18 August 2021 (Night of Ashura: Muharram 1443)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Once again, we are in this significant night of Ashura (10th night of Muharram), remembering the great sacrifice, ultimate stand and unique revolution of our beloved Imam Husain ibn Ali (a.s), the grandson of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).
Once again, in the school of Karbala and Husain (a.s), we are learning and drawing inspiration and guidance in our lives, individually as well as in our communities and society at large.
During these 10 nights of commemoration, we discussed different core concepts, principles and values from the Holy Quran which manifested in Karbala during this great mission and movement of Imam Husain (a.s). Tonight, I wish to draw your attention to verse 36 of Surah Nahl (chapter 16 of the Holy Quran), where Almighty Allah (SWT) says:
وَلَقَدْ بَعَثْنَا فِي كُلِّ أُمَّةٍ رَسُولًا أَنِ اعْبُدُوا اللَّهَ وَاجْتَنِبُوا الطَّاغُوتَ ۖ فَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ هَدَى اللَّهُ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ حَقَّتْ عَلَيْهِ الضَّلَالَةُ ۚ فَسِيرُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ فَانْظُرُوا كَيْفَ كَانَ عَاقِبَةُ الْمُكَذِّبِينَ
And certainly We raised in every nation a messenger saying: Serve Allah and shun the Shaitan. So there were some of them whom Allah guided and there were others against whom error was due; therefore travel in the land, then see what was the end of the rejecters.
This verse has a very important message of Tauheed, which is the core message of all the divine Prophets, as explicitly mentioned in this verse. As we all know very well, Tauheed means that we believe in One God, One Creator, Provider, Sustainer and Lord of all the worlds.
KALIMA TAUHEED: ACCEPTANCE OF ONE GOD DESERVING OF WORSHIP
Normally, we express our faith in this regard, in the form of the Kalima, where we say “La ilaha Illallah” (there is no God except Allah (SWT)). In other words, as mentioned in this verse and numerous other verses of the Holy Quran, Kalima Tauheed has two components:
- Denial of all the fake gods; and
- Acceptance of only One God who is deserving of our worship.
This is the belief in Tauheed of all Muslims. Most of the followers of Abrahamic faiths (and even non-Abrahamic faiths) claim that they are monotheists. They believe in One source of Power. Anyway, this is on a very elementary level. However, if we study the Holy Quran, we find that this concept of Tauheed is much more comprehensive and inclusive than the simple translation we highlighted a moment ago.
The Holy Quran and the teachings of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) make it very clear that Tauheed in its comprehensive, inclusive sense is the whole message of the religion of Islam. There is the very well-known Hadith from Rasulullah (SAWA) which explains this clearly:
Qulu La ilaha Illallah tuflihu
“Say, there is no god but Allah to be successful.”
How is this possible? What about other teachings and pillars of religion? What this Hadith is saying is that by admitting and surrendering to Tauheed, you have in essence accepted all the teachings and pillars of religion. This is what makes Tauheed the basis for everything.
KALIMA TAUHEED: GOD AS THE NUMERICAL ONE VERSUS GOD AS NONE OTHER
Truth be told, Tauheed is not as simple as we are outlining here, as it is indeed a very detailed discussion. In fact, I would like to say that Tauheed is actually a very easy discussion, which everybody can capture, from the ordinary man in the street to an old woman in a village.
At the same time, this ideology of monotheism and Tauheed is a philosophy where the greatest intellectual giants are stuck in explaining the different aspects of Tauheed. Therefore, there are times when we speak about the Tauheed of Essence (Zaad), or Tauheed of the attributes of Allah (SWT) ie. Sifaat.
In other words, it is not easy to understand this Oneness of Almighty Allah (SWT) in its comprehensive manner. It requires a great deal of reflecting and intellectual exercise to understand. When we say that God is One, it is to make it easy for our minds to capture, but in its pure sense, it is not technically correct to refer to God as One, because one is a numerical term in relation to zero, two, three etc.
Hence, Almighty Allah (SWT) is not One in the sense of contrasting with another number. Rather, this concept of One means that there is no other! What better way to understand and appreciate this than Surah Tauheed (chapter 112 of the Holy Quran)?!
LEVELS OF TAUHEED MAKE IT A COMPREHENSIVE ACCOUNTABILITY FROM INDIVIDUALS TO SOCIETY
There are other levels of Tauheed, besides these deep intellectual and philosophical discussions about Tauheed. Sometimes, we refer to Tauheed in the sense of action. What this means is that we do not only believe that Allah (SWT) is the only God, but rather, we also believe that all our actions/deeds and whatever we have or happens in this world is from Allah (SWT).
Furthermore, there are also levels in the acceptance of Tauheed. Sometimes, you accept this Tauheed by just saying “La ilaha Illallah” (there is no God except Allah (SWT)). This is critical to be considered Muslim. However, once you accept this Tauheed by your heart and soul, and not simply lip service, then it becomes the source of your salvation in this world and the Hereafter.
This is only the start of the journey. Then, if you really surrender to Almighty Allah (SWT) and His Oneness in our lives, then what controls and dominates is Him alone and His pleasure. This is a higher level of Tauheed, where you do not only believe in One Allah (SWT), but your practical life is also the expression and manifestation of Tauheed.
Then, taking this Tauheed to an even higher level, when you are part of a community, society and nation, and you believe that this whole nation is surrendered to none other than Almighty Allah (SWT). This is when you create a society based on Tauheed and reject the oppressors and anyone in power other than Almighty Allah (SWT), then you are PRACTICING Tauheed.
When you resist for the governance of Almighty Allah (SWT) on the earth and shun tyranny, then you are the real monotheist!
So, we have taken the journey of Tauheed from:
- Starting by uttering it with our tongues, to then
- Accepting it in our hearts, to then
- Our individual practice in our daily lives, and then
- To our social and communal role in society
These are all different levels of Tauheed. Beyond this, the next level of Tauheed is where you travel towards Almighty Allah (SWT)!
TAUHEED: THE JOURNEY OF LOVE FROM THE LOVER TO THE BELOVED
This is a journey of Tauheed, when you migrate yourself from multiplicity to Unity of Tauheed.
This is a higher level, where we do not only surrender to One Allah (SWT), but we also travel to Him. Over here, we do not only believe that there is One Allah (SWT), but we also find that there is only One Allah (SWT). To BELIEVE is one level, but to FIND is a superior level! Believing is knowing, but finding is a reality you achieve, where you reach the point that you do not see anything but Allah (SWT)!
This is where nothing has value to you, except Allah (SWT)! This is called the mystical Tauheed ie. Tauheedi Irfani, where you don’t travel by your brain, but rather, you travel by your heart! This is where intellect (aql) is not your mode of transport, but rather, love (ishq) is your way to get to your destination!
TAUHEED OF IMAM HUSAIN (A.S) EXPLAINED THROUGH SURAH IKHLAAS
Against this preface, I wish to now delve into the unique role model of Imam Husain (a.s), where all these different levels of Tauheed flourished, in his personality and in his movement in Karbala on an exemplary level.
Therefore, Allama Iqbal, the great poet and philosopher from the Indo-Pak subcontinent, says the following about Imam Husain (a.s):
Darmiyan-e-Ummat an Keywan janab,
Hamchu harf-e-Qul Huwallah dar Kitab
Iqbal shows here the position of Imam Husain (a.s). He says that among the followers of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), Imam Husain (a.s) is like the divine phrase QuI huwallah (Say He is Allah) meaning that Allah is One, in the Holy Qur’an.
Since the entire Holy Qur’an turns to this verse QuI Huwallaho Ahad (Say that He is One) similarly the whole Islamic world turns towards Imam Husain who is the source of our guidance.
Iqbal knows the tradition of our Prophet (SAWA): “Husain is from me and I am from Husain” i.e. Husain is his grandson and that he (the Prophet) would be made known by him, and his mission would be fulfilled by Imam Husain (a.s) who sacrificed his life to immortalize Islam and its tenets.
What Allama Iqbal is saying is that Imam Husain ibn Ali (a.s) is to this Ummah of Rasulullah (SAWA) like Surah Tauheed (chapter 112) is to the Holy Quran! We all know how central Surah Tauheed is in the Holy Quran, and so similarly the whole Islamic world turns towards Imam Husain (a.s) as the source of our guidance!
And we all know the Hadith from our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) where he explains that if you read Surah Tauheed three times, it is as if you have recited the entire Quran!
I trust that the key message of this discussion has already been conveyed through this! We now know why we repeatedly remember Imam Husain (a.s) for 1400 years!
TAUHEED OF IMAM HUSAIN (A.S) EXPLAINED THROUGH DUA ARAFAH
If we want to really understand that philosophical Tauheed and intellectual discussion of Tauheed, I do not think there will be any better place to understand this than in the class of Dua Arafah of Imam Husain (a.s).
Unfortunately, our society is unaware and have been deprived of these treasures from the family of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). The problem is that as soon as the name of Imam Husain (a.s) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s) gets mentioned, then the minds of the masses get distracted by looking at these noble personalities through the lenses of sectarianism.
Husain (a.s) is the grandson of Rasulullah (SAWA)! He does not belong to Sunni or Shia. Husain (a.s) belongs to the whole Ummah (Muslim nation) and in reality, I can say very confidently today that Husain (a.s) belongs to the whole of humanity!
Let us reflect on the greatest lessons of Tauheed which Imam Husain (a.s) is teaching us through this Dua Arafah. An example is the following quote:
مَاذَا وَجَدَ مَنْ فَقَدَكَ
What has someone gained who lost You?
وَمَا ٱلَّذِي فَقَدَ مَنْ وَجَدَكَ
What has someone lost who found You?
These sentences of Imam Husain (a.s) addressing Almighty Allah (SWT) on the plains of Arafah have very deep philosophical and mystical meanings!
Another beautiful quote from this exemplary Dua Arafah is:
عَمِيَتْ عَيْنٌ لاَ تَرَاكَ عَلَيْهَا رَقِيباً
Blind are the eyes that can see everything but cannot see You.
This is a taste of the philosophical and mystical Tauheed in the school of Imam Husain (a.s)!
With Imam Husain (a.s), we see this highest level of Tauheed as intrinsically linked to social responsibility, where he really does not surrender to anyone other than Almighty Allah (SWT). Who can be a more ideal example of “La ilaha Illallah” than Husain (a.s)?
KHWAJA MU’INUDIN CHISHTI: IMAM HUSAIN (A.S) IS THE FOUNDATION OF TAUHEED
When we speak about Karbala, it is exactly about the two components of Tauheed, the one being negative (La ilaha) and the other being positive (Illallah). In Karbala, Husain (a.s) is the foundation of La ilaha Illallah, as eloquently defined by that very well-known poetry of the great Sufi saint Khwaja Ghareeb Nawaz Mu’inudin Chishti Ajmeri:
“SHAH AST HUSAIN,
BADSHAH AST HUSAIN
DEEN AST HUSAIN,
DEEN PANAH AST HUSAIN,
SARDAAD, NA DAAD DAST DAR DAST-E YAZEED,
HAQQUAA KE BINA-E LA ILAH AST HUSAIN.”
“Husain is King!
Husain is King of the Kings!
Husain is himself religion and also the one who gave shelter to the religion
He preferred to give his head but not his hand to Yazid
Truly, Husain is the foundation of la ilaha il-lallah”
TAUHEED OF IMAM HUSAIN (A.S) EXPLAINED BY POETIC EXCELLENCE OF IQBAL
Along the same lines, Allama Iqbal says:
Bahre haq dar Khak-o-khoon ghaltida ast
Pas bina ey la illah gardida ast
Iqbal says that Imam Husain (a.s) voluntarily gave his life at Karbala for the sake of Allah or Truth. So, it goes without saying that Imam Husain (a.s) laid the foundation of the cardinal principle of Islam – the belief that there is no god except Allah (SWT). Since Islamic principles were being twisted, distorted and exterminated, it was the blood of Imam Husain (a.s) which gave it a new life.
Ma siwa Allah ra musalmaan banda neest,
Peshey Firauney Sarash afgundah neest
Allama Iqbal says that whoever is a slave of anything other than Almighty Allah (SWT) is not Muslim. We all say Ash hadu alla ila illallah, but we are all slaves, either of our desires or Satan, or oppressors and their oppressive system. However, Iqbal says that Imam Husain (a.s) is not bowing in front of any Pharaoh. This is why Imam Husain (a.s) makes it emphatically clear that a man like him will never pay allegiance to a man like Yazid!
Here is another deeply thought-provoking statement from Allama Iqbal, where he says that the blood of Imam Husain (a.s) was the interpretation of kalima La ilaha illallah!
Khoone hoo Tafsire in asrar kar
Allama Iqbal is saying that Imam Husain (a.s) interpreted La ilaha illallah with his blood and awakened the sleeping nation with his blood!
Iqbal says in the following couplet that Imam Husain (a.s) took up his sword of ‘La’ (No), there is no deity (except Allah) and crushed infidelity. He imprinted the mark of Illallah (Tawhid), or monotheism, in the wilderness of Karbala with his blood. Husain (a.s) therefore wrote in one line what the recipe for our salvation and success is!
Naqsh-e-Illallah bar Sahra nawisht
Satre-unwan-e-najat-e ma nawisht
This is the Tauheed of Husain (a.s)! Tauheed teaches us the rejection of evil, and Imam Husain (a.s) manifested this in the most powerful manner!
Therefore, after 14 centuries, Husain (a.s) continues to inspire us towards resistance against injustice and oppression, standing for truth and justice, the supporter of the oppressed against the oppressors.
Therefore, after 14 centuries, revolutionaries continue to learn from Husain (a.s) how to stand against injustice and oppression! There is absolutely no doubt about this.
TAUHEED OF KARBALA: POWER OF LOVE OF ALLAH (SWT) TAKES YOU TO ENCHANTED TERRITORY
Let me now take you to another level of Tauheed in Karbala. The Tauheed I explained thus far is not only an action, but rather, it goes beyond this to be journey of the soul from multiplicity towards Unity! This mystical Tauheed of the heart is not exemplified any better than in Karbala! Therefore, all the great saints (Auliya) understand Karbala as the best manifestation of the love of God (SWT)!
As Iqbal beautifully explains, there is aql (intellect) and ishq (love). There is the power of reasoning and something special beyond that, as the power of reasoning can only fly up to a certain point. Thereafter, you need the wings of the heart to propel you further!
This is where you fly with love and devotion. This is where we find Imam Husain (a.s), and those along with him, to be very different, as they have transcended the borders of aql! That is why Imam Husain (a.s) is very difficult for people to understand!
TAUHEED OF KARBALA: LOVE OF ALLAH (SWT) TAKES YOU BEYOND ABSTRACT REASONING
When Imam Husain (a.s) was in Mecca, we find that very prominent personalities of Islam come to respectfully question him on why he is embarking on a journey to Kufa, given the fickle nature of those people. To justify their warning and concern to Imam Husain (a.s), they even reference what these people of Kufa did to his brother, Imam Hasan (a.s), and his father, Imam Ali (a.s).
These prominent personalities of Islam try to convince Imam Husain (a.s) not to go to Kufa, due to their history of being unreliable people.
Then, there were also those prominent people of Mecca who tried to respectfully “advise” Imam Husain (a.s) not to fight against Yazid, as he is brutal and merciless. Conflict with him means that he will crush you.
So then, these prominent personalities try to convince Imam Husain (a.s) to take shelter in Mecca, as Yazid will not harm him there. Others suggested that Imam Husain (a.s) consider moving to Yemen, as those people are lovers of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) and will take great care of him as the grandson of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).
What does Imam Husain (a.s) do? He does not agree with this advice and decides to continue towards Kufa on his focused program of reform. There is no doubt, that these prominent personalities of Mecca were absolutely correct in their opinions, in that the people of Kufa were indeed unreliable and Yazid was indeed ruthless.
Imam Husain (a.s) already knew this, full well. The shortcoming of these people was that they all were thinking and calculating the best option for Imam Husain (a.s) based upon aql (intellectual reasoning). However, Imam Husain (a.s) was working out the best solution based on ishq (love)!
TAUHEED OF KARBALA IS ALL ABOUT SEEKING THE PLEASURE OF ALMIGHTY ALLAH (SWT)
So then, these people were understandably confused, and asked Imam Husain (a.s) what is his objective, to which he responded by saying:
Ridhallaha walla ridaana Ahlul Bait (a.s)!
All we want is the Pleasure of Almighty Allah (SWT), which is our pleasure!
There is further poetry to explain this from Baba Tahir, one of the most revered mystical Sufi poets in Persian literature, where some people love the meeting and unity with the beloved, whereas others prefer separation, but he loves what the beloved prefers!
This is Ridhallaha walla ridaana Ahlul Bait (a.s) and is a very different journey. It is not possible for everyone to understand, because love of Almighty Allah (SWT) is there, which makes it the highest level of Tauheed.
Imam Husain (a.s) recites the following verse 111 of Surah Tauba (chapter 9 of the Holy Quran), which is the point of the journey of Imam Husain (a.s) – he is moving towards Fouzun Adheem (the supreme achievement)!
إِنَّ اللَّهَ اشْتَرَىٰ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ أَنْفُسَهُمْ وَأَمْوَالَهُمْ بِأَنَّ لَهُمُ الْجَنَّةَ ۚ يُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ فَيَقْتُلُونَ وَيُقْتَلُونَ ۖ وَعْدًا عَلَيْهِ حَقًّا فِي التَّوْرَاةِ وَالْإِنْجِيلِ وَالْقُرْآنِ ۚ وَمَنْ أَوْفَىٰ بِعَهْدِهِ مِنَ اللَّهِ ۚ فَاسْتَبْشِرُوا بِبَيْعِكُمُ الَّذِي بَايَعْتُمْ بِهِ ۚ وَذَٰلِكَ هُوَ الْفَوْزُ الْعَظِيمُ
Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause, and slay and are slain: a promise binding on Him in truth, through the Law, the Gospel, and the Qur’an: and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah? then rejoice in the bargain which ye have concluded: that is the achievement supreme.
This is the deal which Imam Husain (a.s) is making with Almighty Allah (SWT)! Imam Husain (a.s) is not confined to thinking what is rationally correct. Instead, Imam Husain (a.s) is saying that Almighty Allah (SWT) has purchased the lives and belongings from the mu’mineen (true believers), on the price of guaranteed paradise!
TAUHEED OF KARBALA OPERATES DIFFERENTLY TO OUR LIMITED AND DEFECTIVE LOGIC
When Imam Husain (a.s) received the news of the martyrdom of Muslim ibn Aqil, he recited verse 23 of Surah Ahzab (chapter 33 of the Holy Quran):
مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ رِجَالٌ صَدَقُوا مَا عَاهَدُوا اللَّهَ عَلَيْهِ ۖ فَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ قَضَىٰ نَحْبَهُ وَمِنْهُمْ مَنْ يَنْتَظِرُ ۖ وَمَا بَدَّلُوا تَبْدِيلًا
Among the Believers are men who have been true to their covenant with Allah: of them some have completed their vow (to the extreme), and some (still) wait: but they have never changed (their determination) in the least
Which pledge is Imam Husain (a.s) referring to when reading this verse? It shows that these valleys of love (ishq) are a special playing field, where Imam Husain (a.s) does not see anything but Almighty Allah (SWT)!
As they say in poetry:
Someone who has found You, O Allah, what is he going to do with this material life?
You make me crazy by giving both worlds to me, but somebody who is crazy of You, has nothing special in this material world.
Even Heaven and Hell is not important, as the ultimate purpose is finding Allah (SWT)!
SUPREME LOVE OF ALLAH (SWT) SUSTAINS THOSE WHO WERE PHYSICALLY DEPRIVED IN KARBALA
In Karbala, the Tauheed and ishq we see is on a most sublime level, where we have great difficulty interpreting and understanding the brave actions of Imam Husain (a.s) and his loyal companions.
On the night of Ashura, Imam Husain (a.s) questioned his nephew Qasim (the son of Imam Hasan (a.s)), who was only 13 years old at the time. Imam Husain (a.s) asked Qasim what he thinks about death, to which Qasim replied “by God, I swear, death is sweeter than honey”!
This statement from a young, 13-year-old boy, demonstrates that they were in the valleys of deep love. This is the level of Tauheed where you are Fana fillah – the journey of love where you do not see anything other than Almighty Allah (SWT)!
In this regard, there is that beautiful statement by Amir al-Mu’mineen Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s), where he says that whatever he has, he has seen Almighty Allah (SWT) before it, after it and with it! In fact, Imam Ali (a.s) wanted to say, he has not seen anything other than Almighty Allah (SWT)!
On the plains of Karbala, Imam Husain (a.s) and his companions truly did not see anything but Allah (SWT). The enemy’s army of 30,000 fully equipped soldiers, in contrast to Imam Husain (a.s) and his camp (a distinct minority of circa 100 people altogether) were hungry and thirsty for days with absolutely no resources on their hands.
What is truly remarkable is that this camp of Imam Husain (a.s) did not display any semblance of fear, or feeling disheartened, despite their numerical minority with no resources, not even water! Despite this, they did not feel they were in a situation of needing to compromise or surrender.
The big question is, how is this possible? It is only possible when your level of spiritual excellence reaches the point where you do not see anything other than your beloved. That nourishes you, and keep you going! Nothing else matters to you then.
MOTHERS OF KARBALA ARE THE UNSUNG HEROES IN PREPARING THEIR LOVED ONES FOR MARTYRDOM
This is what we see with Imam Husain (a.s) and his companions. Nothing else mattered to them other than achieving martyrdom for the sake of dignity and truth. This is what we understand from the historical narration of the night of Ashura, when Imam Husain (a.s) relayed the news to them that they will all be killed the following day in the battlefield. They responded by embracing and congratulating each other, because there is nothing greater to achieve than martyrdom.
What is Karbala? Every mother from any culture anywhere in the world, express caring for their children as their greatest concern, protecting them from any harm. However, the mothers of Karbala are very, very different, in that they prepared their menfolk (children, husband, brother/s) that they must fight bravely on the Day of Ashura to be a source of pride for them all.
They encouraged their menfolk to be sacrificed in martyrdom before any of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) should be sacrificed. These unique, courageous women were preparing their children for death!
With never ending tragedy and hardships that the women had endured, history has well documented the immense suffering these brave women had to endure on the Day of Ashura alone, let alone the suffering from the aftermath of Karbala. They had to witness their menfolk slaughtered in the battlefield like none other.
They had to witness the merciless brutality during the day, having lost all their menfolk to martyrdom, and then in the evening of the Day of Ashura, we all know what happened to them with their tents burned down and their belongings looted together with being attacked personally and made prisoners of war, to be paraded through the markets and streets with their dignity invaded.
Now, let me conclude with this powerful statement of love (ishq) in Karbala, when ibn Ziyad taunted Lady Zainab (s.s) by asking her what she thought of the “hell which Allah (SWT) created for them, the Ahlul Bait (a.s)”. The response of Lady Zainab (s.a) is the greatest symbol of resilience in the face of hostility, where she told ibn Ziyad that she swears by God, that she has not seen anything but beauty (wama ra’aytu illa jameela)!
This is the women of Karbala, where the definition of beauty in the dictionary of Lady Zainab (s.a) is far removed from the optical illusions this material world has to offer. This is Tauheed!
The greatest manifestation of Tauheed in the form of ibadah (acts of worship) is Salaah. Is there any example in history where Salaah was performed any better than the Salaah performed in Karbala?
The Dhur Salaah which Imam Husain (a.s) led on the plains of Karbala, on the Day of Ashura, had some people following him, and some people standing in front of him to prevent the arrows from striking him, which were coming from the camp of the enemy who also believed in Salaah and the kalima “ash hadu alla ilaha illallah wa ash hadu anna Muhammadar Rasulullah”.
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