This is the month of al-Muharram, the first in the Islamic lunar calendar. It is one of the three sacred months that fall together (the fourth being Rajab) and follows immediately after Dhu al-Hijjah, the last month of the lunar year. In Dhu al-Hijjah, Muslims sacrifice a lamb that was substituted for Isma‘il when Allah (swt) commanded Ibrahim (a) to make the sacrifice. In al-Muharram, Imam Husayn (a) offered his life and that of his family members and close companions. The life that was spared in Dhu al-Hijjah was thus offered in al-Muharram to save Islam.
Imam Husayn’s principled stand, demanding the supreme sacrifice of his life, slammed the door in the face of usurpers and tyrants to seek legitimacy for their illegitimate rule. His lonely struggle is repeated in many parts of the world, regrettably with the same tragic consequences. The Husayns of the world again stand alone despite Muslims commemorating ‘Ashura’ every year. In al-Muharram, the virtues of Imam Husayn (a) are extolled from every minbar but the world is still full of Yazids. Why?
Regrettably, large numbers of Muslims have lost their way in peripheral issues and become engrossed in rituals. The illegitimate rulers and their court ‘ulama’ deliberately foster this attitude. The reason is to divert attention from the revolutionary spirit of Islam and the purpose of Imam Husayn’s struggle for truth and justice.
Today the Rohingya Muslims join a long list of other oppressed people from Kashmir to Palestine, and Iraq and Syria to Yemen facing their own Karbala’. The greater tragedy is that the Yazids too have multiplied. While millions of Muslims extol the great virtues and sacrifice of Imam Husayn (a), joined even by some Muslim rulers, the same rulers simultaneously indulge in Yazidi practices. Their torture chambers echo with the cries of today’s Husayns. While the great Imam adopted a principled stand against injustice, these rulers indulge in oppression, tyranny, and gross injustices.
If Imam Husayn (a) and his family stood alone on the blistering sand of Karbala’ 1,400 years ago, today the Rohingya Muslims stand alone in the squalid refugee camps of Bangladesh. The children of Ghazzah are besieged from all sides and are being starved to death, as were Imam Husayn, his children, and grandchildren. The people of Kashmir face the guns and bullets of a brutal Indian army as Imam Husayn faced the heavily armed Yazidi army with its swords and spears drawn.
So what has really changed in 1,400 years? The struggle between haqq and batil is as old as human history. When Iblis refused to obey Allah’s (swt) command to prostrate before Adam (a), the struggle between obedience and defiance came out into the open.
Muslims would do well to remember that Iblis was not a mushrik; it was his arrogance and sense of self-proclaimed superiority that led him to disobey Allah (swt). Can Muslims not make the connection between Iblis’ conduct and that of the Muslim rulers today?
Yazid and his men were militarily victorious in Karbala’, but how many Muslims celebrate his “triumph” today? Which Muslim in his right mind can say that Yazid was fighting for justice? Imam Husayn (a) died, but ultimate victory belonged to him. As the revolutionary leader and poet Maulana Muhammad Ali Johar said in this couplet,
Qatl-e Husayn asl main marg-e Yazeed hay (The murder of Husayn is in reality the death of Yazid),
Islam zinda hota hay her Karbala kay baad
(Islam’s revival occurs after every tragedy like Karbala).
Let us also be clear about the true nature of Imam Husayn’s sacrifice. He did not struggle for worldly gain or power; he was aware that if he gave in to the demands of Yazid, it would destroy Islam. For him, Islamic principles were more important than his personal well-being. He died in a strange land after witnessing the murder of almost all members of his family and close companions; he preferred to die rather than compromise with Zulm and oppression.
When asked to give allegiance to Yazid and save his life, he exclaimed, “A man like me cannot give allegiance to a man like Yazid!” Such clarity of vision, purpose, and commitment are lacking among Muslims today; this is what has led to the Muslims’ present sorry predicament.
Imam Husayn (a) had correctly diagnosed the problem confronting the Ummah in his time. It was a question of illegitimacy and the usurpation of power and authority by unscrupulous people totally unfit to rule. He raised his voice against it; regrettably, there were not enough Muslims willing to offer their lives for Islam’s principles. Even many of those who initially joined the Imam eventually betrayed him. Yet this does not detract from his principled stand and his willingness to offer his own life in order not to lend weight to the corruption of Islamic principles.
Zafar Bangash is Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought (ICIT).