Psalms for the Tragedy at Euphrates River

Reflection on Crucifixion and Karbala (2)

by Gayatri W.Muthari

I was always impressed and touched by the experiences of a person  with his/her grandmother in terms of spiritual and religious term. I myself have the similar experience with my grandmother (may Allah be please with her).  She was a very religious woman, and I was the only grandchild who ever had a very intense experiences being with her since I was the oldest grandchild in my father’s family and she had not lived long enough to see all her grandchildren. People often looked at my face and said that I look like her very much. When she died, I was actually very upset with my father because he did not accompanied her and we were not able to be beside her. We were living in abroad when she was sick. Unfortunately, my father just took a flight back to our house after he visited her at the time she died. So, it was impossible for any of us to attend on her funeral day! Since my uncle (who lived with her) told me that my grandmother had suffered a lot because of stomach-ache,  whenever I get a stomach-ache, I remember of her.

my grandmother, my uncle and his wife

The most unforgettable advice from her that I always remember is that I should always wear a modest dress, not to show off my legs,  or my body to attract others. Of course, as a young girl later I did not always keep her advice, I still wore short pants too. I got my lesson when one day on the way home from an extracurricular activity at school, on the bus where I sat, a man next to me tried to do something bad to me who was wearing short pants. It was not the only bad experience on the bus. I had it a few times. So  I began to realize about her advice, and soon on my 17th years old I began to wear a veil every time I go out from home. However, she herself never  advice to wear any veil (or hijab) . She used to wear simple shawl to cover part of her head whenever she went out. Yet, even at home she always wore neat traditional ‘kebaya’ (a long female-Indonesian shirt) and ‘sarung batik’ (a long batik-clothing wrapped like skirt), that whenever I saw how she dressed, she was always appeared as a very simple noble lady (she is a daughter of a nobleman, granddaughter of a prince). Another advice that has very strong hit onto me is I have to always do my prayers.  I remember too how implicitly she emphasized that I should always read the Qur’an. My grandmother and my grandfather came from different tradition and island, and there was war (Japan’s occupation to Indonesia) when they were going to get married (it was not an arrange-married like most couple on that time, and I never knew why my grandmother’s family approve my grandfather except that perhaps he was educated, rich and good Muslim). My grandfather  and his family had to traveled so far and then had to arrived so late on the wedding day because of the war that it was almost canceled by my grandmother’s family! It was not a perfect marriage then, at least for her, not like a fairy tale… However, I believe that she has not just  such beautiful face, righteous deeds, but very soft heart that even though my grandfather betrayed his love, and took another wife, when my grandfather was sick, she accompanied him through all his sufferings until his death.  She  herself died a few years later when I was only 14 years old,  so short to be with her but such memories always remind in mine. Sometimes, I meet her in my dreams, she is always as beautiful as she was.

Therefore, one day, when I walked with one of my housemate, and he shared his story about his religious and spiritual grandmother (may Allah be please with her too), I could not think but of my own grandmother, and also the grandmother of a great mentor who has a very big influence on my religious and spiritual views recently.

I was very impressed and touched by the story of Shaikh Ali Haydar and his grandmother Eva Mullins (may Allah be please with her and hers!). Here let me quote it from The Beloved and I vol.3 on the introduction of the Psalm:

In her old age my grandmother never went
to bed. The hearth of her father, about which
circle prayer used to take place, had become a
coffee table upon which the Bible stood. She
read the book of Psalms through every night,
dozing between-times. Before she died she
said that there was a gem in the middle of the
Bible, and asked me if I had found it yet. I
said I was not sure. She grimaced and said,
“When you find it, you’ll know it.”

After I read it (even several times, and even Shaikh Ali Haydar loves to mention it many times, I do not get bored of because it always inspires me) I began to open the Psalms, and very curious about this gem, and slowly I began to fall in love with the Psalms, even more, whenever there are reciting, quoting, and reading on the Psalms that I can join with or I can be with, I will go, I will enter and blend myself with every singe word in its verses. Eva Mullins perhaps has inspired me more than Shaikh Ali Haydar himself. For instance, I quote another experience of him and Eva Mullins:

In the spring of 1979, I had an awakening
and was directed to my grandmother to ask
for instruction in her faith, the very personal
one transmitted to her by her father, although
she had maintained membership in a Baptist
church for a good share of her life. I had
already learned from her to read the Psalms
and keep the ten commandments. At that time
she pointed me to the Islamic Revolution in
Iran as right and just, saying people ought to
support it. She especially approved the
disappearance of disco and rock music,
alcohol and the sex industry.
It was only a few years later that I came to
her for her opinion of the Qur’an, which I had
picked up in a university bookshop and read
from cover to cover in one sitting. I told her
that I thought it was in harmony with the
Bible. It was only then that she gave me a
fuller knowledge of the tradition which she
claimed to have inherited from her father. She
only taught those who had discovered for
themselves. She also taught me to revere the
group of twelve Imams, to seek the four
gates, the four hidden guides, and to read the
four books, that is, the Bible and the Qur’an. I
was thus introduced into the house of David
and hosted by Hajji Bektash. She repeated her
earliest instruction: it does not matter what
church you belong to, there is an invisible
tabernacle made of the Psalms and we have
the privilege of being a doorkeeper in the
house of God. We need not aspire to religious
leadership. The highest office is to guard the
shoes of those who go in to pray. The dervish
is a dog at the gate, and has the right to wag
his tail at those who keep God’s
commandments and bare his teeth at those
who do not and yet presume to enter. There is
no thanks or reward for the task, but only
kicks and cuffs and a rare kind word.

I am here in Rome for an inter-faith dialogue, however, I slowly realize that faiths do not really exist. Therefore, inter-faith does not really exist. There are no many faiths, but there is only one faith and another one is non-faith. These both can not go for dialogue, can not be harmonize and compromise. Eva Mullins had showed me that even though she had a ‘strange’, ‘anonymous’ spiritual and religious tradition, she can survive among the majority and the popular tradition, even so she could dwell, go and join in any church (or nowadays, for me, in any religious  institution).

The same thing happen to me here, even when I try to go to the closest religious institution that I belong. The night before I wrote this blog, it was 9th Muharram, and I went to the husainiyyah or the center of Ahlulbayt followers in Rome. I did not expected anything, but my intention was just to join everyone who loves Imam Husseyn, to commemorate the tragedy in Karbala. Indeed, I did not know anyone in that centre, even worse was that I could not speak fluent Italian and I was at first  felt alienated since they were all speaking Urdu. They also have their own way and expression for Ashura, that I never knew before, or never see it before such as there was a symbol of the corpus Husseyn (as), their matam, and etc.  It was a very long ritual, at least for me, longer than the usual azadari  I experienced in my hometown. When I said about it to one of my housemate who had just experienced a mass in his own church but with the language that he did not understand, he said, “We are strangers among the strangers.”

At that night, before I found the husainiyyah I was almost lost, even I almost lost the map in my pocket. So, I kept asking to Imam Mahdi to guide me. I was going to your place, to your congregation, please if it God’s will I will  be there and if He’s not willing, I should go home. I went around at the same road that on one moment I was so confused where the place was, because I could not found the number, until I saw two women in black veil. I was excited, that I ran after them and followed them. At the procession, which as I said before it took longer than the procession I usually had in Indonesia, I was terribly afraid that I could not get the last bus and I did not know yet how to walk home.  So, I ran out before the dinner time quickly after the ziyarat (pilgrimage) prayer, even I had to passed by the unknown men and those long paper on the carpet ready for the dinner plates and glasses. I walked out and waited for the bus, but I was so impatient that I decided to walk home. I said, “God just guide me to wherever I should go, I do not bring map, I do not have credit to call a friend, and this street is very quiet and it is very dark, wet and cold. ”  It was raining, and I kept walking so straight. Alone in Rome streets, I kept walking to wherever I saw bus and crowds. When I finally reached a park that I was familiar with, I thanked to Him that He had guided me (like in the Psalms!). I took a rest in front of Piazza St. Laterano Church, at this very big church’s park, and ate some biscuits and drank the juice that I got from the majlis. There was a couple near my bench and I can see they were in romance but also arguing over things. Now I began to worry another thing.  My next worries were naturally woman’s fear of of drunk men, criminals and how the vehicles in Rome streets sometimes run at high-neck speed. So again, I said, “God, just let me whatever you want me to be, save me when I need to be saved, and take me home when I need to be home. I am already this far. It is very quiet and wet and dark. And I am tired and hungry. It’s so good if I arrive at home now, soon, but I let You decide for me.”

It was totally God’s will that when I arrived at the gate of my house, I met a housemate, and I have a friend to be walked with! Even so, I met another a housemate that was still awaken and I can shared my stories with him.

In the morning, I tried to catch up all the Psalms that I had left on last Sabbath. It moved me so that every passages that I read relates me to the Tragedy in the Euphrates River in 680 AD. I remembered the quote from Rumi, “I would like to kiss You.” and the answer of the Beloved, “The price of the kissing is your life.”

Annihilation is the greatest heaven, but the price is like hell, for one has to suffer  in its flames, burning fire in order to let herself burnt to be in the heaven.  Even in the ordinary life like my experience that night, my ego still worked and dominated me that I was too afraid to not get the bus, or not be able going home safely. I did not want to let God choose everything for me sincerely, I had even complained to Him, if only there is a taxi, or if only there was not raining, or I need someone to pick me, or I need my husband and his car, I began to compare how life was so easy in Indonesia for me! 

I hit myself. Mine was nothing compared to what Zaynab and Sakina had to deal with! Remembering how Husseyn’s wife could not breast feed her baby because severely thirsty and starving. The little baby Ali Asghar (son of Husseyn) who was killed by an arrow on his neck — as  a mother could it be something hurtful than seeing that? The little girl Sakina running towards her father ‘s body, Imam Husseyn, without the head, and then those soldiers grabbed her earrings  — could it be something painful for a mother to see the daughter in such condition? Could also be something worse being unveiled and people looking at our half-naked body in the parade like what had happened to Zainab, granddaughter of Muhammad? In many images, and crosses with the Corpus Christi, Jesus always appear half naked too. Being humiliated, is another kind of suffering  that many people, including me, has always been very painful and difficult to heal.

One of my favorite story that might be not be true, but symbolize  the heart of a  true lover is: the tears of Mother Mary transformed to be beautiful white lilies. It is in the event of Ashura, people who love Imam Husseyn will weep, cry, and beat their breast in rhythm to express their feelings. The one who do not love might not understand and think it is silly and foolish. Lovers always crazy – that is why there is a symbolical story in Persia, Leyla Majnun, how crazy will a person be when he falls in love. Reasoning and rationality always failed to understand Love.  There is no  philosophy to grasp love, but experiencing itself.  The total, and the pure love, would come into a state when a lover wants to be disappear in union with the Beloved.  Many saints,  in Islam and Catholic tradition said about “dead to live”. Jesus (as) and Husseyn (as) had given us the examples of how, that  many saints (or wali) have followed their path, their way. John of the Cross said (about the love for Jesus),
“Whoever gives his love to you, my Son,
to him I give myself,
and him I fill
with the love I feel for you
just for making you beloved,
my Beloved.” (From On the Communion of the 3 Persons, Romance on the Gospel)

As a Dawoodi dervish who hold the Four Books, I always thought that the Psalm is the symbol “Tarekat” or “Path” (Torah is the symbol of “Shariat” or “Law”; Injil or Gospel is the symbol of “Haqiqat” or “Awareness/Consciousness of Reality”; and the Qur’an is the symbol of “Makrifat” or “Attainment of Knowledge”). It is, for me, without reading the Psalm, is impossible to jump over and suddenly got into Awareness and attain the Knowledge.

To my grandmother, to Eva Mullin, to my good friends’ grandmothers, who passed us great spiritual and religious tradition…May Allah bless you as He bless all those who love Him and follow the path of His lovers…

Commentary on Psalm 55 (Prayer of persecution)

The dearest, my Hussein, calls out again
“How long will you take vanity for men?”
He sees the columns raising the dry dust,
He sees the frightful coming, but his trust
Is in You, my Beloved, till very death,
And He proclaims Your name with the last breath.
He could have taken this verse as his spell,
He could have shaken down a flowing well,
He could have smitten all the enemies
Down like a wall and bowing to their knees.
Instead he turned from idol vanity, 73
He met the sacrifice, and came to be
The banner of oppressed till light of day
At last illuminate the divine sway.

Commentary on Psalm 62: 3 and 4 (Psalm of hope in God alone)

The dearest, my Hussein, calls out again
“How long will you take vanity for men?”
He sees the columns raising the dry dust,
He sees the frightful coming, but his trust
Is in You, my Beloved, till very death,
And He proclaims Your name with the last breath.
He could have taken this verse as his spell,
He could have shaken down a flowing well,
He could have smitten all the enemies
Down like a wall and bowing to their knees.
Instead he turned from idol vanity, 73
He met the sacrifice, and came to be
The banner of oppressed till light of day
At last illuminate the divine sway


The well of Kauthar that transmitted drops
Of blessing from Ali to his sons stops
To gather sweetness where Ali again
Called Zaynel Abideen among earth’s men
Bows down in supplication and in word
Of beauty to thank for all that occurred.
Would that his innocence and that which stirred
His heart from Hussein’s sacrifice were heard
Throughout the world, and every heart made pure,
And every hand and foot strong to endure.
Ah, my Beloved, some even say his name
And yet are filled with hypocritic blame.
They do not frown at lies, they come to reign.
Beloved, I feel the Imam’s joy and pain.

Commentary on the Psalm 74 (Lament of the Destruction of the Temple)

The prophecy of prayer in Asaph’s word
In the third Psalm that bears his name and stirred
The heart of seventy-some in Karbela
Describes in detail down to broken straw
What happened on that day of infamy.
King David prays the cup might pass and be
Far from the faithful few who stand beside
Hussein and love the flag of peace they spied.
Beloved, I look back on the grave events
And see them all illumined like bright tents
Against the backdrop of the prophecy.
Beloved, I hear the cries that David heard
Long centuries before the thing occurred
And bow in pain with what I hear and see.

Commentary on the Psalm 137 (Ballad of the exiles)

When the little baby, a great grandson of Muhammad (saw) was killed: 

Beside the rivers of Babylon wept
The mother with the child whose bosom kept
No nourishment in pain of draught although
Water was in sight of the army’s show.
Beside the rivers of Babylon stayed
The seventy to meet their death waylaid,
While Husseyn showed by the way that he prayed
The path to life while braving his death’s shade.
Beside the rivers of Babylon he
Lifted an infant for the sky to see
And cried aloud to silence to be free.
Beside the rivers of Babylon bound
The arrow found its mark and to the sound
Of that child’s one last cry thrown to the ground

Commentary on the Psalm 138 (Hymn of Thanksgiving)

The last prayer of Imam Hussein (as)

Prayer of the dying Husseyn still gives praise
To You, Beloved, because he sees Your ways
Pure and right with justice beyond the veils
That cloud the view of lesser men with tales.
Beyond death he sees but the resurrection,
Beyond defeat the glorious insurrection
Of faith against the warfare of the small
Of soul who cling to empty power’s thrall.
Saved from wrath does not mean he saves his head,
Though that too someday will be raised from dead,
But that his eye dying’s on the perfection
Your oneness walking, sighing on selection
Of beauties varied, splintered on the world:
Who walks in trouble finds that flag unfurled.

Commentary on the Psalm 139: 19-24 (Psalm in Praise of God’s omniscience)

For the slayers of Imam Hussein (as)  [let me hate the things You hate and only love for You]:

Beloved, You who are without place, without
Whom there is no place at all in the rout,
I who am bound to tide and sleep return
To find You in the room where deserts burn.
Your thoughts before the waning flood of earth
I cannot fathom for their justly worth,
And yet I pray a curse on those who hate
Your ways, even if that unhappy state
Be in my own soul, purge the world with fire
Till there remains but that crystal desire
For You alone. Beloved, I truly hate
The bearer of the prideful, cursèd state,
The slayers of Husseyn and all his crew.
Give me more hate, Beloved, and love for You.

Commentary on Psalm 140 (Psalm against the wicked)

Though Husseyn prayed this prayer and many more,
Wicked Yezid know how to make the score
Look in his favour, so the world of men
Still fawn up his rotten heart again.
Do not grant their desires and evil schemes,
But show that You are above all that seems
To bring Yezid’s disciples to the pit
And burn their putrid souls as it is fit.
The slander against righteous Ali comes
To naught, despite the beating of the drums.
The cause of right is in Your hand and still
Husseyn shall stand alive to do Your will,
And give thanks and praise to Your holy name,
While the destroyer rise to bear the blame.

Commentary on Psalm 141 (Psalm against the attraction of evil)

Let Husseyn’s army strike me down in right
If that might turn the tide of human fright.
Let all the scattered, sacred bones arise
From Karbela to glory in the skies.
Let holy dust be scattered in the sea
And let its savour then be washed to me.
The honeyed tongues of those who see for gain
To make the world one with their false refrain
Ply at my door as though to speak for good.
I flee their cunning wishes to the wood.
Keep me from the snares of the false allure
Of peace in a false faith that is not pure.
Let me cling to the bold Criterion
That Ali snatched from Husseyn’s dying dawn.

Commentary on Psalm 142 (Prayer of a hunted man)

Follow the Path of the true one

The prayer of David once was answered where
He hid himself in cave and took beware
When all the land and people set aside
His right to rule, and pleased themselves in pride.
The prayer was on the lips of good Husseyn
Not in a cave but on the burning plain,
When all the land betrayed his valid claim,
Supported the usurper for his fame.
Again and once again the same case comes
Upon a world that cannot find in sums
Relief from wandering after pop stars.
The soul is covered with their searing scars.
I flee to You, Beloved, and follow him
Who walks unseen, unknown, unloved and dim.

Commentary on Psalm 143  (Psalm of a humble entreaty)

When sweet Husseyn this Psalm in cantillation
Repeated before his annihilation,
Did he know the great sacrifice that he
Was called upon to raise and faithfully?
I think he did, and took in his free will
The weight and burden of a wicked hill.
When sweet Husseyn repeated these hard words
Beneath a cloudless sky’s unpitied birds,
Did he know that the arrow should find well
Its mark upon a child? Yet into hell
He did not send the frightful enemy.
When sweet Husseyn walked on the sandy lee,
He found these words his solace for all grief.
Beloved, bind me to sweet Husseyn’s belief.

Commentary on Psalm 144 (War hymn and the fruits of victory)

You were a rock, Beloved, a fortress and
High tower and Saviour, shield of the command.
And yet Man was a passing shade upon
Karbela’s sand, a smoke and flash at dawn.
When Husseyn prayed for saving at Your hand
To see Your arrows strike the stranger and
Rebuke the vain words and the false remand,
He saw the vision of Your tears that flood
Euphrates with the sorrow of his blood.
He saw You bow the heavens at the stroke
And veil the angels’ faces with a cloak.
I cover too my face today in grief
To see injustice pluck the fresh green leaf,
But hold fast to Karbela’s firm belief.

When Husseyn prayed this prayer he sought
A blessing on his lovely children taught.
The enemy was all around and vied
To slaughter mother and the child that cried.
But in the midst of slaughter Husseyn died
With prayers for his own children on his lips.
He prayed that they might be kept from the slips
That felled the others on the river edge.
He prayed they might be pillars in the wedge,
And palaces abundant with the rich
Divine guidance to keep all from the ditch.
As plants green in the field his children lay
Down in their death, and yet his prayer held sway
In Ali’s praises to Your name today.

Commentary on Psalm 145 (Hymn of praise to YHWH the king)

Above the bloody fields of world and strife
Rises the splendour of the divine life
That overcomes like dandelion clay
And concrete spread upon the glowing way.
Beloved, I seek the glory above all
The truant places where good men may fall
Beneath the cutting blades of hopeless vent.
I seek the paths where Hussein once was sent.
The silence of the morning greets the flood
Of what at evening filled the earth with blood,
And year on year opens the lips to spell
Renewal of the faith the stones must tell.
Beloved, above the wrath Your mercy shines,
Beyond death resurrection draws its lines.


Your saints come to bless Your name with their lives
And with the blood that in this world contrives
To bear the witness to Your law and throne.
Your saints come to bless You with heart and bone.
All flesh must bless Your name indeed, the wight
Winged despots as well as the sons of light.
All flesh must come again before the face
Of every face after the darkened chase.
Beloved, desire rises to You alone
And scratches its petitions on the stone
Of Karbela until Your hand is filed
Against the wickedness unreconciled,
Until all evil things fail in the lamp
Of living and go down into the damp.


By the Euphrates river, there was a party of the nameless soldiers, love hunters, pure wine drinkers. By the Euphrates river, there was a party of the travelers in the garden without flowers, as the travelers themselves are the flowers, the roses of the eternal garden. They were dead but they live forever.

I remember, every day is Ashura and every land is Karbala. Hussain sacrificed himself as well as his whole family for the sake of humanity, for those who were oppressed, for justice, for love,   for their love to them. Jesus always taught to love Father, The One, and to love our neighbor, human. In Gospel, it is so clear that this teachings are the principle Law, the fundamental Law.  In order to love truly and sincerely, Jesus also taught to sacrifice ourselves. Jesus in Mark 8: 34: If anyone wants to be a follower of mine, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow me.

God, in Your Will, let me renounce myself, be in Your path of Your lovers.

Rome, 10-11 Muharram.


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