Muharram is here. For the Muslim world, especially the Shia sect, it is a month of remembrance and of mourning for the man who sacrificed everything, even his infant children, in the way of Islam. Imaam Hussain was the grandson of the Prophet Mohammad and this month is dedicated to his entire family's martyrdom to oppose injustice, cruelty and oppression. He refused to accept Yazid as the the rightful Caliph as Yazid was openly condoning practices which were strictly against Islamic law. His refusal resulted in all out war against his clan and he was forced to leave his home in Medinah and fought against Yazid in Karbala.
On the 7th of Muharram, Yazid's army cut off all water supplies to Imaam Hussain's camp. For the next three days, every single man, woman and child went thirsty in the blazing heat of the desert until finally, on the tenth, when the battle began, his entire army including his 9 month old son, were killed by the enemy. The martyr's bodies, which Imaam Hussain had buried with his own hands, were dug up and their heads cut off and carried to Damascus on tips of the soldier's swords. Their women and children were taken prisoners.
This fateful day is known as Ashura and has since been commemorated by all Muslims as the day when one man stood against all that was wrong and unjust, to protect Islam from being destroyed and forgotten. Muslims all over the world go to religious gatherings known as Majlis-e-Hussain, remember his suffering and mourn his pain through the matam (beating the hand against the chest as a sign of lamentation.
When I was younger and stood up for the Matam, I often looked around at the people around me crying and moaning, trance-like, hand against chest, hand away and wondered if they were really crying at the pain of a man they never knew or if somehow, the tears fell from their pain of some loss they alone had known? Was the woman in front of me really in so much agony from knowing about sheer cruelty inflicted upon one man's family or because she too had lost a son in a cross-fire? Was the man in that corner sobbing because he too had buried a new born? Was that young girl crying because she missed her dead father? For I would stand and perform the Matam and not a tear would roll down my cheeks. I would often think to myself if my lack of emotions meant that maybe, I was not a good Muslim; worse, maybe I was not a good person. This doubt in my own religious fervency often left me upset and morbid.
Little did I know that my many musings about those gatherings were true. I have grown up now. For the past many years I have cried passionately at every Majlis and every Matam. I can honestly say though, that most of the time, the tears flowed because of some heartache of my own. I often try and distract myself from my problems and try to be less selfish, less self-involved. But I think the more I focused on the real reason for the Majlis, the more it intensified my own sorrow.
I feel morally conflicted and utterly confused. Is it wrong of me to think of my own lesser problems in the light of the selflessly relinquished lives of such great men and women? Is it a reflection of who I am as a Muslim? Maybe. But I have also only known my own losses and suffered my own pain and I can only feel their pain through my own.
And every motion with which I bring down my hand to my chest, in my head I am just trying to beat some faith into my soul.
And praying to God to give me back those eyes that had never cried.