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“My faith is that the progress of Islam does not depend on the use of sword by its believers, but the result of the supreme sacrifice of Hussain (A.S.), the great saint.” Mahatma Gandhi
Tonight starts the advent of the Islamic New Year 1436 for Muslims. Dating from the time that the messenger of Islam, Prophet Mohammed (peace be upon him), migrated from his birthplace Mecca to Medina in Arabia the Muslim calendar is lunar, and is called Hijra.
However you will notice that most Muslims don’t celebrate this day for a number of reasons.
In the year 61 Hijra (680 A.D.) an incident took place in Karbala, that shook the foundations of our faith. To this day, Karbala is cited by International Historians as the most tragic incident of sacrifice and valor in the History of the world.
It was fifty years after the death of Prophet Mohammad and the religion of Islam as taught by him, was being faithfully practiced and preached by his family and disciples. However, politics had started to invade the purity and simplicity of the faith. Political power of the Caliphate shifted to the Omayyads who were mercenaries and were eager to rule over the fast growing Muslim Empire. Yazid, a tyrant known to be against truth, justice and all the good that Islam stood for, wanted to become king of all Muslims. He demanded allegiance from everyone by force, but Hussain, grandson of the Prophet resisted him. Hussain was well respected by the Muslim community and commanded a great following. He was known to be a peace loving man and Yazid thought that if he could scare or coerce Hussain into accepting him, he would become the unchallenged ruler of all Muslims.
Hussain was aware that the life of his supporters was endangered by refusing allegiance to Yazid. So he decided to go to Kufa (a small town in Iraq) with 72 followers, all of whom were against the despotism of Yazid. Yazid got wind of the trip and made his army intercept the group on the banks of the Euphrates, at the plains of Karbala. Once again Yazid demanded that Hussain and his followers pledge allegiance to him, but Hussain was a righteous man and he refused to bow down to pressure. He opted to stand up for justice and rebel against the hypocrisy of Yazid, even if it meant putting his small group of followers at risk.
While Hussain camped in the plains of Karbala, asking only to be allowed to pray in peace and reach Kufa, Yazid’s army of approximately 30,000 soldiers cordoned off the water supply for Hussain’s people leaving them thirsty and parched in the sweltering heat of the desert. The army then relentlessly proceeded to slaughter the small caravan of people, not sparing even children and infants.
Since that time in history mainstream Sunni Muslims have been trying to sweep this incident under the carpet and cite various excuses for the massacre at Karbala because it will open a Pandora’s Box and lead to queries about the questionable succession of the Prophet Mohammad.
On the other hand, Shias have completely ritualized this event and leave no stone unturned to rub Sunni noses into the history of this tragedy which speaks to Muslim-upon-Muslim violence.
Both sides completely lose the most important messages of the tragedy of Karbala which reflect directly on current events in the Muslim world today.
• Karbala was the advent of political Islam as we now know it and has been embedded among Muslims worldwide.
• Karbala was no war. It was a group of 72 men, women and children who were butchered heartlessly by an army of over 10,000 Muslims.
• As a result till today Muslims have not been able to separate the political message from the spiritual message because Yazid presented his case for the murder and beheading the Prophets grandson as a just cause.
• Beheading, enslaving, disrespect for women and killing women and children (i.e. whatever we see ISIS doing today) are a legacy of Yazid.
• It seems that even in Iran the regime has set aside following the Prophets family and has turned their direction to the actions of Yazid.
• This regime who claim to be the flag bearers of Shia Islam and the followers of Ali have just hanged Reyhaneh Jabbari, a 26-year-old woman who had spent five years on death row for the murder of a former intelligence official who attempted to rape her.
• Recently also in Iran, Ayatollah Hossein Kazamani Boroujerdi was executed for recommending separating religion from state.
• Not to be left behind, Saudi Arabia executed a Shia cleric Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr who was accused of delivering anti-regime speeches and defending political prisoners.
• Saudi Arabia continues to lash out at anyone critiquing the spread of their Wahhabi ideology, especially journalists.
My message to my fellow Muslims is that while we have absolutely no moral or ethical lesson to learn from our current leadership, let these solemn days of Moharram coming up be a lesson to all of us about how to be human first. Our role model in this is the beloved grandson of the Prophet Mohammad, Hussain. From his example we learn about love of truth against lust for power – a passion for justice against the perversity of tyranny. The symbols of human dignity that Islam preaches i.e. peace, humanity, tolerance, patience, brotherhood, forgiveness and equality among human beings, were in danger of being obliterated. Hussain sacrificed his own life and that of his followers to serve the larger cause of humanity with kindness, compassion and humility.
“If Husain fought to quench his worldly desires, then I do not understand why his sisters, wives and children accompanied him. It stands to reason therefore that he sacrificed purely for Islam.”