“Imam Hussain is the leader of humanity” Rabindranath Tagore
People have looked into the movement of Imam Hussain (AS) from different aspects throughout the history of Islam. Some see it as a historical trajectory, where the teachings of Islam were distorted and violated by the tyrant caliph of the time, Yazid, thus Imam Hussain’s movement as a revolutionary act and sacrifice to revive true Islam.
To some others, yet, the most important lesson we can learn from the event of Karbala is its moral or ethical dimension. As Imam Hussain (AS) himself puts: “I seek to enjoin what is good and forbid what is evil and follow the traditions of my grandfather (Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP)) and my father (Imam Ali (AS))” .
One of the moral principles that Imam Hussain (AS)’s movement represents and emphasizes is the Golden rule. Based on this rule you should treat others the way you would like to be treated by them: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” .
Although it is often said that the term ‘Golden Rule’ first started to be used in the 17th or 18th century , we can also find it much earlier in the words and acts of Imam Ali (AS) and the other infallible Imams (AS). Imam Ali (AS) tells his son Imam Hassan (AS) in his last will that: “like for others whatever you like for yourself, and whatever you dislike happening to you, spare others from such happenings” .
Imam Hussain (AS) also advises people (as a general rule and a decent way of life): “If you do not believe in any religion, at least be free-spirited and honest in your actions” .
A newer version of the Golden rule also says: “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” .
So, for an action to be considered morally good, you should ask yourself whether you could always reason or defend it as a universal law. In other words, to be a good person, you must be good for goodness’ sake, no matter what.
Now let’s see how this ethical value was manifested in Imam Hussain (AS)’s conduct.
A question anyone might ask after reading about the event of Karbala is ‘why didn’t Imam Hussain (AS) take an oath of allegiance to Yazid to save his life? Why did he choose to be martyred?’ [i]
One clear answer to this question is that he was the perfect leader (Imam) and role model for the Muslim community. A role model is someone who serves as an example and whose behavior is emulated by other people. To be a good role model you have to observe all your acts so that you set proper examples for others to follow.
Now, if Imam Hussain (AS) had pledged allegiance to Yazid’s tyranny, would he be a good exemplar of resistance against injustice for people? Wouldn’t his compromise then make the tyrant ruler more powerful and dominant?
The answer is obvious. Imam Hussain (AS) chose not to follow the indecent tyrant of his time since he intended to act on that maxim he wished it would become a universal law.
On the other hand, some people criticize Imam Hussain (AS)’s decision, saying he could have pledged allegiance to Yazid while at the same time trying to fight him and his injustice over time.
This would also contradict Imam Hussain (AS)’s maxim and is paradoxical, too. In fact, Yazid’s deviations from true Islam and the moral norms were so many that Imam Hussain (AS) could not turn a blind eye to them.
Imam Hussain (AS) did not want to compromise with those so-called Muslims whose behavior and actions had nothing to do with Islam. Instead, he chose to do the right thing, which any free-spirited, wise and virtuous man would do. And with his movement, he invited us all to do the same and follow in his footsteps.
The other ethical lesson we learn from Imam Hussain (AS) is that he never disregarded human values on his way to achieve his purpose. And he always advised his followers to choose the right way in life. For him, the end did not justify the means. What mattered to him more than anything else was the values not the victory in its apparent sense.
As Imam Ali (AS) says: “The victory achieved through sins is not, in fact, a victory, the one who dominates with the help of evil is defeated” .
It is due to this ethical principle that Muslim ibn Aqil did not kill his enemy, Ubayd Allah ibn Ziyad, before the event of Karbala (before the enemy declared war against them), when he had every chance of doing so in his friend’s house.
He did not kill him because the Holy Prophet (PBUH) forbade any guile: “Verily, Islam became an obstruction of deceit and an obstacle of trickery” . Imam Hussain (AS) and his companions were seeking to revive the teachings of Prophet Muhammad (AS). So, killing even the most wicked person on earth through deceit, and before he has shown an act of hostility against you, is not compatible with Islamic teachings.
In another account from the event of Karbala, Zuhayr, one of Imam Hussain (AS)’s companions, recommended fighting the enemy when they were fewer in number and so easier to defeat. But Imam Hussain (AS) replied he did not intend to start a war; [he would rather defend if a war was imposed on him].
The examples mentioned above manifestly show the behavior of a great role model. Imam Hussain (AS) only wanted to restore what was right, the true teachings of Islam which had been distorted by the tyrant ruler of the time. He tried to preserve human dignity and values.
He could have saved his life as well as that of his family’s and companions’ by accepting Yazid’s allegiance. But this would have been at the cost of ruining their dignity and living a life humiliation. Never would he put up with such disgrace.
So Imam Hussain (AS) made the most of every opportunity to invite people to the righteousness and prevent bloodshed. However, when he was left with two options, humiliation or death, and war was being forced upon him, he chose martyrdom and bravely fought against injustice.
[i] In one of his sermons to people of Kufa, Imam Hussain (AS) said: “Beware! Now this illegitimate son of the illegitimate father (Ubaydullah bin Ziyad) has stationed me between unsheathing the swords or then bear the humiliation, and far be it that we accept humiliation” .
All of us go through hardships and calamities that are not pleasing to us. We have all experienced moments and days of sorrow and suffering; be it one or more of the natural disasters, the loss of health or wealth, the loss of one of our dear ones, or even simpler issues that we face in our everyday life. The number of people who do not complain while they are suffering an incident is very few. Sometimes the calamities are so huge that they put us under severe pressure and take us to the point where we start complaining to Allah and asking Him the famous “why” question: “Why should this happen to me? Why don’t you help me overcome my problem? Why does this suffering seem everlasting?”
If you are one of those who have happened to ask these questions from Allah in specific situations, then this article might be useful to you and to myself, as it tries to answer all the above questions based on the words of Allah and the Islamic traditions.
We may be surprised in reading the verse of the Quran in which Allah (SWT) says:
“Certainly We created man in travail.” (90: 4)
Why would He do such a thing to us? Was He going to take revenge on us for something? Or does He enjoy seeing us suffering?
The fact is that all different types of problems, sorrows, losses, and sufferings can be looked at from two different perspectives. If one looks at problems and calamities only from a materialistic perspective, one may be able to find a material reason for each; For example, the drought is caused by the lack of rain, the disease is caused by poor hygiene and bankruptcy is a sign of lack of business awareness. But from the Islamic viewpoint, there are several factors influencing these events and disasters only some of which are considered material causes.
One of the wisdom behind worldly sufferings according to the verses of the Quran is that Allah tests His servants with hardships and calamities, and in this test only those who are patient are victorious:
“We will surely test you with a measure of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth, lives, and fruits; and give good news to the patient.” (2: 155)
It is noteworthy that there is no problem in mourning for our sorrows, feeling down, and even crying over them. We are all human beings, flesh, and blood, and sometimes we feel so burdened by the difficulties of life that we find it hard to bear. Yet one should be wary not to blame Allah for these sufferings and turn his/her back to Him. Instead, we should find the capacity to submit to the fate destined for us by Allah, believing in the fact that Allah is the only One who can save us from these calamities and would never do injustice to us. These are the times we should get closer to Allah and rely on His mercy and help.
But, why would Allah need to test His servants? He mentions in a verse of the Quran that being faithful is not accepted in words only, and to prove one’s faith, he/she should go through different tests:
“Do the people suppose that they will be let off because they say, ‘We have faith,’ and they will not be tested? Certainly, We tested those who were before them. So Allah shall surely ascertain those who are truthful, and He shall surely ascertain the liars.” (29: 2-3)
It is not for Allah (SWT) to find out if we are real believers or not, but by putting us through tests He allows us to see the real level of our faith and try to improve it or leave it as it is.
Therefore, one can conclude that the divine test is performed to separate and recognize the truthful from the false claimants and to make the believers pure. The higher the level of our faith goes the harder the tests become.
Another reason behind worldly sufferings according to Islamic teachings is that Allah (SWT) wants to save and strengthen His servant’s faith. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) narrated from Gabriel from Allah that:
“Among my faithful servants, there are some whose faith is not amended except by poverty and destitution, and if I make him rich, this wealth will corrupt and destroy his faith. And among my believing servants, there is one whose faith is not corrected except by wealth, and if I make him poor, poverty and misery will corrupt and destroy his faith. ... I guide them by the knowledge that I have of the hearts of my servants. It is true that I am Wise and Knowledgeable.” 
Therefore, there are many things that happen to us by the will of Allah which may not be pleasing to us and we may interpret them as sufferings while at the heart of them are great blessings for us:
“… may be that you dislike something, which is good for you, and it may be that you love something, which is bad for you, and Allah knows and you do not know.” (2: 216)
Sometimes we are so pleased and drowned in the blessings that Allah (SWT) has provided us that we totally forget our mission and goal of living in this world. In these moments Allah (SWT) tests us with some calamities and puts us through some sufferings to remind us of our goal and warn us about the consequences of neglecting our mission. These little sufferings as mentioned in the Quran are the ones that keep us away from the harder sufferings:
“We shall surely make them taste the nearer punishment prior to the greater punishment, so that they may come back.” (32: 21)
Another important reason behind worldly sufferings is that these types of things show the human being how weak he is and how needy he is toward his Lord. It is at the time of suffering that we realize there is nothing we can do to solve the problems and we turn to Allah to ask Him for help.
Allah (SWT) mentions this point in the Quran in different verses:
“When distress befalls you at sea, those whom you invoke besides Him are forsaken. But when He delivers you to land, you are disregardful [of Him]. And man is very ungrateful.” (17:67)
Therefore, hardship and suffering cause us to remember that He is the only One who can help us, thus we turn to Him.
Compensation for our sins
According to Islamic teachings, worldly sufferings are also a way by which Allah (SWT) makes up our mistakes and sins. It is narrated from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) that:
“The sorrows, sicknesses, and sufferings that befall on a believer are the means of wiping away his/her sins by Allah.” 
However, sometimes these sufferings are not to compensate for our sins. We have all seen or heard that sometimes some of the very faithful servants of Allah face huge sufferings. These types of suffering according to Islamic teachings is to elevate the spiritual or even the material capacities of human beings.
- Shaikh Sadough: Al-tawheed. (1398 A.H.), p. 400
- Ali bin al-Husain bin Shu’ba al-Harrani, Tuhaf al-Uqul, p.38.
Those who do not know Islam very well and those who follow the propaganda of the media, especially in this period of time when several terrorist attacks have been committed by pseudo-Muslim groups, which do not have anything to do with Islam, accuse Islam of encouraging violence and terror. That is absolutely wrong. Islam is the religion of peace and intrinsically promotes peace. The reasons for that will be reviewed next.
The greatest miracle of Islam is the Quran; a Book. Books are among the most efficient and prominent means of connecting thoughts and minds. This means that Islam has chosen a very civilized way of communication with human beings; by having dialogues with them. By the means of the Quran, Islam, in the first place, deals with the thinking power of humans and then their emotions. In other words, Islam tries to communicate with people through common sense, mutual understanding, logic and reasoning which consequently prevents harshness or sudden actions caused by the outpouring of emotions. That is while “Book” and “communicating through words” did not serve like that regarding the previous divine religions [i].
According to Islam, one should truly believe in the Islamic principles and axioms. It means that one should accept these Islamic facts by reasoning and rational search and demonstrate his\her belief in every act and deed; otherwise, if one has not really changed his\her mind to accept Islam or accepts Islam in words but do not practice it, he\she will be a “Muslim” but not a “believer” (Mu'min). This shows that Islam educates the people who are adherent to rational and commonsensical rules and regulations and consequently prevents apostasy and chaos.
Many suppose that Immanuel Kant was the first who formed and introduced the Golden Rule, a rule of ethical conduct, while this ethical code has been among the teachings of Islam since 1400 years ago. Imam Ali (AS) and other Imams (AS) have emphasized this ethical advice by words and acts and encouraged people not to consider themselves superior to others or do not prefer their benefits to others .
Imam Ali (AS) has addressed Imam Hassan (AS) as such: “What you prefer for yourself, prefer for others; what you find objectionable for yourself, treat as such for others. Don’t wrong to anyone, just as you don't like to be wronged; do good to others just as you would like others to do good to you; that which you consider immoral for others, consider immoral for yourself” . There is no sign of injustice or cruelty among these words. On the contrary, this is an invitation to get along with others, to respect their preferences and not to expect too much from them. This is simply an encouragement to peace.
When hearing about Jihad, the first thing that strikes to mind is Al-Qaeda, ISIS and fire, and blood. Many people think that Jihad equals aggression, but that is wrong. Jihad has a clear definition. There exist two types of Jihad in Islam: Defensive and Offensive. Defensive Jihad, as can be guessed from the name, is for the aim of defending the Islamic territory against the assaults and intrusions of outsiders and invaders.
Offensive Jihad aims at liberating people from unjust oppressive regimes and allowing them to search, read and choose the right religion and lifestyle. Many Islamic jurists believe that the Offensive Jihad to invite to Islam is only allowed under certain circumstances; i.e. in the presence of the Imams (AS) and Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP). Otherwise, only Defensive Jihad is permitted which is actually obligatory to all Muslims in whatever condition. No one in the whole wide world would admit that defending oneself is aggression; Neither do the Muslims. Then, it is clear that unlike a widespread thought nowadays, Islam is against war and violence.
There is a theory in Islam: any harm to others or oneself is banned. It explains that a Muslim does not cause any harm to other people or do not misuse rules to cause harm to them . Through this theory, Islam protects the benefits and rights of others. This includes any individual or any group of people. It also covers both Muslim and non-Muslim societies and people, hence, this theory, in fact, reinforces and advertises the peace all around the world.
It was explained above that Islam also bans any harm to oneself. In this regard, suicide is illegal (Haram) in Islam. Some might suppose that they own their physical body while it is a divine trust offered to us to do good deeds (16:97), worship God (51:56) and practice the religion. This is another means by which Islam promotes peace all around the world.
Considering the Islamic approach described above in interaction with the humans, the efforts to establish ethical standards and to form the interrelationship among humans demonstrate the contribution and role of Islam to create a peaceful world.
[i] While Old Testament and New Testament are written by humans, the Quran is the divine revelation to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
[ii] Golden Rule is the principle of treating others as one would wish to be treated.
- Nahj al-Balaqa, Letter 31.
- peace in islam