The Sacrifice of Hurr in the Battle of Karbala: The Symbol of Hope

Who was the historic figure of Hazrat Hurr Al-Riyahi, and what can we learn from his sacrifice today?

Who was the historic figure of Hazrat Hurr Al-Riyahi, and what can we learn from his sacrifice today?

The archetypical battle of Karbala is indeed one of the most important as well as terrible events that ever occurred in the annals of Islam, having far-reaching consequences. Such is the timelessness of its preponderant memory that the howl of Karbala still echoes in the air even after all these centuries.

The dust once rose in the desert of Nineveh is yet to settle down. The uncompromising faith and profound spiritual display on the part of each martyr has no equivalent in any epics ever known to human history. The battle between Haq and Batil on the day of Ashura was in fact the game-changer that initiated the process to ratify the injustices, infused the sense of dignity and freedom, and blocked the official propagation of a false version of Islam at the very cradle of the Muslim civilization.

This standing of a small band of the faithful under the holy leadership of Imam Hussain ibn Ali (a.s) culminated into a prototype resistance transcending all historical and geographical restrictions. It offers a rare opportunity to examine one’s faith when the Imam of the time is calling towards righteousness, directs back towards the divine centre overshadowed by any corrupt religion, regime or the powerful people no matter when.

Only Karbala can teach us the lessons of patience amidst calamities and get us to realize the ultimate levels of human perseverance. The uneven war fought on the banks of the Euphrates river is the textbook of resistance against unjust rule for all free human beings who are not chained in the pre-existing notions and varied excuses of life. Imam Hussain ibn Ali (a.s) is the leader of all freedom seekers no matter where they live. 

In the same measure, a lot of lessons come out which one can see clearly by turning every page of the history of Karbala. From the oldest person on the battelfield like Habeeb ibn Muzahir (a.s) down to the newly born Ali Asgar(a.s), we witness a seamless course of love for the martyrdom flows from every single soul out there in the camp of Imam Hussain ibn Ali (a.s).

The historical first 10 days of Muharram leave no room for any doubt or chance for us to stay back in our battles against injustices and falsehood. These days culminating with Ashura make us understand that how we ordinary people too could live our lives on the divine lines in the middle of this materialistic world regardless of the circumstances and situations we are stuck in.

Each martyr of Karbala has displayed his unique blend of faith and practice in the most ideal ways. We just can’t escape the standard set out here if we claim to be the followers of the justice seen by Imm Hussain ibn Ali (a.s).

Hazrat Hurr Al-Riyahi (a.s)

One of the bravest characters in this whole scenario was Hazrat Hurr Al-Riyahi (a.s) who was initially the general of the Umayyad army and the known elite warrior of Kufa. History made him the first high-rank official on the part of the Yazidi camp to confront Imam Hussain ibn Ali (a.s) and his small caravan on the way to Kufa.

Hurr was directed to take Imam (a.s) towards the barren land called Karbala if he refuses to come towards the governor’s house led by Ibn Zyad in Kufa. But looking deep into Hurr’s life, he hadn’t any political affiliation with Yazid like Umar Saad, Shimmer Ziljoshan, or Ibn Ziyad.

He hadn’t any political ambitions. Hurr was just a warrior who rose up to a high-ranking general due to his professional standards only. He had no concern who rules whom. Hurr was also unaware of the correspondence established between Imam Hussain (a.s) and the people of Kufa. That is why he was scared about any confrontation with the Imam, the grandson of the Prophet (s.a.w.w).

Even though Hurr was a serious military commander, it was seen that his behavior with the Imam Hussain ibn Ali (a.s) was respectful and kind. It is narrated that he paid a great reverence for Hazrat Fatima Zahra (s.a) in front of Imam Hussain(a.s) himself.

So, Hurr’s story was unfolding in a way contradicting other commanders and generals of the Umayyad army stationed in the Karbala who were readying themselves to kill Imam Hussain (a.s) and his small army which Hurr wasn’t believing till the last hour. The divine scheme had something else in store for him. He was destined to make a spiritual flight from his seemingly luxurious life with of Yazid towards the immortality under Imam Hussain (a.s).

Despite his high stature and background, Hurr couldn’t control his peace of mind and soul. He was shaking and restless from the very beginning and started fighting the hardest inward battle between truth and falsehood. A fine line between hell and heaven was clearly appearing in his eyes. Finally, the time of this difficult and critical decision comes when he walks to be free and rushes to the truth to submit. He not only himself surrendered before Imam Hussain but his son and servant too.

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Here, Dr. Ali Shariati wants us to understand this “choice”, the most important manifestation of the meaning of human being: “The history of Islam is full of contradicting features. The two lines starting from Habil and Ghabil, existing throughout the history side by side though in different faces, have also continued in Islam. Now, both these streams are dressed in Islam, but in opposite directions. Ironically, our hero is faced to choose between the most extreme ends in each of these parties: Yazid, and Hossein.”

The path preferred by Hurr at the last hour changed his fate forever leaving his finite life of luxury for blissful immortality. So was the manifestation of truth upon Hurr and such was the speed with which he rushed to the divine light that his name got symbolized as the hope in repentance and its instant acceptance that leads to eternal salvation despite adverse life history before.

His soul was in search of the divine path which was shown by none else than Imam Hussain (a.s) himself. After his martyrdom, Imam Hussain (a.s) sat beside his body, wiped off the blood on his face, and said: “You are truly hurr (a freeman), like the way your mother has named you, you are a freeman both in this world and in the hereafter.”

They story of Hurr reveals the infinite possibilities in the human spirit – that howsoever we are drenched in sins and slaveries, time is always relevant to come back towards the divine centre.

Hurr (a.s) Hears a Call

Narration directly from Hazrat Hurr (a.s) is that: “Upon my departure from the palace of Ibn Ziyad, the Umayyad governor of Kufa to confront Imam Hussain ibn Ali(a.s), I heard a call from behind, repeatedly for three times: “O’ Hurr! Glad tidings for paradise be for you.” Hurr continues: “I looked back but couldn’t see anyone, and thought: By God, this is not a glad tiding; how can it be glad tidings while I am on my way to a war with Imam Hussain ibn Ali(a.s)?”

Hurr kept this incident in mind and when he joined the camp of Imam Hussain (a.s), told this story to the Imam, and Imam Hussain (a.s) replied: “You have been directed to goodness and reward.” It was indeed the divine calling and Hurr’s inner search that rescued him and helped switch the side.

It was Hurr among other 72 martyrs who claimed “Labbayka Ya Hussain” despite him being the commander of the Yazidi camp. It means that nothing and absolutely no one prevents a man to attain the divine bliss if he uses his free will and rightful choice when the opportune moment comes. 

So, we – as all Muslims – should read the divine message on the sands of Karbala that it all depends upon us, upon our willpower and thought; which way we select to go. It is solely upon us to be the Hurrs of our ages in the varied battles of life.

Divine help is the additional grace but the first step is always ours. Allah has created mankind as free and authorized them to declare their way without any external force or pressure. We are required to set ourselves firm on the sacred roots in the events of life. Karbala clearly displayed two contradictory groups: one who chose worldly desires and the other group who preferred death over disgrace.

Since then, the battle between the Hussini forces and the Yazidi forces continues to this age and time. It is upon us to decide with which camp we join. For, no age is peaceful and just. Every decade and each land offers a type of Karbala.

So let’s create history be the Hurrs of our times.

If one grasps the depth of this saying from Imam Jaffer Sadiq(a.s) that “All days are Ashoura, and all places are Karbala, and all months are Moharam” one readily feels the extension: “and all human-beings are Horr!” (Dr. Ali Shariati)

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