This article forms part of the series ‘ A Call to Return’ – an initiative to inform and define the message behind the events of Kerbala, its relevance, and connection to life today, for both Shi’a Muslims and the rest of the global population. It is an effort by the writers to cast an apt perspective to a very commonly misunderstood message
In the year 60 AH, the Islamic empire saw the death of Muawiya bin Abu-Sufyan, and with it, the rising of his illegitimate son Yazid. Yazid’s first action was to forcefully take an oath of allegiance from powerful personalities like Abdullah bin Zubayr and Husayn bin Ali (as).
When Walid, the governor of Madinah, called Husayn (as) in the late hours of the night, his family members were concerned for his life and refused to let him go alone. Husayn (as) allowed them to accompany him, but only on the condition that they will not enter the place of summon, unless Husayn (as) raised his voice to alert them of a threat to him.
Had Husayn (as) wanted, he could have finished off the governor then, but he decided to leave Madinah silently and move towards Makkah.
His small caravan arrived in Makkah on the 3rd of Sha’baan 60 AH, where he lived for the next few months. Being well known as the grandson of the Prophet, he could have instigated the crowd coming for pilgrimage, to revolt against Yazid. However, he lived in Makkah peacefully till the end of the year, when Yazid sent an army in the garb of ihram, hiding their swords underneath, to cause bloodshed and kill Husayn in the precincts of the Holy Ka’bah.
Being popularly known to be the grandson of the Holy Prophet (saww), Husayn (as) could also have gathered support and raised an undercover army to fend off Yazid’s men. However, that would undermine the sanctity of Makkah, where killing even a fly is prohibited! Husayn (as) used a smart move instead, which reveals his purpose of going to Makkah in the first place. When pilgrims put on their ihrams a second time to perform the second phase of the obligatory Hajj rituals, Husayn (as) left Makka to go towards Kufa. No blood was shed. The epitome of Peace forsook his Hajj for the sake of peace in Makka, leaving Makka at a prime time so that all the pilgrims were left asking one another why he did not complete Hajj. In the absence of mass media tools, this was a peaceful strategic move to inform Muslims globally of the plot of Yazid.
On his way to Kufa, Husayn (as) and his army were stopped by Hurr ar Riyaahi who prevented them from entering Kufa. This army was thirsty and despite the unpleasant encounter, Husayn (as) asked his brothers to quench the thirst of both the army and their mounts. Husayn is from me and I am from Husayn– are popular words by the Holy Prophet (saww). If The Messenger is the epitome of Mercy for the Universe, is anything but Peace expected from Husayn (as)?
The days unfolded into many more unpleasant and hurtful events like being forced to move their tents away from the riverside and setting up of enemy guards on the river bank. Amidst these atrocities, the historians of Karbala narrate several addresses of Imam Husayn (as) to the enemy army admonishing them against fighting him as he was the Proof of Allah on earth. These pure words were made a mockery of by most of them as their breast had hearts of stone. A handful of people attained salvation as this message of peace sank into their hearts. They changed sides on the day of Ashoor.
My mind marvels at the final address of Husayn (as)! This is when all of his male family members and friends are lying on the ground, drenched in blood, bodies trampled under horses’ hooves. The sight of one such body shatters a human and causes a lifetime of mental health issues such as PTSD. The body of Husayn (as) is also marred with spears and arrows. Yet, his sermon is well composed as he addresses the enemy one final time and says:
“O Servants of Allah, beware of this world … as Allah has created the world for trials and the creation for mortality…So, seek piety, in which lies salvation.”
This is Husayn, the Epitome of Peace.