Even if you’ve loved a person since the very day you’ve known to love, it would be unreasonable to think that the relationship you have with your beloved didn’t evolve over time. From childhood to adulthood, a human being goes through a considerable evolution in its intellectual capacity and emotional cognition making it almost impossible to relate to a person in the exact same way while time passes.
Following the first piece of this series entitled ‘Seeds of our Mothers’ where I acknowledged the pivotal role played by our mothers in instilling the love of Aba Abdillah (as) in our hearts, I would like to continue this discussion on Muharram trying to answer the question I had asked myself yesterday: What does Husayn mean to me? What did his love do to me?
Sipping from my cup coffee, I was reading a three part article by Dr. Shomali entitled ‘Spiritual Dimensions of Mourning for Imam Husayn’ in which shaykh summarizes lessons we can learn from Imam Husayn (as) that can lift us from a spiritual standpoint. As expected, amongst the qualities and topics that were often tied to the legacy of Imam Husayn (as) were ideas of patience, struggle, hardship and selflessness. After I had finished the three part article, the time came to write mine own reflections in order to continue the series I had started.
After having described the birth of my flame for Imam Husayn (as), I tried to focus rather rationally on chronological events that followed its planting. Once my mother had sparkled the initial light within me, what was the fuel that was used for the flame keep on going? What was the essence that kept the fire in my heart burning?
When the flower of your love was planted in my heart
Its petals didn’t blossom from the blessings of the rain
The rose of your garden was one of a different kind
It’s love would only be quenched by the thought of your thirst
Many a philosopher have written on Husayn. Great personalities from the Muslim world from the likes of Ayatullah Khomeini, Shaheed Mutahari, Allamah Tabatabai, Abbas Al Qummi and others have extensively written on the Sayyid as-Shuhada (as). The greatness of Imam Husayn’s personality is such that even non-Muslims have consistently and continuously been in awe of our Imam’s stand and it is not surprising that many of the greatest revolutionary leader of the 20th century have been inspired directly or indirectly from the movement of Ashura. And yet, despite being the topic of study of the greatest scholars of our time, despite having inspired the most eloquent poets throughout history, despite holding the deepest lessons of life one can ever imagine to grasp, the one aspect of Imam Husayn’s (as) stand that has touched me the most as a child was nothing else but the most human and fundamental injustice he faced when he was denied something that defines who we are living creatures: water.
There are so many ways I can relate to Imam Husayn (as) today that it bewilders me how his personality and life keep on re-defining the purpose of my existence. Yet, when I think of myself as a kid, Imam Husayn (as) was a figure I had never seen. Struggle and hardships were notions that had no real meaning to me, so trying to define someone through those ideas was something I just could not do. I had never visited Karbala so the land of the tragedy itself was unfamiliar to me. Despite this growing conflict within me of a person I had so much love and affection towards yet a person I couldn’t relate to with the complicated and philosophical words that were used from the pulpit of the majalis (gatherings), the one thing that had always made my tears to flow was the thirst of Husayn (as) and of his daughter Sakina.
This relationship I built as a child with the thirst of Imam Husayn (as) did not grow in a day. Imam Husayn’s thirst has been traditionally a very present theme in poetry and lamentation in our communities. For the Pakistani community, I can safely say that there is no greater symbol of Imam Husayn (as) in our daily lives than his thirst. During Muharram, tables upon tables are set where believers distribute water in the name of Husayn (as). Each and every Pakistani center I have visited during Muharram perpetuated this tradition of welcoming mourners of Imam Husayn (as) with water.
Parents often teach basics etiquettes of eating and behaving on a table to their kids from an early age. Besides eating with the right hand, starting with Bismillah (in the name of Allah) and offering a prayer after finishing my meal, there is one thing my mother always insisted I did: reciting Husayn’s name before I drank. From a very early age, I started remembering Imam Husayn (as) every time I had a sip of water. I therefore started taking his blessed name almost every hour. If you were to ask me what Imam Husayn meant to me I would have said, water.
I later learnt at school that the source of every living being’s life is water. And because Husayn meant water to me, Husayn also meant life.
It is quite understandable that Imam Husayn’s (as) thirst had become the one aspect of his life that had moved me as a kid for it was perhaps the only injustice a child could feel as powerfully as an adult. I would perhaps even argue that as a kid, I felt Imam Husayn’s (as) thirst to a greater degree than I do today in relative terms. One of the reasons why I say this is because as an adult I have developed a control over my thirst. Despite having the same physiological reaction to thirst I had as a kid, the maturity I gained with time was such that, my thirst could be dampened. I don’t have to drink as soon as I feel I need water anymore. I learned to live with thirst for longer periods and eventually when the month of Ramadan comes, I don’t even realize a month has passed without drinking a single drop of water from dawn to sunset.
But think about yourself as a kid. Can you picture yourself running to your father and asking for a glass of water? Not being able to wait, not understanding this growing urge within you? Not comprehending this constant demand of your body for a fluid so weak in essence? And now, picture yourself at majalis (gatherings) and listening to this story of man who was denied water for three days. Picture a man holding his six-month-old baby who was denied the very glass of water your father would leave every errand of his to give you. Picture this three-year-old daughter who had waited for days before asking her uncle for a sip of water.
This is the single most aspect of the mourning for Imam Husayn (as) that had firmly rooted my love for him in my heart. I knew what thirst meant as a kid. And when I learnt that a man I didn’t know, in a land I never visited, in a time I didn’t live in, with his three-year-old daughter and a baby was denied for three days, what my parents cannot even think to refuse me for three minutes, I just couldn’t stop crying.
I will be honest and say that at that time, it didn’t matter to me what their stand was. My love for Imam Husayn’s (as) justice, his akhlaq (morals), and humanitarian characteristics had no place in my love for him at that time. I fell in love with my Imam (as) over his thirst. Therefore, the first tears I shed on Imam al-Husayn (as) were shed out of compassion for a man who was denied the most fundamental element without which one cannot exist. From an early age, Husayn’s thirst had become the only water that could quench the needs of the growing seed of love my mother had planted in my heart. As a child, I could summarize Imam Husayn’s (as) tragedy in few words. Husayn was denied water. And therefore, he was denied life. And this reality was enough for me to sit hours upon hours, listening to the lamentations of a mother who had lost her six-month-old baby, or the cries of a three-year-old daughter who had seen her uncle fall.
“But Baba, we don’t even do that to animals, why did they treat him like this?”
This question kept returning to me again and again. When I couldn’t find any reasonable answer, the growing love I had for Imam al-Husayn (as) meant that I had an equally growing hatred for the perpetrators of this inhumane crime. While the name of Husayn would make me cry, at the name of Yazid I would tighten my fist.
I don’t think I have ever hated anyone more than the criminals of Karbala. This hatred was so deeply rooted within me that years later, when I watched the famous epic series of Mokhtarnameh, depicting the unfolding of events that lead Al Mukhtar’s rebellion in order to avenge the blood of Karbala, I could not remain seated at the sight of Shimr’s impersonator. I cursed him with all my heart when he first came on the screen as if I was seeing someone who had beheaded my own father. My hatred for those criminals was such that during the end of that series, every time al-Mukhtar would send one of those criminals to hell, I would feel a sincere joy and a happiness beyond description.
Since I have entitled this piece ‘The thirst that watered the seed’ in reference to the thirst of Imam Husayn (as) which has been a catalyst in the shaping of my love for him, I would like to dedicate this piece to the countless individuals in this world who are constantly denied the single most important right bestowed by Allah (swt) to every living being on earth.
We often say that every day is Ashura, every land is Karbala.
Therefore, I would like to dedicate this piece to thirsty ones wherever they be. The only ones who can truly say that each of their days is Ashura, and every land they see is Karbala.
The idea of the fire is set alight but it needs wood to burn
The seed was planted, but it needed water to grow its roots
Editor’s note: This is a part of a series of personal reflections during the blessed and holy nights of Muharram by guest contributor, Reza Abbas Farishta. Read more here.