The month of Dhil Hijjah has just passed and the sorrowful month of Muharram has emerged, bringing along with it all its grief, sadness, and mourning as the new year commences. It was in the year 60 A.H. when Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) and his family made the intention to perform Hajj in the sacred Haram. However, just before the commencement of the pilgrimage, he suddenly left Mecca without performing Hajj! This was the time when huge crowds were entering Mecca for Hajj that Imam Hussain was going out of that Holy City with his family and followers. This strange event must have elicited questions in the minds of everyone as to why the grandson of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) was leaving Mecca just on the eve of Hajj without performing Hajj. Why did he leave Mecca, when he embarked on this spiritual journey in order to complete what is one of the best deeds in Allah’s eyes? Why didn’t he wait just a fir few days until he finished the necessary rituals of pilgrimage? After all, based on our human judgment, nothing could be more important than the pilgrimage that would deserve interruption or cancellation – right?
History tells us that the Imam discovered that some of the followers of Yazid had entered Mecca as pilgrims, with the mission to kill him during the rites of Hajj with the arms they carried under their special pilgrimage dress (the Ehraam). So Imam Hussain shortened the pilgrimage rites and decided to leave. Amidst the vast crowd of people, he stood up and announced in a speech that he was setting out for Iraq, he declared that he would be martyred, asked the Muslims to help him in attaining the goal he had in view, and to offer their lives in the path of God. The next day, he set out with his family and a group of his companions for Iraq. But it was not his own life that he was fearful for; rather, it was the life of Islam that Imam Hussain had his eyes set on! The proof for that is that he knew very well that he would be killed in Karbala and was literally walking towards his own death! So why interrupt his Hajj only to die in another land, if not for a noble reason?
The prime reason for leaving Mecca was that Imam Hussain did not want to be killed in a manner that the tyrants might remain hidden and undetected. In the huge rush of pilgrims assembled from all corners of the world, it would have been impossible to apprehend the killer, and particularly to ascertain the real killer behind the curtains.
Secondly, Imam Hussain’s ultimate aim was to expose Yazid, and the Imam was determined not to give his allegiance to this corrupt oppressor. In this way, the question of why Imam Hussain refused allegiance to Yazid came to the forefront of discussion among all individuals and groups who assembled for Hajj as they noticed that Imam Hussain left Mecca without performing the Hajj. If the Imam were to be killed now, it would be assumed that Yazid must have arranged his killing – and this is what actually happened. Yazid stands clearly, openly and directly exposed as the perpetrator of the crimes which formed part of that tragedy and his un-Islamic ideas; the beliefs and acts lie exposed to the world. The very people who had been silenced by fear and awe of the murderous tyrants were so moved to the core of their hearts by the tragic events of Karbala that they began picking up courage to express themselves against Yazid. In a very short time, there was a widespread uproar of protests against him and his government. This was possible only because of the superb way in which Imam Hussain carried out his plan of meeting Yazid’s violence with the strength of his character.
We learn from Imam Hussain that there was a more important goal for him to accomplish than completing the rituals of Hajj and risking bloodshed in the Haram. Actually, it would be an erroneous statement to say that the Imam skipped or canceled his Hajj that year! In fact, Imam Hussain abandoned the ritualistic Hajj to perform the true essence of Hajj, which is embodied in his sacrifice and bloodshed on the plains of Karbala! Quite frankly, many of the ritualistic acts of Hajj symbolize the tragedy of Karbala, most notably the slaughter on the day of Eid al-Adha. Even though we celebrate that day out of gratitude that Allah spared the grief of father and son – Prophets Ibrahim and Isma’il (peace be upon them) – from the slaughter ordered by Him, our moment of joy doesn’t last long because it is soon replaced by the Great Slaughter (Dhibh ‘Adheem, as mentioned in 37:104-108 of the Qur’an) which is personified in Hussain ibn Ali. The grief we feel is further intensified as we remember the pain of separation between Imam Hussain and his son Ali Akbar, which was not spared like that of Isma’il and his father. The 10th of Dhil-Hijjah is only a few weeks away from the 10th of Muharram, reminding us of the true sacrifice that was offered in Karbala one month later!
When we think of Lady Hajra’s plight in fetching water for her son Isma’il, we are reminded of Imam Hussain’s pain of watching his youngest son, Ali Asghar, die out of thirst as he tries his best to seek water from the enemy by raising his infant in his arms in the hopes of moving their hearts and quenching his son’s thirst. Unlike Hajra, whose heart was solaced when a spring of water erupted to save her son’s life, Imam Hussain found nothing but a tri-headed arrow to pierce the neck of Ali Asghar! It is narrated that when Lady Hajra saw with her own eyes the marks of the knife on her son’s neck, she fainted from that scene; one can only imagine what overwhelming emotions Lady Fatima experienced when she witnessed her son’s headless body trampled by the hoofs of the horses after dying in a state of extreme thirst!
When we walk the distance between Safa and Marwa, we are reminded that it is the same distance as that between the holy shrine of Hazrat Abbas ibn Ali and his brother, Imam Hussain. This exact match in distance is certainly not a coincidence, and it reminds us of the challenge which Hazrat Abbas underwent as he sought to bring water to the thirsty children who had all their hopes pinned on him.
As the pilgrims rush to attain the blessings of the holy water of Zamzam, they are to be reminded of that water which Imam Hussain was denied until he died in the state of thirst, when even animals are given a last sip before being slaughtered!
The pilgrims in Hajj wear their clothes of Ehraam for the sake of Allah, and Imam Hussain also wore his clothes of Ehraam for His sake while abandoning the pleasures of this life – only for these “Ehraam” clothes to be drenched in his own pure blood to irrigate the tree of Islam!
The pilgrims stone the symbols of Shaytan numerous times to expel the whisperings of the devil which we are all prone to every second of every day. Hurr ibn Yazid al-Riyahi and Umar ibn Sa’d also experienced whisperings from Shaytan to attain the glory of power. However, Hurr stoned the whisperings of Shaytan and made the right decision to join Imam Hussain, while Umar followed the whisperings and became a Shaytan himself!
When the pilgrims go to Mina where the final sacrifice is given, this stage of Hajj symbolizes our intention to sacrifice everything beloved to us for Allah just like the Imam did, and the tents are a reminder of his family’s tents which were burned down and destroyed in Karbala after the Great Slaughter!
When the pilgrims visit the Holy Ka’ba and circumambulate it, they are reminded of the honor Allah gave Prophet Ibrahim in rebuilding this sacred House of God. They are also to be reminded of the rebuilding of the pure Mohammadan Islam by Imam Hussain when he offered his pure blood to give a jump-start to this Deen, which was on its way to corruption and deviation.
It is important to note that a pilgrim who performs Hajj without recognizing Karbala to be its true essence does not gain the real fruits of his/her pilgrimage. In the words of Dr. Ali Shariati: “Imam Hussain did not complete his Hajj in order to teach the pilgrims that if there is no Imamat and there is not true leadership, if there is no goal, if ‘Hussain’ is not there and ‘Yazid’ is there, making Tawaaf around the house of Allah is equal to making Tawaaf around the idol-house.” (Hajj)
All the pilgrims stone the Shaytan, all of them wear the robe of Ehraam, and all of them circumambulate the Ka’ba and walk the distance between Safa and Marwa. But not all who physically stone the Shaytan have truly rid themselves from his temptations. Not all who wear the Ehraam have forbidden themselves from that which Allah has forbidden them. Not all who sacrifice an animal has their offer truly accepted by Allah, and it is only those who sacrifice their souls – like the blessed companions of Imam Hussain – and exhibit readiness to die for the Imam and the mission he represents, whose offer is accepted by Allah. Not all who raise their voices and call out “La ilaaha illAllah” have truly recognized the essence of Tawheed, and it is only by fulfilling the conditions that one has truly pronounced the word of Oneness. As Imam Ali ar-Ridha (peace be upon him) relayed to his companions: “The Almighty Allah said, ‘I surely am the God besides whom there is no god, so worship Me. Whoever comes with the testimony of Tawheed sincerely, he has surely entered My castle; and whoever enters My castle, he shall be protected from My chastisement.'” When some of the companions expressed excitement from that statement, Imam Ridha immediately added, “Yes this is true – with its conditions.” This condition is to acknowledge and submit to the Imamat and Wilayat of Imam Hussain and his descendants.
If we recognize the essence of Hajj as being intertwined with the tragedy of Karbala, we can then understand why Allah’s mercy encompasses the pilgrims visiting the holy shrine of Imam Hussain on the day of Arafah, even before the pilgrims of Hajj! (Kamil al-Ziyarat) We will then understand why a special Ziyarat is to be recited for Imam Hussain on the day of Arafah, which is one of the most important deeds that one can do. We will then realize that it is not a coincidence that one of the key recommended deeds to be performed on the day of Arafah is to recite the special beautiful supplication of Imam Hussain for the day of Arafah, which speaks volumes of the level of Irfan and wisdom which Imam Hussain possesses as he summarizes to us in concise words the fundamentals of Tawheed. We will then understand why, according to authentic hadith, visiting the holy shrine of Imam Hussain is worth 90 Hajj and 90 Umrah performed by the Holy Prophet himself! It is common knowledge that Hajj is obligatory on all Muslims if – and only if – they have the means to do so and all the prerequisite requirements are met. However, supporting and treading the path of Imam Hussain is incumbent and obligatory upon every human at all times, whether Muslim or non-Muslim!