Tuesday, May 1st, 2018, marks the birth anniversary of Imam al-Mahdi (p), 15th of Shaban,…
The month of Muharram is a month of mourning, as it marks the martyrdom of Imam Hussain ibn Ali (p). Many of us learn in our youth that the tragedies of Karbala began on the first day of this month. However, in examining history, we see that the sorrows that befell the household of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hp) began earlier. We see this in the events leading to Imam Hussain’s departure from Medina and the martyrdom of his beloved cousin, Muslim ibn Aqil. Imam Ali (p) once asked Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hp) about his love for Aqil (the brother of Imam Ali [p]) to which the Prophet replied, “[Surely I love him, for] his son will be killed for the love of your son [Imam Hussain], and the believers will weep for him.” The Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) then wept until his tears fell upon his chest. He then said, “To God I complain about that which will befall my progeny after me.”1 Imam Hussain’s departure from Medina and the martyrdom of Muslim ibn Aqil, are events viewed by followers of Ahl al-Bayt (pbut) as the commencement of the season of sorrow.
Imam Hussain (p) Begins His Journey
After the death of Muawiyah in Rajab, 60 AH, Yazid, may God keep His mercy away from him, assumed the caliphate. The despot wasted no time in ordering his henchman in Medina, Walid ibn Utbah, to obtain allegiance from Imam Hussain (p). Yazid instructed him in a letter saying, “[Give me] the names of my supporters and those who are not, along with the head of Hussain ibn Ali [if he disagrees to pledge allegiance to me].”2 It was from this moment that the life of Imam Hussain (p) was in danger. The city of his childhood, and of his parents and grandfather (pbut), had become hostile and was no longer safe for him. According to Shaykh al-Mufid, there were two days left in the month of Rajab, when Imam Hussain (p) and most of his family left Medina for Mecca.3
How was it possible that anyone could treat the grandson of the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) so harshly and in such a fashion? This causes great sorrow to the lovers of Ahl al-Bayt (pbut). When Imam Hassan and Imam Hussain (pbut) were children, they once climbed on the back of the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) who was in prostration while leading a congregational prayer. One person [who was present] wanted to remove them from his back, but the Prophet signaled not to. When he completed his prayers, he put them on his lap and said, “Whoever loves me, will have to love these two [pointing towards Hassan and Hussain].”4 The Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) did not want to cause disappointment to his grandchildren. What, then, can we say of those who threatened one of those (grandchildren’s) lives, forced him to leave his home, and caused him suffering? Did Imam Hussain (p) not feel disappointment? Indeed, these were against the traditions (Sunnah) of the Holy Prophet of Islam (pbuh&hp).
After leaving Medina, Imam Hussain (p) remained in Mecca for just over four months. As the day of Arafah (the ninth of Dhu al-Hijjah) was approaching, the Imam sensed the political pressure and the threat of his assassination in the holy precincts of Mecca. He did not want to have the sanctity of the Kabah violated by bloodshed and thus changed his intention from Hajj to Umrah (the lesser Hajj) on the day of Tarwiya (the eighth of Dhu al-Hijjah). Once more, Imam Hussain (p) experienced hostility and harassment, all of which occurred before the month of Muharram. He then began to make his way towards the city of Kufa.5
Muslim ibn Aqil: Sorrow in Kufa
After receiving thousands of letters from the people of Kufa, Imam Hussain (p) sent his trustworthy and loyal cousin, Muslim ibn Aqil, to Kufa to verify the sincerity of the people.
Although Muslim ibn Aqil gained popularity among the people of Kufa, this loyalty was short-lived. Yazid’s governor, Ibn Ziyad, began a campaign of terror, threatening to kill anyone who supported Muslim and placing a bounty on his head. Within a matter of days, Muslim found himself abandoned and alone. The tyrant Ibn Ziyad besieged the few loyal friends he had left, and after a hard-fought battle, took Muslim himself captive and ordered his execution.
In his final moments in the courtyard of Ibn Ziyad, Muslim asked that to make a will before his death. He willed that his own armor and sword repay a debt he owed in Kufa, that his body be buried, and that a message be delivered to Imam Hussain (p). Muslim said, “Send to al-Hussain (p) someone to send him back [to Medina]. For I have written to him telling him that the people are with him, and now I can only think that he is coming [to such a treacherous place].6 On the ninth of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah, he was mercilessly killed by Ibn Ziyad. Muslim ibn Aqil’s concern for the welfare of Imam Hussain (p) up to his last moments on this earth is just one of the reasons why the Holy Prophet (pbuh&hp) expressed such love for him in the narration above. And the heart-wrenching betrayal Muslim experienced in Kufa is another example of how the origins of the tragedy of Karbala occurred before the month of Muharram.
Steps to Prepare Ourselves for This Season:
1. Obtain a proper understanding of the rights of Imam Hussain (p): Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) has said, “For one who visits the grave of al-Hussain (p), with proper understanding of his rights, God writes for him the reward for setting free one thousand [enslaved] people.”7 Visiting Imam Hussain (p) without understanding what his rights were and how they were violated does not merit the same level of spiritual excellence as a visitation in which one is aware. According to the Ahl al-Bayt (pbut) school of thought, some of the rights of the twelve Imams are to acknowledge that they have leadership with divine authority, to know that obedience to them is religiously obligatory, and that disobedience to them is transgression. (Learn more in “Observing Arbaeen with Proper Understanding”)
2. Prepare ourselves and our families to attend the majalis (gatherings) of Imam Hussain (p): The purpose of these gatherings is to revive the tragedy of Imam Hussain (p) and his family. Imam Jafar al-Sadiq (p) states, “Revive 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 Judgment].”8 These days are an opportunity for us to cultivate the love of Imam Hussain (p) in our own hearts and the hearts of our families, especially our youngsters. We should plan our work or school schedules to make sure that we can attend these gatherings.
3. Spread the message of Imam Hussain (p): Imam al-Rida (p) states, “If people knew how beautiful our words are, they would [love] us.”9 These days are an opportunity to spread the teachings of the family of the Prophet in practical ways. To spread their beautiful message, we can share hadiths or stories of the Ahl al-Bayt that had an impact on us with our family, friends, and colleagues. The words of the Holy Household are a means of inspiration for those who can read and reflect upon their traditions. By disseminating the message of Imam Hussain and his family, we can help others learn about all that he stood for.
1. Shaykh al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 44, p. 288.
2. Shaykh al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 44, p. 312.
3. Shaykh al-Mufid, Al-irshad, vol. 2, p.34.
4. Ibn Asakir, Tarjamat-al-Imam al-Hussain, p. 121.
5. The Tragedy of Karbala, Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project Team, Ch. 5.
6. Shaykh al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 44, p.356.
7. Shaykh al-Kulayni, Al-kafi, vol. 4, p. 581.
8. Shaykh al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 49, p 25.
9. Shaykh al-Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 2, p. 30.