for many other reasons. It was the tenth of this month that Prophet Noah ( sailed his arc, and it was this day that Prophet Moses led Israelites to the exodus from Egypt. Jews used to fast on this day but Prophet Muhammad advised Muslims to fast both ninth and tenth of Muhurram.
However, it is the Martyrdom of Imam Hussain and seventy one members of his family and associates which took place of this day at Karabala that Muslims remember most. Caliph Muawiya called for appointing his son Yazid to follow him. After Muawiya's death his son Yazid declared himself the Caliph starting an unprecedented tradition.
He demanded allegiance from Hussain, son of Ali ibn Talib (Prophet's cousin, son-in-law,and the fourth caliph). At that time, Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad was the Islamic religion symbol living at that time. The people of Kufa (the capitol of Iraq) did not like the rule of Muawiya or his son Yazid because of their certain policies and practices of Islam. So they invited Hussain to come to Kufa to talk Yazid out of Caliphate. Thus Imam Hussain set out to Kufa at the invitation of the people on a mission of peace, along with his family and associates. He should have rebelled and declared himself the caliph in Medina, but he did not. On his way to Kufa, it became evident to Imam Hussain that war was the being forced upon him, when the army of Yazid stopped him at Karbala. He made an offer of peace in asking: a) he be allowed to return to Medina b) he be taken to Yazid for a direct one to one talk c) he be sent to a Muslim land. Hur bin Yazid, with 20,000 men strong did not accept any of his orders from the governor of Iraq, Abdullah bin Ziyad to his mistake and defected to the side of Hussain just before the starting of war. For ten days, while Hussain and his caravan camped at Karbala, they were surrounded by the hostile force and deprived of food and water. On the tenth day, orders to force Hazrat Imam Hussain to accept allegiance or to kill him were given to Shamir, commanding 5000 to 10,000 soldiers. All male members of Hussain's family and close associates were killed. He was last to be killed and beheaded. He had sixty-seven wounds on his body. A seven month old infant son of Hussain was also killed by an arrow while in Hussain's lap who was asking for some water for the baby. Their bodies were run over by horses or desecrated and then left to decompose. Seventy-two heads were taken of Kufa at the tip of spears and presented to the court of Ibn Ziyad, then across the desert to Damascus to face Yazid. The prisoners of war were mostly women and children and one man in his twenties Zainul Abedin who was very sick in the tent, thus spared.
Key lessons from the martyrdom of Imam Hussain.
Now let us ask Shias what are they mourning and why are they mourning? If they are mourning the death of Imam Hussain, Quran tells us that martyrs are not dead. "And do not call those who die in the way of God as "dead", no they are living, only you do not see them. (2:154)
If they are mourning his defeat, certainly if he would have surrendered to Yazid and pledged allegiance to him, he would have been defeated, but he did not, in fact his sacrifice prevented kingdom and monarchy to establish a form of government in Islam, and caliphate continued for hundreds of years. It is this death of Yazid's ideology about which a poet said:
In the murder of Hussain,
Muhurram is not just for ten days, and then going back to the old business as usual. For a Muslim "who stands up to strive in the cause of God, for him the place is Karbala, the month is Muhurram, the day is Ashura. He is Imam Hussain and his opponent is Yazid." ( Dr. Ali Shariati )