By Narjis Nichole Abdul-Majid
A very concise summary of the events at Karbala: In the month of Muharram in 10AH when Yazid, son of Mu’awiya, declared himself as a ruler over the Ummah, he demanded Imam Al-Husayn’s allegiance. Imam Husayn refused to make bayat because Yazid was a tyrant and did not represent Islam and therefore tensions between the two grew. Yazid demanded allegiance or death so with his life under threat Husyan traveled to the holy city of Mecca to seek protection for his family. When he received letters of support from Kufa he packed up and headed to the Iraqi city, but was forcibly diverted toward the desert town of Karbala. It would be in this desert that Husayn, his family and 72 companions would face water deprivation, insults, violent attacks, and death at the hands of the 30,000 soldiers of Yazid’s army.
In a world where black lives matter is no longer just a mantra you repeat to yourself in the mirror before facing the reality of a not-so-post-racial world, Muharram returns. Every Muharram since 2009, when I was blessed to walk the dusty streets of Karbala, Iraq, I return to my thoughts about what real Islam teaches us about the value of human lives. I emphasize real Islam as the media is bombarding the world with ISIS-laced perversions of Islam everyday. There is no more palpable reminder of the value of life than death and nowhere in history do we find a tragic depiction of the complete disregard for the value of life and adil (Allah’s divine justice) than in the story of Husayn, grandson of Prophet Muhammad, and the slaughtering of him and 72 of his companions and relatives; the youngest of which was his six-month old son, Ali Asghar.
Outsiders, whose knowledge of Shia Islam typically constitutes whatever propaganda Google box, mainstream media, or misinformed or ill-intentioned compatriots have shared often pose the question of why Shia’s mourn in Muharram? I counter, why aren’t all Muslims mourning? The grandson of the Holy Prophet of Islam was brutally murdered and decapitated on the hot desert sands of Karbala after watching his family and companions deprived of water and killed either in front of him or in his arms.
When I think of the battle at Karbala, I remember how before even reaching the city limits of Karbala my throat tightened with an unimaginable thirst, my nose was filled with the bittersweet smell of pre-storm summer air and my bloodshot eyes welled with tears. I think of the countless reasons why I mourn, why I an African American Muslim woman remember.
Why are the events of Karbala retold every year, because of the lessons that they contain for all humanity. When I look at my African American children I am reminded of how blessed I am that although I dare to strive in the way of Allah I am not under direct threat of losing them by the piercing arrows of the army of Yazid, but instead reminded that I can not let my guard down because the Yazids of this world still threaten the haqq (truth) of Allah. The Yazids of this world carry knives and guns and sometimes wear badges. When I pin my hijab tightly around my face before stepping out into the world, the battle of Karbala reminds me of the sacrifices of the family of Prophet Muhammad whose women were mistreated and stripped of their hijabs and paraded around the hot desert. I think to myself about how blessed I am that Husayn’s sister Zainab endured this horrible treatment and spoke out about her oppressors and reminded us all to not stand silent in the face of oppression. Not to stand silent in the face of oppression.
As Muslims who fast in the month of Ramadhan we know something of thirst, but the battle of Karbala reminds me of what torture and unimaginable thirst the family of Prophet Muhammad and their companions endured as a result of being cut off from all water. The efforts of Husayn’s brother, Abbas ibn Ali, at Karbala remind me of what real familial devotion is as he earnestly and repeatedly risked his life, and ultimately brutally lost it, in order to attempt to secure drinking water for the women and children in his family and camp crying out for water. I think of Hurr, the Umayyad general who was responsible for holding Husayn, his family and companions captive and how even after the horrible atrocities that occurred as a result of his leadership, he was able to reflect, repent and join Husayn in fighting the tyrant Yazid. Instead of ending the life of his enemy, Husayn instead welcomed Hurr like a brother and even discouraged him from going into battle. It is reported that Husayn said, “The most merciful person is the one who forgives when he is able to take revenge.” How many lives would this act of forgiveness spare us in our communities?
Husayn bravely faced adversity to protect Islam as Allah had established it through his grandfather Muhammad. Husayn faced down 30,000 soldiers to stand up for truth and justice. When I make salah five times a day, I remember how Husayn observed his prayers on time on the battlefield at Karbala. When modern life is full of so many non-life threatening distractions Husayn serves to remind us all of what true obedience to Allah really means.
There are so many more lessons from the battle of Karbala that I think about not just in the first 10 days of Muharram, as they are historically memorialized. Beyond, Ashura, I think about what my Karbala is in 2016. How can I embody the lessons of Husayn and the battle of Karbala in my daily life in the face of mounting oppression? How can anyone live in the way of Allah without preparing to die in the way of Allah. It is for this reason that I commit to remember Husayn in his own words, “When the truth becomes alone, alone and sad”. Condolences on the loss of Allah’s precious servants and our beloved Imam Husayn (a.s.).
If you are unfamiliar with the events at Karbala I highly encourage you to seek knowledge from legitimate sources and learn for yourself who Husayn was and why the battle of Karbala and the first ten days of Muharram are somberly remembered every year.
This digital resource highlights the significance of the history and people involved in the events that occurred at Karbala: https://whoishussain.org/
This digital resource outlines the chain of events that predicated the battle at Karbala as well as details what happened after the battle: https://www.al-islam.org/articles/karbala-the-chain-of-events-ramzan-sabir
Jae Deen of Deen Squad reflecting on Mourning Husayn as a Sunni:
Narjis Nichole Abdul-Majid is a part-time lecturer in the departments of Pan African Studies and Humanities at the University of Louisville. Her research interests focus on the African American and Native American Islamic experiences (Slavery-Melungeons-20th Century Islamic Movements-Present Day) with emphasis on minority voices.