The connotations of
By: the religious
Authority H. E. Sayyed Muhammad Hussein (a.s.) Fadlullah
The Ashoura tragedy blurs the
struggle and the person overshadows the symbol that it turns into
rivers of tears as long as one can remember instead of triggering
storms of revolution. Also the emotional and historical conception
presents it as a characteristic of the self , in such a way that the
broad cause becomes a personal affair instead of the opposite in which
the movement of the self is a product of the cause .
This atmosphere has made the
commemoration acquire a kind of tradition in the popular and
historical reality that it turned out to be a mere popular tradition
of emotional tragedy, pride in heroism, and absorption by excitement.
In each period, the emotion has been nurtured with new tidings and
analyses till the truth has got lost in a flood of lies, and
imagination has been set off without restraint that the emotions have
formed the significance of the tragedy. Also, a new context has been
added to the intellectual content that can neither apply to original
Islam nor does it relate to the main issue.
In this discussion, I would like to
limit myself to some main points related to the significance of the
commemoration, its influence upon both the intellect and the feelings.
This is meant to go deeply into the Islamic context within this cause
based on our need to enrich the Islamic experience currently through
the liveliness of the experience in the past; it should be enriched
here where the legal extension of the Islamic truth is available
through the practices of the Imam apart from the personal
In addition, some concepts should be
corrected as they are misrepresented in the commemoration, something
that does not fit the Islamic concept in the human sense, while a
struggle is going on.
The Limits of
legitimacy in Ashoura
A question is asked repeatedly:
Couldn't Imam Hussein (a.s.) have foreseen his tragic end once he set
off to Karbala? If he did, how was it justified to set out, and end in
getting dead bearing in mind the Quranic deterrence about willfully
giving one's life to mortality?
The answer is: The Husseini (a.s.)
tragedy has several indications which tell that Imam Hussein (a.s.)
had known about his fate through the reported saying of the Messenger
of God (p.) and through his conversations with those who requested him
to change his decision of traveling to Iraq, and through what he said
to those who accompanied him to Mecca and whom he told of the
inevitable end of his trip. May be this was due to the balance of
powers, particularly in the middle of the trip when he learned about
the killing of his envoy, his cousin, Muslim Bin Aqeel/ in Koufa after
people failed him. In the light of the above, how can we interpret the
Perhaps it is based by some people
on the characteristics of Imam Hussein (a.s.) and his religious duties
stated by his title in what he is allowed to do while others are not,
because his role is different from the role of others.
And thus it is considered by those
that he assumed the duty because he knew better what God has chosen
for him; here it is not meant to study the matter in terms of the
religious duties. However, I ask what is the problem in this issue?
Why can't the principled revolutionary move against those who are
trying to muffle Islam in its movement, its strength, and its
propagation whenever they are in danger and jeopardized? And does this
fall under willfully giving one's self away to mortality?
The answer is that there is a
difference between individual cases that end in death and Jihad cases
which move in dangerous areas, for God has authorized and approved of
Mujahideen to move in situations that may lead to their Killing as
individuals or in groups and thus it is an obligation dictated by
Islam. Therefore, the circle of Jihad differs from the circle of
willful killing of oneself.
In the light of this, Imam Hussein (a.s.)
had identified for himself and for his companions and family members
his assumed responsibility. He considered it a religious obligation,
which represented the supreme interest for Islam. It is exactly
similar to what used to happen to the Mujahideen at the time of the
Prophet (p.) when they would encounter danger. They used to hope
through shahada (Martyrdom) to gain paradise as promised by God. The
Mujahideen would give up both their wealth and their lives "that
they will gain paradise by fighting for God, so they either kill or
get killed "(Al Tawba:111) as it was stated in the Holy verse.
Even if the case were as they said,
Why can't the behavior of Imam Hussein (a.s.) represent a religious
evidence for an exception of such cases of deterring people from
getting rid of their lives.
It is necessary to pause at a point
here and that is his family and his companions who started out thought
the broad meaning of Jihad having obtained his permission and
following his guidance. This suggests that the issue has nothing to do
with the individual but it rather has extended to the masses. It is
jurisprudentially deduced that any similar case of similar conditions
and situations can acquire its religious legality for its movement
from Ashoura, bearing in mind that it is totally excluded from the
circle of religious deterrence of willful killing of one's self.
In the same jurisprudential frame of
the Ashoura issue, another question is asked… Through the Husseini (a.s.)
movement, can we understand the legality of armed struggle when
Islamic reality calls for such an act of enjoining good and forbidding
Is it possible for the precepts
among the Muslims to motivate the Islamic leadership and the Muslims
in the direction of confrontation, especially of the Islamic reality
reflects the reality of a deviating leadership which undermines the
intellectual and the practical Islamic path and weakness it?
Was the revolutionary movement in
Ashoura active enough and up to the level of the Hussein i initiative
or was it a reaction to the pressure due to the siege practiced by the
Umayyads against Imam Hussein (a.s.) and his companions that they had
to resort to defend themselves?
Misbalanced powers and the legality
of the Movement
Such points of concern could be
suggested by some people to confirm that Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.)
revolted because he felt, through the communications he was making
with the influential figures in Kufa, Basra and other cities, that he
had a lot of followers tending to form a big power.
Thus , he was convinced that he had
the ability to face the situation from a strong position and reinstall
legality back to its powerful position.
This would enable him to encounter
the illegally gained authority on the basis of new principles that
might develop from his movement. He could request all the powers
including the tyrant ruler to give up their authority; consequently,
in case the ruler failed to comply, Hussein (a.s.) would fight the
ruler for being a dissident who rejected Al Bay'a (the pledge of
allegiance) which is based on Islamic legality.
Al- Imam Al- Hussein (a.s.) was
confident that he was able to turn Kufa into a center for the legal
authority, and this was similar to what his father Imam Ali(a.s.)
believed in. He believed that he could do it without fighting had his
messenger, Muslim ibn Aqiel succeeded in controlling Al Kufa. It is
the view of those people they may also add and confirm that had
Al-Hussein (a.s.) known about the fight ahead, he wouldn't have
started in that forceful and revolutionary form. Also, enjoining the
good and forbidding evil do not dictate a Muslim, whether a leader or
a soldier, to follow such a style in their movement because the issue
may worsen and develop into bloody or deadly violence.
However, in my study of the Hussein
i account, through the words By Imam Al-Hussein (a.s.) in his
conversations with the persons who tried to make him change his
decision and stay instead of starting out in his expedition; they were
warning him against the danger he might face due to the disappointment
that the people in Kufa could bring forth, and due to the pressure
practiced by the Umayyad. However, we find Imam Hussein conscious of
the hard results his movement could end up with, regardless of the
extent of losses.
The researcher may feel from the
words that certainty and conviction were so solid. Especially if we
know that the nature of such a situation where he was intending to
topple down the head of the authority was expected to lead to what
happened. His brother Imam Hassan (a.s.) who began from the same
position where it was impossible to a great degree for the conflict to
end without a violent fight; however, it is noteworthy to say that
Imam Hussein (a.s.) refused any sort of reconciliation. His refusal
was due to the current phase he was moving through and which denied
any reconciliation for the sake of the Islamic interest. This was
totally different from any previous phase he survived together with
his brother Imam Hassan(a.s.) in his conflict with Muawiya. Thus, the
dangerous consequences turned out to be very natural.
Furthermore when Imam Hussein knew
of the killing of Muslim Bin Aqeel and that the people in Kufa had
faild him and that the Umayyads were in control over Kufa through Ibn
Ziad , he had not reached a point of complete siege that would prevent
him from returning to Medina or feeling somewhere else. If it had been
a matter of belief in the supremacy of his power, Imam Al Hussein (a.s.)
should have retreated upon learning that the balance of power was
weighing more for the interest of his enemies.
Thus, we see a decisive and
determined attitude in insisting on revolution for martyrdom; for this
reason, Imam Hussein (a.s.) refused all the proposals offered by Ibn
Ziad through Imam's followers such as securing safety for him, his
family and his followers on condition that Imam Hussein (a.s.) would
give way for Yazeed and hold a truce , something similar more or less
to what happened between Imam Hasan (a.s.) and Muawiya.
Imam Hussein (a.s.) put the issues
of reformation, enjoining good and forbidding evil as an introduction
for his movement. He wanted to remind those Muslims who chose to be
with him of the religious goals that urged them to move with him- He
wanted them to know that his cause was not a matter of looking up to
authority as a source of conceit and tyrannical dominance. For him it
was not a personal cause but rather a suggestion that those titles do
impose on people to respond to any leadership that works to convert
those titles into live reality… As it does impose on the leadership
to move for the sake of those titles.
Are the aims
personal or public?
Somebody may claim that the issue
was merely a matter of Imamate which turns this movement into a
personal cause limited to the responsibilities of the infallible Imam,
and that it had nothing to do with public agenda that could apply to
any other leadership.
An Imam never sets out in his
movement from the certain hidden responsibilities that are unknown to
the Muslim followers… Because the cause is the cause of Islam which
dictates him to urge the nation to realize strength, dignity and honor
for Islam. This only can be done through the broad titles and
objectives. Thus, an Imam sets out from the causes of Islam and its
titles which the Muslims feel concerned and responsible for, and not
due to blind obedience for the Imam(a.s.), despite the fact that their
obedience is a must.
For this, the style of the Quran
upon talking about the battles that the Muslims wanted to fight or
about the battles that the Muslims fought before the verses were
inspired used to come as goals selected by God for the Muslims to
strive till they accomplish them. God wanted the Muslims to be aware
of the objective but not to react blindly. This observation was traced
in the verses, which spoke about the batters of Badr, Honian, Al Ahzab,
Thus we could see the broad
objectives as headings for the battles that the Muslims waged against
the nonbelievers. They were the same titles that Imam Ali (a.s.)
started out with in the internal war in order to confirm the power of
a legal authority regardless of the characteristics of infallibility
in the leader or in his distinguished rank. Al Imam used to address
the whole nation within limits of his legitimate leadership-any
leadership-and that was based on the needs of the battles regardless
of their time and place.
Therefore we can conclude that in
Karbala, Imam Hussein (a.s.) decided that the battle was legal through
its broad public titles and not through the characteristic of his
being an Imam. It is exactly what we read in his speech with which he
started his expedition: "Oh people! The Messenger of God said:
Whoever saw an irreligious and unjust ruler who breaks the promise and
reverses the teachings of the Messenger of God, a ruler who does harm
to the believers unjustly and aggressively, and he never attempts to
deter him by saying or by doing, God will consider him as bad as the
ruler. Don't you see that those people have quit obeying God and stuck
to the obedience of Satan, shown corruption and violated the limits of
God, taken everything while I deserve it more than them?"
On another occasion Imam Hussein (a.s.)
said, "I have come out neither for arrogance, nor for vanity, or
for injustice, nor for corruption, yet I have come out for reformation
in the nation of my Grandfather. I intend to enjoin the good and
Thus, those who approve of my choice
should know it is the choice of God, while those who don't will leave
me no other choice but to be patient till God decides on the matter.
He is the best to judge".
In the light of this, we can go
through a similar experience on the basis of the legality of the
standing if the situation were similar to the period during which Imam
Hussein (a.s.) lived with all the conditions, attitudes and positions.
For this reason the problem in its broad titles is affected by the
reality of the nation in Terms of time, politics and the extents of
positive results that those titles will secure for the highest
interest of Islam. Or one can choose to shock the nation politically
and psychologically which prepares the nation for a new stage or
prepares a long term plan to encounter the immense challenges of the
tyrants. The case may either require the Karbala method, or it may
require the cool method which opens up to peace on the basis of
flexibility which represents bowing before the storm till it passes
by, so that the movement can be resumed in an appropriate and natural
atmosphere. A third choice could be a blend of both methods ; amity
The movement of
Imams (a.s.): the variation of the subjective conditions:
This is what must the observed in
the methods of the Imams … The problem was not a matter of
difference in viewing the nature of the reaction, whether to be
violent or flexible, whether to be military or peaceful. However, it
was a matter of variable subjective conditions, which made a certain
method a necessity at that point of time in connection with the major
This is the general Islamic approach
in its broad lines. There is not one violent line in all situations
all the way through, neither there is a meek line in all the
situations all the way either. It is the final and important result
that requires this method or that.
concepts of Anxiety:
It is worthwhile to pause here to
review the unnatural concepts of anxiety, that is the way the tragedy
is raised which conflicts with the authentic Islamic concept, or the
way some people upset the balance upon visualization, or the way the
commemoration is thought of as tribal fanaticism far from the Islamic
missionary intellect and feelings, all of which may negatively reflect
on the layman's thinking. Then these concepts will be stored and
infiltrate to the unconscious of man through tears and pains resulting
into excitement in both the intellectual context and the emotional
one. To illustrate one can refer to Hiddar Al Hilli, a well-known poet
in his poem arousing the coming of Al Imam Al Mahdi, may God bring him
soon where he says, "Uproot even the infants of the Umayyads,
whether boy or girl."
Clearly it is a call foe revenge
from the Umayyads even if from the infants , a request that conflicts
with the Islamic values in the line of justice stated and called for
by the Quran "None can be made bear the responsibility for some
one else."(Al Isra:15).
It is even reported in the Hussein i
account that some soldiers in the Umayyads army said when Imam Hussein
(a.s.) carried his infant boy ,Abdullah, to the opposing army to give
him a drink of water: "If the mature were guilty, how could the
infants be guilty? "How can the Muslims respond to a cry to kill
the guiltless infants which makes the human feelings aggravate, while
on the other side, and in principle the commemoration of "Ashura
should be a reason to protest and condemn the whole reality that
caused the tragedy of Hussein (a.s.), his family members and his
followers, and to crystallize the Islamic protest and rejection to
such a reality and congregate collectively in the face of whoever
wants to repeat the tragedy for Man at present and in the future, the
way the tragedy was made by others in the past.
Another example can be illustrated
from a poet who claims speaking for the family of the prophet(p.):
"Masters we are, and others are
but slaves. Ours are the singular qualities and the time-honored old
possession. Mohammad is our father, the Master of all men. And his
descendants deserve to prevail"
On the surface, this concept in the
above poetic lines conflict with the Islamic intellect, which rejects
slavery for Man. Similarly, the Islamic intellect refuses looking at
one's self in this way. Even prophets and Holy men kept away from this
style in their talks about people.
Even the Quran spoke of those
totally differently. In fact, not in the whole religious heritage
could we find, particularly in the Islamic one, such haughtiness and
arrogance over people as slaves and masters.
Although through religious truth, we
already know that those descendants are well loved by God, and they
are higher in rank than people only because they are closer to Him in
their good practices. We also know that obeying them is a must because
of the Message they carry from God for all people.
They are legally delegated to
represent religion in life. However, obedience differs wholly from
slavery because obedience ends up with responsibility but not with
Even if the literary style justifies
humbleness to a noble person, like when somebody says, "I am your
slave”, which implies degrading one's self, we find that the Islamic
education considers this unsuitable for a noble man to speak like that
of himself. Therefore, conveying such an image about the Prophet's
family and claiming that they speak of themselves and of others in
this way never agrees with their highly spiritual characteristics when
it comes to humbleness before God while dealing with people.
A Third example that presents the
situation in a poetic manner conveys an image of the struggle as if it
were between tribes, namely between the Hashemites and the Umayyads.
Such a presentation was shown in the style the famous poet Abu Al Ala
Al Maarri used when he said,
"A war was flared by AbdShams
against the Hashemites for which the newly born may grow gray-haired,
Muhammad(p.) was encountered by Ibn Harb, Ali (a.s.) was encountered
by Ibn Hind, and Hussein (a.s.) was encountered by Yazed".
Many of such a kind of poetry about
Al Imam Al Hussein (a.s.) can be found and heard in the commemorative
assemblies. They resulted in forming a popular mental image of tribal
fanatical emotions drawing the Hashemites against the Umayyads,
certainly overshadowing the real Islamic problem. Some people even
feel that religion is a familial characteristic, but not a message to
be assimilated and be completely open to the Islamic consciousness
that they could meet with the main Islamic figures and leadership in a
common unifying arena and a correlation is made not through familial
characteristics but through Islam.
Most likely this emotional influence
has left its traces on the popular consciousness development in some
political phases rich in anxiety. This is noticed when the royal
family of Hashemites, the descendents of sheriff Hussein, obtained a
lot of emotional support from the religious scholars and the
good-hearted groups of people only because they descended from the
It was never verified whether the
descendents were religiously principled in Islam or even in sectarian
terms where sectarianism has a great significance both intellectually
and emotionally. For this reason, king Faisal the first obtained the
Shiite enthusiasm that was mainly led by the religious scholars of
Jabal Amel in Lebanon once he was announced to be king of Syria.
Similarly and may be more of that enthusiasm was obtained when some
Shiite scholars and Shiite crowds in Iraq gave him support. Such an
emotional tendency towards the Hashemites paved for them the way to
many governmental position. Equally that tendency kept the people
verifying the political background of the Hashemites connected with
the British colonialism which planned for them to be guards for its
interests, a façade for its indirect control, and a means for its
Thus, we have seen the unconscious
connection to family but not to the Message causing confusion in the
political arena even at the level of the Shiite rights in Iraq. Why?
Because the Hashemites came to implement British plots in widening the
discrepancy among the people of Iraq by creating a problem of unjustly
treated majority against a minority so that the destructive
complication would continue in Iraq as a factor of confusion for the
whole reality there.
When I raise such an issue, it is
not meant to poswe the message as something abstract separate from the
In fact, individual leaders do have
a characteristic in the depth of the movement of the message, and the
organic correlation with the leadership is a must so that the relation
can be missionary but not personal.
in the frame of the Tragedy
Both prose and poetry may need some
imagination in addition to some artistic glimpses for the emotions in
a tragedy be more affective in the inner consciousness of the Muslim.
However, imagination has to be rather objective that it does not
create irrelevant dimensions or interpretations or produce a variant
intellect. Actually, the artistic side in its suggestive, faith
-related, and expressive aspects should convey some of the real beauty
to reflect the context, yet additional beauty should never be imposed
on the idea or be given a non-existing characteristic.
For the reason, I call for a
Husseini literary production nurtured by the Islamic vocabulary of the
Husseini movement in its spiritual, intellectual and active dimensions
of Imam Hussein 's tragedy. Let the commemoration serve the cause
through continuous suggestion all the way down in history.
Let it be the outstanding image
because Ashoura must be the launching ground but not the end. It is
meant to produce a new audience for its concepts at all times and
places by stressing the never-dying elements in comprehending the
future that shows up to man everlastingly.
Sometimes we may go across some
tragic Husseini poetry that presents Imam Hussein (a.s.) in Karbala as
weak and afraid looking for a shelter but no shelter. It is something
similar to a wandering fugitive trying to evade his enemies. Such
features can be noticed in a poem by Sayyed Ja'far El Hilli when he
says, "Hussein departed from Al -Madina the way Moses did, silent
He departed and never knew where to
take rest as if he has been denied to have shelter"
In this poetic image of Hussein (a.s.)
showing him as he was escaping from the Umayyads, afraid of the
murderers, just as Prophet Moses(a.s.) who "left fearfully
looking out for danger" was afraid of Pharaoh's plot to kill him
together with his followers. We can notice that Imam Hussein (a.s.)
was lost with no sense of direction because he couldn't find any
secure place although it is known that he left Mecca and headed for Al
Kufa to revolt.
In this image, we can't see the
revolutionary who was moving against the deviating tyrant in order to
change a corrupted reality in authority, behavior, and action. It
contrasts with what he said when he introduced his movement and the
title he made for his legal movement which relied on the words of the
Now, if the poet chose to agitate
emotions, then his choice is hurting the powerful Islamic attitude in
the personality of Imam Hussein (a.s.).
There are several images in which
Imam Hussein (a.s.) is presented yelling for help and not getting it;
yelling for protection but no one defends him; and he pleads for a
drink of water, but no one responds. Towards the end of the battle
when Hussein (a.s.) was dying, a soldier from the tribal army of Saad
whose name was Humayd Bin Musallam noticed that the Imam's lips were
cursing them,." Then he approached him and heard him say, "O
h people give me a drink of water. My liver is breaking apart because
of thirst." And other narrators add to that, "By my
Grandfather I am thirsty."
Clearly such an image suggests
weakness not strength. It does not suit the image of Imam Hussein (a.s.)
who represents a rebellious person against all weaknesses and the
elements of pain in the face of the tyrannical and deceptive powers.
They all put their forces together
to defeat him, to shake his steadfastness, to force him away from his
solid and distinguished attitude, and to impose on him submission to
the authority of Yazeed. Yet he refused to retreat, give up or yield.
He wanted to bear all the hard consequences in order to embody the
great human values, which God wanted for man in life. It was not a
personal conflict, yet it was the question of the Message against the
big challenges and a question of holding on and remaining intact and
in balance during hard times when many an earthquake shakes the ground
It was relayed that he said,
"Now that this braggart, the son of a braggart, is forcing me to
choose between death and dishonor; how impossible is it for me to
accept disgrace. Neither God, His prophet, the faithful, the dead, or
the ancestors would prefer obedience for the wicked to honorable
Again, he said, "No, by the
name of God, I would never disgracefully surrender, or acknowledge you
the way slaves do."
Such words never reflect the style
of someone seeking for pity as it was told in a previous narration
because they reflect powerful determination to bear the hardest
consequences just to stick by his principles of dignity and the line
of Godly inspiration.
It can not be denied that even
prophets or imams could grow weak being human, but Imam Hussein had
made up his mind to stand up and fight after he examined all the
consequences. He had known about the bestial nature lying in the
tyrannical personality of his enemies. He also saw in the battlefield
how harshness' is represented in the enemies attitude even towards a
breast-fed infant, so how come he yelled for help or asked for a drink
of water when his body was completely inflicted with wounds in the
ugliest manner?! How come he would utter words that would be reason
for disgrace and call foe a look at him while breaking down? One time
prior to his expedition he said to his sister Zeinab(a.s.) when she
showed her fear of the destiny he described to her as for how he would
and - "Never let our enemies rejoice at our misfortune.
The true image of Imam Hussein (a.s.)
is the one produced by one soldier in Yazeed's army, "By God,
never have I seen someone whose children and family members are killed
with firmer self-possession, nor 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."
Similarly, we don't find the image
of Zeinab in the Husseini or the popular poetry as a heroine powerful
and challenging in the manner she was when she stood firmly, surely,
and forcefully before Ibn Ziad to challenge him, in Kufa to point out
the deviation and the frustration the people caused, and before Yazed
when she scolded him. However, we see the image of a Bedouin female
with feeble spirit speaking in a weak style being bereaved of loved
ones looking for the tribe that she did not find, nor did she find
someone to support her; as a result she would face the cause by
calling for tribal avenge…
It is an image of a feeble female
stricken by calamity and taken a captive. Her worries were limited to
her pains, her children, and other women with her without any interest
in the main cause…
Nevertheless, I notice that such a
style may impose a balance between emotions and the ideal image of a
prototype which makes a perfect blend of the elements of revolution to
serve the main cause. Therefore, I do not refuse the emotional
excitement as long as the elements of the tragedy are kept in a real
form. However, I refuse the content which carries the tragedy from the
atmosphere of the cause in terms of power and vigor, I refuse also the
style which does not make a match between the atmosphere and the idea.
In the light of the above, I call
for a new Husseini literature to serve the main goals and trace the
events of the Husseini cause with conscious criticism that takes into
account the surrounding conditions namely the followers, the nature of
the enemy, and the image of the historical stage so that to bring in
all of those facts to the presents reality in an attempt to suggest
revolution and a movement to change on the basis of Islam, and in
order to give the commemoration a momentum throughout time so it may
be a blessing for the present and the future the way it was a blessing
for the past, so let the narration be not different from popular