Critical Juncture In The Life Of Mankind

Days Of Separation

The days of separation are distinct occasions in history that classify people into two or more groups. The place of these occasions in history is similar to that of crossroads which people come across during their journeys. Roads and highways bring together the travelers till they reach the crossroads where they split into two, three or more groups. In the same way, days of difficulty separate people who were together during days of ease and comfort.

The holy Qur'an named the day of Badr the Day of Separation1 because the people who were hitherto living together in Mecca during peace time were divided into two belligerent parties on that day.

It is not always possible for a person to live a life of civility and pleasant social intercourse with all the people, for God Most High has assigned, in the course of history and the life of mankind, days on which they have to make a resolution concerning what they say or do. They have to take a decision on war or peace; whether to continue their relationships or sever them; whether they will turn towards God or away from Him. These days are the days of separation.

Ashura Is Among The Days Of Separation

The day of Ashura was a day of separation in Islamic history. It divided the people who were living together during peace time into two different groups: one group stood with Husayn (‘a) and fought the Umayyads, while the other supported the Umayyads and fought Husayn (‘a). On that day, the people had no choice but to select and decide on which side they would fight, and, there was no other option. This is the feature which distinguishes the days of separation: it forces the people to choose the party to which they will give their loyalty and repudiate the other.

People are unequal in terms of strength and weakness, courage and timidity, faith and hypocrisy, generosity and niggardliness, and loyalty and repudiation, but these differences do not appear clearly in time of peace and comfort. They meet in the markets, the mosques and other gatherings with nothing to distinguish one from the other and without knowing one another. Sometimes one does not know even oneself! When the days of separation come the people can be distinguished as they differ from one another, for a man’s true worth is known only in a moment of crisis: thus, one's nature which was unknown before, is now revealed to others and, sometimes, even to himself.

The day of Ashura was one such day. It divided the people into three groups. One was seduced by the world so they succumbed to their vain desires and were destroyed. Another group freed themselves from the grip of their desires and managed to weather the test, albeit with great effort and suffering. All the same, they were able to land safely and meet God at the end. A third group hastened to meet their Lord unencumbered by other considerations and without any difficulty, suffering or indecision. They separated themselves from the object of trial as a hair comes out of sour milk.

These three conditions with regard to turning towards or away from God are found at all times and places, although people are not usually differentiated from one another. It is the days of separation that differentiate people.

Now let us ponder upon these three classes of people that the day of Ashura unveiled.

First Class

This is the group that failed the test. On analysis we find that:

(i) This class of people did not like to be consumed by tribulation in the initial stage, nor reject the truth, nor disregard God. In fact, they loved God and pursued the truth, as this is something that is implanted by God Most High in the very nature of every human being.

(ii) They desired that God should bestow upon them the good of this world and the next, so that they may enjoy both. This desire is part of the innate nature of mankind and forms part of our psychological reality.

(iii) The drive towards this world was stronger in the minds of these people than the drive towards God, but they were not cognizant of this fact before they reached the crossroads (the point of separation). Others were also not aware of this trait that was found in this group till they also reached the point of separation. The point of separation disgraced them before others and acquainted them with their own reality.

Second Class

This group reached the point of safety although with much difficulty. Analysis shows that:

(i) This group desired to enjoy the world and its pleasures and did not hold any aversion to worldly pleasures as relished by all people.

(ii) They hoped that God would give them this world and the next, and save them from any predicament in which they would have to choose one of the two. They hoped that they would always live in peace and keep both their religion and their worldly benefits, so that they might carry out their duties toward God Most High the way He wanted and also enjoy worldly pleasures to their fill.

(iii) They wished that their worldly inclination should not control or rob them of their ability to choose and take decisions. Therefore they wanted to possess a sound conscience that was free to make resolutions despite the fact that they were taking part in worldly matters like the rest of the people and enjoying the world like them.

(iv) They retained the freedom to decide by the time they reached the point of separation, where it became mandatory to select one of the two ways: God or the world. So they disassociated themselves from this world and turned towards the next world, from falsehood towards the truth, from selfish interest and the opponents of God (taghut) towards God, although with difficulty and much effort, for they were disentangling themselves from the grip of the world.

This is the nature of taking a difficult decision in life. There are two forms of decision making: a difficult one and a simple one. The resolution taken by the people in this class at the point of separation was among the most difficult things. Nevertheless, they finally succeed in extricating themselves from the grip of the world and move towards God, whatever the cost.

The book of God gives us a picture of this class of people. It is about the companions of the Messenger of God (S) who fought at Badr. These people are still cited as examples of faith, perseverance, loyalty and sacrifice. However, what the holy Qur'an portrays of their excruciating traumatic experience when they attacked their enemies from the polytheists of Quraysh calls for pondering. The Most High Says:

"they were being driven towards death as they looked on."(8:6).

Just as a person extricates himself from the world when he is marched to his death, seeing it before his eyes, those righteous ones from among the companions of the Messenger of God disentangled themselves from the world at Badr.

Despite this, they did not hesitate to answer the call of the Messenger of God (S). They came forward, fought and were killed, thus attaining martyrdom. May God be pleased with them and raise them to a high station in paradise with the prophets, the messengers and the righteous. Excellent indeed are those companions!

(v) These people were supported by God as a result of the effort they made in saving themselves from the control of worldly desires. God bestowed on them two important things: He gave them discernment, light and guidance so that they did not deviate from the path and go astray, and, He gave them strength and support so that they did not flag while trying to accomplish the uphill task that is associated with the difficult road.

One does not need more than these two things in his or her actions in order to make the journey towards God. God Most High has assured both to any of His servants who strive in his way. He says:

"As for those who strive towards us, we shall surely guide them in our ways, and God is indeed with the virtuous". (29:69).

First comes guidance, which is light and insight, then comes God's support for his servants. When God sees sincerity of purpose in His servant, He bestows His support on him and makes this difficult journey easy for him.

Third Class

This group rushes to meet God with great ease. Its members leave the world and its attendant tribulations without difficulty as though they had never entered it, so that the need to exit from it is does not exist. Such people mingle with the people and do not live differently from them. They go along with the people in the markets and other public places but their hearts never get attached to the world.

We shall mention two examples of this group from the young men of the Hashimite clan who were present at Karbala. They are Ali al-Akbar and al-Qasim ibn Hasan (‘a). These two lads did not hesitate to respond to the call of God, His messenger and his friends - the Imams (‘a) ; the love for this world had never entered their hearts; they did not combine worldly gain and religion as the people did; and therefore, they did not face any difficulty at the point of separation.

These people answered the call of Husayn (‘a) easily and hurried towards God, the way we hurry towards a thing we long for; without hesitation, without having to think, without any difficulty.

Perhaps the period of youth is the best time to prepare for such situations as the mind is not weighed down by anything. Young minds are fresh and not attached to the world. Therefore it is easy for young people to discard worldly things. The more one deals with the world the stronger grows one’s attachment to it.

This is the stage of life in which the Qur'an quickly blends with the hearts and minds of the youth who dedicate themselves to it. It is reported on the authority of Imam Sadiq (‘a) that: "If a person studies the Qur'an during his youth, it blends with his flesh and blood."2

The Messenger of God (S) is reported to have said: "Seven classes of people will be admitted into the shade by God on the day when there will be no shade apart from His. [They are:] a just ruler, a young person who grows up in the worship of God..."3 He is also reported to have said: "Nothing is more loved by God than a repentant youth."4

From the above we have seen three types of people who were present on the day of Ashura. Below we shall analyse these groups and compare them. First we shall compare the first class with the second. These two people are Umar ibn Sa'ad and al-Hurr ibn Yazid al-Riyahi, may God have mercy on him. Then we will compare the second and third classes. They are al-Hurr ibn Yazid al-Riyahi and Zuhayr ibn al-Qayn, may God have mercy on them.

Comparison Between The First And Second Class

Here we shall consider Umar ibn Sa'ad, who was from the first group and al-Hur ibn Yazid may God have mercy on him, who was from the second group. Both of them were heroes of their camps. The first was from the camp of Husayn (‘a), while the second was from that of the Umayyads. An amazing similarity existed between the two, and it calls for study, reflection and analysis.

(i) They were both renowned and distinguished generals of the Umayyad army and chiefs of their clans so they had strong worldly tendencies; they wanted comfort, respect and position.

(ii) Each of them wanted worldly gains as well as religion. But this was before they came face to face with the point of separation, which separates religious aspirations from worldly ones, where one has to pick one option and take a decision.

(iii) Both of them were trying to escape the point of separation so that they would not have to select either the world or their religion.

Below are two episodes about how the two men tried to escape the point of separation.

The Story Of How Umar Ibn Sa'ad Tried To Escape Fighting Husayn (‘A)

Al-Tabari has reported the story of Umar ibn Sa'ad when ibn Ziyad ordered him to march towards Husayn (‘a).On that day Umar ibn Sa'ad was camping at Hammam A'yan at the head of four thousand men, in preparation to move to Dustabi5 and Daylam. Ibn Ziyad ordered him to postpone the journey to Dastabi and Daylam and move on to fight Husayn (‘a).

Ibn Sa'ad requested exemption from this duty. This was the first attempt on his part to avoid the point of separation. When ibn Ziyad threatened that he would take back the document in which he had appointed Ibn Sa'ad as governor of Rayy, the latter applied for a night's respite to think over the issue.6

It should be noted that in his first attempt to avoid the point of separation, Ibn Sa'ad shied away from giving a decisive answer when Ibn Ziyad threatened to revoke his governorship. He could have returned Ibn Ziyad's commission and freed himself from this deadly sin which Ibn Ziyad wanted him to commit. He should have confronted Ibn Ziyad's threat with equal decisiveness. However, Ibn Sa'ad did nothing of that sort; what he did was request a night's respite in order to think and decide!!!

This is the first sign of irresoluteness which Ibn Ziyad promptly took note of. He saw the point of weakness in the personality of the man he intended to send against Husayn (‘a). In the night, Umar ibn Sa'ad consulted his friends and counselors who strongly warned him against fighting Husayn (‘a). His nephew Hamzah ibn al-Mughira ibn Shu'bah said to Umar ibn Sa'ad: I adjure you by God, do not set out to fight Husayn (‘a) lest you sever your kinship ties, and sin against your Lord. I swear by God that it is better for you to relinquish your worldly possessions, your wealth and the power over the whole earth – if it were your own – than to meet God with the guilt of Husayn (‘a) 's blood on you." "I will do (as you say), by the will of God", replied Ibn Sa'ad.7

The next day, Umar ibn Sa'ad went to Ibn Ziyad and said "You have commissioned me for this work (i.e the governorship of Dastabi and Daylam) and the people have already heard about it. Please implement it and dispatch to Husayn (‘a) someone who is abler than I am at war.' And he proposed some Kufan nobles. This was Umar ibn Sa'ad's second attempt to escape from the point of separation.

However, since Ibn Ziyad had discovered this man's point of weakness, he despised him. When Ibn Sa'ad mentioned the names of some Kufan nobles that could be sent to fight Husayn (‘a), Ibn Ziyad reprimanded him saying: "I am not seeking your counsel on whom to send. Either you set out with our army or relinquish our commission."8

Thus, in both attempts, Umar ibn Sa'ad failed to avoid the point of separation. Had he succeeded he would have secured both his religion and his worldly interests. Despite this futile effort, Ibn Sa'ad found himself at the crossroads. Now let us leave Umar and look at al-Hurr (may God have mercy on him) at the point of separation.

The Story Of How Al-Hurr Tried To Escape Fighting Husayn (‘A)

Let us glance at al-Hurr ibn Yazid al-Riyahi (may God have mercy on him) in a similar situation, and see how this noble general of the Umayyad army attempted to avoid the point of separation and tried to free himself from the ordeal of having to fight the leader of the youths of paradise without his losing anything of the world, and failed.

The historians record that al-Hurr met Husayn (‘a) at the station of Dhu Husam9 and requested the latter to accompany him to Ibn Ziyad in Kufa!!

Husayn (‘a) answered him: "Rather you will die before achieving that". Al-Hurr said: (Then) take a median road between us which will neither lead you to Kufa nor back to Medina, till I am able to write to Ibn Ziyad. Perhaps God may bring about my exemption and save me from your affair." Then he added: "I adjure you by God for your own sake [do not fight] for I am sure that if you do you will surely be killed."10

Al-Hurr was doing all he could so that God would save him from fighting Husayn (‘a) and committing the most abominable of all sins. To get an outlet, Hur suggested to Husayn (‘a) to act in a way that would spare him any encounter with the Imam.

If al-Hurr was sincere in this effort then so far he found it difficult to forfeit his worldly position.

(iv) Despite their efforts, both Hurr and Ibn Sa'ad would have to meet the point of separation from which they were running away. It would face them when they would have no option but to choose either this world or the next, with no possibility of having both. This is the point at which one of the men would differ from the other: Umar ibn Sa'ad was irresolute and could not take the brave decision. He answered Ibn Ziyad's request and marched with the army to fight Husayn (‘a) thereby incurring blame in this world and a mortal sin [to be punished] in the hereafter.

On the other hand, Hurr was able to take the difficult decision at the eleventh hour, save his hereafter and attain honour in both worlds. However, Hurr lost the governorship which Umar ibn Sa'ad coveted.

Let us see how each of these two men behaved at the point of separation.

A Return To Umar Ibn Saad At The Point Of Separation

History reports that at the point of separation Umar ibn Sa'ad spent a whole night in great anxiety and that was after Ibn Ziyad had threatened to revoke his appointment as governor of Rayy. It is reported that Ibn Sa'ad repeated the following two verses all night:

‘Should I forgo the rule over Rayy, the object of my desire or return to God with the blood of Husayn on my hands?

His killing will lead me to hell for sure, but to rule over Ray is my desire.’

These two verses portray the extent of this man's anguish and how his conscience was tormented. But at the end of the day he could not take the bold decision, rather, he succumbed to the temptation of exercising authority over Rayy. So his resolve flagged and in this way he welcomed the torment of inevitable hellfire in order to get that position. His resistance crumbled and he complied with Ibn Ziyad's request.

However, Hurr's situation at the point of separation was different. He found himself in a condition in which he had to choose between paradise and Hell. He knew that if he chose paradise his worldly position would be completely lost. But he must choose! So he chose paradise, thereby choosing God's pleasure in preference to this world; and he paid the price with his life for it and prospered.

Al-Muhajir ibn Aws said: “On the day of Ashura I saw al-Hurr affected by a sort of tremble. I said to him: Your condition is really amazing. By God, I have never seen such a thing in you before, and if I were asked who the bravest of the Kufans was, I would have said it was you. What then am I seeing in you?”

Al-Hurr replied; "I swear by God, I am selecting one of two things: paradise and hell. By God I will never prefer anything over paradise even if I am to be chopped up and burnt!"11

However, one thing remains clear; this decision of al-Hurr was indeed a very difficult one, hence the shiver, which was a sign of the great effort needed for it.

Comparison Between The Second And Third Class

Now let us compare the second class with the third. This comparison will be more difficult than the previous one. Nevertheless, it is indispensable if our study is to be complete.

(i) Both the two groups succeeded in weathering the trial at the point of separation; they moved towards God; they preferred to meet God rather than covet what the people possessed; they took this decision at the most difficult moment of the point of separation. In fact, a decision is needed when one finds himself at crossroads at difficult moments. Thus these two classes of people possessed the ingredients for taking this decision, so they eventually passed the test safely and arrived in the presence of God. Thus far, the two groups are similar to one another, and this is the most important point here.

(ii) However, the second group passes through this tough part of the process with much difficulty while the third group does so quite easily. Although the two take the same decision, they differ from one another in their way of taking it. Ali Akbar (‘a) heard his father say: ‘We are from God and to Him we are returning’ as he rode on his horse. Ali Akbar said to him: "May God never make you see any evil, father! Why did you pronounce the return formula?”

"My son" replied Husayn, "I dozed off and saw a rider who said: ‘The people are moving and their death is moving with them.’ So I realized that we were being informed of our imminent death."

Then Ali Akbar added: "Father! Are we not with the truth?"

"Surely, I swear by the One to whom the bondsmen return", replied Husayn (‘a).

Then Ali ibn Husayn (‘a) said calmly: "Then we should welcome death as those on the right path."12 Ali ibn Husayn did not encounter any difficulty in accepting this tough reality.

On the night before the tenth of Muharram, al-Qasim ibn al-Hasan (‘a) who was only an adolescent, asked his uncle, Husayn (‘a) about his martyrdom on the following day. The latter had informed his companions about getting martyred on the day of Ashura. Husayn said to him: "How do you consider death?" 'Sweeter than honey, Uncle!", al-Qasim replied.

On hearing that, Husayn gave him the good tidings of martyrdom on the day of Ashura.

How different the resolutions of Ali al-Akbar and al-Qasim (‘a) are from that of al-Hurr ibn Yazid al-Riyahi (may God have mercy on him)! Worldly matters had not entered the hearts of al-Qasim and Ali ibn Husayn at all, nor were their hearts attached to the world for them to find it difficult to extricate themselves from it. On the other hand Hurr's case was different, for he was taken by a shiver when he resolved to join Husayn in meeting God.

The two groups share the quality of moving to meet God although each in its own different way. Now which one of the two ways is better in the sight of God? I do not know. And I don't want to enter into a discussion on it. Each of them will meet God with a set of deeds different from that of the other. Hurr's deeds comprised of great effort and difficulty which he suffered and these are presentations which are loved by God Almighty.... The more the effort and difficulty a particular work involves, the more the person who carries out the work earns the love and pleasure of God Most High. It has been reported that, "The best work is that which involves the most trouble."

The two Hashimite youths, Ali ibn Husayn and al-Qasim ibn al-Hasan (‘a) would meet God with hearts that did not get attached to the world at all. This is another deed which is loved by God Most High. He says

"The day when neither wealth nor children will avail, except him who comes to God with a sound heart." (26:88-89).

Likewise, God loves that person who takes the trouble to walk along the difficult path. So, both groups meet God with deeds that are liked by Him: effort, striving with difficulty, and a pure heart that is unattached to the world.

(iii) Why does their meeting with God take different forms? Surely a believer has the right to enjoy the good things of this world and he should not forbid himself what God has made lawful to him.

These two principles are fundamental in the law of God. The first one is indicated by the following verse, ‘O you who have faith! Eat of the good things we have provided you, and thank God...’(2:172).

And the second one the following verse:

‘O you who have faith! Do not prohibit the good things that God has made lawful to you...’ (4:78).

However a third principle obtains which is no less important than the first two. One should not take from the world, even the good part which is made lawful by God, if it distracts him from His remembrance and lures him towards worldly things, because when one is pleased with the world and takes much of it he easily gets attached to it.

It is because of this that the Messenger of God (S) and the pious servants of God used to strive not to get involved in the good things of this life. It is related that someone gave the Messenger of God (S) sweet candy as a gift but he refused to partake of it. The man said: ‘Do you consider it unlawful?' 'No, however, I would dislike craving for it’, he replied. Then he recited:

"You have exhausted your good things in the life of the world"(46:20).13

This is a fact. When one indulges oneself in the good things of life he craves for them and it takes hold of his heart. Thus the control exercised by the world on the hearts of the righteous is commensurate with their share of worldly things.

It is related that the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) said: "Whatever you miss of the world is booty (for you)."

God Most High did not prohibit His servants from enjoying good provisions if they came from a lawful source. However, indulging in them leads to a gradual attachment to the world.

As far as the religion of God is concerned, one is not barred from enjoying the good things of life if he can save himself from falling at the zero hour. But how can one assure oneself of escaping the fall when the hour comes, for indeed, the world has brought down many people like him before? It is a risky game in which the player doesn't perform well sometimes and there is no guarantee that he will succeed.

Secondly, attachment to the world leaves irresistible effects on the heart that distract one from the remembrance of God. They deprive the mind of clarity and transparency and turn mental dimensions into a murky lot, even when a person is able to overcome his desires and succeed in taking the correct decision at zero hour. This is the difference between the second and third classes.

To cite an application of the comparison of the second and third classes we shall cite the stand of al-Hurr ibn Yazid al-Riyahi (may God have mercy on him) and that of al-Qasim ibn al-Hasan (‘a) to depict the difficulty or ease of resolution. Both of them had decided to fight alongside Husayn (‘a), although al-Hurr took this decision after much trouble and effort, while al-Qasim ibn al-Hasan did so quite easily without any hesitation or delay.

On being asked by his uncle on the night before the tenth of Muharram how he considered death, al-Qasim answered: 'Sweeter than honey, Uncle'. He gave this answer in a relaxed mood without having to contemplate. This reply was similar to that of his grandfather, the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) when he was asked by the Messenger of God, may God bless him and his family,: 'How patient will you be in the face of martyrdom?' 'O Messenger of God!', he replied, 'Martyrdom is not a situation [that requires] patience, but one worthy of rejoicing and gratitude'.14

This mood of Ali (‘a) draws the line between the two ways of encountering martyrdom! Extricating oneself from the world with difficulty and dragging of the feet, and instantly freeing oneself from the world. The first one needs patience while the second comes with gratitude, and both, no doubt, are meritorious. Perseverance for martyrdom is meritorious and more so if crowned with gratitude. However, a person who welcomes martyrdom with gratitude, treating it like any other blessing of God, will not find any difficulty in taking a decision. For how can one experience difficulty in deciding to receive a blessing from God? But he who considers martyrdom a trial from God needs much patience and effort in order to pass the test... Both are meritorious.

It is hard to prefer one over the other and distinguish which one is more esteemed before God, but one fact stands clear: The person who takes the second stand is more secure from the danger of falling than the one who takes the first. And, no doubt, this is a big distinction.

Another Comparison Between Al-Hurr And Zuhayr

There was great similarity between the two men. Both were chiefs of their people. Al-Hurr was a general of the Umayyad army while Zuhayr was a partisan of the Umayyads (an Uthmani), as related in historical reports.

Both of them were avoiding Husayn (‘a). The reason for Zuhayr's attitude towards Husayn was an opinion based on a misunderstanding and not due to worldly desires. As soon as the truth dawned on him and his mistake became clear to him he did not hesitate at all to change the course of his life. This change was surely a complete transformation.

Let us analyse Zuhayr’s transformation as related by al-Tabari from Abu Mikhnaf.

Al-Tabari relates on the authority of Abu Mikhnaf, who said: "Al-Suddi told me, on the authority of a man from the tribe of Fazarah, who said: When it was the time of al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf, we were hiding in the house of al-Harith ibn Abi Rabi'ah ... I said to the Fazari man: Tell me about your situation when you returned (from Mecca) together with Husayn ibn Ali (‘a). He said: When we left Mecca we were with Zuhayr ibn al-Qayn al-Bajali moving alongside Husayn (‘a) Nothing was more hateful to us than moving near him so when Husayn moved on Zuhayr ibn al-Qayn lagged behind, and when Husayn (‘a) camped Zuhayr continued his journey until we halted one day at a station where there was no other way for us but to camp near him. Husayn (‘a) camped on one side [of the road] and we camped on the other. As we were having our meal Husayn's messenger approached, greeted us and entered.

Then he said: 'O, Zuhayr ibn al-Qayn! Abu Abdillah Husayn ibn Ali (‘a) has sent me to summon you to him.' He said: Every one of us threw away what was in his hands and lost his voice as though there where birds sitting on our heads. Then Dulham bint 'Amr, the wife of Zuhayr ibn al-Qayn informed me, saying: 'I said to him: 'Did the son of the daughter of the Messenger of God send for you and you refuse to meet him? Glory be to God! Why don't you meet him and listen to what he has to say, and then come back?' So Zuhayr ibn al-Qayn went and after a short while came back his face shining with joy. Then he ordered that his tent, luggage and provisions be taken to Husayn (‘a), and it was done. Then he said to his wife: 'You are divorced. Rejoin your family for I don't want anything to befall you on my account except good.’ Then he said to his companions: ‘He who wants to follow me [can do so] otherwise I bid you farewell!’ ”15

In this report we find four successive situations pertaining to Zuhayr.

Aversion And Inaction

First, a strong aversion and inaction with regard to meeting Husayn (‘a) to the extent that he did everything not to halt at the same watering place with Husayn (‘a).This aversion was caused by a great misunderstanding and wrong evaluation of things, and not by deviation tendencies.

Shock And Hesitation

Then followed a strong mental shock.When Husayn's (‘a) messenger brought Zuhayr the message that the Imam wished to see him, Zuhayr and his companions were at a loss till his brave and pious wife Dulham (may God have mercy on her) took the initiative and diffused his terrible hesitation by asking him to respond to the summons of the son of the Messenger of God (S).

Willingness To Meet Husayn (‘A)

Thirdly, indecisiveness left Zuhayr and he went with the messenger to meet Husayn (‘a) and speak to him.

Response And Acceptance

And lastly, a quick receptiveness followed and Zuhayr firmly resolved to respond to Husayn(‘a) 's call fully, without further hesitation or difficulty.

We do not know what Husayn (‘a) told Zuhayr, we do not know what Zuhayr heard from Husayn (‘a). We do not know what Husayn (‘a) could have told Zuhayr in such a short time, for Zuhayr did not stay long with Husayn (‘a). The report says 'soon he came back rejoicing...' and this shows that the meeting of Zuhayr with Husayn (‘a) did not take long before the former transferred his Umayyad partisanship to the Alids. It was a swift response to Husayn(‘a) 's invitation. He did not hesitate at all nor drag his feet before responding to Husayn (‘a).

This response of Zuhayr has two elements:

(i) A strong resolve which Zuhayr would never give up at any cost. He even said to his wife to whom he was indebted for this transformation: 'You are divorced' and to his companions: ‘Pull down my tent and carry my luggage to Husayn’s (‘a) campside.’

(ii) The speed and ease in taking his decision, with no effort or reluctance ‘After a while he came back rejoicing’.

Analysis Of Al-Hurr's Unusual Stand

(i) Al-Hurr knew the Imam's position very well and prayed behind him. When the Imam gave him the option of praying behind him or leading his companions in prayer while the Imam prayed with his own, al-Hurr said: ‘You pray and we pray behind you'. When the Imam said to him, 'May your mother grieve over your death!' it was hard for him to bear, but he only answered: ‘I swear by God that if any other man from the Arabs mentioned my mother in this way I would have mentioned his mother the same way, whoever he might have been. But there is no way I can mention your mother except in the best possible terms.’

(ii) Ibn Ziyad ordered him to bring the Imam (‘a) to Kufa under escort but the latter strongly refused. So Hurr tried to free himself of the responsibility he was charged with and not be involved in Husayn (‘a) 's affair. Hurr hoped that God would save him from getting involved in anything to do with that. He said to the Imam 'Take the road between me and you, one that will neither take you to Kufa nor back to Medina.'

(iii) However, throughout these events Hurr was trying to keep his position in the Ummayad army. He did not want to give up the command of the army that was assigned to him by Ibn Ziyad. His clinging to the world and its positions did not rob him of treating the Imam with courtesy, nor did his courtesy stamp out his love for the world.

(iv) Despite all efforts to avoid the point of separation where he would have to pick one of the two things: this world or the next, where he could not have both, it was the will of God to take Hurr to the destined point. That was on the tenth day of Muharram when he went to Umar ibn Sa'ad in Karbala and said to him: Are you [really] fighting this man?' Yes, I swear by God. [I will engage him in] a fight, the least part of which will send heads and hands flying’, he replied.

(v) At that point Hurr realized that he had no choice but to choose either this world or the next, and he could never have both. He would either prefer this world over the next or vice versa.

(vi) It became hard for him to decide and it was then that he began trembling. This is a condition above that of anxiety and confusion. Hurr found himself in a position in which he had to resolve relinquishing all his worldly acquisitions, a fact he had tried hard to avoid. Hitherto he had held on to those acquisitions as much as possible. We do not know of a fiercer contest inside the human mind. Hurr had experienced, at the zero hour of his life, a struggle between the world and the hereafter right inside himself which he had been running away throughout that period. He had been trying to reconcile the two but the will of God was above that of Hurr. He came face to face with the point of separation!

(vii) So Hurr took the inevitable decision and galloped his horse towards Husayn (‘a) to the utter surprise of his companions and the whole army. The commander of the army Umar ibn Sa'ad could not believe it when he saw al-Hurr going over to Husayn's side at this critical moment.

He now came to Husayn (‘a) with his head bowed in shame on account of how he had treated the Imam some days before on the way to Karbala. He approached saying: ‘Is there a chance to repent?’ 'If you return to God He will accept you', the Imam replied.

Hurr galloped his horse towards Husayn (‘a) as if he was running away from something that pursued him, something he feared. But Hurr was a brave man undaunted by anything. Why did he speed his horse towards Husayn? Who was pursuing him?

Hurr was afraid of himself, lest his base self-prevented him from going over to Husayn’s side by enticing him with the world. He wanted to put himself into a new reality from which he could not go back again. So he galloped quickly to join Husayn and put himself in a new reality, i.e. before Husayn (‘a), ashamed and apologizing, seeking his pardon so that God might accept his repentance.

May God have mercy on you O Hurr! You were a free man (hurr) as your mother named you; you would not incline towards the allurements of the world.

May God have mercy on you, O Hurr! Your companions testified to your bravery on the battlefield and we testify that you were more valiant and strong in the battle with your Self. We bear witness that the tough decision you took on that day which perplexed the army and its general was a feat that could hardly be accomplished by a joint effort of courageous men.

Surely God loved and preferred you in the company of Husayn (‘a), to fight and attain martyrdom by his side, while defending him. Congratulations on this great divine gift!


Before we close this discussion, I would like to take a final glance at the comparison between the second and third classes.

At the end, al-Hurr and Zuhayr (may God have mercy on them) met ‘in the abode of truthfulness with an omnipotent King;’16 they supported Husayn; they fought, were killed and attained martyrdom together; and they gained nearness to the Messenger of God (S) in paradise. The bitter troubles suffered by al-Hurr might not be less in value than the swift acceptance by Zuhayr. So what is the need of comparison and analysis?

It is true that in the final analysis both men attained their goal and there is no doubt about that, but many a man has fallen while taking the leap from the world to the hereafter and from ‘I’ to God, as the world overpowered him while he was trying to extricate himself from its clutches. A great number of people have lost the battle with the self. God Almighty declared the truth when He said:

"Indeed man is at a loss, except those who have faith and do righteous deeds, and enjoin one another to [follow] the truth, and enjoin one another to patience.”(103:2-3).

Surely, most people are at a loss and those who prosper are only a small group. Those are the people who enjoin one another to follow the truth and enjoin one another to patience, barring exceptional cases.

To be saved from the hazards of this road, which are many and dangerous, one should not give himself up to the world. This is the first necessary condition. The second is that one should not appropriate much from the world but only take from it as much as one needs. He who takes from the world will surely be taken by it unless he limits himself to his needs with modesty, in which case worldly enticements will not overpower him.

In his sermon describing the God-fearing, the Commander of the Faithful said “You will see him (the God-fearing person) modest in hopes, contented in mind; his food inelaborate, his affairs simple, his greed dead...”17

This doesn’t mean that one should prohibit himself the good things of life, rather one should be contented with the amount he needs so that the world will not overwhelm him and strip him of his will-power.

The Commander of the Faithful is teaching us how to treat our ‘selves’ if they prove obstinate with regard to obligations we dislike, and piety. We should punish them through the pleasures of this world, which they love. This is an excellent remedy for it trains the soul to accept cumbersome and arduous tasks of obligations and piety.

“If his soul is recalcitrant in matters it dislikes he will not give it what it wants.”18

  • 1. In Surah Al 'Imran, God most High says, concerning the day of Badr: "What befell you on the day when the two hosts met…"(3:166).
  • 2. Wasa'il al-Shi'ah 2/141.
  • 3. Majma' al-Bayan 2/385.
  • 4. Mishkat al-Anwar, 155.
  • 5. In those days, this place was said to lie between Hamedan and Rayy, but we could not locate it on present-day maps.
  • 6. Tarikh al-Tabari 6/232.
  • 7. Al-Muqarram's Maqtal al-Al-Husayn (‘a), pg. 214.
  • 8. Ibid, pg. 214 – 215.
  • 9. A hill where al-Nu'man ibn al-Mundhir used to go hunting.
  • 10. Sayyid Abd al-Razzaq-al-Muqarram's Maqtal al-Al-Husayn (‘a), 196.
  • 11. Sheikh Mufid's Al-Irshad pg. 235.
  • 12. Abu Mikhnaf said: "Uqbah ibn Sam'an said: When we left the castle of Banu Muqatil and moved on for some time al-Al-Husayn dozed off for a moment and then woke up saying 'We are from God and to him we are returning. Praise be to God, Lord of the worlds." He repeated this twice or thrice. Then Ali ibn al-Al-Husayn approached him riding his horse and said: 'We are from God and to him we are returning. Praise be to God, Lord of the worlds! Father! May I be your ransom. Why did you praise God and recited the return formula?
    Al-Husayn (‘a) said: My son! I dozed off for a moment and saw a rider who was saying: "The people are moving along and death is moving towards them." So I realized that we are being given the news of our death.
    He said to him: Father! May God never let you see evil – are we not in the right?
    Al-Husayn (‘a) replied: "Surely, I swear by the One to whom the bondsmen return.
    He said: Father! in that case we wouldn't mind to die as those in the right.
    Then al-Al-Husayn said to him: May God reward you with the best of what he rewards a son for his obedience to his father!"
    Tarikh al-Tabari 7/307, the events of the year 61 (A.H.) (European edition).
  • 13. Nur al-Thaqalan, 5/15.
  • 14. This is found in Nahj al-Balaghah vo.2, pg.48 speech no 156. "I said: O Messenger of God! When some of the Muslims are martyred on the day of Uhud and I was deprived of martyrdom and I felt it seriously, didn't you tell me: Rejoice, for martyrdom is waiting for you?
    He said to me: This is so. Then how is your perseverance? I said: O Messenger of God! This is not a situation [that requires] perseverance but one of rejoicing and gratitude."
  • 15. Tarikh al-Tabari, 7, 290-291 Events of 61 A.H (European edition).
  • 16. See Qur’an, 54:55.
  • 17. Nahj al-Balaghah 2/163, sermon 193 (Muhammad Abduh’s edition).
  • 18. Al-Fatal al-Nisaburi’s Rawdah al-Wa’izin, pg. 439; Al-Tabarasi’s Makarim al-Akhlaq, pg 447.