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Karbala’: Lessons for the Muslim Community

The revolution that Imam Al-Hussein made was not a rebellion against a legal ruler; it was a revolution against a tyrant dictator, Yazid Ibn Mu`awiyah, who deprived the Ummah of its right to choose its rulers (by succeeding his father to the caliphate).

Besides, he was notorious for being corrupt and dissolute. The majority of the Sunni scholars and others agreed to that, and Ibn Hajar mentioned so in his book As-Sawa`iq Al-Muhreqah.

What were the motives of Imam Al- Hussein?

By his revolution, Imam Al-Hussein’s aim was not at all to support the Shi`ites, though the tragedy of Karbala’ (the place where Imam Al-Hussein was martyred) was a turning point in the history of the Shi`ites, for since then they were no longer a mere political group supporting the People of the House (Prophet Muhammad’s descendants), but rather they became an independent sect that had its own beliefs, jurisprudents, social organizations and system of rule.

The aim of Imam Al-Hussein behind such a revolution, as he declared it, was “To reform the nation of my grandfather (Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him).”

This would imply putting an end to all kinds of corruption and deviation from the right path so that the nation could be united again. Uniting the nation would not be achieved in the existence of corruption; Allah’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him), is reported to have said, “My Ummah would not unite (in supporting) a wrong (matter).” [Abu Dawud]

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Two brothers: Two ways of reform

Al-Hassan (Al-Hussein’s brother) was eager to regain the unity of the Muslim Ummah, so he made conciliation with Mu`awiyah and conceded the caliphate to him for that purpose. Al-Hussein did seek the same aim but in a different way, for the circumstances (under which he made the revolution) were different.

Here, I would like to refer to the fact that Muslims at that time were not divided into Sunnis and Shi`ites in the way it is known nowadays. Anyway, all Muslims then believed that transferring the caliphate from Mu`awiyah to his son Yazid by means of inheritance was unlawful and that Al-Hussein, being a pious, honest and courageous person, was worthier of being the caliph then. However, they did not go to fight with him against Yazid’s army.

Besides, those who sent for Al-Hussein and urged him to go to war against Yazid let him down and did not fight with him. Senior Companions of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) advised Al-Hussein not to go to war, but Allah’s Will was that he would go and the tragedy of his martyrdom would take place to remain a disgraceful stain on our glorious history.

We have to review the objective reasons for the revolution of Al-Hussein, (may Allah be pleased with him). We can sum up such reasons into two:

First, he refused Yazid to assume the caliphate without consulting the nation.

Second, he refused the corruption and absolutism practiced by Yazid.

Imamate Between Sunnis and Shi`ites

The two reasons have to do with the Imamate (the caliphate or leadership). This was the first and most important subject on which controversy rose among the Muslims. It was because of that subject that fighting took place between Muslims. Throughout history, the controversy over that subject has focused on two theories.

According to the first one, the Imam is to be appointed by Almighty Allah; this theory has been adopted by the Shi`ites. The second theory is that of the Sunni and the majority of the Muslims. It states that Imams or leaders are to be chosen after consulting the Muslims in that regard.

I see that the two theories lack clear mechanism. The first theory has been controversial among the Shi`ites themselves. The Twelvers, a Shi`ite sect, are of the opinion that Imams were twelve persons from among the People of the House. But many other Shi`ites believe that the Imamate is not confined to those persons.

Besides, of those twelve persons, only two became Imams: `Ali Ibn Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him) and his son Al-Hassan, who assumed the caliphate for few months before conciliating with Mu`awiyah.

The rest of the twelve persons have been held to be Imams in the sense that they have been eminent knowledgeable scholars and jurisprudents. The Sunnis agree with the Shi`ites in that regard except on two points: the infallibility of those twelve persons and the authenticity of the narrations reported to have been said by them.

As for the theory of choosing the rulers after consulting Muslims, it was applied in a certain way on choosing Abu Bakr (may Allah be pleased with him). `Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) said in that respect, “Pledging allegiance to Abu Bakr was an unprecedented step through which Allah spared the Ummah sedition.”

The second Rightly-Guided Caliph, `Umar, was chosen in another way. Then, before his death, `Umar devised a new way for choosing the caliph that was to succeed him.

Accordingly, `Umar’s successor was to be chosen from among six persons, those who had been given the glad tidings of entering Paradise. Thus, `Uthman (may Allah be pleased with him) was chosen to be the third Rightly-Guided Caliph.

After the assassination of `Uthman, `Ali (may Allah be pleased with him) was chosen by the Muhajirun and the Ansar to be the fourth Rightly-Guided Caliph.

After that, choosing the caliphs democratically came to an end; and since then, the hereditary ruling started in the Muslim Ummah and continued until the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early decades of the twentieth century.

The supporters of the theory that there are twelve Imams for the Muslim Ummah believe that the twelfth Imam will be Al-Mahdi. They have been waiting for his emergence for more than twelve hundred years now. We do not know when Al-Mahdi may appear.

Should the Muslims, depending on the possibility of his emergence, remain passive towards the absolutism and dictatorship practiced against them?! The eminent Shi`ite scholars have reviewed the question of the Imamate, and the majority of them have agreed that it is up to the Muslim Ummah to choose who can rule it by Allah’s Law.

Choosing rulers: Need for mechanisms

This, coupled with the Sunni belief that Muslims are to choose their rulers, implies that all Muslims (with their different schools of thought) at the present time have come to agree on one thing in that regard. Hence, we need a proper mechanism to help us all establish Allah’s Law and save the Muslim Ummah from its tyrant rulers.

We will not be punished by Allah for the historical mistakes that others have committed. Rather, we will be punished if we repeat such mistakes and contribute further to the disintegration of our Ummah, while it is facing the most dangerous enemy that makes every effort to dominate it.

Al-Hussein was an Imam for all Muslims, Sunnis and Shi`ites. It is true that only a minority defended him while the majority of the Muslims, including the Shi`ites who had urged him to confront Yazid, did not go to fight with him.

But a fair look at what happened thereafter shows that Muslims became united. They did so in supporting Ibn Az-Zubayr in his revolution against Yazid. The Companions and their true followers remained in their houses in Madinah, refusing to pledge allegiance to Yazid, and Muslims rejected Yazid’s violating the sanctity of Madinah and its people. Muslims also showed unity in supporting Imam Abu Hanifah and Imam Malik in their ordeals because of their love for the People of the House and their support of those among them who revolted against the tyrant rulers.

The Muslims expressed their support of the Prophet’s Household (Aal Al-Bayt). For example, Imam Ash-Shafi`i said, “If loving the People of Prophet Muhammad’s House would be regarded a rebellion, then, let humankind and jinn bear witness that I am a rebel.”

Muslim unity

The call for Muslim unity today is not a motto; it is a duty that Allah has ordained on us and a necessary requirement to confront our enemy whose sole aim is to uproot Islam and Muslims. Our enemy makes every effort in that regard.

Thus, we need an initiative to be taken by all movements and scholars in uniting our Muslim Ummah and establishing Allah’s Law, so that we can confront our enemy.

We are one Ummah that testifies that there is no god worthy of worship but Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger. So, let our actions and efforts be an expression of the unity in that regard; let our guiding principle be: {And hold fast, all of you together, to the bond of Allah, and do not separate …} (Aal-`Imran 3: 103)