By: Seyyed Ali Shahbaz
"Indeed the sky lamented over the death of (Imam) al-Husayn for a period of 40 days.”
These are the Divinely-inspired words of a grandson for the heartrending martyrdom of his grandfather.
Imam Muhammad al-Baqer (AS), who as a four-year old boy had witnessed the tragedy of Karbala and in its aftermath went through the equally tragic ordeal of imprisonment, along with his parents, aunts, and grandaunts, was to recall later in life the 40 days of sufferings, beginning with the martyrdom of Imam Husain (AS) on the Day of Ashura (Muharram 10) till the 20th of the month of Safar (Day of Arbaeen), the noble survivors endured, and on release from captivity in Syria, visited Iraq for pilgrimage to the shrine of the Chief of Martyrs.
Thus, every year on the 20th of Safar, for the past 1381 lunar years, the faithful have been commemorating Arba’een, which refreshes our grief for the supreme sacrifice that the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) had offered in order to salvage Islam and all humanitarian values.
Those who can afford the journey; have the time;, are not restricted by the weird laws of transient governments that rise and fall; are unafraid of the threats of terrorists; and this year have taken the necessary precaution to be immune from the Coronavirus pandemic, travel to Karbala to pay homage to Imam Husain (AS).
As for those who cannot or are overawed by the above-mentioned impediments, commemorate Arba’een in their homes, towns, villages, and cities, by holding mourning ceremonies and reciting the special Ziyarah or standard form of salutation for the Immortal Martyr of Karbala this day.
Last year, an estimated 20 million mourners from all over the world had assembled in Karbala for the Day of Arba’een, with many of them marching on foot from distances of hundreds of kilometers in acknowledgement of the service done to humanity by Imam Husain (AS), who had said:
"I am seeking to bring about reformation of the Ummah of my grandfather, the Messenger of Allah and to enjoin the good and to forbid the evil…”
He was not afraid of death, and had courted death in unequal combat by refusing to yield to the godless rule of a cowardly tyrant, thereby inspiring the conscientious in every age, era, and place, to bravely challenge and defeat the illegal claim to authority of the incompetent.
Though pilgrims from Iran and other countries are absent this year from the Arba’een pilgrimage due to a variety of reasons, including the Coronavirus pandemic and the terroristic threats of the Great Satan (the US), millions of Iraqis from all over the country are currently converging on Karbala to pay their respects on the traditional 40th Day.
The 40th day has special significance, according to the holy Qur’an and the Hadith. In the heavenly scripture in Ayah 51 of Surah Baqarah, God admonishes the Israelites for their wrongdoing in the absence of Prophet Moses, saying:
"And when We made an appointment with Moses for forty nights, you took up the Calf [for worship] in his absence, and you were wrongdoers.”
And in Ayah 142 of Surah A’raaf, God informs us:
"We made an appointment with Moses for thirty nights, and completed them with ten [more]; thus the tryst of his Lord was completed in forty nights. And Moses said to Aaron, his brother, ‘Be my successor among my people, and set things right and do not follow the way of the agents of corruption.’”
It is also mentioned that Prophet Jesus was entrusted with his mission after 40 days of fasting.
For his part, Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) has informed us in a famous hadith:
"Indeed the Earth laments over the death of a true believer for the period of 40 days.”
If the earth mourns for an ordinary believer, then how about the lamentation for the Prophet’s grandson and his 3rd Infallible Heir, Imam Husain (AS), who in order to keep alive Islam and humanitarian values sacrificed not only his life, but the life of his dear and near ones, including the infant son Ali al-Asghar!
Imam Husain (AS) needs no introduction. Even non-Muslims have been inspired by his epic uprising to enjoin good and forbid evil in society for the sake of God, in order to restore to its original form the pure monotheistic message of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) that had been distorted beyond recognition within half century of the passing away of the Messenger of Mercy.
So, what factors led to such a distortion of Islam and who were the culprits that were responsible for such a cardinal sin is not the purpose of this brief newspaper column. The fact that till this day, Karbala and the symbols of mourning for history’s most bloodcurdling tragedy continue to be the target of terrorists is proof of the fact that Imam Husain (AS) drew a permanent line between truth and falsehood till eternity.
The Prophet’s grandson had acted justly and fairly, and put his heart, mind, soul and life at the disposal of God to liberate the people from the yoke of ignorance and the evil of bewilderment. Indeed, in return, God has made his shrine the gateway to paradise for which every pilgrim strives to achieve.
So intense are the consciousness of God and the love of the Ahl al-Bayt of the Prophet in their hearts that the pilgrims are. The devotees of Imam Husain (PuH) know that no modern day Yazidis will be able to dampen their spirits or obstruct their journey to the shrine of the Leader of the Youth of Paradise. They know the importance of performing the Ziyarah of the day of Arba’een, which according to a famous hadith by Imam Hasan Askari (AS), the Prophet’s 11th Infallible Heir, is one of the five characteristics of a true believer. The other four are: reciting Bismillah-hir-Rahman-nir-Rahim in a raised voice during the obligatory ritual prayers, prostrating on sand during the ritual prayer, wearing ring in the right hand finger and reciting every day 51 rak’at of Salat – 17 obligatory and 34 recommended.
Imam Husain (AS) was neither a cult leader nor did he divide the people on a sectarian basis, as the deviationists have done in Islam and all other religions. As the symbol of unity he strove to enlighten all – not just the people of his age but also of all times and places, as is evident by the commemoration of the tragedy of Karbala every year in the months of Muharram and Safar.
The message of the Martyr of Karbala is for all humanity. He attracts and does not repel. It means that those who repel but do not have the power to attract cannot be considered the followers of the Prophet’s grandson, and indeed their claim to be true believers is open to doubt. This is what we learn from Karbala and the dynamic phrases of the Ziyarah for the Day of Arba’een:
"And I bear witness that you kept your promise made with Allah, and strove in His way until what was certain came upon you; so curse of Allah be on those who killed you; and curse of Allah be on those who oppressed you; and curse of Allah be on the people who came to know of it and approved (it).”