After 1400 years, the mourning continues unabated

As soon as the moon of the month of Muharram is sighted, a deep transformation comes about in shias.  A tinge of sadness is felt deep inside which intensifies with each day and pervades the entire being as the mourning climaxes on the day of Ashura on 10th of the month. Pre-occupation with mundane worldly matters has by now been subdued by a conscience that calls with intense passion towards spirituality and good deeds. Night after night, clad in black, all roads seem to lead to the mourning gatherings at Hussainyahs. And you get to meet the whole community including those you may not have seen since the previous Muharram. The trigger is the remembrance of severe atrocities against Imam Husain (a.s.) , the grandson of the Prophet (swt), and his family and companions for their refusal to allow the hijacking and distortion of Islam by the corrupt rulers.

Throughout the months of Muharram and Safar one finds shias all over the world heading in large numbers to participate in religious lectures (majalis). These are held at several places in Singapore in Urdu, Malay and English. Besides the mourning aspects, the majalis provide a unique opportunity to learn more about all aspects of Islam and the Holy Quran. Unlike obligatory rituals, these gatherings comprise passionate people who have come voluntarily and who are therefore very receptive and keen to learn. Thus, Imam Husain’s sacrifice also serves as a school that continues to help millions internalise the principles of Islam every year. It also fills our hearts with sympathy for the oppressed of our times, whoever and where ever they may be. And to the oppressors, including those who try to hijack our religion of peace and love and taint it with terrorism, it declares that, whatever the odds, truth always triumphs in the end.

What others say about Imam Hussain’s mission

Dr. Rajendra Prasad: “The sacrifice of Imam Hussain (A.S.) is not limited to one country, or nation, but it is the hereditary state of the brotherhood of all mankind.”

Mahatma Gandhi: “My faith is that the progress of Islam does not depend on the use of sword by its believers, but the result of the supreme sacrifice of Hussain (A.S.), the great saint”

Dr. Radha Krishnan: “Though Imam Hussain (A.S.) gave his life almost 1300 years ago, but his indestructible soul rules the hearts of people even today.”

Charles Dickens: (English novelist): “If Husain had fought to quench his worldly desires…then I do not understand why his sister, wife, and children accompanied him. It stands to reason therefore, that he sacrificed purely for Islam.”

Ignaz Goldziher: (Hungarian orientalist): “…Weeping and lamentation over the evils and persecutions suffered by the ‘Alid family, and mourning for its martyrs: these are things from which loyal supporters of the cause cannot cease. ‘More touching than the tears of the Shi’is’ has even become an Arabic proverb.” (Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law, Princeton, 1981, p.179)

Edward Gibbon: (English historian and member of parliament): “In a distant age and climate, the tragic scene of the death of Hosein will awaken the sympathy of the coldest reader.” (The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, London, 1911, volume 5, p. 391-392)

Mrs. Sarojini Naidu: “I congratulate Muslims that from among them, Hussain (A.S.), a great human being was born, who is revered and honored totally by all communities.”

Sir William Muir: (Scottish orientalist): “The tragedy of Karbala decided not only the fate of the Caliphate, but also of Mohammadan kingdoms long after the Caliphate had waned and disappeared.” (Annals of the Early Caliphate, London, 1883, p.441-442)

Rabindranath Tagore: “In order to keep alive justice and truth, instead of an army or weapons, success can be achieved by sacrificing lives, exactly what Imam Hussain (A.S.) did”

Swami Shankaracharya: “It is Hussain’s (A.S.) sacrifice that has kept Islam alive or else in this world there would be no one left to take Islam’s name.”

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru: “Imam Hussain’s (A.S.) sacrifice is for all groups and communities, an example of the path of righteousness.”

Thomas Carlyle: (Scottish historian and essayist): “The best lesson which we get from the tragedy of Cerebella is that Husain and his companions were rigid believers in God. They illustrated that the numerical superiority does not count when it comes to the truth and the falsehood. The victory of Husain, despite his minority, marvels me!”

Antoine Bara: (Lebanese writer): “No battle in the modern and past history of mankind has earned more sympathy and admiration as well as provided more lessons than the martyrdom of Husayn in the battle of Karbala.” (Husayn in Christian Ideology)

Dr. K. Sheldrake: “Of that gallant band, male and female knew that the enemy forces around were implacable, and were not only ready to fight, but to kill. Denied even water for the children, they remained parched under the burning sun and scorching sands, yet not one faltered for a moment. Husain marched with his little company, not to glory, not to power of wealth, but to a supreme sacrifice, and every member bravely faced the greatest odds without flinching.”

Edward G. Brown: (Professor at the University of Cambridge): “…a reminder of that blood-stained field of Karbala, where the grandson of the Apostle of God fell, at length, tortured by thirst, and surround by the bodies of his murdered kinsmen, has been at anytime since then, sufficient to evoke, even in the most lukewarm and the heedless, the deepest emotion, the most frantic grief, and an exaltation of spirit before which pain, danger, and death shrink to unconsidered trifles.” (A Literary History of Persia, London, 1919, p.227)

“Why?” You may ask. “How is this even possible?”

Considering how we tend to forget over time all sorts of tragedies, including loss of our own loved ones, one can understand the bewilderment of the world at our intense mourning over an event that took place more than 1400 years ago in Karbala, Iraq in the month of Muharram. How is it, they ask, that the lapse of these centuries has done nothing to diminish even slightly the sense of deep sorrow that we feel during this month and the firm determination it revives in us to fight against oppression in general and corruption of islam in particular. Not easy to explain when it comes to the matters of the heart. Its partly to do perhaps with gratitude for someone who sacrifices everything for you . It was the noblest of ideals for which Imam Husain a.s. and his supporters laid down their lives on the scorching sands of Karbala on the 10th of Muharrum ( the day of Ashura ). They had the option to save their lives and let Islam die. They chose death so that truth is separated from falsehood once and for all, so that the right way continues to be available as a choice for humanity for all times. And in the process they also explained in practical terms the meaning of true submission to the Will of Allah(swt).

According to verse 23 of Surah 42 of the Quran,  in relation to the services rendered by the Prophet (saw) for the muslims, he is asked to inform them as follows :  ” Say: I do not ask of you any reward for it but love for my near relatives….”

Our passion certainly has much to do with the love we feel for the pure and blessed household of the Prophet(saw)…  and many a time we find ourselves pondering: what forces are at work that produce such strong attraction, how did this love come to reside in hearts and permeate the souls, why does it not become stale with time, why these tears year after year at the very mention of the martyrs on the day of Ashura ? …. at this point, words cease to be of much help. All one can say, with utmost humility, is that if one has this love, one certainly knows it. And feels blessed. And feels the urge to share this treasure with the world. The feeling for truth seekers is that of having finally “arrived” .(one meets many non-muslims and non-shia muslims who have embraced Shia beliefs but rarely, if at all, does one come across any shia ithna asheris who have changed their beliefs).

Old  nohas recited by Br Ahsan Ali during his 1999 visit

The world-wide open university of Imam Hussain (as)

Every year millions attend islamic lectures during the months of Muharram and Safar. Young and old, poor and rich, regardless of colour, race or gender, come in large numbers to attend the open, free of cost, classes at Husainiyas all over the world. They acquire knowledge that makes life meaningful. Quran, the last book of divine revelation, comes alive as they learn its true meaning from the school of the Prophet and his pure household. Lessons about how to worship Allah swt and surrender to His Will are taught on the basis of real life examples of the best role models the world has seen. See what others say about Imam Hussain’s supreme sacrifice in the section below.

These jewels are freely available on the internet. People of all religious faiths as well as atheists can now partake of this treasure from their computers and smartphones. A small selection of quality resources can be found in this website. For additional resources including free ebooks and multimedia, please refer to:  A few examples are shown here and in the section below on Singapore Lectures:

English lectures by Br Khalil Jaffer. Insightful and absorbing intellectually, they also present key concepts and practical tools for the journey away from ego and evil towards Allah and enligtenment….

Click here to watch on Youtube :

Freeing the Butterfly Within
Obstacles to Knowing God
In Search of a Weeping Heart
The Coming of the Mahdi (a.j)
The Art of Yearning for God
The End of Negative Suffering

Urdu lectures that exude powerful intellect and logic as well as beautiful words and wit:

Memories from the Fiftees

Recollections of teenage years from a city of millions with hundreds of imambargahs. Preparations would begin months ahead. At last its the night of first of Muharram. The entire neighborhood is lit up head to toe, a hive of activity, unrecognizable from the day before. Its majlis time. A mass of  mourners dressed in black are seen streaming into the city’s oldest Imambargah. It can accomodate only hundreds, not thousands gathered. Arrangements for the rest comprise loudspeakers and straw mats on the streets on three sides which are closed off to traffic. The legendary reciter, Allama Rashid Turabi, starts with the phrase: Muharram is here. A simple statement of fact. Yet, tears and sobs on every face, young and old. And it continues with crowds getting bigger  every night. Indelible memories of sights, sounds and smells like no other…. of candles, alams, tazia, matam with night long mourning and prayers towards the end of the 10 day commemoration.

Its now the night of Ashura. Processions from scores of localities of the sprawling city start winding their way to a large central park where the mourning continues all night. After fajr prayers and the ashura majlis,  a massive procession starts around mid morning and towards sunset reaches its destination many miles away, passing through the main roads with tall Alams (banners) majestically leading this march of  tens of thousands of passionate mourners.The timelessness of this tragedy is clear for all to see. That it happened 1400 years ago in a place far away does not feature into the equation. Not at all. Unaware onlookers will be quite sure that it has to do with fatalities of near ones from some terrible incident the day before! As darkness falls, the sound of nohas and matam on the streets recedes and we now hear Allama Rashid Turabi reciting majlis e shaame ghariban on the national media. It ends with salaam e akhir in Marhum Nasir Jehan’s haunting voice:

If life permits, I shall, next year, mourn again
If I pass away, then, this is …. my last salaam

by this time, the streets that had been bustling with mourners and majalis and alams and nohas under bright lights for the last ten nights have suddenly become eerily silent and dark …. not a sound, not a soul around … only a very haunting, frightening feeling deep within and tears rolling down the cheeks… crying silently for the children in burning tents of shaam e ghariban….