LECTURE 10 TRANSCRIPT: NIGHT OF ASHURA
INSPIRATION FROM KARBALA FOR A TURBULENT WORLD
9 September 2019 (10TH night Muharram 1441)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
We are here tonight at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid to commemorate and remember a great personality, a great man and hero in the history of Islam. Indeed, we are joining with millions of people across the globe in this commemoration, if not the cosmos.
In remembering someone who was killed and martyred 14 centuries ago but continues to inspire and guide millions upon millions of hearts and minds towards truth and justice. He is someone who inspires people across the spectrum, regardless of their colour or creed or any background, for a common, universal truth, and that is to stand for justice and sacrifice for the cause. This is Karbala and this is Sayed as-Shuhada aba Abdillah al-Husayn (a.s).
IMAM HUSAYN (A.S) – A UNIQUE SAVIOUR OF HUMANITY
For the last 10 nights, we humbly tried to seek inspiration, guidance and lead from Karbala to face the challenges in our turbulent, messed up world. We tried to seek some major or foremost guidelines from the revolution of Imam Husayn (a.s), this grandson of Rasulullah (SAWA).
In our struggle against this world, which is full of injustice, suffering and pain for the Ummah (Muslim nation) in particular, and for humanity at large, Husayn (a.s) is the beacon of guidance and the ship of salvation. It is about Husayn (a.s) whom our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) said:
“Husayn is from me and I am from Husayn. Allah (SWT) loves those who love Husayn ibn Ali.”
This unity of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) with Husayn (a.s) is not only biological unity. It is not unity of blood and flesh. Rather, it is unity of message and mission. It is unity of purpose of that message which our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) brought, and which Husayn ibn Ali (a.s) saved and protected with his blood, in order for us to have the great favour of Islam in front of us.
IMAM HUSAYN (A.S) AWAKENS OUR SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
We tried to seek guidance and inspiration from Husayn (a.s) to face the challenges of this world. Alhamdu Lillah, we discussed a number of very important issues over the 10 nights. The great deal of similarities between our world, which is full of challenges and problems, and the world and era of Husayn ibn Ali (a.s).
Challenges on the grassroots level, to challenges on the leadership level. We learn the first very important lesson from Husayn ibn Ali (a.s), that we have a social responsibility. As much as we have individual responsibility, we have a responsibility towards our society.
This is a very important message, which is the Quranic message. The call of Husayn (a.s) was one of reform of the Ummah (Muslim nation), as expressed in his will which he wrote to his brother, Muhammad ibn Hanafiyya:
“This movement of mine is not on account of stubbornness, rebellion or worldly passions. It is also not my object to create trouble or to oppress anyone. The only thing which invites me to this great movement is that I should reform the affairs of the followers of my grandfather, eradicate corruption, undertake enjoining to do good and restraining from evil and follow the tradition of my grandfather, the Prophet of Allah.”
Imam Husayn (a.s) stood against individualism, which is the problem of our time. Imam Husayn (a.s) was not saying that you are not allowed to practice Islam individually, but as an Ummah, there is a shift which is a very dangerous one, as it will result in the complete destruction of the message of Islam brought by his grandfather (SAWA).
IMAM HUSAYN (A.S) WAS ESTABLISHING PRACTICAL ISLAM BEYOND RITUALS
Imam Husayn (a.s) was challenging this social responsibility, for which he used the Quranic institution and principle by the name of “Amr bil Ma’ruf wannahi anil Munkar”. This means to “enjoin good and forbid evil. He placed the foundation of his movement and his revolution on this institution of “Amr bil Ma’ruf wannahi anil Munkar”.
When Imam Husayn (a.s) spoke about Ma’roof and Munkar, good and evil, he was not referring to rituals. He was referring to much more serious problems and challenges in the Ummah (Muslim nation).
We discussed in detail, the khutbah (sermon) he gave to the Hujjaaj (pilgrims) in Mina, 2 years before the tragedy of Karbala. This is where he spoke about the:
- Social justice and the suffering of the oppressed;
- Negligence of the poor, vulnerable and the sick;
- The full stomachs of a particular class in society, and the empty stomachs of the oppressed;
- Division of society into poor and rich, the lower class and the elite.
Imam Husayn (a.s) remonstrated strongly about this injustice. Imam Husayn (a.s) was speaking on that level of Ma’roof and Munkar.
All the lectures in this series are available on our website (www.afosa.org) or our Facebook page (afosa14), together with the transcribed version. These are really interesting discussions, especially when we compare to our situation in the world today.
IMAM HUSAYN (A.S) CHALLENGES THE ELITE IN SOCIETY
The pain of Imam Husayn (a.s) was social injustice, and the creation of this society was far from the society of Madina, and the society which his grandfather, the seal of the Prophets (a.s) Muhammad (SAWA) established.
Again, this is so relevant for us to learn from, given the situation we find ourselves in today. In the same sermon, after analyzing the situation of the Ummah, Imam Husayn (a.s) challenges the scholars and religious leadership and their negligence about their responsibilities of speaking truth to the power.
He reminded them about their moral authority over the people. In place of using this moral authority against the power and speaking truth to the power, Imam Husayn (a.s) chastised them for becoming tools of the empire, and servants of the state, to justify their actions.
Imam Husayn (a.s) reminded this very crucial role of the elite of the society. He reminded thinkers, intellectuals and scholars that the disastrous situation is as a result of them not playing the role which they are supposed to play in society.
IMAM HUSAYN (A.S) REDEFINED SPIRITUALITY THROUGH PRACTICAL ISLAM
One of the very important lessons we learn from Karbala is that Imam Husayn (a.s) was not protesting about rituals. He was not referring to a few external acts of worship. Imam Husayn (a.s) was referring to the spirit and core value hidden in Ibadah (acts of worship), which is spirituality and Irfan of Almighty Allah (SWT).
Imam Husayn (a.s) challenged that this spirituality is gradually disappearing and very soon, even these rituals will be forgotten, ignored, and sidelined!
Husayn ibn Ali (a.s), through his great stand, presented the highest level of spirituality and Irfan, so much so that people inclined towards the mystical approach to Islam surrendered before the tragedy of Karbala. An example is the great Sufi saint Khwaja Ghareeb Nawaz Mu’inudin Chishti Ajmeri (RA), when he defines Husayn (a.s) so eloquently as:
“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.”
“Husayn is King! Husayn 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, Husayn is the foundation of la ilaha il-lallah”
Furthermore in this trend, people reached the point where they said that the secret of Tauheed is Husayn (a.s).
“Truly, Husayn is the foundation of la ilaha il-lallah”
This is exactly the challenge which we are facing too, with individualism, materialism and the emptiness of our rituals from real spirituality and real meaning and real sense of achieving proximity to Almighty Allah (SWT). This was the message of Husayn (a.s).
IMAM HUSAYN (A.S) EXEMPLIFIES NOBLE MORAL CHARACTER IN KARBALA
One very, very important message which Husayn (a.s) provided in Karbala was Baseerat, for which his companions presented the best example. Baseerat – the clarity of vision and insight! This is one of the most important lessons from Karbala, which Imam Husayn (a.s) and his companions provided. This was done while Imam Husayn (a.s) and Karbala presented the best examples of Akhlaq (noble moral character).
The best examples of morality and ethics are visible in Karbala. I would like to sum up what the most important message of Imam Husayn’s (a.s) revolution is. Imam Husayn (a.s) stood firmly, and struggled, and went to war and offered sacrifices. However, throughout his journey of struggle, he never, ever compromised on principles. His principle was that the aim does not justify the means.
Therefore, in Husayn (a.s) and his family and companions who participated in the Battle of Karbala, you will find the highest examples of moral and ethical values were never compromised. They did not believe that everything is allowed in war! They NEVER compromised on their principled position.
Morality is another very important message from Karbala. Again, this is a challenge we can relate to in our society.
IMAM HUSAYN (A.S) SUMS UP ALL THE PROBLEMS TO BE DUE TO CORRUPT LEADERSHIP
Then, indeed, the most important part of Imam Husayn’s (a.s) message was in this discussion of Ma’roof and Munkar, which is that Imam Husayn (a.s) concluded all this good and evil in the society to the system of leadership which rules over the society.
Imam Husayn (a.s) made it clear why he refuses to pay allegiance to Yazid, because he believed that the source of all the problems and evil in any society is the oppressive ruler and corrupt system of leadership. What an important, inspirational message from Karbala.
This Ummah will not come right until the leadership of this Ummah is credible. This is the evergreen message of Husayn ibn Ali (a.s) even after 14 centuries. The message of Husayn ibn Ali (a.s) is that the Imam (leader) is nobody other than the one:
- Who rules according to the book of Almighty Allah (SWT),
- Who establishes justice,
- Who is religiously committed in his personal capacity too, and
- Who is ready to give his life for the sake of Almighty Allah (SWT).
This was the definition of leadership by Imam Husayn (a.s), and that is why he resisted this system. Yes, Husayn (a.s) resisted a corrupt person, but beyond that, he resisted a corrupt system of monarchy. This was when Khilafat and Imamat deviated from its original path and moved into a new system of monarchy. This was taking Islam backwards to the system of tribalism ruling over the Arabian Peninsula in the pre-Islamic era of Jahiliyya (ignorance).
IMAM HUSAYN (A.S) PROVIDES LEGITIMACY TO FIGHT OPPRESSIVE RULERS
This was the resistance of Imam Husayn (a.s). Very importantly on this point, I mentioned that Husayn ibn Ali (a.s) provided legitimacy for this Ummah to resist against the oppressive and corrupt ruler. He provided legitimacy to stand for truth and justice against the oppressive and corrupt system. This was because there was a mentality, which we hear even now, that you are not supposed to resist and speak against the state. You must surrender!
Husayn (a.s) strongly opposed this logic and fought against it. Husayn (a.s) as the warith (heir) of Rasulullah (SAWA), and as someone who was united with Rasulullah (SAWA), and Husayn (a.s) as a Sahabi (companion), and Husayn (a.s) as part of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), Husayn (a.s) as an exemplar and Husayn (a.s) as the leader of the youth of paradise gave this lesson to the whole Ummah, that resisting oppression is legitimate, legal and compulsory! This was the philosophy of Imam Husayn (a.s) when he resisted!
Let me take you to the next stage, which Imam Husayn (a.s) denied, and what a remarkable denial. It is not a denial and rejection of one person against one person. Instead, it is the denial and rejection of one thought over another thought!
DID IMAM HUSAYN (A.S) REVOLT SO THAT HE CAN ATTAIN POWER?
Husayn (a.s) says that a man like me, as the prince of martyrs and the leader of the youth of paradise, will never surrender and pay allegiance to a man or an ideology like the Yazidi ideology. It does not matter if it is in the year 61AH or in our own world today. The principle of Husayn (a.s) is the same and shines!
Now, to do this, Imam Husayn (a.s) tried to create awareness, and it is at this time when the people of Kufa wrote letters to Imam Husayn (a.s), inviting him to come as the Imam (leader). As the leader, he has the responsibility to accept this invitation, because they (the people of Kufa) are saying that they are ready for the purpose which he is fighting. This is why Imam Husayn (a.s) acceded to their request.
The one very important question to answer is “did Imam Husayn (a.s) go to Karbala to attain power?” Did Imam Husayn (a.s) go to Kufa because the people invited him and hence, his desire was to setup his government and establish himself from there? The answer is YES and NO simultaneously.
The purpose of Imam Husayn (a.s) was not government or power. The purpose of Imam Husayn (a.s) was reform of the Ummah. How this is possible is a question of strategy. Imam Husayn (a.s) responded in the affirmation to the people of Kufa, as they said that they are ready to co-operate and are ready to start this process of reform.
IMAM HUSAYN (A.S) CONTINUES HIS REVOLT DESPITE THE TREACHERY FROM THE KUFANS
Let it be clear once and for all, that the tragedy of Karbala did not take place due to the people of Kufa. Yes, this is a temporary element which came in Karbala. The people of Kufa said that they wanted Imam Husayn (a.s) and then as we all know very well, they turned back.
Long before Imam Husayn (a.s) reached Kufa (not even halfway en-route), he received the news regarding the situation in Kufa, where he was told that “the people of Kufa’s hearts are with you, but their swords are against you.”
This assessment was pretty clear, but Imam Husayn (a.s) did not stop, nor did he change his direction. If Kufa and power were the only reasons for his uprising, then he should have changed his direction if these 2 important factors are working against him and he no longer has support.
A little further down, Imam Husayn (a.s) received the news that Muslim ibn Aqeel was martyred. Imam Husayn (a.s) now knew that there was no hope for him from the people of Kufa. However, Imam Husayn (a.s) continued his journey.
So, this is crystal clear, that the point of his uprising was not confined to the invitation from the people of Kufa. There was something far deeper in the mind of Imam Husayn (a.s) which caused him to continue forward, despite the people of Kufa having abandoned him.
Let us examine what this deeper purpose of Imam Husayn (a.s) was.
IMAM HUSAYN (A.S) HAD UNPARALLELED CLARITY OF VISION
Imam Husayn (a.s) started his journey in Madina on 28th Rajab and arrived in Mecca on 3rd Shabaan. He lived in Mecca for a couple months and left Mecca on 8th Dhul Hijja. This means that he left Hajj behind! People are coming into Mecca for Hajj, going to Mina and Arafat, but Imam Husayn (a.s) is exiting Mecca and going in the opposite direction!
In all this time, Imam Husayn (a.s) held discussions with the people. Imam Husayn (a.s) also gave many sermons during this time in Mecca. Imam Husayn (a.s) protested with the people to wake up! He challenged them, asking “don’t you see that truth is not being practiced?”
Imam Husayn (a.s) similarly said that we should bid farewell on Islam when this Ummah becomes involved in leadership like Yazid. Unfortunately, nobody wanted to take heed from Husayn’s (a.s) vision. Again, I am drawing reference to Baseerat.
I am not saying that these were not good people. Indeed, they were good people. They were senior, prominent personalities in Mecca and Madina, but they tried to convince Imam Husayn (a.s) that, politically and diplomatically, his plan will not be effective. They tried to reiterate their concern to Imam Husayn (a.s) that Yazid is merciless and it will not be possible to fight against this system because they will wipe us out without thinking twice.
This was the counsel provided to Imam Husayn (a.s) by the most senior figures in the Ummah of Islam. However, Husayn (a.s) realised that the real problem in society is love for this world, and the conscience of this Ummah is dead. Now, speeches and sermons will not help.
Then, he experienced the situation in Kufa, where people were so ready after Ramadaan, to the point where some historical records indicate that as many as 18,000 letters were written to Imam Husayn (a.s) by the people of Kufa.
These letters from the people of Kufa all had a common message confirming that they are ready to receive Imam Husayn (a.s) as their leader, to rise up against Yazid. They explained that they are suffering under the yolk of Bani Umayyah and want freedom and liberty. But then what happened? These people changed their tune overnight, with the special envoy of Imam Husayn (a.s), namely his cousin Muslim ibn Aqeel, left in the lurch, all alone in Kufa.
Imam Husayn (a.s) wrote letters to the people of Basra and other cities, but there was no answer. Very few people responded to Imam Husayn (a.s). Most of the people are quiet, or giving him negative advice.
Despite all these headwinds, Imam Husayn (a.s) continues, because he realises that this Ummah’s heart is dead. That inner conscience is dead, and therefore something extraordinary is needed to revive it. Husayn (a.s) decided that only one thing can revive and give new life to this dead conscience of the Ummah, and that is the path of martyrdom. No other element is involved.
IMAM HUSAYN (A.S): MARTYRDOM IS REQUIRED TO REVIVE THE DEAD TREE OF THE UMMAH
Husayn (a.s) wants to rescue this Ummah through martyrdom. Husayn (a.s) diagnosed that this Ummah has a dying situation. The body of this Ummah has no blood. It requires blood transfusion! There is no other way that this Ummah will awaken from its deep slumber, and for religion to be revived. Blood is required!
From this point onwards, Husayn’s (a.s) logic is that of martyrdom. Husayn ibn Ali (a.s) took the path of Shahadah (martyrdom). Martyrdom is not the final purpose. Rather, it is the tool to achieve the main objective, which is the revival of religion. Husayn ibn Ali (a.s) came with this logic, which was very difficult for people to understand.
You know, every school of thought has its own logic and criteria to measure what is right and what is wrong. The logic of a martyr is very different. In Karbala, the logic of Imam Husayn (a.s) is that of a martyr.
What is the logic of a martyr? It is the mixture of 2 logics, namely:
- The logic of a Muslih (reformer); and
- The logic of Aashiq (lover)
Karbala is the fusion of love and reason. Karbala is a place where one is unable to understand Imam Husayn (a.s) purely through reason only. Therefore, those senior figures in Islam discussed earlier, with their questions, were calculating based on their criteria. However, the calculation of Imam Husayn (a.s) is on a different level, and hence based on different criteria.
The logic of Imam Husayn (a.s) is that of love, thirsty to meet his Lord Almighty (SWT). This is a very different approach.
Husayn (a.s) also wants to give his blood, which will save this Ummah.
MARTYRDOM IS THE ETERNAL LEGACY AND ULTIMATE CATALYST FOR POSITIVE CHANGE
There are so many verses of the Holy Quran which speaks about martyrdom, but the common one which always gets mentioned is verse 169 of Surah aal-Imraan (chapter 3 of the Holy Quran):
وَلَا تَحْسَبَنَّ الَّذِينَ قُتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ أَمْوَاتًا ۚ بَلْ أَحْيَاءٌ عِنْدَ رَبِّهِمْ يُرْزَقُونَ
“Think not of those who are slain in Allah’s way as dead. Nay, they live, finding their sustenance in the presence of their Lord.”
One of the qualities of a martyr highlighted in this verse is that martyrdom makes the martyr eternal. Like a scholar who shares his knowledge and becomes eternal. For example, Sir Isaac Newton, and his knowledge and theories. Newton died a very long time ago, but his legacy is still very much alive.
Another example is Edison. Anyway, the point is that those who gave something to society, and for as long as what they have given is surviving and continuing, they are living. There is one difference though. They gave one part of themselves, such as their knowledge and experience, or spirituality or noble character etc. In contrast, a martyr gives everything for the cause. It is a totally selfless sacrifice of whatever he has. In this sense, a martyr becomes eternal.
Now, if you want to know why Husayn (a.s) becomes eternal, then this is the answer. If you want to know why millions of people continue to be drawn towards Imam Husayn (a.s), then this is the secret of his eternal martyrdom.
You see, martyrdom is the epitome! There is a Hadith recorded from our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) which says that there is a good deed above every good deed. However, being killed for the sake of Almighty Allah (SWT) is a good deed for which there is no good deed above it. This martyrdom is the final stage.
KARBALA IS A UNIQUE EPIC WHICH REMAINS FRESH
Of course, martyrdom also has levels of excellence. When we talk about martyrdom in Karbala, we are talking about a supreme level of spirituality, commitment and moral authority which Karbala presented. Naturally, the life, eternity, effect and influence of Karbala is far beyond our imagination.
Therefore, I would like to repeat, that Karbala is a tragedy but at the same time not a tragedy. You cannot compare Karbala to any tragedy. It is truly unique. There are so many tragedies in the history of humanity. There are so many stories of sorrow, grief, pain and suffering through the worst type of cruel attitude from human beings against other human beings. There is no shortage of such examples in our society too.
However, we cannot remember any of those tragedies the way we remember Karbala. Karbala remains fresh because it is martyrdom, and in martyrdom, what is most important is that the martyr is not a victim. Rather, the martyr is the hero! This death is not imposed on the martyr. Martyrdom in Karbala is death by choice. It is the path chosen with your free will and complete consciousness and clarity of vision.
Naturally, the value and quality of martyrdom is higher and higher as the level of this clarity of vision is higher.
Why is Sayyidina Hamza the chief of martyrs of his time, while Imam Husayn (a.s) is the chief of martyrs for all the times?
This is the role of martyrdom which Imam Husayn (a.s) presented.
OUR TEARS FOR HUSAYN (A.S) IS OUR DEEP, SPIRITUAL CONNECTION
There is another very important point to add in this discussion about martyrdom, in addition to the logic of the martyr, the blood of the martyr, and the eternity of the martyr. The additional point to conclude this discussion is about crying for the martyr, which is again very unique in the case of martyrdom.
Crying for the martyr is not due to feeling sorry, nor is it out of regret, nor is it out of fear. Crying for the martyr is out of allegiance for the martyr. Crying for the martyr is about establishing a deep, spiritual connection with the martyr.
I said for the past 10 nights that Imam Husayn (a.s) inspires us. Now, these tears which we shed for Husayn ibn Ali (a.s), are our connection with him. These tears connect us with Husayn ibn Ali (a.s) and to Karbala. Therefore, crying for anything may not be liked or preferred. But crying for Karbala is something which our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and his companions, and the Ahlul Bait (a.s) did.
This has become a culture, based on the sunnah noted from this Prophetic practice, because this is how we connect. The great intellectual giant of the 20th century, Shaheed Ayatollah Mutahhari, so beautifully says that kings and emperors would write something to be left as their legacy, through fancy carving in stones etc. He then says so beautifully, that Imam Husayn (a.s) did not carve his name on a stone. Rather, Imam Husayn (a.s) carved his name and his message on the air, with his blood!
Those carvings on stone are stuck on the stone, whereas this writing of Husayn (a.s) with his blood, penetrated in the hearts of the people.
SAYYIDA ZAINAB (S.A) CHAMPIONS THE CAUSE OF JUSTICE AFTER ASHURA
In the aftermath of Karbala, Yazid challenged Sayyida Zainab (s.a) when they were brought in his court. We cannot forget this sentence from Sayyida Zainab (s.a) in her response to him, where she stood confidently and powerfully in his court and said:
“Yazid, do whatever you want. Make plans to do as you please. By Allah (SWT), I swear that you will not be able to destroy our remembrance from the hearts of the people.”
Zainab (s.a) explains her statement in the court, saying that you rulers/emperors sitting in the palaces, you rule on the bodies of the people, which is meant to die, and so will your influence on them. We, the Ahlul Bait (a.s), rule on the hearts and souls of the people, and the hearts and souls never die, and therefore, our remembrance will never die!
This is how Imam Husayn (a.s) touched the hearts, through this message in Karbala. This is the way of the martyr. A soldier attacks differently, and a martyr attacks differently. A soldier attacks with his sword, whereas a martyr attacks with his blood!
Imam Husayn (a.s) fought with swords on the Day of Ashura, but more than swords, Imam Husayn (a.s) fought with the tools of humanity.
The night of Ashura is the most difficult night in history for the family of Rasulullah (SAWA). I am really sometimes surprised that how is it possible that this Ummah which loves our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) so much, does not value or recognise the pain and suffering of this night. How the family and children of Rasulullah (SAWA) were surrounded by these demonic monsters in the desert of Karbala.
How can we forget that situation on the plains of Karbala, on the Day of Ashura, when Imam Husayn (a.s) brought one body after the other from the battlefield, from his companions, to his own family members?
Finally, Imam Husayn (a.s) was left alone on the plains of Karbala, where called out:
Is there any rescuer to rescue us?
Is there any protector to protect us?
Is there any defender of the honour of the household of Rasulullah (SAWA)?