An Emotional Account

Karbala. Nothing can render you more speechless and awestruck than a visit with Aba ‘Adillahil Hussain (as)….

By Syeda S Jafri

We arrived in Najaf on the 7th of Muharram and paid our respects to Maula-e-Kainat, Ameerul-Momineen, Hazrat Ali Ibne Abi Talib (as), whose resting place was literally steps away from our abode.  The air was brisk and welcoming; the feeling of peace and serenity is overwhelming in Najaf.  It is undoubtedly unparalleled in every way.

The majestic haram of Asadullah (as) is truly indescribable.  How does one choose words befitting enough to justify that feeling of emotional helplessness that overpowers you within seconds?  There is an imperial, glorious presence and aura that you’ve never experienced before – it is new, it is formidable, it is mesmerizing but most of all, it is simply triumphant.  A feeling of victory – because you finally made it.  For long it was merely a vision or an impossible dream, yet, somehow you are here – able to convey your humble salutations to him directly.  Something I never thought would ever materialize or manifest so soon and so beautifully.

Every place we visited; be it Masjid-e-Kufa where Imam Ali (as) established the foundation of his Caliphate rule and was ultimately martyred, to his humble home which still remains…to the shrine of Hazrat Muslim (as), to Majid-e-Sahla (where many prophets have visited and prayed and where our 12th Imam will evidently establish his home after Zuhoor), every blessed place, every step, every road, every turn, every distance travelled told its own story and shared its own tale.  What made this that much more incredible was that we were now a part of it.  We were now counted among the Zaireen of Najaf – Alhamdulillah.

After staying two days in Najaf and exploring all the incredible ziyarat spots affiliated with Najaf and beyond, with heavy hearts, we then headed for Karbala.   One must brace oneself before embarking towards pure light and noor – you must be mentally prepared and ready.  Not everyone will understand this juncture, but if you have the ma’refat and a deep-rooted connection with Aba ‘Abdillahil Hussain (as), then you will surely be fully prepared to embrace what lay ahead.

Once we parked our bus at the bus stop (roads surrounding the Haram are closed and sealed off before ‘Ashura), we proceeded by foot towards our abode.  Gradually, as we grew closer to our blessed destination, the resting place of Ghazi Alamdar, Abul Fazlil Abbas Ibne Ali (as) came into view.  Its bright dome and welcoming lights tore into our hearts as tears began flowing uncontrollably.  Another feeling of triumph, because yet again…we made it.  And we knew what lay ahead…resting not too far from his brother was our thirsty Imam waiting for us.

As we neared the Haramain (“two Harams” – Imam al-Hussain’s and Hazrat Abbas’ in very close proximity to one another), our heavy hearts continued to palpitate; I felt almost too feeble and weak to walk the remaining distance.  There he was in front of us: our Mazloom Imam. Ruthlessly slaughtered and butchered along with his precious ones on this very land that we tread upon.  Was I really walking on the plains of Karbala…do I truly behold in front of me the endearing place of shahadat of my beloved Imam?  How could this be?  How could my impure, unclean eyes be given this honour?  Is this where the skies wept blood? Is this where the Earth quaked and trembled as the Heavens cried out: “Al-Qutilatil Hussain be Karbala!!!”…??? Is this the very land where the Angels lamented for Al-Hussain (as)?  How is it possible that I am standing on the very land where my beloved Imam (as) and his cherished ones lay headless, trampled and unburied for days?  Is this really the same place where Maula Abbas’ arms were cut and fell one by one?  Is this the Karbala where my beloved Imam dug Asghar’s tiny grave with his own hands?  Is this the same burning desert where Maula Hussain crawled on his hands and knees searching for Ali Akbar’s body?  How can it be that this is the very place where Sayyeda Zainab (as) and Imam Sajjad (as) were inflicted with unspeakable cruelties and sufferings?  As I struggled to answer these questions, I could not come to terms with my own unworthiness and lowliness and how a servant like me – riddled with sinful crimes and transgressions – can be standing on this blessed piece of Earth, where Prophets, Ma’sooms and Awliya have tread before.  It was beyond any logical reasoning and comprehension…

At times, I cannot determine whether Karbala is indeed a blessed land, or rather a wretched and cursed piece of Earth.  Maybe it is both.  The official name “Karb-o-bala” means “calamities and tribulations”.  In this sense, it is cursed.  Pure, holy blood was spilt on this very land once upon a time.  Karbobala was chosen to witness the calamities and hardships of Aal-e-Rasool (saww), but now it is the resting place of these beloved personalities.  Its sand and dirt contains healing powers which people readily consume.  It is the home of countless divine miracles.  People travel from afar to offer their respects, salutations and tears – they return home blessed and purified.  Thus, maybe it is both.  It was a cursed land turned blessed, perhaps.

Our pleasant hotel was comfortably situated extremely close to the Haramain.  How privileged and blessed we were to be steps away from our loved ones!  I was thrilled to see how convenient it was.  Our Maulana first took us to the entrance gate of Hazrat Abbas (as) and after reciting short masa’ib, he led us inside to do the ritualistic Ziyarat and “Izne Dukhool” (permission to enter).  We spent some time with Maula Abbas (as) before we moved towards the rauza of Imam Al-Hussain (as).

“Before you enter the Haram of Aba ‘Abdillahil Hussain (as), our beloved Imam puts a soothing hand on your heart,” I have been told by my buzurgh, my elders.  It is to comfort you so that you may tolerate this intimate visit with him.  The mere mention of Imam Al-Hussain’s (as) masa’ib (his sufferings and martyrdom) is sufficient for one to be dangerously overcome by intense grief and sorrow – this is why it is said that he eases and alleviates your pain before you enter.  You will cry, you will lament, you will grieve…but you will remain in a sound frame of mind.  Most importantly, you must not forget your purpose: to profess your love and pledge your allegiance to the King of Martyrs.  This is why you have come.  This is why you have been summoned.  Oh, Master! You have not sacrificed everything you had in vain!  I am here….Labbayk, ya Hussain (as)!  I am at your service. I will spread your message.  I will help your cause.  I will further your mission.  I will send my salutations upon you and shed tears for you for as long as the days and nights follow each other!

We spent some individual time inside the Haram.  Despite all the planning and intentions, once I approached the Zarih, I couldn’t remember a thing.  It was just me and my beloved Imam.  There was nothing else. No one existed but the two of us.  For a long time I couldn’t speak….I couldn’t even cry at first.  The solace and tranquility that I was experiencing transcended and surpassed all the grief and sorrow that was waiting to externalize.  And it did….in due time.  I prayed for others first.  Oh, Master!  Help this Ummah rise again!  Help the believers on the Day when there is no help!  We beg for your intercession, Maula.  Reform us, cleanse us, elevate us, purify us…pardon us! With each visit, the attachment grew, rendering it very difficult to bid farewell in the end…  “…he puts a soothing hand on your heart…” Oh, Maula…I want to feel your soothing hand on my heart over and over again….please invite me back…..

First-hand experience of Iraqi culture was quite interesting and perplexing at the same time.  The ritualistic customs and traditions surrounding the first ten days of Muharram were strange and unique.  Countless street theatre, plays and re-enactments could be seen on every street, intersection, and neighbourhood.  Rehearsals for Qama (sword) Matum/Jaloos begin many days preceding ‘Ashura, each day growing in intensity with waving swords, beating drums, blaring trumpets and massive loudspeakers.  We see this intensity peak at fajr time on the day of ‘Ashura when mourners fill the streets to watch in anticipation as the swords strike and the blood flows – from children to seniors.  This is their expression of condolence, fury and loyalty.  We then watched as mock tents were set ablaze through re-enactment at ‘Asr time in front of the “Khaimagah-e-Hussaini” (the place where Imam Hussain and his family had pitched their tents).  This was one of the most horrendous and heart-wrenching re-enactments we had witnessed.

On the 11th of Muharram, we embarked towards Samarrah and Kadhmain, the resting places of four Ma’sooms (as).

Samarrah.  Birth place and place of ghaibat of our 12th Imam (atf).  Subject to two bombings in the past; rebuilding and construction efforts are still underway.  As we approached the Haram, the scene became more and more tragic as each step reminded us of the mazloomiat and helplessness surrounding the vicinity.  Security was tighter than usual due to the volatile nature of the neighbourhood.  There was destruction and rubble as far as the eye could see.  One could do nothing but shed tears with a heavy, aching heart….

We spent some time with Imam Aliyyun Naqi (as) and his son Imam Hasan al-Askari (as).  Incidentally, both of Imam-e-Zamana’s (atf) parents are buried in his home town as Bibi Narjis Khatoon (12th Imam’s mother) is also buried next to her husband, along with his aunt, Bibi Hakima Khatoon (11th Imam’s sister).  We clung to the Zarihs, read our Ziyarats and hajaat before we bid farewell and left for Kadhmain.

Kadhmain.  It was just as we had imagined.  The construction of the Haram is beautiful, very similar to Imam Al-Hussain (as).  We spent some time with our two beloved Imams:  Musa Al-Kadhim (as) and Mohammad Taqi (as).  We knew this was our last destination as we clung to the Zarihs desperately, hoping this visit would never end for we knew that it was time to go home from here….

We boarded our buses one last time as we headed for Baghdad airport.  As we began departing slowly, the dull, painful ache in our hearts grew unbearable as our tears bid farewell to all our beloved that slept here on this cursed and blessed land – hoping and silently praying that this sunrise would not be our last sunrise in Iraq.