It is a great shame to see, that in this time, when knowledge is so easily accessible, education is universal and there are no barriers to learning, that the personage of Hussain ibn Ali (AS), or Imam Hussain as he is often referred to, is little known, even amongst the Muslims.
I wrote an article about the tragedy that befell Hussain last year and how it should play a role and impact on the activism and rebellion of the Arab Spring uprisings. But what was missing from that article was a thorough explanation of who Hussain was and his importance to Muslims. In this article I plan to shed a bit more light on who this person was.
The Prophet Muhammed (SAW) used to refer to Hussain and his brother Hassen, with much affection and love, as "his sons":
"These are my sons and my daughter's sons. O Allah, I love them, so I beseech Thee [O' Muslims] to love them and those who love them." [Sahih Tirmidhi]
Hussain and Hassen (AS) were the sons of Fatimah (AS), the daughter of the Prophet Muhammed and of Ali ibn Abu Talib (AS), Imam Ali as he is often referred to, cousin of the Prophet Muhammed. So, Hussain�s mother was Fatimah, whom the Prophet titled: Mistress of the Women of the World, and also one of the four elated women of humanity (alongside Khadijah (her mother), Mary and Asiyah), and he had a father, Ali, whom the Prophet titled: Commander of the Believers, and he had a grandmother (Khadijah bint Khuwailid (RA)) who the Prophet titled: The Pure One, and he had a grandfather who was the Prophet of God, Muhammed ibn Abdullah, seal of the Prophets. Hussain and his brother belonged to this honorable and blessed family, the family of the Prophet, the Ahlulbayt (AS):
"... As the Apostle of God saw mercy descending, he demanded: 'Call them for me, call them for me!' His wife Safiyya asked: 'Who should we call, O Messenger of God?' He answered: 'Call the people of my household (Ahlulbayt): 'Ali, Fatima, Hasan, and Hussain.' When they were brought, he spread a mantle over them; then lifting his hands to heaven said: 'O God, these are the people of my House; Bless, O God, Muhammad and the people of the House of Muhammad!' God then sent down the verse of the Qur'an (33:33): Surely God wishes to remove all abomination from you, O People of the House, and purify you with a thorough purification." [Mustadrak al-Sahihayn by al-Naysaburi]
Furthermore, the Qur'an explains that Prophet�s recompense from the people for bringing them the religion was not money or anything worldly, but rather he had one condition which God commanded and enjoined on the believers:
"Say [O' Muhammed]: I ask no other reward of you save love/obedience of my next of kin (family)" [The Qur'an 42:23]
The Prophet titled Hassen and Hussain: The Masters of the Youth of Heaven. If we look at how the Prophet Muhammed (SAW) loved and revered his family and that God loved him and his family, we must understand that if we call ourselves Muslims and love and revere the Prophet, then we too must also get to know and love his family, his Ahlulbayt: Ali, Fatimah, Hassen and Hussain.
But my telling you Hussain's position in relation to the Prophet and in the teachings of the religion of Islam is insufficient. We should get to learn something about the personality of Hussain as well, and this is best done through mentioning some simple stories from his life.
The young children Hassen and Hussain were on their way to pray one day when they observed an old man doing the ablutions (wudhu') but making key mistakes that would invalidate his wudhu' and consequently his prayers. They turned around and looked at each other wondering how best to approach the man and make him aware of his mistakes. They had three choices: Say nothing and walk away, or walk over to the man and expose his mistakes in front of other people, or they could make the man aware indirectly. They concluded that the third option was best. One brother called loudly to the other: "Come here! Let us have a competition to see which of us does the best wudhu". They glanced at the old man and called him to judge between them. They both walked over to the water source and began to perform the wudhu'. The old man observed them with wonder at how perfectly they both performed the ablutions. "So, dear judge, which of us has won?" asked the boys. The old man understood what they were doing and he said, "Both of you have performed the wudhu' perfectly. I am grateful that you chose to guide me in this way,", and the old man repeated his wudhu' but this time in the correct manner.
The story above shows us how aware the young Hassen and Hussain were of other people's feelings, how they cared about people, and how they were careful not to humiliate a person or embarrass someone in front of others or to make a big deal of the innocent mistakes of others. They thought before they spoke and chose the best way of teaching other people their religion - by example and with kindness. Another story:
Imam Hussain was once walking past a farm and observed a slave eating a meager meal and feeding a stray dog some of it. He was impressed that a person with so little should be feeding a stray dog and inquired about his situation. The slave replied, "I am a slave and my master works me very hard on this land and I am unhappy but when I feed this dog it brings me joy". Hussain was impressed and went to talk with his master and managed to get ownership of the slave. Upon returning to the slave he told him that he had bought him but the slave registered only that he was being passed to a new owner and did not think too much of it. Then Imam Hussain said to him "I set you free for the sake of God" and handed him a handsome amount of money and left him to live his life a free man.
From this story we see that Hussain was pleased to see kindness being shown to animals. No doubt he remembered the story his grandfather (SAW) had told him of how a prostitute once helped a dog from dying of thirst and how her sins had been forgiven. We also see that Hussain believed that kindness begets kindness and in observing the kindness the slave showed to the dog he showed kindness to the slave and set him free with enough money to support and make something of himself. Yet another story explains his kindness and charity to people.
A friend of Hussain ibn Ali once came to visit his son (who survived the massacre at Karbala), Ali ibn Hussain (AS) (commonly called Imam Al-Sajjad and Zayn al-Abideen). After they had been through the pleasantries he began to talk about his friendship with his father and asked about something that he observed about Hussain that had left him wondering to that day: "I once observed your father's uncovered back and noticed it was marked with rough skin and calloused. Why was this?". Ali replied to him, "These signs you saw on his back were due to the heavy bags of food he used to carry at night and distribute amongst the poor and needy, the houses of widows and orphans."
Just like his father, Ali was also reputed to have continued this tradition of carrying food to the poor neighbors by night. Hussain's devotion to caring for the poor and needy in his community was exemplary. Imam Hussain (AS) gave to charity by day and by night, some of it was observed during the day but very few people knew that it was Hussain ibn Ali (AS) who was helping them at night until after he had gone and they missed him.
One day Imam Hussain's son came running to his father really happy with a big smile on his face. "Father, father, I have learned to recite surat al-Fatiha from the Qur'an by heart!". His father looked pleased and asked him to recite it and when he did he picked him up and kissed him as he was so very proud of him. He then went to the mosque to find his son's tutor. The teacher was talking with the parents of the children he taught when the Imam came in. The Imam walked over to him and congratulated and thanked him for doing a wonderful job and he gifted him a handsome amount of money. The parents that were watching began to wonder why he had rewarded him so handsomely and thought it unnecessary. The Imam explained to them, "What comparison can there be between the gift I have given to the tutor of my child, and his teaching the Noble Qur'an, the gift which he has given to my child?"
Imam Hussain respected the role of a teacher and paid well for their teaching of his children, especially the teaching of the Qur'an. He cared deeply about the education of his children and he had them learn the Qur'an and Sunnah (way) of the Prophet Muhammed (SAW) and a good many duas (supplications) as well. He showed love and affection to his children and helped them grow up as educated and well-rounded people.
These little stories are only a small example of the character and values held by Imam Hussain. It is well worth it to read the story of his life. The story of the massacre at Karbala is but an episode of his life, but when read in depth, it shows a lot more of his character, including his clarity of thought and decisiveness, his patience in adversity, his strong will and determination, his stand against tyranny and oppression, his bravery, his humanity, his absolute faith and devotion to God, and his will to sacrifice everything dear to him and his self for the sake of God and for the sake of Islam. There is a lot to learn from such a great man.
Imam Hussain (AS) is often associated with the Shia sect of Islam but it is a mistake to think of him as belonging to any one group of Muslims. Hussain is a key figure in Islam, a Sahabi and grandson of the Prophet Muhammed and he belongs to all of us regardless of sect, and even non-Muslims can find benefit in his teachings and viewpoint as they do a person like Mahatma Gandhi even though he was Hindu.
What is quite sad to know is that there are some Muslims out there who celebrate the day of Ashura', the day Imam Hussain (AS) was slaughtered along with his companions and members of his family. They do this because Ashura' is reputed to have been a day where many things occurred, many of them good, but the Prophet Muhammed never celebrated Ashura' and what they introduced is a cruel innovation and an insult to the memory of Hussain and the Prophet who so loved him. Another group of Muslims go to the extreme in the opposite direction and display their sadness with self-flagellation and blood-letting. It is sad that they feel they need to harm themselves and express themselves in such an undignified way that Hussain would have never approved of. Furthermore, there are some "scholars" and their followers who negate the contribution of Hussain and promote the agenda of the enemies of Hussain and even go as far as glorifying Yazid ibn Mu'awiyah (LA), the person who ordered his killing! May Allah guide them to the right path, but some of these "scholars" knew the position of Hussain and his righteousness and the cruel nature of Yazid and his major wrong doings but they remained spiteful to Hussain until they died and misguided many people. For them I ask Allah that He raise them up with their idols and never grant them or their idols the intercession of the Prophet.
Abu Hurairah narrates: "The Prophet (SAW) looked toward Ali, Hassan, Hussain, and Fatimah (AS), and then said: "I am in war with those who will fight you, and in peace with those who are peaceful to you." [Sahih Tirmidhi]