Monday, January 29, 2007
Every day is Ashura, every land is Karbala
In the Islamic calendar, this is the month of Muharram and in this month, the 10th day, known as 'Ashura, is a day of great significance.
As a person who generally prefers solitude and through physical disability actually is not able to join in many community events, I still have to admit that the power of the community can be a precious asset in the life of the spirit. All religions have special festivals or commemorative events that are powerful and inspiring. For Christians, the celebration of the birth of the Saviour in a manger, surrounded by animals, worshipped by shepherds and kings alike in the Nativity, is one of the most poignant and beautiful. The commemorations of Holy Week, from the triumphal procession of the King on Palm Sunday to his crucifixion on Good Friday, are extremely emotional events. Probably the most powerful of all is the celebration of Easter, when the power of rebirth is affirmed in the Resurrection of the Sacrificed God.
The most significant month for all Muslims is the holy month of Ramadhan. Fasting from dawn to dusk is mandated and people gather at sunset to break fast and pray in unity. The taste of the sweet nourishing date consumed as the first morsel of food to pass the lips after a day of fasting cannot be described. It is not like 'Holy Communion' as it is not a 'divine' substance, but it is the focus of the ritual of breaking fast, combined with prayers of gratitude towards the Divine, as well as a symbol of reward for personal steadfastness and endurance and thus assumes a special potency.
The reason why Ramadhan is considered the holiest of months is because the Holy Qur'an was 'sent down' from Allah during that month. The most blessed night in the blessed month is the night of 'Laylat al Qadr'. On the 'Night of Qadr' the gates of heaven are open, and spirits, angels and blessings pass freely between the worlds. It is interesting to note that the Prophet Muhammad refused ultimately to tell any one which night of Ramadhan actually was the 'Laylat al Qadr'. Although every sect has its own traditional belief as to which night 'probably' is the night of Qadr, Muslims pray special prayers every night during Ramadhan 'just in case'. Although the Prophet's ostensible reason for denying certainty to the devout was his anger at the petty bickering between his followers, I think the real reason is to encourage people to pray EVERY night. Indeed, every night of Ramadhan is considered a blessed night.
Actually, the night of Qadr has much in common with the ancient Northern festival of Samhain. Belief in a special day or night during the year when the 'gates' between the worlds are open is almost universal. Although Samhain originally was a pagan festival, it was incorporated to some extent into 'All Soul's Day' or the 'Day of the Dead' in the Christian calendar, known to most now as Hallowe'en. In the old Northern heritage, Samhain marked the time of slaughter of the animals before Winter, as well as a time to remember or seek communication with the dead.
The month of Ramadhan is a time not only for personal purification but for charity. It is a time when Muslims remember the poor and the unfortunate throughout the world. In particular, people are encouraged to feed and clothe the poor as well as remembering them in their prayers.
Incidentally, the month-long fast or 'sawm' of Ramadhan simply is a fast from dawn to dusk each day. People rise before dawn to eat and break their fast after sunset. Breaking fast with others who have kept the fast is a joyful occasion each night during the month. At the end of the month is the 'Eid al-Fitr', a festival of celebration that lasts three days.
Now, however, it is the month of Muharram, which is of special significance to Shi'a or 'Shi'ani 'Ali. The general public may now perceive Shi'a and Sunni as diametrically opposed as a result of media propaganda and the U.S. invasion of Iraq, and yet this is not the case. Muharram is the month in which the grandson of the Holy Prophet, Imam Husayn, was martyred at Karbala in Iraq. Sunni and Shi'a alike respect Husayn and consider him a great hero and saint. As a matter of fact, Husayn has been recognised as one of the great heroes of history by non-Muslims as well through the centuries.
It is only the Shi'a, however, who commemorate the entire chain of events that led to his martyrdom. The first ten days of Muharram are devoted to this. The tenth day of Muharram, known simply as 'Ashura (meaning 'ten') is the day of martyrdom, but the history of the massacre at Karbala is one that extends through the entire month, with particular focus on the first ten days.
It was during the first ten days of Muharram that Imam Husayn, his family and his followers marched to Karbala. Ultimately, Husayn and his companions were slain, and the women and children placed in chains and forced to march all the way to Damascus.
It is interesting to note that 'Ashura always has been a day special to all Muslims. It is considered to have been the day when God parted the Red Sea for Musa (Moses). Actually, it may have been a day that was sacred to the ancient Canaanites as well. 'Asherah' was the name of an ancient Goddess and her symbol was a tree stripped of all its branches, a wooden pole. These wooden poles were called 'Asherah' in fact.
The sacrifice of Attis, son of the Mother Goddess Cybele, occurred beneath a pine tree stripped of its branches. He sacrificed his manhood, then his life beneath the tree. His followers, commemorating his death annually, would scourge themselves and weep beneath an evergreen pine tree, and often the men actually would emasculate themselves. It was believed that by offering their manhood to the Goddess, their spiritual power increased.
This is a practice that can be seen in different civilisations throughout history. Many Native American tribes, in fact, believed that an individual who was 'neither male nor female' occupied a special position and was closer to the gods than any one else. The followers of Attis who sacrificed their manhood achieved a special status in the same fashion. This was not an insignificant cult by any means either. The Emperor Elagabalus or Heliogabalus was a follower of Attis and Cybele.
The sacrifice of manhood plays no part whatsoever in Islam, by the way, and yet can be seen elsewhere in the ancient history of the Arab Nation. The Egyptian tale of Osiris includes this element. After Osiris was murdered by his brother Set, his corpse was dismembered and thrown into the Nile. The Goddess Isis managed to retrieve every piece apart from his manhood. She then fashioned an artificial member for him and in the guise of a falcon impregnated herself by means of this magical organ. The issue of this union was Horus.
Another facet of the tale involves the evergreen. The coffin of Osiris floated upon the waters and finally washed ashore in Lebanon where it was held fast in an evergreen. (The tree actually grew round it.) Isis wandered the world in disguise in search of her lost consort and at last discovered his coffin in the tree.
The Tree of Life is a symbol that is universal of course, and the correspondence between the Sacrificed God or Hero and the Tree is universal as well. One of the most powerful combinations of the two is the Christian crucifix that shows the Sacrificed God nailed to the Tree of Life and Death.
The God Dionysus declared that he was the 'living vine' that had to be cut in order to be reborn. The fruit of the vine was considered a sacred drink. Jesus also compared himself to the vine.
The evergreen has become a very central symbol of Christmas. The tree is sacrificed by being cut, then is brought into the house, where it is decorated with ornaments and lights. The symbolism is very clear. Out of death, new life. Out of darkness, new light is kindled. The evergreen is a beacon of hope in the midst of winter.
One hopes that these comparisons will not offend any one. It is my contention that a tradition or symbol that has endured since the very dawn of time only is given more validity by its appearance in different religions or faiths.
The 'alam or standard pole is a potent symbol in the rites of Muharram. Each of the martyrs has his own standard or 'alam and throughout the first ten days of the month, as each falls in battle, his 'alam (and sometimes a coffin with a turban upon it) is the subject of contemplation and mourning. In fact, there is an ancient ritual whereby women are tied to the 'alam in order to pray for special blessings. One or two of the older women usually do the binding. Those who are ill or disabled are particularly encouraged to participate, but women often tie their infants as well to the 'alam for a moment or two in order to bless them.
In this respect, it is the 'alam of Hazrat 'Abbas that is designated for this ritual. 'Abbas was the young, handsome half-brother of Husayn. He is called the 'Water Carrier' often because he was martyred as he attempted to bring water to the camp, after three days of an ordeal where every member of Husayn's party went without food or drink. He was 34 at the time of his martyrdom.
The character of 'Abbas is of particular significance if one traces the ritual back to ancient times and to other 'sacrificed heroes' like Dumuzi, Tammuz, Attis, Adonis, Dionysus and Osiris.
One of the most ancient tales is that of Dumuzi. He was a 'shepherd king', consort of the Great Goddess Inanna. She voluntarily went to the Underworld and sacrificed herself in order to gain wisdom. When at last she wished to return to earth, her twin sister, ruler of the Underworld, insisted that some one else take her place below. Her consort Dumuzi had demonstrated no sadness at her absence and evidently had been quite happy to assume her position on the throne indefinitelhy. Inanna therefore chose him as her surrogate for the Underworld.
Dumuzi, rather than accepting his fate bravely, chose to flee. He hid in a field of reeds and was found there and dragged, kicking and screaming into the Underworld. He then was condemned to spend six months of each year in the Underworld and allowed to emerge to live on the Earth during the other six months.
It is an ancient fertility tale, much like the tale of Persephone, and one that explains the passage of the seasons. During the months when the young God is condemned to the underworld, plants die and the earth is in mourning. When he emerges again, the seeds sprout and life flourishes.
There are very few similarities between Dumuzi, Attis and 'Abbas in terms of their characters. 'Abbas is extolled for his incredible courage and loyalty, and never demonstrated any desire to escape from his destiny.
The mourning of Hazrat 'Abbas is particularly intense. It is his beauty, his courage, his selfless loyalty and his youth that are extolled. Cut down like a flower in its prime, however, he is mourned with the same fervour as the deaths of Attis, Adonis, Tammuz or Christ has been mourned through the ages.
There are a number of tales about 'Abbas. He was the half brother of Husayn and it is said that his father 'Ali prayed for a son to help his other son Husayn in the future battle of Karbala. It is said that 'Abbas as an infant did not open his eyes until his half-brother Husayn took him in his arms. Thus, his first sight was the face of Husayn.
'Abbas is the quintessential loyal retainer. Although he was Husayn's brother, and of equally noble birth, he considered himself to be his brother's servant. Another tale demonstrates this. When 'Abbas was very young, Husayn asked another retainer for water. 'Abbas said, 'I will bring the water for my master myself.'
Husayn gave him the title 'Saqqa', 'Water Carrier'.
This of course served as a premonition of Karbala as well, when Husayn as well as every one in his party would thirst and hunger for three days and nights.
Of the events of Muharram, it was because Husayn would not pledge his allegiance to an unjust and oppressive ruler that he was pursued and killed. Husayn was not a politically ambitious man. It was his lineage as grandson of the Holy Prophet that forced him into the world of politics. In fact, although he refused to pledge his loyalty to Yazid, he had declared that he would not contest the rulership but would
be willing to retire with his family and followers to another land. Yazid ibn Mu'awiyyah felt that Husayn as grandson of the Holy Prophet always would be a threat to him.
The city of Kufa sent a messenger to Husayn begging for his help. Husayn left Madinah and planned to travel to Kufa, but Yazid's forces pursued and intercepted the small party, and they were diverted to Karbala, a place that was a few miles from the Euphrates.
There is a tale about this as well. Evidently, prior to Muharram, Husayn and his party had been camped at the Euphrates, between the enemy forces and the source of water. Husayn graciously agreed to allow the enemy forces to procure water, declaring that their fight should not be about water, but about principles.
On 2 Muharram, Husayn's party reached Karbala. By 7 Muharram, their supplies of food and water were exhausted, but Yazid's forces would not allow access to the Euphrates.
'Abbas first was commanded to dig a well at Karbala. The attempt was unsuccessful, however. It was the women and children who began to suffer first as they were unaccustomed to hardships. On 10 Muharram, 'Abbas finally received permission from Husayn for a sortie to the Euphrates in order to obtain water at least for the children.
His prowess was unparalleled and he was successful in reaching the river as well as in filling the waterbags, under constant assault by enemy warriors. On his way back to the camp, however, he battled even more fiercely. First one arm, then the other were cut off by the swords of his enemies. According to the traditional tales, 'Abbas then took the waterbag then in his teeth, determined to bring it back successfully to his little four year old niece Sakina.
As he continued to ride furiously towards the camp, an archer hit the waterbag with a well-aimed arrow and the water leaked out. 'Abbas himself was felled finally by the blow to the head with a mace. As he had no arms, he could not remain mounted and fell to the ground. Upon falling, he cried, 'Ya Akkha!' (Oh Master!)
Husayn rode out to take his brother in his arms. 'My brother, what have they done to you?' he mourned.
Abbas responded, 'Mawla (Master), you have come at last. I thought I would be condemned never to gaze upon your face one last time, but praise be to Allah, you are here.' He then said, 'My Master, I pray you will grant my last requests. First: When I was born, my eyes opened upon the sight of your beloved face. I pray that the last vision my eyes see is your face. There is an arrow in one eye and the other is filled with blood. I pray you will wipe away the blood so that I can see your beloved face once more before I die. Second: I pray you will not carry my body back to the camp. I promised little Sakina water, and having failed, I could not bear the thought even of facing her after death. Third: I pray that Sakina will not be brought here to gaze upon my body. I know how much she loves me and this sight would undo her.'
Husayn promised that all his wishes would be fulfilled, then said, 'I have a wish as well. Since childhood, you have called me Master. I beg that you will call me brother now, at least once before you die.'
With his dying breath, 'Abbas murmured, 'Husayn, my brother, my Imam.'
Other titles given to 'Abbas are 'Hero of al-Qamah' and the 'Moon of the Bani Hashim'. Al-Qamah is the name of the river Euphrates, and it was the Hashemite tribe to which both Husayn and 'Abbas belonged.
He was given the title of 'Moon of the Bani Hashim' by his father 'Ali after the battle of Siffin when 'Ali fought against the father of Yazid. 'Abbas, dressed in his father's clothing and exhibiting the same fierce style of swordsmanship, was mistaken for 'Ali. 'Ali, appearing later on the battlefield, introduced 'Abbas as the 'Qamar of the Bani Hashim' or 'Moon of the Bani Hashim'.
Again, in many ways, the story of 'Abbas reflects a number of ancient traditions. Both his arms are cut off, in the same manner as the ancient 'Asherah tree was stripped of its branches. His eye is pierced with an arrow. The 'one-eyed' god is one who sacrifices an eye in order to be able to see into the realm of the other world. The god Odhinn is an example of this.
'Abbas, having no arms, carried the waterbag in his teeth. The water is a symbol of life. There are stories throughout the world of heroes or gods carrying a sacred or special drink in their mouths when forced by circumstance to do so. Odhinn, when he obtained the sacred mead Odhroerir, transformed himself into an eagle and carried the drink in his mouth back to Asgard. Odhroerir is the mead of 'inspiration'.
'Abbas bore the title 'Alamdar', which means 'Standard bearer'. This is why the standard is important in rituals of Muharram. Those who ask themselves to be tied to the 'alam are pledging their loyalty to the Ahlul Bayt, the family of 'Ali. That is the source of the term 'Shi'ani 'Ali' or 'followers of 'Ali.' Ali is the father both of Husayn and of 'Abbas.
The standard, however is a symbol of the Tree of Life and Death. During the last three days before 'Ashura, people often pin charms and necklaces to the 'alam for blessing. After 'Ashura, the charms and necklaces are returned to their owners, 'blessed' by the rituals of Muharram.
'Abbas is not the main character in the drama of Karbala, however. The commemoration of 'Ashura focuses rightly on Imam Husayn.
Imam Husayn was martyred on 10 Muharram, the day of 'Ashura. He was the son of 'Ali and Fatima Zahra, the daughter of the Holy Prophet. He represented the issue both of the man named 'Asadullah' or 'Lion of Allah' and the beloved daughter of Muhammad.
Husayn's brother Hassan had signed a treaty with Mu'awiyyah, allowing Muawiya to reign during his lifetime. Hassan died, however, while Mu'awiyyah still was alive, and Mu'awiyya proclaimed his own son Yazid as Caliph, attempting to assure his succession against the claims of the family of the Holy Prophet.
As stated previously, Husayn had not been eager to enter into the political contest but when the city of Kufa begged Husayn to come to its aid, Husayn responded. Unfortunately, before Husayn ever reached Kufa, the rebellion had been crushed and Husayn's party was surrounded and forced to march away from the river Euphates to the desert sands of Karbala.
It is said that the size of Husayn's party (in terms of fighters) numbered only 72 or 74 and that Yazid's forces were between 3,000 to 4,000. It was a very unequal contest, and Husayn's party included his entire family, as well as the families of his supporters. There were many women and children at Karbala and all suffered the consequences of being denied access to the water of the Euphrates.
On the night before 'Ashura, it is said that Husayn spoke to his warriors and told them that, in view of the overwhelming numbers of the enemy, the battle would result in certain death. He then offered each one the choice of fleeing under the cover of darkness. Not one accepted, according to tradition.
Imam Husayn and his followers prayed Fajr (the dawn prayers) the next morning on the sands of Karbala. They then went to the front line and one by one, addressed their relatives and friends on the side of the enemy forces. Husayn then addressed the enemy force and his speech was so powerful that one of Yazid's generals named Hurr changed his allegiance and later that day was one of the first to be martyred in the battle.
Ibn Sa'ad, the enemy commander, fearing more defections, shot an arrow towards Husayn and the battle of Karbala began. Ibn Sa'ad feared that this might be the first of many defections and therefore hurried to join battle. He shot an arrow towards Husayn and the unequal battle began.
In visualising the battle of Karbala or any other battle of the period, one must be aware of the fact that wars still included single combat between champions from each side. The supporters of Husayn were the first to enter the battle and they died one by one. Husayn's family, members of the tribe of Bani Hashim, followed.
As with the ancient Celts and the Norse, warriors composed poems and recited them to the enemy before engaging in combat. These verses often contained references to the honour and nobility of the family of the warrior as well as praising the cause for which he fought. Some of the declamations of the heroes of Karbala are renowned for their beauty and passion.
Among the martyrs were Ali Akbar, son of Husayn, Qasim, son of Hasan (and nephew of Husayn), and Aun and Muhammad, son of Husayn's sister Zainab. Their deaths are mourned and commemorated during the first ten days of 'Ashura.
Of Husayn's other children, an older son 'Ali who became the fourth Imam was too ill to leave his sickbed and therefore was forced to remain in the tent. Another son, Ali Asghar, was only six months old and close to death after three days without water.
Before he engaged in his last battle, it is said that Husayn took his infant son Ali Asghar to the front lines and showed him to the enemy forces to beg for water for the women and children even if the enemy were to continue to deny it to the men.
An archer named Hurmala ibn Kahil, under orders from Umar ibn Sa'ad, delivered the enemy response by piercing the infant's neck with an arrow. The baby died in his father's arms. Tradition holds that Husayn was so overwhelmed by the death of his child and the prospect of facing his wife that he paced back and forth across the sands of Karbala seven times, not being able to decide what to do. Finally, he buried the baby himself in the desert sand, believing that the mother would not be able to survive the sight of her child martyred in such a cruel fashion.
This ritual is re-enacted on the morning of 'Ashura by worshippers during prayer. All those who attend the 'Ashura morning ritual walk forwards and backwards very slowly at one point, remembering Husayn's agony.
There are two statements by Husayn that form part of the ritual as well. One is a quote from the Holy Qur'an. 'Inna lillahi wa inna 'ilayhim rajaoun.' 'From Allah one comes and to Him one returns.'
The other is Husayn's tormented plea on the sands of Karbala: 'Is there any helper to help us? Is there any rescuer to rescue us?' (This, too, is a verse from the Qur'an.)
There are seventy-two martyrs of Karbala whose names are remembered.
During the first ten days of Muharram, Shi'a commemorate the events of Husayn's martyrdom at Karbala through elegy, special prayers and passion plays. Processions are organised to re-enact the tragic forced march of Husayn's grieving family to Damascus. In some countries, Husayn's horse Zuljannah is represented by a real horse. The 'nakhleh' or date palm litter is another object that is carried in processions to commemorate the martyrdom of Husayn and the ordeal of his family. Shrines dedicated to Husayn are carried as well in some traditions.
These processions re-enact the grim procession to Damascus. Husayn's head and the heads of some of his noble warriors were mounted on spears and carried in a procession while his family in chains was forced to march behind them.
Another tradition of Muharram is that of 'matam' or ritual mourning. Mourners of both sexes beat their breasts and weep. During elegiac songs that honour the martyrs, the congregation will beat their breasts slowly and rhythmically, while chanting 'Ya Husayn'. Other chants accompany matam as well. 'Abbas and Sakina are the subject of many of these elegies and the chant of 'Ya 'Abbas' accompanies the appearance of the 'alam.
Coffins or martyrs' shrouds often are decorated lovingly with red roses and brought into the mosque. Those who volunteer as pallbearers are considered to be particularly blessed and as the coffin is taken through the crowd, mourners will touch it as it passes, and all are encouraged to weep. I do believe that one of the weaknesses of 'Western culture' is the stifling of natural sorrow. Those who participate in the matam rituals are able to express all the sorrow and loss they ever have experienced in life and to offer it to God. There is nothing selfish or self-indulgent about this ritual sorrow. It is a pure expression of grief offered to the Creator.
Tears are an offering of love. In one sense, tears are the 'water of life' and during Muharram the tears of a devout worshipper are a symbolical offering to those who were denied food and water for three days in the desert at Karbala.
In traditional Arab culture, any death is alloted a forty-day period of mourning. After that, the bereaved are able to resume their ordinary lives, but they are not called upon to pretend that the loss has not occurred. In fact, during that period of mourning, all of society recognises their loss. People need a mourning period. Without it, the loss festers in the heart and soul and can affect an individual for years.
In any case, the practice of matam is an ancient one, mirroring the ancient rites of mourning for Tammuz and Adonis. In ancient times, women in particular would beat their breasts and tear their clothing, even lacerating their cheeks with their nails. The tablets found in Ras Shamra describe ritual mourning of this sort for the slain god Ba'al.
Among the Shi'a, the women basically confine their physical acts of grief to the act of beating their breasts and weeping. Men sometimes will use scourges or whips and even cut themselves with blades. This, too, is a very ancient practice and it is not restricted to this religion.
Christianity has its own traditions of 'mortification of the flesh' and sacrifice. There are countries even now where men volunteer to be crucified during Holy Week. Processions of mourners who wept, used scourges and other forms of self-sacrifice were common in Christianity during the medieval period and still occur in some places.
Although some people may believe these practices to be 'uncivilised', 'primitive' or otherwise less than desirable, there is nothing wrong with the ritual expression of grief. It has been demonstrated that ritual scourging actually can facilitate a higher state of consciousness, which is one of the reasons it is found in many cultures throughout the ages. In Scandinavia, scourging with birch twigs is a health practice that accompanies the use of saunas. When linked to a spiritual ritual, it can be a powerful experience that liberates and brings one nearer to true 'Ecstacy'.
Obviously, this sort of ritual is not for every one, but it would be a mistake to condemn these practices. The performance of matam can be extremely beautiful and poignant. One actually becomes a part of the historical battle of Karbala, living through the sacrifices of the companions and family of Husayn.
One of the most powerful images of 'Ashura is the white horse of Husayn. Named 'Dhuljannah' or 'Zuljannah', the horse bore Husayn to the final battle. The white horse always has been a symbol of freedom and courage, of great nobility and purity. For a warrior like Husayn, his horse would have been a companion and friend and he would have regarded its welfare highly.
The horse of Husayn appears in many re-enactments of 'Ashura as well as in the elegies that are recited. It is difficult to express the emotional nature of these elegies simply in words on a page.
Here is an example of a recitation during Muharram:
As he prepared to mount Dhuljannah for the last time, Husayn spoke to his brave horse: 'Zuljannah, my faithful horse, I know that you are thirsty, as we ourselves thirst. I know that you are weary. You have born the burden of carrying the bodies of our beloved martyrs back from the battlefield since dawn.
My faithful Zuljannah, I ask you to take me one last time to the battlefield. I will not trouble you after that. Please, let us go now, my faithful horse.'
The horse instead turned away from Husayn and looked down towards the ground. Husayn looked as well and saw his four year old daughter Sakina clinging to the legs of Zuljannah.
Sakina was weeping: 'O horse! Do not take my father away. No, horse! Please do not take my father from me. I know you will not bring him back if you go now. Since dawn, whoever has gone into battle has not returned. Please, horse, do not take my father! I will not be able to live without him. Please, horse, please!'
Husayn embraced his daughter one last time, and begged her to allow him to do his duty. He sent her back to her mother and aunt.
He mounted his faithful horse then and went into battle for the last time...'
Whoever recites these elegies always will do so with great passion, weeping as they paint the picture of the battle of Karbala in words. It is the timing, as well as the gradual increase in tension as each event is described leading to the final sacrifice, accompanied by the weeping of the reciter and those who listen, that lend power to the recitations.
It is the day of 'Ashura itself that is the most emotional of all. Those who have attended the commemorations of the preceding days know the end of the story and yet await it with a mixture of dread and a sense of being privileged to participate in this incredible tale of courage and sacrifice.
Prayers begin in the morning with the 'Amaal of Ashura'. Many people will stay at the mosque throughout the day and the evening, participating in all the rituals. It is at 3.00 p.m. that the death of Husayn occurs but the humiliation and suffering of the survivors of Karbala, especially the women, and their courage and steadfastness is remembered in the evening.
The Shi'a have a saying: 'Kullin yowmin 'Ashura; kullin arDin Karbala'. 'Every day is 'Ashura. Every land is Karbala'. The lesson of Karbala is a lesson for every one. The example of Husayn is an example of inspiration for the entire world.
The martyrdom of Husayn at Karbala is not perceived as a political event as much as one based on moral and ethic principle. Non-Muslims familiar with the tale recognise this as much as the Shi'a themselves.
Charles Dickens wrote: 'If Husayn fought to quench his worldly desires, then I do not understand why his sisters, wives and children accompanied him. It stands to reason therefore that he sacrificed purely for Islam.'
Thomas Carlyle wrote: 'The best lesson which we get from the tragedy of Karbala is that Husayn and his companions were the rigid believers of God. They illustrated that numerical superiority does not count when it comes to truth and falsehood. The victory of Husayn despite his minority marvels me!'
Dr. K. Sheldrake wrote: 'Husayn marched with his little company not to glory, not to power or wealth, but to a supreme sacrifice and every member of that gallant band, male and female, knew that the foes were implacable, were not only ready to fight but to kill. Denied even water for the children, they remained parched under a burning sun, amid scorching sands yet no one faltered for a moment and bravely faced the greatest odds without flinching.'
In 'Husayn in Christian Ideology', Antoine Bara wrote: 'No battle in the modern and past history of mankind has earned more sympathy and admiration as well as provided more lessons than the martyrdom of Husayn in the battle of Karbala.'
Finally, Mahatma Gandhi wrote: 'I learned from Husayn how to be wronged and be a winner.'
To me, this is the most powerful statement of all. Husayn did not fight for revenge. He did not fight for himself or for his family, however justified that would have been. He fought for principle without hatred or malice towards his oppressors and yet, he steadfastly faced death and became a shining example of heroism to all people.