The Battle of Karbala was fought one day in the middle of a desert, where the enemies vastly outnumbered the champions of justice, and almost all the males from the Imam's side were martyred. Yazid's men (may Allah remove His mercy from them all) were many who spread their propaganda everywhere they went, and they publicly humiliated the survivors of the Imam in their march of supposed victory. These details all seemed to be in favor of Yazid's efforts to quell any support for, and the legacy of, Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) – yet how, then, did the details of the tragedy of Ashura spread in such a way that even 1400 years later we commemorate it?
The credit goes to the survivors of Ashura and their determination to never let the message of Islam be forgotten. Even as Yazid's men marched them in public, shackled in chains and bare-headed, the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them) maintained their dignity and spread the truth about what happened – all in a manner that reflected the teachings of the Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny). After they were set free from the prison of Shaam, they held gatherings in Shaam and Madina in which they mourned freely and retold the details of their harrowing tragedy to the Ummah, spreading the message of the importance of Imam Hussain's sacrifice.
The practice of Tabligh (spreading the Truth) – by being an example and by reaching out to others – has carried on through the centuries, and as we continue to carry this tradition even further, we must remember to stay true to the message we preach. After all, individually and communally, we are doing Tabligh wherever we are, so it only makes sense to live the Islam that we are teaching. As we strive to follow in the footsteps of the Ahlul Bayt and continue the practice of spreading Islam, let us recall the pure examples of Imam Zainul Abideen (peace be upon him) and his women, and how they did so themselves.
When it comes to taking part in a dialogue, particularly when we are talking about religion, we're all passionate in our manner and some of us get carried away. When we want to argue a point, we have to do so within the guidelines of our religion.
Control of the Tongue
When we get all worked up in heated debates, it may be tempting to spew out whatever thoughts come to mind. But as we speak, we need to make sure not to let Shaytan convince us to twist our tongues into tools of indecency – so no ridiculing others, no shouting, and no swearing.
Imam Sajjad saw his entire family massacred, their mutilated bodies left scattered under the scorching sun. The women under his care were grossly mistreated by Yazid's men, and they were subjected to such a strenuous journey that their injuries never fully healed. After all the atrocities that the Imam witnessed, when he came face-to-face with the follower of Shaytan, imagine what the Imam must have felt; imagine all the grief his heart was laden with, imagine all the sights of martyred loved ones that were imprinted on his mind. When the Imam spoke in the court of Yazid's palace, his voice resonated as he said: "Do not wish that we honor you while you disgrace us, and that we ward away hurt from you while you hurt us. Allah knows that we don't love you, and we don't despise you that you don't love us." (Nafasul Mahmum)
The Imam powerfully expressed himself and clearly made his point, without doing so in a manner that would earn his Creator's displeasure. If we remember the Imam's eloquent example when we are faced with trying circumstances – which, of course, can never even come close to the Imam's dire situation – then our love and respect for him will help us overcome our desire to unleash a torrent of inappropriate speech.
Veracity of Words
We cannot spread the Truth without speaking the truth. No matter how good our intentions may be, we cannot lie or exaggerate things with the defense of "the ends justify the means". A house built on a faulty foundation won't stand for long, and when it will eventually crumble to the ground, we'll have to face the consequences.
When people asked the prisoners marching through Kufa and Shaam as to the reason behind their imprisonment, these were opportunities to convey the saga of Karbala. In the palaces of Ubaydallah ibn Ziyad and Yazid, the women and the Imam spoke of the injustices committed against the Prophet's grandchildren. Time and again, the Ahlul Bayt related their story in order to jolt awake the Ummah from their deep slumber.
Every time Lady Zainab (peace be upon her) spoke, it was with the light of truth. Each detail that she narrated was not dramatized or made up; rather, they were the most accurate of details given. Besides her ability to speak remarkably well and besides the fact that the tragedy of Ashura was so severe on its own, the weight of truth in her speech also had a great impact on the effectiveness of stirring the conscience of the audience and in proving the sincere intention of Imam Hussain's mission.
Whatever we want to say, we need not degrade our intelligence by trying to uphold our arguments with hollow words – the truth can stand on its own without the help of lies or distortions. While we cannot be as eloquent as Lady Zainab in our speech, we can at least follow her example of carrying the flag of veracity. After all, with truth comes strong conviction, and that is a uniquely strong combination that can carry our words forth.
How the women of the Ahlul Bayt must have felt when their headscarves were snatched away, and how the Imam must have felt when he saw the women around him being exposed to the stares of strange men, we can never fully comprehend. But what we as Muslims can do is honor the Ahlul Bayt by never abandoning our Hijab, and that goes for both the brothers and the sisters.
Of course, Hijab comes in many pure forms: Hijab of the eyes, Hijab of speech and Hijab of clothing to name a few. The fact that we are all brothers and sisters in Islam doesn't negate the need for Hijab, and throwing in a "Bro" or "Sister" every few sentences doesn't make inappropriate behavior or speech okay. If we truly respect and understand the religion that the Ahlul Bayt preserved for us, then let's ensure that we observe Hijab in all its forms.
Hijab of Attire
Although the women were forced to go bare-headed in front of non-Mahrams, there is no one forcing us sisters to do that today – so let's not voluntarily put ourselves in the exposed state that the Ahlul Bayt wept over.
Looking to Lady Zainab and Lady Umm Kulthum, we realize how much a part of them their headscarves were. They were so concerned that they had nothing to cover their hair with, thus how can we be lax about the bits of hair or the styled bangs sticking out of our own headscarves?
At the same time, we shouldn't be deluding ourselves into thinking that the word "Hijab" translates to "headscarf", because it is beautifully so much more than just material that covers our hair. For both men and women, Hijab extends to modesty in the rest of our attire, which should generally be long, loose and simple.
When inviting others to practice the tenets of Islam, we should be doing our best to practice them too. If we don't truly value the concept of modest clothing, how can we expect others to understand the importance of modesty when we teach it?
No doubt it must have been humiliating for the granddaughters of the Prophet to have to speak with the killers of Imam Hussain, but they did so out of necessity. Never before had the women delivered sermons in front of a group of vile men, yet they did so in order to let the world know the truth of what happened to the blessed Imam.
At one point in his court, Yazid told Lady Zainab to speak. She refused and pointed towards Imam Sajjad, saying: "He is our spokesperson." (Bihar al-Anwar) She had already spoken in public before, so she could have easily given another electrifying sermon then and there. However, not only was Yazid unworthy of being spoken to by her, but there was also Lady Zainab's Mahram present who could answer him instead.
Indeed, Lady Zainab's manner is reminiscent of Lady Fatima's response to her father's question of what is considered a blessing for a woman: "[That] she must not see a (strange and un-related) man, and a man must not see her." (14 Infallibles) Lady Zainab already saw non-Mahrams during her journey and, tragically, they already saw her – but she went on to further apply this concept of Hijab of not being seen by the opposite gender, to her vocal Hijab.
While one might argue that it is impossible to go through today's life unseen by non-Mahrams, we can still learn from Lady Fatima's gems of wisdom. Her words provide us with a reality check that truly, non-Mahram men and women should be directly communicating with each other only if there is a need to do so.
When we communicate with non-Mahrams, all brothers and sisters must remember this aspect of Hijab: if there is a need to communicate, then respectfully go ahead and stick to the topic. The conversation shouldn't stray to competing over who knows the funniest jokes, when the original point of conversation was supposed to be simply about how many event flyers need to be printed. Focusing on the purpose of communication and speaking in a God-conscious manner is the way for us to go.
Hijab in the Masses
The grandchildren of the Prophet were made to march through streets amongst crowds of people, some of whom at one time treated the Ahlul Bayt with honor. Everyone was peering at the female prisoners who were walking with their heads exposed. In the palaces of Kufa and Shaam, the prisoners stood in the midst of crowds of strangers. The caravan was constantly surrounded by onlookers.
In her famous sermon to Yazid, Lady Zainab demanded: "Is this the custom of justice that you sit your women-folk and maids behind the veils, while you captivate and parade the daughters of the Prophet of Allah? You snatch the veils off them and leave them open, while their enemies parade them from one town to another, and the inhabitants of every stream and town have a glimpse of them? And all intimate and non-intimate look at them, as also the mean and noblemen, when they do not have along with them their men or support?" (Al-Ihtijaj)
We think of Lady Zainab's situation as being tragic, but why don't we remember her plight when organizing or attending events that are devoid of proper Hijab and segregation? Why is it tragic when the noblewomen were in the midst of un-related men, but okay for our brothers and sisters to mingle with non-Mahrams? If we sisters shed tears over the thought of Lady Zainab and Lady Umm Kulthum standing bare-headed before throngs of strange men, then we most definitely must not impose ourselves into that very situation today. If our brothers shed tears over the scene of all kinds of men gawking at the granddaughters of our Prophet, then they most definitely must not follow in the crooked footsteps of such lowly men.
If we find ourselves in places that don't have segregation accommodations – such as public spaces, including schools, malls, the workplace – we still have no excuse to let our Hijab slip. Every Muslim brother and sister has to maintain proper Hijab in all its forms when in the presence of non-Mahrams, no matter where we may be.
The sanctity of each Muslim is so great that we must not diminish our purity by abandoning Hijab where it must be observed. When we do Hijab, we are taking care to preserve the special status which Allah has given to the believing men and the believing women – a status that prevents us from becoming "common". As well, Imam Ali (peace be upon him) said, "Modesty is the means to all beauty" (Bihar al-Anwar), and Hijab does indeed lead us to greater things in both this life and the next. As the caravan of male and female prisoners showed us, even under appalling circumstances they observed all the forms of Hijab – besides the women wearing a headscarf – that have been ordained for our own respect.
Following in Their Footsteps
Imam Zainul Abideen and the women were made to walk through throngs of spectators, bruised and bare-headed. But these were no ordinary prisoners. Even in such an oppressed state, their dignified demeanor reflected the radiance of Islam to the degree that others questioned who they were and why they were being treated so harshly. Just as their principled behavior and pure words invited some towards the pure message and inspired others to reform, we must carry on their tradition of spreading the Truth by being living examples of the Islam they preserved.