Chapter 5: Benefiting From Ashura

According to the Views of Imam Shirazi45 by Karim al-Mahrus46

‘The month of Muharram is one of the months during which the people of pre-Islamic or pagan times prohibited fighting. Later, in the same sacred month, our blood was spilt and our inviolability was violated and our progeny and women were made captive and our tents were put to the torch and our belongings were plundered and no inviolable thing that the Messenger of Allah had in us remained but it was violated. The Day of Husayn has blooded our eyes and let flow our tears and humiliated our beloved. The land of Karbala47, the land of tragedy and affliction has made us heirs to tragedy and affliction until the last day. So let the weepers weep over the like of Husayn, for weeping over him is a mitigation for grave sins.’

These are the words of Imam ‘Ali ibn Musa al-Ridha alayhis-salam in which he depicts for us the extent of the recidivism of the Ummayad regime and the indelible mark that the slaughter of Imam Husayn alayhissalam left on the people of the Prophet’s household or his Ahl-ul-Bayt alayhis-salam. Such an immense tragedy it was and such a stain on the face of Islam.

However, one of the secrets of the magnitude of the day of Ashura lies in Imam Husayn’s alayhis-salam knowledge of the fate that awaited him and the pure people, his household. He had certain knowledge that he would be martyred and he had alluded to this on many occasions in his sermons and speeches during his exit from Mecca and Medina, stating clearly that he was reconciling himself to meeting Allah and that he was determined to expend his lifeblood in the way of Allah and in the aid of the truth and in reviving the Islamic religion. Through this knowledge and certainty, we can see the secret of the divine protection and concern afforded to this 45 This is the translation of an article that appeared in the Arabic Kuwaiti periodical ‘al- Minbar’, issue 11 (2nd Year), April 2001, p.18. Translated by Ali Adam, London.

46 A researcher in The Centre for Islamic Education, London.

uprising and we can see the greatness of this spirit and the correctness of his reading of the state of the Islamic nation and government.

The Imam alayhis-salam put his hand on the pulse of both the nation and the government and when he found that the government was deviating from the way of the true religion, he took hold of the nation to straighten this deviation. He alayhis-salam said: ‘I have not come forth out of pride or arrogance, nor to cause corruption, nor as an oppressor, but I have come forth to seek the reform of the nation of my grandfather Muhammad. I wish to order the good and forbid the evil and follow the way of my grandfather and my father ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib.’

He alayhis-salam also said:

‘Now, I summon you to revive the features of the truth and to slay innovation. If you answer my call then you will be guided to the ways of righteousness.’

He alayhis-salam also said:

‘And I summon you to the book of Allah and to the way of His prophet. If you hear what I say and follow me I will lead you to the path of righteousness.’

In the thought of the supreme religious authority (marji’) Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Husayni al-Shirazi, we can clearly sense today the effects of the martyrdom of Imam Husayn alayhis-salam and the extent of its influence on the survival of the Islamic religion and in protecting it from the guiles of the enemy, all because of the historical stance that he took and the sacrifice he made on the day of al-Taff.48 We can also discern with ease from amongst these effects that the power of government, however great and developed that might be, can never compare with the power of the nation. The power of government is partial and is derived from the power of the nation above which there can be no power as long as the nation remains firmly upon the religion and follows it. The Imam alayhis-salam, alongside his knowledge by divine will of what would happen to him and to his family on the day of Ashura, also knew of the outcome of events and of the future. His uprising did not only uncover the scandals and crimes of the Umayyad regime but there was a mission behind this uprising; namely to make clear the reality of the Islamic 48 Al-Taff is another name for Karbala.

religion and to clarify its features for everyone. The result of the battle of Karbala was the uprooting of the Umayyad government despite its tyranny, influence, power, wealth and military might at a time when the society was not even allowing itself to consider the question of overthrowing the Umayyads because of their might and despotism. The events at Karbala renewed life for Islam and corrected the religious beliefsthat had arisen due to the Umayyad’s fabrication of prophetic traditions or hadith and their adoption of ideas from false philosophies. Ideas such as predeterminism (jabr) - the idea that men are compelled by Allah in their actions; delegation (tafwid), and theomorphism (tajsim) - the idea that Allah has a bodily form, and others like them, which served to shore up the pillars of their illegal regime. Hence Islam appeared once again, shining in the true form in which Allah had revealed it to His noble messenger salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih, in the form of the madhhab or school of the Ahl-ul-Bayt alayhis-salam after being cleansed of the detritus of Umayyad falsehood.

This uprising was and remains a model for all other liberationist uprisings in the world against oppressors. This uprising was the ‘big bang’, which prepared the way for a succession of revolutions and motivated those involved in the struggle to defend the sacred values of Islam and taught them the art of combating tyranny and to be steadfast in the struggle until they achieved a life of nobility and freedom. The nation then is a great power, and government has no power if the legality of its existence has not acquired the approval of the sacred law (shari’ah) and the nation. The nation must grasp however, that for the legal government to be righteous the nation must also be righteous. On this note, the renowned scholar Sheikh al-Baha’i says:

‘There is no fault in the religion of Islam itself, rather the fault lies in the Muslims themselves.’

Imam Husayn alayhis-salam, through his uprising, pointed out the way for the future generations and made clear the path to solving the problems of society and attaining the happiness of this life and the nobility of the next.

When Islamic society indeed put into practice some of these Islamic teachings it lived a life of prosperity and nobility as history witnessed in the days of Sayyid al-Murtada and Sheikh al-Mufid and Allamah al-Hilli and Sheikh al-Karaki and Sheikh al-Baha’i and Allamah al-Majlisi (May Allah venerate their souls)49. Then society was living an honourable life without being afflicted by any of the problems that afflict the Muslims today. On the contrary, it was the enemies of Islam who suffered from these crises since they were drowning in the seas of ignorance and backwardness and the like. ‘Husayn is the lantern of guidance and the ship of salvation,’ as the Messenger of Allah salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih said.

This hadith or prophetic tradition depicts the world in the finest of ways in order to bring us closer to understanding the true nature and reality of this world. It likens this world to the dark depths of the ocean from which there is no salvation except by means of a ship and there is no way to escape from its glooms except by a lantern. This is a splendid simile. Man in this world is in need of a lantern to light for him the way otherwise he will be lost in the darkness of ignorance and poverty and illness and will fall into the abysses and will not be able to perceive and hence avoid the wild animals and beasts which seek to prey on him. He is also in need of a ship, which will preserve him from drowning and perishing in the clashing depths of the seas of the world and will take him to the shores of tranquillity in safety and peace. What is it that functions as the lantern to guide mankind in the world and the ship to rescue him from its depths? It is none other than that which was specified by divine revelation and which was pointed to by the Messenger of Allah salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih when he said:

‘The people of my household are as the stars, which ever one of them you seek guidance from, you will be guided.’

He salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih also said:

‘The similitude of the people of my household is as the ship of Noah, whoever boards it will be saved, and whoever tarries behind from it will drown.’

These two descriptors; the lantern and the ship, apply to all the fourteen impeccable personages namely; The Prophet Muhammad salla-llahualayhi- wa-aalih, ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib alayhis-salam, Fatima al-Zahra’ alayhas-salam, Hasan al-Mujtaba alayhis-salam, Husayn al-Shahid alayhis-salam, ‘Ali al-Sajjad alayhis-salam, Muhammad al-Baqir alayhissalam, Ja’far al-Sadiq alayhis-salam, Musa al-Kadhim alayhis-salam, ‘Ali 49 They are some of the most eminent authorities in Islamic sciences and hadith, who lived over the period ten to fifteenth centuries. Their researches and works in the teachings of Ahlul- Bayt alayhum-as-salam still form the basis of many contemporary investigations and works.

al-Ridha alayhis-salam, Muhammad al-Jawad alayhis-salam, ‘Ali al-Hadi alayhis-salam, Hasan al-‘Askari alayhis-salam, and Muhammad al-Mahdi alayhis-salam. The Prophet salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih himself is the greatest lantern and ship. Allah has said: {O you the Prophet, surely We have sent you as a witness and a bringer of glad tidings and a warner and a summoner to Allah and as an illuminating lantern}. Humanity, living as it is in the darkness of ignorance and drowning in the depths of chaos, confusion and anxiety, has no cure available to it – if it wants salvation – other than seeking illumination by the light of those pure people and boarding their ship; for they are the complement to the wise book (the Qur’an) as the Messenger of Allah salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih has said:

‘I leave behind me the two weighty things; the book of Allah and my household. As long as you adhere to these two you will never go astray after me ever.’

This points to the fact that without adherence to the household alongside adherence to the book there will be a resultant straying which, in this world means dishonour and ignominy and in the next world means hell and the inferno.

The month of Muharram is the month of the sorrows of the people of the Prophet’s household alayhum-as-salam. It is the month when the religion was renewed by the uprising of the ‘ship of salvation’ and the ‘lamp of guidance’ (i.e. Imam Husayn alayhis-salam). In this sacred month, a strong Islamic nation should derive great benefit from this uprising. The supreme religious authority Ayatollah Muhammad al-Shirazi believes that the benefit of this month has been confined previously to one aspect only; namely to the reviving of religious practises such as establishing prayer, and paying the statutory Khums and Zakat along with other acts of worship, ethical practises and etiquettes, and the building of religious centres in the name of Husayn alayhis-salam and mosques and developing sites of religious interest as well as feeding the poor and providing water and the like. Two other aspects should be added to this, namely:

  1. The implementation of the laws and rulings of Islam generally and fully. At the top of which comes a system of consultative government through the holding of free and fair elections to set up a government which fulfils the conditions stipulated by Islam. Next come the freedoms that Allah has ordered in saying: {. . . and (for the Prophet) to relieve them from the heavy burdens and the yokes that were upon them}, such as the freedom to form Islamic political parties under the supervision of the Islamic religious authorities (maraji’), the freedom to trade, the freedom to manufacture, the freedom to cultivate land, the freedom to build, the freedom to travel and settle in a place, the freedom to print and publish, the freedom of association, the freedom of expression, and all the other freedoms conferred by Islam and mentioned in the Qur’an and the sunnah or traditions and deeds of the Prophet. Next comes the abolition of taxes and customs and excise, and of all the laws that have no basis in the Qur’an and the sunnah or in the consensus of scholars or reason. Then comes the institution of Islamic unity meaning that no borders will exist between the countries of Islam and no differences small or large will be recognised between nationalities or races. For {The believers are brothers} and in the words of Imam Husayn alayhis-salam:

‘By my life, the Imam is none but one who rules by the book and stands up for justice and equity and follows the religion of Allah and restrains himself for the sake of Allah.’

Imam Husayn alayhis-salam explains his eternal uprising saying: ‘O Allah, you know that what we did was not out of competition for worldly power, nor were we seeking the vanities of this world, but we desired to see the features of your religion and reform in your land and so that the oppressed of your servants might find respite and so that your commands and laws might be carried out.’

  1. The propagation of the message of Allah – Islam - to the people of the world as a whole and instilling Islamic values and ideals.

The month of Muharram can become an appropriate starting point for propagating this message and these values and ideals, which were embodied in the goals of Imam Husayn alayhissalam, to a thirsty humanity. This mission can be funded through collections at gatherings and Husayniyas, and forming bodies, which will send missionaries to every part of the world. Benefit may be derived from the gatherings held in remembrance of Husayn in that they stir up deep emotions in the self and the occasion they provide for intellectual direction, which has an effect in changing human behaviour. Speakers should concern themselves in their sermons with showing the way to social responsibility and institutions should be established in every mosque and Islamic centre for the task of fulfilling the material needs of the people according to priorities. These may be funded by donations from charitable people and businessmen and the wealthy. Imam Husayn alayhis-salam said in encouraging donations and expending in the way of Allah:

‘Your wealth does not belong to you unless you spend it in the way of Allah. Therefore do not leave it as a store for those who come after you, when you yourself will be held responsible for it. Know that you will not survive to make use of it and it will not remain for you, so consume it before it consumes you.’

Attention and concern must be paid to Islamic institutions for they continue to experience two crises; quantitative and qualitative. There is a noticeable lack in the number of Islamic cultural and social institutions and places of worship for Muslims in the Islamic world and for the Islamic communities in other countries. This quantitative lack may be filled by exploiting the occasion of Ashura so that preachers and hosts of gatherings concern themselves with setting up such institutions by encouraging and persuading the people to participate in providing the means and laying the ground work.

In this way and through these gatherings, which are spread throughout the world, we will be able, each year, to establish one hundred thousand institutions of differing types such as schools, mosques, Husayniyahs, libraries, clinics and hospitals, orphanages, radio and television stations, research institutes and newspapers and the like. After fifteen years this would probably equal the number of institutions the Christians have provided in Africa alone where they have founded hundreds of thousands of institutions.

As for the qualitative side, we must attain the necessary administrative and other skills to run these institutions in an organised and lasting manner so that the cultural institutions such as the Husayniyahs and mosques can be a source of thought and awareness including the scientific analysis of the events of Karbala and elsewhere, and linking the past to the present and the future. Without this, society will not be able to combat the dangers that surround it. The intellectual level of the pulpit must be deep so that the youth in particular can be protected from deviancy when it raises its ugly head. Often, it is a low intellectual level that is the cause of the deviancy of the youth and takes them to prisons and detention centres, and to the grave or exile. Hence, those who host gatherings and administrators must exhort the preachers to deliver the best possible psychological, social, historical, doctrinal, and other analyses. The speakers best equipped to carry out this task must be invited and their lectures must be recorded and published and distributed amongst the people to stir their emotions and direct them towards the good and the right and towards reform so that a wealth of information is available in all fields and aspects.

Islam is a world religion for the rescue of all people from darkness. It is not the religion of one thousand million Muslims only. However, this calls for great a deal of support. Is it not a source of regret that there are no more than few hundred Muslim missionaries working outside Islamic countries, whereas statistics show that the number of Christian missionaries in Africa is more than ten thousand and in Asia ninety thousand all equipped with all the aids and technology they need and whose task is to convert the Asians and Africans to Christianity? They have succeeded in converting tens of millions in these two continents.

If we, then, were to take the month of Muharram as a starting point for these three tasks, we will have fulfilled what is incumbent upon us as far as possible, as well as bringing Muslims from slavery to mastery and many non-Muslims from the darkness to the light. This is in reality a world Islamic movement not merely a local or territorial one, which has begun to adopt these three tasks. Our condition today is as that of the person yawning as he is newly awakened from a long sleep. However, this is a sign of the beginning of an awakening rather than a preparation for sleep. The Muslims have slept long enough so that their lands have been divided up, their wealth plundered, their honour torn, and their blood spilt.

Illegal laws have been placed over them and chaos, ignorance, illness, poverty, enmity and sectarianism reign. Now, thanks be to Allah, they have begun to rise and they are able to make a programme for this rising out of these three aforementioned tasks and starting from this sacred month of Muharram so they might reach their lofty goal if Allah wills.

Among that which Imam Shirazi strongly recommends as part of this programme is:

  1. The establishment of an organisation and expanding it to encompass all the lands of Islam so that communication may take place amongst the various wings, on the condition that this organisation includes free and fair elections held for example every two years.

  2. The founding of a supreme council for all Islamic organisations to discuss affairs and confirm activities by majority opinion. For Allah has said: {And your affairs are settled by mutual consultation} and Amir-ul-Mu’minin ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib alayhum-as-salam has said:

‘I adjure you by Allah to organise your affairs’.

  1. Creating complete awareness by alerting the nation to its points of weakness and strength so that the former may be eliminated and the latter may be benefited from. This calls for millions of books. The Imam alayhis-salam said:

‘He who has knowledge of his times cannot be taken unawares’

  1. The adoption of fine morals as in Allah’s words: {You were the best nation brought out for the people, enjoining the good} like adopting reason and critical examination, flexibility, and affability, co-operation, sincerity, consultation, and mutual respect and the like, and {and forbidding the evil} like weakness, cruelty, despotism, sectarianism, hatred and feuding.

  2. The organisation should maintain links with the populace and not become isolated from it as can be seen today in some Islamic organisations where pride, conceit and snobbery are present as well as the adoption of innovations and other things that will distance them from the public and will prevent them from being able to attract the people and will lead in the end to their failure.

Imam ‘Ali alayhis-salam said: ‘He who acts despotically on his own opinion will perish.’ Imam Husayn alayhis-salam said: ‘You should know that the needs that the people have of you are among the blessings of Allah upon you.’

  1. The following of jurists (fuquha) and authorities (maraji’). Imam Husayn alayhis-salam said:

‘The running of affairs and rulings are in the hands of the scholars of Allah who are certain of that which Allah has made lawful or unlawful.’

If the organisation distances itself from the religious authorities, which have been chosen by the nation, it will fail even if the organisation creates an authority for itself upon whatever pretext or excuse. The nation should follow the true authorities and should not be fooled by falsities.

  1. The recruiting of Islamic talent such as scholars, preachers and thinkers, teachers, and staff as well as infrastructure such as publishing houses, libraries, printing presses and schools. All these talents are important in ensuring the arrival at the desired goal, for the seas are made of raindrops and the deserts from grains of sand! If we make the gatherings in remembrance of Imam Husayn alayhis-salam a starting point for building an authentic and true Islamic nation,distinguished by the consultation of the religious scholars and the following of their rulings, and party pluralism, and the just rule of Islamic laws, then we will have conveyed a great deal to Imam Husayn alayhissalam who sacrificed himself, his family and his companions for nothing less than implementing Islam and rescuing the people. In the ziyarat of Imam Husayn alayhis-salam are the words of the Imam alayhis-salam addressing Allah: ‘ . . . to rescue Your servants from ignorance and the confusion of losing the way.’

Then the despotic organisations in all their forms will vanish, and power will be distributed amongst all the classes and groups whether that be power of governing or arms or knowledge or wealth. Capabilities will appear and bear fruit and the realities of knowledge in the fields of agriculture, manufacture, trade, education, and in the military will be become manifest. The lands snatched from Islam will be returned and their people will be rescued from the claws of colonisers. All this however requires an increase in sincerity of purpose combined with piety in the issues of Imam Husayn alayhis-salam. For Allah accepts the works of the pious as he has said: {Indeed Allah accepts from the pious}. If we do all this, we will have participated in explaining the goal of Imam Husayn alayhis-salam and in continuing on the path he took.