With his face covered with a mask, the horseman rode triumphantly as the streets of Kufa rang with jubilant cries of "Allahu Akbar!" and "Ya Hussain!". As the man neared the governor's palace, it seemed like the entire city had come out in a show of love and support. After so many calls for him to rise, the Imam had eventually risen. Each and every one of them seemed ready to pledge his allegiance, to join his Imam's fight against the tyrant caliph Yazid, and to lay down his life defending the Imam. Amid the excitement, the man suddenly removed the mask from his face. A deafening silence came upon the crowd. Eyeing each of them with a cruel and deceptive smile was not their Imam but rather the infamous governor of Basra – Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad.
Alarmed by the growing support for Muslim ibn Aqeel (peace be upon him) in Kufa, Yazid appointed the governor of Basra, Ibn Ziyad, as the new governor of Kufa. Ibn Ziyad arrived in Kufa with a small entourage of soldiers and his face covered with a cloth. Having proudly proclaimed their allegiance to Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) via Muslim, the people of Kufa joyously gathered in the streets thinking that the Imam had finally responded to their call. However, when Ibn Ziyad removed the veil from his face, they were shocked to discover that they had in fact mistaken Yazid's governor for the Imam of their time!
As Ibn Ziyad initiated a reign of terror in Kufa, support for Muslim ibn Aqeel began to dwindle. Ibn Ziyad's strategy was simple yet effective: a bag of gold in one hand, a sword in the other. Those who couldn't be threatened with death were bought over by a few pieces of gold and silver. A week later, the appointed representative of the Imam, who once led tens of thousands in prayers at the Mosque of Kufa, was now hiding in dark alleys and abandoned houses.
Some may balk at the idea of comparing ourselves to the fickle and treacherous people of Kufa. Yet are we really that different? Like the people of Kufa, we call upon our Imam to return and to start his Jihad. Like the people of Kufa, we think that we are ready to bear the pain and sacrifices. Like the people of Kufa, we think we are willing to move beyond the simple rituals and mundane routines of prayer and fasting and effect social and political justice in the world.
And yet we fail to ask ourselves: might we repeat the mistake the Kufans made? The people of Kufa were not inherently evil or bad. Rather, their chief fault was that they called upon their Imam to rise up without being mentally and spiritually prepared for it. Therefore, when they were faced with a governor like Ibn Ziyad, half of them submitted to his sword, while the other half to his bags of gold and silver. Suddenly, establishing social justice and fighting oppression was not so important. Suddenly, restoring the rights of the children of Fatima (peace be upon her) did not seem so vital. Suddenly, the rituals of prayer and fasting seemed plenty sufficient to earn salvation. Suddenly, the sword of Ibn Ziyad seemed too sharp, and the bags of silver too tempting.
Let us ask ourselves: are we spiritually and mentally ready to join the Jihad of our Imam? Are we equipped with the correct knowledge of beliefs, jurisprudence, history, and ethics? Are we willing to sacrifice ourselves, our families, our wealth, and our comfortable and peaceful lives for his sake? Are we willing to peaceably submit to each and every one of his commands? In the meantime, are we pledging our allegiance and providing support to his collective representative, the Marjaiyyah? Are we willing to face the sword wounds as well as the temptations of gold and silver? Are we able to distinguish between our real Imam and the masked pretenders whom we mistake as our saviors? Are we truly willing and able to move beyond the superficial rituals?
The people of Kufa believed they were, but history proved otherwise. As a reign of terror unfolded across Kufa, suddenly the passion and drive for social justice were replaced by an apathy that was easily satiated by empty rituals. On the 9th of Dhil Hajj, 60 AH, Muslim ibn Aqeel, the representative of the Imam in Kufa, was arrested, dragged through the streets, tortured, and beheaded. His body was hung in the marketplace of Kufa for all to see. The next day, the Kufans joyously ran to offer their Eid prayers, conceding the body no more than a few pity glances. A month later, as the plains of Karbala rang with Imam Hussain's last cry for help, half the Kufans peaceably went about their prayers and fasts. The other half responded to his call with arrows, stones, and spears.
Every day is Ashura. Every land is Karbala. Fourteen hundred years later, an Imam still calls out for his loyal followers.