Imam Hussein (AS) was martyred in the year 680 CE near Karbala in present-day Iraq along with a number of his loyal companions in a battle against the forces of darkness and oppression. The Imam’s martyrdom was so cataclysmic that a cosmic cry of agony is said to have reverberated throughout the heavens and the earth.2 The repercussions of his gallant stand are still felt today and are commemorated each year by believing Muslims around the world on the 10th day of the lunar month of Muharram, the day called Ashura.
The fact that the story of this heroic battle on that day on the sands of the desert of Naynawa, Karbala is remembered and retold some 1400 years later attests to the enduring reality of Ashura as well as the significance and the sacredness of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (AS). Always responding defensively to unprovoked attacks initiated by the forces of the vile and ruthless caliph, Yazid ibn Mu’awiya, Imam Hussein (AS) and his companions went forth and were martyred, one by one. Traditionally, the Imam had 72 companions with him on that day, but some commentators cite a greater number, such as S.V. Mir Ahmed Ali, who lists 105 martyrs on Ashura. Sheikh Abbas al-Qummi lists 29 companions of the Imam as being martyred in the first raid by Yazid’s army, which was under the command of Umar ibn Sa’d.3
The one-sided conflict, which took place on that day of Ashura, demonstrated the impeccable and unflinching character of the noble Imam and his small band of dedicated companions, whose commitment to fight against tyranny for the sake of Islam against all odds continues to inspire Muslims and non-Muslims alike to this day. Opposing the Imam and his small group was a huge assemblage of Yazid’s armed troops, including, foot soldiers, cavalry and archers. According to Abu Makhnaf, who chronicled the lopsided battle—if indeed it could be called a battle—the massive army sent to slaughter the Imam for his refusal to swear loyalty to the cursed, cruel and corrupt Yazid, numbered one hundred forty thousand.4
To conceive of such courage, bravery and conviction as was demonstrated by Imam Hussein (AS) and the men and women who accompanied him on that fateful day of Ashura is almost impossible nowadays. In today’s secular world in which actions are dictated by profit maximization, opinion polls and cost-benefit trade-offs, the stalwart stance of the Imam and his followers against an army a thousand times larger would be deemed sheer lunacy by most. Who among us would be prepared to give their lives for the cause of Islam and the defense of Ahlul Bayt?
Such loftiness of moral character is certainly lacking among America’s political leaders, particularly the current U.S. president and the members of his inner circle. Not only has Donald Trump been impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, but also Mark Galli, the editor of Christianity Today, a magazine founded by the late Christian Evangelist Billy Graham, broke with tradition and denounced him in an editorial. Noting that coercing a foreign leader to harass a political opponent is not only illegal, but also is “profoundly immoral,” Galli pointed to Trump’s hiring a number of people who are now convicted criminals as well as his admission of “immoral actions in business and his relationship with women, about which he remains proud.” Galli warned of “the moral and political danger we face under a leader of such grossly immoral character.”5 Other writers have concurred, accusing the U.S. president of being “erratic, impulsive, narcissistic, vindictive, cruel, mendacious and devoid of empathy.”6
What did those misguided Americans who voted for him expect from a former con man and reality TV show star? Under his self-absorbed, bombastic leadership, Trump has made America into a reality TV show, casting himself in the role of the star-savior. By his own hubris, Trump failed to defer to experts on epidemiology, first by refusing to order a nationwide quarantine and mandatory mask usage, then by pushing to reopen the U.S. economy far too quickly in order to make himself look good and thereby improve his chances for reelection. The result has been twofold: a U.S. economy in shambles and a pandemic running amok, infecting and killing Americans in record numbers. “They are dying, that’s true,” acknowledged Trump, the pathetic potentate, while insisting, “It’s under control as much as you can control it.”7
Back in March of this year, when the gravity of the coronavirus pandemic was just beginning to be realized, one former White House official predicted, “This fool will bring the death of thousands needlessly.”8 The statistics of deaths due to COVID-19 have proved the veracity of the prediction: As of this writing, the mortality statistic is rapidly approaching two hundred thousand out of over six million confirmed cases of infection. The New York Times reported in July that, based on Centers for Disease Control Data, excess deaths in the U.S. directly linked to coronavirus had already exceeded two hundred thousand.9
In Donald Trump’s reality show America, it’s all about the autocrat in the Oval Office and winning the upcoming presidential election by denying scientific facts and marginalizing anyone who dares to challenge his narrative on the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the reality is this: based on a 7-day rolling average of new, confirmed coronavirus cases, Trump’s America is experiencing over 3 times as many new cases as Mexico, 8 times as many as Germany, 21 times as many as Japan and over 31 times as many as Cuba. Even the Islamic Republic of Iran, despite suffering under the crippling sanctions of Trump’s “maximum pressure” campaign, is doing over 4 times better than America. In fact, only the Israeli entity is doing slightly worse with about one and one half times the number of new U.S. cases.10 And, of course, the U.S. leads the entire world in cumulative cases of infection and deaths due to COVID-19.11
It would be interesting to know what the demagogue in the White House would have to say about Ashura. Perhaps he would read the story of the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (AS) at the hands of Yazid’s army and declare, “You had some very bad people in that group, but you also had people that were very fine people, on both sides,” just as he did concerning the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who ran over and killed a counter protestor in Charlottesville, Virginia in August of 2017.12 Perhaps he would remark, “You can’t resist the caliph like that,” in the same way that he defended the police officer that shot an unarmed black man, Rayshard Brooks, in Atlanta, Georgia.13 Or perhaps he would laud the killers of the holy Imam, Shimr bin Thal Joushan, Umar ibn Sa’d and their ilk, and claim their actions were in self-defense, just as he did for the shooter that killed two people and injured a third in Kenosha, Wisconsin.14
Such is the reality show of America, with the tyrannical Trump who is the embodiment of self-absorption, material greed and indifference towards all of humankind except for a few favored members of his family and inner circle of corrupt charlatans. And such is the reality of Ashura, with the being of Imam Hussein (AS), the pinnacle of moral principle, perfection of human character, sublimity of patience and luminosity of leadership. How would Trump characterize the sharp contrast between his reality show of America and the noble Imam’s reality of Ashura? Perhaps the pathological POTUS would reach into his metaphysical reserves and recycle the tautology he used for the carnage wrought by the COVID-19 pandemic: “It is what it is.”15
By Yuram Abdullah Weiler
1 While its origin is not known definitively, Ali Shari’ati attributed this expression to Imam Ja’far Sadiq (AS).
2 Abbas bin Muhammad Reza al-Qummi, Supplications, Prayers and Ziarats 3rd ed.(Qum: Ansariyan, 2001), 194.
3 A.K. Ahmed, The Hidden Truth about Karbala (Qum: Ansariyan, 2007), 222, 223.
4 Ibid., 202.
5 Mark Galli, “Trump Should Be Removed from Office,” Christianity Today, December 19, 2019, accessed September 1, 2020, https://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2019/december-web-only/trump-should-be-removed-from-office.html.
6 Peter Wehner, “The President Is Trapped,” The Atlantic, March 25, 2020, accessed September 1, 2020, https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2020/03/presidents-character-unequal-task/608743/.
7 Sam Baker, “Trump: Coronavirus is ‘under control’,” Axios, August 4, 2020, accessed September 1, 2020, https://www.axios.com/trump-coronavirus-under-control-5f114a16-9952-428c-bc07-3cfa360b0977.html.
8 Peter Wehner, ibid.
9 Denise Lu, “The True Coronavirus Toll in the U.S. Has Already Surpassed 200,000,” The New York Times, August 13, 2020, https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2020/08/12/us/covid-deaths-us.html.
10 Jessica McDonald and Lori Robertson, “Trump’s Misleading COVID-19 Comparisons to Other Countries,” FactCheck.org, August 4, 2020, accessed September 1, 2020, https://www.factcheck.org/2020/08/trumps-misleading-covid-19-comparisons-to-other-countries/.
11 Coronavirus Resource Center, Johns Hopkins University, accessed September 1, 2020, https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html.
12 Glenn Kessler, “The ‘very fine people’ at Charlottesville: Who were they?” The Washington Post, May 8, 2020, accessed September 1, 2020, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2020/05/08/very-fine-people-charlottesville-who-were-they-2/.
13 Adam Gabbatt, “Trump defends officer who shot Rayshard Brooks as police call in sick,” The Guardian, June 18, 2020, accessed September 1, 2020, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/jun/18/rayshard-brooks-garrett-rolfe-trump-atlanta-police.
14 Emerson Malone, “Trump Defended The Alleged Kenosha Protest Shooter But Criticized The Portland Protest Shooter,” BuzzFeed News, August 31, 2020, accessed September 1, 2020, https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/emersonmalone/trump-kenosha-portland.
15 Devan Cole and Tara Subramaniam, “Trump on Covid death toll: ‘It is what it is’,” CNN, August 4, 2020, accessed September 1, 2020, https://www.cnn.com/2020/08/04/politics/trump-covid-death-toll-is-what-it-is/index.html.