The Limits of legitimacy in Ashoura
By: The Religious
Authority H. E. Sayyed Muhammad Hussein (a.s.) Fadlullah
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. Maybe 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 issue
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
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
through 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 evil?
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 weakens it?
Was the revolutionary
movement in Ashoura active enough and up to the level of the Hussein
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?
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 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 failed 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
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
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 battles of Badr, Honian, Al Ahzab, and others.
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 forbid evil.
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 and violence.
The movement of
Imams (a.s.): the variation of the objective 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 objective conditions, which made a certain method a necessity
at that point of time in connection with the major goal.
This is the general
Islamic approach in its broad lines. There is no 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.