Lessons from the tragedy of Karbala

Posted: April 26, 2010 in .Sirah & Kisah Teladan., artikel.pilihan.ku
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“O Allah! It is Thee in whom I trust amid all grief. You are my hope amid all violence. Thou are my refuge and provision in everything that happens to me. How many grievances weaken the heart, leaving me with no means to handle them, during which friend deserts me, and enemy rejoices in it. I lay it before Thee and complain of it to Thee, because of my desire in Thee, Thee alone. You relieve me of it and remove it from me. Thou are the Master of all Grace, the Essence of Goodness, and the Ultimate Resort of all Desire.”

This was the moving dua’ made by Imam Hussein (ra) just before the massacre in Karbala. Just before his martyrdom at the hands of the forces of Yazid bin Muawiya.

There are certain events in history that shape the emotions of a nation; moments that stir passions and produce personalities that mould the destiny of peoples. The massacre of Karbala is one such event. As Muslims all over the world in the month of Muharram remember the bravery of Imam Hussein (ra), we should understand the lessons to be learnt from Karbala.

Succession to the Throne (Wilayatul A’hd)

Near the end of Muawiya (ra) period as Khalifah, he (ra) became influenced by certain prevailing notions from the recently conquered Persians. This was the notion of hereditary rule. Hence he (ra) began a campaign to introduce hereditary rule into the structure of Islam. He did this because he used to understand the state leadership as monarchy and not Khilafah. To have monarchy, by force or otherwise, is something which Islam does not accept, and cannot be added into the Islamic ruling system.

He (ra) tried to place his son, Yazid, as the crown prince even though there is no prince-hood in Islam. The historians like Ibn Kathir and Ibn al-Athir narrated that after his Walis had failed to take the Bay’ah (oath of allegiance) to Yazid in Hijaz, Muawiya went there himself accompanied by the army and loaded with money. He summoned the prominent figures and said to them: “You have known my conduct towards you and my family ties with you, Yazid is your brother & your cousin. I want you to propose Yazid for the Khilafah, so that you would be the ones who remove and appoint; who put people in authority and collect and distribute the funds.”

Abdullah b. Al-Zubayr (ra) replied to him that he should either choose what the Messenger of Allah (saw) did, when he (saw) did not designate anyone, or what Abu Bakr (ra) did, or what Umar (ra) did. Muawiya became angry and he asked the rest of the people, and their reply was the same as Ibnul-Zubayr (ra). Upon this Muawiya said: “You have been warned! I am going to speak a word, and I swear by Allah that if any of you replied to me by uttering a word on that occasion, he would not utter another word before the sword had reached his neck. So every man has only to spare himself.” Then he ordered the chief of his guards to place two men behind every prominent person of Hijaz and every opponent, with the instructions that if any of them answered back, to strike his neck with their swords. He then climbed up to the Minbar (podium) and said: “This group of people are the leaders and the best among the Muslims and no decision is taken without them, and no matter is settled without their consultation. They have consented and given the Bay’ah. So, do give your Bay’ah in the name of Allah.”

This is the basis on which Muawiya (ra) established the system of appointing a crown prince. However this was not what the Sahabah as a whole agreed too. Umar (ra) described appointing a crown prince, by saying: “If a man gave authority to someone because of a relationship or a friendship between them while there were among the Muslims men better qualified than him, he would betray Allah, His Messenger and the believers.”

Muawiya (ra) was getting older day by day. At the age of 75, he became seriously ill and died in the middle of the month of Rajab 60 AH.

The road to Karbala

As Imam Hasan (ra) had already died before Muawiya (ra), a political vacuum had developed. Yazid took advantage of this situation and wrote a letter to Waleed bin Utba bin Abu Sufyan, who was appointed the Governor of Madinah by Muawiya (ra), to demand the bay’ah from Imam Hussein (ra) or else upon refusal, his head. Waleed invited Hussein (ra) to a meeting for this purpose. Hussein (ra) did not give his word at the meeting and decided to leave Medina along with his family to proceed to Mecca. When Hussein (ra) reached Mecca he received letters from Kufa urging him to go to Kufa to become the Khalifah. Hussein (ra) sent an emissary, his cousin Muslim Ibn Aqeel, to Kufa to ascertain first-hand information about the situation in Iraq. Imam Hussein (ra) also knew that giving the bay’ah to a usurper like Yazid would certainly place Islam at great jeopardy. Therefore he decided to leave Mecca for Kufa. Many friends and relatives urged Imam Hussein (ra) not to go to Kufa, but he insisted on going. Imam Hussein (ra), along with his family, friends, and companions began the journey towards Kufa (1,100 miles away) in a long caravan in the blistering heat of summer.

During the early phase of the journey the caravan met Al-Farazdaq (a famous poet) at a place called al-Sifah. Al-Farazdaq advised the Imam not to go to Kufa because though people’s hearts were with him, their swords would be against him. But the Imam continued with the journey, and he received the first letter from his emissary Muslim Ibn Aqeel with good news. The letter indicated that the people were more than ready to welcome the Imam in Kufa and were looking forward to his leadership. Hussein (ra) decided to send another emissary to Kufa with a message. The caravan kept proceeding toward Kufa. Many days passed but the Imam did not receive any more responses from Muslim Ibn Aqeel.

In Kufa, Muslim Bin Aqeel with the help of Mukhtar Al-Thaqafi and Hani Ibn Urwah continued to hold meetings with the supporters of the Imam. Within a short period of time the gatherings started to gain momentum. Yazid learned about Muslim’s successes in Kufa and appointed Ubaidullah Ibn Ziyad to replace al-Nu’man Ibn al-Basheer as Wali of Kufa.

Meanwhile, as Hussein’s (ra) caravan got closer to its destination (Kufa), coming to a place called Zubalah, Hussein (ra) unexpectedly received shocking news. The shocking news was about Muslim Ibn Aqeel and the person who provided him shelter, Hani Ibn Urwah, both of whom were arrested and beheaded by the Governor Ibn Ziyad. Mukhtar was also arrested, imprisoned and tortured by Ibn Ziyad. Hussein (ra) gathered his companions and disclosed to them the bad news. Becoming scared, some companions left the caravan. Imam Hussein (ra) continued with the journey along with close companions and family members until he was face to face with 1,000 horsemen led by Hur al-Riyahi, representing Yazid’s forces. The enemy army blocked the camps of Hussein (ra) from advancing and tension started to rise between the two sides. Hussein (ra) addressed the enemy explaining to them his motive for going to Kufa was in response to the invitation of the people. He even showed them a bag full of letters he had received from Kufa. Hur said that he and his men were not the writers of those letters. The Imam told them that if they did not like him to advance with the journey, he was prepared to return to Hijaz. Hur replied: “We are commissioned to follow you until we take you to Governor Ibn Ziyad”, and suggested to the Imam to go towards a station which is neither Kufa nor Medina.

Hussein (ra) found the proposal fair and turned the caravan away from Kufa. Hur and his army marched parallel to the Imam. The two sides reached a village called Nainawa where Ibn Ziyad’s messenger delivered a message to Hur. The message read: “…force Hussein to a halt. But let him stop in an open space, without vegetation or water.” Hur conveyed the contents of the letter to Imam Hussein (ra). The Imam defiantly resumed his journey and reached a place where another enemy force blocked his move and forced him to stop. When Imam Hussein (ra) learned that the place was called Karbala, he ordered his camp to be setup. That day was 2nd of Muharram, Hijri 61.

Upon learning that his army had succeeded to lay a siege around the Imam’s camp, Governor Ibn Ziyad sent additional military units to Karbala and appointed Umar Ibn Sa’ad in charge. Imam Hussein (ra) opened a dialogue with Umar Ibn Sa’ad and convinced him to lift the siege so that the Imam with his family and companions could leave Iraq. Umar Ibn Sa’ad liked the Imam’s proposal and sent a message to Governor Ibn Ziyad notifying him about the results of the talks with Imam Hussein (ra). Ibn Ziyad also found the Imam’s proposal acceptable. However before agreeing to it officially, Shimr Bin Dhil-Jawshan, opposed it strongly. As a result Ziyad wrote a letter to Umar Ibn Sa’ad commanding him to either go to war with Imam Hussein (ra) or be relieved of his duties as commander of the army and Shimr would not only replace him but despatch Ibn Sa’ad’s head to Kufa as well.

Umar Ibn bin Sa’ad got the letter. After pondering over the consequences he decided to fight Imam Hussein (ra). On the 7th day of Muharram he moved his troops closer to the camp and began to surround the Hussein camp. Ibn Sa’ad laid a blockade around the camp to cut it off from access to the river Euphrates, to deprive it of water in a move to force them to surrender.

Two days later, (on the 9th of Muharram), the enemy forces closed in on the camp of Imam Hussein (ra). Hussein (ra) asked his brother, Abbas, to talk to Ibn Sa’ad and request a delay of the aggression by one night. Umar Ibn Sa’ad agreed to the request. He ordered his troops to delay the aggression until the following morning. Imam Hussein (ra) and his companions spent that night in prayer.

The Dawn of Ashuraa

Finally, the day of Ashuraa (10th Muharram) dawned upon the soil of Karbala. It was the day in which Muslim blood would be shed and 72 innocent lives would be sacrificed.

In the morning Hussein (ra) went out of the camp and saw Umar Ibn Sa’ad mobilizing his troops to start the hostility. He stared at the intimidating army, and as large as it was Hussein (ra) showed no signs of compromise. Hussein (ra) raised his hands to Allah:

“O Allah! It is Thee in whom I trust amid all grief. You are my hope amid all violence. Thou are my refuge and provision in everything that happens to me. How many grievances weaken the heart, leaving me with no means to handle them, during which friends desert me, and my enemy rejoices in it. I lay it before Thee and complain of it to Thee, because of my desire in Thee, Thee alone. You relieve me of it and remove it from me. Thou are the Master of all Grace, the Essence of Goodness, and the Ultimate Resort of all Desire.”

Umar Ibn Sa’ad threw an arrow in the air to indicate the start of the battle.

The tragedy at Karbala

Imam Hussein’s (ra) supporters insisted on being the first to fight. Therefore, they took the brunt of the enemy attack. The battle was ferocious. Within a short time the Imam’s supporters slew a large number of the enemy fighters, they were on the offensive and the enemy on the defensive. This caused apprehension and confusion in the enemy. The 72 people of Hussein’s (ra) force against the 5,000 of the enemy force. So worried and nervous did the enemy become that their commander-in-chief ordered his army to set fire to the Imam’s tents (which were occupied mostly by frightened females and children), and he reinforced his fighters with more troops.

By noontime, the Imam stopped the fight to perform the Salah. By this time those left were mainly his family and a few supporters. They performed the Salah together. Two supporters were guarding the performers of the Salah. When the Salah was finished one of the guards fell dead; there were 17 arrows in his back.

Ali Akbar, Hussein’s son obtained permission to fight and dashed toward the enemy. He engaged them in fierce fighting and he continued to move forward, deep inside the enemy. The enemy was overpowering in number, it overwhelmed him cutting him with swords and spears, and his body became nothing but wounds gushing blood, until he died. Imam Hussein (ra) rushed to the area and picked up the wounded limp body and brought it to his camp. His sister and others in the camp were horrified and shocked at the scene.

Abbas and five other brothers of Imam Hussein (ra) went to fight next. They also engaged the enemy in fierce fighting. Abbas went towards the river to bring some water for the thirsty children. While he was returning on his horse with the water, he was attacked by a large horde of the enemy, overwhelming and severely wounding him. As much as he tried Abbas could not save the water, he fell from his horse to breathe his last.

Next to the battlefield went the sons of Hasan (ra) and Zainab (ra) and their cousins (about 17 of them). They were all in their teens but each stood bravely.

By the afternoon 70 people had sacrificed their lives in Karbala. All had fought under nerve-racking conditions: severe thirst, dehydration, exhaustion, and agonizing feelings of what would happen to the family of the Prophet (saw) afterwards. Hussein (ra) endured all that and more, for he saw all his beloved ones brutally cut to pieces, including children. Remaining the only one, Hussein (ra) was to face the enemy head on. Precisely at that moment Hussein (ra) heard his baby crying incessantly, agonizing because of the thirst. Hussein’s (ra) love for his family was unbound, especially for a suffering baby. He held the six months old baby, his youngest son (Ali Asghar) in his arms, and appealed to the enemy fighters for some water for the baby. The Imam wanted to awaken their Islamic feelings but the stonehearted enemy, instead of giving water, zoomed an arrow toward the agonizing baby and killed him instantly. Imam Hussein (ra) was shocked. He felt an unbearable wave of pain. The sight of the limp baby in his arms was agonizingly painful. He filled his palm with the blood of the baby, and threw it upwards toward the sky, complaining to Allah (swt):


O Allah, O my Lord! My consolation is the fact that Thou in Thine Majesty are witnessing what I am going through.

Imam Hussein (ra) was alone, one man against thousands. He took them on, fighting them bravely, and kept fighting, receiving many wounds in the process. Thousands of enemy fighters were surrounding him but none dared to move towards him. The silence was broken when Shimr screamed for an attack, and then screamed again, threatening. In response they attacked collectively, and one sword fell on Imam Hussein’s (ra) left wrist and deeply cut his left hand. The blood gushed like a fountain. Another sword was soon to follow and it hit his upper back. Imam Hussein (ra) felt numb as he fell to the ground, bleeding profusely. He was at the point of shock, even though staggering he tried to stand by leaning on his sword. Then he received the fatal blow.

It was at this point, that Shimr came forward and severed Imam Hussein’s (ra) noble head from his body, the noble head kissed often by the Prophet (saw)! Shimr and others had the audacity to carry it on the tip of a spear to Yazid, 600 miles away! At this, an old man in the assembly cried: “Gently! It is the Prophet’s grandson. By Allah, I have seen these very lips kissed by the blessed mouth of RasoolAllah (saw).”

Yazid the usurper (Mutasallit)

It is clear that these events were organised and executed by Yazid. Yazid never received the bay’ah by consent and selection, and thus never held the seat of Khalifah. He was a usurper (Mutasallit).

If a usurper were to seize power by force he would not become Khalifah, even if he declared himself to be the Khalifah of the Muslims. This is because the Khilafah in this case would not have been contracted to him by the Muslims. If he were to take the Bay’ah from the people by force and coercion he would not become Khalifah even if the Bay’ah was given to him (taken by him). This is because a Bay’ah that is taken by force and coercion is not considered valid and the Khilafah cannot be concluded by it. For it is a contract based on mutual consent and choice, and cannot be concluded forcefully, or by coercion. The Khilafah cannot therefore be concluded except by a Bay’ah of consent and choice.

However, if the usurper managed to convince the people that it would be in the interest of the Muslims to give him their Bay’ah and that the implementation of Shar’a rules obliges them to give the Bay’ah, and they were convinced of that and accepted it and then gave him the Bay’ah by consent and free choice, he would become Khalifah from the moment that the Bay’ah was given to him by consent and choice. This never happened in the case of Yazid, and the Muslims were correct in trying to secure the Bay’ah for the man whom they wished to pledge allegiance to.

Lessons from the tragedy of Karbala:

Karbala is amongst one of the worst tragedies humanity has ever seen. It is imperative that we learn vital lessons from this disaster. The following lessons can be learnt from this entire episode:

Khilafah is a vital issue.

The institution of Khilafah is matter of life and death. A matter which Imam Hussein (ra) gave his life, his family’s lives and the life of his son for. This was done in order to ensure that the seat of Khilafah not be abused or usurped.

1. Bay’ah is the only method to appoint the Khalif – It must be given by consent and choice

The Bay’ah is the only Islamic method to appoint the Khalifah. We can see clearly that Yazid never received the Bay’ah by consent and choice. Indeed his father took the Bay’ah by force for him, and he subdued any opposition to his power by killing. A vital lesson to learn is that, just like any contract, the Bay’ah cannot be taken by coercion, but must be based on consent and choice.

2. The process of Bay’ah must be codified and put in the constitution of the Islamic Khilafah

We saw how Muawiya (ra) was able to manipulate the Bay’ah contract for his son. This would have been far more difficult had the process of Bay’ah been codified and put in the constitution of the Islamic Khilafah. This would ensure that due process would be followed which the Ummah had agreed too.

3. Rotating the Walis quickly

It can be seen that one of the reasons that allowed Muawiya (ra) to gain such popularity and build a strong support base in Syria (which later allowed him to appoint Yazid) was that he was allowed to remain in the position of Wali for over 20 years. It would be considered wise political manoeuvring for the Khalifah to change his Walis regularly.

The Messenger of Allah (saw) used to appoint Walis for a period of time and then relieve them, and no Wali remained at his Wilaya during the whole era of the Messenger of Allah (saw). This indicates that the Wali should never be appointed permanently, but only for a short spell after which he is removed. However, evidence about the length of this period (i.e. whether it should be long or short) has not been determined by the actions of the Messenger of Allah (saw). All that is related to this matter is that the Messenger of Allah (saw) did not keep a Wali at his post during the whole of his life. What has been established as a fact is that he (saw) used to appoint the Walis and then relieve them. However, the civil strife (fitna) that shook the Ummah was caused by the lengthy period of Mu’awiya’s Wilaya over Ash-Sham during the times of Umar (ra) and Uthman (ra). This leads us to the conclusion that a lengthy period of Wilaya could harm the Muslims and the State. This is why the period of Wilaya should not be long.

Umar (ra) was known to be strict when accounting the Walis and the Amils. He would even remove some of them on just a suspicion without conclusive evidence. He even used to remove a Wali on the slightest doubt that did not even reach the level of suspicion. He was asked about this one day and he said: “It is easy to swap an Amir for another so as to amend the people’s affairs.”

4. Constantly checking up on them

Another lesson we can learn is that the Khalifah must constantly enquire about the works of his Walis and he should monitor them closely.

The Khalifah should appoint someone who would check their state of affairs and carry out inspections. The Khalifah should also meet with all of them or some of them from time to time and listen to the complaints of the subjects against them.

It has been confirmed that the Messenger of Allah (saw) used to examine the Walis when appointing them, as he did with Mu’az (ra) and Abu Moussa (ra). He used to explain to them how they should conduct their duties, as he did with ‘Amr b. Hazm (ra). He also drew their attention to some important matters as he did with Aban b. Sa’id (ra) when he appointed him Wali over Bahrain and said to him: “Look after Abd Qays and honour their leaders”. Likewise it has also been confirmed that he (saw) used to hold the Walis to account, inspect their situation and listen to news brought to him about them. He (saw) used to ask the Walis to account for the revenues and expenses spent.

Umar (ra) used to closely monitor the Walis, and he appointed Muhammad Ibnu Maslama (ra) to examine their state of affairs and inspect them. Umar (ra) used to gather the Walis during the Hajj season to review their performance and to listen to the complaints from the people about them, and he also used to discuss with them the affairs of the Wilayahs and ask about their own conditions. It has been reported that Umar (ra) once said to people around him: “Would you say that my duty would be fulfilled if I appointed over you the best from amongst you, and ordered him to be just?” They said: “Yes.” He said: “No. Not until I had checked his performance, and seen whether or not he did what I had ordered him to do.”

5. Walis should have restricted powers

Muawiya (ra) was appointed Wali over Syria and Iraq with general powers, i.e. a general Wilaya. He had full control over the armed forces, the finances, the judiciary, the police force, the economy, the administration and all other aspects of ruling. It can be seen that had the powers of Muawiya (ra) been limited, he might not have been able to muster the support needed to fight Ali (ra) or award his son leadership.

In the wake of Uthman’s (ra) death, Ali (ra) had problems getting Muawiya to come under his authority. This was because, Muawiya (ra) had built a strong power base when he was a Wali over Ash-Sham. Therefore, giving a general Wilaya causes a known harm to the Islamic State. Thus, the Wali should be given a restricted Wilaya in a way that would prevent him from becoming autonomous of the Khalifah and strengthening the Khalifah himself.

This can be further seen in the latter Khulafah of the Abbasid period where the Wilaya became autonomous from the centre, further weakening the Khilafah state itself.

The main factors contributing to a breakaway would be the armed forces, funds and the judiciary, because the armed forces represent the power, the funds represent the “life blood” and the judiciary demonstrates the safeguarding of the rights and the execution of the penal codes. Therefore the Walis should be given a specific (Khassa) Wilaya that excludes the judiciary, the armed forces and the funds. Delegating these to the Wali would encourage a potential breakaway and this would undermine the State’s authority.

6. Conditions of the Wali

The Messenger of Allah (saw) used to select his Walis from among the good people, and those who had knowledge and were known for their piety. He used to select them from among those who were experts in their field, and who would fill people’s hearts with Iman and respect for the State. Sulayman Ibnu Barida reported on the authority of his father that he said:

“Whenever the Messenger of Allah (saw) appointed an Ameer over an army or an expedition, he used to advise him regarding himself to fear Allah, and to be good to the Muslims who accompany him,” [Muslim]

Since the Wali is, in fact, an Ameer over his Wilaya, the Hadith would then apply to him as well. Appointing Walis and rulers devoid of these qualities could lead to the problems mentioned earlier.

Conclusion

The massacre of Karbala has highlighted the importance to Muslims to always stand steadfast in dealing with oppressive rulers. The rulers of the Muslim world today have not been appointed by the will of the Muslims, but imposed upon the Ummah by the Western colonialists. They are usurpers (Mutasallit) and have taken the authority away from the Ummah. In order for the Ummah to realise her full potential, and restore the honour that Islam has given her, these false Yazids need to be replaced with a just Khalifah.

“Allah has promised those among you who believe, and do righteous good deeds, that He will certainly grant them succession to (the present rulers) in the earth, as He granted it to those before them, and that He will grant them the authority to practise their religion, that which He has chosen for them (i.e. Islam).”

[TMQ al-Nur: 55]

Fahim Qureishi
April 10, 2004

SOURCE: ISLAMIC REVIVAL

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