Each year, during the first 10-12 days of Muharram, the words Ya Hussain resonates within. I find myself drawn to remember Karbala, to remember Imam Husain, Ali Asghar the infant son of the Imam, Hur, and so many more.
At one level, remembering these events gives a sense of hope to an activist type like myself: here was an example, an archetype, of this ongoing struggle against injustice.
But, in someways, this would be limiting the meaning of Karbala - why is it that so many millions find themselves sobbing when they hear this story, year after year? Grown macho men, who would consider it so shameful to even shed a tear, break down uncontrollably, tears drenching their cheeks.
These tears cannot be understood at the level of "intellect" or "reason." Although, there are those who would attempt to rationalize away the emotions (Shias are feeling "guilty," or these men are just "showing off" to get a better standing in the community etc.)
This grief is at an emotional level, and points towards a much more deeper meaning of Karbala:
The poet-philosopher Allama Iqbal says:
Unto Love belongs the true believer,
and Love unto him
Love makes all things possible to us.
And, for Iqbal, this Love is the "Secret of the tragedy of Karbala."
The excerpt below is taken from one his epic poems "The Mystries of Selflessness" (Rumuz-i Bekhudi) tranlated by A.J. Arberry.
Concerning Muslim Freedom, and the Secret of the Tragedy of Kerbela
Whoever makes bond with the One
has been delivered from the yoke
of every idol.
Unto Love belongs the true believer, and Love unto him.
Love makes all things possible to us.
Reason is ruthless; Love is even more,
purer, and nimbler, and more unafraid.
Lost in the maze of cause and effect
Love strikes boldly in the field
Crafty reason sets a snare;
Love overthrows the prey with strong right arm.
Reason is rich in fear and doubt; but Love
has firm resolve, faith indissouluble.
Reason constructs, to make a wilderness;
Love lays wide waste, to build all up anew.
Reason is cheap, and plentiful as air;
Love is most scarce to find, and of great price.
Reason stands firm upon phenomena,
But Love is naked of material robes.
Reason says, "Thrust thyself into the fore";
Love answers, "Try thy heart, and prove thyself."
Reason by acquisition is informed
Of other; Love is born of inward grace
And makes account with Self.
Reason declares, "Be happy, and be prosperous";
Love replies,"Become a servant, that you may be free."
Freedom brings full contentment to Love's soul,
Freedom, the driver of Love's riding-beast.
Have you not heard what things in time of war
Love wrought with lustful Reason?
I would speak of the great leader of all men who love
Truly the Lord, that upright cypress-tree
Of the Apostle's garden, Ali's son,
Whose father led the sacrificial feast
That he might prove a mighty offering;
And for the price of the best of men
The Last of the Apostles gave his back
To ride upon, a camel passing fair.
Crimsoned his blood the cheek of jealous Love
(Which theme adorns my verse in beauty bold)
Who is the sublime in our Community
As Say, the Lord is God exalts the Book
Moses and Pharoh, Shabber and Yazid-
From Life spring these conflicting potencies;
Truth lives in Shabbir's strength;
Untruth is that fierce, final anguish of regretful death.
And when the Caliphate first snapped its thread
From the Koran, in Freedom's throat was poured
A fatal poison; like a rain-charged cloud
The effulgence of the best of peoples rose
out of the West, to spill on Kerbela,
And in that soil, that was before, a desert,
Sowed, as he died, a field of tulip-blood.
There, till the Resurrection, tyranny
Was evermore cutoff; a garden fair
Immortalizes where his lifeblood surged.
For Truth alone his blood dripped to dust,
Wherefore he has become edifice
Of faith in God's pure Unity.
Indeed had his ambition been for earthly rule,
Not so provisioned would he have set forth
On his last journey, having enemies
Innumerable as the desert sands,
Equal his friends in number to God's Name.
The mystery that was epitomezed
In Abraham and Ishmael through his life
And death stood forth at last in full revealed.
Firm as a mountain-chain was his resolve,
Impetuous, unwavering to its goal.
The Sword is for the glory of the Faith
And is unsheathed but to defend the Law.
The Muslim, servant unto God alone,
Before no Pharaoh cast down his head.
His blood interpreted these mysteries,
And waked our slumbering Community.
He drew the sword There is -none other god-
And shed the blood of them that saved the lie;
Inscribing in the wilderness -save God-
He wrote for all to read the exordium
Of our salvation.
From Husain we learned the riddle of the Book,
and at his flame kindled our torches.
Vanished now from ken Damascus' might, the splendour of Baghdad,
Granada's majesty, all lost to mind;
Yet still the strings he smote within our soul
Vibrate, still ever new our faith abides
In his Allahu Akbar.
Gentle breeze, thou messenger of them that are afar,
Bear these my tears to splash on his holy dust.