This is the first in a series of personal reflections during the blessed and holy nights of Muharram. Read part two.
The sun is rising. The tumultuous urban life of most metropolises on the East Coast is about to be set in motion. Another day of frenzy speculations on the stock market is about to take place, long traffic lines in downtown are already building up, and countless students are already running around various university campuses. And yet, despite the repetitiveness in the unfolding of an urban routine we have experienced all, I could feel an unusual heaviness slowly taking over me, as if a cloud was hovering over my spirit, and a distinct breeze was blowing in my depth making the very core of my existence to shiver and stiffen.
Sipping through my coffee mug on the terrace of my room, I felt a unique restlessness. I desperately kept looking in the periphery of my vision for a clue, any indication that would explain this sudden state of unease I was experiencing. Unable to find any evidence of distress from the gentle flow of passing pedestrians and the melodious swaying of fallen autumn leaves, I tried to close my eyes and seek answers from my heart. With each of its pulses, my heart’s unusual behavior had joined the very plea my soul had hopelessly tried to convey. My blood was behaving in an unusual pattern. It seemed as if my growing discomfort was just the fruit of its sudden uncontrolled circumambulation. Something had sparkled its core. Someone had turned the calm rivers of my veins into raging torrents. A name had set my blood free. A name that I was about to hear for the next coming nights.
Husayn. A name engraved in the smallest constituents of every atom from which my body is made.
Muharam. A time of the year when the smallest of those constituents pulsates at the rhythm of his name
Karbala. A distant land towards which the smallest of those constituents strides, as if taken away by the wind blowing that blows between the two shrines.
Words are difficult to find when it comes to defining what Husayn means to me. An obvious reason is that, for the most part, words we use have been designed in order to express ideas that relate to our own existence and reality, which are often tied to rigid and constraint domains of time and space. While they are perfectly suited to convey ideas that are finite and tangible, how can they ever do justice when it comes defining what is limitless and everlasting?
Despite the evident linguistic limitations, I took a pen and started writing. The question I asked myself was simple. What does Husayn mean to me? What did his love do to me?
In order to fully understand the relationship between two individuals, one must investigate the nature of their encounter. One needs to go back to the origins, the starting point of such a journey in order to grasp the complexity and the evolution of such a love. In order to appreciate the odyssey a wayfarer lost in the path of Husayn’s love, one needs to understand the moment its flame was set alight.
The reason why I have entitled this first piece of Muharram reflections ‘Seeds of our Mothers’ is because I am aware that the love I have for Imam al-Husayn was planted in my heart through the blessings of my beloved mother, may Allah (swt) lengthen her life. Modern science will not contradict my words when I say that every interaction a mother has with the external world during pregnancy, every thing she eats, drinks, does has an effect however little on the shaping of the growing soul inside her womb. I wonder then, whether it is even surprising, that a mother who would take the name of Husayn at every sip she drank; a mother that would recite majalis (gatherings) of Aba Abdillah in the coldest of nights; a mother that would sing lullabies of Ghadeer to the sleeping soul growing within her, A mother that would sit and rise with the name of Ali on her lips, a mother that would shout ‘Ya Abbas’ every time she felt the weight of her growing son was becoming too heavy to lift; I wonder if it is even surprising that such a blessed mother wouldn’t transmit the heat of Husayn fire to the soul she was trying keep warm in the intimate layers of her depths.
I have often asked my mother about the time I was born. Often she would recall stories of my birth. Since my parents migrated to France with no family waiting for them, they, for the most parts took care of us alone. When I was born, I had a sister two years older than me. Soon, the time had arrived when my mother would need to drop her to kindergarten school and often, that time coincided with my sleeping hours. Since my father used to work, the only way offered to my mother was to leave me alone at home for half an hour, the time she needed to drop my sister and come back. Whenever my mom tells me this story, she always uses the same words:
“Reza, I use to wrap you in tight layers of blankets and gaze towards the sky. I would always have the same prayer on my lips: ‘Ya Imam Mahdi, by the love of Husayn I am leaving my child under your protection. Please look after him for the sake of Sayyid as-Shuhada.'”
This is when the beacon of my love was let alight. Before I was even born I had unknowingly tasted the love of Husayn in my mothers womb through the loyalty of her blood’s allegiance. Soon after my birth, before I could even say ‘mother,’ I experienced this love again through her sheer devotion for the Masters of Martyrs and her trust in the Imam (aj) of our time.
Some months later, my parents had saved enough money to visit the holy land of Karbala. I wasn’t even a year old and was not in a condition to visit a war torn country. My mother had to face another dilemma: stay by her son and suppress her love for Imam al-Husayn; or leave her son and visit her beloved’s grave.
I have seen pictures of my parents and sister from that ziarat (visitation) trip. I was first surprised not to see myself in it. As a kid I had rushed to my mother and had asked why I hadn’t come. My mother had replied that I was too fragile to travel, and it would have been difficult to have access to mineral water and all that I needed at that time. Despite her logical answer, I was confused. A sudden realization had taken me aback. The mother who would enquire about my whereabouts every minutes of the day, the mother who would get worried if my bus would get late, the mother who would wouldn’t sleep every time I would sneeze, how could she have left her baby alone and gone thousands of miles away?
“I went to visit the land of Hussain,” she said. “I went to visit a father who lost Ali Asghar in order for us to differentiate between right and wrong. Surely, my Imam (as) knew how much you meant to me. This is perhaps a lesson for you. Since you know how dear you are to me, you can now perhaps understand, what Husayn means to me.”
And indeed I did. The very mother whose heart would become restless at the thought of leaving me for few minutes to drop my sister few blocks away from our house was ready to part with me for days and travel to a distant land during a time when communication tools didn’t allow the virtual rubbing out of distances through video chatting and so on. I started to understand the depth of attachment to Imam (as) better. And since she was the one who had lighted the flame of my love for Imam al-Husayn (as) in my life, I started to appreciate every darkened corner of my existence I never had witnessed before Husayn (as) had set me free.
Conscious of the fact that there would be no light within me had my mother not stood firm holding the flag of Abu Fadl Abbas (as) over our heads, I would like to dedicate this first piece of this Muharam series to every mother who has gone through immense hardships in order to instill the love of Husayn in their children.
I would like to dedicate this modest article to the mothers who, because of their love of Aba Abdillahi al-Husayn (as) have sacrificed their sons and daughters in order to establish the truth. I would especially like to dedicate these thoughts to all mothers who have had to protect the legacy of Imam Husayn (as) in foreign lands. You are all my mothers and I feel like I am a son of all of you. When I see each beacon of light you have set alight in every corner of the world with the fire of Husayn (as) in your eyes, I can only start to comprehend why God has chosen your feet to be the ultimate door through which one can attain paradise.
The household of the AhulBayt (sawa) wouldn’t exist without a foundation like the personality of Sayyida al-Zahra (as). Similarly, the legacy of Imam al-Husayn wouldn’t have survived without mothers like you. Oh my mothers! You are the prayer of Zahra (as) who’s last wish was for God to create a nation that would cry for her beloved Husayn (as). You are nothing less than the purest manifestation of that prayer. You have walked under the shadow of Zahra (as) all your lives. It is not surprising then, that you have succesfully given birth to individuals that have set Husayn (as) and Zainab (as) as their role models.
I would like to end this piece with a personal reflection. Imam Khomeini had said some years ago about the followers of Imam Husayn (as):
“They call us a nation of tears, but with these tears we have overthrown an empire!”
You are the eyes while We are the tears.
And Wherever we end up, wherever we mourn,
With a single of our tears, with the blink of an eye
We will revive together, in every land we live
A Karbala of our own, an Ashura of our time
And We will stand firm under the waving flag of Abbas
Waiting to be delivered, by the Imam of our time
a son who was blessed to have one of you as a mother