10 August 2021 (1ST Muharram 1443)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Once again, we are in this great month of Muharram, the month of grief, sorrow and suffering of the family of our Nabi & Rasul (SAWA). It is the month of the greatest uprising and ultimate stand of our beloved master, Sayed-as-Shuhada (a.s) against falsehood with all its different faces, ranging from oppression and injustice to corruption and deviation from the true path of the religion of Almighty Allah (SWT).
Once again, this great school of Imam Husain (a.s) opened its doors to millions, if not billions, of those who are thirsty for knowledge and development, understanding and inspiration, and resistance against deviation.
MUHARRAM 1443 IS HERE AND COVID IS STILL DOMINATING
This is also our second Muharram commemoration under very unusual, exceptional conditions, where we are facing the effects of the pandemic. With all these challenges, we are still in our very humble manner, trying to keep this candle of light and guidance of love for Imam Husain (a.s) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s) flourishing, guiding, and enlightening the path.
At the start of this season of Aza (mourning), we raise our hands for dua, imploring Almighty Allah (SWT), for the sake of His beloved Husain (a.s), and the father of Husain (a.s), and the grandfather of Husain (SAWA), and for the sake of that great personality who is the mother of Husain (s.a), we beg Him to liberate this world and humanity at large from this horrible coronavirus which we are facing.
We ask Almighty Allah (SWT), for the sake of His beloved Husain (a.s), we are seeking His Mercy and His Favours on our society, our country and humanity at large.
KARBALA: MANIFESTATION OF CORE QURANIC CONCEPTS
Every year, we take a different subject to understand and learn from this great revolution and everlasting stand of Imam Husain ibn Ali (a.s), the blessed grandson of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). After multiple years of discussions and analysis, what we understand from Husain (a.s) and his unique stand, is literally a drop in the ocean!
This is the unique nature of this subject, that every year, we remember and commemorate, and every year it appears completely fresh.
This year, we will be discussing Karbala and the movement of Imam Husain (a.s) as the manifestation of core Quranic concepts. Insha Allah, we will be discussing Quran and Karbala!
There is absolutely no doubt, there is a very deep, close connection between the Husayni movement and the Holy Quran. Imam Husain (a.s), as the individual, is a deep lover of the Holy Quran, as well as someone who is completely dissolved in the message and spirit of the Holy Quran.
IMAM HUSAIN (A.S) EXAMINES THE CONDITION OF SOCIETY AGAINST THE QURANIC PRESCRIPT
We will be undergoing a journey where we will discuss Quran and Karbala. Imam Husain (a.s) and his connection to the Holy Quran, can be viewed from numerous aspects.
Firstly, when Imam Husain (a.s) analyzes the condition of his society and its people, starting from the corrupt leadership, to the elite of society, to the corrupt clergy. This analysis of Imam Husain (a.s) is purely based upon the Quranic analysis of history.
This means that the way in which Imam Husain (a.s) reflects upon the condition in his society, is the way the Holy Quran analyzes the society. When Imam Husain (a.s) looks at Bani Umayyah coming into power, with their despicable character and despotic rule, he analyzes this problem in light of Quranic principles.
The best descriptor for this is “Trends of History in Quran”, as beautifully titled in the literary masterpiece by the great intellectual giant of the 20th century, Shaheed Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Baqir Sadr (r.a).
Secondly, in response to this deeply disturbing reality in society, Imam Husain (a.s) replies purely based upon Quranic injunctions, guidelines and principles.
Thirdly, very importantly, in Imam Husain’s (a.s) assessment of the issues in society, his strategy to take society out of this disastrous situation is based upon the Holy Quran.
If I want to capture these three themes easily, the criteria or formula of the analysis of the society by Imam Husain (a.s) is the Quranic formula.
The response of Imam Husain (a.s) is the Quranic response, and in this response, Imam Husain (a.s) keeps Quranic values, principles, methodology as his guideline.
JOURNEY OF IMAM HUSAIN (A.S) FROM MADINA TO KARBALA WITH THE QURAN AS THE ROADMAP
Imam Husain (a.s) has referred to the Holy Quran in his journey from Madina to Mecca, and from Mecca to Kufa, and onward towards Karbala, when he arrived in Karbala and when different events took place in Karbala building up to the Day of Ashura.
These are very important points. Imam Husain (a.s) delivered a landmark sermon in Mina, even before Yazid demanded allegiance from him. Again, Imam Husain (a.s) uses the Holy Quran as his guiding principle.
Then, in Madina, Mu’awiya comes to take allegiance from Imam Husain (a.s) for his appointment of his son Yazid as his successor, and Imam Husain (a.s) replies to Mu’awiya with the Holy Quran.
When Yazid becomes the Caliph and demands from Imam Husain (a.s) allegiance, Imam Husain (a.s) replies to this demand with relevant verses of the Holy Quran.
And when Imam Husain (a.s) starts his journey from Madina, he starts with the recitation of verses of the Holy Quran.
IMAM HUSAIN (A.S): THE HEIR TO THE DIVINE PROPHETS (A.S)
It is recorded in the narrative detailing the journey of Imam Husain (a.s) to Karbala and the eventual tragedy and aftermath, that Imam Husain (a.s) left Madina on 28th Rajab 60AH, after refusing to pay allegiance to Yazid. This refusal to pay allegiance made the situation in Madina very tense, and Imam Husain (a.s) decided to leave Madina towards Mecca.
It is further recorded in historical chronicles of the tragedy of Karbala that Imam Husain (a.s) started his journey on 28th Rajab, reading verse 21 from Surah Qasas (chapter 28 of the Holy Quran):
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 verse is in reference to when Nabi Moosa (a.s) departed from Egypt, fearful while he was vigilant, praying to Almighty Allah (SWT) to rescue him from the nation of oppressors.
I would like to delve deeper into this verse, to specifically understand why Imam Husain (a.s) chose this particular verse at the start of his journey to Karbala.
Imam Husain (a.s), by reading this verse about Nabi Moosa (a.s), gave a very clear message that his movement and campaign is congruent with the mission of the divine Prophets (a.s). He is connecting his mission to the mission and struggle of the divine Prophets (a.s).
Therefore, we read in Ziyarat Waritha, that Imam Husain (a.s) is the heir of divine Prophets (a.s), as follows:
اَلسَّلاَمُ عَلَيْكَ يَا وَارِثَ آدَمَ صَفْوَةِ ٱللَّهِ
Peace be upon you, O inheritor of Adam the choice of Allah.
اَلسَّلاَمُ عَلَيْكَ يَا وَارِثَ نُوحٍ نَبِيِّ ٱللَّهِ
Peace be upon you, O inheritor of Noah the prophet of Allah.
اَلسَّلاَمُ عَلَيْكَ يَا وَارِثَ إِبْرَاهِيمَ خَلِيلِ ٱللَّهِ
Peace be upon you, O inheritor of Abraham the intimate friend of Allah.
اَلسَّلاَمُ عَلَيْكَ يَا وَارِثَ مُوسَىٰ كَلِيمِ ٱللَّهِ
Peace be upon you, O inheritor of Moses the spoken by Allah.
اَلسَّلاَمُ عَلَيْكَ يَا وَارِثَ عِيسَىٰ رُوحِ ٱللَّهِ
Peace be upon you, O inheritor of Jesus the spirit of Allah.
اَلسَّلاَمُ عَلَيْكَ يَا وَارِثَ مُحَمَّدٍ حَبِيبِ ٱللَّهِ
Peace be upon you, O inheritor of Muhammad the most beloved by Allah.
Imam Husain (a.s) knew there will be people in the future who will say that he was a rebel, and the cause for instability in the Muslim Ummah! They would claim that Imam Husain (a.s) was a troublemaker who disturbed the unity of the Muslim Ummah, and wanted to create chaos. However, by reciting this verse, Imam Husain (a.s) was making it abundantly clear that he is following the path of the divine Prophets (a.s).
QURANIC NARRATIVE OF THE STRUGGLE OF NABI MOOSA (A.S) WITH FIR’OUN
The immediate question that now comes to mind is, why Nabi Moosa (a.s) in particular? If we want to understand Karbala, we should reflect on the earlier verses of Surah Qasas (chapter 28 of the Holy Quran), they start with:
Ta. Sin. Mim.
تِلْكَ آيَاتُ الْكِتَابِ الْمُبِينِ
These are the verses of the Book that makes (things) clear.
نَتْلُو عَلَيْكَ مِنْ نَبَإِ مُوسَىٰ وَفِرْعَوْنَ بِالْحَقِّ لِقَوْمٍ يُؤْمِنُونَ
We rehearse to thee some of the stories of Moses and Pharaoh in Truth, for people who believe.
Allah (SWT) says that He wants to relay to us the news of Nabi Moosa (a.s) and Fir’oun, and this narration is based on Truth, but it is only for the people who have faith. This verse 3 is saying that the story of Nabi Moosa (a.s) and Fir’oun is important for those who believe in it, and not targeted at those who do not have faith.
Verse 4 then explains that indeed, Fir’oun was arrogant on the earth and divided his own people into groups ie. he divided society into classes!
إِنَّ فِرْعَوْنَ عَلَا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَجَعَلَ أَهْلَهَا شِيَعًا
Surely Pharaoh exalted himself in the land and made its people into classes
This is worth deep reflection. How does the Holy Quran describe Fir’oun?
Dividing society into classes. There were two types of people in Egypt:
The Coptics, who were the original people of Egypt; and
The migrants to Egypt from the land of Israel (Bani Isra’eel).
What Fir’oun did was that he provided all the facilities and privileges to the Coptics, and he exploited Bani Isra’eel as the slaves of the Coptics. Indeed, the Israelites endured horrible treatment under Fir’oun. As a result of this strategy by Fir’oun, the society was divided into two ie. the natives (Coptics) and those who migrated (Bani Isra’eel).
The Holy Quran explains in verse 4, that this was the problem of Fir’oun. He did not stop there, as he used to slaughter the sons of Bani Isra’eel and kept their women alive to exploit them, as explained in the next part of verse 4:
يَسْتَضْعِفُ طَائِفَةً مِنْهُمْ يُذَبِّحُ أَبْنَاءَهُمْ وَيَسْتَحْيِي نِسَاءَهُمْ ۚ إِنَّهُ كَانَ مِنَ الْمُفْسِدِينَ
weakening one party from among them; he slaughtered their sons and let their women live; surely he was one of the mischief-makers.
This is Fir’oun explained in the Holy Quran!
IMAM HUSAIN (A.S) DRAWS PARALLELS TO THE STRUGGLE OF NABI MOOSA (A.S) WITH FIR’OUN
Let us come back to Imam Husain (a.s). We can now very clearly see why Imam Husain (a.s) read these verses when he started his journey from Madina to Karbala. It is because Bani Umayyah, under the tyrannical rule of Yazid, adopted Fir’oun’s policies, strategy and approach.
Like Fir’oun, Bani Umayyah were also the most arrogant people, who divided society into classes ie. those who enjoyed all the privileges and the other class which was enslaved and exploited. And then, as noted further in verse 4, about Fir’oun killing the sons of Bani Isra’eel and exploited their women, we see that Bani Umayyah were equally bloodthirsty and morally bankrupt towards women! IDENTICAL!
This then leads us to verse 5 of Surah Qasas, which we are all too familiar with:
وَنُرِيدُ أَنْ نَمُنَّ عَلَى الَّذِينَ اسْتُضْعِفُوا فِي الْأَرْضِ وَنَجْعَلَهُمْ أَئِمَّةً وَنَجْعَلَهُمُ الْوَارِثِينَ
And We desired to show favour unto those who were oppressed in the earth, and to make them leaders and to make them the inheritors.
After explaining the brutal nature of Fir’oun and their level of merciless oppression, this verse 5 gives hope to the oppressed by Almighty Allah (SWT) guaranteeing that He will:
Bestow upon those who have been oppressed in the earth; and
Make them leaders, and also
Make them heirs in the earth.
What Imam Husain (a.s) is saying by including this verse upon his departure from Madina is that Bani Umayyah and Yazid, with all their power, injustice, oppression, killing and exploitation, the promise of Almighty Allah (SWT) is that the final victory is with the oppressed! This is the Will of Allah (SWT).
QURANIC GUARANTEE IS THAT THE FINAL VICTORY IS WITH THE OPPRESSED
Imam Husain (a.s) is making a clear statement to Yazid here, saying that Yazid may kill him on the Day of Ashura, 10 Muharram 61AH, but Husain (a.s) is the ultimate victor. 14 centuries have passed, and the name of Ya Husain resonates with distinction in every corner of the world!
This is the desire and promise of Almighty Allah (SWT), that the final victory will be with those who are oppressed. This verse is not limited to Bani Isra’eel and the oppression they suffered under Fir’oun. Instead, this is the divine and everlasting promise!
The brutal massacre occurred on 10 Muharram 61AH and the aftermath was where the women were taken as prisoners the same way that Fir’oun did to the people of Nabi Moosa (a.s). However, what we see is that the name of Imam Husain (a.s) is very much alive! The victory of Imam Husain (a.s) can still be felt so strongly.
We are thousands of kilometres away from the blessed grave of Imam Husain (a.s) Karbala, in the southernmost tip of Africa, remembering the sacrifice and shedding tears for Imam Husain (a.s). This is one stage of victory, but it will continue beyond this.
KARBALA HAS A DEEP EXISTENTIAL LINK WITH THE ARRIVAL OF OUR AWAITED SAVIOUR
Moula Amir al-Mu’mineen, Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s), the father of Imam Husain (a.s), says this verse 5 is about our awaited saviour, Imam Mahdi (atfs)!
What I am trying to say in this introductory lecture is that by Imam Husain (a.s) reciting these verses from Surah Qasas and connecting his movement to the struggle of the people of Nabi Moosa (a.s) against Fir’oun, and connecting his movement to the divine promise of the final victory of the oppressed, presents a very clear message that the mission which is starting will finally reach its climax with the victory of the son of Husain (a.s), namely our awaited saviour, Imam Mahdi (atfs)!
This is the close connection between Karbala and Mahdi (atfs).
There is a beautiful narration from Imam Ali (a.s), where he says that these oppressed referred to in verse 5 of Surah Qasas refers to the family of Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), and that Almighty Allah (SWT) will send the saviour of humanity after the great struggle and He will grant them dignity and respect, after they have been insulted and humiliated by their enemies.
Almighty Allah (SWT) then explains the humiliation of the oppressors in verse 6, after the dignity of the oppressed will be restored (as explained in verse 5):
وَنُمَكِّنَ لَهُمْ فِي الْأَرْضِ وَنُرِيَ فِرْعَوْنَ وَهَامَانَ وَجُنُودَهُمَا مِنْهُمْ مَا كَانُوا يَحْذَرُونَ
And to establish them in the earth, and to show Pharaoh and Haman and their hosts that which they feared from them.
Imam Ali (a.s) is therefore explaining that the oppressed referred to are the family of Rasulullah (SAWA) and they will ultimately be granted dignity and their enemies will be humiliated.
To support this, there is a beautiful narration from Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s), our 4th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s) and son of Imam Husain (a.s), where he says that by the oath of Almighty Allah (SWT), He is the one who sent our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) as the final divine Prophet, as the messenger and guide. He then explains that the righteous are from the Ahlul Bait (a.s), and their followers are on the status of Nabi Moosa (a.s) and his followers, and similarly, the enemies of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) and their supporters are like Fir’oun and his followers!
THE STRUGGLE OF IMAM HUSAIN (A.S) WITH YAZID IS CONNECTED TO NABI MOOSA (A.S) WITH FIR’OUN
To wrap up this introductory discussion, Imam Husain (a.s), gave a clear message at the start of his journey:
The battle between truth and falsehood is eternal, it has always been there and always will be.
The movement of Imam Husain (a.s) is congruent with the movement of the divine Prophets (a.s).
Imam Husain (a.s) draws the parallel with the struggle of Nabi Moosa (a.s), because the culture and politics of Bani Umayyah are the same as that of Fir’oun, whereas the moral stance and struggle of Imam Husain (a.s) is the moral stance and struggle of Nabi Moosa (a.s).
The same way the Almighty Allah (SWT) promised Nabi Moosa (a.s) the final victory, Imam Husain (a.s) is giving glad tidings that after this period of immense hardship, there is the promise from Almighty Allah (SWT) that the final victory belongs to the oppressed, and these oppressed are none other than the Ahlul Bait (a.s) of Rasulullah (SAWA).
OUR UNIQUE CONNECTION TO IMAM HUSAIN (A.S) EXPLAINED BY IMAM AHMAD IBN HANBAL
This close relationship of Imam Husain (a.s) with the Holy Quran is the reason for our relationship with Imam Husain (a.s). The question is frequently asked of us Shia, when Muharram comes then the name of Imam Husain (a.s) suddenly reverberates everywhere.
The key point that those questioning our annual practice have not grasped is that Imam Husain (a.s) is the extension of the mission of divine Prophets (a.s), and our connection with him is our connection with the message of Almighty Allah (SWT), His messengers, and His mission!
The other commonly asked question is why do we cry for Imam Husain (a.s) and for how long are we going to cry? Our connection with Husain (a.s) is the most unique connection! Different people express a different connection with their leaders, but our connection with Husain (a.s) is through our tears, and no other connection can be deeper than the connection with tears.
This is something to really think about now, at the start of this season of mourning for Sayyid-as-Shuhada. There are so many terribly sad situations taking place in the world, and as a result, crying and expressing our grief is a natural reaction when we lose a very dear person.
But what is unique about shedding tears for Imam Husain (a.s) did not start after the tragedy of Karbala occurred. Instead, it started LONG BEFORE the tragedy of Karbala! This makes it unique from our natural inclination when we express grief AFTER the tragedy we experience.
This is recorded in the Musnad of Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, this great Imam and jurist of Ahlus Sunnah. Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal narrates that Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s) returned from one of the battles during his reign as the 4th Caliph and passed by a place near the banks of the Euphrates River.
The name of this place was Nainawa, and according to Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s) stopped and proclaimed “Oh Husain, have sabr” and then he started to cry, when Imam Husain (a.s) was not physically there.
Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal says that the people accompanying Imam Ali (a.s) approached, asking Imam Ali (a.s) why he is calling out to his son, Imam Husain (a.s), when he is not physically there, and then they were also more perplexed when they asked him why he is shedding tears…
Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s) then narrated when our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) visited after the birth of Imam Husain (a.s), Imam Ali (a.s) brought this new-born baby to Rasulullah (SAWA), who immediately burst into tears upon seeing this new-born baby Husain (a.s).
Imam Ali (a.s) further narrates that they got concerned, because the arrival of a newborn baby is good news, but Rasulullah (SAWA) is crying? Rasulullah (SAWA) responded saying that you won’t believe what my nation (Ummah) will do to this beloved baby, where they will slaughter him on the plains of Karbala!