Adapted from her speech at Dar es Salaam, Tanzania in 2001
We cannot discuss the martyrdom of Imam Husain (AS) without also discussing his objectives behind the martyrdom. He had two clear objectives. And he succeeded in both. We often discuss only one of his objectives, and seem to be giving a lesser emphasis on the other objective, which was equally important in his mission. Imam Hussain (AS) had two objectives when he decided to sacrifice his life and offer those of his kith and kin also in the sacrifice. And those two objectives were in response to the two situations which Mu’ awiya had created and which Yazid had found simmering when he succeeded to power on his father’s death.
Firstly, what were these two situations created by Mu’awiya for political reasons?
The first situation that Mu’awiya created was to start being cruel to the people who spoke out their mind or who showed any sign of opposition to his despotic rule and tyranny. He appointed governors who were more loyal to him than to Islam and who by trait were cruel. They too had the instruction to rule in such a way that people should be afraid to reveal their thoughts and opinions even to the members of their own family. So, the idea was to make the people become fearful and intimidated even though they were committed Muslims. The poor and the pious were the ones who suffered most.
During this time, tribalism was promoted for political reasons. One tribe was set against another in order to weaken the unity o f the Ummah and eliminate any threat to Mu’awiya’s rule. So Mu’awiya’ s rule was characterized by tyranny, despotism, treachery, plotting and persecution so that no one would dare to oppose or question it. In short, let us just say that his rule in the post of Khilaafat was characterized by a deliberate open oppression of the people as a political design for survival of his dynasty.
The second situation, which Muawiya created, was to ridicule the mission of the Prophet (SAW) and to show less respect for Islam because only a good Muslim fearing Allah (SWT) would stand out to oppose his rule. His aim was to distance the people from being faithful and devout Muslims. Now, what was the reason for Mu’awiya to create two such oppressive situations before he died? The sole and entire reason was to make it possible for Yazid to succeed him as Khalifa without opposition from the Muslims because Yazid was of very low character and extremely evil. Let alone as a Muslim, he lacked dignity even as a human being. So when Moawiya died and Yazid came to power, these two situations made Yazid bold to extract Bai’at (allegiance) for his succession. But Yazid was more concerned about Bai’at from Imam Hussain (AS) because he was the surviving grandson of the Prophet (SAW) and highly respected by the people.. Yazid wanted Bai’at from the Imam (AS) so that no one would then dare to oppose his succession.
Imam Hussain (AS) found that if he were to give Bai’at as a grandson of the Holy Prophet (SAW), the two situations created by Mu’awiya of oppressive rule and undermining Islam would grow worse. The threat to Islam would be even worse and the Umma would be cowed into accepting any subversion Yazid may want to make in the principles of Islam. Now, what I am going to say is important to remember, – and it is from the books of history. Imam Husain (AS) thought to himself that if his Bai’at was so important to Yazid for the reason that he was the surviving grandson of the Holy Prophet then, surely, he, and only he, as a grandson of the Holy Prophet could do something that will ‘shock’ the Muslim people to the core and reverse the very two situations which had helped Yazid to succeed his father.
Isn’t it shocking if the followers of a Prophet kill their own Prophet? It is! But then you would say that Imam Husain (AS) was not a Prophet. He was the surviving grandson of the Prophet but hasn’t the Prophet himself said “Husainu Minnee wa ana minal Husain” “Husain is from me and I am from Husain” The people knew how bad Yazid was but they never expected him to be so cruel as to openly want to kill the grandson of the Prophet (SAW) who was very close to the Prophet. But Imam Husain (AS) knew that Yazid was capable of this. And so he decided to challenge Yazid with a weapon that was most effective in these situations and that was the weapon of martyrdom, but this martyrdom must be attendant with such savagery to him and his small band of companions as to shock the Ummah to ensure its success.
So, Imam Husain (AS) and his companions courted martyrdom with all that cruelty, savagery and massacre which went to serve the exact objectives of Imam Husain (AS), Yazid became perished, and with that, the situations created by Mu’awiya against the Muslims crumbled. It is for this reason that Edward Gibbon, an English historian writes in his book on “the Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire” that Imam Husain (AS) and his companions were so savagely butchered that “its account would move the hearts of even the most coldest of readers”
The Imam successfully escaped the risk of a covert assassination in Mecca and made it known to the people who were heading towards Mecca from all regions for the annual Hajj pilgrimage that he and his small caravan were “escaping” from Mecca. An assassination would have deprived him of the defining moment in the history of Islam in the cause of Islam and for the Muslim Umma of the time.
So, the two objectives were in response to the two situations. From those objectives arose two aspects of the message of Imam Husain (AS). One is for Muslims, to keep defending Islam when there is a threat to it. The second aspect of the message is for mankind: to fight oppression and tyranny. This message is universal.
Did not Yazid lament after the Imam (AS) had been killed, as to why, why did he kill the Imam, but then the Imam had already pulled against him a strategy which was a master-piece in the history of Islam and in the history of mankind and that could have been possible only for a grandson of the Prophet (SAW).
(A speech prepared and read out at a Ladies Husain Day Gathering in Dar es Salaam in 2001 by Fatema Munawer Khalfan, as a Madressa student, now married and resident of Canada.)