12/06/2011 02:34 pm ET | Updated Feb 05, 2012

Ashura: How Reflecting on Hussein's Sacrifice Made Me Honest

Will somebody turn off that alarm?!

As my alarm clock rang, feelings of insecurity began to run through my skin. My body turned cold and the hairs on my arm raised as a thought entered my mind -- was my final presentation this morning? "Man. This is 35 percent of my grade," I thought to myself. I quickly ran to my computer to check the syllabus, and to my dismay, I was right. How could this have slipped my mind? I started to draft an email to my professor, and thoughts of Hussein's sacrifice in Karbala began to surface...

Long ago, Hussein, a distinguished spiritual leader in Arabia faced an incredible challenge: accept the rule of a wicked tyrant and live, or reject the immoral leadership and be martyred?

Hussein was no ordinary cleric. His grandfather, the Prophet of Islam, denoted Hussein as a "Chief of the Youth of Paradise." As a result of Hussein's authority, Yazid, the newly appointed leader of the Muslim Ummah (nation) required the allegiance of Hussein in order to be effective. However, Hussein accepting the leadership of Yazid would mean legitimizing a corrupt drunkard who engaged in pedophilia among other vices.

Pressure was put on Hussein to accept the authority of Yazid; the climax of which occurred in the desert of Karbala, when Hussein and his group of 120 friends and family were surrounded by the forces of Yazid, numbering in more than 30,000 (yes, that is the right number of zeros). At this point, Hussein was posed a final ultimatum: accept the leadership of Yazid or be mercilessly butchered.

On the 10th of Muharram (first month of the Islamic calendar) in the year 680 C.E., Hussein and his companions were murdered. The forces of Yazid spared no one, even decapitating the 6-month-old baby of Hussein. Once dead, the bodies of Hussein and his companions were trampled by horses, and the women of Hussein's family were paraded over 500 kilometers and imprisoned. While Hussein and his family were killed on that Muharram 10th day, known as Ashura, a message of righteousness and reformation was born.

Bidding Good

As a child, I would watch superhero's on TV say, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing." However, the story of Hussein is not one of imagination; rather, a real life super hero who spurred a revolution, founded on the idea of standing up for good, no matter what the price. After the death of Hussein, the lay people within the Muslim Ummah woke up to the atrocities of their government. Yazid's reign was soon toppled, lasting only three years.


In the second chapter of the Quran (verses 155-158), God promises that every person will be tested with challenges. He further says, in order to be successful during these challenging periods, one must remain patient, believing "to God I belong, and to him I shall return."

Frequently, one might feel a sense of control or ownership. However, God indicates in the above verse that there is little that is under our control and in fact, we don't even own our bodies. In effect, the only thing that we control, and have ownership over, is our actions.

When we are put into challenging situations, and are tested, our goal should be to control what we can control -- our actions. The rest should be put onto the shoulders of God such that we may remain patient, assuming that justice will be dealt. While Hussein was killed on the day of Ashura, his message of righteousness has survived more than 1,400 years, a clear indication of victory.


It is notable to distinguish that the lives of Hussein and his companions were taken by the hands of other Muslims. In fact, a striking metaphor can be drawn from this situation as the majority of Muslims on the sands of Karbala were not on the side of righteousness that tragic day. Hussein and his companions numbered fewer than 200, while the opposition was more than 30,000. Hussein was reported to have said that "as long as people live favorable and comfortable lives, they are loyal to religious [moral] principles. However, at hard times, the times of trials, true religious [moral] people are scarce."

A "hard time" certainly made its way into my life as I contemplated what to write my professor. Missing the final presentation would certainly mean failure. However, the initial thought of crafting an elaborate excuse to somehow justify my forgetfulness vanished. Instead, I used the opportunity to define my character with honesty -- fessing up to the mistake and embracing the spirit of Hussein's stand for righteousness on the sands of Karbala.

The result? My professor replied, noting that I was the first student to have missed the final presentation without an elaborate excuse; appreciating my honesty, she let me give the presentation second!

You can take a guess at who set the curve. :-)