Sunday, May 24, 2009

Unlearnt lessons of Karbala

I was flabbergasted when Bob declared that the Muslims, Shias and Sunnis alike, are yet to discover many of the most important lessons from Hazrat Imam Hussein’s (RUA) sacrifice. Bob is an American academic with a few PhDs and many publications in his resume. After 9/11 he was studying Islam and was fascinated by Hazrat Imam Hussain (RUA) and the Karbala tragedy. He thought if we really understood the significance of this event and portrayed it properly it would change the image of Islam favorably and no one would be able to malign it. It could also help disseminate the noble message of Islam in all corners of the globe converting many more. I was intrigued as these words were coming from a non-Muslim and that also a learned one.

I tried to explain it to him that millions of adherents have devoted their entire lives exploring this event for over a thousand years. Every year all Muslims generally and Shias particularly, remember the Imam (RUA) and the Karbala tragedy so I find it hard to imagine that they could have missed important issues but he insisted on the truth of his findings. He wanted to share his theory with me and I resigned getting ready for his conjecture although a bit boringly. Once he started along with pertinent facts and references I got fascinated turning attentive. Here I would like to share his thoughts with my readers to form their own opinions.

He thought that the Muslims and the world are yet to find out the true nature of Imam Hussain (RUA) and his sacrifice. He thought that very careful study reveals that he was the real progenitor of the idea of non-violent resistance, which the rest of the world discovered 1300 years later. This makes Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mandela his followers. I challenged his assumption on the grounds that Imam (RUA) was armed and he fought back as much as possible but Bob defended his hypothesis while wanting me not to interfere until he was finished. He defended his premises with substantial arguments.

Bob thought that the Imam was waging non violent struggle can be proven with the following facts,
He took all his family with him to Karbala. This included women, children and infants. No one takes infants to a war.
This army with women and children had to face a large professional army so had absolutely no chance of military victory.
The imam had received the news of martyrdom of his emissary (Hazrat Muslim bin Aqeel) and his children by the Koofis on his way. He still proceeded knowing fully well what to expect.
The best chances for the Imam Hussain to have a military victory would have been to assert at the time of Hajj where he could amass his maximum supporters. He intentionally avoided it, as there was danger of violence and bloodshed that he circumvented at the risk of his own and his family’s lives.
Finally Bob thought that for those times this act could be imagined as absolute non-violent struggle.

He further added that great personalities and events couldn’t be curtailed to specific times or regions. Usually they radiate multifaceted lessons that can be applied at different times in history in different geographical regions with equal ease and wisdom. The Imam preached non-violent resistance and non-compliance at all costs including life. He taught us the vices of the illegitimate rulers who usurp power and advised not to submit to their illicit authority irrespective of its strength and brutality. Gandhi and others learned this lesson 1300 years later but the Muslim world is yet to explore what their Imam taught them.

Today dictators of different types are ruling the entire Muslim world because it is compliant submitting to them easily. The Imam taught us to resist any usurper to the extreme but the Muslims either couldn’t get the message or were simply too scared to follow his teachings. This over conformity in the Muslim countries resulted in the prevalence of oppressive regimes indulging in severe human rights violations. This sorry state of affairs and rampant dictatorships in the Muslim world gave a wonderful opportunity to the enemies of Islam to declare that Islam and democracy are not compatible. Nothing can be farther from the truth as Karbala teaches us that it is dictatorship, which is absolutely incompatible with Islam.

Bob added that many Muslim scholars might have come to these conclusions but could not state their findings safely due to the fear of retribution of the rulers. The main problem of the Islamic world for the last 5 centuries has been the lack of freedom of thought imposed by illegitimate rulers resulting in closed minds. This oppression effectively discouraged research of all kinds hindering fresh air from entering the Muslin societies. Fresh thinking has been categorized heresy by people whose interests might be jeopardized. This particular lesson of resisting the unlawful rulers would be absolutely unacceptable to presidents like Saddam Hussain for instance. It had to be a non-Muslim who could rationally analyze an event of this importance and magnitude. Imam Hussein’s sacrifice was such a big event that the humanity was discovering new comprehensive meanings and lessons regularly. If the Muslim world could really go beyond the apparent rituals and discover the true meanings and philosophy of its religion it could solve most of its problems. If it could introduce its heroes to the world properly names like Hussain would be admired every where including the non Muslim world and no one could malign Islam as violent or harboring terrorism.

Being an ordinary Muslim with limited knowledge I was bewildered and speechless and a bit ashamed, I must confess. It was strange that a non-Muslim was exploring the greatness of my ancestors I hold in such high esteem. While leaving the issue to gauge the strength and correctness of Bob’s arguments to the religious scholars, I can easily say that adhering to the philosophy of non-compliance to the usurpers at any cost would certainly take care of most of the ills of the Islamic world. The message is even more pertinent today.

Iqbal warned us against our complacency and over importance laid on rituals at the expense of actual problems and issues when he said,
Yeh millat rivayat main kho gayee
Haqeeqat kharafaat main kho gayee

It might be time for us to do some soul searching. We should not make Islam just a set of rituals and try to find practical solutions to our problems and wisdom through it. The pathetic conditions of Muslims the world over confirms that there is something wrong in what we are doing that needs to be corrected after all how could the followers of the true faith get into such a situation. We must keep on searching for wisdom from the scriptures we are blessed with as words have wisdom hidden in them that need to be discovered. The image and stature of the leaders and heroes after their own lifetimes is dependant on their descendants and we have done a poor job at it. We must work hard to really understand our religion and heroes. That is if we want to live respectfully as Muslims in the new century and millennia.

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