‘Karbala’ is not simply the name of a geographical place on the map of the world. In fact, on the physical plane, the place we today refer to as Karbala was called ‘Nainwa’, a small town located some 80 kilometres south of the city of Najaf.

Instead, Karbala is a combination of two words – “Karb” meaning grief and sorrow, and “Balaa” meaning affliction. As a result, Karbala is a state of being; it is state of sorrow and suffering; a state of steadfastness and sacrifice. It is the place where grief-stricken beings (from this world, and the next) go to bow at the feet of Hussain-Ibn-Ali (A.S.), and swear allegiance to him, in search of personal as well as collective redemption.

So, what brings people to Karbala, in remembrance of Maula Hussain (A.S.)? What makes them gather in the thousands of processions, across the world, to mourn the (grand)son of the Prophet (SAWW)? What makes them weep, inconsolably, in the pain of an event that they never witnessed? What makes them brave against threat of life – on the streets of Quetta, in Parachinar, and the Imam-Bargahs of Shikarpur – to be counted amongst the followers of Maula Hussain (A.S.)? What makes them proclaim ‘Labbaik Ya Hussain (A.S.)’, in places where it is a sin to do so?

The answer is simple, yet powerful.

According to eye-witness accounts of history, on the day of Ashura, when all (save one) male companions of Maula Hussain (A.S.) had been martyred by the Yazidis (may Allah curse them), Maula Hussain (A.S.) looked around at the barren expanse, and said, “Hal Min Nasir-un Yansurna?”. It translates to “Is there anyone who will come for my help?”

None (of the humans) came forth.

We were not there that day. We could not respond to the call of the Imam (A.S), or rush to his aid. But we are here now. And those of us who can still hear the echo of ‘Hal Min Nasir-un Yansurna’ in our souls, flock to Karabala, and to all the other Imam Bargahs across the globe, with one answer:

Labbaik Ya Hussain (A.S.)!

I am here, O Hussain (A.S.)!! I am here at your service.

The story of Karbala, along with other facets of Ahl-e-Bayt (family of the Prophet (SAWW)) has, for malevolent reasons, been expunged from our account of Islamic history and theology. We are not taught the fazail or masaib of Ahl-e-Bayt (A.S.), in any formal educational curriculum. We are not exposed to them in the mainstream narrative of Mullah and the Masjid. On the contrary, those who persecuted the Ahl-e-Bayt (A.S.), and went on to become the rulers of their time, are venerated in our religio-cultural traditions.

As a matter of historical fact, this malicious campaign began soon after the worldly demise of Prophet Muhammad (SAWW), when political ambitions trumped religious imperatives. Not that political power matters in the context of faith, but almost instantaneously, the Ahl-e-Bayt (A.S.) were viewed as a threat to the legitimacy of those in seats of worldly power. And, as a result, fourteen hundred years of Islamic history – written in the tainted ink of the Ummayad, Abbasid, and Ottoman dynasties – has purposefully tried to conceal the barbarianism committed against the House of the Prophet (SAWW).

This is not about being Shia or Sunni. It is not about believing or denying wilayat-e-Ali (AS), or about participating in or opposing gham-e-Hussain (A.S.), or even about accepting or rejecting azmat-e-Sadaat (A.S.). It is simply a question of stating facts for what they are, and allowing each individual, according to his or her personal conscience, to make a choice.

It is time to revise our history books and national narrative to be neither Sunni nor Shia – just to be factual!

It is time to reveal the fact (which is neither Shia nor Sunni) that after the Hajj, as part of the last sermon, the Prophet (SAWW) gathered all the Muslims, raised Maula Ali’s (A.S.) hand and proclaimed “Mann Kunto Maula, Haaza Ali’un Maula”. It is time to disclose, as narrated in all religious books of authority, that during his last moments, the Prophet (SAWW) asked for a pen and paper (to dictate his will), which was denied to him by some of his companions. That his burial was attended by only a handful of his family members, while all others were electing the new Khalifa.

Also, in the spirit of factual honesty, it is important to narrate that the Prophet’s (SAWW) daughter (whom the Quran testifies as being among the truthful, Sadiqeen) stood before the Muslim Khalifa of the time, to ask for her share in her father’s inheritance, but was returned empty-handed. That over the course of the following three hundred years, every single Imam of Ahl-e-Bayt (A.S.), was martyred by the Muslims – not one of them died a natural death. That the Prophet’s (SAWW) grandson, Maula Hussain (A.S.), along with every single male relative and companion (except one), was martyred by those who recited the Kalima of Maula Hussain’s (AS) grandfather. That, in the aftermath, the Prophet’s (SAWW) granddaughter was forced to stand, barefooted and without a veil, as the Muslim Khalifa of the time sentenced her to prison. That successive Khalifas thereafter, persecuted, mercilessly, those who dared to swear allegiance to the Prophet’s Durood-worthy progeny. That at countless instances, throughout history, Muslim leaders (venerated in our history books) tore, from limb to limb, anyone who stood with the Ahl-e-Bayt (A.S.). And fourteen hundred years later, today, these acts of atrocities still continue to stain the conscience of our nation.

Let historical veils be lifted, and let the facts be recounted for what they are.

Acknowledging these events is not about being Shia or Sunni. It is simply about being truthful to that unspoken oath that each believer has sworn to the omnipresent God, and His everlasting Prophet (SAWW).

Don’t raise a black Alam, if you do not want to; don’t attend a majlis, if it makes you uncomfortable; don’t participate in the processions, if it offends your faith; don’t beat your chest, if it seems unholy. But, in some personal way, during these days of Muharram – when the family of the Prophet (SAWW), including women and children were denied food and water, a stone’s throw away from a flowing river, and a ‘Prince of Paradise’ (along with his family and companions) was mercilessly martyred by those who claimed to be followers of the Prophet (SAWW) – it is essential that each of us take some time out from our uselessly busy lives, to grieve with the Prophet (SAWW), in whatever way we deem appropriate.

And maybe, just maybe, the scar of our shared pain with the Prophet (SAWW) will be enough to tip the scales of our sinful existence.

So, in that spirit, let us renew an age-old pledge to Sayyed-u-Shuhada (A.S.), the Prince of Paradise. A pledge repeated by millions of Hussainis, who have felt Karb-o-Balaa in their hearts, and heard ‘Hal Min Nasirun Yansurna’ in their souls:

O Aba-Abdillah (A.S.) –

I am verily at peace with those who are at peace with you,

At war against those who fight against you,

Loyal to those who are loyal to you,

And enemy of those who show enmity towards you.

From this day, till the last.


The writer is a lawyer based in Lahore. He has a Masters in Constitutional Law from Harvard Law School.