Ode to the shahids of Karbala
Five years ago I decided to embark upon a journey, which would take me to distant lands and forgotten times, through temples, churches and mosques. To the metaphysical realm and back. I decided to understand my religion, it's conception, development and propagation through the looking glass of the world. Today after five years, on this fateful night, I write my first account.
It started when I read about Al-Qaeda's idea of Jihad. I found it hard to believe that the religion I grew up in, ever so peacefully, could preach violence of such measure. An ignorant little child I was, and like anyone my age, my first reaction to this question was to ask my father about it. I got a reply that kept me satisfied for quite a long time. He explained to me, how people could twist the words of a sacred text, without any regard for its sanctity, to achieve personal ends. I was told that Islam in fact was a very peaceful religion and I accepted it because I had grown up in that peaceful Islam.
I could be bound in a nutshell and call myself the king of infinite space. Sooner or later, I was bound to be exposed to facts beyond my father's opinion, although I never doubted that Islam in fact was a peaceful religion. I however feared that it did not fully answer my questions.
If Islam indeed was peaceful, how has it been made so easy for people to exploit it to incite violence, without causing a worldwide outrage? How is it, if it was indeed for personal ends that their ideas are still openly and widely supported in the world? The first answer I got was on the evening of Ashura. I was listening to the numerous Shahadats while feeling proud and pained. I heard of brave deeds on the field of Karbala, the courage, strength and stamina of 72 men who fell on the battlefield fighting for the noble side.
It is here that I thought, had it been for me, I would have considered far greater acts of strength than fighting and falling in the battle itself. We have been brought up in an atmosphere where physical strength is considered the greatest gratification of all. So, instead of praising sacrifices and the acute sense of righteousness we begin to find strength and fulfillment in heroic acts of violence by giving justification that it was done for the sake of ideals, and thus, despite its nature, Islam begins to preach violence, no matter how unknowingly. For the sake of my satisfaction, as I believe my religion to be the epitome of peace, I write this following Ode.
Consider an ordinary man, not a part of the Prophet's family, not even a close companion, an ordinary unnamed man who followed his Imam to the ends of the world, knowing he would never see his wife and family ever again, that he would not be able to provide for his family, that he would not see his children grow into strong and handsome young men and beautiful young women. How many of us, who consider themselves brave at heart, would give away their lives in a battlefield and yet how few would ever have the courage to leave our families unsupported and bare to serve a man to whom we swore our allegiance. Ode to this unknown fighter and many more like him and their bravery.
Consider Hurr, who was a general of respectable rank and position in Yazeed's army. His family was provided for, as long as he kept serving his position in the army. Consider him, who was trained, as all military men are, to live and die by the side of his soldiers, to accompany them in times of distress and peril. The same man, who had taken an oath to serve and protect his company, decides for the sake of the rightness in his heart to fight with the Imam. Imagine the strength it would have taken his arm to raise the sword against those who had been his friends and companions on other days, to betray his oath to serve and protect, to expose his family to the wrath of Yazeed. Ode to him and his family for having the courage to stand by Hussain's side.
Consider those men, who had been the Prophet's friends, now in the golden years of their lives. They had fought beside the Prophet and then at the side of Imam Ali. They had had their share of warfare, now was their time to sit outside their houses in a rocking chair and tell their grand-children the story of their adventures, to listen to them laugh and cackle as they ran about shouting and jeering. They abandoned a life of peace and happiness to relive an extremely unpleasant and bloody warfare, because they honored their friendship beyond all else. Ode to all those soldiers for respecting the sanctity of the covenant of an eternal friendship to the end of the world.
Consider men, who were friends of the Imam himself, who could have stayed in Medina, to enjoy the prime of life, to become warriors, merchants, sailors, travelers, or just proud parents. Men who could have sworn allegiance to Yazeed in exchange of incalculable power. Who could have betrayed the Imam for treasures of gold. Who could have abandoned him in the night. Who could have entered his tent as mates and stabbed him in the back for a place in Yazeed's court. Ode to these men, who did not sell their soul to the devil in exchange for a life of all the comforts known to men.
Consider those newly-weds, who bade goodbye to their love who could have stayed on to become proud and happy fathers, who abandoned their newly found happiness to serve the path of the noble and righteous. Consider those who left their suckling babies, leaving them exposed to the cruel world, in the hope of creating a better one. Consider those who had never before held a sword in their hands, who had been merchants and travelers, who picked up a sword when their Imam called to them, who decided to put themselves at extreme risk, to fight the great battle of good and evil. Ode to all these men, who died to become examples of sheer courage.
Consider the men of Bani-Hashim, who marched to Karbala, knowing that they will die and leave their women exposed to utter cruelty and desolation who followed the Imam without a shadow of question or doubt, who stood tall and mighty in the face of utter defeat. Ode to these men, those last prayer was not for mercy but that their sacrifice be accepted. Ode to these men, who embraced death like an old friend. Ode to them, who died that their religion might live. Ode to them, who trusted God with his plans, horrific as they seemed.
Consider Abbas, who saw his brother in agony and distress at the death of his sons, who saw children cry out aloud for a drop of water to quench her ever-growing thirst, who saw his troop slowly depleting into nothingness. Oh, what would have gone through the heart of that flag-bearer, when he would have noticed there remained no army whose Alam he would carry. He, who did not raise a sword in the battlefield because he was denied permission. I call on all of you, who think this is violence, look at Abbas, who refused to engage in battle for his life, just because his Imam had not given him that permission, caring nothing of his own self, even in life and death. Praise be unto him, who conquered the river Euphrates and yet refused to drink of it, because he could not rob Sakina of the right to have the first drop of water, because he could not drink a drop without offering it first to his Imam.
Consider him, who had to withstand the agony of the moment when the waterbag tumbled out of his mouth, shattered, one who had vowed to protect died knowing that he could not fulfill his promise. Who saw the Alam fall in the scorching field of Karbala, never to rise again. Ode to him, whose last wish was to see the face of Imam Hussain for one last time. Ode to him, who sacrificed his youth because he could not deny an innocent child. Ode to him, who could have conquered the world with a flash of his sword, and yet remained so humble as to lay down his bones beside his brothers.
Consider Imam Hussain, who led his family and friends and followers to Karbala knowing they would be defeated and killed, that their bodies will be mutilated and trampled. That he was leading his troop to mortal ruin. That his family would face the worst atrocities known to mankind. That his wives would be forced out of their chadars. Consider the courage it would have taken to bring his little daughter to the battle-camp, knowing she would be harassed. Consider the strength it would have taken to go on, to take every step, knowing he would have to see every man he had ever known die and that he would have to pick up their lifeless bodies and carry them to the rampart. Ode to him, who dug the grave of his six-month old son. Ode to him, who never questioned the judgment of the good Lord on high. Ode to him, who on the day of battle, negotiated for a night to pray. Ode to him, whose last act on this land was to bow down to the lord. Ode to him, who told his attacker how to kill him. Ode to him, who gave his life, so that million unworthy ones like our own, could be saved from eternal torture.
Consider Imam Zainul Abideen, the only male left in the defeated camp, who saw his own father brutally slaughtered in the scorching fields of Karbala, who saw his camp burn, the women exposed, the children hopeless. Who saw all this and still did not raise a finger to question the lord and his father, who withstood violence without resorting to violence himself. He was the Imam now, skilled in every craft known to man, including warfare. What would he not have given to lift his sword and cut off the head of his family's oppressors, to die in war rather than live in defeat. And yet he endured, because he must. Ode to his patience, his acceptance of the role allotted to him, of carrying forward his line for the good of Islam than to fight for selfish ends. Ode to him, who survived death to witness mutilation, Ode to him, the next leader of the people.
Consider the women of Bani-Hashim, the bravest of all there were in the fields of Karbala, for what mother would willingly send her sons to die in battle except one with nerves of steel. Who spent their last night with their sons, telling them to die with bravery and honor, who remained in the camp and consoled each other on their fate. It would have taken Qaasim a lot of courage to ride to meet the enemy lines, but it would have taken Umm-e-Farwa much more courage to send him off to battle without being torn to pieces herself. Those precious few moments, when she would have wanted to run back to him, one last kiss, one last encouragement, one last prayer or just one last glimpse of his face. But she endured, for it was her role to play, stayed as her son rode off to martyrdom.
Consider Umm-e-Layla, who saw her young jewel of a son ride off to battle. The handsome and charismatic Ali-Akbar, who had the face of the prophet and the strength of Imam Ali. Her son, whom she had seen grow from a wailing infant to the epitome of youth. He, who was her pride and joy. The grief of Umm-e-Layla, who might have, if just for an instant wished she never had a son, so she did not have to experience the pain of losing him now.
And all of you, who have steeled yourself, if you have any tears, prepare to shed them now.
Consider Umm-e-Rabab, who had a suckling babe of six months, the infant Ali-Asghar. Umm-e-Rabab, whose last six months would have gone by on the side of her son’s crib, watching, playing, talking, praying. Who held Ali-Asghar in her arms for the last time as she gave him over to be martyred. Umm-e-Rabab, who glanced out of her camp’s open slit to see the fate of her son, she would have heard his laughter, his wails, his cries, his burps, remembered the way he moved all over the little crib, how she had fed him, comforted him, slept next to him on dark nights. She would have wanted to scream. For she could have never understood why an infant had to suffer. Ali-Asghar, who had never even spoken a word before, whose nimble hands could not even hold a bottle let alone a sword, what would have been his role in the war. But still, she let him go. Ode to her, who saw her heart butchered by Hurmala, who would now live with the knowledge that she could not protect her little son. Ode to her who gazed at the cradle of the son who would never come home.
Consider Zainab, who came to Karbala when her brother called, who steadied him when he fell down, who stood by him when all else had melted in the bloodbath of the afternoon sun, who helped him climb on his horse when Abbas had died, who comforted everyone in the camps at their loss, who held them and cried with them, who took care of the children left, who held them together when their camps burned down, who consoled everyone when they were harassed, who stood when all else had fallen, all while holding in her heart the sorrow of her own two sons who never came back from the field of Karbala.
Zainab, who stood like a beacon in the storm, who stood guard on the camps of Sham-e-Gariba, who proclaimed to the dark night that she the blood of the Prophet, the daughter of Imam Ali, she was still standing and while she stood, the flag of Islam stood with her, unwavered, guarded. Zainab, who walked the long procession as a prisoner of war and yet with such dignity and grace that hearts of men trembled. Zainab, who finished what her brother set out to do, who defeated Yazeed with words. Zainab, who told people that Islam was more than just following the Caliph or a book, that Islam was about doing what was right, no matter how hard-pressed, that it was about living piously and leaving the decision to God Almighty. Ode to the under-commemorated Zainab. Ode to her who stood against all odds. Ode to her, the heroine of many faces, the Zainab of a thousand names. The life giver of the Islam after the Panjatan.
Ode to all those, who never looked up one lonely night and asked "Why me?"As they knew a reply as simple and subtle yet piercing "Then who?"
A traditional Shahadat ends with a curse on the killers and tormentors of these brave men and women. But I disagree. We are a congregation of Hazrat Ali, who fed his murderer food and water. While I cannot even aspire to be him, the least I can do is not curse the men whose stories time has eaten away. The final judgment must be left to Lord Almighty, who is all-seeing and all-knowing, whose sights we cannot escape. He will see their hearts and decide their fates.
Saleha Iqbal Hussain is a student at IIT Delhi.