Losing the battle, winning the war – what is the definition of victory?
Aliasgher Janmohammed (Cape Town, South Africa) is a Product Owner professionally who volunteers at the local mosque in an effort to increase youth engagement and leadership.
Every year, on the first 12 nights of Muharram, we commemorate the death of our beloved Imam, Sayyidush Shuhada, Imam Hussain, his family and his companions. It is a story that is told to us every year but one that continues to tug at our heart strings. You will not find one shia who is not heartbroken on the day of Ashura hearing about this tragedy.
But it is also one that can bring a lot of confusion to the outside world. In the materialistic world, the definition of victory is simple. The one who wins is celebrated and the one who loses is forever forgotten. Who remembers who lost the last World Cup? Who remembers the person who did not get the job of the Presidency? Hardly anyone.
Karbala is different though, it is one where Imam Hussain lost the battle but his story is the one that touches our heart. His story is the one that we want to listen to and cry for. And none of us are even vaguely interested in the winner of the battle – Yazid.
So why is that? Did Imam Hussain change the definition of victory? Was the view of success defeating the other army like Yazid saw it? Clearly not because Muharram would not be about Imam Hussain and his companions then. Imam Hussain changed the definition of success for us who live in this world and that brothers and sisters is one the biggest lessons that we can take from Kerbala.
On the first level, Imam Hussain won because he sacrificed himself, his loved ones in the name of Allah and his religion by refusing to pledge allegiance to Yazid. He suffered seeing everyone around him dying at the hands of the enemy. He saw his youngest son, a 6 month old baby die in his hands while asking the other army to see what was right before them. To choose good above evil. They did not see that though and ultimately that was their failure, in this world and the hereafter.
On the second level, Imam was victorious in showing that when in doubt or uncertain, remember that Allah has a plan for you. That Allah loves you and belief in him is enough to help you through difficult times. My wife and I know someone whose father passed away due to COVID last year. Today, his mother is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer and he was telling us recently that he does not know how people who do not believe in God go through these difficult times. He said he was doing okay because he knew that Allah knows best and the suffering his parents had in this world was InshaAllah a way for him to reduce their suffering in the hereafter. That is what Imam showed us as well; believing in Allah will help you through any obstacle.
Lastly, Imam won because he showed us how our relationship should be with this world and with every person that we encounter. Do you want to know how to behave with someone you disagree with? Ask Hussain. Do you want to know how to treat your child? Ask Hussain. Do you want to know how to speak to your siblings? Ask Hussain. In fact, in the account of the tragic journey and martyrdom of Imam Hussain, there are lessons in all the moral virtues. Perhaps the one that strikes most of us most forcefully, is our own inadequacy in comparison with the enormous sacrifice Imam Hussain made on behalf of mankind.
Who would know the name Yazid today except for the fact that he was responsible for the martyrdom of Imam Hussain? Otherwise he would just be another of the thousands of tyrants and bullies that have abused their authority, another footnote in the history of man. However, because his tyranny and wickedness was responsible for the good, the noble, the pure Imam’s death, Yazid, by killing the Imam has become the human model of injustice and wickedness.
In the real sense of cosmic history, the martyrdom of Imam Hussain is a mighty triumph, a wondrous victory. It is one that we should look to when we feel that we have lost. When we are trying to define success, we should ask ourselves, is this act benefiting us in the world alone or is it also helping us in the hereafter.
I remember learning about something when I was young that resonates with me till today. My Islamic lecturer at that time told us, we are all representatives of Islam from the minute we wake up to the minute we go to sleep. Non Muslims will never interact with Islam unless they see a Muslim and see their behaviour and their day to day interactions. And what better way to be a true representation of Islam then learning from Imam about what it means to be one.