LECTURE 8 TRANSCRIPT: INSPIRATION FROM KARBALA FOR A TURBULENT WORLD
7 September 2019 (8TH night Muharram 1441)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Once again, we are here to seek guidance and inspiration from our master, Aba Abdillah al Husayn (a.s), the master of martyrs. We discussed 2 very important messages of Imam Husayn (a.s) in the last 2 nights, namely:
- Spirituality in response to materialism
- Baseerat (vision and insight) in response to ignorance and confusion
There were very important points from the movement of Imam Husayn (a.s) which we learnt. The question of spirituality, as we discussed last night, is very much connected to clarity of vision. The logic of the Holy Quran is that if someone is spirituality elevated, then Almighty Allah (SWT) opens the horizon before him, and matters become clear for that person.
There is a very well-known Hadith which is recorded in both Sunni and Shia resources. It says that if someone purifies himself for Almighty Allah (SWT), and makes himself sincere for the 40 days, then Allah (SWT) allows streams of wisdom to flow into this person’s heart. This is the result of pure and perfect spirituality. Baseerat is that clarity of vision, which is very much connected to spirituality.
However, I mentioned last night that sometimes spirituality is evident in its very early stages. It is not necessarily fake, or a hypocrisy (nifaaq), but unfortunately, there are still clouds of confusion in the minds of the people, thereby making it difficult to find the path of determining what to do.
Therefore, Baseerat (clarity of vision and insight) is also another crucial quality for finding the right direction and the solution. As discussed last night, the path which Imam Husayn (a.s) chose was one of Baseerat. There was clarity of vision, and those who followed Imam Husayn (a.s) shared this vision with him.
Baseerat is therefore a very important inspiration from Karbala. There are loads and loads of discussions around this subject of Baseerat and clarity of vision, especially when it comes Amr bil Ma’ruf wannahi anil munkar (enjoining good and forbid evil).
One of the major conditions for inviting people towards good and keeping them away from evil is Baseerat. It is about having the insight to understand the conditions prevalent at the time, and thereby allowing you to make an informed decision about what is really good and what is really evil.
You have to understand your priorities in any given set of conditions and circumstances. You have to understand what the major challenge in front of the society is. Otherwise, some people do this duty of Amr bil Ma’ruf wannahi anil munkar and create more corruption and conflict (fasaad) instead of reform (islaah).
So there is really lots to discuss on this subject of Baseerat, but we will move to our next inspiration from Karbala.
WE ARE ALL THE HONOURED CHILDREN OF ADAM (A.S)
Almighty Allah (SWT) says in verse 70 of Surah Israa (chapter 17 of the Holy Quran):
وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ وَحَمَلْنَاهُمْ فِي الْبَرِّ وَالْبَحْرِ وَرَزَقْنَاهُمْ مِنَ الطَّيِّبَاتِ وَفَضَّلْنَاهُمْ عَلَىٰ كَثِيرٍ مِمَّنْ خَلَقْنَا تَفْضِيلًا
“And surely We have honored the children of Adam, and We carry them in the land and the sea, and We have given them of the good things, and We have made them to excel by an appropriate excellence over most of those whom We have created.”
This verse is important to understand in Karbala, especially the first part which says that we are honored as children of Nabi Adam (a.s). It does not say that we honored Muslims, nor does it say that Sunni or Shia are specifically honored. It also does not say that it is only believers who are honored. It is an all-inclusive honor from Almighty Allah (SWT) to the children of Adam (a.s).
Our religious scholars and thinkers have captured a very important subject line for this, calling it “human honour and dignity”. They want to say that human beings, regardless of its religion, creed or colour of its skin, is honorable, with dignity and respect.
REFORMING THE INNER HUMAN SPIRIT IS THE OBJECTIVE OF IMAM HUSAYN’S (A.S) REVOLUTION
This verse goes further to say that preference has been given to Insaan (humanity) over all other creation. This is another extremely important aspect of Karbala. From the first night, we discussed repeatedly that the cry and inspiration of Imam Husayn (a.s) was to stand and act for social justice, and not to be indifferent.
In the rest of this discussion, I would like to say that this change which Imam Husayn (a.s) wanted, is not limited to external change. The revolution of Imam Husayn (a.s) is external as well as internal.
Imam Husayn (a.s) wanted to change the society, but equally importantly, he wanted to change people internally as well. Imam Husayn (a.s) was addressing that Insaan (humanity) which has essentially, by default, dignity, honour and respect, as expressed in the verse of the Holy Quran cited earlier. In other words, Imam Husayn (a.s) was addressing that humane aspect which was dead in his time!
Therefore, right towards the end of the Day of Ashura, when Imam Husayn (a.s) brought his 6 month baby Ali Asgher out of the camp, seeking for water, he proclaimed this statement loudly on the sands of Karbala:
“O slaves of Bani Umayyah, if you do not believe in any religion, nor do you fear the hereafter, then at least try to live like free people in this world!”
In this statement, we have moved from the level of spirituality to Baseerat, to the level of humanity (Insaniyah). Even after 14 centuries, this statement still echoes, where Imam Husayn (a.s) challenged that human dignity! I therefore hope that everyone will now be able to understand this theme of our discussion this year, which says “O Husayn, we are seeking your inspiration for this turbulent world”, because Husayn (a.s) is the savior of humanity!
HOW DOES IMAM HUSAYN (A.S) BECOME THE MAGNET FOR ALL OF CREATION?
Imam Husayn (a.s) is not simply addressing a particular race or creed in his revolution. The revolution of Imam Husayn (a.s) is addressing that inner conscience of humanity at large.
Therefore, in this uprising of Imam Husayn (a.s), the strong aspect of humanity is flourishing. Why is Imam Husayn (a.s) and Karbala loved by people who are not even Muslim? This is a question which some of us rightfully have in our minds. Why do people like Mahatma Gandhi, Charles Dickens and numerous others love Husayn (a.s)? Why is the tragedy of Karbala commemorated in other religions too?
It is also surprising that even amongst Muslims, we find that those who are not at all religious, and perhaps even drawn in major levels of sin, will somehow come out of their darkness once a year on Ashura. They won’t be fasting or attend Lailatul Qadr or maintain any kind of religion in their life, but somehow you see them make their annual guest appearance on the night of Ashura.
These people are in a very different world, but the question is, what magnet does Imam Husayn (a.s) have to attract these lost people? Similarly, what magnet does Imam Husayn (a.s) have, that even non-Muslims are attracted? How does Imam Husayn (a.s) attract ALL types?
Persian poetry so beautifully asks “who is this Husayn that the whole world is crazy for him?” The magnetic effect is because Imam Husayn (a.s) believes in the dignity of humanity. Husayn (a.s) believes and practically introduces humanity in its purest form to the people.
THE PLOT FOR MUSLIM IBN AQEEL TO KILL IBN ZIYAD FAILS DUE TO THE MORAL IMPERATIVE
Insaan (humanity) is very, very precious in the school of Imam Husayn (a.s), and the purity of humanity is very crucial. Therefore, Imam Husayn (a.s) does not believe in achieving a noble goal through unjust means. For Husayn (a.s), humanity is the criteria, and the end does not justify the means.
The martyrs of Karbala and the women and children of Karbala have all been trained that they cannot take the wrong path to achieve something good. Again, this is the flourishing of human dignity!
I have narrated on numerous occasions, that in Kufa, the envoy of Imam Husayn (a.s) ie. Muslim ibn Aqeel is left high and dry, after ibn Ziyad introduced the politics of fear which caused the people of Kufa to abandon Muslim. Muslim ibn Aqeel is left in a very difficult situation and is living in the house of Hani ibn Urwa.
Hani ibn Urwa is a prominent and influential member of Kufa, but he was also a sickly man. Ibn Ziyad was the governor of Kufa, and he arranged to visit Hani ibn Urwa. Ibn Ziyad paid the visit, but he was not aware that Muslim ibn Aqeel was hiding in the same house.
Now, Hani ibn Urwa and some others in the close circle of Muslim ibn Aqeel are plotting that this is the best opportunity to strike on ibn Ziyad, because he will be visiting Hani ibn Urwa without any bodyguards. So, they arrange that Muslim ibn Aqeel should hide behind the curtain where Hani ibn Urwa is laying in bed, due to his sagging health.
They arrange where ibn Ziyad will sit, and then Hani ibn Urwa will give Muslim ibn Aqeel a hint to come from the back and strike ibn Ziyad hard, so that he can be done for once and for all.
They saw this as an important matter, because if ibn Ziyad is eliminated, then everything will be OK and there will be no problems any more. Ibn Ziyad came to visit Hani ibn Urwa while he was bedbound. Ibn Ziyad is sitting there by the bedside, and people who are around are giving signals for Muslim ibn Aqeel to emerge and strike the daylight out of ibn Ziyad from behind.
After a while, ibn Ziyad leaves, and then Muslim ibn Aqeel emerges. Those in the home of Hani ibn Urwa were frustrated with him, complaining that he squandered a golden opportunity to strike the main enemy in Kufa, namely ibn Ziyad.
Muslim ibn Aqeel silences them with being guided by the moral imperative. He tells them that in Islam, we do not deceive by attacking from behind. This shows that genuineness and pristine nature in the movement of Imam Husayn (a.s).
KARBALA IS ETERNAL BECAUSE OF ITS MESSAGE FOR HUMANITY
You know, throughout the journey of Imam Husayn (a.s) to Karbala, we find that he is never ready to compromise on principle, because human dignity is of paramount importance. The interaction of Imam Husayn (a.s) with his opponents is most remarkable to analyze. This shows that Imam Husayn (a.s) does not only see the enemy as an enemy, but rather remembers them also as human beings.
We discussed a few nights ago the narration of Hurr, who intercepted the caravan of Imam Husayn (a.s) while en-route to Kufa. Hurr came as the enemy, not allowing the caravan of Imam Husayn (a.s) to move ahead. But even before Hurr can say anything, Imam Husayn (a.s) tells him that they are all very thirsty and exhausted and would like some water. This is Husayn (a.s), the son of Ali (a.s)!
This humanity is important for Imam Husayn (a.s), which he is very, very sensitive about right up to the Day of Ashura. The result of this humanity is the paradigm of ethics and morality we see from the camp of Imam Husayn (a.s) in Karbala, which is honored by Almighty Allah (SWT).
That akhlaq (noble moral character) is flourishing in Karbala, in every aspect and every angle.
IMAM HUSAYN (A.S) SHOWED MERCY EVEN TO HIS CURSED KILLER
Before the war starts, there is an argument between Imam Husayn (a.s) and Shimr (the cursed killer of Imam Husayn (a.s)). Those in the camp of Imam Husayn (a.s) want to kill this terrible, vulgar person by the name of Shimr, once and for all. However, history has recorded how Imam Husayn (a.s) acted decisively is stopping anyone from harming Shimr.
The companions of Imam Husayn (a.s) are taken aback by not being allowed to strike on Shimr, saying to Imam Husayn (a.s) that Shimr was extremely rude and deserves to be sorted out once and for all.
What happened was that Imam Husayn (a.s) ordered some trenches to be made behind the tents and for a fire to be made there. This was because Imam Husayn (a.s) was very concerned about the protection of the women in his camp and the fire was meant to mitigate the risk of the enemies attacking the women from behind.
So then, Shimr came over and taunted Imam Husayn (a.s) by saying to him that he is already preparing the hellfire for himself here, before experiencing it in the afterlife. This gives one insight into the low level of scum that Shimr was!
Naturally, the companions of Imam Husayn (a.s) wanted to respond and attack Shimr but Imam Husayn (a.s) stopped them, explaining that he does not want to be recorded in history as the one who initiated the war.
Now we understand the secrets of why Karbala is eternal! Husayn (a.s) did not want to initiate the war, as he does not get pleasure from killing people, nor does he like the bloodshed of humanity. He repeatedly said this sentence.
Umar ibn Sa’d, the commander of Bani Umayyah in the Battle of Karbala, fired the first arrow and he gathered everyone to be witness to this, as he wanted this news to be relayed to ibn Ziyad in Kufa ie. that he initiated the war.
On the other side, this arrow struck someone, and Imam Husayn (a.s) gathered his own companions and said to them that they should be witness on the Day of Qiyamah (Judgement Day) that the war was started from the enemy’s side.
This is the humanity and greatness of Husayn (a.s)!
IMAM HUSAYN (A.S) GATHERED HIS ARMY THROUGH FREEDOM OF CHOICE
Imam Husayn (a.s) was trying to get those in the enemy’s camp to realize that they are slaves of Bani Umayyah, which is not befitting their status as human beings. I have repeatedly mentioned in this series of discussions, that Imam Husayn (a.s) did not bring anyone out of force, blackmail or emotional pressure. Instead, Imam Husayn (a.s) gave them freedom of choice and even excuses for them to leave, because he only wanted people with clear conviction and freedom of thought to be in his camp.
This is humanity and in response to the enemies Imam Husayn (a.s) said that he will not give his hand like the hand of humiliated people, and he will never run away the way that slaves do. Imam Husayn (a.s) then said that death with dignity is better than a life of humiliation, with slavery.
These slogans from Imam Husayn (a.s) are indeed eternal. They are beyond religion at the peak of humanity!
Imam Husayn (a.s) was harping on human freedom, which goes beyond liberation. The same Muslim ibn Aqeel was attacked from every direction in Kufa, and then he uttered that he will be killed as a free person, and not from the back! This is the bravery exhibited by all the martyrs of Karbala.
This humanity, liberation and human freedom is what Imam Husayn (a.s) was all about! There is the highest level of ethics and morality at every level we look at in the approach of Imam Husayn (a.s) in Karbala.
SHIMR TRIES TO PERSUADE HAZRAT ABBAS (A.S) AWAY FROM IMAM HUSAYN (A.S)
It is the afternoon of the 9th Muharram. Abul Fadhl al-Abbas (a.s), the brother of Imam Husayn (a.s) and the commander and flagbearer of his army, is indeed the most important person in the camp of Imam Husayn (a.s). They are sitting together in the tent and then all of a sudden, they hear somebody shouting from the outside.
Guess who was shouting? It was the worst enemy of Imam Husayn (a.s), none other than the cursed Shimr, who killed Imam Husayn (a.s) on the Day of Ashura. Now, to give you some background, the mother of Hazrat Abbas (a.s) is Ummul Baneen, and she comes from the same tribe as Shimr, and there is some family connection there.
Shimr came to the tents of Imam Husayn (a.s) and shouted for Hazrat Abbas (a.s) to come out, because he was thinking of exploiting this connection in his favour. His evil intent was to break Hazrat Abbas (a.s) from Imam Husayn (a.s), and he was shouting that he brought a guarantee for him from ibn Ziyad. This guarantee was that he will not be killed if he leaves Imam Husayn (a.s).
So, the worst of the enemy’s camp is shouting and the most reliable and most crucial member of the camp of Husayn (a.s) is sitting next to him. Would any head of the army be fine with his right hand speaking with the enemy? Not at all!
But what is the reaction of Imam Husayn (a.s)? He requests that Hazrat Abbas (a.s) go ahead because he is being called! Again, this is Imam Husayn (a.s), and this is why Karbala is eternal!
The revolution of Imam Husayn (a.s) penetrated the hearts of the people and touched the innermost part of people’s humanity. A few nights ago we mentioned some statistics, noting that at least 30 of the 72 martyrs came over from the opposition’s side. How is this possible? How did Imam Husayn (a.s) penetrate the hearts of these people who needed to leave their dunya and all their comfort in order to join Imam Husayn (a.s) and ultimately give their life?
THE AFRICAN MARTYR OF KARBALA REACHES THE SPECIAL HEIGHTS OF SPIRITUAL ELEVATION
This discussion about the expression of humanity in Karbala is never ending. In South Africa, racism is still a hot topic due to our ugly history of Apartheid, and nowadays we are plagued with xenophobia as well. In Karbala, we see how Imam Husayn (a.s) interacted with people from different backgrounds in his camp. For Husayn (a.s), colour and creed is not important.
We remember the lessons from the interaction of Imam Husayn (a.s) with John, the black slave of Abu Dharr, who came to the Ahlul Bait (a.s) and served his whole life with them. John is in the camp of Imam Husayn (a.s) in Karbala, and Imam Husayn (a.s) freed him, but John did not want to go, as he wanted to die for Imam Husayn (a.s).
Imam Husayn (a.s) explained to John that he has done more than enough of sacrifice for the Ahlul Bait (a.s) throughout his life, and he should not worry to go so far. The response from John is most remarkable, where he told Imam Husayn (a.s) that maybe he did not want his blood to mix with the pure blood of the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
Imam Husayn (a.s) immediately grabbed John and embraced him, asking him how he could even think along such lines. Imam Husayn (a.s) allowed John to go into the battlefield, where he fought bravely.
The reporters of Karbala have written that Imam Husayn (a.s) tried to reach every martyr when they fell from the horse, and in most cases, they would have already been martyred, and then Imam Husayn (a.s) would bring their bodies to the tent.
Shaheed Ayatollah Mutahhari, this intellectual giant from the 20th century, says that one of the martyrs whom Imam Husayn (a.s) for sure reached before martyrdom was John. Imam Husayn (a.s) placed his face on the face of John when he reached him upon falling from the horse. Imam Husayn (a.s) wanted the blood of John to mix with the blood of the Ahlul Bait (a.s)!
In this situation which John was in, full of wounds and full of arrows, history records that John smiled at having achieved martyrdom, flying towards his Lord (SWT).
Imam Husayn (a.s) made a special dua (supplication) at this point, for John to acquire one of the highest spiritual junctions of Maqamul Abraar.
This is the humanity of Husayn (a.s), where he treated John exactly the same way that he treated his most beloved son Ali Akbar!
GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE CAN BE SOLVED THROUGH KARBALA
We see how Imam Husayn (a.s) interacts with people from different cultures and backgrounds wanting to attain martyrdom. There is the beautiful narration of the Turkish slave, and the Christian newlywed couple.
We see the problem in our society of gender-based violence, and the grave disrespect of women after 14 centuries. We talk about being civilized, but see firsthand the horrible stories in the news about what men do to women in these so-called civilized societies.
Let us go to Karbala to see how Imam Husayn (a.s) treated women! Let us study how Imam Husayn (a.s) interacted with his sister, Lady Zainab (s.a), and the mothers of martyrs, his daughter Sukain and his own wife Rubab, amongst the other women who were there!
The noble moral character and deep sense of humanity is manifested at the highest level in Karbala. Husayn (a.s) inspires us, that we cannot achieve social justice without that human dignity!