Following a recitation from the Holy Qur’an, Moulana Sayed Aftab Haider’s lecture was yet again preceded by two brief items. There was a poem of lamentation in honour of the mother of the martyrs of Karbala, Fatima Zahra (AS) by Qaadirah Mohammad, a student of Madrasatul Imam Husayn (AS) and a brief talk by Muhammad Khalid Sayed.

In his talk which focused on the honour afforded to women in the tradition of Ahlul Bayt (AS), Muhammad Khalid Sayed urged the audience to take a firm stance against the abuse of women in their communities.

Khalid drew on the two elements of Imam Husayn’s message, namely rejection and love as “driving forces” for us to act decisively against the abuse of our women. Imam Husayn’s deep connection with the women associated with his mission, especially Fatima Zahra (AS), Zaynab (AS), Ruqayah (AS), Rabaab (AS), Umm Wahb al-Kalabi and Asma bint Muslim (AS) was emphasized.

Following on from his introduction to Islamic reform, Moulana Aftab focused on what exactly Imam Husayn (AS) sought to reform through his revolution at Karbala. Moulana, however, pointed out that before we can address this very important question, we need to see if the religion of Islam is in itself open to being reformed. He began addressing this issue by stating that the “pure” principles of Islam cannot be changed, as values do not change. He argued that this is the case because values are connected to human nature and human nature does not change.

Having said this, Moulana also pointed out that reform in the religion of Islam is possible. He said that while in the religion of Islam there are principals that cannot change, these principals exist alongside “contextual commands”. In his view these “contextual commands” are subject to change and thus reform takes place in this particular sphere of the religion of Islam. Moulana said that this type of reform is referred to as ijtihad. He asserted that ijtihad ensures that the principals of Islam are understood in the context of time and space.

Moulana went on to criticize those Muslims who refuse to engage in ijtihad. In this respect he cited the examples of certain Muslim scholars not wanting to compromise on aspects of the Sunnah of Rasoolallah (SAWA) such as the use of the Miswak when brushing the teeth. Moulana asserted that the religion of Islam is way beyond this “narrow mindedness”, stating that the emphasis of the conservative scholars does not have anything to do with the core of Islamic law (Shari’ah).

Moulana asserted that Muslims destroy Islam by making it a difficult religion to follow. Emphasizing that human understanding is evolutionary in nature, Moulana said that our understanding of the Qur’an and Sunnah requires an understanding of the context. To substantiate this point, Moulana cited the example of a particular legal opinion amongst Shi’ah jurists that had changed over the past fifty years.

Moulana said that fifty years ago almost every Shi’ah jurist was of the opinion that to touch the skin of any Jew or Christian while your hands are wet would render your skin dirty (najis) as Jews and Christians were considered to be physically impure. This ruling has by now been completely reversed by the vast majority of jurists. Moulana said that certain jurists today are even arguing that polytheists are not physically impure and that their impurity is purely ideological.

Having asserted that reform in religion is indeed possible, Moulana also pointed out that many a time it is not the religion that requires reform, but the corrupt socio-political system needs reform. He then added yet another type of reform to the list of possibilities by stating that other times the system is perfect, but the corrupt leadership needs to be removed.

Addressing the topic of his discussion more directly, Moulana stated that according to Imam Husayn (AS), corruption has entered the religion, the socio-political system, and the leadership. Hence all these spheres required reform. Moulana then began underlining the corruption which took place in each of these areas prior to the rising of Imam Husayn. Moulana stated that prior to the ascension of Yazid, the Muslim political system was corrupt and that its so-called leadership was corrupt.

Moulana also emphasized the fact that at the time there was major corruption in the religion of Islam, particularly as far as the Sunnah of our Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) was concerned. Citing the behaviour of the second caliph, Umar bin al-Khattab, Moulana said that when the Sunnah was offered to some people as a guide, they rejected it and claimed that the Qur’an was enough for them. This caliph in fact ordered the burning of five hundred ahadith of the Holy Prophet (SAWA).

Moulana pointed out that the Sunnah of Rasoolallah (SAWA) was banned by the Muslim rulers until the era of Umar bin Abdul Aziz. It was only from his reign onwards that the ahadith of the Prophet (SAWA) were allowed to be written down. By this time the majority of the companions of the Prophet (SAWA) had passed on.

Focusing on the corruption of the political system prior to Imam Husayn’s rising, Moulana asserted that by the time of the third caliph, Uthman bin Affan, the system of Khilafah had reached a point wherein corruption was the most common phenomenon. For example, during Uthman’s reign the distribution of wealth was exceptionally unfair and the caliph had recalled many individuals as governors who were previously exiled from Medina by Rasoolallah (SAWA).  He added that with the coming to power of Muawiyah bin Abi Sufyan and his son, Yazid, Khilafah had collapsed into monarchy.

Linking his perspectives on the corruption in the Ummah more directly to Imam Husayn’s movement, Moulana went on to emphasize that Imam Husayn’s reform was firstly addressing the religion of Islam. To justify this particular point, Moulana asserted that Imam Husayn told people that the Sunnah of his grandfather (SAWA) had died and that innovation had crept into the religion. Moulana pointed out that Imam Husayn was focusing on the root cause of the problem. Imam was of the view that if he allowed the unjust system to prevail, then the religion of Islam will surely be destroyed. Moulana added that for Imam Husayn (AS), Yazid represented this particular system.

Moulana concluded his lecture with the narration of the story of Hur bin Yazid al-Rayyahi. Hur’s encounters with Imam Husayn (AS) both as an enemy of Imam and eventually as Imam’s brave martyr were narrated with much feeling and emotion. The majlis ended with the ma’tam in which the suffering of Hur was recollected in poetic form.