The story of Hurr is based on the narration of the story of the third Imam of Shia’ Muslims, Hussein. For the Shia’, the story of the death of Hussein and the murder of his family means the physical victory of tyranny over justice, at the same time as it does the eventual and ultimate victory of the oppressed.
In a sense, Hurr is sometimes a minor character in this story. Compared to Hussein’s half-brother Abbas, his daughters, wife and followers very few of the noha, or songs chanted to the famous chest beating rituals that commemorate Ashura, feature him at all. Nevertheless, Hurr was the first to be martyred in the famous massacre at Karbala and to this day pilgrims on their way to pay ask for the intercession of the Imam, pass by the tomb of Hurr twice, paying respects each time.
Amongst the super human accounts of bravery and steeled determinism that characterize popular devotion to the Imam and his family, Hurr’s story is in a sense more ordinary. As the commander of the army sent to butcher the Imam and his entourage, Hurr is expected to curse Hussein, the grand son of Muhammad, but finds that he can not. In the popular accounts this triggers some sort of reversal in Hurr’s mind. The rich and powerful general of the imperial army is first to die in the army of the mazlumin, the wretched, the oppressed.
The way this occasion must have fractured the world for Hurr, the relationship between this moment and other moments like it are not directly examined in the popular narratives , though they are at the heart of the different rituals attached to the remembrance of Ashura. It is these questions I wish to pose as I write my version of Hurr’s story.
As we live in an age of unjust wars, military crimes against civilians and Guantanamo Bay Correctional Facility the questions of the narrative are as relevant to our lives, here and now, as they were to the lives of those people murdered in the Iraqi desert a thousand years ago. People have experimented with and written about Shia passion plays before, but always as objects of formal study for the benefit of the Western traditions. On the contrary I maintain that to investigate the mythic structure of memory does not mean to imagine it “authentically”. It means to seize hold of the memory as it flashes, as a moment of crisis.