In Islam revolutions as well as political and social movements throughout history have carried messages and ideals which have been usually limited to specific time, place and circumstances.
But the uprising of Imam Hussein (AS) and Karbala brings everlasting messages for the entire humanity. The ideals of this glorious and unique uprising are shining like a bright light for mankind showing the way towards prosperity in life and salvation in the hereafter. The emphasis is on freedom in Islam.
Imam Hussein (AS) in his statements stressed that the reason for his uprising was to revive the lofty teachings of Islam and the genuine practice of the Last Messenger of Allah Hazrat Mohammad (blessings of Allah upon him and his Household).
Among the teachings of Islam are attention to social supervision in the community, invitation to good and abstention from corruption and selfishness. During his travel from Medina to Mecca and thence to Karbala, Imam Hussein (AS) worked for the revival of religious teachings.
The Imam reminded people that a Muslim or even a non-Muslim should not yield to hegemony or oppression. Actually, this is considered one of the important principles in the Imam’s uprising.
According to Imam Hussein (AS), a human being enjoys status and dignity and his high human value should never be undermined. In the viewpoint of Islam, human beings, particularly the faithful, enjoy high dignity and honor. In part of Sura Munafiqun, Ayah 8, the Holy Koran says:
‘And to Allah belongs the might and to His Messenger and to the believers.’
For this reason, Imam Hussein (AS) does not accept the trampling of people’s dignity and honor by the corrupt regime of the libertine Yazid ibn Mua’wiyah.
All Muslim scholars stress the dignity of the human being and say that a true believer submits to God alone. Imam Ali (AS) says: ‘Do not be the servant of anyone since God has created you free.’
Of course one should not think that the freedom desired by Islam is the uninhibited animal freedom preached by the liberal democracy of the West. In the western liberalist thought, since human being and his freedom are the axis of all things, individuals can do everything for their interests even though the moral and human values are trampled. But in Islam, freedom is not uncontrolled.
This freedom has been defined within the framework of high religious teachings and values that guarantee the interests of human being.
The freedom desired by Islam liberates the human being and causes his growth and sublimity. Thus, it rids the human being from the obstacles that prevent his or her moving toward perfection.
Selfish and oppressive governments are also considered among the obstacles in the growth and sublimity of human beings and people’s deliverance from the hegemony of such governments is among the objectives of Islam. Imam Hussein (AS) thus defended freed om with emphasis that the community should be led by a pious leader and not any wicked or selfish persons.
The Imam confronted the despot Yazid for his open corruption and incompetence. The issue was so important for the Imam that although he could have saved himself by compromising with the oppressive government of Yazid, he rose up for the interest of Islam an d Muslims and sacrificed his life and that of his near and dear ones so that humanity could have an eternal model.
Thus, the movement of Imam Hussein (AS) is not confined to his times. It is for all eras and every place. The Imam explicitly said: ‘I did not rise for rebellion, but for reforming the Ummah of my grandfather and my father.’
The negation of oppression and campaign against it has a special status in the views of Imam Hussein (AS). According to the Imam, one should neither yield to oppression. In the Holy Koran God has several times censured oppressors and warned them of divine punishment. Opposition to oppression and rebellion is not confined to local despotism, but the aggression of an alien country and occupation of a country by foreigners are a double oppression towards which one cannot be indifferent.
According to Imam Hussein (AS), any kind of oppression, whether local or foreign, should be resisted. In Sura Nisa, part of Ayah 141, the Holy Koran says: ‘And Allah will by no means give the non-believers a way against the believers.’
Thus, not only military hegemony but even economic and cultural domination of infidels over Muslims is rejected and unacceptable. In this way, the school of Islam and Imam Hussein (AS) teach Muslims not to submit to colonialism and foreign occupation and to fight the aggressive occupiers. Now in the Islamic world, attention to the liberating guidelines of the Ashura uprising is well felt. The people in some Islamic states, under despotic governments have lost their freedom and some others like Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine are under the occupation of America and the Zionist regime.
Under such circumstances, adherence to the liberating teachings of Imam Hussein (AS) in countering oppression and defending human dignity and honor can guide Muslims towards real freedom from local dictatorship and foreign occupation. Among the other lessons of Karbala uprising is that one should properly know his enemy to find the right way of countering him.
The statements and letters of Imam Hussein (AS) show that he w ell knew his enemy Yazid and his followers and was fully aware of their evil intentions. For this reason, the Imam’s movement was not a blind uprising that ended with his martyrdom. It was t o be an eternal movement inspiring all generations to come.
Ashura – The Immortal Saga
Ashura is the story of loyalty, bravery, piety, magnanimity and self-sacrifice. It is the eternal saga of persons who created epics to safeguard humanitarian principles so that the coming generations can live in dignity with heads held high in defense of truth. On this day, the Messenger’s grandson courted martyrdom in order to inspire mankind in the fight against injustice and exploitation. In the words of American historian Washington Irving the spirit shown by Imam Hussein (AS) remains immortal since h e presented the lasting example of heroic bravery.
Karbala thus, stirs up human conscience and brings tears to even the coldest of hearts. The Imam had with him the choicest of companions. They were unanimously behind him and his holy cause to the last drop of their blood. When Yazid’s army tried to lure away his companions through promises of security and posts, they disdainfully spurned the offer, saying for them Imam Hussein was the ultimate goal of life. When the Imam said they are free to leave if they wished since it is only his hand or life that Yazid was seeking, they replied with one voice: Even if we are killed seventy times and raised to life again we will stand steadfastly by your side without the least thought of ever deserting your great cause.
On the eve of Ashura, the Imam’s 13-year old Nephew, Hazrat Qassem, the son of his elder brother Imam Hasan (AS) who was martyred through poisoning ten years earlier leaving the child an orphan, asked eagerly from his uncle whether his name was also in t he list of martyrs. Imam Hussein (AS) asked the youth barely in his teens, how he viewed death. Hazrat Qassem replied: “Uncle, the death that is in the way of God in the struggle against tyranny is sweeter than honey. The Imam replied with a deep sigh: “Yes, Qassem, not only your name is in the list of martyrs but also the name of your 6-month old cousin, my infant son Ali Asghar. At this, the Hashemite youth feeling concern for the dignity of women became emotional and said: “O Uncle, would these wretches enter our encampment. The Imam told him, saying no, that he himself will take Ali Asghar to the battlefield and ask for water for the thirsty baby in order to test the faith and conscience of these wretches who claim to be Muslims, but so cowardly are these enemies that they will not hesitate to kill such an innocent infant.”
Then a silence prevailed over the gathering. Only the whisper of prayers and the sounds of sharpening of weapons could be heard. The Imam was heard reciting Ayah 178 of Aal-e I mran that reads: ‘And let not those who disbelieve think that “Our granting them respite is better for their souls; We grant them respite only that they may add to their sins; and they shall have a disgraceful chastisement.”
Karbala draws the line between truth and falsehood. Imam Hussein (AS) till the last moment even after all his companions, brothers, sons, kith and kin had been killed, still appealed to the evil forces of Yazid to realize the wrong they were committing by fighting him. He said he was ready to forgive them but they kept shouting for his surrender. The Imam refused saying that such a thing was impossible.
He will never submit to oppression nor will he acknowledge the un-Islamic rule of the Omayyuds who have no authority to call themselves caliphs. He recounted to them the sayings of the Messenger in his honor. He reminded them how the Messenger had referred to his grandsons, saying:
‘Hassan and Hussain are the Masters of the Youth of Paradise.’
He also drew attention to another famous saying of the Messenger that ‘Hussein is the Beacon of Guidance and the Ark of Salvation.’
He also told them the irrefutable words of the Messenger that his progeny the Ahl al-Bayt along with the Holy Koran are the two very precious things or the Saqalayn, and whoever leaves either of them has definitely gone astray. The cowardly enemies could not say no to what he said but the perishing greed of the mortal world had made them blind to salvation in the Hereafter.
In fact, they had sold their souls to the devil in the belief that Yazid would reward them with riches and posts such as the governorship of Rayy in northern Iran. They thus ended up losers in both the short life of this world and in the hereafter. Yazid did not reward them anything and neither could death tarry to delay their date with the burning inferno.
‘Hussein is from me and I am from Hussein’, had said Hazrat Mohammad (blessings of Allah upon him and his progeny). The first part of the saying was evident since Hussein was the grandson of the Messenger. Alas! It took fifty years after the passing away of the Messenger for the Muslims to realize the meaning of the second part of his saying ‘I am from Hussein.’
The great sacrifice of Imam Hussein (AS) for the irrigating the sapling of Islam with his lifeblood and that of his near and dear ones, proved the inseparability between the grandfather and the grandson. So deeply committed was the Imam to the mission o f grandfather that he even allowed his 18-year old son, Ali Akbar, who bore a striking resemblance to the Messenger to court martyrdom through battle.
While bidding farewell to the son in the full blood of youth, he said: ‘O God! Be witness that I am sending one to the battle field who is most similar to Your Messenger in appearance, gait and manner of speech, to the extent that whenever I longed for my grandfather I would cast a look at my son.’
The evil hordes of Yazid did not hesitate in surrounding and killing this handsome youth despite claiming to be Muslims and followers of the Messenger.
As fighting escalated on the Day of Ashura, Imam Hussein’s (AS) Valiant brother, Hazrat Abbas was given permission to fetch water for the thirsty camp. He dashed towards the River Euphrates with a goatskin water carrier flung across his shoulders and after scattering the enemy forces, he filled it up, but never did he taste a single drop of water in view of the acute three-day thirst of the children and others in the camp. This was valor at his very height. On his return towards the camp he was surrounded on all sides and martyred after assassins hiding behind palm trees ambushed him by cutting off both of his hands and riddling the goatskin water carrier with arrow. What broke the spirit of the valiant Abbas (AS) was the flowing of the water on the ground at a time when his brother and the children and women in the camp were in the state of extreme thirst.
Today the magnificent shrine of Hazrat Abbas that stands a short distance from that of Imam Hussein (AS) bears witness to the faith, courage and self-sacrifice of the two. Abbas, whose threshold is revered as Bab al-Murad or the Gateway of Needs stands as the silent sentinel, serving by God Almighty’s command as the succor which soothes aching hearts and answers supplications. Karbala is thus an everlasting saga that continues to teach human beings in every age the purpose of creation, the goal of life and the Greatness of the One and Only Creator.
The voice of Imam Hussein (AS) still reverberates from Karbala. The Imam showed the significance of the daily 5-times a day prayer. When one of his companions Amr bin Ka’b longed to pray the Noon prayer in the heat of battle under his leadership before attaining martyrdom, the Imam asked him to seek a brief respite from the enemy for performing the prayer. Ibn Sa’d, the commander of Yazid’s forces refused to give any respite. Nonetheless, the Imam stood for prayer in the heat of battle.
Two of his companions, Saeed bin Abdullah and Ibn Qarzah Ka’bi stood in front like human shields against the shower of arrows. They were hit by the enemy and achieved martyrdom but never did they hesitate for a moment in their defense of truth. Soon the tragedy of Karbala reached its climax. When all had been martyred, the Imam (AS) fought till the last drop of his blood. Later, the cowardly enemies pounced upon the
Messenger’s grandson and mercilessly martyred him even severing his head and mounting it on spears amidst wild exultations. But it was clear who won the battle of Karbala. He was Imam Hussein (AS), whose name and mission has remained immortal while empires have vanished and the bones of mighty rulers reduced to dust.
Human Life in Views of Imam Hussein (AS)
The immortal epic of Ashura changed world history. It gave a new meaning and interpretation to life and illustrated the values of righteousness, justice, honesty, integrity, truth, valor, piety and a host of other virtues that make a human being. This is what we learn from the life-inspiring mourning ceremonies for the martyrs of Karbala. Once, a western writer named L.M. Boyd while attending a mourning ceremony for Imam Hussein (AS), said: “The glory of Imam Hussein lies in this sublimity of the soul and the resolve to safeguard freedom. No wonder, despite the passing of over 1300 years, the saga of Karbala lives on.”
Imam Hussein (AS) thus taught humanity how to live a dignified life. He chose death consciously and refused to bow to the yoke of tyranny and injustice. By offering his life-blood he breathed immortal life into Islam, since he was Islam personified. He was born in 4 AH and spent some seven years of his childhood beside his grandfather, the Almighty’s Last Messenger to mankind, Messenger Mohammad (blessings of Allah upon him and his progeny).
According to Imam Hussein (AS) life is a gift from God, the right of which has been guaranteed for all human beings. Therefore, the use of any means for making life miserable or destroying life is condemned. In other words, it is wrong to meekly submit to oppression and injustice.
And whoever does not rise against a tyrant, has not only wronged his self but is a partner in oppression. God Almighty says in Ayah 97 of Sura Nesa in the Holy Koran: ‘Surely (as for) those whom the angels cause to die while they are unjust to their souls, they shall say: In what state were you?
‘They shall say: We were weak in the earth. They shall say: Was not Allah’s earth spacious, so that you should have migrated therein? So these it is whose abode is hell, and it is an evil resort;’
For Imam Hussein (AS) the main goal of life is striving through human perfection through conscious endeavor. He pursued this path cognizant of the One and Only God. When pressured to acknowledge the libertine Yazid’s un-Islamic rule, he said: “I consider death nothing but prosperity and submitting to oppressors nothing but sorrow.”
Actually, the task of Imam Hussein (AS) in line with the mission of the Allah- messengers was delivering human beings from ignorance and revival of their lost personality and identity. Through his uprising Imam Hussein (AS) reminded mankind of the goal of creation. He showed that God did not create mankind in vain. There is a purpose of life and human beings who are always under trial should strive for success in the sight of the Almighty Creator.
Once the Imam was placed against the enemy he never distanced even a little bit from the moral principles and the values that make life meaningful. For instance, in Karbala, when he saw that the detachment of forces sent by the enemy against him was thirsty, he immediately asked his companions to provide them with water with full knowledge of the fact that the cowardly hordes of Yazid would in the next few days dislodge his camp from the riverside and deprive him and followers of water.
Imam Hussein famous words stand out till this day. Addressing the enemy, he said: “If you do not have religion at least live free in your life in this world.” By such immortal words he meant to arouse their conscience, but it seems that the enemies were worse than beasts. Out of the vast several thousand strong enemy army, only the conscientious Hur along with his son and slave came over to the Imam’s camp, repented and chose to sacrifice his life for the sake of the humanitarian values of Islam.
This is a very important point of Tasu’a, and why the Imam had sought a day’s or a night’s respite when the enemy intended to attack him on the 9th of Muharram. In fact, Imam Hussein (AS) gave respite and tested the conscience of the cowardly enemies. He was the Beacon of Guidance and the Ark of Salvation, as is indicated by a famous Hadith from the Messenger. Thus in view of this undeniable reality, the Imam until the last moments of his life spared no efforts to awaken the enemies’ conscience. The insight and the intellectual growth of mankind can be observed in Imam Hussein’s words.
This is the peak of truth and courage. Imam Hussein (AS) exposed himself and his family to history’s greatest tragedy in order to deliver humanity and keep human conscience awaken till the Day of Resurrection. In other words, whoever deviates from the path of the immortal martyrs of Karbala has no conscience.
An Arab poet says: “When a soul is great, the body has no choice other than following the soul. But small souls chase the wanton pursuits of their wayward bodies and since this makes them drift away from logic and intellect, they succumb to any mischief and commit any crime.’
It is in this way the epic of Karbala does not come to end with the martyrdom of 72 individuals. It is everlasting. For this reason, Karbala has continued to act like a catalyst in every age, era and geographical place. Today it is commemorated even in t he remotest corners of the globe. The memory of Imam Hussein (AS) and his companions is not only alive but also invigorating, to the extent that a Hindu named Purshotam Dass Tandon has said: I am aware of the significance of commemorating this great tragedy. The self-sacrifices and the high objectives of Imam Hussein (AS) revived humanity and upgraded the level of thinking of humanity. By commemorating this tragedy, we safeguard the spirit of freedom.
Moreover, Mohandas Gandhi who launched his famous non-violence movement to free India from British colonial rule, said that he learned to struggle against oppression from Imam Hussein (AS). In fact, it was Karbala that inspired him to strive for the libe ration of his country.
The Father of the Islamic Revolution, Imam Khomeini who scared the daylights out of Global Arrogance and all evil powers including America with his resolve, used to say that whatever Iran possesses it is because of Imam Hussein and Karbala. He said the people of Iran should always commemorate the mourning months of Muharram and Safar.