Tasua – eve of history’s heart-wrenching tragedy
Today is Tasua or the 9th of the mourning month of Muharram. It is one of the most crucial days in history. It is the day preceding the world’s most heartrending tragedy, that is Ashura or the 10th of Muharram on which Imam Husain (AS) attained immortal martyrdom with his sons, brothers, nephews, and loyal companions, on the plain of Karbala, beside the Euphrates.
He was martyred in a state of acute thirst, since the cowardly enemies had blocked all access to the river. Tasua is thus the day on which the grandson of Prophet Mohammad (Blessings of God upon him and his progeny), granted respite to both friends and foes, to contemplate on the wisdom of their actions – whether good or bad – before choosing the final path either of paradise or perfidy.
On the 9th of Muharram the Imam held parleys with Omar ibn Sa’d, the Commander of the Omayyad forces sent against him. He asked him the reason for the hostility but did not receive any convincing answers from that weak and cowardly person, who made several lame excuses, saying that he feared for his own life if he disobeyed the libertine Yazid’s tyrannical governor of Iraq, Obaidollah ibn Ziyad. When Imam Husain (AS) invited him towards virtues and felicities with the tidings of paradise in afterlife, the short-sighted Ibn Sa’d said the Omayyads had promised to reward him with the governorship of Rayy in Iran for doing their bidding. After a lengthy discussion which had no effect on Ibn Sa’d, the Imam got up saying: “You are not destined to taste even a single grain of the wheat of Rayy.”
When night approached, Imam Husain (AS) assembled his small band of faithful followers in his encampment and delivered a moving sermon, part of which reads:
"I thank Allah to the best of my ability and praise Him during the time of weal and woe. O Lord! I thank You because You have honoured us by means of the Prophet, taught us the Qur'an, made us comprehend the religion and its commandments, granted us eyes, ears and hearts; kept us free from the pollution of polytheism and then enabled us to thank You for Your blessings. It is a fact, that I am not aware of any companions more faithful and honest than my companions and any relatives more righteous and kind than my relatives. May Allah grant all of you a good reward! I think that the day of our fighting with this army has arrived. I permit all of you to go away. You are free to depart without any restriction and should take advantage of the darkness of night".
This speech has been quoted by the theologian Shaikh Mufid, the historian Tabari, and others have also recorded that when the Imam finished his speech and he insisted that they should leave him to avoid trouble, his brothers, sons, nephews, and companions, led by his valiant brother Abbas (PuH); all said with one voice: "Should we go away to live after you? We pray to Allah that the time may not come when you may be killed and we may remain alive."
Then the Imam turned to the descendants of his uncle Aqeel and said: "O children of Aqeel! It is sufficient that (your brother) Muslim has been killed (in Kufa). You are now free to go away". They replied: "Praise be to Allah! If we leave our chief and the best of our cousins and go away and do not fight along with him with arrows, spears and swords, and do not know how he and his friends have fared with the enemy, what will the people say? By Allah we shall do no such thing. We shall sacrifice our life and property in the path of Allah by rendering assistance to you, and shall fight along with you so that we may also acquire the honour of martyrdom. What a shame to live the life which is without you!"
Then the aged companion Muslim bin Awsaja stood up and said: "If we withdraw our support from you and leave you alone what excuse shall we put forward before Allah (on the Day of Resurrection)? By Allah, I shall not go away and shall never leave you. I shall thrust my spear in the chest of your enemies and shall quench the thirst of my sword with their blood as far as possible. And when there are no weapons left in my hand to fight with, I shall shower stones upon them. By Allah we shall not leave you, so that Allah may see that in the absence of His Prophet we have honored the rights of his (grand)son. By Allah, even if I come to know that I shall be killed and then burnt in fire and shall be brought to life again and eventually my ashes will be scattered in the air, and I die and become alive in this way seventy times, even then I shall not leave you."
When the speech of Muslim bin Awsaja came to an end, Zuhayr bin Qayn Bajali stood up. He was the same man, who was at one time an opponent of the Ahl al-Bayt, had remained away from the Imam on the route to Iraq, and did not wish to meet him. Allah, however, willed that Zuhayr should meet martyrdom in His path in the company of Imam Husain (AS) so that he might be honoured forever and his good and glorious name should illuminate the history of the tragedy of Ashura. He commenced his speech thus: "By Allah, I wish that I am killed and then brought to life and then killed once again and this act should be repeated a thousand times and this becomes the means of Allah protecting you and the young men of your family, and all of you remain alive".
Others also expressed similar views. Imam Husain (AS) invoked divine blessings for them and returned to his tent.
Later after the tragedy of Karbala, the Imam’s surviving son and successor, Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) has narrated: During the night preceding the day on which my father was martyred I was ill and my aunt Zainab was taking care of me. My father had at that time retired into his own tent and only Jaun, the freed African slave of Abuzar Gheffari was with him. Jaun was setting my father's sword right and my father was reciting some couplets. He repeated these poetic verses twice or thrice and I understood what he was saying and what he meant by it. By reciting these verses he referred to the inconstancy and unkindness of the world, which at times smiles like a kind friend, and enchants the people with its pleasing countenance and one feels that the circumstances will always be favourable. However, it suddenly changes its attitude and becomes unkind and unfaithful. It makes bitter with its poison the life which had once been sweet like honey. It drives away the friends, about whom one thinks that they would remain friendly forever and boasts of their friendship and devotion when the circumstances are favourable; rather it makes most of those friends stand before one in the shape of blood-thirsty and warlike enemies.
Imam Husain (AS), by reciting such verses, meant to say that on the following day, that is, Ashura, many magnanimous persons would meet martyrdom. It is not possible for any person to make someone else take his place to face the events of time. The end of the matter is decreed by Allah. Every living being must traverse this path. It was not only the Imam and his companions who were faced that day with the unfavorable time’ on the contrary the world at one time or another assumes the same countenance against everyone.
Later after the tragedy, Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) said: "I understood that my father meant to inform us of his martyrdom, and tears almost choked me, but I controlled myself. I realized that a calamity was about to fall. However, my aunt Zainab also heard what I had heard, and as she was a woman – since women are tender-hearted by nature and lose patience – could not control herself. She got up suddenly and went before her brother, that is, my father, and said: "Oh! That I should become brotherless! I wish that I had died earlier. O Successor of the deceased and O the Refuge of the survivors! It is today that I am going to be left without mother, father and brother". On seeing his sister in a distressed condition Imam Husain (AS) said: "Sister! Be patient".
It may be said that these words of the Imam were a lesson for his sister, which prepared her to face the difficult situations in Kufa and Damascus later. It was Zainab who had to assume the leadership of this movement from the time of the Imam's martyrdom till the return of Ahl ul-Bayt to Medina, and by means of this lesson the Imam was entrusting this divine trust to her. In other words he had said to her: Recognize yourself and do not forget your personality and the importance which you enjoy in this great movement. The task which you have to perform is not easier than that which I can perform, and you can discharge your duty only by means of greatness of soul and spirituality which you have acquired and inherited from your parents, Imam Ali and Hazrat Fatema (peace upon them).
The Imam told his sister of how ably she would deliver speeches in the bazaars of Kufa and Damascus with perfect composure, to bring to light the magnitude of the tragedy of Karbala by disclosing the deceitful acts of the enemies of Ahl al-Bayt. In this way, the designs of the offspring of Abu Sufyan against Islam would be exposed.
Thus, on Tasua, Imam Husain (AS), in his brief speech gave a significant lesson to his sister to be prepared for the heartrending events of the following day, that is, Ashura, in order to acquire the courage for the equally tragic aftermath of the tragedy. Tears came in his eyes and he said: "Sister! What am I to do? You can see with what condition I am faced and what a large army has gathered to kill me". Zainab also expressed some touching words and became unconscious.