15 August 2021 (6 Muharram 1443)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
In our discussion surrounding the major Quranic concepts manifested in Karbala, we had spoken about worldly attachments and surrendering before dunyawi temptations. Based on the selection of verses discussed, the hereafter is longer lasting than this temporary realm and is better for the god-conscious.
While this worldly life has the potential to deceive man into believing that its pleasures are eternal, much emphasis has been placed in the ahadith of the Ahlulbait (as) to see this world in its true sense. In verse 20 of Surah Hadid, Allah (swt) mentions:
وَمَا الْحَيَاةُ الدُّنْيَا إِلَّا مَتَاعُ الْغُرُورِ
“The life of this world is nothing but an Illusion”
When one is deceived by the veils of this life, he relegates himself from the lofty status bestowed upon him by Allah (swt).
In tonight’s discussion we would like to explore how the Quran views the human being – both in its creation and status.
Allah (swt) says in Surah Israa verse 70:
وَلَقَد كَرَّمنا بَني آدَمَ وَحَمَلناهُم فِي البَرِّ وَالبَحرِ وَرَزَقناهُم مِنَ الطَّيِّباتِ وَفَضَّلناهُم عَلىٰ كَثيرٍ مِمَّن خَلَقنا تَفضيلًا
“Certainly We have honoured the Children of Adam, and carried them over land and sea, and provided them with all the good things, and given them an advantage over many of those We have created with a complete preference.”
In the Ramadhan series this year, we extensively covered many important themes in Surah Israa. Amongst the variety of topics addressed an in-detail discussion about this verse and its comprehensive perspective was analysed.
All the children of Prophet Adam (as), irrespective of their race or cultural background, has been honoured by virtue of living as a human being.
This worldview is emphasized in several other verses, including Surah Tin verses 4 and 5:
لَقَد خَلَقنَا الإِنسانَ في أَحسَنِ تَقويمٍ
“We certainly created man in the best of forms;
ثُمَّ رَدَدناهُ أَسفَلَ سافِلينَ
then We relegated him to the lowest of the low”
While verse 5 speaks about the position of the human being as demoted to a lowly stature, this is an entirely separate discussion and does remove the inherent greatness of this creation.
Furthermore, Allah (swt) after describing the creation of man concludes by saying:
فَتَبارَكَ اللَّهُ أَحسَنُ الخالِقينَ
“So blessed is Allah, the best of creators!”
One of the companions of Imam Ali (as) inquired for the reason as to why Allah (swt) has praised himself in such a manner after speaking about mankind. The Imam (as) responded by saying that Allah (swt) has placed everything within a human being.
Mulla Sadra (ra), the extraordinary philosopher of the 17th century, has explained Imam Ali’s (as) words in more depth.
He says that we have three types of creations:
- Human beings.
Each of these creations have different capacities to achieve differing levels of perfection.
Angels have been created purely with ‘aql or intellectual capability. Thus, in the absence of the lower self in the form of anger, lust and desires – they do not perform any bad actions.
The distinction here is that they only have capacity to perform good.
On the contrary, we have animals. These beings do not have the intellect and have only been bestowed with “shahwah” which encompasses hunger, anger, lust amongst other base characteristics. Consequently, animals are unable to reach higher levels of perfection that are beyond material significance.
Human beings, however, is the unique creation that has been created with both antithetical qualities present within. They have the ‘aql and the lower self, as these forces are at war between each other. Due to this nature, we see in history human beings that were at both extremities.
When the human being has allowed his desires to overtake him, he becomes worse than an animal. The Quran comments on this nature, comparing them to cattle or even worse.
This is mentioned in Surah A’raf, verse 179:
أُولٰئِكَ كَالأَنعامِ بَل هُم أَضَلُّ ۚ أُولٰئِكَ هُمُ الغافِلونَ
“They are like cattle; rather they are more astray. It is they who are the heedless.”
Alternatively, a human being can become greater than angels when his ‘aql flourishes and rules over his actions. This is reflected in the deeper, more subtle meanings.
In the famous 30th verse of Surah Baqarah, Almighty Allah (swt) describes Prophet Adam (as) as being the “khalifah” or representative of Allah (swt):
وَإِذ قالَ رَبُّكَ لِلمَلائِكَةِ إِنّي جاعِلٌ فِي الأَرضِ خَليفَةً ۖ
“When your Lord said to the angels, ‘Indeed I am going to set a viceroy on the earth’”
Many exegetes of the Holy Quran have said that this lofty position was bestowed upon humanity, of which Nabi Adam (as) was symbolic of in this specific instance. The foundation of Islamic human rights is based on the kiramat or dignity of the human being.
This is something intrinsically bestowed upon them by Allah (swt). A representative or viceroy of God is held according to a standard in which there is no trace of humiliation.
Furthermore, in verse 20 of Surah Luqmaan Allah (swt) brings a stark perspective in relation to man and the world that surrounds him.
أَلَم تَرَوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ سَخَّرَ لَكُم ما فِي السَّماواتِ وَما فِي الأَرضِ وَأَسبَغَ عَلَيكُم نِعَمَهُ ظاهِرَةً وَباطِنَةً
“Do you not see that Allah has disposed for you whatever there is in the heavens and whatever there is in the earth and He has showered upon you His blessings, the outward and the inward?”
All of creation has been made available to the use of the human being, as blessed verse mentions how it has been “disposed.” In the hierarchical structure, the conception of the human being is above all other material existents.
HUMAN DIGNITY IN SEERAH OF AHLULBAIT (AS)
When we examine the biography of Prophet Muhammad (saw), we find how he remarkably respected human beings wherever he came across them – irrespective of their backgrounds. This was truly a revolutionary act of the Prophet (saw), as that society of jahiliyah would favour individuals based on genealogy, race and social status.
In Imam Ali’s (as) famous letter to Malik Ashtar (ra), the Imam (as) had appointed Malik (ra) as the governor of Egypt. In providing him advice when dealing with those under his leadership, he admonishes him by saying:
“Do not stand over them like greedy beasts who feel it is enough to devour them, since they are of two kinds, either your brother in religion or one like you in creation.”
Additionally, we have multiple anecdotes from the period of Imam Ali’s (as) caliphate. On one such occasion, the Imam (as) had entered the city of Anbar in Iraq. The inhabitants at that time had consisted primarily of Persian migrants. The native citizens of this land had a tradition that when the head of state would arrive, they would run behind his caravan to show their respect and veneration for the ruler.
When this had happened, Imam Ali (as) was taken aback by their actions. In response, the Imam (as) remarked by saying it is not worthy of a human being to run behind a leader like a slave. This shows Imam Ali (as) fundamentally believed in an intrinsic dignity present in all human beings, nonetheless of the temporal power one may possess over the other.
Similarly, Imam Ali (as) had entered another city under his rule. In this town, it was customary for the poets to start reciting the praises of the leader – using excessive flattery to describe him.
It is interesting to note how these two practices appear in politics until today. How often do we see in our midst politicians that live for the praise of the people? In many cases, they even become upset when their citizens do not queue to sing their litanies!
In any case, Imam Ali’s (as) reaction to the poets shows the glaring contrast in his behaviour compared to what we see today.
Upon hearing their blandishments, he simply said he should not be addressed in the manner that arrogant leaders are expressed.
Furthermore, there is the famous narrative where Imam Ali (as) was travelling with a person ignorant of his status as the Caliph. They eventually reach a junction where their paths diverge and depart from each other’s company. Imam Ali (as) was found to be following behind him. The stranger was surprised by this odd behaviour and inquired why he was not taking his own path. Imam Ali (as) responded by saying that as they were travelling together, certain rights had become obligatory upon him. Thus, in order to fulfil this responsibility, he had accompanied him a few steps further. This was the true level of human dignity that was captured in the attitude of the Ahlulbait (as).
Marhoom Shaykh al-Kulayni (ra) in al-Kafi reports from Imam Sadiq (as) who has said:
“Almighty Allah has presented everything to a believer, with one exception. He has not given permission for you to humiliate.”
This is applicable in the context of our interactions with others, but equally important with ourselves as well. The believer does not have the right to humiliate himself.
From this understanding, sciences arise such as Insaan-e-Shinaasi, referred to in English as Humanology. This Islamic field attempts to understand the position occupied by the human being based on the Quran and hadith corpus.
The key takeaway from these verses, especially as we attempt to build on our understanding, is that no human being is worthy of humiliation. Even an individual himself should not be allowed to humiliate himself.
HUMAN DIGNITY IN KARBALA
One of the most flourishing aspects in Karbala was this true spirit of human dignity. If one examines the various sermons that the Imam (as) had given upon arriving in Karbala and the subsequent 9 days spent in that area, the permeating theme is trying to reinvigorate the soul of human dignity in his enemies.
In the eyes of Imam Husayn (as), surrendering in front of an oppressor is the most humiliating of actions he could succumb to. In this respect, there are only three options he was left with:
- Co-operation with false leadership – in this case one is a partner in the oppression and accountable for the acts of oppression.
- Submission. In this instance, individuals – perhaps out of fear or other motivations – would submit towards Yazid’s leadership and become submissive to his rule.
- Resistance. This was only option Imam Husayn (as) was left with to preserve his own nobility as a human being.
In this uprising of the Imam (as), he attempted to awaken the dead conscious of the community by reflecting upon their own treatment. Bani Umayya was freely treating the public as their subjects and exposing them to slave-like treatment. In return, they expected no less than undying loyalty.
The Quranic concept of honour was completely lost, as Allah (swt) says in verse 8 of Surah Munafiqun:
وَلِلَّهِ العِزَّةُ وَلِرَسولِهِ وَلِلمُؤمِنينَ وَلٰكِنَّ المُنافِقينَ لا يَعلَمونَ
“Yet all might belong to Allah and His Apostle, and the faithful, but the hypocrites do not know.”
After the advent of Islam under the guidance of Prophet Muhammad (saw), the believers received special honour from Almighty Allah (swt) – in addition to their dignity as human beings! But their humiliating beseeching in front of Bani Umayya had deprived them of both honours.
Many amongst our Ulama – such as Shaheed Ayatollah Mutahhari (ra) – have concluded that the ummah was suffering an identity crisis.
There were many elites that were still living at the time Karbala had taken place. Highly influential personalities such as Ibn Zubair and Abdullah ibn Umar – who were both pleased to sit comfortably while an immature boy, who spent his time drowned in alcohol and murdering innocent Muslims was running the Islamic Ummah. Such a figure sat in the seat of the Prophet (saw), yet this didn’t seem to raise any alarms.
IMAM HUSAYN’S (AS) RAISES CALL OF HONOUR
As we have mentioned previously, Imam Husayn (as) had given many speeches on his journey to Karbala. This included when he was in Makkah and Madina and the travelling stations in between. Imam Husayn (as), addressing what death would mean in the path of fighting against the tyrant said:
“For the children of Adam (as), death is like a necklace that has been hung and secured around the neck of a young girl.
How I long to meet with those of my family who have died and gone before me, just as Ya’qoob (as) longed to see Yusuf (as)!
A place has been specified and chosen for me, upon which my body must fall; I must reach that place. It is as though I can see the wolves of the deserts between Nawawees and Karbala tearing me apart piece by piece, filling their empty stomachs and their hungry pouches to the brim with me.”
In another khutbah, Imam Husain (as) says:
“Death is better than surrendering to humiliation. I don’t see death as anything but perfection and happiness, while life with oppressors as anything but humiliation.”
In another sermon, Imam Husayn (as) says:
“”Beware that this illegitimate son (Ubayd Allah) of the illegitimate one (Ziyad b. Abih) has made me choose between the two: drawing sword and humiliation, and never to humiliation!”
Imam al-Husayn (a) declared that since Allah (swt), the Prophet (saw), believers and pure intellects do not accept his surrender, he (a) chooses death over humiliation.
In another place, Imam Husayn (as) responds to the suggestions that he should flee from Yazid and Ibn Ziyad:
“I will not flee like a frightened slave, nor will I surrender like a lowly person of no nobility.”
Throughout all of these messages, Imam Husayn (as) thoroughly believed not only believe in this respect for himself but for everyone else. It is for this reason that his treatment even towards his enemies inspires an atmosphere of human honour.
On the Day of Ashura, there is an accursed individual who bustles around Imam Husayn (as) and starts reading poetry insulting the Imam (as). The Imam does not retort and in fact withholds his companions from reacting.
Instead, Aba Abdillah (as) recites verse 72 of Surah Furqaan:
وَإِذا مَرّوا بِاللَّغوِ مَرّوا كِرامًا
“…and when they come upon vain talk, pass by nobly.”
This selection of Imam Husayn (as) in reciting these words hold incredible value in relation to our discussion. The final word used in this verse is “kiraama,” which translates to honour, dignity or nobility. Imam Husayn (as) is the complete manifestation of this concept and thus does not stoop to the level of the insulter.
While I have already given many examples of Imam Ali (as), we find another incredibly touching story. In the years when Mu’awiyah had ramped up the propaganda machinery and false tales were created about the Imam (as), many had begun cursing him. When Ameerul Mu’mineen (as) used to hear this, he would recite the following poetry:
“I pass through the streets and the people curse Ali
I pass through them, thinking they are referring to another Ali”
This shows the climax of human honour and dignity in the face of society becoming the lowest of the low.
Returning to the epic of Karbala, Imam Husayn (as) shows the highest of respect to his companions and in particular the women.
Although we do not have time to delve into this, I encourage you to understand what the relationship between Imam (as) was between:
- His wife – Lady Rabab (ra)
- His sister – Sayyidah Zaynab (as)
- His daughters – Lady Sukaina (as), Lady Ruqayyah (as)
- The family servant – Lady Fizza (ra)
It is often thought by religious individuals that women should be consulted. However, Imam Husayn (as) consults Sayyidah Zaynab (as) at every stage. While some say that women cannot be trusted and secrets should not be disclosed to them, Imam (as) reveals everything to Zaynab (as).
In western discourse, we often hear the importance of freedom and acceptance of others irrespective of their race or background. Despite all these empty slogans, we still have movements such as Black Lives Matter, showing the true face of American acceptance. Beyond this, we daily witness American foreign policy and the catastrophic implications it has had in South America, Africa and most recently in the Middle East.
In the past few days, we all have seen the takeover of Taliban in Afghanistan. These murderous criminals entered in Kabul and are already removing the flags of Imam Husayn (as).
How has this happened?
We should not buy into the narrative that the Taliban overthrew the existing Afghan government – it was simply handed over!
There was little to no combat, with the Taliban negotiating their victory at the gates of the cities they entered. In such a short time, they obtained control over an entire country How could these terrorists take over an entire country without even the smallest of efforts?
America has had boots on the ground for the past two decades. Towards the latter years of their occupation, the pretence used to remain as occupiers was to train the government forces and protect women’s rights amongst other objectives. When we look at the scenes in Afghanistan today, they have categorically failed on every aim. This is what Western human rights has to offer – empty promises and false hopes.
KARBALA OFFERS AUTHENTIC BELIEF IN HUMAN RIGHTS
To conclude, I would like to present a personality that exemplifies tonight’s discussion – the servant of Imam Husayn (as), Jawn (ra). Jawn (ra) was previously the servant of the illustrious companion of the Prophet (saw) Abuthar al-Ghaffari (ra), and later served the Ahlulbait (as) after the former’s exile from Madina.
He was originally from Ethiopia and was dark of complexion. On the Day of Ashura, he had asked the Imam (as) for permission to fight and die in his path. The Imam (as) declined, saying that he has served the Household of the Prophet (saw) his entire life. The Imam (as) then gave him his freedom, allowing him to escape and rescue himself.
I have narrated this story annually each Muharram from the angle of racism. However, I would like to analyse it from the perspective of human dignity. Why did Imam Husayn (as) give him his freedom? Perhaps that since Jawn (ra) was still under slavery, he may feel compelled to accept his master’s demand.
In response to this offer from Imam Husayn (as), Jawn (ra) responded by saying: “Your servitude is better than freedom for me!”
Imam Husayn (as) then still prevented him from fighting. Upon seeing this, Jawn (ra) then said that perhaps the Imam (as) did not want Jawn (ra) to die along with his companions, as he was of low class and his blood is odourful.
The Imam (as) could not bear to hear such words and gave him permission to fight. He then fought fiercely against the enemy until his last moments. As was customary with each martyr, they could call Imam Husayn (as) as they fall unto the sands of the battlefield. When Imam (as) had reached, he had placed his cheek upon the cheek of Jawn and gave him the glad tidings of Heaven. In this painful situation, Jawn (ra) smiled and his soul ascended, leaving his body.
This specific incident has only been narrated elsewhere in the case of Imam’s (as) beloved son, Ali al-Akbar (as). Regardless of his race or background, Imam (as) gave him this special treatment. Imam Husayn (as) transcends categorisations of race and status and was entirely focused on the soul of the individual.
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