The writer, Saleha Suleman (Cape Town, South Africa) is a student and has been involved in leadership and community service positions from a young age.
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
Every year, somber and mourning Muslims all over the world commemorate the brutal martyrdom of Imam Hussain, his family and his companions. Every year, we feel the same pain and longing to have been present at Kerbala, as the year before, if not more. And every year, some critics wonder if we are holding on to outdated traditions instead of focusing on current world issues. This begs the somewhat rhetorical question – is Kerbala still relevant today, thousands of years after it occurred?
Although there are many, many lessons to be learnt in the values that we should live our lives by, one of the most prevalent ones that is evident from Kerbala is the strength required to speak out against injustices. The first example that may pop in your mind could be the injustices occurring throughout the Muslim world, such as in areas like Palestine and Syria, and more than that, we often face injustices in our day to day lives. These don’t have to be un-Islamic injustices; even mere unethical or social injustices are not permitted in Islam. The principle, or value, has remained the same, but the method of combating it has evolved. Now, we no longer take to arms and go to war against oppressors. We use methods such as speaking out on social media, peaceful protests, vigils, boycotting products or services, and sometimes simply spreading awareness.
Another value that Kerbala taught us is to always be courageous enough to hear the opinions of those who disagree with us. Being a Masum, Imam Hussain knew with complete certainty that his perspective was the correct one. Regardless, he gave his opposition a chance at every step to voice their opinions and have a meaningful discussion, something that the Prophet and Ahlulbayt have shown us time and time again. I believe that they did this to demonstrate that peace should always be your first choice, no matter the behaviour of the person in front of you. In a world where anyone can scream their opinion on multiple platforms, it becomes even more important to remember this and be the bigger person.
During our majalis, we have heard countless times how Imam Hussain’s army could have defeated Yazid’s if they wanted to. Of course, they knew that this was not the purpose of Kerbala, and that while they may win the battle, they would lose the war. Again, in today’s context, this is something that almost all of us practice on a daily basis, perhaps somewhat unknowingly. When we decide to exercise patience while waiting in the long queue for groceries instead of making a fuss about how slow the service is, or when we explain to the helper why something was done incorrectly instead of screaming it, these are all subconcious choices that we make on a daily basis which reflect the very values that Kerbala showcased.
Especially this past 18 or so months since the start of the pandemic, life has changed drastically for many and not necessarily in a positive manner. As is human nature, it is only normal to feel despondent and that Allah may not be looking out for you. But it is so important to remember that it is actually quite the opposite, and that these hardships should push you closer to Allah and allow you time and effort into more remembrance of Him. At the end of the day, we are where we are today because of His mercy and blessings, and that will never stop. In the same breath, a final value that Imam Hussain and his army showed us most of all in Kerbala was patience and immense tawakul (trust) in Allah.
Going back to the question of whether Kerbala really is relevant after all these centuries, I believe yes, it is.
A poet says, “The days of Hussain approach once again, bringing with them his eternal memory. Although confined to time he was, through his sacrifice, he became timeless.”