LECTURE 4 : INSPIRATION FROM KARBALA FOR A TURBULENT WORLD
3 September 2019 (4th night Muharram 1441)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Tonight being lecture 4, we continue to seek guidance from Imam Husayn (a.s) for the turbulent world we live in.
We have established in light of the discussions of the past few nights that Islam has a great emphasis on social responsibility. And this was one aspect of Karbala where Imam Husayn (a.s) tried to draw the attention of the Ummah away from being stuck in individualism and personal interest including being only interested in personal spiritual interest.
Imam Husayn (a.s) also taught us that while the destiny of a person may be affected by society, it does not mean that an individual is compelled and stripped of his freewill. Rather, an individual has the capacity to change the direction of the whole society and nation. This is very important inspiration from Imam Husayn (a.s) for us to realize! In the worst of conditions, a believer can rise above his circumstances and stand for what is just.
Karbala inspires us that we should not be affected by the number of people that agree with us but that the truth or Haq is our criteria for determining who is on the side of the majority. Our responsibility is to stand for this truth even if we have to pay the ultimate price for it.
Who paid a greater price than Imam Husayn (a.s) for standing for justice ever? No one!!
That is why Karbala inspires us.
And those who follow Karbala and at the very least try to understand the message of Imam Husayn (a.s), can never be silent and indifferent towards their society.
Husaynis or Karbalai’s are NEVER indifferent about their surroundings. If you see suffering, injustice, pain, oppression, then Husayn is calling you to take a stand!
Therefore throughout history, whenever there’s a scene of injustice and oppression, cruelty and exploitation, Karbala inspires us.
Therefore this slogan that has now become famous (it’s not a hadith based on what I am aware):
كل يوم عاشوراء و كل أرض كربلاء
“Every day is Ashura and every place is Karbala”…. it means every day there is a clash and conflict between Haq and Baatil, between truth and falsehood, between oppressor and oppressed and everyday those who follow Husayn’s path have a responsibility to stand with the oppressed and resist against the oppressor.
HORROR OF CRIME AGAINST WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN OUR COUNTRY
This is the basic fibre of Karbala and thus we must note that it’s not possible to ignore what is happening in our very own beloved country and own city these days.
I would like to draw your attention to the heart breaking and horrible recent incidents of crimes committed against women and children during the past week.
Girls, women and vulnerable people are subjected to rape and murder in the most brutal manner imaginable and their bodies decapitated and disposed of. Young girls being abducted in front of their schools and parents held to ransom.
And in Gauteng the xenophobic violence that has resurfaced this week is also serious. Without going into detailed analysis of what possibly results in this scenario, I have to make this principle point from this platform of mourning for Imam Husayn (a.s) and that is that it’s totally unacceptable.
This is the practical meaning of “Every day is Ashura and every place is Karbala” – we have to raise our voice to react to the evil around us.
We thus strongly call upon our authorities all the way to our president to take a decisive stand to say we had enough of the violence against women and children.
And I have no hesitation to say that our safety and security system is not working. Weekend after weekend we receive hair raising statistics of violent crimes committed. Cape Town is the most amazing city of contrasts. On the one hand in parts of it people live with violence each day. And in another part of it people live in the most secure and comfortable conditions. That is the contrast we live in.
Imam Husayn (a.s) inspires us to challenge our authorities in these conditions.
EVERY TRAGIC SCENE ITSELF IS NOT NECESSARILY KARBALA!
Having said that, one very important point to note is that while we indeed acknowledge that the tragedies suffered in our country and other parts of the world connects us to Karbala, every tragic scene itself is not necessarily Karbala! Understand this!!
Yes, every tragic scene demands that we obtain leadership from Karbala, but now to compare the individual tragic scene to Karbala and to consider the scene itself to be Karbala is a great mistake!
People naively and shallowly incorrectly translate “Every day is Ashura and every place is Karbala” to mean Khayelitsha is also Karbala, Crossroads is also Karbala, etc. In a sense of its tragedy, yes. But Karbala is not only a tragedy!
Ayatullah Mutahhari used to say that we should not only emphasize the tragic aspect of Karbala – because then the heroes of Karbala will be Shimr and Ibn Sa’d because they are the ones who made this battle tragic.
KARBALA IS NOT THE HOLOCAUST
Of course the tragic part of Karbala is present and it touches and penetrates our heart but Karbala itself is not a tragedy.
Today people want to for example compare Karbala to the holocaust. Please don’t reduce Karbala to a fashionable statement. Karbala has a philosophy and message where EVERY man, woman and child is exemplary!
NONE of the family or companions of Imam Husayn (a.s) are victims. They are ALL HEROES!! They are leaders. They are guides. They are victorious examples.
I said on the first night that we don’t cry for Imam Husayn (a.s) out of pity for feeling sorry for Imam Husayn (a.s). No!!
Prophet Muhammad (sawa) cried for Imam Husayn (a.s) while he had not even been martyred yet.
So without going into any detailed analysis of the Holocaust, other than tragedy, there is nothing else common between Karbala and the Holocaust. Don’t try to neutralize the minds of people by comparing these two completely different scenarios.
Otherwise on this basis people can say Hiroshima is also Karbala…. but it’s not…. people of Hiroshima were purely victims. It’s not like in Karbala where every person is ideologically clear with Imaan (belief) and Taqwa (God consciousness) at its peak with amazing commitment and vision regarding why they are present in Karbala and then willingly offer out of their own freewill their life as a sacrifice for Almighty Allah.
That’s very different to accidentally being a victim of injustice or oppression.
ELEMENTS AND MECHANISM OF MOVEMENT OF IMAM HUSAYN (A.S)
I just wanted to place this on record because when we examine the approach of Imam Husayn (a.s) towards the challenges of his time then we realise we sitting in a similar situation.
An Urdu poet beautifully states that “there are many Yazeeds in this caravan but there is no Husayn to lead”. We need to dig deeper into the background of this issue.
The title of Imam Husayn (a.s)’s revolution being “Only seeking reform in the Ummah of his Grandfather” needs to be remembered. His use of the word إنما “innamaa” clearly indicates that Reform is the exclusive purpose of his movement.
This purpose has certain elements:
- element of reform
- element of Ummah
- element of Husayn’s grandfather
Each of these elements is filled with philosophy.
Imam Husayn (a.s) then also introduces the mechanism of this reform. This again entrenches the understanding that Karbala is not a mere tragedy but is well planned. It is visionary to the extent we understand. Otherwise it has a planned vision which remains a secret beyond our capacity to know.
That mechanism is “I want to enjoin good and forbid evil”. This is an institution established by the Quran and Islam itself. This is the answer to anyone who would question the legitimacy of Imam Husayn (a.s) taking a stand against the government.
Imam Husayn (a.s) knew very well that there would be people who would fabricate narrations which would state (fabricated narrations which even already existed during his time) that we should not speak truth to power but should surrender to the power of the day or compromise with it or even justify it.
Imam Husayn (a.s) wanted to make it clear that he was not starting a bid’ah or innovation in religion but was following an established institution.
In previous years we already discussed this institution of “Enjoining good and forbidding evil” in detail and in this series will thus only refer to certain angles of this institution.
This Quranic command is so crucial such that the Quran itself says it is the criteria for calling us “the best nation”.
We read in Surah Aali Imraan Verse 110:
كُنتُمْ خَيْرَ أُمَّةٍ أُخْرِجَتْ لِلنَّاسِ تَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَتَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَتُؤْمِنُونَ بِاللّهِ
“You are the best nations brought forth for (the benefit of) mankind. You enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong and believe in Allah”.
We are only the best nation because we have been brought out and evolved for all humanity (mankind) and should enjoin all humanity to do good and forbid all humanity from doing evil.
This is the defining criteria for being identified as the best nation.
Furthermore the last bit of the abovementioned verse referring to our “belief in Allah” also creates levels of responsibility between believers. We will expand more on this later, just this Quranic responsibility is captured in the verse 71 of Surah Tawbah:
وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتُ بَعْضُهُمْ أَولِيَآءُ بَعْضٍ يَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ
“And the believer men and the believer women, they are guardians to one another; they enjoin good and forbid evil”
Believing men and believing women have “Wilayah” of each other. And how does this Wilayah between them start? They enjoin good and forbid evil!
Then Imam Husayn (a.s) goes further to explain his strategy being:
و اسير بسيرة جدي وابي عليّ بن أبي طالب
“I will follow the method of my grandfather and my father Ali ibn Abi Talib”
WHAT TYPE OF ENJOINING GOOD AND FORBIDDING EVIL?
Though we are familiar with this institution of enjoining good and forbidding evil, the question is what type of enjoining good and forbidding evil was Imam Husayn (a.s) referring to??
Normally when we think about this institution of “Enjoining good and forbidding evil” our minds go to groups who are known to come knocking at the doors of our home reminding us to perform salaah and rituals and be ethical. This is good but I have repeatedly said that Yazeed did not ban this! So if Yazeed was not banning you from being good, then what good was Imam Husayn (a.s) calling people towards?
Understanding the vision of Imam Husayn (a.s) is thus critical. He was not talking about rituals. That is why I said at the beginning of my speech that in relation to the brutalities that our women and vulnerable in our city are facing, anyone with Husayni vision is compelled to react.
That’s what makes Imam Husayn (a.s) a martyr of humanity beyond our race, gender, creed, religious persuasion, school of thought, etc – everyone finds something to identify with and a form of shelter in the school of Karbala. This is the result of taking the institution of “enjoining good and forbidding evil” to a very different level.
Some people’s “enjoining good and forbidding evil” is stuck in ensuring the length of people’s beard and the height their trousers is above their ankles is correct!
Imam Husayn (a.s) did not give his life and that of his children for this purpose.
This is how the message of Karbala is global and this turbulent world can receive inspiration from it.
DECISIVE SERMON OF IMAM HUSAYN (A.S) 2 YEARS BEFORE MUAWIYYA DIED
To understand this philosophy of Imam Husayn (a.s), I need to take back in history to the year 58 AH, which is 2 years before the governor of Shaam (Damascus) namely Muawiyya died.
During this year, Imam Husayn (a.s) went to Makka. It was not yet a time when anyone demanded allegiance from him but look how he has a vision of the future destruction of humanity as a whole.
He went to Hajj during that year and in Mina he took the opportunity to convey his concern and vision about the future of the Ummah to those present. Narrations state that more than 200 companions of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) gathered to listen to his sermon. There were also hundreds of Tabe-een present and people from parts of the world were present.
In my humble view, it is critical to understand the vision of Imam Husayn (a.s) from this very sermon. This lengthy sermon has three major parts:
- The first part is about the Ahlul Bait (a.s). He started courageously saying that the present ruler Muawiyya had committed the worst crimes against the lovers of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) i.e. the Holy Family of Prophet Muhammad (sawa).
He kills them, he oppresses them, he imprisons them, he suspends their share of the Baytul Maal, he insists people fabricate Ahadith against the Ahlul Bait (a.s) and fabricate Ahadith about others to compete with the Ahlul Bait (a.s)
He then reminds the companions of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) that they are aware about who he (ie Imam Husayn a.s) is and who Ali ibn Abi Talib is.
He then introduces who is Ali ibn Abi Talib.
He then explains the incident of Ghadier.
He speaks about the narration “I am the City of Knowledge and Ali is the Gate”
He also speaks about the reality that all the doors leading from people’s homes directly into the mosque of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) in Madina were closed except the door of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) himself and Ali ibn Abi Talib and his children.
He also referred to Ayah Tathir of the Quran wherein the Ahlul Bait (a.s) are purified and the incident of Mubahila.
He then challenged the Sahabah to confirm whether he was being truthful or lying about who the Ahlul Bait (a.s) are.
There was a deafening silence.
- The second part of this sermon is emphasis of our great responsibility towards the Muslim Ummah and the institution of “enjoining good and forbidding evil”
I will read details of this part of the sermon tomorrow night but Imam Husayn (a.s) says this is the first institution that Allah refers to when speaking about the Wilayah or guardianship that exists between believers (as referred to earlier in my speech). He primarily says that the survival of the prestine teachings of Islam depends on the establishment of this institution.
Imam Husayn (a.s) was touching on human psychology whereby people initially follow a message after it is brought and then start diverting from it. And therefore a process of reform is always necessary. This was witnessed in the case of other Prophets when people gradually slipped away from the original message. In the Muslim Ummah this responsibility was being ignored.
- In the third part of this sermon Imam Husayn (a.s) says that society has 2 layers. The majority are the masses and then there’s a class referred to as the elite.
They are elite due to being ulama, due to being intellectuals, due to being leaders, due to being influential and responsible for directing the thinking and mentality of nations.
Now Imam Husayn (a.s) starts analyzing this elite group and challenges them regarding their status and responsibility in terms of the Quran itself.
I will provide details of this part of the sermon tomorrow Insha’allah, but in a nutshell he said that this group of elite failed in their responsibility. Instead of standing for truth and justice, this group looked after their own personal interest. It’s the corruption of this group which results in the suffering of the masses.
If this elite group did their job, then Karbala would not have occurred in the first place.
But when Imam Husayn (a.s) took a stand, the 72 people with him were thee most truthful number of people that ever gathered at one time against falsehood in the history of humanity such that an army on the side of ibn Sa’d numbering 30000 (narrations place this number up to 120000) never felt like it was sufficient to overcome 72 people.
Even in the chaos at the end of the Battle of Uhud, when everyone was fleeing the Battlefield, narrations state that Prophet Muhammad (sawa) was left with a mere 10 people eventhough the narrations only record 8 people by name!
Thus Imam Husayn (a.s) says “I have the best companions. Neither was my grandfather, nor my father nor my brother privileged to have such companions”. They were so committed that mountains could move but they would stand their ground.
Each of these companions embodied different legacies of perfect levels of Akhlaq and virtue. And in our tradition we tonight speak about a companion who demonstrated to us how to make Taubah and sincerely return to Allah – the story of Hur bin Yazeed al-Riyahi