An excerpt from Jihad and Shahadat by Dr. Ali Shariati
Sisters and brothers! The shuhada are now dead, and we the dead are alive. The shuhada have conveyed their message and we the deaf are their audience. Those who were bold enough to choose death, when they could no longer live, have left, we the shameless have remained. We have remained for hundreds of years. It is quite appropriate for the whole world to laugh at us because we, the symbols of abjection and humility, are weeping for Husayn and Zaynab, the manifestations of life and honor. This is another injustice of history: that we the despicable should be the mourners of these mighty ones. Today the shuhada delivered their message with their blood and sat opposite us in order to invite the seated ones of history to rise.
In our culture, religion, and history in Shi'is the most valuable jewels that mankind has created, and the most life-giving substances that bestow vitality, pulsation, and movement upon history and teach mankind the most divine lessons, elevating him as high as God, are concealed. The heritage of all these valuable divine treasures has fallen into our hands. We, the abject and humble, we are the heirs of the most beloved trusts, prepared by jihad, shahadat and great human values in the history of Islam. We are the heirs of all this. We have a responsibility to make ourselves a community which can be a model for humanity.
Thus we have made you a mediating community, that you may be shuhada (witnesses, models) over the nations, and the Apostle may be a shahid (witness, model) over you. (2:143).
[This ayah] is addressed to us. We have a responsibility to make from the mighty and beloved heritage of our shuhada, warriors, imams, leaders, faith, and Book - a model community, in order that we might be shahid (martyrs) and shahid (witnesses) for the people of the world, as the Apostle should be the model and shahid for us.
Such a heavy responsibility, that of bestowing vitality and movement to humanity, rests upon our shoulders, yet we are unable to carry out our routine daily life.
God! What wisdom is there in this?
And we drowned in the filthy swamp of our animalistic lives must be the mourners of such men, women, and children, who in Karbala proved forever their shahadat and presence in history before God and in the presence of freedom.
God ! What oppression is this which is again committed against the family of Husayn?
Now the shuhada have completed their task. We declare its end by mourning tonight. Behold that we under the cloak of weeping for and loving Husayn are allied with Yazid, who wished this story to end.
Now the shuhada have completed their task and have left in silence. All of them, one by one, have played their role well: the teacher, the caller, the old, the young, men and women, master and slave, and even a baby. Each of them, as representative, lesson, and model to mankind, old and infant, man and woman ... chose such a beautiful and live-giving death.
They carried out two tasks: from Husayn's baby to his brother, from his slave to himself, from the reciter of the Qur'an to the teacher of the children of Kufah, from the one who called out at the time of prayer to others, both stranger and kin, from the one who was noble and respectable to the one deprived of social honors all stood as brothers, face to face with shahadat men and women, the children, the old and young of history in order to teach mankind how they should live if they are able and how they should die if they are not.
This is the first task.
These shuhada carried out another task as well. With their blood, not with words, in the court of the history of mankind, each as a representative of his social group, they witnessed that all human groups and human values are condemned in the one system ruling over the history of mankind, a system which emloys politics economy, religion, art, philosophy, thought, feeling, ethics, and one word, humanity, as tools for sacrificing men to their own interests, which makes everything support the rule of oppression aggression, and crime. There is one ruler over all history, or oppressor who rules history, and one executioner who martyr Throughout history, many children have been victims of the executioner. Many women have been silenced under the whips of the executioner who rules history. At the price of much blood, endless appetites have been appeased. Many cases of starvation, slavery, and massacres in history have been suffered by women and children, by men, heroes, slaves, and teachers, in all times and in all generations.
And now Husayn has come with all his existence to the court of history, so that he may witness on the banks of the Euphrates. He has come to witness for all the oppressed people of history, for all those condemned by the executioner ruling history, to witness how this merciless executioner, Dahhak, continues to eat the brains of the youth throughout history. He has come to witness with his Ali Akbar. He has come to witness how the heroes have died in the criminal regimes.
He has come to witness with himself. He has come to witness with his sister Zaynab that in the regimes ruling history, women must either choose slavery and thus remain in the harems or choose freedom and thus become shuhada, thereby leading to the caravan of the captives and being heirs to the shuhada.
He has come to bear witness with his nursing child, Ali Asghar that in the regime of oppression, aggression, and crime, the executioner does not show mercy, not even to a nursing baby.
And Husayn, with all his existence, has come to bear witness in the criminal court of history for the benefit of those for whom there has never been a witness and thus have died defenselessly in silence.
Now the court has ended, and the witnessing of Husayn, all his dear ones, and all his existence, the best that anyone other than God is capable of, have completed their great divine mission.
Friends! In Shi'ism - which has presently taken this form we see such that anyone who wishes to speak of genuine, dynamic, and awakening Shi'ism is victimized by his friends before the enemy has access to him-great lessons and messages, abandoned treasures, divine values, mighty capitals, and life-giving souls for the revival of society, nation, and history are hidden.
One of the best life-giving sources in the history of Shi'ism is shahadat.
As Jalal has said, "Since the time that we have forgotten the tradition of shahadat and have become the guardians of the cemeteries of the shuhada, we have submitted to the black death." Since the time that we, instead of being Shi'ites of Ali, Shi'ites of Husayn, and Shi'ites of Zaynab, that is to say, being followers of the shuhada our men and women have become mere mourners for the shuhada we have remained in eternal mourning. How intelligently the message of Husayn and his great, dear, and immortal friends has been metamorphosized-a message addressed to all mankind.
After he sees all his dear ones fallen on the battlefield, and when he has no audience except the vengeful and plundering enemy, Husayn cries, "Is there anyone to stand at my side?" Does he not know that there is no one to stand by his side? This is the question posed to future generations, to each one of us. This question revealed Husayn's expectations of those who love him. It is an invitation addressed to all those who respect and revere the shuhada.
We belittled this invitation, this expectation, and this message by misreading its content. Instead of, "Husayn demands followers in every age and generation," we read, "Husayn demands only tears and weeping. He has no other message. He is dead and demands mourners. He is not a living shahl'd in every time and place in search of followers." Thus we have been told.
For every revolution, there are two visages, the first is "blood"and the second is "message."
Shahid means "present." The ones who personally choose the red death as a symbol of their love for a dying truth-as the only weapon of jihad for the sake of the great values which are being altered-are referred to as shahld. They are alive, present, witnesses, and observers. They are not only so in the sight of God, but also in the sight of the masses in every age and every land.
Those who submit to any humiliation in order to remain alive are the silent. dirty, dead of history. Which ones are alive? Those who choose their own death and with selflessness have come with Husayn to be slaughtered, while hundreds of religious excuses permit them to remain alive, but who do not seek excuses and thus die; or those who left Husayn and thus submitted to abjection and obedience to Yazid -which ones are still alive?
Anyone who considers life as more than just an animate corpse sees and feels with his whole existence the life and presence of Husayn and the death of those who submitted to humiliation in order to remain alive.
In confronting oppression and aggression, the shahid shows, teaches, and argues against those who think, "Inability means exemption from jihad, " and those who say, "Triumph means victory over the enemy." The shahid is the one who, in the age of inability to conquer, triumphs over the enemy by his own death, disgracing him if not defeating him.
A shahid is the heart of history. The heart gives blood and life to the otherwise dead blood-vessels of the body. Like the heart, a shahid sends his own blood into the half-dead body of the dying society. whose children have lost faith in themselves, which is slowly approaching death, which has accepted submission, which has forgotten its responsibility, which is alienated from humanity, and in which there is no life, movement, and creativity. The greatest miracle of shahadat is giving to a generation a renewed faith in itself.
A shahid is ever-present and every-lasting.
Who is absent?
Husayn has taught us another lesson more important than his shahadat. Leaving hajj unfinished and proceeding to shahadat. He leaves half-finished the revival of the pilgrimage for which all his ancestors, his grand-father and father, struggled. From the half-finished hajj, he proceeds to shahadat in order to teach all pilgrims in history, all worshippers in history, and all the believers in the tradition of Abraham that if there is no imamate and leadership, if there is no goal, if there is no Husayn, and if instead there is Yazid, circumambulating the house of God is the same as circumambulating the idol houses. The ones who continue their circumambulation in the absence of Husayn are equal to those who moved around the Green Palace of Muahwiyah. A shahid, who is present in all the battlefields of truth and falsehood, reveals to all humanity: "If you are not in the battlefield of truth and falsehood, it makes no difference where you are. When you are not a witness in the battlefield of truth and falsehood of your time, be anywhere else you wish. Stand for prayer or sit down for wine. Both are the same."
Shahadat means presence in the battlefield of truth and falsehood of the eternity of history.
Those who left Husayn alone, and avoided presence, participation and witnessing, and thus were absent, are all the same. The three are one. Those who deserted Husayn and became Yazid's mercenaries, those who, longing for paradise, crept into the secure solitude of worship, left Husayn alone, escaped the conflict of truth and falsehood, and entertained themselves with prayers, and those who, fearing the ruling force, kept silent are all one.
Where Husayn is present, and he is present in every century and every age, anyone who does not stand beside him, be they believers or non-believers, criminal or virtuousùare all equal. This is the meaning of the Shi'ite principle that the nature of each act depends upon imamate, leadership, and wilayat. Without it everything is meaningless and we see that it is meaningless. And now Husayn has declared his presence in all ages and for all generations, in all wars, struggles, and battlefields of any time and land. He has died in Karbala, so that he may be resurrected in all generations and ages.
You and I must weep over our own misery that we are not present.
Yes, for every revolution, there are two visages: blood and the message. Husayn and his companions undertook the first mission, that of blood. The second mission is to bear the message to the whole world, to be the eloquent tongue of this flowing blood and these resting bodies among the walking dead. The mission of conveying the message begins today. Its responsibility rests on the fine shoulders of Zaynab, a woman from whom mankind is to learn virtue. The mission of Zaynab is more difficult and heavier than that of her brother. Those who have the courage to choose their own death have simply made a great choice. But the responsibility of those who survive is heavy and difficult. Zaynab has survived. The caravan of the captives follows behind her. The ranks of the enemy, as far as the eye can see, are in front of her. The responsibility of conveying her brother's message rests solely upon her shoulders. Leaving behind a red garden of shahadat and the perfume of roses, spreading from her skirts, she enters the city of crime. the capital of power, the center of oppression and execution.
With peace and pride, she victoriously announces to the power and cruelty of the slave-agents and executioners, to the remnants of colonialism and dictatorship: "Thank God for all the generosity and glory which He has bestowed upon our family. The honor of prophethood and the honor of shahadat." Zaynab bears the responsibility of announcing the message of the alive but silent shuhada. She has survived the shuhada and it is she who must be the tongue for those whose tongue has been cut off by the sword of the executioner.
If blood does not have a message, it remains mute in history. If the message of blood does not reach all generations, it is as if the executioner has imprisoned the shahid in the castle of one age and one time. If Zaynab does not convey the message of Karbala to history, Karbala remains as a mere historical event; and thus the ones who need this message will be deprived of it. Thus no one will be able to hear the message of those who spoke to the generations with their blood. It is for this reason that the mission of Zaynab is heavy and difficult. The mission of Zaynab is the conveying of a message to all humanity, to all those who weep for Husayn's death, to all those who bow down faithfully to Husayn, to all those who believe the message of Husayn that, "Life is nothing except belief and jihad." The message of Zaynab is as follows:
Oh, all of you who have a covenant with this family, who believe in the message of Muhammad, think and choose. In every age and generation, in whatever land you may be, you must learn to listen to the message of the shuhada of Karbala who said, 'Those can live well who can die well.'
The message of Husayn to mankind is this:
If you are men of religion, then [live your] religion. If you do not follow a religion, then human freedom has placed a responsibility on your shoulders. As a religious person or a freedom-loving person, be the witness of your time and the shahid of truth and falsehood in your age.
The eyes of the shuhada are upon us. They are conscious, alive, and present. They are the paradigms, the witnesses of truth and falsehood, and the witnesses of the destiny of mankind.
And shahid has all these meanings.
For every revolution, there are two visages: blood and message.
Anyone who has accepted the responsibility of accepting the truth, and anyone who knows the meaning of the responsibility of being Shi'ite, of being a freedom-lover, knows he has to choose in the eternal battle of history, everywhere and in every land. All battlefields are Karbala, all months are Muharram, all days are Ashura? One has to choose either the blood or the message, to be either Husayn or Zaynab, either to die like him or survive like her, if he does not choose to be absent from the battlefield.
I apologize to you. It is too late, and there is no further opportunity. There is much to be said, but how can one sufficiently explain the miracle that Husayn has performed and Zaynab has completed. What I want to say is a long story, but I can summarize it as the mission of Zaynab after the shahadat: those who died committed a Husayn-like act. Those who survive must perform a Zaynab-like act. Otherwise, they are the followers of Yazid.