Imam Hussayn (a) sacrificed everything. He sacrificed the lives of his closest companions. He sacrificed the lives of his closest family members. He sacrificed his own head. Why? There had to be important reasons behind his uprising, especially considering the fact that he knew what he was getting into; that he knew what was going to happen on that fateful day of Ashura. There are a number of reasons behind the Hussayni movement. This article will touch upon only one of them – reforming the ummah.
When trying to understand why Imam Hussayn (a) made these sacrifices, it is best to listen to his own words; his own reasoning. Imam Hussayn (a) was asked to pledge allegiance to the tyrant Yazid (may Allah’s curse be upon him). He refrained, thus making his stay in Medina near impossible. Before he left Medina, he wrote a small, yet important, will and gave it to his brother Muhammad bin Hanafiyah. In this will he mentioned some of the reasons behind his future sacrifice.
One of the reasons mentioned in this will was:
إنی لم اخرج اشرا و لا بطرا و لا مفسدا و لا ظالما إنما خرجت لطلب الاصلاح فی امة جدی
“Verily, I did not leave due to carnal desires, I did not leave recklessly, I did not leave corruptly, I did not leave oppressively; rather, I left seeking reform in my grandfather’s ummah.”
In another place he said:
اللهم إنک تعلم انه لم یکن ما کان تنافسا فی سلطان و لا التماسا من فضول الحطام و لکن لنری المعالم من دینک و نظهر الاصلاح فی بلادک
“ Allah, you know that our revolution was not for seeking government or for obtaining the glitter of the world. Rather, the purpose was to present the teachings of your religion to the people and to start a reform in the cities.”
Reform is an important concept that is mentioned throughout the Quran and Islamic traditions. It is mentioned 12 times in the Quran and encompasses reform of the affairs of the orphans, family life, the society, and the world. The prophets are ordered to reform the society and the believers are ordered to reform the society. The Prophet of Islam (s) was sent to a society that was full of corruption and sin; a society which has been termed the Age of Ignorance. One of his biggest tasks was reform.
The society that he was sent to was full of ignorance. The majority of the people in that age were illiterate. Idol worship was rampant, the people even made idols out of dates which they would eat when they were struck by famine. The society was an immoral society, for instance, prostitutes would take pride in their actions and would put a flag on top of their houses announcing their profession to the world. Many innocents were killed in war, even newborn babies were buried alive to do their gender. The Prophet (s) came and reformed the society; corrected these ills.
But, after his demise, the society started backtracking. Corruption started to increase and the reforms that the Prophet (s) was able to accomplish started to disappear. Imam ‘Ali (a) struggled to renew these reforms during his caliphate. He was not able to accomplish all that he set out for due to the short period of his caliphate and the many wars that occurred during his reign.
After Imam ‘Ali (a) was martyred, Mu’awiyah became the caliph. He considered his post to be a purely political post that did not have any religious responsibility. After he came to power, he went to Iraq, which was Imam ‘Ali’s (a) capital, and addressed the people saying: “I have not come to advise you to pray and fast; rather I have come to rule over you. The life of whoever opposes me will not be safe.” Due to this attitude, corruption started to quickly increase in the society.
Mu’awiyah died in the middle of Rajab, in the 60th year after the migration. His son, Yazid, became the caliph after him. Yazid openly committed sins, such as drinking alcohol and gambling. A delegation came to meet him and when they returned to their city they described the caliph in the following manner: “He drinks alcohol, gambles, performs adultery with mothers and their daughters, and does not pray.” When the leader of the Islamic ummah is such, what can be expected from the citizens?
Imam Hussayn (a) did not pledge allegiance to him in order to reform the ummah. If he did not stand up, Islam would have died; it would not have remained today. He was martyred, his family was martyred, his companions were martyred all to reform the society. One must ask himself, what does this mean considering the popular tradition: “Every day is Ashura and every land is Karbala.” This means that we must stand up and try to reform the societies that we live in. At first, we can follow Imam Hussayn’s lead and try to reform our Islamic communities.
Do not forget to check out a recently published autobiography of Shaykh Hamid Hussein Waqar. It tells his story being born into a non-Muslim family, growing up in a non-Islamic environment, joining a gang, going to prison, finding Islam, entering the Islamic seminary, and giving back to the community.
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