1Sahil B = ""WHAT SETS THE actions of the Penitents at Karbala apart in the history of religions is that they offer a
glimpse into the ways in which ritual, rather than myth, can fashion a faith. This is a crucial point to bear in
mind when discussing the development of Shi‘ism. As Heinz Halm has noted, the Shi‘ah are a community
born not “by the profession of belief in dogma” but rather “through the process of performing the rituals” that
sprang up around the Karbala myth. Only after these rituals had become formalized hundreds of years later
did Shi‘ite theologians reexamine and reinterpret them in order to lay the theological foundation for what
was already a new religious movement. Karbala became Shi‘ism’s Garden of Eden, with humanity’s original sin being not disobedience to
God, but unfaithfulness to God’s moral principles. Just as the early Christians coped with Jesus’
demoralizing death by reinterpreting the Crucifixion as a conscious and eternal decision of self-sacrifice,
so also did the Shi‘ah claim Husayn’s martyrdom to have been both a conscious and an eternal decision.
The Shi‘ah claim that long before Husayn was born, the events of Karbala had been miraculously revealed
to Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Muhammad, Ali, and Fatima. The Shi‘ah noted that Husayn knew he
could not defeat the Caliph, yet he deliberately chose to continue to Kufa in order to sacrifice himself for his
principles and for all generations to come. Realizing that mere force of arms could not restore
Muhammad’s vision, Husayn had planned “a complete revolution in the consciousness of the Muslim
community,” to quote Husain Jafri. In fact, as Shah Abdul Aziz has argued, Husayn’s self-sacrifice was in
reality the logical end to the story of Abraham’s near-sacrifice of his firstborn son, Ismail—the sacrifice was
not revoked but postponed until Karbala, when Husayn willingly fulfilled it. The Shi‘ah thus regard Husayn’s
martyrdom as having completed the religion that Abraham initiated and Muhammad revealed to the Arabs.
Based on the way in which the events of Karbala were interpreted, there developed in Shi‘ism a
distinctly Islamic theology of atonement through sacrifice, something alien to orthodox, or Sunni, Islam. “A
tear shed for Husayn washes away a hundred sins,” the Shi‘ah say. This concept, called ‘aza, or
“mourning,” achieved its full expression in the rites formalized by the Shi‘ite authorities sometime around
the mid-eighth century, and which to this day form the central rituals of the faith."-No god but God, Reza Aslan "