Karbala: The true Hajj

By Jerrmein Abu Shahba

The month of Dhul-Hijjah has just passed by and the sorrowful month of Muharram has emerged bringing along with it all its grief, sadness, and mourning as the new year commences. It was on the year 60 A.H. when Imam Hussain (AS) and his family made the intention to perform Hajj in the sacred Haram. However, all of a sudden just before the commencement of Hajj, he left Makkah without performing Hajj! This was the time when huge crowds were entering Makkah for Hajj, while Imam Hussain (AS) was going out of that Holy City with his family and followers. This strange event must have elicited questions in the minds of everyone as to why the grandson of the Holy Prophet (SA) was leaving Makkah just on the eve of Hajj without performing Hajj. Why did he leave Makkah when he embarked on this spiritual journey to complete one of the best deeds to be done in Allah’s eyes? Why didn’t he wait just a few days later till he finishes the necessary rituals of pilgrimage? After all, based on our human judgment, nothing could be more important than pilgrimage that would deserve interruption or cancelation?

History tells us that the Imam (AS) discovered that some of the followers of Yazeed had entered Makkah as pilgrims with the mission to kill him during the rites of hajj with the arms they carried under their special pilgrimage dress (Ehram). So, Imam Hussain (AS) shortened the pilgrimage rites and decided to leave. Amidst the vast crowd of people he stood up and announced in a speech that he was setting out for Iraq and he also declared that he would be martyred and asked Muslims to help him in attaining the goal he had in view and to offer their lives in the path of God. On the next day he set out with his family and a group of his companions for Iraq. But it was not his own life that he was fearful for; rather, it was the life of Islam that Imam Hussain (AS) had his eyes set on! The proof for that is that he knew very well that he would be killed in Karbala and was literally walking towards his own death! So why interrupt his Hajj only to die in another land?

The prime reason for leaving Makkah was that Imam Hussain (AS) did not like to be killed in a manner that the real killer might remain hidden and undetected. In the huge rush of pilgrims assembled from all corners of the world, it would have been impossible to apprehend the killer and particularly to ascertain the real killer behind the curtains. Secondly, Imam Hussain’s ultimate aim was to expose Yazeed and was determined not to give his allegiance to this corrupt oppressor. In this way, the question of why Imam Hussain (AS) refused allegiance to Yazeed came to the forefront of discussion among all individuals and groups who assembled for Hajj as they noticed that Imam Hussain left Makkah without performing the Hajj. If the Imam (AS) were to now be killed, it would be assumed that Yazeed must have arranged his killing, and this is what actually happened. Yazeed stands clearly, openly and directly exposed as the perpetrator of the crimes, which formed part of that tragedy and his un-Islamic ideas; beliefs and acts lie exposed to the world. The very people who had been silenced by fear and awe of the killing tyrants were so moved to the core of their hearts by the tragic events of Karbala that they began picking up courage to express themselves against Yazeed. In a very short time, there was a widespread uproar of protests against him and his government. This was possible only because of the superb way in which Imam Hussain (AS) carried out his plan of meeting Yazeed’s violence with the strength of his character.

We learn from Imam Hussain (AS) that indeed there was a more important goal to accomplish than completing the rituals of Hajj. Actually, it would be an erroneous statement to say that Hussain (AS) skipped or cancelled Hajj that year! In fact, Imam Hussain (AS) abandoned the ritualistic Hajj to go and perform the true essence of Hajj which is embodied in his sacrifice and bloodshed on the plains of Karbala! Quite frankly, many of the ritualistic acts of Hajj symbolize the tragedy of Karbala, most notably the slaughter on the day of Eid Al Ad-haa. Even though we celebrate that day out of gratitude that Allah (SWT) spared the grief of father and son (Prophet Ibrahim and Ismael) from the slaughter ordered by Him, our moment of joy doesn’t last long because it is soon replaced by the Great Slaughter (Zabh Azeem) which is personified in Hussain ibn Ali (AS). The grief we feel is further intensified as we remember the pain of separation between Hussain and his son Ali Akbar which was not spared like that of Ismael and his father. The 10th of Dhul-Hijjah is only one month away from the 10th of Muharram to remind us of the true sacrifice that was offered in Karbala one month later!

When we think of Seyyida Hajar’s plight in fetching water for her son Ismael, we are reminded of Hussain’s pain of watching his youngest son, Ali Asghar, die out of thirst as he tries his best to seek water from the enemy by raising his son on his hands in hope of moving their hearts and quenching his son’s thirst. Unlike Hajar whose heart was solaced when a spring of water erupted to save her son’s life, Imam Hussain (AS) found nothing but a tri-headed arrow to pierce the neck of Ali Al Asghar! It is narrated that when Lady Hajar (AS) saw with her own eyes marks of the knife on her son’s neck, she fainted from that scene; one can only imagine what overwhelming emotions Lady Fatima (AS) experienced when she witnessed her son’s headless body trampled by the hoofs of the horses after dying in a state of extreme thirst!!

When we walk the distance between Safa and Marwa, we are reminded that it is the same exact distance as that between the holy shrine of Hazrat Abbas ibn Ali and his brother, Imam Hussain (AS). This exact match in distance is certainly not a coincidence and serves to remind us of the challenge which Hazrat Abbas (AS) underwent as he sought to bring water to the little thirsty children who had all their hopes in him.

As the pilgrims rush to attain the blessings of the holy water of Zamzam, they are to be reminded of that water which Imam Hussain (AS) was denied till he died in the state of thirst which even animals are given a last sip before slaughtered!

The pilgrims in Hajj wear their clothes of Ehram for the sake of Allah (SWT), and Imam Hussain (AS) also wore his clothes of Ehram for His sake while abandoning the pleasures of this life, only for these “Ehram” clothes to be drenched in his own pure blood to irrigate the tree of Islam!

The pilgrims stone the Shaytan numerous times to expel the whisperings of the devil which we are all prone everyday and every second. Al Hur ibn Yazeed Al Riyahi (RA) and Umar ibn Sa’d also experienced whisperings from the Shaytan to attain the glory of power. However, Hur (RA) stoned the Shaytan and made the right decision to join Imam Hussain (AS), while Umar followed the Shaytan and became the Shaytan himself!!

When the pilgrims go to Mina where the final sacrifice is given, this stage of Hajj symbolizes our intention to sacrifice everything beloved to us for Allah (SWT) just like Hussain (AS) did, and the tents are a reminder of those tents of the family of Imam Hussain (AS) which were burned down and destroyed in Karbala after the Great Slaughter!

When the pilgrims visit the Holy Kaaba and circumambulate it, they are reminded of the honor Allah (SWT) gave Prophet Ibraheem (AS) in rebuilding this sacred House of God. They are also to be reminded of the rebuilding of the pure Mohammadan Islam by Imam Hussain (AS) when he offered his pure blood to give a jump start to this Deen which was on its way to corruption and deviation!

It is important to note that a pilgrim who performs Hajj without recognizing Karbala to be its true essence does not gain the real fruits of his pilgrimage. In the words of Dr. Ali Shariati, “Imam Hussain (AS) did not complete his Hajj in order to teach the pilgrims that if there is no Imamate and there is not true leadership, if there is no goal, if “Hussain” is not there and “Yazeed” is there, making Tawwaf around the house of Allah is equal to making Tawwaf around the idol-house.” It is also cited in the well-known hadeeth of the Prophet (SA), “How great is the noise coming from the pilgrims, and how little in number are the true pilgrims!” All the pilgrims stone the Shaytan, all of them wear the robe of Ehram, and all of them circumambulate the Kaaba and walk the distance between Safa and Marwah. But not all those who physically stone the Shaytan have truly rid themselves from the temptations of Shaytan. Not all those who wear the Ehram clothes have forbidden themselves from that which Allah (SWT) forbid them. Not all those who offer an animal for sacrifice has their offer truly accepted by Allah (SWT) and it is only those who sacrificed their souls (like the blessed companions of Hussain) and exhibit readiness to die for Hussain and the mission he represents. Not all those who raise their voices and call out “La ilaha illah Allah” has truly recognized the essence of Tawheed and it is only by fulfilling the conditions that one has truly pronounced the word of Oneness. As Imam Al Redha (AS) has relayed this Hadeeth Qudsi to his companions where Allah (SWT) said, “La ilaha illah Allah is my fortress; whoever enters it is saved from My Punishment.” When some of the companions expressed excitement from that statement, Imam Al Redha (AS) immediately added, “Yes this is true, but only after fulfilling the conditions and requirements!” This condition is to acknowledge and submit to the Wilayah of Imam Hussain (AS) and his descendants.

If we come to recognize that the true essence of Hajj is embodied in Hussain’s journey to Karbala, we will then understand why Allah’s mercy encompasses the pilgrims visiting the holy shrine of Imam Hussain (AS) on the day of Arafah first even before the pilgrims of Hajj! We will then understand why a special Ziyarat is to be recited for Imam Hussain (AS) on the day of Arafah which is one of the most important deeds that one can do. We will then realize that it is not a coincidence that one of the key recommended deeds to be performed on the day of Arafah is to recite the special beautiful Dua of “Imam Hussain Yawm Arafah” which speaks volumes of the level of Irfan and wisdom which Hussain (AS) possesses as he summarizes to us in concise words the fundamentals of Tawheed. We will then understand why according to authentic hadeeth, visiting the holy shrine of Imam Hussain (AS) is worth 90 Hajj and 90 Umrahs performed by the Holy Prophet (SA) himself! It is common knowledge that Hajj is obligatory on all Muslims if and only if they have the means to do so and all the prerequisite requirements are met. However, supporting and treading the path of Imam Hussain (AS) is incumbent and obligatory on every human at all times whether Muslim or non-Muslim!