LECTURE 11 TRANSCRIPT: INSPIRATION FROM KARBALA FOR A TURBULENT WORLD
11 September 2019 (12TH night Muharram 1441)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
Over the past 10 lectures, we have covered various aspects and lessons to be learnt from Karbala and this great stand from Sayyid as-Shuhada aba Abdillah al Husayn (a.s).
What I would like to draw your attention to in this lecture is the role played by the women of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) and Imam Husayn (a.s) after the tragedy of Karbala, because this is also an extremely important guideline and inspiration from Karbala.
One very important lesson we learn from Karbala, amongst the many lessons, is that any mission and any struggle cannot achieve success without the contribution and participation of women.
WOMEN WERE AT THE FOREFRONT OF ISLAM’S PRESERVATION RIGHT FROM THE ONSET
The history of Islam is the history of men and women together. This is in stark contrast to what they try to portray and promote about Islam being anti-women or the role of women being confined to the home, and that she has nothing do with society and the Ummah as a whole.
The history of Islam starts with the first revelation being received by our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) and the first person he shares that divine and final message of Almighty Allah (SWT) is a woman, namely his wife Khadija al Qubra (s.a).
The first person who accepts and testifies and stands firmly committed with Rasulullah (SAWA) is nobody other than Lady Khadija al Qubra (s.a). The active presence of women is very strong, throughout the whole life of struggle which Rasulullah (SAWA) endured, in the promotion of Islam and the propagation of the divine message of Almighty Allah (SWT), as well as the establishment of the state of Madina together with the various battles.
Similarly, we find the same situation when we look at the Ahlul Bait (a.s), namely the household of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). In fact, the central point of reference in Ahlul Bait (a.s) is a woman, Lady Fatima Zahra (s.a). The bridge between Nubuwwat (Prophethood) and Imamat (leadership) is Lady Fatima Zahra (s.a)!
We all know about her significant role during the time of her father, our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), and after his passing too, through her stellar support for her husband, Amir al Mu’mineen Imam Ali ibn abi Talib (a.s). Her contribution and her firm stand with her husband for their rights is well documented in history.
She was the first to step forward and defend the Wilayat and Imamat of Imam Ali (a.s). She was the one who protested in defense of the position of the Ahlul Bait (a.s).
This is the history of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), where women are extremely important! Karbala is no different, and perhaps more than anywhere else, this is where you see the role of women to be most prominent. Women shine and flourish in the stand of Imam Husayn (a.s).
CAN WE IMAGINE KARBALA WITHOUT LADY ZAINAB (S.A)?
In the period before Ashura, this dedication of Lady Zainab (s.a) is most remarkable. Lady Zainab (s.a) is a married woman with responsibilities as a wife and also a mother of a household of her own. Her husband was a prominent person, so they were very “well to-do” economically.
However, for the sake of this mission of her brother, Imam Husayn (a.s), she abandons her home, her husband, and everything, to join Imam Husayn (a.s). This is particularly important to note, in the context of that particular society of Jahiliyyah (ignorance), where a woman had no independent role. All that a woman would do is follow in the shadow of her husband. There was no independent function or purpose for women in that society of Jahiliyyah.
That being said, over here we find that Lady Zainab (s.a) has a clear role and therefore she goes ahead, even though her husband stayed behind. She does not only accompany the army of her brother Imam Husayn (a.s), but plays a very crucial role in Karbala.
Zainab (s.a) was at the forefront of all the consultations which Imam Husayn (a.s) had. What we read in history is that Imam Husayn (a.s) shares with her and listens to her at different stages of this journey, from Madina to Mecca to Karbala etc. The conversations which are recorded between Imam Husayn (a.s) and Sayyida Zainab (s.a) in the last few days of his life is truly mind blowing, where he provides guidance on the challenges she will face.
He advises her to stay focused and persevere through the unbridled tests and difficulties she will experience after his martyrdom. The key theme emerging from these discussions is that Imam Husayn (a.s) is preparing Lady Zainab (s.a) for the future of his revolutionary struggle and movement.
THE LEGACY OF WOMEN IS AN ENDURING FEATURE OF KARBALA
This is a very important lesson from Karbala. Then there were ladies like Tou’a in Kufa, who provides shelter to Muslim ibn Aqeel. Then also Dhulham, the wife of Zuhayr ibn Qain, who encourages him to change his political position and join Imam Husayn (a.s).
We also remember the wife of Habib ibn Madhahir, when the letter from Imam Husayn (a.s) was received by them in Kufa. It was clear that Habib was going to join Imam Husayn (a.s) but he just wanted to test the waters with his wife. She reacted very strongly to this, questioning why he is confused if the son of the daughter of Rasulullah (SAWA) is calling. She encouraged him to go without thinking any longer.
Who can forget that mother who brought her newlywed son and his wife to Karbala. We see how steadfast her commitment is, that she stands outside her tent and encourages her son to die, by saying that she will not give her consent until he returns having been killed for Imam Husayn (a.s).
This mother is the only female martyr in Karbala, because she resisted so fiercely and hence, they killed her.
Now, these are the examples of women outside the house of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). They are not from the Ahlul Bait (a.s), but their commitment is truly remarkable. These women in Karbala (non Ahlul Bait (a.s)) were very few in number, as most of the women present in Karbala were from the Ahlul Bait (a.s), whom Imam Husayn (a.s) brought along from Madina.
WHY DID IMAM HUSAYN (A.S) BRING HIS WOMEN AND CHILDREN TO KARBALA?
I was speaking on the night of Ashura about martyrdom being a power to create revolution and as a power to inspire that fervor and zeal to stand and face the challenges. The whole question about why did Imam Husayn (a.s) bring his family with him to Karbala is something to seriously reflect on.
Many scholars have responded to this by saying that if Imam Husayn (a.s) was dreaming of power and to establish a government by fighting Bani Umayyah, then he would not have taken his family along. Nobody takes their women and children along for such ventures.
In fact, those prominent, senior figures of Islam who tried to counsel Imam Husayn (a.s) against going to fight eventually surrendered to the visionary thought of Imam Husayn (a.s) when he explained his position. However, their next question was about why is he taking women and children along with him? This is an evergreen question, which Imam Husayn (a.s) was asked at the time and still gets asked 14 centuries later!
The reason is because the role of women and children was very important, especially in that aspect of Karbala where Imam Husayn (a.s) wanted to shake the dead conscience of the people. The Ummah became insensitive towards anything and therefore Imam Husayn (a.s) wanted to inject an emotional shock in the system.
Despite this, we see the most outstanding role of women emerge after the tragedy of Karbala. Imam Husayn (a.s) and all his followers were killed on the Day of Ashura. Hardly anyone was left alive in Karbala, amongst the men.
WOMEN HAD TO RESIST THE FIERCE ONSLAUGHT FROM BANI UMAYYAH AFTER ASHURA
Our 4th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s), as the Imam to lead the Ummah after Imam Husayn (a.s), and our 5th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Muhammad Baqir (a.s), was a very young child in the battle of Karbala. There may have been very few children there, but essentially all the men were killed in Karbala.
Due to the difficult health situation of Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s), the responsibility to take this mission forward fell squarely in the hands of Lady Zainab (s.a). At this point I want to say, unequivocally, that the success of Karbala, without any exaggeration, depends on the role of Sayyida Zainab.
There was one role which Imam Husayn (a.s) and his companions performed, and that was martyrdom. This sacrifice will only serve its purpose when people will come to know about this tragedy and when they realize what actually occurred on the plains of Karbala and how these people killed Imam Husayn (a.s).
Naturally, they tried their best to hide it from day one, by introducing Imam Husayn (a.s) as a rebel wanting to destabilize society. They portrayed him as someone who is hungry for power and who had no political experience or maturity and made wrong calculations on the account of the people of Kufa. They even went to the extent of portraying it as 2 parties clashing over power.
So, their purpose was to indoctrinate the minds of the people, so that they question why the sympathy for Husayn (a.s)? Yes, he is the grandson of Rasulullah (SAWA). So what? This was their approach and how low they went. For them, Imam Husayn (a.s) was fighting for power at the end of the day, and died as a result.
Now, in this situation, it was an extremely difficult job to present the genuine message of Karbala to the Ummah. Who carried out this responsibility? None other than the women of Karbala, led by Sayyida Zainab (s.a)!
DISTORTION IS A NATURAL CHALLENGE IN ANY PHENOMENON
In any phenomenon, there is always a big possibility of distortion (tahreef). History is filled with such examples where people with devious intent would distort the whole scenario for their ulterior motives. This is a reality in society, where a distorted image is presented. Unfortunately, lots of distortion has taken place even in the remembrance of Imam Husayn (a.s)!
Unfortunately today, some people remember Imam Husayn (a.s) in a manner which damages the message of Imam Husayn (a.s) more than it serves the purpose of Imam Husayn (a.s). This is a reality, in any religion or ideology or revolution. Distortion and deviation from the right path is one of the serious challenges.
It is a very difficult task to keep something on its authentic path. As I said a moment ago, we find this serious challenge even in the way we commemorate the remembrance of Imam Husayn (a.s). So, even that time, with all the resources in the hands of Bani Umayyah, and firmly under their control.
Against this backdrop, we see the ladies of Karbala, with absolutely nothing in their hand, no power, no resources, and so much of opposition are carrying such a huge trauma. Despite this serious adversity, they were able to convey the message of Karbala to the people, and expose Bani Umayyah. This tragedy ultimately concluded in the downfall of Bani Umayyah.
Bani Umayyah had 2 main branches, one being the family of Abu Sufyan and the other being the family of Marwan. Yazid was from the branch of Abu Sufyan, as his grandson. This branch did not last long. Yazid died very early, and his son came into power after him, who only ruled for around 40 days. At the end of the day, Yazid’s son announced that his father was a terrible person and his grandfather Mu’awiya was also a usurper and he has no interest in this power. So, he completed revolted against his cursed ancestors.
This is when the family of Marwan took over, but they did not last long either. So, people did not have the high regard for Bani Umayyah any longer. Their propaganda machinery started to fail miserably, because of these courageous ladies in Karbala. Their penetration was so deep, that inside Yazid’s palace, the wife of Yazid rebels and stands against him, wanting to support the Ahlul Bait (a.s), who were the prisoners in Damascus.
THE AHLUL BAIT (A.S) ARE BROUGHT TO KUFA AS PRISONERS OF WAR
As you know, everybody was killed on 10th Muharram and on the same evening, the heads of the martyrs were separated and sent to ibn Ziyad in Kufa. Umar ibn Sa’d opted to stay back. On the next day, which is 11 Muharram, Umar ibn Sa’d buried those from his own army who were killed in the battle.
In the afternoon of the same day (11 Muharram), Umar ibn Sa’d moved the Ahlul Bait (a.s) towards Kufa as prisoners of war. Now, just imagine this scenario. What trauma are these ladies of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) having to endure, as if the great tragedy on the Day of Ashura is not enough?
In this very harsh situation, Sayyida Zainab (s.a) enters Kufa. We all know very well where Kufa is and the setup that existed at that time, since these were the people who betrayed Imam Husayn (a.s). Zainab (s.a) knows this place and its people very well, and vice versa. Kufa was the seat of power, as the capital city of the Islamic state when her father, Imam Ali (a.s) was in power. In other words, Zainab (s.a) was the daughter of the head of state!
Now, with this high pedigree, she is being taken as a prisoner of war, after living in this city with dignity and respect. History has recorded how the Ahlul Bait (a.s) were paraded, with ropes around them and not even proper Hijab afforded to them and their belongings looted etc.
Just imagine what an extremely humiliating situation this is. Just imagine what is in front of her when she is brought into Kufa. On the one side, we find people looking at this caravan and not realize that their deception will cause such a big disaster. So, when they saw the Ahlul Bait (a.s) being dragged into Kufa in this humiliating manner, they were naturally in a huge shock and started crying and wailing. It was quite a chaotic scene.
Naturally, those who were open enemies of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) started celebrating. But then on the other side those who were very regretful over what they did after writing letters of invitation to Imam Husayn (a.s) and abandoning him and what transpired thereafter. They were at a complete loss, not knowing what to do. Again, it was an extremely chaotic situation!
On the other side, there was the fear of ibn Ziyad, because any critique will be immediately removed – wiped out in fact! This is the situation.
Just imagine what is in front of Lady Zainab (s.a), when she sees the head of Imam Husayn (a.s) on the spear, together with the heads of the other martyrs too, upon being dragged into Kufa. When Lady Zainab (s.a) looked at the head of Imam Husayn (a.s), she rendered beautiful poetry in praise of this sacred head which Rasulullah (SAWA) use to kiss.
Naturally, the women of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) who were dragged as prisoners also burst into tears. It was very difficult for them to cope, seeing the heads of their loved ones being paraded in front of them on spears. People are insulting them, and it is a very chaotic situation.
LADY ZAINAB (S.A) AND HER LANDMARK SERMON IN KUFA
Lady Zainab (s.a) and everyone are then brought to the centre of Kufa, meaning the downtown area. History has recorded that when she reaches there, she shuts everyone up in the congregation by pointing her index finger and admonishing them to silence. It is reported that this gesture from Lady Zainab (s.a) caused massive shock in the crowd, to the point where the bells in the necks of the animals were also silent!
This is the power of women! This is the power of Zainab (s.a)!
Now, when she had the attention of everyone in this busy centre of the city, she starts her sermon with those famous words:
O people of Kufa,
O people of deception and fraud,
O people of disloyalty,
O people of no faith
We note from her sermon how she challenged and shook the dead conscience of the people of Kufa. What a sermon this was, where she explained the purpose of the revolution of Imam Husayn (a.s) and how he was killed on the plains of Karbala along with his family and supporters.
This power of Sayyida Zainab (s.a) is the greatest inspiration from Karbala.
You know, one of the basic conditions for giving a good speech in front of people, is that one should have a clear mind. One cannot give a good lecture under stress. You will not be able to deliver like this. Secondly, the crowd needs to be supportive. You cannot deliver a lecture when people are rowdy. There should not be something in front of you which diverts your attention.
These are the basic requirements to deliver a speech, and all of these were against Sayyida Zainab (s.a). Despite these obstacles, she was unwavering and delivered such a thoughtful, mind-blowing sermon.
THE LEGACY OF WOMEN IS AN ENDURING FEATURE OF KARBALA
There are ideological arguments she presents, in this peak of a crisis. For example, they argued with her that Allah (SWT) killed her brother. Bani Umayyah tried to silent the people by presenting this exploited theory of Jabr (compulsion).
Sayyida Zainab (s.a) replied so unequivocally, telling these people in no uncertain terms that they are responsible for the merciless killing of Imam Husayn (a.s), instead of placing the account of their brutality on Almighty Allah (SWT) and calling it destiny.
Then they come up with another argument that Allah (SWT) insulted the Ahlul Bait (a.s), to which she similarly replies strongly that they are a family of honour and their honour is martyrdom! She explains with pride that it is their family tradition and honour to die for the sake of Almighty Allah (SWT)!
They kept taunting her by saying that Allah (SWT) has humiliated the Ahlul Bait (a.s), to which she responded with that most beautiful, historical statement “by God (SWT) I swear, I did not see anything but beauty!”
In the eyes of Sayyida Zainab (s.a), Karbala is beauty! Martyrdom is beauty! Being made prisoners of war and brought into the marketplace is beauty! What level of mystical intuitive knowledge of Almighty Allah (SWT) is she presenting here, by referring to all these calamities as beauty?!
She refuses to greet ibn Ziyad, and went she is reprimanded that she has to greet the Amir (leader), she asks with disdain who is the Amir, because her Amir is none other than Imam Husayn (a.s). This confidence which Lady Zainab (s.a) displayed, against such extreme adversity, makes Karbala’s history truly unique.