Tuesday 28th of June 2022
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At Karbala, In Damascus

1. Introduction

There is no doubt that the atrocities committed at Karbala' reached their brutal climax with the death of al-Husayn as a martyr in the afternoon of 10th Muharram in the year 61. It led to the performance of funeral and remembrance rites by the surviving family at Karbala' and in the houses of the Hashimites in Medina and elsewhere. The savage execution of vengeance, as represented by taking the families of the martyrs into captivity, among them were the 'Alid women, by driving the column of prisoners from Karbala' to Kufa, and then from Kufa to Syria, and by accompanying them with the heads of the martyrs, carried on spears and hung round the necks of horse, including the head of Imam al-Husayn ... this savage execution of vengeance led to spontaneous funeral and remembrance rites being performed in the towns and among other groups of people, through which the procession of prisoners and heads passed, as the inhabitants gathered, whether drawn to find out about it by curiosity or drawn to meet it by earlier information about the nature of the procession which was coming. When the people met the procession of prisoners, words would be exchanged and some of the Holy Family would make speeches which would arouse great sorrow and cause much weeping.

2. The Funeral and Remembrance Rites of the Family

i. At Karbala

There is no doubt that Karbala' witnessed the first funeral and remembrance for al-Husayn which took place immediately after his martyrdom. These must have been rites which were predominantly of a family nature, made up of the women and young girls from the family of 'Ali, wives, daughters and sisters of Imam al-Husayn and the Hashimites from the Talibid part of the family, who had been martyred with him. In the nature of the situation, they would also have been joined by the wives of the martyrs who were not Hashimites. However, the latter's numbers appear small in proportion to the number of 'Alid women. [1]

We consider that these funeral and remembrance rites occupied a relatively long time. As far as we can estimate, they began after the death of al-Husayn as a martyr after mid-day on 10th Muharram, continued throughout the night and ended in a distressing way in the afternoon of 11th Muharram. That was when the leaders of the Umayyad army gave the orders for the long sad journey to Syria and prepared the camels to carry the prisoners.

The hearts of those grief-stricken women and girls must have been torn asunder with torment and distress. They were being told to depart and leave behind the bodies of their beloved and blessed dead which had been thrown on the sand without being buried.

'Umar ibn Sa'd had buried his own dead but he showed no concern about burying the martyrs. On the contrary, he ordered that the body of al-Husayn should be trampled on by horses' hooves.

For this reason, we are inclined to accept the reports which tell of some of the soldiers and leaders in the Umayyad army using violence to separate some of the women from the bodies of their dead. Among these is the report about Sakina, daughter of Imam al-Husayn. She had embraced the body of her father and would not leave it until a number of bedouin Arabs gathered round her and pulled her away from it. [2] Indeed we are inclined to accept the general evidence for these kinds of reports because the nature of things seems to require the reality of what they tell.

We consider that these funeral and remembrance rites were held, for the most part, in the open air on the field of battle (after the burning of the tents) [3] under the sun as it shone over them for the rest of 10th Muharram, then under the frail light of the stars of that night which was weighed down by the grief of those women whose hearts were overflowing with torment and distress. The

Hashimite women and the others must have been tormented with worry about the begrimed bodies of the martyrs in the sand as they mourned and wept for them. We think that the greatest mour- ning must have taken place around the body of al-Husayn.

These were certainly funeral and remembrance rites which took place in the most degrading and distressing situation, from which rose the quivering keening of these women, far from home with their children. They were thirsty, hungry and terrified at the sight of their husbands, sons, fathers and brothers Iying dead.

ii. In Damascus

The hails of the palace of al-Khadra' in Syria witnessed the second occasion for the family's rites of remembrance. It would have been appropriate if Syria had witnessed general spontaneous rites of remembrance as occurred in Kufa when the party of prisoners arrived there. However, we only consider what took place in Syria to have been private family rites of remembrance. As we see it, there were no general rites of remembrance in Syria because of the difference in the relationship with the Holy Family between the Kufans and the Syrians. The Kufans had lived side by side with Imam 'Ali and his sons for several years during the period when Imam 'Ali was the caliph in Kufa which was the capital of the state during his period in office. Later the leaders of Kufa had sent to Imam al-Husayn asking him to come and promising to give him support.

On the other hand, the Syrians had no direct contact with the Holy Family. Perhaps, they were not aware of their existence as a result of the policy of isolation which Mu'awiya had imposed on them so that they should not be influenced by the culture of the Iraqis or anyone else in this matter. [4] It seems that, at that time, the coming of the prisoners did not arouse any sadness in the hearts of the Syrian people, nor did the Syrians show any concern. Some of the sources, even, say that the occasion was made into a festival in Damascus, perhaps under the slogan that some of the enemies of the state from the Kharijites had been killed.

Yet even though the coming of the column of prisoners and the heads to Syria did not arouse any rites of remembrance to fill the streets and public squares as had happened in Kufa, great rites of remembrance were held in the halls of the palaces of the caliphate in Damascus which were made up of women from the family of 'Ali and women of the Umayyad family.

iii. In Medina

Shaykh al-Mufid has reported in Irshad that Yazid ibn Muawiya despatched'Abd al-Malik ibn Abi al-Harith al-Sulami to Medina to take the news of the death of al-Husayn to his governor there. 'Abd al-Malik reported: 'When I went to 'Amr b. Sa'd, he asked, "What is your news?" "Something which will please the governor," I replied. "Al-Husayn ibn 'Ali has been killed." He ordered me to go out and announce the news of his death. I announced it and I have never heard such wailing of the Hashimites in the houses for al-Husayn ibn 'Ali when they heard the announcement of his death.'

There is no doubt that when the men and women of the Talibid family learnt of the end of al-Husayn and his family at Karbala ', they held rites of remembrance in their houses, in the streets and in the public squares as the reports suggest.

Umm Luqman Zaynab bint 'Aqil ibn Abi Talib came out with her sister when she heard the news of the death of al-Husayn to weep for their dead on the Bank of the Euphrates. She was reciting:

'What will you say if the Prophet asks you: "What have you, the last umma, done With my offspring and my family after I left them? Some of them are prisoners and some of them lie killed, stained with blood. What sort of reward to me is this after I had advised you, that you should oppose me by doing evil to my family?'

After the arrival of the news of the dreadful event in Medina, the Talibids began rites of remembrance which continued and reached their climax with the arrival of the sad party in Medina.

There were rites of remembrance which were carried out by the men and there were rites of remembrance which were carried out by the women.

The men and women of Medina must also have attended these rites of remembrance, consoling, indignant and showing how they shared with the Talibids in their painful tragedy.

We consider that the rites of remembrance held by the men used to begin with expressions of condolence After that the stories of the battle and its circumstances would be told. These stories would be full of cries for vengeance against the Umayyads and their followers. History has preserved for us a picture of rites of remembrance held by men. These were the rites of remembrance for 'Abd Allah ibn Ja'far.

The rites of remembrance of the women would have been more heated and emotional as is the nature of the case. Some of them would have been held in the houses and some would have been held in the cemetery of al-Baqi'. The Medinan women would have attended these rites of remembrances Perhaps, even some of the men attended them as well, as may be deduced from some reports. In our view the rites of remembrance of the Talibid women would have included an account of the battle in emotional language and an explanation of the great virtues of the martyrs. That would be permeated with a wailing kind of poetry. It may also have been accompanied by the beating of faee and breasts.

We believe that the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn carried out by women have preserved their basic characteristics through the ages. No change worth mentioning has been introduced into them other than the language of the wailing kind of poetry and of the story of the battle. Certainly this language has changed insofar as it was classical and it has become colloquial or almost colloquial.

History has preserved a picture of some of these family rites of remembrance held by the women:

'Umm Banin-and she is Fatima bint Hizam al-Kilabiyya, the mother of al-'Abbas and his brothers, Abd Allah, Ja'far and 'Uthman, who were killed with their brother, al-Husayn on the Day of 'Ashura'_used to go every day to the cemetery of al-Baqi', carrying ' Ubayd Allah, the child of her son, al-'Abbas. She would mourn for her four sons with the deepest and most tormented grief. The people would gather and listen to her grieving. Marwan ibn al-Hakam used to come with those who came for that purpose and he would continue to listen to her grief as he wept.' [5]

Then there were the rites of remembrance of al-Rabab, the wife of al-Husayn. However the greatest of the family rites of remembrance held by the women was undoubtedly the rites which Zaynab, daughter of 'Ali, held. They were solemn rites under the leadership of Zaynab. These rites and the anti-Umayyad reactions they generated in Medina prompted the governor of Medina, 'Amr ibn Satld ibn al-'As to write to Yazid ibn Mu'awiya: 'The presence of Zaynab among the people of Medina is inflAminatory. She is eloquent, clever, intelligent. She and those with her are determined to take vengeance for the death of al-Husayn.'

This led to her being taken away from Medina and sent to Egypt where she died on 14th Rajab in the year 62.

3. The General Rites of Remembrance which Occurred Spontaneously

We mean by the rites of remembrance which occurred spon- taneously, those gatherings which took place as the column of prisoners and heads passed through the towns and scattered groups of people on its journey from Karbala ' to Kufa, then to Syria, and from there to Medina where the greatest of the spontaneous rites of remembrance was held. In our view, these rites of remembrance took place in many of the places inhabited by people who recognised the postion of the Holy Family in Islam and had been Abie to get to know something of what had taken place at Karbala'. We will mention here two outstanding examples of these rites of remembrance. They were the rites of remembrance which took place in Kufa while the prisoners were about to set out for Syria and those which took place in Medina at the end of the journey of the revolution after the return of the rest of the Prophet's family from Karbala'.

i. In Kufa

When the column of prisoners with the heads of the martyrs arrived in Kufa they were met by what could now be termed 'a popular reception'.

Throughout the weeks of tribulation Kufa had been living on its nerves. The beginning had been represented by Muslim ibn' Aqil with his extraordinary success and then his dreadful end. It had watched the army being despatched to Karbala'. It had suffered the pains and oppression of the martial law which dominated it during the weeks of tribulation. Now it had to come to see the result of the treachery by its leaders, the desertion by its inhabitants and the tyranny of its rulers.

Kufa met the women of the Prophet's family who expressed their bitterness and their misfortune in speeches which they addressed to the groups of people who had come to meet them. Imam Zayn al-'Abidin 'Ali ibn al-Husayn spoke to them in a similar way.

The historians have described the effect which these speeches had on the people. They have mentioned the effect of the speech of Imam'Ali ibn al-Husayn: '... The voices of the people were raised in weeping from every side. Some were saying to others "You have been destroyed while you did not understand."'

As for the effect of the speech of Zaynab, they have reported: 'Someone who heard it said: "By God, I have never seen a diffident lady speak more eloquently than her. It was as if she had borrowed the tongue of the Commander of the faithful, 'Ali ibn Abi Talib. By God, she had not finished speaking before the people were in a turmoil of weeping. They became utterly distracted with grief and dropped whatever they were holding at the horror of this black tribulation."'

The historians report about the effect of Umm Kulthum's speech with the words: 'The people were in a turmoil of weeping and lamentation. The women loosened their hair and covered their faces with dust. They scratched their faces and struck their cheeks. They prayed for woe and destruction. The men wept. I have never seen more men and women weeping than I saw on that day.'

Of the effect of the speech of the young Fatima, they said, '... A little before the end of her speech, the Kufans raised their voices in weeping and lamentation. They said: "Enough, O Daughter of the best of men. Our hearts have become enflamed and our bodies have been set on fire." So she fell silent.'

ii. In Medina

When the sad party of the Holy Family were approaching the hills of Medina, Imam Zayn al-'Abidin asked Bashir to go ahead into Medina to announce al-Husayn's death and tell the people of the arrival of the Holy Family. Bashir reported: 'I mounted my horse and galloped into Medina. When I reached the Mosque of the Prophet, I raised my voice and recited: "People of Medina, you have no replacement there now that al-Husayn has been killed. So weep profusely. His body was dyed red with blood at Karbala ' and his head was swung around on the shaft of a spear. Here is coming 'Ali ibn al-Husayn with his aunts and sisters. They have reached your suburbs and have stopped there. I am his messenger to you to tell you where he is."'

Medina already knew about what had happened at Karbala' after 'Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad's messenger brought the news. The family rites of remembrance had been going on in the houses of the Talibid family which were full of people bringing their condolences and discussing the news of Karbala'. Here was what was left of the slaughter of Karbala' by the Umayyad sword, returning to their home draped in the cloth of sadness, with bleeding hearts and tearful eyes.

Bashir ibn Jadhlam described the scene:

'There was not a woman who normally stayed in seclusion nor a woman who kept herself veiled who did not show her face as they were all calling for woe and affliction. Everybody in Medina came out making a great turmoil of weeping. I have never seen more people weeping than I saw on that day. Nor have I seen a more bitter day for the Muslims than it except for the death of the Apostle of God.'

Bashir ibn Jadhlam continued:

'I whipped my horses and began to return. I found that the people were already taking to the roads and streets ... 'Ali ibn al-Husayn was entering ... He had come holding a cloth with which he wiped away his tears. Behind him, his servant had a chair which he put down for him. He sat down upon it while still not being able to control his tears. On all sides the voices of the people were raised in weeping as they tried to console him. The place was in a great turmoil. He made a sign with his hand for them to be quiet and their uproar subsided. Then he made an emotional speech to them. Then he went into Medina ...'

In this way the whole of Medina was transformed, after the arrival of the Holy Family from Karbala', into one great rite of remembrance which was nourished with emotional agitation by the very centre of sadness and tragedy, the houses of the Talibid family, with the family of Imam al-Husayn at their fore. This transformed their family rites of remembrance into the greatest lamentations.

These spontaneous and overflowing rites of remembrance, which were held in Kufa and Medina and at the stopping-places along the route in the journey of return from Karbala ', carry within them the seeds of the public rites of remembrance as an institution. This is so because those who participated in them only did so as people involved in the problem who claimed that the cause of al-Husayn was Islamic, not something which only belonged especially to one family, that is the Hashimites and the Talibids. Perhaps, even the family rites of remembrance performed at Karbala', Damascus and Medina also participated, in some way, in preparing the atmosphere appropriate for the growth of the foundation of the concept of the public rites of remembrance.


The revolution of al-Husayn was a tremendous event which sent a convulsion through the whole of Islamic society, breaking down the false calmness and the silence which had wrapped itself around it. It made Islamic society think again about its view of many of its political conventions and it gave rise to a movement of self- criticism which was awakened in men's consciences.

The soldiers returned to their towns and their tribes with the news of the horror, which they had seen and helped to commit, and of the terrible end that came to revolutionaries. Along the roads from Karbala' to Kufa, Syria and Medina, the people saw the column of prisoners and the heads of the martyrs. They were affected emotionally by the spontaneous rites of remembrance and those of the family which took place at different places.

The spontaneous effect of the revolution, together with the profound grief and extreme distress which it aroused, must have given the people, who knew about what happened, an excuse for gathering together, a subject of conversation, and an incentive to re-examine their attitudes and opinions and to review their position with regard to the whole system. What had happened was on such a great scale and of such importance that it was impossible to ignore it. What had happened was an Islamic revolution, in which many of the men, who led it and were martyred in it, were at the very peak of Islamic society, the foremost of them being Imam al-Husayn.

The gatherings of people, which the emotional effect of the tragedy and the effect of the rites of remembrance, whether of the family or spontaneous, brought about, are, in our view, the core from which the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn as an institution began and developed during the course of history.

The remembrance rites for al-Husayn began immediately after the end of the revolution and news of it had spread in Islamic society. They began, however, in a spontaneous and simple way.

Small groups of indignant Muslims, both followers of the Holy Family and others, used to hold meetings in a house of one of them, in a mosque, in a street, or in an open square. They would speak about al-Husayn, his followers and his family and what had happened to them; they would criticise the authorities who had attacked him and their legal extension as represented by the governor in the area; they would renounce them; and sometimes they would recite some poetry of lament which had been composed about the revolution, its hero and its dead.

Through the ages, these rites of remembrance developed and passed through various stages until they reached the present form in which they are held today. We will examine these stages later. For the present, we want to explain the factors which led to these spontaneous gatherings being transformed into a cultural and sociological institution which has incomparable influence, namely the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn.

In our opinion, the Imams of the Holy Family are the ones who induced these spontaneous gatherings to go in this direction and change into an institution with customs and traditional practices.

* * *

The earliest sources, which we believe prompted these groupings to become the cultural institution of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn, refer to a very early period after the revolution, I mean after the month of Muharram in the year 61.

These texts have been reported from Imam 'Ali ibn al-Husayn Zayn al-'Abidin (38-95). He had been present in the revolution with his father, Imam al-Husayn, from its beginning until its terrible end and he had tasted the bitterness of being taken prisoner with his aunts and sisters and the other women of the Holy Family.

In these texts Imam Zayn al-'Abidin explains the reward to be gained by anyone who wept for the tragic fate of al-Husayn. One such text is the following:

Whatever believers eyes shed tears for the death of al-Husayn until they flow over his cheeks, will be provided by God, as a consequence, with rooms in Paradise which he will inhabit for a long time. Whatever believers eyes shed tears until they flow over his cheeks because of the grievous harm inflicted upon us by our enemies in this world, will be provided by God, as a consequence, with a true abode in Paradise. [6]

We consider that this explanation, and others like it, gave a specific direction to these spontaneous gatherings which were being held after the end of the revolution. This direction was based on the following idea: A constant reason for these gatherings would be easily achieved when there was a special meeting to discuss and study a tragedy which was overflowing with reasons for weeping. [7]

* * *

In the time of Imam Abu Ja'far Muhammad al-Baqir, the son of Imam Zayn al-'Abidin (57-114 or 117), who was present at Karbala' with his father when he was four years old, he issued a directive which gave a definite form to keeping the memory of al-Husayn alive at an appointed time each year, 10th Muharram, the first month in the Islamic lunar calendar.

This form consisted of two practices: (a) The pilgrimage (ziyara) should be made to al-Husayn on the day of 'Ashura' for those whose houses were near the grave of al-Husayn; otherwise pilgrimage rites should be held at home for those who lived 'so far away that they could not make the journey there on that day.' (b) People should gather together and weep.

Imam al-Baqir said in connection with the man who is too far away to make the pilgrimage:

Then let him mourn and weep for al-Husayn. Let him order those in his house to weep for him. Let him celebrate the tragedy in his house by showing anguish for him. Let people meet together to weep in their houses for al-Husayn. Let them console each other for what befell al-Husayn ibn 'Ali.

Malik al-Juhm asked him, 'How should they console each other?' He answered:

Let them say:

May god increase our rewards as a result of what has befallen us through al-Husayns sufferings. May God make both you and us men who seek vengeance for him together with His great saint (wali), the Imam, the Mahdi from the family of Muhammad. [8]

We are here faced with a clear directive for a gathering which was aimed at a defined objective, namely to keep the memory of al-Husayn alive. It has also been given a personal dimension with the words ... 'May God increase our rewards.' Thus the tragedy of al-Husayn is not just the special concern of his family. It is something of general concern which is connected with everyone who loves the Holy Family.

Here, we should draw attention to the directive made about what the man who is far away from Karbala ' on the Day of 'Ashura ' should do. It indicates he should provide himself with a substitute ritual for what was taking place at the grave of al-Husayn on the Day of 'Ashura'. In the time of Imam al-Baqir, the great rites of remembrance were held at the grave of al-Husayn in the way which has been recorded in the directive. Those who were unable to come to Karbala' held their own rites of remembrance in their houses and in their quarters.

Since this directive was specially concerned with what the Shi'ite should do on the Day of 'Ashura', there is also another report which has come from Imam al-Baqir in which there is a general directive about gathering and remembering the situation of the Holy Family, which is not limited to a specific time:

May God have mercy on a man who meets with another in order to remember our situation. There will be a third person with them who will be an angel who will seek forgiveness for them. Two people shall never meet to remember us without God making them sincerely proud through the presence of an angel. If you gather together and occupy yourselves in remembering us, then our memory will be kept alive in your meetings and in your remembrances. The best of people after us are those who remember our situation and urge others to remember us.

This test illustrates that the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn in the time of Imam al-Baqir had begun to take on the form of an institution with a purpose, whose activity was not subject to any specific limitation concerned with time. Rather, it was spreading both in time and place and developing, through being performed, its own customs and techniques.

* * *

From the sources, it appears that by the time of Imam Ja'far ibn Muhammad al-Sadiq (80 or 83-148), the gatherings devoted to the memory of the Holy Family and their tragedies, and the foremost of them, the tragedy of Imam al-Husayn, had become well-known in Shi'ite circles.

It is reported that Imam al-Sadiq said to al-Fudayl ibn Yasar, 'Al-Fudayl, do you sit together and talk?' 'Yes,' replied al-Fudayl.' The Imam then commented, 'Al-Fudayl, I love these gatherings. Keep the memory of our situation alive. God will have mercy on a man who keeps the memory of our situation alive.' [9]

We have already seen many texts which have been reported from Imam al-Sadiq urging the composition of poetry about al-Husayn and explaining the great reward that will come to anyone who makes fifty or ten or five ... people weep through his recitation of such poetry. Such texts contributed greatly to the motivation of people gathering for this purpose. This kind of recitation required people to gather. Whenever the gatherings increased in size, the impulses to weep increased.

It seems that the recitation of poetry of lamentation for al-Husayn had developed during this period and a special style arose in it which was rather like wailing, or was even wailing itself. It was not merely the chanting or recitation of poetry. Elements of voice-production had begun to be introduced which increased its emotional and psychological effect. The words of Imam al-Sadiq to Abu Harun al-Makfuf, when the latter recited him one of the poems of lament for al-Husayn, illustrate this point.

Abu Harun reported: Imam al-Sadiq said to me, 'Abu Harun, recite to me about al-Husayn.' I recited and he wept. Then he said, 'Recite as you were reciting.' He meant with emotion. So I recited:

Pass the grave of al-Husayn and speak of his great purity.

He wept ... [10]

Furthermore, it seems that in this period the development of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn had acquired another character- istic, that is, it made men and women devote themselves to composing poetry of lament for al-Husayn and they made the style of wailing a special feature of this kind of poetry. Such a person was Abu Harun whom we have just mentioned. Another of them was Abu ' Umara, the reciter. [11]

Alongside the reciters of poetry, who used to use the special form of wailing, we find another group of men who participated in the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn at this period. They are the story-tellers.

Story-tellers had existed since the time of ' Uthman ibn 'Affan. It appears that their function was in the gatherings in the mosque after the salat. There they would tell stories about the wars of conquest, the life of the Prophet and the virtues of the Companions of the Prophet and they would give sermons of encouragement and warning. Mu'awiya ibn Abi Sufyan employed this group to spread his propaganda among the ordinary people. [12]

After becoming a growing institution which attracted increasing numbers of people, the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn seemed to have come within the interest of the story-tellers, or they created special story-tellers of their own.

An indication of this comes in an account reported from Imam al-Sadiq which describes the state of the people at the grave of al-Husayn during the night of 15th Sha'ban. It shows that by this period there had developed story-tellers who were introducing the life of al-Husayn into their stories, or even limited their stories to it. Imam al-Sadiq says: 'I have learnt that people are going to the tomb of al-Husayn from the regions around Kufa as well as other people and women who mourn for him. This is on 15th Sha'ban. Among them are reciters who recite, story-tellers who tell his story, mourners who mourn ....' [13]

These reciters, mourners and story-tellers seem to be the early predecessors of the preachers from the pulpit of al-Husayn who have made their vocation preaching on the occasions of rites of remembrance for al-Husayn throughout the year.

We will return to the discussion of this subject later in this chapter when we deal with the stages of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn.

* * *

During the time of Ja'far al-Sadiq, the Shi'a derived some benefit from the fall of the Umayyad regime and the founding of the 'Abbasid state insofar as the Umayyads were occupied in fighting the wars which the 'Abbasids and their propagandists instigated against them. The 'Abbasids, in turn, had taken control of the government using the slogan that they were members of the Prophet's family (ahl al-bayt). Therefore it would not have been regarded as natural by the people for them to harrass Imam al-Sadiq, the most illustrious member of the Prophet's family (ahl al-bayt) in the eyes of the Muslims. In addition to this, the 'Abbasids were distracted from close observations of Imam al-Sadiq and the Shi'a of the Holy Family by trying to set up their state, on the one hand, and by fighting the Umayyads and destroying their bases, on the other hand.

Imam al-Sadiq and the Shi'a enjoyed a great deal of freedom during this period. There were numerous directives and instructions issued by the Imam so that he would complete the structure of Shi' ism. There were also many gatherings of the Shi'a, and they developed their cultural institutions, in particular the institu- tions of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn and the pilgrimage (ziyara).

However, Abu Ja'far Mansur brought this activity to an end when he pursued the Shi'a and the members of the 'Alid family with death and banishment. This was one of the reasons which compelled them to restrict their activities and keep them secret.

The Imams of the Holy Family contined their concern for the institution of the rites of remembrance which they showed concern for by support and directives. They personally used to meet the poets and reciters and used to hold special gatherings to listen to their poetry and recitations. Their womenfolk and their special followers would attend these gatherings.

The Imams had showed their great concern for these meetings with the poets at an early period, the time of Imam Muhammad al-Baqir, and then after that at the time of his son, Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq.

Among the outstanding people at these meetings was al-Kumayt ibn Zayd al-Asadi (60-120). He had gone to see Imam al-Baqir and meet him in Medina. He recited to him an ode about his love for the Hashimites.

Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq met the poet Ja'far ibn 'Affan al-Ta'i and asked him to recite a poem of lamentation for al-Husayn.

Al-Sayyid al-Himyari, Isma'il ibn Muhammad ( 105-173 or 178), was another poet who met Imam al-Sadiq and recited him his ode which begins:

Pass the grave of al-Husayn and speak of his great purity [14].

Di'bil ibn 'Ali al-Khuza'i was a poet whom Imam 'Ali ibn Musa al-Rida met in Khurasan. He recited one of his odes to the Imam:

Schools of verses of the Qur'an are without recitation and the place of revelation is like courtyards empty of people. [15]

There were many others besides these.

Alongside this direct activity of meeting poets and performing the rites of remembrance in their houses, the Imams of the Holy Family persevered in their efforts to direct the Shi'a to hold gatherings and meetings in order to keep alive the memory of the Holy Family and especially of al-Husayn.

However, the Shi'a did not enjoy for long the relative freedom which had been afforded to them during the period of Imam al-Sadiq, as we alluded to earlier. The period of his son, the seventh Imam Musa al-Kazim, was a much blacker period for the Shi'a. During it they were treated dreadfully by the 'Abbasid authorities as their organsations strove to combat the activities of the Shi'a and to suppress violently their cultural movements, among which, naturally, were the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn.

So violent was the terrorisation which the Shi'a faced from the authorites and their organisations in this period that the Shi'a were compelled to use taqiyya (precautionary dissimulation) on a wide scale in their public lives, in some circumstances even in their private lives, in order to preserve their physical safety.

Imam Musa spent a long period of his life in 'Abbasid prisons, and he died a martyr in one of the prisons of Baghdad in the year 183, during the reign of Harun al-Rashid.

However, the Shi'a regained some freedom of movement during the periods of the eighth and ninth Imams, Imam 'Ali ibn Musa al-Rida (148 or 153-203) and his son, Imam Muhammad ibn 'Ali al-Jawad (195-220). The reign of the 'Abbasid Caliph, al-Ma'mun, was characterised by the relative moderation in the treatment of the Shi'a. The atmosphere of tolerance continued in the reign of his successor, al-Muttasim.

Imam al-Rida became heir apparent to al-Ma'mun in 201 and his son-in-law through marrying al-Ma'mun's daughter, Umm Habiba. Similarly Imam al-Jawad became al-Ma'mun's son-in-law by marrying his daughter, Umm al-Fadl.

Among the directives of al-Rida concerning the performance of the rites of remembrance is the following:

Whoever remembers our sufferings and weeps for the crimes which have been committed against us, will be within our rank on the Day of Resurrection. Whoever remembers our suffering and weeps and makes others weep, his eyes will not weep on the Day when many eyes will weep. Whoever attends gatherings where our situation is kept alive, his heart will not die on the day when many hearts will die.

* * *

During the periods of the next three Imams, 'Ali ibn Muhammad al-Hadi (b. Medina, 212, d. Samarra ', 254), al-Hasan ibn 'Ali al-'Askari (b. Medina 231 or 232, d. Samarra' 260) and the twelfth Imam, the awaited Mahdi (b. Samarra ' 255), the attitude of the authorities changed.

The reign of the 'Abbasid Caliph al-Mutawakkil and those who came after him were times of harshness and tyranny in the treatment of the Shi'a and the Imams of the Holy Family. The stage saw only some slight relaxations which had little value for the course of events until the Buwayhids gained control over the government in Baghdad in the first half of the fourth century of the hijra.

However the harshness of the rulers like the fanaticism of the general populace which we will examine later could not impede the growth of the institution of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn and its continuation in men's consciousness. The rites of remembrance for al-Husayn were held secretly during the periods of harshness and persecution. The danger did not affect the enthusiasm of the Shi'a to hold these rites constantly, and especially on the Day of'Ashura'.

We consider that the correct explanation for the attitude of the Imams of the Holy Family to the problem of keeping alive the memory of al-Husayn through poetry and gatherings of remembrance and urging the people to do that, is found in the fact that keeping alive this memory constantly shows the people the policy which the Imams of the Holy Family laid down to safeguard and defend Islam. It shows the umma the great sacrifices which they have made for the sake of that. Similarly it reveals the nature, enmity and distance from Islam of the forces which confronted and combatted them. It explains the essence of the struggle between them and their opponents. It is not personal nor self-interested; it only goes back, in one respect, to the concern of the Imams of the Holy Family to make every ruler adhere to trust and truth through the application of the principles of Islam in his policies; and, in another respect, it goes back to the contradiction of the personal and family interests of the rulers with the aims of the Imams of the Holy Family in defence of Islam from exploitation and in defence of the Islamic way of life (shari'a) from distortion.

Keeping the memory of the revolution of al-Husayn alive, recalling the incidents involved in it, reviewing its slogans and the slogans of its opponents and examining their behaviour in their lives and their policies towards the umma ... all of this ensures that the corrupt government which exists in any period and in any time will be found guilty because it is the illegal continuation of the government whose distorted conduct led to the revolution and death of al-Husayn.

Family wanted to realise through the creation of this institution.

This, in our view, is the real content of the call by the Imams of the Holy Family to keep alive this memory in the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn and others. As for the emotional content of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn, we shall deal with that in another chapter devoted to the discussion of the phenomenon of weeping.

* * *

The Imams of the Holy Family, thus, created the institution of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn. During the earliest Islamic eras, this institution began its activity in a limited form. Some contributory factors strengthened its existence, and these factors gave it additional causes for growth. Its subject matter was enriched with new contents, all of which helped to serve the basic aim of its creation. In the same way, new techniques of expression and practice were introduced.

We will mention, in what follows, three matters which we consider to be among the contributory factors for rooting the institution of the rite of remembrance for al-Husayn firmly in popular consciousness, for enriching it and for giving variety to its content.

1. There were the revolutions which broke out against the existing govenment as a result of the revival of the spirit of struggle which the revolution of al-Husayn kept alive.

These revolutions raised the slogans of vengeance for al-Husayn in order to arouse and mobilise the people to support them. They made the revolution of al-Husayn a beacon and a slogan. This was an important factor in providing the revolution of al-Husayn with new reasons to live in the hearts and minds of men.

This factor was not just limited to the Umayyad period. It also occurred in the 'Abbasid period in the revolutions of the descendants of al-Hasan and others. It used to appear to the people that it was as if the spirit of Karbala' was the thing which was motivating the revolutionaries.

2. By virtue of its power to arouse the emotions, by virtue of its ensuring and publicly declaring the guiltiness of the corrupt government, and by virtue of its direction by the Imams of the Holy Family along this course, the memory of al-Husayn became in many periods one of the means of secret opposition to the existing government.

Under the yoke of a corrupt government, the Shi'ite used to suffer in two ways: (i) He was persecuted and hunted because of his beliefs and his historical attitude. (ii) He learnt from the progrAmine of the Imams of the Holy Family that Islam was an integrated belief and way of life. For this reason he would never accept any falsification of its truths.

The situation in which the Shi'ite lived and his intellectual policy put him at the centre of opposition. Therefore he needed to express himself and his attitude as an opponent with the caution necessary to provide a minimum of security for himself and his economic interests.

The memory of al-Husayn provided him with the opportunity of carrying out his opposition to the existing government in secret within a relatively safe compass. It also attained for him a psychological ease which grew out of the ideals of the Holy Family. These shining ideals were guaranteed by the memory of al-Husayn.

3. These were the reactions against the attitude of the tyrannical rulers towards the memory and rites of al-Husayn.

From the Umayyad period until the present, tyrannical rulers have realised the implictions involved in the holding of gatherings to remember al-Husayn in terms of the condemnation of their excesses and injustice. Therefore they have attempted to stop them and suppress them.

We find this in the Umayyad period, and we find it in the 'Abbasid period. We find it in the political dynasties which followed the 'Abbasids, where the Shi'a lived.

In previous studies we have given much evidence for government suppression of the Shi'a when they practise, in any way, the rites to keep alive the memory of al-Husayn. Further evidence will be given in future studies.

The memory of al-Husayn, in the pilgrimage and the rites of remembrance, has faced, in most political periods, suppression prohibition and persecution for those who tried to practise them. In the periods of some rulers there have been feeble relaxations in which the Shi'a enjoyed only a limited amount of freedom. Soon a new period or a new ruler plundered this from them, sometimes preventing them from holding the rites or at other times restricting the rites to keep his memory alive with numerous heavy restrictions. This was done in order to try to empty them of any content critical of the existing regime.

Yet all these acts of repression failed to wipe out the rituals associated with this remembrance. The rites of remembrance and other ceremonies were held secretly on their appropriate occasions even in the most harsh and unjust periods.

One of the things which may be of great evidence in this connection is the fact that stopping rites of remembrance, preventing them from being held or putting restrictions on the freedom to carry them out in terms of them representing opposition to the government is a policy which even Shi'ite rulers as well as others have followed. In Iraq, Iran and other Islamic countries, when the chief responsibility in the state came into the hands of a Shi'ite ruler, it used to happen that, on some occasions, he would follow the policy of prohibition or restriction. In this way the situation does not differ from what pertains when the person in chief responsibility in the state is a non-Shi'ite. This confirms that the memory of al-Husayn is essentially non-sectarian.

This attitude by the authorities against the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn has remained constant and still generates a reaction which prompts the Shi'ite to hold on to them and care for them. The feelings of the Shi'ite with regard to this may have been that the authorities wanted to deprive him of the only refuge, in which he could relieve his emotions of fear and anger and his psychological repression, and during which he could express his views of the government's attitude and behaviour.

* * *

These, in our view, are the contributory factors which helped to strengthen the position of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn in popular consciousness and gave it the power to remain firm and contine despite the hostile attitude towards it throughout the centuries. They, also, provided it with the possibilities of develop- ment and renewal generation after generation.

These were in addition to the basic reason for its existence and growth, namely the fact that the Imams of the Holy Family had directed their Shi'a to develop this great cultural institution.


In the nature of the case, when the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn were founded, they did not exist in any already completed way. They were not fixed in a single form in the centuries which followed. They developed and changed during different historical periods and elements were introduced into them which had not existed in them before.

We consider that, from their institution to the present, the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn have passed through three major stages, represented by the historical and cultural epochs through which the Muslims, in general, and the Shi' ites, in particular, lived. These left their mark on their institutions, including the rites of remembrance. Each of these three major stages, which we will classify, also had changes within so that the researcher could divide each of these stages into many more stages.

The three stages, which we consider the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn to have gone through from the time they began up to the present, are the following: (i) the first stage began shortly after the revolution, i.e. a year after 61, and it continued until the fall of Baghdad at the hands of Hulagu, or shortly before that; (ii) the second stage began at the time of the fall of Baghdad, or shortly before that, and contined through the dark ages of the history of the Muslims until the modern period; and (iii) the third stage was from the beginnings of the modern period until the present.

These are the stages which we consider that the rites of remembrance have passed through from their institution until now.

We do not have the sources for an exhaustive investigation of the stages, development, fixed content and changing content of the rites of remembrance throughout its history.

In the preface of this book we explained that this study of the revolution of al-Husayn in popular consciousness was a pioneering work insofar as we do not know of any study on the subject before this one. As a result our study suffers from a paucity of sources which would make it easier.

With God's guidance we come to what we consider as the basic source for this study and what we consider as a contributory source to the basic source, in addition to the general sources of history, civilisation and intellectual development.

In our view the basic source is the books about the death of al-Husayn (maqtal). For this reason we will rely on these books in our analysis of the stages, through which the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn passed, and of the content of the rites in each of those stages.

The contributory source is the poetry of lamentation for al-Husayn in the different Islamic periods insofar as, in some cases, it reflects the state of the rites of remembrance during that time, even though it lacks relative exactness in portraying the actual situation of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn because the personal and subjective element in it dominates the objective factor, which we assume to be the mark of prose writing in the books about the death of al-Husayn.

What made us consider the books about the death of al-Husayn to be a basic source for this study was our knowledge that the writers, both Shi'ite and non-Shi'ite who were closely attached to the Imams of the Holy Family, had written much about the death of al-Husayn. Although some of them had written about this subject in response to a purely scientific motive, we consider that group of writers to be small and rare. There is no doubt that most writers on this subject wrote in response to two integrated motives. One of these was the motive of religious piety and emotional loyalty to the Holy Family. The second was in response to the people's demand for written material which set out the account of the death of al-Husayn for use in gatherings and meetings held to keep the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn alive.

In view of this, these latter books reflect, with objective truth, the situation of the rites of remembrance during the periods in which they were written, since they are, without any doubt, a mirror of the general view of the rites of remembrance, their cultural content and the elements which formed this content.

In what follows, we will put forward some of the texts from some of the books about the death of al-Husayn which demonstrates that these books were written in order to be read at the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn.

In the introduction to his book, Muthir al-Ahzan, Ibn Nama al-Hilli (d. 645) says:

O man of insight and understanding, O man of reason and dreams, behold the watchword of grief. Let grief clothe men of faith. Imitate the Apostle in love for the children of Fatima the fair and pure. O you who love the family of the Apostle, wail like the women bereft of her children wails. Weep with flowing tears for the Imams of Islam. Perhaps you may give them solace for the tragedy by showing grief and dejection and by declaring your yearning and your lamentation. Make me happy through your wailing and keening. Mourn for him whose death shook the throne of Heaven. Shed tears for the man who was killed in a distant land ...

I was told by my father, may God have mercy upon him, that Imam al-Sadiq said: 'Whoever refers to us at a gathering with the slightest word or whose eyes overflow with a tear, even the amount of the wing of a mosquito, because of compassion towards us and sympathy for our tragedy, will have his sins forgiven ...'

I have written this account of the death of al-Husayn as one which is intermediate between the other accounts .... Hearts should delight in the sweetness of its expression. The sleeper will wake from his sleep and dozing.

The man who ignores this tragedy and the man who is forgetful of grief and distress will pay attention .... O listeners, if you missed the honour of giving support and were deprived of fighting against that cavalry, you have not missed the opportunity of letting your tears flow for the noble lords of the family and putting on the watchword of grief for the family ....

Ibn al-Ghuti, in his book, al-Hawaidith al-Jami'a, has reported some of the incidents which indicate that the books about the death of al-Husayn were compiled to be read out at the gatherings for the rites of remembrance, from which it can be assumed that it was a common phenomenon and a firm element in the practices of keeping the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn alive. It supports our view for considering the books about the death of al-Husayn as a basic source for our study. He says:

In the year 641, al-Muttasim sent to Jamal al-Din 'Abd al-Rahman ibn al-Jawzi, the inspector of public order (muhtasib), to stop the people from reading aloud the account on the death of al-Husayn on the Day of 'Ashura' and reciting it in the rest of the areas beside Baghdad, except at the grave of Musa ibn Ja'far ....

In Muharam in the year 648, al-Muttasim prohibited the people of Kufa and al-Mukhtara from wailing, reciting and reading aloud the account of the death of al-Husayn, out of fear that it would go beyond that into something which would lead to disorder.

As a result of this, in our study of the stages, cultural content and the differing elements of each stage of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn, we will examine the books about the death of al-Husayn in terms of them being representative of the periods in which they were written and therefore representative of the revolution of al-Husayn in popular consciousness in each of those periods. We will also seek the help of the poetry of lamentation for this purpose, alongside the general sources for the history of civilisation and intellectual development.

In these three stages the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn always included a fixed element just as changing elements were found in them.

This fixed element in the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn has been, from its inception right up to the present time, the story of the revolution of al-Husayn with a concentration on the tragic aspect of it: the treachery and betrayal of the Kufans; the extreme oppression of the Umayyads and their rejection of true values; the prevention of water reaching al-Husayn's camp; the thirst of the women, children, fighters and horses which that led to; the conversations between the women and children and al-Husayn and others about the problem of water and thirst; the conversations of al-Husayn with his followers, or his brothers, or his sisters, or the Umayyad army; the insistence of Ibn Ziyad in humiliating al-Husayn and the refusal by the latter and those with him to accept injustice; al-Husayn's call to his family and followers to leave him and save themselves and their refusal to do that with declarations of their determination to support him until death in very moving words; the martyrdom of his followers and the members of his family and the killing of youths and children; and the rites of remembrance reach their climax with death of al-Husayn together with exact details about the place of his death and about every place of death at Karbala '.

In addition to the story of al-Husayn's revolution, there is within the fixed element criticism of the authorities when reasons for that criticism exist.

In Umayyad and 'Abbasid times, that criticism was often clearly stated because these rites of remembrance were held in secret at that time. The criticism may be through allusions and indirect indications when there are men of the authorities who are associated with the Shi'a who may cause fear of indicating this attitude openly.

After the criticism, the guiltiness of the authorities has to come to an end with cursing. The cursing of the Umayyads and those who followed their policy have become a fixed characteristic in the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn.

This is what we understand to have happened during the Umayyad and the'Abbasid periods. Later, in times of freedom, the rites of remembrance were held in public. The criticism and cursing of the Umayyads and 'Abbasids took place openly without arising any opposition from the actual authorities. That was because it had become criticism which was devoid of any political content, even though criticism of people in the past may on many occasions be an indirect criticism of the existing authorities.

1. The First Stage

The rites of remembrance for al-Husayn began in this stage in a simple form, as we mentioned in the introduction of this chapter. However, throughout this stage, they developed in form and in mode.

The formal aspect, we believe, provided the rites of remembrance with fixed times, i.e. they entered into a framework of time and became a cultural activity which was progrAmined in terms of times. This programme of times consisted of:

Occasions connected by time with memory of al-Husayn's revolution. They were the first ten days of the lunar month of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic year. After the 10th Muharram (the day of the battle) was made a special day of memorial, the first days of Muharram (lst-l0th) became, in the later period of this stage, special days of memorial. This means that the temporal span for carrying out the rites of remembrance and showing grief was extended from what it had been at the beginning of the institution of rites of remembrance.

Days of memorial which had become times to make the pilgrimage (ziyara) to al-Husayn's grave.

The most important of these is, in our estimation, the night and day of 15th Sha'ban. Some early texts issued by Imam Muhammad ibn'Ali al-Baqir give evidence for that. In them the Imam urges that the pilgrimage be made to the grave of al-Husayn on the middle day in the month of Sh'aban. More were issued by Imam al-Sadiq with regard to that matter.

It appears from a text, mentioned earlier, which 'Abd Allah ibn Haminad al-Basri reported from Imam al-Sadiq that the 15th Shaban was a very important occasion for the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn.

Next in importance to the night and day of the 15th Sha'ban, in terms of performing the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn, are the other days in the year on which the Imams have urged the pilgrimage to al-Husayn to be made. For example, there is the Day of 'Arafat, which is 9th Dhu al-Hijja, the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar; the evening of the festival at the end of the fast ('id al-fitr), which is the 1st Shawwal, the tenth month of the Islamic calendar; 1st Rajab, the seventh month of the Islamic calendar; and there are other occasions.

These days were days of memorial for people to gather together where a great number of people would meet to perform the pilgrimage of al-Husayn. If we are allowed to consider the picture which comes in the report given by 'Abd Allah ibn Haminad al-Basri as a model, we could hold the view that these days of memorial were also great seasons for the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn as well as being days of memorial for the pilgrimage. Circles and gatherings were held at which poems in praise of the Holy Family and in lament for al-Husayn, his family and his followers were recited, and the events of the Battle of Karbala' were discussed.

We can hold the view that the rites of remembrance on these occasions were not limited to the shrine of al-Husayn at Karbala' but took place in many of the countries where the Shi'a lived on those days on which the pilgrimage took place. The Shi'a, who were unable to get to Karbala', used to perform the rituals of the pilgrimage away from it. This kind of ritual of pilgrimage would be appropriate for the performance of the rites of remembrance by those of the Shi' a who were far away from Karbala' as the evidence of the report from Imam Muhammad al-Baqir, which we mentioned at the beginning of this chapter, suggests. In it there is a direction to the Shi'a who are far away from Karbala' on the Day of 'Ashura' to perform rites of remembrance.

A clear text has been reported by al-Sayyid Muhsin which gives evidence for and expresses the idea that the days of memorial for the pilgrimage were days of memorial for the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn. It says:

'It is reported in Kitab al-Muhadara wa-AkAbar al-Mudhakara by al-Tannukhi that there was at the Ha'ir in Karbala' a man called Ibn Asdaq who used to recite poetry about al-Husayn in the wailing style. Abu al-Hasan, the scribe, sent Abu al-Qasim al-Tannukhi 'Ali ibn Muhammad ibn Dawud, the father of the author of al-Nashwar, to this reciter so that he should recite in the wailing style for al-Husayn a poem to some of the Kufan poets. The poem begins:

O eyes flow with tears and let them fall unceasingly.

source : http://www.al-islam.org
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