Muharram & the Many Karbalās of the Modern Age

An Introspectively Inductive Essay regarding the Forgotten ‘Karbalās’ of Palestine, Yemen, Syria, Kashmir & the Uighur Muslims in Chin By Shaykh Faheem

By Allāh! This article is by no means a comparison, nor an attempt to downplay the tragic events which took place on the land of Karbalā some 1400 years ago.

Retrospectively, it is in fact one of the few articles which aims to reflect and thereby follow to draw inferences from that great sacrifice ‘today’ instead of being wowed by the mere historical perspective in light of the subject of virtue of the martyrdom on that selfsame day.

There is no question of the esteemed rank and virtue of the Ahlul Bayt (Noble Househould) of the Prophet k in light of the Ahlus Sunnah, and anyone who says otherwise is merely playing the tune of an extremist agenda.

That being stated, it must also be affirmed that whilst the historical context of the massacre at Karbalā was indeed a stain in the history of the Ummah.

The Qur’ān teaches us that history is not merely to be regarded as a repository of information to be reviewed every year for entertainment, or pastime (in the manner that the secular world approaches history).

Rather, the Qur’ānic philosophy of history allows the present reader a window into the past, with view to the repercussions of their actions, in hope that the present reader avoids those mistakes, and follows to make better choices to create a better future.

Hence past, present and future are connected to the subject of history according to the Qur’ānic philosophy.

Thus our analysis should not be misconstrued by any means to be a downplay of the emotional link to the event. Rather, our view must be viewed in light of the Qur’ānic philosophy of inductive reasoning (12:2).

Since the tragic events at Karbalā are viewed as past events for us, we must not stray from the fact that the Qur’ānic stories of ‘past’ peoples and their challenges, rewards and punishments were told to us in order to induce ‘reflection’ (7:186).

Āshūrā in the Prophetic Era

When the Prophet Muhammad k entered Madīnah and found the Jews fasting, he inquired their reason for doing so, to which the response was that it was a day of ‘celebration’

It marked the freedom of the Israelite people from the tyranny of the Pharaoh, and that Prophet Moses g fasted on that day (10th Muharram) as a means of ‘thanksgiving’, so they (the Jews) did as well.

Upon hearing this, the Prophet k explicated that he too will observe this Āshūrā fast and he ordered the Muslims to do so too (in celebration of this great event). This command remained an obligation until the fast of Ramadhān was made compulsory.

Contemplatively, the Prophet Muhammad k passed away in the year 11 AH, and the Ummah (Muslim community) was immediately plagued by unrest, which eventually led to conflict resulting in the tragic eventuality some 50 years later at Karbalā (61 AH)

No sane Muslim in their correct frame of Islāmic intellect would ever downplay the tragedy at Karbalā in which numerous members of the household of the Beloved Messenger k were besieged, oppressed and martyred.

After all, are there not numerous authentic traditions validating the status of the family of the Prophet k?

That being stated, if we are to apply the rational faculty to the timeline, we will deduce that between the demise of the Prophet k in 11 AH and the martyrdom of his beloved grandson

Imām[1] Al-Husain E, is a gap of 50 years. Hence for those 50 years the Ahlul Bayt themselves were celebrating Āshūrā as per the Qur’ān and Sunnah.

It is immensely perplexing to find that there is a baseless assumption that Āshūrā is, and can ‘only’ be about the tragedy at Karbalā.

The repercussions of that statement will even question our Beloved Prophet k, his Companions and even his Household.

Hence the intellect rejects such a false notion and accepts the view as projected in the Qur’ān and Sunnah as the only correct view in the matter.

In doing so, we humbly appeal to those who have downplayed the tragic events at Karbalā to refrain from making it sound as if it was merely ‘something’ that happened by ‘co-incidence’.

This article though is not about that tragedy, but about a more current catastrophe.

One may even call it a ‘Karbalā’ of our age, and seeing as though we are located in the month of Muharram, there is no more of an opportune time to disseminate this vital information than the month in which the global Muslim populace revisits that immense tragedy.

Point of Interest – Those who insist that Āshūrā is only about the story of Prophet Moses u and who follow to ignore the tragic events at Karbalā as ‘just something which occurred’, we humbly request them to thoroughly research our very own Sunnī traditions in the subjects of Sīrah (Prophetic Biography), Hadīth (Prophetic sayings) and Tārīkh (history) in order to gain a much needed ‘perspective’.

On the other hand, those who insist that Āshurā is only about Karbalā and who tend to not give much focus to the Qur’ānic and hadīth standpoint on the subject are also doing a great disservice to themselves and the Ummah (Muslim community) and will be accountable for this.

Karbalā in Light of the Modern Age

Our perspective on the subject is in light of the undeniable fact that whilst the hearts and minds of many are focused only on lamenting those tragic events in history, little or no attention is paid to the current atrocities committed against Muslims in the modern age.

If Karbalā is indeed the quintessence of measuring the art of rebellion for a just cause against oppression, then where is the ‘spirit of Karbalā’ or the ‘Husainī spirit’ in retaliation to the innumerable atrocities committed upon Muslims in the modern age by a means of systematic oppression, vilification and demonization?

Was the sacrifice of Imām Al-HusainE merely one for us to review annually in order to reach ‘spiritual elation’?

Or was his unwavering stance a global lesson to be at the vanguard of discussion until the day of reckoning for all to turn to as a means of motivation when injustice, oppression and corruption prevail once more at the expense of the veiling of the vision from the very justice, equality and moral integrity that the Qur’ān was sent to establish?

We will request the reader to survey the international ‘state of Muslim affairs’ and follow to decide after much contemplation which of the two is of a greater and more strategic significance in the modern age.

That being explicitly stated, we will present only a few of the ‘challenges’ or ‘Karbalās’ of our time, which are constantly ignored at the preference of our own spiritual or cultural benefits.

The Karbalā of Palestine

Since 1948, Palestine has not known peace, and with the lack of support from the global secular regimes in addition to the deafening silence from Saudi Arabia and the UAE, it seems as though it will unfortunately intensify.

The question which begs to be asked is, ‘Where is the Karbalā spirit to free the Palestinian Muslims from the clutches of those who have vocalized their intent to decimate them from this world?’

It seems as though the spirit of Karbalā is only utilized to swell the already-swollen emotions of the Ummah whilst rendering them anesthethized from intellectual probing.

Palestine is suffering immensely yet how many of our programs have incorporated a genuine attempt to revive that Husainī spirit in the Ummah for the Palestinian cause in Muharram?

Is the Husainī spirit only meant to be viewed as one for the books of history? Or one from which the cubs of today can learn to become lions of the many morrows?

The Karbalā of Yemen

Majority of Muslims are unaware that whilst the rest of us were celebrating the commencement of the new Islāmic year.

A Saudi-UAE led attack on Yemen was underway in which 60 people were killed via air raids which hit a complex used as a detention centre north of the city of Dhamar.

Now many will argue that since it was an attack on Houthis, thus ‘Muslims’ should turn a blind eye to that attack.

Aside from the issue of human rights violations etc.

We must clarify that Islām never has, and never will stand for the killing of civilians.

What is perplexing is that the so-called ‘rulers’ of Islām from Saudi Arabia have stooped to a level even lower than the pagans during the age of Jāhiliyyah (ignorance).

This is because it is an established fact that the Month of Muharram is regarded as one of the ‘sacred’ months (9:36) in the Islāmic calendar, and we know that even during the period of ignorance, the Pagan Arabs, as quarrelsome as they were, possessed the requisite rectitude to ‘respect’ the month of Muharram and abstained from war.

A Saudi-UAE led strike in the month of Muharram is sufficient proof that they are indeed blatantly violating the sanctity of the Qur’ānic message, knowing well that with the backing of the USA and its allies (of which Israel is its chief ally), nobody can stop them!

If the massacre at Karbalā was a lesson exhibiting the brutal nature of oppression against innocent women and children, then suffice to say that many Muslims in Yemen are going through a Karbalā of their own having also left their homes in the war stricken areas and have become refugees ‘battling’ for acceptance and survival, all the while, we as an Ummah are nurturing ‘love for the Ahlul Bayt’

As a primary matter when in reality we have forgotten why the beloved grandson of the Prophet k sacrificed his life on the ‘battlefield’ all those years ago!

The Karbalā of Syria

For many years too, the people of Ash-Shām[2] (Syria) have been under immense oppression and large areas of the once sought after cities have now been reduced to rubble, resembling that of a post-apocalyptic age.

The area of Ash-Shām has been mentioned repetitively as a place of great virtue in the books of hadīth, and has been singled out as the land of ‘mahshar’ and ‘manshar’ (gathering and resurrection), meaning that it has been identified as the place where all of humankind will gather and march towards their reckoning on that final day, yet majority of Muslims are oblivious to this fact.

Where is the Karbalā spirit when our mothers, fathers and children are systematically bombed, targeted by sniper fire, and forced to leave their homes?

Only each individual reader can answer this question after much introspection, but the truth of the matter is clear to behold for anyone who has a modicum of integrity, that we are not worthy of the shadow of the sacrifice of Imām Al-Husain E, yet we are claimants to his ‘love’.

The Karbalā of Uighur Muslims in China

Reminiscent of the fields of Karbalā, the Uighur concentration camps in which our Muslim brothers and sisters have been penned into like sheep to the slaughter is a sorrowful sight to behold!

Their only crime is that they are adherents to the religion of Islām, which is the case in almost all of the aforementioned regions in which Muslims are oppressed currently.

Islām remains the most persecuted religion today and Muslims are indeed oppressed at every opportunity, yet Muslims seems to be more concerned with stirring emotions to raise reactions from onlookers.

Astoundingly, humankind brags about its technological advancement on one hand, while its humanity is still wandering the ‘dark ages’ of history on the other hand.

In an age of ‘Human Rights’, we see that even animal rights activists are given more press coverage than the meagre few who are working tirelessly to advocate for the rights of Muslims across the world.

Whenever the narrative of Karbalā is revised, tears fill the eyes of the audience when they hear the sorrowful narrations of their siege and the manner in which they were ‘isolated’ from the rest of society for 10 days, leading to that dreadful martyrdom of the family members of the Prophet k.

In hindsight, the situation of the Uighur Muslims in has been going for some time, yet the voices from the global Muslim populace have been minimal.

Once more, the question which begs to be asked is, ‘Where is the Karbalā spirit?’ that we proudly promote every year? The answer to that question is yet again one which we have to ashamedly respond to with utter silence.

The Karbalā of Kashmir

Only a short while ago, the world witnessed the commencement of another grave oppression upon Muslims in the region of Kashmir when the Indian prime minister gave the green light for an invasion of the majority Muslim populated area.

This resulting in unprecedented crimes against humanity and in consequence, giving birth to another ‘Palestine predicament’, and in retrospect, another Karbalā of our time.

In this situation, one would expect those ‘supposed’ Muslim rulers to intervene and utilize their God-given strength and power to minimize casualties as much as possible, right?

Wrong! Instead, what followed was the total opposite! Mr. Narendra Modi was honoured with “The King Hamad Order of the Renaissance” in Manama in August 2019 as he held talks with King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

Astonishingly, it is these very regimes (Saudi, UAE) that perpetuate in their pseudo-salafi brand of Islām, an ideology of hatred towards the non-Muslim world, yet they have no qualms in honouring those non-Muslims who are responsible for the systematic oppression of Muslims in the 21st century?

It is these very regimes who will stop at nothing to ensure that the history of Islām (the likes of Karbalā) are regarded as mere ‘narrative’ with no valuable lesson to be drawn therefrom, yet they are the worst of exemplars.

Kashmiris (Palestinians, Syrians, Yemenis, etc.) are now in a very similar situation to that of the Ahlul Bayt at Karbalā all those years ago.

They have been besieged, having their rights stripped away and have endured immense torture, and with each passing day that seems to intensify.

In the case of Kashmir, admittedly, there has been some development and awareness but mainly because the communities of Muslims in South Africa trace their roots to the Indo-Pak subcontinent, hence there is some type of connection there.

Nonetheless, even here, there has been an immense lack of a solid voice from the Muslim community, and sadly enough, it seems as though that so long as our own regions are ‘safe’ then nothing else seems to matter.

Conclusion – Suffice to say, that yet again, the general view on the subject of the massacre at Karbalā is somewhat ‘selective’, and has been reduced to mere historical narrative for stirring emotions.

In all the years of doing so, what have we accomplished in relation to Imām Husain’s E spirit, determination, and unwavering stance to establish Haq (Truth) in the wake of grave Bātil (falsehood)?

If the answer to this burning question was indeed available for review, then there would not have been a need for this critical response to be penned in the first place.

Instead, we would have been reading a commendation on the efforts of the Ummah for restoring the spirit of equality and justice as displayed in Karbalā.

That is not the case, and how I wish it had been so, but it is hoped, -Allāh Y willing- that such a time will return, when Muslims return to the Qur’ān and Sunnah as a means of guidance and follow not the whimsical commands of the self-taught and self-proclaimed leaders of our time!

Retrospectively, the tragedy at Karbalā stands to further exhibit that when oppression upon Muslims gains momentum, then it ought to give rise to people from amongst us to rise to the challenge and to stand firm against falsehood, regardless of the cost.

Comparatively, in this day and age, there has been an exponential rise in hateful rhetoric against Muslims all over the world.

A cursory study of the oppressed-laden regions in the world reveals that they are all Muslim regions in which majority as Muslims that suffering in their own Karbalā today!

From the oppressed conditions of the Uighur Muslims in China, to the appalling state of Palestinians in Gaza.

Muslim regions have been systematically targeted for destabilization. Karbalā it seems, is a recurring theme all over the world, and yet the Ummah seems to be oblivious to these atrocious crimes being committed against our fellow Muslims on a daily basis.

Frustratingly, the mind-set of the Muslims has been established to merely ‘honour’ the history of the massacre of Karbalā, whilst forsaking the most important lessons from it!

That even when one is besieged, outnumbered, threatened, assaulted, and when your loved ones and family are killed in front of you, never ever forsake the way of the Prophet Muhammad k!!!

Remain steadfast on the truth! Support those in danger, and Allāh Y will ensure that centuries later, your sacrifice will not be in vain!

[1] Whilst the Shīa subscribe to the concept of Imāmah, to call upon someone the calibre of Al-Husain E with the honorary title of “Imām” is not to be viewed as a Shīa only practice.

The Ulamā of the Ahlus Sunnah do caution the public to refrain from adopting the practices of other deviant groups etc.

However when we consider that he was regarded by many for the position of the greater Imāmat (Caliphate), and that he was foretold by the Prophet k to be one of the ‘leaders’ of the youth in Paradise, then in this regard there is no harm in doing so.

After all, we also regard the Imāms of our fiqh to be ‘Imāms’ as well with no objection. Readers must be vigilant of the tell-tale signs and be as cautious as they can when approaching the subject in hope of avoiding the fall into the emotional abyss of Shiism.

[2] In the prophetic era, Ash-Shām constituted Palestine, Jordan, Damascus, Lebanon, etc. known best today as Syro-Palestine.

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