by Leila Yazdani: The Battle of Karbala in which Imam Hussain (A.S) rose up against the Umayyad Caliph Yazid ibn Muawiyah is replete with moral lessons laid out in the Quran. Imam Hussain’s (A.S) actions revealed his profound understanding of the Quran as taught by his parents and grandfather, the Prophet of Islam (PBUH).
This article demonstrates the actions on the Day of Ashura as a reflection of several Quranic principles, namely obedience and submission only to God, being free, using the Prophet’s (PBUH) way of life as a paradigm for all, commanding right and forbidding wrong, resisting against oppression, rejecting a life of humiliation, and establishing justice.
Imam Hussain (A.S)- with his profound understanding of the Quran attained during his childhood as taught by the Prophet (PBUH) and upbringing of his parents Imam Ali (A.S) and Lady Fatimah (S.A) – showed that the higher values of the Quran are practical lessons. In this article, we will investigate the uprising of Imam Hussain (A.S) to discover and illustrate the principles of the Hussaini revolution.
- His refusal to pay allegiance to Yazid ibn Muawiyah
- The relationship between the concept of freedom in the Quran and Imam Husain’s (A.S) uprising
- Protecting the Sunnah and preventing heresy
- Following in the footsteps of the Prophet (PBUH) and Ali ibn Abi Taleb (A.S)
- Enjoining what is good and forbidding what is wrong
- Resistance and defense
- Protecting one’s honour and rejecting indignity
- Establishing justice
A brief description of the above-mentioned points and their background from the Quran, Hadith, and historical texts is offered below.
Refusal to Pay Allegiance
After Muawiyah’s death, forcing the Imam (AS) to pay allegiance to Yazid and the Imam’s (AS) refusal to do so triggered the revolution. Two forms of allegiance have been mentioned in the Quran:
1) To obey and submit to God and his Prophet (PBUH), which is an affirmative form of allegiance. This has been mentioned in verses 10 and 18 of Surah Fat’h in the form of paying allegiance to the Prophet (PBUH)
2) Refusing to pay allegiance to the unbelievers or the hypocrites. Therefore, Imam Husain (A.S)’s refusal in paying allegiance to Yazid was based on the following command from God:
AND DO NOT OBEY THE FAITHLESS AND THE HYPOCRITES, AND DISREGARD THEIR TORMENTS, AND PUT YOUR TRUST IN ALLAH (SWT), AND ALLAH (SWT) SUFFICES AS TRUSTEE. (QURAN 33:48)
There are many reasons and witnesses that prove Yazid to be a disbeliever, and it was based on the above reasons that Imam Hussain (AS) did not pay allegiance to him. The Imam (AS) said:
“IF THE ISLAMIC NATION WERE TO BE CAUGHT UP BY THE LEADERSHIP AND CONTROL OF SOMEONE LIKE YAZID, THEN WE MUST BID FAREWELL TO ISLAM.”
Liberation of the people was one of the principles of the Prophet’s (PBUH) agenda, as mentioned in the following verse:
THOSE WHO FOLLOW THE APOSTLE, THE UNINSTRUCTED PROPHET, WHOSE MENTION THEY FIND WRITTEN WITH THEM IN THE TORAH AND THE EVANGEL, WHO BIDS THEM TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT AND FORBIDS THEM FROM WHAT IS WRONG, MAKES LAWFUL TO THEM ALL THE GOOD THINGS AND FORBIDS THEM FROM ALL VICIOUS THINGS, AND RELIEVES THEM OF THEIR BURDENS AND THE SHACKLES THAT WERE UPON THEM -THOSE WHO BELIEVE IN HIM, HONOUR HIM, AND HELP HIM AND FOLLOW THE LIGHT THAT HAS BEEN SENT DOWN WITH HIM, THEY ARE THE FELICITOUS. (QURAN 7:157)
Indeed, it was the mission of all the prophets and messengers of God to assist people in attaining true freedom, and to guide them towards serving none other than God. Imam Ali (AS) warns:
“DO NOT BE THE SLAVE OF ANY OTHER; INDEED, GOD HAS MADE YOU FREE.”
One of the most beautiful features in the event of Karbala is the spirit of freedom and its outcomes as revealed by Imam Hussain (A.S). On the Day of Ashura when the severely injured Imam Hussain (A.S) witnessed the enemy’s attack on his family’s tents, while barely managing to get up, said:
“O’ FOLLOWERS OF THE FAMILY OF SUFYAN! IF YOU DO NOT HAVE A RELIGION OR IF YOU DO NOT FEAR THE DAY OF RESURRECTION THEN AT LEAST BE FREE (AHRAR) IN YOUR WORLD [LY LIFE].”
Protecting the Sunnah
Imam Hussain’s (A.S) uprising protected the Sunnah and prevented deviation. In the Quran, God reveals the Prophet’s (PBUH) high status by introducing him as a role model for people to use his way of life and traditions as a paradigm for their own lives:
IN THE APOSTLE OF ALLAH (SWT) THERE IS CERTAINLY FOR YOU A GOOD EXEMPLAR, FOR THOSE WHO LOOK FORWARD TO ALLAH (SWT) AND THE LAST DAY, AND REMEMBER ALLAH (SWT) GREATLY. (QURAN 33:21)
In one of his letters to the tribal leaders of Basra, Imam Hussain (AS) wrote:
“I INVITE YOU TO THE BOOK OF GOD AND THE SUNNAH OF THE PROPHET (PBUH). INDEED THE SUNNAH OF THE PROPHET (PBUH) HAS BEEN LEFT TO PERISH AND HERESY HAS COME TO LIFE.”
In his first sermon on the plains of Karbala, Imam Hussain (A.S) announced that his uprising was to defend the truth and uproot falsehood. He said:
“DO YOU NOT SEE THAT THE TRUTH IS NO LONGER ACTED UPON AND FALSEHOOD IS NOT REFRAINED FROM?”
According to this saying, Imam Hussain (A.S) felt responsible to protect the religion and the Islamic nation from destruction.
Following in the footsteps of the Prophet
In his will, Imam Hussain (A.S) wrote,
“I AM MOVING ALONG THE PATH OF MY GRANDFATHER AND FATHER.”
Imam Hussain (A.S)’s moral conduct revolved around the conduct of his grandfather, the Prophet (PBUH), and his father, Imam Ali (A.S).
Enjoining what is good and forbidding what is wrong
In his will, Imam Hussain (A.S) stated,
“I INTEND TO INSTRUCT PEOPLE TO DO RIGHT AND FORBID THEM FROM WRONGDOING.”
These two obligations are of the most significant instructions of Islam, emphasized both in the Quran and hadiths:
“THERE HAS TO BE A NATION AMONG YOU SUMMONING TO THE GOOD, BIDDING WHAT IS RIGHT, AND FORBIDDING WHAT IS WRONG. IT IS THEY WHO ARE THE FELICITOUS.” (QURAN 3: 104)
In many verses of the Quran and Prophetic Hadith fighting in the face of oppression, corruption, and aggression (Jihad) is deemed necessary because it guarantees Islam’s continuation and the establishment of security. It is for this that Imam Hussain (AS) rose up according to God’s command and the instructions of the Prophet (PBUH):
AND WAGE JIHAD FOR THE SAKE OF ALLAH (SWT), A JIHAD WHICH IS WORTHY OF GOD. GOD HAS CHOSEN YOU AND HAS NOT PLACED FOR YOU ANY OBSTACLE IN THE RELIGION, THE FAITH OF YOUR FATHER, ABRAHAM. GOD NAMED YOU ‘MUSLIMS’ BEFORE, AND IN THIS, I SO THAT THE APOSTLE MAY BE A WITNESS TO YOU, AND THAT YOU MAY BE WITNESSES TO MANKIND. SO MAINTAIN THE PRAYER, GIVE THE ZAKAT, AND HOLD FAST TO ALLAH (SWT). GOD IS YOUR MASTER – AN EXCELLENT MASTER AND AN EXCELLENT HELPER. (QURAN 22:78)
Resistance and Defense
In the Quran, Jihad (fighting in the way of God), has been ordained to fight against deviation, and not as a means to gain power. In fact, Jihad is to resist against oppression:
AND FIGHT IN THE WAY OF ALLAH (SWT) [AGAINST] THOSE WHO FIGHT YOU, BUT DO NOT EXCEED THE LIMITS; FOR VERILY, ALLAH (SWT) DOES NOT LIKE THE TRANSGRESSORS. (QURAN 2:190)
In the Quran, the barriers in causing jihad have been mentioned in verse 24 of the chapter At-Tawbah:
SAY, ‘IF YOUR FATHERS AND YOUR SONS, YOUR BRETHREN, YOUR SPOUSES, AND YOUR KINSFOLK, THE POSSESSIONS THAT YOU HAVE ACQUIRED, THE BUSINESS YOU FEAR MAY SUFFER, AND THE DWELLINGS YOU ARE FOND OF, ARE DEARER TO YOU THAN ALLAH (SWT) AND GOD’S APOSTLE AND TO WAGING JIHAD IN GOD’S WAY, THEN WAIT UNTIL ALLAH (SWT) ISSUES GOD’S EDICT, AND ALLAH (SWT) DOES NOT GUIDE THE TRANSGRESSING LOT. (QURAN 9:24)
Imam Hussain (AS) was cut off from all worldly attachments, and his jihad was purely for the sake of God. The result of this Jihad as mentioned in the Quran is ‘a great victory.’
Protecting one’s honour and rejecting lowliness
Honour is one of the most fundamental values in Islam. Imam Hussain (A.S) is the founder of a school of thought that instructs a person to struggle until death when striving for Godly aims; on this path, death is an honour and the means for a successful everlasting life.
Before the event of Karbala, the Imam (AS) said,
“TO DIE WITH HONOUR IS BETTER THAN TO LIVE WITH INFERIORITY.”
On the Day of Ashura, he said,
“THIS IMMORAL MAN (‘UBAYDALLAH IBN ZIYAD) HAS FORCED ME TO CHOOSE EITHER LOSING MY LIFE OR LOSING MY HONOUR. IT IS IMPOSSIBLE FOR US TO ACCEPT LOSING OUR HONOUR.”
Indeed, this uprising was an example of fighting for the truth and for freedom.
Establishment of the truth
Another aim behind the uprising of Ashura was to improve the social situation of the Muslims and to establish justice and equality. In some verses, the establishment of these two notions has been presented as the aim of sending prophets:
INDEED WE SENT OUR MESSENGERS WITH SIGNS AND MIRACLES AND REVEALED TO THEM BOOKS OF RELIGION AND GAVE THEM THE CRITERION FOR ESTABLISHING JUSTICE AMONG THE PEOPLE. AND WE PROVIDED IRON WHEREIN IS STRENGTH TO BE USED IN MAKING ARMS FOR THE WAR AND ALSO THERE ARE OTHER BENEFITS IN IT FOR THE PEOPLE. AND ALLAH (SWT) MAKES KNOWN THOSE WHO HELP ALLAH, THE UNSEEN AND ALSO GOD’S MESSENGERS IN THE PATH OF THE TRUTH. VERILY, ALLAH (SWT) IS THE INVINCIBLE SUPREME POWER. (QURAN 57:25)
Carrying out justice in society is so important that the Prophet (PBUH) said:
“A KINGDOM CAN REMAIN WITH DISBELIEF BUT IT WILL NOT REMAIN WITH OPPRESSION.”
At the end of Imam Hussain’s (A.S) letter to the people of Kufa, he explains the characteristics of a leader and guide:
AN IMAM IS SOMEONE WHO ACTS ACCORDING TO THE QURAN. HE STANDS UP TO ENSURE THAT EVERYONE RECEIVES HIS OR HER DUE RIGHT, THAT RACISM IS NON-EXISTENT, AND THAT EVERY INDIVIDUAL SHOULD HAVE HIS OWN POSITION AND RESPONSIBILITY IN SOCIETY. HE SHOULD NOT DEVIATE FROM THE RIGHT PATH, AND THIS SHOULD ALL BE DONE FOR THE PLEASURE OF GOD.
Overall, Imam Hussain’s (A.S) take on justice is in fact a reflection of Quranic teachings, and Imam Hussain’s (A.S) uprising was a complete manifestation of this crucial Godly mission.