“Among the faithful are men who fulfill what they have pledged to Allah. Of them are some who have fulfilled their pledge, and of them are some who still wait, and they have not changed in the least” (33:23). On the 21st night of the holy month of Ramadan, the followers of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) and his successors experienced another great suffering after the prophet’s death. When the first Imam, Imam Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS) was martyred after he received the fatal injury over his head on the 19th of Ramadan.
But what was the reason behind deep oppositions against this pious and god-fearing man and the true successor of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP)? Why would anyone intentionally decide to deprive him of his rights, spread lies against him, harm him, or take his life? Who was Ali ibn Abi Talib (AS)?
He was the first male person who heard our dear Prophet’s recitation of the revealed words of Allah on the 27th of Rajab, known as Mab’ath Day, and accepted him as the Almighty’s true last and greatest messenger wholeheartedly when he was only ten years old.
When the Prophet (PBUH&HP) gathered the Quraish tribe to announce his message of monotheism publicly, it was the young Ali (AS) who openly testified to the Oneness of God and the mission of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), when all the others remained silent and did nothing but giving blank looks. This sowed the first seeds of evil sentiments in the hearts of polytheist Arabs against the Commander of the Faithful. They would hatch any plot against the Holy Prophet (PBUH&HP) including the bid to assassinate him in Mecca.
Again, there was no one but Ali (AS) who saved his leader’s life by sleeping on his bed that very night so that the ones who had surrounded them would think that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) was lying in bed; as a result, the Prophet safely left Mecca. The Arab infidels also imposed several wars upon the Prophet at Badr, Uhud, Khandaq, Hunayn, and Khaybar. Thanks to the flashing blade of Imam Ali (AS), the Zu’l-Feqar, all these plots were aborted as well.
Not only did Imam Ali (AS) excel on the battlefields, but he also displayed other merits, such as knowledge, prudence, wisdom, piety, courage, and generosity. It was Ali (AS) who gave his ring as alms (Zakat) while in genuflection during the ritual prayer, which brought divine approval for the Imam as the 55th verse of Maedah chapter bears testimony:
“Your guardian is only Allah, His Apostle, and the faithful who maintain the prayer and give the zakat while bowing down.” (5:55)
The feelings of hostility towards the Most Virtuous Believer, Ali (AS), reached its climax among his enemies when on God’s express command Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) publicly proclaimed Imam Ali (AS) as his successor at the historic assembly of Ghadir Khum on 18th Dhu al-Hijjah 10 AH.
“Today I have perfected your religion for you, and I have completed My blessing upon you, and I have approved Islam as your religion.” (5:3)
But Imam Ali (AS) was deprived of his true right of political leadership for a quarter of a century. In 35 AH, when Ali (AS) took up the political rule at the desperate Muslims’ insistence, he only abode by the Holy Quran and the Prophet’s teachings (Sunnah). However, for his very insistence on spreading justice and observing the true rights of each individual, his enemies, the seditions, the pledge-breakers, and the Renegades (Khawarij) declared hostility and war against him, which later on became known as The Battle of Jamal.
The renegades, just as ISIS in our time, were appeared to be devoted to God to the extent that from their long and incessant prostrations their foreheads were covered with calluses, while they were ignorant of Islam’s truth and were unable to distinguish between right and wrong.
Finally, the Supreme emblem of Justice was struck on the head on the 19th of Ramadan, the first of the three grand nights of Qadr (Laylat al-Qadr) in prayer and worship, in the Grand Mosque of Kufa by the poisoned sword of the renegade, Ibn Muljam al-Moradi.
Despite the severity of the wound, the first phrase that came to the lips of the Commander of the Faithful was: “Fuzto wa Rabb-il-Kaaba.” It means by the Lord of the Kaaba I have succeeded.
So, the pledge made to God by Imam Ali (AS) decades ago was fulfilled in the early hours of the 21st of Ramadan as his soul flew towards the ethereal heavens. After he embraced martyrdom, the poor and homeless never again saw the man who in the middle of the night, bring food and water for them.
The orphans of Kufa could not find anyone who would kindly listen to and sympathize with their pain. When he left this earthly life behind, no ruler ever came to power who could surpass him in justice and in observing the rights of all the people, rich or poor, equally. No man ever set foot on earth who, like him, was endowed with the infinite and divine knowledge of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Prophet once said “I am the city of knowledge and Ali (AS) is the gate to this city. Anyone who is willing to enter this city must first pass the gate.” Such was the man whom we lost on the second night of Qadr.
Imam Hussain (AS) is one of the important figures in Islam whose brilliant and lofty character together with his inspiring movement has been praised by many famous characters of the world. In this regard, Mahatma Gandhi said that: “My admiration for the noble sacrifice of Imam Hussein (AS) as a martyr abounds, because he accepted death ..., but did not submit to unjust authorities. I learned from Hussain how to attain victory while being oppressed.” . Antoine Bara, a thinker, scholar, Christian and Syrian who wrote a book titled, “Imam Hussein in Christian ideology,” said that: “I am a Christian but call on humanity to follow the holiness of Imam Hussein as he is the conscience of all religions.” . These quotes and others indicate that Imam Hussain (AS) is not an exclusive role model for Shi’a or Muslims, but belongs to the whole world. One might ask in what ways is Imam Hussain’s (AS) uprising an inspiration for human beings. We try to explain that through the following lines.
Yazid’s reign was corrupted and illegitimate from the beginning. According to the peace treaty made between Imam Hassan (AS) and Mu’awiyah, the latter was forbidden to designate anyone as his successor after his death. But after the martyrdom of Imam Hassan (AS), Mu’awiyah broke the treaty. He appointed his son Yazid as his successor because he thought no one would be courageous enough to object to the decision of caliph. Hence, Yazid became caliph illegally after the death of Mu’awiyah . Besides, according to historical resources, Yazid had a corrupted immoral character. He dared to act against Islamic rulings openly and perform forbidden deeds (Haram) in Islam publicly .
Imam Hussain (AS) was observant and aware of Yazid’s acts and intention. So, he refrained from pledging allegiance to Yazid. Moreover, oppression, tyranny, unjust use of public property, etc. had made life miserable for people . Imam Hussain (AS) believed that Yazid’s manner and governing style was obviously against Islamic teachings and would eventually alter and spoil Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH&PH) Sunnah. Hence, he stood up against Yazid to prove that his reign was illegitimate and to unravel the truth. Therefore, he (AS) said that he would never take the oath of allegiance to Yazid, even if there would be nowhere safe on the earth for him to go . He never intended to take on the leadership and come to power, instead aimed at eliminating injustice and corruption.
One might wonder why Imam Hussain (AS) did not pledge allegiance to Yazid to calm down his hostility so that he would have more time to make plans and find more companions to defeat Yazid. The reason was that Yazid’s behavior and deeds were too far from true Islamic principles and moral values such that Imam (AS) could not ignore them. Moreover, he (AS) did not want to play a trick as it is denounced in Islam.
Imam (AS) had other possibilities to defeat Yazid and take over the leadership, but he (AS) refused to do so. Through his missionary in Kufa, Muslim ibn Aqil, Imam (AS) could kill Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad [i] before the battle of Karbala and before the enemy declared war against them. But, as a man who had stood up for justice, he did not act unfairly. Imam’s (AS) reaction was in the same manner as well; before the battle started when the enemy was fewer in number and easier to defeat, one of his (AS) companions recommended fighting them. He (AS) replied that he would rather defend if a war were imposed on him instead of initiating it. Moreover, when the enemy was impatient to start the battle, he (AS) did his best to prevent it by negotiating and bringing awareness to them by revealing the truth .
These examples demonstrate that Imam (AS) did not want to reign at any price; the same was true for other Infallible Imams (AS). This is of the traits of true divine leaders; unlike oppressive unjust powers. They never take the lead, whatever the cost.
Up to now, we found out about two reasons that make Imam Hussain’s (AS) uprising a worldwide inspiration. Firstly, one should be alert and sensitive to what happens around him\her. Then, to take the right action for the sake of justice and humanity. Secondly, even if one holds a noble intention, it does not mean that he\she is allowed to achieve that by any means; the end does not justify the means.
Imam Hussain’s (AS) movement has other lessons for human beings that we will discuss in the second part of this title.
[i] The governor of Kufa during the reigns of Yazid, who executed Aqil, sent troops to intercept Imam Hussain (AS) when he arrived near Kufa and was one of the leaders of the battle against Imam (AS) in Karbala.
After Imam Ali (AS) was martyred, Imam Hassan (AS) took over as his successor who like his father fought against Mu’aviah but he couldn’t defeat him because his army was not sufficiently loyal. His reliable followers were inadequate and he feared that they could be killed in the battle. Thus, Imam Hassan (AS) made a peace treaty with Mu’aviah, under the duress against his own will.
Mu’aviah became the Caliph under specific circumstances. For instance, he wasn’t allowed to choose the next Caliph and his son (Yazid) couldn’t be his successor. On the other hand, when Mu’aviah died, Imam Hussain (AS) was opposed to and fought against Yazid and he and his followers were brutally martyred. Both Imam Hassan (AS) and Imam Hussain (AS) had few collaborators/ associates/ helpers; however, this did not stop him from protesting against Yazid and his tyranny.
One of the most controversial questions about Imam Hussain (AS) is that why he did not make peace with Yazid just like his bother did with Mu’aviah?
It is worth noting that it would be so irrational to think that Imam Hussain (AS) had a different disposition from Imam Hassan (AS), for example one was more of a diplomat while the other was more of a fighter. In fact the objective conditions at the times of two Imams were rather different hence, their approach apparently differed.
1. Mu’aviah was willing to make peace with Imam Hassan (AS) but Yazid wasn’t like his father. Mu’aviah did not want to fight against either Imam Hassan (AS) or Imam Hussain (AS) and they were not prepared to do so. Once the governor of Medina wrote to Mu’aviah that Hussain (AS) does not want to take over the kingdom for now but he may do in the future. Mu’avia wrote to the ruler:
Leave Hussain (AS) and do not bother him because we don’t want to conflict with him while he is in peace with us (1)
On the other hand, when Yazid became the Caliph, he ordered the governor of Medina to make Imam Hussain (AS) to either obtain the oath of loyalty (to the Caliphate of Yazid) or failing that, kill Imam Hussain (AS), cut off his head and send it to Yazid.
2. In public Mu’aviah was, at least superficially, a pious person who would not commit sins or harm innocent people. Sometimes even the followers of Imam Ali (AS) had doubts about the impiety of Mu’aviah. While Yazid had no reservations, he would commit sins in public including drinking wine, playing with dogs and monkeys and etc. As in this regard Imam Hussain (AS) said:
Yazid is an alcoholic person and kills innocent people and does sins in public, so a person like me wouldn’t accept a person like him as their king (2)
3. Mu’aviah was a very powerful king with strong army but Yazid was not as clever and strong.
4. The loyalty of many of Imam Hassan’s (AS) followers was questionable. Some abandoned him and some others tried to kill him or even surrender him to Mu’aviah. But the companions of Imam Hussain (AS), as he himself said, were of a better and more loyal caliber. (3)
5. Mu’aviah was among the companions of the Prophet (PBUH) which earned him the respect of Muslims in general whereas Yazid was not a companion of the Prophet (PBUH) was so important to Muslims in that time and people would respect him so much. But Yazid wasn’t a companion of the Prophet.
6. Mu’aviah’s sister (Um Habibah) was the Prophet’s wife. Since the prophet’s wives are called ‘’the mothers of the believers ‘’; therefore, Mu’aviah was called “the uncle of the believers”. Yazid, however, did not have such status.
7. Although he did not meet any of his commitments that he had already made, Mu’aviah could say that he is legally the caliph because of the peace agreement between him and Imam Hassan (AS) because Yazid could not claim such legitimately.
Some people think that Imam Hussain (AS) didn’t agree with his brother in making peace with Mu’aviah however because of his respect for his brother, he observed the peace treaty and did not oppose Muaviah. However, this view about Imam Hussain is not right.
If we assume/Supposing that Imam Hussain (AS) did not actually agree with his senior brother, he could fight against Mu’aviah; because, the latter broke his agreement that he had made with Imam Hassan (AS), when he made his son, Yazid, his successor and Imam Hussain (AS) had no agreement with Muaviah however the circumstances of Imam Hussain were unsuitable for an uprising against Muaviah.
- Bihar al-anvar, Majlesi, vol.44, pg.212
- Maghtal al-Hussain (AS), Abd ar-Razzaq al-Muqarram, pg.129
- Musnad al-Imam ash-Shahid, al-Atarodi, vol.2, pg.4