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Azadari: Commemoration of Kerbala

AboutMail Box Letter Relevant to this Topic
 Letter 05
: Zanjeer, Azadari and Taqleed
 Letter 06: Shabeehaat (Alam, Taziya), Idolworship and Bidat

The event of Kerbala has long been an institute, not only for Shias or Sunnis, but for humans alike. The great sacrifice of Imam Hussain (AS) has been a source of inspiration for 1400 years, yet everyone sees it differently, learns lessons from it differently.

The Commemoration of Imam Hussains ( as ) has been observed by the followers of AhlulBayt for centuries; yet many Muslims resent it, thinking that this would divide or increase the division of the Muslims. To my understanding this argument is unsound for the following reasons:- Imam Hussain and his opponent Yazeed are on the opposite ends of the Heavenly Scale. There is no Muslim School that doubts the purity and qualification of the Imam. Righteous Muslims also know that Imam Hussain is a dear grandson of the Prophet Muhammad ( saw ), and that he is a leader of the youth of the paradise. On the other hand, Yazeed is unacceptable to any Muslim, and every Mulsim condemns him, and will continue to do so, for his transgression and for the crimes he committed against the Ahl al Bayt.

Imam Hussain and the rest of the AhlulBayt did not receive in their lives the fairness and respect due to them on the part of the Muslims, while the rest of the Companions of the Prophet ( saw ) received of that as much as they deserved ( or more). The members of the House of the Messenger were denied even the right to live or feel safe. The Muslims, should therefore try to correct the mistake of history by uncovering the virtues of these distinguished people.

To keep the names of these people alive is in the interest of the Muslims.

Yazid b. Hayyan reported, I went along with Husain b. Sabra and 'Umar b. Muslim to Zaid b. Arqam and, as we sat by his side, Husain said to him: Zaid. you have been able to acquire a great virtue that you saw Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) listened to his talk, fought by his side in (different) battles, offered prayer behind me. Zaid, you have in fact earned a great virtue. Zaid, narrate to us what you heard from Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him). He said: I have grown old and have almost spent my age and I have forgotten some of the things which I remembered in connection with Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him), so accept whatever I narrate to you, and which I do not narrate do not compel me to do that. He then said: One day Allah's Messenger (may peace be upon him) stood up to deliver sermon at a watering place known as Khumm situated between Mecca and Medina. He praised Allah, extolled Him and delivered the sermon and. exhorted (us) and said: Now to our purpose. O people, I am a human being. I am about to receive a messenger (the angel of death) from my Lord and I, in response to Allah's call, (would bid good-bye to you), but I am leaving among you two weighty things: the one being the Book of Allah in which there is right guidance and light, so hold fast to the Book of Allah and adhere to it. He exhorted (us) (to hold fast) to the Book of Allah and then said: The second are the members of my household I remind you (of your duties) to the members of my family. .............
Sahih Muslim Book 031, Number 5920

The Prophet of Islam reminded us of our duties towards the members of his family! Isn't loving them, honoring their memories and informing people about them would be in accord with the advice of the Messenger ( saw ), and would provide the Muslims with what they need of Guidance.

The History of this great Martyr is a school for the seekers of the truth. Every Muslim can learn a great deal from the supreme sacrifice and the courage of the Imam. The Muslims are still living under similar conditions now as before. Corruption is still prevalent in our society, and tyrants, like Yazeed, are no rarity in Muslims and non - Muslim countries, but we don't have men like the Imam Hussain. Fortunately, this commemoration is providing the Muslim World with some of his excellent students.

The first majlis-e-Hussain was recited in the market-place of Kufa by a lady (Hz Zainab binte Ali (AS)) from whose head her veil had been ripped off, whose hopes and aspirations had been destroyed on the blood-drenched sands of Kerbala but whose indomitable spirit stepped forward to free the Islamic values from the yoke of tyranny and oppression. Standing on her unsaddled camel, she looked at the multitude rejoicing the victory of Yezid. As soon as people saw her, they were quiet. They knew that a historic moment for Kufa had arrived. Looking straight at them, the daughter of Ali said:

"Woe upon you O people of Kufa. Do you realise which piece of Muhammad’s heart you have severed! Which pledge you have broken! Whose blood you have shed! Whose honour you have desecrated! It is not just Hussain whose headless body lies unburied on the sands of Kerbala. It is the heart of the Holy Prophet. It is the very soul of Islam!"
Sermon of Janab Zainab Bint Ali in Market-place of Kufa

The first majlis touched and moved the people of Kufa so deeply as to give rise to both the Tawwabun movement and al-Mukhtar’s quest for vengeance. When the news of tragedy reached Medina in the third week of Muharram there was such intense weeping and wailing from the homes of Banu Hashim that the very walls of masjidun-nabawi began to tremble. Fatimah Binte Huzaam, also known as Ummul Baneen, carried her young grandson Ubaidullah ibne Abbas and prepared to go out. When asked where she was going, she said that she was taking the orphan of Abbas to offer condolences to the mother of Hussain. 

When the prisoners were finally freed by Yezid, Bibi Zainab asked for an opportunity to have rites of remembrance in Damascus. A house was made available to them and aza-e-Hussain went on for over a week. Bibi Zainab (A.S.) laid the foundation of aza-e-Hussain in the very capital of his murderer! 

On their return to Madina, Bibi Zainab (A.S.) took over the leadership of aza-e-Hussain in the city of the Holy Prophet. This aroused such strong emotions in the people and such revulsion against the oppressor that Amr ibne Said ibne al-Aas wrote to Yezid to have Bibi Zainab exiled from Madina. This was done in the beginning of 62 A.H. Bibi Zainab (A.S.) died shortly afterwards. 

We have, however, several ahadeeth about the merits of participating in the mourning ceremonies. In this connection we must remember that the regime was hostile to the shiahs and was anxious to cover up the tragedy of Kerbala. Imam Zainul Abideen (A.S.) is reported to have said:

 "When a believer’s eyes shed tears for the death of al-Hussain until they flow over his cheeks, Allah will provide for him rooms in Paradise which he will inhabit for a long time. When a believer’s eyes shed tears until they flow over his cheeks because of the atrocities inflicted upon us by our enemies in this world, Allah will provide him with a true abode in paradise."
Ibn Qawlawayah p. 103

Imam Muhammad Baqir (A.S.) said: If you gather together and occupy yourselves in remembering us, then our memory will be kept alive in your meetings and remembrances. The best of people after us are those who remember our situation and urge others to remember us.
Ibn Qawlawayah p. 174/5

The lovers of Ahlulbayt commemorates the events of Kerbala by holding Majalis annually during the months of Muharram and Safr. For those who do not know, I will list down the activities of Majalis and will try to justify the saying of the Imam which says that a tear for Hussain (AS) is an abode in paradise, which tear is the Imam talking about!!

  • Place where a Majlis is to be held is cleaned and purified
  • People from various places, from various tribes, from various backgrounds, from various sects and religions, gather in one place for a unified mission
  • A person begins the Majlis with the recitation of the Quran and it's meaning

And when the Quran is recited, then listen to it and remain silent, that mercy may be shown to you.
Quran [7:204]

  • A scholar mounts the stage and delivers a speech which covers all aspects of Islam, ranging from Remembrance and praise of Allah to Islamic History, praises of Prophet (SAW) and his family, narration of Prophet's Shariat and addressing modern day issues. Do remember that talking about Prophet Muhammad (SAW) and his message is indeed remembrance of Allah himself.

O you who believe! remember Allah, remembering frequently, And glorify Him morning and evening.
Quran [33:41-42]

  • Blessings are sent regularly on Muhammad (SAW) and his blessed progeny during the Majlis.

Surely Allah and His angels bless the Prophet; O you who believe! call for (Divine) blessings on him and salute him with a (becoming) salutation.
Quran [33:56]

  • Similarly curses and dissociation from the enemies of Allah, Prophet (SAW) and his progeny are sent verbally with an oath in heart to refrain from activities such people did. When a believer curses yazeed for his atrocities against the family of Rasool Allah (SAW), he not only curses him due to his love for Imam Hussain (AS) but also due to his natural hate against Yazeediyat. His curses at yazeed is a curse against gambling and adultery and alcohol and all sins yazeed used to do. Thus this very curse becomes a source of inspiration for the believer to refrain from such activities, for his curse against Yazeed would do him no good if he himself is involved in activities Yazeed proudly participated in.

Surely those who conceal the clear proofs and the guidance that We revealed after We made it clear in the Book for men, these it is whom Allah shall curse, and those who curse shall curse them (too).
Quran [2:159]

  • Towards the end of the gathering, events of the tragedy of Kerbala are narrated. People revive the grief which was once endured by a handful of members of Prophet's family alone! A natural show of grief is at display. NonMuslims cry over the tyranny humans had to suffer, Muslims cry over the tyranny their Prophet's grandson had to go through. When a believer cries over the martyrdom of young sons of Imam Hussain (AS), he is not only crying out of their love for the holy Imam, but out of a natural  hate towards the act itself. Before killing an innocent man, he will think about the tears he shed against the very act he himself is about to Commit. When a believer sheds a tear for the lost veil of Prophet's women, he will be reminded of that tear before he lays an evil eye on any woman today. This sorrow is a source of inspiration for the bliever to refrain from sinning, to refrain from Yazeedyat, and be proud to be a follower of Hussain ibn Ali. Whenever some one is afflicted with personal sorrow/grief/tribulation, he is inspired by Kerbala and Imam Hussain (AS), whose trials made every trial easy to endure. It is this tear regarding which the Imam said earlier (above) and the Prophet himself has said (after being given the news of Kerbala by Angel Gabriel (AS)):

O' Fatimah! Every eye shall be weeping on the Day of Judgment except the eye which has shed tears over the tragedy of Husayn for surely, that eye shall be laughing and shall be given the glad tidings of the bounties and comforts of Paradise
Bihar al-Anwar, vol,44; pg,293

  • Shabeehs (resemblences) are made which remind one of the events of Kerbala. Shabeehs such as the Alam (flag of Imam Hussain given to Mawla Abbass), Zuljenah (horse of Imam Hussain), Jhoola (Cradle of Infant Asghar), Taziya (Shrine of Imam Hussain) etc. These definitely are not the actual symbols but merely their resemblences which remind us the picture of Kerbala itself, which give us a sense and a desire to save ourselves from sins so that we can atleast be able enough to hold the Flag of Hz Abbas in our own hands. The concept of Shabeeh is simple. You take a simple paper from your register. This paper is normal and can be thrown in the trash etc. But when you write Allah's names on this very paper, or the verses of Quran on it, or the names of Prophet (SAW) and his progeny on it, this paper becomes divine. Respecting it is a part of faith now. This paper has been transformed into something very important just with writing a few words on it. Similarly the Zuljenah (Shabeeh of Imam Hussain's horse) is not the actual horse Imam rode on Kerbala. It's a horse from a special breed which has been specially taken care of and brought up in the name of Imam Hussain (AS). It is decorated with sword and shields, blood-stained clothes, arrows and names of Allah, the prophet and the Imams written on it to create a visual resemblance of the war of Kerbala. People who respect these shabeehs respect them by kissing them is due to their affiliation with Prophet's family and Allah himself. Anything which reminds us of Allah is his sign (as Allah calls the Safa and Marwa to be his sing [Quran 2:158]).

That (shall be so); and whoever respects the signs of Allah, this surely is (the outcome) of the piety of hearts.
Quran [22:32]

  • After mourning for the atrocities against the Prophet's family is concluded, Tabaruk (Food and water) is distributed amongst the participants, in the Name of Allah, for the sake of Imam Hussain (AS). For the thirst and hunger suffered by the children of Hussain (AS) drives the believer to not even mistreat an animal in terms of food and water.

But he (man) would not attempt the uphill road, And what will make you comprehend what the uphill road is? (It is) the setting free of a slave, Or the giving of food in a day of hunger To an orphan, having relationship, Or to the poor man lying in the dust. Then he is of those who believe and charge one another to show patience, and charge one another to show compassion. These are the people of the right hand.
Quran [90:11-18]

If this all is not a physical manifestation of Islam, then nothing else can be. This is how the mission of Imam Hussain (AS) still continues today, and this is how Islam still lives inside us. Do remember that the text above states the true spirit of Azadari as we are not here to discuss the acts of individuals.

Today, the tragic tale remains the same. There is nonetheless a growing vigour amongst the participants in the aza. The hearts cry out "Ya Hussain!", the tears flow uncontrollably at the very mention of the name of a martyr. The audience may have heard it all hundreds of time, and yet the sorrow and grief never seem to abate. 

To a dispassionate observer all this may seem to be incomprehensible. Yet he can not but appreciate the underlying strength of character, the devotion of the participants to their Imam and his followers and the determination of the traders, industrialists, working men and women and the youths constituting the community to preserve their identity as Shiahs. This is our resource. This is our strength. This is our dormant volcano which can unleash the lava of spirituality to enlighten not only the Muslim ummah but also the entire mankind. Sadly they remain as yet not fully exploited. 

Shias, have answered the call of Imam Hussain with the unique institution of azadari. With every tear that we shed for him we pledge to resist the oppression of injustice, immorality, inequity and falsehood. Every time we raise our hand and bring it down on our chest in matam, we are saying: "Labbaik, Labbaik Ya Mawla!" to our Imam, Hussain Ibne Ali, the grandson of the Holy Prophet (SAWA). 

For long the word aza-e-Hussain has been exclusively used in connection with the remembrance ceremonies for the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. Aza-e-Hussain includes mourning congregations, lamentations, matam and all such actions which express the emotions of grief, anger and, above all, repulsion against what Yezid stood for. These emotions, are accompanied by a will to reform both at the individual level and the community level. 

When a procession is taken to the streets, the world gets to know about the message of Imam Hussain (AS), the message of Islam.

However, there are still some critics who oppose Azadari on the basis that:

  • Matam or Chest beating is wrong as hitting one's own body is haraam
  • Zanjeer and shedding one's own blood is Haraam
  • Mourning should not exceed 3 days while Shias commemorate for 40 days
  • Imam Hussain (AS) is a martyr and thus is alive. It is wrong to cry for somebody who is alive
  • Imam Hussain is a martyr and we should be proud of it rather than crying
  • Crying is of no avail as it is not the reason for which Imam Hussain (AS) gave away his life
  • There is a mixed gathering of men and women in the Majalis and processions which is unislamic

It is grief in itself that we see NonMuslims grieve over the loss of Prophet Muhammad's household but it is the fellow Muslim who points the finger at the mourning for Prophet's grandson.

 a reminder of the blood-stained field of Kerbela, where the grandson of the Apostle of God fell at length, tortured by thirst and surrounded by the bodies of his murdered kinsmen, has been at anytime since then sufficient to evoke, even in the most lukewarm and heedless, the deepest emotions, the most frantic grief, and an exaltation of spirit before which pain, danger and death shrink to unconsidered trifles.
Edward G. Brown Professor of Arabic &  oriental studies at University of Cambridge, A Literary History of Persia, London, 1919, p. 227

... These are narrated in poetry and prose, in a richly cultivated literature of martyrologies - a Shi'i specialty - and form the theme of Shi'i gatherings in the first third of the month of Muharram, whose tenth day ('ashura) is kept as the anniversary of the tragedy at Karbala.  Scenes of that tragedy are also presented on this day of commemmoration in dramatic form (ta'ziya).  'Our feast days are our assemblies of mourning.' So concludes a poem by a prince of Shi'i disposition recalling the many mihan of the Prophet's family.  Weeping and lamentation over the evils and persecutions suffered by the 'Alid family, and mourning for its martyrs: these are things from which loyal supporters of the cause cannot cease.  'More touching than the tears of the Shi'is' has even become an Arabic proverb."
Ignaz Goldziher (1850-1921) Famous Hungarian orientalist scholar, Introduction to Islamic Theology and Law, Princeton, 1981, p. 179

Coming to the objection if hitting one's own body is haraam. Islam is a natural religion. Natural emotions are never oppressed in Islam, Infact Islam provides a suitable medium to express our emotions.

Then his wife came up in great grief, and she struck her face and said: An old barren woman!
Quran [51:29]

(she smote her face,) meaning, she struck herself upon her forehead, according to Mujahid and Ibn Sabit. Ibn `Abbas said that she smacked her face just as women do when confronted with an amazing thing,
Tafsir Ibne Kathir, Tafsir of Surah 51, Verse 29

You must note that Hz Sarah hit her face in the moment of her emotion. The act is no where condemned by Allah, his prophet or even by any commentator of the Quran.

Following is another interesting narration. We can read from the book of Muwatta of Imam Malik, that a Bedouin came to Holy Prophet (s.a.w) while beating his chest and tearing his hair in front of the holy prophet (s.a.w) because he slept with his wife while fasting during month of Ramadhan.

Malik's Muwatta - Book 18, Number 18.9.29: Yahya related to me from Malik from Ata ibn Abdullah al-Khurasani that Said ibn al-Musayyab said, "A bedouin came to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, beating his breast and tearing out his hair and saying, 'I am destroyed.' The Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, said, 'Why is that?', and he said, 'I had intercourse with my wife while fasting in Ramadan.' .......

After reading the full version of Hadith, you must note that the act of beating his chest and tearing outhis hair by the bedouin who was a Sahabi as well was never criticized by Prophet (SAW) but was acknowledge as a sign and emotion of severe regret. The action of the Bedouin was a result of spiritual pain he suffered as his fast was invalidated.

We all goes to the conference, meeting, party and other occasions when the time come to cheer someone for what he has done we start clapping ourselves. Some people will clap that their hands become red, but here there is no one to protest that we are hurting ourselves. Not only is there no one to protest but we join other people by beating ourselves with our hands. Also when we hear surprise or sad news we hit ourselves on the forehead, on our chest or any place in our body. You can see this behavior in all human beings, it doesn't discriminate between Sunni, Shia, Christians, Jews or any one. Again we do not hear condemnation from those who accuse the Shia of beating themselves for the sake of Imam Hussain! Footage of women from Kashmir and Palestine are shown beating their chests on Television as they just lost their sons, brothers, fathers. This act is a natural act of sorrow.

The most explicit proof of self inflicted injury comes Owais Qarni, the great Muslim Sahaba, praised by both Shia as well as Sunni erudites, had an immense love for the Holy Prophet (s.a.w).

When the news reached him in Yemen that two teeth of the Holy Prophet (s.a.w) were broken in the battle of Ohad, he extracted all his teeth. When the Holy Prophet (s.a.w) got the news in Medina that Owais had struck down all his teeth, he (s.a.w) exclaimed, "Indeed Owais is our devoted friend."
Tazkeratul Aulia' by Sheikh Fariddun Attar
'Ihsanul Uyun' commonly known as 'Seerate Halbia' vol II, page 295.

We should point out that breaking one's teeth is a thousand times more painful than the beating of one's chest for a few hours. It is even more extreme than breast beating with chains or knives (Zanjir) because those who have suffered from tooth ache will understand the immense pain that circulates in the mouth and head. Compare the removal of a tooth to the forced removal of a full set of teeth without the benefit of modern day anaesthetic and instruments the pain must have been unbearable. This was clearly an act of great courage.

It is quite clear for the holding mourning of Imam Hussain (a.s) by means of beating the chest or Zanjir is to give Physical expression of sympathy for the grief that befall Imam Hussain (a.s) and it expresses nothing but love and loyalty.

The people who practice Tatbir take lead, amongst the teachings of other infallibles, from Zaynab al-Kubra, heroin of Karbala and sister of Imam Hussain peace be upon them. Zaynab peace be upon her was the first person who hit her forehead to a bar inside the carriage she was in, causing considerable bleeding, when the head of al-Hussain (AS) was being paraded in Kufa. This is one evidence that the shedding of blood is permissible; whether from the head or from the back etc. It is a sunna of Hz Zainab Binte Ali.

Those who perform Zanjeer today and make their backs bleed do so for various reasons:

  • Zanjeer fulfills the Sunnah of Zainab Bint Ali ibn Abu Talib, the grand daughter of Prophet Muhammad (SAW)
  • Zanjeer is an act of sorrow and Grief
  • With every zanjeer hitting our back, we display anger against Yazeediyat of 1400 years ago and yazeedyat of today
  • We shed our blood to Tell Imam Hussain (AS) that if we were present with him 1400 years ago, we would not refrain from letting our blood spill for the cause of Kerbala

Remember when cartoons making fun of Prophet (SAW) were published? People took to streets and destroyed public property as a sign of anger an disgust apparently. The shia take out peaceful processions on the street as a sign of disgust and anger. Each hand when it hits the chest, dissociates the person from the evils yazeed used to commit. Each hand on our own chest is infact a smite on yazeed's evil.

As far the Sunni claim of "3 day" mourning period is concerned, it violates Quranic facts itself.

He (Yaqoub) said: Nay, your souls have made a matter light for you, so patience is good; maybe Allah will bring them all together to me; surely He is the Knowing, the Wise. And he turned away from them, and said: O my sorrow for Yusuf! and his eyes became white on account of the grief, and he was a repressor (of grief). They said: By Allah! you will not cease to remember Yusuf until you are a prey to constant disease or (until) you are of those who perish. He said: I only complain of my grief and sorrow to Allah, and I know from Allah what you do not know.
Quran [12:83-86]

Prophet Yaqub (AS) mourned for his living son yusuf (AS) for years that his eyesight diminished to such an extent that he could see no more and his sons feared that he will die with grief. We do not see any three day restriction by God on Prophet Yaqub (AS), whose sorrow was natural.

Compare Prophet Yaqub's tragedy with Kerbala. Imam Zayn al-Abidin wept for his father for twenty years until hebreathed his last, and every time he was served food and drink, he wept for Imam Hussain , until on one occasion his servant said to him, "Is your sorrow and grief not going to end?", Imam Zayn al-Abidin, replied, Woe unto you! The prophet Jacob had twelve sons, and (when) Allah made one of them disappear, his eyes turned white (i.e. blind) because of his increasing crying for him, his head turned gray because of grief, and his back humped because of sorrow, and all this while his son was alive in the world. Whereas I saw my father, my brother, my uncle, and seventeen members of my family killed around me . . . so how can my grief and sorrow end?"

Furthermore, the year which saw the deaths of Hz Khadija (AS) and Hz Abu Talib (AS) was declared as Year of Sorrow (Aam-ul-Huzn) by the Prophet (SAW) himself and not "three days of sorrow".

It is true that Martyrs are alive but mourning for the alive is in no way prohibited (as in case of yusuf (AS))Secondly, if achieving Martyrdom is a moment of happiness, then missing martyrdom is a moment of grief. Why then do we celebrate the saving of Ishmael (AS) when he was being slaughtered by his own father? Thirdly, Azadari is not only till 10th Muharam. Infact Kerbala starts after 10th Muharram when the women of Prophet's household were arrested and made to journey to Syria without their veil. Is it a thing to be proud of?

Are we really losing the Message of Imam Hussain(AS) performing by these rituals? People opposed to the mourning rituals will make comments like: "Instead of telling the world that Human Rights, Truth, Justice, Integrity is what Imam Husayn stood for we are shown as barbarians who cut the heads of their babies"

Had the message really been lost, we would have been seeing a very different Islam today Islam is still spreading today, the teaching of the Ahlulbayt still touch millions of nonmuslims. The way the Shiah take to the streets, people who are unaware of Kerbala question themselves that why are people hitting themselves. When they dive into the matter, they come to know about the matter which was unreal to them before.

The symbolism of the spilling of blood by the devotee, his own blood, is thus symbolic of the very nature of Karbala and brings that event, the supreme sacrifice, to the fore, a sacrifice that for which the lamb was sacrificed instead of his son by a knife by Ibrahim Khalilullah. And what, if Mohammad (saws)'s blood is spilt will man not spill his own blood? And even then the spilling of the blood has a deeper, more personal reason - the heart of worship is love, and here we find love of ahl-ul-bait.

"Say (O Muhammad!): I do not ask of you any reward (or fee) for it (my service to you) but love for my near relatives"
Quran [42:23]

Azadari as a sign of love for Prophet's ahlulbayt is another issue and will dealt with in another article.

It is our duty to deliver Imam Hussain's message to the indigenous population of the country we live in. We can succeed in this only if we ourselves appear to be true followers of Imam in all our interaction with the community at large. We must reflect the maximum integrity, Islamic values and our sincere commitment to Imam's cause. 

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