Commemorating the Tragedy of Karbala

Had we confined the tragedy of Karbala to a historical event that occurred in a specific age, we would not have realized many of its benefits and potentials. Indeed, this realization is a result of the consistent commemoration of the tragic events of Karbala in every age and generation, past and present. It is the proclamation of the tragedy’s philosophy, goals, and circumstances that revives the message of the Imam and brings it to life year after year so that people may relate to it and apply its principles in their daily lives.

No matter how difficult the prevailing circumstances may be, we always remember that there is no day like the day of Imam Hussain (p), and this makes all our problems seem trivial.

It would be a great travesty to say that this is just a historical event and we should leave it in the past and only bring it up in classrooms. Commemorating the tragedy of Karbala rekindles in us the message of Imam Hussain (p) and reestablishes and strengthens the connection we have with the Ahl al-Bayt (p). Hence, we see that the infallible Imams (p) relentlessly insisted that their Shias establish commemorations for the remembrance of Imam Hussain (p) in gatherings that are commonly known as majalis (gatherings of sorrow).

Imams began instructing people to mourn them even while they were still alive:

It is narrated by Imam Ridha (p): “When I received the orders to be extradited from Medina, I gathered my family and asked them to mourn me; I then bequeathed twelve thousand dinars among them and said: “I shall never return to my family again.”

Consequently, we recite in one of the salutations to Imam Ridha (p): “Peace be upon the one who asked his family to mourn him even before death reached him”

Majalis established in Karbala:

It is narrated on authority of Sayyid ibn Tawoos: “…and when the women were returning back from Sham [Syria] via Iraq, they asked the guide of the caravan to pass by Karbala. Upon reaching the battlefield, they saw Jabir ibn Abdullah al-Ansari with a number of men from the Bani Hashim by the grave of Imam Hussain (p). They all mourned and lamented Imam Hussain (p), beating their chests in a heart rendering manner for a number of days. The women from the honorable family gathered as well and held a mourning ceremony there for a number of days”.

Ummul Baneen established a majlis:

It is narrated in Riyadh al-Ahzaan: “Ummul Baneen (p), the wife of Amir al-Muminin (p) established a mourning ceremony in honor of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him). The women of Bani Hashim all gathered there and wept for the Imam and his progeny, and Umm Salamah (the wife of the Holy Prophet) tearfully cried out by saying: “May God chastise them with fire in their graves for their actions”.

The Imams (p) not only exhausted themselves in holding commemoration gatherings in honor of Imam Hussain (p), but also vigorously encouraged their Shias to do the same.

Imam al-Baqir (p) encourages majalis:

It is narrated on authority of Imam Muhammad al Baqir (p): “May the mercy of God descend on upon the servant (believer) who meets with another and recalls our affairs, for verily, the third one to be amongst them is an angel who seeks forgiveness for those two – no two people gather to remember our affairs except that God flaunts them with angels. Hence if you all collectively meet, then remember and summon people to our affairs for verily our legacy is brought to life through your gatherings and commemorations, and the finest of people after us, are those who recall our affair and invite others to do the same.”[iii]

It is narrated in the book Kamil al-zaiaraat on authority of Malik al-Jahni, on authority of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (p): “One should eulogize and weep for Imam Hussain (p) – and enjoin his household to cry for him, and commemorate the tribulations that befell him by displaying acts of anguish (and when he meets others) they should greet each other with tears – condoling one another over the tragedy that befell Imam Hussain (p). If one does all this, then I shall be their guarantor and ensure he receives his rewards from Almighty God.”

Imam al-Sadiq (p) encourages majalis:    

It is narrated that Imam Jafar Al Sadiq (p) once asked Fudhail ibn Yasaar: “do you all collectively meet and discuss (our affairs)?” Fudhail replied in the affirmative whereby the Imam then said: “Indeed I approve of these gatherings. Revive (recall) our affairs, for verily God has mercy upon those who do so. Certainly, whoever participates in a gathering where our remembrance (and affairs) is evoked, his heart shall be alive on the day all hearts shall die (Day of Judgement).”[iv]

Imam al-Ridha (p) encourages majalis:

In Uyun akhbar al-Reza it is narrated that Imam Ridha (p) said: “On the day when the hearts will perish, the hearts of those who attend Majalis in which our affairs are revived will not perish.”

It is narrated by Di`bil al-Khuzai: “I visited Imam Ali ibn Musa al-Ridha (p) during the first ten days of the month of Muharram, and saw him seated with his companions around him, with sadness and distress apparent on his face. When He (p) saw me, he greeted me by saying: “Welcome O Di`bil! Welcome O one who aids us (and our cause) through his speech and actions” Then He said to me: “O Di`bil I would like for you to compose a eulogy (in regards to Imam Hussain (p)), for verily these are the days in which we the Ahlul Bayt (p) were afflicted with deep grief and sorrow while our enemies especially the Bani Umayya were overjoyed with glee and happiness. O Di`bil! Whoever weeps or makes others weep by remembering our tribulations – even if it were one person, his reward lies with God. O Di`bil! Whoever sheds tears out of grief due to the tribulations that befell us through the hands of our enemies, Almighty God will raise him on the day of Judgement on our side – with us. O Di`bil! Whoever weeps out of grief for my grandfather Imam Hussain (p), Almighty God shall forgive him all his sins.”

The Imam then stood up and set up a veil to partition the room allowing the womenfolk from his household to participate in the mourning. The Imam then said to me; “O Di`bil! Eulogize Imam Hussain (p) for verily you are our helper and extoller (through whom we are recognized) so long as you are alive; therefore, do not have any shortcoming in supporting us in so long as you can.

Di`bil then narrates: “My eyes teared, and with great sorrow I recited (the following eulogy):  “Had Fatima (al-Zahra) seen the crushed corpse of Hussain,

And seen how he died thirsty besides the banks of the river Euphrates, Then she would have struck her face in grief, with tears streaming down her cheeks.”[v]

Purpose of Majlis

We may ask what is the purpose of these majalis? One reply would be that they serve as a reminder to us all of the sacrifice that the Ahl al- Bayt (p) made and how they gave everything they had for God. If it were not for their sacrifices we would not even know what Islam is. We must ask ourselves, what are we doing to follow the Ahl al-Bayt’s (p) example after they have given everything to preserve this religion? Are we upholding the mission of the Ahl al-Bayt (p) by reviving their affairs and keeping their mission fresh in the hearts of humanity?


[iii] al-Majlisi, Behar al-Anwar, v 1, p 200.

[v] al-Majlisi, Behar al-Anwar, v 49, p 25

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