Memorial Day passes by every year in the last Monday of May, where most if not all Americans observe this day as a federal holiday to commemorate the U.S. soldiers who died while in the military service. Begun as a ritual of remembrance and reconciliation after the Civil War, by the early 20th century, Memorial Day was an occasion for more general expressions of memory as ordinary people visited the graves of their deceased relatives, whether they had served in the military or not.
With that said, one cannot help but wonder: If the secular populations remember their deceased and their martyred soldiers who fought in defense of their country, their land, and their people, shouldn’t we as believers treading the way of Allah also dedicate a “Memorial Day” yearly or regularly to commemorate the Martyrs of Karbala who are the best of martyrs in all of history and also the future? Shouldn’t we specify a national or rather universal day where everyone takes the day off to give a moment of silence and bow down to the services of the holy companions of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) who gave up their lives in devotion to their master? Shouldn’t we announce to the whole world the names of those 72 faithful devotees whose heads were severed and raised on spears which were paraded in the streets of Kufa through Sham?
After all, the Martyrs of Karbala are the most precious of all martyrs and they are most worthy to have an official holiday dedicated in honor and salutation to their services, which was for the sake of irrigating the tree of Islam with their blood. It is the custom to visit the graves of the deceased when remembering the deceased, and the Americans including the President usually do so on Memorial Day. Interestingly enough, this act of visiting graves is practiced by non-Muslims and people of other faiths who find no problem whatsoever in expressing their love and devotion to their loved ones by visiting their graves and tombs.
So why do Muslims today have a hard time swallowing the idea of visiting graves, shrines, or mausoleums, and paying respects to the remnants of key personalities who served Islam such as our holy Imams, the purified progeny of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his family)? Are the martyrs of the secular causes more worthy of being visited than the martyrs of the divine cause? This cannot be and will never be!
Why are the Martyrs of Karbala the best of martyrs and why are they the best of companions? Why do they enjoy this special status in the eyes of Allah? Abu Hamza Al-Thumali relates from Imam Ali Zainul Abideen (peace be upon him) that he said: “On the night preceding his martyrdom, my father gathered his family and companions and said, ‘O people of my family and my Shi’a! Consider this night which has come to you as a mounting camel and save yourselves, for these people do not desire anyone else except me. Then if they kill me, they shall not pursue you. May Allah have mercy upon you! Save yourselves. Verily I lift the responsibility of the allegiance and pledge which you have taken at my hands.’ Hearing this, his brothers, relatives and companions unanimously said, ‘By Allah, O our Master! O Aba Abdillah! We shall never betray you, so that people may say that we had abandoned our Imam, our Chief and Master, until he was martyred. Then we would seek excuses between ourselves and Allah. And we shall not leave you until we ransom ourselves upon you!’
Imam Hussain then said, “Verily I shall be killed tomorrow and everyone from among yourselves too shall be killed with me, and none among you shall be spared.” To which they replied, “Praise be to Allah, that He has bestowed grace upon us to assist you, and has offered distinction to us to get martyred along with you. Then do we not endear that we should be along with you in your elevated station (in Paradise) O son of the Prophet of Allah?!” The Imam replied, “May Allah reward you favorably!” Then he prayed for them. When it dawned, all of the companions were martyred.
Hearing this historical account in itself testifies to the absolute loyalty, commitment and dedication which the companions of Imam Hussain had towards their master. It is a relationship that exceeds most relationships; one that is governed by self-sacrifice and ultimate bliss felt only by presenting everything they had for the sake of their master. It is a love that is not limited by materialism nor is it based on worldly reward such that even after being killed, their ultimate desire was to return back to this world to fight again and again and die before their master. These devout companions have annihilated themselves while they were alive for the sake of a greater good without a moment of hesitation or falter!
Those who do not know much about the tragedy of Karbala may wonder why 72 companions would give up their lives and vow to die in defense of their master in a military struggle that does not have equal opportunity for both sides to win or lose. It was a confrontation where the two opposing sides were not equal in number! It is erroneous to think that what happened in Karbala was a battle or a military war. Actually, it is more appropriate to say that the events which transpired on the soil of Naynawa was that between a great military force and a small civilian caravan which did not proceed to Karbala with the intention to fight or kill, and that is evident in the fact that they weren’t armed. In such a situation, there is no doubt that death is the inevitable fate for those who fight in defense of the civilian caravan. There is no hope for military victory and no dreams of spoils of war in this case. So, why would the companions of Imam Hussain willingly and voluntarily choose to taste death over life and to present their women to be taken as captives along with the women of the Prophet’s Household? Why would they swear to Hussain that being cut into pieces is more beloved to them than anything else to the point that they would be willing to die a thousand deaths and more to return back to life and re-sacrifice themselves at the abode of their master?
Surely, this unique situation urges the mind to reflect on the reasons and motivations behind this unwavering human will that deserves honor and praise by all of mankind! It is none other than the love of truth (Haqq) and righteousness that is embodied in Amirul Momineen Imam Ali (peace be upon him) and his purified sons! It is the dedication to raise the banner of Islam high up in the heavens so that falsehood is nullified and truth manifested! It is the thirst for pleasing Allah by pleasing His best of creations, the Holy Prophet and His chosen progeny. By their noble position of self-sacrifice and self-annihilation for the sake of the Truth, these martyrs demonstrated a perfect example to all of mankind and set the proof on all those who hesitated from defending the grandson of the Prophet, or those who watched silently from the scenes, whether on the day of Ashura or in the years and centuries afterwards.
It is no wonder that Imam Hussain testifies in honor of his companions that: “I do not know companions more loyal and better than my companions, neither do I know a household more honorable and passionate than my household! May the Almighty reward you for the favors you have done me!” Reflecting more deeply in this profound statement, one must realize that the speaker in this case is not any person, he is an infallible personality who only speaks the truth and not out of emotion or personal interest. Hence, when Hussain says that there are no companions better than his, then surely that testimony speaks volumes of the noble characteristics embedded in the Martyrs of Karbala! And when Hussain prays to Allah to reward his companions, then there is no speak of doubt that his prayers are accepted swiftly and to the greatest degree!
Sure enough, the heavenly reward of the martyrs of Karbala are so immense such that the great Sheikh al-Saduq relates from Salim bin Abu Ja’dah, who says that he heard Ka’ab al-Ehbar say that: “It is stated in our books that a man from among the sons of Prophet Muhammad would be killed, and they (the martyrs) would enter Paradise even before the sweat of the horses of his companions dry.” Thus, when Imam Hasan passed by us, we asked him as to was he the one referred to (regarding it in their books) and he replied in the negative, and then when Imam Hussain passed by us, we asked him the same question and he replied in the affirmative.
Furthermore, it is narrated that it was inquired from Imam Ja’far Sadiq (peace be upon him) that, “Please relate to us the state and the self sacrifice of the companions of Imam Hussain.” The Imam replied, “The veil had been lifted off their eyes and they saw their places in Paradise. Hence they excelled one another in sacrificing their lives, so as to hasten to meet the Hoories and be fondled by them and reach their places in Paradise.” As we recite in Ziyarat Nahiyah in their regards after quoting the names of the martyrs, “I bear witness that Allah lifted the veils off your eyes and presented you with spread beds and enormous gifts!”
After the tragedy of Karbala, the bodies of the martyrs lay on the desert of Karbala without burial. It was on the 40th day of the martyrdom that Imam Zainul Abideen returned to Karbala to pay homage to the martyrs and he, along with the people of the tribe of Bani Asad, buried their bodies. One of the greatest divine gifts for these blessed martyrs was their honor of being buried in very close proximity to the holy grave of Imam Hussain. Hence, whenever we turn towards our Imam to pay our respects, by default we are also reminded to give our salutations to these individuals who sacrificed themselves for Hussain!
On this “Memorial Day” and every Memorial day, it is befitting to remember the Karbala Martyrs and give tribute to them. It is a good opportunity to recite their Ziyarat while hoping to join their cause, and make efforts to tread their paths and raise generations who would continue to shed their blood to water that precious tree which these holy martyrs gave life to on the day of Ashura! With one unified voice, let us call as we call in Ziyarat Ashura: “Peace be on you, O Abu Abdillah, and on those souls who came to your camp to put themselves at your disposal. So far I am alive and the days and nights follow each other I invoke Allah to send blessings on you forever and ever. May Allah not make this pledge of close association, physical as well as spiritual, with you the last fulfillment. Peace be on Hussain, and on Ali son of Hussain, and on the children of Hussain, and on the friends of Hussain!”