For centuries, Shia Muslims have commemorated the tragedy of Karbala in the month of Muharram, mourning the massacre of the Prophet’s (pbuh) grandson, Imam Hussain. Shias spend the month mourning the betrayal of Hussain at the hands of the people he thought would support him, and the subsequent brutal murder of the Imam and his family members.
But is this month really just one to be mourned by Shia Muslims – or even only Muslims at all?
The tragedy of Karbala is one in which a man fought for what he believed to be right and was subsequently betrayed and cut down alongside his family – including his 6-month-old son.
It’s not a complicated story. It’s a simple story of a man fighting for his beliefs even if it meant dying for it, and it’s a story explaining the consequences of pursuing justice. This is a story that not just Shias and Sunnis, but people of all walks of life should be able to relate to and take inspiration from.
This has been true throughout history, with numerous figures having reportedly spoken highly of the lessons they learned from Hussain.
Mahatma Gandhi is believed to have said at one point, “I learnt from Hussain how to achieve victory while being oppressed”. The Quaid-e-Azam is reported to have said in Bombay, “My admiration for the noble sacrifice of Imam Hussain as a martyr abounds because he accepted death and the torture of thirst for himself for his sons and for his whole family, but did not submit to unjust authorities “. Even Nelson Mandela is reported to have said, “Imam Hussain gave me strength to stand for right of freedom and liberation and I did”.
There is, of course, room for more nuance.
The life-lessons of Karbala cannot be denied. But is it necessary to mourn the murder of Hussain and his family? Some writers have gone to the extent of arguing that birthdays, weddings and other happy occasions should not be celebrated in the month of Muharram out of respect for the tragedy of Karbala.
But a lot of people argue disagree.
There is the argument that while, of course, it is always nice to be respectful when someone else is mourning, it is hard to suggest that a historic tragedy means that someone who doesn’t feel as strongly about it shouldn’t be allowed to carry on their lives as normal.
For example, many Shia Muslims, naturally, fervently mourn in the days of Muharram, thinking of the pain Hussain suffered for the Islamic community. Additionally, many Sunni Muslims recognize the tragedy and feel empathy for the pain suffered by the grandson of The Prophet pbuh. Non-Muslims, of course, would naturally feel empathy and learn lessons from the incident, but, obviously it is unlikely that they feel the same pain felt by their counterparts.
After all, Non-Muslims argue there are numerous tragedies that happened throughout different weeks of history, why should this one cause their lives to come to a standstill?
Is that a reasonable point? It’s hard to say, but if one takes it into account, then a reasonably nuanced conclusion regarding Karbala is achieved: The tragedy of Karbala was a tragic event which should and has taught mankind numerous lessons. However, what people take away from the incident is up to them. If an individual so desire, their world does not have to come to a standstill in order to commemorate Muharram.