On the essence of the day of Ashura
Mahatma Ghandi once said: “If India wants to be a successful country, it must follow in the footsteps of Imam Hussain.”
In the seventh century, Imam Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), was forced to face one of the fiercest and saddest tragedies in human history. Hussain and his 72 companions were intercepted by thousands of enemy soldiers in Karbala, which is modern-day Iraq.
Yazid, following the death of his father Muawiyah, assumed power as caliph. Hussain refused to pledge allegiance to Yazid, whose “succession was established by force and contrary to the wishes of the people.” Hussain was hell-bent on his decision: “Death with honour is far better than life in humiliation.”
Besieged by the giant army, Hussain’s men, with no access to water, suffered under the searing sun of Karbala. Their tents became filled with the cries of children from thirst. Unable to bear, Abbas, Hussain’s step-brother, drew his sword and headed to fight the enemies.
The valiant warrior managed to get to the Euphrates River. Although thirsty for three days, he still did not drink. Having filled the water skin, when he dashed towards the camp, enemy forces attacked him from behind and severed both of his arms. Yet, Abbas went on, carrying the water container with his teeth. But hail of arrows struck him. One arrow punctured the water skin. One arrow shot his eye.
Yazidi soldiers didn’t even spare Hussain’s six months old son. Cradling the baby Abdullah in arms, Hussain begged the soldiers for a drop of water for the infant. The reply came in the form of an arrow which pierced the baby’s neck, silencing its cry forever.
With most of his companions killed, and women and children sick in tents, Hussain now stood alone to fight, screaming to the world: “Is there any soul to help me?” He was attacked from all sides and eventually beheaded by Shimer. The barbarism didn’t end there. Objects that were on Hussain’s body were pillaged.
His mantle, shirt, sandals, sword, even his trousers were taken. Afterwards, 10 horse riders trampled upon the dead body, leaving Hussain’s chest and back fully disfigured.
And then, placing Hussain’s severed head above a spear, Yazidi soldiers put all the women and children in chain and marched them towards the capital city Damascus.
The atrocities of Yazid’s army against Hussain and his men, as some people see it, is much like IS is today. The Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) love for his daughter Fatimah’s two sons -- Imam Hassan and Imam Hussain -- was legendary.
After the death of Muhammad (pbuh), feuds began over the question of succession. The majority thought the successor would be elected independently. A small fraction asserted that the successor should come from the family of the Prophet (pbuh), and that would be Ali, who was a cousin and son-in-law of Muhammad (pbuh).
Ali became the fourth caliph of Islam, but his murder in 661 provoked a permanent schism between the groups that would eventually evolve into today’s Sunni and Shia Muslims. “Shia” or “Shi’ite” is a short form of shi’at Ali, or “party of Ali.” The other group called themselves “Ahl al-Sunna” -- or Sunni -- the “people of the tradition.”
Later, the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, Ali’s son, intensified the Shia-Sunni friction. And the split has lasted ever since.
Iran -- the largest Shia Muslim country in the world, mourn, along with other Shia communities across the planet, the dreadful death of Hussain in Karbala.
Sunni Saudi Arabia has long been rival with neighbouring Iran. In regards to Islamic ideology, the two countries are poles apart.
Abd al-Aziz ibn Baz, a former Saudi cleric and Islamic scholar issued several fatwas denouncing the Shia as apostates and atheists. In November last year, Crown Prince Salman called the Supreme Leader of Iran “the new Hitler of the Middle East.”
Both countries are mired in a cold war conflict over regional dominance. The Sunni fighting IS militiamen, allegedly supported and financed by Saudi Arabia, is deep in a game to crush the Shia in Syria, Yemen, and Iraq. Meanwhile, Iranian-backed Shia Hezbollah militia group is active to thwart the Saudi influence.
Hamidreza Taraghi, a hardline Iranian analyst, said: “IS ideologically, financially, and logistically, is fully supported and sponsored by Saudi Arabia -- they are one and the same.”
The founder of Wahhabism is Mohammed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab (1703-92). Wahhabism, as said by Akbar Ahmed, the chairman of Islamic studies at American University in Washington, was shaped by the austere environment -- xenophobic, fiercely opposed to shrines and tombs, disapproving of art and music, and hugely different from the cosmopolitan Islam of diverse trading cities like Baghdad and Cairo.
Since the 1970s, with the astronomical amounts of money coming from oil exports, Saudi based charities began financing mosques and madrassas across the globe for Wahhabi proselytization.
In 2014, the US State Department estimated that over the past four decades, Riyadh had invested more than $10 billion into charitable foundations in an effort to replace mainstream Sunni Islam with the harsh intolerance of its Wahhabism. European Union intelligence experts estimated that 15% to 20% of this had been channelled to al-Qaeda and other violent militants. Also, some years ago, the European Parliament identified Wahhabism as the main source of global terrorism.
Despite Donald Trump’s romantic relationship with Saudi Arabia, he called the kingdom “the world’s biggest funder of terrorism.”
Earlier this year, Mohammed bin Salman, in an interview, said that the Saudi-financed spread of Wahhabism started in light of Western countries asking Riyadh to help counter the Soviet Union during the Cold War. He added that Saudi Arabia’s Western associates urged the country to fund overseas mosques and madrassas during the Cold War, so as to prevent Soviet encroachment in Muslim countries.
Back in the 1980s, during the rule of General Zia-ul-Haq, Pakistan shook hands with the US and set up madrassas to produce jihadists on their soil in an effort to fight Soviet invasion in Afghanistan.
It was under the presidency of Zia-ul-Haq that the first ever riots between Sunnis and Shia broke out. Since then, Shia have been massacred, their mosques regularly bombed. Oddly enough, Shia face huge discrimination and are quasi-treated as “non-Muslim” in a country which was born on the basis of religion, for Muslims.
Compared to other Islamic countries, Muslims in Bangladesh are tolerant to minority Muslim sectarians. Though, in the past few years there had been some attacks on the country’s Shia mosques and rituals.
Every year, on the day of Ashura, thousands of Shia Muslims across the world whip and cut themselves to mourn the death of Imam Hussain, chanting: “Hai Hussain, hai Hussain.” The essence of Hussain’s sacrifice came in Rabindranath Tagore’s words as well: “In order to keep alive justice and truth, instead of an army or weapons, success can be achieved by sacrificing lives, exactly what Imam Hussain did.”
Rahad Abir is a writer.
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