Written by Sayed Aftab Haider  

This evening’s majlis commenced with two recitals of lamentation poetry in honor of Imam Husayn (AS) and the martyrs of Karbala by students of Madrasatul Imam Husayn (AS). The first of these was a poem calling out to the river Euphrates by Mawaddah Abader and Aisha Mohammed. This was followed by a beautiful rendition of the famous “Oh my Mowla Husayn, Oh my Mowla Ali” by Wakeel McWhite.

This evening Moulana Aftab Haider’s talk focused on the ideal of izzah (translated as dignity or honour) in the movement of Imam Husayn (AS). Moulana stated that like reform, this particular ideal that Imam Husayn established at Karbala has a deeply rooted Qur’anic basis. In this context Moulana said that Allah (SWT) attributes the ideal of izzah to himself over eighty-eight times in the Qur’an. He added that Allah (SWT) also insists that izzah is necessary for Allah’s messengers and the believers.

Moulana then went on to provide a classically-grounded definition of izzah by drawing on Ragheb al-Isfahani’s dictionary of Qur’anic terms. Al-Isfahani defines izzah as a “status or condition which restricts human-beings from being overpowered”. Based on al-Isfahani’s definition, Moulana said that honour is that condition in our personality that prevents us from being humiliated.

According to Moulana, al-Isfahani further writes that the term “izzah” is derived from the term “izz” which refers to a very hard rock that cannot be shaken. Moulana added Sayed Muhammad Husayn Tabatabai’s understanding of izzah to this definition. Tabatabai writes that if someone has izzah, he/she cannot be overpowered by external or internal powers. Moulana said that the opposite of izzah is disgrace and humiliation.

While saying that in its essence, izzah belongs only to Allah (SWT), Moulana pointed out that on a secondary level izzah can also be present in the human-being. Moulana said that according to the Qur’an, if someone desires to be honoured by others, he/she will only be honoured if Allah (SWT) grants the honour to them. Moulana emphasized that in this regard the Qur’anic approach to honour as dependent on one’s surrendering to Allah (SWT) is distinguished from the materialistic approach wherein people tend to think that wealth and power grants one a sense of dignity.

Linking this ideal of honour to the struggle of Imam Husayn (AS), Moulana said that in the school of Imam Husayn, dignity can only be attained by surrendering to Allah (SWT). He added that if one does not surrender to Allah, one will be forced to surrender to people. In order to illustrate this particular understanding of dignity in the thought of Imam Husayn (AS), Moulana said that Imam Husayn’s famous Dua Arafah shows us that if one surrenders before Allah (SWT), one will be respected by everyone else. Moulana said that because Imam Husayn humbled himself before Allah, Imam “did not know the meaning of surrendering before anyone but Allah”.

Moulana then focused on some of Imam’s utterances regarding dignity and humiliation prior to departing for Karbala and at Karbala itself. When Muhammad bin al-Hanafiyyah suggested that Imam Husayn (AS) go into exile, Imam replied with the following words, “I know how brutal Yazid is. But by Allah, even if I am left all alone in this universe, Husayn bin Ali will not accept humiliation”.

Underlining Imam Husayn’s readiness to be martyred for this ideal, Moulana quoted a passage from Imam’s sermon to the pilgrims at Makkah. Imam said, “Allah has decorated the son of Adam with death like a necklace on a young girl. I am fonder of meeting my grandparents than Ya’qub was of meeting his sons”.

Linking Imam’s readiness for martyrdom more directly to his desire for dignity, Moulana quoted Imam Husayn’s famous words to Hur bin Yazid. Imam said to Hur, “Dying in honour makes you eternal, while a life with disgrace is worse than death”.

Moulana then explained why exactly Imam Husayn placed so much emphasis on the ideal of dignity. He said that during Imam’s time, the Muslim ummah had lost its sense of self-respect. Moulana added that in Imam Husayn’s view a nation cannot survive without having honour or self-respect. He said that prior to the advent of Islam, the Arab society had no sense of self-respect. The Holy Prophet (SAWA) imbued this sense of self-respect within people by teaching them how to surrender to one God.

Placing Imam Husayn’s movement in its historical context, Moulana asserted that the same sense of dignity that the Prophet (SAWA) gave to these people was later crushed by many of these very same people after the Prophet’s demise. They crushed this sense of dignity through establishing an unjust political system that oppressed the most vulnerable in the Ummah. Many crimes were also perpetrated against the family of the Prophet (SAWA).

Moulana stated that Imam Husayn (AS) came to “shake this dead ummah” with his martyrdom and restored dignity to people in the long-term. Moulana pointed out that Imam Husayn (AS) succeeded in this mission of restoring people’s sense of dignity. He said that after the tragedy of Karbala, over twelve thousand people from Kufa went to the blessed tomb of Imam Husayn (AS) in Karbala and pledged to fight the enemies of Imam Husayn till death. They fought and subsequently killed many of those who were responsible for the murder of Imam Husayn.

Moulana concluded the majlis with the narration of the martyrdom of that valiant lover of Husayn who hailed from Africa, John. Moulana’s description of John’s last conversation with Imam prior to being martyred touched the hearts of many in the audience. This ‘aza was followed by the performance and recital of the ma’tam led mainly by the youth of our community.