(Night of Ashura lecture of Muharram 1437 delivered by Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider at the Ahlul Bait (a.s) Islamic Centre, Ottery, Cape Town)
وَلْتَكُن مِّنكُمْ أُمَّةٌ يَدْعُونَ إِلَى الْخَيْرِ وَيَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنكَرِ وَأُوْلَـئِكَ هُمُ الْمُفْلِحُونَ
“And from among you there should be a party who invite to good and enjoin what is right and forbid the wrong, and these it is that shall be successful.” (Surah Aal-Imraan, chapter 3 of the Holy Quran, verse 104)
Tonight is the night of Ashura, that deciding night in the history of Islam. That night and the day which followed, on the plains of Karbala in 61AH, could not be sidelined or forgotten, despite all the efforts and plans of the enemies of this uprising and revolution. All the efforts to divert the attention of the ummah from this great ultimate sacrifice of the household of Rasullullah (SAWA) were exhausted, but after 14 centuries, you will witness the remembrance of Husayn (AS) and renewal of our allegiance to the ideals of Husayn, which continues in every corner of the world.
It is very crucial and important to remember this tragedy and this stand of Imam Husayn (AS), and why this most beloved grandson and apple of the eye of Rasulullah (SAWA) sacrificed everything. Why and for what purpose? What is the drive and what is the background of this ultimate sacrifice?
As soon as the crescent of Muharram appears on the horizon, people start speaking about this tragedy both positively and negatively. A whole host of different discussions are heard, some of them unfortunately very negative and divisive for this Ummah, while it supposed to be the uniting point of this Ummah, because there is no one in this Ummah of Nabi Muhammad (SAWA), who even doubts the love of this purified and honourable family of Rasulullah (SAWA).
This discussion will cover 3 critical messages:
A. Background to Karbala – why did this massacre take place?
B. Program of Imam Husayn (AS) – mission of reform
C. Approach of Imam Husayn (AS) – fusion of love and reason
A. Background to Karbala – Why Did This Massacre Take Place?
There are various factors involved which require a thorough analysis of why this massacre took place. We will discuss 3 key reasons:
1. Imam Husayn (AS) refuses to pay allegiance to Yazid (LA)
2. Imam Husayn (AS) betrayed by the people of Kufa
3. Massacre of Karbala goes beyond the people of Kufa
1. Imam Husayn (AS) Refuses to Pay Allegiance to Yazid
This is the first reason that we always hear regarding why this massacre took place. Imam Husayn (AS) stood against the illegitimate leadership of Yazid .Yazid demanded the oath of allegiance from Imam Husayn (AS) and he blatantly refuted and rejected this bay’ah. When Yazid’s messenger came to Madina to demand bay’ah from Imam Husayn (AS), he responded: “A man like me will never, ever pay allegiance to a person like Yazid.”
Husayn (AS) made history with this sentence. He did not say “I do not pay allegiance to Yazid.” He said: “A man like me will never pay allegiance to a person like Yazid.” It is an issue of principle, an issue of ideology and philosophy. Whoever is committed to this faith and principles will never ever surrender to Yazid. Neither to Yazid of 61AH nor Yazid of today after 14 centuries.
The question is whether this denial of Imam Husayn (AS) was the only reason for him to be killed? Imam Husayn (AS) could have avoided allegiance without being killed. When Imam Husayn (AS) was in Mecca after he left Madina, great Sahaba of Nabi Muhammad (SAWA) who were present in Mecca such as Abdullah ibni Abbas, Abdullah ibni Umar, Abdullah ibni Zubayr advised Imam Husayn (AS):
“We know very well that you will never surrender before Yazid, but don’t go to Iraq. The people of Iraq are not loyal, they are very unreliable. Rather go to Yemen! The people of Yemen love Ahlul Bayt (AS). They will take good care of you and you don’t need to pay allegiance.”
Interestingly, this is an enduring feature of the people of Yemen even today!
If denial of Bay’ah was the only reason then he could have chosen this option, to go to Yemen or another safe-haven. However, there are more reasons which created the massacre of Karbala.
2. Imam Husayn (AS) Betrayed by the People of Kufa
This second reason is most widely spoken. The people of Kufa invited Imam Husayn (AS) to lead a revolution against a corrupt, unjust system of Yazid and Imam (AS) replied positively to their invite. Unfortunately the people of Kufa deceived Imam Husayn (AS) and left him high and dry, and as a result Imam Husayn (AS) was surrounded by the same people of Kufa who finally killed him.
There is absolutely no doubt that thousands of letters came from Kufa inviting Imam Husayn (AS) to lead the revolution against this corrupt system of monarch which was imposed on the Ummah in place of Khilafat. This is undeniably true, and Imam Husayn’s (AS) responsibility as the leader was to say accede to this invite. If Imam Husayn (AS) had declined this invite, then we would have said today after 14 centuries that Imam Husayn (AS) declined the opportunity to lead the revolution to dismantle this oppressive regime and unjust system and establish pure Islam and justice.
There is no doubt that Imam Husayn (AS) replied positively to the thousands of invitations from the people of Kufa. There is also no doubt about the bitter truth of history that this same people of Kufa deceived Imam Husayn (AS) and turned back.
a. Some were bought over by the agents of the ruling establishment, the Umayyad dynasty.
b. Some were threatened with their life and shut down forcefully.
c. Some were victims of hypocrisy, deception and love of Dunya.
This all worked against Imam Husayn (AS) in his attempt to establish his base in Kufa.
In place of understanding the spirit and message of Karbala, we see the deception of the people of Kufa is exploited for sectarian purposes. The sinister and wicked argument put forward for sectarian purposes goes as follows:
– People of Kufa were Shia
– Shia are the people who invited Imam Husayn (AS)
– Shia deceived Imam Husayn (AS)
– Shia are the people who killed Imam Husayn (AS)
This is a very superficial reading of history, a baseless argument with false accusations which has been responded to repeatedly.
The issue of Karbala is not an issue of Shia and Sunni. Husayn (AS) was not standing for Shia or Sunni. Husayn (AS) was standing for Islam, humanity, justice and resistance against oppression and exploitation. Nonetheless, people like to exploit this tragedy to poison the minds of people, to divide communities, to plant seeds of discord and disunity. Husayn (AS) and love of the purified Ahlul Bayt (AS) is supposed to unite us.
We can continue this debate, but what will it achieve? If you want to argue that Shia invited Imam Husayn (AS), and Shia killed Imam Husayn (AS), then the counter argument can also be raised, namely, where were Sunnis and why did they not come to support Imam Husayn (AS)? This useless argument can continue indefinitely, and I do not support any of these approaches.
3. Massacre of Karbala Goes Beyond the People of Kufa
So the big question is: Was the betrayal of the people of Kufa the entire root cause for the tragedy of Karbala? If we address this question then all the sectarian arguments fall apart. This understanding that Karbala’s war is between Sunni and Shia will fall apart when you understand that the value of this element in Karbala is the least. The massacre of Karbala goes beyond the people of Kufa’s denial.
If Imam Husayn (AS) was going to Karbala based upon the invitation of the people of Kufa, then he should have stopped when he realized that the people of Kufa are no longer with him. Why did Imam Husayn (AS) not turn around and go back after becoming increasingly aware of the deception and disloyal nature of the people of Kufa?
Imam Husayn (AS) left Mecca on 8 Thil Hijja and met caravans of Hujjaaj at a place called Tan’eem which is a miqaat for Umrah, which is today part of Mecca. This means Imam Husayn (AS) was not yet far outside Mecca yet and had a very long distance to travel to Kufa.
Later, Imam Husayn (AS) met Hujjaaj coming from Kufa for Hajj and asked them what is the environment like in Kufa? What is widely recorded in history is that they told Imam Husayn (AS): “The hearts of the people of Kufa are with you, but their swords are against you.” That means they are not with you O Husayn, they have changed their bay’ah! They are not your supporters.
So why did Imam Husayn (AS) continue his journey to Kufa with this news? Clearly, he is not welcome in Kufa? He was not far into his journey. It was very easy for Imam Husayn (AS) to turn back, as he was only on the outskirts of Mecca.
Further down the road, after a couple of days, Imam Husayn (AS) meets a different group from Kufa who are returning after completing Hajj. Imam Husayn (AS) asks these people the same question ie. What is the environment like in Kufa? They give Imam Husayn (AS) this most tragic reply: “We left Kufa and on the day of Arafat (9 Thil Hijja), and the bodies of your most reliable envoys Hani ibn Urwa and Muslim ibn Aqil were dragged in the streets of Kufa!”
At this point, Imam Husayn (AS) reads verse 23 from Surah Ahzab (chapter 33 of the Holy Quran):
مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ رِجَالٌ صَدَقُوا مَا عَاهَدُوا اللَّهَ عَلَيْهِ فَمِنْهُم مَّن قَضَي نَحْبَهُ وَمِنْهُم مَّن يَنتَظِرُ وَمَا بَدَّلُوا تَبْدِيلا
“Among the believers are men who were true to their covenant with Allah; some of them have fulfilled their vow (by martyrdom), and some are still awaiting and they have not changed in the least,”
Imam Husayn (AS) could have aborted his journey and return from that point, yet Imam Husayn (AS) continued.
B. Program of Imam Husayn (AS) – Mission of Reform
Those who exploit the betrayal of the people of Kufa for sectarian purposes should reflect on the following question:
Why did Imam Husayn (AS) continue if the betrayal and deception of the people of Kufa was well-known to him? The reason is that Imam Husayn (AS) has a program. In Karbala, there is a YES and a NO.
Imam Husayn (AS) responded by YES and NO. He proclaimed an emphatic NO to the demand of bay’ah from Yazid. This courageous NO became history.
Imam Husayn (AS) also has a YES in Karbala, following the Quranic command, which entrusts a responsibility to join people in good deeds, by saying YES to the request of the people of Kufa. In verse 2 of Surah Ma’ida (chapter 5) Almighty Allah (SWT) says in the Holy Quran:
وَتَعَاوَنُواْ عَلَى الْبرِّ وَالتَّقْوَ
“And co-operate in righteousness and piety”
Imam Husayn (AS) was not a reactionary. If Karbala was a reaction, then it would not have survived after 14 centuries. Karbala would not have moved millions and millions of people today. Karbala would not have penetrated hearts and minds and souls of people across the world, so far and for so long. Husayn (AS) has his own program from the start.
When he left Madina, in that well known will to his brother Muhammad ibn Hanafiyya, he writes:
“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”
Those people who are stuck in Kufa being the cause for the massacre of Karbala, must listen tothis call of Imam Husayn (AS) in Madina, long before even receiving the invitation from the people of Kufa.
Imam Husayn’s (AS) program is Amr bil Ma’ruf wannahi anil Munkar, to reform this Ummah of his grandfather, our Holy Prophet Muhammad (SAWA), which has deviated from the path of Imamat and Khilafat, to a most corrupt and oppressive system of monarchy. This is what Husayn (AS) challenged!
This is Husayn’s program, and in this program he is the initiator, not reactionary. This means that Husayn (AS) would have still gone forward to Karbala irrespective of Yazid’s demand for allegiance and irrespective of whether the people of Kufa invited him or not, as the purpose of Husayn (AS) was not power. The purpose of Husayn (AS) was to rescue Islam.
It is so sad that this Ummah of Rasulullah (SAWA) cannot understand this basic phenomenon in the history of Karbala, but non-Muslim commentators and historians are able to see the light. Non-Muslims such as the famous British novelist and social critic, Charles Dickins said:
“If Husain had fought to quench his worldly desires, then I do not understand why his sister, wife, and children accompanied him. It stands to reason therefore, that he sacrificed purely for Islam.”
C. Approach of Imam Husayn (AS) – Fusion of Love and Reason
This uprising of Husayn (AS) is very unique. It is not just an issue of fighting. It’s a unique war and struggle, which has two very important factors. This program of Amr bil Ma’ruf wannahi anil Munkar (to join good and forbid evil) was carried out by Imam Husayn (AS) in a most beautiful manner. Imam Husayn (AS) used two methods:
1. Aql – reason
2. Ishq – love
In the school of Karbala, it is a fusion of reason and love. People from Tasawwuf background belief love and reason do not go along together. If you look at Rumi, he says that according to akl and intellectual approach, there are only 6 directions to find truth, namely right, left, front, back, top and bottom. But he goes further to say that in the approach of love there are many other routes.
In Karbala, Imam Husayn (AS) brought both akl and ishq together, reasoning and that love which takes over your whole existence.
Why is Karbala eternal? There are so many wars which took place, plenty of battles in history filled with tragedy and sorrow, but nothing could remain eternal, because Husayn (AS) brought the two opposites of love and reason together in Karbala. Not only love and not only reason, but rather, the fusion of love and reason.
Imam Husayn (AS) used reasoning throughout the journey. He did not want people to commit blindly. In fact, Imam Husayn (AS) gave amazing freedom of choice to the people. If Imam Husayn (AS) was seeking power, then he should have taken as many people with him as possible. Most amazing it is that Husayn (AS) gave people the freedom of choice because he wants people to join him with clear ideology.
Imam Husayn (AS) arrived in Mecca around 3 Shabaan. He was in Mecca until 8 Thil Hijja. He met with people and explained his reasoning. He complained to the people: “Don’t you see that truth is not being practiced? Don’t you see that falsehood is not being forbidden? Don’t you see the direction of destruction this Ummah is going into?
The night Imam Husayn (AS) left for Karbala, he invited people to join him. However, he only wanted those who are ready to die, those without any attachment to this dunya. Imam Husayn (AS) only wants to take people of deepest purity. This was his consistent message at every station.
Imam Husayn (AS) gave logic and reasoning for his stance. Imam Husayn (AS) repeatedly says: “Whoever witnesses an oppressive regime and remains silent, Allah (SWT) will throw him in hell where the oppressor is.”
Husayn (AS) gave reasoning. He did not commit suicide! This is another misconception. Why did Imam Husayn (AS) continue if he knew how despotic and merciless Yazid is? Imam Husayn (AS) tried all the means of communication, all kinds of reasoning, meetings and discussions, but hardly anyone heeded his call.
Now Husayn (AS) in Karbala reached to a point where he compares the conscience of this Ummah to a dead tree. The conscience of this Ummah is dead! This dead tree requires blood and martyrdom to revive, as sermons and discussions are not working.
The worst situation was there. Yazid did not stop his injustice. History narrates that Yazid’s oppression and injustice did not stop in Karbala. After Karbala he attacked Madina and completely ruined it, allowing his soldiers to do whatever they wanted. The same army of Yazid attacked Mecca and burned down the Ka’bah. And we still find Muslims having sympathy for Yazid!!
Husayn (AS) realized that the conscience of this Ummah is dead, and martyrdom is the only solution to wake them from the deep sleep. This is the choice which Husayn (AS) made, with reasoning. He clearly did not commit suicide.
Until the day of Ashura, Imam Husayn (AS) decorated his army – 72 people on his side, against thirty thousand in the enemy’s camp. They all fought until the last drop in their body. He did not surrender! Surrendering does not exist in the dictionary of Husayn (AS).
This fusion of reason and love in Karbala created an institution for 14 centuries. This school of Husayn (AS) produced great contemporary warriors and thinkers like Imad Mughniyeh, Sayed Hassan Nasrullah, Shaheed Ayatullah Morteza Mutahhari, and Shaheed Ayatullahs Hakim and Sadr, amongst scores of others.
The school of Husayn (AS) did not produce suicide bombers that blast themselves and take the innocent lives of people inside a mosque indiscriminately! Husayn (AS) is a true revolutionary who draws a clear line between martyrdom and terrorism. Today, after 14 centuries, it is crystal clear who is following the path of genuine resistance and martyrdom, and who is following the path of terrorism and destruction.
Today, the school of Karbala is standing all alone in support of the oppressed masses of the world, in Palestine, Yemen and Bahrain. Students of Husayn (AS) and the lovers of Karbala unconditionally believe that they are obliged to stand with the oppressed against oppression.
Those who say we should be moderate in our cultural practices don’t understand love. They understand selfish akl.
As the great poet and philosopher Allama Iqbal explains in his beautiful poetry of ishq and akl in the context of Karbala:
“Be happy and have a nice life. That is selfish akl. Love says be a servant of Allah and you will be liberated.”
Karbala’s school is the connection of love. Indeed, in remembering Karbala, there are cultural practices which are contrary to the teachings of Islam. But we get stuck in condemning those cultural practices while we forget basic sociology and psychology of society and the development of cultures, namely when a concept penetrates the hearts, minds and souls of the people to become part and parcel of their life and they express that love in their own way, like we see love for Husayn (AS) expressed in different parts of the world in each culture’s own way.
And tonight we saw our children from the townships expressing their love for Husayn (AS) in their own way in Xhosa most beautifully, with their rendition of “innal Hussain misbah ul huda wa safeenat un najaat” – Husayn (AS) is the beacon of light and ark of salvation.
Clearly, Husayn (AS) penetrated the hearts! Zainab (SA) bravely challenged in the court of Yazid: “Yazid, you can try your best, but by God I swear you will never be able to extinguish remembrance of us Ahlul Bayt (AS). You rule on the bodies of the people and bodies are meant to die. We Ahlul Bayt (AS) rule on the hearts and souls of the people.”
Souls never die! Influence of Husayn (AS) will ever die.
On the day of Ashura, all the companions of Husayn (AS) are martyred. Husayn (AS) is left all alone, and comes into the battlefield asking:
“Is there any helper to help us? Is there any rescuer to rescue us? Is there any defender to defend the sanctity of the Haram of Rasulullah?”
Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji-oen