Hussain ibn Ali’s story of suffering reminds Muslims to fight injustice

Syed Rizvi

Editor’s Note: “Peace be upon him” (abbreviated “pbuh”) is a salutation for the prophets of Islam. Who receives salutations depends on the school of thought. It is a mandatory practice per the Quran and hadiths. “Ibn” means “son of.”

From Oct. 27 – Nov. 10, the Society for Islamic Awareness hosted events this in memory of Hussain ibn Ali’s revolution against injustice in the tragedy of Karbala, in which the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and his family and close companions were brutally massacred after they stood up against tyranny and oppression. The events are designed to create awareness and solidarity for those who are oppressed. The tragedy of Karbala is religiously commemorated by the Shia sect of Islam, but the message of Karbala is universal and is a historical reference for many activists and intellectuals. 

The following is some history that set the stage for what Mahatma Gandhi described as a lesson in “how to achieve victory while oppressed.” After Ali ibn Talib, the fourth caliph, was murdered, Hassan ibn Ali looked to rightfully succeed him as Caliph. However, Mu’awiya, governor of then-Syria, incited a civil conflict for power, and Hassan, for a myriad of reasons, including a lack of support and concern for Muslim unity, signed a peace agreement with Mu’awiya. Among the clauses in the peace agreement, one of them stated that Mu’awiya was not to appoint a successor, thereby allowing Hassan’s brother, Hussain ibn Ali, to succeed him. Mu’awiya broke this promise and appointed his son, Yazid. According to one historical account, “Like his father Mu’awiya, Yazid used all possible means like bribery, coercion, pressure, threats, and force to receive the people’s acceptance of him as the legitimate ruler.” However, his greatest threat to power was Hussain, who had legitimacy and a following. Unlike Yazid and his like, Hussain’s actions were a reflection of the morality that is attributed to Prophet Muhammad’s legacy; Hussain acted out of his moral and religious convictions not out of vice. 

In 680 AD, Hussain, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh), his family and close companions made a journey to the city of Kufa after he had received 12,000 letters from the Kuffians pleading for him intercede and free them from Yazid and his agents. In these letters, Hussain was promised support, but all the while, Yazid who had caught wind of this, suppressed the uprising through bribery, threats and the like. On the way to Kufa, Hussain and his 71 companions were stopped and sieged in Karbala by a military regiment of, by some accounts, 30,000 men. On Ashura, or the 10th day of Muharram, the first month of the Islamic Calendar, after three days without water under the hot desert sun, Hussain and most of his companions were slaughtered, with just a few of the party surviving. Every age group was represented among Hussain’s companions, including his 6-month-old baby. Hussain had begged for mercy and water for his baby, but he was cruelly denied. This is one story of many, and it is the gruesome atrocities of the event that led Charles Dickens to conclude that “if Hussain had fought to quench his worldly desires … then I don’t understand why his sister, wife, and children accompanied him. It stands to reason therefore, that he sacrificed purely for Islam.” After the massacre, the women of his family and his sickly child Zain Ul-abideen were bound and marched to Syria where they were further humiliated and oppressed. 

The horrors of the tragedy simply cannot be described in a single piece; however, it is important to be aware of this historical event and its relevance to us, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It’s clear that Ghandi and Dickens were inspired, and I believe we, too, can be inspired. Thomas Carlyle, a Scottish historian and essayist, stated that Hussain “…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.” 

There is oppression everywhere. From the University of Texas, to Capitol Hill, to nations abroad, people and the environment are suffering. One of the cited reasons for Hussain’s refusal of allegiance is that Yazid hoarded the treasury and political power for himself and allies. Another example is Yazid’s known womanizing. Hussain fought against economic and moral oppression. These are the very issues we face today, and that is why there is the saying that “every land is Karbala, and every day is Ashura,” implying that every day we must be a voice against oppression and injustice. 

Rizvi is a government senior from Dallas.