Thursday, November 9th, 2017, marks the martyrdom anniversary of Imam Hussain ibn Ali (p), 20th…
The purpose of prophetic missions was to give glad tidings and warnings to humanity, and although they spanned thousands of years and appeared among vastly different communities of people over that time, they were all distinctly unified in their divine message. God states that “He has plainly clarified the religion which is revealed to you and that which Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus were commanded to follow; (He has explained it) so that you would be steadfast and united in your religion.”1 Thus, all 124,000 prophets and messengers declared the oneness of God as the root of true belief and sprang forward from there to reform the communities in which they lived. The faith, as taught by the prophets, became engrained in people’s lives to varying degrees, and yet, it was evident that challenges and disputes would continue to exist even after people accepted the faith. God asserts this point saying, “At one time all people were only one nation. God sent Prophets with glad news and warnings. He sent the Book with them for a genuine purpose to provide the people with the ruling about disputed matters among them. No one disputed this matter except those who had already received evidence before. Their dispute was only because of their own hostility.”2 So, “To deal with this dispute, God, through His will, sent guidance to the believers. God guides to the right path whomever He wants”3 and ensures preservation of His message and everything that is sacred.
Social Reform Begins with Personal Reform
Self-interest, greed, and ignorance, often accentuated by frailty and weakness, drive people to corrupt what is valuable, not only from a personal perspective, but in a way that has broad ramifications and impacts the lives of others. It is for this reason that the prophets and messengers advocated personal reform as the basis for positive change and as an example of morality and goodness for others to follow. Imam Sadiq (p) was reported to have said, “Be the inviters of people and call them towards beneficence without (using) your tongues, so that they may observe your endeavor, your efforts, and your truth and piety.”3 Thus, it is unreasonable for a person to seek reform of their surroundings when they have not instituted those same reforms within themselves. Moreover, improvement and refinement must be continuous and consistent for any change to be meaningful. God reminds us, “God forgives the sins and reforms the hearts of the righteously striving believers who have faith in what is revealed to Muhammad – which is the Truth from his Lord.”4
Salaha is the term used in the Holy Quran to describe reformation or a reparative process; it can also suggest a renewal or an assurance of protection. Therefore, when God says, “Believers are each other’s brothers. Restore peace among your brothers”5 and “restore peace among them (i.e., two parties among the believers that start to fight against each other) with justice and equality; God loves those who maintain justice,”6 the term “make peace” signifies a form of repair, setting things right, and restoration of balance. Clearly, the concept of repair and restoring balance applies to us personally in terms of correcting the affairs of our life after deviating from God’s path, as well as in a broader communal sense. As it concerns the prophets and messengers, reformation for them is different from us because they are infallible, so they already possess the personal perfection to guide others, and their task is to reform the society around them. However, this task was not easy, because anything that is worth preserving requires sacrifice and a resolve to persist on a difficult path.
The Difficult Task of those Chosen by God
The individuals chosen by God to disseminate His message and constantly rehabilitate humankind, and therefore, society, performed this task for years, and sometimes decades or centuries. Prophet Noah (p) persisted in this cause for several hundred years before the great flood, while Prophet Moses (p) faced dissent, resistance, and even defiance from Bani Israel after God showed them His miracles and delivered them from Pharaoh and countless difficulties. Even after the deliverance, “The Lord said [to Moses], “We tested your people after you left them and the Samiri made them go astray.”7 Indeed, the trials of God are a means of determining who is able to choose a path of steadfastness, adhere to it, and come out changed on the other side. As such, reformation of the self often occurs after it has passed through a difficulty and chosen a corrective course that was hard to implement. Yet, when Prophet Moses asked his people why they had forsaken God’s promise and broken their covenant with him, they deflected responsibility and replied, “We did not go against our promise with you out of our own accord. We were forced to carry people’s ornaments.”8 Rather than make the tough choice, they gave in to the whims of the lower self and blamed their lack of resolve on someone else.
The difficult nature of personal reformation is evident in this Quranic example. When faced with uncertainty, most of the Bani Israel chose to do what was convenient (i.e., worship the calf) rather than hold fast to the truth. Furthermore, we see that while Prophet Moses was away for forty nights, the task that fell to his brother Aaron (p), who was God’s chosen prophet and deputy of Moses, was particularly trying. As the verse describes, “Moses had appointed his brother Aaron as his deputy among his people during his absence saying, “Try to reform them (wa aslih) and do not follow the way of the evil-doers.”9 In the same manner, God reassured Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hp) when his community recoiled from belief saying, “Messenger, do not be grieved about the people who run back to disbelief. They only say that they believe but, in fact, they have no faith in their hearts.”10 The position of Prophet Muhammad as a reformer meant that he had to address not only the personal deficits of spirituality, morality, and character, but also their consequences on society. This perpetual task fell upon Imam Ali (p) after the Prophet left this world, much like the responsibility placed upon Aaron. Imagine having to guide the people towards truth, self-improvement, and salvation when many were turning back from faith, not necessarily by denouncing it outright, but rather, through the subtle and steady dilution and perversion of religious standards. Imam Ali (p) had to deal with all of this while struggling to simultaneously maintain social balance and equity and ward off corrupting forces from all sides. Imam al-Sadiq (p) described Ahl al-Bayt’s difficult position, “Our tradition is hard and unendurable, no one can bear it except a near-stationed angel, a prophet sent by God, or a faithful servant whose heart God has tested for faith.”11
Making Difficult Decisions to Preserve the Most Important Things in Life
The most valuable and sacred things in life are often the ones that require the greatest sacrifice to preserve. For example, parents will give up anything and often go to extreme lengths for the success and salvation of their children. Why? Because their children are valuable to them. Similarly, a student who truly wants to succeed in their career consciously decides to sacrifice temporary pleasures for hard work, sleepless nights, and exhaustion to achieve a goal in the distant future. Besides, what usually propels the student is the successful or failed outcome of others whom they can observe. This tangible evidence is a powerful motivator, especially when it accompanies some metric of social success (e.g., living in a mansion). Unfortunately, we often do not attach the same significance to our religious pursuits, maybe because the outcome is not physically visible to us or we do not fully believe in or comprehend the promised result. Maybe we do not value the jewel of faith and the positive impact it can have in our lives because there is no material prize attached to it. Or, maybe we blame society for our poor choices or lack of adherence saying it was not of our own accord. In any case, we then compromise by choosing path that is easy and convenient over what is right but also difficult.
Making the necessary difficult choices in life requires that a believer knows the circumstances that they are bound by; this includes not only physical laws, but more importantly, the divine system that we all exist in. Imam al-Kadhim (p) says, “I found the knowledge of people to be in four things. First, that you know your Lord [and recognize His subtle kindness]. Second, that you know the blessings that He has bestowed on you [so that you might be grateful]. Third, that you know what He wants and requires from you [of obligations and prohibitions]. Fourth, that you know what will expel you from your religion.”12 Hence, maybe we do not make the correct tough choices in life because we do not fully understand or properly regard these four circumstances. To be able to make the right decisions at the appropriate time, we must do the following things:
· Begin by establishing an Islamic ideology and philosophy for our lives, one that is deep-seated in us and not superseded by anything. This goes beyond just ritualistic daily practice, and instead, should be a mindset that governs our every action (i.e., think about who you want to be). Sadly, this is the first thing that we often quickly push aside, because it is easier to follow the crowd.
· Make decisions after fully comprehending, to the best of our ability, not only the physical and emotional consequences, but also the spiritual ramifications of everything we do. To make the right choices a believer must realize the negative impact of religious and spiritual corruption. Moreover, we must not act from a position of doubt, particularly in matters that are governed by religion.
· Do not compare the value of eternal success as described by God to worldly and material advances nor gauge the former by the latter, because they are not comparable! We often assign a number or risk factor to everything we do. Thus, we should realize that the weight and significance of our religious duties, and the risks of not living by them, are on a much larger scale than the transient matters of life.
· Stop allowing fear of loss and trepidation to determine what we decide. There is no guarantee of material success in this life, nor that a high social status will provide contentment or security. On the other hand, God’s promise of salvation and bliss are certain and should be forefront in our minds because that knowledge creates tranquility and confidence.
· Consider the greater good when making decisions that are beyond our personal lives, particularly as it relates to our Islamic centers and the integration of diverse community members. We often choose what is familiar, and therefore, easy to us (e.g., culturally), and as a result we alienate others. Our choices should consider the four aspects explained by Imam al-Kadhim as they apply to every member of our community.
Imam Hussain (p) Consciously Chose the Path that Saved Islam
When faced with a difficult decision, a believer needs resilience and fortitude to remain anchored to their convictions. This strength has a tendency to give others the courage to do the same and to remedy existing weaknesses. Such is the example of Imam Hussain (p), who said, “I have not left [my home] in vain (i.e., to pursue power or spread mischief), nor to cause corruption or injustice. Rather, I have left to call for reform (islah) in the nation of my grandfather.”13 He was seeking improvement and preservation of the lofty values of his grandfather by showing that personal strength and unwavering conviction can move mountains in the face of extremely difficult circumstances. Our Imam demonstrated that each person can become a unit of reform, so that others might observe and realize the potential within them. As such, true leadership requires choosing a difficult but necessary course to preserve what is sacred. Many times, false leaders sacrifice others to preserve their self-interest or what is valuable to them, but true leaders sacrifice themselves rather than compromising the truth. This is one of the greatest lessons that Imam Hussain taught us—that Islam is the precious jewel of our lives and every decision, small or big, impacting us now or later, and whether easy or difficult, must be made to safeguard and preserve it.
1. The Holy Quran 42:13. Quranic quotes for this article are from the Muhammad Sarwar translation.
2.The Holy Quran 2:213.
3. Al-Kafi, vol. 2, p. 105.
4.The Holy Quran 47:2.
5. The Holy Quran 49:10.
6.The Holy Quran 49:9.
7.The Holy Quran 20:85.
8. The Holy Quran 20:87.
9. The Holy Quran 7:142.
10.The Holy Quran 5:41.
11. Allamah Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, –vol. 2, p. 183.
12. Bihar al-anwar, vol. 75, p.328.
13. Bihar al-anwar, vol. 44, p.329.
1. (شَرَعَ لَكُم مِّنَ الدِّينِ مَا وَصَّىٰ بِهِ نُوحًا وَالَّذِي أَوْحَيْنَا إِلَيْكَ وَمَا وَصَّيْنَا بِهِ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَمُوسَىٰ وَعِيسَىٰ ۖ أَنْ أَقِيمُوا الدِّينَ وَلَا تَتَفَرَّقُوا فِيهِ ۚ كَبُرَ عَلَى الْمُشْرِكِينَ مَا تَدْعُوهُمْ إِلَيْهِ ۚ اللَّـهُ يَجْتَبِي إِلَيْهِ مَن يَشَاءُ وَيَهْدِي إِلَيْهِ مَن يُنِيبُ)
2.(كانَ النَّاسُ أُمَّةً وَاحِدَةً فَبَعَثَ اللَّـهُ النَّبِيِّينَ مُبَشِّرِينَ وَمُنذِرِينَ وَأَنزَلَ مَعَهُمُ الْكِتَابَ بِالْحَقِّ لِيَحْكُمَ بَيْنَ النَّاسِ فِيمَا اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ ۚ وَمَا اخْتَلَفَ فِيهِ إِلَّا الَّذِينَ أُوتُوهُ مِن بَعْدِ مَا جَاءَتْهُمُ الْبَيِّنَاتُ بَغْيًا بَيْنَهُمْ ۖ فَهَدَى اللَّـهُ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا لِمَا اخْتَلَفُوا فِيهِ مِنَ الْحَقِّ بِإِذْنِهِ ۗ وَاللَّـهُ يَهْدِي مَن يَشَاءُ إِلَىٰ صِرَاطٍ مُّسْتَقِيمٍ)
3. روي عن الإمام الصادق (ع): “عن أبي عبد الله (عليه السلام) قال: كونوا دعاة للناس بالخير بغير ألسنتكم، ليروا منك الاجتهاد والصدق والورع”.
4.(وَالَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَعَمِلُوا الصَّالِحَاتِ وَآمَنُوا بِمَا نُزِّلَ عَلَىٰ مُحَمَّدٍ وَهُوَ الْحَقُّ مِن رَّبِّهِمْ ۙ كَفَّرَ عَنْهُمْ سَيِّئَاتِهِمْ وَأَصْلَحَ بَالَهُمْ)
5.(إِنَّمَا الْمُؤْمِنُونَ إِخْوَةٌ فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَ أَخَوَيْكُمْ ۚ وَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُرْحَمُونَ)
6.(وَإِن طَائِفَتَانِ مِنَ الْمُؤْمِنِينَ اقْتَتَلُوا فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَهُمَا ۖ فَإِن بَغَتْ إِحْدَاهُمَا عَلَى الْأُخْرَىٰ فَقَاتِلُوا الَّتِي تَبْغِي حَتَّىٰ تَفِيءَ إِلَىٰ أَمْرِ اللَّـهِ ۚ فَإِن فَاءَتْ فَأَصْلِحُوا بَيْنَهُمَا بِالْعَدْلِ وَأَقْسِطُوا ۖ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ يُحِبُّ الْمُقْسِطِينَ))
7.(قَالَ فَإِنَّا قَدْ فَتَنَّا قَوْمَكَ مِن بَعْدِكَ وَأَضَلَّهُمُ السَّامِرِيُّ))
8.(قَالُوا مَا أَخْلَفْنَا مَوْعِدَكَ بِمَلْكِنَا وَلَـٰكِنَّا حُمِّلْنَا أَوْزَارًا مِّن زِينَةِ الْقَوْمِ فَقَذَفْنَاهَا فَكَذَٰلِكَ أَلْقَى السَّامِرِيُّ))
9.(وَقَالَ مُوسَىٰ لِأَخِيهِ هَارُونَ اخْلُفْنِي فِي قَوْمِي وَأَصْلِحْ وَلَا تَتَّبِعْ سَبِيلَ الْمُفْسِدِينَ))
10.(يَا أَيُّهَا الرَّسُولُ لَا يَحْزُنكَ الَّذِينَ يُسَارِعُونَ فِي الْكُفْرِ مِنَ الَّذِينَ قَالُوا آمَنَّا بِأَفْوَاهِهِمْ وَلَمْ تُؤْمِن قُلُوبُهُمْ))
11. روي عن الإمام الصادق (ع): “إن حديثنا صعب مستصعب لا يحتمله إلا ملك مقرب، أو نبي مرسل، أو عبد امتحن الله قلبه للإيمان”.
12. روي عن الإمام الكاظم (ع): “وجدت علم الناس في أربع: أولها: أن تعرف ربك، والثانية: أن تعرف ما صنع بك، والثالثة: أن تعرف ما أراد منك، والرابعة أن تعرف ما يخرج من دينك”.
روي عن الإمام الحسين (ع): “إني لم أخرج أشراً، ولا بطراً ولا مفسداً، ولا ظالماً، وإنما خرجت لطلب الاصلاح في أمة جدي”.