Muharram, the month that ushers in the Islamic New Year means, “something sacred”. Since the creation of mankind, the 10th of Muharram has tremendous importance as a sanctified day in Islamic traditions. After paying heed to the devil, Adam was sent from heaven to earth. He was forgiven by God on 10th Muharram and reunited with Eve in the grounds of Arafat, where Muslims collect on Haj.
Prophet Noah’s arc anchored on mount Judi on 10th Muharram after sailing the sea for six months. Nimrod cast Prophet Abraham into a fire that became akin to a pleasant flowerbed on 10th Muharram. Swallowed by a whale, Prophet Jonah was released from the fish’s stomach 40 days later. This also took place on the 10th of Muharram. So did the deliverance of Moses and his followers when the Red Sea parted, saving them from Pharaoh’s tyrannical rule. Many Muslims observe fasts this month, particularly on the 10th of Muharram, a favoured day of God’s boundless mercy.
After the coming of Prophet Muhammad, the 10th of Muharram marks the biggest tragedy of Islamic history. Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Muhammad was martyred at the battle of Karbala in the year 680. Prophet Muhammad loved his grandsons and it is said that Imam Hussain looked like him. The Prophet famously said, “I am from Hussain and Hussain is from me.”
Giving an oath of allegiance was an old Arab practice. Those who were ruled, specially the respected names among them gave bay’ah, their hand in allegiance to the rulers, by way of showing support of their actions. Following the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad, allegiance given by free will carried weight and authority. The tyrannical and debauch Yazid had inherited the caliphate from his father Muawiyah. Yazid ordered his governor in Medina to force an allegiance from Imam Hussain or send his head to Damascus, where the caliphate was based.
On learning of this, Imam Hussain sought refuge in the holy city of Mecca for a few months. Meanwhile, he was flooded with letters from people in Iraq to lead them as they were suffering under Yazid. Imam Hussain addressed the people of Mecca and told them he was going to Kufa in Iraq and that he would be martyred. He had to save Islam from being hijacked for personal and political gain. Prophet Muhammad said: “My followers will not unite in supporting corruption.”
When Imam Hussain reached Karbala, a desert 70 kilometres from Kufa, Yazid’s large army of 30,000 soldiers surrounded him and his 70 companions. On the fourth of Muharram, they cut off the water supply to Imam Hussain’s camps, ensuring that the women, children and soldiers remain thirsty. On the 10th of Muharram, they slew Imam Hussain with a volley of arrows. All his companions, his 25-year-old son Ali Akbar, five-year-old Jafar and a suckling infant Ali Asghar were mercilessly killed. Bodies of the martyrs were decapitated and denied burials. Women of the Prophet’s household were taken captive, their camps looted and burnt. These honourable women were taken from Karbala and paraded through the streets of Damascus.
Knowing he would be martyred, Imam Hussain fought valiantly till his head was severed from his body while he prostrated in prayer. Stabbed 33 times by spears, struck 34 times by swords and hit by over a hundred arrows, yet he held his blood in his hands saying, “I only wish that Allah forgive them.”
Sadia Dehlvi is a Delhi-based writer and author of Sufism: The Heart of Islam.
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