1 September 2019 (2ND night Muharram 1441)

Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider

Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town

Last night, in our first discussion, we addressed 4 very common questions in the minds of people, concerning these programs of commemoration. We answered the following questions in detail:

  1. Why do we commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussain (a.s)?
  2. Why do we commemorate Ashura the way we do, with such a great emphasis and emotional element attached?
  3. While these commemorations promote the love of the Ahlul Bait (a.s), it also expresses its animosity and hatred towards the enemies of the Ahlul Bait (a.s). Why do these programs have 2 major contents, one being love and the other being hate?
  4. Why are all the emotions attached to our programs, emotions of mourning and grief and sorrow? Why do we not celebrate the victory of Imam Hussain (a.s)? Why do we cry? What is the philosophy of shedding tears for Imam Hussain (a.s) and the tragedy of Karbala?

These questions were the subject of our introductory discussion last night, and we responded in the light of the Holy Quran and Hadith narrations, and common sense and rationality.


In tonight’s discussion, we will address this question: What is the relevance of Karbala with our worldly life today? 

Is it an event confined to history 14 centuries ago, and does not relate to us living in this world today? Or is there a deeper connection between the historical event and our world today? What is the relevance between Karbala, Imam Hussain (a.s), Ashura, and today’s world?

This is the central theme of our discussion in the forthcoming nights Insha Allah. In a nutshell, we want to say very confidently that Karbala and Imam Hussain (a.s) is the most relevant message for our time. We can find a model in Karbala which addresses the challenges we face in our world today.  

Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (SAWA) said in a recorded Hadith:

Innal-Hussain Misbah al-Huda wa Safinat an-Najah

“Indeed Hussain is the Beacon of Guidance and the Ship of Salvation.”

What does this mean? How is Hussain (a.s) the beacon of guidance and the ship of salvation, not only for people 14 centuries ago, but even for people today.

There is a very deep, thoughtful sentence in the Ziyarah of Arba’een for Imam Hussain (a.s), as narrated by the Imams of Ahlul Bait (a.s), which reads as follows:

“Salaam on you, someone who gave his blood to rescue humanity from destruction.”

Hussain (a.s), you are the one who gave your blood to save humanity from destruction!


Going back to last night’s important introductory discussion, we addressed the 4 questions noted above based on our intellectual capacity. You will recall that I repeatedly said that this is not complete. Certain sentences which are recorded in Sunni and Shia compilations of Hadith give us the indication that Karbala has certain secrets which we do not understand, as they are beyond our comprehension.

We concluded last night’s discussion with the narration of Ummi Salma, as reported by ibn Kathir and numerous high-ranking scholars in Sunni historical resources such as Imam Ahmad ibn Hanbal, Tabarani and others. In this incident, Ummi Salma asks from Rasulullah (SAWA) why he does not make dua (supplication) to Almighty Allah (SWT) for the protection of Imam Hussain (a.s) from the callous murderers of Bani Umayyah, so that he is not killed on the plains of Karbala in Iraq. 

Rasulullah (SAWA) replied that he was informed that Imam Hussain (a.s) will achieve a high status in heaven, above everyone, which can only be achieved through the route of martyrdom. 

Now, there are certain things which we do not understand regarding this journey. Insha Allah, in the coming nights, we will try to explore some aspects of this journey, which is within our ability of comprehension. 


Our slogan for this Muharram, as can be seen through our advertising and decorative paraphernalia, says: “A turbulent world seeks your inspiration, O Husayn.”

The world today is seriously facing challenges on different levels. We all know very well the serious challenges we face on the level of being a Muslim Ummah (Muslim nation). What is happening in Palestine is one example. What is happening in Bahrain, Nigeria and Sudan? What is happening in Myanmar with the suffering of the Rohingya Muslims? What is happening to our brethren in Kashmir? What is happening to Muslims in different parts of the world?

In India, under the extreme rightwing current government, we see that more than 2 million people are on the verge of losing their citizenship. They will become people without legal status. There is a new law passed in India where every single Indian must prove that he is in fact Indian, and it is estimated that more than 2 million people will become citizens of nowhere! They will be practically homeless.

This is the situation at grassroot level.


Then, when we look at the situation of leadership of this Ummah (Muslim nation), and the depths of corruption and conflict it is embroiled in. There is no concept of service or Ummah of Islam, nor is there any concept of resistance against the worst enemies of Islam. 

Today, what we see in Muslim countries is the program of normalization of the relationship with the Zionist regime. Previously, this was a big taboo, to have any type of association with Zionist Israel or anybody representing that illegitimate state. 

For example, in the United Nations gatherings, if anybody even accidentally greeted an Israeli official and a picture was taken informally, then there would be a major uproar. Today, very proudly some of these Arab rulers stand with the Israeli flag, openly in the most sacred land of Islam, namely the Haramain!

Articles are now being written in newspapers about what is now the need to fight with Zionist Israel? They are trying to promote the idea that it is OK to have relations with Israel, as they also have the right to exist. It is seen as no big deal. 

Muslims are openly considering each other as more enemies than the real enemies. Look at their animosity towards the Islamic Republic of Iran! From a neutral assessment, we see how this nation is targeted by the worst enemies of Islam, with absolutely no mercy. People in the Islamic Republic of Iran are dying today, because they do not have access to medication. 

This is the situation, and it is not only being perpetrated by the open enemies, but rather, the people who are encouraging them and provoking them to do this (more than themselves) are the Muslim leaders! What is this?

We see how they hate each other when they differ with each other. Look at the situation of Qatar versus others. They are ready to level the whole country to the ground. It does not matter to them, while they were best friends yesterday! Example, they were partners in crime in Syria, supplying all the logistical and financial support to the terrorists there. However, today they are enemies!

In Yemen, they left no stone unturned in destroying this country. Even today, they attacked a detention centre, killing more than 100 people in one building. Once again, we see over here that as soon as their interests come into conflict, then they start to drift, with UAE and Saudi Arabia all of a sudden not being on the same page regarding Yemen, with their proxy militias killing each other mercilessly!

This is the world today! This is the Ummah in which we are living!


Like I mentioned, I am assessing the state of Muslims at different levels. We have thus far spoken about the dire situation at grassroots level, and the desperate situation at the level of political leadership. Now let us come to religious leadership, which is undoubtedly the source of greatest pain, as their job is only and only to justify corruption, conflict, oppression, exploitation and injustice of their political leaders!

This is their sole purpose, and they must bring the Holy Quran and Hadith to prove that whatever the ruler is doing is correct, and according to the Holy Quran and Prophetic Sunnah!

In the land of Haramain, where these so-called Mullahs would shout for the most trivial issues, we see that today they are happy to accept music concerts happening, nightclubs and casinos opening. Anything goes nowadays with them, and they find a way to justify it as being fine!

The list goes on and on, but what I am trying to say is that the turbulent challenges in the Ummah of Islam are multiple, from the masses who are lost, to the religious leadership who have nothing other than to serve their masters. And then of course the political leaders are not even worth discussing further. There is simply to end to the occupation, injustice and suffering.


If you look at the broader world, beyond the borders of Islam, we again see a deeply unfortunate situation, from the fires in Brazil to the problems all over Africa, such as the civil wars and corruption, amongst others. The suffering of humanity is clearly visible to all. 

This is the dilemma in the world we live in. I want to therefore raise a question, and that is, does Imam Hussain (a.s) and Karbala have a message to inspire those suffering in this turbulent world filled with injustice and oppression? Does Imam Hussain (a.s) have anything inspiration to offer, for them to take a stand and resist? This is the big question!

This discussion indeed has different angles and different levels to address. My intention is to start at least from one very basic issue. You see, if you want to understand the message of Imam Hussain (a.s) and Karbala, then you must understand the ideology and approach of Imam Hussain (a.s). Otherwise, there is no benefit. 

You have to scratch beyond the surface and dig deep, and understand how Imam Hussain (a.s) reflected on the different phenomena and challenges in human society at the time.  


We need to go back and ask this very basic question, namely what the definition of Insaan (human being) is in the school of Imam Hussain (a.s) and Karbala. We need to address this question, specifically the responsibilities of human beings in the light of the approach of Imam Hussain (a.s) and Karbala. This is the burning question to address tonight.

One very important, fundamental point which we learn from Imam Hussain (a.s) in his uprising and revolution of Karbala is social responsibility. Why did Imam Hussain (a.s) take this stand and leave Madina, and came to Mecca and then move to Kufa and finally ended up in Karbala, where he was killed on the Day of Ashura? 

The most important document to understand is the well known will which Imam Hussain (a.s) wrote to his step-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.”

Reform of the Ummah is the headline of the Hussaini mission, established when he wrote this will in Madina, before he embarked on this courageous stand. However, we will not understand what reform means according to Imam Hussain (a.s), unless and until we delve deeper into the roots of the Hussaini school. 

The roots of the Hussaini school are Quranic roots, and therefore we need to go the Quran to reflect on some principle issues. Only then will we understand what Imam Hussain (a.s) means with social reform of the followers of his grandfather, Prophet Muhammad (SAWA).


In the 20th century, the world was divided between East and West, Communism and Capitalism. The clash between these 2 ideologies is no more, as Communism has very much fallen by the way side. 

Let us go back to the turbulent world we discussed earlier. If we assess this world which is full of problems as we all know, we will notice that without any doubt, western liberal capitalism is the reason for the turbulence in the world we live in, filled with trouble. Western liberal capitalism is the model ruling over the world today, and is the cause of the big mess we have.

The basic foundation of this ideology of western liberal capitalism starts from one very important principle, and that is the importance of the individual. I am important! I must worry about myself and ensure that my interests are fulfilled. I must be concerned about my benefit. What happens to others is not my problem. 

This is western liberal capitalism at its core essence, although it may not appear to us this way, because they have beautified it very well, and hence capitalism is presented in a very charming and attractive form, to fool all of us. The bottom line of this approach remains personal benefit ie. individualism. 

So, I must look after my interest. That is the crux of western liberal capitalism, and the key challenge we are facing. This is not simply a philosophy. It is actually the reality on the ground which has influenced our own thinking and life. Even our religious approach has become like this!


In this liberal western capitalist approach, the motivation even for doing something for society or for other people is that it will ultimately benefit you. It is a selfish approach. Yes, you will find them at the forefront of social development initiatives, but they see this involvement as a need in order to ultimately benefit themselves once again. So, to repeat, the final outcome must be personal benefit. It is all about my profit, and not about others. 

This self-centered individualism is one of the major challenges in the world today. We see this on different levels. Everyone is fighting their own war, without any mercy for the next person. So what if you die? As long as I make money! For example, I am ready to sell this medication for an exorbitant price, but people are dying. So what? I am making money, and that is the criteria!

Another example is if a political, financial or economic policy is resulting in the suffering of people. It does not matter, because I am benefitting! Who cares if it is resulting in the destruction of the environment and climate. All that matters is that I make money. 

Even those who are obliged to now talk about environmental and climate impacts will ultimately be doing so because of a selfish, individual motive. Western liberal thinking never freed itself from the prison of I and my and self-interest. This is the criteria with this approach.


You see, this individualistic thinking infiltrates even in our religious approach. Our mentality towards our religious responsibility is rationalized by thinking that I am OK if I pray and fast and do all my good deeds on an individual level. Alhamdu Lillah, I believe I am all good then, as I have fulfilled my duty. I have nothing to do with others, as there is no concept of responsibility towards others.

There are certain organizations which push this approach very strongly, of individualistic religiosity. They promote the thinking that we need to be pure and pious on an intrinsic, individual level. What happens in society is of no consequence to me.

The Quranic approach is very different! It presents a unique approach. The Quran believes without any doubt that the individual is important, but there is something called community and society, which is also important. 


I would like to present a few verses from the Holy Quran to illustrate the point, that Islam views society as having its own identity. The philosophy which the Holy Quran presents is that communities have a lifespan in the same way that individuals have a lifespan and eventually dies.  

Let us look at verse 34 of Surah A’araaf (chapter 7 of the Holy Quran):

وَلِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ أَجَلٌ ۖ فَإِذَا جَاءَ أَجَلُهُمْ لَا يَسْتَأْخِرُونَ سَاعَةً ۖ وَلَا يَسْتَقْدِمُونَ

To every people is a term appointed: when their term is reached, not an hour can they cause delay, nor (an hour) can they advance (it in anticipation).

This verse is saying that when the time comes for the nation to die, it will not be possible for them to bring it forward, nor will they be able to delay it, even for an hour!

We need to understand this approach of the Holy Quran. Islam and the Holy Quran believes and promotes 2 entities, namely the individual entity and then also the communal entity, meaning our existence as a society. So, each of us have 2 identities. 


The great intellectual giant of the 20th century, Shaheed Ayatollah Murtadha Mutahhari gives the following example to explain this point. He says that if you want to analyse human society, it can be exemplified as one body with different organs. This is along the same lines as the way that the great Persian poet Saadi explains that the children of Adam (a.s) are organs of one body. 

Shaheed Ayatollah Murtadha Mutahhari then presents another example to illustrate this point, saying that human society is like a garden with many trees, but individually they have nothing to do with each other. Every tree is on its own. At the end of the day, a garden is a collection of trees, but the one tree has no influence on the other tree.  Each tree has its individual identity, and grows and bears fruit, but it has nothing to do with the other tree. 

This example is very different to the example which Saadi presented, because the parts of one body he talks about are naturally very much inter-dependent on each other. There is a strong connection between them all, such as the hand being unable to function without the brain etc. 

Now, the question is that when the Holy Quran analyses human society, does it regard it as a human body or like a garden, or a forest or jungle with millions of trees? The trees are together, but have nothing to do with each other. They have no role as a jungle. They only have an individual role as one tree.

Shaheed Ayatollah Murtadha Mutahhari explains that with numerous verses from the Holy Quran, we understand very clearly that the Quranic presentation of human beings is not like a body the way that Saadi explains, which is totally inter-dependent. Individuals can also have a role as a separate entity, but at the same time, it is not like trees in a jungle which are disconnected from each other. 

Therefore, Shaheed Ayatollah Murtadha Mutahhari concludes that the Quranic approach is in the form of 2 identities – one as an individual and the other as a society. 

So, to take this back to verse 34 from Surah A’araaf cited earlier, in the same way that there is a lifespan for an individual, this verse is saying that human society also has a lifespan.

Another verse to cite is an extract from verse 108 from Surah An’aam (chapter 6 of the Holy Quran):

كَذَٰلِكَ زَيَّنَّا لِكُلِّ أُمَّةٍ عَمَلَهُمْ

Thus unto every nation have We made their deed seem fair.

What this verse is saying is that every nation has been decorated with certain qualities, in the same way that every individual has qualities or personality traits, and likes and dislikes. This means that we have qualities and characteristics as individuals and also as nations. 

Having said that, we need to remember that it does not mean that our hands are tied and that we are compelled in the society where we live, as that will amount to compulsion of history and that we do not have a say over our destiny. 


The Quranic approach is not on either extreme. It is not on the capitalist approach of individualism, where there is no communal responsibility, nor is it on the socialist approach where the individual does not exist. 

Another important point is that the Holy Quran explains that we are responsible for 2 accounts on the Day of Qiyamah (Judgement). Now we will understand Imam Hussain (a.s)! We will be held to account for our 

I would like to draw reference to verse 13 of Surah Israa (chapter 17 of the Holy Quran):

وَكُلَّ إِنْسَانٍ أَلْزَمْنَاهُ طَائِرَهُ فِي عُنُقِهِ ۖ وَنُخْرِجُ لَهُ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ كِتَابًا يَلْقَاهُ مَنْشُورًا

“Every man’s fate We have fastened on his own neck: On the Day of Judgment We shall bring out for him a scroll, which he will see spread open.”

So, this will be our performance scorecard for the time we spent in this life. But as our leading commentators of the Holy Quran have explained, there will also be a “national” set of accounts, which will present our performance as a society. Verse 28 of Surah Jaathiya (chapter 45 of the Holy Quran) refers:

وَتَرَىٰ كُلَّ أُمَّةٍ جَاثِيَةً ۚ كُلُّ أُمَّةٍ تُدْعَىٰ إِلَىٰ كِتَابِهَا الْيَوْمَ تُجْزَوْنَ مَا كُنْتُمْ تَعْمَلُونَ

“And you shall see every nation kneeling down; every nation shall be called to its book: today you shall be rewarded for what you did.”

These 2 verses therefore explain the 2 sets of accounts we are responsible for on the Day of Judgement. So, I will not be responsible for myself only. I will also be responsible for my whole community. 

Verse 25 of Surah Anfaal (chapter 8) is another verse from the Holy Quran to emphasize this point:

وَاتَّقُوا فِتْنَةً لَا تُصِيبَنَّ الَّذِينَ ظَلَمُوا مِنْكُمْ خَاصَّةً ۖ وَاعْلَمُوا أَنَّ اللَّهَ شَدِيدُ الْعِقَابِ

“And guard yourselves against a chastisement which cannot fall exclusively on those of you who are wrong-doers, and know that Allah is severe in punishment.”

This tells us that we will be held to account collectively. We will be answerable in the court of Almighty Allah (SWT) even if we did not oppress. We will argue that we did not commit the injustice. However, since we lived in a society which was unjust and we did not do anything to change this condition, we will be held to account for our apathy as well. 


Imam Hussain (a.s) was not worried about whether people are performing Salaah inside their homes and if they were memorizing the Holy Quran. Similarly, people were going for Hajj every year. Yes indeed, all these individual acts of worship were being performed by people. So then, why was Imam Hussain wanting to introduce social reform? 

We will explore this deeper in the next lecture, but suffice to say that if the Muslim nation could have understood the call of Hussain (a.s) that this Ummah requires reform, then today we would not be sitting with this huge mess in the world today. 

Someone made a very thought-provoking point, saying that the Muslim nation would have been flying on a very different level if 2 incidents were not forgotten, namely Ghadier and Karbala. What a tragedy this has been for Muslims, ignoring Ghadier and forgetting Karbala!

2nd Muharram is an important date in the sequence of events building up to the fateful Day of Ashura. According to historians, on this day in the year 61AH, the caravan of Imam Hussain (a.s) arrived on the plains of Karbala, which was to be the final destination!