Imam Husayn (peace be upon him), whose full name was Al-Husayn ibn Ali ibn Abi Talib, was the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family), the the son of the Commander of the Faithful Ali and the leader of the women of paradise, Fatimah Al-Zahra (peace be upon them). Nevertheless, lineage alone is not enough to warrant the blessings and honor of Muslims. It is deeds, above all else, and knowledge, when it is taught and conveyed to the people, that is far superior to class, status, or birthright.
In that regard, there are some who criticize both Shia and Sunni brothers and sisters who pay respects to Imam Husayn and his mission during these first 10 days of the sacred month of Muharram. So, the question one must ask is: Why Imam Husayn? What makes him special? There were many martyrs, after all. Why do we not remember Hamza (may Allah forever be pleased with him), Ja’far ibn Abi Talib (may Allah make his flights in paradise pleasant), or any of the other Imams from the Prophet’s family when it comes to their martyrdom? What is it about the message of Imam Husayn, the legacy of his cause, that draws our attention and even unites some Muslims across sectarian lines?
We can find the answers from the Messenger of Allah himself, as the martyrdom of his beloved grandson was not a secret to him.
It is related that Umm al-Fadl bint al-Harith ibn ‘Abd al-Muttalib went to see the Messenger, saying, “O Messenger, I have had a loathsome dream.”
The Messenger of Allah asked her what she had seen, and she replied, “I saw a part of your body being cut off and placed in my room.”
“You have a seen a good thing,” he replied. ”Fatimah will give birth to a boy, and he will be placed in your room.”
Then Fatimah gave birth to Husayn and brought him into the house of the Prophet, placing him in his room. The narrator caught a glimpse of the Prophet’s eyes running with tears, and said to him, “By your father and mother, O Messenger, what is the matter with you?”
“Jibril (the angel Gabriel) came to me,” he said, “and informed me that my people would kill this son of mine, and he gave me some earth, red with his blood.”
The Messenger of Allah also said: “Husayn is from me and I am from Husayn.”
There are countless narrations like this, where the Prophet clearly explains the distinction of Imam Husayn. He also confirmed their standing among the populace of Muslims:
“These two sons of mine are Imams, be they sitting or standing.”
Therefore, the position of Imam Husayn over all other Muslims of his time and since was well known, even among his enemies. It was, actually, for this reason that they felt they needed to silence him. During a time when corruption had spread throughout the regime of Yazid ibn Mu’awiyah, the movement that followed Imam Husayn was struggling to restore the true message of the Qur’an, the authentic teachings of the Prophet, and the dignity and exalted state of the Muslim Ummah.
Had this mission not succeeded, the face of Islam might have appeared completely different today. It was not for his own right as khalifah that Imam Husayn fought. After all, his father and brother also had that right taken away from them prematurely, and his son also deserved that right but did not fight for it. The cause of Imam Husayn was not such a selfish one. It was for the preservation of Islamic principles of justice, equality, and truth that Imam Husayn made the ultimate sacrifice on the plain of Karbala in Iraq.
In doing so, the Imam raised awareness of the corruption that was seeping into the Islamic government and the decadence that was becoming widespread among the people. His sister Zaynab (peace be upon her) continued to preach this message after his death, and as a result, the next generation of Muslims gravitated to his son Imam Ali Zain-ul-Abidin, and his grandson, Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (peace be upon them). By the time his great grandson, Imam Ja’far al-Sadiq (peace be upon him) took on the responsibilities of Imam, the position and respect of the Imams of the Prophet’s household was second to none. All Muslims who sought knowledge of the true teachings of the Prophet came to them first.
That legacy continues until this day, so that only someone unfamiliar with the teachings of Islam would question their knowledge, integrity, and high moral position among the learned of religion. Even though many Muslims do not claim to follow their school of jurisprudence, all of the schools draw their knowledge from them, and all Sufi orders trace their spiritual lineage back through at least one of them.
This preservation of the divine truth, an undying truth, is the work and legacy of Imam Husayn. It is for this that we honor him, shed tears for his sacrifice, and are hopeful for the future of humanity. May Allah guide us on that path of divine truth and wisdom and brand the memory of Imam Husayn on our hearts for the sake of our own youth and the generations to come.