On July 28, Muslims throughout the world commemorated Yaum al-Ashura (the Day of Ashura). On this day—coinciding with the 10th of Muharram—Imam Hussain (as) and his family members were martyred in the scorching heat of Karbala. This horrific tragedy was perpetrated by the army of Yazid, a usurper and tyrant.
He had usurped power and demanded allegiance from everyone upon pain of death. Barring a few exceptions, most people succumbed to Yazid’s threats. Imam Hussain (as) refused, stating categorically that a man like him could not give allegiance to a man like Yazid.
This needs elaboration.
What was Imam Hussain’s objection? It must be emphasized that it was not a power struggle. Far from it. The real reason was that Yazid’s assumption of power—appointed by his father Mu‘awiyya rather than through the willing consent of the committed Muslims—and his immoral character disqualified him from being the ruler of Muslims.
After our beloved Prophet (pbuh) left this earthly abode, his successors adopted the method of bay‘a (allegiance through the willing consent of the people) to accept a person as leader. He was called Khalifatur Rasool, successor to the Prophet as leader/ruler of Muslims. This title was shortened to Khalifah.
The process of bay‘a became firmly established as the legitimizing process through which a person assumed the position of leadership. It was clear from the beginning that the person being nominated to leadership position must have certain qualities, foremost among them being taqwa. Other characteristics included knowledge of Islam, fairness in all matters and motivated by the desire to serve the people rather than lording over them.
Yazid lacked every one of these qualities. His assumption of power was through an illegal act—appointed by his father who had also usurped power and had created the first breach in Islamic polity established by none other the noble Prophet (pbuh). The jahili spirit banished by the advent of Islam was brought back into the Islamic realm.
It was this disruption in the Islamic polity that resulted in the return of jahiliyyah that Imam Hussain stood against. It was a much higher calling than the inaccurate interpretation of power struggle. By sacrificing his life and that of his family and close companions—72 in all—Imam Hussain shut the door for all future tyrants to usurp power through threats and coercion. Had the Imam given bay‘a to Yazid—an impossible thought—every tyrant in succeeding generations would have used Imam Hussain’s example as justification for their usurpation of power.
Man in the generic sense is Allah’s khalifah (vicegerent or representative) on earth. Thus, he is not free to act as he pleases. He must implement the laws of Allah on earth. This applies particularly to the leader of Muslims since he has assumed responsibility for their well-being. He must accept Allah’s power and authority and demonstrate it in practice.
What Yazid did (and before him, his father), was to usurp Allah’s power and authority (astaghfirullah). They demanded allegiance through coercion and threats. Instead of abiding by the principles of bay‘a and shura, they demanded obedience to their whims.
Mu‘awiya subverted the Khilafah into mulukiyya, creating a system of hereditary kingship. The son succeeded his father. There is no allowance for this in Islam.
The consequences of such subversion soon manifested themselves. Far from implementing the policy of amr bil ma‘ruf wa nahy anil munkar (3:104; 3:110)—commanding the common good and forbidding evil—this Qur’anic command was turned upside down. Munkar was promoted while ma‘ruf was suppressed.
Equally disastrous was the policy of turning the Bait al-Maal (the central treasury of the Islamic State) into the personal property of the ruler. An institution established for the purpose of helping the needy and poor in the Islamic State, became an instrument to benefit only the ruler, his family and their henchmen. Not surprisingly, a chasm developed between the ruler and the ruled.
The Khulafah ar-Rashidoon did not live in palaces or oppress the people. They mingled with them freely. Since they did not oppress the people, they did not need body guards for protection. With the advent of mulukiyya and their extravagant lifestyles, they started to fear the masses, hence the need for a phalanx of bodyguards.
Imam Hussain (as), brought up and trained under the guidance of the Prophet (pbuh), Sayida Fatima az-Zahra and Imam ‘Ali, could clearly see where Yazid’s usurpation of power would lead to. That is why he took a stand and resisted such subversion. By opposing the deviation at the very beginning, Imam Hussain established the principle that such behaviour was unacceptable in Islam. It exacted a very high price in life and blood but the principle was firmly established.
While Karbala was an immense tragedy, Imam Hussain’s martyrdom was a triumph of truth over falsehood; of legitimacy over illegality. His sacrifice will continue to provide solace to those languishing in the torture chambers of the tyrants, whether in Egypt, zionist Israel, Pakistan, Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere.
The line that he drew in the sand with his blood will forever remain a barrier for tyrants and oppressors.
Imam Hussain (as) lives in the hearts and minds of committed Muslims while Yazid remains forever a cursed figure.