Many remain unexposed to Karbala’s tragic story which has immeasurable spiritual weight. There is a need, now more than ever, to take active responsibility in understanding the meaning of Karbala and why millions call themselves Zawar-e-Hussain – A visitor of Hussain (AS).
To embark on the journey of this mournful remembrance is to visit the memory of Imam Hussain’s (AS) willingness to sacrifice and submit fully to the cause of truth against evil. Karbala’s lessons are speaking down to us 13 centuries later and they remain timelessly relevant.
This is a story of the divine embrace and the cost of what it means to stand firm against all odds. This is a story for the people of faith. Which faith? That is not important.
Every year as Muharram nears, I see the meaning of Karbala being taken out of context, sadly by a majority of my own sect. As a Sunni Muslim, I see nothing out of the ordinary in commemorating the memory of one of Islamic history’s greatest tragedies. But many around me felt otherwise, made explicitly evident the night before I flew to Iraq in 2019. Colleagues twice my age and thrice well-read wanted to know why a young girl who could travel anywhere around the world, chose to visit a country literally broken down to shambles. They felt the urge to ask if I had converted to Shi’ism.
The need to bring forward the question of ‘conversion’ here reiterates the twisted notion of the ‘other’. This is not a case of black and white. There is no us against them or vice versa, except in the narrow corridors of our heads. Such casual conversations are problematic when made in regards to the sensitive matter of the man-made divide between Sunnis and Shias.
Are the two sects not partners in faith? Is Iraq not home to one of history’s most significant spiritual figures? Is the tragedy of Karbala not a lesson for humanity at large?
These are important questions that need to be asked again and again until we learn to talk about these spiritual greats without limiting them to certain boundaries. Imam Hussain’s (AS) fight for justice, advocacy, and uprightness in the face of tyranny transcend all geographical and spiritual contexts.
كل يوم عاشوراء وكل مكان كربلاء
Every day is Ashura, every place is Karbala
The perseverance of Imam Hussain and his experience with Yazid are both an example and a warning for all of humankind. The themes of Karbala are a living reality throughout the world today and that is why the paragon of the seventy-two martyrs of Karbala is of immense importance.
The word Muharram translates to ‘forbidden,’ because fighting is prohibited therein. And yet the books of history testify to the brutality and bloodshed of not only the time of Imam Hussain (AS) but of our world today, where the visitors of the memory of Imam Hussain (AS) are subject to mass killings and hate speech.
This is why every day is Ashura and every place is Karbala because history indeed repeats itself every day, every year, again and again. As advocates of freedom of expression, we need to take our own advice in bridging the gap of ignorance. These are lessons in the obedience of God and we are called to live by these rich seams of meaning.
Imam Hussain (AS) as a spiritual fount is not yours or mine. He is ours. Karbala’s tragedy is not an Iraqi tragedy. It is not a tragedy merely of the Sunnis or the Shias. It is not a lesson in Muslim history alone. It is a lesson for humanity at large, for the people of faith. Any faith. It is a matter of deciding what it means to walk the path of truth against the temptations of evil.
It is asking us the ultimate question: what does it mean to say “I commit my life in obedience and submission to the divine will”?
By | Noor Amina Tiwana