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The Day of Ashura:

A Microcosm of the Human Condition 

by Marryam Naqvi   Article 2 of 3  (Article 1)


16 - The next choices to be made were by the companions of the Imam. Two options remained: to leave the Imam and protect themselves and their and families, or to stand by Imam Hussain to protect Islam. It is interesting to analyze the relationship of Imam Hussain and his companions, the choices he provides them with, as well as the choices they make. After all, a decision to face Yazid’s army “[is] a personal was not incumbent on him to ask others to team up with him.”16 Imam Hussain did not have to force men to fight with him. Those who chose to stand by him were moved by his spirit, and chose to stay with him based on following truth. It is perhaps for this reason that history will not forget the names of such martyrs, as their stance was truly, and purely, for the sake of Islam. Yasin T. Jibouri relays the famous narration of “the eve of the ninth of Muharram [where] Imam al-Hussain gather[s] all his companions together and [says] to them, ‘Whoever remains with me will be killed tomorrow; so consider this opportunity as Allah-sent and take advantage of the darkness and go home to your villages.’ He then extinguished the light so that those who wanted to go away might not be too embarrassed when seen by others. al-Hussain’s loyal companions burst out in inconsolable weeping and distressfully said to him, ‘Mawla (master)! Do not thus shame us before the Messenger of Allah, before Ali and Fatima! With what face will we present ourselves to them on the Day of Judgment? Were we to desert you, may the wild beasts of the jungle tear us to pieces.” 

17 - The grace and freedom Imam Hussain allows for his followers is rarely seen in a relationship between a leader and follower. He knows that his army is outnumbered, yet still shares the definite and inevitable result of the battle. His followers who remain are the ones who recognize their potential to reach the status of angels. It is important to consider that such followers compare leaving Imam Hussain to the likeness of: “wild beasts” “tear[ing] [them] to pieces].” 

18 - Their language foreshadows their deaths, being killed mercilessly by the beasts of Yazid’s army. Though they appear to be men, the members of Yazid’s army have, in actuality, dipped below the level of humans to the level of animals. A wild beast kills out of instinct; thus a man who tortures for the sake of torture must be something worse than a beast. Knowing this, Imam Hussain’s companions prepare themselves for the cruelest of the deaths. But it is not this death his followers are afraid of. To them, this death is a desire: to fight against the human beasts, and to be sacrificed to protect the grandson of the Holy Prophet.

The true nature of Yazid’s army is crystallized in the sermon of Lady Zainab in Syria.

She informs the Syrians of the atrocities committed towards the Ahlul-Bayt, even after their death. She announces that “the sacred bodies of the martyrs have been placed at the disposal of the wolves and other carnivorous animals of the jungle.”

19 - Lady Zainab reveals the true nature of Yazid’s army as animals. It can be understood that Lady Zainab, as the daughter of Imam ‘Ali possessed the knowledge of the hidden world. Thus, it can be understood that comparing Yazid’s army wolves is not simply a figure of speech. Rather, their souls have taken the shape of a beast, rescinding their position as humans.

The juxtaposition of the two armies is a clear embodiment of the potential for every human being. The power to choose: to stand by principles for the sake of great principles, or to disregard one’s principles for the sake of wealth and status. It is such decisions that lead to the elevation or degradation of one’s soul. It was the decisions on the Day of Ashura that that reflect the “ongoing struggle between right and wrong, truth and falsehood, piety and impiety, worldliness and spirituality. Such struggles take place in our life each and every day on different scales.

20 - It is with the freedom of the human beings that one must decide to choose the side of less, the side of the oppressed, even if the odds are entirely against them.

It was with this same freedom that Imam Hussain provided his companions, with a transparent understanding that there would be no reward, and a definite martyrdom. No other leader would give their followers the freedom, or even the push them to leave, to the extent of Imam Hussain. Ayatullah Mutahhari concludes that this was namely because “he was seeking that his companions would discharge their responsibility of their own accord.” 

21 - Each person is responsible for their own fate, with the knowledge of their potential outcome. Not only did this allow his followers the freedom to make their own decision, it also purified the intentions for who stayed, to fight for no gain in this world, but purely for the sake of Islam. 

22 - There are many great examples of Imam Hussain’s companions who faced the struggle of joining Imam Hussain’s army. It is easy to look back at history with a quick glance, and paint every man in black or white; the side of the oppressors or oppressed. Unfortunately, history can sometimes overlook the personal and internal struggles, and connect the dots without focusing on the line in between. One man who faced a heavy decision was Zuhair ibn Qayn. It is narrated by a companion of Zuhair ibn Qayn who states that their caravan was proceeding to Iraq. On their journey, they met the caravan of Imam Hussain, but avoiding taking the same resting place as Imam Hussain. “However, on one occasion, it so happened that [they] were obliged to halt at the same place at which Hussain bin Ali halted. [They] pitched [their] tents on one side and he pitched his on the other. While we were taking our meals there suddenly a messenger of the Imam came. He saluted us and said: ‘O Zuhair bin Qayn! Hussain bin Ali has called you.’”


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16... Ibid.

17... Yasin T. Al-Jibouri, Karbala and Beyond. Accessed November 20, 2016.


18 Ibid.

19 Dr. Ibrahim Ayati, A Probe into the History of Ashura' Accessed November 20, 2016.

20 Yasin T. Al-Jibouri, Karbala and Beyond. Accessed November 20, 2016.


21 Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari, "The Truth about Al-Hussain’s Revolt." Speech, Tehran. Accessed November 20, 2016. Translated by: Najim al-Khafaji

22 In his work, “Understanding Karbala,” Allamah Sayyid Saeed Akhtar Rizvi compares Imam Hussain giving his companions freedom to Prophet Ibrahim “seeking the opinion” of his son, Ismail, before his sacrifice. He states that

Ismail’s “willingness for slaughter, made it a model of partnership between the Friend (of God) and the slaughtered.”

Allamah Sayyid Sa'eed Akhtar Rizvi, Understanding Karbala. Qom: Ansariyan Publications.  Accessed November 20, 2016. Translated by: Sayyid Athar Hussain S.H. Rizvi





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