Political Goals Of Imam Husayn (‘a) 'S Uprising

The two Imams, Hasan and Husayn (‘a) had resolved to proclaim their revolt against Umayyad rule when conditions become favourable. They had disclosed this to their partisans (Shi'ah) more than once. The plan of the two Imams Hasan and Husayn (‘a) on this issue, i.e. their position vis-à-vis the Umayyads, was the same. After the treaty of Imam Hasan (‘a) some groups of the Shi'ah of Iraq wrote to Imam Husayn (‘a) requesting him to proclaim an uprising and revolt against Mu'awiya. They rejected Imam Hasan's (‘a) stand of accepting a settlement. In reply, Husayn (‘a) wrote: "Abu Muhammad [Hasan] has said the truth. Let every man among you keep to his house as long as this man (Mu'awiya) is alive."1

God Most High willed that Mu'awiya's treachery against the Imam be executed. So he was martyred before the death of Mu'awiya and Husayn (‘a) took the office of leadership (imamah) and assumed the responsibility of leading the opposition and the movement for change. The stand of Husayn (‘a) was a continuation of that of his brother concerning Mu'awiya after the death of al-Mujtaba, Imam al-Hasan (‘a). The people of Iraq wrote to him again, reiterating their demand that he should lead them to revolt against Mu'awiya but Imam Husayn (‘a) again did not respond to their request. He wrote:

"As for my brother, I hope that God made him succeed and guided him to the right with respect to what was coming. I, myself don't have this view [of revolting against Mu'awaya] today. So do not stir. May God have mercy on you! Keep to your houses and guard against suspicion as long as Mu'awiya is alive."2

However, an underground political movement was in progress in Hijaz. Imam Husayn (‘a) was directing it to awaken the Muslims against Umayyad rule, in preparation for an all-out revolt after Mu'awiya’s death. The Imam (‘a) was in touch with some Muslim dignitaries in Iraq and Hijaz who used to visit him and take his advice. Despite the fact that these meetings were largely held in secret, they were not hidden from the Umayyad spies. Therefore Marwan, Mu'awiya's governor of Medina, wrote to him, saying:

"Umar ibn Uthman reports that an Iraqi man and some notables of the people of Hijaz are visiting Husayn ibn Ali and that we cannot be sure that he will not revolt. I investigated the matter and found out that he wants a conflict even today. Please write and send me your view."3

Mu'awiya wrote to Marwan and ordered him to avoid confronting Husayn (‘a) as much as possible. In any case, Husayn (‘a) had decided to revolt against Umayyad rule after Mu'awiya died, and he had prepared his Shi'ah for that.

We do not doubt the fact that the Imam did not intend, by his uprising against Yazid ibn Mu'awiya, to overthrow the Umayyad regime militarily and come to power. He did not have supporters in Hijaz who could be counted upon in his movement, except in Iraq. Egypt and the Hijaz were too far away for its people to be well acquainted with the circumstances of the revolution (to be of any help), and Syria was the strong support base of Yazid ibn Mu'awiya’s rule and power.

The Iraqis, apart from his Shi'ah, were not inclined towards the Imam and he knew very well that it was impossible to depend on the Iraqi masses because they would side with the victorious party. So it was best for him and his uprising if they did not join him then, for they would break away from his army as they broke away from that of his brother Hasan (‘a) before. They would only unnerve his companions and partisans and no one would be steadfast except those who were steadfast before in his brother's army, and they were only a few and could not face the Syrian army.

What al-Farazdaq prophesied when he met the Imam in Al-Shaquq,4 had indeed come true. He came up to the Imam and kissed his hand. The Imam asked him "How did you leave the people of Kufa?" He said: 'I left the people [in such a condition that]: their hearts are with you and their swords with the Umayyads." Then Husayn (‘a) said to him: "You have told the truth and done your duty. The affair is God's, He does what He wills."5

The experience of Imam Hasan (‘a) was not forgotten by Husayn (‘a) nor was he abler than his brother in mobilizing a military force to strike at Umayyad power and overthrow the regime. The circumstances of Imam Husayn (‘a) were even more difficult than those of Imam Hasan (‘a). The power of the Umayyads had been consolidated and its influence had become extensive. By his well-known cunning Mu'awiya had strengthened the Umayyad power base and extended its influence by buying off the conscience of the people and unleashing fear and terror among the forces of opposition. He controlled the majority through terror and enticements, and they were now ever inclined towards the victorious party, the one that proved its strength on the field.

So no new event had happened on the political and military scene since the time of Imam Hasan (‘a) except two things:

1: Consolidation of Umayyad power base and extension of their influence in the land.

2: Spread of corruption in the Umayyad system that reached outright licentiousness and debasement during the lifetime of Yazid and his rule.

The first issue was not considered for any military mobilization by the Imam to overthrow the system, what with the experience of Imam Hasan (‘a) which was still fresh in the minds of his Shi'ah. The Iraqi forces of the day were unable to resist the power of the Umayyads after the demise of the Commander of the Faithful, Ali (‘a). What could be expected now that Umayyad rule had been consolidated and they were the unchallenged power with a formidable army?

As for the second issue, even if it was beneficial to arouse a small conscious opposition group among the Shi'ah, there was certainly no use in instigating the majority who had got used to, submitted to and even supported corruption. Therefore, the only devoted people who could be at the disposal of the Imam, by way of a military force, were those who were devoted to his brother, Hasan (‘a), i.e. the steadfast ones among his partisans. So it was certainly unthinkable for the Imam to be foolhardy and lead this small force to bring down the mighty Umayyad rule, after the efforts of his brother had failed, under more favourable conditions and with a stronger military force than the army he expected the Iraqis to prepare for him after the death of Mu'awiya.

This is not our personal interpretation of the circumstances which accompanied Husayn's (‘a) setting out to Iraq and his uprising; we find the same reading of issues from all the people who advised the Imam to abandon the journey to Iraq; those who could not bear to see him facing the same experience there as his brother Imam Hasan (‘a) did. These men included Abdullah ibn Abbas, Abdullah ibn Ja'far ibn Abi Talib and others. We also find this reading of events strongly and repeatedly in the words of Imam Husayn (‘a) before he set out for Iraq and after.

The Imam Tells About His Death In Iraq

Here we shall mention only two examples from the Imam's speech, which strongly allude to the fact that he was venturing into martyrdom and sacrifice rather than thinking of military action to bring down the regime by force.

The first was in Hijaz before leaving Mecca for Iraq and the second in Karbala.

The first speech is reported by Ibn Tawus in Al-Luhuf, where he (may God sanctify his soul) says: It has been reported that when he [the Imam] (‘a) resolved on setting out to Iraq he stood up and addressed the people saying:

"Praise be to God. Whatever God wills [is going to happen], there is no power except God. May God's blessings be on His Apostle. Death has been destined for the children of Adam the way a necklace is destined [to hang from] a girl's neck. My yearning for my forefathers is like Jacob’s yearning for Joseph. A [form of] death has been chosen for me and I will meet it. It is as if I am watching my joints being cut up by desert foxes between Al-Nawawis and Karbala. Then, surely, empty stomachs and starved bellies will be filled with my remains.6

There is no escape from a day that has been inscribed with the pen [of destiny]. God's pleasure is our pleasure, we who are the Ahl al-Bayt. We shall persevere in His trial and He will give us in full the rewards of the patient ones. The piece of flesh of God's Messenger (S) will never be separated from him; it will be gathered for him in paradise, and by this he will be delighted, and with them [those who are his flesh], what he has been promised will be fulfilled. Therefore, he who is prepared to lay down his life for our sake and has made up his mind to meet God should set out with us for I am setting out in the morning, by the will of God."7

We need not comment on this speech because it is quite clear that the Imam (‘a) was preparing his companions for a fierce battle that would essentially expect sacrifice, blood and martyrdom. He was not hoping for any quick victory out of it. In this speech of the Imam there is no hint of military objective as is known in military actions; he is only preparing his companions for a bloody and tragic sacrifice. He asks those who want to accompany him to prepare themselves for meeting God and for laying down their lives for His sake.

The second one was the speech Husayn (‘a) gave at Dhu Husam, one of the stations toward Iraq. He said:

"Do you not see that truth is not applied and falsehood is not prohibited? [So] let the believers desire to meet God while one is in the right, for I do not consider death but a bliss and living together with oppressors a disgusting thing."8

This reading is not only indicated by these words and speeches that have been successively transmitted by writers of biographies such as al-Tabari, Ibn al-A'th'am, Sayyid Ibn Tawus and al-Mufid, every event in Husayn's journey to Iraq shows that the Imam was not preparing for a military activity for overthrowing Umayyad rule. Therefore, the Imam was not thinking, and he could not have thought of military action, rather he was with full awareness, venturing into an unparalleled act of tragic sacrifice in which he would surrender himself, his family and his companions. The purpose of this was to jolt the sleeping conscience of the nation, and imbue it with action and the spirit of courage and sacrifice.

Perhaps the discussion the Imam had with his brother Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah, (may God be pleased with him) when he intended to leave Mecca for Iraq, also hints at that objective. Sayid Ibn Tawus relates in Al-Luhuf that:

"When Muhammad ibn al-Hanafiyyah learnt about Husayn's (‘a) plan to leave Mecca he came to him and held the halter of his dromedary Husayn and said: 'Brother, did you not promise me to consider what I suggested to you?' He had suggested to the Imam to move to Yemen and abandon going to Iraq.

He replied: 'Yes'. Then Ibn al-Hanafyyah said: 'So what prompts you to leave in haste?' 'After I left you', replied the Imam, 'the Messenger of God (S) came to me (in a dream) and said: 'O, Husayn! Go out, for God wills to see you killed.'

Ibn al-Hanafiyyah then said to him: “We are from God and to Him we are returning! Then what is the meaning of carrying these women with you?' 'God wills to see them captives', he replied. Then Ibn al-Hanafiyyah bade him farewell and went away.9

Where Military Campaigns Fail, Armed Struggle Succeeds

The result we can derive from our quick analysis above is this: Imam Husayn (‘a) had decided to undertake an armed struggle against the status quo, an action which would be followed by a bloody sacrifice, and he was not thinking of confronting Umayyad power with any military action at all.

These are two forms of uprising, each of which fulfils a specific objective, and mixing the two leads to a great historical mistake that causes confusion in our understanding of the uprising of Husayn, its objectives and results.

Let us see what aims and objectives the Imam intended to achieve by this armed struggle and tragic sacrifice that he ventured into with full knowledge and awareness.

1. Freeing The People's Will

Usually tyrants employ two effective weapons against the people when they revolt against injustice: The weapons of terror and corruption. The characteristic feature of these two methods is that they strip the nation of awareness and the will and ability to act.

The first requirements of any action are awareness and will. When one loses awareness and the power of will, he loses all capacity to act and submits to the status quo. Then the despot and his courtiers dominate the will, consciousness and fate of the people, not even leaving their taste, morals and customs free. The very personality of the people is completely distorted as the despot now controls every aspect of their lives, while they get nothing from the tyrant except orders to be obedient and submissive.

It is this fact that the Qur'an alludes to with regard to the way Pharaoh treated his people and the way they regarded him:

"So he despised his people and they obeyed him. Indeed they were a transgressing lot." (43:54).

Pharaoh was able to treat his people with contempt, and to dispossess them of their consciousness, will and values by unleashing terror and spreading corruption. In this way he was able to transform their personality completely, uprooting from their souls the power of thinking and awareness, not to talk of will, struggle and refusal. This is how Pharaoh gained their obedience and total submission. This method is preferred by the leaders of deviation for gaining the obedience and loyalty of the people, a loyalty that is usually established over their shattered personality.

Henceforth the rulers from among the leaders of deviation live undisturbed by the people with nothing to decamp them from their side, while the people turn into a herd of cowed sycophants whose consciousness and will changes into subordination to the rulers. So they will love what the rulers love and will what they will.

Thus, the process of transformation and distortion of the nation's personality becomes complete, with the result that two classes are formed in the community:

(i) Class of the arrogant: This includes the despotic rulers, their cohorts and the ‘nobility’ who benefit from them; the haughty, who lord it over the people. They place themselves in place of God, in the position of authority over man's life, consider themselves master over the people and corrupt the earth. They are the Rebels (taghut) 10 who cross the limits of servitude and obedience to God Most High, to assume the position of arrogance and absolute authority in place of God, and spread corruption in the lives of the people.

(ii) The oppressed class: This class is despised by the tyrant and denied its right in the scale of humanity, weakened and dispossessed of their God-given capabilities and faculties. This large group becomes the subjugated class which accepts the status quo, loses all its peculiarities and human values and turns into a compliant tool that does the bidding of the tyrant. The first thing this class loses is its consciousness and will and then every other thing God has given it, such as values and capabilities.

"God has set a seal on their hearts and their hearing, and there is a blindfold on their sight" (2:7).

The tyrant (taghut) dispossesses them of awareness and will by way of terror and corruption. To save them from the grip of the tyrant they have to be given their awareness and will back. This will enable them see things and people with their God-given consciousness and not through what the tyrant loves or hates. This will also enable them decide for themselves rather than allow the oppressor to decide on their behalf.

Husayn (‘a) was facing a bad socio-political reality in which the Umayyads had completely distorted the personality of the nation and stripped it of its values, capabilities, awareness and will. The worst thing with regard to this volte-face was that the capabilities, which Islam had released from the inner selves of those people in order to extirpate oppression and idolatry and support monotheism and justice, had turned into a tool to prop up tyranny and polytheism.

The sword with which the Messenger of God (S) had armed them to fight the enemies of Islam had transformed, in their hands, into an instrument of fighting the Prophet's descendants (‘a) and their allies instead of fighting their enemies. This was the essence of the transmutation in civilization that took place in the life of this nation at the hands of the Umayyads. It was to this reality that Imam Husayn was alluding to in his second speech, which he addressed to the army of Ibn Sa’ad on the day of Ashura.

“You have drawn the sword with which we armed you, against us, and ignited the fire we kindled against our enemy and yours, against us. So you have joined hands with the forces of your enemies against your allies, in spite of being aware that they (your enemies) have not established any justice among you, nor do you expect any good from them.”11

I wonder how this dangerous regression took place in the minds of these people to the extent that their swords with which Islam had armed them in order to fight injustice and idolatry, were now to fight the pure and trustworthy son of the Messenger of God (‘a), in support of the rule of Mu'awiya's sinful inebriate son, about whose licentiousness, sinful habits, wine-drinking and indecency no Muslim had any doubts. I wonder how this serious regression took hold of the lives of these people so much so that their hearts and swords were in disagreement, as al-Farazdaq said to Husayn (‘a). However, the two united in fighting the son of God's Messenger (S) and his family and companions who established prayer, commanded what was good and prohibited what was evil? How did the power of Islam change into a force that supported the enemies of Islam and attacked its propogators. All this happened because the belligerent stand towards Islam and the Islamic community of those who were fighting Islam only recently persisted.

They still harboured the spirit of the days of Ignorance, upheld its customs and moral outlook and terrorized and corrupted the people. Before the advent of Islam, this isolated place was little known to other nations and it was stagnant with hardly any enterprise, resolve or power of resistance. Then the Messenger of God (S), awakened the strength, resolve and the power of initiative and action that was dormant in the minds of these people. Islam was able to bring forth their latent potential of action and revolution. This once ignorant people produced the greatest movement of human civilization known in history. It burnt off the thrones of tyrants and despots. However, this nation soon reversed its steps, and this power, enthusiasm and initiative made a volte-face and started to annihilate the propagators and allies of this religion. This negative action was taken by the opulent and arrogant class, which, not long ago, was waging war against the religion and actually carrying within it, its ideas, customs and behavior, residues of the Days of Ignorance!

We do not know of any tragedy befalling nations that is more painful and abominable than turning against oneself; to the extent that one prefers what harms him to that which benefits him; prefers corruption over honesty, fights his allies and defends his enemies. The Muslims fell into such a tragedy at that time, and we hear the Imam expressing his deep pain in these words: "Woe to you! Do you help these people and forsake us?"

Undoubtedly, the nation had been subjected to a civilizational apostasy of the type the Most High points out here:

"If he [the Apostle] dies or is slain, will you turn back on your heels?"(3:144).

It is our duty to ponder over what happened. Whenever loyalty and repudiation exchange places in the life of people the nation faces civilizational apostasy in its history. When the nation slips into this apostasy it suffers self-alienation and the principles it subscribes to are altered into something different. This is because the nation's identity depends on its loyalty and repudiation and when loyalty exchanges position with repudiation, a nation faces regression. This situation was what the Imam hinted at when he addressed the army of the family of Abu Sufyan on the day of Ashura: "And you joined hands with your enemies against your allies"

It is a situation whereby one is estranged and hostile to oneself, for when one loves his enemies and supports them against his own allies, he is really supporting them against himself, and it is impossible for one to do that unless he becomes estranged to himself and forgets himself. The way the Qur'an expresses this situation is very precise:

"And do not be like those who forget God, so He makes them forget their own souls."(59:19).

If one forgets God, He will make him forget himself and he who estranges himself from God will have his own soul estranged from him. In this condition of decline and fall man surely loses his soul and the worst form of loss is for one to lose his own soul.

When that happens one is dispossessed of his capital entirely so nothing remains thereafter for which any good might be hoped. God Most High says:

"As for those whose deeds weigh light in the scales, it is they who have ruined their soul, because they used to wrong Our signs.”(7:9).

The Most High also says:

"Say, 'Indeed the losers are those who ruin themselves and their families on the Day of Resurrection.” (39:15).

Losing one's soul differs from any other loss because profit and loss is the increase or decrease in what one possesses of the original ‘capital’. Any material or spiritual gain that is earned is counted as ‘profit’, and when any material or spiritual gifts that are bestowed by God are lost a ‘loss’ entry is made. In both cases a person keeps his soul, which is the axis around which profits and loss revolve. When one loses this axis he will have lost his soul and not only his material or spiritual acquisitions. The fall of this pivot constitutes the greatest loss, which is unlike any other. The Qur'anic expression "they have lost [or ruined] themselves”12 which appears in several verses points to this kind of loss. Another expression employed in the Qur'an to describe those people who lose their souls in the life of this world is 'injustice to oneself'. The Most High says:

"And they did not wrong Us, but they used to wrong [only] themselves.”(2:57).

The people whom God punishes because of their injustice, are not wronged by Him but they used to wrong themselves:

"... and We did not wrong them, but they used to wrong themselves.”(16:118).

And finally, good and evil ends with one’s soul: he who accepts guidance does so for himself, and he who is misguided, does so against himself.

"Whoever is guided, is guided only for [the good of] his own soul, and whoever goes astray, goes astray only to its detriment” (10:108).

That is, this deviation and transgression only affects them; these people are going astray at their own peril, their efforts and actions come to naught, and they earn for themselves nothing but deviation and ruin. It is indeed a great ruin that one should lose himself and waste all his efforts like

"Those whose endeavours go awry in the life of the world.”(47:8).

When man gets estranged from himself, and wrongs his own soul and becomes hostile to it, he inevitably loses it. And when this happens his endeavours go awry and come to naught.

Imam Husayn (‘a) was alluding to this loss when he addressed al-Hurr's companions at the station of Al-Baydah. He said: "I am Husayn ibn Ali and my mother is Fatima the daughter of the Messenger of God. My life is with your lives, and my family is with your families. You have a model in me .... If you do not act [in the way expected of you] and you go back on your word and revoke your allegiance to me; then you have missed your good fortune and wasted your share. ‘So whoever breaks his oath breaks it only to his own detriment13 and God will make me needless of you.’14

Through this transformation whose stages the Qur'an describes, man does injustice to himself, estranges and loses himself and turns into something entirely different from his former self. He moves with the people neither with his own volition nor with awareness; he only does the bidding of someone else. He acts according to the will of the tyrant who subjugates him and causes him to move not in the direction of what is beneficial to him but in the direction of what serves his enemy. Such are the people whose hearts become inverted and are sealed by God. God Most High presented the truth when He said:

"We transform their hearts” (6:115).


"God has set a seal on their hearts” (2:7).

No will power, nor any awareness, understanding or light by which they may move among the people will ever return to them, unless God wills so. Undoubtedly, a terrible change had occurred in the minds of these people resulting in a dangerous inversion with few parallels in history. It reached an extent whereby thirty thousand or more men left Kufa, the headquarters of the Commander of the Faithful (‘a) to fight the lord of the youth of paradise, the [grand]son of God's Messenger (‘a) and son of the Commander of the Faithful (‘a), but only seventy-odd men came out with Husayn (‘a) to confront Yazid ibn Mu’awiyah.

The only explanation for this inversion and volte-face that is observed in the collective personality of the nation – or at least a large cross section of it – lies in the extensive efforts put by the Umayyads in terrorizing and corrupting the people, in order to impose their control over the Muslims. Their Islamic identity was distorted to such an extent that even their consciences, perceptions and will power were controlled by the Umayyads. They pleased them and served their purposes.

Therefore, there was the need to jolt the conscience of the nation back into its consciousness, will and values. It needed to feel the depth of the catastrophe which befell it and feel repentant. If this jolt would not help anything with regard to the affected generation, it was considered a necessary step for saving the next generation, lest it become affected by this civilizational regress.

The armed struggle which the Imam (‘a) led and his tragic sacrifice created the necessary effect on the nation's conscience. It served as the clarion call that the political and social climate was waiting for. The martyrdom of Husayn (‘a) along with his family and companions, in its pathetic way jolted the Muslims' conscience, made them feel repentant and enabled them retrieve their consciousness and will, so that they could repent and atone for forsaking the son of the daughter of God's Messenger (S).

On that day they felt that terrible nightmare weighing on their hearts and minds. Imam Husayn's sacrifice had violently shaken the Muslims' conscience and led them to feel the enormity of the crime that had been perpetrated and the depth of apostasy and inversion that had plagued their minds and lives. This calamitous event became the launching pad of many revolts and a great source of inspiration for political movements in Islamic history. This was the revolutionary purpose of the uprising of Imam al-Husayn (‘a).

2. Stripping The Ruling System Of Legitimacy

Despite the enormity of what the Muslims lost and the deviation and regression that was their lot during the period of Umayyad rule, there was still a greater danger which would affect Islam directly, and not only the Muslims. It was possible for that perversion to be applied to Islam itself so that it would be exposed to the corruption that the Muslims became exposed to.

This was probable because the perversion was issuing from the position of the Islamic Caliphate, an office that enjoyed considerable legitimacy and sanctity in Muslim minds. The Umayyads used to rely very much, for their political and social position, on the issue of legitimacy. One way or the other, they were giving the impression that the office of caliphate was more powerful than that of the Messenger (S).

One of them said: “The caliph is superior to the Apostle.” 15 They considered this position as the shortest and easiest way by which to fulfill their aspirations and this is why Mu'awiyah often tried to consolidate this legitimacy for himself, and his son Yazid and those who would come after him. This position of legitimacy which the Umayyads coveted was the greatest danger their dynasty caused Islam, because deviationary tendencies started from the palaces of the caliphs and reached the general public in the garb of legality. In those palaces there were religious scholars of the court who justified this deviation and gave it a touch of legality and, as a result, it apparently reflected and became applicable to Islam. In this way, Islam lost its originality and purity on the widest plane, i.e., among the general public.

In his movement, the Imam (‘a) was intent on tearing away that garb under which the Umayyad rulers took cover. He tried to strip their rule of the legitimacy and sanctity which they strove to keep at all costs. In this way the Imam sought to prevent the Umayyad rulers from corrupting Islam. He used to state this position clearly.

He announced his view about Yazid and his ineligibility for the office of the caliphate, and discredited him whenever he got the chance. The Imam openly declared this view of his concerning Yazid when al-Walid ibn Utbah summoned him to give his pledge of allegiance in the presence of Marwan. After a long speech and with the intention of making known to Marwan his view on Yazid and his stand concerning the allegiance, the Imam said:

“O Governor! We are the people of the House of Prophethood, the source of the message, the place which angels frequented and the descending place of mercy. Through us, God started [His religion] and through us will He seal [it]. Yazid is a sinner, who drinks wine, kills people unlawfully and commits sin openly, so my type cannot pledge allegiance to his type.”16

Indeed the Imam’s uprising against Yazid, his war with the army of Ibn Ziyad after refusing to pledge allegiance to Yazid and his calamitous martyrdom along with his family and companions at the hands of the army of the caliphate struck a final blow to the legitimacy of that rule. Imam Husayn’s martyrdom in this tragic way in Karbala aroused the feelings of all Muslims; the generation of the killers and the generations that followed. They felt the enormity and repugnance of the crime right inside their consciences and they became resentful of Yazid and the other Umayyad caliphs who succeeded him. The standing of the caliphate with respect to the law fell in the eyes of the people and it no longer had that position of legitimacy and sanctity in the minds of the Muslims.

It cannot be doubted that this crime which was perpetrated in Iraq by the apparatus of Umayyad rule left a deep mark on the collective Muslim conscience, if not in that generation but surely in the one that immediately followed. This heinous deed brought down the position of Umayyad rule, which was henceforth viewed as any other secular regime whose reigns are held by the mightiest, not the righteous. People’s relationship with the new leadership was no longer a purely religious relationship that stemmed from the people’s belief in the legitimacy of the leadership. As a result, the perversions that took place through Umayyad state apparatus did not exert a pronounced corrupting effect on Islam any longer. To a large extent, the religion became immune to the distortions the rulers introduced, and from that date, the Muslims took, as religious authority, another class, different from the ruling class, which the people referred to for their worldly affairs, as necessity dictated.

From that date a line of thought, apart from that of the rulers, began to emerge in Muslim society. This was the line of the scholars and jurists in whom the people put their trust. And the more the scholars and jurists distanced themselves from the kings and rulers, the stronger was the people’s confidence in them.

A perusal of Islamic history will reveal a stark disparity between the respect the caliphate commanded before the Battle of the Bank [the battle that Imam Husayn fought took near the Euphrates] and after it. The essential feature of this disparity is that the caliphate after the battle of Karbala lost its legitimacy and the garb of religion it once wore.

To sum up, Imam Husayn’s uprising was a revolt against Yazid in the form of an armed struggle that was followed by a tragic and pathetic sacrifice unparalleled in Islam’s history, and not a military campaign that was aimed at overthrowing the system. To understand the uprising of Imam Husayn (‘a) it is essential to be aware of this fact. He never thought that Iraq could confront Syria, nor did he expect loyalty from the Iraqis, or expect them to struggle against Umayyad terror and enticement.

At the best of times, none among the Iraqis would have been faithful to the Imam except a small band of his Shi’ah with whom he confronted Yazid. As such, the Imam (‘a) knew this fact and understood it very well. Therefore, the Imam was not seeking a military conquest when he rose up but an effective jolt to the conscience of the misled Muslims to vigourously stir their minds and sentiments through the tragedy he would meet at the hands of the Umayyad army in Karbala.

The purpose of the Imam’s bloody and pathetic sacrifice was to arouse the Muslims against the power of the Umayyads and to discredit and strip them of the well-guarded legitimacy of the Umayyad machinery of government as a whole. It was also to cause their political and social isolation within the Islamic world especially in the provinces of Hijaz and Iraq which were considered the heart of the Muslim world at that time. The Imam’s success in achieving all these goals was undoubtedly resounding.

This is the victory which Imam Zayn al-Abidin (‘a) hinted at in his answer to a questioner in Syria who was overwhelmed by the horror of Husayn’s death in Karbala. The man said: ‘Who is victorious, O, Ali ibn al-Husayn?’ ‘When it is time for prayer and the mu’ezzin (caller to prayer) makes the call you will know who is victorious?’ he replied. This is the political outcome of Imam Husayn’s uprising. From these two results of Imam Husayn’s revolt we can comprehend the great historical role played by the Imam’s uprising in Islamic history.

  • 1. Al-Daynuri's Al-Akbar al-Tiwal pg. 221.
  • 2. Ibid pg. 222.
  • 3. Ibid, pg. 224.
  • 4. A station on the way to Mecca after Waqisah as one comes from Kufa. See Mu'jam al-Buldan, 5/283.
  • 5. Ibn al-Atham's Al-Futuh 5/124; Al-Khwarizmi's Maqtal 1/222.
  • 6. In this metaphor, the Imam might have had in mind his enemies at Kabala –Translator.
  • 7. Al-Luhuf pg. 53 (Isfahan edition: 1366. A.H. Iranian Calender); Muhaddith al-Qummi's Nafas al-Mahmum pg. 163 (Qum, Basirati pub. 1405 A.H.) and pg. 70 (Sidon: Al-Irfan publications 1331 A.H.)
  • 8. Tarikh al-Tabari 7/301 (European edition).
  • 9. Sayyid Ibn Tawus, Al-Luhuf pg. 55 (Isfahan edition); Nafas al-Mahmum pg. 164 – 165 (Qum, 1405 A.H.). The last part which talks about the women is reported by al-Mas'udi in Ithbat al-Wasiyyah pg. 141 (Najaf, Al-Haydariyyah press).
  • 10. In Al-Mufradat, al-Raghib says that taghut denotes the rebels and those who are worshipped instead of God. Pg. 304 – 305.
  • 11. Sayyid Ibn Tawus’s Al-Luhuf fi Qatla al-Tufuf pg. 58.
  • 12. Refer to Qur'an, 6:12; 7:9; 11:21; 23:103; 39:15 etc.
  • 13. The Imam hints at the God Most High's norm of effacement.
  • 14. This passage alludes to the divine norm of Substitution that comes after Effacement. Tarikh al-Tabari 6/ 229.
  • 15. It was the tyrant al-Hajjaj ibn Yusuf al-Thaqafi who said it while comparing the caliphate of Abdulmalik and the apostleship of the Messenger of God, may God bless him and his family. See Ibn Abi al-Hadid's Sharh Nahj al-Balaghah 9/238.
  • 16. Al-Luhuf fi Qatla al-Tufuf pg. 17-18; Al-Khwarizmi’s Maqtal al-Husayn (‘a) 1/184; Bihar al-Anwar 44/325.