Jumuah lecture on Friday 6 September 2019 (6 Muharram 1441)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
I would like to draw your attention to one important command in the Holy Quran, which is referred to therein as “intisaar”, meaning “seeking help”. This concept has been discussed in numerous verses of the Holy Quran. For example, in verse 75 of Surah Nisaa’ (chapter 4):
وَمَا لَكُمْ لَا تُقَاتِلُونَ فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّهِ وَالْمُسْتَضْعَفِينَ مِنَ الرِّجَالِ وَالنِّسَاءِ وَالْوِلْدَانِ الَّذِينَ يَقُولُونَ رَبَّنَا أَخْرِجْنَا مِنْ هَٰذِهِ الْقَرْيَةِ الظَّالِمِ أَهْلُهَا وَاجْعَلْ لَنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ وَلِيًّا وَاجْعَلْ لَنَا مِنْ لَدُنْكَ نَصِيرًا
And what reason have you that you should not fight in the way of Allah and of the weak among the men and the women and the children, (of) those who say: Our Lord! cause us to go forth from this town, whose people are oppressors, and give us from Thee a guardian and give us from Thee a helper.
The first half of this verse is a challenge to the Ummah (Muslim nation) on why we do not help and respond to the people who are calling out for help. The second half of this verse talks about the status of the weak and those living in an oppressed society. These downtrodden people are appealing to Almighty Allah (SWT) to remove them from this oppressive society.
They appeal to Almighty Allah (SWT) for a guardian and leader.
In verse 227 of Surah Shu’araa (chapter 26 of the Holy Quran), Almighty Allah (SWT) speaks about poets, and how they go into the imaginary world and may relay many things which are not necessarily true, but they follow their desires and imagination. However, the end of the verse describes the exceptions, being those people who use their literary capacity for a good cause. These exceptions articulated in verse 227 of Surah Shu’araa are really beautiful:
إِلَّا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَذَكَرُوا اللَّهَ كَثِيرًا وَانْتَصَرُوا مِنْ بَعْدِ مَا ظُلِمُوا ۗ وَسَيَعْلَمُ الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا أَيَّ مُنْقَلَبٍ يَنْقَلِبُونَ
Except those who believe and do good and remember Allah much, and defend themselves after they are oppressed; and they who act unjustly shall know to what final place of turning they shall turn back.
So, there are some good people amongst those drawn in the imaginary world, and they are described as the ones who have Imaan (faith) in Almighty Allah (SWT) coupled with good deeds and frequent remembrance of Almighty Allah (SWT).
These people are also described as those who use their poetry to seek revenge after they have been oppressed. This verse ends with the promise that those who have oppressed will know their destiny!
We find a similar trend in verses 39 – 41 of Surah Shura (chapter 42 of the Holy Quran):
وَالَّذِينَ إِذَا أَصَابَهُمُ الْبَغْيُ هُمْ يَنْتَصِرُونَ
And those who, when great wrong afflicts them, defend themselves.
وَجَزَاءُ سَيِّئَةٍ سَيِّئَةٌ مِثْلُهَا ۖ فَمَنْ عَفَا وَأَصْلَحَ فَأَجْرُهُ عَلَى اللَّهِ ۚ إِنَّهُ لَا يُحِبُّ الظَّالِمِينَ
And the recompense of evil is punishment like it, but whoever forgives and amends, he shall have his reward from Allah; surely He does not love the unjust.
وَلَمَنِ انْتَصَرَ بَعْدَ ظُلْمِهِ فَأُولَٰئِكَ مَا عَلَيْهِمْ مِنْ سَبِيلٍ
But indeed if any do help and defend themselves after a wrong (done) to them, against such there is no cause of blame.
إِنَّمَا السَّبِيلُ عَلَى الَّذِينَ يَظْلِمُونَ النَّاسَ وَيَبْغُونَ فِي الْأَرْضِ بِغَيْرِ الْحَقِّ ۚ أُولَٰئِكَ لَهُمْ عَذَابٌ أَلِيمٌ
The blame is only against those who oppress men and wrong-doing and insolently transgress beyond bounds through the land, defying right and justice: for such there will be a penalty grievous.
So, these verses confirm that there is no blame against a person who stands for justice and looks for revenge after he has been oppressed.
WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THE OPPRESSED WHO TOLERATE OPPRESSION?
The Holy Quran says that oppression is bad, but to tolerate it is as bad as the oppression itself! What I am trying to draw your attention to through these verses is a very principle position in Islam, which is perhaps not as evident in other religions as compared to how clear it is in the Holy Quran. These verses are referring to this very important responsibility, that our response to injustice when it is committed against us, is not to remain silent and tolerate.
The Quranic position through these verses and numerous others is very clear, that those who are believers do not tolerate injustice, as tolerating oppression and injustice is as bad as the oppression and injustice itself.
True believers respond in protest and defence, taking a firm stand against oppression.
In that beautiful Dua Makarimul Akhlaq (supplication of noble moral character), our 4th Imam of Ahlul Bait (a.s), Imam Zainul Abideen (a.s) requests from Almighty Allah (SWT) to grant him a hand against those who oppressed him, and power of speech to respond to those who show their animosity towards him, and victory against those who oppress him.
اللّهُمَّ صَلِّ عَلى مُحَمَّدٍ وَآلِهِ
وَاجْعَلْ لِي يَداً عَلى مَنْ ظَلَمَنِي
وَلِساناً عَلى مَنْ خاصَمَنِي
وَظَفَراً بِمَنْ عانَدَنِي
O Allah, bless Muhammad and his family,
Give me a hand (power) over one wrongs me,
a tongue over one who disputes with me,
and a victory over one who stubbornly resists me.
THE REVOLUTIONARY ROLE OF LADY ZAINAB (S.A) KEEPS KARBALA ALIVE
The reason I brought this topic as the subject of my discussion today is that one of the enduring features of this great tragedy and stand of Imam Husayn (a.s) in Karbala is this concept of “intisaar”.
Karbala and Imam Husayn (a.s) taught us that oppression is bad, but they also taught us that remaining silent while being oppressed is equally bad and not acceptable. This is one of the important lessons of Karbala, and especially this lesson, which we learn from the women of Karbala, led by Sayyida Zainab (s.a).
Men and women are equal role players in Karbala’s history, in every field. Karbala provides us evidence that women have an important say and key role in the socio-political sphere of the Ummah’s life. Karbala provides us this context, that women can play a very, very crucial role. Karbala provides us this evidence, that women can be along with men, in the fight against injustice.
We reflect on the role of Imam Husayn (a.s), as the leader of this movement and we reflect on the role of his sister, Sayyida Zainab (s.a). They are not only united in their blood relation as brother and sister. It goes beyond this, as they are both leaders of this movement against injustice and oppression.
I’m not saying this as a fashionable statement or to make it appealing in the current context of our world. The role of women led by Sayyida Zainab (s.a) is a reality which we have always been proud of as the exemplary legacy of Karbala.
Imam Husayn (a.s) shared his entire program with Sayyida Zainab (s.a) throughout this mission. It was not only about the role of Sayyida Zainab (s.a) after Ashura. I am talking about pre-Ashura.
When we narrate the tragedy of Karbala, we reflect on the consultation Imam Husayn (a.s) has with Sayyida Zainab (s.a) on almost every station on every issue. One of the most beautiful titles of Sayyida Zainab (s.a) is Shariqatul Husayn (a.s), which means she is the partner of Husayn (a.s)!
THE EXEMPLARY ROLE PLAYED BY WOMEN AND THE CHRISTIAN MARTYR OF KARBALA
Now, we are not only talking about the women of the household of Rasulullah (SAWA), like Sayyida Zainab (s.a) and Sayyida Umme Kulthum (s.a), who are on a different level. If one reflects on the superlative role played by the women from outside the Ahlul Bait (a.s), we see great role models like the wife of Zuhayr ibn Qayn, the wife of Habib ibn Madhahir and the wife of Hurr.
Then also, who can forget the mother of the Christian martyr, who brought her newlywed son in Karbala, together with the new bride, and encouraged and in fact, insisted that her son must be killed for the sake of Imam Husayn (a.s) and his ideals. She is remembered for this and her brave stand at the door of the tent, watching and encouraging her son in the battlefield.
She was reading poetry of encouragement from the tent, shouting to her son that she will not be happy until he returns as a martyr for the sake of his master Husayn (a.s). The enemies could not tolerate her any longer as it was very uncomfortable for them, since it was penetrating the hearts of the people.
They then decided that they should test how brave, committed and resilient this mother really is, and they separated the head of her son after killing him, and threw his head to his mother. This courageous mother picked up the head of her son and kissed it, and echoed loudly that she is pleased with her son as he has completed his duty towards his Imam (a.s), and so is Almighty Allah (SWT) pleased with him.
Thereafter, this brave mother of the Christian newlywed martyr then threw back the head to the army of the enemies and shouted to them “we do not take back what we give in the way of Allah (SWT)”.
These are the women of Karbala!
THE TORTUROUS JOURNEY AFTER ASHURA FROM KARBALA TO KUFA TO DAMASCUS
We read in history how the women were the direct targets of oppression post Ashura and Karbala. The enemies were killing men and children until the Day of Ashura. Hardly any men remained alive after Asr on the Day of Ashura, so this is where they started their oppression on the women.
Starting from the burning of their tents and then robbing them of their possessions, to the point where ear rings were snatched from the ears of even the small children like Sakina. History has also recorded the physical abuse which these women and children had to bear.
The aftermath of Karbala is a very difficult tragedy, where the women were tortured and taken as prisoners to Kufa, tied on the backs of camels without any saddles. History has further recorded how they were humiliated in the streets of Kufa as they were moved through the marketplace.
Their torture did not end here, as they were then pushed at an extraordinary speed toward Damascus, going through villages and towns all the way from Iraq to Syria.
Then, when they reached Damascus, everybody was rallied together in the markets to look at these women from the house of Rasulullah (SAWA). People were throwing dates of charity to them, as if they were beggars. They were treated as prisoners of war, and as beggars who have no dignity.
This is what the Yazid and his forces did to the household of our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA). These noble women were then placed in prisons and stopped from eating and drinking. They were not even allowed to mourn and grief for the loss of their loved ones in Karbala.
The scars from the lashes remained on their backs! The point I am making repeatedly in our series of discussions is that despite this abuse being very evident, none of the martyrs of Karbala nor the women and children of Karbala allowed people to take them as victims. They remained as heroes and heroines of Karbala!
They were being oppressed, but they resisted with vociferous protests.
LADY ZAINAB (S.A) REMAINS RESILIENT AND NEVER GIVES UP DESPITE EXTREME ADVERSITY
The response from Sayyida Zainab (s.a), with so much injustice and oppression committed against this pure Lady, in the form of her children being brutally killed, and her brothers massacred, and similarly her nephews, not to mention the heinous crimes which the enemies committed against the women of Karbala.
The key point to always and always remember is that she never gives up. Zainab (s.a) does not surrender!
She never gave up, even though she had the young daughter of Imam Husayn (a.s), Sakina, whose face was scarred from the beating she suffered from Shimr.
Today, we know about the tragedy of Karbala because of Lady Zainab (s.a). Therefore, there is the historical sentence, that Husayn (a.s) saved Islam through his revolution, and the women led by Lady Zainab (s.a) saved Karbala with their fierce resistance in the face of the worst oppression.
History has recorded the undeniable fact, about when Lady Zainab (s.a) entered the court of Yazid in Damascus, which was a huge court, as this was the seat of the empire. Those who have visited Damascus will know, even though it is rebuilt.
This huge, intimidating structure and courtroom does not pressure Lady Zainab (s.a). Yazid knows that this is Lady Zainab (s.a) entering, but he asks who is this rude and arrogant woman entering?! This shows the confidence of the women of Karbala, led by Lady Zainab (s.a), and how they stood fearlessly before the worst tyrant in history. She enters and presents a courageous face before Yazid, as if she is not affected by these terrible calamities they have gone through.
History has recorded how she protested and exposed the oppressors in her sermons, at various junctures, in Kufa, Damascus etc. This is how we are inspired by the women of Karbala, in how they responded to the injustice committed against them.
LADY ZAINAB (S.A) IS OUR INSPIRATION TO CONQUER GENDER-BASED VIOLENCE
I am sure you are also realising the connection of the discussion thus far, with the challenges we are facing today in our society. We are facing this most serious challenge of violence and abuse against women. Throughout history, we see that oppressors have victimised and targeted the weak and vulnerable in society, being the women and children.
What makes Karbala unique and very different from all other tragedies in history, is that none of them are victims. They were game-changers.
They wanted to oppress and abuse the women of Karbala, and the women of Karbala took direction and the driving seat of history in their own hand, and turned the tide against the oppressors by protesting and speaking out vociferously.
The Holy Quran highlights the responsibility of the people is to respond. Now, unfortunately in history, the loneliness of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) is so painstaking, that hardly anybody responded to this call of help, and protest of Sayyida Zainab (s.a).
Today, we learn after 14 centuries, that Sayyida Zainab (s.a) taught us, that if the oppressed call for help and support and if you are from the followers of Karbala and Sayyida Zainab (s.a), then your duty is to respond.
IT IS TIME FOR INTROSPECTION RATHER THAN BLAME
Today, we do not have words to appropriately condemn the horrible crimes committed against women in our society. There really are no words, but the message of Karbala is that we should be brave enough to speak out and protest. I am especially addressing this to men, that we should come out and condemn by our words, and more importantly, through our actions.
This carnage must stop! This inhumane behaviour by some men in our society should come to an end. Enough is enough! This is a clear message. The time for simply issuing beautiful statements has passed. We demand action from our governing authorities, because they are not taking action. Therefore, these crimes and similarly other crimes are getting out of hand.
Innocent people are being targeted, robbed and killed through xenophobic attacks. Nothing can justify xenophobia, although the root cause of these issues is multi-faceted. Of course, xenophobia is one terrible disease which is a serious challenge for us, but then there are those who exploit this xenophobic tension in our communities. This blame game should come to an end!
Let us use the issue of violence against women as an example. Instead of men addressing their problems, they tend to be shoving the blame onto women. The culprits are responsible for their actions and nobody else. These people should not try to transfer blame to others.
Similarly, in xenophobia, blame is transferred on others, and not introspect and realise our own shortcomings. This is totally unacceptable, in how humanity can stoop to such low levels, where one cannot see humanity in another human.
We hope and pray that swift action will be taken, and these criminals will be brought to justice, in the case of gender-based violence or xenophobic attacks or other crimes which is making our country unstable and taking it towards anarchy.
Of course, the pain and suffering of the people is much deeper, and this frustration expresses itself in many different ways, sometimes right and sometimes wrong. However, that pain and frustration will continue to express itself in different forms, for as long as it is not being addressed.
BLOOD DONATION TO SERVE HUMANITY
We love Imam Husayn (a.s) and we love Ahlul Bait (a.s) and we want to do something remarkable in a practical sense, instead of just shouting. We want to practically show our humanity, and we therefore said that our blood donation drive is the continuation of that humane mission of Imam Husayn (a.s).
Imam Husayn (a.s) gave to humanity, so let us continue this mission by sharing, and what is there more precious to share than blood and life to others in need. The heart of this mission of Imam Husayn (a.s) is to serve humanity and to be there for others!