Sunday, February 27, 2005

Are we all Syeds and just don't know it?

The Atlantic Monthly | May 2002

The Royal We

The mathematical study of genealogy indicates that everyone in the world is descended from Nefertiti and Confucius, and everyone of European ancestry is descended from Muhammad and Charlemagne
by Steve Olson

few years ago the Genealogical Office in Dublin moved from a back room of the Heraldic Museum up the street to the National Library. The old office wasn't big enough for all the people stopping by to track down their Irish ancestors, and even the new, much larger office is often crowded. Because of its history of oppression and Catholic fecundity, Ireland has been a remarkably productive exporter of people. The population of the island has never exceeded 10 million, but more than 70 million people worldwide claim Irish ancestry. On warm summer days, as tourists throng nearby Trinity College and Dublin Castle, the line of visitors waiting to consult one of the office's professional genealogists can stretch out the door.

I suspect that many people have had a fling with genealogy somewhat like mine. In my office I have a file containing the scattered lines of Olsons and Taylors, Richmans and Sigginses (my Irish ancestors), that I gathered several years ago in a paroxysm of family-mindedness. For the most part my ancestors were a steady stream of farmers, ministers, and malcontents. Yet a few of the Old World lines hint at something grander—they include a couple of knights, and even a baron. I've never taken the trouble to find out, but I bet with a little work I could achieve that nirvana of genealogical research, demonstrated descent from a royal family.

Earlier this year I went to Dublin to learn more about the Irish side of my family and to talk about genealogy with Mark Humphrys, a young computer scientist at Dublin City University. Humphrys has dark hair, deep-blue eyes, heavily freckled arms, and a pasty complexion. He became interested in genealogy as a teenager, after hearing romantic stories about his ancestors' roles in rebellions against the English. But when he tried to trace his family further into the past, the trail ran cold. The Penal Laws imposed by England in the early eighteenth century forbade Irish Catholics from buying land or joining professions, which meant that very few permanent records of their existence were generated. "Irish people of Catholic descent are almost completely cut off from the past," Humphrys told me, as we sat in his office overlooking a busy construction site. (Dublin City University, which specializes in information technology and the life sciences, is growing as rapidly as the northern Dublin suburb in which it is located.) "The great irony about Ireland is that even though we have this long, rich history, almost no person of Irish-Catholic descent can directly connect to that history."

While a graduate student at Cambridge University, Humphrys fell in love with and married an Englishwoman, and investigating her genealogy proved more fruitful. Her family knew that they were descended from an illegitimate son of the tenth Earl of Pembroke. After just a couple of hours in the Cambridge library, Humphrys showed that the Earl of Pembroke was a direct descendant of Edward III, making Humphrys's wife the King's great-granddaughter twenty generations removed. Humphrys began to gather other genealogical tidbits related to English royalty. Many of the famous Irish rebels he'd learned about in school turned out to have ancestors who had married into prominent Protestant families, which meant they were descended from English royalty. The majority of American presidents were also of royal descent, as were many of the well-known families of Europe.

Humphrys began to notice something odd. Whenever a reliable family tree was available, almost anyone of European ancestry turned out to be descended from English royalty—even such unlikely people as Hermann Göring and Daniel Boone. Humphrys began to think that such descent was the rule rather than the exception in the Western world, even if relatively few people had the documents to demonstrate it.

Humphrys compiled his family genealogies first on paper and then using computers. He did much of his work on royal genealogies in the mid-1990s, when the World Wide Web was just coming into general use. He began to put his findings on Web pages, with hyperlinks connecting various lines of descent. Suddenly dense networks of ancestry jumped out at him. "I'd known these descents were interconnected, but I'd never known how much," he told me. "You can't see the connections reading the printed genealogies, because it's so hard to jump from tree to tree. The problem is that genealogies aren't two-dimensional, so any attempt to put them on paper is more or less doomed from the start. They aren't three-dimensional, either, or you could make a structure. They have hundreds of dimensions."

Much of Humphrys's genealogical research now appears on his Web page Royal Descents of Famous People. Sitting in his office, I asked him to show me how it works. He clicked on the name Walt Disney. Up popped a genealogy done by Brigitte Gastel Lloyd (Humphrys links to the work of others whenever possible) showing the twenty-two generations separating Disney from Edward I. Humphrys pointed at the screen. "Here we have a sir, so this woman is the daughter of a knight. Maybe this woman will marry nobility, but there's a limited pool of nobility, so eventually someone here is going to marry someone who's just wealthy. Then one of their children could marry someone who doesn't have that much money. In ten generations you can easily get from princess to peasant."

The idea that virtually anyone with a European ancestor descends from English royalty seems bizarre, but it accords perfectly with some recent research done by Joseph Chang, a statistician at Yale University. The mathematics of our ancestry is exceedingly complex, because the number of our ancestors increases exponentially, not linearly. These numbers are manageable in the first few generations—two parents, four grandparents, eight great-grandparents, sixteen great-great-grandparents—but they quickly spiral out of control. Go back forty generations, or about a thousand years, and each of us theoretically has more than a trillion direct ancestors—a figure that far exceeds the total number of human beings who have ever lived.

In a 1999 paper titled "Recent Common Ancestors of All Present-Day Individuals," Chang showed how to reconcile the potentially huge number of our ancestors with the quantities of people who actually lived in the past. His model is a mathematical proof that relies on such abstractions as Poisson distributions and Markov chains, but it can readily be applied to the real world. Under the conditions laid out in his paper, the most recent common ancestor of every European today (except for recent immigrants to the Continent) was someone who lived in Europe in the surprisingly recent past—only about 600 years ago. In other words, all Europeans alive today have among their ancestors the same man or woman who lived around 1400. Before that date, according to Chang's model, the number of ancestors common to all Europeans today increased, until, about a thousand years ago, a peculiar situation prevailed: 20 percent of the adult Europeans alive in 1000 would turn out to be the ancestors of no one living today (that is, they had no children or all their descendants eventually died childless); each of the remaining 80 percent would turn out to be a direct ancestor of every European living today.

Chang's model incorporates one crucial assumption: random mating in the part of the world under consideration. For example, every person in Europe would have to have an equal chance of marrying every other European of the opposite sex. As Chang acknowledges in his paper, random mating clearly does not occur in reality; an Englishman is much likelier to marry a woman from England than a woman from Italy, and a princess is much likelier to marry a prince than a pauper. These departures from randomness must push back somewhat the date of Europeans' most recent common ancestor.

But Humphrys's Web page suggests that over many generations mating patterns may be much more random than expected. Social mobility accounts for part of the mixing—what Voltaire called the slippered feet going down the stairs as the hobnailed boots ascend them. At the same time, revolutions overturn established orders, countries invade and colonize other countries, and people sometimes choose mates from far away rather than from next door. Even the world's most isolated peoples—Pacific islanders, for example—continually exchange potential mates with neighboring groups.

This constant churning of people makes it possible to apply Chang's analysis to the world as a whole. For example, almost everyone in the New World must be descended from English royalty—even people of predominantly African or Native American ancestry, because of the long history of intermarriage in the Americas. Similarly, everyone of European ancestry must descend from Muhammad. The line of descent for which records exist is through the daughter of the Emir of Seville, who is reported to have converted from Islam to Catholicism in about 1200. But many other, unrecorded descents must also exist.

Chang's model has even more dramatic implications. Because people are always migrating from continent to continent, networks of descent quickly interconnect. This means that the most recent common ancestor of all six billion people on earth today probably lived just a couple of thousand years ago. And not long before that the majority of the people on the planet were the direct ancestors of everyone alive today. Confucius, Nefertiti, and just about any other ancient historical figure who was even moderately prolific must today be counted among everyone's ancestors.

Toward the end of our conversation Humphrys pointed out something I hadn't considered. The same process works going forward in time; in essence every one of us who has children and whose line does not go extinct is suspended at the center of an immense genetic hourglass. Just as we are descended from most of the people alive on the planet a few thousand years ago, several thousand years hence each of us will be an ancestor of the entire human race—or of no one at all.

The dense interconnectedness of the human family might seem to take some of the thrill out of genealogical research. Sure, I was able to show in the Genealogical Office that my Siggins ancestors are descended from the fourteenth-century Syggens of County Wexford; but I'm also descended from most of the other people who lived in Ireland in the fourteenth century. Humphrys took issue with my disillusionment. It's true that everyone's roots go back to the same family tree, he said. But each path to our common past is different, and reconstructing that path, using whatever records are available, is its own reward. "You can ask whether everyone in the Western world is descended from Charlemagne, and the answer is yes, we're all descended from Charlemagne. But can you prove it? That's the game of genealogy."

Copyright © 2002 by The Atlantic Monthly Group. All rights reserved.
The Atlantic Monthly; May 2002; The Royal We; Volume 289, No. 5; 62.

Friday, February 25, 2005


The team my brother coaches hosted their first playoff game ever last night because they were ranked second in the league, which is also their best ever. They beat Denver Waldorf something like 47 to 23. The losing team got a little bit of attitude in the last quarter and got two technical fouls for the assistant coach throwing down a clipboard and a girl shoving another girl. I hate to see people act that way, especially about a game. The girls should be taught to win and lose graciously. Jeff thinks they probably won't be able to win the next game against Stratton who is ranked pretty high for the whole state.

But anyway I know this game was important to my brother because he wanted to prove himself this season coaching this team. I think he succeeded. One thing he does which I appreciate is that almost every game he lets every person on the team play. He was very small when he was in school and felt lots of coaches never gave him a chance so he makes sure to give everyone a chance.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Senior of the Month

Taki Uncle - Senior of the Month

If you have a moment to read the article at the above link, please do. Taki Uncle is like a father to me. When I converted, he reached out to me from afar to make sure I had whatever I needed and has always been a true and devoted mentor. He doesn't get the recognition due to him, so this is something very nice.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

Thirty Lessons from Ashura

1. Align yourself with right no matter the cost.
2. Enjoin good and forbid evil.
3. Love those who are good and befriend yourself to them.
4. Do not be friends with those who do evil, are cruel or are foolish.
5. When you love someone, you should feel their pain and mourn their tragedies.
6. The more you love someone, the more you will feel for them.
7. You should love God and His messengers and guides more than you love yourself and your family.
8. There is nothing wrong with showing genuine emotion in response to oppression in public.
9. We should all fight oppression with whatever we have.
10. There is more than one way to fight; pick the one that suits the circumstances. Ask those who are wise about the right way.
11. Ask those who are wise about everything and follow them.
12. A follower should not only incline to his leader and listen to him, but reform his actions to be in accordance with his leader's. If he really loves him, he will work hard to avoid anything contrary to his leader's teachings. If he does not really love him, he is a hypocrite and offers lip service but will fail a real test if it comes.
13. If people let the memory of injustice fade, it is easier for tyrants to carry it out again.
14. God protects His message so that we may know it.
15. Godly people make great sacrifices for God's cause.
16. The right often lies with the few rather than the many. Don't be afraid to be a minority.
17. Hijab is precious. Family is precious. Brave, loving men are precious. Women who speak up when necessary are precious.
18. Nothing is more precious than God.
19. The jihad of men and women is different, but we must all practice patience, forbearance, and willingness to forgive someone who is truly sorry.
20. The length of your life as a Muslim is less important than what you do with that time. It is better to die at the pinnacle of your faith than to live another moment on its decline. We should dedicate ourselves to the cause of God and increasing our faith.
21. Prayer is so important that even on a battlefield you must keep it.
22. Young and old alike can do great things or terrible things.
23. God has a plan.
24. Thirst is terrible. Do not let anyone or thing go thirsty while you have the power to prevent it. When you drink, remember those who died thirsty because people prevented them from having it.
25. Silence or inaction can be VERY evil. You can be guilty without committing the action by letting it happen or deluding yourself that you can do nothing about it.
26. It is our duty to become educated and aware as much as possible. Ignorance is not bliss, it is sin if it is preventable.
27. We must be sensitive and compassionate toward the suffering of others. It is wrong to celebrate in the face of another's tragedy.
28. Do not let differences divide what the love of God can unite. Ashura is an occasion to be united in love of God and God's messengers and guides.
29. The one who sides with God can never be hopeless and the one who sides against God can never have hope.
30. The unrighteous seek to deceive or intimidate others to be in their ranks. Do not be deceived or intimidated.

Thursday, February 17, 2005

Why Imam Hussein (as) is Called Abu Abdullah

It is and was a custom among Arabs that if a person possessed a characteristic, he may be called the father of that trait. For example, Abu Jahl was not called that because he had a son named Jahl, even though Abu Jahl literally means the Father of Jahl. Jahl means ignorance. But neither did this mean that his son was ignorant. Rather, this epithet was applied to him because he was said to personify ignorance so much so that he could be considered the father of that trait - the father of ignorance.

If Imam Hussain (as) had not sacrificed as he did on the plains of Kerbala, then today Allah swt would not be worshipped as He should be because the purity of Islam would have lost to the corrupted forms of Islam favored by the killers of Imam Hussein (as). As a result, none of us today would be worthy of the title Abdullah, or servant/slave of Allah swt. Thus Hussein (as) could be said to have given his life for the protection of the existence of Abdullahs today. Any person who is able to submit to Allah swt has this blessing through the sacrifice of Imam (as), hence he has the title of the "father of the worshipper of Allah."

- paraphrased from A Short Commentary of Ziyarat Ashura available on

Tuesday, February 15, 2005


One time I was at a Muslim lecture series and there was a young woman there who was with a Muslim a boy and was looking into Islam as a potential convert. One question she had, coming from a Christian background, was about the role of forgiveness in Islam. She noted that the topic of forgiveness did not seem to exist in the prevalent Islamic literature, whereas in Christianity it is a prevalent theme - we are forgiven for our sins, we obtain forgiveness by the grace of God, we are advised to forgive others. We have dhikr, "Astaghfirullah", seeking forgiveness, but it is hard to find much said about it, in how it is obtained or in the value of giving it.

But on the other hand, we do have lanaat. For example, from Ziyarat Al-Jami'a (imho, one of the most beautiful brief ziyaras), "May Allah (swt) curse the enemies of the family of Muhammad from amongst the jinns and humans and I dissociate by Allah from them...." And there are examples by name in Ziyaarat e Ashura.

The horrible events of Karbala beg the question of the role of forgiveness in Islam. Here were events in which people essentially set themselves up as enemies of God and Godly people and committed great oppressions against them culminating in massacre, imprisonment, and torture. The victims did not preach the perhaps misunderstood Christian concept of turning the other cheek. They taught and modeled standing up and fighting back against wrong. Imam Husain (as) did not go to Karbala to be a martyr, but he went because it was necessary to preserve Islam. He did not fight on personal principles, but on Godly principles.

There is the ideal in Islam of forgiveness, but the initial readings of someone new to the faith will not find it so easily as in Christian works. We are enjoined to overlook faults and to forgive shortcomings of one another. We are taught that when you wrong someone, God will not forgive you if you do not seek to fix that wrong so that the one you wronged forgives you, unless it is impossible for you to do so in which case you seek God's pardon on the victim's behalf. We are taught that God is Merciful beyond our comprehension, and that He makes our scales heavy with good deeds by accounting them more than their worth through His Mercy.

If we extend this idea that you must seek forgiveness from the one you wronged, we often need to seek forgiveness of ourselves but a great many of the sins we do our against ourselves. But they are also against God and so we have to seek His forgiveness. God said He may forgive anything except shirk, but we should be repentant and not use a belief in forgiveness as an excuse to persist in bad deeds.

When there is hope for reform, there is room for forgiveness. When it eases your soul, there is room for forgiveness. In most ordinary cases, forgiveness is a virtue that is good for you and for the one who harmed you. People are too stingy with forgiveness, but yet they expect Allah swt to not be stingy with forgiveness for them. Why not forgive?

When someone sets themselves up as an enemy of God, it is not our place to forgive. It is God's choice to judge. Our place is to enjoin good and forbid evil, to join good and to separate from evil. To bless good and curse evil. We must observe manners and decency and uphold rights of all mankind, even enemies. We must never sink to the denominator of our foes, because then they achieved a victory of corruption - of bringing us down to their level. No matter what is done, two wrongs never make a right. There is never an excuse to deny a human being his dignity, no matter what he may have done. The message of Karbala is powerful because the camp of Imam Hussain (as) unflinchingly maintained the moral right. They did not sink to the level of the oppressors. Had they engaged in even one small understandable act of anything but the highest moral virtue, then Karbala would have been a total loss for Islam and mankind. This is a message to take with us today and apply in our daily conflicts and to apply in the world conflicts.

Monday, February 14, 2005

Non-Muharram-y Interlude (Quiz from Son of Cheese)

1. Your name spelled backwards:
Yttaeb Anaid - It rhymes, I think...

2. Where were your parents born?
Colorado Springs, Colorado

3. What is the last thing you downloaded onto your computer?
Muharram lecture in English from Dubai.

4. What's your favorite restaurant?
PF Changs, I guess.

5. Last time you swam in a pool?
Probably four or so years ago, when I visited Vancouver. They have women-only Muslim pool nights. But, I recently acquired one of those pseudo-Islamic swimsuits that look like jogging suits from I'm tempted to try it out next time I go to a hotel and the pool is mostly deserted.... What do you think?

6. Have you ever been in a school play?
Yes. I was Tom Sawyer in the fifth grade play 'Tom Sawyer'. I don't remember this, but mom says I was a late replacement for a boy who couldn't memorize the lines. I was also a crow in Wizard of Oz in 1st grade, and a ghost in 2nd grade, and one of the Siamese cats in a Disney musical in sixth grade, the pianist for the Melodrama in 6th grade, and 'Ma' in some play in junior high.

7. How many kids do you want?
Let's take it one at a time and then we'll see. :)

8. Type of music do you dislike most?
Rude and obnoxious.

9. Are you registered to vote?

10. Do you have cable?
Definitely - gotta have Discovery!

11. Have you ever ridden on a moped?
Not that I can recall.... I remember wanting one when I was in elementary school, though. I thought they looked COOOL!

12. Ever prank call anybody?
Yes, sadly, it was a favorite entertainment of me and some of my friends when we were little. Our favorites were to call up people named like famous people in the phone book (Jack Daniels, James Bond...) and to call people and pretend were doing official surveys and ask silly questions.

13. Ever get a parking ticket?

14. Would you go bungee jumping or sky diving?
Yes, I would. Especially if someone paid for it!

15. Farthest place you ever traveled?

16. Do you have a garden?
Sort of. I have plants.

17. What's your favorite comic strip?
Calvin and Hobbes.

18. Do you really know all the words to the national anthem?
Yes. In junior high my choir sang it at a baseball game. Before I quit the whole music/singing thing.

19. Bath or Shower, morning or night?
Shower. I do both morning and night or any time of day as I feel like it.

20. Best movie you've seen in the past month?
Supersize Me

21. Favorite pizza toppings?
tomato and green olives

22. Chips or popcorn?

23. What color lipstick do you usually wear?

26. Orange Juice or apple?
both, depends on the day.

27. Favorite type of chocolate bar?
special dark

28 When was the last time you voted at the polls?
November, 2004. Just rub it in, Derek. :)

29. Last time you ate a homegrown tomato?
last summer. My mom usually keeps at least one tomato plant.

30. Have you ever won a trophy?
Yes, usually academic stuff but also for track.

31. Are you a good cook?
I don't know, I never really tried.

32. Do you know how to pump your own gas?
I sure hope so, I'd be stranded if I didn't... love ATM cards at the gas station!

33. Ever order an item from an infomercial?
No, but I came close. I've once or twice ordered something off the Internet after seeing the infomercial and then finding it ebay or somewhere else for less. Infomercials are evil, people - they will make you think you need anything - so...don't---watch!

34. Sprite or 7-up?
Either, but Sprite tastes better.

35. Have you ever had to wear a uniform to work?
Yes - McDonald's, Broadmoor Hotel, I think that's it.

36. Last thing you bought at a pharmacy?
I don't remember.

37. Ever throw up in public?
I don't think so. But once I missed Christmas because I got sick Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

38. Would you prefer being a millionaire or to find true love?
Can you take either one with you past the grave? Whichever one goes with me for the better.

39. Do you believe in love at first sight?
No, not really.

40. Ever call a 1-900 number?
No, but my friends and I used to make up 'bad' 1-800 numbers and call them to see if they were real. Sometimes they were, and they would tell you to call a 1-900 number, which we never did.

41. Can exes be friends?
If they can, they shouldn't be exes, most likely.

42. Who was the last person you visited in a hospital?
my dad, he just got out.

43. Did you have a lot of hair when you were a baby?

44. What message is on your answering machine?
The one that came with the machine. It is really short and so telemarketers always get excited thinking they got hold of a life person and then they say, "Hello? Hello!" for half a minute into my machine....

45. What is in your backpack?
It's not a backpack but I've got my graphing calculator, purse (with digital camera, wallet, cellphone, qiblah compass, mohr, sunglasses, chapstick and few other things), and some papers that probably need to be taken out, and dua'a books.

46. Favorite thing to do before bedtime?

47. What is one thing you are grateful for today?

48. What is the first concert you ever went to?
The only band I've ever been to in concert - Metallica. Well, I guess the second time GNR was there, too, but they sucked. Now I don't do concerts anymore.


I found this document, excerpted here, that outlines the origins of commemoration of Ashoura - specifically with majlis and recitations - other practices that are observed by some are not mentioned here.

The first majlis-e-Hussain was recited in the market-place of Kufa by a lady from whose head her veil had been ripped off, whose hopes and aspirations had been destroyed on the blood-drenched sands of Kerbala but whose indomitable spirit stepped forward to free the Islamic values from the yoke of tyranny and oppression. Standing on her unsaddled camel, she looked at the multitude rejoicing the victory of Yezid. As soon as people saw her, they were quiet. They knew that a historic moment for Kufa had arrived. Looking straight at them, the daughter of Ali said:

"Woe upon you O people of Kufa. Do you realise which piece of Muhammad’s heart you have severed! Which pledge you have broken! Whose blood you have shed! Whose honour you have desecrated! It is not just Hussain whose headless body lies unburied on the sands of Kerbala. It is the heart of the Holy Prophet. It is the very soul of Islam!"

The first majlis touched and moved the people of Kufa so deeply as to give rise to both the Tawwabun movement and al-Mukhtar’s quest for vengeance.

When the news of tragedy reached Medina in the third week of Muharram there was such intense weeping and wailing from the homes of Banu Hashim that the very walls of masjidun-nabawi began to tremble. Zainab, Umme Luqman, the daughter of Aqeel ibne Abi Talib came out screaming: "What will you say when the Prophet asks you: "What have you, the last ummah, done with my offspring and my family after I left them? Some of them are prisoners and some of them lie killed, stained with blood. What sort of ajr-e-risaalah is this that you disobey me by oppressing my children ?"

Fatimah Binte Huzaam, also known as Ummul Baneen, carried her young grandson Ubaidullah ibne Abbas and prepared to go out. When asked where she was going, she said that she was taking the orphan of Abbas to offer condolences to the mother of Hussain.

Marwan ibne Hakam reports that every afternoon men and women would gather at Jannat-ul-Baqee and there would be remembrance of the tragedy of Kerbala and the weeping and wailing could be heard miles away.

When the prisoners were finally freed by Yezid, Bibi Zainab asked for an opportunity to have rites of remembrance in Damascus. A house was made available to them and aza-e-Hussain went on for over a week. Bibi Zainab (A.S.) laid the foundation of aza-e-Hussain in the very capital of his murderer!

On their return to Madina, Bibi Zainab (A.S.) took over the leadership of aza-e-Hussain in the city of the Holy Prophet. This aroused such strong emotions in the people and such revulsion against the oppressor that Amr ibne Said ibne al-Aas wrote to Yezid to have Bibi Zainab exiled from Madina. This was done in the beginning of 62 A.H. Bibi Zainab (A.S.) died shortly afterwards.

We have no record of public orations by our Imams about the tragedy of Kerbala. We have, however, several ahadeeth about the merits of participating in the mourning ceremonies. In this connection we must remember that the regime was hostile to the shiahs and was anxious to cover up the tragedy of Kerbala.

Imam Muhammad Baqir (A.S.) issued a directive which gave a definite form to the keeping of the memory of Imam Hussain (A.S.) alive. He recommended that for those believers for whom it was possible and convenient they should go for the ziyarah of the grave of Imam Hussain. For those for whom it was not possible or convenient, they should gather together and hold mourning ceremony and weep. Ibn Qawlawayah p. 104

There is also the following tradition reported from the fifth Imam:

May Allah have mercy on a man who meets with another in order to remember our situation. There will be an angel with them who will seek forgiveness for them…………..If you gather together and occupy yourselves in remembering us, then our memory will be kept alive in your meetings and remembrances. The best of people after us are those who remember our situation and urge others to remember us. Ibn Qawlawayah p. 174/5

It is reported that al-Fudhayl Ibne Yasaar came to pay his respects to the Imam Ja’far Sadiq (A.S.)

After the exchange of usual courtesies, Imam asked al-Fudhayl: "Do you people ever organise majaalis to recall the martyrdom of Imam Hussain?" Al-Fudhayl, with tears pouring down his eyes, replied: "Yabna Rasulillah, indeed we do." The Imam said: "May Allah bless you. I highly approve of such majaalis."

It must be borne in mind that the Arabs mostly expressed their emotion through poetry. Poetry thus became the medium of describing the horrors of the tragedy of Kerbala, the cause of Imam Hussain and the atrocities which the ahlul-bayt were made to endure. There are today extant several poems which the poets recited in presence of our holy Imams and as such can be regarded as having been approved by them both as to form and substance.

The only historical account in prose that was written not long after the massacre of Kerbala was that of Abi Mikhnaf. His account is relied upon both by Tabari and Shaykh Mufeed (A.R.). Many other accounts were written and published after the ghaybah. The most well known amongst these are the Aamali by Shaykh Suduq (A.R.) and the great work of Allamah Majlisi (A.R.), the Bihar-ul-Anwaar.

While we have evidence of many eminent fuqaha and muhadditheen lecturing to their students on the various aspects of Kerbala, we can not assert with any confidence that they delivered public lectures on the subject. It is, however, authoritatively reported that Shaykh Allamah Majlisi and Shaykh Shushtari, whenever they spoke, whether to the students or in the public, they would end their lecture with a brief reference to the masa’ib of Imam Hussain.

by Muslim Bhanji

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Ziyarat Journal

This is a report from last year's Muharram in Karbala. If anyone knows of other online diaries/journals from ziyarat in Karbala I'd like to read them.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Iraq Report:, eyewitness account of the explosions
Abdul Hussain
Web Posted at: 10:55 pm

I left Iraq with a feeling of sadness, but not the same sadness that I felt entering it. That was the sadness at the approach of the month of Muharram, but I left with the sadness that in this day and age, in the land of the Imams , still there are those who seek to extinguish the fire from the Revolution of Al-Hussain (S). They fear its rememberance, for it teaches all that blood shall always defeat the swords. And these swords are the same ones that belonged to the army of Yazeed, only their wielders now seek to mask their identity. The Shia have always been opressed, be it by the poisoned pens or by the tyrant rulers, but under the wings of the imperial vulture seeking to overshadow Iraq, a false hope of respite and sanctuary had risen.

I arrived in Damascus International Airport at about 12.30am local time, but it took an hour to get through the bribe-prone officials manning the various 'security' controls. I was immediately greeted with bad news by my driver, who informed that the border was closed, but a few people managed to get through one way or another. He said that our best hope was to be there before sunrise, when there fewer police and easier to negotiate a path into Iraq. On this information, I left immediately from the airport to the Iraqi border, without stopping. The Syrian roads are awful, their main highway is a single lane pot-holed road carved through never-ending hills and mountains. Needless to say there is no streetlighting and only the most-experienced of drivers will do speeds over 120 km/h. We arrived at the Syrian control about 4.30am and I made my way to the passport control desk. A rather grumpy-looking man took a look at my passport, but threw it back rather roughly and said 'I'm off to sleep now, you will have to wait'. My initial disbelief was quickly set aside by anger and despite my pleading with him that only a small exit stamp that would take 10 seconds of his time was needed, he went into his room and locked the door. A two-hour wait inside this shoddy building surrounded by featureless desert with temperatures in the sub-zero range was not the best start to my trip. Needless to say there was no hospitality area, restaurants and cafes, but there were something resembling toilets. Thankfully, sleeping beauty awoke and duly smashed the stamp down on a new page in my passport (despite my telling him to do it on a partially filled one) and we were off. We paid the 'ikramiyah' (an almost official bribe) to one of the border guards to not search our car and hinder us any further and that was the last of the Syrian border. And that was the easy bit.

Having just entered the neutral zone, we came across what must have been a 3 mile que of cars and lorries trying to enter Iraq. The driver swerved onto the rough and careered past hundreds of vehicles until we reached the border post. A small sign printed in Arabic and broken English read 'border closed due to security reasons, please return to Syria'. A crowd had formered around a weary looking official (it was 6.45am), everyone wanted to know if they would open the border soon. The reply was 'Maybe, the Americans have closed it, it is up to them'. In the language of corrupt officials that means 'I'll let you through for the right amount'. It was bitterly cold and some had complained that they had been sleeping in the border for 4 days with nowhere to go. They cited an obscure regulation by the Syrian authorities that meant their visas would be made void if they re-entered Syria. I realised that this also applied to me and became aware that it I did not enter Iraq at this opportunity, I wouldn't be able to again in this entire trip.There were heated exchanges with the border guards but to no avail. At one point things got so bad that they started firing their guns into the air to clear the area. We waited, but with no toilets, shops or rest area and freezing temperature, the desert is a graveyard. I saw women and children huddled together in their cars, condensation covering the windows. Apparently, things had got so perilous for one family that they decided to cross the border illegally, by driving across the sand. The Americans spotted them and fired on them with a helicopter gunship killing them all.

It reached about 3pm and finally some American soldiers arrived. I asked why we couldn't enter Iraq and they said that at the request of the Iraqi Governing Council, the border had been closed. This was because a few days earlier, 4 terrorists had entered through this border crossing and blown up a police station. I told them that there families here who only wanted to return home, why couldn't they search them and then let them in? They shrugged their shoulders and said they were only following orders. A couple brought their young son who seemed to be very ill and asked only for medical attention, but they were turned back. A man brought his wheelchair-bound mother who had left Iraq a week ago to visit the Sayyeda Zaynab to ask why she couldn't be let back in to her own country, but likewise they were waved away. Things got desperate, the night had come and some had decided to turn back and try their luck with the Syrians, to let them back into Syria. However, my instinct told me there was hope from the words of the guard we spoke to at dawn. We bided time, and by 11.30pm the Americans had withdrawn. This was our opportunity. Our driver sped to the post, handed over $200 to the guard and quickly made his way past. It happened so fast, I don't think anyone noticed what had happened. We then went to the passport control desk and placed $20 in each of our passports. The smiling official stamped our passports and warmly said 'Welcome to Iraq'. Another $10 ensured we avoided the car and luggage search and entered Iraq with relative ease. Now I understand how any terrorist could enter Iraq easily, with $200 you can buy both countries' border guards and enter with a car-load of weapons. We stayed the night in the car in one of the rest areas on the highway as it was too dangerous to drive at night. I arrived home in Baghdad at 9.30am, two days after I had set off from London. Although I was very tired, I set out to Al-Kadhimiyyah for Ziyara almost immediately because I had promised to do so if I got through the border, what is known as a 'nithir'.

I spent my first couple of days in Baghdad, which seemed to have improved only slightly since my previous visit in the summer. There was a heavy and visible police presence in the city, which seems to have replaced the Americans as the main security force. Indeed, the lack of speeding American Humvees and teenage machine-gun wielding soldiers was apparent. Even at the gates of most government buildings or American bases were scrawny ICDC (Iraqi Civil Defence Corps) guards. No wonder the majority of explosions on American targets have hit Iraqis, they pay them $200 a month to become sitting ducks. In some ways, the city looks more at war now than it did last year. Everywhere you look there is barbed wire and concrete-blocks mounted around all kinds of buildings: schools, offices, police stations, hotels, even internet caf�s. Despite the large numbers of Iraqi police now patrolling the city in their shiny new 4x4s, there are still areas you do not venture into after 9pm. We were returning home late night and had to cut across one such area and we promptly saw a car-jacking in progress. A gang with pistols and automatic machine guns had trapped a car on the road using their cars as road blocks. We sped away and informed the first police patrol we came across. They replied that they weren't being paid enough to risk their lives and they drove away from the area in retreat. For Iraqis, $300 a month is a sizeable wage, but the lawlessness gripping the country means that it has become the price of a human life, and some will argue it is even much less than that.

The city centre was a nightmare, the traffic was horrendous, drivers of newly-imported and unregistered cars competed with taxis over priority. Cars driving on the wrong side of the road on to oncoming traffic was now a normal thing. You even see a double decker bus maneouvering on the pavement (sidewalk) to try to escape the traffic. To make matters worse, the poor souls employed as traffic police were having nervous breakdowns as every single one of their instructions was ignored. The only bright thing for drivers was that petrol was now available in abundance and queues had disappeared, the rate still being 20 dinars per litre (equivalent to 1.5 cents a litre). Police checkpoints were a regular sight but you felt that they were too unprofessional and undertrained to be effective. One evening, I was returning home from an internet caf� in an upmarket area when I heard a gunshot about 50 yards in front of me. I could see a car speeding off into the distance. As I got closer, I saw a middle-aged man lying dead on the floor with blood pouring from the bullet wound in his head. A crowd made up of the local shopkeepers gathered (I noticed they all had guns) and some said this was a feud over money while one man who claimed to know the victim said he was a Baathi and this was score-settling. The police arrived much belatedly and set-up a roadblock checkpoint in the area in the silly hope of finding the attackers. This was a regular event in Baghdad and typified the security situation.

Each area of Baghdad looked like a separate town, the contrast hugely. Enter Al-Aadhamiyyah, a mainly Sunni area with a reputation for being pro-Saddam. This was the place where Saddam made his last public appearance in front of a cheering crowd and the Imam Abu Hanifa mosque is where he fought his last stand against American troops before fleeing. It is a typical downtown area, masses of shops and restaurants, with pop music beating out regularly. An unveiled woman is the norm and you will frequently see spray-painted comments on walls about Saddam being the heroic leader. One such piece read 'Patience, Patience O people of Iraq, the great battling leader Saddam Hussain shall return'. Underneath it, someone had scribbled in Iraqi slang 'Return my arse'. That was the only smile I managed in this area, for most residents will tell you that the slogan is 'wa sa tabqa Al-Aadhamiyyah Baathiyah' meaning 'And Al-Aadhamiyyah will remain Baathi'. Black flags and banners are what greet you in the suburbs of Sadr City, with the voice of some Islamic speaker ringing out on cassette players. On each street corner there is a picture of some local martyr or that of the patron of the area, Sayyid Muhammad Al-Sadr. The sidewalks are crowded, little children crouched over their merchandise which they plead with you to buy. Beggars move between cars in traffic, hoping to receive a few dinars in their outstretched hands. A woman sits on the ground with two infants in her arms, she doesn't seem to have even the will to speak, her heartbreaking situation is ignored by all who stream past her. Suddenly the sound of drumbeats breaks out, a mourning procession comes into view. Men and young boys with zanjeels (chains) swing them against their backs in tandem, while marching in perfect order.

A relative of mine wanted to apply for a job in a factory that was opening soon, he had fixed an appointment with the manager and took me along. Apparently, the manager is a powerful man, a friend and deputy of the Trade Minister who oversees many new operations. Immediately upon entering his office, I felt uneasy, there was something that was not right about this man. His speech and manner was off-putting, his style was not that of a business manager. He said there were no jobs at the moment and that he could not even employ his son (an unlikely story) because his budget was so tight. He then digressed into how he had to look for poorly-paid jobs under Saddam because he spent his years in hiding. Somehow, this seemed a lie because his office was decorated with a style of someone used to a lavish lifestlye. We left without a result, but bumped into a worker who was off-duty. After some brief conversation, he told us that in fact the manager was an ex-Security official for the Baathi government in Basrah and had come to Baghdad under a new guise. He told us that no-one would say anything because they feared losing their jobs and feared him because of his connections. I was told that this was happening all over Iraq, Baathis taking up high-ranking posts because of their connections.

We made a few trips by car to Karbala before the walk and also to Najaf. It was there that I managed to meet with Sayyid Seestani. The little avenue leading to his house off Rasool Street had guards stationed at the corner. They were armed and one had a metal scanner in his hand. Standing with them was a young scholar who answered queries about the Sayyid and his office. After much negotiation I was allowed through to go to the Sayyid's house. The avenue is very narrow, with old houses lining it so that you cannot even look up and see the sun. A guard opened the door to the house and led me through to see Sayyid Muhammad Ridha Seestani, the Sayyid's son. I explained to him that I wanted a short audience with the Sayyid but he insisted that there were too many demands on his time and perhaps I should come back another day. I persisted and he finally relented in allowing me a 10 minute meeting. I was seated in a small waiting area adjacent to the main room. Eventually I was beckoned in, where the Sayyid was seated on the floor. I greeted him and apologised for taking up his time, then I rolled out my list of questions. The Sayyid was in good health, he smiled frequently and focused his attention entirely on what the speaker was saying. He never turned away when I was speaking and would not interrupt me until I finished talking. He does have a thick Iranian accent, but he does understand Iraqi slang and his replies in Arabic, whilst formal, were quite clearly said. He understood immediately what the question was and his replies were without hesistation. He was quite astute and his replies were said in certainty. He was seated on the floor and invited me to sit next to him. His voice was soft and his face quite warm and friendly. Even though this feeling of overwhelming respect was hovering inside, his humbleness relaxed me throughout the meeting. His house was very simple, we were served some traditional tea and offered biscuits. There were a few books piled in the corner and withstanding the electric ceiling fan, you would not be able to tell the difference between this house and one in 1904. The only sight of furniture was chairs for those in the waiting area. I conveyed the greetings of all ShiaChatters to the Sayyid who told me he was very proud of those who did not let distance stop them from gaining Islamic knowledge. I asked him a few personal questions such as his newfound voice in politics and his keeping himself in his house, and the Sayyid replied with a smile and short answer that 'you do what is best at the time'.

We began the walk to Karbala in the early hours on the 8th of Muharram. We were in Kadhimiyyah on the previous night where we attended the various majalis. Our group consisted of some of my relatives and friends from our area. We were a group of about 20 young men, each carrying a flag bearing Imam Hussain's (S) name and a bag containing provisions. We walked for about 2 hours at a time, stopping off to rest in tents set up by locals who lived along the route. We were invited to eat, drink and sleep, even shower before we set off again. The hospitality of these people was unbelievable and it made the journey almost easy. We stayed the night in a tent on the outskirts of a town called Iskandiriya and we set off again at dawn. By midday many of us had blistered feet, but the sight of seeing people walk barefoot made us ignore the pain.

We entered Karbala at 8pm on the 9th of Muharram, having passed at least three checkpoints where we were searched. But this was an underprepared security operation, not able to cope with the millions of pilgrims whom we saw in Karbala. The zanjeel processions criss-crossed the area by the shrines, with latmiyyat blasting out from hundreds of speakers. We managed to find a suitable place to rest in in the walkway between the shrine of Al-Abbas and Al-Hussain . There we left half the group with the bags while the other half went to do the Ziyara. There were officials who searched you rigidly on entry, but the crowds often surged past them. There were so many people that you dared not bend down to pick up your shoe that had come off, for fear of being trampled on. The atmosphere was supercharged, I felt overhwhelmed with emotion. It was a miracle that I actually made it to the dhareehs (the graves), not only was it so crowded, but the crush on my chest almost made me faint. One old man next to me was picked up by his son and thrown towards the grave so that he could reach it. Majalis were being read by several scholars and we eventually decided to set down opposite the shrine of Imam Al-Hussain (S). We managed to find a small space next to a tent housing Iranian pilgrims, but it got so uncomfortable and crowded that we decided to find another place. Apparently, it was next to this tent that one of the bombs eventually went off. We found some space in tents further away and slept the night there. After Fajr prayers, breakfast was handed out and we watched the processions that marched into Karbala.

After about 8.30am, we decided to try to make our way back to the shrine of Imam Al-Hussain (S) so that we could hear the Maqtal (story of his death) being read out. On our way there, as we were opposite the shrine of Al-Abbas (S) coming from the Baghdad Road, a loud explosion went off. It came from the direction of the Imam Al-Hussain (S) shrine. Suddenly the crowd of people started running and were coming towards us. We had no option but to turn back with them, or be trampled on. After about 2 minutes, another explosion went off, it seemed closer. We had stopped by now to see what was happening and after about 3 minutes, we started moving forward again. A few seconds later another bomb went off, this was the closest yet. We walked into one of the hotel lobbies, fearing anything could go off next to us. It was like an air raid, you thought bombs were being dropped. There was smoking rising above both shrines and there was a lot of shouting and screaming. People were running in all directions, desperately clinging on to each other. We stepped out to see what had happended but then another bomb went off. This was the biggest one and it shook us. Glass from the nearby buildings started raining down and we ran for cover. A lot of smoke and dust clouded over the area and we done a head count to make sure we were all together. After a few minutes, I decided to go and see what had happened. My relatives were trying to hold me back but I insisted on going forward. I saw the first few people being carted away, blood covering their bodies. As I got closer, I saw police trying to carry away the injured. What was worse was that there were some bodies whom people simply covered and didn't move. These were the ones whom died instantly. Small fires were burning and people calling out various names. A woman was hysterically looking for her child, she would inspect each of the bodies before going to the next. I tried to think how I could help, refer to my basic medical training, but when I saw the state of some of the victims, I knew I couldn't do anything. The closer I went, the worse the scene. I saw one man with his leg severed but hanging at the thigh by a tether. I saw a small child, his clothes drenched in blood lying next to what seemed to be body parts of his father. There was a head and torso attached, but no arms. The legs were missing as well. Ambulance crews were struggling to get past the crowds, so people resorted to lifting the injured themselves or wheeling them away on carts. Photographers from the media started taking photos of the bodies, but people soon became agitated and started threatening them. It was chaos, many Iranians were screaming and crying, a bomb had gone off next to one of their groups. Bodies littered the streets, those that weren't carried away were draped with a cloth. I counted over 30 dead bodies at the scene. Amazingly, after a short while, the processions started up again. People started coming into the shrines again and it seemed that the bombs were not going to stop the events of the day. Within half an hour, an incredible sight unfolded in front of me, ambulances carried away the dead, while mourners were marching into the shrines doing zanjeel. I eventually left about 11.30am, convinced by my relatives to go back to Baghdad to inform our worried family and friends that we were unharmed.

I was greatly hurt to discover that the Kadhimiyyah shrine was bombed too, because we had friends who were their that day. The next couple of days were spent attending funerals of those who had died in the blast. One of them was a man who had family members executed in 1991, and he leaves behind two small daughters and his wife. There were very few Americans on the streets, fearing a backlash against them. Most people agreed that suicide bombings were the work of Wahhabis but few ruled out American involvement. The common view was that America was at least aware of these attacks, if not the planner behind it. There was a lot of anger on the street, people speaking about using militias to control their areas and waging war against any foreign presence in the holy sites. I managed to make a visit to Samarrah, which was a depressing site. Some of the Iraqi security officials there wore the old uniforms of the Baath regime and the state of the shrines was miserable. There were no books in site and no Ziyara hung on the wall. The shrines and surrounding area were in need of heavy investment.

I had an uneventful journey back to London, stopping over to visit the Sayyeda Zaynab (S). It was a spiritually uplifting journey that was soured by the attacks, but they only reinforced my pride in being a Shia and determination to make our cause known. I too had thought that now Saddam had gone, we would see a golden era of freedom and education, but that is not what the powers that be want for us. For the first time, I really see the possibility of war in Iraq being close, not a civil one, but one against the occupying forces. If the Americans want to avert this, they should either drastically improve the security situation or leave and let the Iraqis deal with these problems.

Friday, February 11, 2005

From Ali Shariati

Yes, for every revolution, there are two visages: blood and the message. Husayn and his companions undertook the first mission, that of blood. The second mission is to bear the message to the whole world, to be the eloquent tongue of this flowing blood and these resting bodies among the walking dead. The mission of conveying the message begins today. Its responsibility rests on the fine shoulders of Zaynab, a woman from whom mankind is to learn virtue. The mission of Zaynab is more difficult and heavier than that of her brother. Those who have the courage to choose their own death have simply made a great choice. But the responsibility of those who survive is heavy and difficult. Zaynab has survived. The caravan of the captives follows behind her. The ranks of the enemy, as far as the eye can see, are in front of her. The responsibility of conveying her brother's message rests solely upon her shoulders. Leaving behind a red garden of shahadat and the perfume of roses, spreading from her skirts, she enters the city of crime. the capital of power, the center of oppression and execution.

With peace and pride, she victoriously announces to the power and cruelty of the slave-agents and executioners, to the remnants of colonialism and dictatorship: "Thank God for all the generosity and glory which He has bestowed upon our family. The honor of prophethood and the honor of shahadat." Zaynab bears the responsibility of announcing the message of the alive but silent shuhada. She has survived the shuhada and it is she who must be the tongue for those whose tongue has been cut off by the sword of the executioner.

If blood does not have a message, it remains mute in history. If the message of blood does not reach all generations, it is as if the executioner has imprisoned the shahid in the castle of one age and one time. If Zaynab does not convey the message of Karbala to history, Karbala remains as a mere historical event; and thus the ones who need this message will be deprived of it. Thus no one will be able to hear the message of those who spoke to the generations with their blood. It is for this reason that the mission of Zaynab is heavy and difficult. The mission of Zaynab is the conveying of a message to all humanity, to all those who weep for Husayn's death, to all those who bow down faithfully to Husayn, to all those who believe the message of Husayn that, "Life is nothing except belief and jihad." The message of Zaynab is as follows:
Oh, all of you who have a covenant with this family, who believe in the message of Muhammad, think and choose. In every age and generation, in whatever land you may be, you must learn to listen to the message of the shuhada of Karbala who said, 'Those can live well who can die well.'
Oh you who believe in the message of monotheism and in the Qur'an, as well as in the way of Ali and his family, and you who will follow us, the message of our family to mankind is the art of living well and dying well. Everyone dies just as he lives.

The message of Husayn to mankind is this:
If you are men of religion, then [live your] religion. If you do not follow a religion, then human freedom has placed a responsibility on your shoulders. As a religious person or a freedom-loving person, be the witness of your time and the shahid of truth and falsehood in your age.

The eyes of the shuhada are upon us. They are conscious, alive, and present. They are the paradigms, the witnesses of truth and falsehood, and the witnesses of the destiny of mankind.

And shahid has all these meanings.

For every revolution, there are two visages: blood and message.

Anyone who has accepted the responsibility of accepting the truth, and anyone who knows the meaning of the responsibility of being Shi'ite, of being a freedom-lover, knows he has to choose in the eternal battle of history, everywhere and in every land. All battlefields are Karbala, all months are Muharram, all days are Ashura? One has to choose either the blood or the message, to be either Husayn or Zaynab, either to die like him or survive like her, if he does not choose to be absent from the battlefield.

... There is much to be said, but how can one sufficiently explain the miracle that Husayn has performed and Zaynab has completed. What I want to say is a long story, but I can summarize it as the mission of Zaynab after the shahadat: those who died committed a Husayn-like act. Those who survive must perform a Zaynab-like act. Otherwise, they are the followers of Yazid.

Thursday, February 10, 2005

Muharram: Speech by Yusuf Ali (translator of Qur'an)

Well, I am not able to go to a bunch of Muharram speeches, but I'll share a few things I've found. This is one that has currently caught my interest, because it is by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, the famous Qur'an translator, available from

The Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project team presents
Imam Husain And His Martyrdom
By Abdullah Yusuf Ali
Renowned English translator and commentator of the Holy Qur'an
(Progressive Islam Pamphlet No. 7, September, 1931)

The month of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic calendar, brings with it the memory of the sacrifice of Imam Husayn [a], the grandson of Prophet Muhammad [s], and his noble family and friends. This short text reflects the deep admiration of its author towards Imam Husayn [a] and an insight into the tragedy of Karbala, its reasons and its consequences. It is presented with the hope that it will foster the Islamic unity and the brotherly love that the author seeks in his preface.

The author, of course, is none other than the well-known Sunni English translator and commentator of the Qur'an, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, who died in 1952 in England. Little would he have known that his English translation and commentary of the Qur'an would become so popular in the West and East alike, wherever English is read and understood.

And little would he have known that later editions of his Qur'an translation and commentary would undergo tampering such that favorable references to Imam Husayn [a] would be deleted, amongst other changes!(*) Perhaps there are some out there who want to see the memory of Imam Husayn [a] wiped out. Perhaps Karbala is not quite over yet.

The Shi'a Encyclopedia team

(*) A detailed and documented case study is now available on Tahrif! Investigating Distortions in Islamic Texts.

Imam Husain And His Martyrdom, Abdullah Yusuf Ali (d. 1952), 41 pages
Lahore: M Feroz-ud-Din & Sons, 1931.

The following pages are based on a report of an Address which I delivered in London at an Ashura Majlis on Thursday the 28th May, 1931 (Muharram 1350 A.H.), at the Waldorf Hotel. The report was subsequently corrected and slightly expanded. The Majlis was a notable gathering, which met at the invitation of Mr. A. S. M. Anik. Nawab Sir Umar Hayat Khan, Tiwana, presided and members of all schools of thought in Islam, as well as non-Muslims, joined reverently in doing honour to the memory of the great Martyr of Islam. By its inclusion in the Progressive Islam Pamphlets series, it is hoped to reach a larger public than were able to be present in person. Perhaps, also, it may help to strengthen the bonds of brotherly love which unite all who hold sacred the ideals of brotherhood preached by the Prophet in his last Sermon.

A. Yusuf Ali.

Imam Husain And His Martyrdom

Sorrow as a Bond of Union

I am going to talk this afternoon about a very solemn subject, the martyrdom of Imam Husain at Kerbela, of which we are celebrating the anniversary. As the Chairman has very rightly pointed out, it is one of those wonderful events in our religious history about which all sects are agreed. More than that, in this room I have the honour of addressing some people who do not belong to our religious persuasion, but I venture to think that the view I put forward today may be of interest to them from its historical, its moral and its spiritual significance. Indeed, when we consider the background of that great tragedy, and all that has happened during the 1289 lunar years since, we cannot fail to be convinced that some events of sorrow and apparent defeat are really the very things which are calculated to bring about, or lead us towards, the union of humanity.

How Martyrdom healed divisions

When we invite strangers or guests and make them free of our family circle, that means the greatest outflowing of our hearts to them. The events that I am going to describe refer to some of the most touching incidents of our domestic history in their spiritual aspect. We ask our brethren of other faiths to come, and share with us some of the thoughts which are called forth by this event. As a matter of fact all students of history are aware that the horrors that are connected with the great event of Kerbela did more than anything else to unite together the various contending factions which had unfortunately appeared at that early stage of Muslim history. You know the old Persian saying applied to the Prophet:

Tu barae wasl kardan amadi;
Ni barae fasl kardan amadi.
"Thou camest to the world to unite, not to divide."
That was wonderfully exemplified by the sorrows and sufferings and finally the martyrdom of Imam Husain.
Commemoration of great virtues

There has been in our history a tendency sometimes to celebrate the event merely by wailing and tribulation, or sometimes by symbols like the Tazias that you see in India, - Taboots as some people call them. Well, symbolism or visible emblems may sometimes be useful in certain circumstances as tending to crystallise ideas. But I think the Muslims of India of the present day are quite ready to adopt a more effective way of celebrating the martyrdom, and that is by contemplating the great virtues of the martyr, trying to understand the significance of the events in which he took part, and translating those great moral and spiritual lessons into their own lives. From that point of view I think you will agree that it is good that we should sit together, even people of different faiths, - sit together and consider the great historic event, in which were exemplified such soul-stirring virtues as those of unshaken faith, undaunted courage, thought for others, willing self-sacrifice, steadfastness in the right and unflinching war against the wrong. Islam has a history of beautiful domestic affections, of sufferings and of spiritual endeavour, second to none in the world. That side of Muslim history, although to me the most precious, is, I am sorry to say, often neglected. It is most important that we should call attention to it, reiterated attention, the attention of our own people as well as the attention of those who are interested in historical and religious truth. If there is anything precious in Islamic history it is not the wars, or the politics, or the brilliant expansion, or the glorious conquests, or even the intellectual spoils which our ancestors gathered. In these matters, our history, like all history, has its lights and shades. What we need especially to emphasise is the spirit of organisation, of brotherhood, of undaunted courage in moral and spiritual life.

Plan of discourse

I propose first to give you an idea of the geographical setting and the historical background. Then I want very briefly to refer to the actual events that happened in the Muharram, and finally to draw your attention to the great lessons which we can learn from them.

Geographical Picture

In placing before you a geographical picture of the tract of country in which the great tragedy was enacted, I consider myself fortunate in having my own personal memories to draw upon. They make the picture vivid to my mind, and they may help you also. When I visited those scenes in 1928, I remember going down from Baghdad through all that country watered by the Euphrates river. As I crossed the river by a bridge of boats at Al-Musaiyib on a fine April morning, my thoughts leapt over centuries and centuries. To the left of the main river you have the old classic ground of Babylonian history; you have the railway station of Hilla; you have the ruins of the city of Babylon, witnessing to one of the greatest civilisations of antiquity. It was so mingled with the dust that it is only in recent years that we have begun to understand its magnitude and magnificence. Then you have the great river system of the Euphrates, the Furat as it is called, a river unlike any other river we know. It takes its rise in many sources from the mountains of Eastern Armenia, and sweeping in great zig-zags through rocky country, it finally skirts the desert as we see it now. Wherever it or its interlacing branches or canals can reach, it has converted the desert into fruitful cultivated country; in the picturesque phrase, it has made the desert blossom as the rose. It skirts round the Eastern edge of the Syrian desert and then flows into marshy land. In a tract not far from Kerbela itself there are lakes which receive its waters, and act as reservoirs. Lower down it unites with the other river, the Tigris, and the united rivers flow in the name of the Shatt-al-Arab into the Persian Gulf.

Abundant water & tragedy of thirst

From the most ancient times this tract of the lower Euphrates has been a garden. It was a cradle of early civilisation, a meeting place between Sumer and Arab, and later between the Persians and Arabs. It is a rich, well watered country, with date-palms and pomegranate groves. Its fruitful fields can feed populous cities and its luscious pastures attract the nomad Arabs of the desert, with their great flocks and herds. It is of particularly tragic significance that on the border of such a well-watered land, should have been enacted the tragedy of great and good men dying of thirst and slaughtered because they refused to bend the knee to the forces of iniquity. The English poet's lines "Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink" are brought home forcibly to you in this borderland between abundant water and desolate sands.

Kerbela and Its Great Dome

I remember the emotion with which I approached Kerbela from the East. The rays of the morning sun gilt the Gumbaz-i-Faiz, the great dome that crowns the building containing the tomb of Imam Husain. Kerbela actually stands on one of the great caravan routes of the desert. Today the river city of Kufa, once a Khilafat capital, is a mere village, and the city of Najaf is famous for the tomb of Hazrat Ali, but of little commercial importance. Kerbela, this outpost of the desert, is a mart and a meeting ground as well as a sacred place. It is the port of the desert, just as Basra, lower down, is a port for the Persian Gulf. Beautifully kept is the road to the mausoleum, to which all through the year come pilgrims from all parts of the world. Beautiful coloured enamelled tiles decorate the building. Inside, in the ceiling and upper walls, there is a great deal of glass mosaic. The glass seems to catch and reflect the light. The effect is that of rich coruscations of light combined with the solemnity of a closed building. The tomb itself is in a sort of inner grill, and below the ground is a sort of cave, where is shown the actual place where the Martyr fell. The city of Najaf is just about 40 miles to the South, with the tomb of Hazrat Ali on the high ground. You can see the golden dome for miles around. Just four miles from Najaf and connected with it by a tramway, is the deserted city of Kufa. The mosque is large, but bare and practically unused. The blue dome and the Mihrab of enamelled tiles bear witness to the ancient glory of the place.

Cities and their Cultural Meaning

The building of Kufa and Basra, the two great outposts of the Muslim Empire, in the 16th year of the Hijra, was a visible symbol that Islam was pushing its strength and building up a new civilisation, not only in a military sense, but in moral and social ideas and in the sciences and arts. The old effete cities did not content it, any more than the old and effete systems which it displaced. Nor was it content with the first steps it took. It was always examining, testing, discarding, re-fashioning its own handiwork. There was always a party that wanted to stand on old ways, to take cities like Damascus readymade, that loved ease and the path of least resistance. But the greater souls stretched out to new frontiers - of ideas as well as geography. They felt that old seats were like dead wood breeding worms and rottenness that were a danger to higher forms of life. The clash between them was part of the tragedy of Kerbela. Behind the building of new cities there is often the burgeoning of new ideas. Let us therefore examine the matter a little more closely. It will reveal the hidden springs of some very interesting history.

Vicissitudes of Mecca and Medina

The great cities of Islam at its birth were Mecca and Medina. Mecca, the centre of old Arabian pilgrimage, the birthplace of the Prophet, rejected the Prophet's teaching, and cast him off. Its idolatry was effete; its tribal exclusiveness was effete; its ferocity against the Teacher of the New Light was effete. The Prophet shook its dust off his feet, and went to Medina. It was the well-watered city of Yathrib, with a considerable Jewish population. It received with eagerness the teaching of the Prophet; it gave asylum to him and his Companions and Helpers. He reconstituted it and it became the new City of Light. Mecca, with its old gods and its old superstitions, tried to subdue this new Light and destroy it. The human odds were in favour of Mecca. But God's purpose upheld the Light, and subdued the old Mecca. But the Prophet came to build as well as to destroy. He destroyed the old paganism, and lighted a new beacon in Mecca - the beacon of Arab unity and human brotherhood. When the Prophet's life ended on this earth, his spirit remained. It inspired his people and led them from victory to victory. Where moral or spiritual and material victories go hand in hand, the spirit of man advances all along the line. But sometimes there is a material victory, with a spiritual fall, and sometimes there is a spiritual victory with a material fall, and then we have tragedy.

Spirit of Damascus

Islam's first extension was towards Syria, where the power was centred in the city of Damascus. Among living cities it is probably the oldest city in the world. Its bazaars are thronged with men of all nations, and the luxuries of all nations find ready welcome there. If you come to it westward from the Syrian desert, as I did, the contrast is complete, both in the country and in the people. From the parched desert sands you come to fountains and vineyards, orchards and the hum of traffic. From the simple, sturdy, independent, frank Arab, you come to the soft, luxurious, sophisticated Syrian. That contrast was forced on the Muslims when Damascus became a Muslim city. They were in a different moral and spiritual atmosphere. Some succumbed to the softening influences of ambition, luxury, wealth pride of race, love of ease, and so on. Islam stood always as the champion of the great rugged moral virtues. It wanted no compromise with evil in any shape or form, with luxury, with idleness, with the seductions of this world. It was a protest against these things. And yet the representatives of that protest got softened at Damascus. They aped the decadent princes of the world instead of striving to be leaders of spiritual thought. Discipline was relaxed, and governors aspired to be greater than the Khalifas. This bore bitter fruit later.

Snare of Riches

Meanwhile Persia came within the Muslim orbit. When Medain was captured in the year 16 of the Hijra, and the battle of Jalula broke the Persian resistance, some military booty was brought to Medina - gems, pearls, rubies, diamonds, swords of gold and silver. A great celebration was held in honour of the splendid victory and the valour of the Arab army. In the midst of the celebration they found the Caliph of the day actually weeping. One said to him, "What! a time of joy and thou sheddest tears?" "Yes", he said, "I foresee that the riches will become a snare, a spring of worldliness and envy, and in the end a calamity to my people." For the Arab valued, above all, simplicity of life, openness of character, and bravery in face of danger. Their women fought with them and shared their dangers. They were not caged creatures for the pleasures of the senses. They showed their mettle in the early fighting round the head of the Persian Gulf. When the Muslims were hard pressed, their women turned the scale in their favour. They made their veils into flags, and marched in battle array. The enemy mistook them for reinforcements and abandoned the field. Thus an impending defeat was turned into a victory.

Basra and Kufa: town-planning

In Mesopotamia the Muslims did not base their power on old and effete Persian cities, but built new outposts for themselves. The first they built was Basra at the head of the Persian Gulf, in the 17th year of the Hijra. And what a great city it became! Not great in war and conquest, not great in trade and commerce, but great in learning and culture in its best day, - alas! also great in its spirit of faction and degeneracy in the days of its decline! But its situation and climate were not at all suited to the Arab character. It was low and moist, damp and enervating. In the same year the Arabs built another city not far off from the Gulf and yet well suited to be a port of the desert, as Kerbela became afterwards. This was the city of Kufa, built in the same year as Basra, but in a more bracing climate. It was the first experiment in town-planning in Islam. In the centre was a square for the principal mosque. That square was adorned with shady avenues. Another square was set apart for the trafficking of the market. The streets were all laid out intersecting and their width was fixed. The main thoroughfares for such traffic as they had (we must not imagine the sort of traffic we see in Charing Cross) were made 60 feet wide; the cross streets were 30 feet wide; and even the little lanes for pedestrians were regulated to a width of 10.5 feet. Kufa became a centre of light and learning. The Khalifa Hazrat Ali lived and died there.

Rivalry and poison of Damascus

But its rival, the city of Damascus, fattened on luxury and Byzantine magnificence. Its tinsel glory sapped the foundations of loyalty and the soldierly virtues. Its poison spread through the Muslim world. Governors wanted to be kings. Pomp and selfishness, ease and idleness and dissipation grew as a canker; wines and spirituous liquors, scepticism, cynicism and social vices became so rampant that the protests of the men of God were drowned in mockery. Mecca, which was to have been a symbolical spiritual centre, was neglected or dishonoured. Damascus and Syria became centres of a worldliness and arrogance which cut at the basic roots of Islam.

Husain the Righteous refused to bow to worldliness and power

We have brought the story down to the 60th year of the Hijra. Yazid assumed the power at Damascus. He cared nothing for the most sacred ideals of the people. He was not even interested in the ordinary business affairs of administration. His passion was hunting, and he sought power for self-gratification. The discipline and self-abnegation, the strong faith and earnest endeavour, the freedom and sense of social equality which had been the motive forces of Islam, were divorced from power. The throne at Damascus had become a worldly throne based on the most selfish ideas of personal and family aggrandisement, instead of a spiritual office, with a sense of God-given responsibility. The decay of morals spread among the people. There was one man who could stem the tide. That was Imam Husain. He, the grandson of the Prophet, could speak without fear, for fear was foreign to his nature. But his blameless and irreproachable life was in itself a reproach to those who had other standards. They sought to silence him, but he could not be silenced. They sought to bribe him, but he could not be bribed. They sought to waylay him and get him into their Power. What is more, they wanted him to recognise the tyranny and expressly to support it. For they knew that the conscience of the people might awaken at any time, and sweep them away unless the holy man supported their cause. The holy man was prepared to die rather than surrender the principles for which he stood.

Driven from city to city

Medina was the centre of Husain's teaching. They made Medina impossible for him. He left Medina and went to Mecca, hoping that he would be left alone. But he was not left alone. The Syrian forces invaded Mecca. The invasion was repelled, not by Husain but by other people. For Husain, though the bravest of the brave, had no army and no worldly weapons. His existence itself was an offence in the eyes of his enemies. His life was in danger, and the lives of all those nearest and dearest to him. He had friends everywhere, but they were afraid to speak out. They were not as brave as he was. But in distant Kufa, a party grew up which said: "We are disgusted with these events, and we must have Imam Husain to take asylum with us." So they sent and invited the Imam to leave Mecca, come to them, live in their midst, and be their honoured teacher and guide. His father's memory was held in reverence in Kufa. The Governor of Kufa was friendly, and the people eager to welcome him. But alas, Kufa had neither strength, nor courage, nor constancy. Kufa, geographically only 40 miles from Kerbela, was the occasion of the tragedy of Kerbela. And now Kufa is nearly gone, and Kerbela remains as the lasting memorial of the martyrdom.

Invitation from Kufa

When the Kufa invitation reached the Imam, he pondered over it, weighed its possibilities, and consulted his friends. He sent over his cousin Muslim to study the situation on the spot and report to him. The report was favourable, and he decided to go. He had a strong presentiment of danger. Many of his friends in Mecca advised him against it. But could he abandon his mission when Kufa was calling for it? Was he the man to be deterred, because his enemies were laying their plots for him, at Damascus and at Kufa? At least, it was suggested, he might leave his family behind. But his family and his immediate dependants would not hear of it. It was a united family, pre-eminent in the purity of its life and in its domestic virtues and domestic affections. If there was danger for its head, they would share it. The Imam was not going on a mere ceremonial visit. There was responsible work to do, and they must be by his side, to support him in spite of all its perils and consequences. Shallow critics scent political ambition in the Imam's act. But would a man with political ambitions march without an army against what might be called the enemy country, scheming to get him into its power, and prepared to use all their resources, military, political and financial, against him?

Journey through the desert

Imam Husain left Mecca for Kufa with all his family including his little children. Later news from Kufa itself was disconcerting. The friendly governor had been displaced by one prepared more ruthlessly to carry out Yazid's plans. If Husain was to go there at all, he must go there quickly, or his friends themselves would be in danger. On the other hand, Mecca itself was no less dangerous to him and his family. It was the month of September by the solar calendar, and no one would take a long desert journey in that heat, except under a sense of duty. By the lunar calendar it was the month of pilgrimage at Mecca. But he did not stop for the pilgrimage. He pushed on, with his family and dependants, in all numbering about 90 or 100 people, men, women and children. They must have gone by forced marches through the desert. They covered the 900 miles of the desert in little over three weeks. When they came within a few miles of Kufa, at the edge of the desert, they met people from Kufa. It was then that they heard of the terrible murder of Husain's cousin Muslim, who had been sent on in advance. A poet that came by dissuaded the Imam from going further. "For," he said epigramatically, "the heart of the city is with thee but its sword is with thine enemies, and the issue is with God." What was to be done? They were three weeks' journey from the city they had left. In the city to which they were going their own messenger had been foully murdered as well as his children. They did not know what the actual situation was then in Kufa. But they were determined not to desert their friends.

Call to Surrender or Die

Presently messengers came from Kufa, and Imam Husain was asked to surrender. Imam Husain offered to take one of three alternatives. He wanted no political power and no revenge. He said "I came to defend my own people. If I am too late, give me the choice of three alternatives: either to return to Mecca; or to face Yazid himself at Damascus; or if my very presence is distasteful to him and you, I do not wish to cause more divisions among the Muslims. Let me at least go to a distant frontier, where, if fighting must be done, I will fight against the enemies of Islam." Every one of these alternatives was refused. What they wanted was to destroy his life, or better still, to get him to surrender, to surrender to the very forces against which he was protesting, to declare his adherence to those who were defying the law of God and man, and to tolerate all the abuses which were bringing the name of Islam into disgrace. Of course he did not surrender. But what was he to do? He had no army. He had reasons to suppose that many of his friends from distant parts would rally round him, and come and defend him with their swords and bodies. But time was necessary, and he was not going to gain time by feigned compliance. He turned a little round to the left, the way that would have led him to Yazid himself, at Damascus. He camped in the plain of Kerbela.

Water cut off; Inflexible will, Devotion and Chivalry

For ten days messages passed backwards and forwards between Kerbela and Kufa. Kufa wanted surrender and recognition. That was the one thing the Imam could not consent to. Every other alternative was refused by Kufa, under the instructions from Damascus. Those fateful ten days were the first ten days of the month of Muharram, of the year 61 of the Hijra. The final crisis was on the 10th day, the Ashura day, which we are commemorating. During the first seven days various kinds of pressure were brought to bear on the Imam, but his will was inflexible. It was not a question of a fight, for there were but 70 men against 4,000. The little band was surrounded and insulted, but they held together so firmly that they could not be harmed. On the 8th day the water supply was cut off. The Euphrates and its abundant streams were within sight, but the way was barred. Prodigies of valour were performed in getting water. Challenges were made for single combat according to Arab custom. And the enemy were half-hearted, while the Imam's men fought in contempt of death, and always accounted for more men than they lost. On the evening of the 9th day, the little son of the Imam was ill. He had fever and was dying of thirst. They tried to get a drop of water. But that was refused point blank and so they made the resolve that they would, rather than surrender, die to the last man in the cause for which they had come. Imam Husain offered to send away his people. He said, "They are after my person; my family and my people can go back." But everyone refused to go. They said they would stand by him to the last, and they did. They were not cowards; they were soldiers born and bred; and they fought as heroes, with devotion and with chivalry.

The Final Agony; placid face of the man of God

On the day of Ashura, the 10th day, Imam Husain's own person was surrounded by his enemies. He was brave to the last. He was cruelly mutilated. His sacred head was cut off while in the act of prayer. A mad orgy of triumph was celebrated over his body. In this crisis we have details of what took place hour by hour. He had 45 wounds from the enemies' swords and javelins, and 35 arrows pierced his body. His left arm was cut off, and a javelin pierced through his breast. After all that agony, when his head was lifted up on a spear, his face was the placid face of a man of God. All the men of that gallant band were exterminated and their bodies trampled under foot by the horses. The only male survivor was a child, Husain's son Ali, surnamed Zain-ul-'Abidin - "The Glory of the Devout." He lived in retirement, studying, interpreting, and teaching his father's high spiritual principles for the rest of his life.

Heroism of the Women

There were women: for example, Zainab the sister of the Imam, Sakina his little daughter, and Shahr-i-Banu, his wife, at Kerbela. A great deal of poetic literature has sprung up in Muslim languages, describing the touching scenes in which they figure. Even in their grief and their tears they are heroic. They lament the tragedy in simple, loving, human terms. But they are also conscious of the noble dignity of their nearness to a life of truth reaching its goal in the precious crown of martyrdom. One of the best-known poets of this kind is the Urdu poet Anis, who lived in Lucknow, and died in 1874.

Lesson of the Tragedy

That briefly is the story. What is the lesson? There is of course the physical suffering in martyrdom, and all sorrow and suffering claim our sympathy, ---- the dearest, purest, most outflowing sympathy that we can give. But there is a greater suffering than physical suffering. That is when a valiant soul seems to stand against the world; when the noblest motives are reviled and mocked; when truth seems to suffer an eclipse. It may even seem that the martyr has but to say a word of compliance, do a little deed of non-resistance; and much sorrow and suffering would be saved; and the insidious whisper comes: "Truth after all can never die." That is perfectly true. Abstract truth can never die. It is independent of man's cognition. But the whole battle is for man's keeping hold of truth and righteousness. And that can only be done by the highest examples of man's conduct - spiritual striving and suffering enduring firmness of faith and purpose, patience and courage where ordinary mortals would give in or be cowed down, the sacrifice of ordinary motives to supreme truth in scorn of consequence. The martyr bears witness, and the witness redeems what would otherwise be called failure. It so happened with Husain. For all were touched by the story of his martyrdom, and it gave the deathblow to the politics of Damascus and all it stood for. And Muharram has still the power to unite the different schools of thought in Islam, and make a powerful appeal to non-Muslims also.

Explorers of Spiritual Territory

That, to my mind, is the supreme significance of martyrdom. All human history shows that the human spirit strives in many directions, deriving strength and sustenance from many sources. Our bodies, our physical powers, have developed or evolved from earlier forms, after many struggles and defeats. Our intellect has had its martyrs, and our great explorers have often gone forth with the martyrs' spirit. All honour to them. But the highest honour must still lie with the great explorers of spiritual territory, those who faced fearful odds and refused to surrender to evil. Rather than allow a stigma to attach to sacred things, they paid with their own lives the penalty of resistance. The first kind of resistance offered by the Imam was when he went from city to city, hunted about from place to place, but making no compromise with evil. Then was offered the choice of an effectual but dangerous attempt at clearing the house of God, or living at ease for himself by tacit abandonment of his striving friends. He chose the path of danger with duty and honour, and never swerved from it giving up his life freely and bravely. His story purifies our emotions. We can best honour his memory by allowing it to teach us courage and constancy.

The End

Wednesday, February 09, 2005


My dad may get to go home from the hospital today.

Yesterday I went to visit him and the guy sharing the room with him coded while we were sitting there. My dad had gotten no sleep all night because the guy was groaning all night and all day. Then my dad was upset that they forgot to get him dinner, too. He was determined he was going home last night and was going to sneak out but mom asked the nurse if he was aloud to leave and she gave him a lecture about how insurance wouldn't cover his stay then or anything that happened afterward and how he could be arrested for leaving with the IV still in because apparently lots of drug addicts try to take it home with them to give themselves drugs through. So he was mad at mom for awhile because he had to stay.

I think they're sending him home awfully soon. He still can't move around very well although he's getting better. They made no mental assessments and they didn't do any tests to verify the cause of this in the first place. My mom has to take off more work to help him out at home because he can't move around enough to stay home alone. So we're happy he's getting better but concerned things really haven't been taken care of - I think he needs a counselor or someone to talk to him besides us about the importance of changing his habits and give him some resources to do so, too.

Monday, February 07, 2005

Awake! :)

Thanks to everyone's well-wishes and prayers and I think also due to Ziyarat Ashoura, my dad woke up today. When I stopped by after work, he was awake, kind of watching TV. He was able to talk a bit. He was still somewhat disoriented and had no memory of the past few weeks and in general didn't seem to remember things too well. Mom said when she talked to him before I got there he had asked her if he was in Salt Lake Hospital and thought it was too far to drive for her. Yeah, it's only a thousand miles or so. :) No idea what made him think of Salt Lake, but you can see he's just a bit out of it, but he seems to be pretty normal. He can't move well; it was quite an ordeal for him to try to use the remote for the TV or put on or take off his glasses or do much of anything like that; it was like his hands didn't know where his face was anymore, like he lost depth perception or just general brain connection between hands and head, etc. But we were all pretty happy to have him know who we were and be able to talk to us today, alhumdooleluh.

Sunday, February 06, 2005

Death for the Living

With things that have been going on lately I've been thinking about death. Not in a morbid sense, don't get me wrong. But I do think pondering death and preparing for it is important because we all face it.

I'm reading The Hereafter by Ayatullah Dastghaib Shiraazi. I like it better than Journey to the Unseen World because the latter's main aim seems to be to frighten whereas this one seems mor evenhanded. Lari's Resurrection Judgment & The Hereafter is also pretty good but not as much to the point as Shiraazi - I appreciate the conciseness. It also has done a good job of explaining Barzakh - the time after death but before the Day of Judgment. I recommend the book to anyone curious on the subject; the Khoei Center Online Library has it. I thought to myself if I have children someday I would read to them about these things even when they're young; not in a way to scare them, but I think it is very important stuff to know and keep in mind. Plus it would do me good to reread it now and then to reset priorities.

Today I visited dad at the hospital. I guess he'd been pretty awake yesterday but today he was totally out. Tomorow they're supposed to take him off the ventilator and he'll breathe on his own or if he can't do that well enough they'll do a tracheotomy, or so one of the doctors said but a nurse said something different. So I am hopeful we'll see more change for the positive this week, insha'allah.

Then my brother and I went to the viewing for Scott Hulen, his neighborhood childhood friend who committed suicide last week. Jeff is supposed to be a pall bearer tomorrow. He was not up to really looking at the body. I went to look at it, and Scott looked very fake because they had so much makeup on him. His eyes were closed but they didn't look right either, I'm guessing because he had shot himself in the temple and it probably messed up his eye. I feel so angry that Scott did this to his family and friends. I'm sorry that whatever was wrong he didn't get help and stay around for his family and loved ones.

While I was there I was thinking about this strange ritual of viewing the body. Some families do it and some others don't. I wonder if the purpose is for people to see him one last time and say good-bye, or morbid curiosity, or both. I wonder if Scott's soul was hanging around his body and listening to all the people talk and if he was regretting what he'd done but now can't undo. Islamic rituals seem to be about getting the body in the ground as quickly as possible, but many cultures delay the burial.

I take some comfort in the ideas that our deeds and prayers for loved ones in the time after their deaths can be helpful to them and comforting to them, and I also found it interesting that they do come around us in a manner of speaking during Barzakh.

I have a huge graduate school thing due this week and I'm still not very far on it. I will need to take a sub day to finish it I guess. I'm thinking Tuesday, insha'allah, since it is due Wednesday. I talked to my advisor and moved up the date of my last class so I am excited to say I should be finished with my Master's Degree June 8 and then have most of the summer without having to worry about it.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

In Threes?

Thanks everyone for your thoughts and prayers, it is really appreciated. My mom was really down yesterday; that was really the first day she's been like that since the first night. My dad's family has to leave today so now mom will be at the hospital alone when we can't be there. She has to go back to work on Monday. In a way having the family here is stressful. It was good they were here, but it is also kind of a relief that they're leaving, too.

One of the neighborhood buddies from childhood of my brother committed suicide yesterday. No one knows why. He was a police officer in Michigan, married, no kids. He had just finished his master's degree. He had tried to call his mom that morning but she was at work and didn't get back to him right away. Then he sent a suicide e-mail to his brother who works in a school here in town. His brother saw it within an hour and contacted police immediately. He was already dead when they got there. My brother is supposed to be a pallbearer in the funeral this Saturday. I feel bad for him because it is just one more bad thing to cope with. His wife started talking about that superstition that things happen in threes and as bad as these two have been I'm trying not to listen to her.

I feel guilty about it, but I almost don't want to go to the hospital at all today. My dad is moving around sometimes and even opens his eyes, but there's no one there in the eyes if you know what I mean. It could just be the sedatives and morphine and stuff or that could be all that's there, so it is really disturbing to all of us to see. He doesn't recognize us or maybe he doesn't even see us. He is still on the ventilator, so they haven't done any tests about mental status or anything else besides basic bodily functioning.

It is very strange but I haven't been thinking about God in all this as much as I should; I'm kind of just operating at the mechanical level. I am concerned about my dad should he die because I'm not even sure he believed in God. But I just don't want to think about it too much, I just hope if he does return that it could be a positive turning point in his life for our sake and his. I haven't even prayed about things that much because I just believe that what God wills will happen and will be for the best, so my prayers haven't been like, Oh save him or oh let him go or anything like that.

Well, I've got to go to work.