In November, 1949, I witnessed the ritual events of the tenth day of the month of Muharram in a village of north India inhabited by Muslims of the Shiah sect. According to Shiah tradition, on this day of the year in 680 A.D., Husain, the grandson of Mohammed, sacrificed his life in the battle of Kerbela rather than swear allegiance to one whom he did not consider fit to be caliph and a successor to the Prophet. To mark the occasion, the villagers had gathered to recount the heroic resistance offered by Husain and his tiny band of seventy-two persons against fearful odds to preserve their religion and honor. Tazias (colored paper representations of the tombs of Husain and his brother Husan) were placed under a canopy, and a tall, grey-bearded elder read a long narrative poem describing the tragic struggle. His voice broke and tears streamed down his face as he detailed the acts of sacrifice and devotion performed by Husain and his followers and as he pictured the suffering of the women and children when enemy forces cut them off from water and supplies. His account was punctuated by cries of grief and distress from the audience.

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