The day of Ashura, which is the 10th day of the month of Muharram, is a remarkable day in the Islamic calendar. We remember the day when the prophet Nuh (Noah) left his ship after the waters of the flood calmed down. We remember the day the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham), the father of the three great monotheistic religions, was born. It is the memory of the day when the prophet Moussa (Moses) crossed the Red Sea, leading the Hebrews to freedom.
It is also the day the Battle of Kerbala took place in the scorching sands of Iraq in AD 680, making it the date of the death of Islam’s most tragic heroes: the Imam Hussain ibn Ali, the grandson of Muhammad, who perished fighting the forces of the tyrant Yazid. It is a particularly sacred day for the Shia community, which strongly accords its allegiance to the “Ehl Beht” lineage of their prophet’s house. That being said, all Muslims have good reason to mourn the fall and encourage the courage of such a distinguished member of Muhammad’s immediate family.
Even as a non-Muslim, I was drawn to the search for the larger-than-life character of Hussain. I found him to be a compelling and identifiable figure, whom I could admire at the level of a doomed military hero, as well as someone whose strong sense of integrity prevents him from pledging allegiance. to a leader bound to abuse the powers conferred on him. . He presents himself both as a man of deep spirituality and a certain frankness that permeates the writings he left. Hussain himself said he would rather die than live under a tyrant; which he considered a living hell, proclaiming “Better to die with dignity than a life of abasement”.
This theme is quite universal, a theme that has been repeated over and over again throughout history, and emphasized in popular culture in every conceivable form. In fact, if Mel Gibson ever got into an Arab mood, this would make a decent follow-up to Brave Heart and The Patriot, at least thematically. And if you have read Ballad of the White Horse by GK Chesterton, seeing parallels with King Alfred doesn’t require too much squinting, either. Hussain was faced with the choice of yielding to the powers that be or opposing them for the good of the Ummah (people / body of believers). It was this determination that led him and his family to cross the desert in search of support.
Unfortunately for him and his companions, they were betrayed by those who promised help and, vastly outnumbered, had to make a gallant, though inevitably fatal “last fight”, in which almost the entire male line of his family was devastated. There are various tragic moments, such as the death of Ali Akbar, Hussein’s young warrior son, killed while fighting for his father’s honor. There is Hussein’s half-brother, Abbas, who was killed while trying to get water for the thirsty children. There’s Hussain, displaying the desperation of a father and begging for water when he sees his toddler son is likely to die too, only to be answered with an atrocity as the enemy kills the baby in his arm.
It was the price of his challenge, a challenge he seemed to know he would eventually have to face, a challenge that haunted him in his dreams and the dreams of his sister Zainab. It was “the path of shame” that he had to walk with the rest of his tribe. Not only does the prize come in the form of blood, but also humiliation, as this descendant of warriors is brutally slaughtered to death in front of his terrified wives and children. He swaying down as best he can, always berating his attackers, reminding him of his noble lineage and the sin they commit. One narration even makes him ask, with some biting sarcasm, if the soldier about the slit had ever said his daily prayers to him.
As a Catholic, he reminded me more of Saint Thomas More, inasmuch as he was ready to go until his death rather than sign an oath which he could not in good conscience take, and in this nerve in the face of its own demise. . Even though Hussain was a trained warrior and Saint Thomas was not, it was pretty clear that no matter how valiant Hussain fought, it would be in vain – at least on an earthly level. In essence, Karbala is much like the Islamic Alamo and is remembered to this day as such, as somehow victorious over defeat. The story continues, the spirit too.
And from a Christological lens, it is not difficult to see at least some fleeting parallels between the Passion of Christ and a good man betrayed, beaten and humiliated. Now, of course, this shouldn’t be taken too far theologically, since Christians believe that Christ was God incarnate, and most Muslims don’t even believe that the crucifixion took place. But still, as a Christian storyteller myself, as well as someone with a strong appreciation for integrity, the Passion has always been a guiding light that I shed on all stories to put them into perspective, and I usually have the characters in my stories by passion “tastes”, and in a way that they may even ignore, they share a mystical unity with the redemption of the cross.
And one could say, from this point of view, that whether Hussein knew it or not, believe it or not, he was somehow united with the mystery of the cross as someone giving his life for the good of others. , firmly believing that he was being faithful to the honor of God in doing so. Even in the midst of his own grief, seeing his family members killed, he never gave up hope that God had a plan in all of this, and it led him to the consummation of his “martyrdom.” “. That, I believe, made him very closely related in spirit to Jesus indeed.
So here’s my own little Hussain story. Due to an illness I contracted, I had a pseudo-feverish dream about Hussain. In the dream, he approached me and handed me some kind of pastry. I said thank you because I was really hungry, being a bit unable to eat due to my swollen lips. The gesture was appreciated, even in Dreamland, and although I didn’t think much about it at first, some of my Muslim friends were really, really excited about it when I told them. Seeing such figures in dreams is considered a blessing, and the more I researched, the more I found things that made me think.
From what I read, Hussain and his father Ali were no strangers to distributing food to the needy, and even more revealing, at the burial sites of Ali and Hussain there seems to be a tradition. distribution of bread to pilgrims. When I came across a video of this on YouTube it got me thinking because it reminded me a lot of the feeling I had in the dream. So if I got a glimpse of the real deal in the realms between Dunya (this world) and Jannah (Heaven) all I can say is that I am honored. And I hope the pastry was with cheese and not prune!
Bless Muharram and Ashura to all who keep these stories alive!