The events of Karbala are more than just words on the page in a history book and the sobering tragedy that occurred on the day of Ashura (the tenth of Muharram) needs to be commemorated in a special way. The fifth Imam of Islam, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (as) is reported to have said, “If our Shia truly knew what happened in Karbala, they would die from grief.” We will never be able to experience the gravity of the tragedy of Karbala, but we can bring the events to life as much as possible.
Every year on the night of Ashura, our local community opens the night of mourning with a youth-led candlelight vigil. Candlelight vigils are organized for a myriad of reasons, but it’s a way to honor the lives of those lost. The vigil is a humble attempt at bringing the feelings of Ashura alive for the youth. With the constant threat of being stigmatized as a “radical” or “extremist” looming over our head, maintaining an Islamic identity in the West is difficult, but through interactive programs like the vigil, we allow the kids to actually live out their Islamic identity. Rather than sitting as passive observers, the youth take ownership of the event in attempts to build their investment in the community, so one day when it’s their time, they are ready to lead their community in the right direction.
The candlelight vigil involves Qu’ran, poetry in different languages, interactive speeches, and other prayers in honor of Imam Husayn (as) and his beloved family that were martyred on that fateful day. So much of traditional mourning in Muharram involves loud emotional cries and vivid descriptions of the calamities that claimed the lives of the family and companions of the AhlulBayt, but this candlelight vigil contrasts the classic mourning with a hushed and systematic way of sorrow. The chants of “Labayk ya Husayn” are breathed by the kids as they place their candles around the makeshift tent of Imam Husayn (as), and with that, the kids again play an active role in honoring their legacy rather than just listening to beautiful sermons sharing lessons and morals from the lives of the Imams and their families.
When Imam Husayn (as) released his companions on the night of Ashura before blood was inevitably lost, there’s no telling how confident he was he would not be alone on the morning of that fateful day. However as daybreak came, the true companions of the Imam were standing by his side with no hesitation. We will never achieve the greatness of the sacred prophets or Imams, but we can work to be as faithful and dedicated as those companions who accompanied the blessed family of the Prophet (s) through all of their trials and tribulations. We can learn the loyalty of hadthrat Abu Fadhl Abbas; we can aspire for the strength of Sayyida Zainab; and we can work for the readiness to serve their master without reluctance as the young men of Banu Hashim had, peace and blessings be upon them all.
When we tell the youth to chant “Labayk ya Husayn”, we are telling them to do it with so much conviction and belief that the leader of our time, Imam al-Mahdi (aj), can hear it no matter where in the world he is. We want them to know they are not disconnected from these stories that happened almost 1400 years ago; we want them to know that there is a real possibility that one day they might be called to stand for truth and justice; we want them to be ready to answer the call of the Imam (aj) when that time comes.