Shia Muslims have a big emphasis on celebrating the birthdays of their revered personalities, in particular the Ahl-ul-Bayt (the family of Prophet Muhammad). Such occasions are seen as days of blessings and happiness. It is common for Shia Muslims to dress well, go to the mosque and celebrate the birth of such personalities, through poetry and taking lessons from their lives. One of the 10 obligatory acts, or branches of religion (Furu ad-Deen), that Shia Muslims practice is Tawalla. This is to show association, love and devotion towards the Ahl-ul-Bayt. Celebrating their birthdays and mourning deaths is an expression of Tawalla.
However, the birth of Hussain ibn Ali has a slightly different feel. Imam Hussain is the 3rd Imam according to Shia Muslims and is the grandson of Prophet Muhammad. He is most famous for the Day of Ashura where he was brutally yet heroically martyred in the Battle of Karbala in 680 AD. This is arguably the most important day for Shia Muslims in the year, particularly for their identity.
Reconciling the happy occasion of the birth of Imam Hussain with his impending tragedy is a challenge. When a baby is born, it is one of the happiest moments in one’s life. However, according to reports, when Imam Hussain was born, there was sadness too. Gabriel descended to Prophet Muhammad to congratulate him on the birth of his grandson. This was then followed by consolation as they informed the Messenger of how Hussain’s life would end, which caused the whole family to weep.
For Shia Muslims today, his birth will always have an undercurrent of grief as we know what was to become. On the birthdays of the Ahl-ul-Bayt, we do not feel sad at all and it is a reason to smile. On the birthday of Imam Hussain, we are still very happy that such a monumental figure in the history of humankind was born. However, a tear in the eye cannot be stopped because we know in 5 months’ time when the month of Muharram arrives, we will be crying in grief over his tragic death. Shia Muslims do not shy away from showing emotion in expression of their beliefs and sometimes these emotions can conflict.
The birthday of Imam Hussain is a paradoxical day as my face smiles but my heart aches.
This is why the great grandson of Prophet Muhammad, Imam Jafar Sadiq, the 6th Shia Imam (of the Twelver Shia branch), says:
“Never has a mother been so reluctant to give birth than the birth of Hussain.”
Zameer Hussain, Shia Muslim, Secondary School Head of RE