Ashura: A Lesson in Freedom
The month of Muharram brings with it the memory of a sacrifice the like of which is difficult to find in the history of Islam, indeed of mankind. Imam Husayn (AS) and his family and companions emerged victorious in a battle that they seemingly lost in material terms. The cost of this victory was immense, a period of great suffering which ended for the martyrs on the tenth day, the Ashura, but was to go on for much longer for the family members who were taken captive.

Imam Husayn was the grandson of the Prophet (PBUH). He and his brother Hasan (A.S) had been declared leaders of the youth of Paradise. So how could people calling themselves muslims turn to kill him? Their problem was the age old one of ignorance and greed. They were either not aware of his high merits and noble lineage or were more attracted to the worldly benefits that a successful battle against him would bring.

In order to remove any misconceptions in the minds of his opponents, the Imam addressed them on the day of Ashura before fighting commenced. The tone of his voice was so loud that most people heard, "People, listen to my words and do not hurry me so that I may remind you of the duties you have toward me and so that I may give you reasons for my coming to you. If you accept my reasons, believe my words and give me justice, you will become happier through that, and you will not have any cause against me. If you do not accept my reasons and give me justice of your own accord as individuals, 'Then agree upon your affair and call your associates. Let not your affair be in darkness to you.' [Cf. Quran 10:71] Indeed my guardian is God, Who sent down the Book. He takes care of the righteous.' [Cf. Quran 7:196].(Note 1)

The Imam continued, "Trace back my lineage and consider who I am. Then, look back at yourselves and remonstrate with yourselves. Consider whether it is right for you to kill me and desecrate my inviolability. Am I not the son of the daughter of your Prophet, the son of the executor of his will and his cousin, the first of believers in God and the man who first believed in what His Apostle brought from his Lord? Was not Hamzah, the leader of the martyrs, my father's uncle and Ja'far at-Tayyar my own uncle? Have you not heard the Prophet of God's saying concerning myself and my brother: 'These are the two lords of the youths of the inhabitants of heaven'?

"If you believe what I am saying - and it is the truth for, by God, I have never told a lie since I learned that God hated people who told them and that those who opposed Him grieved Him ... If you still regard me as a liar, then there are still to be found people who would tell you the truth if you ask them. Ask Jabir b. Abdullah al-Ansari, Abu Said al-Khudri, Sahl b. Sa'd, Zayd b. Arqam and Anas b. Malik to tell you what they have heard from the Apostle of God concerning myself and my brother. Is this not sufficient to prevent your shedding my blood? (Note 2)

"If you are in doubt about this, do you have the slightest doubt that I am the son of the daughter of your Prophet? By God! There is no son of a prophet other than me among you and among the other peoples from east to west. Tell me, are you seeking retribution from me for one of your dead whom I have killed, or for property of yours that I have expropriated, or for a wound that I have inflicted?" Dead silence reigned over the whole army and nobody uttered a word.(Note 3)

The speech of the Imam had an effect on those hearts that still had some remnants of humanity left in them. The classic struggle between 'Ruh' and 'Nafs' began. Where goodness won, the men found themselves in the ranks of the Imam, willing to fight the enemy to certain death.

The foremost of these men was Hurr b. Yazid. A commander in Ibn Sa'd's army, he had intercepted the Imam's contingent at Dhu Husum, where he addressed the Imam, "Husayn, I remind you of God with regard to your life, for I testify that if you fight, you will be fought, and if you are fought, you will be killed." He replied, "Do you think that you can frighten me with death? Could a worse disaster happen to you than killing me? I do not know what to say to you. I can only address you as the brother of al-Aws addressed his cousin when he met the latter as he was going to help the Apostle of God. His cousin said to him: 'Where are you going, for you will be killed?' He replied:

I will depart, for there is no shame in death for a young man whenever he intends right and strives as a Muslim, And has supported righteous men through the sacrifice of his life, abandoned the cursed and made alliance with the consecrated" (Note 4)

These words must have resonated in Hurr's mind. A decision had to be taken before commencement of hostilities. True to the meaning of his name, Hurr opted for true freedom. Little by little he began to approach the Imam's camp. One of his tribe Muhajir b. Aws asked him, "What do you want, Ibn Yazid? Do you want to attack?" He was silent but a great shudder came over him. Al-Muhajir said, "By God! Ibn Yazid, your behaviour is suspicious. By God! I have never seen you act like this before. If I was asked who was the bravest of the Kufans, I would not ignore you. What is this I see in you?" Hurr answered, "By God! I am giving my soul the choice between heaven and the fire of hell. By God! I will not choose anything before heaven, even though I am cut to pieces and burnt." (Note 5)

He whipped his horse and joined the Imam. He said, "May God accept my soul for you, son of the Apostle of God. I was the one who intercepted you and made you stop in this place... I have come repenting to my Lord for what I have done, and offering you my life as consolation so that I may die before you. Will you accept that as repentance from me?"

The Imam replied, "Yes, God will accept your repentance and forgive you... You are the free man (al-hurr) as your mother named you. You are a free man in this world and the next." (Note 6)

The battle began. All who fought lost their lives, though what they won was worth much more. Not only did they secure a place in Paradise but they also set an everlasting example of justice and morality, of patience and sacrifice, and above all, of freedom for generations to come.

The story of Hurr is a story of this freedom - freedom from the other-than-God and from the ungodly. It is the story of hope for you and me, an opportunity to reexamine our lives to see where we stand in this world, where both the opportunity for piety and wretchedness exists. Do we obey the commandments of Islam and identify ourselves with Imam Husayn? For, as Sana'i said:

Religion is your Husayn, while desires and hopes are pigs and dogs - yet you kill the first through thirst and feed these two. How can you keep on cursing the wicked Yazid and Shimr? You are a Shimr and a Yazid for your own Husayn! (Note 7)

  1. Tabari, Ta'rikh, II, 328
  2. Tabari, Ta'rikh, II, 329
  3. Tabari, Ta'rikh, II, 330
  4. Tabari, Ta'rikh, II, 302
  5. Tabari, Ta'rikh, II, 333
  6. Tabari, Ta'rikh, II, 334
  7. Sana'i, Diwan, 665
A posting on: ABDG Discussion Group
By: Mahmood Merchant