God presented Adam (p) to the angels and upon doing so He declared to them “‘I am appointing someone as my deputy on earth,’ they [the angels] said (almost protesting), ‘Are You appointing therein one who will cause destruction and bloodshed, even though we (are the ones who) commemorate Your Name and glorify You?’ The Lord said, ‘I know that which you do not know.’”1 Indeed, humans are guilty of what the angels claimed in front of God, and history is replete with examples of this depravity, oppression, and massacre of innocent people. Furthermore, the negative consequences of these actions have sullied the world in which we live and serve as a reminder that the quest to maintain morality and the valuable status of humankind requires constant vigilance and struggle. The Holy Quran points this matter out by saying, “Evil has spread over the land and the sea because of human deeds and through these [God] will cause some people to suffer so that perhaps they will return to Him.”2 Thus, to some degree, in this quest we are all stewards of this world and everything within it. Yet, God’s answer to the angels clearly indicates that His chosen deputy will be one who is not only immune to any deviation or corruption, but is also the constant symbol of the struggle to maintain godly morals, justice, and human dignity, and to repel evil and wickedness.
This legacy of struggle by God’s chosen deputies is multifaceted (physical, verbal, or latent) and intricately deliberated to suit the prevailing conditions and directly correct inequities that have appeared due to the actions of people. Often, so-called champions of good seek to change a real or perceived imbalance in society, and although they achieve some measure of success, there are almost always some negative ramifications of their corrective efforts, whether intentional or not. This deficiency does not apply to divine leaders who implement change without any harmful repercussions due to their unhindered foresight and character that is free of any kind of malice, prejudice, or avarice. As a result, we must examine the wisdom, approach, and strategy of those who are divinely guided so we can peacefully and righteously bring about positive impacts for everyone. God says, “We appointed them as leaders [imams] to guide the people through Our command and sent them revelation to strive for good deeds, worship their Lord, and pay religious tax.”3 Hence, every year we focus on the movement of Imam Hussain (p) and the purposeful steps he took to preserve God’s religion, so we can learn not only how to bring about peaceful reformation in the world, but also the inner qualities that must be present within us to do so.
Revolution or Reform?
Over the centuries, movements of change sometimes materialized as revolutions, which took place due to various religious, social, cultural, economic, political, or even personal reasons and involved physical conflict. A revolution almost always occurs to correct a given inequity, and as defined by some is the effort to transform political and social institutions through mobilization of the masses4 and bring about a regime change.5 Moreover, some psychologists and social scientists suggest that the growing presence of frustration, which is an unexpected barrier to attaining a goal, can lead to aggression as one of several outcomes, and can sometimes even be displaced to persons not responsible or uninvolved in the existing circumstances.6 On the other hand, some have described revolutions as the “festivals of the oppressed” who bring about a new social order.7 In considering these definitions, how should we frame the actions of Imam Hussain (p)? Certainly, there was no change in the political institutions (i.e., the Umayyads) for almost seven decades after the events of Karbala, and even then one despotic regime overthrew another (the Abbasids). Could we construe the tearful departure of Imam Hussain (p) from Medina, accompanied by woman and children, as one fueled by frustration and seeking aggression? Or, which subsequent festivals joyously celebrated the freedom of the Prophet’s holy family (pbut) and the rightful return of their honorable status and rights? Some might contend that Imam Hussain (p) did not achieve his objectives or gain a victory. To this we need only point to the millions of lovers of the Ahl al-Bayt (p) who don the black clothing of mourning on the first of Muharram and profusely weep for Aba Abdillah (p), and recount the lofty morals and goals for which he strove and eventually became a martyr. Imam Hussain’s movement sought to awaken hearts, enliven Islam, and restore the dignity of every human being without compromising an iota of justice by a drive to spread the goodness that was inside him. Therefore, his movement flourishes in every part of the world today and great historical figures laud it.
Patience and Determination
Indeed, Imamate is the inextinguishable light of God’s guidance to humankind and a perpetuation of the way of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh&hp), who declared “Hussain is from me and I am from him.”8 Hence, when the Holy Quran instructed the Prophet (pbuh&hp) that “Remind them of Our revelation so that a soul will not bring about its own destruction because of its deeds,”9 Imam Hussain’s moral objective, which was unequivocally driven by the desire to preserve the salvation of Muslims, became clear and evident. Imam Hussain’s departure from Medina to Mecca, and from there to Iraq, was to resist the corrupting of Islam and the debasement of its tenets, and as such he stated, “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 in the nation of my grandfather.”10 At each stage Imam Hussain (p) imparted guidance and wisdom to those around him (and us), and demonstrated how a true believer resists the machinations of an evil enemy through the force of their convictions, resolve, and dependence on God. Although he had to leave Mecca before the commencement of the pilgrimage for fear of bloodshed by those who did not respect the sanctity of the Kabah, he reminded us that “Whatever pleases God also pleases us, we the Household of the Prophet. We shall be patient as we face His trial, and He shall give us in full the rewards due to those who persevere.”11 Patience by itself can sometimes be fleeting or temporary, and certainly it is only human nature to wax and wane between periods of courage and fear, strength and weakness, and hope and despair. What determines the fulfillment of our objectives during trial and difficulty is patience with perseverance, which means not only will we resiliently bear what pains us, but we will also be determined to progress to achieve what is right. It is one thing to be motionless and silently accept one’s fate and a completely different thing to do so while making concerted efforts for improvement. Each of Imam Hussain’s steps forward was an example of unwavering determination, which should remind us that the achievement and preservation of the most valuable things in life require the greatest patience and determination.
Becoming a Source of Change
When a person develops and cultivates this feeling of fortitude and resolve, they become a source of change(and goodness) not only for themselves, but also for others, because people turn to those who exhibit assurance and firmness on the truth. However, to get to this point requires that we ask ourselves three very important questions: (1) what is my objective, (2) what drives me to act, and (3) what will it take for me to remain firm until I achieve my objective? Furthermore, we should realize that the significance of our answers to these questions correlates to the gravity of the situation and the relative importance of the objective. So many things, some trivial or selfish and others grand and altruistic, motivate human beings. For a believer, there is nothing greater than doing something for the pleasure of God, and the greatest freedom occurs when the person disassociates from all other reasons for acting. Upon commencing his journey to Iraq, Imam Hussain (p) was pursued by the agents of the Umayyads who called out to him saying, “O Hussain, do you not fear God? Do you leave [Mecca] to cause disunity among the nation?”12 To this the Imam (p) answered with the verse “If they call you a liar, tell them, ‘Let each one of us follow his own way. You will not be responsible for what I do and I will not be responsible for what you do.’”13 Such certainty in the correctness of one’s action and ownership of one’s decision-making leads to resolve and to a tireless effort to reach its result. If a person is not convinced of the benefit of doing something, why would they see it through to completion?
For a believer, resolve springs from a core that is rooted in devotion to God. There can be no higher purpose or loftier ideal, because when one acts solely for the love of God, they strip away all the shackles of this material world and become unimpeded. Imam Hussain (p) made the greatest sacrifice and achieved the highest victory because he was attached to only God, and this echoes prominently in his words “the ones who have lost You [O God], what have they found? And the ones who have found You, what have they lost?”14 Within each of us is that same core, but we must focus on it, cultivate it, and allow it to flourish with determination and without breaking. We should ask ourselves what is the reason for our actions and is the desired outcome only personal gain? By doing this, we consider the fulfillment of not only our own rights, but those of others, particularly with regards to those aspects of our life that seem restricted to personal need and are usually the most valuable to us (e.g., leisure “me” time). Indeed, God describes the pious as the ones who “… assigned a share of their property for the needy and the deprived”15 and reminded us all that “You can never have extended virtue and righteousness unless you spend part of what you dearly love.”16 Hence, if we consider the rights of others in anything we consume or spend, whether it is large or small, personal or not, we will immediately know if our motives are serving a loftier objective, and thus whether the positive consequences are far-reaching. Thinking this way brings us back to Karbala repeatedly! Should we not reflect on every martyred relative and companion whom Imam Hussain (p) raced out to in the battlefield and carried back to the tents? Should we not ponder the potent and unshakeable driving force that propelled our beloved Imam (p) to preserve our religion, and indeed our identity, in the face of overwhelming odds? And should we not remember that he all the while reminded us that “Among the believers there are people who are true in their promise to [God]. There are those of them who have already passed away and others of them are waiting. They never yield to any change.”17
1. The Holy Quran 2:30. All quotations of the Quran used in this article are from Muhammad Sarwar’s translation.
2. The Holy Quran 30:41.
3. The Holy Quran 21:73.
4. Goldstone, J.A., Revolutions: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, 2013.
5. Goodwin, J., No Other Way Out, Cambridge University Press, 2001.
6. Miller, N.E., “The Frustration-Aggression Hypothesis,” Psychological Review, 1941.
7. Skocpol, T., States and Social Revolutions: A Comparative Analysis of France, Russia and China, Cambridge University Press, 1979.
8. Ibn Hanbal, Masnad, vol. 4, p. 172; al-Hakim, Al-Mustadrak, vol. 3, p. 177.
9. The Holy Quran 6:70.
10. Ibn Shahr-Ashub, Manaqib al-e Abi Talib, ch. 3, p. 241; Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 44, p. 289.
11. Majlisi, Bihar al-anwar, vol. 44, p. 366.
12. History of al-Tabari, vol. 3, p. 296.
13. The Holy Quran 10:41.
14. From Imam Hussain’s supplication on the Day of Arafah.
15. The Holy Quran 51:19.
16. The Holy Quran 3:92.
17. The Holy Quran 33:23.