Imam Husain's Revolution: Reasons and Motives
08 December 2023
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An Interview Conducted by JameJam Daily with Ayatollah Sheikh Mohammad Jawad Fazel Lankarani (4 February 2010)When you enter the holy city of Qom, you see the golden tomb of Lady Masumah which solaces your heart but then you recollect the loneliness of her brother, Imam Reza (pbuh). You pass old alleys of the city and arrive at the vicinity of Haram near Bazaar T-junction and finally you reach the end of an alley there is a building with traditional rooms typical of Marjas' homes. This is the office of late Grand Ayatollah Fazel Lankarani (may his soul rest in peace) where I am supposed to meet and interview his respected son, i.e. Ayatollah Sheikh Mohammad Jawad Fazel Lankarani, respected member of Society of Teachers of Qom Seminary, lecturer at Kharij level and head of the Jurisprudence Center of Pure Imams. Although he does not usually like giving interviews, he accepts an interview with JameJamm Daily, an interview on the causes of Imam Husain’s revolution on the occasion of the fortieth day (Arba'ein) of Imam Hussein's martyrdom.
Question: What is your assessment about causes of Imam Husain’s revolution, and according to you, how are contexts of the event of Karbala and the revolution of Imam Husain revolution analyzable?
Answer: The question concerning the causes of the revolution of Imam Husain is an important issue which has different aspects and if someone wants to discuss it from different aspects it will lead to a long discussion. In fact, every Muslim individual who goes through the history of Karbala encounters one such question as to why Imam Husain (a.s.) embarked on the revolution.
Let me tell you at the beginning that that there are various analytical views about Imam Husain’s revolution. Some believe that Imam Husain (a.s.) fought Yazid and took his followers and his family to the battlefield only to attain the high rank of martyrdom. When we study the history of Islam we notice that the Prophet (pbuh) had predicted the martyrdom of Imam Husain (a.s.). When Imam Ali (a.s.) was nearby Forat River, he said “here it is, here it is”. He pointed to the land of Karbala and said to some of his followers “this is the place where my son, Husain, will be killed while he and his children are thirsty."
The martyrdom of Imam Husain (a.s.) had been very obvious. The Prophet (pbuh) had predicted the martyrdom of Imam Husain (a.s.). In the same way, Imam Ali (a.s.) said and also Imam Husain (a.s.) himself had predicted his martyrdom. According to what has been narrated from Imam Sajjad (a.s.) in Kashf-ul- Ghumma that the Imam (a.s.) in every stage of his journey fom Mecca to Iraq, he reminded others of the story of the martyrdom of Yahya-ibn Zakaria. Therefore, his martyrdom was obvious.
To say that the event of Karbala was only for that Imam Husain (a.s.), his kith and kin and followers to attain the martyrdom, is a mere analysis.
Another analysis is that Imam Husain (a.s.) moved to topple Yazid and take the government from the hands of the Amawids and to establish a just government. One of the distinctions of Islam is that such a master claims establishment of a government. I mean, history bears witness that the previous prophets had not established government. Establishing a government is Islam's feature because it is a complete religion, so founding a government should be part of this religion. It means that in the same that prayers, fast and Hajj are obligatory on us, establishing a government is another obligation which should be fulfilled and if we say that religion can not govern and it has nothing in the name of religious government, it would essentially mean that we have presented religion as incomplete. Another analysis is to say that Imam Husain (a.s.) moved to establish a government while it was clear for those who talked to him, like Ibn-Abbas, Muhammad Hanfia and others, that it was quit impossible for the Imam to establish a government; i.e. it was clear not only to Imam Husain (a.s.) but to all. In the suppressive, cruel and tyrannical government of Amavid, people could not think of following the religion or fulfilling of their religious duties. According to Imam Husain (a.s.) “People are slaves of the World”. To say that the Imam wanted to establish a government with the help of such people is not true; it was obvious for all that establishing a government was impossible.
A third analysis is to say that it was a divine decree or a divine order to the person of Imam Husain (a.s.). Aba-Abdullah had a personal mission from Almighty God and he had to tread that way. But then this question arises that if there was another Imam and the true leader was another person, wouldn’t he have the same mission?
Therefore, it is clear that we can not consider this as a private and personal command, because whoever was in Imam Husin's stead would take such an action because the Imam says it is obligatory for all.
To conclude, it seems that it is not possible to consider martyrdom or establishment a government or a personal divine command to be the true and important reason beyond the revolution of Imam. It seems that Imam Husain saw that whatever the holy Prophet (pbuh) brought to mankind in the form of Islam, whatever religious embodiment and identity he bestowed to the society through Quran and Sunna, the whole beliefs, laws and ethics were going to perish.
Question: You mean that the identity of religious society of the Prophet’s era had n changed substantially? It seems that if see the Ashura revolution from this perspective, the presence of a person like Yazid at the top of Islamic government is determining factor in the occurene of the revolution.
Exactly! After the demise of the Prophet (pbuh) those who were rulers, although they were not legible for governance they performed superficially the prayers and observed the Islamic limits, but from the era of the third caliph, the society changed substantially. Corruptions, indulgence and cruelty, especially after the martyrdom of Imam Ali (a.s.), reached its pinnacle. Peoples’ rights were not respected; cruelty and suppression were to such an extent that no body dared to object because of fear of jail and persecution. Many a number of followers of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) like Abuzar were martyred. In Mu’awiyah's time, there were some people whose names are mentioned in Rejal books and who received money to recite those Quranic verses which were revealed in praise of Ali Ibn AbiTalib (a.s.) in the names of other persons. They were paid to tell others that the verses had not been revealed about Imam Ali (a.s.). So, see how far people had changed. Mu’awiyah however to some extent observed the superficies until a time reached when he wanted to take allegiance for his son Yazid and announce him as his successor. It was a time when Yazid was a young boy who did not observe any of the apparent norms of the religion. He openly engaged in debauchery, he used to gamble and obviously drink wine. It means that he objected to all prohibitions that Quran emphasis on. Everybody can see that nothing would remain from the religion if such a person became the ruler of the Muslims. Even, if Yazid held the power, a time would come when there would be left nothing from Islam but a name; Mu’awiyah also wished to see a time in which the testimony to prophecy of the prophet were no longer heard from minarets. In Yazid's era, Jews and Christians decided the main policies of Yazid government and they were present in the palace. Yazid had such characteristics and in his time Islam was going to perish. Imam Husain (a.s.) saw that all efforts the Prophet (pbuh) and Imam Ali (a.s.) had made were going in vain. The main cause of the revolution was the obvious debauchery of Yazid as the ruler of Muslims. Accordingly, acceptance of these situations and vowing allegiance to Yazid amounted to complete destruction of Islam.
During the time of Imam Husain (a.s.) every aspect of the religion had been destroyed and nothing was left from Islam but only its name. The fact is that someone like Yazid wanted to succeed the Prophet (pbuh). When a ruler becomes pagan, an unbeliever or mischief, it will affect the society gradually. Imagine someone like Yazid was to govern in the name of Islam. In this case what would be left of Islam? So we can summarize that the main reason of Imam Husain’s revolution was that Imam saw that every manifestations and aspects of the religion had been broken and there was no way to revive the religion except to stand up and sacrifice his life. When Walid invited the Imam to his court, he placed two conditions in front of him. That is, he tried to make the Imam choose one out of the two options: Bayat (allegiance) or death. Researchers should be aware that there was no choice except these two ways. After the Imam entered Mecca some people told the Imam to stay in Mecca because it was a safe. The Quran says, “Whoever enters (Mecca) will be secure”. They said to him that if he stayed in Mecca he would not vow allegiance to Yazid nor would they arrest him. The Imam said that whenever he stayed they would find and kill him and if he stayed in Mecca they would enter the city violate the sanctity of the shrine. He said that was going to fight Yazid because he was voilating the religion’s orders and its sanctity; Imam Husain did not want the sanctity of the house of God to be broken. So he departed Mecca immediately and stated that if I do not leave Mecca, they will come and kill me here.
I believe that we should not restrict the revolution of Imam Husain (a.s.) to one aspect and say that the reason was either martyrdom, or establishment of government or special divine order, as per the narration that “God wants to see you killed”. Rather it seems that the Imam seeing unsteadiness in religion wanted to revive the religion and he stood up against Yazid for this very purpose.
Question: It is true that Mu’awiyah was not engaged in open corruption as was his son, but according to historical evidences it seems that Mu’awiyah himself did not have firm belief in Islam. Why did Imam Husain (a.s) spend ten years of his Imamate (leadership) in that time and didn’t revolt against him?
In Mu’awiyah's era some rites of the religion were intact. The main point in respect of Imam Husain’s movement is the allegiance that Yazid wanted him to vow. See, if Imam Husain (a.s.) vowed allegiance to Yazid, even if it had been per force or based on real circumstances which was required by necessity, it would lead to a total destruction of the religion.
Imam Husain (a.s.), at the beginning of his journey, said that Yazid is a person who publicly and outrageously commits religious offence. He was a ruler who did not observe or respect the religious norms. It was obvious that he didn’t believe in observing religious orders. He didn’t believe in Islamic norms at all. Yazid in a famous poem said “and no news came and no revelation descended (upon Muhammad)”. He did not believe in Islam and revelation. He was engaged in apparent debauchery and corruption.
If Imam Husain (a.s), who was the grandson of the Prophet, had vowed allegiance to a corrupt person who believed in none of the principles of the religion, there would remain nothing from Islam and it meant eradication and destruction of Islam. So, the Imam chose the second option which was martyrdom and abandoned to vow allegiance to Yazid which would result in destruction of Islam.
Question: When Imam Husain (a.s.) left Medina for Mecca he wrote in his will to his brother Mohammad Hanafiya that his goal in that journey was to “enjoin the good and forbid from bad”. In your view, how do you assess and analyze the role of this element in the revolution of Imam Hussein (a.s.).
Answer: To answer this question, I recite some sayings from Imam Husain (a.s.) to his companions. Imam narrated words from the Prophet: If somebody sees a cruel ruler who legalizes the divine prohibitions, breaches divine covenant, objects to the Prophet’s Sunna and do commits cruelty to the people, but the viewer does not object to the ruler, it is necessary for God to send him to hell.
Speaking about divine forgiveness, it is noticeable that it is not necessary upon God to subject us to punishment in hell. If someone says a lie or backbites someone else, he or she deserves be punished, but it is possible for God to forgive it. But there are some prohibitions, like Shirk to which God says “Allah does not forgive to be considered as having a partner”, which God never forgives.
One of unforgivable sins is to consider a partner for God. If a person sees that a ruler, under the name of Islam, breaks the covenant of God, do cruelty, opposes the Prophet and so on, and he remains silent, he will not be forgiven on the Day of Judgment; God will punish him for sure. Then the Prophet (pbuh) continued by saying that those, who are silent against a cruel ruler, are the people who follow Satan and leave obedience of the beneficent God and spread mischief and stop implementation of divine punishment and legalize prohibitions and prohibit the lawful. Then Imam Husian (a.s.) says, that this is the Prophet’s saying and continued to say, Oh people! who is more entitled to accomplish this saying of the Prophet (pbuh) than me in our society at this time? Who is more entitled than me? Imam compares himself with the Prophet who had said that I am more entitled to accomplish this job.
Question: So, we gather that the motive beyond the revolution was not a personal divine order to the Imam?
Yes! When we see these statements we gather that it was not a personal order, because the narration of the Prophet said “Everyone who sees a cruel ruler…”; it means that all people should object against such ruler and this order is not only for me as the Prophet’s grandson, but I am more entitled to do it. I am more obliged to observe the lifestyle of the Prophet, my grandfather, and his religion, so my duty is heavier than yours. But this does not mean that you have no duty in this regard, rather you have a duty too and all should fulfill this obligation; so, since there is no bigger Maarof (good) than religion itself and there is no munkar (bad) worse than alteration of the religion, this factor should be taken into consideration in Imam Husain's revolution. Since by coming of Yazid to power, the religion would alter totally and this was ultimate Monkar (bad), Imam Husain (a.s.) take it as a factor in his revolution.
Imam Husain said: “The person, who wants to become the leader of Muslims, should act in compliance with God’s book”. He continued that the person who wants to be the Caliph should understand the book, Quran. How does Yazid, who does not understand Quran at all, want to be Muslims' caliph? How can Yazid, whose life is characterized by mischief and cruelty, be Muslims' Caliph?
When we say that there are persons who are general deputies of Imam Mahdi during the period of occultation, it means that they should have, to some extent, these qualifications and especially the more important qualification of dedication to God; there should be nothing in the life of deputies of Imam Mahdi except God. His sleeping, his meal, his talk and his view all should have the color of God; he should never consider himself more important than others, he should never think of doing injustice and cruelty to others. He should fulfill what is his divine duty.