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©2009 David Burnett

Ayatollah Khomeini greets supporters at the Refah School. To his right is his aide Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Tehran | February 2, 1979 (p. 188-189)
IMAGE IS FOR YOUR ONE-TIME EXCLUSIVE USE ONLY FOR MEDIA PROMOTION OF THE NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC BOOK "44 DAYS: IRAN AND THE REMAKING OF THE WORLD." NO SALES, NO TRANSFERS. ©2009 David Burnett Ayatollah Khomeini greets supporters at the Refah School. To his right is his aide Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani. Tehran | February 2, 1979 (p. 188-189)

Night 3: You Must Resist, Even if Some Petals Fall

This is the third in a series of personal reflections during the blessed and holy nights of Muharram. Read part four.

As they continue to stride towards adulthood and intellectual maturity, every child has to go through the critical phase of adolescence. In psychology, this period of time is often cited as one of the most influential phase of one’s life during which one develops an identity, strengthens certain personality traits and starts to question critically its environment and the order that regulates it.

Change is probably the one word that defines this period of intellectual evolution. Apart from changes in personality, this is probably the time during which individuals become just aware enough to realize the physical changes taking place in their body. Voices change, our body grows, we become accustomed with the swaying moods of our hormonal system, we develop ideas, aspire to become something. In short, by defining what we like or dislike, we try to define who we are or we are not.

Despite this seemingly anarchic and turbulent phase of life, which seems not to follow any defined pattern making it very difficult to predict the outcome of its effects on a child’s personality, there are some evident similarities that we find in almost every teenager whomever they are, wherever they live. Amongst those innate sensitivities that every youth develops inevitably during that time is the absolute condemnation and rejection of any form of oppression.

They said we will cut your hands if you do not stop the beating
I said then take me to the place where Abu Fadl’s arms fell down

They said we will cut your tongue if you do not stop your lamentation
I said then take me to tree where Maytham e-Tammar was hung

They said we will blind your eyes if you do not stop your tears
I said then take them, I do not need eyes that do not cry for Husayn

They said we will crush your limbs if you walk again towards Husayn
I said then crush them, I have built in my heart a Karbala of my own

They said we will crush your heart, and the Karbala of your own
I said then crush it and I will finally meet, my beloved in the skies


Following the second piece of this series entitled ‘The Thirst that Watered the Seed’ where I came to the conclusion that the thirst of Imam Husayn (as) was the one injustice that had shaped my attachment for Aba Abdillah (as) as a child, I would like to continue this discussion by analysing how my love for Imam al-Husayn (as) evolved as teenager around the idea of injustice and resistance and how it has impacted the person that I have become today. I will continue this series trying to answer the question I had asked myself on the first of its night: What does Husayn (as) mean to me? What did his love do to me?

Like every other youth, I also had to swim through this storm of adolescence, which had taken over my body shaping it in a different mold every day making it very difficult to wake up in the morning, and realize how different I had become from the person I had parted with the night before. Like everything else that was changing in my personality, the love I had for Imam al-Husayn went through a significant evolution. An evolution so meaningful that I can safely say it was a revolution in itself.

This revolution that has shaped my perception of what it means to be a lover of Imam al-Husayn (as) took place in the land of revolution itself, Iran.

I was a teenager when I first visited the holy lands of Iraq and Iran. I was a fond lover of Imam al-Husayn (as) and was finally able to relate to his stand for social justice and freedom more than the physical oppression he had to endure.

I learnt a great deal about resistance and the fight for freedom in Iran. I fell in love with the resilience of its people–people who had gathered and took a stand behind a pure leader which impersonated the stand of Imam Husayn and who have gone through immense hardships since the very day they drew a line on the sand which separated them from the rest of the world.

I was a Shia of Ali like they were, yet our realities were so different. My love of Imam Husayn’s movement didn’t impact my life from a political and social standpoint in a way that would make it considerably harder. In order words, despite pledging our allegiance to the same Imam (as), despite commemorating Muharam at the same time, despite following the same Islamics jurists, my life seemed to follow a different reality than those of my brother and sisters in the Middle East. This is when I realized what it meant to take a stand.

That trip defined resistance to me. Every poster of the martyrs of the Iran-Iraq war, every portrait of Imam Khomeini, every gathering of youth condemning oppression in Palestine engulfed my spirit for I had now a thriving example of the pulsating and ever living manifestation of Imam Husayn’s (as) legacy.

I learned many lessons during that trip, which all can be related to my love for Imam al-Husayn (as). Besides having realized the price one has to pay to follow the path defined by the Imam (as), I also learnt what it meant to rely solely on God which reminds me of an extract from a sermon of Imam al-Husayn (as) on the day of Ashura:

Oh Allah, I have left the entire world for the sake of You,
And I have orphaned my children so that I be with You.
So if I am cut into pieces for the love of You,
my heart would lean to none other than You.

I might be biased in my statement for I mostly spent time in Mashad and Qom, visiting holy places and therefore meeting likeminded people. But never once in my trip did I meet a believer who complained. I saw mothers who had lost their sons in the war, I visited graves of scholars who were martyred for the stand they took against oppression, and I saw a war torn country where basic supplies were sometimes hard to find and despite every having every possible reason on earth to complain, I met followers of Husayn (as) who smiled at their tyrants and only cried for Husayn. I had finally met the perfect embodiment of the followers of Imam Ali (as) who had literally become flowers that spread their fragrance, even to the hand that crushed them.

I also visited the holy land of Iraq during the same trip. Besides the honor of having visited the shrine of my Imam al-Husayn (as), I had the the great pleasure to finally meet the one living personality which defined knowledge to me: Ayatollah Sayyid Ali al-Sistani.

I remember my encounter with the Sayyid very well. Iraq was still under the rule of Saddam and the Sayyid mostly spent his life under house arrest. Because of the constant threat on his life, only small groups of visitors were allowed to visit his modest house. I was with my mother and I remember the feeling of having entered the room he was in. It was as if I had another dimension. I could feel the presence of someone highly spiritual.

It is difficult to understand the spiritual level of our Imams since they are perfect human beings. Yet, when I read the words Imam Ali (as) uses when he mentioned his ansar (supporters), or words Imam Husayn (as) used when he describes his, I realize that attaining the spiritual level required to become an intimate companion of an Imam (as) himself must be one of highest degree. Even though I might never experience in my life what it means to be seated next to my Imam (aj), I think meeting Sayyid Sistani was the closest thing I experienced to feeling one must experience to meet a true ansar of one of our Imams.

Like most prominent Shia scholars under Saddam who directly or indirectly opposed the Ba’athi party, Sayyid was kept in confinement. Despite literally living next to shrine of Imam Ali (as), he could not visit his Imam (as)  will. It was difficult for me to realize that the one man who was striving everyday to gain new insights and understand better the religion and explain its rulings to followers around the world was kept in such a state. I later realized that this is the price our Imam (as) paid themselves every time they took a stand. Every flower of the garden of Sayyida Zahra (as) was either imprisoned, poisoned, or crushed to death. Therefore, it shouldn’t be surprising that any fragrance that embodies the scent of the household of the AhlulBayt should follow this fate.

I came back from this trip having witnessed a glimpse the oppression my brothers and sisters went through under Saddam. I witnessed the remaining shadows of the aftermath of the war imposed by Saddam on my brothers and sisters from Iran. I prayed on the grave of Aba Abdillah (as) and on the graves of those who lost their lives following his footsteps.

I have entitled this piece in remembrance of the stand taken by Imam al-Husayn against injustice and oppression and the various movement of resistance he has inspired. I would like dedicate this piece to all mothers who have lost their sons for the sake of Aba Abdillah (as). I would like to dedicate this piece to my brothers and sisters in the world whose lives are constantly under the threat of the modern sons of Yazid. I would like to dedicate this modest piece to the greatest of our scholars who have given their lives when Islam was at stake. I would like to dedicate this piece to Palestine and the resilience of its people.

Finally, I would like to end this piece with a prayer for the life of Ayyub Faleh al-Rubaie also known as Abu Azrael and every other fighters engaged protecting the holy shrines of our Imams.  You are all the pride of Zahra (as) and the smile of Zainab (as). May you walk on the footsteps of al-Mukhtar and bring peace to the Imam of our time.

 

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