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Newsletter for February 2017
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The Day of Ashura:
A Microcosm of the Human Condition
by Marryam Naqvi Article 1 of 3
haq dar Khak-o-khoon ghaltida
ast / Pas bina ey la illah
1- From the
creation of the first human to
the present population of seven
billion, there is undoubtedly a
universal agreement that humans
are unique from other creation.
God has created humans with a
special capacity for intellect.
Unlike angels who are governed
by command, or animals governed
by instinct, humans have the
unique ability to use their
reason to make individual
decisions. When the intellect
governs a human’s life, the soul
strives towards Justice, thus
allowing one to manifest one’s
true nature. It is one’s choices
that ultimately lay out the path
for the future with the bricks
of history. The successes and
failures of people, of
civilizations, are conducted
through a series of choices. In
the moment, many choices feel
confined to the present. It is
not until years later that one
can understand how certain
decisions shook the earth and
will continue to echo through
The Tragedy of Karbala is a microcosm which encompasses what it means to be human by providing a depiction of the choices every human being must make throughout his or her life. It illustrates choices of truth and falsehood; the choice to sacrifice for the next world or surrender one’s humanity for the temporary rewards of this world. The Day of Ashura reflects two potentials for human nature: the side of animals and the side of angels. It illustrates what it means to use one’s intellect, to make the (often difficult) choice to uphold the key tenets of humanity.
In this paper, I intend to explicate the choices that were made on the journey to Karbala, during Karbala, and after Karbala (through the depictions of historians), in order to demonstrate the microcosmic nature of all of humanity, encompassed in a single event.
Imam Hussain’s mission does not begin with the instatement of Yazid’s caliphate. His mission begins with the creation of his soul, as the son of ‘Ali, and the grandson of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon them. His mission, from the very beginning, is to “seek to enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil and follow the traditions of [his] grandfather and [his father].
2- His soul did not allow him to give allegiance to an immoral and unjust leader. His mission was not born out of a need for power, but was to “‘correct not conquer,’”3 and to simply refuse to be silent in the face of injustice. Imam Hussain tells the people, “[The Caliphate] ha[s] spread corruption, suspended the application of Islamic laws, and taken to themselves Muslims' wealth. Besides forbidding what is permitted and allowing what is forbidden."4 . For the likeness of his character, the Imam had "no choice but to announce his outright rejection" of Yazid.
5 He chose
to pursue a journey based on
principles, while many chose to
remain indifferent, so as to not
to disrupt their lives with
hardship. History recounts
certain people who attempted to
derail Imam Hussain from his
As mentioned in “The Revolution of Imam Al-Hussain (a),” a man by the name of ‘Abd Allahibn Muti’ al-’Adawi warns the Imam, “By God, if you see what the Umayyad clan has in their hands, it will kill you [...] By God, it is the sanctity of Islam which will be defiled [...] Do not go to Kufa. Do not expose yourself to the Umayyad clan.
6- Al-’Adawi’s advice to the Imam is based on the “[certainty] of [the Imam’s] failure.”
7- Instead of choosing to support the Imam to pursue the higher ground, he is more “concerned about [the] result."
8- Such people have chosen to play passive in making a moral decision. Al-‘Adawi views the Imam’s death as an end, not a beginning. Furthermore, a man named Abdullah bin Abbas tells Imam Hussain "to retire to the mountains of Yemen to escape the troops of Yazid.
9- Like others before him, it is clear that this individual’s concerns lie in the worldly results—death and disruption of worldly peace. The choices of these men lie in the concerns of a finite existence. Another man, ‘Abd Allah ibn ‘Umar advises the Imam, “...you know the hostility of this clan towards you and their injustice to you. The people have given authority to this man, Yazid ibn Mu’awaiya. I cannot be sure that the people would not favor him because of gold and silver (which he has given them) so that they would fight against you, and thus many men would be destroyed through you. I advise you to enter into the agreement which the people entered into and to be patient as you were patient before.”
10- His advice, on the surface, is seen as a concern for the well-being of the ummah
11- He does not want to see the Ummah separated and be led into fighting against the Imam.
Shaykh Amili eloquently analyzes the choices of such men who tried to lead Imam Hussain away from confronting the army of Yazid. He states, “In outward appearance at least, they were not supporters of the regime. They were only looking [...] at the revolution [...] with a basic attitude [...] which was the maintenance and acceptance of the status quo [...] not because it was just, but only [...] because any change would not agree with their temperaments and interests.”
12- Shaykh Amili explains how the political climate during this time was not black and white. It was not simply those who believed in upholding principles versus those who did not.
There were those whose choices did not rely on the benefit of society, but rather on their personal interests. Such men covered their ulterior motives with a mask of genuine concern, but their attempts did not dissuade the Imam, whose choice was planted into the solid rock of choosing death over humiliation.
The choices of the men around him reflected the temporary world, while the choice of Imam Hussain reflected preserving Islam. For anyone who is concerned with the material safety of one’s life, to silently surrender seems like the smart option. But Imam Hussain knew that this was not the meaning of sacrifice. To give one’s life, to fight until the very end, is the true and “best opportunity to present an effective and final sacrifice for Islam.”
13-Imam Hussain’s decision to leave Mecca to preserve the sanctity of its land and travel towards Karbala was a journey towards sacrifice, through his desire to preserve the Islam of his grandfather. Many speculate that it was the invitation of the Kufan people that jump-started Imam Hussain’s mission, knowing that there were many who backed him. Ayatullah Mutahhari refutes that if this was indeed true, then after learning of the Kufan’s insincerity, he “could have resigned to the fact there was no point in carrying on with his plans [and could have] [contemplated] swearing allegiance to Yazid.
14-Evidently, his revolution was not dependent on the people. Imam Hussain had already made the decision to embark on his mission with or without the support of the Kufans. He “[acted] in accordance with the obligation of ‘enjoining what is right and forbidding what is wrong’ [...] he was under no illusions that that was his prime motive for launching his revolt.
15-Imam Hussain chooses to refuse allegiance to a man he does not see fit to wear the crown of caliphate, a man who lived in direct difference with the pure teachings of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. It was a choice that was made from the beginning of time, that comes to a beautiful fruition of one man against many. Through his decisions from the beginning of the journey to Karbala, Imam Hussain manifests the choice of love in its truest form – for love does not demand passivity, nor hiding away in the face of hardship. Divine Love, the truest Love of all, demands action, self-sacrifice, and rising up to defend the Beloved.
1... “Dr Iqbal says that Imam Hussain voluntarily gave his life at Karbala for the sake of Allah or Truth. So it goes without saying that Hussain laid the foundation of the cardinal Principle of Islam -the belief that there is no god except Allah. Since Islamic principles were being twisted, distorted and exterminated it was Hussain's blood which gave it a new life.”
Dr. Ibrahim Ayati, A Probe into the History of Ashura' Accessed November 20, 2016. https://www.al-islam.org/probe-history-ashura-dr-ibrahim-ayati.
2... Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari, "The Truth about Al-Hussain’s Revolt." Speech, Tehran. Accessed November 20,2016. https://www.al-islam.org/truth-about-al-Hussain-s-revolt-ayatullah-murtadha-mutahhari. Translated by: Najim al-Khafaji
4... Yusuf Fadhl, "Imam Hussain's Revolution: An Analytical Review." Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project. Accessed November 20, 2016. https://www.al-islam.org/imam-Hussains-revolution-analytical-review-yusuf-fadhl. Published by: W.O.F.I.S. World Organization for Islamic Services.
5... Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari, "The Truth about Al-Hussain’s Revolt." Speech, Tehran. Accessed November 20, 2016. https://www.al-islam.org/truth-about-al-Hussain-s-revolt-ayatullah-murtadha-mutahhari. Translated by: Najim al-Khafaji
6... Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi Shams Ad-Din Al-Amili, The Revolution of Imam Al-Hussain (a). Muhammadi Trust of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Accessed November 20, 2016. https://www.al-islam.org/revolution-imam-al- Hussain-Shaykh-Muhammad-Mahdi-Shams-Ad-Din-Al-Amili. Translated by: Dr. I. K. A. Howard
9... Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari, "The Truth about Al-Hussain’s Revolt." Speech, Tehran. Accessed November 20, 2016. https://www.al-islam.org/truth-about-al-Hussain-s-revolt-ayatullah-murtadha-mutahhari. Translated by: Najim al-Khafaji
10... Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi Shams Ad-Din Al-Amili, The Revolution of Imam Al-Hussain (a). Muhammadi Trust of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Accessed November 20, 2016. https://www.al-islam.org/revolution-imam-al-Hussain-Shaykh-Muhammad-Mahdi-Shams-Ad-Din-Al-Amili. Translated by: Dr. I. K. A. Howard.
11... Community of Muslims, the Muslim world.
12... Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi Shams Ad-Din Al-Amili, The Revolution of Imam Al-Hussain (a). Muhammadi Trust of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. Accessed November 20, 2016. https://www.al-islam.org/revolution-imam-al-Hussain-Shaykh-Muhammad-Mahdi-Shams-Ad-Din-Al-Amili. Translated by: Dr. I. K. A. Howard
13... Allamah Sayyid Sa'eed Akhtar Rizvi, Understanding Karbala. Qom: Ansariyan Publications. Accessed November 20, 2016. https://www.al-islam.org/understanding-karbala-allamah-sayyid-saeed-akhtar-rizvi. Translated by: Sayyid Athar Hussain S.H. Rizvi
14... Ayatullah Murtadha Mutahhari, "The Truth about Al-Hussain’s Revolt." Speech, Tehran. Accessed November 20, 2016. https://www.al-islam.org/truth-about-al-Hussain-s-revolt-ayatullah-murtadha-mutahhari. Translated by: Najim al-Khafaji
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