Monday, January 29, 2007

Ashura: The Tragedy of Karbala

Tomorrow, the tenth day in the Islamic month of Muharram, is the culmination of the Twelver Shi'i religious mourning period of 'Ashura. In October 680, Husayn bin 'Ali, the third Shi'i Imam (religious/political leader in this context) and youngest son of the first Imam, 'Ali bin 'Abi Talib, and 72 of his friends and relatives were massacred on the barren field of Karbala in Iraq by the forces of the Umayyad Caliph (king) Yazid bin Mu'awiyah bin Sufyan and his governor Ubayd'Allah bin Ziyad for daring to oppose the caliph's authoritarianism. Husayn fell on the tenth day after losing his son 'Ali Akbar and infant son 'Ali Asghar.
The annual commemoration of this tragic event remains an important period of contemplation and remembrance for Shi'i Muslims around the world, Twelver, Isma'ili, and Zaydi. Processions and passion plays (taziya) are performed from Iran to Iraq, Lebanon, Pakistan, India, the Persian Gulf, Europe, and North America. "O Husayn! Never shall I forget Husayn! Pierced by the spears of his enemies,He whom they abandoned, in Karbala'. May God now never water the plains of Karbala' !" [-Elegy of Rabab]
Edward Gibbon (1737-1794); The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire:

"In a distant age and climate the tragic scene of the death of [Imam] Hussein will awaken the sympathy of the coldest reader."

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