Meditations On Husayn’s Speech On The Day Of Ashura

Husayn (‘a) addressed the people on the Day of Ashura, saying:

“You have drawn the sword with which we armed you, against us, and ignited the fire we kindled against our enemy and yours, against us. So you have joined hands with the forces of your enemies against your allies, in spite of being aware that they (your enemies) have not established any justice among you, nor do you expect any good from them.”1

This is Husayn’s address to the people on the day of Ashura. It is a strange speech which he gave at that critical hour before they drew their swords on him. This address carries boundless grief on account of those people who drew their swords against the son of the daughter of the Messenger of God, (S). I will talk on a number of points regarding this speech.

1. “You Have Drawn The Sword With Which We Armed You, Against Us.”

With respect to any struggle people fall into three groups: The first and the second are the opposing parties, while the third are mere observers who stay behind without supporting the truth. This group makes up a wide cross section of society.

The first and second groups bear the price of the struggle, that is, hands and heads will have to fall. This equally involves both the contesting parties and is not specific to the party of truth or falsehood. This is the norm of God Most High with regard to contests. God Almighty says:

“If you are suffering they are also suffering like you, but you expect from God what they do not expect.”(4:104).

He also said:

"If a wound afflicts you, a like wound has already afflicted those people; and We make such vicissitudes rotate among mankind...” (3:140).

The party of truth is distinguished in the contest by God’s help and support and the victory He grants them. Indeed God has promised them that. God Most High says:

"If you help God, He will help you and make your feet steady” (47:7).


"God has ordained: ‘I shall surely prevail, I and my apostles.” (58:21).

This is what the believers expect from God when they are engaged in a contest. This expectation assures the hearts of the believers of divine support on the battlefield, a support which will ensure the outcome of the conflict in their favour. The foregoing analysis pertains to the two warring parties. The third group is a very complex one that can easily slip towards the side of falsehood as it is susceptible to enemy influence.

These are the people whom Husayn (‘a) addressed on the day of Ashura. They had sheathed their swords during the times of Ali (‘a) and al-Hasan (‘a). They had abandoned Ali (‘a) in Siffin and after that al-Hasan (‘a) till he had to compromise with Mu’awiya in order to save what remained of his father’s partisans. When these people put down their arms and forsook Ali (‘a) and al-Hasan (‘a), Mu’awiya drew them and after him, on the day of Ashura, Yazid did the same.

They did not lay down arms for long because the field of struggle abhors those sitting on the fence. He who does not side with truth on the field of contest and prefers safety over trouble of battle will undoubtedly side with falsehood very soon. The stand of the defenders of truth is firm and secure, and beyond the reach of the enemy, but those who stand on the fence easily drift towards the enemy side. They are defenseless and within easy reach of the enemy who can allure them to join the bandwagon, or terrorize and force them to side with falsehood.

Because of this, the positions people take on the field of conflict boil down to two: either they stand with truth in terms of loyalty and denouncement or they stand with falsehood in a like manner. These were the people Husayn (‘a) was addressing at Karbala. They had sheathed their swords and betrayed his father and brother before and were drawing them on him in Karbala. So he said to them: ‘You have drawn the sword with which we armed you against us.’

The sword denotes power. Before the advent of Islam, the Arabs were an isolated, weak nation living in the desert with neither power nor wealth. Islam bestowed on them power and wealth, made them bearers of the message of monotheism and conquered the world for them, thus making them lords and rulers over the world. Syria was then the seat of this power, which Islam had brought to the Arabs, and it used it to exercise political and military influence over large parts of Asia and Africa.

To these people, Husayn (‘a) spoke on the day of Ashura at Karbala, saying:

“God has guided you through my grandfather the Messenger of God (S) and, through him, provided you with this vast control that stretches over the earth. He has made you leaders and lords in the world. Therefore, this power and sword is ours although it is now in your hands. However, you have forsaken my father and brother before; you sheathed your swords and abandoned them then. And here you are today drawing the sword, which the Messenger of God (S) placed in your hands, to fight the son of his daughter.

It would have been more becoming of you to have fought Muawiya ibn Abi Sufyan with this sword before, in support of my father and brother, and today, Yazid ibn Mu’awiya in my support ... for they have left the tradition (sunnah) of God’s Messenger and we tried to bring them back to the straight path but they did not return to it.”

2. ‘And You Ignited The Fire Which We Kindled Against Our Enemy And Your Enemy, Against Us.’

What was this fire that Husayn spoke about on the day of Ashura?

Who ignited it?

Where did he ignite it?

This fire was the great explosion of light that took place in the Arabian Peninsula. It sent to mankind a radiance that enlightened the hearts and minds of men from the east to the west. With this light, which entered every house, God removed the darkness of ignorance from mankind. This light turned into faith, sincerity, service, certainty, values, sacrifice, prayer and supplication, schools for the dissemination of knowledge and mosques for worship that soon spread all over the world. It also emerged as uprisings and movements of the oppressed against the oppressors. On the other hand, this fire eliminated the thrones of the tyrants in Persia, Byzantine and Egypt. It also broke away the fetters and shackles from the hands and feet of men, and set them free from the grip of the oppressors.

The Messenger of God (S) ignited this fire in the Arabian peninsula and it was barely fifty years after its kindling that it illuminated the globe from east to west. The Messenger of God, (S) did not select a specific class for this call. In fact he released the dormant forces of innate nature and reason from the souls of those Arabs who answered his call. He made them a great force that vanquished the armies of Persia and Byzantium, and swept away the thrones of Chosroe and Caesar.

This action of the Messenger of God (S) was exactly like the work of an engineer when he produces light and heat from a cold dark rock; or the way a cold dark piece of wood gives us light and heat when it comes into contact with fire. He produced, out of them, paragons of righteousness and piety, strength and resistance, faith and submission to God, who were able to propagate this mission all over the world. They became lords and leaders of humanity after having lived in isolation from civilization in a plantless desert region.

In no more than fifty years from the death of the Messenger of God (S), the people burnt the house of his daughter. They set fire to Fatima’s (‘a) door in Medina, and later to the tents of his household in Karbala.

How cruelly they disregarded the rights of the Prophet’s family!

How ungratefully they repaid the Messenger of God (S) for his favours!

How regrettable the conduct of the servants!!

And God Most High clearly expressed His Wish to them:

"Say, ‘I do not ask of you any reward for it except affection and respect for [my] kith and kin.’ (42:23).

3. “You Have Joined Hands With The Forces Of Your Enemies Against Your Allies.”

This is the second act of apostasy, which is worse than the first. The Imam (‘a) pointed out to the first when he said: ‘you have drawn the sword which we armed you with, against us.’ When the people reneged the first time, the swords shifted from the side of the Household of the Messenger of God (S) to the side of their opponents and enemies. This fact has been precisely described by al-Farazdaq when he met Husayn (‘a) on the way to Iraq. He said to the Imam (‘a): “Their hearts are with you but their swords are against you.”2 This is a perfect description of the psychological and political condition of the people at that time. Indeed their hearts were with Husayn (‘a) until then although their political inclinations were in favour of the Umayyads. This was the beginning, and it constituted the first act of perfidy.

The normal situation is that the hearts and swords should converge on the side of the truth, but if the heart and the swords disagree, this is the first step towards apostasy. The second step is when the two are agreed on being hostile to, and fighting the Prophet’s Household (as.). This is the situation about which the Imam (‘a) is informing us in this statement:

“You have joined hands with the forces of your enemies against your allies.”

The term al-ilb, which the Imam used, denotes rallying or joining hands with a common enemy and needs some explanation. A nation (ummah) is a group of people who are united by a common loyalty and a common thing which they repudiate. This is the soundest and most precise definition of ummah (nation).

The Muslim nation is united by loyalty to God, His Messenger (S) and the Imams (‘a) of the believers.

"Your guardian is only God, his Apostle and the faithful who maintain prayer and give the zakat while bowing down [in rukuh].”(5:55).

He who accepts this guardianship is part of this nation and he who rejects it or part of it does not belong to this nation. Similarly, this nation has a common position of repudiating the rebellious forces of taghut which God Almighty has ordered us to disbelieve in, and the idolaters. So he who repudiates these two is a member of this nation and he who does not is not its member.

"Worship God and keep away from the Rebel” (16:36).

Thus, on the day of Ashura, The Imam (‘a) said to them: A repudiation of God’s enemies and a common hostility towards them used to unite us. We also shared a common loyalty towards God’s friends. But today “you have joined the forces of your enemies against your allies”, exactly the opposite of what should have been the case. You should have united with your allies against your enemies. This is the second act of apostasy.

In fact, this was the condition of the people whom Husayn (‘a) addressed on Ashura. This showed the change-over between the two poles of love and hate, loyalty and repudiation, and it is the highest form of volte-face in the human personality.

4. “They Have Not Established Any Justice Among You, Nor Do You Expect Any Good From Them.”

The Imam (‘a) is saying that their hearts have turned from guidance to misguidance, from God’s friends to His enemies. They have become loyal to those that deserved repudiation, while the Umayyads have not changed their former position: “they have not established any justice among you.” The Umayyads are still committing injustice as they did before, still steeped in oppression and deviation.

No change had taken place in the stand of the Umayyads; the only thing that happened was a volte-face of hearts from the axis of loyalty to that of repudiation and from repudiation to that of (a new) alliance, for the people had shifted their alliance from the Ahl al-Bayt (the Prophet’s household) to the Umayyads without there being any change in the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) from the position of guidance and righteousness, or in the Umayyads from their deviation and oppression.

“Nor do you expect any good from them”

That change of hearts was not prompted by any transformation in the Umayyads from unjust rulers to justice-loving ones, nor was it because the people expected the Umayyads to treat them with justice. Therefore, the people were not deceived by the Umayyads when they gave them their loyalty and fought their antagonists. What then prompted the people to change over from the family of God’s Messenger (S) to the family of Umayyah? The reason was that the Umayyads had subdued them with terror or enticement. There is a difference between deception and degradation. One who is deceived by his enemy loves his enemy, is loyal to him and fights his enemy’s enemy out of mistake. This is a weakness in terms of awareness and knowledge but not a debasement. But he who allies himself with his enemy and supports him with his arms and wealth, and then gives him his heart knowing that he is his enemy abases himself and becomes contemptible.

Nations have always been subdued and degraded either by force and terror or by money. The Umayyads used both methods: debasement with force and terror and debasement with money and power. Although they used enticements, propaganda and deception, their excessive oppression, luxury and sinful style of life was too prominent to be lost on anyone.

5. “Woe To You! Are You Heading Towards These People And Forsaking Us?

This is the most pathetic volte-face in man’s life: he turns against himself by loving his enemy and hating his friend. A human being loves and hates; loves his friends and hates his enemies. When one forgets oneself, he forgets who he should love and who he should hate and above all, love and hate change places for him so that he now loves his enemy and hates his friends! This is the condition with which God punishes those who forget Him; He makes them forget themselves

"...who forgot God so he makes them forget their own souls”. (59:19).

The people Husayn (‘a) addressed on the day of Ashura were among those who forgot God so He made them forget themselves, forgot who they loved and hated. They loved the Umayyads who they were supposed to be hostile to because they perpetrated tyranny, sin and ungodliness; and they fought their friends and allies whom God had commanded the Muslims to love and obey, as recorded in the definitive (muhkamat) verses of His book.3 I cannot imagine the extent of pain that afflicted the Imam’s heart as depicted by this speech. A pain that stems from his compassion for them with regard to the level of misery they had reached. This pain was not because the Imam had lost their support in his tribulation.

6. “O Slaves Of (This) Nation And Strangers!”

This is the trait of slaves. Slaves must be loyal to whoever buys them. There is no permanent principle for their loyalty. He who buys them from the slave market deserves their loyalty, whether they like or hate him. Therefore their loyalty changes hands instantly from one master to the new master who pays their price to the old one and the latter hands over the whip to the former.

In an instant, the slaves forget their old love and loyalty and become faithful to their new master and new loyalty. People’s loyalty is to their parties, in ease or difficulty and in defeat or victory, unlike those who are strangers to the parties, for their loyalty is always for the victorious whether they are in the right or not. This is the situation with floating political alliances; they carry dangerous psychological implications that depict a lack of principles and values. Also this attitude shows complete subordination to the one with the upper hand and a complete abandoning of the self and values.

7. “Away With You, O Slaves Of The Nation And Strangers To The Parties!”

Here the Imam (‘a) is praying for their being distanced from the mercy of God. This is because God’s mercy descends on man at different stations in man’s life. When one distances himself from these points he removes himself from God’s mercy. This is God’s norm of treating His servants so let us ponder on it. There is a reciprocal relationship between the descending mercy of God and the points at which it descends.

This descending mercy activates the places it descends upon. When rain falls on a land it becomes green, blossoms, ripens and bears fruit. This is what the descending mercy does to its place of descent. The place of mercy also seeks its place of descent and does not come down on a place unless it deserves the descent of mercy.

This deserving is to seek God’s mercy in the existential sense by having the potential to receive it, and this is necessary for mercy to descend. On the other hand, rejecting God’s mercy pushes it aside and makes it remote. God’s mercy is continuously descending although there are factors that facilitate its reception, just as there are factors that bring about its rejection.

Ponder over the prayer of the righteous servant of God, Noah (‘a) against his people:

“And Noah said: ‘My Lord! Do not leave on the earth any inhabitant from amongst the faithless. If you leave them, they will lead your servants astray and will beget only vicious ingrates.” (71:27).

It is a strange prayer in which Noah (‘a) speaks of God’s norms of sending mercy and cutting it off. All their potential for receiving goodness had dried up and all readiness to seek mercy: “... and they will not beget any but vicious ingrates”. So, on what would God’s mercy descend?

Husayn (‘a) prays to God Most High against those people on the day of Ashura because their hearts have lost all the values, which are the points in their souls at which mercy descends. So there remained no place in their souls and lives on which divine mercy would alight. Thus he said: Away with you! O slaves of the nation.

8. “An Old Treachery That Was Part And Parcel Of Your Forefathers”

Just as good can be deep-rooted, evil can also be so. The roots of goodness reach out to innate nature, reason, conscience and the heart while those of evil are linked to selfish desires. When evil and selfish desires take root in the mind one loses all the sources of goodness that are in his soul. The foundations of goodness that are associated with his heart, conscience, reason and innate nature dwindle as well.

Heredity plays a part in establishing goodness or evil. I do not mean to say that the effect of heredity is inevitable but that it plays an important part. Heredity enhances good and intensifies evil although not with coercion. This means that mankind falls into two groups: the good tree and the bad tree (lit. tree) and each one is a tree. A tree has roots and fruits and there are similarities in some aspects between the roots and fruits of a tree. The roots of a tree form its foundation, the fruits its derivatives while the trunk serves as the means of conveying the features from the roots to the fruits.

In like manner good and bad lines of mankind carry good and bad traits from ancestors to their offspring so that goodness or evil are deep-rooted in each of them. Consequently, these two sets of ancestors constitute two lines in human history: a rising line that moves upwards continuously and a falling line, continuous in descent. Nimrod’s family is on the descent and Abraham’s family on the ascent; the family of Moses is ascending and the family of Pharaoh descending.

The law of heredity enhances this ascent and descent. It does not only convey the features of good and evil from forefathers to offspring but also refines them and sorts out evil from good and vice versa. As time goes on, the divergence between these two families (of good and evil) widens until a time is reached when the members of the evil family become devoid of goodness and its spring dries up from their souls. At that point divine punishment descends on them since they no longer deserve mercy.

This is what happened at the time of Noah (‘a) and it could happen at any other time. Then the bad family comes to an end and falls, and a new circle of history will begin. Surely, the law of heredity carries good and bad traits from generation to generation and promotes both the good and the bad together. It is this law that Imam Husayn (‘a) was hinting at when he said:

“Certainly, I swear by God that yours is an old treachery which has become part and parcel of your forefathers and which the offspring among you have strengthened. So you are the worst fruits: an eye sore to the viewer and an easy morsel for the usurper.”

The Imam (‘a) meant to say that treachery and wickedness was deep-rooted in them. It first reared its head on the day of Siffin, after which sons inherited it from their fathers. It took root first with their forefathers and gained strength and blossomed at the hands of the offspring among those present.

Therefore, they are the worst fruit of the bad tree. We must add that the inheritance we are discussing here is that of values and behaviour and it does not apply to biological inheritance. The law of biological inheritance in plants, animals and humans does not necessarily apply to that of values, thoughts and behaviour. The two laws can be completely different as in the case of Noah's son.

The Qur'an gives a precise description of him saying:

"Indeed he is a [personification of] unrighteous conduct"(11:46).

Although he was among the offspring of Noah (‘a) who was a leader of the righteous. This difference came from the determining factor in biological inheritance that does not apply to the inheritance of actions and values, which follow will and choice.

  • 1. Sayyid Ibn Tawus’s Al-Luhuf fi Qatla al-Tufuf pg. 58.
  • 2. Sheikh al-Sharifi’s Kalimat Imam al-Al-Husayn (‘a) pg. 370.
  • 3. “Say, ‘I do not ask you any reward for it except the affection for [my] relatives’ (42:23).

    “Your guardian is only God, His Apostle, and the faithful who maintain the prayer and give the zakat while bowing down” (5:55).