By Maisam Merali – fourth-year studying Physical Natural Sciences

Truth. Justice. Dignity. Honour. Sacrifice. What do these words mean?

Muharram is here, and with it comes the commemoration of the day of Ashura, the 10th day of the Islamic month. You may hear of Muslims around the world congregating to mourn a tragedy. You may see billboards with quotes about this man around cities and roads. You may even see me walking around wearing my jumper that says ‘Honour’ in all sorts of different languages. But what does it all mean? Who is Hussain?

In short, Hussain took a stand , refusing to give in to the demands of an oppressor. Instead of giving allegiance to the Umayyad ruler Yazid, he travelled with his family and companions towards Iraq, but they were intercepted by this Yazid’s army, taken to the desert and denied water for 3 days. One man against thousands. Rather than choosing the easy way out, Hussain stuck to his principles and gave his life in the land of Karbala, as did 72 of his companions and family members, whilst the remaining women and children were taken captive.

Hussain’s stand was the ultimate form of sacrifice.

So why does the death of a man in a desert 1400 years ago matter?

This wasn’t any normal man. This was Hussain son of Ali, yes that Ali. Hussain son of Fatimah, yes that Fatimah, who was the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). He was born and brought up in the best and purest of households. He died a martyr, and his death is remembered by Muslims around the world every single year.

But it’s not just a case of mourning the death of this personality and the trials and tribulations that befell his family. It’s about taking lessons from the events and bettering ourselves as people and as a community. There are parallels with Ramadan here – people feel a spiritual boost and the goal is to use it as a platform for personal and societal growth.

“Surely Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change what is within themselves…” (13:11)

One lesson that can be taken from Muharram is how to stand in the face of oppression. There will always exist an oppressor and an oppressed. Hussain showed that it is our duty to stand up to the oppressor no matter the circumstances. We cannot turn a blind eye to everything that is going on, even if the odds are stacked against us. There are many people in different parts of the world living in a state of oppression, and as Muslims it is our duty to make a stand. Hussain stood with 72 in the desert against an army of 30,000. No one’s saying that we have to give our lives, but when it comes to speaking out or physically acting, what is our excuse? How can we stand silent as tragedies continue to take place every single day around the world?

Hussain’s love for prayer and his devotion to Allah was shown on the day of the battle, during which he and his companions actually stopped to pray Dhuhr. If he can stop in the middle of a battle to make sure he says his prayers on time then what is our excuse for delaying our prayers? In the scorching desert heat with no water for three days he and his companions had their focus on their Lord. As students we ourselves are often busy, and it can become easy to forget where our focus should be.

Hussain stood up to oppression in the face of adversity and sacrificed everything to stay true to his principles. How many times in a day are we faced with dilemmas that make us question our own principles? As students in particular we are put into situations that test us – how often do we fall short of our own expectations for ourselves?

And it’s not just the sacrifice of Hussain – each of his family members and his companions gave everything and committed to his stand for justice. No matter who you are, everyone has a part to play.

One story from the day of Ashura that moves the heart is that of a man named Hurr. Hurr was actually the man who led the army which intercepted Hussain’s travelling party and took them to Karbala on the orders of the tyrant. The night before the battle, when Hurr finally realised what was going to happen, he went to Hussain’s camp, begging for forgiveness for his mistakes. Hussain welcomed Hurr into his company with open arms and Hurr was amongst the first to lay down his life for Hussain the next day, free from the shackles of his own moral struggle, free as the name “Hurr” that was given to him by his mother. Such a beautifully simple story really shows that “it’s never too late”.

So what can we do physically? We can talk about being inspired for days on end without any real results. Often the metaphor that is used is that of a soft drink. Shake it up and you’ll get some fizz. But eventually it just dies down.

Hussain’s message was about standing up to falsehood and encouraging the community to strive to do good. Each person can take individual inspiration from this, and it’s no one’s job to tell you how to go about it. But don’t stop at just reading or listening. Take it in and implement it into your life. Don’t give in to what you know is not right. Free yourself from your own moral struggles.

This is merely a drop in the ocean of wisdom that we can take from this story.