I wrote this for Stand With Dignity.
Stand With Dignity also produced a few videos in which I spoke about different topics. This is about my trip to Karbala and what Imam Hussain (as) means to me.
The World’s Largest Annual Pilgrimage: For Love of Hussain.
What Is the Road to Karbala?
It is a path of mourning for the wounds are deep and the arrows are plentiful that pierce the flesh of Hussain Ibn Ali and his companions on Ashura. On that day Yazid’s army controlled the battlefield. Hard to call it a battlefield, a massacre, really. What do you call 30,000 soldiers against the bravest 72 people who ever lived or ever will live?
It was Yazid’s day. The day of might. The day of brute force. The day of overwhelming numbers. The day of treachery. The day of deceit. The day of control.
“You will do this because we say!”
That is the cry of every authoritarian despot everywhere. Authority rules. Not truth. Not democracy. Not reason. Not love. Not compassion. The authoritarians use those words and make a mockery of them. And they fool the masses. They fool the 30,000. But those who are aware know, the minority, the 72. They know.
They know because their heart knows. Their heart knows because they know the grandson of the Prophet (peace be upon him). They know because they have seen the love and beauty that is Imam Hussain (AS). So few. So few really know. As Hussain told his sister Zainab:
“Falsehood can buy many supporters, but truth has only a few friends.”
But when I walked the road to Karbala in October 2018 I was surrounded by millions. Poor and wealthy alike from around the world, walking to make their visit to the man who opened our eyes to the meaning of justice, of truth, and of sacrifice. They walked mourning, weeping, for Hussain and his family, for their suffering, for their courage, for their commitment to Allah at all costs.
Hussain calls out today to everyone, to Muslims, to me a Christian:
“Hal Min Nasirin Yansurna. Is there anyone to help me?”
Don’t answer lightly, dear mourner of Hussain.
How can I say, “Labbayk Ya Hussain! Here I am Hussain!?”
Do I mean it? Do I mean it, really? Am I really here for Hussain when it means going against the grain, resisting the lies, challenging the powerful, seeking the truth, the real truth?
Honestly, more often than not I don’t really mean it. The cost is too great. I hedge my bet.
Labbayk Ya Hussain! Here I am Hussain! (As long as I don’t have to sacrifice too much).
Here I am Hussain! (As long as it doesn’t take away my comforts).
Here I am Hussain! (As long my life isn’t disrupted by the cry of the suffering).
Here I am Hussain! (As long as I can safely blend in with the crowd).
I mourn for Hussain because I was too late for the battle. I mourn for Hussain because I know I am not like Hussain. I mourn for Hussain because the world is mired in injustice, deceit and cowardice, and I am a part of it. I mourn for Hussain because it is just easier to be on the side of Yazid. I mourn for Hussain because mourning is about all I can do.
What is the road to Karbala?
It is the road, if we let it, to be a road of honesty.
I felt summoned by Hussain when I touched his shrine and I was assisted because I couldn’t quite reach it. A hand took my hand and put it against the grate amidst the surging crowd. It was a moment of unity. A Christian from America welcomed. Hussain is for everyone. I felt summoned by Hussain to seek what is true and just. I felt confident that I could. But following Hussain is not an easy road.
Two years have passed since I made the ziyarat to Imam Hussain (AS). The world has changed dramatically in these two years. It feels as if we are under a spell. Something is very, very wrong and we don’t seem to know what it is. We are being deceived by the powers of this world as Yazid’s army was deceived.
What is the road to Karbala?
It is the road of awakening. It is the road of the free man and the free woman. It is the road of hope for humanity when the odds are so against it all seems lost. Hussain showed the world what it means to be a true, free human being when the world was at its darkest.
“Labbayk Ya Hussain!” is not really about us and what we think we can do. We are too late. But we are bearing witness to a promise. We are bearing witness to the revealing of Imam Mahdi and the return of the Prophet Jesus. It is a matter of faith. We are summoned to trust that Allah has not given up on us.
That may be the hardest task of all—to hope for humanity when humanity is under attack. Perhaps that is what Hussain may be asking of us now. To keep hope alive. Hussain wasn’t defeated at Karbala. He was victorious. Yazid won this world with its deceptions and corruption. Hussain won the world to come with freedom and truth for humanity under the compassionate, watchful eye of Allah.
This world to come is coming soon, inshallah.
John Shuck, a Christian pastor, attended Arbaeen in 2018 thanks to the sponsorship of the Husayniah Society of Seattle and Sister Zahra Abidi. John and his partner, Josh Townsley, made a film about the visit called “For Love of Hussain (AS)” available on YouTube.