Today there are 7.5 billion human beings on the planet, but when we categorise them so that we can understand them, we think of nations, races and religions. In fact, this global family began with Prophet Adam and Lady Eve. Likewise, Islam, the world’s fastest growing religion with nearly two billion adherents worldwide, began with the family of Prophet Muhammad(s) and Lady Khadija. Furthermore, the Ahlul Bayt (the People of the House) are models for us not just as individual Infallibles, but as a family unit. Indeed, if we ponder upon humanity, it is the family unit that is the universal basis for society and civilisation. It is the family that can mould and inspire the community, the nation, and the world.
In Karbala, Imam Husayn(a) made the ultimate stand for truth and justice; however, he was not alone. The role his family played in the events of the Day of Ashura and its aftermath has remained a paradigm through the annals of time. The myriad of lessons which Karbala has offered, from revolutions to spirituality, cannot overlook the fact that Karbala centers around the institution of the family, albeit a special family that made the ultimate sacrifices in the way of God.
Although the family structure may seem insignificant compared to that of nations and continents, it is indeed the family that is the root or foundation of society. Stronger families will inevitably result in stronger societies; if a civilisation is to succeed, the family must succeed. Sadly, today we are witnessing the deterioration of society because the family structure has disintegrated. Unfortunately, this fact is true for Muslims as well as non-Muslims. Besides divorce, other factors which weaken the family structure include domestic and child abuse, and even loss of ties with family members.
It is no surprise that Islam has laid great emphasis on the institution of the family; its formation is highly encouraged while its breakdown is greatly discouraged. Furthermore, maintaining good relations with relatives is obligatory, and severing ties with them is considered a major sin. Apart from spiritual benefits, having good relations maintains the unity of the family and offers confidence that there are people who are always ready to extend a helping hand in times of need. Moreover, it creates peace of mind and contentment of heart. On the contrary, severing ties creates strife and conflict, shattering the unity of the family. Some of the benefits of loving relatives and doing good to them are that one’s life is prolonged, his sustenance is increased, his home and family prosper, and the pangs of his death are eased.
Many perspectives are offered for the importance of families. From the economic point of view, families provide prosperity and refuge from poverty. The sociological perspective argues that families provide one with necessary rules and values, which enforce law and order. It has been observed that those who have not been brought up in a family that enforces rules may have difficulty functioning in society because they do not know how to act properly.
A psychological perspective would advocate the functions of a family in the support and development of the individual; for example, its effects on a child’s education and personality. The religious point of view, which includes the perspective of Islam, is that the family completes the spiritual journey to God. The family assists one in getting closer to God. Consequently, the family in Karbala, even the six-month-old baby of Imam Husayn(a) , played a great role in completing the mission of Imam Husayn(a).
Imam Husayn(a) gave great importance to his family members, and glimpses of that love are manifest in the tragic events of Karbala. His family included his loving and loyal brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, cousins, nephews, and nieces. A tradition from Imam Husayn(a) states, “One who desires that his life be elongated and his sustenance be increased should maintain family ties.” When God commands Prophet Moses to go to Pharaoh, he asks God to appoint his brother, Aaron, as his helper, “Strengthen my back through him (Qur’an, 20:31).” Similarly, Imam Husayn(a) keeps his family informed of important matters. Abbas(a) is seen at each juncture, ready to serve and assist in any way possible, whether it is preparing the caravan, setting up the tents or fetching water. For this reason, at his noble martyrdom, Imam Husayn(a) exclaims that his back has been broken.
The women and the children fulfilled their roles in Karbala, while staying in their respective spheres. The women and children did not fight with swords, but with patience, nobility and eloquence. Lady Zaynab and Lady Umm Kulthum consoled all the women and protected everyone, even the ailing Imam Zaynul Abidin(a). In those harshest of times, in those direst circumstances, they did not lose their faith in God or in each other. The children always looked to their aunt for deliverance. When the enemy wanted to enslave the daughter of Imam Husayn(a) , when Yazid wanted to kill Imam Zaynul Abidin(a), when the children were missing, Lady Zaynab was there, standing firm like a pillar. There is no parallel for the love of this brother and sister. Of course, she was mourning her Imam, but we remember the love of a sister for her brother, the patience of an aunt saving her nephew from a burning tent and a courageous mother who refused to shed tears for her sons.
Imam Husayn(a) truly loved each and every single member of his family, and it is extremely heartbreaking when we realise how difficult their loss was for him. On the martyrdom of his beloved son Ali Akbar, he cried that the light of his eyes had been extinguished. When Ali Asghar was martyred, Imam Husayn(a) could not bear to inform his wife, and walked seven times back and forth holding his baby.
He was often heard saying that he did not like the house without Rabab and Sakinah, “By your life! I cherish the house in which there are Sakinah and Rabab, I love them both and spend most of my wealth upon them, and there is no reason for censure in that. I shall not let them be neglected all throughout my life, until I am buried beneath the earth.”
Karbala offers us many lessons and paradigms. Even today when someone is afflicted with a loss, be it a family member or a community struck by bombs, it is Imam Husayn(a) who is remembered. His sister’s grief and pain, his orphaned daughter’s wails, and his brother’s unfailing loyalty continue to offer solace to the oppressed worldwide. Each sigh during Ashura and its aftermath has become the pillar and strength for all families until the end of time. As we commemorate Karbala again, our families and communities should reflect upon the values taught by the family of Karbala. Hopefully, with a greater understanding and application of Islam’s advice for families, we can mend not only our families but society as a whole.
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