‘Haihat min az-zillah’

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The Call Of Imam Hussain

KARBALA epitomises the apogee of human values. While the event may have occurred over 1,000 years ago, its message is timeless and resonates with great clarity and magnetism even today, as if the battle occurred within our lifetimes.

Some may assume this is due to the fact that the tragedy is retold year after year. In cultures across the world epics relating to the feats of heroes exist and have become an established part of tradition.

However, one would be hard-pressed to find a historical event that exercises such profound influence over those who become familiar with its details. This is not due to the eloquent oratory or poetic tributes associated with the retelling of the Karbala saga. Rather, it has to do with the magnetism of Imam Hussain bin Ali and the immortal values Imam Hussain, his family and dedicated companions stood for.

Why is Karbala relevant today? Karbala matters because until all those negative attributes Imam Hussain took a stand against — arrogance, materialism, the lust for power and tyranny — exist, the Hussaini model will also need to exist to strengthen mankind’s resolve to stand firm against these diseases of the soul.

Karbala reminds us that while the weak — speaking strictly in terms of worldly power — may appear to be defeated in the short term, in the collective memory of mankind the Almighty exalts those who stand firm in the face of oppression, while He belittles the oppressor.

In fact, perhaps the central message of Karbala is sabr. As some scholars point out, unlike the narrower colloquial meaning of ‘patience’, sabr in reality means standing firm and not compromising on principles, come what may. Can there be a greater example of sabr than what Imam Hussain endured? His children, brothers, kinsmen and companions were brutally slain before his eyes as they fought off the marauding Syrian hordes, while he himself fell in a hail of enemy arrows, swords and daggers while prostrating before the Almighty.

But perhaps most painful for Imam Hussain must have been the thought of how the Syrian forces would treat the ladies of the Ahlul Bayt after his martyrdom. When, after his return to Madina from Damascus, Imam Ali bin Al Hussain Zain Al Abideen, Imam Hussain’s eldest and only surviving son, was asked what the most painful experience of Karbala was, Imam Zain Al Abideen replied “As Sham, As Sham, As Sham”, referring to the undignified manner in which the granddaughters of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and the other ladies of the Hussaini camp were led through the streets and palaces of Kufa and Damascus.

Even a fraction of these sufferings would break an average person. Yet Imam Hussain held fast to sabr perhaps as no other individual in history has. And in this is a lesson for all oppressed and demoralised peoples. We Muslims, broken as we are by terrorism, crime, moral bankruptcy, collapse of governance and a host of other socioeconomic woes, need to seek inspiration from the Hussaini model.

Karbala is not a remembrance of death, but an immortal symbol of hope and life. While azadari softens hearts through weeping for Imam Hussain, the mourning of Karbala is in fact a renewal of faith and a reaffirmation of values. By shedding tears for Hussain and his companions, every year those who love him renew their pledge to side with the truth and resist oppression. We needn’t be despondent over our current state of affairs. We need to inspire ourselves through the spirit of Karbala to lift us out of the morass of hopelessness. We need to shun the narrow divisions of sect, ethnicity and tribe and ally ourselves with the divine, universal values of Hussain.

Karbala teaches man to live with dignity and respect; as per tradition, while addressing the enemy forces Imam Hussain is reported to have said “haihat min az-zillah” (‘we reject humiliation’), indicating that man should not bow before tyranny. While perhaps only Imam Hussain and his companions had the moral strength to be martyred in battle that later saw their heads hoisted atop lances, we need to make sacrifices in our own way.

Ultimately, Karbala is a symbol of love, of devotion. As per a well-known tradition, the night before Ashura Imam Hussain ordered the torches to be dimmed and allowed any of his followers who wished to leave to do so. It is said hardly anyone left.

After all, the brave souls of the Hussaini camp knew it was better to sacrifice themselves under the leadership of Imam Hussain on the path of the truth rather than plead forgiveness from a tyrannical, unjust regime.

In an age where the rat race for material gain has resulted in the death of values and inequality is rife, man needs to rise above his base desires and realise his human potential. For while man’s material surroundings may have changed between 61AH and today, his spiritual and moral predicament is pretty much unchanged. Karbala is a perfect point of reference to begin this endeavour.

When Imam Hussain was left alone in the field, after all his brave companions and family members had been martyred, he raised a final call: “Hal min nasirin yansurna?” (‘is there anyone who will come to our aid?’) This call was not bound by time, space, sect, religion or language. The Hussaini invitation stands. The question is; who amongst the oppressed of the world is willing to respond with a resounding “Labbaika ya Hussain”?

When Imam Hussain was left alone in the field, after all his brave companions and family members had been martyred, he raised a final call: “Hal min nasirin yansurna?” (‘is there anyone who will come to our aid?’) This call was not bound by time, space, sect, religion or language. The Hussaini invitation stands. The question is; who amongst the oppressed of the world is willing to respond with a resounding “Labbaika ya Hussain”?
The article first appeared in Dawn

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