Remembering Hussain: A Tear is an Intellectual Thing

In the United States, the ‘self-help’ industry brings in over $10 billion annually. Year after year, thousands of books, life coaches, self-help gurus, and workshops emerge, promising pathways to happiness and fulfillment. Amid this maze of transient quick-fixes, however, there is one means of personal growth that has withstood the test of time.

The commemoration of Muharram, during which over two hundred million people across the world remember the tragedy of Karbala—provides a means of transformation whose influence spans fourteen centuries and resonates to this day. The commemoration reaches its zenith on the 10th of Muharram on the day known as Ashura. Gandhi cited Imam Hussain’s stand at Karbala as one of his inspirations in developing his theory of nonviolence (Satyagraha—which loosely translates to insistence on truth).

Each year, nearly 20 million lovers of Hussain gather in the city of Karbala, Iraq during a period of Muharram known as ‘Arbaeen (or exactly 40 days after the events of Ashura). ‘Arbaeen is one of the largest peaceful gatherings on Earth, and unites people from every corner of the globe with the same fundamental yearning: to learn from the humble school of Hussain and recall the tragedy of Karbala. Hussain’s school is not a structure with doors and windows, it is an open-air institution where wisdom is measured in tears, and lessons take the form of heart-wrenching elegies- known as nauhay, marsiyeh, and latmiyyeh- delivered in gatherings known as majaalis.

As you enter the holy city of Karbala, you will see massive crowds weeping at the sight of two large mosques that sit side-by-side, the final resting places of Imam Hussain and his beloved brother Abbas. You will see men beating their chests with a haunting synchrony- so overcome by their love for Hussain that their anguish at his suffering demands a physical expression. Their grief is so vivid; it renders bystanders speechless, and signifies an outpouring of love and pain ungraspable by human language. They grieve today because Hussain’s own family was denied the ability to mourn his loss, and were instead treated with unthinkable cruelty and marched in chains from the streets of Karbala to Damascus.

In completing the journey to Hussain’s school, the pilgrims of Karbala receive a glimpse into what it takes to transform a soul hardened by the modern world. There is no magical mixture to be found here, no instantaneous answer to achieving spiritual fulfillment. There are only tears, and the understanding that in order to make a treasure of one’s inner self, one must understand what it is to love the ones whom God loves. To be so firmly devoted to the principles for which Imam Hussain gave his life that one will spend each moment of his or her own life championing those most cherished ideals: justice, truth, humility, integrity, righteousness, and freedom.

To humbly weep for Hussain is to shed the layers of debris that prevent us from reaching our full potential.


Rubab Zaidi is a senior at the University of North Texas, pursuing a BA in International Studies with a concentration in peace studies.