What I share are my own thoughts and they may have imperfections so I do not offer them as absolute truth but perhaps matters for thought and discussion.
A second important aspect of the events of Karbala that I feel it is important to discuss is context in prophecy and religious history. The sacrifice of Imam Hussain (as) at Karbala is a monumental event, a pivotal event in religion. Without it, truth is lost. If it is so important, then in the way of Allah swt, it should not be a great mystery or secret.
The passing of successorship by the appointment of Allah swt, as discussed in the last letter, is the way of Allah swt as evidenced by the history of the prophets (sa). So what about the sacrifice of Imam Husain (as)? Is it an event that comes out of nowhere, unlike the other major events of religious history?
Significant events in the plan of Allah swt for delivering guidance to mankind are not sudden unexpected and unforetold events. Early prophets foretold their successors and future events. The preceding scriptures to the Qur’an surviving in the Bible and elsewhere include several references in which prophets foretold the coming of the Prophet Mohamed (saw):
For Moses truly said unto the fathers, a Prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me, unto him shall ye hearken in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you. And it shall come to pass that every soul, which will not hear that Prophet shall be destroyed from among the people. Yea, and the prophets from Samuel and those that follow after, as many as have spoken, have likewise foretold of these days. Ye are the children of the Prophets and of the covenant which God made with our fathers saying unto Abraham: And in they seed shall all the kindred of the earth be blessed.
Deuteronomy 15, 18-19
The Lord thy God will raise up unto thee a Prophet from the midst of thee of thy brethren, like unto me, unto him shall ye hearken. I will them a Prophet from among their brethren, like unto them, and will put My words in his mouth and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him. And it shall come to pass that whosoever will not hearken unto My words which he shall speak in My Name, I will require it of him.
These two passages without a doubt prophecy the coming of “that prophet”, Muhammad (saw). Only he fits all the conditions mentioned – being from the brethren of the Israelites – the Arabs, that he came to speak to ALL people and not just a particular tribe or group, that he is descended from Abraham and connected to the covenant of Abraham established with the advent of circumcision after the birth of Ishmael from whom Muhammad is descended, and speaking only the words that God put in his mouth and none other.
Other passages in the Bible show that people were aware of these prophecies and asked about them, looking for the coming of Muhammad (saw):
And this is the record of John, when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him who art thou? And he confessed, and denied not, but confessed ‘I am not the Messiah.’ So then they asked him, what then, are you Elias? And he said ‘I am not.’ Are you That Prophet? And he answered ‘No’.
From this line of questioning to the prophet John the Baptist, it is clear that in addition to the Messiah, Jesus (as), the people were also waiting for and expecting someone else, the one in the scriptures referred to as “That Prophet”, and described in the conditions above that only Muhammad (saw) meets.
So, when Jesus (as) came, there was yet another to come, called “That Prophet”. If he did not come, then the prophecies would not be fulfilled, contrary to the ways of Allah swt.
Jesus (as) himself on multiple occasions mentioned that there was yet another prophet to come after him, in accordance with the prophecies.
Nevertheless I tell you the truth, that it is expedient for you that I go away, for if I go not away, the Comforter (Arabic: Ahmad, a name of the Prophet Muhammad (saw)) will not come unto you, but if I depart I will send him unto you, and when he is come he will reprove the world of sin and of righteousness and of judgment.
I have yet many things to say unto you but ye cannot bear them now. Howbeit when the ‘Spirit of Truth’ is come he will guide you unto all truth for he shall not speak of himself but whatever he shall hear that alone shall he speak and he will show you things to come.
This ‘Spirit of Truth’ is clearly the same “That Prophet”; we know this because Jesus (as) tells us it is the one who the scriptures say does not speak of himself, and the only person who matches that prophecy is Muhammad (saw). Clearly it is not Jesus (as), because Jesus (as) himself is saying that this prophet is yet to come. And clearly it is not an angel or spirit, because the previous scriptures say it is a man, a prophet.
The successorship of rule is a history with Allah swt beginning with Adam (as) and continuing to Muhammad (saw), but especially firmly established in a covenant between the prophet Abraham (as) and Himself.
The covenant between Abraham and God includes mention even of the 12 imams, the third of which is Imam Husain (as);
This is My covenant which ye shall keep between Me and you and thy seed after thee; Every man child among you shall be circumcised…. And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day as God had said unto him.
Genesis 17:20 (part of God’s promise in this covenant which is signified and remembered by circumcision)
And as for Ishmael, I have heard thee; Behold I have blessed him and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly: Twelve Princes shall he beget and I will make him a great nation.
Some wording in translations of the Bible seem to try to imply the covenant only goes through Isaac, but 17:23 above shows clearly it is between Abraham and “thy seed after thee” which includes Ishmael. The twelve princes are not descended from Isaac so they can in no way be associated with twelve tribes of Israel nor the disciples of Jesus (as); the only people who fit the bill of this promise of God are the twelve Imams (sa) descended from Ishmael from Imam ‘Ali (as), Imam Hasan (as), Imam Husayn (as), and up to the Imam of our age (as).
Therefore it is apparent that the act of circumcision, the sign of this covenant between God and Abraham is a sign for all of us of this promise of the coming of the twelve imams (sa) and the prophets so that we all may be aware of them, listen to them, and follow the right guidance to our own benefit and blessing. God has told us from the time of Abraham (as), then, that all the prophets including ‘that prophet’ Muhammad (saw), and the twelve princes from Ishmael, the twelve imams (sa), would come.
Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his son. Abraham obeyed God as did his son and they prepared for the sacrifice. But at the last minute, Abraham was spared of the task, and the sacrifice of the ram was used to replace it and to become a symbol of the later, Greater Sacrifice.
O Abraham! Of course thou hast faithfully fulfilled the dream, thou art of the truthful ones, but verily it is an open test, we have substituted it with a Greater Sacrifice. We have transferred it to later generations.
Hajj commemorates many aspects of prophet Abraham (as)’s life. Why Abraham (as)? I think it is because the covenant is established with Abraham (as); it is through this covenant that Muhammad (saw) and the imams (sa) are promised. One of the hajj rituals centers on this test to sacrifice his son, and the hajj rituals wind down with the reminder of the Greater Sacrifice that is in its place, via the symbol of the slaughter of an animal that is then (ideally) given to the needy. I find it very interesting that the hajj takes place and then shortly thereafter the new year begins and the dates of the sacrifice of Imam Hussain (as) occur. It is as if the hajj itself is a reminder of this covenant and a signal of the fulfillment of this covenant in Muhammad (saw) and the twelve imams (as), and a sign of Imam Hussain (as)’s role in this covenant that is to come very soon on the calendar. One leads to the other. At the time of the symbolic sacrifice, the head is shaved. In the old scriptures, shaving the head is a symbol of mourning, as is wearing plain clothes like hajis do.
Isaiah 22:12 (note also the weeping and beating the breast, both of which are central in the modern practices of memoriam of the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (as) and his companions in Karbala – here those practices are, called for by God.)
On that Day the Lord called for weeping and beating the breast, for shaving the head and putting on sack cloth.
I don't know if the parallels between hajj and Karbala are really there or not, but I am amazed how when looking at it there seem to be soooooooo many.
Now the Christians believe that the sacrifice that replaced the one tasked upon Abraham (as) was that of Jesus (as). But the Qur’an tells us no.
And their saying: Surely we have killed the Messiah, Isa son of Mary, the apostle to Allah; and they did not kill him nor crucify him, but it appeared to them so and most surely those who differ therein are only in a doubt about it; they have no knowledge respecting it, but only follow a conjecture, and they killed him not for sure.
Further the Christians say the sacrifice that was spared was of Isaac, so that the replacement should be of his seed, as is Jesus (as), while the earlier scriptures and the Qur’an say to the contrary that it was Ishmael who was spared; suggesting the replacement may be of his seed, as is Imam Husayn (as). It is in the line of Ishmael that the symbol of the Greater Sacrifice has been maintained in the hajj rituals.
There are numerous prophecies relayed from the Prophet (saw) and preceding imams (as) about the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (as) at Karbala. In the Bible, there is no prophecy of the crucifixion. Not much in the Old Testament or Torah refers to a sacrifice of a description that would really match the crucifixion events.
But there IS a prophecy that at least seems to match the events of Karbala.
Jeremiah 46: 10
For this is the day of the Lord God of hosts, a day of vengeance, that he may avenge him of his adversaries; and the sword shall devour, and it shall be satiate and made drunk with their blood; for the Lord God of hosts has a sacrifice in the north country by the river Euphrates.
The sacrifice is the means of the vengeance against those who reject to covenant between God and man, those who reject the prophets and imams (sa), because in that sacrifice is the ultimate victory of truth established and the ultimate loss of the losers set solid.
And now that the sacrifice is made, it is a great victory for the martyrs and a great victory for truth, but it is still a case of mourning. Why? It is because of the need for the sacrifice in the first place – the pervasiveness of evil and misguidance and wrongdoing, of oppression and suffering inflicted on the innocents. The matter is not yet over, for the twelfth prince (as) has a further vengeance and further establishment of Truth to fulfill. We await the return of our Imam (as) in completion of the prophecies from the beginning, fulfilling the covenant of Abraham to its fullest. Are we ready?