Karbala And Political Activism

By Jerrmein Abu Shahba

Today after nearly 1400 years, we the nation of Prophet Muhammad, the lovers and devotees of the progeny of the Seal of Prophets, commemorate the martyrdom of his holy grandson, Imam Hussain (AS) which took place on the day of Ashura, 61 years A.H.  We begin the New Year by shedding tears of grief and pulling the black curtains of sorrow over the tragic events which transpired in Karbala.  Gatherings of Majales are planned across ten days at the least and families rush to sponsor these events to gain the pleasure of Allah (SWT).  The tearful stories of Karbala are told and each night is focused on a star among the family of Imam Hussain (AS) who exemplified the peak of sacrifice, faith, and devotion to the Imam of their time.  Processions and lamentation gatherings are organized by the followers of the school of AhlulBayt (AS) to spread the truth about Karbala and shed light on this holy personality and the unimaginable tragedies which took place on the 10th of Muharram.

Through the remembrance of the events of Karbala, we recognize the symbol of truth in the personality of Imam Hussain (AS) and we also identify and condemn the symbol of falsehood and tyranny in the character of Yazid ibn Muawiya.

But the question which poses itself today is: Are the lessons of Karbala only limited to the day of Ashura? Or should we practically apply Karbala into our everyday lives?  Is Karbala only a story of yesterday or does Karbala repeat itself in various colors and forms today?Areare the symbols of truth and falsehood represented by Imam Hussain and Yazid, only a struggle limited to Karbala or a universal struggle that repeats itself every day between the representatives of truth and falsehood in any every case, big or small?

Today unfortunately, it is a noticeable trend that there are those many among the believers who are reluctant to apply and carryout this same struggle in today’s world with the notion that they don’t want to be involved in “politics” or anything “politically-related”.  This leads us to pose this question:  Is the story of Karbala devoid of politics or political activism?  Isn’t the events which transpired in Karbala essentially stemming from a political struggle that initiated due to competition and greed for power and the thirst for the throne?  This “throne” and seat of power is over a Muslim nation and the struggle for authority is for the Islamic governance and leadership.  Isn’t this struggle directly related to politics! Politics of religion which we cannot deny or escape the reality! When Yazid (AS) announced his intention to acquire the pledge of allegiance of Imam Hussain (AS), was this a social or economical struggle?  Absolutely not, it was politics mixed with religion, and religion mixed with politics!

By resonating his call, “No to indignity!هيهات من الذلةImam Hussain (AS) taught us that standing up again the tyrant political ruler of our time is an obligatory duty for every Muslim.  There is no compromise or tolerance allowed, especially if the tyrant ruler has exceeded his limits and is corrupt in his actions and far away from the prescriptions of Islam even if he wears the garb of Islam.

By explaining his position that Imam Hussain has been placed between the critical choice of سلة (honor) or ذلة  (shame), we come to understand today that standing with the truth and supporting its representatives is an action of honor and dignity, while remaining with those who call for falsehood and supporting the status quo of injustice and tyranny, even if they are the majority and even if everyone follows suit, is surely an action of indignity and shame that will haunt us the rest of ourlives.  Imam Hussain (AS) reminded us on the day of Ashura the importance of one of the Usool al-Deen, which is Amr bil Ma’roof and Nahy ‘an al-Monkar (enjoining the good and forbidding the evil).  This duty is even more obligatory when it comes to political issues. That is because non-compliance to a minor ruling in Fiqh may only affect the person themselves, however, failing to observe our duty when it comes to cases of injustice in the political and social level can have great negative effects on the masses. It can keep the tyrant ruler on the throne for decades to come and cause multitudes of innocent people to become oppressed with possible bloodshed.

Does the concept of shame and dignity apply to political issues and agendas?  The answer is yes, and Imam Hussain (AS) exemplified the importance of being active in the political realm, not a passive and silent bystander.  The people who followed Bani Ummayah were supportive to the tyrant Yazid, by being “passive” even if they didn’t carry a sword or throw an arrow. Defining our position in important matters related to the struggle between justice and injustice is a duty regardless of whether it is considered “political” or not.

If we scan history, we will find many examples where this same “political” and religious struggle of justice over injustice existed and those who stood up courageously against falsehood became the heroes of history and their names are remembered till today.  Take for example, the People of the Cave who were a handful of wealthy noble youth who stood up against the tyrannical government of their time. Yes, they were persecuted but they earned the support and satisfaction of Allah (SWT) Today we remember them every time we recite Surat Al-Kahf and the cave they resided in has become a place of visitation in their honor.

Take for example the struggles of Prophet Ibrahim and Nimrod, Prophet Musa and Firoon, Prophet Dawood and the tyrant Jaloot.  They all had one thing in common and that is the principle of standing up against injustice regardless of the fears anticipated.  This applies not only to prophets or men with strong positions.  Even the wife of Firoon, Lady Aasiya stood up against her own husband who represented the peak of injustice and corruption and she sacrificed all the glory that any women in her position would wish, for the sake of truth and justice.  She taught every woman that the duty and responsibility of “political activism” applies also to women, and Lady Zainab (AS) cemented this idea when delivering her grand eloquent speech at the courts of Yazid (LA) and Ibn Ziyad (LA). And the youth of Karbala such as Hazrat Qasim and Ali Akbar (AS) taught us that youngsters are not exempt from making their voices heard even if it is simply raising your voice with the call of ‘No!’.

Unfortunately, today we find many Islamic centers, mosques, and organizations that refrain from taking political stances or issuing statements of condemnations or support to political issues, even when they are directly related to Islam and Muslims.  We have for example the contemporary cases of oppression happening in Gaza, Bahrain, Libya, Nigeria, Lebanon, Iraq and various other regions, regardless of which sect the Muslims belong to.  What does Karbala of yesterday teach us for today?  It is incorrect for us to think that we can condemn Yazid and invoke the curse of God on the killers of Imam Hussain (AS), yet we refuse to identify and speak out against the oppressor of today while supporting today’s oppressed people.  After the day of Ashura, our tongues should no longer be tied, our hands should no longer be folded, and our attitudes should no longer be passive.  As Imam Hussain (AS) said, “Those who are silent while others are oppressed are guilty of oppression themselves.”  Hence, all our Muharram activities should be tied in one way or another to the struggles of today, and the injustice happening to all humans across the globe today. If we have not been tackling and addresses the contemporary issues throughout the year, the holy month of Muharram is a reminder that we must pause to reflect on the injustices happening today across the globe, regardless of religion, color, race, or ethnicity.

The Karbala of yesterday can indeed by applied today and tomorrow and this struggle will never end until the rise of our Living Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance). Today we await the great descendent of Imam Hussain (AS) to come and save Islam from the Yazids of today, just as the grandson of Prophet Mohammad did from the Yazid of his time. But in the meanwhile, we as the hopeful supporters of the Imam (AS) should pave the path for his anticipated reappearance and start the groundwork now by raising our voices and being active in every domain where the struggle between justice and injustice exists. We must speak out against tyranny till our words are mixed with our own blood. It is no wonder that the companions of Imam Hussain (AS) are considered to be the best of companions and the most honorable of martyrs. Karbala is a lesson for all of us that 1400 years ago a huge stand was taken by Imam Hussain; to surrender to a tyrant or to give your life and your family’s to make a point for all of humanity to follow for generations to come!