16 August 2021 (7 Muharram 1443)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
In the previous discussion, we covered a central issue which flourished throughout the history of Karbala, and that is human dignity. We cited numerous verses from the Holy Quran which very clearly explain the respect afforded to human beings as honoured and dignified by Almighty Allah (SWT).
We are required to take special care of our own dignity. As referenced in Hadith, Almighty Allah (SWT) does not allow a Mu’min (believer) to even humiliate himself. At the same time, we are not allowed to become arrogant either. So, it calls for a balancing act between these two.
To become arrogant is considered abhorrent. At the same time, we are not allowed to humiliate ourselves. Similarly, we are not allowed to disrespect any human being, irrespective of skin colour, gender, religion, etc.
It is worth referring back to the previous discussion to see how human dignity flourishes in Karbala. The basic message of Imam Husain (a.s) to the people is that the Ummah (Muslim nation) of his grandfather, Rasulullah (SAWA) have been blessed by Almighty Allah (SWT) with honour and dignity, which is under threat by the rulers of Bani Umayyah.
Hence, to surrender before injustice and oppression is humiliation. Therefore, Imam Husain (a.s) raised those beautiful slogans, stating that “death with dignity is better than surrendering to humiliation”. Another beautiful slogan is “humiliation is far from us, Ahlul Bait (a.s)”.
The spirit of Imam Husain (a.s), from the time when he introduces himself, and then interacts with the people, and then even with the enemies, is based upon respect, and not insults or disregarding the dignity of Insaan (human beings).
HOW DO WE DEFINE ETHICS AND GOOD MORALS?
From this foundation laid out in the previous discussion, our focus will now be on the ethical values of the Holy Quran which manifested in Karbala. This is a very interesting and thought-provoking discussion.
The first question to address is, what is ethics? It refers to our attitude and behaviour in our interaction and relationships with others.
The philosophy of Akhlaq, which is the philosophy of ethics, is a very big sociological discussion, where we experience that different philosophers have their own take on this subject. Some philosophers say that you need Akhlaq because you feel very satisfied by following good Akhlaq and practicing good moral values.
Other philosophers who adopt a more materialist approach say that good Akhlaq is important because it is beneficial. An example is Dale Carnegie’s very well-known book titled “How to win friends and influence people”.
This is a very popular book, translated in so many different languages. The approach of Carnegie described through this book is that you need to have good Akhlaq in order to live a nice, stress-free life. The same applies to your pursuit of business or political popularity. If I can add over here, the politicians of our time have unfortunately done so much damage, to the extent where self-interest and profit have become synonymous with politicians!
HOW DOES THE HOLY QURAN DEFINE ETHICS AND GOOD MORALS?
Let us now compare this humanitarian Akhlaq and the materialist Akhlaq to the Quranic approach to Akhlaq. What we learn is that the Quranic approach to Akhlaq is neither about satisfying your inner conscience, nor is it profit-based. Instead, the philosophy of Akhlaq in the Holy Quran is that human beings in their very essence deserve respect, because they are honoured by Almighty Allah (SWT), as noted in the beginning of verse 70 of Surah Israa’ (chapter 17 of the Holy Quran):
وَلَقَدْ كَرَّمْنَا بَنِي آدَمَ
“And surely We have honored the children of Adam”
Therefore, when we approach and interact with fellow human beings, and establish relationships with them, it should be based upon this principle, namely that this Insaan (human being) has the same dignity and honour like anybody else.
We are all on the same level, as noted in that golden statement which we have repeatedly quoted and which is inscribed on the entrance doors to our mosque here in Cape Town, from the letter which Imam Ali (a.s) wrote to his Governor in Egypt, Maliki Ashtar:
“People are of two types: they are either your brothers in faith or your equals in humanity.
Fill your heart with love, care and compassion towards them.”
This theme was consistently applied in the manner that Imam Husain (a.s) treated people from all walks of life.
APPLY JUSTICE IN EVERY ASPECT OF LIFE (EVEN WITH ENEMIES)
This understanding of human dignity is the foundation of Quranic Akhlaq. We will build this discussion from here, and all other branches of Akhlaq emerge from the roots of this foundation of human dignity from the Quranic approach.
The first issue I wish to discuss in this regard is verse 8 of Surah Maaida (chapter 5 of the Holy Quran) where Almighty Allah (SWT) says:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُونُوا قَوَّامِينَ لِلَّهِ شُهَدَاءَ بِالْقِسْطِ ۖ وَلَا يَجْرِمَنَّكُمْ شَنَآنُ قَوْمٍ عَلَىٰ أَلَّا تَعْدِلُوا ۚ اعْدِلُوا هُوَ أَقْرَبُ لِلتَّقْوَىٰ ۖ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّهَ ۚ إِنَّ اللَّهَ خَبِيرٌ بِمَا تَعْمَلُونَ
“O you who believe! Be upright for Allah, bearers of witness with justice, and let not hatred of a people incite you not to act equitably; act equitably, that is nearer to piety, and be careful of (your duty to) Allah; surely Allah is Aware of what you do.”
A crucial point from here is that we should never allow the hate of people to cause us to deviate from the path of justice, because justice is closer than anything to Taqwa (God consciousness).
This is such a critical point highlighted in this verse, which is so relevant to what we see in the world today and repeated throughout history. Animosity with a group of people should never justify for you to act unjust towards them. Yes, you can dislike someone or a group, but that does not give us the right to treat them with disdain.
HUMAN BEINGS TODAY GET EXPLOITED AS POLITICAL TOOLS
My humble understanding is that this verse is drawing our attention to a much broader principle, namely that we who believe in human dignity, are not allowed to use other human beings as instruments or tools for our interests!
This verse addresses the people who have faith, and the enemies are the disbelievers. So, this verse is saying that we should not have an attitude of superiority, thinking that because we are on the right path, we can use the wrong means to do whatever we want to those who do not have faith and justify it because they are our enemies.
It all once again comes back to the Karamat of Insaan, pure human honour and dignity. We cannot use Insaan as a tool to achieve our purpose.
If I can simplify it even further, the aim can never justify the means. Having a good, noble purpose does not allow us to do whatever we want in order to get there. This is not the Akhlaq of Islam and the Holy Quran. Justice applies even in our treatment of enemies! We can never justify wrong actions with a right purpose/aim.
BANI UMMAYAH WERE THE MASTERS OF EXPLOITING PEOPLE AS POLITICAL TOOLS
If you look at the practical lifestyle of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his holy Ahlul Bait (a.s), example, through the life of Amir al-Mu’mineen Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s) and then of course in Karbala with Imam Husain (a.s), we see that they never, ever tried to justify their actions by its purpose.
In diametric contrast to this, Bani Umayyah ALWAYS used all the dirty tricks and exploited people for their sinister purpose. For them, everything was permissible in order to achieve power!
When one studies the life of the father of Yazid, we see clearly that his politics was all driven by the pursuit of power. For him, Mu’awiya, it did not matter how he got it, even if he had to kill people, including for Imam Hasan (a.s) to be poisoned.
Another example is Abduraghman ibn Khalid, who was one of the close friends of Mu’awiya. Guess what, Mu’awiya finally poisoned him, out of fear that he will be a rival for power with Yazid.
There are many examples which clearly illustrate this attitude in the politics of Bani Umayyah, that you are allowed to do anything you like, in pursuit of power.
MU’AWIYA: SHREWD MASTER OF PROPAGANDA AND MIND MANIPULATION
There was a letter which Mu’awiya wrote to Imam Husain (a.s), wanting Imam Husain (a.s) to pay allegiance to Yazid in his (Mu’awiya’s) lifetime. In this letter, Mu’awiya used all kinds of nice, flowery language, expressing his “concern for the Ummah, not wanting trouble and bloodshed in the Ummah, only interested in the good and unity of the Ummah. On that basis, it would be best for you Husain (a.s) to accept my son Yazid as the Crown Prince and future Caliph!”
Imam Husain (a.s) actually took the trouble to write back to Mu’awiya, as it seemed like a sick joke to Imam Husain (a.s), for Mu’awiya to be concerned about the future of the Ummah. Imam Husain (a.s) accordingly challenged Mu’awiya’s sincerity on whether he is really concerned about the Ummah, considering the amount of anarchy he has already caused, and whether Imam Husain (a.s) is a troublemaker by refusing to pay allegiance to his wretched son Yazid.
Imam Husain (a.s) further challenged Mu’awiya in his response, that how can Mu’awiya be sincere in his concern for this Ummah and impose his evil son Yazid as the future Caliph of the Ummah.
MU’AWIYAH’S CUNNING TACTICS TO ACHIEVE POWER AFTER THE ASSASSINATION OF THE 3RD CALIPH
Tarikh Al-Yaqubi is a well-known classical Islamic history book, and there is a well-known narration included therein regarding the issue of everything being okay in order to achieve power. It describes that when the 3rd Caliph of Islam was facing major opposition with the uprising against him, he called Mu’awiya for support.
Mu’awiya arrived with 12,000 soldiers to support the 3rd Caliph, but stopped his army outside Madina. It is reported here that the 3rd Caliph wrote to Mu’awiya three times, pleading to come help save him (3rd Caliph) but Mu’awiya did not come forward. Instead, he waited until the 3rd Caliph was assassinated!
Upon the assassination of the 3rd Caliph, Mu’awiya entered Madina and took the bloodied shirt of the 3rd Caliph and used it as the pretext for his own political agenda. There was no sympathy or genuine concern, as the purpose was to gain power, and on that basis, everything was fine!
History is there for us all to refer to, on what Mu’awiya then did, and how he exploited the assassination of the 3rd Caliph by recruiting people into his camp to rebel against Imam Ali (a.s) as the Head of State. This is the politics of Bani Umayyah!
In complete contrast, let us now understand the politics of Imam Husain (a.s), who does not believe that we should use any tool or means to achieve the purpose, even if the purpose is righteous.
Imam Husain (a.s) left Madina, and moved towards Mecca where he stayed for a couple of months. There are two personalities in Mecca, and both of them are in opposition to Yazid. One is Imam Husain (a.s) and the other is Abdullah ibn Zubayr.
Imam Husain (a.s) was asked why he is leaving Mecca, when people were trying to convince him that it is the best place to stay. This was the logic of Abdullah ibn Zubayr, as he wanted to use the shelter of the Holy Ka’bah to protect himself.
Imam Husain (a.s) replied that he heard from his beloved grandfather that the dignity and sanctity of the Ka’bah will be disturbed by the killing of a sheep, and he does not want to be that sheep! This is where Imam Husain (a.s) uttered that historical statement, where he requested it is better if he were to be killed outside Mecca in order to protect the sanctity of the Ka’bah and Haram.
MUSLIM IBN AQEEL: FAITH IS A CHAIN WHICH RESTRICTS TERROR!
Another example is the incident of Kufa, when Muslim ibn Aqeel was there and ibn Ziyad became governor. Muslim ibn Aqeel was staying at the home of Hani ibn Urwa, who was quite influential as the head of one of the tribes. Hani ibn Urwa was not well and ibn Ziyad therefore felt the need to visit him.
There was a plan which Hani ibn Urwa discussed with Muslim ibn Aqeel, that this will be the most opportune time to kill ibn Ziyad, who was not aware that Muslim ibn Aqeel was staying at his home. Ibn Ziyad would be visiting without his bodyguards and the plan was for Muslim ibn Aqeel to hide behind the curtain and strike ibn Ziyad with his sword once Hani ibn Urwa and party give the secret hints.
They thought this will resolve all the trouble!
Ibn Ziyad arrived and those at Hani ibn Urwa’s home were giving all the hints and reading poetry, but Muslim ibn Aqeel did not emerge. In fact, ibn Ziyad started to also get confused, wondering what strange things are happening.
Amazingly, with all the opportunity, Muslim ibn Aqeel did not emerge from behind the curtain! Ibn Ziyad left and then everyone in the house of Hani ibn Urwa expressed their immense frustration at Muslim ibn Aqeel for “squandering” the golden opportunity to kill the worst enemy of Imam Husain (a.s) and the Ahlul Bait (a.s)!
Muslim ibn Aqeel explained his moral stance to them, saying that it is against the integrity of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) to deceive by attacking from behind! Muslim ibn Aqeel then uttered such a remarkable statement, which is so very true until today, by saying that “faith is a chain which restricts terror”.
It is in our ability as human beings to terrorize the people, but our Imaan (faith) and Taqwa (God consciousness) does not allow us to engage in terrorism!
IMAM ALI (A.S): THE VOICE OF HUMAN JUSTICE ASSASSINATED FOR HIS UNCOMPROMISING JUSTICE
Every year, we speak about the very difficult situation in the home of Imam Ali (a.s) on the 20th Ramadaan, where he is in severe difficulty from the wounds inflicted on him by the strike which caused his assassination. Imam Ali (a.s) was almost reaching the state of being unconscious. He opened his eyes at this point, and history recorded that his first words were to Imam Hasan (a.s) and Imam Husain (a.s) to call all the people of Bani Hashim to his bed side.
The whole family of Bani Hashim congregated at the bed side of Imam Ali (a.s), and he issued some important orders. He ordered that even though ibn Muljim was the cause of his killing, nobody is allowed to use his killing as an excuse to start bloodshed.
Just imagine, Imam Ali (a.s) could use this opportunity to take revenge and do anything resulting from this deadly strike on him, but does not!
Similarly, after Imam Ali (a.s) became the head of the Islamic state as the 4th Caliph of Islam, his very reliable close friends advised him not to immediately be so “harsh” in retracting the bonuses and allowances that people received from the Public Treasury during the reign of the 3rd Caliph. They were advising Imam Ali (a.s) to practice political diplomacy!
What was the reply from Imam Ali (a.s)? He categorically rejected this advice from his close confidantes, challenging them by asking if they want to advise him to seek the help of oppression and injustice to achieve justice? This is not possible in the school of Imam Ali (a.s)!
CONSTANT THEME FROM KARBALA: END CAN NEVER JUSTIFY THE MEANS
These noble principles reach its peak in Karbala and are demonstrated every step of the way!
Normally, people say that in love and war, everything is okay. However, this is not the approach of Imam Husain (a.s)! We see this in the night of Ashura in Karbala, where it is possible for Imam Husain (a.s) to deceive people. Instead, Imam Husain (a.s) explains to all his companions that none of them will survive the next day, as they all need to be sacrificed for Islam, humanity, justice and dignity.
Why does Imam Husain (a.s) not use tricks to hold onto them? We read in history that instead, Imam Husain (a.s) gave them free reign to leave, and even makes it easier for them to escape by turning out all the lamps. From this, we learn that Imam Husain (a.s) does not believe that anything good can be achieved through a wrong route!
As you would have noted from following our first discussion up to now, these lessons from Karbala which we are learning every night are extremely crucial for us to take practical guidance from.
OUR ENEMIES ARE THE WORST OF PEOPLE BUT DESERVE JUSTICE AS WELL
The key takeaway from this discussion is that we cannot justify our wrongful actions by arguing that it is for a good purpose. This applies even in the manner in which we deal with our enemies.
Of course, we all agree that the enemies of Islam today are the worst people on this earth, completely void of any sense of human dignity. We all saw the video from Kabul airport that has gone viral, of Afghans clinging onto the US Air Force plane, wanting to be rescued from the Taliban who have taken over.
These American soldiers were sitting comfortably inside the plane without any care in the world, as the plane took off without any consideration for the Afghan people holding onto the plane for dear life! And as we have seen reports emerge of a couple of people having died after falling from the plane when it reached a certain height. Sadly, nobody gives a damn about this. To them, an Afghan life is worthless!
This exposed the ugly face of the same people who claim to be the protectors of human dignity and flagbearers of human rights. All empty rhetoric!
These are our merciless enemies, with absolutely no respect for human life. However, Imam Husain (a.s) taught us a lesson on how to treat such people, namely that we cannot lose justice and justify whatever we do against them, on the basis that they are our enemies.
The Ahlul Bait (a.s) present a rational approach. Example, even though these Western powers are our enemies, there is no reason for us to oppose them if they have a scientific achievement, as an example, purely on the basis of being our enemy.
This is such a crucial lesson from Karbala, that the aim can never justify the means.
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