The Tragedy of Karbala provides moral and ethical lessons not just for Muslims but for all of humanity. There are two dimensions to Imam Husayn (a)’s message. At the personal level, he taught noble values that should be inculcated in the minds of all, regardless of their ethnicity or creed. At the societal level, he proclaimed fundamental principles of human rights that should guide conscientious political and social leaders, however challenging it might be. This second of two articles focuses on principles.
Islam lays great emphasis on combating the heinous societal ills of injustice and inequity, and of tyranny and oppression:
Justice in Islam is defined as giving to every holder of rights their due rights under the law; equity is designated as fair but not necessarily equal treatment of individual members of the society.
Tyranny is considered to be cruel or arbitrary use of power by a tyrant ruler or a person of authority who wields absolute power over others; it is a matter of control. Oppression is exercise of that power or authority in a cruel or unjust manner; it is a matter of affliction.
The Arabic word zulm encompasses all of the above societal ills; in its various forms, it is one of the most frequently used terms in the Qur’an. . These ills took root under the Umayyad caliph around the middle of the seventh century CE and they accelerated after the establishment of the Umayyad dynasty a decade later.
Imam Husayn (a) stood up against zulm by using sacrifice as a vehicle for expressing grievances against infringements of fundamental human rights with a view to mobilizing people for political action. The message was not restricted to people of his era but is also applicable to all humankind in the future. The continuing relevance of Imam’s message is best captured in the famous lyrics: “Every Day is Asura, Every Land is Karbala.” The truth of the lyrics is more evident today than ever before. Transgression of human rights have become so rampart and far-flung that almost every day is indeed Ashura and happen in virtually all the world’s countries that every land is indeed Karbala.
Imam Husayn’s call was not emotional, but physical. Prophet Muhammad (s) has indicated three different ways in which the call to action could be implemented and, depending upon a person’s capabilities, he set up a priority among the ways:
“Whoever of you observes an evil [in the society] must object over it physically with his hand; and if he does not have the power of that that, then he must object over it by his tongue; and if he does not have the strength of that, he must object over it in his heart. And this [the third alternative] is the lowest status of faith.”
There is no character quality more important than a social conscience. When the wider public comes to know and grasps the narrative of Karbala, they will achieve a heightened sensitivity to human suffering and pain, and will develop compassion and kindness for all people afflicted with sorrow and anguish. They will all then proclaim that “Husayn is ours.”
Bashir A, Datoo, Ph.D.