The Banquet of Allah on ‘Ashura

10th of Muharram 1439

In the Name of Allah, the All-Beneficent, the All-Merciful


In the well-known supplication of the Big Armor (al-Jawshan al-Kabir] taught by the Holy Prophet (s), after calling every ten Names of Allah we say ‘Glory be to You, O You other than whom there is no god, help, help, and release us from Hell Fire, O Lord (…khallisna min al-naari ya Rabb)’ [al-Kaf‘ami, al-Misbah, p. 247]


In the real and ontological sense, everything in the world of existence is a guest (dhayf) of Allah. A guest in the Arabic language, according to some lexicographers is known as dhayf because he is ‘joined’ (yudhafu) to the family of the host and fed with them [E W Lane, Arabic-English Lexicon, v.2, p.1814]. Its root meaning is ‘to incline’ (al-mayl), which is why many authoritative lexicographers say that a guest was so called because ‘he inclines to his host where he alights’ (limaylihi ila alladhi yanzilu ilayhi) [al-Turayhi, Majma‘al-Bahrayn, v.5, p.87]. This kind of joining and inclination is exterior and superficial. The human being’s connection and inclination to God, however, is existential such that he literally is God’s grace and has no independent identity whatsoever. Whether he likes it or not, his being is existentially and coercively submissive and connected to God. In the beautiful words of the Qur’an he is ‘faqir ila Allah’ [Q., 35:15]. This is because he depends on God’s command and power for existence moment by moment. Thus he is God’s guest in the real sense every moment. Not only him, but everything other than God is as such. The insightful scholars not only know this intellectually but also vision it through their hearts. Therefore, for example, when we see a mountain, we think that it is one mountain stationed at a certain place, but the insightful who see the reality, clearly find every moment a new mountain taking the place of the old mountain. The Holy Qur’an sites this example beautifully in the following verse:


‘You see the mountains, which you suppose, to be stationary, while they drift like passing clouds—the handiwork of Allah who has made everything faultless. He is indeed well aware of what you do.’ [Q., 27:88]


Hence in the general sense everyone is God’s guest and He is busy hosting them moment by moment. In Qur’anic terms, ‘Every day He is engaged in some task’ [Q., 55:29] which the insightful scholars render as ‘Every moment He is engaged in some task’ [Q., 55:29] because the word yawm does not exactly mean ‘a day’; it can also signify ‘a moment’ [al-Isfahani, al-Mufradat, p. 894; al-Fayumi, al-Misbah al-Munir, p. 682].


In the radiant narrations of the Ahl al-Bayt (‘a) we are taught that there are two kinds of Divine Invitations: General and Specific. General Divine Invitation is what we have already explained. Specific Divine Invitation however has several examples, the details of which is beyond the scope of this limited article.


One of the important examples of the specific divine invitation is that which takes place on the 10th of Muharram. In one of the well-known ziyaraat called Ziyarat al-Ta‘ziyah that we normally recite in the afternoon of the Day of ‘Ashura, we address Imam al-Husayn (‘a) saying: ‘O my master, O Aba ‘Abdillah, I am the guest of Allah and your guest (ana dhayfu Allahi wa dhayfuka), and the refugee of Allah and your refugee, and for every guest and refugee there is a banquet, and my banquet this moment is that you ask Allah, the glorified and exalted, to provide me with the freedom of my neck from the Hell Fire, indeed He is the Hearer of supplication…’ [‘Allamah al-Majlisi, Bihar al-Anwar, v.98, p. 224]. Hence on this day we must know that we are special guests of Allah and Imam al-Husayn (‘a), and the banquet that we must try to attain is ‘freedom from Hell Fire’ which is reckoned to be a kind of state that would make one not return to sin. Being forgiven in a way that one is like a new born baby, is a lower level than ‘freedom from the Hell Fire’ which is sought in very important occasions.


Observe the following examples:


  1. In an interesting hadith from Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) we are informed that pilgrims (hujjaj) exit in three different categories: (1) Those who are freed from Hell Fire (sinfun yu‘taqu min al-nar), (2) Those whose leave their sins and resemble new born babies who have no sin on them, and (3) Those whose family and property are safe, which is the least the one who performs hajj returns with. [Ref: Shaykh Kulayni, al-Kafi, v.4, p. 253]


  1. The Holy Prophet (s) in a hadith where he describes the Holy month of Ramadhan, says: ‘It is a month, the beginning of which is mercy, the middle of which is forgiveness, and the end of which is ‘release from Hell Fire.’ (Shaykh Saduq, Fadha’il al-Ashhur al-Thalathah, p. 129]


  1. In the Holy Nights of Qadr which form the peak of the month of Ramadhan we are taught by Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) to open the Qur’an and say ‘O Allah I ask you by Your revealed book and by what it contains– and in it is Your Greatest Name and Your Most Beautiful Names—and [I ask You] by what is feared and hoped, to make me from those whose necks are released by You from the Hell Fire.’


  1. During Hajj when we want to enter Masjid al-Haram, we are taught to recite a supplication narrated from Imam al-Sadiq (‘a) in which we ask the following from Allah ‘…O All-Generous, I ask You to bestow to me the release of my neck from the Hell Fire, O Allah release my neck from Hell Fire, O Allah release my neck from Hell Fire, O Allah release my neck from Hell Fire …’ [Shaykh Kulayni, al-Kafi, v.4, p. 402]


  1. On the Day of ‘Arafah while reciting the supplication of Imam al-Husayn (‘a) we address Allah as follows: ‘…and I beseech You for my request that if You answer, anything else that You reject will not harm me, and if You reject, anything else that You respond will not benefit me: I beseech You for releasing me from Hellfire. [Sayyid ibn Tawus, Iqbal al-A‘mal, p. 347]


Explaining this state of ‘release from Hell Fire’ the insightful scholars inform us that due to our material body in this world, we cannot experience the scorching fire that is burning some of us in our higher stratum of reality. It is only when one is coercively transported to the intermediate realm (barzakh) or a higher than that, that one can feel the intensity of the fire that is burning him. Note that in the supplication of the Big Armor that we quoted in the beginning, we are not asking Allah that we should not be placed in Hell Fire on the Judgment Day, but rather requesting ‘for a release now’ which means that without our realization, due to the veils that cover us temporarily, we are suffering and need to be released. One of the proofs of our suffering is our experience of greed and attachment to this world, which according to the insightful scholars are signs that indicate that one is suffering in Hell-Fire.


The Banquet of ‘Ashura likewise is all about freedom from the Hell Fire. We must therefore together with supplication shed sincere tears for Imam al-Husayn (‘a) and eagerly seek that elevated level of not being inclined to sin completely. The gatherings of lamentation are schools where such transformation can transpire. On our part we need to be steadfast and struggle continually. The Holy Qur’an says: ‘…that nothing belongs to man except what he strives for…’ (Q., 53:39]


Peace be unto You, O Husayn and on the spirits that descend in your neighborhood.

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