By Zahir Ebrahim | Project Humanbeingsfirst.org
AOA (as-salamu 'alaykum), Peace be with you.
Muslims are already most knowledgeable about the religious significance of Karbala, and of this fact I have no doubt. Throughout the world Muslims annually commemorate the “Gum-e-Hussein” (the public's sorrow of Imam Hussein), and what transpired in 61 A.H. (680 A.D.) at the hands of the Muslim caliph Yazid's army, with utmost devotion. The scion of Ahlul-Bayt, the beneficiary of the verse of purification of the Holy Qur'an (33:33), the noble grandson of the noble Prophet of Islam, son of Imam Ali ibne Abi Talib and lady Fatima binte Muhammad, Hussein ibne Ali, not only refused to take oath of fealty at the hands of the new tyrannical ruler of his time who had become caliph upon the death of his father, but initiated his “naizat” (mission) against him and his despotic rule from his home town Medina, the abode in the desert of Arabia that the noble Prophet of Islam had made the capital of the Muslim city-state and given it that name some sixty years earlier.
The story of the Imam's long journey after making his resolution known to the people of Medina and inviting them to join him in his “naizat”, traveling from Medina to Mecca, making his resolve known in Mecca both to its elites and to the foreign Muslim pilgrims who had started to arrive from all over the Muslim lands for the coming Haj season, waiting in Mecca until the actual onset of Haj, not completing his Haj because of the far greater moral imperative of standing up to Yazid being the need and duty of the hour, and instead abandoning performing his own Haj altogether by taking off his “ahram” (unstitched garment worn on Haj) on the very day when all the rest of the tens of thousands of Hajis who had come from the world over to perform Haj were obligatorily putting on their own “ahram” to commence their Haj, bidding them all farewell and disappointed at how few Muslims from the twin centers of Islam had chosen to heed his invitation to accompany him on his “naizat” while the pious rank and file and learned scholars alike stayed rather unconcerned and busy in their religious rituals seeking Islam's promised Heaven; leaving Mecca for his final destination and being stopped in the desert-plains of Karbala in Iraq by Yazid's fearless General, named Hur-ibne-Riayee, and the subsequent inhumanity that was inflicted upon the Ahlul Bayt of the Prophet of Islam by none other than the Muslim state army, culminating in the inhuman massacre of most male members of the Imam's family including his thirsty children one of whom was only six month old baby, and the aftermath of the women and children of Ahlul Bayt being made prisoners and marched in chains to Damascus to Yazid's court, is all quite well known among most Muslims.
This gloomy and sorrowful narrative of Karbala is amply rehearsed and reenacted in passion-plays every year and therefore, this bird's eye view of mere headlines must suffice for our purpose. The reader can read a book on Karbala or listen to the majalis on the internet to learn its gory details, some real and some imaginary, which created a new micro civilization of Islam among Muslims exclusively for the Shias of Imam Ali and the Ahlul Bayt that has become centered for the past thirteen hundred years on the singular remembrance of Karbala. This heritage of Shiadom is peerless and unparalleled in history among any peoples – for, the remembrance of Imam Hussein often surpasses the mourning for one's own family members. The following analysis dissects the exaggerations accumulated over the centuries and demonstrates how even the ritual remembrance of the Imam's “naizat” has not been spared the narrow selfish interests of, and cultural embellishments by, pulpits and poets alike: Lectures on Ashura by Allama Murtada Mutahhari – Misrepresentations and Distortions.
What is not well known and which is the purpose of this open letter, is the categorical imperative that was birth-panged by the deliberate and premeditated actions of the noble Imam against the tyrannical government of his time and which is ably captured in the slogan that is often on the lips and worn on black T-shirts in every Muharram-ul Haram by the devotees to publicly proclaim both personal piety and devotion to the Imam, but unfortunately seldom followed up in practice: “Qullo yomin Ashura, Qullo Ardin Karbala.”
The sorrowful narration of Imam Hussein's travails every year brings even the most hardened hearts to spontaneous tears, Muslims' and non Muslims' alike, but often mainly as an act of religious piety for Shia Muslims, as the fast-path to Heaven in their Afterlife for most, and mainly as remembrance of a noble act of profound courage and a monumental crime against humanity committed against the Ahlul Bayt for the rest. At the end of the remembrance rituals, all go home, most feeling cleansed at having remembered the Imam and his sacrifice as a religious obligation. The rest of the year life returns to normal which is mostly business as usual – the pursuit of personal happiness and profit, and when even mildly religious, the selective pursuit of Heaven with selective morality, all at the expense of engendering “banality of evil”, completely unmindful of the Qur'anic categorical imperative exemplified by Imam Hussein with his unparalleled mission and its unparalleled conclusion that remains unsurpassed in the annals of recorded history.
So I begin this open letter by asking the essential question which, at least to my mind, is calculatingly omitted in the entire enactment of rituals and remembrance of the Imam's travails in this first month of the Islamic calendar year --- our new year:
Is that the purpose of Imam Hussein's ritualistic remembrance, to shed some genuine tears which, as one is informed from the mimbars (pulpits) year after year, will take one to Heaven after death?
This idea has evidently become an intimate part of the religious as well as cultural ethos of the followers of the Ahlul Bayt (see What does the Holy Qur'an say about the Ahlul Bayt). It drives the rank and file of Shia Muslims the world over. It keeps the tradition of Muharram alive to retell the story of Karbala, and to reenact its lament, so that the world of tyranny, at least symbolically, may never forget that there was Imam Hussein. More significantly however, it spontaneously gathers the flock without any central authority driving them.
Each year, wherever Shia Muslims live, this remembrance of Imam Hussein is spontaneously reenacted, from home to home, center to center, and street to street. The main raison d'être of the devotees themselves --- the fast path to Heaven. The remembrance of Karbala has become a ritualistic holy act with Heavenly blessings presumed to be attached it.
This de facto canonization into holy act also works well for governments, both good and bad, to keep a people culturally inclined towards the ideals of Imam Hussein, preoccupied in rituals seeking Heaven in their remembrance of Karbala, lest a group arise to actually reenact the act of Imam Hussein rather than just his ritual remembrance.
There are many deep questions buried in that entire epic journey of Imam Hussein, the noble grandson of the noble Prophet of Islam, where the Imam's “qayaam” (categorical stance, to put a stake in the ground, to draw a line in the sand) took place in specific stages. From Medina to Mecca to Kufa, which was of course interdicted in Karbala at the beginning of 61 A.H before reaching Kufa, where, finally, on the 10th day of Muharram, the exemplar of Islam returned his soul back to his Creator at the zenith of nafs-e-mutmahinnah: “O soul that art at rest! Return to your Lord, well-pleased (with him), well-pleasing (Him)”, (Holy Qur'an, Surah Al-Fajr, 89:27, 89:28, يَٰٓأَيَّتُهَا ٱلنَّفْسُ ٱلْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ ٱرْجِعِىٓ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَّرْضِيَّةً ).
And at each stage there was a stay by the Imam, and an invitation to the "khawas" of the area to join his final mission, and his explanations of the mission to individual “khawas” who questioned him and tried to change his mind, or joined him. These conversations between the Imam and the “khawas” transpiring throughout the Imam's journey, and the letters he wrote to other “khawas”, are most interesting and hide a well-spring of lessons to be learnt.
Even its preliminary study reveals an ocean of insight into sociology, psychology, and perceptive capture of the forces that drive ordinary human beings, both “khawas” (elites) and “awam” (public), to the "banality of evil" that has become so well known as the primary sociological dysfunction of our own modern era.
The dysfunction of Imam Hussein's era, and our own modernity, is driven by exactly the same primal forces, as revealed from the perceptive words and conversations of Imam Hussein which become the mirror of history to examine one's own times in. This points to the real significance of the Imam's mission to Karbala – to convey to his own people, as well as to posterity, the clear demonstration of how to overcome their own “banality of evil” as per the clear purpose of the clear teachings of the Religion of Islam brought by the Noble Prophet of Islam.
The expression “banality of evil”, the ordinariness of those who easily become party to extreme evil, by either commission of the evil, or by their omission to stop the evil, is the neologism of the Jewish writer Hannah Arendt. It captures a behavioral as well as a spiritual truth which Islam has focussed on a great deal in the Holy Qur'an. Human beings are capable of extreme evil, and they don't have to be sociopaths, psychopaths and hardened criminals to do so.
The behavior of the largely virtuous and pious Muslims, and especially the Muslim “khawas” and respected elders, whom Imam Hussein met and addressed throughout his journey, from Medina to Mecca to places en route to Kufa, until its culmination in Karbala on the day of Ashura, exemplifies this truth. Only a tiny tiny handful joined the Imam in his “qayaam” against the tyrant of his day. The majority stayed aloof, busy in piety, and the people who had gathered in Mecca for the Haj season, chose to perform their Haj instead of pay heed to the Imam's call to overcome their “banality of evil”.
All their religious prayers, all their religious piety, and yet they had learnt to resist the temptation to join the noble grandson of the noble Prophet of Islam even as they saw him being only accompanied by his womenfolk and children, which clearly meant that there was an important principle at stake other than mere rebelling for power. The tens of thousands of pious Muslims of 60 A.H. had kept the outer shell of Islam and thrown away its fruit.
For the Muslims in Yazid's army who participated in the slaughter of the children of the Prophet of Islam in Karbala, and those Muslims who silently watched or profited from this evil, their “banality of evil” is captured in the following remarkable words of Hannah Arendt from her Report on the Banality of Evil, written in 1963. This passage captures the German public's behavior under the totalitarian Nazi Third Reich in 1940s with just as much veracity as it captures the Muslim public's behavior under the totalitarian Yazid's Ummayad Dynasty, arguably the Muslim First Reich, in that tragic epoch of 60 A.H. “Evil in the Third Reich had lost the outstanding quality by which most people recognize it -- the quality of temptation. Many Germans and many Nazis, probably an overwhelming majority of them, must have been tempted not to murder, not to rob, not to let their neighbors part towards their doom (for that the Jews were transported to their doom they knew of course, even though many of them might not have known the gruesome details), and not to become accomplices of all these crimes by benefitting from them. But God knows, they had learned how to resist temptation.” (Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in Jerusalem – A Report on the Banality of Evil, 1963, ch VIII, last page, pg. 121)
The words and conversations of Imam Hussein demonstrate that Imam Hussein's Islam was not the Islam of the “khawas” (leading elites and prominent peoples) of his time, and nor was it the Islam of the virtuous rank and file “awam” busy performing the Haj pilgrimage. Nor is it the Islam that is culturalized, socialized, and adapted to the taste of the rulers. It is also not the Islam which Bernard Lewis, “a leading Western scholar of Islam”, argued: “It is difficult to generalize about Islam. To begin with, the word itself is commonly used with two related but distinct meanings, as the equivalents both of Christianity, and Christendom. In the one sense, it denotes a religion, as system of beliefs and worship; in the other, the civilization that grew up and flourished under the aegis of that religion. The word Islam thus denotes more than fourteen centuries of history, a billion and a third people, and a religious and cultural tradition of enormous diversity.” (Bernard Lewis, Crisis of Islam – Holy War and Unholy Terror, 2003, pg. 1)
The word Islam only denotes what the Religion of Islam itself defined it: “This day have I perfected for you your religion and completed My favor on you and chosen for you Islam as a religion; (Holy Qur'an, Surah Al-Maeda verse fragment 5:3, الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الْإِسْلَامَ دِينًا ۚ )
The lessons buried in that entire journey of the pious Imam, and not just the final ten days of it, or the last day of it called “Ashura”, are so profound, and transformative, that I have to lamentably observe that it remaining largely hidden among the ardent followers of the Ahlul Bayt throughout the ages since Karbala, is its own tragedy.
The truth of these words, that it has indeed remain hidden, is empirical. It is even explained by the very definition of “Gum-e-Hussein” that the rank and file followers of Ahlul Bayt typically live by.
This is where I am indebted to the inexplicable new rising scholar of Islam, Hujjatul Islam Allama Syed Jawad Naqvi , of the Shia Islamic Seminary named Jamea Orwathul Wuthqa, Lahore, Pakistan, for his outstanding “tajziya” (analysis) of the words, sentences, letters, speeches, khutbas, conversations – in full sociological context of that time – of the pious Imam himself to explain the Imam's own “Gum-e-Hussein”.
What was Imam Hussein's own “gum”, his own angst, his own grief, that caused him to launch his “naizat” against the tyrant of his time?
We know what his adherents' “gum” is whenever we think of “Gum-e-Hussein”. It has largely been the same ever since 61 A.H. It is the tragedy of Karbala, of what Yazid's forces did to the noble family of the noble Prophet of Islam and to the surviving women and children of Karbala. Muslims are sorrowful and sad because Yazid killed and tortured the Imam and his family. That is the public's “Gum-e-Hussein”, their sorrow and anger over what Imam Hussein and his family were subjected to.
But what was Imam Hussein's own “gum”? His own anger? His own “Gum-e-Hussein”? Karbala and Ashura had not yet transpired when the Imam started his “naizat” in Medina in 60 A.H. 
How, and indeed why, has Imam's Hussein's own “gum” become masked off from the pulpit by the paid narrators who mount the mimbars, and by the hundreds of thousands of devout and devoted elegy writers, poets, scholars, and khatibs throughout Muslim history?
Why has the Imam's own “gum” not become the common “gum” and shared ethos of his own steadfast adherents among both the “khawas” and the “awam” throughout history?
Had that been so, there would indeed have been Karbala every place and Ashura every day, as per the Imams of the Ahlul Bayt's explanation of the perennial import of Karbala: “Qullo yomin Ashura, Qullo Ardin Karbala.”
Whereas, what has actually transpired is that the followers of Ahlul Bayt, worldwide, mainly only remember the Karbala of 61 A.H. They offer their sorrows and laments to the Imam for what happened to his family. And after having paid their full respects for ten days to the noble family of the Prophet of Islam, and having said their “al-widas” (goodbyes) and their “see you next year if life remaining”, return home to business as usual. The poignant pithy saying of the sixth Imam of the Ahlul Bayt has become relegated to mere poetry, elegies, posters, and fine art tee-shirts.
In the same way, many other religious concepts whose principal purpose is to induce voluntary transformation in every society in every day and age, such as “safina-tun-nijaat” (the ship of refuge, reference to Prophet Nuh's Ark (Noah's Ark) that gave “nijaat” to all those who willingly came on board from the pestilence of the global floods; referring to the fundamental ideals and core principles of the religion of Islam that Imam Hussein is seen as the uncompromising exemplar of, the ship of refuge from all falsehoods and tyranny for anyone who willingly climbs aboard that exemplariness, in the words of the Prophet of Islam: “Innal Hussein misbah-ul-huda wa safina-tun-nijaat”), etc., have also become relegated to merely reciting in elegies. And to be worn on expensive silkscreened tee-shirts to display one's faith in the Imamate of the holy Imams of the Ahlul Bayt.
This is particularly felt important every time Shia Muslims are under assault, and rather than cower in intimidation, remembering the courage of Imam Hussein and his uncompromising stance at Karbala, put on a bold display of faith before the world with these holy sayings printed on posters and tee-shirts.
More Machiavellianly however, these slogans and the name of Imam Hussein is carried aloft for corralling the flock behind any agenda, to show any mission of self-interest as the mission of Hussein, no differently than how in the Battle of Siffin in 37 AH., Muawiyah ibne Abi Sufyan's forces at the brink of defeat, cunningly raised their copies of the Holy Qur'an on their spears as the ones on the righteous path, to confront Imam Ali's soldiers. Imam Ali's army, despite their Imam's effort in telling them that this was a diabolical ruse to get them to lay down their arms when the battle had reached a decisive stage in their favor, did precisely what Muawiyah had anticipated the simpletons in the Imam's army would do. That momentous event of Muslim history set the precedent for holding any holy flag of Islam over the public head when it serves a political agenda.
That exercise is not limited to Muslim states waging self-righteous holy wars in the name of Islam, both in offense as its own la mission civilisatrice, as well as in self-defence, internecine or otherwise.
It also encompasses the cunning of: a) deliberately keeping the public preoccupied in the fast-path to Heaven in the name of Imam Hussein by misdirecting attention to what Yazid did to Imam Hussein in the plains of Karbala, lest the public focus on what Imam Hussein did to Yazid and rise-up against their own oppressors; and b) rallying the public to senselessly lay down their own lives “united we stand” for what is propagandistically deemed holy mission, and holy defence, by rulers, in the name of what Imam Hussein did in the plains of Karbala with the same promise of Heaven awaiting. The dispensers of Heaven among Muslims throughout its short fourteen century history have arguably far surpassed the papacy at its peak influence.
The perceptive understanding of “Gum-e-Hussein” from the Imam's own point of view however, with sophistication and wherewithal, frees all these revolutionary constructs of Islam from the straight-jackets of gut-wrenching elegiac poetry, fine literature, scholarly humanities, and Machiavellian misdirection that they have become enshrined in over the ages.
Indeed, I do not see the Imam's own “gum” having become the “gum” of his most ardent matamis (self-flagellators), jooloosies (flock in processions), khatibs (mounters of pulpit), poets, scholars, mourners, and believers of his Imamat in general.
In fact, the Imam's most ardent devotees among the rank and file, in their exaggerated public expression of “Gum-e-Hussein”, so transcend the bounds of human dignity in their ritualistic remembrance of the tragedy of Karbala that their blood-letting in the name of Imam Hussein, would surely be part of Imam's own “Gum-e-Hussein”. The ubiquitous Shia pulpit that silently condones what has now become enshrined as the public face of Shia Islam, has occasionally been checked by the rare Shia jurist, but at best in advisory tones as employed by Ayatollah Khamenei (cached), who, as the anointed Valih-e-faqih-e-Muslimeen and legal head of state whose religious influence extends far beyond Iranian borders, has the power and authority to categorically ban it by both religious fatwa as well as legal injunction. At least Khamenei has termed it “wrongful”. The trend however among the highest echelons of religious power in Shiadom even in this day and age, is either to be stone deaf, dumb and blind on this matter, to hear no evil, speak no evil, see no evil, like Ayatullah-ul-Uzma Ali al-Sistani whose office has categorically stated that the Grand Ayatullah has issued no opinion on the matter in clarification of fabricated fatwas in his name. Or, as the case of this fiercely pious fellow, Ayatullah-ul-Uzma Bashir Najafi, issue fatwa actively encouraging blood-letting self-flagellation not only as an act of faith to earn the intercession of the Ahlul Bayt in Afterlife (the fastpath to Heaven), but also for conveying the bloodbath at Karbala to the world, both as an invitation to Islam as well as to the misery of Imam Hussein the remembrance of which will take anyone to Heaven. Somebody forgot to inform this poor fellow and all those grand Ayatullah “marjai-taqlids” (worthy of emulation) who exercise mass behavior control in Shiadom in the name of God (see What does the Holy Qur'an say about Taqlid), who live upon the mastery of thousand year old books as the source of divine authority over their flock, that mankind no longer lives in the dark ages when it might have been impressed by such absurdly unintelligent invitation! The appeal of this barbarism is strictly limited to incestuous self-reinforcement within the flock already socialized into this practice, demonstrating an unarguable example of cultural pollution of religion. The rational mind just shivers in revulsion at such scholarship of the Dark Ages having found air to breathe among Muslims in this day and age in the name of Islam. There are of course many other cultural cancers that continue to find theological sanctuary in Muslim societies in the guise of religion, but the focus here is unveiling the mystery of Karbala.
Thus, we clearly evidence that the construct “Gum-e-Hussein” has come to have two distinct and separate meanings which have rarely coalesced throughout the fourteen centuries that it has been commemorated:
- There is the public's “Gum-e-Hussein” which is ingrained by socialization from birth and which is usually aided and abetted by religious scholars and religious tradition as the “wasilah” for the fulfillment of prayers in this life, and the fastpath to Heaven in Afterlife;
- and there is Imam Hussein's own “Gum-e-Hussein” which is almost always ignored.
In the age of universal tyranny, the public's “Gum-e-Hussein” is supposed to have led to adopting the Imam's own angst, his own grief, his own “Gum-e-Hussein”, to strike at the very heart of tyrants and its systems of oppression.
Has that happened? Which meaning should one rationally adopt in our own age of universal tyranny, almost fourteen centuries (and counting) after Imam Hussein exemplified his own “Gum-e-Hussein”?
Is Imam Hussein the private property of Shia Muslims that its rank and file can do whatever it likes in his memory? The Imam is an exemplifier for all Muslims, nay, for all humanity, for wherever tyranny exists.
It is fortunate that rational people are inspired directly by the categorical imperative that Imam Hussein not only stood for, but equally demonstrated in his acts with the same uncompromising fervor, much like the Kantian categorical imperative that the West is likely more familiar with. And not turned off by the ritualistic excesses of his devoted followers who tend to largely ignore the categorical imperative of the Imam and focus on that one instance of the act itself.
What this means as a philosophical principle, is that every act of Imam Hussein underlies a principle which can become a general principle. When that is true, it is what Kant defined as the categorical imperative for moral existence based on reason. As a general principle therefore, anyone and everyone can adopt it for the same purposes in their own individual acts regardless of time and space, regardless of their caste, creed, national origin and religion –- and each of their individual acts in turn become a categorical imperative in the Kantian sense. Meaning, they do not act in a manner such that its underlying principle cannot be made into a general principle. Thus, to cut open one's head with a sword can hardly be made into a general principle of mourning.
That timeless power of Imam Hussein, to be the singular and unparalleled exemplar of Kant's categorical imperative principle for moral existence to this degree of belief and commitment a thousand years before German philosopher Immanuel Kant was even born; to offer his and his family's lives in ransom as a categorical imperative in the unflinching way that he did at Karbala, that he sacrificed everything including his children, for a principle that he held dearly, is presumably what attracts the thoughtful mind to Imam Hussein even fourteen centuries later.
Here, in the philosophical sense, it is arguably immaterial what specifically Imam Hussein believed, but only that his principled acts, driven by the courage of his convictions, is illustrative of the Kantian categorical imperative of moral existence. That is Imam Hussein's attraction to many thinking peoples, as the unsurpassed exemplar of having the courage of one's convictions.
It is this idea that inspires many to stand their ground against all odds even when they may not be Muslim, or even religious. Hindus are as inspired by Imam Hussein's categorical imperative for instance – when they do not even believe in the religion of Islam. So, clearly, the specific religious beliefs of Imam Hussein has no significance for them. Only his actions, his “naizat”, and his deliberate and premeditated supreme sacrifice born of the courage of his personal convictions against a tyrannical government of his time. That is the fount of inspiration for all who proclaim human rights, human dignity, and for those who are forced to live in bondage and under the jack boots of one Nazi or another. It is also the fount for recognizing hypocrites who send others to their death in the name of liberty and justice. And for recognizing murderers who kill innocent civilians in mass numbers under the sound of trumpet and in the name of freedom and justice. This is why, as the poet famously said in his couplet in Urdu, translated: let people be awakened and informed, and all nations will proclaim Hussein is ours!
The rank and file mind is of course least bothered with principles and philosophies, or perhaps fairer to say, is not as attracted to the underlying principles as to the act itself. Such a mindless public, by ignoring the principles underlying the Imam's acts, despoil the Imam's sacrifice. It was indeed the only raison d'être of the Imam's “qayaam” all the way to his supreme sacrifice at Karbala. The Imam did not then, nor surely now, want tears of sympathy. The Imam did not call people watching him depart at each stage of his “qayaam”, to shed tears for him or his family in lieu of their accompanying him. He called them to join him solely as a shared categorical imperative which he tried to educate them as their duty and obligation far surpassing Haj. The statement narrated from the sixth Imam of the Ahlul Bayt who lived to see the transition of Islam's distorted pulpit from one tyrannical dynasty to another, Imam Jaffer as Sadiq, quoted earlier, translated into English: Every day is Ashura, Every place is Karbala, reinforces this point that Imam Hussein's acts and behavior during his “naizat” is a timeless general principle; a categorical imperative against tyranny where the tyrant shall always lose in the end, but this will be at a cost, the cost of taking on the sea of troubles to end them!
We see from this short discussion that Imam Hussein's “Gum-e-Hussein” is what drives the Imam to his categorical imperative, and the public's “Gum-e-Hussein” is what drives them to recall the act of Imam Hussein but not to his categorical imperative!
It also appears to me that it was indeed the Islamic Revolution in Iran that brought this distinction out on the surface in our own era --- but not from the lips of Qom trained ullema who have become professional pulpit occupiers worldwide, earning their livelihood in the name of the miseries of Ahlul Bayt. The “Gum-e-Hussein” the turbans have preached for centuries, and continue to rehearse today, is the public's variety. For it is the public that pays for their keep.
From homes to religious centers, a paid turban, whether trained in a seminary or self-taught with diligent practice, brings the devotees to tears as their fast path to Heaven, and charges a hefty fees for that service. This has become the de facto public face of Shiadom.
The wide chasm between the Imam's own “Gum-e-Hussein” and the public's “Gum-e-Hussein” cannot be more unbridgeable under the present system of ritualized, superstitious, fast-path driven, Shiadom. This serves the interests of the control systems of tyranny just fine.
Jawad Naqvi is the first exception I have seen to the typical Qom and Iraq trained religious scholars, khatibs, alims, and various and sundry Hujjatul Islams and Ayatollahs. And because of this exceptional find, I have spent hundreds of hours, literally, going through Jawad Naqvi's remarkable collection of speeches archived on his website, islamimarkaz.com, to extract the gems, and to leave aside the shells.
This rational signal to noise ratio filtering in epistemology is the prerequisite for intelligently parsing all narratives of history and current affairs for every student of truth, be it a lowly student like myself, or the Grand scholar of the universe as captured in imposing titles like “Ayatollah Uzma”, “Grand Mufti”, etc.
Instead of making history sacrosanct, as Muslims remember the events of Karbala in every Muharram-ul Haram as the fastpath to Heaven, and as the wasilah for fulfillment of prayers, we might also endeavor to study the categorical imperative birth-panged in Karbala by the exemplification of deen-ul-haq. We might ask why the religion of Islam in the Holy Qur'an is called deen-ul-haq, if not to endeavor to create heaven right here in this world for everyone by establishing justice for everyone, and ask how, if not by breaking all bonds of servitude to fellow man. We might ask how that lofty categorical imperative of Islam got morphed into the selfish individual goal of seeking Heaven in Afterlife while leaving the tyrants in this world alone. Karbala exemplified that principal teaching of the religion of Islam as deen-ul-haq for all time and space. While no Muslim denies that fact, Karbala has become relegated to an isolated act of history for history. And the rest of Islam's preaching for establishing justice is left to Eschatology!
Instead of making the history of Karbala sacred for extracting individual tears by imaginative narratives, Muslims might examine our own age and era in the mirror of the history of Karbala. Instead of beating one's own chest in unstoppable tears and feeling having given justice to the memory of the martyrs of Karbala, we might offer our chests to the tyrants of our own time as the categorical imperative of Karbala.
That is the real face of Shiadom which has remain occulted for centuries. The public face of Shiadom instead of becoming an expression of the categorical imperatives of Islam, has exclusively become an expression of sorrow for the fate of the Ahlul Bayt of the Prophet of Islam, often with absurd rituals which in this day and age seem to be a throwback to barbarianism.
Just as Muslims have not understood the message of Karbala and have become engrossed in memorializing it in rituals as a religious element despite fourteen centuries of rehearsals, Muslims have also not understood the religion of Islam and become engrossed in its rituals. The evidence for this statement is obvious and quite empirical --- just look around us, fourteen centuries of Islam with full mosques on every street corner, millions performing Haj each year, million feeding the poor, and still living in bondage to despotic rulers and empires with almost a fifth or sixth of the world population living in hunger and deprivation! It is as if no Prophets ever came to enlighten mankind.
The people of the world understanding Karbala in all its dimensions frees not just Muslims from bondage to fellow man, but the entire world from tyranny of fellow man.
Karbala is the singular recipe of moral resistance. It is also the mirror of history to understand our own times for our own banality of evil ---- for the same sociological principles remain in play again and again that determine the rise and fall of civilizations.
History, all history, is only a mirror of learning, and the fount of wisdom, when it is responsibly used to navigate for a better tomorrow. But, obviously, not when the mirror is held to the blind!
This is the lamentable tragedy of man. History has become the manipulative tool of choice for behavior control in virtually all societies. Narratives of history are used to instill false beliefs, draw specious or misdirected lessons, and to implant and perpetuate myths and ideologies. Once these narratives become part of culture and its intellectual tradition, the social norms that result from cultural ethos automatically determines the aggregate public behavior. This is the principal reason for the existence of Shias and Sunnis, mainly their differing views of the same history of Islam! Otherwise, both should have the same beliefs and practices and understanding of Islam because our Holy Book, the Holy Qur'an, and our Holy Prophet, and his Ahlul Bayt, are one and the same! Unfortunately, each has been breast fed their preferred narrative of history in such a way that for both, tyrants, rulers and empires have come and gone over the past fourteen centuries but nothing has disturbed their ritual piety! And nothing disturbs it today either.
Only when the public understands this subversion of their mind in which they are voluntarily made to pay homage to their rulers as virtue, made to agree to tyrannical rule with either apathy or willingness, Machiavellianly kept busy in pious rituals, awarded peace prizes to look the other way, all by writing a history that suits the rulers, or a particular agenda, and socializing the public mind into that narrative as “their holy truth”, can we ever begin to free ourselves from its web of control.
This is why history is a dual edged sword. In the hands of compassionate wisdom, it charts the course of action in the present to avoid the same pitfalls. In the hands of Machiavelli, it permits villainy to rule endlessly.
Come visit Karbala afresh. While the tender heart will surely forever lament the barbarianism visited upon the martyrs of Karbala as part of the culture of Shiadom, let's begin the scholarly journey of the mind afresh by recalling not what Yazid did to Imam Hussein and to the Ahlul Bayt, but by comprehending what Imam Hussein and the Ahlul Bayt did to Yazid!
The latter study is a lesson for peoples of all faiths, and no faith, for all times. The deliberate and premeditated sacrifice of Imam Hussein and his family is more than the story of courage and perseverance. Its natural appeal to all peoples lies in the strength that it is the singular story of the courage of one's convictions to confront the forces of evil without becoming evil; without becoming barbarian in one's resistance to evil; offering the resistance of only one's own self and one's own near and dear ones as ransom to brutality. It is the heartening story of courage to reinstantiate morality and human excellence which had fallen prey after the death of Prophet of Islam, to primacy as the new virtue. Silence to vice and oppression had become the new good, black had been turned into white, and people had become unable to make the distinction between right and wrong, with all wrongs cast as the new right.
That surreal society surely makes for a most instructive sociological mirror for the study of our own times which also relies more on perception management and tickling the baser human instincts than the bayonet to make the public's mind. Today, in our own modern democratic dispensation and full spectrum media control of our senses, we also offer our willing consent to abhorrence and to rule by tyranny in no less a measure than in that and other periods of imperial history.
Karbala was not an accident of history. It was the result of a categorical decision made by Imam Hussein to say No to the “banality of evil”, of spectating in silence and apathy, as a decadent despot came to power as the new ruler of the large Muslim empire. If the martyrs of Karbala made a choice to be there to offer their lives in ransom to rebirth the message of Islam as the forgotten deen-ul-haq, then, surely, as obvious as the sun is bright on a cloudless afternoon, they do not want centuries of mere tears and salaams of their devotees in response to Imam Hussein's evergreen call in Karbala: “Hull min nasireen yan soor na” (who will come to help me in my cause). The noble Imam wanted then, and for every age and for every time hence, only “nasireens”, helpers, aiders and abettor, for the mission of enacting justice, for standing up against tyranny, for asserting what's moral and what's immoral, unequivocally demonstrating that no sacrifice is too great to stand up to tyranny, whether it be under the sword on the day of Ashura and its aftermath, or it be the tyranny of falsehood presented as virtue, rectification of which became the mission of the surviving family members of Imam Hussein in the aftermath of Karbala.
The whole hearted stance of Imam Hussein against tyranny is rather obvious and self-evident, even to the innocent child when she asks the puzzling question that why did Imam Hussein knowingly take his six month old baby with him to a mission as fatal as standing up to the evil Yazid, especially when none of the other pious Muslims in the multitude of millions at the time dared to join him, many cautioning him that he would be killed for sure? That child's question opens a Pandora's box of questions for examination ---- and as the legend promises, when you dig down to the very bottom, all mystery is revealed.
But this is never obvious when the sanctimonious pulpit has hijacked Karbala in the service of empire, when the indoctrinated public mind gathers around it to remember the event in rituals of tears and with hopes for salvation. It is never obvious when pretentious piety comes to occupy the public mind year after year, generation after generation, centuries after centuries. It is never obvious when paid professionals are engaged to extract the public's tears as an act of piety. It is never obvious when respected high ranking scholars with large followings use their learnedness to foster the public's “Gum-e-Hussein” instead of developing Imam Hussein's categorical imperative among their flock. And it is never obvious when emotions take over the ability to reason from an event of history that touches the heart to its very core. Books after books have been filled with the narratives of Karbala but few teach its categorical imperative as the singular duty imposed by the religion of Islam upon its followers. The failure to recognize commonsense, in fact, its total absence among the laity when remembering the horrors of Karbala and its aftermath, and virtually its total absence among the clergy who rehearse Karbala as a profession, who earn their livelihood and their scholarship from the blood of Karbala, is the tragedy not just of Shiadom, but of Islam and all Muslims. When the clergy class of a religion becomes co-opted by either drought of intelligence (the dumbest in society are attracted to it as the profession of easy living), or self-interest (Machiavelli and ubermensch wear the robe and turban), one can either recite “fatiha” (eulogy) for that religion or celebrate. Why celebrate? Because, this social weakness, absurdities and myths becoming religion, presents the opportunity for rational scrutiny to liberate belief systems from the clutches of “Jahiliya”.
Karbala is a uniting force for Muslims, nay all humanity, if people can only realize its full significance. The significance of a real man, not in mythology or in theory, willingly standing up for the highest ideals of man --- to live in freedom and justice without fear and indignity and no price being high enough for seeking that virtue.
Unlike abstract theological principles like the Biblical Golden Rule (“Do unto others as you have others do unto you”) never put into practice so as to ever become exemplary for all peoples, Karbala is a real exemplary event that defined a real categorical imperative enacted by the courage of Imam Hussein. It can attract all humanity if some Muslims don't despoil its name with strange behaviors, superstitions, or its minimization. Karbala is the singular categorical imperative to create a just world ---- not by endlessly talking about it in utopian platitudes and moral clichés as virtually all religions and utopian philosophies do, but by fighting oppression in practice in the style of dignity and perseverance of Imam Hussein and his family at Karbala! Imam Hussein is the inspiration for all to withstand calamity with dignity. Imam Hussein is the hope of every oppressed that someday justice shall prevail. And Karbala is that road to justice for any self-respecting people empowered to strive to make that someday happen today.
In a just world, by definition, all peoples of all persuasions can find space for themselves, each according to their own beliefs, traditions and culture. All high minded theories like the Golden Rule easily become a practical categorical imperative and put into practice by all in a just society, but only in a just society where all abide by the same rules enacted by the fiat of just laws in which no one takes undue advantage of another. That can only transpire when tyrants, their special interests, and their systems of oppression to keep the people in bondage of one kind or another, are defeated, and perpetually kept defeated. This is the straightforward meaning of Every day is Ashura, every place is Karbala ---- for indeed, tyranny is everywhere, and will continue to rise its head everywhere, in every era, and therefore, by the logic of freedom and liberty being a desirable virtue for all (unless one asserts that living in bondage to the ubermensch is virtue), its antidote must also arise in every place, in every era.
Mankind to this day knows of no other exemplary resistance against tyranny among any peoples and civilizations that parallels Karbala. One does not even have to believe in the religion of Islam, or God, to be inspired by the resistance of Imam Hussein and his family members in Karbala!
It is high time this travesty in misunderstanding Karbala is recognized by the public themselves and its holy narratives liberated from artificial sacrosanctness and antediluvian superstitions which have now become enshrined in the public face of Shiadom. The world public today cannot accept this throwback to the dark ages as liberating philosophy of resistance, let alone be attracted to it as a categorical imperative of moral existence!
So come revisit Karbala as the timeless categorical imperative of Islam gifted to all humanity, on how to rise up to systems of oppression without yourself becoming a barbarian in the process. Watch Islamophobes and their Machiavellian concoctions like “militant Islam” scurry for cover.
As we gather to commemorate Imam Hussein's “naizat” in this Muharram, and in every Muharram, let's not forget the categorical imperative that the noble Imam's “naizat” made incumbent upon every human being, Muslim and non-Muslim alike. To strive to live free of tyranny and oppression is surely the most important Haj, the most important prayer, the most important guidance of the religion of Islam to all mankind.
In shared “Gum-e-Hussein” of the captain of “safinah-tun-nijaat” for all mankind,
as-salamu 'alayka ya Sayed-us-Shuhada
Zahir Ebrahim | Project Humanbeingsfirst.org
 It is necessary to state that as an ordinary student of reality, I have some principled difference of opinion on fundamental matters with scholar extraordinaire, Allama Jawad Naqvi. Specifically, why he persistently chooses to ignore the British royalty's knighthood title “Sir” awarded to its stooges in its colonies as he makes “Sir” Allama Iqbal out to be the “alamabardar” of “deen-e-shabbiri” (the flag bearer of the religion of Hussein, i.e., religion of Islam as exemplified by Imam Hussein at Karbala). The inconsistency between his pious poetry and vulgar acts of supporting the British Empire and being knighted for his labors evidently does not perturb Jawad Naqvi! What does that say about him? From his silence to my letter of inquiry in my report: The Rise of Revolutionary Islam in Pakistan – A Report on Behavior Control, I have unfortunately concluded that Hujjatul Islam Allama Syed Jawad Naqvi, either carefully lies by omission when convenient or necessary to push his ideological doctrines through; or he is victim of both: data availability bias and confirmation bias, which permits him to weave his narrative to unwittingly only state what is consistent with his own theology. That is arguably not the hallmark of a student of truth about reality (one who seeks truth in all matters regardless of what it is, discover reality the way it actually is by distancing the observer from the observed), but that of an ideological doctrinaire (one who expounds his own “truth”, his own beliefs, his own ideology). There is a marked difference between the two attitudes. The former when presented with a fact or analysis that goes against his presuppositions or instincts, easily accepts the new fact. The latter discards that fact as inconvenient, or denies it, or minimizes it, or rationalizes it away as inconsequential or immaterial. Secondly, Allama Jawad Naqvi has never responded to my critical analysis of the entire concept of Taqlid, and Vilayat-i Faqih, in which I have tried to understand the matter directly from my own meagre study of the Holy Qur'an, and asked the world of Islam scholars to find the reasoning flaw in it so that either I, a humble student of reality (and not its master), may come to the right understanding of reality and stop being mistaken, or they, as imposing ideological scholars of Islam socialized into their thinking and their ethos no differently than the common man, change their mind. Since both paths cannot both be true when they appear to be opposites (yes I understand the circle, thank you). See Preface: Hijacking The Holy Qur'an And Its Religion Islam. Obviously, no “khawas” is really interested in putting an ordinary fellow of the “awam” straight. Regardless, I cast aside those principled differences of opinion for this profound topic because of the truth of the matter. I find Jawad Naqvi's clear, lucid, and analytical deconstruction of this tragic, even criminal, trajectory of Muslim history both interesting and perceptive. His focus on the Imam's categorical imperative is refreshing. And I can only humbly thank him for making use of the pulpit as it should be used --- to help educate the public how to make heaven right hear on earth for all mankind by standing up to man's tyranny. Minimally, the study of Karbala as a categorical imperative, transcending its superficial rituals and its self-propounded religious significance, opens the door to further analytical study for the curious minds – for indeed, only the curious mind will dare probe further, and the tender heart be inspired to rise above ritual remembrance to act upon the categorical imperative.
27 Rajab 60 A.H. Medina, Imam called by Walid, governor of Medina, to his office to quietly take oath of fealty to Yazid. Imam declined to take oath in private and said he will let him know the next day.
28 Rajab 60 A.H. Imam publicly announced his refusal to take oath to Yazid and left Medina for Mecca with family and few companions despite advice by all and sundry against his “naizat”. In a letter bearing his Last Will and Testament that he gave to his half-brother Muhammad ibne Hannafiya, Imam explained his "naizat" at length and stated his final destination after Mecca to be Kufa.
3 Shabaan 60 A.H. Imam arrived in Mecca and invited people to his mission for 4 months non-stop, explaining his “naizat” in every namaz which he led every day, in personal meetings with the “khawas”, in public khutbas to the pilgrims gathering for Haj, and in letters and through emissaries sent to distant cities.
8 Zilhajja 60 A.H. Imam left Mecca on the very day Hajis were putting on their “ahram”, for a place between Nawawis and Karbala, and not Kufa, with only two additional “nasireens” joining him despite 4 months of invitation.
2 Muharram 61 A.H. Imam arrived in Karbala.
10 Muharram 61 A.H., 680 A.D., Ashura
In his series of lectures, Allama Jawad Naqvi, evidently a fount of knowledge and understanding on this subject, explains in great lucidity the actual “Gum-e-Hussein”, Imam Hussein's own “gum” from Imam Hussein's own words, to unravel the entire “ma'ajjra” of Karbala. Jawad Naqvi points out some very interesting sociological questions and its import to our own times. Specifically, the principal observation: the same sociological and psychological principles that characterized the role of the elites in making the public mind that eventually led to the acceptance of, or acquiescence to, a ruler like Yazid coming to power (which led to Karbala), whenever and wherever these principles shall exist, will beget the same conditions, the same “banality of evil”. And it is only the “banality of evil”, the unconcerned and apathetic attitude of the “awam” and their “khawas”, that begets tyrants and tyranny ---- when good men and women stay silent looking from the side, do not speak up, do not take up arms against the sea of troubles to end them. It is virtually the timeless sociological law of civilizations that gives rise to tyrants and tyranny. None can be soundly skeptical about that observation, for it is, arguably, a demonstrated truism. We see it around us even today.
I invite you to listen to Allama Jawad Naqvi's lectures for these are unlike any other analyses I have seen. His profound dissection of the mystery of Karbala also reflect my own general understanding. I agree with his deconstruction up to a point. I believe more work is still needed in comprehending the abnormal psychology where the soldiers of fortune of the Yazid's army mercilessly butcher and trample those whom they actually respect, as the standard narrative depicting the atrocities in Karbala indicates. This has never known to occur in any warfare without first implanting hatred of the enemy. Which is why, dehumanization of the enemy has been the long running standard tactic of warfare in order for soldiers to even be willing to kill another human being, let alone become merciless under the sound of trumpet. Karbala presents a dilemma for the modern mind --- the same butchers of Karbala were drawn from the army who had just a month earlier given allegiance to the Imam's representative, Muslim ibne Aqeel, in Kufa; this Yazid's army besieging the Imam in Karbala had not traveled from Damascus where the seat of government of Yazid and his father Muawiyah had been brain washing the public with propaganda warfare against the Ahlul Bayt for two decades. The Kufan soldiers of Yazid's army in Karbala even used to pray behind Imam Hussein during their inhuman siege where they even deprived the Imam and his entourage of water.
Therefore the question arises, under what psychological forces did Yazid's army not only mercilessly kill Imam Hussein and his family, but also deliberately trample their corpses under war horses, put the noble women folk of the noble family of the Prophet of Islam in chains, marching them all the way to Damascus to Yazid's court ---- all against the norms and protocol of the Arabs themselves, against their own manly traditions of warfare. These were presumably seasoned warriors. There is no record of them having conducted themselves in such disgrace in any of their other military adventures under the reign of the Caliphs and Muawiyah, as these same Arab soldiers of the Muslim army now stationed in Kufa had spread the frontiers of Islam from Arabia to Persia and the Roman empire.
Why was such uncharacteristic barbarianism visited upon Imam Hussein and his family when these seasoned and professional soldiers in Yazid's army clearly even respected the noble Imam; not only did they know that Hussein was the grandson of the noble Prophet of Islam, but also realized that he was the unsurpassed spiritual leader of Muslims of his time and preferred to pray behind him rather than anyone else even in the days of his siege up to the day of Ashura --- as presented in the standard narrative of the history of Karbala. Either the standard narrative has problems, or this anomaly begs deeper psychological explanation. Adolf Eichmann is stated to have killed 6 million Jews in gas chambers during World War II. Jewish sociologist Hannah Arendt had observed of Eichmann in her reports that in the courtroom in Jerusalem, he seemed to be just an ordinary fellow unlike how the media reports had made him out to be as the devil himself, and who claimed in his defence that he was just “following orders”. This seminal trial of Eichmann in Jerusalem led to an entire new field of research in the West, especially in the United States of America, on the power of obedience to authority and behavior control, the psychological forces that can get ordinary people to commit extraordinary atrocities. None of these modern insights necessarily explain the behavior of the soldiers of fortune in Karbala, especially when they knew the holiness of the people they were slaughtering. These soldiers followed orders too --- but that is not a very compelling explanation in this case.
The “authority” over Eichmann was the perceived holiness of Adolf Hitler in the Third Reich, and his disciplined military chain of command which inspired both fear and awe in the nation. Hitler was deemed Germany's savior. He appeared invincible to not just the German rank and file, but also to the German elite who created and managed his war and propaganda machinery. Hitler's spell-binding rhetoric and large scale national reconstruction projects had united the disillusioned and badly defeated Germany after World War I under his command as their lord god, the Christian God's vicegerent on earth! Hitler's war call that was emblazoned on Nazi soldiers' belt buckles was “Gott mit uns” (God with us). There was an aura of Hitler's authority that had subjugated entire Germany into a disciplined United we Stand force. There was no such holiness attributed to the trashy Yazid or to his mercenary chain of command. Eichmann was not a mercenary ---- he thought he was following the divine mandate of Hitler. Thus, Eichmann's obedience to authority was not by the mere force of bayonet, or even the outcome of personal greed or profit.
Karbala was entirely different. Yazid and his chain of command did not enjoy any kind of moral authority over the soldiers or the public. The state army, composed in Kufa Iraq, far from the center of government in Damascus Syria, were there in Karbala from self-interest and for pecuniary gain under the threat of the bayonet of ibne Ziayad, the barbarian governor tasked by Yazid for the submission of Imam Hussein. Obedience to him and to his military chain of command was at the threat of bayonet, and by greed and bribery alone. These overt and baser forces are insufficient to explain the psychology of monumental barbarianism visited by them upon the martyrs of Karbala when the professional soldiers were acutely aware of the nobility of the souls of the family of Prophet of Islam they were butchering by the methods that went far beyond their own military culture.
The sociological explanations offered by Allama Jawad Naqvi in the series of lectures linked below, “pecuniary gain” for the soldiers and their commanders, “banality of evil” for the onlookers, greed, lack of courage, love of this world, and return to the age of Jahiliya and tribalism, being the general unseen forces that gave birth to the conditions where a ruler like Yazid and his father Muawiyah could come to occupy the throne of Islam within just decades of the death of the Prophet of Islam, are all pertinent and important chapters in the book of understanding the mystery of Karbala. But still insufficient to explain the entire mystery of barbarism visited at Karbala. Some additional chapters are surely needed to unravel all the psychological forces at play in the light of modern understanding of the psychology of warfare and behavior control, in order to explain the standard historical narrative of Karbala --- and improving its signal to noise ratio is obviously the first epistemological chapter begging attention. Since these lectures are in Urdu, if circumstances permit, translation in English will be forthcoming. The value of these lectures for the public in this day and age when the (dumbed down) public's (often non-existent) passion for reading and (seriously lacking) seriousness in disposition has been outright replaced by obsession with Facebook and Twitter, can be enormous. The age of Jahiliya has returned with a vengeance when “likkha-parrha jahils” (morons with advanced university degrees) abound --- if it had ever left (which is seriously in doubt).
Hamasa-e-Karbala 1439 Muharram-ul Haram, 2017: Qayam-e-Imam Hussain Ka Makki Marhala (the Meccan stage of Imam Hussein's stance), Sociology of the period (what led to luke warm support of Imam Hussein in Mecca despite his preaching to them for 4 months), http://islamimarkaz.com/imi/view_lecture.aspx?id=2339
Direct links to Jawad Naqvi's 1439 AH Muharram video lectures in Urdu for your convenience:
Hamasa-e-Karbala 1438 Muharram-ul Haram, 2016: Qayam-e-Imam Hussain Ka Makki Marhala (the Meccan stage of Imam Hussein's stance), Khawas ka Kirdar (the role of Meccan elite), http://islamimarkaz.com/imi/view_lecture.aspx?id=2203
Direct links to Jawad Naqvi's 1438 AH Muharram video lectures in Urdu for your convenience:
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Last updated Muharram-ul Haram 16, 1439 A.H., Saturday, October 7, 2017 10:00 am 10201
Categorical Imperative and Karbala – Open Letter to Muslims and Non Muslims By Zahir Ebrahim 22/22