The event of Karbala has both influenced and inspired our planet’s most prominent leaders and thinkers, resulting in figures such as Mahatma Ghandi saying “If India wants to be a successful country, it must follow in the footsteps of Imam Hussain” and it is with regard to Imam Hussain that Ghandi said: “I learnt from Hussain how to be victorious when oppressed”.
Upon reviewing historical books that shed light onto the history and development of Islam, we are subjected to an event that changed the course of the entire religion. This event has both influenced and inspired our planet’s most prominent leaders and thinkers, resulting in figures such as Mahatma Ghandi saying “If India wants to be a successful country, it must follow in the footsteps of Imam Hussain” and it is with regard to Imam Hussain that Ghandi said: “I learnt from Hussain how to be victorious when oppressed”. Edward Gibbon, a prominent English historian and then member of parliament, said “In a distant age and climate the tragic scene of the death of Hussain will awaken the sympathy of the coldest reader.” (1)
After learning of such powerful words regarding Hussain, there remains one question that demands an answer: Who Is Hussain?
Who Is Imam Hussain?
Imam Hussain was the second son of Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Mohammad. He was born on the 10th of January 626 in Medina, to soon become the voice of millions around the world, for eternity. However, the price Hussain had to pay for the freedom he sought was not little, it was in fact his life and the lives of his family members.
After the martyrdom of Prophet Mohammad in the year 632, Islam witnessed many divisions that lead to the formation of 73 denominations; with some Muslims glorifying the family of Prophet Mohammad more than his companions, and vice versa. The battle of leadership after Prophet Mohammad’s death was indeed influenced by politics, which lead to the transformation of prophetic succession to kingship. Hussain had witnessed all of the Islamic conquests and invasions conducted by the early Caliphs of Islam, and did not join in any of their battles due to his opposition to them.
The Umayyad Dynasty came into power no more than 50 years after the martyrdom of Mohammad, and it governed the entire religion of Islam. Being the prominent and loved grandson of Mohammad, Hussain’s refusal to pledge allegiance to the second Umayyad Caliph, Yazid, was seen as a threat to the entire Umayyad dynasty. The reason why Hussain did not pay allegiance to Yazid wad due to Yazid’s crimes and corruptions against both Muslims and Non-Muslims. The family and successors of Prophet Mohammad were given two options: Either to pledge allegiance to the kingdom of the Caliph, or face death.
The culture of beheading oppositions did not begin with ISIS, it began with our early Islamic Caliphs.
The Islamic Civil Wars highlight many incidents where companions of Prophet Mohammad were beheaded by Islamic Caliphs as a result of political disputes, Malik Bin Nuwayrah for one. Hussain had a choice to make. To endorse Yazid would no doubt mean a handsome reward and a life of luxury. To refuse would invariably lead to his own demise. For Hussain the choice between what is easy and what is right was not a choice.
Yazid sent a letter to Marwan, his fellow Umayyad kinsman, saying “Seize Hussain and his associates in order that they give the oath of allegiance. Act so fiercely that they have no chance to do anything before giving the oath of allegiance”. (2)
Hussain refused and said: “I will never give Yazid my hand like a man who has been humiliated, nor will I flee like a slave… I have not risen to spread evil or to show off… I only desire to enjoin good values and prevent evil.” and that “Someone like me, does not pledge allegiance to someone like him”. Hussain’s final decision was: “Death with honour is far better than life in humiliation”.
Ultimately, this lead to the beheading of Imam Hussain along with his family members in a battle known as The battle of Karbala in Iraq, on the 10th of October 680 AD, where he was forced to defend himself along with only 72 of his family members and followers, and were brutally massacred and beheaded by Yazid’s army of 100,000 soldiers. Imam Hussein’s ill son Ali and sister Zainab were taken hostage along with the head of Imam Hussein raised above a spear, from Iraq to Syria.
The Tragedy of Karbala
Karbala is a city in Iraq and among holy and important lands to Muslims as it embraces the body and grave of Imam Hussain, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad. It is also the location of the massacre of Hussain and his family members. The massacre is known as ‘The Battle of Ashura’, whereby Hussain’s army of 72 were faced with Yazid’s army of over 100,000 in the year 680. They stood in defence of their freedom and did not fear their large numbers.
Today, over 20 million Muslims including Christians from all corners of the world, continue the yearly march of hundreds of kilometres from south of Karbala to pay respect to his shrine during the annual pilgrimage of Arbaeen (being the 40th day post martyrdom), this has been recorded as the largest religious gathering on earth.
Dr. S. Manzoor Rizvi stated “Had it not been for the heroic struggle of Imam Hussain, nothing would have remained of the genuine teachings of Islam. Hussain revived Islam and preserved its authentic teachings through his martyrdom. Hence, the Islamic world is indebted to this brave son of Fatima”.
Indeed, blood can be victorious over the sword. Islamic terrorism must not be tolerated by Islamic leaders, and it would be beneficial for the current situation of the world if we learnt the value of life, integrity and freedom from Hussain. In Karbala, Imam Hussein lost the battle, but indeed won the war. This inspires me today to not shake the hand of a radical or terrorist no matter what.
The Article was written by M. Tawhidi.
1- The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, London, 1911, volume 5, pp391-2
2- The History of Al-Tabari: Vol. XIX (The Caliphate of Yazid bin Muawiyah). Al-Tabari, Muhammad ibn Jarir. (English Translation by I. K. A. Howard). State University of New York Press. (Pg. 7).