The Unsung Heroes of Karbala

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Peace be upon the Companions of Imam Hussain!While we are awaiting the arrival of our 12th Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance), are there skills we have that can be cultivated to serve the Imam of our time? Are we using our skills for the right purposes?

Peace be upon the Companions of Imam Hussain!Quality, not Quantity

Why were there so few companions in Karbala on the side of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) in comparison to the enemy? There are a number of reasons that there were so few, yet we must realize that the quality of these men outshines the quantity. Yazid’s army had thousands of men, but history has shown their quality.

When Imam Hussain first arrived in Karbala, he explained to his companions, “People [who] are slaves of the world regard religion like a thing which possesses a good taste. So far as they enjoy its taste upon their tongues, they keep it inside their mouths. But when religion becomes a thing for their being tested, the number of religious people becomes very small.”

If the Imam was just concerned about numbers, he would not have repeatedly told his companions that they were free to leave him. The Imam had the best of the best, and on the eve of Ashura, none of the companions deserted him. Not one. Each man understood the significance of what he was doing and why he was there. Each one chose to sacrifice himself for the Imam’s goals. Some joined Imam during his journey to Karbala, and others came to him there.

Their Qualities

The people of Kufa among the Imam’s companions were known as the heart of their city. Many were well-known nobles and influential people. They were famous for their piety, and even the enemy was aware of their reputation. One example is Burayr son of Khuzayr, who had been a companion of Imam Ali (peace be upon him) as well. The enemies said Burayr was a man who never lied, and that he was a teacher and a reader of the Qur’an – the “Sheikh of Qaris”.

Apparently for the wider Kufan public, it was a mystery how such “prayerful and abstemious” men had committed themselves to war. (However, they were on the receiving end of what was obviously a one-sided war.) They had committed themselves to a battle for the truth, and serving the Imam in every capacity is a part of piety.

Being pious is not limited to offering prayers; it is applicable to every part of life. The companions proved their piety in prayer and in war when they defended their Imam. They proved their piety in their behavior, by being the best they could be: in Karbala, they remained disciplined and organized. They waited for the Imam to guide them and did not act brashly on their own. They also had excellent manners. They treated women with respect, and they did not look down upon each other because of age differences.

Coming from a variety of backgrounds, the companions included slaves who were alongside those nobles of Kufa. Those slaves may have had a low worldly status, but due to their deeds, they became the elites of the hereafter. The companions were not thinking of their Muslim brothers’ economic class; they were looking at the person on the inside. They set an example for those who want to be considered companions of their Imam today. Do the believers seek unity based around on values or based simply on race or class?

In Karbala, there were companions from different tribes and regions. There were youths and there were elderly veterans who had fought in wars under Imam Ali. Some of the elders had been companions of the Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) himself. The men were skilled in battle and renowned for their bravery as well as their goodness. Not only that, but many were skilled in poetry. They even used that skill to serve the Imam.

While we are awaiting the arrival of our 12th Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance), are there skills we have that can be cultivated to serve the Imam of our time? Are we using our skills for the right purposes?

Poetry was used by those companions to express support for Imam Hussain, to give reassurance of their protection of him and his family, and to convey their pleasure at being of service. They expressed love for the Imam and for his grandfather in verse and spoke to the enemy of the right path too.

On the night of Ashura, Burayr was so happy to be on the right path that he even had good humor at such a time when it would be difficult to do so. Burayr was outside a tent with another companion, Abdur Rahman, when he joked with him. Abdur Rahman exclaimed, “This isn’t the time for wits!” Burayr responded, “My relatives know that I was never a witty person neither in my youth nor in my old age, but since I have been given the glad tidings of eternal salvation, I feel like exploding with joy and don’t see any distance left between me and Paradise except martyrdom.”

Taking a look at the army of Yazid under Omar son of Sa’ad, yes, the number of people was many. A number of the companions had relatives amongst his men. However, when it came to the truth, blood ties did not matter, and that holds true today as well. Shimr’s own nephews were on Imam Hussain’s side, and they rejected his protection unanimously. There were several fathers and sons who were together on Imam’s side in Karbala, and brothers as well, but there were also brothers who were on opposite sides.

In Omar son of Saad’s army were the common people of Kufa and the suburban tribes, who were fighting for various reasons, such as to simply obey their ruler no matter what, to fulfill military obligations, and to get worldly rewards. Some in the army did not want to fight Imam but lacked the willpower to resist the oppressors. However, there were others who made the right choice and changed sides, becoming martyred companions of Imam Hussain.

Those who made that right choice had come to Karbala as part of Omar son of Saad’s army, and they had said to him on the tenth night of Muharram, “When the son of the Holy Prophet’s daughter [Imam Hussain] proposed three alternatives to you so that war doesn’t start, why didn’t you accept any of them?” This group of thirty men made their objections and left to join Imam Hussain’s camp.

One of them was a former commander of Imam Ali’s forces in Kufa. Another was Zahir son of Salim, whose name is listed in Ziyarat Nahiya. They are examples that it is never too late to repent if one does so sincerely. Here they were coming to Imam’s side on the last night after being part of Omar son of Saad’s army, and they died as martyrs and are today offered salutations and the highest regards by Shias in Ziyarats.

When reciting the salutations to the companions who were martyred on Ashura, it is important to remember that everyone has a choice between good and evil. The ultimate decision lies with us, and those companions had the same choices. They made the right decision, even though it was the harder one. They were in the minority, but that did not stop them. They still held on to their values and beliefs and were protecting Islam at a time when it was dangerous to do so. Today Shias in general are a minority. Are we holding on to our values and beliefs? Would we drop everything to help the Imam of our time? Would we still stay and serve him if he kindly allowed us to go away?

The Last Night

On the night of Ashura, Imam said to his companions, “I haven’t seen anyone better or more loyal than my own companions. Also, I don’t know any family more obedient and committed to family ties than my own Ahlul Bayt. May Allah bless you with His rewards for supporting me!”

That night, after Imam gave his sermon in which he said his companions could leave if they wanted to, Zuhayr son of Qayn stood up.

Zuhayr had first been on the enemy’s side during the Imam’s journey to Karbala. At one of the stops, Imam had sent over a messenger requesting a meeting. Zuhayr was shocked at the request, and then his wife spoke, putting into action a new chain of events. She was one of many women who gave sacrifices for the Imam in her own way. Women were not to fight on the battlefield, but they contributed to the events at Karbala in their own ways, which included encouraging their male relatives to support Imam Hussain.

Zuhayr’s wife had said: “Glory to Allah! The Holy Prophet’s Son has called you, has sent someone to see you, and how would you refuse to see him? Why don’t you visit him and hear his words?!” He went, came back glowing, and said to his wife: “I have divorced you because I don’t like that you should face anything except good from my side. I have decided to remain in Imam’s company and to sacrifice my life upon him.” He gave his wife money, supplies, and assigned cousins to escort her until the end of her journey. His wife bade farewell to him while weeping, saying, “May Allah be your helper and protector, bestow upon you good in this journey, and don’t forget to mention about this, my self-sacrifice, to Imam’s Grandfather on the Day of Judgment.”

Now it was the last night of his life, and Zuhayr, as a companion of Imam, was standing up after the Imam’s sermon. He said, “O Son of the Holy Prophet! We have heard your words. If our world was forever, and we would have been living there as eternal, we would have preferred to join you in your uprising and be killed with you rather than remaining in that world.” Burayr then stood up and said words echoing Zuhayr’s sentiments.

Then, Nafi’ son of Hilal al-Jamali got up. He had been a companion of Imam Ali and was known as a recorder of traditions and a reader of the Holy Qur’an. So many companions were known for their relationships with the Qur’an, for being reciters of it. But they were not those who just recited it and nothing else. They actually followed it and were protecting it.
The next day, Nafi was to kill many enemies and would be extremely courageous until his last breath. This night, Nafi said, “O Son of the Holy Prophet, you know that even the Holy Prophet couldn’t succeed in having his love inside the hearts of all the way he desired. Not all of them surrendered to his commands. Because among the people, there were hypocrites who promised to support but deep inside their hearts possessed the intentions of deceit. This group while they were in front of him appeared sweeter than honey, but behind his back were bitterer than colocynth, until Almighty Allah decided to take him under His blessing. Your father Imam Ali encountered the same problem. A group arose for his support and he waged war against the [enemies at the Battles of Jamal and Siffin] and the [Kharijites of Nahrawan] until his term came to end, and he too hurried towards eternal abode to live near Allah’s blessing. And today, you are facing the same situation! Whoever broke his promise and removed allegiance from his neck is a loser, and Allah will make you needless of him. With us, wherever you want to go, whether towards east or west, you may do so. By Allah, we aren’t afraid of our destiny and don’t regard Allah’s countenance as unpleasant. We, because of our intentions and farsightedness, love whoever loves you, and whoever shows enmity towards you, we too consider him as our enemy.”

The astuteness of the companions in assessing the situation, understanding the people, and connecting history is obvious. The loyalty and devotion they showed towards the Imam of their time is something to aspire to, for we today have our own Imam Mahdi to pledge allegiance to. Let us not be like those who only pledged allegiance with their tongues and not their hearts.

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