Part I: Evolution of Dhakiri
The term ‘Dhakiri’ (dh-aa-ki-ree), whatever its dictionary meaning or etymological derivation, has always been understood to relate to the remembrance of the tragedy of Kerbala in 61 A.H. With all its cultural variations and linguistics differences it has a central religious content. This is essentially to hold mourning ceremonies for the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (A.S.) and his companions as well as the brutal and inhuman manner in which the survivors of the house-hold of the Holy Prophet (SAWA) were taken prisoners, paraded through the cities of Iraq and Syria and finally brought before Yezid, the architect of the carnage and unparalleled atrocities. Today we find these mourning ceremonies are held by our Shiah brothers and sisters in every continent. However small a community, with the advent of the months of Muharram and Safar the community leaders look for dhakirs to help the members in their aza-e-Hussain. The tragic tale remains the same. There is nonetheless a growing vigour amongst the participants in the aza. The hearts cry out "Ya Hussain!", the tears flow uncontrollably at the very mention of the name of a martyr. The audience may have heard it all hundreds of time, and yet the sorrow and grief never seem to abate.
To a dispassionate observer all this may seem to be incomprehensible. Yet he can not but appreciate the underlying strength of character, the devotion of the participants to their Imam and his followers and the determination of the traders, industrialists, working men and women and the youths constituting the community to preserve their identity as Shiahs. This is our resource. This is our strength. This is our dormant volcano which can unleash the lava of spirituality to enlighten not only the Muslim ummah but also the entire mankind. Sadly they remain as yet not fully exploited. In this paper I propose to suggest ways and means of how best we can tap this vast energy within aza-e-Hussain for the betterment of the community.
Let me make it clear. None of my suggestions is original. Some of them I have heard many a times from our ‘ulama. Mulla Asger has also on many occasions discussed them from minbar as well as at those meetings which I have had the privilege to attend. I would, therefore, request you take this paper as a collation of what I have heard and read.
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:
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 Zainul Abideen (A.S.) is reported to have said:
Ibn Qawlawayah p. 103
Ibn Qawlawayah p. 104There is also the following tradition reported from the fifth Imam:
Ibn Qawlawayah p. 174/5
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."
On another occasion, the poet Ja’far ibne Iffaan recited to our Imam al-Sadiq a poem on the tragedy of Kerbala. The Imam began to weep uncontrollably. He then addressed the poet in the following terms:
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.
It is possible that during this early period, whenever the circumstances permitted, dhakirs began to appear and occupy the minabir to acquaint the people with the tragedy of Kerbala and the cause of Imam Hussain (A.S.). Poetry must always have played a part in the rendition of masa’ib. I recollect that in my childhood during the masa’ib the account would be interspersed with short poems, which were known as bandh.
Part II: Philosophy of Dhakiri
Aza-e-Hussain is a force that can be mobilised to take the community to the pinnacle of spiritual enrichment. The people who can make us attain this objective are our dhakirs. They have the undivided attention of their audience during the months of Muharram and Safar. The audience is there willing and waiting to surrender their emotions to the words of the dhakir. This also prepares them to listen to and imbibe the account of the cause of Imam Hussain (A.S.), the basic values of Islam and what is expected of them as good Muslims. They would be willing to be placed in the ‘discomfort zone’ by some home truths from the dhakir, so long as the dhakir does not go into personal attack of any person or group.
We must never lose sight of the fact that we have only two institutions to impart knowledge of Islamic precepts, ethics, the basic values and to deal with social and other problems confronting the community. One is the madressa and the other is the majaalis. For the adults and the youths no longer in the madaaris they have only one forum for spiritual enlightenment. This is the majaalis.
There may be dhakirs who may feel that in order for the masa’ib at the end to have the maximum impact they should not disturb the community’s personal equilibrium by transporting them to a discomfort zone. For this reason some of us prefer to devote the earlier part of the majlis by narration of munazirah or fadhail, often employing linguistic acrobatics, talking much, saying very little of any use to anyone.
In October 1984 the Irani magazine al-Tawheed published an editorial which was an eye opener to me. In my opinion it encapsulates the entire philosophy of dhakiri. For this reason I feel I must share excerpts from that editorial with you. Please forgive me for subjecting you to such a long quotation:
Al-Tawheed Vol II: 1
Every dhakir must fully appreciate the fact that he sits on the minbar to continue the struggle of Imam Hussain and to endeavour and accomplish the cause of the great martyr. In order to fully comprehend this function we need to briefly examine the history.
From the day he left Madinah on the 28th Rajab in 60 Hijrah, at every stage, our Imam made his mission clear. He left no doubt as to his intentions. It was not to fight Yezid to get the throne of the empire over which the khalifah ruled. Imam’s mission was to reawaken the spirit of Islam and rekindle the Islamic conscience which was nearing extinction by the conduct of Muawiyah and Yezid. Justice and morality were gradually being destroyed by the greed for land and power of those who had become rulers. Qur'an insists that distinction can be accorded by piety alone. Since the death of the Holy Prophet a social order had come into existence creating an aristocracy based on nepotism and blood relationship.
Let us look at some of the statements by Imam Hussain. Before leaving Madinah Imam Hussain made a will and handed it over to his brother Muhammad Hanafiya. In this will Imam wrote: "My mission is to reform the muslim community which I propose to do by AMR BIL MA'RUF AND NAHYA ANIL MUNKAR, inviting them to the good and advising them against evil. It is not my intention to set myself as an insolent or arrogant tyrant or a mischief maker".
In Mecca Imam addressed a large group of scholars who had come for pilgrimage. He exhorted them to do amr bil ma'ruf and nahya anil munkar and not to pander to the philosophies of the rulers who paid them to keep away from truth. This was a long and powerful speech reminding the scholars of their duty to inculcate Islamic conscience and not to mislead the masses who trusted them.
The sole cause for which Imam Hussain set out from Madinah was to perform his duty to do amr bil ma'ruf and nahya anil munkar to the ummah which had not only apathetically accepted the evil that had been flowing from the court in Damascus but, sadly, begun to emulate it. The inevitable consequence of this would have been a total destruction of all Islamic values.
In a letter which he addressed to the people of Kufa Imam wrote: "An Imam is one who judges by the Holy Qur'an, upholds justice, professes the religion of truth and dedicates himself to obeying Allah and His Prophet."
When Hur and his army stopped Imam caravan from going to Kufa, and Hur told Imam that his order from ibne Ziyad was to ask Imam for Bai'at to Yezid, Imam refused to declare Bai'at to someone who was only serving his own ends and not of Islam. Hur said that such an attitude might cost Imam his life. Imam replied: "Are you threatening me with death? Death is many thousands of times better than the dishonour of Bai'at to an enemy of Islam. Do you not see that truth is not being practised and falsehood is not being prevented? I see death as a blessing and life with tyrants as the most disgusting state one can be in."
Imam addressed Yezid’s army and concluded his speech with these immortal words: "My parents did not raise me to submit myself to an evil tyrant. I am your Imam and it is my duty to tell you that you have surrendered the freedom of your mind to the evil ways of Yezid. If you do not care for Islam, and do not fear the day of judgement, at least do care for that precious gift from Allah, the freedom of your spirit!"
And then, realising that there was none amongst the enemy who was prepared to heed to his advice, he climbs a sand dune and cries out: "Who is there who would help us?" Was our Imam crying out for someone to come and help him in his plight or assist him in the battle against the forces ranged against him? There was no one left. Hur had come over and laid down his life. Even infant Asghar had been killed. Who was then our Imam calling out to? He was calling out to the future generations to continue his frustrated cause of doing amr bil ma'ruf and nahya anil munkar.
When a dhakir sits on the minbar he must remember that he has assumed the responsibility to help the holy Imam in his cause.
I would like here to make a respectful suggestion. We the dhakirs should during the months of Muharram and Safar repeatedly remind our audience that aza-e-Hussain is not a mere ritual. It is a commitment to Imam Hussain (A.S.). A commitment by each one of us, men and women, young and old, to uphold the values of Islam and to subordinate our hearts to the wishes of Imam Hussain. Aza is our way of responding to his call of ‘hal minnasireen yansuroona’ and we shall be miserably failing in our response if we treated this most important institution as a mere ritual. The responsibility lies with us, the dhakirs, and if we fail to discharge this responsibility we shall be answerable to Allah SWT.
I seek your indulgence to make two final points.
Firstly, every dhakir owes it to the minbar to cultivate and safeguard his credibility through his conduct, speech and behaviour.
Secondly the community must recognise
that if the important institution of majaalis is to survive for the coming
generations, especially here in the West, the reputation of the dhakirs
should not be assailed in public, especially in front of one’s children.
This could create disillusionment not only with the dhakir but also with
the institution of majaalis.