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The Highest Degree of Belief

21 December, 2010

By Dr Naeem Chishti


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There is a famous hadith of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): "When you see an evil act you must stop it with your hand. If you can`t, then at least you must speak out against it with your tongue. If you can`t, then at least you must hate it with all your heart. And this is the weakest degree of faith." (Sahih al-Muslim, Book 1, Number 79). If we look at the life of Imam Hussein, we will see that he demonstrated the highest degree of faith by challenging the evil tyranny of Yazid Ibn Mu’awiyah at Karbala in Iraq on the 10th of Muharram 61 AH (October 10, 680), 1371 years ago.

Imam Hussein stood true to the traits of his family. His maternal grandfather, the last messenger of God, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), offered a unique example of struggle and success in the history of prophet-hood.  His mother Fatima-al-Zahra was famous for her great knowledge, piety and struggle towards justice and was given the title of ‘the Mistress of the ladies of the world’ by the Holy Prophet. His father Ali, the fourth Caliph of the first Muslim State in the world, was the cousin and the son in law of the Prophet Muhammad. He was also known as the voice of human justice and the door of the city of knowledge. His elder brother Imam Hassan was known as the Imam of wisdom and tranquillity. He was murdered by the Umayyad dictators with poison in the year 50 AH of the Islamic calendar (670 AD). After his death Imam Hussein became the Imam of the nation.

When Amir Mu’awiyah, the ruler of Syria died in the year 60 AH (680 AD), his son Yazid came into power. Even before he ascended to the throne, Yazid was notorious for his sinful acts, naked nepotism and deadly despotism. Yet, after taking over the reign of power, he preferred to call himself a ‘representative of God’ and the ‘head of the believers’ (Ameer-ul-Momineen).  That is why Imam Hussein refused to pledge allegiance to Yazid and told his Governor: “We are the household of the Prophet-hood, the source of Messenger-ship and the descending place of angels. Through us, God had begun showering His favours and with us He has perfected His favours; whereas Yazid is a sinful person, the drunkard, the killer of innocent people and one who openly indulges in sinful acts. A person like me can never pledge allegiance to a person like him.”

Yazid tried to assassinate Imam Hussein in the holy city of Medina. When Imam Hussein left Mecca, Yazid sent hunters to assassinate him there. This alarming situation forced Imam Hussein to travel with his family and companions to Kufa, a city in Iraq whose people promised to aid and support his movement. When Yazid discovered that Imam Hussein was travelling to Kufa, he sent an army of thirty thousand men to Karbala in Iraq to encircle Imam Hussein’s camp and to deprive him, his family and companions from drinking water in order to kill them by thirst. On the day of Ashura, the tenth of the month of Muharram, Imam Hussein along with his 72 companions, which included 17 members of his family, fought bravely against the army of Yazid. He and his followers preferred martyrdom over surrendering to the soldiers of Yazid. The unjust killers did not spare even a children and women. Imam Hussein’s six month old infant child was also among those who were brutally murdered by Yazid’s forces. Then their bodies were beheaded and paraded around the streets of Damascus.

What happened there on the Day of Ashura, 10th of Muharram, is the commonest of all secrets in the world of Islam. Yet there are people who would say that what happened in Karbala was the outcome of a political war between Imam Hussein and Yazid bin Mu’awiyah, implying thereby that the grandson of the Prophet secretly coveted power in his heart of hearts and wanted to become the Head of the Islamic State. The people who think that Imam Hussein fought Yazid for capturing power are either biased against him or they have not read the history themselves. Such people fail to realize that if Imam Hussein nurtured love for power, he could have easily struck a deal with the Umayyad ruler as Yazid’s father Mu’awiyah had struck a deal with Imam Hussein’s father Ali.

The battle of Karbala occurred not because Imam Hussein had any political or personal motives but because he wanted to reform the Muslims and to expose to them the true face of Yazid who called himself Ameerul Momineen but in reality had absolutely nothing to do with Islam. Since the Umayyad ruler had distorted Islam and the Muslims were deviated from the true teachings of the Prophet, the Imam wanted to revive the true teachings of Islam so that the people may be on the straight path as shown in the Holy Qur’an. Imam Hussein’s response to Yazid clearly manifests that he was convinced that if Yazid’s rule continued without a revolution, the religion of peace, justice and freedom would extinguish.

In a broader sense, the battle of Karbala depicts an eternal and ongoing war between the right and the wrong, the virtue and the evil, and the believers and the hypocrites. It is the latter type of the people who have damaged Islam the most. While they continue to pay lip service to Islam and perform religious rituals, their hearts are miles away from the true belief. They use powerful words to show their love for Islam, disguise themselves as Muslims and even adopt some of the religious practices in order to deceive the true believers. There is a reference to such people in the Holy Qur’an: “They (think that they) deceive Allah and the people who believe, but they do not deceive (anyone) except themselves though they do not realize.” (Al-Baqrah : verse 9)

By challenging the forces of evil at Karbala 1371 years ago, Imam Hussein set a perfect example of the highest degree of belief. He and his companions literally obeyed the Holy Prophet who said: "When you see an evil act you must stop it with your hand.” Therefore, the best way to commemorate the tragedy and to pay a tribute to the martyrs of Karbala is to demonstrate the highest degree of belief and stand up against corruption, injustice and flagrant violations of human rights and civil liberties. We must not forget the last words of Imam Hussein: “I did not revolt aimlessly or for pleasure, or to be unjust or corrupt but I took the stand in order to seek reform of my grandfather’s nation. I want to enjoin the good and denounce the evil and take the course of my father and grandfather.”

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