What Is The Origin Of The Meaning Of Karbala?

Assalamu alaykum, wa Rahmatu Allah. An interesting question: what's the origin of the meaning of Karbala? I don't think we've explored this question too much, but I remember in my research that there are different opinions as to the meaning of Karbala.

On the first level, if we go back to the Babylonian terminology and definition, first opinion I remember is Karbala, meaning closeness to God. If you look at the word Karbala and possibly see the way it was used in Babylonian times - 'Karb- ila', 'Qurb- ila' 'Qurb- ila Allah' - therefore meaning closeness to God. A second opinion is what- 'Qurban ila' - a sacrifice for God. As if there is knowledge of a sacrifice which is to take place on the plains of Karbala. The third definition is the definition related to the geographical nature of the earth of Karbala.

It was seen as being a very, very soft earth and therefore was known as Karbala. Fourth meaning talks about the fact that this particular place has a purifying quality. In Arabic, if someone says Karbalt al-unta', means that I purified the wheat from all of the possible residue or impurities that surrounded the wheat. So here, if we look at Karbalat, the idea is a purification that takes place.

But no doubt on the fifth level, it is most associated with trial, with tribulation, with difficulty and with grief. Because whenever you break down the word Karbala, you always get Karb and bala'. And when you look at those two words and you bring them together, it relates so much to the man who gave honour to the land of Karbala in his presence and his martyrdom.

Because Karbala, until today, is so associated with Imam al-Husayn, alayhi as-salam, more than anybody else, and yet it becomes that land which has had so many names from the Babylonian times, as he himself talks of other names, when he mentions, for example, the names such as 'Al-Ghadiriyyah' and the ‘Nawawwiyah’ and so on. But when it comes to the name Karbala, he recognised that this is the land of Karb and bala and what trials, what tribulations, what grief did they see?

That's why I remember Sharif Al-Radi, when they would always say to him, the author of Nahj Al-Balagha, they would always say to him, "Why don't you go to Karbala on Ashura?" And he would say, "If you knew what took place in Karbala, you would know what a land of trial and tribulation it is and what happened to the family of Rasul Allah, salla Allahu alayhi wa alih. They would keep saying to him, "Go to Karbala one year in Ashura. Why do you do your Ziyarah from Kadhmayn, why are you not at Karbala on the day of Ashura? Until he got to Karbala.

One narration mentions on the day of Ashura and he composed those famous lines of poetry: Karbala, la zilti Karb wa bala'. When he narrated those lines, when he said those lines of poetry, he died on the spot, near the grave of Imam al-Husayn, alayhi as-salam . For at that moment he highlighted to all of us that with all the names and all the definitions, it remains that place of trial, tribulation, sadness and grief enveloping the heart of Rasul Allah, salla Allahu alayhi wa alih.

Wa as-salamu alaykum, wa Rahmatu Allah.

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