SHAFAQNA – The poignant occasion of Tas’ua or the 9th of the mourning month of Muharram is the anniversary of the day on which in the year 61 AH, Imam Husain (AS) asked for a day’s respite prior to the heartrending tragedy of Ashura. As a matter of fact, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA) didn’t ask for respite from death, but he gave respite to the Omayyad forces surrounding him and depriving him of water, to ponder on their evil acts, and return to God and Islam.
True, the Imam said that he and his companions wanted to spend the day and the night in prayers and supplications in the Divine Court, before embarking for the other world, but in the process the Imam gave humanity also respite, to contemplate in every age and place, on the magnitude of the oppression of Yazid and his likes, in order to strive more resolutely for justice and virtue for reforming societies.
Now we have a special feature on this day, which is associated in Iran and Iraq with the valiant standard-bearer of Karbala, Hazrat Abu’l-Fazl Abbas (AS), who bravely courted martyrdom on the day of Ashura while trying to bring water to the thirsty encampment of Imam Husain (AS), but making sure that not a drop would touch his own parched lips, since the children in the camp were thirsty. Incidentally, today, because of a day’s difference in sighting the crescent, happens to be the 8th of Moharram in the Subcontinent, where the commemorative ceremonies for Hazrat Abbas (AS) are traditionally held on this day.
The savage enemy started mobilizing its forces on the plain of Karbala, and suddenly the voice of Omar Ibn Sa\’d, the commander of Yazid’s army was heard ordering attack on the encampment of Imam Husain (AS). The horrific sound of the enemy\’s horses frightened the women and the children. Hazrat Zainab (SA) rushed towards her brother. Abu Mekhnaf in his famous “Maqtal” or account of martyrdom has written that Imam Husain was sitting with his head on his knees when Zainab informed him of the enemy’s approaches. The Imam saying may God bless you my sister; calm down, turned to his loyal brother Hazrat Abbas (AS) and said: Brother, may my life be sacrificed for you, go to the enemy and seek the reason of their advance upon us. Hazrat Abbas (AS) went to the enemy and realized that they were coming either to forcibly take oath of allegiance from the Imam for the illegal rule of the tyrant Yazid or in case of refusal, to kill the Prophet’s grandson. He informed the Imam of the situation and the enemy\’s plan. The Imam told Abbas to return to them and do whatever he can for postponing their attack to the morning of the next day, so that he can spent the time in prayer and supplications. Thus the night of Ashura became one of the unforgettable nights on history. Imam Husain option for respite on this night was a master stroke of spirituality to revive Islam and show posterity, for all generations to come, the firm faith and trust in God of those who resolute and sure of their ethereal objectives.
The Imam drew the line between truth and falsehood. He showed that although the hordes of Yazid that were assembled on the field of Karbala claimed to be Muslim, performed prayers, read the holy Qur’an, and fasted, they were nothing more than hypocrites – a misled lot unable to differentiate between good and evil, and incapable of understanding the concept of justice or the principles of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil. Moreover, they were worse than beasts for their inability to recognize the real Imam of the age, and the true meanings of the message of Prophet Mohammad (SAWA), who had bequeathed to Muslims the Holy Qur’an and adherence to his Ahl al-Bayt, as the Two Preciously Weighty things that could save them from going astray. The night of Ashura was the last night of association of Imam Husain (AS) and his Household. It is said that the Imam and his companions prayed in such a way that it seemed bees were buzzing around the honeycomb. On this night, the Imam called all his companions, extinguished the lamps, and after thanking them for the loyalty, told them that they were free to leave, because the enemy only wanted him and not the life of others. The companions in turn reaffirmed their pledge of loyalty and told him life was worthless without him, the real divinely-decreed leader. Among the glorious scenes of the night of Ashura was the statement of Qasem the son of the Imam’s elder brother, Imam Hasan (AS). Qasem who had just entered teens enthusiastically asked his uncle: Is my name in the list of martyrs? Imam Husain (AS) replied: My son, what do you think about death? He said: O my uncle, I believe that death is sweeter than honey. The Imam with tearful eyes said: yes, you will be martyred and so will your infant cousin, my 6-month son, Ali Asghar. At this Qasem asked: Will the enemy forces intrude into our encampment? The Imam told him that he himself would take the baby towards the enemy forces in order to seal his argumentation with them by requesting a few drops of water for the infant, but they will target Ali Asghar’s throat with an arrow.
As we said earlier, let us say a few words about Hazrat Abbas (AS) and his loyalty to Islam and the Imam. He was approached by Shimr, a commander of the enemy forces, who talked to him about the so-called ties of kinship with him through his mother, Omm al-Banin. Shimr said that he had procured a letter of amnesty for him from the Governor of Kufa, and if he would leave Imam Husain (AS) and join Yazid’s camp, he would be rewarded with riches and posts. The valiant Abbas spurned the offer of Shimr with the utmost disdain to the chagrin of that servile minion who had sold his soul to the devil for a paltry sum. He told him: You worshipper of Mammon, do not think that Abbas will be lured by your tempting offer of power and pelf. If I die in defending my master, Husain, I shall consider myself the luckiest person. O coward, remember that the valiant die but once. Nobody is born to live eternally. By betraying my master, you have betrayed the Prophet, whose religion you profess to follow. On the Day of Judgement you will be doomed to eternal perdition.
On the day of Ashura, Hazrat Abbas (AS) achieved martyrdom in trying to fetch water from the River Euphrates. With the water-bag filled he had jumped into the saddle with one thought uppermost in his mind, to get the water to the anxiously waiting children as quickly as possible. Seeing him galloping towards the camp of Imam Husain (AS), the enemy had engaged him in an uneven fight. Though he was thirsty and hungry, he charged on them and scattered them. The mercenaries of Yazid were running like lambs in a fold when charged by a lion. Seeing that a frontal assault on a man so brave was not possible, they had resorted to a barrage of arrows. When arrows were coming from all sides, Abbas had only one thought in his mind, how to protect the water-bag than his life. Seeing that Abbas was preoccupied with this thought, one treacherous foe, hiding behind a sand-dune, had rushed out and dealt a blow on his right hand and cut it off. In a flash Abbas had transferred his sword to his left hand and the standard he was bearing he had hugged to his chest. Now that the Lion of Ali was crippled, the foes had found courage to surround him. A blow from an enemy’s sword severed his left arm. The odds were now mounting against him. He held the bag with his teeth and protected the flag with his chest pressed on the horse’s back. And soon he fell down and achieved immortal martyrdom.
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