The martyrdom of Imam Husayn, the grandson of Muhammad, together with his seventy-two companions at Karbala, stands out as a critical point in world history for the Shi’a community. It is commemorated each year with a period of intense mourning during the first ten days of the month of Muharram, culminating in the Day of Ashura, the day of the massacre itself, which is in turn followed by a further period of mourning for another thirty days. To learn more about the events, see my article on this site “Husayn and Karbala: a role model for humanity” (Written Resources – Articles).
During the first ten days of Muharram in November 2013, I was invited to join a Shi’a Muslim leader, Syed Dr Talib Hussain Warsi, in a series of conversations around the events, their place in a wider human context and their relevance for today. Each programme begins with an introduction from Dr Warsi and ends with the traditional Shi’a lamentations in mourning the events. To be part of such an experience is normally only available within the Shi’a community but these programmes allow us to gain a sense of this central time of the year for them. The programmes were broadcast on a Shi’a satellite channel and made available worldwide through YouTube; they have the authenticity of a Shi’a speaker talking to Shi’a believers and thus carry with them the emotions of the customary mourning.
The shrine at Karbala in Iraq attracts millions of visitors each year during the period of Muharram. Sadly it features in news reportage of extremist acts not only at that time. Such extremism is deplored by both Sunni and Shi’a alike; just as the massacre of Husayn and his companions was perpetrated by extremists and is regarded as an outrageous act by both communities. Something terribly wrong had happened in the Muslim community with the massacre of the grandson of the Prophet within fifty years of his death!
Episode 1. Setting out from Madina
Episode 2. Leadership in the face of tyranny
Episode 3. Living with diversity
Episode 4. Controlling people through debt
Episode 5. Taking a stand
Episode 6. The polarities of human life
Episode 7. Turning back to God
Episode 8. The strength of women
Episode 9. The fear of death
Episode 10. The Day of Ashura