The Islamic calendar corresponds to AD 622. During that year, the Prophet of Islam (PBUH) and his followers had migrated from Mecca to Yathrib (now Medina) and established the first Muslim State. The Islamic, Muslim, or Hijri calendar is a lunar calendar consisting of 12 months in a year of 354 or 355 days. The first month of Hijri Calendar begins with Muharram, and in a few days, the moon of Muharram is upon us.
The Muslims, especially the Shia Muslims mourn in this month and recall the Message of Karbala, the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (as) and his family members and companions. Despite all the channels of information available today, non-Muslims particularly those living in the West generally have very little knowledge of the tragedy of Karbala.
It was deserted place in Iraq that was the site of the battle on 10 Moḥarram 61/10 October 680 between Imam Ḥussain (as) and the Omayyad army. Imam Hussain (as) with a party of seventy-two armed men and some women and children, was on his way from Medina to Kufa, whose inhabitants had invited him to lead the Islamic community there.
Before reaching Kufa, the caravan of Imam was intercepted by an Omayyad forces, On 2 Moḥarram his party reached the plain of Karbala, where they were surrounded by another 40,000-strong Omayyad force sent by ʿObayd-Allāh b. Ziād, the governor of Kufa, and led by ʿOmar b. Saʿd b. Abi Waqqāṣ, who had been instructed not to allow Imam Hussain (as) to proceed unless he would sign a pledge of allegiance to the caliph Yazid b. Moʿāwia. On 10 Moḥarram, known as ʿAshurah, the uneven battle took place in which all of Imam’s able male companions were slaughtered.
The Ommayad army looted Imam Hussain’s camp, decapitated the bodies of all his companions, and took prisoners all the women and children. Among them was Imam Hussain (as) surviving son ʿAlī, who became the fourth Shiʿite Imam, Zayn-al-ʿAbedin. The Karbala tragedy became the constitutive event of Shiʿism as a religion and the symbol of the victory of the righteous few over an oppressive majority. It was the backdrop of whatever went wrong in Islamic history.
Going in to the backdrop of this tragedy, let us recall that Imam Hasan (as), the older grandson of Prophet (PBUH) was earlier poisoned at the instance of Amir Muawiya – the ruler of Syria who had rebelled against the fourth Caliph of Islam Hazrat Ali (as). Imam Hussain (as) was the younger brother of Imam Hasan (as). Imam Hasan (as) had succeeded his father Imam Ali (as) as caliph.
The wily governor of Syria, Amir Muawiyah had eyed the caliphate for a long time. At one point, he went to battle with Imam Ali (as) and upon his death, persuaded his son Imam Hasan to abdicate in his favour. Short of another war and the blood-letting that goes with it, Imam Hasan (as) saw no alternative. He abdicated on condition that Amir Muawiyah would not appoint anyone as caliph after him.
But Amir Muawiyah reneged on his promise and appointed his hard-drinking son Yazeed as caliph. Yazeed was the complete opposite of what a religious leader should be – fond of the pleasures of the world. Imam Husain declared “A man like me would never pay his allegiance to a man like Yazeed.
Imam Hussain (as) kept his pledge and sacrificed all that he had in the battle field of Karbala. As the tragedy of Karbala took place in the month of Muharrum, the Muslims recall his sacrifice in this period to revive the spirit of Islam. Karbala was the battle between justice and falsehood, the battle between freedom and slavery, the battle between humanity and oppression.
It is found in traditions that when the Prophet Muhammad [PBUH] informed Lady Fatima [a] of the martyrdom of his son, she burst into tears and asked “O my father! when would my son be martyred?” “At such a critical moment,” replied the Holy Prophet, “when neither I nor you, nor Ali would be alive.”
This accentuated her grief and she inquired again, “Who then, O my father, would commemorate Hussain’s martyrdom?” The Holy Prophet said, “The men and the women of a particular group of my followers, who will befriend my Ahlul-bayt, will mourn for Husayn and commemorate his martyrdom each year in every century.”
What is the lesson of Karbala? Apart from the physical suffering in martyrdom, and all sorrow and suffering that claim our sympathy, it give strength to withstand against tyranny – of any kind, It inspires the humanity to resists against all odds. It gives us courage to oppose the criminal prosecution; it gives us strength to set a bold front against injustice whether committed by Law of the Time, the State and the ruler or by our own people.
In Karbala we see a valiant soul standing against the power; when the noblest motives are reviled and mocked; when truth seems to suffer an eclipse.
Karbala reveals that “Truth after all can never die.” As Moulana Mohammed Ali Johar has said:
“Qatl-e-Hussain asal men marg-e-Yazid hai, Islam zinda hota hai har Karbala ke baad.”
The murder of Imam Hussain, in reality, is the death and defeat of Yazid. Islam is revived after every recurrence of the tragedy of Karbala.
The whole battle Karbala is for keeping hold of truth and righteousness. Imam Hussain (as) demonstrated in Karbala how the conduct – spiritual striving and suffering enduring firmness of faith and purpose. His act beacons that patience and courage goes a long way where ordinary mortals would give in or be cowed down.
Karbala gave the deathblow to the politics of Damascus and Yazid and all it stood for. The month of Muharram has the power to unite the different schools of thought in Islam, and make a powerful appeal to non-Muslims also.
On the eve before the massacre, the Imam Hussain (as) had asked everyone to leave – “The enemy is only after my blood. I would plead with you to leave “. But far from leaving, they exclaim in chorus ” even if we were to be killed 70 times, brought to life and killed again, we would still not leave you”.
Imam Husain (as) has been honoured by non-Muslims all over the world, especially in countries with a sizeable Shia population.
A Hindu poet Jai Singh has paid his tribute to Imam Hussain (as) in the following poem:
Hai Aaj bhi Zamaay Maeyn charcha Husain ka
Chlata hai kayenaat maeyn sikka Hussain ka
Bharat maeyn gar wo atay Bhagwan kahtay hum
Harr Hindu naam pooja maeyn japta Hussain ka
Sarr apna peet-ti hai jo pyason ki yaad maeyn
Layti hai naam Gunga o Jumna Husain ka
Is maeyn naheen kalam ke hum but parast haeyn
Ankhon se apni chhomeyn gay rauza Husain ka
Hum Paapion ke wastay Hurr ki mithaal hai
Chamkata hai naseeb ishara Husain ka
Jai Singh panaah manay gee mujh se narad ki aag
Maeyn Hindu hoon magar hoon maeyn Shaida Husain ka
Husain’s name lives on to this day
Husain’s currency is valid the world over
Had he but come to India
Every Hindu would have worshipped him in his devotions
There s no doubt that we (Hindus) worship idols
We will kiss his grave and rub our eyes lovingly on it
For us sinners is the example of Husain
Husain’s call can change man’s destiny
Jai Singh, the fire of hell will not touch me
I am a Hindu but I love Husain
Sikh poet Kunwar Mahinder Singh Bedi ‘Sahar’ said:
Lubb pay jab Shah-e-Shaheedaan tera naam aata hai
Saamnay Saqi-e-Kauthar liay jaam ata hai
Mujh ko bhi apni ghulami ka sharaf day dijio
Kota sikka bhi to aaqa kabhi kaam ata hai
O Prince of Martyrs, when your name comes upon my lips
I can see the Saqi-e-Kauthar (Imam Ali) offering me the drink of Paradise
Take me into your service as your slave
Surely a fake coin can also be useful
Zinda islam ko kiya too nay
Haq o batil dikha diya too nay
Jee ke marna to sabko aata tha
Mar ke jeena sikha diya too nay
You gave a new lease of life to Islam
You showed the difference between the truth and falsehood
Everyone must see death after life
But you taught us how to live after death
In fact, it is not just Hindus & Sikhs who have lavished their praises on our Imams. As just one example, the Christian scholar George Jordach says about lmam Ali as follows:-
“All the treasures of the world cannot match the strap of his shoes”. [source : The Voice of Human Justice]