In this month of Muharram, as Muslims all over the world remember and mark the martyrdom of Imam Husain (ra) at Karbala, ZAFAR BANGASH, Director of the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought, relates those events to our current situation
The real tragedy of the Ummah is not that we are facing another Karbala in Iraq or Palestine today, but that there are too many Yazids and no Imam Husain among us. During this Muharram, as in years past, the sacrifices of the great Imam (ra) have been commemorated all over the world; even rulers in some Muslim countries participate in ceremonies to pay tribute to Imam Husain’s principled stand against injustice. Yet these very same rulers not only compromise with injustice but perpetrate it in their own societies daily. It is this hypocrisy that is at the root of much of the suffering of Muslims today. In the Qur’an, Allah challenges us:
"O you who have committed yourselves to Allah, why do you say that which you do not practise? The worst thing in the sight of Allah is that you say but do not do" (61:2-3).
There is a long list of tragedies that have befallen us that can be cited as our present-day Karbalas: Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq, Chechnya, Kashmir, Bosnia and Gujrat are but a few. Everywhere Muslims are under attack; they are vilified, tortured, humiliated and killed, yet they are the ones accused of almost every kind of wrongdoing. But before we draw parallels between the contemporary problems of Muslims and the tragedy of Karbala, let us be clear about what Imam Husain’s sacrifice was about. 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. He declared before both friends and foes: "If this Ummah is to be tried with a shepherd such as Yazid, then farewell to Islam." Imam Husain refused to give his allegiance to Yazid but did not plot in secret; his rejection of Yazid’s authority was open and aboveboard. He even went to Makkah to make a public declaration of what was afoot and how it would affect the Ummah of Islam, but he realized that the sanctity of the Haram would be violated by his blood being shed, so he left without even completing his Hajj. For him, Islamic principles were more important than his personal well-being. He died in a strange land after witnessing the murders of almost all his family and close companions; he preferred to die rather than compromise with dhulm 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 in the Muslims of today; this mainly is what has led to our sorry predicament. There is no shortage of sincere Muslims willing to make thehijrah (migration to Allah), but there are no Imam Husains to lead them. The Muslim world is dominated by Yazids who have pledged themselves to the modern-day Pharaohs. Today, Ghazzah is drenched with the blood of children as the sand of Karbala was nearly 1,400 years ago; the children of Iraq are starving as the children and grandchildren of Imam Husain starved at Karbala. Today’s situation is made worse by the fact that an external power–the US–has emerged that has no respect for others’ rights or lives. Greed, arrogance and the belief that nothing can resist its military might are driving Washington to force everyone to submit to its demands. The Qaroons and Pharaohs of yesteryear demanded no less, visiting untold misery upon countless souls until they themselves perished, as they were destined to.
The struggle between right and wrong is as old as human history. When Iblis refused to obey Allah’s command to prostrate before Adam (as), 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 feeling of superiority because he was made of fire while Adam was made of clay, that led him to disobey Allah. How many rulers in the Muslim world today are following in the footsteps of Iblis? True, they are Muslims in name and in some of their rituals and gestures, but in reality they belong to the camp of Iblis. The same struggle between Haqq and batil manifested itself between Ibrahim (as) and Qaroon; between Musa (as) and the Pharaoh; and between the last and final Prophet of Allah (saw) and the chiefs of Quraish. The stage may change, but the nature of the struggle does not. And in most situations, while falsehood is initially successful and able to browbeat many ordinary people into submission, truth ultimately triumphs. Yazid and his men were militarily successful at Karbala, but how many Muslims celebrate his "triumph" today? Which Muslim in his right mind can say that Yazid was in the right? Imam Husain (ra) died, but ultimate victory was his. By refusing to surrender to Yazid, he made it difficult or impossible for future tyrants to justify their illegitimate rule by Islam.
Unfortunately, successive rulers in Islamic history have deviated from the norms established by Allah’s Messenger (saw) and his rightly-guided successors (ra). Many a scholar succumbed to pressure from these rulers and provided intellectual arguments to underpin questionable policies and practices. We Muslims are in such bad shape today because we have allowed too many compromises to creep into the body politic of Islam. One of these, which has achieved the status of religious dogma, is the idea that Muslims must not rebel against authority, even if it is illegitimate, because to do so might lead to turmoil in society. This argument received immense official patronage, and scholars who promoted it were rewarded with positions and titles. Those who refused to cooperate, such as Imam Abu-Hanifa (ra), were publicly punished and humiliated. Thus the deviation of Muslim rulers– kings who insisted on being called khalifah or amir al-mu’mineen–was given religious sanction by scholars of dubious credentials and not enough courage or conviction. Under official patronage, their line of reasoning received wide currency and gradually became accepted as standard practice. Such corruption at the core was bound to affect the Muslim Ummah profoundly. Its consequences are being felt by Muslims everywhere today.
Other demonic notions also find striking echoes in the past. The US and its zionist cohorts talk about such ideas as "pre-emptive strikes." The zionists have even put them into practice, in Palestine and elsewhere. In the Qur’an Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala tells us that Pharaoh issued orders to kill all the male children of Bani Israel and spare the girls (28:4-5). He gave this order because his advisors told him that someone from among the Children of Israel would emerge to challenge his authority, which would ultimately lead to the destruction of his kingdom. Pharaoh’s order was a "pre-emptive" strike against Bani Israel to prevent that eventuality. We know from the Qur’an that a boy-child from the Bani Israel –Musa (as)–not only emerged to challenge Pharaoh, but that Allah arranged matters in such a way that he was brought up in the house of Pharaoh himself! Those who call themselves the Bani Israel today have abandoned their covenant with Allah and adopted the practices of Pharaoh. So can their ultimate fate be any different? But before such a fate befalls them, a Musa-like leader must emerge in the world. Musa (as) did not have armies to confront Pharaoh’s legions; he was not even very articulate, having some sort of speech impediment (Qur’an 20:27), yet he received the divine message and obeyed Allah’s command that he deliver it without fear or hesitation.
There is another irony in the doctrine of "preemptive strikes." Only half a century ago, Hitler used precisely this doctrine to invade and occupy a number of countries in Europe. When Israel was planted in the heartland of Islam, it adopted the same ideology and has pursued it relentlessly against the Palestinians and against neighbouring states. And now US president George Bush has adopted it, adding further refinements to justify his lust for aggression and war. He has done more; by presenting a simplistic yet dangerous notion–that if one is not with him, then one is with his enemy–he has usurped people’s right to decide for themselves. In a sense he has indeed established a global dictatorship.
Berating others’ lack of fairness and decency, however, will not help the Muslims. There is little doubt in the mind of most Muslims that America, Israel, India et al are not ruled by people and systems that wish Muslims well; they are the open enemies of Islam, so why should Muslims expect any else from them? Equally crucial are other questions: what are we Muslims doing to confront our enemies? What weaknesses must we overcome in Muslim societies in order for us not to expose ourselves to external threats and aggression? Let us be clear that there are many structural weaknesses and faults in Muslim societies; denial of this will not help us, only our enemies. Accepting that problems exist is the first step on the path to their solution: someone suffering from a heart-problem can hardly help himself by denying that he has any such disease.
Imam Husain (ra) 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 people who were totally unfitted to rule. He raised his voice against it; regrettably, there were not enough Muslims willing to give up their lives for Islam’s principles. Even those who did join the Imam eventually betrayed him. Yet this does not detract from his principled stand and his willingness to give up his own life in order not to lend weight to the corruption of Islamic principles. He was acting according to the Qur’anic command: "O you who have committed yourselves to Allah: shall I tell you of a deal that will save you from the torment of Hellfire? Believe in Allah and His Messenger, and struggle in the way of Allah with your wealth and with your lives. That is better for you, if you but knew" (61:10-11). So Imam Husain (ra) struggled in the way of Allah not only with his own life but those of his family and close friends as well.
Today their voices echo in the torture-chambers of prisons in Israel, in the cages in Guantanamo Bay, in the valleys and mountains of Afghanistan, in the blood-drenched streets of Kashmir and the sewage-soiled alleys and side-streets of Palestinian refugee-camps and Iraqi cities and towns. To these must be added the torture-chambers of such rulers as those of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Algeria and Tunisia. The Muslim world is ruled by the likes of Yazid, who have allied themselves with the enemies of Islam. Yet these very rulers dare to extol the virtues of Imam Husain (ra) while themselves indulging in Yazidi behaviour.
All this causes despondency among some Muslims; yet this is wrong. Allah does not allow Muslims to lose hope; there will definitely be trials and tribulations, even suffering and defeat, in the struggle for truth and justice. After all, even the Messenger of Allah (saw) did not have an easy time. He was known as al-Amin, "the trustworthy one", even by his enemies, yet they persecuted him and his companions. They suffered abuse, torment, exile, siege, isolation and even death in battle or by torture, yet they remained steadfast. Even when permitted to fight they did not always win: in the battle of Uhud Muslims suffered a setback despite the presence of the Prophet (saw); a similar fate nearly befell them at the battle of Hunayn, before the Prophet (saw) was able to rally and regroup his companions. So there is no guarantee for Muslims. What is important is that we struggle in the way of Allah with total sincerity.
That is why Allah tells His faithful servants not to lose heart, for Allah is with those who struggle in His way. We are commanded to fight; in the process some of us will kill and be killed, but ultimately the reward of those who do so is with Allah because He has bought their wealth and lives in exchange for the Promise of Paradise (9:111). For Allah’s Promise is of course the best of all promises.