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Imam Hussain’s Journey to Martyrdom: A Legacy Embedded in an Enduring Life of Its Own

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 accompanying children.

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 documented.

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 Hussain’s example.

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 remembering.

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