Peace, one and all…
What gives an act its meaning, and why do some acts become translated into the symbolic world so quickly, and so lastingly? Why are symbols so important (to both individuals and communities)? What do they do? What function do they serve? Why do they carry so much charisma, so much psychic power?
These thoughts have been simmering gently away on the rusty stove in the back of my mind for some time now. During the last few weeks, we have been exploring the death of Hussein and its significance in my Shi`a Islam class. We have explored this issue from a number of different perspectives, using marthiya poetry, ziyara texts, Sufi poetry, music, theological writings, historical texts and other relevant materials. I have also recently read an interesting two part article (part one; part two) from Sherryx’s Weblog on rebellion in Islam (hat tip to the Towelies for the link). It seems that, right from the start, Hussein’s death became a powerful symbol in the collective unconscious of the Muslim ummah.
Why? Why should this event have inspired so much focus, so much commemoration? The answer to this multi-faceted question is similarly multi-faceted. The answer is partly historical: the circumstances and timing of Hussein’s revolt (coming, as it did, towards the end of the first Muslim generation, against a deeply unpopular ruler). It is also partly meta-historical. That is, Hussein’s unyielding response to tyranny struck a chord beyond his own time. It is also ethical. Imam Hussein’s uncompromising stand against injustice, and the violence of tyranny were a statement of how things should be.
I have always seen great power in an acknowledged act of sacrifice. The first film I remember seeing was Star Wars. The willing death of Obi Wan Kenobi struck a deep chord with me, even though I was then at the tender age of 5. Perhaps this is why the death of Hussein strikes such a chord with me. But, as Katib as pointed out (post 1; post 2), we should not remember such sacrifices in sorrow alone.
No, the love of God triumphs in the end.