'Ashura - Misrepresentations and Distortions

This is a translation of a series of four sermons delivered by the author during the month of Muharram of 1389 H. (March 1969) on the topic of the meaning and significance of 'Ashura and the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (a) at Karbala. The first three sermons were published earlier in al-Tawhid, vol. 13, no.3, pp. 41-74, vol. 13, no.4, pp.57-71. The Persian appeared under the title Hamaseh-ye Husayni (Tehran: Intisharat-e Sadra, 2nd impression, 1362 H) 



'Ashura - History and Popular Legend


In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful

All Praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of the worlds and the Maker of all creation, and may Peace and benedictions be upon His servant and messenger, His beloved and elect, our master, our prophet, and our sire, Abul Qasim Muhammad, may Allah bless him and his pure, immaculate, and infallible Progeny.

I seek the refuge of Allah from the accursed Satan

So for their breaking their compact We cursed them and made their hearts hard; they would pervert the words from their meanings. and they forgot a portion of what they were reminded of. (5:13) 

Our discussion here concerns the misrepresentations (tahrifat) relating to the historic event of Karbala'. There have occurred various kinds of distortions in recounting the details of this great event. We shall carry out this discussion in four parts. The first will deal with the meaning of tahrif and its various existing forms, while pointing out that such misrepresentations have occurred in the [popular] accounts of the historic episode of 'Ashura'. The second part deals with the general factors responsible for tahrif, that is, the causes which commonly lead to the distortion of events and issues in the world. Why do men misrepresent and distort events, issues, and, occasionally, personalities? In particular, what factors have played a distorting role in the narrative of the episode of Karbala'? The third part consists of an explanation concerning the distortions that have crept into the narratives of this historic event. The fourth part deals with our duty, that of the scholars and the Muslim masses, in this regard. 

The first part of this discussion is about the meaning of tahrif: What does tahrif mean? The Arabic word tahrif is derived from harrafa meaning, to slant, incline, alter, distort, misconstrue which means to make something depart from its original or proper course and position. In other words, tahrif is a kind of change and alteration, though it includes a sense not possessed by mere change and alteration. If you do something that prevents a sentence, message, verse, or passage from conveying the meaning that it ought to convey and gives it some other sense, you have subjected it to tahrif. For instance, you make a statement before someone. Elsewhere he quotes you, and later on you are told that so-and-so has reported that you have made such a statement. You find out that what you had said was very different from what he has reported. He has interpolated your statement, deleting words which conveyed your intent and adding others on his own account, with the result that your statements have been distorted and totally altered. Then you would say that this person has misrepresented your statements Especially, if someone tampers with an official document, he is said be guilty of causing tahrif in it These examples were meant to elucidate the meaning of the term tahrif, and it does not need any further explanation or clarification. Now we shall take up the different forms of tahrif. 

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