In the name of God the compassionate, ever merciful
Oppression, being a form of injustice, is generally accepted as the act of using power and or authority to keep others down.
Even though this seems like an abhorrent thing to do, yet there are many human beings which if given the chance they will do just that to other human beings in varying degrees, meaning that they become anything from a mild to a brutal oppressor.
As Imam Ali (AS) had said, “One who comes into power often oppresses“.
From an Islamic perspective, the reasons why one becomes an oppressor is generally satanic in nature, such as being too proud (hence selfish, bigoted or biased), insecure, greedy or ignorant.
Those who forget about or do not know the true path of God are good candidates to be oppressors. The oppressor can be just one person or more, such would be a in a dictatorship state like for example today’s Wahhabi based governments, or it can be a nation or a group of people who oppress others who are different from them, as in a democratic state ruled by non-Moslems.
Usually the ones who live for, or focus on, the life of this world are bound to be either the oppressors or the oppressed.
To confront the unjust we have had great teachers such as our Prophet Mohammad (SAWW) who suppressed those who wanted to oppress early Moslems. After him, it was only the Leader of the Believers Imam Ali (AS) who continued the Prophet’s tradition to bring justice to Islamic lands by the suppression of the unjust.
Even though the above two were truly worthy individuals who gave human beings the lessons that they needed to confront and suppress the unjust, there was still the need for yet another lesson. To understand what this other lesson was and the next teacher, who was Imam Husayn (AS), we need to look deeper into the problem of oppression.
If allowed to fester, oppression will corrupt and sicken a society and a corrupt and sick society is a fertile ground for Satan to grow his seeds. Most human beings that are under oppression will not resist it for the fear of the suffering or death that will result if they did oppose it. Since oppression will not go away as long as this world of trials exists, it can only be confronted by the individuals of worth.
From the sources provided by the followers of Imam Ali (AS), one can find out and learn more about the details and significance of the event of Ashora and Karbala regarding Imam Husayn (AS), so it will not be necessary to provide the details of that event here. However the highlights of it and the lessons learned from that event will be discussed.
Imam Husayn (AS) like other Imams who were selected by God, is considered to be a supreme source of imitation. What the people learn from them has usually been their words but in case of Imam Husayn (AS), his final action was considered the most important. This action was his standing up the oppressor of the time that resulted in the Imam’s brutal death and that of those of his true supporters by one sinister and evil character named Yazid ibn Mu’awiya ibn AbiSufyan.
Yazid, like his father and his grandfather before him, was responsible for corruption, oppression, slavery, murder and injustice in all forms. And because Imam Husayn (AS), like his father and his grandfather before him, was the symbol of good and justice, he became like a thorn in Yazid’s side.
Imam Husayn (AS) wanted to teach all human beings whether they be believers or non-believers that even though one might not have the means to confront and suppress the unjust, they still had the duty to stand up to the oppressor for their own sake and the sake of their society.
Some of what Imam Husayn (AS) had said was as follows:
“Death with dignity is better than life with humiliation.”
“This world has changed and its good has turned tail. Nothing has remained from it except a thing that is as scanty as the leftover of a cup and a mean life that is like a noxious grazing. Have you not noticed that the right is ignored and the evil is not forbidden…People are certainly the slaves of this world; religion is but a slaver on their tongues. They turn it wherever their livelihood demands. If they are examined by misfortunes, the truly religious ones will be but a few (referring to those few who supported him by action).”
“I swear by God I shall not surrender as a humiliated person, and shall not escape like a slave.”
In short, what the Imam was saying is that those who submit to the oppressors are like slaves who submit to their master.
At one time, the Imam also addressed specifically the non-believers as such:
“If you do not believe in religion and do not fear the Hereafter, then at least be free from tyranny and arrogance.”
The Imam’s standing up to Yazid also conformed to many Quranic verses. The one below is one of those verses that was written about the oppressors at the time of the Prophet (SAWW), but it also well applies to the event at Karbala:
Sureh Al Bagharah, verse 217: “They ask you concerning fighting in the Sacred Months; Say, “Fighting therein is a great (transgression) (*1) but a greater (transgression) with Allah is to prevent mankind from following the Way of Allah (*2), to disbelieve in Him, to prevent access to Al-Masjid-al-Haram (Kaaba) (*3), and to drive out its inhabitants, and Al-Fitnah is worse than slaughter (death)(*4). And they will never stop fighting you until they turn you back from your religion if they can (*5). And whosoever of you turns back from his religion and dies as a disbeliever, then his deeds will be lost in this life and in the Hereafter, and they will be the dwellers of the Fire. They will abide therein forever.”
To look at this verse that can be related to what took place between Yazid‘s army and Imam Husayn (AS)’s companions in the desert of Karbala, we can discuss each numbered point as follows:
(*1) Fighting in the sacred month of Muharram, the month that the event of Karbala took place was planned and initiated by Yazid and was started by Yazid’s army. Yazid sent an army in strength of tens of thousands of professional soldiers to attack a company of about 100 men, women and children of Imam’s followers. So Yazid was clearly insecure, unjust and a transgressor.
(*2) Yazid with his evil ways had created a corrupt society which enslaved and prevented the people from the Way of God.
(*3) Imam Husayn (AS) was not allowed to stay in Mecca by Yazid who had plotted to kill him and his family, even in the boundaries at the sanctuary of Kaaba.
(*4) This is a very important point. Here ‘Fitnah’ stands for oppression and sedition of a society and it clearly indicates that Fitnah is considered to be worse than death! That means the people may have to suppress the oppressors who control a society, either by confronting and destroying them or if need be dying at the hands of the oppressor as the Imam and his companions willingly did so. Otherwise one would be ignoring the existence of evil that infects a society and remain to be a slave at the hands of the unjust.
(*5) This indicates that Satan and his followers will never cease doing injustice until they corrupt and turn away the believers from their faith.
There is yet one more lesson that the events at Karbala provide and that is the virtue and kindness displayed by Imam Husayn (AS) toward his enemies.
It is said that Yazid’s army had surrounded and prohibited the Imam and his company from accessing water so that at the time of the brutal murder of Imam and his company they were all exhausted and severely thirsty.
At the final moments before a brutal and heartless commander of Yazid’s army by the name of Shemr would murder and decapitate him, Imam Husayn (AS) tells Shemr to allow him a drink of water before he kills him. If Shemr did so, the Imam would request positive intervention on Shemr’s behalf at the Day of Resurrection.
Requesting a drink of water before being killed from the one who is going to murder you does not make sense to many people. However making such a request from someone like Shemr and offering him support at the Resurrection Day, is by itself the lesson in virtue and kindness that we should learn from Imam Husayn (AS).
We as the believers who follow Imam Ali (AS), each one of us are an ambassador of our faith. We should treat those who do not accept the divinely assigned Imams kindly, just as Imam Husayn (AS) treated Shemr with virtue. It is through kindness that we can show them the way of true Islam, as it is practiced by the followers of Imam Ali (AS). Some of those that we may encounter may be brutal and ignorant like Shemr and will not agree. But there are also some others who were misguided by their forefathers and might see the reality and perhaps become followers of Ali (AS) and their souls be saved.
Another important teaching was presented right after the Karbala event and it was from another one of Imam Husayn (AS)’s company, Hazrat Zainab (AS), Imam Ali (AS)’s daughter.
It is said that when she was brought to Yazid’s court after the event of Karbala, she did not withhold the truth and told Yazid what kind of evil character that he really was. She presented Yazid with Quranic verses about the people who do injustice to other human beings and try to obstruct the way of God. For more information, at the present time one can read about it at http://www.convertstoislam.com/Karbala/speech.html . What she said to Yazid’s face conformed to what her grandfather had said earlier:
In a Hadith documented by Abu Sa`id from Tirmidhi and Mishkat collection recalling the Prophet (SAWW) saying:
“The most excellent Jihad is uttering the truth in the presence of an unjust ruler!”
Clearly the lessons from the event at Karbala and its aftermath are not only for the believers, but for all human beings to learn.
As for the believers, resisting oppression is just one form of struggle in the way of God. There are many other things that the believers can only accomplish if only they move shoulder to shoulder.
The best form of struggle in the way of God is performed by a united community of believers, especially of those who are among the wise and the blessed. In doing so, they need to clarify the interaction so that they all would know how to move forward to reach any desired goal together rather than as individuals.
Also there are believers who get information from what is known from behind the curtain. They would not be making this claim if not true. If they are wrong, then may God have mercy on them, if those who accuse them are wrong, then may God have mercy on those.