Everyday Lessons from Karbala

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How beautiful a story is Ashura that our mothers, fathers, young kids, teenagers, and adults can all learn from it! The Imam’s dear daughter Sakina bore her tragedy with nothing but patience. As she was thirsty for days, as she watched her uncle, brothers, cousins, and father murdered in front of her eyes, she was patient. How impatient are we?

We’ve all heard the joke – or complaint, if you will – about Shias only practicing our beliefs for that one month of Muharram. Some even say it is only for 10 days that most Shias care to even dedicate ourselves to our religion – many will stop listening to music, many will not wear colors, some will even fast, the list can go on. Yet we have all heard:

Every day is Ashura, every land is Karbala.

But what is it in our hearts and minds that stops us from learning and benefiting from the everyday lessons of Karbala? Are the lessons and sacrifices from that event only valuable and dear to us for those 10 day, or just one month?

Maybe it is because the perspective we hear it from. Many times we find speakers giving the idea that we feel sorry for Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) and his family, and the reason we should be more careful about our actions in those ten days, or month of Muharram, is because we are sad and always remembering what happened, as if our family member passed away. This is definitely a good view, because we are sorrowful, especially on the day of Ashura, as we try and remember all day long that many years ago, on this same day, the tragic events that took place on the battlefield.

I prefer to take a different view on the story in order to try and better my actions all year long, every day. Muharram and the events in Karbala are our foundation as Shias. I always wonder why. Why should an event that took place on one day play such a huge role in our lives? And not just any event, but a battle in which all of our dear ones were killed, and a war that would make most people immediately see our side as the weak, poor, and helpless. How can a story like this help to empower and motivate me to be a better Muslim every day of my life?

As many modern folk today would say, “Such a sad story will not help me live a positive life today. It is so sad and depressing.” But there are many ways to tell a story. My reply to those people is: how can such a triumph not motivate me and make me proud to be a follower of this Path?

How can I not be motivated by a man who gives up his everything for the sake of his religion, who is so in love and at peace with his God that his life had no doubt, and he was full of certainty for every action he took? Many of us could use certainty in our lives. We are in dire need to be at peace with our God, instead of war and doubt. How did Imam Hussain become so intrigued and devoted? Could it be from the fact that he gave so much importance to his prayers? Or maybe because his every thought was, “How can I save my religion from looking bad?”

Aside from that lesson, we see a lesson of forgiveness. The same man who came to Imam and basically took him to the battlefield to begin the war came begging for forgiveness when he realized his mistake, and not only was he forgiven, he was also accepted and granted heaven. Why do we claim to be followers of Imam Hussain when we cannot even forgive our brothers and sisters for minor mistakes? We hold grudges and anger, cut off relations, and cause tension. Rather than holding that grudge, why do we not emulate our Imam’s actions and forgive and let go of small issues? Hurr, the man who took Imam Hussain and his family to their mournful day, was forgiven! Yet we hold grudges to the point where we stop saying Salam to our own community members. I can only imagine how much more happy and peaceful our communities would be if we took a lesson on how to forgive others from our Imam!

There is a character in this story for every age group. How beautiful a story is Ashura that our mothers, fathers, young kids, teenagers, and adults can all learn from it! The Imam’s dear daughter Sakina bore her tragedy with nothing but patience. As she was thirsty for days, as she watched her uncle, brothers, cousins, and father murdered in front of her eyes, she was patient. How impatient are we? How upset do we become with our parents if they ask us to repeat what we said? Or if they forget how to do something in which we have already showed them how to do once before? How impatient are we when in a line for food at our centers? How many times do we complain? How often do we complain of heat, rain, or cold? Our sicknesses? These things do not only occur on one day, they occur every day, all year long, and the lesson of patience is taught to us by this precious little girl, merely four or five years old, in three or four days.

What lesson do we learn from our beloved Hazrat Abbas? Who is so devoted and dedicated to his leader that he is in complete awe of him? Who gave his limbs to fetch water for his niece? Who, regardless of being just as thirsty as the rest of the family, did not even take a sip of water when he reached the river, because he did not want to drink first? What lifelong lesson does this teach us? Yes, he did die thirsty, but he died with dignity and honor. He died knowing that he lived up to his duties and tried the best he could. How easily do we give up? It is difficult for us to pray five times a day on time – some of us just quit, while others keep trying, and we complain about it. How many times did we read Facebook statuses or text messages in the month of Ramadan about hungry we were, or how we can’t wait until Iftar time? How many times do we complain about issues in our community centers, instead of actually doing something about it? How many times do we help to honor our religion instead of degrading it and questioning it for the sake of questioning?

The final lesson is one that should be pondered about often: the lesson which teaches us to live with character, with pride of our religion, and most importantly, a lesson which makes us realize that we have a duty. We are not here to eat, drink, sleep, and party. We are not here to only make money, get married, and have kids. By all means, do those things in the right way as prescribed, but learn a lesson from the lady who told the story to the world. Realize that no matter what calamities happen to us, no matter we lose our children, our father, or a baby nephew – from God we come, and to God we return. Lady Zainab taught us exactly that. No matter what will happen to us, stand tall, and be strong. As a woman – who are considered more emotional of the two genders – she held back from mourning the deaths of her family members so that she could take care of business. How many of us, when struck with shortage of money, become depressed? When going through a “break-up” or relationship problems, become angered and crude? How many of us today become embarrassed to be Muslim when shown the possible outcomes of showing it? How many Muslims women and girls have removed their Hijabs from fear of post-9/11 actions? Lady Zainab had so much self-respect that she covered her face with her hair when she had no choice, and here we are today, so easily loosening our scarves, wearing figure-revealing clothes, and showing arm and even bangs just so we can “fit in”.

When will we learn the lesson of realizing our duty, that we need to promote justice and tell the story of Islam to everyone we meet, every day – through our words, but better yet, through our actions? Not only in Muharram, but when our non-Muslim friends ask why we can’t come out on Friday night and we explain, almost embarrassed, in whatever way, because it is Muharram and we have to go to our “church”? When will we learn that we must spread Islam so they can learn about the equality, love, and devotion that it brings to one’s life?

We first need to learn lessons from the characters of the story we have heard since childhood. Pick a favorite, and be like them. Be like baby Ali Asghar who, even though he could not speak, wanted to help his religion be known for its justice. Or maybe be like Imam Sajjad (peace be upon him) who, even though sick, told the story to others so they could know the truth. Maybe your favorite can be young Ali Akbar, who was full of energy and could not wait to battle, was not afraid of death, but more than happy to give his life, again, for the sake of honoring his religion.

All of these blessed lives can represent us in some way. Maybe we are still “babies” like Ali Asghar and cannot speak the language of our Imams, but we can still have a desire to help. And maybe we are like Lady Zainab, who was strong, and able to “do it for the team”. And surely if we take lesson from any of them, and implement it all year long, we can end up with the certainty and love for our God that even a thousand-soldier army, call it the social pressures of today, cannot stop us from choosing right over wrong.’

When will we be proud to Muslim?

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