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Last Updated: 2011/11/19
Summary of question
What is the reason for mourning for Imam Hussein (a.s)?
Why should we mourn so much for Imam Hussein (a.s) who was martyred 1400 years ago? Please explain the reasons with reference to the Quranic verses and authentic traditions.
Concise answer

The events which have taken place in the history of every society hold valuable experiences and lessons that have been achieved with great pain and at a heavy price. Those experiences and lessons are assets that can have a great impact on the destiny and future of that society which has gained them. In order for these assets to be utilized properly, it is necessary that those events be reviewed, reconstructed and preserved. One of those great and unique assets is the event of Karbala.  The Infallible Imams (a.s.) have greatly emphasized over reviving the event of Karbala and the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (a.s.) so that the future generations may benefit from the lessons that this great event holds.

Moreover, it is the duty of all people to express their gratitude and thankfulness to those who endeavored selflessly and sacrificed their lives for the awakening and prosperousness of human societies. Hence, lamentation for Imam Hussein bin Ali (a.s.) is a kind of thanksgiving and appreciation for the sacrifices Imam Hussein (a.s.) and his companions made to awaken the humanity.

In addition, the mourning ceremonies held annually all over the world to commemorate the martyrdom of the Chief of Martyrs, Imam Hussein (a.s.) have numerous benefits and effects for mankind. For instance, they help create unity among the followers of the Imam, acquaint people with the lives and traditions of the pure Imams (a.s.), create love and attachment towards God's proofs and purge the society of evils and injustice. Therefore, such ceremonies if not held in society would cause it to be deprived of such blessings.

Detailed Answer

The incidents that have taken place in the history of every society can have great effects on the destiny of that society and other societies. If an incident has been useful and effective in its own place, then reviewing and reconstructing it and keeping it alive can have a lot of benefits and effects for humanity. Hence, forgetting it can entail enumerable irreparable damages to human society. That is because the events take place in the history of nations at great material and spiritual cost in the sense that those nations lose their great men and go through a lot of hardship, difficulties and deprivations.

Therefore, these great incidents, lessons and the experiences which human beings should learn and benefit from are valuable assets for a nation and even for the whole humanity. The intellect judges that such an asset be preserved, revived and benefited from in the best possible manner.

Without doubt, the great and multi-dimensional incident of Ashura has been one of the incidents that took place at a heavy cost for humanity because it was achieved with the martyrdom of the Infallible Imam (the perfect man) and his devout companions accompanied with great pains and sufferings suffered by the Imam’s family and children.

Moreover, this incident has not been a personal incident to serve the interest of a particular individual or group of people; in fact, the event of Karbala and the martyrdom of Hussein bin Ali (a.s.) and his devout friends are but a school with lessons and lofty goals such as monotheism, imamate, amr bil ma’ruf and nahy anil munkar (bidding good and forbidding evil), truth-seeking, human dignity, self-esteem and fight against oppression and injustice.

The school of Hussein (a.s) is a man-making school, not a school that produces sinners. Hussein is the bastion of righteous conduct, not a citadel for sin and sinfulness. If this man-making school is passed on from one generation to another, mankind can make best use of it. However, if it is forgotten, God forbid, the human society especially the religious side of society will suffer most. The infallible Imams’ emphasis[1] on lamenting the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (a.s) is because they want this man-making school to remain alive and dynamic, and that the victory of blood over sword and truth over falsehood should serve as torch illuminating man’s path towards his destination for ever.

The emphases on the part of the Infallibles have caused the lamentation and mourning ceremonies ever since the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (a.s.) to turn into a thriving, active and revolutionary current with thousands of poets, writers and lecturers composing, writing and speaking in this regard. Although the enemies have made extensive efforts to distort this great event, these mourning ceremonies have reinvigorated Islam and caused it to remain and alive for ever. They have caused the fight against oppression and injustice to echo out in the entire world as one of the mottos of Imam Hussein bin Ali, peace and blessing of Allah be upon him.

As was stated above, man’s God-gifted intellect commands that the event of Ashura be protected, preserved and kept alive and the Seerah (biography) of the Infallible Imams (a.s.) denotes that they attached great importance to maintaining and keeping up such ceremonies. Imam Reza (A.S.) said: “With the advent of the month of Muharram, my father Imam Kazim (A.S.) would never be seen laughing; gloom and sadness would overcome him for (the first) ten days of the month; and when the tenth day of the month would dawn, it would be a day of tragedy, grief and weeping for him.”[2]

For those unable to go for the ziarat of Imam Husain (A.S.) on the day of A'ashura, Imam Baqir (A.S.) mentions the manner of performing A'zadari as follows:

"He should mourn over Husain (A.S.), weep for him and instruct the members of the house to weep for him. He should establish the mourning ceremony in the house by exhibiting lamentations and grief over him; the people should meet one another in their homes and offer condolences and consolation to each other over the calamities which befell him."[3]

It is necessary to know that Hussein bin Ali (a.s.) is not in need of such ceremonies. The Infallible Imams' emphases on lamenting and mourning the martyrdom of the Chief of the Martyrs are because of the effects and benefits of these gatherings some of which are enumerated as follows[4]:

1. The mourning ceremonies help create unity and solidarity among the followers of Imam Hussein (a.s.) in the same as the Hajj ceremony causes Muslims from all sects and religions to come together and demonstrate their unity. The mourning ceremonies held for Imam Hussein (a.s) bring Shiites and the lovers of the Imam together and unify them.

2. These ceremonies help acquaint people with the traditions and lifestyles of the leaders of the Religion because they provide the best opportunity for explaining and biographies and goals of those noble leaders. In fact, those who attend such gatherings are best prepared to imbibe and accept what they receive and learn.

3. They help create and establish people's relationship with the divine proofs (Imams) enabling them to benefit from their attention because great stress has been laid by the Imams on holding such ceremonies. In fact, holding such ceremonies amounts to respecting the Infallible Imams (a.s.) and obeying their commands. Obviously, obeying this particular command will not go unrewarded.

4. During the narration of the event of Ashura, when the oppression, tyranny and injustice committed by the enemies of Islam are explained to people and the true faces of the claimants of Islamic caliphate are unveiled, the minds and attention of the addressees and the audience are directed towards the deviations existing in their own society; thus they seek to reform their society; they keep themselves away from the Yazid and obey the Hussein of their time and they will understand that fighting oppression, deviations and evil is not restricted to a special era or period of time as it is possible that a society may get afflicted with such evil phenomena at any time. In other words, these religious gatherings help create understanding and awareness among people concerning their times. And it is in these gatherings that they come to know their duties and obligations.

These are part of the effects and benefits of mourning for the Chief of Martyrs, Imam Hussein (a.s.). In case, these gatherings are cancelled, the society will be deprived of those blessings.

The point to note is that the commemoration of the great event of Ashura must take place in the best possible manner. It is possible to revive the memory of that event by holding seminars, making films and writing books and novels. But none of these methods is the best method because man is a combination of various cognitive, social, instinctive, emotional and sentimental dimensions. If we want to revive the great and highly significant event of Karbala in the best possible way and to help humanity benefit from its blessings, it is necessary for us to uphold and commemorate it in a way such that all these aspects of human existence should have a role in it. The mourning ceremonies held in their present form and shape from the time of the Pure Imams as of today with grief and sorrow in a way such that the feelings and sentiments have been provoked are the best method for maintaining and keeping up these ceremonies. Because through these methods, not only the details of the event are made known to people but they also establish a deep relation with their hearts and minds making them contribute to holding such commemoration ceremonies with whatever means at their disposal. In fact, when it comes to such matters, it is necessary to be mindful of deviations and distractions about which the Imams, peace be upon them, and religious leaders have warned.

In addition, since Hussein bin Ali (a.s) was martyred in the way of humanity and human values, all the human generations consider it necessary by dint of their nature to praise and thank them (albeit in the form of such gatherings) for their sacrifices and devotions.  

Based on the above, it is the humanity that needs to protect and safeguard human values and move on towards them so as to permanently keep the name and memory of the Imam (a.s.) alive. If the memory of the sacrifices, values and aspirations of Hussein bin Ali (a.s.) are forgotten one day, it is the humanity and human society at large that will be at loss.

The Holy Quran also underscores and emphasizes on this. God orders Prophet Moses (a.s.) in Sura Ibrahim (a.s) to remind people of the Days of God:

«... و ذکّرهم بایام الله انّ فی ذلک لایات لکل صبّار شکور»

"… and remind them of the days of Allah; most surely there are signs in this for every patient, grateful one."[5]

In his interpretation of the above verse, Late Allamah Muhammad Hussein Tabatabai (r.a) says: "Certainly, the terms 'days of Allah' refer to the times in which God's command (amr), oneness and kingdom appear or become visible and also the days on which the divine blessings emerge out. Of course, (we mean) the days on which the divine bounties have been made more visible as compared to other days namely the days on which Prophet Noah (a.s) came out of the ship and the day on which Prophet Ibrahim (a.s) was saved from the fire…"[6]

Based on the above, the event of Ashura and the protection and revival of Islam together with grief for Imam Hussein bin Ali (a.s.) and his companions are some of the manifestations of the "days of Allah" which all of us have been ordered to revive, remember and commemorate.

[1]- Behar al-Anwar, vol.44, pg. 292; Wasail al-Shi’ah, vol.3, pg. 282.

[2]- Wasail al-Shi’ah, vol.10, pg. 394.

[3]- Kaamil al‑Ziyaraatpg. 175; Wasail al-Shi’ah, vol.10, pg.398

[4] - For further information in this regard, see Index: "The Cries of Baqi' Pilgrims".

[5] - Ibrahim: 5

[6] - Translation of Al-Mizan, vol.2, pg. 23.

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