Our study of what history books narrate, in which real events and fabricated events are mixed, shows that when the emotional aspect was given the priority over the realistic aspect in describing the Husseini cause a distorted image of the symbols of Karbala’ was given, especially with regards to Imam al-Hussein (a.s.) and his sister Zeinab (a.s.).
For example, there are many poetry and prose images that present al-Hussein (a.s.) crying in vain for help, and pleading in vain, and asking the enemy for a drink of water but getting no response, until the story reaches the moment when Imam al-Hussein (a.s.) was dying. A person called Hamid bin Muslim saw him and noticed that he was moving his lips, so the man said to himself: ‘If al-Hussein was praying (for God’s wrath to befall us) we have absolutely lost, by the Lord of the Ka’bah’, so he came near to him and found him saying: ‘O people, give me a drink of water for my liver has gone into pieces because of thirst’; another narrator adds to this his saying: ‘(I swear) by the position of my grandfather that I am thirsty’.
This is an image that implies weakness and does not imply strength, something which does not conform to the image that Imam al-Hussein (a.s.) developed as a great person who rebelled against all points of weakness and elements of pain in his confrontation with the tyrannical deviant forces that massed all these people against him to defeat his stance, shake his resolve, divert him away from his firm and distinguished position, and to impose on him the rule of Yazid, while he rejected retreat, giving in or submission. He withstood all cruel and hard consequences so as to manifest the important human values that God wanted for man in life, because the matter was not a matter of his self, but that of the Message in the challenges it faces and its needs of standing firm and balanced in difficult times. This was manifested in the slogans that he announced and in the stances that he took, especially when his breastfed baby was slain and he (a.s.), according to what history tell us, said: ‘I find solace in the fact that what has befallen me is with the knowledge of God’.
We do not deny that a person - even a prophet or imam - may be affected by human weakness owing to his human nature, but al-Hussein (a.s.) had taken his decision for this difficult confrontation after a close and long study of all the consequences and he knew the barbaric nature of the tyrannical enemy, seeing in the battle itself how cruelty was shown in their attitude even towards a breastfed baby. So how come he begged them for a drink of water when his body was wounded all over in such a terrible manner?! The real image of Imam al-Hussein (a.s.) is the image that was expressed by one of his enemies in Yazid’s army, who said: ‘By God, I have never seen anyone with all that has befallen him, his sons and family killed, more brave or determined than al-Hussein, (a.s. )(when) the fighters were attacking him he would attack them and they would flee like goats when a wolf attacks them!’ Likewise the image of Zeinab (a.s.), especially in vernacular poetry: we do not see the image of a strong, challenging heroine who stood up with firmness and determination in the palace of Ibn Ziyad(24) to challenge his rule, and in the Kufi society to confront their deviationand failure to keep up their covenant, and in the Yazid court to attack him; rather, we see an image of a Bedouin woman who talks in a weak and shaky manner that is searching for the tribe that she cannot find, and her supporters, but in vain, and she confronts the matter using a call of revenge in the tribal manner.
It is the image of a weak woman who is enslaved after the battle, and who is facing all kinds of calamity, as well as her pain and that of the children and women around her - in spite of the importance of all this - without having any considerations of the main cause, when history emphasizes that Zeinab (a.s.) had the greatest role in keeping the cause alive in the consciousness of the people and lifting its banner on the basis of the Islamic values and pure principles. Some might imagine that talking about the tragedy as part of the cause represents a kind of psychological mobilization against those who were behind that tragedy or those who might be behind any similar tragedies which produce for the cause a lot of factors of strength in the awareness of the masses when their feelings become receptive to the revolution through it.
We say: this is true in what we have emphasized regarding the importance of emotions in Ashoora; however this calls for a kind of balance between the role of emotions and the image of the exalted model of the event when the elements of revolution integrate to serve the cause. Therefore, we do not object to raising the emotions in relation to the real elements of tragedy, but we reject some of the content that distance the tragedy from the atmospheres of strength and determination of the event, just as we reject the manner in which the implications of the atmosphere and the thought do not conform. In the light of this, we call for a formulation of the content of Ashoora - whether it is what those reciting the commemoration present, or what poets and writers do - through attention to the great goals of the Husseini cause, treating its events through aware criticism that takes into consideration all the circumstances of the event, from the personality of the hero to the kind of victory achieved, and to the nature of the enemy and the image of the era, so as to bring all this to the situation in which the nation is currently living, in a process of raising awareness of the importance of change on the basis of Islam, so that we can utilize the anniversary and commemorations throughout time as something good and a blessing for the present and future, just as it was in the past.
Edited excerpt from Ashoura, an Islamic perspective by His Eminence, the late Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah (ra)