Karbala: The Islamic Conscience
Written by Bashir Rahim
"Wa innama kharajtu li talabi-l islahi fi ummaati jaddi". Indeed I am leaving Madinah to reform the ummah of my grandfather.
The above words summarise the mission of Imam Hussain (A.S.). These words are part of his will which he left with his step brother Muhammad al-Hanafiyya. The reform of the ummah through amr bil ma'ruf and nahyi anil munkar, that is what should be the objective of every one of us claiming to be mourning for our Imam during these twelve days.
It is only through amr bil ma'ruf and nahyi anil munkar can the Islamic conscience amongst the Muslims be re-kindled and safeguarded. Mere indulgence in ritualistic practices, however fervently executed, during the 'ashra can only be an insult to our own intelligence if we lock them away for another year and continue during the interim ignoring the call of our conscience to heed to the message of Hussain. Our every action during these twelve days should be towards our rededication to the message of Imam Hussain never to forsake our Islamic conscience.
Let us reflect upon two case studies.
Zuhair ibne Qain al-Bajali was a Kufan. He was a committed Uthmani and would have nothing to do with the Shiahs. Hussain's caravan was moving slowly towards Kufa. Zuhair had gone for hajj and was returning to Kufa. It so transpired that at place called Zarud the two caravans met. Zuhair learnt that the Imam's caravan was but a short distance away but it did not occur to him to go and pay his respects. Then in the early hours of the evening a messenger came to Zuhair and said, "Abu 'Abdiallah Hussain ibne Ali has sent me to ask you to come to him." A companion of Zuhair reports that they were all astounded. Zuhair remained seated. His wife came to him and said, "O Zuhair the grand son of the Holy Prophet has summoned you and you take no heed !" Zuhair got up and went over to Imam's camp. No one knows what conversation took place between the two. One can only surmise that this must have been Imam Hussain's yet another foray into amr bil ma'ruf and nahyi anil munkar. All we know that when Zuhair returned to his caravan his face, as Tabari puts it, was radiant and cheerful. He dismissed his companions and told his wife that had decided to go with his Imam to what may well turn out to be a certain death. She was free to return home.
Zuhair remained with Hussain. On the 'Ashura day, in the morning encounter, he fought bravely reciting his rajas, "God has purified our souls and has guided us." When someone taunted him that he was not a Shiah but an Uthmani, he retorted, "But now seeing me with Hussain you must recognise that I am a Shiah of Ali."
At Zuhr prayers when the Holy Imam was leading salatul Khauf and the arrows continued to be shot at him, Zuhair offered to stand in front of Imam to protect him. He would smile as he intercepted an arrow shot at Hussain by receiving it his chest. Imam concluded the prayers and Zuhair fell dead. Thirteen arrows had pierced his life out of him. He was a person whose conscience had been aroused by amr bil ma'ruf and nahyi anil munkar and he died protecting that great 'ibadah- the salah.
Hur bin Yezid at-Tamimi al-Yarbubi was a career officer in the Kufa army. When Hussain bin Numayr, the commander at al-Qadisiya, learnt that Imam Hussain and his entourage were getting very close to Kufa he dispatched Hur with a detachment of 1,000 men to intercept Imam.
Hur believed that Imam was being prevented from entering Kufa because his presence there might jeopardise the stability of the city. As a professional soldier he did not very much concern himself with what he considered to be political issues. His duty, he felt, was to execute the order of his superiors. However, lurking somewhere in that stout military heart was an Islamic conscience.
Hur and his soldiers met Imam Hussain and his companions at a place a few miles outside Kufa. It was midday when the two parties met.
Hur and his people had been travelling since morning and were very thirsty. He requested Imam Hussain for water for his army. Imam Hussain asked Hadhrat Abbas, Hadhrat Ali Akber, Hadhrat Qasim and the others to give Hur and his men water and also to give water to their horses. This must have been a poignant scene. Water bottles being brought out of the saddle bags and the youths of Ahlul Bayt pouring water for Yezid's army to quench their thirst.
Zuhr prayers were led by Imam and Hur and his soldiers joined in. After the prayers Hur told Imam Hussain that his orders were to stop Imam Hussain from going to Kufa unless he agreed to give "Bai'at" to Yezid. Imam Hussain said that he would never give Bai'at to Yezid. Yezid was an unjust ruler who wanted to destroy Islam. In any case he was going to Kufa because he had been invited by the people there.
Imam produced two sacks of letters and petitions from the people of Kufa begging him to go there. Hur said that as his orders were not to let Imam go to Kufa there was nothing that he could do save carry out his orders.
Imam Hussain could have fought Hur and his soldiers and forced his way into Kufa, but he did not wish to start any battle.
He told Hur that he would take another route and go away from Kufa. Hur said that his orders were to follow Imam Hussain. And so, followed by Hur and his 1000 soldiers, Imam Hussain and his companions rode in the direction away from Kufa.
On the 2nd Muharram, they reached Kerbala. Imam Hussain bought land there and put up his tents. Hur and his men pitched their camps some distance away.
The following day, Umar bin Sa'ad came to Kerbala with 4000 soldiers. Umar Sa'ad was the commander of the Yezid Army. He had several meetings with Imam Hussain and was so impressed by Imam that he began to join Imam for prayers. When Ibne Ziyad heard this, he was furious. He sent Shimr with 10,000 men and wrote a letter to Umar bin Sa'ad, ordering him to get "Bai'at" from Imam Hussain or kill him. Umar bin Sa'ad immediately changed his attitude towards Imam Hussain. Following his instructions he imposed restrictions on Imam Hussain and his followers from getting water from the Euphrates, and from the 7th Muharram, no one from Imam Hussain's camp was allowed near the river.
On the night of Ashura, Hur was very restless. He could hear the children in Imam Hussain's camp cry because of thirst. His conscience whispered to him:"What have you done Hur? Why did you put the son of Fatimah in this position? Will Allah ever forgive ?" This was the rising of his dormant Islamic conscience. This career soldier could not sleep the whole night. Within him there was a struggle between his duty as a soldier and his Islamic conscience. He had been a professional soldier most of his life. He saw his life in terms of obedience to his superiors and the military discipline. The political considerations were not his concern. But now it was more than just the politics. The issues were moral and touched the very core of Islam. Hur's Islamic conscience compelled him to consider these issues.
Just before dawn he made up his mind. Hur, his son and his slave rode over to Imam Hussain's camp. Hur threw himself at Imam Hussain's feet, pleading for his forgiveness. Imam Hussain took Hur in his arms and said, "Hur, I forgive you. I assure you that my grandfather, the Holy Prophet also forgives you".
The defection of a professional soldier of Hur's calibre is a momentous event in the history of Kerbala. He chose to move from the side that would in a few hours be victorious and earn great accolade from Ibne Ziyad and Yezid to the side of the few hungry and thirsty men, children and infants who would certainly perish in the burning sands of Kerbala. This marks a great victory for the cause of Imam Hussain. Hur and his companions gave their lives for Islam.
Both these cases underline the victory of Islamic conscience over the might of evil.