11 August 2021 (2nd Muharram 1443)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
As we continue to mourn over the greatest sacrifice in Islam, the martyrdom of Aba Abdillah Imam Husayn (as), we will analyse another Quranic theme that the Imam (as) had revived in that decaying society.
Last night we had started our discussion as Karbala being the continuation of the message of the Prophets of Almighty Allah (swt). This was reflected in the divine verses Imam Husayn (as) recited as he was departing the blessed city of Madina:
فَخَرَجَ مِنْهَا خَائِفًا يَتَرَقَّبُ ۖ قَالَ رَبِّ نَجِّنِي مِنَ الْقَوْمِ الظَّالِمِينَ
“So he went forth therefrom, fearing, awaiting, (and) he said: My Lord! deliver me from the unjust people.”
This was in reference to the story of Prophet Musa (as), where he had departed Egypt out of fear of being persecuted by the Pharaonic establishment.
By quoting these verse of the Holy Quran, Imam Husayn (as) was showing history that the very start of his journey was divine in nature. The Imam (as), along with his household, was embarking on a journey that was of cosmic significance. This fight was an extension of the historical struggle between truth and falsehood, as we see throughout in the Quran between the prophets (as) and those who opposed them.
Furthermore, based on earlier verses in Surah Qasas we identified some hallmarks of Fir’oun’s style of rulership. This included some notable characteristics:
- Excessive arrogance and pride.
- Creation of classes based on exploitation and wealth.
- Merciless suppression of those that attempt to resist.
The salient point to identify was that these were the very same characteristics of Bani Umayyah’s rulership. While they may have been concealed by the deceptive appearances of Abu Sufyan and Mu’awiyah, the true nature of their governance became completely clear when Yazid had ascended to the throne.
Given this background, we understand from the verses recited by Imam Husayn (as) the circumstances which society had fallen into. This provides us with an excellent gateway into the next Quranic concept revived by the Imam (as).
INDIVIDUAL ACCOUNTABILITY IN QURANIC UNDERSTANDING
Throughout the Quran, we find in a plethora of verses the theme of accountability. In many instances we are taught about the various rights we may have in different roles, as well as our responsibilities in certain situations.
This message of accountability has interestingly been addressed to humanity as a whole – not exclusively to the believers.
This is seen in verses 7 and 8 of Surah Zilzaal:
فَمَن يَعْمَلْ مِثْقَالَ ذَرَّةٍ خَيْرًا يَرَهُ
وَمَن يَعْمَلْ مِثْقَالَ ذَرَّةٍ شَرًّا يَرَهُ
“So, whoever has done an atom’s weight of good shall behold it.”
“And whoever has done an atom’s weight of evil shall behold it.”
These verses speak about an individual responsibility. Irrespective of the size of the action a human being may perform, it is recorded, and the reality of that deed will be seen on the Day of Judgement.
This sentiment is echoed in verses 13 and 14 of Surah Israa:
وَكُلَّ إِنسَانٍ أَلْزَمْنَاهُ طَآئِرَهُ فِي عُنُقِهِ وَنُخْرِجُ لَهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ كِتَاباً يَلْقَاهُ مَنشُوراً
“And every man’s record of action have We fastened to his neck; and on the Day of Judgment, We shall bring out for him a book which he will find wide open.”
اقْرَأْ كِتَابَكَ كَفَي بِنَفْسِكَ الْيَوْمَ عَلَيْكَ حَسِيباً
“(It will be said to him): ‘Read your book; your own self suffices today as a reckoner against you’.”
This group of verses are lucid in their message. The consequences of our actions cannot be evaded. In the final passage from Surah Israa, we are our own witnesses in the court of Almighty Allah (swt).
WILL SOCIETIES COLLECTIVELY BE HELD ACCOUNTABLE?
The question I would like to ask at this point is therefore: Is it possible to be held accountable for actions we did not do? These may be deeds, for example, that we did not directly perform.
In order to answer this question, we need to delve deeper into certain ayahs of the Quran.
Consider verse 28 of Surah Jathiya:
وَتَرَی كُلَّ اُمَّةٍ جَاثِيَةً كُلُّ اُمَّةٍ تُدْعَی إِلَی كِتَابِهَا الْيَوْمَ تُجْزَوْنَ مَا كُنْتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ
“And you will see [on the Day of Resurrection] each nation humbled to their knees; each nation shall be called to its Record [of deeds]. This Day you shall be recompensed for what you used to do.”
Notice how in this blessed verse, there is a singular ‘book’ or ‘record’ of deeds associated with an entire nation. This shows that on the Day of Judgement, we will be held accountable on two accounts – firstly our individual actions and secondly our actions affecting the broader society in which we lived.
In addition to the ayah of Surah Jathiya, verse 25 of Surah Anfal supplements the same understanding:
وَاتَّقُوا فِتْنَةً لَا تُصِيبَنَّ الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا مِنْكُمْ خَاصَّةً ۖ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ شَدِيدُ الْعِقَابِ
“And keep from the evil of an affliction which shall not smite in particular those of you who committed injustice (but all of you); and know that Allah is severe in retribution.”
The verse explicitly speaks about an affliction that is not exclusively faced by the oppressive lot! Every member of society is affected by this “affliction” or “fitnah” as mentioned in the above verse.
These concepts may be difficult to comprehend at first, however, scholars have given two examples to simplify the matter.
If we were all to board on a ship – and a single individual starts creating a hole – is he the only one that will sink and drown?
Of course not. Everyone on board sinks along with the ship. Only a single individual created the hole, but the onus was on everybody to prevent this person from causing such a disaster.
Alternatively, consider some people who are living in a high-rise building of apartments. A single person decides to create a fire in one section, which consequentially extends to the entire building. While only one person is directly responsible for causing the fire, those that see the damage this individual is causing has an obligation to stop him. By sitting idly in such a situation is not acceptable, as everyone would suffer.
Thus, the Quran is teaching us that sometimes the actions of certain individuals may have a catastrophic impact on the entire community.
Shaheed Ayatollah Muhammad Baqir-Sadr (ra) – a legendary thinker and philosopher – has composed the argument we have outlined above. He then continues in his famous book Sunan at-Tareekh Fil Quran (Trends of History in Quran) by examining another verse of the Quran.
وَلِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ أَجَلٌ فَإِذَا جَاء أَجَلُهُمْ لاَ يَسْتَأْخِرُونَ سَاعَةً وَلاَ يَسْتَقْدِمُونَ
“And for every people there is (an appointed) term, so when their term comes they cannot put it back the least while nor can they advance it.”
We as an entire ‘Ummah’ (nation) have a life that will last a certain specified term. In light of our earlier discussion, this shows that we only have a limited time to fulfill our obligations to the community. Once that time has passed, there is nothing we can do to change how the account will reflect in this regard.
IMAM HUSAYN’S (AS) CALL TO SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
According to Imam Husayn (as), the pharaonic government was alive in full force in the leadership of Bani Umayya. The Imam (as) was trying to awaken the dead conscious of the people towards a collective accountability that would be questioned!
Acting as a spectator while society falls into utter moral decay is against the spirit of Islam. This core Quranic concept was neglected in the Muslim community of that time.
The reality was that if Imam Husayn (as) wanted to keep his own personal faith protected, it was easily possible. This was the approach many had in fact taken during that tumultuous time. We find a uniform response from the elites of Makkah in their interaction with Imam Husayn (as). Almost all of them had advised him to either pledge allegiance or flee to another land.
This is something to deeply reflect and ponder upon. The caravan of the Ahlulbait (as) had entered Makkah on the 3rd of Shabaan and had departed for Iraq towards the beginning of Dhul-Hijjah. This was a period of approximately 4 months – with pilgrims coming from across the Islamic empire to perform Umrah and Hajj. Given the lofty status of being the grandson of the Prophet (saw), Imam Husayn (as) received many delegations.
While interacting with this diverse group of people, he repeated his famous words in admonishing them:
“Do you not see that truth is being neglected and falsehood is made customary. In such circumstances, a believer should wish to meet his Lord.”
Despite all his efforts, so few had still joined him. Why?
ISLAM DIES WITH A LEADER LIKE YAZID
To understand why this was the case, we need to go back to the night when Imam Husayn (as) was summoned by the governor of Madina, Walid. News had reached that Mu’awiyah had died and appointed Yazid as Caliph. As Imam Husayn (as) was an important figure in Arabian society, his allegiance was demanded that very same night.
The Imam (as) had refused to pay allegiance, commenting that a man like Husayn (as) can never pledge allegiance to man like Yazid.
The following morning in the streets of Madina, one of the closest advisors to the governor – Marwan ibn Hakam – had met the Imam (as).
As Marwan was a deceitful person, he pretended to kindly advise the Imam (as) to pay allegiance. He warned that Yazid was merciless in his brutality and would kill him with no hesitation if he refuses.
Upon hearing this, Imam Husayn (as) recited the kalima of istirjaa:
إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ
” ‘Verily we belong to Allah, and certainly unto Him shall we return’.”
Thereafter, remarking “and upon Islam be peace (salaam)….”
As is customary, this verse is only recited when a person has died. Thereafter the Imam (as) greets Islam as if he is bidding it farewell!
The Imam (as) explains further by saying:
“…Because the Ummah is involved with a leader like Yazid.”
This shows that in a nation with Yazid as its governor, there is no hope for true Islamic principles to survive. Living under such a Caliph means that Islamic governance no longer holds any value.
Returning to the scenario in Makkah, many had echoed their concerns about Imam Husayn’s (as) life being in danger. Some companions had advised him to go to Yemen as its people were followers of his father Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as). In that living condition, Yazid would not be concerned about him, and he would be relatively free
The problem Imam (as) had with this approach was that he becomes indifferent about the state of the Ummah. Bear in mind that even under the governance of Yazid – the outward Islamic rituals were still practiced freely. The Muslims were performing salaah, offering their Hajj pilgrimages and paying their zakat amongst other obligations. Bani Umayya did not stop any of these actions.
But in the eyes of the Imam (as) these rituals were nothing more than rituals – an outward expression missing its true essence. By standing up against the system which allowed Yazid to rise to power, he was struggling against a much deeper moral corruption – of which the Caliph was only the surface of.
Dear brothers and sisters, if we want to truly be Hussaini, then we cannot be ignorant of the circumstances of those around us. We cannot be indifferent to the suffering of others and falsely be associated with Imam Husayn (as) at the same time.
In-sha’Allah in the future nights we will also discuss the central aim of the message of Karbala and how this was reflected in the words of Imam Husayn (as). This is most famously reflected in Imam Husayn’s (as) will given to his brother Muhammad ibn Hanafiyyah before leaving Madina:
“Indeed, I have not risen up to do mischief, neither as an adventurer nor to cause corruption and tyranny. I have risen up solely to seek the reform of the Ummah of my grandfather (S). I want to command what is good and stop what is wrong, and (in this) I follow the conduct of my grandfather and my father, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib.”
THE CARAVAN REACHES ITS DESTINATION
On the 2nd or 3rd of Muharram 61AH, the caravan of Imam Husayn (as) had reached an unknown area. Certain historical accounts state that the horse of the Imam (as) refused to move any further than this location.
Imam Husayn (as) then decided to consult the local residents of the area. He had inquired about the name of this area, and was given several different answers including Neinawa, Ghaderiyyah, and Shattul Furaat amongst others. Imam Husayn (as) insisted on asking about another name, until he had heard that this place was also known as Karbala.
As soon as the Imam (as) heard this name, he stopped and proclaimed, “Yes – we have arrived. This is where we will set up our tents. This is the land where our blood will be shed. This is the land where our bodies will be dismembered and trampled upon by the horses’ hooves.”
We ask Almighty Allah (swt) to include us amongst those who are part of this divine caravan of Imam Husayn (as).
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