Translator’s note: This is a response by Shaykh Haidar Hobbollah to a question posed to him which can be found in his collection of published questions and answers Iḍāʾāt fī al-fikr wa al-dīn wa al-ijtimāʿ.
Question: Is it not a paradox to believe in the saying of Imam al-Ḥusayn (a) “never to humiliation!” that the people continuously repeat today with all the injustice and political, economic and security decline as well as their silence about those who unlawfully take away their rights as people? Are we required today to shed our blood because of this saying or is it specific to a particular matter?
This sentence and slogan is derived from the religious culture that rejects humiliation and disgrace; it does not permit a righteous human to place themself in a position of humiliation, even if it necessitates sacrificing their own blood. And this religious slogan—in its intellectual religious origins and at the level of the Qur’ān and Sunna—is not exclusive to political conflicts and military struggle. Rather, it even includes the sphere of individual Muslim life, for living in humiliation and disgrace is a rejected matter, and a righteous human must live in dignity and honour in the various matters of their life. Just as there is humiliation on the political level, there is also humiliation on the level of economics and general life. Similarly, there is humiliation on the level of values and social dignity, so demanding individual and social rights is a form of rejection of humiliation and disgrace, at least in some of its applications. In fact, sometimes peace and a lack of war are what achieve honour and dignity, whereas war brings the people nothing but death, destruction and defeat. And this requires a precise awareness of conditions and consequences, so this word does not have the same exclusive, fixed meaning in all instances. Rather, it is a general principle of life that has been mentioned frequently in the Qur’ān and aḥādīth. However, the application of this concept differs according to different people, circumstances, conditions and societies.
Therefore, we know that humans can reject humiliation and disgrace through military struggle, which is the loftiest path, for if they were to be martyred, they would die a cherished and honourable death, would be immortalised in the hearts of others and the heavens would open its doors to them. Likewise, this rejection can also be applied elsewhere in peace, through peaceful dissent and demonstrations rejecting different forms of humiliation and disgrace. In addition, human rights, civil and cultural activities exercised by civil society institutions and organisations and others can sometimes be an instance of the application of the principle of rejecting humiliation, when the true goal of these activities is to secure and provide citizens with dignity, honour, self-esteem, and prestige—indeed some religious texts mention that the believer has a sanctity with God like the sanctity of the Kaʿba to affirm the position, prestige and sanctity of the believer in general religious culture.
Yes, all of these activities belong to this general principle, in accordance with the objectives of those who carry them out, and religion is not, as some of us imagine, far from the demand for human rights for a decent lifestyle and a respected, honourable life. For the believers are divinely instructed to preserve their right to honour and dignity, and this is why Imam al-Ḥusayn (a) said that humiliation is rejected by God and His Messenger (s)—because they do not accept a humiliated and submissive life, but rather they want people to strive to procure a strong way of life that raises their heads high in their homelands and wherever they go, instead of throwing them in humiliation across the Earth! On this basis, we’ve mentioned before that the human pursuit to demand their rights in religious thought is not due to the desire to deify themselves but due to obedience and submission to God Almighty in what he wants from us—to be respected, to possess our rights and to not negate them or usurp them. That is why rights in Islam were a kind of obligation and duty in a sense of the word.1
To summarise: this principle means that Islam rejects that humans and society should be servile, abject and weak. As it appears in some of the texts, Islam rejects the weak believer, for the human being in Islam, in accordance with their capabilities and conditions, is supposed to always preserve their honour and dignity, and not place themselves in a position of humiliation, of disgrace, of subservience. To the extent that it may sometimes be necessary for the human to sacrifice their life, their blood and their wealth in order to preserve their precious, honourable, noble identity. Naturally, all of this falls within the limits of what is capable for the individual and society on one hand, and within the order of priorities and worldly needs on the other hand.
Shayan is an MPhil student in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Cambridge, interested in Islamic thought, theology and intellectual history.