” Today, Muslims look upon the incident at Karbala as an example of good over evil; of justice over injustice; of truth over falsehood and of bravery over cowardice. ”
While most cultures and religions ring in their new year with feasts, celebrations and parties, the Islamic new year brings with it deep contemplation and reflection. Today is the first of Moharram (the first month of the Muslim calendar) and the onset of the Islamic new year –
Hijra (Hijra meaning migration.) Dating from the time that the messenger of Islam, Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), migrated from his birthplace Mecca to Medina in Saudi Arabia (approximately 619 A.D.), the Muslim calendar is lunar, and consists of twelve months.
In the year 61 Hijra (680 A.D.) an incident took place in Karbala, Iraq, that shook the foundations of the religion of Islam. To this day, Karbala is cited by International Historians as the most tragic incident of sacrifice and valour in the History of the world. It was fifty years after the death of Prophet Mohammad and the religion of Islam as taught by him, was being faithfully practiced and preached by his family and disciples. However, politics had started to invade the purity and simplicity of the faith. Political power of the Caliphate shifted to the Omayyads who were mercenaries and were eager to rule over the fast growing Muslim Empire. Yazid, a tyrant known to be against truth, justice and all the good that Islam stood for, wanted to become king of all Muslims. He demanded allegiance from everyone by force, but Hussain, grandson of the Prophet resisted him. Hussain was well respected by the Muslim community and commanded a great following. He was known to be a peace loving man and Yazid thought that if he could scare or coerce Hussain into accepting him, he would become the unchallenged ruler of all Muslims.
Hussain was aware that the life of his supporters was endangered by refusing allegiance to Yazid. So he decided to go to Kufa (a small town in Iraq) with 72 followers, all of whom were against the despotism of Yazid. Yazid got wind of the trip and intercepted the group on the banks of the Euphrates, at the plains of Karbala. Once again Yazid demanded that Hussain and his followers pledge allegiance to him, but Hussain was a righteous man and he refused to bow down to pressure. He opted to stand up for justice and rebel against the hypocrisy of Yazid, even if it meant putting his small group of followers at risk.
While Hussain camped in the plains of Karbala, asking only to be allowed to pray in peace and reach Kufa, Yazid with an army of 30,000 soldiers cordoned off the water supply for Hussain’s people leaving them thirsty and parched in the sweltering heat of the desert. Yazid then slowly and relentlessly proceeded to slaughter the small caravan of people including innocent children and infants.
The Battle of Karbala was a clash not between personalities, but between two principles – love of truth against lust for power and passion for justice against perversity of tyranny. The symbols of human dignity that Islam preaches i.e. peace, humanity, tolerance, patience, brotherhood, forgiveness and equality among human beings, were in danger of being obliterated. Hussain sacrificed his life and the blood of his family to keep these qualities alive and in his death they were realised.
Today, Muslims look upon the incident at Karbala as an example of good over evil; of justice over injustice; of truth over falsehood and of bravery over cowardice. Throughout the seige at Karbala, Hussain remained calm and continued to pray with his followers. He never lost his faith in God or his religion. It would have been easy for him to submit to Yazid, but Hussain would not compromise his principles – the principles that were instilled into his soul by his father, Ali and his grandfather, Mohammad the messenger of Islam.
During the first ten days of the Muslim New Year, Muslims pray for the souls of those martyred at Karbala. Their stories of valour and courage; of mothers sending their sons into the battlefield to face certain death; of infants dying of thirst; and mostly of sacrifice and an unshakable faith, are told in mosques and homes.
On the 10th day of Moharram, Muslims in many parts of the world, relive and enact the tragedy of Karbala for it was on this day that the inhuman slaughter of Hussain and his followers was completed. It is important to take the lesson that Muslims learn from Karbala and apply it to the world today. Everywhere in the world where injustice, cruelty and inhumanity is being practiced, another Karbala is taking place. Examples are given of places like Chechnya, Rwanda, Bosnia, Kashmir. To denounce all acts of violence against humanity is what the tragedy of Karbala is all about. To relive, recant and remember through discussions, lectures and prayers, is what the Muslim New year is all about.