Tragic aftermath of history’s most heart-wrenching tragedy
Condolences on the tragic aftermath of the heartrending tragedy of Ashura or the 10th of Muharram that we commemorated yesterday with tears of grief for the martyrs of Karbala, interspersed with the inspiration the epic of Imam Husain (AS) continues to provide the faithful and the firm-footed who refuse to bow to the pressures of the oppressors in every age and place.
On the morning of the 11th of Muharram, the Omayyad forces led by Omar ibn Sa’d buried their fallen soldiers, but left unburied the bodies of the martyrs of Karbala, including that of Imam Husain (AS), the Immaculate Grandson of Prophet Mohammad (Blessings of God upon him and his progeny). These heartless hordes, although they claimed to be Muslims had no sympathy or respect for the Ahl al-Bayt or the Blessed Household of Prophet of Islam, whose Indomitable Granddaughter, Hazrat Zainab (peace upon her), now braced herself for the calamities ahead. With no able-bodied grown-up men left and with her 23-year old nephew Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) bedridden because of illness, she assumed charge of the widows, the orphans and all bereaved members of the entourage of her martyred brother.
As a matter of fact, her calamities had started the night before when the devilish hordes had trampled the bodies of the martyrs of Karbala. The night that enveloped the plain of Karbala in darkness is the most pathetic night in history. It was the night when the exhausted, hungry and tired children and ladies of the Prophet’s Household sat in loneliness, after having lost their loved ones in the unjust battle on that day. Due to the illness of Imam Zain al Abedin (AS), the 23-year old son and successor of Imam Husain (AS), the Prophet’s granddaughter realized that she would have to take care of the small group of women and children herself. Zainab called her younger sister Omm Kolthoum to help her and they decided to count all the children to see that none had gone missing in the confusion of the fire that had burned down the encampment. To her horror, she found the youngest 3-year old daughter of the Imam, named Ruqaiyya missing.
The two ladies searched everywhere for the young girl in the dead of night, and finally in desperation went to the place where the body of the Imam lay, and cried, saying that they had lost the little girl in this wilderness. Just then, the moon came out from behind a cloud and they saw that the little girl lay on the chest of the headless body of her father. They shook the child awake and said:
How did you find your father's headless body in this darkness? The little girl replied innocently: I wanted to tell my father about what the people had done to me. I wanted to tell him how Shimr had robbed the earrings that my father had so lovingly given me. I wanted to tell him how he had ripped them from my ears leaving my earlobes torn and bleeding. I wanted to tell him how the beast had mercilessly slapped me when I cried in pain. When I was running aimlessly I thought I heard my father's voice telling me he was here. I followed the voice and I found him lying here. I told him everything and then I felt like sleeping on his chest the way I always did, for the last time. So I kept my head on his chest and slept till you came.
As the Night of Calamity progressed, Hazrat Zainab (peace upon her) gathered all the ladies and children, into one small space in between the gutted tents. Imam Zain al- Abedin (AS) lay on the ground surrounded by widows and orphans. There was no fire, no light. Only the moon cast its dull light. At this moment some people approached. The bereaved family of the Imam realized that it was the widow of Horr ar-Riyahi, who in the morning of Ashura had changed sides, came over to the Imam’s camp in repentance, and earned martyrdom in defence of Islam and Ahl al-Bayt. Horr’s widow had come with some food and water for the bereaved ladies and the children. As she neared to where they were resting, Hazrat Zainab (peace upon her) stood up, went towards her and offered condolences for the death of her husband. This gesture on the part of the Prophet’s granddaughter who had suffered so much, lost so many, and carried so much grief in her heart, is indeed a lesson in Islamic ethics which the world should never be allowed to forget. Horr’s widow was deeply affected and started crying.
When the Imam’s 3-year grief-stricken Ruqaiyya was awakened and told to have some water, the first thing the thirsty girl asked was: Has my uncle Abbas finally returned from the river with water? This made all the people lament loudly. When Ruqaiyya was given a jug of water to drink, she started to go towards the battlefield where the corpses lay. When asked the reason, she said my infant brother Ali Asghar is thirsty, and since he is the youngest he should be first given water. The ladies started wailing. This was how the homeless spent the Night of Calamity in Karbala. They had lost everything. Their men had died. Their children had been martyred. In this desolate place, the fourth Imam, the women and the remaining children huddled together to pass the night under the sky, where only a few hours before had stood their camp. Abbas, Qasim and Ali Akbar (peace upon them) had taken turns to guard the camp. Now Zainab and Omm Kolthoum lay awake to make sure that the night passes peacefully.
Now on the morning of 11th Muharram, one of the most poignant and heart-wrenching moments was the tearful and emotional farewell with the torn, headless and lacerated body of Imam Husain (AS), by his sister, Hazrat Zainab (peace upon her). The children were horrified. There was no compassion in the hearts of these so-called Muslims for the Immaculate Ahl al-Bayt. Hazrat Zainab (peace upon her) helped all ladies and children to mount the camels for the forced journey to Kufa, the seat of the tyrannical governor of Iraq, Obaidullah ibn Ziyad. The Omayyad troops deliberately took the caravan of the captives past the unburied and unshrouded bodies of the martyrs. Hazrat Zainab (peace upon her) could no longer control herself and cried addressing her grandfather the Prophet with the words: “The angels of the sky shower blessings on you, but here is your Husain lying in the wilderness robbed of his turban and cloak and with his limbs dismembered, while your (grand)daughters are made captive. To God is our complain! O’ Mohammad! This is Husain whose head severed from the back of his neck lies exposed to the easterly wind pouring sand upon him, killed by the sons of adulteresses. Ah, what grief you have suffered O Aba Abdillah (Husain).”
After these melancholic and historic words , Hazrat Zeinab (peace upon her) turned to her nephew, Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS), who was suffering from severe illness as well as the shock of losing his father, brothers, uncle, cousins, etc. She was horrified at his pale countenance. It seemed as if his soul was about to depart from his body. She quickly consoled him, saying: “What is the matter with you, O Heir of my grandfather, father, and brothers!” Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) replied by saying: How can I not be unwell? When I have seen my father, brothers, uncles and cousins lifeless and unburied on the ground, soaked in their own blood, their heads cut-off, their clothes plundered.
She answered her nephew with the words: O Son of my Brother, don’t worry! The Lord has made a covenant with a certain people , whom the tyrants and oppressors of this world are not aware of, but the Lord’s angels know these people very well; they have promised the Lord to collect these torn limbs and bodies, and to bury them , and know that in the future, on this land where your father has been buried, a flag will be raised, a flag which will never wear out, a flag which will never become old, a flag which will never receive any harm with the passage of time; and the more the leaders of unbelievers and apostates try to bring down this flag, the more glorious it will become.
Following the entry of the caravan of captives of Karbala in the city of Kufa, where Hazrat Zainab (peace upon her) used to be the leading lady in the time of the caliphate of her father Imam Ali (AS), she delivered a resounding sermon in the most eloquent manner that made people still unaware of her identity, dumbstruck. When the unsuspecting Kufans who had turned out to witness what appeared to them a scene of amusement, threw dates towards the captives as sadaqa (alms), the granddaughter of the Prophet could no longer keep silent. She said in a commanding tone: “We are the daughters of the Messenger of God, alms-taking is certainly forbidden for us.” The effect was electrifying on the crowd and tears rolled down their eyes. They froze into silence, and even horses and camels stopped whinnying. A narrator says that he had never heard anyone deliver such a highly eloquent speech and it made him recall the matchless eloquence of Imam Ali (AS). After praising God and sending blessings on the Prophet and his infallible progeny, she reprimanded the Kufans for their weak faith and double crossing, questioning the reason for their tears now, since it was because of their treachery the Ahl al-Bayt have suffered and the tears of the blessed household have never stopped flowing. She told them that their crime of inviting Imam Husain (AS), betraying him to the forces of Yazid and participating in the shedding of his innocent blood will remain till the Day of Resurrection as an ugly blot upon them, since they have badly hurt the soul of the Prophet of Islam. She likened their tears to moonlight that falls on a grave but has no benefit for the buried corpse. She said, the Kufans because of their dubious traits invited Imam Husain (AS) and then deserted him to be tragically martyred, thereby earning for themselves Divine Wrath. “May your tears never stop,” she said in her highly eloquent speech likening the treacherous Kufans to a woman who after toiling to weave the thread undoes her endeavours herself. She reprimanded them for their sedition and sycophancy and said they resembled the grass that grows in unclean soil that even animals are unwilling to smell. She warned the deceitful Kufans that if today blood has fallen from the sky because of the martyrdom of Imam Husain (AS), tomorrow they should be prepared for the more grievous punishment of afterlife. Hazrat Zainab (peace upon her) would have continued this highly eloquent sermon of her if her nephew Imam Zain al-Abedin (AS) had not stepped forward and requested her to have patience.