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 first of two articles focuses on values.
Values were exhibited during the events that took place in Karbala that show how the Imam reacted to them and/or inspired his followers to respond to them. Some of the more important values are described below.
Pacifism: When Muawiya b. Sufyan violated the terms of the treaty with Imam Hasan (a) by appointing his son Yazid as his heir apparent, Imam Husayn did not act so long as he was not forced to pay allegiance. However, when Yazid succeeded his father and demanded the oath, the Imam could not comply so for his own safety he left Medina. Even after he arrived in Karbala, he engaged in peace parley with Ibn Saad, the commander of Yazid’s forces, but Ibn Ziyad, the governor of Kufa to whom he reported, did not budge.
Steadfastness: When nothing short of an oath of allegiance would avoid confrontation, the Imam remained steadfast even though he fully realized the perils of his decision. For he maintained that “An honorable death is better than life in discredit.”
Self-denial: Enroute to Kufa, the Imam was intercepted by Hurr b. Ziyad, an officer in Yazid’s army, who was ordered to block him from proceeding to Kufa. When he met the Imam, his forces were dying of thirst. Even though the Imam had young children in his entourage, he placed water they were carrying at their disposal who drank themselves and gave it to their horses.
Awareness: Everyone who has to make a major decision should be informed of the likely consequences of their action. On Ashura’s eve, the Imam gathered his companions and advised them to leave him to his fate since they would otherwise be killed in the battle the following day. They all assured him that they had made their decision to stay with him according to the voice of their conscience and took full responsibility for their actions.
Loyalty: On the Day of Ashura, the Imam told Jaun, an Abyssinian slave, “You have accompanied us all the way but now you may go.” Jaun replied, “It is not fair that I benefit from your company and hospitality but abandon you in your hardship.”
Repentance: Hurr, who had diverted the Imam to Karbala, defected from Yazid’s army on the Day of Ashura when he realized that a battle was imminent. He was ashamed but when he pleaded for forgiveness the Imam, without a word of reproach, assured him that his would be accepted by Allah.
Patience: The Imam exhibited so much patience that he is called “Sayyid al-Sabireen”, the leader who remains patient in adversity. On the Day of Ashura reporters remarked, “We have never seen a man as composed as Imam Husayn while his companions were being slaughtered before his own eyes.”
Propriety: When the companions went to the battlefield, the Imam watched the encounter, and when they fell, he rushed to their side. He retrieved most of the bodies of and laid them down near his encampment since he did not want them trampled by horses’ hooves in the event of cross-fire on the battlefield.
A perceptive Lebanese Christian writer, Antoine Bara, portrayed Imam Husayn as “The Conscience of all religions.” He included “all” religions in his statement because they all preach the same moral and ethical values that the Imam exhibited but he deemed Imam Husayn to be its “conscience” because no other reformative leader had upheld those values so consistently as he did despite severe hardships and intense agony.
Bashir A, Datoo, Ph.D.