In the annals of history, every now and then we come across events and personalities that affect and shape human belief and faith for centuries to come. The teachings of Christ, Buddha and Prophet Mohammad (pbuh) brought about paradigm shifts in people’s abstraction of religion. Saints and holy men have swayed people’s cogitation throughout history. But few events and personalities are as powerful and as tragic as the event of Karbala and the personality of Imam Hussain (A.S)
With the appearance of new moon of Moharram, grief and pain is evident on the faces of Muslims worldwide and particularly the Shia community. The incident of karbala goes much beyond the supreme sacrifice of Imam Hussain (A.S) and also teaches about humanity, truth, justice, tolerance and a life full of dignity.
Although the event of Karbala is a long narrative and extremely tragic, I will for the sake of respecting spatial limits, try to keep it simple and focus more on the philosophical aspect of it and the message it carries. I will discuss what little I have understood from the event of Karbala and leave the religious aspects of it for the learned scholars Ulmas of Islam.
The message of Karbala is universal and true to all humanity. Opposing and rising against tyrants is the unbroken thread around which the pearls of the event of Karbala unfold. The ruler of the time Yazeed had brought an army of 36000 against the 72 followers of Imam Hussain (A.S). Imam had women, children and old men among the caravan besides the 72. It gives us the perspective of the odds that were stacked against the Imam.
What transpired on 10th of Moharram in the dry desert, in the sweltering heat after that to the caravan of Imam Hussain still shapes the beliefs of Muslims the world over. The Imam and his followers died fighting the army of Yazeed. Hungry and thirsty for three days and knowing fully well that his women and children would be taken prisoners, he could have chosen the easy way out, he could have backed off. Then why did he fight? Why did he choose not to keep his head down in the face of injustice and tyranny?
Well no one can answer better than the Imam himself. In his will which he left to his brother before leaving for Karbala he says, “I have taken this stand not out of arrogance’ or pride, neither out of mischief or Injustice. I have risen to seek reform in the community of my Grandfather. I would like to bid good and forbid evil, and follow the tradition of my grandfather and my father ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib”. With this will the Imam had made his intention clear even before he left his home along with his small group of followers. It was a caravan for humanity. To give a jolt to the sleeping conscience of people who had morally slumbered. To give a simple message of not to keep shut in the face of oppression, he had to sacrifice himself and his whole family.
Any unbiased reader of the tragedy of Karbala would find it astonishing how clear the Imam was in his intentions and foresight about spreading this message for the rescue of human soul, and in other words rescue of humanity itself. Quite contrary to the trend associated with Islam falsely, the message of Karbala stands out in clear contradiction of extremism, barbarism and terrorism. Karbala preaches patience, and discretion even in war against enemies. The very recent trend of propagating a violent Islam, marked by beheadings, mutilations and terrorizing people has nothing to do with the personality of people who practiced restraint even when they were on the receiving end of worst possible human rights violations.
Centuries later, in the words of another man, when I read a quote of Him, it echoed in my ears the very message that Imam Hussain had conveyed. The man was named ‘Martin Luther King’ and he said, “In the end we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends”. Relating to the contemporary times, Karbala is an example of how powerful women have been throughout Islamic history. The most powerful person is a woman, when one flips through the pages of history, the daughter of Ali (a.s), Zainab (s.a), whose speech and valour has been praised by men and women alike. What better example of a balanced revolution can there be? Does it not fall in line with the modern ideas of ‘power to women’? There is no other message that I know of beautifully carried forward by men and women alike as equal partners in suffering and sacrifice.
The event of Karbala has been dissected by scholars in various ways. But none is more insightful than the simple two words that Imam uttered when asked by the people why was he leaving Medina to meet his death at Karbala, Imam answered “for amr bil maruf” (bidding the good) and “nahi anil munkar” (forbidding the evil). These two words sum up the essence of Karbala, the message of Karbala.
The greatest tragedy that can befall a human society is the indifference to the injustice and inequality that creeps in the social system. Accepting the status quo, out of indifference, hopelessness and fear of persecution is the end of social progress. The event of Karbala is a metaphor, a rallying flag for all humanity, to wake up from the slumber and fight for those whom you hold dear in the face of oppression and injustice. It does not propagate war or anarchy but sacrifice, since the very fact the 72 fought against 36000 is the symbol of sacrifice the Imam had long foreseen.
Karbala is indeed a victory of blood over sword. Karbala is indeed a victory of Humanity.