Karbala is the killing fields where the grandson of the Prophet and his family were killed by the leader of the Ummayad dynasty. Some Muslims around the world mourn his martyrdom by self-flagellating themselves; slicing themselves with swords and walking on fire to express their deep sorrow and pay their tribute to Imam Hussain (ra).
While we recognize the extreme tragedy of this event I believe the grandson of the Prophet did not march to Karbala to inspire his followers to inflict severe pain and sorrow on themselves. He walked into the den of enemies to boldly declare that life is sacred but there come moments in the lives of individuals when the goals of life become more important than life itself.
The supreme sacrifice of Imam Hussain needs to be remembered as a continuous struggle for the freedom of humankind from the clutches of oppression and not an event that builds walls between Shias and Sunnis. Imam Hussain knew that the army of 10,000 would crush him and his family. He knew that the Ummayads were not known to show mercy to those who had challenged them. He knew that if the rulers had no regard for human life they would brutalize anyone they considered their enemy. He knew his end before taking the epic decision to challenge the despotic regime of Syria in the seventh century. It was not to challenge the Sunnis or to show support to the Shias. It was to stand for the principles of justice, freedom, and human dignity. It was to challenge the notion that Islam cannot be turned into a political dynasty. It was to stand for the equality of all before the divine law. It was for accountability and decency in public life.
The Ummayads had usurped political power through force by playing Machiavellian politics. They had the resources to enlist the support of hundreds of people claiming to be scholars supporting their claim to power in the name of God and his messenger. They had turned the sayings of the Prophet into a political tool to justify their political actions. They had used the state treasury to win people over to their side by offering them money and in many cases intimidating others who did not fall in line with them.
It was this tyrannical rule that Imam Hussain challenged. The message of Karbala was to change the status quo, to challenge despotism and dictatorship and all those deviations that diminished the dignity of human beings. It was not to inspire people to mourn and walk on burning fire in his memory. It was to stand for the neglected and the poor and politically marginalized. It was not to curse but to win over the people to the cause of justice and dignity. His sacrifice was not to glorify Shias or Sunnis. It was to glorify the eternal divine emphasis on justice and freedom.
If Muslims really want to pay tribute to Imam Hussain, they should stand for the values he stood for. Let Aashoora be a day known as an International Day of Justice where Muslims, Shias and Sunnis together, take a stand against all forms of injustices known to the world, not a day of mourning. Because it is a day when Imam Hussein walked into the killing fields of Karbala bravely, knowing full well what would be his end with the determination to prove that there come moments when the goals of life become more important than life itself.