Editor’s Note: Having marked the anniversary of Imam Hussain’s (peace be upon him) departure from Medina on the 28th of Rajab, we are reminded by Ayatollah Nasir Makarem Shirazi on the purpose and meaning of Imam Hussain’s journey.
The importance of the history of Imam Hussain’s (peace be upon him) life, which has turned into the most tragic epic of human history, is not only because waves of the strongest human emotions are raised on an annual basis during the commemoration ceremonies held for this great personality, but rather there is nothing in his movement other than pure religious devotion and humanistic qualities. The gatherings held in his commemoration do not need any form of introduction or marketing; thus, they are without parallel in their field.
Most of us know this reality, but the point that is not known to many (especially non-Islamic scholars), that point that has remained a mystery is:
Why is such importance given to this historical event which is similar in numbers and manners to many other events?
Why are the commemoration ceremonies stronger and more emotional year after year?
Why has the event of Karbala taken on a form of eternity despite the fact that the Umayyad dynasty has come to an end and the champions of this event should have become forgotten?
The answers to these questions must be searched for in the depths of the revolution. The analysis of this event is not very complicated for one who is familiar with Islamic history.
In clearer terms, the bloody event of Karbala did not stem from two political rivals who are after power and land.
Likewise, this event did not stem from tribal hatred that remained in two people’s hearts.
This event is a clear picture of a fight between two individual and theological schools of thought whose flames started with the advent of mankind and continue until today. These flames have not been put out. This fight was the continuation of the fight that all the prophets performed and that all of the people seeking positive reform in the universe. In other terms, it was a continuation of the Badr and Ahzab battles.
We all know that when the Prophet of Islam (peace be upon him and his progeny) stood up as the leader of an intellectual and social revolution to save mankind from idol-worship and superstition and to free mankind from the claws of ignorance, he gathered all of the oppressed people under his wings. At this time the people who opposed this reform movement, who were led by the wealthy of Mecca, lined up and used all of their might to destroy it. These efforts against Islam were led by the Umayyad clan, which was led by Abu Sufyan.
But, at the end, they surrendered to the influence of Islam and their complete infrastructure was defeated.
It is self evident that this destruction does not mean that they became extinct; rather, they changed tactics. They used to perform their anti-Islamic activities in the open, but now they performed them gradually behind closed doors. This is the plan of any stubborn and weak enemy: lying in the trenches waiting for an opportunity. After the death of the Prophet, the Umayyads tried to influence the system of Islamic leadership in order to create a movement which would lead people back to the pre-Islamic lifestyle. The more time that passed since the Prophet’s death, the easier this would be.
The customs of the Age of Ignorance which were enlivened after the Prophet passed away by people other than the Umayyads created the groundwork for an ‘ignorant revolution’.
1. The issue of racism, which was completely crossed out by Islam, was brought back to life by some of the caliphs. The Arab race took on a special superiority over other races.
2. Various forms of ‘isms’ which were not in congruence with the spirit of Islam appeared. The public treasury, which was distributed amongst the Muslims equally during the lifetime of the Prophet, transformed into something else. People were given unfounded merits, and the whole system of tribalism reappeared.
3. The positions which were granted to people during the lifetime of the Prophet due to one’s intellectual, ethical, and spiritual worth were now given due to tribalism and were divided up amongst the tribe of the caliph.
During these conditions, Abu Sufyan’s son Muawiyah entered the political arena and took charge of one of the most sensitive areas in the Islamic world (Sham). This is where he laid the foundations, with the aid of the remaining parties of the Age of Ignorance, to take control of the Islamic government and to bring the customs of that dark age back into the forefront.
This wave was so severe that pure individuals such as Ali (peace be upon him) were unable to do anything during the caliphate.
The face of this un-Islamic movement was so clear, their leaders were unable to mask themselves.
Abu Sufyan, in his strange historical quote, stated when the caliphate was transferred to the Umayyads and the Marwan Tribe: “Beware Umayyads! Try to pass the leadership amongst yourselves. I swear upon that which I swear upon that heaven and hell do exist [and that Muhammad’s movement was a political one].”
Muawiyah stated in Kufa when he took control of Iraq: “I have not come so that you perform prayer and fast. I have come to rule over you. I will destroy whoever opposes me.”
Yazid said when he saw the heads of the martyrs of Karbala: “I wish my ancestors who were killed in Badr were here to see this. I wish they were able to see this scene of revenge that I took from the Hashimi Tribe.”
These are all telling pieces of evidence which depict the quiddity of their anti-Islamic movement. The more they progressed, the bolder they became.
Could Imam Hussain remain silent in regards to this serious threat against Islam which reached its peak during the reign of Yazid? Would Allah and the Prophet accept that? Was it not his duty to destroy the silence that prevailed over the Muslim society with an extraordinary show of selflessness? Was it not his duty to reveal the evil face of this ignorant movement from behind the marketing of the Umayyads? Was it not his duty to create an epic in Islamic history with his blood?
Hussain did just this. He performed his huge Islamic duties and changed the direction that Islam was taking. He destroyed the anti-Islamic plans that the Umayyads had.
This is the true face of Hussain’s uprising. From here it becomes clear why Imam Hussain’s name and history do not become forgotten. He is not attributed to one time; rather, his goal was an eternal goal.
He was martyred along the path of truth, justice, and freedom; along the path of Allah and Islam; along the path of man’s salvation and enlivening human merits. Do such concepts become old? Are such concepts forgotten? Never.
Who Was Victorious?
Were the victors of this great war the bloodthirsty and worldly Umayyad soldiers? Or, were the victors Imam Hussain and his companions who gave their lives along the path of love of the Truth and along the path of Allah?
This question is answered by paying attention to the real meanings of victory and defeat. Victory does not mean that one leaves the battlefield untouched or that one’s enemy was killed. Victory means that man progressed along the path of his ultimate goal and did not allow his enemy to reach his goal.
The final results of this bloody war become completely clear by paying attention to this meaning of the word. It is true that Hussain and his loyal companions tasted the drink of martyrdom after fighting like champions, but they reached their goals in an honorable way.
The goal was to clarify what the quiddity of the Umayyads’ anti-Islamic movement was. The goal was to awaken the general Muslim body so that they become aware of the plans of these people who remained from the Age of Ignorance, who took pride in the customs of disbelief and idol-worship. These goals were clearly met.
In the end, they cut down the trees of Umayyad oppression. They laid the groundwork to destroy the government that was stolen and that took pride in bringing customs of the Age of Ignorance, of corruption, of racism, and of oppression, back into the forefront.
Yazid’s government showed its true face to everyone by killing righteous members of the Prophet’s family, especially Imam Hussain, who was a great Islamic leader.
It is not strange that in all of the Islamic revolutions that occurred after the event of Karbala, ‘revenge for these martyrs’ and ‘the satisfaction of the Prophet’s progeny’ is seen. This occurred until the Abbasid dynasty who took benefit from this issue in its own government – then they took the path of oppression.
What victory is greater than this where not only does one reach their goals, but they also become a role model for all free people of the world?
Why Do We Mourn?
It is asked that if Imam Hussain (a) was victorious why do we cry? Why don’t we hold a celebration? Is it suitable to cry so much over a victory?
Those who make this criticism do not understand the philosophy behind mourning. They mistake the tears that the mourners of Imam Hussain shed with the weeps of weak individuals.
There are four types of crying or tears:
1. Tears of Joy: For example, the tears of a mother who has just found her child years after he went missing, or the tears of a lover who has just gained the satisfaction of the loved after years of struggle.
2. Tears of Compassion: Tears which stem from a healthy heart, not a heart that is as hard as a rock. These tears show the levels of compassion that a human has; for example, they are the tears that flow when one sees an orphan freezing in the cold and crying because he was separated from his father, or the tears that are seen when one witnesses the murder of an infant, such as the murder of the infant at Karbala.
3. Tears of Success: Sometimes one cries when he reaches his goals. In regards to Karbala, these tears are the tears that announce one’s loyalty to Imam Hussain and his companions, that announce one’s loyalty to the struggle against oppression. Are such tears possible without knowing what the goals of Imam Hussain were?
4. Tears of Defeat: These are the tears of weak individuals who did not reach their goals and who do not have the motivation to continue. Never shed such tears for Imam Hussain, because he despises such tears. If you cry, make sure the tears you are shedding are happy tears, compassion tears, or tears of success.
However, knowing what Imam Hussain and his companions stood for is more important than mourning. Practically aligning oneself with those goals is also more important than mourning.