The 10th day of Muharram is a red-letter day in our history. Known as Ashoura, it is the anniversary of the inimitable sacrifice which Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA), the youngest grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), made, along with 72 others, to uphold the true teachings of Islam befitting "the Prince of Martyrs."
No wonder, Muslims observe this day as one of mourning and solemn remembrance. Death is inevitable for every mortal. But his was no ordinary demise.
The great Shahadat of Kerbala, inspired by his love for Allah showed staggering courage, conviction and endurance, enabling the beloved grandson of the holy Prophet (pbuh) to overcome, so easily, the well-nigh insuperable forces of contemporary evil and untruth.
It is this dying nobly for the cause of truth and justice that confers immortality on man, the immortality which the great son of Hazrat Ali (RA) won on the banks of the Furat (Euphrates). The Holy Quran eloquently testifies: "And say not of those who are slain in the Way of Allah: 'They are dead.' Nay, they are living, though ye perceive it not." (2: 154).
The heroic episode of Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA) has passed into a legend. The deeds of this "Prince of Martyrs" are sung by minstrels. He reigns supreme in the hearts of millions; he has indeed passed into history, he has become a name.
With the rise of Mu'awiyah (RA), the oligarchic rule of the heathen times displaced the democratic rule of Islam. Paganism, with all its attendant depravity, revived and vice and immorality followed everywhere.
The wealth, which he pitilessly extracted from his subjects, was lavished on his mercenaries, who in turn helped him to repress dissent. Before his death, Mu'awiyah (RA) convened the chief officers making them take an oath of fealty to his son Yezid, whom he designated as his successor to the throne -- a gross and treacherous violation of the terms of peace signed between Mu'awiyah (RA) and Imam Hassan (RA), the eldest son of Hazrat Ali bin Abu Talib (RA).
Imam Hussain (RA) inherited the chivalric nature and virtues of his illustrious father. He combined within himself the right of descent from Sher-e-Khuda Ali (RA) with the holy character of the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Great as a devout Muslim, great as an idealist, patriot and a valiant warrior, he was a bold and adventurous man, reckless of consequences and yet intensely practical; one who embodied qualities that giants among men might desire.
Hazrat Hussain (RA) never deigned to acknowledge the title of the tyrant Yezid, whose vices he despised. Naturally, therefore, when the Moslems of Kufa besought his help to release them from the curse and cruelty of Ommeyade rule, he felt it his duty to respond to the Iraqians' appeal for deliverance, and with the assurance that Iraq was ready to hurl the despot from his throne, he set out for Kufa with his family.
He traversed the desert of Arabia undisturbed; accompanied by his brother Abbas (RA), and devoted followers. But upon approaching Iraq, he was alarmed by the hostile face of the country. He saw no signs of the Kufan army which had promised to meet him. Suspecting treachery, he camped his small band at Karbala near the western bank of the Euphrates.
The great Imam's apprehensions of betrayal only proved too true and he was overtaken by an Ommeyade army sent by the ferocious Obaidullah bin Zaid, surnamed the Butcher. For days their tents were surrounded.
They dared not come within the reach of Ali's son, but instead cut the victims off from the waters of the Euphrates. Even with three days and nights of intense agony, the indefatigable Imam and his followers endured this unflinchingly.
But with the pain too unbearable, as a last resource, Imam Hussain (RA) besought the cruel monsters not to wage war upon the innocents within the group, but to kill him and be done with it.
But they knew no pity. He pressed his supporters to escape safely, but none deserted their beloved master. The sacrilege of warring against him struck one of the enemies' chiefs with horror and he deserted with thirty followers "to claim the partnership of the inevitable death."
On the morning of the fateful day of the 10th day of Muharram, the auspicious day of Ashura, Hussain's (RA) faithful band of heroes arrayed themselves in battle formation. No hope of victory lay amongst them, yet they knew that they had come to fulfill their destiny -- not win a battle but achieve a timeless moral and spiritual victory.
The Fatimides' indomitable spirit was invincible and every single combat was readily won by them. They slew many more than their own numbers. But the enemy's archers treacherously picked them off from a safe distance. One by one the defenders fell, until at last there remained the noble grandson of the last and greatest Prophet (pbuh).
Severely wounded and dying, he dragged himself to the riverside for a last drink; the inhuman cowards turned him off with arrows. As he returned to his tent, he took his infant child in his arms but they transfixed him with a dart. Alone and weary, he seated himself at the door of his tent. One of the women handed him a cup of water to assuage his burning thirst; as he raised it to his lips he was pierced in the mouth with a dart. He lifted his bloody hands to heaven and uttered a funeral prayer for the living and the dead.
Not merely the Prophet's (pbuh) grandson but also a devout follower of his tenets, the great Imam even in his last hours displayed the highest ideal of spiritual and moral greatness by praying for the very enemies who had killed his infant son and were ready to put him to death. Raising himself for the last desperate charge, the valiant fighter threw himself among the Ommeyade brutes, who fell back on every side.
But the grueling ordeal was too much even for the indomitable Hussain (RA), and with the loss of blood he sank to the ground. The murderous cowards rushed upon the dying hero like vultures; they cut off his head, trampled on the holy body and subjected it to every ignominy they knew.
Hussain (RA) indeed did not die in the ordinary sense of the term. He simply shuffled off the moral coil and set sail towards the Great Unknown through the channel of Shahadat.
The Great Martyrdom of Karbala occupies a very significant place in history. It convinces one and all of the resolution of God's followers and testifies to their endurance of hardship and loss to uphold the Faith of Muhammad (pbuh).
Ashoura also comes back every year to rejuvenate the dormant vigour and dampened morale of the misguided and oppressed Moslems all over the world.
The writer is a former Director General, Islamic Foundation Bangladesh.