Ashoura': Distortions and Misrepresentations
Martyr Sheikh Murtada Mutahari
These factors are of two kinds, one of which is of a general nature. That is,
there are in general certain factors that lead to the corruption of histories
and these are not limited to the event of 'Ashura' alone. For instance, the
enemy's motives are themselves a factor that distort an event. In order to
achieve their purposes, the enemies bring about alterations in historical texts
or misinterpret them. There are many examples of it which I do not wish to
All that I would say is that this kind of tahrif did play a role in distorting
the facts of Karbala', and the enemies did take resort in misrepresenting the
uprising of Imam Husayn. As usually happens, the enemies accuse sacred movements
of causing conflict and division and of disrupting social harmony and peace. The
Umayyad regime also made much effort to give such a hue to the Husayni uprising.
Such propaganda began from the very first day. When Muslim arrived in Kufah,
Yazid, while sending an order appointing Ibn Ziyad to the governership of Kufah,
wrote: “Muslim, son of 'Aqil, has gone to Kufah and his aim is to disrupt peace
and to create social discord and disunity in the Muslim community. Go and
When Muslim was captured and brought to the dar al-imarah, the governor's
residency, Ibn Ziyad said to Muslim: “Son of 'Aqil! What was it that brought you
to this city? The people here lived in satisfaction and peace.
You came and disrupted their peace, causing disunity and conflict amongst
Muslims.” Muslim answered in a manly manner and said: “Firstly, I did not come
to this city on my own account. It was the people of this city who invited us.
They wrote a great number of letters, which are in our possession. In those
letters they wrote that your father, Ziyad, who ruled this city for years, had
killed its virtuous men and imposed its scoundrels over the virtuous, subjecting
them to various forms of tyranny and injustice. They appealed to us to help them
establish justice. We have come to establish justice!”
The Umayyad regime did wage much propaganda of this kind, but their
misrepresentations did not affect the history of Islam. You will not find a
single competent historian in the world who might have said that Husayn ibn
'Ali, naudhubillah, made an unlawful uprising that he rose to cause conflict and
disunity among the people. No.
The enemy could not bring about any misrepresentation in [the history of] the
event of Karbala'. Most regrettably, whatever tahrif has occurred in the event
of Karbala' has been at the hands of the friends.
The second factor is the human tendency towards myth-making and for turning
facts into legends. This tendency has been at work in all the world's historical
traditions. There is a tendency in men for hero worship which induces the people
to fabricate myths and legends about national and religious heroes.
How many legends have been fabricated by us Shi'is about Amir al Mu'minin 'Ali,
many Peace be upon him! There is no doubt that 'Ali ('a) was an extraordinary
man. No one has doubts about 'Ali's courage which was superior to that of any
ordinary human being. 'Ali did not encounter any contestant in battle without
felling him to the ground.
But does that satisfy the myth makers? Never! For instance, there is the legend
about 'Ali's encounter with Marhab in the battle of Khaybar with all the curious
details about the physique of Marhab. The historians have also written that
'Ali's sword cut him into two from the middle (I don't know whether the two
halves were perfectly equal!).
But here they found the opportunity to weave out fables which are harmful for
the faith. It is said that God commanded Gabriel to go immediately to the earth
lest 'Ali's sword when it comes down on Marhab should cut the earth into two
halves, reaching right down to the Cow and the Fish.
Gabriel was told to shield the blow with his wings. Gabriel went and when 'Ali
struck the blow with his sword, it slashed Marhab into two halves which had they
been put in a balance would have turned out to be exactly equal.
However, one of Gabriel's wings suffered injury and he could not ascend to the
heaven for forty days. When at last he arrived in heaven, God asked him as to
where he had been all these days. He replied, “O Lord! I was on the earth. You
had given me an assignment to go there.” He was asked why he had taken so much
time to return.
Gabriel said, “O God, the blow of 'Ali's sword wounded my wings and I was busy
bandaging and healing them all these forty days!” According to another legend
'Ali's sword flew so swiftly and slickly through Marhab's forehead cutting all
the way to the saddle that when 'Ali pulled away his sword Marhab himself did
not know what had happened (he thought the blow had gone amiss).
He jeered at 'Ali, “Was that all of your swordsmanship?!” 'Ali' said to him,
“Just move yourself a bit and see.” As soon as Marhab made a movement, one half
of his body fell on one side of the horse and the other on the other side!
Hajji Nuri, this great man, in his book Lu'lu wa marjan, while condemning the
practice of fabricating of such legends, writes about legends that some people
have put into circulation concerning the valor of Hadrat Abu al-Fadl al-'Abbas.
According to one of them, in the Battle of Siffin (in which, basically, it is
not known whether he had participated, and even if he did he must have been a
boy of fifteen years) he threw a man into the air, then another, and so on up to
eighty men, and by the time the last one was thrown up the first one had not yet
reached the ground. Then when the first one came down, he cut him into two
halves, then the second and so on to the last man!
A part of the interpolations in the narratives of the event of Karbala have
resulted from the myth-making tendency. The Europeans assert that one finds many
exaggerations in accounts pertaining to the history of the East, and there is
some truth in what they say.
Mulla Darbandi writes in his book Asrar al-shahadah that the cavalry of the army
of 'Umar ibn Sa'd consisted of six hundred thousand horsemen and twenty million
infantrymen - in all a force of one million and six hundred thousand plus all
the people of Kufah! Now how large was Kufah?
Kufah was a recently founded city and not more than thirty-five years old, as it
was built during the time of 'Umar ibn Khattab. It was built at 'Umar's orders
as a military outpost for Muslim warriors near the borders of Iran. It is not
certain whether the entire population of Kufah during that time was even a
That a force of one million and six hundred thousand could have been assembled
on that day and that Husayn ibn 'Ali' should have killed three hundred thousand
of them is not at all reasonable. Such figures cast a shadow on the whole event…
This myth-making tendency has always been very active; but we must not leave a
sacred document to the mercy of myth-makers.
The third factor is of a particular nature. The two factors that we have
discussed above, that is, the hostile ends of the enemies and the human tendency
for conjuring legends and myths, apply to all histories of the world, but there
is also a factor which is specific to the event of Ashura' that has led to
fabrication of stories.
The leaders of the faith, from the time of the Noble Messenger and the Pure
Imams, have commanded in clear and emphatic terms that the memory of Husayn ibn
'Ali must be kept alive and that his martyrdom and ordeals should be
commemorated every year. Why? What is the reason underlying this Islamic
ordinance? Why is there so much encouragement for and emphasis on visiting the
shrine of Husayn ibn 'Ali?
We should reflect over these questions. Some might say that it is for the sake
of condoling with Hadrat Zahra' and offering her consolation! But is it not
ridiculous to imagine that Hadrat Zahra' should still need consolation after
fourteen hundred years, whereas, in accordance with the explicit statements of
Imam Husayn and according to our creed, since his martyrdom Imam Husayn and
Hadrat Zahra have been together in heaven?
What a thing to say! Is it correct to think of Hadrat Zahra as a little child
that goes on weeping, even after fourteen centuries, and whom we have to go and
console? Such kind of belief is destructive for religion. Imam Husayn ('a)
established the practical ideology of Islam and he is the practical model for
They (that is the Prophet and Imams) wanted Imam Husayn's ideology to be kept
alive. They wanted Husayn should reappear every year with those sweet, sublime
and heroic summons of his and declare”
Don't you see that what is right and true is not acted upon, and what is wrong
and false is not forbidden? [In such conditions] the man of faith should long to
meet his true Lord!
They wanted the words:
Death is better than a life saddled with indignity,
To be kept alive forever, and so also the words:
To me death is nothing but felicity, and life with oppressors is nothing but
They wanted such other saying of Imam Husayn to be kept alive:
The children of Adam carry the mark of death like necklaces that adorn the neck
Far from us is disgrace and indignity!
They wanted to keep alive the memory of such scenes as that of Imam Husayn's
confronting a force of thirty thousand men, in a state when he and his family
are faced with a great ordeal and declaring in a manly manner - and the world
has never seen such a manly personage!
Indeed, that baseborn son of a baseborn father has left me only two alternatives
to choose from: the sword or disgrace. And far from us is disgrace! It is
disdainful to God, His Messenger and the faithful that we should yield to
anything of that kind, and those born of chaste mothers and high-minded fathers
and possessing a lofty sense of honor disdain that submission to vile men should
be preferred to honorable death!
They wanted to keep alive the formative school of Imam Husayn so that the rays
of the Husayni spirit may breathe life into this community. Its objective is
Do not allow the event of 'Ashura' to be consigned to oblivion! Your life, your
humanity, and your dignity depend on this event!
You can keep Islam alive only by its means! That is why they have encouraged us
to keep alive the tradition of mourning Imam Husayn, and very rightly! The
institution of mourning Husayn ibn 'Ali has a correct philosophy underlying it,
a philosophy which is also extremely sublime.
It is fitting that we should do all that we can to endeavor for the sake of this
cause, provided we understand its purpose and goal. Unfortunately some people
have not understood it.
Without making the people understand the philosophy of Imam Husayn's uprising
and without making them understand the station of Imam Husayn, they imagine that
if they just came and sat in mourning assemblies and shed tears, without
knowledge and understanding, it would atone their sins.