Why the Month of Muharram is Important to Muslims

MAGAZINE: EDITION AUGUST 2020

ISLAMIC HISTORY • MUHARRAM

Shutterstock | rasoulali

Rabeeb Mirza, London, UK

‘O ye who believe! seek help with patience and Prayer; surely, Allah is with the steadfast. And say not of those who are killed in the cause of Allah that they are dead; nay, they are living; only you perceive not. And We will try you with something of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives, and fruits; but give glad tidings to the patient, Who, when a misfortune overtakes them, say, ‘Surely, to Allah we belong and to Him shall we return.’ It is these on whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy, and it is these who are rightly guided.’ [1]

In the Islamic Calendar, the month of Muharram signifies the start of the new Islamic year. However, for Muslims around the world it is not a time to rejoice or welcome the new year with celebrations. This is because historically speaking it was during this month that one of the greatest tragedies befell Islam and it is thus remembered as one of the darkest days recorded in the pages of Islamic history. The beloved grandson of the Holy Prophet (sa), Hazrat Imam Hussein (ra), along with his family and companions were mercilessly martyred at the orders of the impure Yazid on the fields of Karbala.

Among the factors which led to the tragic events of Karbala disagreement over whether the mantle of caliphate is bestowed by God Almighty alone. Hazrat Amir Muawiyah (ra), Yazid’s father and a companion of the Holy Prophet (sa), had rebelled against Hazrat Ali (ra), (who was the fourth Caliph of the Holy Prophet (sa) and the father of Hazrat Imam Hussain (ra)) and established his own authority by declaring himself the Caliph. Before his demise, Hazrat Amir Muawiyah (ra) appointed his son, Yazid, as his heir. Hazrat Imam Hussain (ra) and other prominent companions opposed his appointment and refused to take his bai’at [a pledge of allegiance].

It should be made clear that Hazrat Imam Hussain (ra) did not have any personal desire to acquire any power or title; rather he believed that caliphate was divinely appointed and could not be simply inherited. It was an opposition to this fundamental principle which led to the tragic event of Karbala. Explaining this point, Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as), the Promised Messiah and Mahdi has written,

‘Hazrat Imam Hussain (ra) did not want to do the bai’at at the hands of a transgressor; otherwise it would have discredited the religion.’ [2]

Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra), the second Caliph and worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community has explained that due to the fact that the appointment of Yazid as caliph was not in accordance to the dictates of the shariah [Islamic law], therefore he could not be called a caliph. He states,

‘If it is said that the appointment of Yazid by Muawiyah (ra) can also be called an election because he also presented this matter before the people, the answer is that Muawiyah (ra) himself was not elected and when his own caliphate is not legitimate, how can the caliphate of his son be legitimate? We are ready to admit Yazid as successor of Muawiyah (ra) but we cannot call him a caliph. When the caliphate of Muawiyah (ra) is not proved then how can that of his son be proved? As Muawiyah (ra) was a temporal king, we can admit Yazid to also be a temporal king. But neither was Muawiyah the caliph nor was his son. Moreover, when Muawiyah (ra) consulted his people about his son, he was the ruler of those people. In such a situation his consultation cannot be called an election, because freedom of expression is necessary in such matters. When there is no freedom of expression, and the king asks the subject to take the bai’at of his son, how can the subjects be at liberty to give advice, or even to disobey his order?’ [3]

Whilst explaining the events that took place in Karbala, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba), the fifth Caliph and current worldwide head of the Ahmadiyya Muslim, stated,

‘Despite declining to pledge the bai’at, Hazrat Imam Hussain (ra) constantly tried to seek reconciliation and when he realised the danger of Muslim bloodshed, he told them to go back stating that those who could leave should leave. Approximately 30 to 40 people insisted upon staying with him, along with his family members, who also stayed behind with him. Furthermore, he told the representatives of Yazid that he did not want to fight and that they should let him go, so that he may go and worship God or so he could go to the frontier [of the Muslim empire] and take part in the Jihad and become martyred in the way of Islam. Or that they should take him to Yazid so he could tell him the reality of the matter, but the representatives did not listen to a single word of his.’ [4]

And so, at sunrise on the 10th of Muharram, the army of Hazrat Imam Hussainra took its stand in front of Yazid’s army. In this battle between truth and falsehood, Hazrat Imam Hussain (ra)’s 72 devoted companions stood ready to face the 4,000-strong army in front of them. One by one, these brave and courageous warriors received a blessing from Hazrat Imam Hussain (ra) and entered the battlefield. Exhausted from their long journey, parched with thirst, these lions fought fearlessly, displayed unyielding bravery, and were eventually martyred. At this,
the time had arrived for the members of the Holy Prophet (sa)’s family to brave the battlefield. As Hazrat Imam Hussein (ra)’s son Ali Akbar stepped into the fray, the enemy tore him to pieces and thus began the martyrdom of the Ahle-Bait. After Ali Akbar, it was Abdullah, and then Abdur Rehman, and after that, Qasim, the son of Hazrat Imam Hassan (ra), and his brothers Abu Bakr, Ja’far, Usman and Abbas who were all martyred in turn. It is said that when the enemy overcame the army of Hazrat Imam Hussain(ra), he directed his horse towards the Euphrates river. But before he could get to the river, the enemy blocked his path. A rain of swords fell upon him from all around, until he was hit in the face by Sanaan bin Anas’s spear, who then stepped forward, and cut off the head of Hazrat Imam Hussain (ra) – the head which used to be kissed by the blessed lips of the Holy Prophet (sa). This is, without doubt, one of the most harrowing tragedies to be perpetrated against the Holy Prophet (sa) family in the history of Islam. The mere thought of it causes one to shudder with horror.

Thus, Hazrat Imam Hussain (ra) refusing to pledge the bai’at to Yazid was because he firmly believed that the caliph was directly appointed by God, albeit through the will of the people, and could not be simply inherited. History further proved that this appointment of Yazid was against the divine system of Khilafat and that he was never fit for this august office when his own son, who was named after Muawiyah (ra), acceded to the throne and spoke about the atrocities of his deceased father. Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra) writes:

‘It is recorded that after the death of Yazid, his son, who was also named Muawiyah (ra) after his grandfather, acceded to the throne and went home after taking the bai’at of the people. He did not come out for forty days. When he came out, he rose to the pulpit and addressed the people, saying that he had accepted the bai’at from them, not because he was more entitled to it, but because he did not want dissention among them. He had been continuously meditating in his home to find a person more entitled to take the bai’at of the people so that he might relieve himself of chiefdom by handing it over to him. But in spite of his great efforts he did not find any such person. Therefore, he said, “O people listen carefully: I am not fit for this post. I also want to tell you that my father and grandfather were also not entitled to this post. My father was inferior to Hussain (ra), and his father to the father of Hassan (ra) and Hussain (ra). Hazrat Ali (ra) at his time was more entitled to the caliphate than my grandfather, and afterwards Hassan (ra) and Hussain (ra) were more entitled than my father. Therefore, I retire from this chiefdom, and you can take the Bai’at of the person of your choice.” At that time his mother heard the speech from behind the veil, and she burst out, “O wretched, you have dishonoured your family and damaged its dignity.” He replied, “I have said what is true, now it is your turn to say whatever you like.” He then remained confined to his home, and died after a few days.’ [5]

The events of Karbala that took place in the month of Muharram strike a very deep emotional chord with Muslims all around the world regardless of whichever sect they belong to. Each and every one who professes the Islamic creed, ‘there is none worthy of worship except Allah’, has no dispute regarding the high and revered status of the holy personage of Hazrat Imam Hussain (ra). Truly this love and affection for the beloved grandson of the Holy Prophet (sa) deeply stems from this affectionate prayer that he offered for both his grandsons in the words: ‘Oh Allah, I love them dearly; may You also treat them with love and affection.’ [6]

Then it is further reported that the Holy Prophet (sa) would state,

‘Whoever loves them loves me and whoever bears a grudge against them bears a grudge against me. Hussain is mine and I am Hussain’s. Whoever loves Hussain will be loved by Allah.’ [7]

Hence, it is unimaginable for any disagreement to occur over the lofty status and noble rank held by Hazrat Imam Hussain (ra). One who has been deemed the ‘leaders of the youth in paradise’ and also as the ‘leader of the oppressed’ is truly worthy of being emulated and followed. As Muslims, whose each and every fibre is imbued with love for their master, the Holy Prophet (sa), it is absolutely essential to hold the same love and admiration for the members of his beloved family as well.

The Promised Messiah (as), who was the greatest ardent lover of the Holy Prophet (sa), has demonstrated to us through his noble practice the many avenues of inculcating this love within ourselves. Whilst explaining how love for the family of the Holy Prophet (sa) plays a great part in acquiring spiritual light, the Promised Messiah (as) states,

‘Once I received a revelation which indicated that there was a vigorous discussion in the High Assembly in Heaven. That is, God’s will for the revival of the faith was surging, but the appointment of the man to revive the faith had not yet been disclosed to the High Assembly, and this is why they were in disagreement. It was at this time in the dream that I saw people searching for a revivor. A man appeared before my humble self and, pointing towards me, he said:

ھذا رجل یحب رسول اللہ

Meaning that, this is the man who loves the Messenger (sa) of Allah. The meaning of this statement was that the principal qualification for this mission is the love of the Holy Prophet (sa) and that this quality was definitely found in me. Similarly, the secret behind the direction to call down blessings on the Holy Prophet (sa)’s progeny in the revelation mentioned above is that the love for Ahle-Bait [the members of the household of the Holy Prophet (sa)] plays a great part in acquiring divine light. Anyone who is included among those who have attained nearness to the One True God attains the spiritual inheritance of those righteous and holy ones, and becomes their heir in respect of knowledge and divine insights.’ [8]

Furthermore, regarding the status of Hazrat Imam Hussain (ra), the Promised Messiah (as) states,

‘Hussain (ra) was a pious man and surely was from among the noble people whom God Almighty Himself purifies and fills with His love and are from among the leaders of heaven. And to hold even the slightest of grudges against him can endanger one’s faith. His righteousness, love for God, patience, piety and worship is a perfect model for us and we are the followers of that guidance which was granted to him. Such a heart is completely destroyed that bears enmity towards him but one that displays love for him through his actions and perfectly reflects every trace of his faith, morals, bravery, righteousness, patience and love for God will surely succeed.’ [9]

Similarly, His Holiness, Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) stated,

‘Thus, Hazrat Imam Hussain (ra), whom the Promised Messiah (as) declared to be among the chiefs of those dwelling in paradise, has, through his example of patience and steadfastness, demonstrated to us the pathway that leads to paradise.’ [10]

The 10th of Muharram, also known as the Day of Ashura, is a day that serves as a powerful reminder of the martyrdom of Hazrat Imam Hussain (ra). Muslims around the world mourn the extremely sad and tragic events of Karbala in their own way. Some Muslims will take to the streets as part of an organised procession, while others will take part in special gatherings in the mosque to commemorate and remember the martyrdom of the beloved members of the Holy Prophet (sa)’s family and his companions.

As there are different forms and ways in which Muslims worldwide bereave and mourn this great tragedy, however we find that patience and prayer at the time of adversity and grief is truly a source of virtue.

Invoking Salutations upon the Holy Prophet (sa)

Members of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community are truly fortunate and blessed that, having accepted the Imam of the Age, the Promised Messiah (as), they have guidance in all matters, including the best way to commemorate the month of Muharram: by filling it with durood, that is, a special prayer that invokes blessings upon the Holy Prophet (sa) and his followers. In an earlier quote of the Promised Messiah (as), the merits of invoking salutations upon the Holy Prophet (sa) were mentioned. Thus, it is through sending down blessings and invoking salutations upon the Holy Prophet (sa) and the Ahl-e-Bait that one can truly garner the love of God Almighty. Through various traditions we come to know of the significant merits one can reap by invoking salutations upon the Holy Prophet (sa). For example, on one occasion the Holy Prophet (sa) is reported to have said:

‘On the Day of Judgement the person who sends the most blessings on me will be closest to me.’ [11]

Then Hazrat Umar (ra) once stated,

‘Prayer is suspended between the earth and the heavens and unless durood is invoked on the Holy Prophet (sa) no part of the prayer goes upwards.’ [12]

Furthermore on one occasion, the Promised Messiah (as) said,

‘Although the Holy Prophet (sa) is not in need of anyone’s prayers, there is a very profound reason behind invoking durood. A person who seeks blessings for another owing to personal love becomes a part of them. The beneficence granted to the person for whom blessings are sought is also granted to the person seeking blessings. And because God’s beneficences on the Holy Prophet (sa) are boundless anyone who invokes durood on him owing to personal love gets a measure of the boundless blessings.’ [13]

Thus, true commemoration of the sacrifice of the Holy Prophet (sa), his family members and his noble companions is by emulating the high standards they have set and invoking blessings upon the Holy Prophet (sa) and his noble family. In his Friday Sermon on 10 December 2010, His Holiness Hazrat Mirza Masroor Ahmad (aba) stated:

‘If the month of Muharram teaches us any lesson, then that is for one to always send durood [special prayer that invokes blessings upon the Holy Prophet (sa) and his followers] upon the Holy Prophet (sa) and his family. In order to fulfil our duties towards the grand objectives set out by the Imam of the age, we must strive to send prayers upon the Holy Prophet (sa), occupy ourselves in prayers and try our utmost to bring about a pure change within ourselves. At the same time we must demonstrate steadfastness when faced with adversaries who bear the characteristics of Yazid [son of Muawiyah (ra)].’ [14]

He further stated:

‘Invoking blessings on the Holy Prophet (sa) is essential for the acceptance of prayer. We should send invocations upon the Holy Prophet (sa) generally, however, during this month we should pay particular attention towards invoking blessings on the Holy Prophet (sa).’ [15]

A very unique perspective on invoking durood has also been mentioned by Hazrat Mirza Bashiruddin Mahmud Ahmad (ra). He states:

‘When we pray for others in a way our prayer also becomes a source of elevation of our station. While our recitation of durood elevates the station of the Holy Prophet (sa), it also increases our station and blessings reach him and then through him also reach us. For example, when something is placed in a sieve it passes through it and cascades down. Similarly, God has made the Holy Prophet (sa) like a sieve for the ummah [Muslims]. First God grants blessings to him and then those blessings also reach us through his agency. As a result of us invoking durood God elevates the station of the Holy Prophet (sa) and certainly God also tells the Holy Prophet (sa) that this gift is from such-and-such believer. This inspires the Prophet (sa) to pray for us and because of his prayer, God grants us a measure of His blessings. Personally speaking, I have made it a practice of mine that whenever I go to the graveside of the Promised Messiah (as) for prayer, I first pray for the Holy Prophet (sa) and after this I pray for the Promised Messiah (as) I then pray, “O Allah, I do not have anything that I could present as a gift to these holy persons. Whatever I have is of no benefit to them. And You have everything, therefore I pray and beseech You to bestow Your favour upon me and grant them such a gift in Paradise that they have never received before.” Upon this they would definitely ask, “O Allah! From whom has this gift come?” When God informs them who has sent the gift, they will indeed pray for the person and thus the person’s station will be elevated. This is proven from the Holy Qur’an and ahadith [oral traditions of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (sa)]. It is a fundamental principle of Islam and no one can deny that prayers are certainly beneficial to the deceased.

The Holy Qur’an has stated: فَحَیُّوْا بِاَحْسَنَ مِنْھَآ “greet ye with a better prayer” [16] and drawn our attention [to the fact] that when someone gifts [something to] you, reciprocate with a better gift or at least a similar gift. According to this verse of the Holy Qur’an when we pray for the Holy Prophet (sa) or the Promised Messiah (as) and invoke durood and salutations on them, as a result of our prayer and on behalf of us, God would give them a gift. We do not know what the bounties of paradise are but God is well aware of them. When we pray “O Allah! Grant a gift to the Holy Prophet (sa) which he has not received before”, then surely when that gift is given to him from God, he is also informed who it is from. How can it be that after knowing this, he does nothing and does not pray for the person who has sent the gift! In fact, his soul bows before God saying, “O God, grant them good recompense on our behalf.” Thus, according to فَحَیُّوْا بِاَحْسَنَ مِنْھَآ ‘greet ye with a better prayer’, the prayer will be reverted to the person invoking durood and will be a source of elevation of his station. This is a means through which without committing anything idolatrous we can avail benefit on a personal as well as a communal/national level.’ [17]

I am ready to offer my heart and soul,
For the beauty of Muhammad (sa);
My body is merely the dust of the lane,
Treaded by the progeny of Muhammad (sa).’ [18]


About the Author: Rabeeb Mirza currently serves the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community as Imam of the Baitul Wahid Mosque, Feltham. After graduating from Jamia UK, the missionary training seminary, in 2013, he has also served in Liberia, Spain, and Ireland.

source:   Review of Religions

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