Millions of Shia Muslims from around the world flock to the golden-domed shrine of Hazrat Imam Hussain (RA) in Karbala. PHOTO: AFP

Can we claim to uphold the principles of Karbala today?

Today, we choose to submit to the powerful and abuse the helpless.

Sohaib Rahman Zalmi September 14, 2022

The sacred month of Muharram has come to an end. It’s now the chehlum of the martyrs of Karbala. I’m writing this piece as a reminder to ourselves of the reasons why we commemorate this tradegy. However, before I get into the details, I’d like to say that if someone thinks that mourning Karbala is just a Shia tradition, they're unaware and part of the problem. What happened on the banks of Euphrates in 61AH is a tragedy that transcends even religion; it was a turning point in the history of humanity itself, but what were the core principles around it? After all, what was so incredibly important for the family and friends of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) to sacrifice their lives like that?

The core principles of Karbala were truth and justice, standing up tall against forces of tyranny and oppression. These principles were supposed to be carried as a part of one's very existence, not just blaring sermons about it over microphones every year in the month of Muharram, like it happens nowadays.

Now tell me, how many of us can claim to uphold this principle in our lives? In my opinion, it's actually the complete opposite. We choose to submit to the powerful and abuse the helpless; we snatch away the belongings from widows and orphans; we deny our sisters their right of inheritance, we marry our daughters against their will, and kill them if they openly speak about marrying somone of their choice. We hire poor people's children to babysit ours, and let them suffer and starve in front of our eyes while we feed our own children the sweetest delicacies in the world. Not only that, we add impurities to our food and sell medicines at ridiculously hiked prices when a pandemic strikes, purely to profit from other people’s suffering. We blame our government for not protecting the flood victims and shut our own windows when a homeless person knocks on them. We sacrifice animals in the name of God but call part-time butchers to save a few pennies, causing unimaginable pain to the animals in their final moments on earth. We molest men in mosques, children in schools, and women in their graves, while members of the transgender community spend their whole lives wishing they were never even born.

Perhaps Zahir Jaffer, like all of us, grew up listening to the story of the unimaginable massacre of Karbala. Yet he beheaded Noor Muqaddam in the same manner that Shimar had beheaded Imam Hussain (AS). Zainab's rapist and subsequent murderer used to recite naats in mehfils of Milad-un-Nabi. In fact, he himself admitted that he went to attend one such gathering immediately after committing those unspeakable horrors to that angelic child. And no, these are not isolated incidents. Bashar-ul-Assad has murdered more Muslims during his regime than Israel has since its inception. Saddam Hussain was an absolute slaughter machine for his people. The Hazaras of Pakistan continue to face an organised extermination for decades. The whole Muslim world has been literally torn apart by the malicious conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia. However, despite this terrifying carnival of carnage, we see people defending crimes of Bashar-ul-Assad, and hailing Saddam Hussain as their hero. The very standpoint of Karbala was to speak the truth against an oppressing regime that was promoting injustice against Muslims. Unfortunately, today those Muslims have become icons of oppression themselves.

Karbala is not a piece of land on the bank of Euphrates incarcerated by Yazeed and emancipated by Imam Hussain (AS). It's a name for a place cooking inside a cauldron of injustice, broiling raging fumes of resistance, pounding ruthlessly against the mouth of the crucible. It's a story of people who auction their souls to sustain their existence. It's the plight of animals and the death of trees in the burning forests of Amazon. It's the heaps of haggard babies in the laps of their hapless mothers sitting by the haunted graves in Africa. It's the march of humans wearing yellow stars to their extermination camp in Auschwitz. It's the folktale of generations lost waiting for their homeland in the daunting desert of Palestine. It's the blinded eyes and the bleeding hearts of the enslaved Kashmiris imploring the mighty custodians of the world's biggest democracy for their right of self-determination.

How people choose to celebrate their events or mourn their tragedies remains their personal matter as long as their practices don't disrespect others' beliefs, but I have the honour of having a very special affiliation with Prophet Muhammad (PBUP) and his family. I find it utterly disrespectful to send blessings on them on one hand and wrong a helpless being on the other. Please, I request you once again to not interpret this for Ahl-e-Tashee. Like I mentioned in the beginning, this idea is about our very essence as human beings. The perfect example of this quality was displayed by our beloved Holy Prophet (PBUH) in several different ways. One particular instance that is often spoken about frequently was when the Holy Prophet (PHUB) showed concern for a lady who disrespected him when she fell ill, despite how she treated him. These qualities were reflected in his grandson too, when he respected the rights of his absolutely monstrous enemy under the scorching sun. Hence, it's simply unbearable for me to see ourselves telling tales of Medina and Karbala during Ramazan and Muharram and then resuming our reality of corruption and oppression as soon as that period comes to an end.

No, all of this doesn't mean that we shouldn't try to be good wherever and whenever we can, neither does it imply that I have given up on humankind completely. It only means that our yardstick for justice should be the same for everyone and that we need to mend our ways before it's too late. Miracles stop happening when the belief in their existence is gone. The long stream of Nile can once again become water with our faith but yes, right now, it's flowing with blood.

Sohaib Rahman Zalmi

Sohaib is a student of international politics and seeks to raise his voice against injustices around him. His interests include writing, traveling and reflecting. 

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necassarily reflect the views and policies of the Express Tribune.


Sohaib Muneer | 5 days ago | Reply

As Pakistanis we aren t even capable of holding on to any values ... let alone Karbala.

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