Chapter 2: the Distinct Roles of Imams Hasan and Husayn

It is reported that Rasulollah15 salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih said, “Hasan and Husayn are both Imams whether they rise up or not16”.


(The roles of) Imam Hasan and Imam Husayn alayhum-as-salam were planned and devised by Allah Almighty, and in turn by Rasulollah sallallahu- alayhi-wa-aalih, so they facilitate the salvation of generations to come until the day of judgement. This was not because they were simply two Imams and Caliphs [successors] of Rasulollah, for this is a forgone conclusion, but because these two Imams were two models and exemplars for every single individual who wanted to rescue their peoples and countries from the yoke of tyranny of the despots at whatever time they be and in whichever country.

A hadith is reported that Allah Almighty, via Jibra’el alayhis-salam, sent twelve “envelopes” to Rasulollah salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih each of which was sealed by the Almighty to be distributed to the twelve Imams.

Each of these contained the instructions as to the Imams’ roles and duties, which they needed to execute in turn. This is a short and known hadith that needs at least fourteen sessions to discuss certain aspects of each Ma‘soom and circumstances of the environment he was living in, and how each Imam dealt with the situations he faced. Amongst these Imams are Hasan and Husayn alayhum-as-salam. Here we wish to briefly outline how precise the divine plan was and how perfectly the Imams executed the plan, and this is apart from the fact that they are Ma‘soom, or according to our beliefs Imams and successors to Rasulollah salla-llahu-alayhi-waaalih.

The conclusion that we want to arrive at is whether we can make use of the circumstances and conducts of these two Imams in accordance with the hadith that “al-Hasan and al-Husayn are two Imams whether they rise up 14 Abstract of lecture by Grand Ayatollah Imam Muhammad Shirazi 15 Rasulollah meaning the Messenger of Allah, is one of the titles of Prophet Muhammad salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih.

16 What is meant by this hadith is that an impeccable Imam is leader for the Muslims under every and all circumstances and conditions; whether he officially assumes the office of leadership or not, or whether he revolts against a tyrant or not.

or not”? That they are not only Imams – leaders – for their own times only, but they remain Imams or leaders for generations to come until the day of judgement. There are three topics that we need to consider: 1. How society produces tyrants? 2. The character and psychology of a tyrant, 3. How to counter the tyrant?

Society and the production of Tyrants

Those societies produce tyrants where reformists are few and weak and therefore fail to discharge their duties, while mischief-makers are actively ferocious. And under such circumstances naturally the villains take over the country and rule the people. On this basis Rasulollah salla-llahualayhi- wa-aalih said, “You should enjoin good and prohibit abhorrent, otherwise Allah shall empower on you the evil amongst you, then you would pray (for this evil to be alleviated) but your prayers would not be answered.”

This is a logical and rational fact, since if the reformist is not proactive in his responsibilities and does not discharge his duties, society would degenerate and gradually turn into a pit of corruption, and under such circumstances who will come to power? Naturally of the wicked and the corrupt . . . {however you are like, as such you will be ruled by} Then if a wicked and a tyrant came to power and ruled the country, and you pray to Allah that he is removed, will those facts and circumstances change by this prayer? Of course not, and in the above-mentioned hadith Rasulollah salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih is clarifying two natural or universal laws. The universal law of how the tyrants come to power, and the law that prayers (alone) do not remove the tyrants from power. Both are universal laws, and here Rasulollah salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih is not outlining a (specific) Islamic law for us, nor is he informing us from the unseen, but any sound thinking individual (and Rasulollah salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih is the master of wisdom and intellect) would realise that the society in which reformists fail to discharge their duties, eventually and naturally a tyrant would take over the country, and he would impose his will and his rule over the people. And if a tyrant comes to power, it is natural that he would not be deposed by prayers alone, but by action as well as prayers, for each has its own role to play.

Society of the Shaam province17 before the Islamic conquest (around 620 CE) was highly influenced by Roman values, and the then Roman society was a corrupt and a decadent society, and perhaps these characteristics were some of the contributing factors to the fall of the Shaam province to the Muslim army that came from Arabia to introduce Islam to the people of the Shaam province. The victorious army headed back to Arabia after the apparent establishment of Islamic rule in the area. However since the Shaami society was influenced by those Roman values, and it had not adequately absorbed the teachings of Islam, it was ridden by ignorance and overwhelmed by corruption in its various forms; social, political, economical, moral and ethical, and therefore in such a society the corrupt had the upper hand and the reformists were a minority, if at all.

Mo’awiyah and his son Yazid were the by product of such corrupt society, as they did not absorb the teachings of Islam, nor did they learn the manners of Rasulollah salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih, like Imam Hasan and Imam Husayn alayhum-as-salam had done in the holy city of Medina, where the government of Islam was established, and personally led by Rasulollah salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih. Thus a society that has not adequately absorbed Islam and the effect of reform is still superficial, would easily be manipulated by the likes of Mo’awiyah, and through fear or deceit would fall back to its old traditions and beliefs, i.e. corrupt Roman values. Hence the like of Mo’awiyah and Yazid managed to take over and hold on to the office of government, through enticement and/or threat.

To reflect the situation above, a poet states in this famous poem, I do not know what happened to the Muslim men Or how Yazid happened to be the king amongst them How many (responsible) Muslims such as Abu Tharr al-Ghefari18 were there in the Shaami society at the time of Mo’awiyah and Yazid?

Mo’awiyah was fearful of Abu Tharr alone, since the Shaami society did not know the Islamic laws and values, and the former was afraid that the 17 The Shaam province roughly covered today’s Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Palestine, and its capital city was Damascus.

18 Abu Tharr al-Ghefari was one of the most prominent companions of Rasulollah sallallahu- alayhi-wa-aalih, and he was known for his sincerity and honesty. He also became known for his frank and brave criticism of wrong actions or policies, and for his standing up to tyrant and despots rulers of his time.

latter would turn things against him by presenting the Teachings of Islam as taught by Rasulollah salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih to the public.

It is like introducing Islam to a new city. Will that society be a deeply Islamic one? No. Only on the surface things may have changed, and when anyone comes along and falsely claims to know the way of Islam, they would follow him! And this is what Mo’awiyah claimed in the Shaami society.

A tyrant is born in a society, where the fundamental factor in nurturing him is the established corrupt social order of that society. In other words, whenever you see a tyrant is born in a country, you should know that there are fundamental factors for it, the first of which being the corrupt and decadent social proviso of that country.

On the other hand when a society is rich with reformist and responsible individuals, then it would be a field for growth of prosperity, reform and development, such that it would be impossible for a tyrant to be born in that environment.

The prophet showed the people the Islamic way {and what better is there than Allah’s way} [2: 138], and it is then up to them to adhere to those teachings in order to reach their targets.

Needless to say, by reformist we do not mean he who preaches to the people to enjoin good and refrain from evil in a small religious society, but by reformist we mean he who can change and transfer things and stand up to tyrants.

Character and Psychology of Tyrants

The character of tyrants fall into two categories, we either have a sly and cunning tyrant or a slow-witted and stupid one, and the sign of the first kind is that he is deceitful in war, vile and despicable in peace, while the second is vicious and savage in war and irresponsible and disrespectful in peace. Using Mo’awiyah and Yazid as examples, Mo’awiyah being the son of two devious parents, Abu Sufian and Hind, he is deceptive and disingenuous, and this could be clearly be seen in his wars with Imam Ali and Imam Hasan alayhum-as-salam, where deception played major and important roles in Mo’awiyah’s wars.

The example of the second category is Yazid the son of Mo’awiyah, and his savagery in war, as seen from unspeakable brutality in his war with

Of course his viciousness and savagery was not limited to that battle alone, as he displayed his barbarity and cruelty, and his total disregard for any value when he attacked the holy city of Medina and instructed his soldiers to do whatever they wanted to do. they committed the most gruesome atrocities, ranging from burning, looting, and destruction to killing the young and old, women and children, even the infant babies, as well as raping thousands of women, . . . and all that took place in the sacred city of Medina. Yazid also attacked the holy city of Mecca and in particular he ordered to destroy the Ka'bah and the Holy Mosque there, which the army torched by attacking it by mangonel or catapult. It is in this sense that one is considered savage and brutal in war, since the tyrant does not respect even the rules and regulations of engagement, or any other laws, ideas or understanding. And this is the meaning of Taghut (the Arabic word of Tyrant) not respecting nor distinguishing between anything. Hence they say in Arabic the Tughyan of fire (meaning the rage of fire) since the fire does not recognise the laws and values and dose not respect anything but burns everything in its path, and it does so without distinguishing one thing from another. This is the nature of Yazid in war, and in peace he does not hold or respect any value for anything. He did not use to have any respect for anyone nor for any right of the people, he used to keep company with monkeys, drink wine, and regularly commit adultery and incest. This was to the extend that one of them used to say, “we were fearful that it would rain stone on us since Yazid used to commit incest with the likes of his sisters and aunts”.

These are the two categories of tyrants, and there is no third type to them.

Encountering the Tyrants

Allah Almighty foreordained Imam Hasan alayhis-salam to encounter the first kind of tyrant, whereas He foreordained Imam Husayn alayhis-salam to deal with the second type. The reformists throughout the world must therefore follow the example of Imam Hasan alayhis-salam if they were faced with the like of Mo’awiyah, and to follow the model of Imam Husayn alayhis-salam if they were to deal with the like of Yazid.

So the essence of the noble hadith, “al-Hasan and al-Husayn are two Imams whether they rise up or not” is to point out how Imam Hasan alayhis-salam should fight his opponent, and how to make peace with him.

If Imam Hasan alayhis-salam were not to make peace with Mo’awiyah, that would have been a failure on his part, since Mo’awiyah plays with two faces; one of peace and one war, and Imam Hasan alayhis-salam

needed to be prepared for both tactics. If Imam Hasan alayhis-salam were to engage in battle only, then this would have exposed Mo’awiyah’s conduct in war only and it would not have depicted his conduct in peace.

Similarly if Imam Hasan alayhis-salam were to adopt peaceful measures only, this would not have exposed Mo’awiyah’s conduct in war. Imam Hasan alayhis-salam was careful in his plan to deal with Mo’awiyah, which was not only in accordance with the plan of Allah Almighty, but it was logical too – this is apart from the fact that he was Ma’soom and our belief that he was Imam who must be obeyed. Imam Hasan alayhis-salam fought Mo’awiyah for a period of time to reveal the conduct of Mo’awiyah in war, and he made peace with him to expose Mo’awiyah’s face and conduct in peace times.

If it were not for that, and if the Imam had fought him until death, the peacetime conducts of Mo’awiyah would not have become apparent; such conducts as ordering all speakers across the land to curse and swear at Imam Ali alayhis-salam19 after every prayer. On many occasions Imam Hasan was present in the Mosque when the speaker or prayer leader, on instructions from Mo’awiyah, insulted Imam Ali alayhis-salam, while it was one of the conditions of the peace treaty between Imam Hasan alayhis-salam and Mo’awiyah that Imam Ali should not be insulted.

Another condition of the peace treaty was that Imam Hasan alayhis-salam and his household as well as the followers of Imam Ali alayhis-salam should not be harassed and intimidated. But in reality they were constantly harassed and tormented, and denied their rights by Mo’awiyah and his regime. In fact it was during this peacetime that Mo’awiyah declared his famous statement in public that, “the treaty of al-Hasan and all its conditions are beneath my feet!”

All of these would not have become apparent if it were not for the peace Imam Hasan alayhis-salam made with Mo’awiyah, it was this act of Imam Hasan alayhis-salam that exposed Mo’awiyah before the masses.

If it were not for a reformist like Imam Hasan, the two faces of Mo’awiyah – his conducts in war and in peace – would not have been exposed.

Therefore Imam Hasan alayhis-salam shall remain a role model for future generations who want to stand up to tyrants such as Mo’awiyah.

19 Imam Ali alayhis-salam is the father of Imam Hasan alayhis-salam and the immediate successor to Prophet Muhammad salla-llahu-alayhi-wa-aalih, who was appointed to this post by the prophet on instructions from Allah Almighty.

Throughout history and the future, tyrants like Mo’awiyah will come when there will be a need for reformists like Imam Hasan alayhis-salam, and as for tyrants like Yazid, we will need reformists like Imam Husayn alayhissalam