1433 years ago, to the day, a man was born whose legacy has inspired every subsequent generation. That man was Hussain: the son of Ali and Fatima; the grandson of the Prophet of Islam, Muhammad.
Our appreciation of Hussain is interwoven with his incomparable martyrdom in Karbala. Many are familiar with the intensely tragic yet paradoxically enlivening events of the Day of Ashura.
Hussain was 57 years of age in Karbala (modern day Iraq), the land that served as the ultimate forum for his immaculate human qualities to be witnessed. Yet, these traits, honed under the guidance of his illustrious father and grandfather, were a hallmark of his preceding 56 years – with which we are far less familiar.
Often seen as the paragon of selflessness, Hussain embodied and radiated generosity – of wisdom, means, love and, most honourable of all, generosity of self.
Generosity of wisdom
Hussain was in fact named by his grandfather and spent much of his early childhood in his presence, capturing the incredible wisdom Muhammad exuded. At the age of five, Hussain was selected by his grandfather to participate in the momentous occasion of Mubahila, an event recorded in the Quran. His proximity to the Prophet places Hussain in a unique position.
Generosity of means
Hussain’s knowledge was never limited to the realms of theory. He most certainly walked the walk. If he saw someone in need, he would intervene – regardless of the petitioner.
A fine example was the way in which he dealt with a man who had previously insulted him and his father. As this man was dying, he still had a sizeable debt of 60,000 dinars – a sizeable sum – and knew that none could help him other than Hussain. The man asked for Hussain to be summoned.
After apologising profusely for his actions, he asked Hussain to help him in any way possible to aid him to pay off this debt so that his family would not struggle after his passing. Upon hearing this, Hussain immediately did so and forgave the man for his previous disrespect towards him.
“The most generous of you is the person who gives to those from whom he has no hope of return” – Hussain ibn Ali
Generosity of love
It is said the weak can never forgive. So Hussain’s impulse to forgive places him at the forefront of the strong. His forgiveness of Hur, commander of the forces sent to entrap and eventually kill him in Karbala, is well known.
Less widely known, though, is Hussain’s intervention on behalf of a prisoner following the Battle of Nahrwan, fought during the caliphate of his father, Ali ibn Abu Talib. As Hussain was walking past a group of prisoners, one of their number beckoned to him to further loosen the ropes around his wrists. Hussain, of course, obliged. It was a tragic irony that this very man took Hussain’s life 21 years on.
Generosity of self
Hussain’s actions in Karbala perfectly combined generosity of wisdom, means and love into an awe-inspiring sacrifice – the embodiment of generosity of self. This is the Hussain from whom we draw inspiration. He embodied altruism in every step he took. He was a man who was magnanimous in his concern for others to the utmost degree. His final stand in Karbala was not for personal glory or fame – but rather for the betterment of the community and to rise up against tyranny and injustice.