The sky is starry and a more-than-half-full moon is shining bright. As I run round and round in the field, warming my body amidst the cold nightly breeze, I think of another man, many, many years ago, sitting in his tent with his hands extended in prayer to Allah, the Creator of the Heavens and the Earth. Out in the world of Islam, a dark power was spreading its tentacles and had finally come face-to-face with the grandson of the Prophet - the torchbearer of an order based on justice not brute force. With less than a hundred fighting men, Husayn ibn Ali knew he had not the slightest chance against the might of the Umayyad army. But he also knew that his duty was not to win a war; his duty was only to stand for principles, come what may.
That night as he stood on the soft sands of Karbala, so near yet so far from the flowing waters of the Euphrates, Husayn ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib ibn Abdul Muttalib must have looked at the same starry heavens above and the less-than-half full moon that I now see. He must have felt peace dawn upon his heart: tomorrow, courage was all he would need. He was the son of Ali ibn Abi Talib – Arabia’s greatest warrior in his generation - he had enough courage in his blood. Tomorrow, he will have to face death in defense of principles of governance espoused by Islam - death in Allah’s path. He could not have feared that either. Looking at the beauty of the heavens above and the grandeur of desert around him, Husayn ibn Ali, must have contemplated the beauty of the Creator of Beauty, Allah the Beautiful. By Allah’s decree, tomorrow, he would go down in history as the Great Imam of Muslims, torch-bearer of Justice and Truth. His legendary sacrifice would continue to breathe courage into people of all times, when they stand up against the forces of tyranny and oppression.
Sects amongst Muslims have long bickered over the historical details of the Battle of Karbala. For an intellectual tradition like that of Islam, which accommodates diversity of opinion, this seems nothing but natural. Yet, all things said and written must have some relevance. And tonight, as we contemplate the majestic sacrifice of Imam Hussayn and his companions, camped near the banks of the Euphrates, pitted against the brutal might of an illegitimate ruler, those squabbles have no relevance. Tonight, it is imperative to remember this: all it takes is a few good men to stand for Truth and Justice, and then neither death nor insult can keep the withering flames of Injustice alive for long – sooner or later, illegitimacy of cosmic proportions melts before the courage of a few devoted honest human beings. As we pay rich tribute to the beloved Imam, the other point to remember is that the battle engaged in by the Imam is an ever-going battle. Yazid’s legacy may crumble before the moral might of the slain Imam’s sacrifice, but sooner or later, in one form or another, that legacy gets resurrected. Thus it is that the wise say: Each age will need its own Husayn.
May it be that in the battles of our times, we think and act as the spiritual descendants of Imam Husain and not as the lackeys of Yazid. May it be that we choose the right side, and stay the course, despite all that it takes. Tonight, as I behold the ancient stars – silent spectators of the Battle of Karbala – the best I can do is to extend my hands to pray “O Allah! Guide us to the right path.” It comforts me to remind myself that many years ago, in the silent stillness of a vast desert, a Man of Destiny did the same. Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and his companions.