8 September 2019 (9TH night Muharram 1441)

Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider

Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town

In our discussion about inspirations from Karbala and the movement of Sayed as-Shuhada, Imam Husayn (a.s), we discussed several striking elements which are the source of inspiration for us. From the social responsibility of each and every one of us, to the responsibility of Ulama (religious scholars), to the challenges of materialism and also the challenges of clarity of vision and insight (Baseerat), which is the primary condition for renaissance and reform and the revival of this Ummah (Muslim nation) which I am saying from the first night up to now was the prime goal and primary purpose of the revolution of Imam Husayn (a.s).

Tonight, I would like to discuss a very crucial, yet basic issue, which was the focal point in the movement of Imam Husayn (a.s). The issue for discussion is Imam Husayn’s (a.s) slogan, that he is calling people towards good (Ma’roof) and forbidding evil (Munkar). Of course, it is a point of inspiration and learning for us, which guides us how to face the challenges in this world.


Ma’roof in the eyes of Imam Husayn (a.s) was social justice and Munkar in the eyes of Imam Husayn (a.s) was oppression and injustice. 

Now, on a little deeper level, I would like to emphasize that in my humble understanding, Imam Husayn (a.s) believed that the source of Ma’roof (good in society) and the source of Munkar (evil in society) is beyond what we see as symptoms.

Social injustice, the suffering of the people and oppression as Imam Husayn (a.s) explained in his sermon, is the symptom. The root cause of this situation, according to Imam Husayn (a.s) is something more important for us to study, and this is a point of inspiration for us.

In the eyes of Imam Husayn (a.s), the source of problems in his time was LEADERSHIP! 


Imam Husayn (a.s) believed that the deviation which is taking place in the Ummah, on the level where the leadership is very disastrous and dangerous, and it will basically take Islam back to the pre-Islamic Jahiliyyah period of ignorance. This is really a very important analysis of Imam Husayn (a.s).

There is a Hadith from our 7th Imam of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Musa ibn Jafar al-Kadhim (a.s), where he explains that every good and bad in society has an external layer and an internal truth hidden behind it. Imam Musa Kadhim (a.s) explains that the external layer is what we know is good, example Salaah, Hajj, good manners and spirituality etc. Then the external layer of bad is the evil in society, oppression, injustice, inequality etc. 

This is what we can see, and therefore Imam Musa Kadhim (a.s) refers to them as the external layers. 

Imam Musa Kadhim (a.s) then explains what the internal truth and reality of good is, and that is a JUST LEADER. Similarly, he explains that the internal truth and reality of every evil is an oppressive ruler and system. This is the inspiration from Imam Husayn (a.s) in Karbala for us, which I want you to understand for tonight.

It is very deep. In other words, what we see in society is basically the result of the system. If the system is corrupt, you will see plenty of corruption spread in society. The root of the problem is the system and its leadership.


Imam Husayn (a.s) was reflecting upon the society of his time and saw that this system of leadership is greatly shifting from Islam so far away that nothing by the name of Islam will be left if we allowed this system of leadership to continue. This was the vision of Imam Husayn (a.s), which people did not understand. We need to understand this in order to appreciate the value of the martyrdom and sacrifice of Imam Husayn (a.s).

People responded to the challenge of Imam Husayn (a.s) by saying that the system of leadership allows us to perform Hajj, and allows us to read Salaah, and allows us to fast etc. So, what is wrong with this system that you want to change? The problem is that they could not see ahead. There were very short-sighted, while Imam Husayn (a.s) and his companions were able to see the dangers ahead with this system under Yazid.

Shaheed Ayatollah Mutahhari, amongst the greatest intellectual giants of the 20th century sums it up beautifully in Persian. He says that there were people who could not see in the mirror, what Imam Husayn (a.s) could see in a brick!


Imam Husayn (a.s) was very serious when he was speaking about the leadership challenge. People could not realize how damaging and destructive a corrupt and oppressive leadership can be. We see this reality very clearly today, which we discussed in depth in the second lecture of this series, titled “Western liberal capitalism is the source of a turbulent world”.

We discussed in this lecture that the troubles which we have in our Ummah today is stemming purely from the leadership. Is it a problem of people not being religious? Not at all, as people are very religious! Religious commitment is there, no doubt. We see that Muslims are more committed in terms of their religious practice, when compared to any other religion. The majority of Muslims are practicing. They care about Salaah, Hajj and all the rituals. 

Muslims care a lot about Halaal and Haraam, Alhamdu Lillah! That is why we hear everyday in the news that the Halaal industry is a global multi-billion dollar industry! If Muslims were not practicing their faith, then how is this Halaal industry on this massive scale?

Despite this, we are still in such a big mess, that a small dot on the map like Israel can do to us whatever they want, and defeat us on every front. How and why can they dictate to us the way they please? It is because the problem is rooted in leadership, on every level! Political leadership is unfortunately the most corrupt. 

Religious leadership is the biggest disaster, which we lamented in the second lecture. Imam Husayn (a.s) protested about the state of religious leadership, calling them the elite, influential class of the society, from which only disaster can be the outcome when they do not perform their duty. Again, it comes down to leadership!


On any level, leadership is THE MOST serious challenge, even in civil society. Therefore, Imam Husayn (a.s) realized that this challenge must be tackled. In the next lecture (on the night of Ashura) we will discuss how he tackled this challenge, but tonight we will discuss what leadership crisis Imam Husayn (a.s) was trying to address.

Imam Husayn (a.s) is naturally a leader himself. Whose leader is Imam Husayn (a.s)? He is the leader of a group of people in history, known as the Shia (supporters and followers) of Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s). 

What did they believe? They believed from that time, and continue to believe the same today, that the leadership of the Muslim nation (Ummah) is a divine responsibility. As a result, our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), in the light of Quranic verses, appointed the leadership after him, and the Ahlul Bait (a.s) are those leaders appointed by Almighty Allah (SWT).

Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s), Imam Hassan al-Mujtaba (a.s), Imam Husayn (a.s) and it then continues to the 12 Imams (a.s). This is one group, but this group, with this clear-cut belief and Aqeedah (ideology) at the time of Imam Husayn (a.s), was a very small group, frankly speaking. 

The definition of Shia has different meanings. We have a Shia who believes in the manner that I just explained now ie. ideologically Shia. And then we have political Shia, meaning people who supported Imam Ali (a.s) against Mu’awiya, but they did not have this particular opinion of the leadership of the Ummah belonging to the Ahlul Bait (a.s) after the passing of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). 

However, it is important to remember that, politically, when conflicts occurred in the history, these people were the supporters of Imam Ali (a.s). An example is when there was conflict between Imam Ali (a.s) and the 3rd Caliph, and then of course with Mu’awiya and Bani Umayyah.

So, these people were in the camp of Imam Ali (a.s) and fought alongside him against Muawiya and Bani Umayyah. These people were also called the Shia of Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s), despite them not being Shia in the ideological sense. They preferred Imam Ali (a.s) over the others. For these people, Mu’awiya was a political leader, and Imam Ali (a.s) was also a political leader, but Mu’awiya was not good, and Imam Ali (a.s) was better, and so they supported Imam Ali (a.s). That’s it!


There was a very big number of people who held this position historically, but then there is an even bigger majority, or rather, the absolute majority of the Ummah. These people believed that there was no discussion of leadership by our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). 

The position which they held was that Rasulullah (SAWA) left this world without appointing a leader, and people got together for consultation (Shura), to address this leadership vacuum, from which they selected the first caliph. 

Then, the first caliph appointed his successor at the end of his life, being the second caliph, and then the third caliph was appointed at the end of life of the second caliph, and then after the martyrdom of the third caliph, Imam Ali (a.s) was approached to take the leadership reigns as the fourth caliph. 

This is basically what our respected Sunni brethren believe. Their concept of leadership was Khilafat, while a small minority believed that the position of leadership (Imamate) belongs to the Ahlul Bait (a.s) as a divinely appointed position. 

Imam Husayn (a.s) was the leader of this small group of people, but the challenge which he faced in his time, in the form of Bani Umayyah as a whole, and Yazid ibn Mu’awiya in particular, was a challenge, not only for that small number of people who believed in Imamate and leadership of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) as a divinely appointed status.

Imam Husayn (a.s) saw that this particular system of leadership is the end of Islam. It has nothing to do with Sunni and Shia! It has nothing to do with the one school which believes in Khilafat and the other school which Imam Husayn (a.s) leads in the form of Imamate. Not at all, because the issue is that Yazid was personally corrupt to the level unimaginable.


It does not mean that there were no other people in history who were corrupt, but at least those people would present themselves as Muslims externally. However, in the case of Yazid, history has recorded how he used to drink OPENLY! This gives us a glimpse into who Yazid was, and the list is long about the levels of his debauchery.

It is reported that Yazid was an expert poet in Arabic literature. Yes, Yazid was a very big poet, and Hafez Shirazi starts his poetry compilation from a couplet by Yazid:

A-lâ yâ ayyuhâ s-sâqî adir ka’san wa-nâwilhâ
ki ‘ishq âsân nimûd avval valî uftâd mushkilhâ

“Ho! O Saki, pass around and offer the bowl:
For love at first appeared easy, but difficulties have occurred.”

Yazid also said poetry about Islam. It is recorded that he said that Bani Hashim (the family of Rasulullah (SAWA)) played for power. It was a drama according to him, otherwise no divine revelation (wahi) came from angel Jibra’eel. He says in his poetry that this is all just a fictional story created by Bani Hashim to take over the Arabian Peninsula. 

Some of the orientalists took the lead from Yazid and his ilk.

Abu Sufyan, the grandfather of Yazid, never accepted Islam. In fact, he was part of every conspiracy against Islam and our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). He use to take an oath that Bani Hashim usurped power from them, as according to him, they were the people who were leading, and he will bring it back on any price. If it was not possible in the form of disbelief, then they did it in the form of hypocrisy. 

This is the scenario which Imam Husayn (a.s) is facing. So, Yazid comes into power against this backdrop, as a drinker, open transgressor, making everything which is Haraam to be Halaal. What should Imam Husayn (a.s) do?


We find that Imam Husayn (a.s) made his position clear in Madina already, when the demand of Bay’ah (allegiance) came from Yazid. This was the response from Imam Husayn (a.s) to Yazid’s demand for his surrender to the corrupt leadership:

“You want us to pay allegiance to Yazid, and we are the Ahlul Bait (a.s) of Prophethood? 

We are the mine of Risalat. We are from the house where the angels come and go; 

We are the place where the mercy of Allah (SWT) descends;

Through us does Allah (SWT) open, and through us does Allah (SWT) close;

You want us, with this status, to surrender before Yazid?

He is sinner, openly transgresses, drinker of wine and murderer;

A man like me will never pay allegiance to a man like Yazid.

We will wait, and you will wait, and see which one of us is more deserving of the leadership and allegiance.”

Imam Husayn (a.s) was not talking from the Shia point of view. This address was to those demanding the oath of allegiance (bay’ah) and they were not Shia. Imam Husayn (a.s) is saying that even if you are not Shia, and even if you do not believe in the divine right of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) for the leadership, can you compare Ahlul Bait (a.s) to Yazid??? Can you prefer Yazid, the drinker, the transgressor and a murderer, over the Ahlul Bait (a.s)? How is this idea even conceivable?

This is the position of Imam Husayn (a.s)!

The problem which Imam Husayn (a.s) had was not confined to Yazid as a person. This point is very crucial to understand. We all know that Yazid, as a person, was totally corrupt. This is one reason why we cannot surrender to him, and the common understanding. When we talk about Imam Husayn (a.s), we say that he did not pay allegiance to Yazid because Yazid was a bad person. This is only one layer in our understanding.

Another very important layer is that even if Yazid was a pious person, Imam Husayn (a.s) would not have paid allegiance to him. Do you know why? It is because the appointment of Yazid as the caliph was the biggest bid’ah (innovation) introduced in Islam.

The issue was not confined to the individual named Yazid. It was not a personal matter. The problem at hand was the change of system of leadership. Islam came to fight Jahiliyyah (ignorance) and the tribal system. Islam came to fight that system of monarchy, where dynasties are created from power being handed over from father to son, and then to grandson etc. 

Islam came to break this system of dictatorship, and the tribal system which was ruling on the Arabian Peninsula. Yazid was the first king in the history of Islam because he was appointed as a crown prince. This is a very important point to understand, because this was the introduction of a new system of leadership.

Now, this system of leadership is not accepted by Sunni or Shia, as it is neither a Khilafat system, nor is it a system of Imamate. So, the appointment of Yazid as the leader of the Ummah contravenes all the criteria and standards of the whole Ummah. 

This is why Imam Husayn (a.s) shouted on the whole Ummah to awaken, saying that if the Ummah becomes involved in the leadership of a man like Yazid, then we should bid farewell to Islam!


There is a very interesting work by a great Sunni scholar and political thinker of the 20th century, Syed Abul A’la Maududi, titled Khilafat o Malookiat (Caliphate and Kingship). It is a very interesting and thought-provoking book, while we may not necessarily agree with everything he writes in this book.

His whole discussion in this book is about how (from a Sunni perspective) Khilafat, which was according to him the Islamic concept of governance and leadership, transferred to a tribal system of monarchy. He says that Husayn (a.s) stood against this biggest bid’ah (innovation) and shift in the system of leadership in the Ummah from Khilafat to monarchy. This was a system of going back to square one, to the pre-Islamic era of Jahiliyyah. 

The analysis of the great poet of philosopher, Allama Iqbal, is more or less the same, where he says that all the problems started when the Khilafat transformed into monarchy. 

Of course, what we believe as Shia is that only divine leadership is the solution to this turbulent world. However, let us look at the situation today. The initiation of that system of monarch in Islam by Mu’awiya and the appointment of Yazid, which was an innovation in Islam, ended up in a complete disaster, where there was not the slightest resemblance to the system of khilafat of the first 3 caliphs at all. 

Through this monarchy, the Umayyad dynasty is established, and thereafter, the Abbasid dynasty. They go, and another family comes into power, and the vicious circle continues…

Then, we all know that the Ottoman Empire came in, which we all speak very fondly of, but at the end of the day this was also a monarch! It was a family system like all dynasties before it, and therefore, as soon as there is a conflict, they don’t mind killing each other!

Other dynasties have similar trends in history, and the image created by these tribal systems is as if it is part of Islam! People accepted it as an Islamic practice. 


The biggest problem which Imam Husayn (a.s) had was that Yazid was a king! He was not a Khalifa! He is not an Amir al-Mu’mineen. Simply put, a king is in power instead of a Khalifa or an Amir al-Mu’mineen! 

This is the problem which Imam Husayn (a.s) had, and hence, he spoke about a different type of leadership. The people of Kufa wrote letters to Imam Husayn (a.s) in the thousands, begging him to please come and lead the revolution to replace Yazid, as they are ready to join him. Imam Husayn (a.s) accepted their invitation, and decided to first send his cousin, Muslim ibn Aqeel, as his special envoy to assess the situation in Kufa. 

This is the letter of reply which Imam Husayn (a.s) addressed to the people of Kufa, and sent it with Muslim ibn Aqeel. This letter is very important, as it provides insight into the model of leadership which Imam Husayn (a.s) sought to establish. It reads as follows:

In the name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate

From al Husayn Ibn ‘Ali, to the leaders of the believers and the Muslims

Hani and Said have brought me your letters; they are the last two of your messengers who have come to me. I have understood everything which you have described and mentioned. The (main) statement of your great men is: “There is no Imam over us. Therefore come; through you, may God unite us under truth and Guidance.”

I am sending you my brother, Muslim Ibn Aqeel, who is my cousin and my trustworthy (representative) from my House. If he writes to me that the opinions of your leaders and the men of wisdom and merit among you is united in the same way as the messengers who have come to me have described and as I have read in your letters, I will come to you speedily, God willing. 

For by my life, what is the Imam except who judges by the Book, one who upholds justice, one who professes the religion of truth, and one who dedicates himself to the essence of God.


This last part of the letter really gives us insight into the value of Husayn’s (a.s) eternal sacrifice at Karbala, which is especially relevant in today’s world which is facing the serious challenge of leadership! Imam Husayn (a.s) explains that a leader is none other than one who:

  1. Governs over the people based upon the book of Almighty Allah (SWT);
  2. Possesses the crucial quality of justice;
  3. Is also committed in his personal life to the religion of Almighty Allah (SWT) ie. not someone who uphold Islamic law publicly, but his personal life is full of sin. The rulers of Haramain fit this category perfectly! They claim that Saudi Arabia is the best country where Sharia law has been implemented. What Sharia they are talking about is a joke really, but nonetheless, this is their claim. But their personal life is a well-documented saga of corruption. 
  4. Is ready to sacrifice his life for Almighty Allah (SWT).

This is the model of leadership of Imam Husayn (a.s). Imam Husayn (a.s) stood against the system of rule at the time which was a bid’ah (innovation) and diametrically opposite to the framework noted in these 4 points. 


This is why Imam Husayn (a.s) said in another letter that Yazid and Bani Umayyah have introduced innovation, abandoning truth and promoting falsehood. This is how Imam Husayn (a.s) introduced his leadership framework, whereby society can compare the current system of governance and where they are going, against his. 

Now, the point I want to note is that Imam Husayn (a.s) did not speak in this letter about the leader being appointed by Almighty Allah (SWT) or His Rasul (SAWA). The reason is because Imam Husayn (a.s) was speaking to the whole Ummah (Muslim nation), irrespective whether you believe in the divinely appointed Imamate of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) or not. 

The point that Imam Husayn (a.s) was trying to drive home was that whatever criteria you have, let it be clear that the Umayyad dynasty has crossed all the red lines, and we can bid farewell to Islam if we allow this to continue. Therefore, it is important for us to rise up and resist.

Imam Husayn (a.s) came with a clear logic about leadership, which is crucial to take heed of. The logic of Imam Husayn (a.s) was that if the leadership is illegitimate and oppressive, and out of line in relation to the Holy Quran and the Prophetic Sunnah, then people have the right to resist against them. 

In response to this point, Imam Husayn (a.s) references a Hadith from our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), who said that whoever witnesses an oppressive ruler who does not care about Halaal and Haraam, and introduces innovation (bid’ah), and those witnessing do not try to resist and challenge this corrupt leadership, then Almighty Allah (SWT) will enter such people in the same place where that oppressor will be in the Hellfire! 


This is the logic and legitimacy of Husayn’s (a.s) leadership. You know, one of the most beautiful aspects of Karbala is that it gives legitimacy to revolution, because in contrast to this logic is the approach where you follow the leadership even if they oppose the Holy Quran and Prophetic Sunnah and even if they oppress. They narrate Hadith which reads like this, to justify their heinous actions. 

We now see what fabrication of Hadith is all about, if such ridiculous Hadith narrations exist! These Hadith narrations say that we must follow the leader even if he breaks your back! This is why I am saying that 2 logics clashed in Karbala. 

There was a logic which use to say that it does not matter that Yazid is an open transgressor, drinker and corrupt oppressor. We are supposed to follow the Amir (leader) in power and therefore we must remain silent. You will recall, this was the same logic in our own country of South Africa, during the dark days of our liberation struggle. 

The guidance coming from the mimbar (pulpit) was that we should not protest against Apartheid, because they are the “Ulil Amr” (authority), and therefore, they should be obeyed. We should not resist against authority, but instead, we are supposed to surrender before the authority. This was their warped understanding of verse 59 of Surah Nisaa (chapter 4 of the Holy Quran):

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا أَطِيعُوا اللَّهَ وَأَطِيعُوا الرَّسُولَ وَأُولِي الْأَمْرِ مِنْكُمْ ۖ

“O you who believe! obey Allah and obey the Messenger and those in authority from among you.”


Tonight, I wish to proudly let you know, that those of you who were part of the liberation struggle and were rebellions against the passive religious authority, you should know that you followed Husayn ibn Ali (a.s) and you should not follow those who were silent and justifying the oppressive ruler of Bani Umayyah.

That was their logic! I use to often get this question, that how is it possible that there were so many hafiz of the Quran, and so many qaris of Quran, and so many so-called pious people in the army of Umar ibn Sa’d? Yes, they were supposedly pious people, but they fought against Imam Husayn (a.s) because he was seen as a rebel, and he is doing something Haraam by standing up and taking arms against oppression!

To remind you, our theme is ‘Inspiration from Karbala for a turbulent world”. If Karbala did nothing more than give legitimacy for struggle against an oppressive system in the history of Islam, then that is itself sufficient. 

Some of the people in the service of the empires have compiled 100 Hadith narrations which say that one must obey the authority. It does not matter how he came into power, nor does it matter what he does. These Hadith are of course fabricated.

In my research on this subject, I came across an individual who compiled 100 Hadith which state that you are not allowed to take a stand and resist against injustice. You must simply follow! Now we understand the position of these Muftis, which allows the king to do whatever he wants, and they are doing it! Remember, you are not supposed to raise your voice of protest.

As we see now, there is a crack in the same system, because in the Arabian Peninsula and Saudi Arabia in particular, we see rebels emerging from within. People like Osama bin Laden and others are rebels from the same system, opposing the endorsement of blanket amnesty for the king to get away with mass murder. These rebels stayed with their Wahhabi/Salafi ideology, but we see what happened to them too.

Imam Husayn (a.s) provided us the platform for standing for justice and challenging the authority, and not surrendering to injustice and oppression. This is compulsory. How did Imam Husayn (a.s) do this is a question we will unpack in the next lecture, on the night of Ashura. Did Imam Husayn (a.s) achieve his aim in a violent way? Was he dreaming to establish a government in Kufa? Not at all, because Husayn (a.s) was looking beyond all of this.

I want to conclude by stating that Karbala presented the most beautiful model of leadership and most beautiful commitment and obedience to the genuine leadership. Husayn (a.s) taught us how to rebel, and Husayn (a.s) and his companions taught us how to obey and how to follow the leadership. 

On this, the 9th night of Muharram, we remember Abbas (a.s), the second personality in Karbala, after Imam Husayn (a.s). What is most beautiful about Abbas (a.s) is his loyalty to the just leadership of his brother (Imam Husayn (a.s).