The Relevance of the Tragedy of Karbala today
By Ahmad Abu Hayyan
This sacred month holds a solemn place in the pages of Islamic history. The 10th of Muharram reminds the Muslim Ummah of the tragedy and the bloody massacre of Karbala.
It is the plains of Karbala that were irrigated with the pure blood of the Ahl ul Bayt, the noble family of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم
Generations of Muslims have been disturbed by its vivid account and emotions have been left in tatters when reflecting on how such an incident can happen to family of the Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم. However with great sadness and grief, this is a factual part of our history which the Ummah will shed tears for till the Day of Judgement.
As the Ummah remembers Karbala, we must have an understanding of what happened and understand its relevance today so that we can apply its lessons. Indeed, the Islamic history is one of learning and contemplation and not mere story telling.
A Brief History of Karbala
It was during the end of Muawiya period as the Khalifah, where Muawiya was influenced by ideas from the conquered Persians (modern day Iran) of hereditary rule. Muawiya began an effort to introduce hereditary rule into the political system of Islam.
Muawiya attempted to appoint his son, Yazid, as Crown Prince even though there is no such idea in Islam.
Muawiya (ra) died at the age of 75 in the middle of the month of Rajab 60 AH.
When Muhawiya died a political vacuum had developed, which Yazid took full advantage. He wrote a letter to Waleed bin Utba bin Abu Sufyan, who was appointed the Governor of Madinah by Muawiya (ra), to demand the bay’ah from Imam Hussein (ra). If it was refused he wanted his (ra) head.
Waleed invited Hussein (ra) to a meeting for this purpose. Hussein (ra) did not give his word at the meeting and decided to leave Medina along with his family to go to Mecca. When Hussein (ra) reached Mecca he received letters from Kufa urging him to go to Kufa to become the Khalifah.
Imam Hussein (ra) understood that giving the bay’ah to a usurper like Yazid would place Islam in great danger. Therefore he decided to leave Mecca for Kufa to address this matter of the Khalifah and its appointment. Imam Hussein (ra), along with his family, friends, and companions began the difficult journey of 1,100 miles towards Kufa.
The Tragedy of Karbala
On the 10th Muharram Muslim blood would be shed and 72 innocent lives would be sacrificed on the plains Karbala. It was Karbala where he was restricted to remain with his loyal supporters and family by Yazid’s forces.
In the morning Hussein (ra) went out of his camp and saw Yazid’s henchman, Umar Ibn Sa’ad mobilizing his troops to start battle. He stared at the intimidating army, Hussein (ra) showed no signs of compromising and raised this hands to Allah Azza wa Jall:
“O Allah! It is You in whom I trust amid all grief. You are my hope amid all violence. You are my refuge and provision in everything that happens to me. How many grievances weaken the heart, leaving me with no means to handle them, during which friends desert me, and my enemy rejoices in it. I lay it before You and complain of it to You, because of my desire in You, You alone. You relieve me of it and remove it from me. You are the Master of all Grace, the Essence of Goodness, and the Ultimate Resort of all Desire.”
Umar Ibn Sa’ad threw an arrow in the air to indicate the start of the battle.
Imam Hussein’s (ra) supporters insisted on being the first to fight. Within a short time the Imam’s supporters finished a large number of the enemy fighters. This caused anxiety in the enemy, with 72 people of Hussein’s (ra) force against the 5,000 of the enemy force. The commander-in-chief ordered his army to set fire to the Imam’s tents (which were occupied mostly by frightened females and children), and he reinforced his fighters with more troops.
Ali Akbar, Hussein’s (ra) son received permission to fight. He fought them bravely but the enemy overwhelmed him cutting him with swords and spears, and his body became nothing but wounds gushing blood, until he died. Imam Hussein (ra) rushed to the area and picked up the wounded limp body and brought it to his camp. His sister and others in the camp were horrified and shocked at the scene.
Abbas and five others went to fight next. They also engaged the enemy in fierce fighting. Abbas went towards the river to bring some water for the thirsty children. While he was returning on his horse with the water, he was attacked by a large number who severely wounded him. Abbas could not save the water, he fell from his horse to breathe his last and died.
Next to the battlefield went the sons of Hasan (ra) and Zainab (ra) and their cousins (17 of them). They were all teenagers but each stood bravely.
By the afternoon 70 people had sacrificed their lives in Karbala. All had fought under severe thirst, dehydration and exhaustion.
Remaining the only one, Hussein (ra) was to face the enemy. Precisely at that moment Hussein (ra) heard his baby crying agonising from thirst. Hussain (ra) held the six months old baby, his youngest son (Ali Asghar) in his arms, and appealed to the enemy fighters for some water for the baby. The Imam wanted to awaken Islam in the enemy but instead of water, the Zaalimeen shot an arrow towards the baby and killed him instantly.
Imam Hussein (ra) was shocked, in great anguish at the sight of his baby in his arms lifeless. He filled his palms with the blood of his Son, and threw it towards the sky, complaining to Allah (swt):
“O Allah, O my Lord! My consolation is the fact that Thou in Thine Majesty are witnessing what I am going through.”
Imam Hussein (ra) was alone, one man against thousands. He took them on, fighting them bravely. Thousands of enemy fighters were surrounding him but none dared to move towards him. The silence was broken when a scream for an attack came. In response they attacked collectively, and one sword fell on Imam Hussein’s (ra) left wrist and deeply cut his left hand. The blood gushed like a fountain. Another sword hit his upper back. Imam Hussein (ra) fell to the ground, but he still staggered and tried to stand by leaning on his sword. Then he received the fatal blow.
It was at this point, that Shimr, came forward and severed Imam Hussein’s (ra) noble head from his body. Shimr and others in their evilness carried his head on the tip of a spear to Yazid, 600 miles to Yazid.
At this, an old man in the assembly cried: “Gently! It is the Prophet’s grandson. By Allah, I have seen these very lips kissed by the blessed mouth of RasoolAllah (saw).”
The Lesson for Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Yazid was an illegitimate leader for the Muslims. He was never given the bay’ah of Khilafah by consent and selection, and never held the seat of Khalifah. He was a usurper (Mutasallit).
The Khilafah cannot therefore be concluded except by a Bay’ah of consent and choice and Imam Hussain (ra) understood this and gave his life, his family and the life of his son for a vital issue which required such a sacrifice to be made. It was Hussain (ra) moved to deal with the vital issues of the Ummah which is its unity and implementation.
There is not one ruler in the Muslim world who is legitimate and have followed the Sunnah of Yazid. This is because they are rule the Muslims by following their own whims and desires and oppress its own people to sustain their power in our lands. Everyone of them, without exception is in power like tyrants and rule by everything except Islam.
Allah (swt) says in the Quran:
إِنِ الْحُكْمُ إِلَّا لِلَّهِ
“Verily the Hukm (ruling) is for none but Allah” (Yusuf 40)
وَأَنِ احْكُمْ بَيْنَهُمْ بِمَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ أَهْوَاءَهُمْ وَاحْذَرْهُمْ أَنْ يَفْتِنُوكَ عَنْ بَعْضِ مَا أَنْزَلَ اللَّهُ إِلَيْكَ
“And rule between them by what Allah has revealed and do not follow their desires and beware of them that they may seduce you away from some of that which Allah has revealed to you” (Al-Maa’idah 49)
So we must ask if there are rulers like this what would be the response of Hussain (ra)?
He would not have been silent rather he would engage in a struggle which the Shariah has allowed to address this matter.
Accounting the Rulers is the example of Imam Hussain (ra)
The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said in a hadith,
»سيد الشهداء حمزة ورجل قام إلى إمام جائر فنصحه فقتله«
“The Master of martyrs is Hamzah and the man who stood facing a tyrant ruler, gave him the correct advice and the ruler killed him.”
[Reported by al-Haakim]
The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم, compared the man who accounted the tyrant ruler with the Master of Martyes, lion of Allah, beloved uncle of RasulAllah صلى الله عليه وسلم, Hamza (ra).
It is Hamza (ra) who was a shield for the Muslims in their time of need, due to his great status amongst the Qur’aysh. It is Hamza (ra) who was the attraction for many to embrace Islam, from the tribes, due to that status. It is Hamza (ra) about whom, when he صلى الله عليهوسلم saw his martyred body declared, “I will never have a worse loss in my life than yours. I have never been more outraged than now… if Allah destines me to win over the Qur’aysh, I will cut thirty of them into pieces.”
Upon these words from RasulAllah صلى الله عليه وسلم about the Master of martyrs, Hamza (ra), that Allah سبحانه وتعالى revealed,
دْعُ إِلَى سَبِيلِ رَبِّكَ بِالْحِكْمَةِ وَالْمَوْعِظَةِ الْحَسَنَةِ وَجَادِلْهُمْ بِالَّتِي هِيَ أَحْسَنُ إِنَّ رَبَّكَ هُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِمَنْ ضَلَّ عَنْ سَبِيلِهِ وَهُوَ أَعْلَمُ بِالْمُهْتَدِينَ
وَإِنْ عَاقَبْتُمْ فَعَاقِبُوا بِمِثْلِ مَا عُوقِبْتُمْ بِهِ وَلَئِنْ صَبَرْتُمْ لَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لِلصَّابِرِينَ
وَاصْبِرْ وَمَا صَبْرُكَ إِلاَّ بِاللَّهِ وَلاَ تَحْزَنْ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلاَ تَكُ فِي ضَيْقٍ مِمَّا يَمْكُرُونَ
“Invite to the way of your Lord with wisdom and fair preaching, and argue with them with that which is best. Truly, your Lord best knows who has strayed from His path, and He best knows those who are guided. And if you punish them, then punish them with the like of that with which you were afflicted. But if you have patience with them, then it is better for those who are patient. And be patient, and your patience will not be, but by the help of Allah. And do not grieve over them, and do not be distressed by their plots.” (An-Nahl: 125-127)
It is this path of accounting the ruler who did not follow Islam that Imam Hussain (ra) commited himself and his family to when accounting Yazid. It was Hussain (ra) too who accounted the tyrant and the ruler killed him.
Therefore it is not acceptable that when the Ummah remembers Hussain (ra) we forget that he (ra) followed a pure path which was to account the tyrant Yazid so that the Ahkam of Islam and its rulings are preserved. Hussain (ra) was concerned about the future of the Ummah and Islam if Yazid was allowed to usurp the power from the Ummah and corrupt Islam.
Therefore Karbala bares witness to this sacrifice and that his (ra) death was not for nothing, rather it was to please Allah Azza wa Jall. It is this path which the Ummah must follow today, as it is part of being a Muslim and not falling into risk of earning Allah swt displeasure.
The Messenger of Allah صلى الله عليه وسلم said,
“By the One in Whose Hand lies my soul, you must order the ma’roof and forbid the munkar, or Allah will be about to send a punishment, then you will supplicate to Him and you will not be answered.” [Tirmidhi]
Like Imam Hussain (ra) the Muslim does not fear any loss at the hand of the evil ones, who harass, imprison and torture, sometimes leading to death by the rulers of the Muslim world today.
If Hussain (ra) was present today, what reaction would the evil rulers in Saudi Arabia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan et al have towards him? The history of these countries in the past and today have shown that when there have been Muslims who have accounted them, they have thrown them into their dungeons, torture rooms,which has led to some of them to death.
It is the Muslims that must now face the Yazids of our time and is the Muslims today that must keep the example of Imam Hussain (ra) so that maybe we can truly reflect on the tragedy of Karbala.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اسْتَجِيبُوا لِلََِّّ وَلِلرَّسُولِ إِذَا دَعَاكُمْ لِمَا يُحْيِيكُمْ
“O You who believe! Respond to Allah and to the Messenger when He calls you to what will bring you to life!”[Al-Anfaal: 24]