LECTURE 7: INSPIRATION FROM KARBALA FOR A TURBULENT WORLD
6 September 2019 (7TH night Muharram 1441)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
In our discussion last night, we spoke about spirituality. Imam Husayn (a.s) saw a lack (and gradual disappearance) of spirituality in his era, and increase in materialistic ambitions of the people. Therefore, Imam Husayn (a.s) called people towards spirituality through various channels of communication. He did not confine his approach to lectures only. Instead, he presented a unique model and a group of people in spirituality at the highest possible level.
We discussed last night that it is an amazing contrast in Karbala. People on the lowest level are drawn in this material world, and they have basically crushed their spirit and soul. In this messed up background, we see Imam Husayn (a.s) emerge with examples and role models that even the greatest of mystics and spiritualists are humbled before them.
These are the martyrs of Karbala who travelled overnight through all the different stations of spirituality and reached the point where they saw nothing but Almighty Allah (SWT). On the night of Ashura, Imam Husayn (a.s) gave them the news of Shahadah (martyrdom), saying that all will die tomorrow (on the Day of Ashura). This resulted in a celebration amongst them, as they felt fulfilled that they have reached the station of Liqau ullah.
LIFE IS DEFINED BY SPIRITUALITY IN THE HOLY QURAN
In the introduction to this lecture, I repeated the verse we discussed last night (lecture 6). I want to connect last night’s discussion to that of tonight, through this verse 122 of Surah An’aam (chapter 6 of the Holy Quran):
أَوَمَنْ كَانَ مَيْتًا فَأَحْيَيْنَاهُ وَجَعَلْنَا لَهُ نُورًا يَمْشِي بِهِ فِي النَّاسِ كَمَنْ مَثَلُهُ فِي الظُّلُمَاتِ لَيْسَ بِخَارِجٍ مِنْهَا ۚ
Is he who was dead then We raised him to life and made for him a light by which he walks among the people, like him whose likeness is that of one in utter darkness whence he cannot come forth?
Almighty Allah (SWT) is saying in this verse that someone who was dead, was revived and he was granted light to walk amongst the people, is like someone who is in numerous areas of darkness which he cannot come out of.
This verse has a very thoughtful message. Almighty Allah (SWT) is saying that someone without faith or spirituality, is dead. This is a very important point to understand, because the Quranic definition of life and death is in relation to one’s soul, and not with the organs of the body. So, a person without faith or spirituality is basically dead.
Now, this verse is saying that Almighty Allah (SWT) revived the soul of such a person, and gave him light to walk amongst the people. So, someone who received new life from Allah (SWT) also receives a lantern, so that he can walk amongst the people with this light. This is in contrast to the other side, who is drawn in the darkness!
A very interesting point to mention over here, which all commentators of the Holy Quran have noted, is that amazingly when the Holy Quran explains what alive is, it describes the person as having one Noor (light). On the contrary, the Holy Quran describes the one who is misguided as being in multiple darkness.
WHAT IS LIGHT IN THE SPIRITUAL UNDERSTANDING?
This is because there is no multiplicity in light. Light can only be one, but misguidance has different levels of darkness where a person gets lost.
Someone asked from our 5th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s), about the Noor referred to in this verse. This person wanted to know what Noor does Almighty Allah (SWT) give this person who is lost, and then He gives this person new life and guided him, and then He gives him Noor so that he can walk amongst the people. Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s) replied that this Noor is the Wali of Allah (SWT)!
In the last lecture, we referred to this verse from the angle that Noor is that spirituality. Today we would like to understand this verse in a different form.
This verse starts with reference to a person’s spirituality being dead, so he is not alive. His life is then revived. This means that he is then back with his spirituality, which was the topic of discussion in the last lecture. The Noor referred to in this verse is his spirituality, or as Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s) referred to the Noor being the Imam (leader).
What we want to now say, again in light of the teachings of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), is that this Noor is basically the result of this spirituality. The result of Taqwa (God consciousness) and Imaan (faith) is this Noor (light).
What is the job of a light? Its purpose is to make the path clear. Think of a torch or flashlight, whose purpose is to provide the light on your path so that you can see what is ahead of you and where you are going. Now, the Holy Quran is saying that the direct result of this spiritual revival is that Almighty Allah (SWT) gives us light to walk properly and to clearly see the path and the route we are walking on.
BASEERAT – THE CLARITY OF VISION AND INSIGHT
This is another very important inspiration from Karbala. An appropriate synonym relevant to Karbala is Baseerat. Spirituality is very much connected to Baseerat, which refers to the vision and insight. Baseerat is clarity of vision ahead. To explain it simplistically in 3 questions, it is:
- What do we want?
- Where are we going?
- What are we supposed to do?
The Quranic logic is that if you have Taqwa (God consciousness) and Imaan (faith), then Almighty Allah (SWT) provides you the capacity to distinguish between right and wrong.
Baseerat – without doubt, is a very important condition! Clarity of vision is very closely connected to spirituality and Taqwa.
Sometimes, what happens is that people appear to have spirituality and Taqwa. Piety appears to be there. At least we can see that they appear to be very God-fearing and very religiously committed. Unfortunately, at the same time, they do not have Baseerat ie. they do not have vision and insight.
Why is it like this? I am not saying that their spirituality is fake. Spirituality and Taqwa is there, but that is the foundation for you to think straight. You see, one of the problems about vision is our personal inclinations and interest. One of the things which makes us think or reflect on things differently is our materialist attitude.
Let me explain this point through narrating very beautiful quotes from Amir al-Mu’mineen, Imam Ali (a.s). He says that the desire of nafs (soul) is very influential in the way you think. Those of us who are privileged to have visited his shrine in Najaf, Iraq will remember that this beautiful sentence of his is written there:
“Most often, the place where intellectual capacity falls apart is when greed is taking over. This is when you mind ceases to work.”
The desires of our soul do not allow us to distinguish between right and wrong. This is when we try to justify. Another beautiful quote from Imam Ali (a.s) on this subject is:
“If someone looks through this world, it then makes you visionary, but if someone looks at this world as a destination, then that look makes the person blind.”
So, depending on how you reflect on this dunya, you can either become a visionary if you see its true reality or you become blind if you see it as a destination.
KHARIJITES – PSUEDO-SANCTIMONIOUS PEOPLE WHO HAD NO BASEERAT
As we discussed in the last lecture, the challenge which Imam Husayn (a.s) was trying to combat in society was the same greed and love of this world. This is what made people blind, and they lost their spirituality.
Now, to take this further, sometimes spirituality is there, meaning greed is absent, but still somehow a person does not have vision and insight. History has plenty of examples of how such people got lost.
A popular example in this regard are the Kharijites. They were very holy, supposedly. Their spirituality was not fake. They feared Almighty Allah (SWT). The masses were not necessarily hypocrites in that sense, although the same cannot be said about the leaders who exploited!
So, the masses were sincerely pious, with steadfastly upholding the rituals of Islam. They would pray on time, maintain fasting, perform Tahajjud, live a very basic life, and kill their desires for anything in this world. In fact, it was extreme! Amazingly, the same people were completely lost. These very same pious people had absolutely no vision and insight.
That is why I quoted from Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s) in the interpretation of the above verse 122 of Surah An’aam, where he explained that the Noor referred to in this verse is spirituality, but above this, Noor refers to Imamate (leadership) of the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
BATTLE OF SIFFIN – THE DISASTER WHICH FORMED THE KHARIJITE MOVEMENT
These people, the Kharijites, were very pious – apparently. However, their actions and attitude were a complete disgrace. We all know how this movement started. During the Battle of Siffin, between Imam Ali (a.s) and Mu’awiya, the army of Mu’awiya were losing ground, and so he shrewdly played a trick to avoid defeat.
Considering how supposedly spiritual and pious the people in the camp of Imam Ali (a.s) were in the Battle of Siffin, Mu’awiya resorted to placing the Holy Quran on spears, in an attempt to stop the war, where his camp was losing. This was his attempt to call the army of Imam Ali (a.s) back to the Quran!
People started falling for this trick, but Imam Ali (a.s) was trying to get through people’s heads that this was not Quran. He tried to explain to them that Mu’awiya is exploiting the Quran against the Quran! Mu’awiya’s trick of placing the Quran on spears was an emotional ploy to deceive these pious people so that they do not fight against the Quran!
Maliki Ashtar was in the forefront of this war, and he was begging to Imam Ali (a.s) for a few hours so that he can finish this war victorious and this corruption and conflict (fitna) will be destroyed forever. However, the so-called pious people in the camp of Imam Ali (a.s) protested, saying that they cannot continue fighting because the Holy Quran is in front of us on spears!
You see how the spirituality and piety of these people was used by Mu’awiya to fool them?! Finally, Imam Ali (a.s) was compelled to stop the war, and a representative was appointed from both sides ie from the side of Imam Ali (a.s) and Mu’awiya. Then, history narrates what a disastrous decision these representatives concluded upon and then matters became so much worse.
Now, when things became such a huge disaster, the same naïve, so-called holy people asked Imam Ali (a.s) why he surrendered to the decision that the representatives concluded upon. All of a sudden, Imam Ali (a.s) was declared a disbeliever (Kaafir) for having surrendered. Now, in their eyes, Mu’awiya and Imam Ali (a.s) were both regarded as disbelievers!!!
This group, with such narrow-minded thinking, became known in history as the Kharijites. History is testament to the huge disasters they created, due to a lack of Baseerat. This is really a serious challenge right up to today.
LACK OF BASEERAT CAUSED DISASTERS THROUGHOUT ISLAMIC HISTORY
We need to unpack and understand what is Baseerat, or clarity of vision and insight, which the Holy Quran speaks about. We read in Surah Yusuf (chapter 12 of the Holy Quran) that we invite people towards Almighty Allah (SWT) with Baseerat! The point is that the Holy Quran has emphasised so much on the issue of Baseerat.
Baseerat, or having insight and clarity of vision, means that we should be able to understand what is right and what is wrong. We should be able to identify how the enemy wants to exploit and use different tricks to fool us, and not to be stuck in matters at face value only.
History is full of examples where people have been trapped in this situation.
The Abbasid dynasty built their movement on the position that they are standing for the revenge of Karbala, and the rights of the Ahlul Bait (a.s). Many people naturally fell into this trap, including the members of the broader family of Rasulullah (SAWA), because the Abbasids claimed to be campaigning for the rights of the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
So, the people were naturally impressed, while our 6th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s) Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s) said at the time that they are fooling the masses, and that they are not at all fighting for the Ahlul Bait (a.s). Instead, they are fighting for their own personal interests and power.
Despite this, people continued to support them, and history is witness to what happened. The day they defeated the Umayyad dynasty and thereby assumed power, they first and foremost decided to sort out all those people who had an alliance or affiliation with the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
This was because they came into power under the pretext of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) and feared that the Ahlul Bait (a.s) will therefore demand their share of power which the Abbasid rulers were not prepared to share. Hence, they wanted the supporters of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) killed.
This is what has been repeated so many times in history. In any challenging situation, we often succumb to our emotions, which renders us incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong.
LACK OF BASEERAT TRAPS PIOUS AND NONRELIGIOUS PEOPLE IN A WEB OF DECEIT
With Imam Husayn (a.s), the people at the time were totally consumed with their worldly inclinations, and therefore could not comprehend the moral stance he was trying to awaken in them. In the previous lecture, I gave the example of Ubaidullah ibn Hurr Jaafi, amongst others, who could not see the point, because they were drowned in the worldly pursuits (dunya) and this life only.
So this is one very important factor which makes us unable to see the path ahead.
Then, on the other side of the spectrum, you have the Kharijites, who were very pious, and totally divorced from worldly pursuits. They also existed in the time of Imam Husayn (a.s), and when they were asked what they thought of the revolution that Imam Husayn (a.s) is calling for, they responded with “Astaghfirullah” repeatedly on their Tasbih, arguing that politics has nothing to do with them. So, these people were caught up in their own spiritual drama.
This is the problem of lack of vision and foresight. This occurs repeatedly, and occurred many times in the lives of the Ahlul Bait (a.s). An example is in the life Imam Hassan (a.s), the grandson of Rasulullah (SAWA) and the older brother of Imam Husayn (a.s). He signed the peace treaty with Mu’awiya, and many great, committed lovers of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) became upset and criticised him for this. Now, how can one be critical of an infallible Imam?
Using today’s terminology, someone addressed Imam Hassan (a.s) as “someone who humiliated the believers” after he signed the peace treaty with Mu’awiya. In simple terms, Imam Hassan (a.s) was called a sellout!
In the case of other Imams, we see that our 8th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Ali Reza (a.s) accepted the position of being crown prince of Ma’mun, the Abbasid ruler at the time. Again, people got confused.
ZAIDI SHIAS ESTABLISHED THROUGH LACK OF BASEERAT
If you look at the Zaidi movement, which is named after the son of Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s). He was a very big revolutionary leader, who stood to take revenge for the blood of Imam Husayn (a.s) from the enemies, and he was successful.
However, he never claimed to be an Imam, nor was he ever competing for Imamate with Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s), or Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s), or Imam Jafar Sadiq (a.s). He was martyred and has been praised by the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s) as a great man.
His followers were winning battles and taking over pieces of land and had a successful system working amongst them. Now, this power unfortunately fooled his followers, who then took the position that they do not want a so-called passive Imam. They then regarded Zaid as the Imam, because of his activism and revolutionary fervour coupled with his piety.
The Zaidi approach introduced this condition in Imamate, that someone can only be regarded as an Imam if he is taking armed struggle, otherwise not.
Then what happened was that they were crushed by the rulers and compelled to migrate to Yemen. After this defeat, they took a 180 degree turn due to the pressure, and emerged with a very passive ideology. They went from one extreme to the other, from an extremely radical ideology, to the diametric opposite in the form of an extremely passive ideology.
This is the background of the Zaidi movement, who are Shia and original lovers of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), but got deviated from the time of Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s) onwards, as they turned radical and did not understand the leadership of the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s).
Another example is the Ismaili movement, which we are not familiar with as they don’t really exist in South Africa. If you look at them, they don’t even look or carry themselves as Muslims today, as followers of the Aga Khan. However, if one studies their origins, and how they broke away from mainstream Shia, they thought that the Imams of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) are not playing the role which they are supposed to. Again, their vision was not clear, and this is the common problem with these breakaway movements.
KARBALA IS A UNIQUE DEMONSTRATION OF BASEERAT IN ITS CLEAREST FORM
The problem is the confidence in the leadership of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), which is the very fibre of Imamate and the school of Ahlul Bait (a.s).
In today’s world, the situation is no different. Let us bring this issue of Baseerat and clarity of vision back home. How often have we fallen in the traps of racism. Let us speak frankly about this! We’ve become reactionary, asking questions like “where is the black Marja”?! Examples are plenty, but this is all a result when the vision and ideology is not clear, and lack of insight and understanding into the leadership of the infallible Imams of the Ahlul Bait (a.s). These are the problems which then appear.
There are so many points to unpack in this discussion, where there is a lack of clarity of vision, resulting in diversion and deviation from the right path, and we lose the confidence in our leadership.
Imam Husayn (a.s) presented the ideal example of Baseerat in Karbala. I am saying this repeatedly over these nights. Therefore, we cannot compare Karbala to any tragedy, not to the holocaust or any other tragedy. The reason is because there is no vision or insight in these other tragedies. They are just victims. In Karbala, every single member and supporter of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) is a visionary, and understands the philosophy of Imam Husayn (a.s) and why he is taking this stand.
The old, senior people cannot understand why is Imam Husayn (a.s) going to Kufa to kill himself. They have so many questions due to not understanding the vision and philosophy of Imam Husayn (a.s). These were people without Baseerat, but the people who are with Imam Husayn (a.s) have amazing sharing of his vision.
Imam Husayn (a.s) delivered a sermon at one of the stops along the journey to Karbala, and his companions lined up one after the other to pledge their allegiance to him. One of these special people is Hilal ibn Nafi, who uttered the following statement to reinforce his commitment:
“O Husayn, we are with you with sincere intentions, and most clear vision!”
Hilal ibn Nafi is confirming that they all know why they are in the camp of Imam Husayn (a.s)!
LADY ZAINAB (S.A) – THE EXEMPLIFICATION OF BASEERAT
When one reflects on the statement of Lady Zainab (s.a), when she says in the aftermath of Karbala that she swears by Allah (SWT) that she sees nothing but beauty! This shows the vision of Zainab (s.a). She is not seeing the tragic day of Ashura, and the killing of her brother and her own children, together with the rest of her family and companions, and all the troubles she encountered in the aftermath, as difficulty.
We know this from when ibn Ziyad arrogantly told Lady Zainab (s.a) that Allah (SWT) has insulted and humiliated them. She retorts saying that Allah (SWT) has not insulted them, but rather, that he (ibn Ziyad) is the one who is humiliated and insulted! She posts a befitting riposte to him, saying that martyrdom for the sake of Allah (SWT) is the honour for them, the Ahlul Bait (a.s). Hence, she swears that she has not seen anything but beauty!
This is the vision of Lady Zainab (s.a), which one can translate in 2 ways. Firstly, she understands the vision and purpose of Imam Husayn (a.s) and therefore the hardships and difficulties is nothing but beauty for her. The other approach is the mystical meaning, because all of these troubles were endured in the love of the way of Almighty Allah (SWT). So, to endure pain and suffering in love of Almighty Allah (SWT) is not pain for Zainab (s.a), but rather, it is nothing but beauty!
This is the clarity of vision! What are we doing, and why are we doing it, and understanding the conditions of the time, before acting upon the situation?
Many of us have watched that beautiful series of Mukhtar, and we would have noticed that there was a group of people called the Tawwabun. History has recorded that this was a group of people who repented after Karbala, for having not joined Imam Husayn (a.s).
There is no doubt, that their love and commitment, and pledge to the Ahlul Bait (a.s) was there, but what was missing was their Baseerat. That vision and insight was missing! They came late! They did not act at the time when they were supposed to, as they left Muslim ibn Aqeel all alone, to die in the streets of Kufa. Now, afterwards they are now coming out, wanting to repent, and all of them are martyred. The reality is that it is too late! This is the challenge of Baseerat.
Now, this is an example of good people who lacked Baseerat, as opposed to the example of terrible people I gave earlier ie. Kharijites, who killed Imam Ali (a.s). So, even if you are a lover and follower of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) – if you lack vision then you have a serious problem.
This Baseerat – clarity of vision and insight – is what makes Karbala so beautiful, where even women and children are with Imam Husayn (a.s). If we study the authentic Maqtal, which is the narrative of the historical record of what transpired in the tragedy of Karbala, we will never find a complaint by anyone. Yes, they used this tragedy to awaken the people from their moral slumber, but not a single person complained or had any regret about the difficult situation they were in.
Each and every single person in Karbala shares the clear vision of Imam Husayn (a.s). I said a few nights ago, that the 72 martyrs of Karbala, along with Imam Husayn (a.s) is a big number. It is very difficult to find in history 72 people who are so perfect, and unflinching in their loyalty, with clear vision.