SHAFAQNA – Violence has returned to the Middle East by way of religious oppression and radicalism.
While millions of Muslims across not just the region, but the world came together to commemorate the sacred month of Muharram, this past October, a month made holy for it holds great religious significance for all three Abrahamic faiths, Saudi Arabia launched a grand crackdown against all Shiites, determined to prevent this one religious community to remember the sacrifice of its Imam: Imam Husayn ibn Ali, the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad and the third imam of Islam.
On Oct. 22, al-Araby al-Jadeed reported, ”Saudi Arabia, which had the third-highest number of executions last year, has carried out another, as prosecutors seek the death penalty for 16 Shia on the back of unrest.”
Today, as millions are getting ready to perform the Arbaeen pilgrimage – a march which has come to symbolize a people’s pledge of allegiance to their Imam, the man the last prophet of God called his son and covered with his cloak, Wahhabism is blowing a furious storm on Islam, tearing communities apart in the name of extremism.
Dr. Hasan Saleh, an international relations expert with the University of Sana’a (Yemen) and PhD in Islamic History said:
“Because Shiites in Saudi Arabia have refused to quietly surrender their rights, their civil liberties and because they ambition to live by those values which their Imams defended: social-justice, pluralism and equality before the law, Al Saud royals have clamped down on the Shia community.”
“This so-called dissent, those offenses against the king, the Saudi authorities are using as a cover for repression, hide latent theofascism and western back imperialism. Shiites are being targeted everywhere the kingdom carries influence: in Yemen, Bahrain, the U.A.E., Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, the Sudan, etc. … Everywhere Saudi money pulls strings Shiites have been oppressed most of all, for they base their faith on the idea that resistance to injustice remains not a duty but a religious obligation.”
And because Imam Husayn ibn Ali, Karbala and beyond Arbaeen embody this very concept of resistance, this idea that before the Word of God there could be no association, deviation or bargaining struck; those who seek to enslave have gathered their armies once more.
Under the black flag of Wahhabism, violence has spiked in the Middle East, deflecting from the message which hides in our history pages – that tyranny needs to be opposed.
But it is not just Shiites standing in the eye of the storm. The ultimate targets of Saudi Arabia’s covert colonial campaign in the region are activists, human rights defenders, independent politicians and scholars because their calls, their ideologies, and their teachings mirror those principles Islam embodies in its teachings. And so apostasy has been the word of the day, the ugly label Wahhabis have used to distort the narrative and reduce a movement to a religious heresy.
If Imam Husayn’s name and religious legacy have long rhymed with Islam — Shiite Islam, to be precise — his message and the ideology he carried with him has transcended Islam’s tenets to become a universal cry against tyranny. His name, his life, and his sacrifice have served as inspirations for all those men and women who have always refused to bow to injustice, when they knew they could stand free – whether Muslims, Jews, Christians, Buddhists or atheists.
Courage indeed needs no label; courage of heart and deeds needs no definition.
And because courage is as universal as the concept of liberty,Imam Husayn’s sacrifice in Karbala (Iraq) on the day of Ashura continue to inspire generations of men and women, regardless of their beliefs – beyond all manners of division.
And so when pilgrims will march this December, enacting their mourning through a pilgrimage of the heart, it is really in Islam millions will come to find renewed hope, sharing in the strength and absolute piety of their Imam.
Arbaeen speaks of unity, devotion and duty to the Word, values radicals cannot comprehend in their ignorant hatred and arrogance.
A stand for mankind
Reflecting on the martyrdom of Imam Husayn in Karbala, who, when surrounded and outnumbered by an enemy army refused to give but a little of his moral standing, Dr. John Morrow, a lecturer on Islam and author of “The Covenants of the Prophet Muhammad With The Christians Of The World,” emphasized.
“Imam Husayn is the symbol of sacrifice. He did not seek death by martyrdom; however, he did not flee from it when it faced him. He was a man who stood by his principles, lived by his principles, and died to defend his principles.”
“Despite the dearth of faith-filled freedom fighters, the Muslim world has produced some inspirational combative clerics who courageously opposed colonialism and imperialism. In the United States, we have the exemplary case of Malcolm X, who spoke truth to power and gave his life in the defense of true, traditional Islam.”
And though the mainstream narrative continues to hold by those truths that Islam lives a religion of hate and violence, a faith of extreme radicals and reactionary regimes, Islam is none of those things — just like Christianity can never be reduced to the horrors of the Spanish Inquisition or slavery in America.
Hasan Saleh postulates:
“Islam moves beyond human error, it an ideal, a model to aspire to, an inspiration to strive for better and truer. And because Imam Husayn stood a mirror to such ideals his impact has defied time, and his stand in Karbala remains as relevant socially and politically today as it was over a millennium ago.”
He added, “Non-Muslims often wonder what Islam is. Islam, I believe is the very definition of anti-imperialism, political pluralism and civil liberties.”
Saleh believes that in every activist, every freedom fighter, every liberator and rights defender stand the brilliant legacy of a man, an Imam whose fight, whose sacrifice and stand before evil was universal -beyond race, racism, class, and religion. “A man of God, Imam Husayn was also a man of the people, a leader which renown has been hailed, celebrated and mourned by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
In Sindh, a province of Pakistan, Hindus and Shiite Muslims have come together for hundreds of years to mark Ashura, united in their understanding that courage and true leadership are not reserved to a minority but all men and women.
In an article for Newsweek Pakistan, Dr. Mubarak Ali, a historian explained, “Sindh, once a Hindu-majority province of India, has long been the model of peaceful coexistence between communities of different faiths.”
“Why should different faiths not recognize greatness in each other? Especially when history has yet to give us a more brilliant symbol of resistance and true piety than Imam Husayn. Hindus see in Imam Husayn the divine nature of God, His light and Message,” Dr. Ali said.
Imam Husayn’s legacy
It was Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India who stated:
“There is a universal appeal in his martyrdom. Imam Husayn sacrificed his all, but he refused to submit to a tyrannical government. He never gave any weight to the fact that his material force was far less in comparison with that of an enemy; the power of faith to his greatest force, which regards all material force as nothing. This sacrifice is a beacon light of guidance for every community and every nation. Imam Husayn’s sacrifice is for all groups and communities, an example of the path of righteousness.”
Today, Imam Husayn’s message to the world — that before tyranny and oppression none should bow without the fear of becoming themselves the evil which they fear — remains very much alive. This is particularly true in the Middle East, a land which still echoes of his footsteps and injunctions.
Dr. Morrow believes that because the army of Yazid have returned under the flag of Wahhabism, so did Imam Husayn’s valiant army. He postulates that the growing resistance movement shaping up across the MENA (Middle East and Africa), is reminiscent of Imam Husayn’s campaign against imperialism and religious oppression, only this time the evil is not Yazid but the rulers of Saudi Arabia and those western powers which sit by its side.
Dr Morrow noted:
“Although the Yazids of the age are easy to identity–many rulers could fit into this category according to varying degrees–there was only one Imam Husayn. We do, however, have heroes who attempt to emulate his example. So long as the message of Imam Husayn remains alive, hope will remain alive.”
“The problem, however, is that the message of Imam Husayn has been misunderstood by many. The majority of Sunnis, for example, continued to follow the despotic dynasty that killed, not only Imam Husayn, but the descendants of the Prophet’s Holy Household. Most followers of Ahl al-Sunnah wa al-Tasawwuf understood that while they could not oppose the oppressors physically, they could oppose them spiritually.”
“For every cry of freedom the world has uttered since Karbala, for every stand against injustice, racism, fascism and oppression it is Imam Husayn’s army of brave which has lead,” said Dr. Mohammad Mousavi, a human rights activist and Islamic scholar in Bahrain.
The Return Of Yazid
At such a time when wars, famine and despair have but engulfed the MENA, threatening to evaporate aspiring democracies; when activists are thrown in jail, labelled as dissidents for they dared demand that their voices be heard before injustice, many Arabs, Kurds, Alawites, Yazidis, Christians and Muslims together are looking up to those men which inspire resistance.
Before the danger of radicalism, an evil which many political analysts, among whom Stephen Lendman, have already warned hides in the corridors of Riyadh, voices have begun to unite in a common front. Stephen Lendman, a Research Associate of the Centre for Research on Globalization, identified Saudi Arabia covert imperialistic campaign in the Middle East and the rise of terror as the two face of the same coin.
“Make no mistake, Saudi Arabia has been terror’s catalyst,” Lendman said. “Those radicals we see under the banner of al-Qaida and ISIS are mercenaries paid by Riyadh to serve Western agendas.”
Whether in Yemen, where Saudi Arabia wages an illegal war – a genocide masqueraded as a liberation campaign; in Bahrain where Bahrainis have called for reforms against the Saudi-backed throne of King Hamad bin Issa al-Khalifa; or again in Syria and Iraq, where communities struggle against Wahhabi-inspired radicals, it is Imam Husayn’s spirit which lives on against the army of Yazid.
And so coming this December when Arbaeen pilgrims will retrace the steps of Ahlul Bayt, reliving the betrayal and the injustice committed against the Prophet Muhammad’s progeny and the pledge of Ghadeer, it is a community which will come together to cry freedom in the face of tyranny.
By Catherine Shakdam – first published in the American Herald Tribune