By Farhan Bokhari
September 4, 2019
The epic journey of Imam Hussain (a.s), the grandson of
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once again will be remembered in the coming weeks as
Muslims across the world observe ‘Muharram’ to mark a decisive turning point in
the history of Islam.
Imam Hussain’s decision to refuse a formal acceptance of
allegiance or ‘Bayt’ to Yazid bin Ameer Muawiyah, the Ummayad caliph of the
time set the stage for the eventual massacre of Imam Hussain (a.s) along with
72 of his followers in Karbala, southern Iraq, in the 7th century AD. In
history, there have been many other massacres of innocent men and women, killed
needlessly by one usurper of power after another.
But the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (a.s) and his companions
must be kept apart for more than one reason. Perhaps the most striking feature
of this historical event has been Imam Hussain’s determination to stand his
ground, knowing that his martyrdom will be followed by the torture and
imprisonment of his companions, notably the women of his household and their
In other ways too, the run-up to the encounter at Karbala
and beyond was far removed from a regular battle between two foes. A historical
timeline of Imam Hussain’s journey first from Medina to Mecca and then from
Mecca to Karbala reveals a fascinating detail. All along, this small contingent
chose to avoid travel through larger settlements – an obvious indication of
virtually no effort undertaken to recruit supporters for the battle ahead.
The stopover at Mecca ended just two days before Haj
following news of Yazid’s dispatch of assassins in the guise of pilgrims, under
orders to shed Imam Hussain’s (a.s) blood even within the inner sanctum of the
Holy Ka’aba if needed. To this day, the sanctity of the most sacred house of
Islam – the Ka’aba – remains preserved in a follow-up to the tradition
established by Imam Hussain (a.s). A closer analysis of the journey reveals
exactly how each step throughout this journey was undertaken more in consonance
with the higher cause of demonstrating clear defiance rather than preparation
for just another regular battle.
And during the ten days till ‘Ashura’ – the 10th day of
Muharram when the massacre took place – there were many events that eventually
became lessons to spread the message far and wide. Upon arrival in Karbala,
Imam Hussain (a.s) and his companions were first stopped by Hur ibne Riyahi,
one of the most powerful generals of Yazid’s army.
In later days running up to ‘Ashura’, Imam Hussain (a.s)
delivered several sermons addressing the army of Yazid in an effort to deliver
a righteous message that could force at least some to back away from the
monumental blunder they were about to commit. Just before the final encounter,
Hur walked across with a son and one of his slaves to join Imam Hussain’s
contingent – a rapid change of loyalty with few precedents before or after
Karbala. To this day, the example of Hur stands out as an inspiration for
others to follow – that it’s never too late to change course.
The events leading up to Ashura also highlighted Imam
Hussain’s strategic choices in leaving behind what in history has become a
powerful legacy, recorded widely not just by Muslims but by non-Muslims alike.
On the evening of 9th Muharram, the night before the final encounter, Yazid’s
army of at least 30,000 stepped ahead to launch their massacre.
Imam Hussain (a.s) sought just one night to be devoted to
prayers before heading into a battle where the mismatch between the opposing
sides made it clear that Imam Hussain and his companions were set to be
eliminated. Yet, a daytime battle on the 10th of Muharram played a decisive
role in recording the events of that fateful day for times to come, in sharp
contrast to many a detail possibly being lost in the darkness of the night.
Today, the inspiration from Imam Hussain’s journey to
Karbala and beyond carries many facets for Muslims worldwide. This years’
Muharram has coincided in Pakistan and the surrounding region with everyday
accounts of unending brutalities endured by the people of Kashmir. By all
accounts witnessed so far, the journey ahead for the people of Kashmir could be
a very long haul. Similar challenges surrounding Muslims in other
conflict-stricken zones such as Afghanistan and Palestine are too well
The lessons of patience and defiance demonstrated in Karbala
remain a powerful and enduring legacy for Muslims worldwide, notably those in
trouble spots. For Muslims at large, the most important lessons from this
legacy relate to choosing a model of government in line with the values chosen
by Imam Hussain (a.s).
Throughout history, there has been no shortage of repeated
attempts to make the legacy of Imam Hussain (a.s) forgotten over time. The very
fact that this towering example of human sacrifice has survived to this day
must relate to not only the strength of the message emanating from Karbala.
Equally so time and again, the example of Karbala has worked to inspire
generation after generation as individuals sought inspiration from Imam
It is perhaps a tribute to the enduring legacy of the events
leading to Karbala and beyond that Muslims today, irrespective of their
beliefs, choose to observe Muharram in the name of Imam Hussain (a.s). The
power of this legacy is all too evident in writings penned by liberals and
secularists too who chose to reflect upon Imam Hussain’s example as one worth
Ultimately, this powerful legacy embedded in Imam Hussain’s
journey to martyrdom has acquired an enduring life of its own.
Farhan Bokhari is an Islamabad-based journalist who
writes on political andeconomic affairs.
Original Headline: Journey to martyrdom
Source: The News