“Horr” is a book by renowned Iranian scholar Dr Ali Shariati about the historic Battle of Karbala in which Imam Hussein, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad, and his 72 companions were martyred by the Caliph Yazid.
The following excerpt from Dr Shariati’s book examines issues of fate, choice, and predestination as portrayed by Horr’s decision to switch sides during the fateful battle.
Horr was the name of one of the high-ranking commanders of the army of Omar-e-Sad who faced the grandson of the Prophet of Islam Hussain-ebn-Ali (AS), with orders from Yazeed-ebn-Muawiah to either get Hussain’s (AS) allegiance for his corrupt Khalifat, or kill Hussain and all his friends. It was Horr and his army who first faced Imam Hussein, and then kept them under siege, preventing them from getting water.
On the day of Ashoura, Horr made a huge decision. Right before the battle started, he left his position and the army he was commanding, and joined Imam Hussein, and was the first to be killed in the way of Allah, by the army he used to be a commander of just a few hours earlier. The name “Horr” means free, freeborn, noble, freeman.
The fate, sometimes, plays a game. The factory of creation, constantly producing uncountable things, stones, trees, rivers, animals, insects, human beings, sometimes shows a scene of humor, creates an innovation or an exception: it writes a poem, paints a work of art, does something unique…In one word, it can be said that these items have a “character”. From among the houses, Kabeh, from all the walls, the China Wall, from the planets orbiting the sun, earth, and….from all the martyrs: Horr.
The artistic hands of destination have composed this scene with utmost precision, and as if to emphasize the importance of the story, have selected all the characters of the play from the “absolutes”, to make the story most effective.
The story is about a “choice”, the most important manifestation of the meaning of human being. But what kind of choice? We are all faced with several choices in our everyday life: career, friend, wife, house, major.. But in this story, the choice is much more difficult: the good and the evil. And even so, not from a philosophical, scientific, or theological perspective. Instead, the choice here is between the truthful and the deceiving religion, between the just and unjust politics, with life being the price to pay.
To further emphasize the sensitivity of the situation, the author has not put the hero of this story in the middle, equally between the right and the evil. Instead, the hero is the head of the army of the evil. On the other hand, the director of this play has to find symbols for his story to make them most effective. Should he have Promete on one side and some demons on the other side? But this makes the story too mythical…Spartacos and Crasios? no…this makes the story nationalistic and gives it a class dependent nature. How about Ebrahim and Namrood? Moses and Feroh? Jesus and Judas? no… again, for most of the people these are metaphysical and heavenly characters different from common ordinary people. Having them as heros reduces the effect of the story, and causes people to admire them, but never think about following their examples in their everyday life. However, the main purpose of this story is to teach, to show the ability of the man to change, to show how it is possible for a common and even sinful man to reject all his social, family, and class ties and show a god-like change.
The history of Islam is full of contradicting features. The two lines starting from Habil and Ghabil, existing throughout the history side by side though in different faces, have also continued in Islam. Now, both these streams are dressed in Islam, but in opposite directions. Ironically, our hero is faced to choose between the most extreme ends in each of these parties:
Yazid, and Hossein.
Indeed, had this story been created by an author, he should have been recognized for his genuine and art…
What is the name of this hero? For a historic figure, what is important is the role he plays, and not his name, since his name is something chosen for him by his family, according to his parent’s taste.. On the other hand, if the story is created by an ingenious writer, he would choose a name which is relevant to the role of his hero. In this story however, our hero has been named by his mother, “Horr”, as if he has been able to foresee the sensitive role his son is going to play. And thus, when the Imam of freedom attends his bloody body, just before his death, tells him: “O Horr! God bless you! You are free both in this world and in the world to come, just like what your mother called you!”
Although Horr has played a unique role in the history, the essence of his role is not just confined to himself. The meaning of his action, in fact, includes all human-beings, and indeed defines “humanity”. It is what distinguishes the human-beings from other creatures, underlining the responsibility of man with respect to God, people, and himself. And Horr has not played this with words and concepts, but with love and blood. If one grasps the depth of this saying from Imam Sadegh(AS) that “All days are Ashoura, and all places are Karbala, and all months are Moharam” one readily feels the extension: “and all human-beings are Horr!”
Our history, starting from Habil and Ghabil, is the manifestation of the eternal conflict between the two poles of God and Satan, though in each period of time these two poles have disguised differently. Therefore, in each period of time, every human-being finds himself just in the same position as Horr did: alone, in the middle, hesitating, between the same two armies. On the one side, the commander of the army of evil shouts on his soldiers: ” O Army of God! attack!” and on the other side, an Imam, with a voice echoing throughout the history asks -and not commands- “Is there anybody who wishes to assist me?” and you, the man, should choose.
It is by this choice that you become human. Before this choice you are nothing, you are just an existence without essence, you are standing in the middle. Thus, the man who has found “existence” through birth, finds “essence” through choice. It is by this choice, that the creation of man completes, and this is exactly when the man feels this heavy burden on his shoulders and finds himself alone, as God and the nature have left him on his own on this dangerous decision.
Now we can evaluate our hero, we can feel what a long journey he has gone through in what a short time, to change him from a Yazidian Horr, to a Husseinian Horr. If he stays with the army of Yazid, his world is guaranteed, and if he joins the small army of Hussain(AS), his death is eminent. It is the morning of the day of Ashoura, and although the battle has not yet started in the fields, Horr realizes that the opportunity would not last. Time goes by fast, and the moments count. The storm has already started within him.
From the beginning, Horr was hoping that the events would not lead to war, but now war seems to be unavoidable. Human-beings have limited capability in tolerating shame and scorn, except for those who are genius in this respect and can tolerate disgrace unlimitedly. Horr never had thought that being an “employee” of the government of Yazid would mean collaborating in Yazid’s criminal acts. For him his job was just a source of income without having anything to do with politics or his religion.
Horr now realizes that adding his position with his religion is impossible. Thus, hopelessly and as a last resort he talks with the commander of the Army (Omar-ebn-Sa’d) who like himself is reluctant to get in a war and has accepted the mission to become the governor of the province of Ray and Gorgan. What would then be better than coming up with some sort of a solution without getting involved in the blood of the grandson of the Prophet and his family.
Horr and Omar-ebn-Sa’d both have come all the way from the palace of Yazid to Karbala together and they share the same status and social class. Horr asks Omar:
“Can’t you find a peaceful solution for this situation? “
“You know that if it had been up to me I would have done as what you propose, but your master Obeid-Allah-Ziyad did not accept a peaceful resolution!”
“So are you going to fight with this man (Hussein)?”
“Yes, by God, I will fight a battle the least consequence of which will be separated heads and broken arms!”
Now, it is evident that no longer can he play games with his religion. Now, the two separate their paths.
For Horr, Yazid’s army of tens of thousand is now nothing more than a bunch of faces, without meaning. A crowd of men without selves, a group of people without hearts, those who shout but don’t know why, fight but don’t know for whom. Now the Jesus of love and conscience cures a blind and resurrects a dead, creating a martyr from a murderer. In a journey it is not enough to ask for the destination, but one should also ask from the origin. Thus, the length of Horr’s journey becomes evident when one realizes from where he started, and to where he ended, all in half-a day’s time. In his emigration from Satan to Allah , Horr did not study philosophy or theology, nor did he attend any lectures or schools. He just changed his direction, and it is in fact this “direction” which gives meaning to everything: art, science, literature, religion, prayers, hajj, Mohammad, Ali… Having started his journey, and riding his horse, he slowly leaves his Army toward Hussain. Muhajer-ebn-Ous, who sees him agitated and worried asks:
“Whats wrong with you Horr? I am puzzled by your case, by God if I were asked about the bravest man in our army I wouldnt hesitate to mention your name, and now you are so disturbed and worried?”
“I find myself between the Hell and the Heaven, and I have to select between them, and by God I will not choose but Heaven, even if I were cut to pieces or burnt to ashes!”
The creation of Horr was completed and the fire of doubt has led him to the verity of certitude. He slowly approaches the camp of Hussain, and as he gets closer he hangs his boots from his neck, and keeps his armor down (as a sign of remorse)
“I am the one who closed your path O Hussein (AS)” He didnt accept Hussein’s invitation to rest for a while..
“Is there a repentance for me?” He can’t wait any longer, he returns to the front and attacks the army of Omar with the most severe and bitter words, letting his ex-army and ex-commander know that he is no longer a slave, he is free, he is “Horr”.
Omar-ebn-Sa’d, his ex-commander, responds by throwing an arrow and yelling
“Be witness and let Amir-ol-momenin know that I was the one to throw the first arrow at the army of Hussain!
And this was how the battle of Karbala started………