Five decades after Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH&HP) demise, Muslims living in birthplaces of Islam, Mecca and Medina, or those who lived in the capitals of government such as Damascus or Kufa(1), considered sole obedience to the caliph -regardless of his characteristics or values – in all aspects of their religion an obligatory command and a principle of religion. People believed uprising against a ruler only weakens the unity of the Islamic nation, and results in exiting the circle of religion.
The majority of Muslims believed in absolute submission to authority, regardless of the ruler. Their Islamic view resembled that of the rule and Caliph of the time. In the case of Yazid for example, they saw him as the legitimate Islamic leader. But let us ponder a moment about Yazid. What kind of a Caliph are we talking about? The one who did not believe in the religion and was overruled by his desires; the one who drank, disregarding all Islamic practices; the one who ordered to kill the Prophet’s grandson; the one who massacred the people of Medina; the one who, ignited the Ka’ba with catapults; and these were only part of what he did. This is the kind of Caliph which people thought submission to his will is a must!
This was the face of Islam which the people witnessed from the Caliph of Muslims and the successor of the Great Prophet (PBUH&HP) (2). As an example, Muslim Ibn Uqbah’s (Yazid’s Army Commander) final words in his deathbed, after having massacred the people of Medina and looting their properties with his army, showed his viewpoint about the Caliph as such: “O Allah! There was nothing more pleasant and dear to me than killing the people of Medina for my Hereafter. If I fall into the hell fire after performing these acts, then I have lost it all (3)! O My Lord! If you punish me after being obedient to your Caliph’s order, Yazid Ibn Mu’awiyah, in killing the people of Medina, then I am indefinitely a loser(4)!”
Hence, one can observe that the problem of Muslims during that time was not just a tyrant ruler who should have been thrown off the government and be replaced with one who did justice. Rather it was a matter much deeper. The issue at stake was loss of true Islamic practices and people’s blind and unconditional obedience of the Caliph (whatever command it might be). In such time, the only solution was to change the belief and understanding of Muslims about Caliphate and the Caliph. This would allow for Islam to represent itself in its origin.
In such chaos, the one person who could revolt for the sole purpose of reviving the teachings of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH&HP) was Imam Hussain (PBUH). Imam Hussain was the last grandson of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH&HP). Muslims were aware of the numerous verses revealed about Imam Hussain (PBUH) and the narrations of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH&HP) about his virtues and role. And Imam Hussain (PBUH) was well aware of his responsibility to create awareness in such a time. Imam Hussain (PBUH) saw that he had two choices; they were to either:
1-Pledge allegiance to Yazid as the Caliph, and take the financial benefits and political power.
2- To rise against Yazid and his acts, and to awaken an Islamic nation from blindly obeying and accepting the acts of such a ruler. This way, the world would not mistake Yazid’s words and actions with Islam. It would be known that Yazid does not represent Islam, and therefore, the wrong path would be distinguished from Islam. As a result, Imam Hussain (PBUH) and the later Imams would have the opportunity to reconstruct the true traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
Hussain ibn Ali (PBUH) chose the second path. He stood firmly by his value and moved in the way of this goal until he reached it. As a result, he declared the governorship of Yazid as void due to its danger for Islam. In a response to those who criticized Hussain’s (PBUH) actions and recommended that Hussain (PBUH) pledge allegiance to Yazid to benefit his two worlds, and to him who suggested that Hussain’s (PBUH) actions would create disunity amongst the Muslim community, Imam Hussain (PBUH) responded: “As of now that Yazid has taken hold of the Muslim Ummah (nation), one must bid farewell to Islam!”
And when Abdullah ibn Umar (son of the second Caliph) said to him: “Fear Allah, and don’t create disunity among the Muslims!,” Imam Hussain (PBUH) said: “By Allah! If I do not find any haven in this world, I will not pledge allegiance to Yazid, son of Mu’awiyah.” What he meant by this statement was his intention to reform the Muslim nation and to portray the falsity of Yazid’s rule; this was Imam Hussain’s slogan and goal, and to achieve it he chose the path of martyrdom. This slogan is beautifully restated in the words of a poet: “If the religion of Muhammad will not strengthen in any other way but by my death, then O swords embrace me.”
(The above is a selection from “The Two Schools in Islam, vol.3: The Effect of the Hussain’s Rising in Reviving the Prophet’s Sunnah”, by Late Allamah Sayyed Murtaza Askari)
The Roshd website offers its condolences upon the fortieth day of martyrdom of the unique reformer of Islam and Master of Martyrs, Imam Hussain Ibn-Ali (PBUH), to all Muslims of the world and you dear friend.
1. Kufa: Near current Baghdad; Shaam: current Damascus
2. The government used to call the Caliph the “Caliph of Allah”.
3. Tarikh Ibn Kathir, Vol 8., pg. 225
4. Tarikh Yaqubi, Vol. 2, pg. 251