by Aqeela Naqvi
the people are moving.
Like the earth that spins beneath their feet, they prepare for the final turn. The year delivers a finishing salute to the sun and is bid farewell by a silver crescent that curves its palm against the sky.
The taste of the air changes. Black flags are raised.
The scent of roses carries on the wind.
You can hear the faint rustling of fabric as clothes the color of mourning – the deep black of waters that ebb and flow in a still night – are drawn out from closets and wardrobes, golden flecks trailing in their wake, catching in the moonlight.
There is a light patter in the streets, a low thrum in the alleyways, as figures, donned in black, journey to the Gatherings. They enter open doorways to be greeted by the aroma of softly burning candles – signal fires that light as if in an invisible chain throughout the world, crossing expanses of yawning rivers and ranges of misty mountains; pinpricks, flickering on the surface of the globe.
The stage is set for the retelling.
Conversations are hushed as the attending wait, childlike in their anticipation, until the tellers begin to speak. Their voices roll gently over listeners, their hands moving through the air – conductors of a symphony of the past, weaving together the sights and sounds of an ancient desert land, a story over a thousand years old…
But these are not average storytellers. And this is no average story.
This story is alive. It throbs. It pulsates with energy. Its roots, blood-red, are firmly entrenched in books of history. Its branches, pale as snow, reach out, spiraling into the sky. It is an epic, a tragedy, a transformation, a revolution.
It is the song of heroes.
It speaks of men, women, and children who once lived amongst us. Breathed our air, shared in the earth cast mixtures of our skin. But who rose to transmute this clay composition into the brightest gold.
Beings, both the purified and the purifying, who possessed the intellectual courage and moral veracity to recognize the truth winding its way along their spirit’s river; who manifested its raging power into energy harnessed by immortal winds.
Beings, who stood face to face with tyrants, despots, men with crooked souls. Who saw mercenaries parading in the guise of leaders, and, when asked to lend credence to this blind man’s charade, refused to stretch out their hands in allegiance.
They were heroes, whose mettle was not the stuff of angels or the dust of stars, but flesh. blood. the iron strength of bone. ‘They were human, like you and I,’ is the storytellers’ perpetual reminder. And in the face of tyranny, oppression, and glaring disaster, they did not back down. They did not fear struggle; they did not shrink from death – because if their blood was the elixir that would eternally strengthen and protect the pillar of humanity, justice, and morality on the earth, then on a land called Karbala, their bodies would fall and spirits would rise and they’d forever redefine the meaning of sacrifice.
A band of less than a hundred facing an army of thousands, yet the victors of two battles:
the tenth day of Muharram – warriors; lions in the form of men, standing behind an unrivaled leader named Hussain; raging through ranks of wolves, standing in defense of the truth; securing in their struggle each coming generation’s right to protest against oppression, to keep heads unbowed in front of false kings; a legacy of freedom…
every day afterwards – survivors; beautiful storms in the form of women who witnessed massacre and slaughter; whose bodies were taken prisoner, but whose minds refused to be imprisoned; who, with fire in their eyes and lightning in their souls, expounded words that ripped out foundations from beneath castles of blood and steel; who rose on howling winds, keeping the legacy alive…
The Gatherings assemble, and no matter how many times the story is heard, it never wears on the ears nor grates on the tongue. Each narration brings forth new meanings in folds, triggering pain that catches at the breath and tears that choke with renewed fervor.
The words are not exaggerations or fiction; they are history. And this history beats its way through listeners’ veins, reminding of the good within; the capabilities inherent in every human to transcend and become more than what they are. They are not just stories: they are calls to renewal, change, ecstasy. Constant urgings to intellectual, moral, spiritual revolution. Entreaties to keep alive a legacy that proclaims: death with dignity is better than life with humiliation.
They remind us that it is not for us to set heroes on pedestals as distant ideas, too high for us to reach. That, with enough struggle, the ability exists within us to be some of what they were.
And though we may never be able to achieve their heights in completion, when our battle comes, we will fall in the fray at least knowing that we tried.
As the new moon rises, join millions as they enter these silent spaces of liminality; gatherings that lay out the stretch between what has been and what can be. Step forward, and engage in a movement to transcend – walking in with the grief of remembrance, and walking out with the sweet taste of revolution.
and if you listen closely enough, you may hear the ghosts of neighing horses, the reverberation of hoof beats against the sand, the gentle step of a warrior, the unsheathing of a sword…
You may hear the echo of Hussain’s final call, as he stood surrounded by the bodies of his murdered family and companions: “Is there any supporter to help me?”
And the passion in his voice will remind you that the truest heroes do not die; that he and those who fell with him still live in the purest part of our selves. They faced the snarling grins of wolves with the grace of a lion’s tread, sacrificing all they held dear for what they held dearest: the fulfillment of the divine promise that good will always find victory over evil.
In their final words we hear the question: We faced the wolves of our time; when the wolves of yours howl, will you remember us, our stand, our sacrifice? Will you back down and choose a life of humiliation, or will your dignity rise to greet them with the raging beauty of your roar?
Listen. The people are moving.
The days of black flags are here.