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Why Did Imam Hussain (as) Launch an Uprising?

Why did Imam Hussain (a.s.) rise up? Did Imam Hussain (a.s.) rise up only for opposing a corrupt ruler like Yazid? Which were the true dimensions of Imam Hussain’s movement?

Imam Hussain’s (a.s.) movement is, indeed, perceivable via two perspectives—both of which are acceptable. Nonetheless, when put together, the two views show the extensive dimensions of this movement. One perspective involves the appearance of Imam Hussain’s action, which is a movement against a corrupt, deviated, suppressive and oppressive regime: Yazid’s Regime. But, at the heart of his action, there is a more important movement that the second perspective will lead to: the move against ignorance and humiliation of the mankind. In fact, even though Imam Hussain (a.s.) fights against Yazid, his extensive historical fight is not against the short-living and insignificant Yazid. Rather, his main fight is against mankind’s ignorance, abasement, deviation and humiliation. Indeed, Imam Hussain (a.s.) fights against such vices.
An ideal government was formed by Islam. If we want to summarize the story of Imam Hussain (a.s.) in a few lines, we can say: humanity suffers from ignorance, oppression and discrimination. The big rulings of the world, the empires of the Caesars and Kisras of the time—either in ancient Persia or the Roman Empire—were regimes of extravagance, non-democratic establishments, ruling through illogical coercion, ignorance and corruption. Smaller establishments–like those in the Arabian Peninsula– were even worse than them; overall, ignorance reigned over the world. Meanwhile, the light of Islam managed to enlighten, first, the Arabian Peninsula, and then gradually grow to encompass all the world, by the Messenger of God, via Divine assistance, as well as massive and strenuous popular resistance. At the time the Prophet dies, this government was a stable establishment that could be a model for all humans throughout history. Had that establishment continued in the same direction, the history would undoubtedly change. That is, what is supposed to happen centuries later– at the time of Imam Mahdi’s (a.s.) reappearance in the current situation—would have happened at that time. A world replete with justice, purity, truthfulness, and kindness is the world of the era of Imam Mahdi (a.s.); it is the time when the authentic life of humanity begins. The Authentic life of mankind in this world begins after the reappearance of Imam of the Time (may God hasten his return), and humanity will achieve great development then. Thus, had the persistence of Prophet Muhammad’s establishment been made possible, and had it been formed during the early years, the history of mankind would have changed, the final destiny of human life would have unfolded much earlier. However, this was not realized for various reasons.

The main feature of Prophet Muhammad’s establishment was that instead of relying on oppression, it relied on justice. Instead of relying on paganism and division of human thought, it relied on monotheism and focused on worshipping God. Instead of ignorance, it relied on knowledge and wisdom. Instead of promoting revengeful behavior among the people, it relied on kindness, compassion, the establishment of friendly relations, and tolerance: a neat government both in apparent aspects and innermost aspects. One who grows under such a government becomes pious, chaste, knowledgeable, insightful, active, enthusiastic, dynamic, and moves in the path toward perfection. Fifty years after [the passing away of the prophet], everything changed. The name of Islam remained; the word ‘Islam’ persisted; however, in reality, true Islam was no longer practised. Instead of the government of justice, a government of oppression was established again. Instead of fraternity and equality, discrimination, division and separation reigned. Instead of wisdom, ignorance ruled. During this period of fifty years, as we move on, we can find hundreds of examples of such cases; researchers are recommended to elaborate on them for the young and investigative minds.
Imamate was transformed into the kingdom! The essence of Imamate is contradictory to the essence of the kingdom. These two are contradictory. Imamate is moral and spiritual leadership and compassionate and belief-related bonds with the people. Whereas, a kingdom is ruling via coercion, power and deluding, without any spiritual, compassion and belief-related bonds. The two are binary opposites. Imamate is a movement among the ummah, for the ummah and in favor of rightfulness. A kingdom is an authoritarian dominance against the interests of the people, only serving particular classes of society, to fulfil the ruling group’s hoarding wealth and pleasing lust. What we see at the time of Imam Hussain’s uprising is the second case, not the first one. That is, Yazid who was in power then, had no relations with the people; he had no knowledge, no piety, no chastity, no experience of jihad for the cause of God, no belief in Islamic spirituality; his behavior was not a behavior of a believer in Islam, his words were not the words of a wise man. He was in no ways similar to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). In this situation, an opportunity rose for a person like Imam Hussain (a.s.) — the Imam who was apt for succeeding the Prophet (PBUH)–and he rose up.

Looking at the surface of the events, this uprising was against the corrupt and unpopular regime of Yazid. However, beneath the surface, it is an uprising for the sake of Islamic values, understanding, faith, and dignity. It is for the people to be set free from corruption, subordination, lowliness, and ignorance. It was for this reason that when Imam Hussain (a.s.) left Medina, in a message to his brother Muhammad Ibn Hanafiah, and in reality a message to the history, he wrote: I am not rising out of selfishness, or lust for power, nor to cause mayhem or pain. I rise looking for the correction in my grandfather’s ummah. I see that things have changed in the society that the prophet left. It is going towards the wrong direction, towards corruption. It is against the direction coveted by Islam and the prophet had preached. I rise to fight against these [vices].
Imam Hussain’s fight had two dimensions and can have two different fallouts. Nonetheless, both outcomes are good. One result was that Imam Hussain (a.s.) could defeat Yazid’s government and take power away from those who oppressed the people, and devastated the fate of the people, so he could arrange things in an appropriate way. If this had happened, the route of history would have revolved. Another dimension was that, if Imam Hussain (a.s.) could not, for whatever reason, achieve political and military victory, then he would—not by words, rather by blood, by resisting oppression, by a language that history will never forget—make his narrative flow like a perpetual and non-interruptible stream in history; this is what Imam Hussain (a.s.) did.

Of course, those who claimed to be believers, if they had acted differently than what they did to Imam Hussain (a.s.), the first case would have happened and Imam Hussain (a.s.) could have reformed the world and the hereafter at that time! But the people did not cooperate. The discussion about why and how the people did not act appropriately, is a very long and exhausting discussion, which I elaborated to some extent some years ago under the title “the common people and the elite”– it included who failed to act properly, who was responsible for this behavior, how they behaved, and in which areas– I am not going to mention this discussion now.
So, as a result of some people’s carelessness, the first goal was not achieved; but the second goal was accomplished. This is something that no power can take away from Imam Hussain (a.s.). The power of going to the battlefield of martyrdom; sacrificing oneself and loved ones, the grand sacrifice that is so great that no matter how big the enemy is, it will appear small and unimportant before it. This bright sun will continue to emanate more light in the Muslim world day after day till his light encompasses the whole humanity.
Today, Imam Hussain (a.s.) is known to the world more than he was 5 centuries, 10 centuries ago. Today the situation is as such that when impartial intellectuals learn about the history of Islam, and the story of Imam Hussain (a.s.), they feel humble. Even for those who do not know anything about Islam, yet they recognize the notions of freedom, justice, dignity, elevation, and lofty human values, Imam Hussain (a.s.) is an invaluable role model in seeking liberty and justice, in rising up against vices and evils as well as in fighting ignorance and humiliation of mankind.

Today, wherever humanity has undergone some defeat, either political, military or economic, the roots of it can be traced to ignorance or abasement. That is, either they do not have the knowledge and necessary understanding, or they understand but have sold themselves cheap. They have bought into abasement and have submitted to viciousness. Imam Sajjad (a.s.) and Imam Ali (a.s.) have been narrated to have said: “Oh! Man, if your essence and existence is to be sold, it has only one price, which is the divine heaven. If you sell it to anything cheaper than heaven, you are at loss.” Even if you are offered the whole world in exchange for accepting abasement and viciousness, it is not fitting. All those who in different places around the world have surrendered to coercion and money of the wealthy and powerful, and have accepted this abasement, –whatever position they are in: scholar, politician, political or social activist or intellectual– they have failed to know their value and have sold themselves cheap. Many politicians of the world have sold themselves.

Dignity is not simply represented by holding high positions like a king or a boss. Sometimes a person is sitting on a throne, bullying a thousand people boastfully. Meanwhile, he is under the coercion of another power or center. He might be a captive of his own desires and lust; but today’s political captives will not reach the latter, because they are captives of major powers.

The prophets save humans; so, in the Quran, one important purpose of prophethood is said to be establishing justice. “We sent Our Messengers with clear evidence (to support their truthfulness), and sent with them the Book and the Balance so that people would maintain justice {Quran; 57:25}.” In fact, the divine books and the prophets were sent in order for justice to be established in societies; that is, to remove the symbols of oppression, coercion and corruption. The movement of Imam Hussain (a.s.) was a movement of such nature. He said: “I rose up to reform the Muslim community of my grandfather [Prophet Muhammad (PBUH)].” (Bihar Al-Anvar: V.44, P. 329) He also said: “Whoever observes a ruler legalize what God has made unlawful, violating the covenant of God, opposing the Sunnah of the Messenger of God, and treating the creatures of God sinfully and oppressively; he who does not oppose him with his speech and action, God has a right to bring him to the same fate as that of the tyrant.” (Bihar al-Anwar, v. 44, p. 381) That is if a person sees where corruption and oppression emerge from, yet they do not do anything to oppose the source of corruption and oppression, for God the Exalted, they have the same fate as the corrupt oppressor. He said that he did not rise up for the cause of wickedness, amusement, corruption or oppression. The people of Iraq invited Imam Hussain (a.s.) to rule over them, and Imam Hussain (a.s.) answered their request. So, it is not that Imam Hussain (a.s.) did not think of creating a government; he was indeed thinking of overturning tyrannical powers; either by taking the government away from them or by martyrdom.

Imam Hussain (a.s.) knew what would his silence, his endorsement and his indifference would do to Islam if he did not take any action. When a power takes all the capacities of a community or some communities under control, and acts tyrannically, if the men of truth do not oppose him, refuting his actions, they have actually endorsed his actions. That is, oppression is endorsed by the men of truth, without them really wanting it. This was a sin committed by the elites from among the Bani-Hashem, and the children of the prominent figures of the early years of Islam. Imam Hussain, however, would not tolerate it, and hence he rose up. It is narrated that after Imam Sajjad (a.s.) returned to Medina from Karbala– maybe ten or eleven months passed between the time this caravan left Medina and returned– a person visited him and said: “Oh! Son of the Messenger of Allah, you see, you went and what happened?” He was right; the caravan had left while Imam Hussain (a.s.), the bright sun of Ahlulbait, so much loved by the Messenger of Allah, was among them, leading them. The daughter of Imam Ali (a.s.) had left while she was dignified and honored. The children of Imam Ali (a.s.) –Abbas and others– the children of Imam Hassan (a.s.), prominent and talented youth of Bani Hashem had all left with this caravan. But the caravan returned with only one man — Imam Sajjad (a.s.), with the women gone through sufferings of captivity and loss of their loved ones. Imam Hussain (a.s.), Ali Akbar (a.s.), even the baby were now gone. Imam Sajjad (a.s.) answered that man, stating: “Imagine what would have happened if we had not gone.”
Yes! If they had not gone, their bodies might have survived, but the truth would have died. The soul would have died out. Consciences would have been shattered. Logic and reason would have been condemned throughout history, and even the name of Islam would not have remained.

Above is the full speech of Ayatollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei on April 14, 2000.

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