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Author: (Late) Ahmed G. Chagla

K E R B E L A

THE STORY OF A GREAT SOUL'S ORDEAL

 

Part I

....."And verily We shall try you with something of fear and hunger and lack of wealth and provisions.  But give good tidings to the patient who, when misfortune falls upon them, say: 'Truly we belong to God and unto Him shall we return'.  These are they on whom is the blessing of Allah and mercy.  These are the rightly guided."                        -    THE HOLY QURAN.

  ...... "And then the heart will bleed and the whole life of man seem to be utterly dissolved.  This ordeal must be endured; it may come at the first step of the perilous ladder which leads to the path of life - it may not come until the last.  But O disciple, remember that it has to be endured, and fasten the energies of your soul upon the task."    -    LIGHT ON THE PATH.

 

    It is a fact that those who are seriously desirous of leading the higher life have to undergo a great deal of suffering on the Path of Spirituality.  That is the law, and none can escape it.  The capabilities of the disciple must be tested and so ordeals come when least expected and in forms undreamt of.  In this respect it is to be noted that the working of the Good Law - called by Emerson the law of "Beneficent Necessity"  - is not only most wise and most appropriate, but most economical.  A single incident in the life of an individual or a small community, which at the time affects only a limited group of people, is often made the inevitable precursor of a whole series of events which ultimately end in balancing up the Karma of a large section of humanity.

    Similarly the ordeal of a highly evolved soul, far advanced on the highroad to spirituality, is usually mad the instrument of doing good to the world.  Whenever great souls have withstood temptations and passed through ordeals successfully, the whole mass of humanity has been beneficially affected for all times.  But paradoxical as it may seem, the spiritual success of these Great Ones has always been won at the cost of their physical failure.  Theirs has never been that kind of short-lived though immediate triumph which the average utilitarian mind mistakes for true success.  They have succeeded in proving to the world for all time that love and Right alone can ultimately triumph over all varieties of tyranny and hate.  Such Great Ones, who while being tried themselves have yet been instrumental in helping vast masses of struggling humanity, who have laid their physical lives at the altar of Truth and Freedom and have cheerfully died in the service of mankind - such Great Ones have always been regarded as martyrs by the world.  A martyr is not a mere idealistic but a true "Karma Yogi" who proves in action what the mystic dreams and intuitively perceives: "THE BLISS OF A DROP LIES IN BEING ANNIHILATED IN THE OCEAN, FOR, WHEN PAIN EXCEEDS LIMITS IT BECOMES ITS OWN REMEDY".

    Let us take one or two instances of these Great Souls who succeeded spiritually at the cost of physical failure.  Take the instance of the wise Socrates in the days of yore.  The verdict of 'guilty' was passed against him and the poisoned cup was given to him - which he drank most cheerfully.  Though physically his life ended at the time, yet his success on higher planes lay hidden in his apparent failure.  In his taking the poisoned cup he left us a splendid example of self sacrifice in the cause of Truth.  Take another instance - that of the great Prophet Jesus.  Can anyone say that Jesus failed?  His WAS a mighty triumph of love over hate.  The working of the wonderful law of "beneficent necessity" is truly mystifying.  Who knows, if Jesus had NOT (supposed to have been) been crucified, the history of the world would have been, to say the least, differently affected by his life and teachings.  In such instances it is difficult for the human mind to immediately probe into the complicated working of the Good Law.  When to all outward appearances a certain a certain set of circumstances is beneficially affecting those around, apparently, there is every hope of more good being done to the world if those particular circumstances continue, the Authorities cry: "Halt!  So far and no further" - and in one instance a poisoned cup is offered to the Hero and yet in another case the Great One is crucified.  But the mystery of the poisoned cup and the mystery of the crucification is made clear to the latter generations when, long afterwards, history justifies the acts of self sacrifice in the cause of Truth and humanity.

    Similarly every age, every clime, every race, every religion had its martyrs.  Human history is full of the sufferings and tribulations of the chosen of God.  Suffering is the badge of greatness.  The memory of the troubles and sorrows of the Great Ones of the world lift up the soul of mankind to higher and nobler planes.  The records of the great martyrs of the world are beacon lights to the suffering humanity, bearing ultimate testimony of the victory of Right over wrong, of Good over evil.

    In the annals of Islam the martyrdom of Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet, stands out pre-eminent.  Islamic history has produced a great many martyrs but it is Hussain and the ideals for which he willingly gave his life, that rule over the feelings of sorrow, love, and gratitude of the Muslims, even after the lapse of thirteen centuries.  "It is a long way from Kerbela to Calvary", says Sufferer of Calvary, for he said: "Learn of me for I am Mild and Lowly of Heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls".

    A familiar story is related of the benevolence of one of the sons of the great Ali, the son-in-law of the Arabian Prophet.  While serving at the table, a slave had inadvertently dropped a dish of scalding broth on his master.  The frightened creature fell on his knees and repeated the verse of the Holy Quran: 'Paradise is for those who command their anger' - "I am not angry" - 'and for those who pardon offences' - "I pardon your offence" - 'and for those who return good for evil' - "I give you your liberty and four hundred pieces of silver".  This is Hussain, the hero of Kerbela.

    A brief resume of the early history of Islam is necessary to understand the full significance of the great catastrophe, the great ordeal and sacrifice of Hussain and his small band of faithful followers at Kerbela, a place some twenty-five miles to the north of Kufa (Mesopotamia) on the west branch of the Euphrates.

    Before the promulgation of Islam, Arabia was a collection of tribes always fighting with each other.  In Mecca the two prominent families were those of Hashim and Ommaya, both belonging to the celebrated tribe of Quraish.  No love was ever lost between them.  Abu Sufian, the headman of the Ommayads, was bidding fair to become the King of Mecca when his schemes were frustrated by the success of the preaching of Islam by Muhammad, a Hashemite.  The fury of the Ommayads knew no bounds.  They relentlessly persecuted the Prophet and his followers and compelled them to leave Mecca (Hijrat).  However, inspite of terrible persecution, Muhammad succeeded in his Mission.  The Prophet died leaving Arabia for once under a common central government and animated with a common purpose which carried the Arabs like a tidal wave from one end of the globe to the other.  The Ommayads, however, had never forgotten their pagan jealousies and were biding an opportunity to wreak their vengeance on Islam for shattering their dream of a Meccan kingdom.  In the lifetime of Osman, the third khalif, the Ommayads began to possess themselves of governorships and attained great wealth and power.  After Osman, Ali - the cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet - was elected as Khalif.  The husband of the beloved daughter of the Prophet, the noble Fatima - called "Our Lady of Light" by the Muslims - united in his person the hereditary right with that of election.  "One might have thought", says Sedillot, "that all would have bowed to his glory so pure and grand; but that was not to be".  From the beginning he was beset by the hostilities of the Ommayads headed by Muawiyah the son of Abu Sufian.  "The majority of the companions of the Prophet" says Jurgi Zaidan, the great scholar of Egypt, "acknowledged Ali and Muawiyah saw no way of gaining his end save by cunning and underhand dealings, and in these qualities he was the first man of his age.  He proceeded therefore to compass sovereignty like the ambitious of every age, without any thought of religion.  And his efforts were aided by the fact that Ali thought of the Caliphate a religious office and was of an ascetic turn of mind, with no ambition save for his reward in heaven".

    Ali was however soon assassinated while at prayer in the mosque at Kufa (A.D. 661).  Hasan, the eldest son of Ali, was now elected Khalif exasperated Muawiyah and he began to search for ways and means to create disturbances.

    In order to avoid a bloody civil war and to gain the needed peace for the Muslim world, Hasan abdicated, within a short time of his election, in favour of Muawiyah but on the distinct understanding that Muawiyah would leave the choice of his successor to the Muslim world.  But Muawiyah had different designs and so very shortly afterwards he had Hasan poisoned.  Thus Muawiyah the Ommayad became the "khalif" of Islam, the "successor" of Mohammad.

    With Ali the republic of Islam came to an end and the semi-pagan empire of the Ommayads began.  "And it reaction", says Dozy, "against Islam was cruel, terrible, revolting".  The working of God's Laws is truly mystifying.  The ambition of Abu Sufian to become king of Mecca in the pre-Islamic days was fulfilled by his son Muawiyah, and on a much greater scale indeed.  The revival of the pagan spirit of trivial jealousies by the Ommayads - the same spirit which, until the advent of the Prophet, had prevented the growth of the Arabs into a nation - led not only to the ruin of the republic but was eventually the cause of the downfall of the vast empire of the Saracens.

    Now we approach the period when the tragedy of Kerbela occured.  We have seen how the democratic rule of Islam came to an end when Muawiyah mad himself "khalif" by force and cunning.  Before his death he convened the chief officers of his army and made them take the oath of fealty to his son Yazid whom he designated as his successor, thereby breaking his promise with Hasan.  Yazid's accession established hereditary despotism in Islam.  Yazid's reign is thus summarized by the famous historian, Al Fakr: "His reign lasted three years and six months.  In the first year he slew Al Hussain the son of Ali (on both whom be peace); in the second year he sacked Medina and looted it for three days; and in the third year he attacked Ka'aba."  Yazid was both cruel and treacherous.  "He was a faithful image of his mother". says Dozy, "a mettlesome Bedawy woman who, as she herself had declared in spirited verse, 'preferred the whistling of the breeze  in the desert to the strains of the most talented musicians'."  His depraved nature knew no pity or justice.  Addicted to the grossest of vices, his boon companions were the most abandoned and depraved of both sexes (Ameer Ali).  Thus, by the strangest freak of fortune, "the persecutors of Mohammad", says Gibbon, usurped the inheritance of his children, and the champions of idolatry became the supreme heads of his religion and empire."

But it is a fact that-

"Though the mills of God grind slowly, But they grind exceedingly small."

Part II

"Then saith Jesus unto the disciples, 'My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death, tarry ye here and watch with me', and he went a little further and fell on his face and prayed saying, 'Oh my Father, if it be possible let this cup pass from me, nevertheless not as I will but as THOU wilt'."                -    THE BIBLE

"Or do you imagine that you will enter paradise without enduring that which those who went before you endured?  Distress and tribulation touched them, they were shaken violently so that the Apostle and those who believed with him cried:' when comes Allah's help?  Now truly Allah's help is very near."                                                               -    THE HOLY QURAN

    Ali was assassinated; Hasan was poisoned; the headship of the Hashemites, the Prophet's family, now devolved upon Hussain - the second son of the great Ali.  Like his father, being of an ascetic turn of mind, he decided to lead the life of a recluse at Medina.  He resolved to pass the rest of his days in contemplation and study - the pursuits which were most congenial to his temperament.

    Like his illustrious father he also aimed at helping the ethical, intellectual and spiritual advancement of the Muslims.  But that was not to be - fate had decreed otherwise.  The downtrodden people of Kufa besought his help to release them from the Ommayad yoke.  The fickleness of the Kufians was proverbial, and one messenger did not lead Hussain to move.  But another and another came to him and, "at last", history tells us, "a poll of a hundred and forty thousand names was sent across the desert" (Gillman).  More than one hundred and fifty letters are also said to have been sent to Hussain from Mesopotamia (Muir).  In one of these, recited in the annual commemoration of the event throughout Persia, India, and other Muslim countries, the invitation is couched in the following glowing terms:

"O solar orb of the sphere of faith, although the country of Kufa is  tulip field, yet without the rose of thy face all are but thorns in my eyes.  The blow of thy separation has rendered me disabled and the fire of thine absence has set my weary soul in flames.  Come quickly to Kufa, for all the people of the country desire to see thee, O most excellent Imam.  Have the condescension, O sphere of generosity, to move hitherward as soon as possible that thou mayest afford direction in the path of virtue to a people who are cheerfully expecting thy arrival".

    The ordeal of Hussain began.  The first great decision lay before him:  Duty or inclination and personal safety.  His friends warned him against the fickle nature of the people of Iraq; he was told that though their hearts may be with him yet their swords are sure to be against him.  Yet, here was a clarion call to duty, an appeal for aid from people - human beings, evidently in distress;  was he to refuse help which was sorely needed?  What was his duty?  Hussain promised his friends and relatives,  who were trying to dissuade him from leaving Medina, to decide one way or the other the next day.  That night  he saw the Prophet - his grandfather - in a dream, besmeared with dust and with tears in his eyes, telling him: "The honour of my followers is in thy hands".  The die was cast.  He decided to go, come what may.  In the universal terror then prevailing there was one man, Hussain, who HAD the courage of his convictions and stood up boldly for the principles of Truth,  justice, and freedom and never deigned to acknowledge the tyrant of Damascus.

    He was resolved for the great sacrifice that was necessary to save the Muslim world from injustice, and the faith that his grandfather had preached, from destruction.

    A true Muslim always believes in the goodness of the Divine Law and completely resigns himself to it.  With a small retinue of a few devoted followers including his relations, ladies of the house and children, Hussain embarked upon this fateful mission across the desert.  He had gloomy forebodings on the way and the Quranic verse: "We are of God and unto Him we return" was often on his lips. He had seen in a vision a horseman who said: "Men travel in the night and their Destiny travels in the night to meet them".  This, he pronounced, was the messenger of death.  It was the beginning of Moharram, the first month of the Muslim calendar, when Hussain and his party reached Kerbela, some twenty-five miles to the north of Kufa, and encamped on the bank of the Euphrates (first week of October, 680 A.D.).

    Meanwhile kaleidoscopic had taken place at Kufa.  The ferocious Obaidullah was the Syrian governor at this time.  He was the son of Ziad, an unruly and crafty chief, to gain whose support and aid in his nefarious undertakings, Muawiyah had not hesitated to acknowledge him as his natural brother, "though his paternity was doubtful" (Dozy).  The wide awake governor could very well gauge the Kufian feeling against his Syrian master and, suspecting mischief, he set to make enquiries regarding their immediate intentions.  Ultimately he discovered by a ruse the Kufian invitation to Hussain.  Promptitude was necessary and Obaidullah was not the man to count stars.  In the meanwhile Hussain had already left Medina.  Before leaving, however, Hussain had received several letters from his cousin (Muslim) who was at Kufa then, bearing testimony to the validity of the Kufian feeling for him.  On learning of this the first thing the ferocious Obaidullah did was to hunt out Muslim and immediately behead him.  Even his two little sons were killed by the governor's emissaries.  This was the signal for the periodic outbreak of heartless tyranny on his part; not a few notables of Kufa died by the executioner's sword on the rampart walls of the city on that fateful day.  Many more were thrown into dark dungeons - only to come out a few years hence to serve as the Good Law's instruments of retribution and compensation.  This high-handedness on the part of the governor served its purpose at the time; the fickle Kufians were completely cowed down.

    Yazid, who was in Damascus, was informed of the happenings at Kufa.  He sent immediate orders to compel Hussain to take the oath of allegiance to him - which implied Hussain's accepting Yazid as the temporal AS WELL AS the spiritual head of the Muslim state - and in the event of his refusal to kill him.  Obaidullah was essentially a man of action and had absolutely no scruples.  A local chieftain named Hurr was immediately despatched with a small band of soldiers to intercept Hussain on the way and apprise him of Yazid's instructions - unquestioning allegiance or death.

    What a destiny for Hussain!  Instead of being welcomed by the Kufians, on whose invitations he had come all the way from Medina, he was besieged by them.  Hurr overtook Hussain at Kerbela and demanded an immediate reply.  Here was a dilemna.  Hussain was accompanied by ladies and little children; he had not come to fight - his party numbered seventy-two, all told; he did not want bloodshed - and the refusal of Yazid's demand meant undesirable complications.  And yet, was he to go against his conscience  and principles and yield to the threats of a tyrant - a man who deliberately ignored the teachings and example of the Great One whose faith he was supposed to be following?  What would become of Islam and the Muslims if the grandson of the man who preached justice to all were to set the example of helping wrongdoers?  As ever, the pull between the higher and the lower became stronger and stronger as the Grand Moment approached.  Hussain asked for time to consider over the various problems.  Meanwhile the Kufians were recovering from the sudden shock of the governor's high-handedness.  Deeming delay to be dangerous, Obaidullah dispatched an army of six thousand strong under Omar the son of Sa'ad to Kerbela to hasten Hussain's decision.  No one wanted to touch the grandson of the Prophet whose followers they professed to be, and it was only under the threat of total destruction of their families and with great reluctance that the men consented to go.  The commander was no exception to the rule, and only the most extravagant promises in the name of Yazid tempted him to take charge of the expedition.

    The army reached Kerbela; the very Kufians who had invited Hussain were in the enemy's camp now.  Hussain called each one by name and showed him his letter, but to no purpose - the man only hung down his head in shame. 

    The fear of the tyrant had succeeded in proving Hussain's betrayal to be only too true.  Ultimately, in a conference with the enemy chief, Hussain proposed the option of three honourable conditions: that he should be allowed to return to Medina; or be stationed in a frontier garrison against the Turks; or safely conducted to the presence of Yazid (Ameer Ali).  But the latest commands of the Ommayad tyrant were stern and inexorable - that in the event of refusing to surrender unconditionally no mercy should be shown to Hussain or his party and, even if captured alive, they must be brought as criminals before the "khalif" to be dealt with according to the Ommayad sense of justice.  However the enemy commander was loathe to draw his sword against the son of Ali, and dispatched a swift messenger to Kufa with Hussain's conditions.  The governor was getting restless at the delay and the messenger brought back strict orders to guard the Euphrates and not to let a single bucketful of water to reach Hussain's camp until he surrendered unconditionally.  This happened on the seventh of Moharram.  Perhaps no event in history surpasses in pathos the scene enacted on this spot on the three following days.  The sufferings of the poor band of martyrs were terrible.  For three days the whole party, including little children, suffered the pangs of hunger and thirst in the severe heat of the desert of Iraq.  But though the temptation was great indeed, Hussain was not the man to give up the right to the inner conviction even in the face of agonies and sad bereavements, in the face of sure death and certain destruction.  He would not compromise in matters of principle.  The enemy, seeing him firm in his resolve, now began to persuade and tempt his followers to desert him, but ONE AND ALL of the devoted band refused to desert or survive their beloved master.  Passports of safety were offered to each and every member of Hussain's family, but they refused to accept them.  

    Two days passed in the parleying - the temptation to surrender was before Hussain every moment of those two days.  Children and women had to go absolutely without a drop of water as Hussain did not want to cause bloodshed on any personal account.  The enemy chief was still unwilling to take arms against the man who, as a little child, used to ride on the Prophet's shoulders in the streets of Medina.  Someone wrote to the son of Ziad telling him of the commander's reluctance to touch Hussain.

    He made up his mind immediately; not relying on the fickle Kufians, Obaidullah sent a host of Syrian hirelings under their chief, the notorious Shimr, with a letter addressed to Omar.  The letter runs:

"O son of Sa'ad, I have not sent thee to hide thy skin and parley on behalf of Hussain.  Great skill and promptitude is needed in this affair.  If Hussain refuses to surrender unconditionally, kill him, and kill all his adherents - and then cut off their heads, ears and noses and let horses trample over their dead bodies ....... O Omar bin Sa'ad, if thou dost all this, I shall reward thee, but if thou art not able to fight, then leave the command immediately, and let Shimr take charge of the affair".

    This was enough for Omar, and he began  to adopt sterner measures in all directions.  Hussain now saw no hope either for himself or his adherents, except unconditional surrender.  A ditch was dug around the small encampment and fire lighted therein to ward off any molestation from the treacherous enemy in the dead of night.  The piteous cries of the poor, innocent, frightened, and thirsty children rent the air.  Wells were dug but absolutely no water was forthcoming; the pickets on the river banks were also now attacked with dire consequences.  One weary day passed and the suffering of the brave band now became almost unbearable.  The sun disappeared below the horizon and little twinkling stars once more peeped forth.  It was the night of the fatal tenth.

    The temptation still stared Hussain in the face and its strength increased with the increasing thirst and hunger of the children.  His sister, the brave Zainab, who soon was to be  the sole protector of the poor little orphans, was upset by the impending catastrophe and exclaimed: "Our mother is gone, our father Ali and our brother Hasan.  Alas, for the desolation of the past and the destruction that is imminent".  Hussain exhorted her to keep faith in God and said all that exists perishes, save Allah.  That he must die, if he died now or a few years after; there was no fear in death; death would restore him to his Creator, death would take him to his father, mother, and brother who, he modestly said, were better than him.  "Sister thou hast no cause to complain.  God have mercy upon thee, HAVE PATIENCE".

    Meanwhile his followers were preparing with calm and solemn resignation to encounter their fate in the defence of their master.  Collecting them around him, Hussain addressed them thus: "These men who surround me seek my life only;  they have no hostility against you.  They will let you depart.  I wish you to save yourself from suffering and destruction".  But with one voice they refused to leave him.  They pledged that they would die before he died.  This was the beginning of the end.  The whole night passed in prayers.  "The sound of their telling the beads", says and eye-witness, resembled the humming of a swarm of busy bees at work".  Time slowly dragged on; the grey mist of early twilight was visible in the east.  According to usage, Hussain led the early morning congregational prayers, and then  with a tragic calm addressed his adherents for the last time: "Now this life is come to an end, and so are our prayers. God rewards doubly who are patient and thankful. God's servants should not consider sorrow or misfortune hard.  He is the servant who does not forget God, his MASTER.  The love of the rose should not be lost through the tyranny of the thorns.  The Beloved should not be forgotten even when the swords are being drawn.  If an arrow pierces the body, it should be kissed; love should be in the heart even when the sword is cutting the throat.  When veins are being cut asunder, no sigh should escape.  Whatever the condition,, the love of God should never be lost". 

    It is seldom  that history reveals such a grand, though tragic, panorama to our eyes; so many brave men of varying ages, ranging from boys of fourteen to old men of eighty and over, cheerfully and voluntarily choosing death and terrible suffering in the face of continuous temptation right up to the very last moment.  And all for an ideal.

    The twilight gave place to radiant sunlight.  The strong blaze of the burning sun produced on the sandy desert a wonderful mirage of cooling and refreshing water; thirsty children dashed out of the tents towards the mirage, only to collapse owing to gnawing hunger and parching thirst of three days. The end was drawing near.  The son of Ali, with the Prophet's turban wound  round his head and mounted on his favourite steed came up to the men of Kufa and once more exhorted them to the performance of their duty, adding: "O God, Thou art my confidence in every trouble and hope in every adversity".

    He reminded them of the transitoriness and unreliability of this world and admonished them not to be tempted and ensnared by the goods of this life into helping tyranny, depravity, and injustice.  He recited the verse from the Quran which says: "Recite to them the history of Noah when he said to his people - 'O my people, if my abode with you, and my reminding you of the signs of God be grevious to you, yet in God is my trust, muster therefore your designs and your associates and let not the designs be carried out by you in the dark' .  Then come to some decision about me and delay not.  And if you turn your backs on me, yet I ask no reward from you - my reward is with God alone, and I am commanded that I should be of those are Muslims (i.e. those who surrender to God's will)".

    Hussain's sermon visibly moved the people of Kufa and one of the enemy chiefs, Hurr, who had intercepted Hussain on the first day, came over to his side with his son "to claim the partnership of inevitable death".  Fearing further desertations, the enemy commander ordered the drums to beat and finished the discourse by darting the first arrow, and the "battle" began.  The pathetic part of this most sorrowful event consists in the details of little circumstances, in the terrible suffering and distress in every form and shape borne with cheerful fortitude and resignation by this little band of seventy-two martyrs.  The Family of the Tent is full of women and children - blameless and saintly women, lovely and innocent children, showing wonderful devotion and self sacrifice.

    In every single combat and close fight the valour of the Fatimites was invincible; but the surrounding multitudes picked them off from a very safe distance with a cloud of arrows.  One by one the defenders fell - friends, sons, brothers, nephews, cousins, all laid down their lives before their master.  Alone, weary and wounded, the dying hero, as he re-entered his tent he took his infant child in his arms; him they transfixed with a dart.  The stricken father bowed his head to heaven.  Able no more to stand up from exhaustion, alone, wounded and thirsty, he seated himself at the door of his tent. His sister, the brave Zainab, could bear it no longer, and she came to him weeping.  He consoled her, saying: "Whoever saw in a flowering garden a rose without its thorn?"  But she was not reconciled; he then said to her: "REJOICE IN SUFFERINGS - they work out an eternal END". 

    The boldest of the enemy soldiers fell back on every side as the dying Hero now threw himself among them.  But faint with loss of blood, he soon sank to the ground.

    In the very agony of death, Hussain was heard to say: "I would offer my life not once or twice but a thousand times for the salvation of the people".  His last prayer was: "I pray to Thee, on the Day of Judgement, O Merciful Lord, forgive the sins of the Prophet's people".

    The murderous crew rushed upon him; the grandson of the Prophet was slain with strokes of lances and swords.  They cut off the heads of the dead, trampled on their bodies and subjected them to every ignominy.

Thus fell on of the noblest spirits of the age.

    "In a distant age and clime", says Gibbon, "the tragic scene of the death of Hussain will awaken the sympathy of the coldest reader". 

    The sufferings and trials of the women and children of the House of Mohammad did not end there.  Their tents were looted and set on fire; and they were taken in chains, first to Kufa and then to Damascus, tied on the bare backs of camels, without a piece of cloth to shelter their heads from the burning heat of the sun.  The heads of their martyred fathers, brothers, sons, and husbands were carried aloft on lances in sight of them.  No male member of the family escaped the sword on that fatal day but a sickly young man, Ali, the eldest son of Hussain by the princess Shahrbanu, the daughter of Yazd Jard the last Sassanide king of Persia.  At the time of the butchery he was lying unconscious in the tent owing to s severe attack of fever and Hussain's sister managed to save him from the general massacre.  Chains were put on the feet of this sickly youth and he was made to lead the procession of the hapless women and children, barefooted, from Mesopotamia to Syria.  Ultimately the mourning family was set free to mingle their tears with their kindred at Medina.  

"And say not of those who are slain in God's way as dead; they are alive but you do not perceive". - HOLY QURAN

 As ever happens, "There is a divinity that shapes our ends, rough hew them how we will".

    The tragic fate of Hussain and his adherents sent a wave of horror through Islam, and the revulsion of feeling that it caused proved to be the salvation of the faith.  It arrested the current of depravity which  flowed from the court of Damascus and made the bulk of the Musalmans think of what their master had done, and of the inequities his enemies were inflicting on Islam.  Not only all the great political upheavals that happened in the vast domains of the Saracens owed their ultimate cause to this  event - the Ommayads were overthrown by the Abbasides on this pretext a hundred years later, and so did the Fatimides build up their empire in Egypt long afterwards - but the very spirit of Islam, resignation to the Divine Will, which  was in danger of being lost sight of, was perpetually preserved.  "These saintly self deniers", says a European author, "these resigned sufferers of Kerbela, who would not strive or cry, supplied a tender and pathetic side in Islam.  Round the central sufferer, Hussain, has come to group itself everything that is most touching and tender.  His person brings to the Muslaman's mind the most human side of Muhammad himself, his  fondness for children, for, Muhammad had loved to nurse the little Hussain on his knee and to show him from the pulpit to his people".  The tender pathos of the sufferings of Hussain's children and the hardships borne by the "Family of the Tent" flows into the pathos from him and enhances it until finally, there arises for the popular imagination an immense ideal of mildness and self sacrifice, melting and overpowering the soul.  "God loved Hussain", the usurper Yazid used to say, but He would not suffer him to attain to anything".  "They might attain to nothing", comments the previous writer, "they were too pure, these Great Ones, as by birth they were; but the people who themselves can attain so little, loved them all the better on that account - loved them for their abnegation and mildness, felt that they were dear to God, that God loved them".

    These are the martyrs of Kerbela whose suffering awakens in the Muslim, even today, sympathy so deep and serious that on the recurrence of the anniversary of the tragedy, the reminder of the bloodstained field is sufficient - in the words of Professor Browne - to awaken in even the most lukewarm and heedless, the deepest emotion, the most frantic grief, and an exaltation of spirit before which pain, dangers, and death, shrink to inconsiderable trifles.

    The tragedy of Kerbela has been the constant theme of preachers and poets  throughout the Muslim world.  The blood that flowed in that obscure corner of the desert has been described by poets as constituting a writing in red letters on the sand, signifying to mankind that the Divine Law was the first and last thing to obey.  Indeed it amounts to an imperishable inscription on the rock of history, proclaiming to the world the sacredness of the principle of human liberty.

    Dr. Iqbal, who is an embodiment of the highest cultures of the East and the West, has written a Persian poem of untranslatable beauty on the Martyr of Kerbela.  He discusses the question of human liberty first and says that Hussain's blood is the commentary of the secret that a "Muslim is a slave of none but God".

    "That pride of mankind rose like a cloud of plenty and pouring on the plain of Kerbela went his way - and lilies grew there.  For Truth he rolled in blood and dust and from the surge of his blood sprang the garden of liberty.  He wrote in red letters on the desert sand: "THERE IS NO GOD BUT ONE - he wrote the line of our salvation".  He closes on a very high note indeed:

    "The secret of the Quran we have learnt from Hussain; from his  fire we have kindled our flame.  The glory of Damascus and the grandeur of Baghdad is gone; the splendour of Granada is all forgot; but our every nerve still trembles at his  suffering;  our faith is still fresh from his cry of 'GOD ALONE IS GREAT' - O Zephyr, O messenger of the bereaved, carry thou my tears to the sacred land".

Thus once more we see the workings of the Law of the BENEFICENT NECESSITY resulting in eternally beneficent  ends.

Peace on Hussain!

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