Significance of the Tragedy of Karbala
Is this the best use of remembrance?
From: Dawn, Jan 7, 2009
Abbas Husain is the Director of the Teachers’ Development Centre and has served as a Professor of Islamic Studies at the Aga Khan University for 19 years. He has completed an English tafseer (interpretation) of the Quran which relates the text to modern issues. Here he sits down with Dawn.com to discuss the Karbala tragedy’s relevance in today’s world.
What is the significance of the month of Muharram?
My understanding of the way Muharram works is that it is a counterpart to Ramazan. Both months serve as punctuation marks to the year. Ramazan is a filling in, Muharram is a speaking out. In Ramazan, one empties their day of activity so that they may receive grace. In Muharram, one articulates how they wish to spend the next (Islamic) year and to what values they wish to dedicate themselves.
As (Maulana Syed Mohammad) Zaki Baqri Sahib put it, Muharram is like an open university. (During the month) we gather to once again ‘remember the days of God’ - a command that appears twice in the Quran. This means we should remember the great events to do with God. The Prophet’s life was days of God, and so is the struggle of Imam Hussain. Sitting and remembering this sacred history is doing a religious work.
What lessons can people derive from the events of Ashura?
From the year 2008 to 2016 Pakistan is going to have the largest proportion of young people in the world – 63 per cent (of Pakistan’s population) will be between 10 and 24 years old. This group needs tremendous guidance; reaching out to them should be a priority.
Presently, the youth of Pakistan is, I believe, the most disserved by Pakistan’s education system. The education system, such as it is, does not serve the youth with the kind of vision and sparkle of creativity that it should provide.
If young people do not receive focus and direction, Pakistan will be in a big mess. Our way out of this mess into prosperity, peace and plenty is to give vision to our youth. In this religion too has a role to play, as a source of ideas.
(The Battle of) Karbala teaches us a way of deepening our engagement with the world. It shows us that truth prevails, justice prevails. How ever much it seems that these values are not winning – its proponents are being pulverised, defeated – in the end they will prevail. Today, Hussain’s sacrifice is more remembered than any other cause that people have given their lives to.
What can be done to counter negative stereotypes held about Ashura commemorations?
Everything comes down to culture. Our religion itself is very straighforward. (It is) culture (that) places a set of rituals around its observance. Some of those rituals have enormous elegance and beauty. Some rituals, sad to say, do not. Of course, the things that are inelegant not beautiful will arouse prejudice in others.
What we need to do is re-ask the opening question. Is this the best use of remembrance? Is this what we must do? I think we should be careful to not go overboard, not get obsessed.
Nowadays young people are looking for intelletual dynamism. If we claim that Hazrat Ali is the gate to the city of knowledge, then where is his intellectual legacy? We hear about his physical bravado – what he did at Gate of Khyber, how good he was as a swordsman. These stories are great, no argument; but his intellectual legacy is the theme that we need to re-discover and focus on... rather than some of the rituals that take time away from this.
Ashura - Misrepresentations and Distortions - Murtaza Muttahiri
What was the course of Imam Husain’s (a.s) revolution? - Muslim Unity