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Unprecedented story of courage

Huzaima Bukhari

“O’ God! Surely you know that whatever we did was not a competition to gain worldly positions and worthless physical attractions of the world but to show the true religious ways and to remove corruption from your lands, so that the oppressed feel secured and act according to your teachings and rules.”—Imam Hussain AS.

When people plan to take a big risk in life there are many things they usually consider before taking the leap. What could be the possible outcomes are among the first thoughts. Hope of success and fear of failure keeps looming over the horizons of optimism and apprehension. Both positive and negative ideas keep baffling the mind. How would others react; or in their endeavour to achieve something would they be putting at stake other people’s future. Many mixed thoughts result in sleepless nights in trying to strike a balance between the pros and cons of any precarious decision. These risks can pertain to change of job or career, a new business, a new marriage, migration to a different country, a long cherished adventure that could be life threatening and many more. To do or not to do remains the question.

So, before venturing on a perilous path, a number of precautionary measures are contemplated to prevent damage or reduce harm to the minimum before the occurrence of an event. These maybe in the form of some kind of guarantees, defences, legal advice, contingency provisions, protection or such other action to diminish chances of regret. In the days of monarchs, anyone desirous of openly speaking his mind in the court would seek assurance of his life being spared before he dared utter words that could invoke the king’s wrath. Even today, those babbling dissenting or boisterous voices either do it in a way that their real identities remain hidden because the easily identifiable ones are sure to suffer for their brazenness.

Courage is a characteristic that very few are actually blessed with. Our ability to take risks is proportionate to the precautionary steps that we can undertake. The concept of ‘leap of faith’ is considered to be a gamble the result of which is uncertain. It could make or break but the fact is that all acts of valour, discoveries, innovations and inventions, bringing riches and fame sprout from determination and courage. Many an act of so-called imprudence sometimes have consequences that leave the people totally perplexed. Their expectations of a downfall are met with untold avalanche of fortune for the brave, who had the nerve to take risk.

Majority of the peoples of this world are those who prefer status quo over agitation or struggle to change. A happy-go-lucky life-style in which there is some consistency, no outside interference and a reasonably comfortable living is what many run after. Once this is achieved, then the quest for any form of insurrection is pushed behind. It is of no concern to them if there are others who could benefit from their support or co-operation or even some words of encouragement. They are least bothered about whatever is going on around them so long as it does not affect their lives. Contrary to such nonchalant people are ones whose life is courage personified. For them principles are more important than their own lives and that of their loved ones. They are the ones who can step up and speak for the rights of others without once thinking about any adverse effects on them. Totally unmindful about their own interests, they are willing to sacrifice their possessions and even lay down their lives.

History has seen one such person in the form of Imam Hussain AS, the hero of Karbala, the king without a worldly throne, the defender of principles and the epitome of Islam. He defied a tyrant named Yazid who was bent upon spreading corrupt practices, making lives of the people a living hell, unjustly using public property, destroying the moral fabric of society and above all distorting the image of Islam. These were intolerant acts but there were silent spectators all around because if anyone in the kingdom boldly pointed his finger at this insanity, he was immediately eliminated. No ruler is ever brought down by the effort of just one. It is only when there is true public outburst and the nation unites to fight that matters start taking a turn.

Armed with the important tenet of enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong (amr bil-maʿruf and nahy ʿanil-munkar) Imam Hussain AS along with his small army comprising his close family members, including women and children, and friends, proceeded to face one of the most unique battles ever recorded in the annals of human history. His unwavering courage and that of his companions have left such indelible marks that despite the efforts of their enemies, these are getting more and more etched in the hearts and souls of people.

For as long as he could, Imam Hussain AS used his full strength to avert conflict and bloodshed, raising the flag of humanity and preaching forbearance but when things got out of control, when sense got overcome with madness, when thirst for blood got the better of the brute forces, when words fell on deaf ears, when efforts to direct the misled towards a dignified life failed, then he was left with no option but to take up arms. He sacrificed himself and his family members—from the eldest to the youngest (six months old Ali Asghar AS)—but refused to surrender to injustice and cruelty.

Many a martyr has found a high place in history but none has been celebrated the way Imam Hussain AS has been for centuries. None has been revered by followers of all leading religions, none has shown a steadfast character in the event of witnessing the brutal killings of near and dear ones, picking up mutilated bodies from the battle field, anticipating the enemy’s ruthlessness with the women and children after his martyrdom. His cause of establishing peace and harmony in society as against snatching the throne, was paramount to his fortitude. It was this impetus that led him to the ultimate sacrifice. A number of scholars and critics have questioned his prudence and level of risk in taking along women and innocent children but there was an important reason. Had he not done so, no one would have known the real facts of Karbala and the whole episode would have been distorted to be depicted as the defeat of a rebel.

The entire harem of the great Imam AS signified courage, spiritual strength and a resolve that can never be imitated by the weak. Hazrat Zainab’s AS oratory in the full court of Yazid speaks volumes about her bravery and faith in the cause of her brother because of which this great sacrifice is remembered year after year after year.


The writer, lawyer and author, is an Adjunct Faculty at Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS).

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