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Night 6: Half of my Faith Through Karbala

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

A suffocating silence had taken over me. A silence so empty and hollow that it made me aware of the growing restlessness I was experiencing within. I lit a scented candle and tried to light up my room in the hope that it would blow away the anxiety that had taken over my soul. The candle was burning, sacrificing its life in order to spread light and fragrance. Within minutes, the discomfort I was experiencing had left my vicinity making room for reflection and contemplations.

I have often thought about those moments. Those inexplicable oscillations of the soul, swaying from complete tranquility to a characteristic unease. We all experience those contrasting feelings and we have all, in our own ways, developed ways to recognize moments that might trigger them, and ways by which we could bring them to an end.

I didn’t worry too much about this particular moment of nervousness. We were in the middle of Muharram, which was a unique time of the year. Muharram was the month when the name of Husayn (as) would bring about unbearable memories of a lonely man fighting for freedom, suppressing the usual memories I had of a joyful child playing over the Prophet’s back. Muharram was a transition. Celebrations of Eid al Ghadeer where followers of the AhlulBayt (s) were found clapping their hands were now giving room to the sorrowful beating of the chest. Muharram meant that I shed more tears of grief on the tragedy that befell on the family of the pure, than tears of happiness on the blessings they have always been in my life.

Despite being conscious of the fact that it was only natural for a lover of Imam al-Husayn (as) to experience restlessness during those important nights, I tried to ponder over moments during which I finally felt those agitated waves of unease, bashing against the shores my soul, had regained their everlasting stillness. It is while contemplating over those moments that I came to an important realization that made me question the purpose of my life.

When I thought about it more, the only thing I had done to experience the tranquility that had left me momentarily was to light a candle and bring about the remembrance of Allah (swt) in my life. There is so much depth in the truth of His existence that stepping, even in the most distant spheres of His existence, inherently brings peace to the wayfaring mind. The tranquility that the name of Allah brings to our hearts is so embedded in our mind and soul that anything that reminds us of the Almighty becomes a source of comfort. In order words, anything that helps us achieve the ultimate purpose of our life becomes a means towards salvation. Any path leading towards the completion of our faith becomes one in which we stride towards. Amongst the various ways, in which one can enter higher realms of spiritual awareness on the journey that leads to the remembrance of Allah, is to allow another soul to share the path of love you have to chosen to walk on.

Following the discussion started on the first night of Muharram in which I have tried to analyze different ways in which Imam al-Husayn (as) and the tragedy of Karbala have shaped my life and faith, I would like to continue this series by answering the same question I had asked myself since the beginning of this blessed month: what does Husayn mean to me? What did his love do to me?

Now that my love for Imam al-Husayn had attained maturity and its fragrance had become apparent, the natural thing to do now, was to ponder over the core of its being and the purpose of its existence. And one of the most important moments that defines the life of an adult is the moment when he decided to secure half of his faith through the blessings of marriage. In this piece, I will try to analyze how events that in  Karbala have shaped my vision of what a successful marriage should be.

“The person who marries gains half of his faith, then he must fear of Allah for the next remaining half.” (Al-Kafi, vol 5, p328).

I don’t think I know a narration more famous than the one that I have quoted above. It is so famous that I don’t even think there was a need for me to insert it literally in this piece. If you were to ask anyone at the mosque, which hadith (tradition) mentions an act that secures half of one’s faith, everyone would tell you that it is the hadith that points towards the blessings of marriage.

There are countless lectures, books, and narrations on marriage, all of them from great scholars and writers which only reflects the importance given to this institution it the religion of Islam. You will find that Islam hasn’t left any of its aspects unexplained. From spouse selection, to building a family, and raising children, everything one needs to know about sharing a life with another soul is tackled in a way or another in primary Islamic sources.

Like everyone else having reached such a state, I have tried to ponder over these realities of life. When I started reading about this subject from different Islamic sources, I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of information on the subject.  There are so many different ways in which marriage can impact your life that it can become a daunting task to summarize in few words; qualities that you should look in a spouse, and the vision you must have when choosing to walk on that path.

Like every other nights of contemplation, I turned towards the plains of Nainawa in order to find answers to my queries. The questions I had asked myself were simple: ‘What is the fundamental quality that one must look for in a spouse? And what is the vision one needs to have in mind in order to achieve successful marriage in the eyes of Allah (swt)?’

Ask any follower of the house of the Prophet (s) about what constitutes for them the perfect example of a successful marriage; they will all reply Ali and Fatima. And how could they do otherwise?  The marriage of Imam Ali (as) and Sayyida Fatima (as) was not a mere union of two souls having met on earth. It was rather a decree from heaven, carried on the shoulder of the noble archangel Jibreel (Gabriel), which united two perfect human beings into one. Philosophers will tell you that perfection is inseparable and there cannot exist two perfect human beings unless there essence is one. Therefore, the marriage of Sayyida Fatima al-Zahra (as) with Imam Ali (as) shouldn’t be seen a punctual event written in history. It should be regarded as a union that always existed in the spiritual realm. Their marriage on earth was just the physical manifestation of a truth that was known to God from the moment He created their lights from His own.

Despite being the single most perfect example of marital harmony, the marriage of Ali and Fatima, was not the one I thought about when reflecting upon these questions. I tried to think about reasons that made me overlook this blessed union, and the only plausible explanation I came up with was that my imperfection could not fully relate to their own perfection.

While holding their marriage as the ultimate example of the harmony one needs to strive towards, I tried to answer those questions from a different perspective. Instead of learning lessons from perfection itself, a cognitive task we all do when we try to take lessons from the life of fourteen masoomeen (infallibles), I tried to look at the best examples of imperfect human beings that have shaped their marriage on the love of Imam Ali (as) and Sayyida Fatima (as). In other words, I tried to take lessons from historical personalities that have achieved the highest level of perfection within their imperfect realities.   

I have often heard that Karbala is a university from which one can learn every lessons of life in order to fulfill the purpose of one’s existence. Reading from the Maqtal ul Husayn by Abi Makhnaf, I soon realized that it was through the life of one of Imam al-Husayn’s companions that I would be able to find a relatable example of how marriage can pragmatically mean saving half of your faith.

That companion is no one else but Zuhair al-Qayn. I have learnt more lessons from the life of Zuhair al-Qayn than perhaps any of the other I have read about. I am not saying that in order to rank virtues of the noble companions of our Imam (as). I think I have personally connected with the life of Zuhair al-Qayn because I could relate to his stand in a very pragmatic way.

I am sure you are aware of the background that surrounded the meeting of Zuhair with Imam al-Husayn. According to the Maqtal of Abu Makhnaf (Chapter 4, Meeting of Zuhayr ibn Qayn with Imam Hussain), although travelling alongside the caravan of Imam al-Husayn (as), the caravan of Zuhair would always stop before or after the one of our Imam in order to avoid any dialogue or conversation. Aware of the sociopolitical background in which Imam al-Husayn was evolving, Zuhair al Qayn tried to avoid meeting the grandson of the prophet.

However, at one place his caravan was forced to rest at the same place and the same time as the caravan of Imam al-Husayn, and the moment which Zuhair had avoided all along, became a reality.

Quoting from Allamah Husayn Ansarian’s famous book The Islamic Family Structure, Zuhair was eating when Imam al-Husayn (as) sent one of his representatives in other to invite Zuhair for a meeting. Perplexed and confused, Zuhair was in a seemingly difficult position. He didn’t feel obliged to answer the call of Imam al-Husayn as he was not one of his companions nor was he a companion of his father, Imam Ali (as). Despite not sharing religious and political allegiance that might define other companions of the likes of Habib ibn Madhaher, Zuhair was nonetheless aware of the status of Imam al-Husayn (as) and the AhlulBayt (s) and therefore, even though he didn’t want to help them directly, he did not want be counted as one the killers of the grandson of the Prophet. So one can understand how this neutrality Zuhair wanted to maintain could no longer exist as he was formally invited by Imam al-Husayn for a discussion in which it would become apparent as to who was one the right path and who was not.

It is said that a moment of silence took over the tent of Zuhair after Imam al-Husayn’s (as) envoy had sent the message. A silent moment in which Zuhair knew he was deciding between life and death. Accepting a meeting with Imam al-Husayn would mean joining his ranks and accepting a certain death. Denying al-Husayn’s invitation meant he wouldn’t be able to meet his Prophet with dignity in paradise. And as polarized and easy to distinguish these choices seemed on paper, Zuhair could not decide what outcome would suit better, the purpose of life he had chosen for himself.

This unbearable silence was broken by the wife of Zuhair, Delham, when the sincerity of her heart and the love for the AhlulBayt (s) it fostered spoke out and said:

“O’ Zuhair! The son of the Prophet (as) is calling you and you do not go? Glory be to God! Go and see what he has to say. Listen to him and return.”

It is not entirely known what Imam al-Husayn has said to Zuahir as historical accounts remain vague when it comes to actual conversation that happened between them. What is narrated though, is that Zuhair came back from this meeting as a reinvigorated man. He was smiling and all signs of confusion and anxiety had left him.

Soon after he returned from the meeting, Zuhair met his wife and announced to her that he was to join the caravan of Imam al-Husayn (as) and that he had decided to free her from her marital duties, had given her all his wealth and belonging and that she must seek refuge with her family as he didn’t want her to face any harm because of him.

At this point, Delham parted with Zuhair. But before parting, she cried and said:
“God be your helper and want the best for you! In this last moment of ours, I have a request for you. On the Day of Judgment when you are admitted to the presence of Husayn’s (as) grandfather – the Prophet (s), rmember me and don’t forget me!”

‘What is the fundamental quality that one must look for in a spouse? And what is the vision one needs to have in mind in order to achieve successful marriage in the eyes of Allah?’

These were the questions I had asked myself on this blessed night of Muharram. And it is precisely the conversation that took place between Zuhair and his wife that has answered them all.

Like any other human being, we will all face sooner or later, a moment in life in which we will have to choose between right and wrong, between pleasing Allah (swt) and pleasing others, between the Imam (aj) of our time, and the opponents he has today. We will be faced with moments of confusion, of anxiety and restlessness. Moments during which lighting a candle and remembering Allah (swt) might not be sufficient. Moments that will come unexpected and will catch us of guard. It is precisely during those moments that those who will be blessed with a pious spouse will experience what it means to have a second chance. They will experience what it is to have a physical reminder of what it meant to be an companion of Imam al-Husayn over 1300 years ago, and what it means today to be a supporter of his grandson, al-Mahdi, may Allah (swt) hasten his reappearance.

This conversation between Zuhair and Delham never fails to inspire me. I have often thought about the tradition of the Prophet (s) I quoted earlier about marriage being a mean of salvation, which secures half of a man’s faith. Whenever I think about this tradition, I think of Delham and how blessed Zuhair was to have her in her life.

This conversation was the one that triggered the meeting between Zuhair and Imam al-Husayn (as). Had Delham not been present, Zuhair might not have been present in the land of Karbala and his name wouldn’t come on our lips with salutations and blessings. Had Delham not been present at the moment, I doubt the name of Zuhair would have survived the way it did.

Through the personality of Delham, I have found a pragmatic example of the one fundamental characteristic I think one should look for in a life partner: a person that constantly reminds one of Allah through her/his love for the AhlulBayt (s).

When it comes to the vision one needs to have in mind in order to achieve a successful marriage, I would again define it using the conversation between Delham and Zuhair. In my opinion, a successful marriage is one in which two imperfect souls attain together a level of piety otherwise unattainable individually. It is a marriage in which those two individuals strive towards joining their Imams (s) in paradise together on a single path rather than individually following distinct directions.

Sometimes, such a vision might contradict a well-established and idealized tale of a couple living happily ever after. Delham and Zuhair are actually the perfect example of this contradiction. In their life, their divorce had become the ultimate expression of their successful marriage. Zuhair divorced his wife in order to free her from the oppression of Banu Umayyah, while Dulham’s words had freed Zuhair from the temptation of what Banu Umayyah had to offer. Even though they had parted in the eyes of the world, I have no doubt that on the day of rising, they will join the caravan of Husayn (as) together, as a perfect example of what it means to be love one another for the sake of Aba Abdillah.

I would like to dedicate this modest piece to all couples who are striving to become better humans beings through the blessings of their love for Aba Abdillah. I pray that Allah blesses every one of us with a successful marriage like the one that defined the life of Zuhair and Delham in order for us to emulate the lives of Sayyida Zahra and Imam Ali.

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