Wailing and lamentation - the expressing of noha and aweel – and the teardrop to salvation


Syedna Burhanuddin during Ashara sermon

In his seminal elegiac piece upon Imam Husain AS, Ya Sayyid al-Shohadaai, His Holiness Dr Syedna Taher Saifuddin RA writes in the very first verse:

طول الزمان بكائي
For all time is my weeping

In so saying, he marks his intent behind the writing of this timeless marsiya (elegy), and also the aim of his lifetime's service to the imam of his age – calling the faithful towards 'noha and aweel', the wailing and lamentation upon Imam Husain AS.

How, though, does one weep for all time? How is it possible, how is it even fathomable? A persistent and constant state of weeping and grief? It does not even seem practical. Perhaps it means 'to always weep in one's heart', and to some extent at least this would be true: actual weeping is something that no one is seen to continuously do. The weeping here is thus an inner weeping that accumulates in the heart and from time to time wells up and overflows as physical tears. The state of perpetuity is thus aspirational - realized by the moulding of each and every moment of one's life in honouring the cause for which Imam Husain gave his life.

The question though arises as to 'Why?' Why cry? Why tears, why mourning, why lament and why wail? Why these open and seemingly uncontrolled displays of grief, raw expressions that go against all the norms of self-respect that wider society has deemed prim and proper?

To answer this question one needs to redefine what is 'proper' and thus look back into the past. Historical narratives recall that there were five bakkaa'un (those who wept all but ceaselessly), starting with Adam AS, lamenting his loss of Paradise, Yusuf AS (Joseph) for his forced estrangement from his father Yaqub AS (Jacob) and Yaqub's AS reciprocal weeping for the loss of his son. The fourth is Fatema AS, the daughter of Mohammed SA, in the aftermath of his passing and finally Imam Ali Zainulabedin AS, upon the slaying of his father Imam Husain AS.

Imam Zainulabedin AS, it is said, wept for 40 years whenever drinking water was brought or a meal placed before him. Every such occasion reminded him of the three days without food and water that preceded the parched slaughter of Imam Husain AS and the seventy-two martyrs that fell before him on that apocalyptic day.

These five venerated figures embody all that is to be found in this world about truth, of humanity and indeed all that is saintly both in this world and in the Hereafter. And yet – or rather, precisely because of this – their lamentations were both open and bare and for all to hear and see. The weeping of Yusuf AS was so pronounced and voluble that the prisoners incarcerated with him petitioned him to choose either one - the day or the night - to weep. The Medinans who could hear the lament of Fatema AS complained that it disturbed them and they could not sleep; such that she for sook her home and went to the Baitul Huzun (house of grief) of the Jannatul Baqi cemetery to avoid troubling them.

Open, raw and unrepressed wailing and lamentation is not for every situation. The Prophet Mohammed SA directed that in grief, sabr – forebearance - is the height of virtue and that true sabr is that which one displays in the very first moment of grief. But that is reserved for one's personal life and troubles or loss of loved ones. The same is not true in the lamentation upon the awliyaullah, the apostles, saints and saviours, and this reaches its pinnacle with the grief and lament upon Imam Husain AS and the martyrs of Karbala.

So utterly heart-wrenching is the narrative of Karbala that 1400 years on and any aspect of its tortuous days and tragic events is enough to reduce any but the completely frozen to tears. Who cannot but weep as they hear of men in their prime, clamouring for leave to go out in battle for Husain, mothers sending their sons, sons entreating their mothers, a nephew - first made a groom and betrothed to a daughter whose first day together is also their last. Of a fierce warrior scythed down one arm then another as he sought in vain to bring back water from the river that had been denied for three unbearably hot days.

And so we come to the present day. Centuries on, the imams and the true du`aat have ensured that the remembrance of Karbala remains vivid, as they call to unflinching lamentation and weeping. To wailing and sobbing unrelentingly, unashamedly, and without let or hindrance from inhibition and ego.

It is the same call scripted by Syedna al-Mo'ayyed al-Shirazi, the Baabul Abwaab of the Fatemi Imam al-Mustansir AS who, in the first of his ten elegiac pieces of prose in lament of Ashara (the first ten days of Moharram that mark the days Imam Husain was in Karbala) wrote:

أسـبـلوا رحمكـم الله شاْبيب الدمع الهتـان، و تجلببوا

شعـائر الأحـزان والأشجان، و أظهروا النوح

والعـويل، وابكــوا ذا الخطب الجليل، في الإبكار


Stream forth, may Allah's mercy be upon you all, droplets of cascading tears,

And swathe yourselves in the garb of sorrow and agony,

And give voice to your wailing and lamentation,

And weep for this calamitous tragedy –

In the morning, and the evening.

Their heir, the incumbent da`i al-mutlaq, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS has made the clarion call towards al-noha and al-aweel; to discard the garments of inhibition in weeping and adorn instead those of unrestrained grief for Imam Husain AS. It is a call that it is a prayer for our salvation.

Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin's RA voice resounds in our ears and more so in our hearts, with these words of his forever etched there – a single, all-encompassing sentence that was spoken at some time in every one of his sermons, no matter how short or long. Bese eching the ever-lasting shelter of the grief of Husain AS over us he would say,

'May Allah keep you always in joy and delight;
apart from the grief of Husain may you see no other grief at all!'