The writer, Sameer Kermalli (Nairobi, Kenya) is a graphic designer, photographer and has been involved in leadership and community service positions.
This article forms part of the series ‘ A Call to Return’ – an initiative to inform and define the message behind the events of Kerbala, its relevance, and connection to life today, for both Shi’a Muslims and the rest of the global population. It is an effort by the writers to cast an apt perspective to a very commonly misunderstood message
Taking a look at the biographies of some prominent freedom fighters, one notices some similarity between them. Their movements, from the times of Gandhi to Nelson Mandela, each and everyone of them faced trying times, times when their resolve was questioned and their minds clouded with uncertainty about what the outcome of their struggles would be. Reverting to Karbala and the revolution of Husain, the grandson of the final messenger of God, they managed to learn and stand fast on their ground and today become legends in their own rite.
Almost three decades in a prison, with little or no hope for justice, Nelson Mandela did not lose hope and did not waver in his fight against those who wanted to silence him. “I have spent more than 20 years in prison, then one night I decided to surrender by signing all the terms and conditions of the government. But suddenly I thought about Imam Hussain (as) and the Karbala movement and Imam Husain (as) gave me strength to stand for the right of freedom and liberation and I did.” writes Nelson Mandela. Implementation of a lesson is a great achievement indeed.
Edward C. Brown, a professor of Oriental Studies in Cambridge wrote, “A reminder of that blood stained field of Karbala where the grandson of the Apostle of God (Muhammad) fell, at length, tortured by thirst, and surrounded by the bodies of his murdered kinsman, has been at anytime since then, sufficient to avoke even in th most lukewarm and the heedless, the deepest emotion, the most frantic grief, and an exaltation of spirit before which pain, danger and death shrink to unconsidered trifles.” Whenever a calamity befalls a Muslim person, the teaching is that they should remember the tragedy that befell Husain in the plains of Karbala, not to undermine the problem one is faced with, but rather to draw strength to solving the problem, remembering Husain’s words when he said, “What has one attained when he has lost you (the Lord), and what has one lost when the attained you (the Lords pleasure).”
Though in his letter to Shankarlal, Gandhi got a part of the history wrong, to him it was not about the historical accuracy, but rather the lessons that could be drawn from the stories that came from Karbala. Gandhi wrote “Imam Hassan and Husain were merely two boys. They felt that an injustice had been done to them. When called upon to surrender, they refused. They knew at the time that this would mean death for them. If, however, they were to submit to injustice, they would disgrace their manhood and betray their religion. In these circumstances, they yielded to the embrace of death. The heads of these fine young men rolled on the battlefield. In my view, Islam did not attain its greatness by the power of the sword but entirely through the self- immolation of its fakirs. It is soldier-like to allow oneself to be cut down by a sword, not to use the sword on another…”