It is the ninth of Muharram, and the heart, which has been quietly aching within a steadily constricting chest since the first day of the month, is heavy with the weight of grief. I grieve for you, my dear. After so many years, I still do. Tears start at this, but tears are not evidence of my truth; they merely blur the vision. It is the ache – the silent ache – that bears witness.
I have grieved for you, my dear, since my young mind first began to comprehend the mysterious symbols on the compass of morality. “They killed Imam Hussain? But why? They killed his children too?” A child’s understanding recognizes imbalance of justice, and I understood that you were oppressed. What love besides Divine Love could inspire even a young child to love you like a father? What Love could elicit such adoration and sadness even from my juvenile comprehension besides His?
This infantile sadness grew deeper as comprehension matured. Mystifyingly, sadness grows ever deeper, on and on, perhaps eternally. Your story is not a book but an ocean, which brings about a new current to the diver and more wonders in its depths. And what depths! From them emerge pearls and coral; a blessing from my Lord that cannot be denied.
I love you, my dear. I love you in a sad way like your broken-hearted mother loved you. I look upon you in my mind’s eye like your grandfather, The Friend of God, looked upon you with tears in his eyes. Throughout the year, I hear mention of you and my eyes glisten unconsciously. Even on the anniversary of your birth, a happy occasion, your devotees bend their heads and weep. Your love is unlike anything I know; it is joy and sadness; it is light clothed in black. It is an open wound that cannot heal because the blood that gushes forth is the blood of love. I love you, and I grieve for you, but in this grief the heart is softened. If, in the month of fasting, the spirit is exercised through abstinence, then in this month of mourning, the heart is exercised through compassion.
This empathy, a gift so precious, it is like river water to parched lips, softens the clay of hard, dry hearts and makes pliant what was once unmoved. Prayers which may have been uttered without feeling or mindfulness are wrought from the gut in shuddering sobs. Remembrance of The Ever-Present Lord comes more frequently now, flanked by love and sadness. Submission to what is good, opposition to what is evil, patience through what is difficult, gratefulness for what is present, hope for what is promised, and fortitude during what is devastating, is, like coral and pearls, fathomed at last in the deep fathoms of this sad love.
Because of you and the members of your grandfather’s holy household, men have learned to openly display the love they have for their families, and that to show emotion is not unmasculine. Because of you and what has befallen your revered sister, women have learned that to stand up for themselves and to brave against oppression is not unfeminine. The thousands of major and minor lessons that can be derived from your story, O Hussain, would not have been remembered throughout the centuries if your name had not refreshed the ink; and your name would not have refreshed the ink had your Lord, out of His infinite love for you, left our wounds for you open and gushing.
It is the ninth of Muharram and it is difficult to breathe. I attend your majalis like a guest unworthy of the honor but grateful for it. I sit at the edge of the congregation, in an uncomfortable corner at the doorsill, where the heat of the sun is at my back, because that is where the spiritual presence of your mother is said to be at such commemorations. How I love your mother, dear; the woman so nurturing and compassionate, The Messenger of Mercy said she was like a mother to her father; the Lady of Light, who died with a broken heart and a broken rib.
I am reminded of her when I see mothers of all ages attend your majalis. With what tremulous gazes these mothers look upon their children, when they rush up a flight of stairs with childish recklessness! With what a sinking heart would they cry out, if a child happened to fall? I cannot imagine what your mother, whose heart housed more compassion than all of creation, felt at the day you fell, with no one to come to your aid. Her chest must have constricted at the sight, on that day her rib broke once more. That day is tomorrow, and it is hard to breathe.
It is the ninth of Muharram, and I see nothing but beauty. My spirit is with the pilgrims weeping at your shrine, calling out your name with arms outstretched, as if longing to reach you and grasp your hand. My spirit, like a bird in flight, or an angel encircling your fallen body on the burning sands, soars over the heads of millions and settles on a pillar to gaze at your minarets. My spirit meets with scores of other spirits, oblivious to my existence and lost in the rapture of sadness. We cry out in unison our promise to Zahra, your mother, that we will not forget you. And we will not; we cannot. Our Lord decreed it. As long lives on His eternal memory, we cannot.
It is the ninth of Muharram, and as I prepare to walk to a majlis that will be hosting a funeral for you all night, I think of you. I think of your sister and the kind words you said to her. I think of her aching heart; the Lady who was denied the mercy of death on that day and instead bore the responsibility of grief. I think of your children, bright-eyed and innocent, who will come to see the vilest of human evils. I think of the parched sands and cracked lips, which will be quenched with blood on the coming day. I think of the loss and the gain. The loss of such lanterns of light from our world, and the gain our human race has received from their existence. I think how, despite being defeated in battle, through you, billions of people throughout the millennia found their Lord. I can testify with confidence that, like your father: by the Lord of the Kaaba, you have won.
I love you, not as a feigned memory or a figment of my imagination, nor as a vague figure from history faded with age, but as a present spirit here with me. By the grace of our Lord who is merciful to you and to me, you and your family can hear my call to you; can respond to my greetings and comfort me with the knowledge of your presence when my heart is troubled. By His mercy, you have not died but are alive still, and can witness the service your devotees provide in your name. I love you because, above everyone else, you love my Lord, and above everyone else I love your Lord, and He loves you and your family above everyone else. Through Him, I love you, and through Him, you know this.
It is the ninth of Muharram, and my heart is aching. And from you I turn to your mother, who was present at my birth when my mother called out her name, to say, “By God, O Zahra, I will not forget Hussain.”