11/11/2013 08:01 pm ET Updated Jan 23, 2014

Ashura: In the Dungeon of Cancer, al-Hussein Was My Light

I recall the moment when my world crashed. "Small cell carcinoma of the bile duct," Doctor Kubiak stated. "It has spread to the liver," she finished. I fell into the darkest part of my heart. It was cloaked in black, tasted of blood, and smelled of arsenic. Like one drowning in rogue water, I felt a sort of suffocation. I screamed for help. But, I was alone.

I put my hands against the cold walls of this pit and tried to climb. With each online publication I read, I elevated. But, it was temporary. I soon discovered: this cancer had never been defeated with treatment. The rock of medicine that I had grasped so tightly crumbled. My strength crumbled with it.

I was broken. I raised my hands in surrender. My heart began to beat loudly. I listened closely. In each beat, I heard a whimper. I called on my heart, "Oh heart! Is my situation so tragic that even you are crying for me?" My heart rebuked, "Oh Amin, do not be foolish! If we are feeling such anguish, imagine the grief of Aba Abdullah al-Hussein in Karbala."

My hands covered my face as my eyes erupted. I replaced my selfish grief with the commemoration of the Holy Prophet's grandson. Through recalling the sacrifice of al-Hussein, I gained the tools necessary to fight this cancer.

Holy War
I felt surrounded. With each passing day, the darkness of small cell carcinoma would aggressively multiply in my mother's body. Sitting in our battle camp, alongside my mother and her white blood cells, I noticed a change on their faces. At the sight of this improbable enemy, a weakness became visible in their eyes. "There is no hope in victory if we are already defeated," I thought to myself. I needed an elixir for strength.

Conjuring the story of al-Hussein and his 72 companions on the lands of Karbala, we found that strength. While it would have been easy to buckle under the pressure of the enemy, who outnumbered his group by over 1,000 to 1, al-Hussain remained strong. When faced with a decision: to give allegiance to an ill-fit tyrant or to fight for his life, al-Hussein elected the latter, irrespective of the odds.

Through al-Hussein we gained strength. When battling a demon, whether a tyrant like Yazid or a disease like cancer, strength does not come from numbers; rather, it comes from the All Mighty.

I remember unfolding old newspapers on my mother's bathroom floor, preparing to shave what remained of her chemo-damaged hair. As her hair fell onto the floor, I channeled every iota of confidence in my body to keep from crying. "In what world must a 24 year old prepare his mother for battle?" I asked myself.

My thoughts went to Karbala. Among the 72 companions of al-Hussein who fought for the sake of righteousness, there were a handful of children under the age of 15. I can only imagine the toil of Zainab bint Ali, the granddaughter of the Holy Prophet, when she prepared her two sons, Aun (13) and Mohammed (11), for battle by fastening their armor and unsheathing their swords. "In what world does a mother prepare her children for battle," I thought instead.

Through al-Hussein, I gained perspective. No matter how challenging my situation, I must remember that others have experienced far worse.

Mom is a 51 year old non-smoker who has never drank alcohol in her life. She was not supposed to get small cell carcinoma. I felt disdain for every doctor, nurse, and administrative assistant that I encountered, as if they were accomplices to this disease. "How am I supposed to act," I remember asking myself.

I again sought counsel from al-Hussein on the battlefield of Karbala. After al-Hussein and his 72 companions were killed, their heads placed on spears, their bodies trampled by horses, and their women taken as captives, the family of al-Hussein issued a prayer while in prostration to God. They said, "Oh Allah, all praise be to You; the praise of those who thank You for their misfortune." They continued, "All praise be to Allah for my great misfortune." Even after such tragedy, the family of al-Hussain gave thanks. Maybe the family of al-Hussein understood that his sacrifice would cause an uprising which would overthrow the corrupt tyranny that existed at that time. Or perhaps the family understood that even 1400 years after this sacrifice, this story would illuminate the lives of many during the darkest of times.

Through al-Hussein, I realized that I too should have gratitude for my situation. Through the reflection on death, I began to live. This caused a revolution in my life, overthrowing a tyranny of worldliness and replacing it with a passion for god consciousness.

Trapped in the dungeon of despair, I finally opened my eyes to an incredible surprise. The Qu'ran opened itself and began to speak. "Be at ease," he said. "Allah is the firmest handle, which will never break off. He is the guardian of those who believe. He will take you from darkness into light," he reassured (2:256-257). Through the remembrance of Aba Abdullah al-Hussein, I gained the certainty to put my trust in God. Together, we scaled this pit. In July, my mother beat the odds. Her cancer entered into remission.

Ten days ago, God blessed us with an opportunity to engage in battle again. Through the commemoration of al-Hussein, and your prayers, we hope to be victorious.

Please, keep my mom - Shaheen Pyarali - in your prayers.

To learn more about al-Hussein and his sacrifice in Karbala, please visit