The conscience of all religions

Hussain (AS) – the conscience of all religions
By Rubab Mehdi Rizvi, Chairperson, International Imam Hussain Council

Muharram, the mention of which drowns words in grief, marks a period of mourning and contemplation for Muslims throughout the world. It is on the tenth day of Muharram (Ashura – the martyrdom of Imam Hussain) when the skies wept and the earth kissed the severed head of Imam Hussain (AS) at Karbala.

Hussain (AS) exemplifies the soul-stirring virtues of unshaken faith, undaunted courage, thought for others, willing self-sacrifice, steadfast righteousness and unflinching war against wrong.

The caliph Yazid was always conscious of the fact that despite being the virtual ruler of the entire Arab empire he had no spiritual strength unless Hussain, the grandson of the Holy Prophet, swore allegiance to him. People in Makka and Madinah still regarded Hussain (AS) as their leader if only spiritually.

Corruption is rooted from the Latin verb ‘rumpere’ which means ’to break something,’ so at the time of corruption something ’breaks’ or ’is ignored’. Yazid was speedily building destructive inroads of pre-Islamic revivalism wherein alcohol and similar vices became both commonplace and acceptable. The grandson of the Prophet (SAW) by not giving his signature to this moral degradation protected Islam.

Imam Hussain (AS) has been described as the ‘conscience of all religions’ by a Christian scholar in his book ‘Imam Hussain in Christian ideology”. The book confirms that Christ prophesized the martyrdom of Imam Hussain. Antonio Bara despite being a Christian never takes the name of Imam Hussain (AS) without saying ‘peace be upon him’. The famous thinker and scholar maintains that Imam Hussain (AS) is not exclusive to Shia or to Muslims but belongs to the whole world.

Sibt b. Jauzi has recorded a tradition from Abu Muhammad Abdul Malik b. Hisham Nahvi: “On their way to Sham, at every halt, Yazid’s army had the practice of removing Imam Husain (AS)’s head from the chest (which was specially made for his head). They then placed his head aloft the lance.

At one of their halts at a church, they removed Imam (AS)’s head from the chest as was their practice, raised it atop the lance and guarded it. They inclined this lance against the church. A lone Christian priest inhabited this church. At around midnight, this priest witnessed an amazing spectacle. He saw a ray of light extending from Imam (AS)’s head to the skies. Amazed, he then inquired from Yazid’s men, ‘Who are you?’ They responded, ‘We are Ibne Ziad’s soldiers.’ The priest then sought the identity of the severed head.

They replied that it was the head of Husain b. Ali b. Abi Talib, son of Fatima, daughter of the Prophet. Amazed, he requested, ‘Will you let me keep this head for the night’s duration in exchange for ten thousand dinars? I will return it (when you are ready to leave this place)?’ They acquiesced and handed over Imam (AS)’s head to this priest in exchange for the agreed amount. The priest then cleansed Imam (AS)’s head and applied fragrance to it. He held the head closely and wept for the entire night.

The tragedy of Karbala and its spirit of non-violent resistance and supreme sacrifice has been a source of inspiration to the likes of Mahatma Gandhi and Pandit Nehru. Gandhi’s first Salt Satyagrah was inspired by Imam Hussain’s non violent resistance to the tyranny of Yazid. Nehru considered Karbala as the unifying bond of humanity. According to the great poet Rabindranath Tagore, Hussain’s sacrifice indicates spiritual liberation.

Thomas Carlyle (Scottish historian and essayist): “The best lesson which we get from the tragedy of Cerebella is that Husain and his companions were rigid believers in God. They illustrated that the numerical superiority does not count when it comes to the truth and the falsehood. The victory of Husain, despite his minority, marvels me!”

Mahatma Gandhi (Indian political and spiritual leader): “I learnt from Hussein how to achieve victory while being oppressed.”

Charles Dickens (English novelist): “If Husain had fought to quench his worldly desires … then I do not understand why his sister, wife, and children accompanied him. It stands to reason therefore, that he sacrificed purely for Islam.”

Sir William Muir (Scottish orientalist): “The tragedy of Karbala decided not only the fate of the Caliphate, but also of Mohammadan kingdoms long after the Caliphate had waned and disappeared.” (Annals of the Early Caliphate, London, 1883, p.441-442)

Dr. K. Sheldrake: “Of that gallant band, male and female knew that the enemy forces around were implacable, and were not only ready to fight, but to kill. Denied even water for the children, they remained parched under the burning sun and scorching sands, yet not one faltered for a moment. Husain marched with his little company, not to glory, not to power of wealth, but to a supreme sacrifice, and every member bravely faced the greatest odds without flinching.”

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