About Me

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Reflection on Ashura

Ashura is the tenth day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It is a historically significant day for Muslims. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) enjoined his community to fast on this day since the Jews also fasted on that day to remember their deliverance from the Pharaoh. It was a day to fast and seek forgiveness from sins. The fast was not made obligatory but was a liked act of worship that continues to this day. The day of Ashura is a day of reflection on one's own actions and safeguard against sin.

As a sunni Muslim this was the only way I understood Ashura, it was not until I was in college when I became friends with Shi'a Muslims that I understood how important this day was. On Ashura, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), Husayn was killed along with his family on the battlefield of Karbala. This day became a day of remembrance by a group of Muslims that became the Shi'a. When I first learned of the history of this day and the way it defined the Muslim community in its infancy, I was taken back. I had never learned this history. As I read more and talked to my Shi'a friends I began to understand this day in a way that I had never thought. Husayn, the beloved grandson of the Prophet, was the son of Ali, the fourth caliph of the Muslim community, and Fatima, the beloved daughter of the Prophet. Husayn was supposed to be the leader of the Muslim community, but by that time the ruler was Yazid who had inherited the title. Yazid turned out to be a cruel ruler, and his cruelty lead him to stop Husayn who was leading his family and followers against him. On the tenth day of Muharram after a long cruel siege, Husayn was killed along with his family, the women and children were taken captive.  He was decapitated, his head put on a spear and marched for all to see. When I learned of the events of this battle, I wept, thinking how any ruler of the Muslim community could have dared to lay a harsh hand on the head of the beloved of the Prophet. I remember reading the stories of Hasan and Husayn as a child, both were noble children from whom I learned many lessons. However the biggest lesson that Husayn taught the Muslim community and one that is remembered by my Shi'a brothers and sisters is the one of standing up to injustice and oppression, to fight the good fight even after knowing you're going to lose. Husyan knew he was outnumbered but he could not remain silent, he had to stand up against the tyranny of Yazid. While he had supporters many did not join him, leaving him with a small group made largely of his family. To this day his actions and sacrifice is remembered by Muslims by retelling and reenacting the story.

While I don't participate in rituals and gatherings as do my Shi'a friends, I remember this day and remind myself of the ultimate sacrifice that should be made, to stand up to injustice everywhere. Husayn died living the message taught by our beloved Prophet, he reminded us to strive for justice and to struggle against oppression. This message holds true today, what would have Husayn done in today's world? What would he have to say about the dictators of the Muslim world? As I fast on the day of Ashura as did the Prophet, I remember and reflect upon Husayn's message. What do I do to make this world more just? What do I sacrifice for truth, freedom, and justice? I learned a great message from my Shi'a friends, "Every day is Ashura, every land is Karbala."