Karbala the Exalted

Situated in central Iraq, Karbala al-Mu’alla is one of the holiest sites in the Islamic world. It is approximately 55 miles (88.5 km) southwest of Baghdad on the western bank of the Euphrates.  

The word Karbala is said to be a compound of two Babylonian words: karb and il, which together mean ‘sanctuary of Allah’ (haram Allah). It is also said to be related to the term ‘kaar-e-baala’, i.e. a lofty or divine act. As commonly expressed in Daʿwat majaalis, Karbala also refers to the dual terms of karb, distress, and balaa, hardship — both of which were faced by Imam Husain AS on its scorching sands. Together, these variant meanings allude to the great sacrifice offered by Imam Husain AS for the salvation of Mumineen which in turn transformed Karbala, his blessed resting place, into a sanctuary and haram-e-aamin where Mumineen as well as other Muslimeen and ibaad Allah are blessed with Allah’s mercy and benevolence. Due to this significance and sanctity, Karbala is referred to as al-Muʿalla, the Exalted.  

Karbala was known to past Prophets AS as the land where unspeakable atrocities would befall the grandson of Mohammed Rasul Allah SAW. Its significance was revealed to them on occasions when their travels took them there. When the Prophets Adam AS, Nuh AS, Ibrahim AS, Musa AS, and Eesa AS were told by Allah Taʿala that the land they stood on would witness the slaughter of Imam Husain AS, they wept and cursed the foe who would inflict such pain upon him, his respected family and his noble companions. Rasul Allah SAW was struck with grief when he laid his blessed eyes on the soil of Karbala upon which his beloved grandson Imam Husain AS would be slaughtered. Similarly, Amirul Mumineen Maulana Ali AS grieved for Imam Husain AS, as he passed through Karbala following the battle of Siffin (37/657) and informed his companions of his esteemed son’s shahaadat.

The significance of Karbala further becomes evident when Imam Husain AS inquired into the name of the exact location where his horse halted on the 2nd of Muharram al-Haraam. Taff (طف), Maariya (مارية), Nainawa (نينوى) among other names were suggested to Imam Husain AS. At that point, as al-Dai al-Ajal al-Fatimi Syedna Mohammed Burhanuddin RA and al-Dai al-Ajal al-Fatimi Syedna Aali Qadr Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS often recount, Imam Husain AS instructed for a a shaikh, or an elder, to be asked what the name was of the precise location where his horse stood. A shaikh answered, ‘Karbala’. Upon hearing this name, Imam Husain AS declared, ‘Karbun wa bala’ (distress and hardship) and ordered to set up camp. At Karbala, Imam Husain’s AS final, earthly journey had come to an end, and his journey to the Hereafter commenced.

Karbala, a land which witnessed a tragedy unlike any other in the history of mankind, by virtue of Imam Husain’s AS shahaadat, is a place of solace and divine blessings.  Syedna Muʾayyad al-Shirazi RA (d. 470/1078), when exiled from his hometown Shiraz, visited Karbala en route to Qahira where he sought to present himself in the divine court of Maulana al-Imam al-Mustansir bi Allah AS (r. 427-487/1036-1094). In verse, Syedna al-Muʿayyad RA expresses his remorse and sorrow over the shahaadat of Imam Husain AS and describes how this sorrow enables one to face the most difficult of hardships. 

Indeed, I have visited the pious and pure land of Karbala; My soul is ransom for the martyr who was deprived of water!

A tenth of the hardship suffered by Imam Husain, the son of Fatima, is consolation for someone like me if I should seek it. 

Similarly, Karbala draws millions of zaʾireen each year from across the world. The narrative of the elderly woman who spent her days working and saving so that she could journey to Karbala and perform the ziyarat of Imam Husain AS at least once in her life is a poignant example of the lengths Husain Imam’s AS devotees will go to in seeking the honour of his ziyaarat. Despite what difficulties may come, Mumineen flock to the sacred mausoleum of Imam Husain AS and are blessed with the barakaat of shifa and istijabah (acceptance of their prayers) as ordained by Rasulullah SA. We beseech Allah Taʿala in these sacred days to honour us with this ziyaarat together with Imam Husain’s AS dai, Syedna Mufaddal Saifuddin TUS.