SHAFAQNA EXCLUSIVE – Interview with Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Sa’id al-Tabataba’i al-Hakim

SHAFAQNA – Earlier this November I had the privilege of taking part in the Arbaeen pilgrimage as a member of an international delegation organised by New Horizon and Hussain, the International Love.

Our journey to Karbala was an incredible one as we were given the opportunity to sit down with some of Shia Islam most revered and learnt clerics, among which: Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Sa’id al-Tabataba’i al-Hakim.

To have been privy to the teachings of such an accomplished cleric, one who dedicated his entire life to serving Islam and AhlulBayt has been both humbling and inspiring, especially since such audiences are so rare.

I will recall here the thoughts Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Sa’id al-Tabataba’i al-Hakim shared with us on the pilgrimage of Arbaeen, Imam Hussain martyrdom and the message his stand has carried within.

While many still choose to focus on the treachery of Yazid ibn Muawiya, who, to assert his hold on power so willingly raised a mercenary army to massacre the household of the prophet, all the while, claiming righteousness to his name, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Sa’id al-Tabataba’i al-Hakim encouraged us to see beyond the clamours of battle to discover the call Imam Hussain ibn Ali let out in Karbala so that man would learn to value the Freedom God bestowed upon them.

“Imam Hussain’s message is not limited to any one particular community or school of thoughts,” instead it belongs to the whole of humanity the Grand Ayatollah emphasised.

“Our Imam opposed Tyranny so that Islam could be returned to its true form and the Quran applied within its context, as God always  intended. His position was not so that power, positions, or even inheritance be returned or given to him. Imam Hussain spoke the religion of his grandfather so that he would not betray God’s commands.”

There is such profound wisdom and beauty in such a message …

If Imam Hussain has often been painted as a pivotal figure of Shia Islam, we ought to remember that just as his message was directed towards all people, his name belongs to all manners of people regardless.

As our world stands fragmented along sectarian lines, political lines and ethnicities it is comforting to find solace in the courage of a man for whom Freedom was a divine right worth sacrficing everything to. There are lessons indeed that continue to echo throughout the centuries – a light in an ocean of darkness.

No light has shun brighter than that of Imam Hussain.

To think that 13 centuries after his martyrdom an excess of 14 million pilgrims, of all faiths and nationality, continue to make the journey is awe-inspiring.

To witness such an exercise in devotion, might it be on the part of pilgrims or those who host them speaks volume to the echo Imam Hussain’s message has had onto communities.

Credit of course must be given to all Iraqis as without their boundless generosity and courage Arbaeen would not be what it is today – the experience of a lifetime.

Recalling the tragedy of Karbala and the tradition Lady Zaynab set forth, Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Muhammad Sa’id al-Tabataba’i al-Hakim stressed on the importance of Arbaeen as a catalyst for tolerance, compassion and brotherhood.

Beyond the mourning of Imam Hussain’s martyrdom Arbaeen remains, as the Grand Ayatollah noted an affirmation lies a tradition which message is universal and divine in nature.

And indeed … I have walked the road in between Najaf and Karbala and I witnessed faith in motion! I have seen hands extended in service and worship. I have seen what true generosity and compassion can do when applied genuinely – all in the name of the progeny of the Prophet Muhammad.

By Catherine Shakdam for Shafaqna

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