Hussain & justice

Published August 9, 2022
The writer is a member of staff.
The writer is a member of staff.

TODAY, people across the world — regardless of race, creed and colour — are all groaning under the weight of injustice and oppression. Some are caught in the midst of ruinous wars, victims of geopolitical games and manoeuvring. Others suffer from the ineptitude and never-ending greed of venal ruling elites. Others still are the victims of merciless capitalism, that imposes ‘austerity’ upon the weak and the poor, but subsidises the rich. Even in so-called developed nations the breadlines are growing.

Fourteen centuries ago, a man rose up in Madina, his hometown, and started a valiant campaign against all the aforementioned social and political evils, and took his campaign to Makkah and on to Iraq where on this day, along with his family members and friends, he gave his life for the truth, and for justice. That man was Hussain ibn Ali, grandson of the Holy Prophet of Islam (PBUH), and son of Hazrat Ali and Bibi Fatima Zehra. Centuries after that painful day on the burning sands of Karbala, Imam Hussain’s campaign for justice continues, calling upon all people of conscience to fear none but God, and take a stand against oppression of all types.

In many ways, the circumstances the world sees today mirror the situation in the seventh-century Islamic realm. In his own words, Imam Hussain presents a disturbing picture of his times under Umayyad rule. While addressing a large gathering of ulema, known as the Sermon of Mina, the Imam says that “the blind, dumb, and chronically ill everywhere lack protection in towns and no mercy is shown [to] them”. At another place the Imam deplores that “the rulers run the affairs of the government in accordance with their whims” and that the “governors feel no compassion or mercy towards the believers under rule”.

The similarities between the seventh century and the 21st are uncanny. This means that whilst much may have changed where material progress is concerned, the injustice and oppression that man inflicts upon man has very much remained the same.

The Imam’s stand has few parallels in history.

As for the spurious claim forwarded by some revisionists that Imam Hussain mounted his brave challenge to Umayyad rule for the sake of government, the Imam had clearly told those gathered at Mina many months before the event of Karbala that he had undertaken the mission “to protect and secure the indisputable rights of Your [God’s] oppressed servants, and to act in accordance with the duties You have established”.

These sublime words have inspired revolutionaries, thinkers and people of conscience across the vast expanse of time and space to resist oppression, and stand up for the weak and defenceless. Commenting on the events of Karbala, the late grand marja and father of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini says in The Ashura Uprising that “all lands should play the role that Karbala did, that is, people must resist oppression whenever and wherever it occurs”. In the same book, while highlighting the roles of Imam Hussain’s son Imam Ali Zainul Abideen and his sister Bibi Zainab he notes that “they taught us that neither men nor women should be afraid to oppose tyrannic rule”.

But opposing tyranny is not easy, and Imam Hussain’s stand has few parallels in human history. It boggles the mind how within the first century of Islam those calling themselves Muslims slaughtered the Holy Prophet’s only living grandson, hoisted his blessed head atop a lance as a trophy of war, and paraded the Noble Messenger’s granddaughters through the bazaars and deserts of Iraq and Syria as prisoners of war. But it is a testament to the bravery of Imam Zainul Abidin and Bibi Zainab that they refused to yield before a tyrant, and even in chains challenged the Umayyad imperial order that sought to crush Islam’s egalitarian spirit.

Today, Imam Hussain’s name is synonymous with justice. Whether it is the quest for social justice, political justice or economic justice, the Imam has taught mankind to not passively accept tyranny, but to rise up and confront oppression with great courage, and be prepared to pay the ultimate price for defending the truth.

Today, beyond the confines of religion, sect, race and culture, humanity seeks to break free from the shackles of all sorts of oppression. The vast majority of humankind, which can be equated with what the Quran refers to as “mustadifin fil ard” (those who were/are oppressed in the earth), have been excluded from progress, from education, from healthcare, from decision-making, and are barely subsisting; they can gain valuable lessons from Imam Hussain’s valiant struggle. After all, Hussain is referred to in hadith as “misbah al huda”(the lamp of guidance) and “safinat an-nijaat”(the ark of salvation). He is also known as “Abul Ahraar” (father of the free) because anyone who truly acquaints themselves with his struggle cannot tolerate living under the oppression of tyrants.

For the wretched of the earth who seek to breathe the air of freedom, Hussain shows the way.

The writer is a member of staff.

Published in Dawn, August 9th, 2022

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