Interviews > Al-Shirah Magazine's interview – 10th episode.
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Religious Authority Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah:
Ashoura represents the movement of Islamic unity, reform, and the protection of the freedom of mankind

Date: 05/01/2009 A.D 08/01/1430 H

Al-Shirah Magazine continues its comprehensive dialogue with the Religious Authority Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlullah and discusses with His Eminence reviving the tragedy of Ashoura and the significance of Karbala's tragedy in the Islamic history and its repercussions that continue to exist up until this moment in time. He affirmed that Ashoura represents the unity between the Muslims, in terms of promoting reform, protecting the freedom of mankind, establishing justice between the people, and facing the tyrants and arrogant powers. The following is the text of the interview:

The premises of Imam Hussein's revolution:

Q: "Some argue that the revolution of Imam Hussein (a.s) was an exceptional movement throughout the Shiites' history, seeing that the endorsement of compromises with the existing authorities was the mainstream. What do you say in this regard?

A: "The movement of Imam Hussein (a.s), through the renaissance he led, does not reveal any signs of a narrow sectarian mentality. The slogans this movement had brandished represented Islam in its openness and extension and real principles that called for respecting Man and human rights, as well as the state and its public money. For example, Imam Hussein (a.s.) had criticized the reality that existed at his time, specifically the official Islamic authority represented by Yazid. He said: "They take public money for themselves", i.e. they messed up with the public money that belongs to the nation, split it among them, and used it for their personal interests, without considering the religious fatwas on the money that belong to all the Muslims.

"They enslaved the people", i.e. they took the people as their own slaves. Whoever opposed the authority at that time faced this destiny. History tells us that Yazid asked the governor he appointed in Al-Madina to take bay'ah for Yazid [an oath of allegiance to a leader], on the basis that the peoples of Al-Madina became slaves.

Thus, Imam Hussein (a.s.)criticized the existing reality at that time in terms of two matters: respecting the public money, and respecting the human rights of mankind, namely the peoples' right to freedom and sovereignty (i.e. not to be used as slaves).

Imam Hussein (a.s.) said: "O' people , the Messenger of Allah said : Whoever sees an aggressive tyrant legalizes the forbiddens of Allah , breeches divine laws , opposes the tradition of the Prophet , oppresses the worshippers of Allah , but does not oppose it in word or in deed , surely Allah will treat him in the same way as the tyrant."

The movement of Imam Hussein was a corrective movement. It aimed at changing the corrupt reality that deviated from the authentic Islamic line. In his discourse, Imam Hussein (a.s.)told the people about the deviation of these rulers from the Islam and their non-commitment to the Prophet's Sunna. They abstained from consecrating justice between people, and tried to change the religious laws to their complete opposite in permitting the haram and prohibiting the halal.

Imam Hussein (a.s) also said: "I swear by God, I did not rise against the tyrannical rule of Bani Omayah out of selfishness or with the aim of oppression or corruption. My revolt only aimed at reforming the religion of my grandfather, and the traditions of my father Ali ibn-Abi Talib, to enjoy good and forbid evil. So, whoever accepts me by accepting the truth, surely God will reward him for supporting the truth. And whoever rejects me, I will be patient until God judges between me and these people justly. Surely, He's Almighty, is the Best Judge of the judges

This reveals that the movement of Imam Hussein (a.s.) was a reformative movement, the purpose of which was to set the nation on the right track desired by God and His Prophet. The Imam (a.s.)did not plan to fight, as he was only equipped with 70 people or 300 at best. He said: "He who accepts me by accepting the truth, surely God will reward him for supporting the truth."

We also find that when Imam Hussein (a.s.) arrived to Karbala, he tried to hold a dialogue with those who came to fight him, in order to raise their awareness. When Al-Hussein (a.s.) met Al-Farazdaq, he asked: "How did you find the people of Al-Koufa?" Al-Farazdaq answered: "Their hearts were with you, but their swords were against you", due to the pressures applied on the people on the one hand, and the ambitions that were exploited by the existing government on the other hand.

But when did Al-Hussein (a.s.) decide to engage in a war? He made this decision when the war was imposed on him. After he preached them on the Islamic foundations on which his movement was based, they told him: "Accept their rule; they want your only good."

They did not only want him to recognize the unjust and corrupt rule, but to legalize it as well, in his capacity as the Imam who should be obeyed, with him being the grandson of the Prophet. But he told them: "No way! By God I will never surrender to them like a humiliated person and never pledge allegiance to them like slaves. Behold; the illegitimate, son of the illegitimate [by birth], has settled between two, between unsheathing [the sword] and humiliation, and how impossible is humiliation from us! Allah refuses that for us, and His messenger, and the believers, and laps and purified and zealous noses and repudiating souls, that we prefer obedience to the mean ones, to the killings of the honorable."

The Imam (a.s.), his companions, sons, and his family had all enjoyed the same characteristics and traits. Al-Sira books [biographies] report that when the Imam (a.s.)was on his way to Karbala with his son Ali Al-Akbar, he was heard repeating: We belong to Allah and to Him we shall return, and all Praise belongs to Allah, the Lord of the worlds.

His son, Ali al-Akbar, heard him and asked about the reason which prompted him to keep repeating these statements. Imam Hussein said: “I drowsed for a moment, whereupon I saw a horseman saying: "These people are marching as fates march towards them,' so I realized that we are being eulogized.” Ali al-Akbar said: “Are we not right?” Imam Hussein (a.s.)said: “We are, by the One to Whom all the servants shall return." Al-Akbar said: "O father! In that case, we do not mind at all having to die so long as we are right."

Hence, as it appears, the movement of Imam Hussein (a.s.)was open to Islam as a whole, and he represented a figure that enjoyed the love and respect of all the Muslims. Thus, we regard Ashoura as the movement of unity, the purpose of which is to reform the Islamic nation and protect the freedom of the people and preserve the public money. It is a fallacy to regard Ashoura as a Shiite movement or as a confessional line that separates the Muslims.

Imam Hussein's Movement of Change

Q: "Your seem to deny that Imam Hussein (a.s.) carried a political project to change the existing reality, or that he staged an armed revolution, which contradicts with many Shiite Islamic stories on the Karbala event?

A: "Imam Hussein (a.s.) did not propose his desired change on a confessional basis. In other words, he did not want to change a Sunni reality, because the behaviors of Yazid did not represent the Sunnis. During the first year of his term, he killed Imam Hassan [a], and in the second year, he staged Al-Horra incident in which his soldiers invaded Al-Madina and then threw fire by mangonel on Al-Ka'bah. In addition, Imam Hussein (a.s.) launched his movement on the basis of his legitimate right to succeed Imam Hassan (a.s.)and become the caliph.

Furthermore, in his Hadith, narrated by the Sunnis and Shiites, the Prophet [p] said: "Hassan and Hussein are the Leaders of the Youths of Paradise. Hussein is from me and I am from Hussein, Allah befriends those who befriend Hussein."

So when Al-Hussein (a.s.)said: "I am more entitled than anyone else", he wanted to change the unjust tyrannical rule and replace it with a just one. It was not about consecrating the rule of the Shiites at all. We know that the Shiites are a faction like the rest of the Muslims, and Shi'ism is part of Islam. But certain developments took place in the Islamic reality, when some caliph's – be they Umayyad or Abbasid – oppressed the Imams (a.s.)and their followers. At that point, revolutionary movements emerged.

Q: "Let us put this straight, didn't Imam Hussein – through his revolution – lead a political project in order to assume power?

A: "Imam Hussein (a.s.)has developed a political project within the framework of Islam. This project was aimed at implementing the laws of Allah and establishing justice between the people. This is exactly what Imam Ali (a.s.) promoted in his speech addressing the people when he was a caliph. Imam Ali (a.s.) stressed the right of the people to criticize the caliph and the ruler: "Do not talk to me as you talk to tyrants. And do not think that I can not tolerate words of truth or calls for justice. He who cannot tolerate words of truth or prepositions of justice, it will be more difficult for him to abide by them”.

Islam emphasizes the right of the people to criticize the ruler if he deviates from the norm or exceedes the boundaries set by Allah and His prophet. As such, Al-Hussein (a.s.)went out to establish justice which represents the foundations of politics in Islam.   

On the other hand, Imam Hussein (a.s.)represented legitimacy and he was the rightful ruler. He did not want to assume power in order to serve personal interests, but rather to establish justice between the people. He sought for the just and reformative authority. This was also highlighted by Imam Ali (a.s.)when he told the people: "We have over you a right, and you have a right over us as well."

So from an Islamic perspective, the authority is a mutual duty between the ruler and the people, and the rule must be based on righteousness. Imam Ali (a.s.)used to mend his shoes and one time, Ibn Abbas saw him doing so. Imam Ali said: "What do you think will be the price of this shoe? By Allah! To my mind this torn shoe is more valuable than my ruling over the people, unless I enforce the right and eradicate falsehood."

Ashoura: A unifying movement

Q: "You have mentioned that Ashoura represents unity among the Muslims, but we see that some of the remembrance ceremonies for the martyrdom of Imam Hussein [Majlis-e-Aza], affront the Islamic unity and even Imam Hussein himself?

A: "Many of those who narrate the biography of Imam Hussein in Ashoura are poorly informed of  the culture of Ashoura and its genuine meanings. Their primary purpose is to tickle the emotions of the people. Thus, many of the books that chronicle this incident were preoccupied by many details to the extent that they distorted the biography of Imam Hussein [a]. For instance, the movement of Imam Hussein (a.s.)reveals that he used to be acting from a position of strength, as one of the soldiers of the army who came to fight Hussein described: "By God, never have I seen someone whose children and family members are killed with firmer self-possession, or more courageous fighter than Hussein. Every time the fighters drew close to him, he would charge at them and they would scatter before him like goats attacked by a wolf."

But some of those who narrate Imam Hussein's (a.s.)biography depict him as a lamenting defeatist man who solicited the enemy for a drink of water, in addition to other unrealistic stories.

The main problem in some of the narrations of biography of Imam Hussein is their poor knowledge of Ashoura. Though they enjoy a melodious voice, they lack enough culture and knowledge and awareness. After all, the remembrance ceremonies are held to boost the Islamic Da'wah and unity and reform between the people, in addition to the promotion of virtue and the prevention of vice and the liberation of mankind from any slavery. But some narrators opt for provoking crying instead of addressing the minds of the people.

Q: "The problem is not only with the readers of the remembrance ceremonies, but also the biography books documenting the incident and their content?

A: "I agree that some books were written by authors who are uninformed about the biography of Imam Hussein [a]. However, many other books are reasonable and acceptable. The books written by Al-Tabari come in this context, in addition to those written by the Shiite religious scholars. Recently, many books were written to commemorate this anniversary, including ""The Hosseini Epic" by Martyr Motahhari, "The revolution of Hussein" by Sheikh Muhammad Mehdi Shamseddine, in addition to my two books "Inspirations from Ashoura", and "Hadith Ashoura", among others. These books present the authentic the principles and pillars of Ashoura and place it in the right context, as being a movement to correct the Islamic route that deviated at some point due to a corrupt rule.

Ashoura: Reason versus emotions

Q: But there is also the issue of what we have inherited, which might obstruct the movement of reason or any attempts to rationalize the Hosseini biography?

A: "Our problem is perhaps that many of our societies are mired in ideological backwardness and driven by emotions, especially as some people link the reinforcement of our relationship with Ahl El-Beit with the traditions and customs and lies designed to arouse the emotions. When a specific emotional event is deep-rooted in a society that has experienced injustice and oppression throughout history, it becomes very hard to rationalize it, or – let's say – create some kind of balance between the emotions and reason. I always say that we need some reason to balance off the effects of emotional reactions; while in return, we need to balance the reason with a dose of emotions.

Q: "What about the deep-rooted culture of mourn and tears which has produced new patterns of life, and cast its influence on the cultural, social, and political aspects?

A: "Focusing on certain touching and emotional elements will likely stir emotions and incite people to cry. However, the Shiites are not only "mourning and lamenting" people. Encouraging the people to cry is aimed at expressing deep grieves over the tragedy of Ashoura. I had once given a lecture in Jeddah in one of the conferences in the eighties headlined "the mourning personality". I said that the history of oppression and injustice experienced by the Muslim Shiites molded them in a "mourning personality" aside from the tragedy of Karbala; as if the deep grieves extending from history up to now, leave their impact on the people, especially when they feel that this history is resurfacing again in their present. At the same time, we must balance between our mourning over the tragedy of Ashoura, and our joyfulness for the heroic and valiant figures of Karbala.

Also, I do no think this mourning situation during Moharram is influential to the extent of becoming a public phenomenon in various aspects, whether be they political, social, or others. Some might address the advantages of arousing the emotions and tears, arguing that it will keep the people in touch with the tragedies worldwide. For instance, we were touched and affected by the massacres taking place in Palestine and Iraq and Afghanistan and any other places where tyrants and arrogant powers continue to exist.

Prohibiting certain Ashoura rites

Q: "Even though many fatwas were issued to forbid some rites such as bloodletting and beating with chains, such practices continue to exist up to this time?

A: "We have issued fatwas long time ago declaring the bloodletting and the whipping of the backs with chains as forbidden customs. We have also prohibited any rituals that harm the people, including the beating of the chests to provoke pain or any negative health conditions. We are also following up on the new customs in this regard and declared them all as forbidden, because harming one's self is religiously forbidden according to many scholars as Sheikh Murtada al-Ansari among others. In addition, these customs give a backward image of Islam and represent a huge crime, especially when some people strike the heads of their children with daggers until they bleed and cream of pain.

 We do not show sympathy with Imam Hussein by torturing ourselves. Instead, we must be inspired by the reformative revolutionary concepts to face the oppressors and tyrants. As such, we turn Ashoura to a revolutionary movement against the tyrants and arrogant powers. This is the core message of Ashoura which we must be working for. We also call for making Ashoura an Islamic occasion, one that is not restricted to the Shiites or the Sunnis, but a memory that brings together all Muslims. For example, late Sheikh Hassan Khaled started organizing remembrance ceremonies to commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (a.s.)under the supervision of Dar Al-Fatwa, grouping the Sunnis and Shiites together. But later on, this project was aborted due to certain circumstances. We want Ashoura to be a starting point for the Islamic unity and for the liberation of mankind, [the liberation of] the state, and the entire reality from the global arrogance.

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