A shorter version of this article was previously published on Express Tribune website
I was twenty three. My last year of Bachelor Honours’ degree was in progress and perhaps like every young soul, I just had too many questions, just about everything; Religion, nationalism, God, everything. My mind used to wonder in abyss of confusion at times even though I always flaunted by beliefs with utmost certainty. But I had not been certain for some time.
That was the time in 2008, when I visited Syria and fell in love with it. I loved its people, the cultural diversity and above all, the sacred shrines that invoked spiritual awareness of God inside one’s soul.
Of course, my view of Syria was limited to the areas I lived in and visited i.e mainly Damascus and the small city near outskirts of Damascus where shrine of Lady Zainab a.s is located. I visited the currently much troubled area of Aleppo, only to visit a mosque with the sacred legendary stone upon which it was believed that head of Imam Hussain a.s was presented in court. Most part of my journey of that day passed in sleep but whatever small part I remember, it was a beautiful area which has currently been torn apart by war.
The city where the shrine of Lady Zainab a.s was located was even named after her. My main stay was in that same city. The shrine consisted of a beautiful dome, a mosque, surrounded by a big courtyard and a main hall where the mausoleum was located.
The surrounding area consisted of humble markets with shops of different variety, some of which were operated by students from Pakistan as well. Syrian shopkeepers used to greet the pilgrims warmly. Many seemed to know much about Pakistan and each seemed to have his own favorite politician of Pakistan including Shaheed Mohtarma, Mian Nawaz Sharif and Musharraf.
I had grown listening to the tales of bravery of Lady Zainab a.s in times of Karbala and after it. She was a symbol of resistance to the oppression as well as women empowerment. When I first entered the main hall of the mausoleum, I was overwhelmed, so much so that I could not even lift my head up to look at it and had a total breakdown near it. All I remember is the agonized cry coming out of me, the tears and a distant uncle holding me. I do not know how long I went on crying loudly. All I know is that for that moment and for the coming days I felt such a strong presence of God that has not left me ever since, even in times of most confusion and distress.
In old Damascus, I visited the historic route of passage from the old souk or market, to the Omayyad Mosque, close to which originally court of Yazid was located. Half a kilometer away was the shrine of Ruqayya Bint al Hussain a.s, commonly known as Lady Sakina a.s, the four year old daughter who had died in imprisonment and buried within.
If anyone had told me then that in three years, the violent struggle against the regime would start and the sacred places attacked, I would have told him that he must be hallucinating.
But it happened nonetheless. Before the recent attack on shrine of Lady Zainab a.s, the shrine of companion of Prophet SAW, Hujr Bin Adi was also attacked by rebels. Not only was it attacked, but the rebels took complete control of it, totally destroying the mausoleum including the grave within and allegedly taking the body as well.
Before these, tomb of one of the most revered companions of Prophet SAW, Ammar Bin Yasir r.a was also destroyed and the mosque associated to one of graves of one the greatest Prophets of Islam i.e Abraham a.s was also bulldozed by the rebels. In an instance of rebel-government crossfire, tomb of Khalid Bin Waleed has also been destroyed.
While thankfully the shrine of Lady Zainab a.s has not come to such a state and may it never will, the attack left the respected caretaker of the shrine, Mr. Anas Roumani killed. It appears that a democratic struggle has been hijacked by the splintered groups, many of whom have their own agenda. The most dangerous of it is to rid Islam of all of its diversity and sources of inspiration. In this ‘Spring’, flowers of treasured heritage are being plucked to leave a hollow desert.
However it’s a futile goal that will always remain unsuccessful because inspiration is connected to the souls and not just places. Lady Zainab a.s will always remain an inspiration to everyone fighting against tyranny and oppression. As for the place itself, it will always remain in the hearts of those who cherish it and remember it. If only those who attacked it, had a heart of their own.