LECTURE 5: INSPIRATION FROM KARBALA FOR A TURBULENT WORLD
4 September 2019 (5th night Muharram 1441)
Mowlana Syed Aftab Haider
Ahlul Bait (a.s) Masjid, Ottery, Cape Town
In our series thus far, last night we spoke of the program of reform of Imam Husayn (a.s) and that the headline of his movement was “Islaah” or reform of the Ummah of the Messenger (sawa) and for this purpose Imam Husayn (a.s) used the institution of “Enjoining good and Forbidding evil” and in achieving his purpose he used the strategy of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) and his father Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s).
We explained why Karbala is unique and that Karbala is not only a tragedy and the role players are not victims but heroes and guides for us because there is a deep philosophy and ideology involved behind the scenes which motivated their action.
The revolution of Karbala was not an explosion or accident but it was based on the insightful understanding of Imam Husayn (a.s) as the leader of his current time and the challenges the Ummah was facing and his responsibility as Imam to respond in the most effective and appropriate manner.
Thus we said it’s possible to draw some parallels between Karbala and other tragedies but nothing can be Karbala or come close to Karbala itself.
Thus we understand this emphasis on remembrance of Karbala and crying for it, connecting to it, understanding it, realizing that sustaining the remembrance of Karbala is the source of sustenance and continuation of Islam itself.
And to analyse this background is important so that Karbala being an inspiration can be understood in its right context.
DEEPER ANALYSIS OF SERMON OF IMAM HUSAYN (A.S) IN MINA
Last night we started to discuss the sermon of Imam Husayn (a.s) in Mina which he delivered 2 years before Karbala occurred. (This sermon is recorded in Tuhuful Uqul which is an early 4th century resource).
At the time of the delivery of his speech, at least 200 sahabah or companions of Prophet Muhammad (sawa) were present plus hundreds of Tabe-een and Muslims from all parts of the world.
As we said, the sermon has 3 major parts:
- It firstly reminds everyone present about the position of Ahlul Bait (a.s) and their virtues and that the followers of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) are the targets of injustice and oppression by regime of the day;
- Secondly it reminds people of the Quranic institution of “enjoining good and forbidding evil” and its importance and what level of “enjoining good and forbidding evil” is absent; and
- Thirdly the role of influential people in society in driving this institution of “enjoining good and forbidding evil”
While “enjoing good and forbidding evil” can have different implications, “Maroof and munkar” is broader than wajib and mustahab acts and upholding rituals but rather it’s an institution meant to protect the totality of the religion of Islam itself”.
ANALYSIS OF THE ROLE OF ULAMA IN CREATION OF TURBULENT WORLD
Tonight I want to zoom in to the details of what Imam Husayn (a.s) had to say in the third part of his sermon, that is his analysis of the role of the influential people in society, particularly in Ulama or religious clergy.
Imam Husayn (a.s) really focuses on why the clergy of Jews was condemned in the Quran and that was due to evading their responsibility to champion the institution of “enjoining good and forbidding evil”. So he says:
“O people, take lesson from the counsel Allah gave to His friends when He rebuked the rabbis by saying:
لَوْلاَ يَنْهَاهُمُ الرَّبَّانِيُّونَ وَالأَحْبَارُ عَن قَوْلِهِمُ الإِثْمَ وَأَكْلِهِمُ السُّحْتَ لَبِئْسَ مَا كَانُواْ يَصْنَعُونَ
“Why do the scholars and rabbis not forbid their sinful talk and consumption of what is unlawful ? Truly what they have done is evil.” (Surah Maa-idah Verse 63)”
Then Imam Husayn (a.s) continues to explain why these elite and influential rabbis were considered guilty from a Quranic perspective when he says:
“And Allah says:
لُعِنَ الَّذِينَ كَفَرُواْ مِن بَنِي إِسْرَائِيلَ عَلَى لِسَانِ دَاوُودَ وَعِيسَى ابْنِ مَرْيَمَ ذَلِكَ بِمَا عَصَوا وَّكَانُواْ يَعْتَدُونَ
كَانُواْ لاَ يَتَنَاهَوْنَ عَن مُّنكَرٍ فَعَلُوهُ لَبِئْسَ مَا كَانُواْ يَفْعَلُونَ
“Cursed by the tongue of David and Jesus, son of Mary are those among the Children of Israel who disbelieved on account of their rebellion and transgression. They did not prevent each other from committing vile and corrupt acts; surely what they did was abominable” (Surah Maa-idah Verses 78-79).
Allah reproached them because they saw with their own eyes the oppressors committing vile and corrupt acts, but did not stop them, out of love for the favours they received from them as well as fear of persecution and injury. However, Allah says:
فَلاَ تَخْشَوُاْ النَّاسَ وَاخْشَوْنِ
“Fear not men, but fear Me.” (Surah Maa-idah Verse 44)”
Why did they remain silent? It was out of fear of people and personal benefit they enjoyed which they feared loosing, yet Allah says fear Him and not the people.
POSITION AND SCOPE OF INSTITUTION OF “ENJOINING GOOD AND FORBIDDING EVIL” IN ISLAM
Imam Husayn (a.s) now examines a Verse of Quran we referred to yesterday and emphasizes how this Verse clarifies for us the very position of the institution of “enjoining good and forbidding evil” in the whole structure of Islam – the institution that the influential people were evading.
He thus continues by quoting Surah Taubah, Verse 71:
وَالْمُؤْمِنُونَ وَالْمُؤْمِنَاتُ بَعْضُهُمْ أَولِيَآءُ بَعْضٍ يَأْمُرُونَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ وَيَنْهَوْنَ عَنِ الْمُنْكَرِ
“And the believer men and the believer women, they are guardians to one another; they enjoin good and forbid evil”
“Allah mentions the duty of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil (al- ‘amr bi al-ma’ruf wa al-nahy ‘an al-munkar) BEFORE all other duties, because He knows that if it is performed and is established in the society all other duties, the easy and the difficult, will also become established.”
“The reason for this is that al-‘amr bi al ma’ruf wa al-nahy ‘an al-munkar means summoning people to Islam, as well as resistance against injustice, opposing and struggling against oppressors, and endeavoring to ensure that public wealth and income derived from war are distributed in accordance with the just laws of Islam, and that taxes are collected, levied and expended in due and proper form.”
This is how Imam Husayn understands the position and also the wide ranging scope of this institution of “enjoining good and forbidding evil”.
WHY RELIGIOUS LEADERS ENJOY PRESTIGE IN SOCIETY
After establishing this wide scope of the institution of “enjoining good and forbidding evil”, Imam Husayn (a.s) then identifies that the primary reason why ulama/scholars/influential elite in society enjoy their prestigious position is due to society’s high expectation from them to be champions of social responsibility.
Imam Husayn (a.s) thus says:
“O scholars, who are celebrated and enjoy good repute on account of your learning! You have achieved a good name in society because of your good will. It is on account of Allah that men venerate you and stand in awe of you, so that even powerful fear you and the weak honour you, and those who are not subject to you and over whom you hold no authority grant you favours they deny themselves.”
So ulama enjoy prestige in society due to their knowledge for starters. And that prestige even extends to the powerful over whom they have no legal authority! This is a though provoking point.
In our Western Cape Religious Leaders Forum that I am part of, a very critical question always gets raised regarding this issue and our purpose as religious leaders. In Islam we theologically don’t believe in the seperation of religion from politics, but most other religions do believe in this separation.
So the issue that is then raised is that in a society where governance is secular and based on the masses selecting our leaders, then do we as religious leaders even have a role to play and what is that role?
We don’t have legal power and can thus not challenge government with the might of the law behind us so how do we even challenge government at all? What authority do we have??
And the standard conclusion we come to is we represent the moral voice of society. We challenge government with our moral authority! That is how we are meant to speak to power.
And in this part of the sermon Imam Husayn (a.s) refers to this reality!
Imam Husayn (a.s) thus continues:
“When the people do not receive their due. They seek your intercession, and you walk in the street with the majesty of kings and princes”.
The prestige of ulama is so great that people treat them like kings!
DESPITE ALL THE PRESTIGE, MOST RELIGIOUS LEADERS FAIL THEIR SOCIETY
Now after establishing the prestige of the scholars, now comes the real hard talk by Imam Husayn (a.s). He tells them the bitter reality of how they failed the very reason that they enjoy this prestige. After enjoying all the perks of your position, you did not always fulfil your responsibility expected from you.
Imam Husayn (a.s) thus says:
“Have you not earned all this respect and prestige because of the people’s hopes that you will implement God’s laws, even though in most instances you have failed to do so? You have taken lightly your duties as leaders.”
The responsibility of this group of people will really be analyzed further in coming nights.
But this group knew the rights of the Ahlul Bait (a.s) but did not defend it and remained silent!
Imam Husayn (a.s) continues to explain how the ulama failed:
“You have neglected the rights of the oppressed and the lowly, but have assiduously pursued what you regard as your personal rights. You have not spent your money or risked your life for the sake of the One Who gave you life, nor have you fought against any group or tribe for the sake of Allah.
Nevertheless, you desire – and regard it as your due – that He should grant you paradise, the company of the Prophet, and security from chastisement in the hereafter.”
After such poor performance, they still expect the best of rewards! How delusional are they not!
CONSEQUENCES OF FAILURE OF RELIGIOUS LEADERS
Now Imam Husayn (a.s) delves into the consequences of the poor performance by the ulama:
Firstly, Allah’s wrath will come down on them.
“You have such expectations of Allah, I fear that the full weight of His wrath descend upon you, for although it is by His might and glory that you have achieved high rank, you show no respect to those who truly know god, while you yourselves enjoy respect among Allah’s creatures on His account”.
Let me remind you of how Imam Ali (a.s) refers to the binding pledge that Almighty Allah has taken from the ulama which is that ulama will not remain silent while poor and oppressed people are starving and oppressors stomachs are stuffed. At the time of when the 3rd Khalif died and people demanded that Imam Ali (a.s) takes over the Khalifate, he said that if it was not due to this pledge that exists between ulama and Allah, he would not have accepted this position.
Now as a second consequence, Imam Husayn (a.s) says ulama don’t care about the fact that by failing in their responsibility, they actually breaking this pledge but worry about the pledges they took with people that people did not fulfill!
Imam Husayn (a.s) thus says:
“(I am also afraid for you for another reason:) you see the covenant enacted with Allah being violated and trampled under foot, yet you show no anxiety, when it comes to the covenants enacted with your fathers, you become greatly disturbed and anxious if they are only violated in part, but the pledges you have given to the most noble Messenger are a matter of complete indifference to you.”
A third consequence is that the weak and oppressed are simply left unattended with no protection while Ulama instead flatter the governors.
Imam Husayn (a.s) thus says:
“The blind, the dumb, and chronically ill everywhere lack protection in towns and no mercy is shown them. But you neither behave in accordance with your function and rank, nor you support or pay any regard to those who do. You purchase your safety from the oppressive ruling powers with flattery cajolery, and compromise.
All these activities have been forbidden on you by Allah, and He has, more over, command you to forbid each other to engage in them, but you pay no attention.”
RELINQUISHING POSITION OF WILAYATUL FAQIH
After explaining this third characteristic of such Ulama to serve oppressive systems, he reveals what their real character is that they lost the real meaning of Aalim itself.
Imam Husayn (a.s) continues:
“The calamity that has befallen you is greater than what has befallen others, for true rank and degree of “Ulama” has been taken away from you. The administration of the country and the issuing of decrees and ordinances should actually be trusted to religious scholars who are guardians of Allah’s ordinances concerning what is permitted and what is forbidden.”
It is in relation to this part of the sermon of Imam Husayn (a.s) and other basis that the late Imam Khomeini presents the Theory of Wilayatul Faqih and that is that the administration of a country must be performed by Ulama!
Some scholars might not agree on the span of authority intended like Imam Khomeini believes, but in principle this is certainly the case. At the end of the day the matters of nations is really in the hands of Ulama and if they don’t perform their duty, there’s disaster. It is this position that religious leaders have effectively relinquished.
WHY DID ULAMA LAND IN THIS PITIFUL STATE?
Imam Husayn (a.s) now explains why the Ulama ended in this pitiful state when he says:
“But your position has been usurped from you, for no other reason than that you have abandoned the truth (al-haqq), and have disagreed about the nature of the sunnah, despite the existence of clear proofs.”
The first reason is that despite the sunnah being clear, Ulama started disputing with each other creating divisions in the process. One of those very clear matters of Sunnah was leadership of Ahlul Bait (a.s)!
And then Imam Husayn (a.s) then gives a further list of reasons to be:
- fear of hardship
- fear of death
He thus says:
“Had you the forbearance to endure adversities and hardships for the sake of Allah, then all proposed regulations (Allah’s affairs) would be brought to you for your approval and for you to issue; authority would lie in your hands. But you allowed the oppressors to take away your functions and Allah’s affairs (i.e. government) to fall into their hands, so that they administer them by resorting to ambiguities and make arbitrariness and the satisfaction of lust their consistent practice.
What enabled them to gain control of government was your fleeing in panic from (inevitable) death and your love of life, which shall in all certainty depart from you. As a consequence of that mentality, you have delivered the powerless masses into the clutches of the oppressors.
While some cringe like slaves under the yoke of oppressors, and others have been reduced to destitution in regard to their livelihood, the rulers run the affairs of the government in accordance with their whims, earning ignominy and disgrace for themselves with their licentiousness, following evil counselors, and showing impudence toward Allah.”
FINAL WORLDLY DESTINATION IS BEING TOOLS OF OPPRESSORS
Such Ulama who had such prestige in society for such a sublime reason now decline into the worst condition of being tools of oppressors and their promoters from the very sacred platform of a mimbar.
Imam Husayn (a.s) thus says:
“One of their appointed spokesmen mounts the pulpit (minbar) in each city. The country is defenseless before them, and their hands grab freely whatever they want of it. The people are their slaves and are powerless to defend themselves. One of the governors is a dictator by nature, malevolent and rancorous; another represses to recognize either Allah or the Day of Resurrection!
It is not strange – how can one think it strange, that society is the clutches of a cunning oppressor whose tax collectors are oppressors and whose governers feel no compassion or mercy towards the believers under rule.
It is Allah who will judge concerning what is dispute among us and deliver a decisive verdict concerning all that occurs among us.”
CONCLUDING CALL OF IMAM HUSAYN (A.S)
After all of this analyzing of the pitiful state of Ulama, Imam Husayn (a.s) first calls out to Almighty Allah as follows:
“O Allah! You know that everything we did was not prompted by rivalry for political power, nor for a search for wealth and abundance; rather it was done to demonstrate to men the shining principles and values of Your religion, to reform the affairs of Your land, to protect and secure the indisputable rights of Your oppressed servants, and to act in accordance with the duties You have established and the norms, laws, and ordinances You have decreed.”
After this long analysis you now understand what Imam Husayn (a.s) really meant by “enjoining good and forbidding evil”. His cry was for justice for the oppressed servants of Almighty Allah who are left with no shelter. This was his call already 2 years before Karbala for people to support his cause but people were non responsive and remained indifferent.
Imam Husayn (a.s) was neither seeking power, nor martyrdom but injection of new life into religion.