Muharram marks the beginning of the Islamic calendar and the blessed month is the cause of much reflection upon the year that has passed and reaffirming of positive intentions for the upcoming one. Of course this is a continuous process for Muslims but it is undeniable that the month is given special significance. In the absence of any special context, this month would still retain a special place amongst the Muslim psyche the world over. Yet, as every Muslim man, woman and child knows, there is a deeply bittersweet historical narrative that adds significance to Muharram.
Sayyidina Ali (RA) was the last of the Khulafah Rashida and embodied the true essence of what a leader of the state ought to be endowed with, in terms of character and understanding of the burden placed upon him. By way of example, he gave one of his generals, Malik Al Ashtar, an express instruction before sending him on an expedition to Egypt: “Infuse your heart with mercy, love and kindness for your subjects. Be not in face of them a voracious animal, counting them as easy prey, for they are of two kinds: either they are your brothers in religion or your equals in creation. Error catches them unaware, deficiencies overcome them, evil deeds are committed by them intentionally and by mistake. So grant them your pardon and your forgiveness to the same extent that you hope Allah will grant you His pardon and His forgiveness. For you are above them, and he who appointed you is above you, and Allah is above him who appointed you. Allah has sought from you the fulfillment of their requirements and He is trying you with them”. This is important to understand as it was the dereliction of this duty, which ultimately led to the tragic events lending significance to Muharram.
Ali (RA) was fatally wounded and ultimately passed away in 40 AH, stabbed by a Kharji. This led to a tumultuous period where, after Sayiddina Hassan (RA) had held the seat of the Khilafah for 6 months, Muawiyyah (RA) assumed the seat by force. Towards the end of Mawiyyah (RA)’s tenure, he sought bayyah (pledge of allegiance) for his son Yazid to replace him as leader of the Muslim ummah. This was a vastly controversial call and caused a lot of unrest amongst the ummah. Firstly, it broke away from the established tradition of allowing the ummah to choose their leader freely, heading towards a dynastic monarchy. Secondly, it was well established that Yazid was not of a sufficient calibre to hold the prestigious office, to put the point very delicately. Muawiyyah (RA) sought bayyah by force from the dissenters and, upon his demise, Yazid became the leader of the Muslim ummah. The scale of discontent amongst the ummah at this decision can be measured by the sheer fact that, to this day, 14 centuries later, the vast majority of Muslims, regardless of sect, agree upon the illegitimacy of Yazid’s rule. Yazid’s conduct and rule proved as bad as, or worse than, expectation, strengthening calls for his removal as leader of the state.
It was within this context that Sayyidina Hussain (RA) was invited to lead a movement to uproot the evil of Yazid, by the people of Kufa, Ali (RA) loyalists, as it had been the capital of the Islamic state during his Khilafah. The Quran speaks about the importance of ‘enjoining the good and forbidding the evil’ on numerous occasions. Allah SWT addresses the ummah saying “You are the best nation brought forward to mankind, you enjoin all that is good and forbid all that is evil and you believe in Allah” (Surah Ale- Imran 3:110). The Prophet SAW detailed the importance of this obligation saying “I (vow) by the One in Whose hands my soul rests, you have to enjoin the Ma’ruf (good) and forbid the Munkar (evil), otherwise Allah will send upon you a punishment from Him, and then you would pray to Him and ask Him but He would not answer you”.
Hussain (RA) understood the vitality of this duty upon all Muslims and set off for Kufa, accompanied by his family. As he reached the grounds of Karbala, outside of Kufa, the forces of Yazid met him. Numbering thousands to quash an uprising from 72 people, including women and children, seems a case of overdoing it but such was the conduct of the Yazidi rule. The people of Kufa failed to make good on their promise and Hussain (RA) was left to face the armies of the state along with a few score individuals. The details of the tribulations faced by Hussain (RA) are not the focus of this article. Suffice it to say that the Yazidi army breached every limit of ethics and morality in dealing with the grandson of the Prophet SAW. Hussain (RA) refused to bow or surrender and was martyred, giving an undying significance to the month of Muharram till the day of judgement.
Are we merely set to commemorate the martyrdom of Hussain (RA) every Muharram, a Muslim version of wearing the ‘poppy’? Is there any meaning to this martyrdom or is it to be seen as just any another event of state violence? The lessons from this sad occurrence, for this ummah, are pertinent and clear-cut in this modern state of affairs where it faces many a challenge once again.
Hussain (RA) embodied the highest of the obligations, enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, even if it were at the cost of one’s life, family and all else. He (RA) attained martyrdom and will be rewarded for his sacrifice by the Creator of the heavens and the earth in sha Allah. His legacy should inspire and revive this ummah. Across the world, there are 57 Muslims majority countries yet none establish the deen of Allah SWT. Where is our equivalent sacrifice? Where is our fulfillment of the duty to enjoin good and forbid evil? The greatest evil on this planet is the absence of Allah’s law being established. The highest good is to establish Islam as a living breathing entity, so that it may free those oppressed by the shackles of these fluctuating forms of democracy, dictatorship and monarchy.
Pakistan currently finds itself in desperate need of this lesson. In the grip of inept and corrupt governments and charlatans trying to prey upon people’s disillusionment with such leaders, by proposing a continuation of the status quo. Those pretending to present alternatives to the situation are adamant in trying to claim that the problem lies with those in leadership and not with the system itself. However, the system isn’t broken. It was built this way. Pakistanis should not become a part of this charade. They are right to be disenchanted by the system in place; they must seek the correct solutions. Enjoin the good and forbid the evil. Work to establish Islam so that we may stand on our own feet as an example of the harmony, justice and beauty of the Islamic system, as obedient servants of our Lord and Creator. The entrance to Harvard Law School, in the USA, has the inscription of an Aya’ of the Quran, which should be the foundation for every individual and collective struggle taking place in Pakistan, and across the Muslim world: “O you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to Allah, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be (against) rich or poor: for Allah can best protect both. Follow not the lusts (of your hearts), lest you swerve, and if you distort justice or decline to do justice, verily Allah is well-acquainted with all that you do” (Surah Al-Nisa : 135). Work to establish that justice. Work to establish Islam.