Islamic History

Ashoura: Reviving the Islamic Values

Is history sacred?

Are we a nation that sanctifies history, memorizes and repeats it, and lives in its caves and grottos, while forgetting the present and killing the future? Are we the remains of this history, who live its battles as though they were ours, and adopt its hatred, and move through its narrow lanes?

Why should we consider history, while we live in the present and look forward for the future?

The Holy Quran mentioned a certain issue when it addressed the sacred history of the prophets, and the non-sacred history of the pharos and the tyrants. This issue is that history is a wave of events that remain in our lives, because these events have contributed to forming the system of life. However, the time during which these events took place did not besiege them, but was a mere framework for these events to occur. After all, time fades away, and the events and causes are those that remain.

There are certain issues that fade away with time, or even before time passes away; they just die in the morning, and we miss them in the evening. Therefore, God wants us to take lessons from the history that survives, through studying the positive and negative elements of the spiritual character or the tyrants: “In their histories there is certainly a lesson for men of understanding.” (12:111) The lesson is to study all the cultural dimensions that accompany the circumstances of the issue, and to reach out to the idea which is rich in cultural values. This idea is thus, transformed to innovation which prompts the mind to innovate and the heart to beat lively. Thus, our movement will be rich with values, and the history is no more restricted to historical events, but rather becomes a renewed life.

So, when we embrace these lively elements that do not die, they might grant us a life, if we manage to overcome the obstructions that prevent us from opening up to these elements, because sometimes life becomes death and death becomes life itself:

God wants us to take lessons from history through studying the positive and negative elements of the spiritual characters or the tyrants.

He who dies and rests is not dead

The dead is the one who dies while still alive

The body might still beat with life, but the spirit living inside is dead, and vice versa.

Thus, the history of those who gave mankind life and a spiritual movement, must rest on faith and creed, especially when we open up to the lives of the prophets who ascended above, and lives the essence of the spiritual meanings, and granted love to all mankind, even those who do not believe in them and oppress them. Prophet Muhammad (p.) used to tell those who contested him and his mission: “I gave you good advice, but you do not love those who give good advice” (07:79)

We should consider these humanitarian models that ascended above to the sky, and transformed the world to a sky, whose sun enlightens our lives with spiritual values. As such, we have two suns: one that lights the spaces and objects, and another one that enlightens our minds with reason, fills our hearts with love, and our movement with justice, good, and life.

We always have to live the great spiritual history and forget about the history of the tyrants and those who filled life with miseries and belittled mankind by enslaving it. These have gone with history. As far as our responsibilities are concerned, we are not responsible for history, and should not lock ourselves in it: “This is a people that have passed away; they shall have what they earned and you shall have what you earn, and you shall not be called upon to answer for what they did.” (02:134). They created their history; we are responsible for creating ours.

However, our main problem lies in the backwardness we experience.

We see that this person locks himself in this history, while another resorts to another history, at a time when our reality challenges us and those creating the history of arrogance mock and ridicule, while we are digging our own graves by our own hands, even though above the ground, because we refused to reach out to the gardens that nurture our spirits and lives.

We consume history and go deep into its caves and grottos

The history of Ashoura:

We remember Ashoura to live the circumstances of this occasion – on which hundreds of years have passed but still beats with spiritual meanings. When we remember the figures of Ashoura, we feel that each and every personality is a spirit by itself, one that flies and ascends above and transforms the body to a spiritual beat, joining between the intellect and the emotions and between the matter and the spirit.

Therefore, we look at Ashoura based on the spiritual values and the movement whose leaders and faithful masses are open to righteousness, instead of viewing it as a tragedy. It is a movement that has two open eyes looking at the nation and the world, and staring at the Islamic and humanitarian march as a whole. Even when we discuss Ashoura in terms of the Imamate, we do not mean to give it a sectarian aspect, but it rather gives it a spiritual framework that is open to mankind and Islam as a whole.

From Ashoura, we enrich ourselves with its various dimensions and meanings. Our problem is that we gave Ashoura sectarian meanings and locked it in the prison of our creeds and backwardness and customs which lack any cause, because we did not see the cause Al-Hussein (a.s.) represents, but the person who is filled with wounds, the one who experienced thirst and the tragedy of his sons and relatives. We looked at Al-Hussein (a.s.) as the person, not the mission and the cause. So we abandoned the mission and did not find Al-Hussein (a.s.) and we will never find him if he does not represent to us a mission, freedom, glory, dignity and an entity that represents mankind and Islam. This is the real essence of Ashoura.

But we limited the Karbala (tragic) character to the extent that our tears have become cold. Only those who consider the freedom, resistance, opposition, and challenge shed warm tears when they think of the tragedy.

Our problem is that we restricted Ashoura to a sectarian aspect, and locked it in the prison of our creeds and backwardness and customs which lack any cause.

The issue of Ashoura through the slogans raised by Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) is a humanitarian issue. Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) used to look at the human being, go into his inner feelings and concerns about his humanity from those who crush the human character of the people. What did he say when he described the rulers of Bani Umayah? He said: “They took the money of Allah as theirs, and regarded His people as their slaves.” He is saying that the public money which organizes the people’s lives is the money that belongs to God: “And give them of the wealth of Allah which He has given you.” (24:33). This money should be spent in what pleases God, and in order for the people to live in dignity and glory. But this money became the money of the prince and his entourage. In our times, the money of the nation, particularly the oil, has become the money of a certain family and a certain king and sultan and those who kiss the feet of the sultan.

Many of those who talk about the nation and Islam glorify these kings and families. They actually worship the family and its head, and then they talk to you about the belief in one God, and then hold other people as infidels through some jurisprudences, but they worship those who have money: “They took the money of Allah for themselves and enslaved His people.

The contemporary pledge and the historical pledge

During Al-Hurra battle, we saw that Yazid asked his Wali who triumphed over the people of Al-Madina to ask for their pledge in their capacity as slaves for Yazid. They used to enslave the people by the power of money and sword. If we look at history books, we see that when the pledge was obtained for Yazid, a man who has a sword in one hand, and money in the other hand, said: Who gives the pledge to Yazid will get the money, and who doesn’t will get this sword. After that, Yazid was the “Commander of the Faithful.”

Today, we are witnessing a contemporary kind of the pledge, one that rests on money. For example, people gave their pledge to President George Bush and today they are giving the pledge to the European Union and many Arab figures, for various considerations and ambitions.

Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) wanted to liberate the people who were enslaved by the rulers, and therefore the revolution of Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.)was launched based on this humanitarian aspect in order to achieve freedom for the entire mankind.

The contemporary pledge differs from the historical one

The dimensions of Al-Hussein’s revolution:

As we read through the narration of Al-Hussein (a.s.), we see that when he went out to the battle to fight those who came to fight him, and when he saw his opponents invading the tents of the women, he addressed them saying: “O You the followers of Abu Sifyan, if you do not follow a religion, and if you do not fear the Judgment day, be free in your lives and return to your origins if you were Arabs.”

Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) raised two issues here. The first is that he laid emphasis to the freedom of man when he said: If you do not abide by religious values and you do not believe in a creed, at least be free. The free man is the one who does not sell himself or his position or opinion in return for money or positions. Do not be slaves, because you are fighting to obey those who enslave you.

The second issue he raised is that Imam (a.s.) tried to provoke in them the feelings of Arabism which Islam approved: “Be Arabs”, not in terms of the narrow nationalism, but on the basis of the values the Arabs lived, which Islam adopted some of them and eliminated others. This discourse is not addressed to the followers of Abu Sufyan in particular, but to every human being.

On the humanitarian level, we also read his speech when he was asked to give legitimacy to Yazid. He said: “The illegitimate, son of the illegitimate, has settled between two: between unsheathing [the sword] and humiliation, and how impossible is humiliation from us.” So it is about being honored in all your life. Imam As-Sadiq (a.s.) was quoted as saying upon interpreting the following Quranic verse: “God has the glory and His Prophet and the believers.” (63:08) Imam As-Sadiq (a.s.) said: “God has allowed the believer to run all his affairs, but he did not authorize him to humiliate himself.” Glory is based on power: “The power is wholly Allah’s“. (02:165). So, to be honorable is to be strong and defending you humanity and freedom.

The free man is the one who does not sell himself or his position in return for money or positions

Then he said: “Do not you see that no one abides by the right and everyone embarks on the wrong?” He is talking about the righteousness which people should abide by, and righteousness is the concept that exists in all the issues of human beings, which ascend his position at the individual, political and social levels.

Therefore, we have to present Ashoura to the entire world in its humanitarian aspect, rather than restricting it to a sectarian aspect because Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) is the imam of all Muslims and he obtained his Imamate from Prophet Muhammad (p.) with whom Al-Hussein (a.s.) lived his early childhood. He also lived with his mother, Sayyeda Az-Zahra and his father Ali (a.s.). So, he enjoyed all the elements and characters of spiritual faith these figures enjoyed. Prophet Muhammad (p.) said: “Hussein is from me, and I am from Hussein“, which reveals the spiritual integration between the Prophet (p.) and Al-Hussein (a.s.).


We have to present Ashoura in its humanitarian aspect

The values of reform in the revolution of Al-Hussein (a.s.):

Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) said: “I revolted neither for wickedness nor for fame. Verily I rose only to seek for reform in the nation of my grandfather; the messenger of Allah.” He did not speak about a certain family or region, but about the entire nation, because he was shouldering the responsibility of the whole nation through his Imamate. “I want to enjoin good and forbid wrong and evil“, he said. So, he noticed the deviant situation of the nation, because the rule prevailing at that time damaged the humanitarian aspect of the people who used to love Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) and his family, but at the same time, they were fighting to earn money or obtain a certain position in the authority, such as Omar Bin Sa’ad

Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) wanted to integrate reform into the nation, with all its individuals and diversity. He said: “Whoever accepts me by accepting the truth, surely God rewards him for supporting the truth. And whoever rejects me, I will be patient until God judges between me and these people justly. Surely, His Almighty is the Best Judge of the judges.” It is reported that the first statement Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) gave when he went out of Mecca was: “O’ people, the Messenger of God said: Whoever sees an aggressive tyrant legalizes the forbidden acts of God, breaches divine laws, opposes the tradition of the Prophet, oppresses the worshippers of God, but does not concede his opposition to God in word or in deed, surely Allah will place him with this tyrant.” It is our religious duty to topple an unjust regime, and God shall punish anyone who abstains from fulfilling this duty and reward he who does. Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) adds: “Those have obeyed Satan…” So, Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) wanted to change the reality, laying emphasis to two points:

First: the sovereignty of the law, after they stopped applying the punishment system put forward by Islam; a punishment system that must be applied under an Islamic state.

Second: Releasing the money of the nation from their hands, after they have monopolized it, because the money of the nation of that of Allah.

Therefore, we are not allowed to give Ashoura a sectarian aspect and regard it as a Shiite issue. Ashoura is an Islamic occasion and the slogans raised by Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) are all Islamic and humanitarian ones. Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) was also loved by the Muslims and he used to love them all. Everyone used to repeat: “

Al-Hasan (a.s.) and Al-Hussein (a.s.) are the masters of the youth of Heaven.”

Ashoura is an occasion that rests on the Islamic and humanitarian values that characterized the personality of Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.). These values embodied the leader and the leader embodied the values. So, if you see Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.), you see Islam in itself and if you study Islam, you will come across Al-Hussein (a.s.), without feeling any kind of duality, because Al-Hussein (a.s.) integrated in Islam and Islam lived in his mind, heart and movement. Even in his Jihad, Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) was a martyr for the sake of Islam.

Therefore, we should not separate between the person and the cause; because many people, particularly those who carry out certain backward customs, such as those who practice the bloodletting ritual, do not realize the meaning and significance of Ashoura and Karbala, nor do they understand the reality of the Islamic state, in terms of the threats of the tyrants and arrogant powers, or the Zionist movement among others. This is how we should approach Ashoura; we should look at the problems and threats overshadowing the Islamic world, because the Islamic world should not remain at the sidelines of the arrogant world.

Though as Muslims we represent 1.5 billion of the world’s population, we are still living at the sidelines of the world’s decisions. We do not have the right to participate in any of these decisions. How powerful Britain is to interfere in our decisions and fate? How powerful are other countries? This is because we lost the sense of direction, represented by the civilized and tolerant Islam, which is open to the issues of freedom, justice and human rights. Every year, we come up with a new backward ritual, which does not represent Islam or Al-Hussein (a.s.).

We should stay with Al-Hussein (a.s.); the cause and the mission and the power, and we should seek to empower ourselves against the challenges

We should stay with Al-Hussein (a.s.); the cause and the mission and the power, and we should empower ourselves against the multiple challenges engulfing our lives, namely those posed by the West, which justifies Israel’s carnages and considers its killing of the children, women and elderly, and the destruction of the infrastructure in Lebanon and Palestine as self-defense. Therefore, we have to examine the reality of the American and world arrogance.

How do we evoke Ashoura?

In light of the abovementioned, the nation should take lessons on the occasion of Ashoura, namely how to render our grief a source of power, not weakness, and how to cry out of our allegiance to Al-Hussein (a.s.), not frustration, and how to consider Ashoura a movement to empower ourselves, not a mere occasion for grief and tears. Al-Hussein (a.s.) represents the Islamic unity, and the Karbala event should be relayed and presented correctly. Many of those who read the narration of Karbala rely on false and superficial and unfounded events.

Today, we call the narrators to relay the story of Karbala in a realistic historical manner, so that we understand its real meaning, significance, and impact on our reality. We want Ashoura to benefit from the modern technical means; starting from theatre, the art of the creative novel, and the art of acting. We want the world to see the humanitarian and Islamic revolution, in which the values are embodied in the movement, and the cause integrates with the tragedy, and the sacrifice unites with the responsibility. Ashoura is not for the backward people, but for the free ones who seek freedom in their struggle against the tyrants and arrogant powers. Karbala is for those who stood up against Zionism and triumphed against it and gave us the meaning of victory Al-Hussein (a.s.) experienced when the blood triumphed over the sword. Those who fought Zionism achieved the first victory over it; the same goes for Gaza which showed us the meaning of steadfastness.

O beloved ones,

Karbala should be an occasion to empower ourselves, not a mere occasion for grief and tears

Let us renew the cause of Ashoura, so that it would live, and reach out to mankind, because in every era, we need something to renew our minds, and make us know how to deal with our present for the best of our future. Be those who look at the future, not those who lock themselves in the past. Peace be upon you.

* The speech of His Eminence, the Religious Authority Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah in opening the conference held by the Contemporary Islamic Thought Institution, under the title of “Ashoura: The Concept and the Function and the Potentials of Expressing”, on 02/02/1430 H., 28/01/2009 A.D.

Translated by: Manal Samhat

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