The Public Face of Shiadom's Islam

The Public Face of Revolutionary Islam
Here are some images of the “new terrorists” propaganda system in the making. Can you imagine the global headlines that Daniel Pipes, the Jewish Islamophobe propagandist of the West, would give to these images of self-flagellating blood-letting in Muharram during the remembrance of the Memory of Karbala (while forgetting the Categorical Imperative of Karbala) by the Shia devotees of Imam Hussein, aided and abetted by the Valih-e-faqih, and assorted marja-e-taqlid Ayatollahs from Qom to Najaf, who tacitly encourage this barbaric display of Shia faith by silently condoning it, not issuing categorical injunctions against it, when Dr. Pipes has most imaginatively already captioned “militant Islam” and “radical Islam” as: “It's Not a Clash of Civilizations, It's a Clash between the Civilized World and Barbarians? Is this what Shiaism is all about --- is a question that is even asked by the majority of the Sunni Muslims worldwide, never mind the world's public.

Convince people that: “It's Not a Clash of Civilizations, It's a Clash between the Civilized World and Barbarians, and you can get them to commit atrocities!
Caption Ashura Child1 (Source: from the web, please check in the image property for any copyright information)
Caption Ashura Child2 (Source: from the web, please check in the image property for any copyright information)
Caption Ashura Child3 (Source: from the web, please check in the image property for any copyright information)
Caption Ashura Child4 (Source: from the web, please check in the image property for any copyright information)
Caption Ashura Child5 (Source: from the web, please check in the image property for any copyright information)
Caption Ashura Child6 (Source: from the web, please check in the image property for any copyright information)
Caption Ashura Child7 (Source: from the web, please check in the image property for any copyright information)
Caption Ashura Child8 (Source: from the web, please check in the image property for any copyright information)
Caption Ashura Child9 (Source: from the web, please check in the image property for any copyright information)
Caption Ashura Child10 (Source: from the web, please check in the image property for any copyright information)
Caption Ashura Children1 (Source: from the web, please check in the image property for any copyright information)
Caption Ashura 2016 Children2 (Source: from the web, please check in the image property for any copyright information)
Caption Ashura Woman1 (Source: from the web, please check in the image property for any copyright information)
Caption Ashura Woman2 (Source: from the web, please check in the image property for any copyright information)
Caption Ashura Man1 (Source: from the web, please check in the image property for any copyright information)
Caption Ashura Man2 (Source: from the web, please check in the image property for any copyright information)
Caption Ashura 2016 Man3 (Source: from the web, please check in the image property for any copyright information)
Caption-1 The extremes to which the Shia devotees of Imam Hussein go to commiserate with the martyrs of Karbala as the fast-path to heaven. These self-inflicted wounds heal sooner than most people uninitiated into this ritual might think. This display of faith and love for Imam Hussein is virtually risk free, as people return to work with at best minor discomfort for several days, and it's business as usual. It is, evidently, still a lot easier to break blood from one's own head, to soak in one's own blood once or twice a year in remembrance of what the tyrant Yazid's army did to Imam Hussein and his family in 61 A.H., than to stand up to the systems of oppression in one's own time. Especially when such display of devotion, tears and self-flagellation, elegiac poetry with narrative reenactment, and walking for miles, often barefoot, in long processions to commemorate the event of 61 A.H., even when there be threat to one's life due to crackdown by authorities inimical to such remembrance, is thought as the fast-path to Heaven. It is almost universally believed by the Shia laity, regardless of which nation and culture they might live in, that Imam Hussein would intercede on behalf of his devotees on the Day of Judgment if they shed tears for his misery. This belief is so strongly held that it has become the predominant religious ethos of Shiadom.
Shedding such tears of devotion is also virtually risk free, while interfering with the imperatives of villainous power is always hazardous in totalitarian systems. Even in supposed liberal systems, such as democracy, the corruption of power is only disguised. Despite the electorate, imperialism and hegemony, endless warfare and police states, continue to thrive at the expense of the lesser peoples. To say “NO” to the tyrant of the day, to say “NO” to his imperialism and injustices, as Imam Hussein and his womenfolk and children and handful of companions did, is to lose one's livelihood, or worse, be shot dead for dissent, when not incarcerated and tortured. This of course happens only when one acquires the courage of Imam Hussein to say “NO” to rulers and to their systems of corruption. But for the simpleton Shia laity, instead of commemorating Imam Hussein's unflinching act of categorical imperative, which the Imam had most elegantly summed up for the benefit of all times in his now famous sentence: “a man like me does not give oath of fealty to a man like Yazid”, the devotees have been culturally trained to commemorate what the bad guys did to the Imam. Not what the Imam did to the bad guys by taking his stance!
What Imam Hussein and his family suffered, surely remained unparalleled throughout most of mankind's history when battles were fought on horseback and with swords outside of civilian centers. Until indiscriminate aerial bombardment of civilian centers became the preferred military doctrine of the West in our modernity. What happens from Palestine to Syria to Iraq to Libya to Pakistan to Afghanistan to Yemen today, or what happened to Hamburg and Dresden and Tokyo and Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II, is not all that physically different from what happened to the family of Imam Hussein. Is it really worse to die from the sword of Yazid's army with parched throats in the middle of 120 degrees heat in the sweltering desert of Mesopotamia, than from an atom bomb, or daisy cutter, or in a napalm fire-bomb inferno?
Therefore, it follows that it is not the despicable and inhuman style of martyrdom per se inflicted upon the noble Imam and his noble children which is the point to ponder and remember and commemorate. They, after all, died courageously in battle with sword in hand, by choice. Why are manufactured tears extracted from the devotees for what was a courageous self-sacrifice, a choice that was deliberately made by the Imam? Why was that choice made by the Imam? It is solely that act of the Imam and his entourage as a categorical imperative, to stand up to Yazid, to be the exemplar of the meaning of Islam, to say “NO” to the corruption and reign of terror of vile power, to say “NO” to one's own “banality of evil”, which is the point of Karbala –– as heinous and barbaric, and naturally tear-jerking as the method of murdering the grandchildren of the Prophet of Islam was.
The Imam clearly anticipated his fate. It was not a surprise to him, as his letters and conversations throughout his several months long journey reveal. And yet, the Imam willingly chose that path which he knew for sure would lead to certain death. On top of it, the Imam took his womenfolk and children, knowing for sure that there was certain death at the end of the road. Why did the Imam take that path –– which today, to astute political minds whose only imperative is to rule, would appear foolish and insane?
The principal lesson to be learned, remembered, and acted upon, from the Imam's stance that brought him to Karbala in a long journey throughout which he invited Muslims to join him in the mission, and for which he offered what is considered the supreme sacrifice, was his categorical imperative, a fundamental teaching of Islam.
That teaching has mainly become relegated to elegiac poetry and religious theses. The Muslims have been taught for centuries to practice mainly the shell of Islam. That has resulted in ignoring its fruit, which is almost always thrown away by all Muslims, each according to their own shared ethos. The Deen-ul-Haq, the Religion of Justice, to even enter whose fold first begins with “NO”, has been transformed into the religion of idiotic rituals which border on barbarism and superstition in Shiadom. In the modern day and age, this self-flagellation and blood-letting appears to be a throw-back to the Dark Ages, the age of Jahiliya before the dawn of Islam, when people did all sorts of insane rituals thinking their gods favored it.
This dysfunction among the Shia Muslims has been aided and abetted throughout the past fourteen centuries by the clergy class and their thoughtless story tellers who have misguided and misdirected this spontaneous devotion of the people to the Ahlul Bayt. That has ensured that the tyrants remain free to do as they please. No tyrant, no system of oppression, and no bastard, has ever even had a butterfly stomach with this display of blood passion by Imam Hussein's followers, let alone fear for his or her power. Something has gone terribly awry with Muslims. An inheritance so profound, an emotional attachment so unparalleled and global, that the devotees, no matter where they live, in which time and in which space, shy not from shedding their own blood in remembrance, generation after generation, and century after century, and yet, still oppressed everywhere. More images of extremes in blood-letting self-flagellation during A'shura 2016 are here. (Images gathered from various news reports on the web, please check in the JPG image property for any copyright information of the original source)
Caption-2 Can anyone guess what Islamophobes would caption this display of “revolutionary Islam” to frighten the Western audiences: 'It's Not a Clash of Civilizations, It's a Clash between the Civilized World and Barbarians'! The latter headline has already been employed by the Jewish reformer of Islam, Dr. Daniel Pipes, to awaken the Western public against the curse of the Taleban's and the Al-Qaeeda's version of “Islam” reaching them. Extending the narrative to “Revolutionary Islam” is just around the corner. Getting the two absurdities to wage an endless war in the name of “Islam” that will snowball into a Shia-Sunni world war, with the Western audience disdainfully against both barbarians, and the Western states along with their Eastern vassals, arming both sides just as during the eight year long Iran-Iraq war, is the obvious game-theorized scenario on the grand chessboard. Once brought to the Russian-roulette table, it cannot be averted. The time for its prevention is before the fait accompli is cast – and all provocations are being brought to bear on this very scenario, only the most recent of which is: Saudi Arabia's grand mufti says Iranians are 'not Muslims'.
Caption-3 This barbaric ritual in Shiadom, of splitting open one's head and drawing blood from various parts of the body with swords and knives to mourn the martyrdom of Imam Hussein and his family at Karbala in the year 61 A.H., has neither anything to do with the Religion of Islam, nor with the principal Message of Karbala: “Qullo yomin A'shura, Qullo Ardin Karbala”, and nor with basic human dignity and decency. Where Imam Hussein exemplified human dignity by freeing it from man's tyranny for all times, Shiadom enslaved it back again in superstitions and behavior control systems. The Shia clergy, by staying mute dumb and blind to this barbaric public practice of the Shia devotees, have demonstrated for centuries their own real qibla of allegiance: the god of public opinion before which they too bow like the vulgar politicians. Here is a lukewarm condemnation of this practice by the Valih-e-Faqih-e-Muslimeen of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, falling way short of a categorical religious and legal injunction banning it:
It is wrongful that some people hit themselves on the head with daggers to break blood. What are they in search of? How can this be considered an act of mourning? Of course light drumming on the head with one’s own hand is a distinctive sign of mourning. You have seen it several times when people are stricken by grief, they hit own their chests or heads. This is a typical symbol of distress for mourning. But when have you ever seen a person, who is grief stricken by the loss of a dear loved one, take a dagger to their own head in order to draw blood? How can this be a form of mourning?
Tatbir [Qame Zani] is also a fabricated tradition. It is among issues that do not belong to the Islamic religion and undoubtedly God is not pleased with such a practice. Scholars among the last few centuries did not have the opportunity to speak out and declare it as an unlawful or wrongful act. However, today is the day of Islamic establishment and the day for the manifestation of Islam. We should not go along with actions that may introduce a small group of irrational, superstitious individuals to Muslims and non-Muslims alike, to be represented as the bulwark of the noble Islamic society--the society that loves the progeny of the prophet (pbuh) and has the honor to carry the names of the Imam of our Time (may our souls be sacrificed for him), Imam Hussain Ibn Ali (as) and Imam Ali Ibn Abi Talib (as).
The more I thought about it (tatbir), the more I truly realized I cannot overlook my responsibility of informing our dear people on Tatbir, which is certainly an act of wrongdoing built upon heresy. Do not practice it, I do not approve. If someone does anything to display their desire to practice Tatbir, I will be deeply disappointed in them. I am declaring this solemnly. This is certainly an unlawful action, one which Imam Hussain (as) would not be pleased with, as practiced today. I cannot fathom who would and based on what evidence would they establish such peculiar and wrongful traditions in Islamic societies and within our revolutionary society?
Tatbir is one of those concerns which not only lacks logical reasoning, but is also the nearest of things to superstition. Why do some promote such things? This is a great danger, which has to be carefully tended to within the world of religion and religious insight by the guardians of the faith.” --- Ayatollah Khamenei, June 07, 1994
Imagine the thought experiment if you will, that you are taking an undergraduate class in media studies under Dr. Joseph Goebbels of the Third Reich --- come up with an emotionally tickling caption for these images of the bloody ritual of A'shura that would effectively rally the Western public to fight “revolutionary Islam” with an equal or greater zeal than they have thus far waged “united we stand” against “militant Islam”.
An authoritative account of the Misrepresentations and Distortions in the popular A'shura narratives heralded from the ubiquitous Shia pulpit itself is given in the series of four lectures delivered in 1969 by the notable Shia Iranian scholar Allama Murtaza Mutahhari. While ably capturing both the psychological motivations and the misrepresentations and distortions made by latter day Shia pulpits from Qom to Najaf, and from Karbala to India with reference to the sacred penmanship of the pious scribes of history, the learned and honest Iranian scholar notably failed to address the hagiographic distortions in that sacred historical penmanship itself. A reportage of the seminal events of Karbala compiled generations after the fact, in a primitive tribal society by a partisan people not much different than those occupying the pious pulpits today, but which is treated as sacrosanct! Most revealingly, whatever is written in those earliest historical narratives is treated as gospel truth by even the highest authorities of the Shia pulpit in exactly the same way as the Sunni pulpits treat their own hagiographic narratives of early Muslim history.
What recuses that early reportage of Muslim history from the same type of rigorous intellectual examination for the same kinds of psychological motivations, misrepresentations and distortions, made by the same kind of fertile imaginations and fallible pens incestuously reinforcing their own shared ethos both wittingly and unwittingly? See Introduction to Muslim Historiography in my book Hijacking the Holy Qur'an and Islam, for elaboration upon this concept of taking recorded history with a forensic measure, rather than an absolute or literal one. Making history sacred has many more uses than mere academic scholarship. It lies at the very heart of mass behavior control. Novelist George Orwell most perceptively captured the utility of the control of the narrative – what is penned ab initio, as well as what is made sacred posthumously: “Who controls the past controls the future; Who controls the present controls the past”.
Postscript Categorical Imperative of Karbala
Instead of making history sacrosanct, as Muslims remember the events of Karbala in every Muharram-ul Haram as the fastpath to Heaven, and as the wasilah for fulfillment of prayers, we might also endeavor to study the Categorical Imperative birth-panged in Karbala by the exemplification of deen-ul-haq. We might ask why the religion of Islam in the Holy Qur'an is called deen-ul-haq, if not to endeavor to create heaven right here in this world for everyone by establishing justice for everyone, and ask how, if not by breaking all bonds of servitude to fellow man. We might ask how that lofty categorical imperative of Islam got morphed into the selfish individual goal of seeking Heaven in Afterlife while leaving the tyrants in this world alone. Karbala exemplified that principal teaching of the religion of Islam as deen-ul-haq for all time and space. While no Muslim denies that fact, Karbala has become relegated to an isolated act of history for history. And the rest of Islam's preaching for establishing justice is left to Eschatology!
Instead of making the history of Karbala sacred for extracting individual tears by imaginative narratives, Muslims might examine our own age and era in the mirror of the history of Karbala. Instead of beating one's own chest in unstoppable tears and feeling having given justice to the memory of the martyrs of Karbala, we might offer our chests to the tyrants of our own time as the categorical imperative of Karbala.
That is the real face of Shiadom which has remain occulted for centuries. The public face of Shiadom instead of becoming an expression of the categorical imperatives of Islam, has exclusively become an expression of sorrow for the fate of the Ahlul Bayt of the Prophet of Islam, often with absurd rituals which in this day and age seem to be a throwback to barbarianism.
Just as Muslims have not understood the message of Karbala and have become engrossed in memorializing it in rituals as a religious element despite fourteen centuries of rehearsals, Muslims have also not understood the religion of Islam and become engrossed in its rituals. The evidence for this statement is obvious and quite empirical --- just look around us, fourteen centuries of Islam with full mosques on every street corner, millions performing Haj each year, million feeding the poor, and still living in bondage to despotic rulers and empires with almost a fifth or sixth of the world population living in hunger and deprivation! It is as if no Prophets ever came to enlighten mankind.
The people of the world understanding Karbala in all its dimensions frees not just Muslims from bondage to fellow man, but the entire world from tyranny of fellow man.
Karbala is the singular recipe of moral resistance. It is also the mirror of history to understand our own times for our own banality of evil ---- for the same sociological principles remain in play again and again that determine the rise and fall of civilizations.
History, all history, is only a mirror of learning, and the fount of wisdom, when it is responsibly used to navigate for a better tomorrow. But, obviously, not when the mirror is held to the blind!
This is the lamentable tragedy of man. History has become the manipulative tool of choice for behavior control in virtually all societies. Narratives of history are used to instill false beliefs, draw specious or misdirected lessons, and to implant and perpetuate myths and ideologies. Once these narratives become part of culture and its intellectual tradition, the social norms that result from cultural ethos automatically determines the aggregate public behavior. This is the principal reason for the existence of Shias and Sunnis, mainly their differing views of the same history of Islam! Otherwise, both should have the same beliefs and practices and understanding of Islam because our Holy Book, the Holy Qur'an, and our Holy Prophet, and his Ahlul Bayt, are one and the same! Unfortunately, each has been breast fed their preferred narrative of history in such a way that for both, tyrants, rulers and empires have come and gone over the past fourteen centuries but nothing has disturbed their ritual piety! And nothing disturbs it today either.
Only when the public understands this subversion of their mind in which they are voluntarily made to pay homage to their rulers as virtue, made to agree to tyrannical rule with either apathy or willingness, Machiavellianly kept busy in pious rituals, awarded peace prizes to look the other way, all by writing a history that suits the rulers, or a particular agenda, and socializing the public mind into that narrative as “their holy truth”, can we ever begin to free ourselves from its web of control.
This is why history is a dual edged sword. In the hands of compassionate wisdom, it charts the course of action in the present to avoid the same pitfalls. In the hands of Machiavelli, it permits villainy to rule endlessly.
Come visit Karbala afresh. While the tender heart will surely forever lament the barbarianism visited upon the martyrs of Karbala, let's begin the journey of the mind afresh by recalling not what Yazid did to Imam Hussein and the Ahlul Bayt, but by comprehending what Imam Hussein and the Ahlul Bayt did to Yazid!
Karbala was not an accident of history. It was the result of a decision made by Imam Hussein. If the martyrs of Karbala made a choice to be there to offer their lives in ransom to rebirth the message of Islam as the forgotten deen-ul-haq, then, surely, as obvious as the sun is bright on a cloudless afternoon, they do not want centuries of tears of their devotees in response to Imam Hussein's perennial call in Karbala: “Hull min nasiroon yan soor na”. The noble Imam wanted then, and for every age and for every time, only nasiroons, helpers, aiders and abettor, for the mission of enacting justice, for standing up for what's right, decent, moral, unequivocally demonstrating for all times that no sacrifice can be too great to stand up to tyranny.
This is rather obvious, even to the innocent child when she asks the puzzling question that why did Imam Hussein take a six month old baby with him to a mission as hard as standing up to the evil Yazid who had inherited the pulpit of Islam as its caliph within just fifty years after the death of the Prophet of Islam, when other noble and pious Muslims in the multitude of millions at the time chose not to accompany Imam Hussein? That child's question opens the Pandora's box of questions ---- and as the legend promises, when you dig down to the very bottom, all mystery is revealed.
But this is never obvious when the sanctimonious pulpit has hijacked Karbala in the service of empire, when the indoctrinated public mind gathers around it to remember the event in rituals of tears and with hopes for salvation. It is never obvious when pretentious piety comes to occupy the public mind year after year, generation after generation, centuries after centuries. It is never obvious when paid professionals are engaged to extract the public's tears as an act of piety. And it is never obvious when emotions take over the ability to reason from an event of history that touches the heart to its very core. Books have been filled with the narratives of Karbala but few teach its categorical imperative as the singular duty imposed by the religion of Islam upon its followers. The failure to recognize commonsense, in fact, its total absence among the laity when remembering the horrors of Karbala and its aftermath, and virtually its total absence among the clergy who rehearse Karbala as a profession, who earn their livelihood and their scholarship from the blood of Karbala, is the tragedy not just of Shiadom, but of Islam and all Muslims.
Karbala is a uniting force for Muslims, nay all humanity, if people can only realize its full significance. Unlike abstract theological principles like the Biblical Golden Rule never put into practice so as to ever become exemplary for all peoples, Karbala is a real exemplary event that defined a real categorical imperative enacted by the courage of Imam Hussein. It can attract all humanity if some among us don't despoil its name with strange behaviors and superstitions. It is the singular categorical imperative to create a just world ---- not by endlessly talking about it in utopian platitudes and moral clichés as virtually all religions and utopian philosophies do, but by fighting for it in the style of Karbala in practice!
In a just world, by definition, all peoples of all persuasions can find space for themselves, each according to their own beliefs, traditions and culture. All high minded theories like the Golden Rule easily become a practical categorical imperative and put into practice by all in a just society, but only in a just society where all abide by the same rules enacted by the fiat of just laws in which no one takes undue advantage of another. That can only transpire when tyrants, their special interests, and their systems of oppression to keep the people in bondage of one kind or another, are defeated, and perpetually kept defeated. This is the straightforward meaning of Every day is Ashura, every place is Karbala ---- for indeed, tyranny is everywhere, and will continue to rise its head everywhere, in every era, and therefore, by the logic of freedom and liberty being a desirable virtue for all (unless one asserts that living in bondage to the ubermensch is virtue), its antidote must also arise in every place, in every era.
Mankind to this day knows of no other exemplary resistance against tyranny among any peoples and civilizations that parallels Karbala. One does not even have to believe in the religion of Islam, or God, to be inspired by the resistance of Imam Hussein and his family members in Karbala!
It is high time this travesty in understanding Karbala is recognized by the public themselves and its holy narratives liberated from artificial sacrosanctness and antediluvian superstitions which have now become enshrined in the public face of Shiadom. The world public today cannot accept this, let alone be attracted to it as a categorical imperative of moral existence!
So come revisit Karbala as the timeless categorical imperative of Islam gifted to all humanity, on how to rise up to systems of oppression without yourself becoming a barbarian in the process. Watch Islamophobes and their Machiavellian concoctions like “militant Islam” scurry for cover.

Last updated A'shura 1438 A.H., October 12, 2016 2693
Postscript Categorical Imperative of Karbala added 8th Muharram-ul Haram 1439 AH, Friday September 29, 2017 4514

The Public Face of Shiadom's Islam

Open Letter: The ma'ajjra of Karbala

By Zahir Ebrahim | Project
October 6, 2016, Muharram-ul Haram 1438 AH | Last updated October 30, 2016
AOA (as-salamu 'alaykum),
Many of you are already most knowledgeable about these matters, and of which I have no doubt. Therefore, I write this open letter not to presume to inform you about what may essentially be your own ancestral ethos as the "saadaat" (bloodline) of the noble Prophet of Islam. I write to just share with you what I humbly think about this entire "ma'ajjra" (mystery) of Imam Hussein's initiation of his final "naizat" (mission) against Yazid in 60 A.H. (680 A.D.), and the subsequent public "Gum-e-Hussein" (the public's sorrow of Hussein) some 1377 years later which, even in the year 2016 A.D., still brings even the most hardened hearts to spontaneous tears, Muslims' and non Muslims' alike, but often mainly as an act of religious piety for Shia Muslims; as the fast-path to Heaven in Afterlife.
Is that the purpose of Imam Hussein's ritualistic remembrance, to shed some genuine tears which, as one is informed from the mimbars (pulpits) year after year, will take one to Heaven after death?
This idea has evidently become an intimate part of the religious as well as cultural ethos of the followers of the Ahlul Bayt (see What does the Holy Qur'an say about the Ahlul Bayt). It drives the rank and file of Shia Muslims the world over. It keeps the tradition of Muharram alive to retell the story of Karbala, and to reenact its lament, so that the world of tyranny, at least symbolically, may never forget that there was Imam Hussein. More significantly however, it spontaneously gathers the flock without any central authority driving them.
Each year, wherever Shia Muslims live, this remembrance of Imam Hussein is spontaneously reenacted, from home to home, center to center, and street to street. The main raison d'être of the devotees themselves --- the fast path to Heaven. The remembrance of Karbala has become a ritualistic holy act with Heavenly blessings presumed to be attached it.
This de facto canonization into holy act also works well for governments, both good and bad, to keep a people culturally inclined towards the ideals of Imam Hussein, preoccupied in rituals seeking Heaven in their remembrance of Karbala, lest a group arise to actually reenact the act of Imam Hussein rather than just his ritual remembrance.
There are many deep questions buried in that entire epic journey of Imam Hussein, the noble grandson of the noble Prophet of Islam, where the Imam's "qayaam" (stance, to put a stake in the ground, to draw a line in the sand) took place in specific stages. From Medina to Mecca to Kufa, which was of course interdicted in Karbala at the beginning of 61 A.H before reaching Kufa, where, finally, on the 10th day of Muharram, the exemplar of Islam returned his soul back to his Creator at the zenith of nafs-e-mutmahinnah: “O soul that art at rest! Return to your Lord, well-pleased (with him), well-pleasing (Him)”, (Holy Qur'an, Surah Al-Fajr, 89:27, 89:28, يَٰٓأَيَّتُهَا ٱلنَّفْسُ ٱلْمُطْمَئِنَّةُ ٱرْجِعِىٓ إِلَىٰ رَبِّكِ رَاضِيَةً مَّرْضِيَّةً ).
And at each stage there was a stay by the Imam, and an invitation to the "khawas" of the area to join his final mission, and his explanations of the mission to individual “khawas” who questioned him and tried to change his mind, or joined him. These conversations between the Imam and the “khawas” transpiring throughout the Imam's journey, and the letters he wrote to other “khawas”, are most interesting and hide a well-spring of lessons to be learnt.
Even its preliminary study reveals an ocean of insight into sociology, psychology, and perceptive capture of the forces that drive ordinary human beings, both “khawas” and “awam”, to the "banality of evil" that has become so well known as the primary sociological dysfunction of our own modern era.
The dysfunction of Imam Hussein's era, and our own modernity, is driven by exactly the same primal forces, as revealed from the perceptive words and conversations of Imam Hussein which become the mirror of history to examine one's own times in. This points to the real significance of the Imam's mission to Karbala – to convey to his own people, as well as to posterity, the clear demonstration of how to overcome their own “banality of evil” as per the clear purpose of the clear teachings of the Religion of Islam brought by the Noble Prophet of Islam.
The expression “banality of evil”, the ordinariness of those who easily become party to extreme evil, by either commission of the evil, or by their omission to stop the evil, is the neologism of the Jewish writer Hannah Arendth. It captures a behavioral as well as a spiritual truth which Islam has focussed on a great deal in the Holy Qur'an. Human beings are capable of extreme evil, and they don't have to be sociopaths, psychopaths and hardened criminals to do so.
The behavior of the largely virtuous and pious Muslims, and especially the Muslim “khawas” and respected elders, whom Imam Hussein met and addressed throughout his journey, from Medina to Mecca to places en route to Kufa, until its culmination in Karbala on the day of Ashura, exemplifies this truth. Only a tiny tiny handful joined the Imam in his “qayaam” against the tyrant of his day. The majority stayed aloof, busy in piety, and the people who had gathered in Mecca for the Haj season, chose to perform their Haj instead of pay heed to the Imam's call to overcome their “banality of evil”.
All their religious prayers, all their religious piety, and yet they had learnt to resist the temptation to join the noble grandson of the noble Prophet of Islam even as they saw him being only accompanied by his womenfolk and children, which clearly meant that there was an important principle at stake other than mere rebelling for power. The tens of thousands of pious Muslims of 60 A.H. had kept the outer shell of Islam and thrown away its fruit.
For the Muslims in Yazid's army who participated in the slaughter of the children of the Prophet of Islam in Karbala, and those Muslims who silently watched or profited from this evil, their “banality of evil” is captured in the following remarkable words of Hannah Arendth from her Report on the Banality of Evil, written in 1963. This passage captures the German public's behavior under the totalitarian Nazi Third Reich in 1940s with just as much veracity as it captures the Muslim public's behavior under the totalitarian Yazid's Ummayad Dynasty, arguably the Muslim First Reich, in that tragic epoch of 60 A.H. “Evil in the Third Reich had lost the outstanding quality by which most people recognize it -- the quality of temptation. Many Germans and many Nazis, probably an overwhelming majority of them, must have been tempted not to murder, not to rob, not to let their neighbors part towards their doom (for that the Jews were transported to their doom they knew of course, even though many of them might not have known the gruesome details), and not to become accomplices of all these crimes by benefitting from them. But God knows, they had learned how to resist temptation.” (Hannah Arendth, Eichmann in Jerusalem – A Report on the Banality of Evil, 1963, ch VIII, last page, pg. 121)
The words and conversations of Imam Hussein demonstrate that Imam Hussein's Islam was not the Islam of the “khawas” (leading elites and prominent peoples) of his time, and nor was it the Islam of the virtuous rank and file “awam” busy performing the Haj pilgrimage. Nor is it the Islam that is culturalized, socialized, and adapted to the taste of the rulers. It is also not the Islam which Bernard Lewis, “a leading Western scholar of Islam”, argued: “It is difficult to generalize about Islam. To begin with, the word itself is commonly used with two related but distinct meanings, as the equivalents both of Christianity, and Christendom. In the one sense, it denotes a religion, as system of beliefs and worship; in the other, the civilization that grew up and flourished under the aegis of that religion. The word Islam thus denotes more than fourteen centuries of history, a billion and a third people, and a religious and cultural tradition of enormous diversity.” (Bernard Lewis, Crisis of Islam – Holy War and Unholy Terror, 2003, pg. 1)
The word Islam only denotes what the Religion of Islam itself defined it: “This day have I perfected for you your religion and completed My favor on you and chosen for you Islam as a religion; (Holy Qur'an, Surah Al-Maeda verse fragment 5:3, الْيَوْمَ أَكْمَلْتُ لَكُمْ دِينَكُمْ وَأَتْمَمْتُ عَلَيْكُمْ نِعْمَتِي وَرَضِيتُ لَكُمُ الْإِسْلَامَ دِينًا ۚ )
The lessons buried in that entire journey of the pious Imam, and not just the final ten days of it, or the last day of it called “Ashura”, are so profound, and transformative, that I have to lamentably observe that it remaining largely hidden among the ardent followers of the Ahlul Bayt throughout the ages since Karbala, is its own tragedy.
The truth of these words, that it has indeed remain hidden, is empirical. It is even explained by the very definition of "Gum-e-Hussein" that the rank and file followers of Ahlul Bayt typically live by.
This is where I am indebted to the inexplicable new rising scholar of Islam, Hujjatul Islam Allama Syed Jawad Naqvi, of the Shia Islamic Seminary named Jamea Orwathul Wuthqa, Lahore, Pakistan, [1] for his outstanding "tajziya" of the words, sentences, letters, speeches, khutbas, conversations – in full sociological context of that time – of the pious Imam himself to explain the Imam's own "Gum-e-Hussein".
What was Imam Hussein's "gum" that caused him to launch his “naizat” against the tyrant of his time?
We know what his adherents' "gum" is whenever we think of "Gum-e-Hussein". It has largely been the same ever since 61 A.H. It is the tragedy of Karbala, of what Yazid's forces did to the noble family of the noble Prophet of Islam and to the surviving women and children of Karbala. Muslims are sorrowful and sad because Yazid killed and tortured the Imam and his family. That is the public's "Gum-e-Hussein", their sorrow and anger over what Imam Hussein and his family were subjected to.
But what was Imam Hussein's own "gum"? His own anger? His own "Gum-e-Hussein"? Karbala and Ashura had not yet transpired when the Imam started his "naizat" in Medina in 60 A.H.
How, and indeed why, has Imam's Hussein's own "gum" become masked off from the pulpit by the paid narrators who mount the mimbars, and by the hundreds of thousands of devout and devoted elegy writers, poets, scholars, and khatibs throughout Muslim history?
Why has the Imam's own "gum" not become the common "gum" and shared ethos of his own steadfast adherents among both the “khawas” and the “awam” throughout history?
Had that been so, there would indeed have been Karbala every place and Ashura every day as per Imam Sadiq's explanation of the import of Karbala: “Qullo yomin Ashura, Qullo Ardin Karbala.”
Whereas, what has actually transpired is that the followers of Ahlul Bayt, worldwide, mainly only remember the Karbala of 61 A.H. They offer their sorrows and laments to the Imam for what happened to his family. And after having paid their full respects for ten days to the noble family of the Prophet of Islam, and having said their “al-widas” (goodbyes) and their “see you next year if life remaining”, return home to business as usual. The poignant pithy saying of the sixth Imam of the Ahlul Bayt has become relegated to mere poetry, elegies, posters, and fine art tee-shirts.
In the same way, many other religious concepts whose principal purpose is to induce voluntary transformation in every society in every day and age, such as “safina-tun-nijaat” (the ship of refuge, an allusion to Prophet Nuh's Ark that gave “nijaat” to all those who willingly came on board from the pestilence of the global floods; referring to the fundamental ideals and core principles of the religion of Islam that Imam Hussein is seen as the uncompromising exemplar of, the ship of refuge from all falsehoods and tyranny for anyone who willingly climbs aboard that exemplariness, in the words of the Prophet of Islam: “Innal Hussein misbah-ul-huda wa safina-tun-nijaat”), etc., have also become relegated to merely reciting in elegies. And to be worn on expensive silkscreened tee-shirts to display one's faith in the Imamate of the holy Imams of the Ahlul Bayt.
This is particularly felt important every time Shia Muslims are under assault, and rather than cower in intimidation, remembering the courage of Imam Hussein and his uncompromising stance at Karbala, put on a bold display of faith before the world with these holy sayings printed on posters and tee-shirts.
More Machiavellianly however, these slogans and the name of Imam Hussein is carried aloft for corralling the flock behind any agenda, to show any mission of self-interest as the mission of Hussein, no differently than how in the Battle of Siffin in 37 AH., Muawiyah ibn Abi Sufyan's forces at the brink of defeat, cunningly raised their copies of the Holy Qur'an on their spears as the ones on the righteous path, to confront Imam Ali's soldiers. Imam Ali's army, despite their Imam's effort in telling them that this was a diabolical ruse to get them to lay down their arms when the battle had reached a decisive stage in their favor, did precisely what Muawiyah had anticipated the simpletons in the Imam's army would do. That momentous event of Muslim history set the precedent for holding any holy flag of Islam over the public head when it serves a political agenda.
That exercise is not limited to Muslim states waging self-righteous holy wars in the name of Islam, both in offense as its own la mission civilisatrice, as well as in self-defence, internecine or otherwise.
It also encompasses the cunning of: a) deliberately keeping the public preoccupied in the fast-path to Heaven in the name of Imam Hussein by misdirecting attention to what Yazid did to Imam Hussein in the plains of Karbala, lest the public focus on what Imam Hussein did to Yazid and rise-up against their own oppressors; and b) rallying the public to senselessly lay down their own lives “united we stand” for what is propagandistically deemed holy mission, and holy defence, by rulers, in the name of what Imam Hussein did in the plains of Karbala with the same promise of Heaven awaiting. The dispensers of Heaven among Muslims throughout its short fourteen century history have arguably far surpassed the papacy at its peak influence.
The perceptive understanding of "Gum-e-Hussein" from the Imam's own point of view however, with sophistication and wherewithal, frees all these revolutionary constructs of Islam from the straight-jackets of gut-wrenching elegiac poetry, fine literature, scholarly humanities, and Machiavellian misdirection that they have become enshrined in over the ages.
Indeed, I do not see the Imam's own “gum” having become the “gum” of his most ardent matamis (self-flagellators), jooloosies (flock in processions), khatibs (mounters of pulpit), poets, scholars, mourners, and believers of his Imamat in general.
In fact, the Imam's most ardent devotees among the rank and file, in their exaggerated public expression of "Gum-e-Hussein", so transcend the bounds of human dignity in their ritualistic remembrance of the tragedy of Karbala that their blood-letting in the name of Imam Hussein, would surely be part of Imam's own "Gum-e-Hussein". The ubiquitous Shia pulpit that silently condones what has now become enshrined as the public face of Shia Islam, has occasionally been checked by the rare Shia jurist, but at best in advisory tones without categorically banning it by religious fatwa.
Thus we clearly evidence that the construct "Gum-e-Hussein" has come to have two distinct and separate meanings which have rarely coalesced throughout the fourteen centuries that it has been commemorated. There is the public's "Gum-e-Hussein", and there is Imam Hussein's own "Gum-e-Hussein".
In the age of universal tyranny, the public's "Gum-e-Hussein" is supposed to have led to adopting the Imam's own "Gum-e-Hussein" to strike at the very heart of tyrants and its systems of oppression.
Has that happened? Which meaning should one adopt in our own age of universal tyranny, 1377 years after Imam Hussein exemplified his own "Gum-e-Hussein"?
Is Imam Hussein the private property of Shia Muslims that its rank and file can do whatever it likes in his memory? The Imam is an exemplifier for all Muslims, nay, for all humanity, for wherever tyranny exists.
It is fortunate that rational people are inspired directly by the categorical imperative that Imam Hussein not only stood for, but equally demonstrated in his acts with the same uncompromising fervor, much like the Kantian categorical imperative that the West is likely more familiar with. And not turned off by the ritualistic excesses of his devoted followers who tend to largely ignore the categorical imperative of the Imam and focus on that one instance of the act itself.
What this means as a philosophical principle, is that every act of Imam Hussein underlies a principle which can become a general principle. When that is true, it is what Kant defined as the categorical imperative for moral existence based on reason. As a general principle therefore, anyone and everyone can adopt it for the same purposes in their own individual acts regardless of time and space, regardless of their caste, creed, national origin and religion –- and each of their individual acts in turn become a categorical imperative in the Kantian sense. Meaning, they do not act in a manner such that its underlying principle cannot be made into a general principle. Thus, to cut open one's head with a sword can hardly be made into a general principle of mourning.
That timeless power of Imam Hussein, to be the singular and unparalleled exemplar of Kant's categorical imperative principle for moral existence to this degree of belief and commitment a thousand years before German philosopher Immanuel Kant was even born; to offer his and his family's lives in ransom as a categorical imperative in the unflinching way that he did at Karbala, that he sacrificed everything including his children, for a principle that he held dearly, is presumably what attracts the thoughtful mind to Imam Hussein even fourteen centuries later.
Here, in the philosophical sense, it is arguably immaterial what specifically Imam Hussein believed, but only that his principled acts, driven by the courage of his convictions, is illustrative of the Kantian categorical imperative of moral existence. That is Imam Hussein's attraction to many thinking peoples, as the unsurpassed exemplar of having the courage of one's convictions.
It is this idea that inspires many to stand their ground against all odds even when they may not be Muslim, or even religious. Hindus are as inspired by Imam Hussein's categorical imperative for instance – when they do not even believe in the religion of Islam. So clearly the specific religious beliefs of Imam Hussein has no significance for them. This is why, as the poet said, let people be awakened and informed when all nations will say Hussein is ours!
The rank and file mind is of course least bothered with principles and philosophies, or perhaps fairer to say, is not as attracted to the underlying principles as to the act itself. Such a mindless public, by ignoring the principles underlying the Imam's acts, despoil the Imam's sacrifice. It was indeed the only raison d'être of the Imam's “qayaam” all the way to his supreme sacrifice at Karbala. The Imam did not then, nor surely now, want tears of sympathy. The Imam did not call people watching him depart at each stage of his “qayaam”, to shed tears for him or his family in lieu of their accompanying him. He called them to join him solely as a shared categorical imperative which he tried to educate them as their duty, as the moral exemplar of Islam. Imam Sadiq's statement quoted earlier, translated into English: Every day is Ashura, Every place is Karbala, reinforces this point that the Imam's acts is a timeless general principle; a categorical imperative against tyranny.
We see from this short discussion that Imam Hussein's "Gum-e-Hussein" is what drives the Imam to his categorical imperative, and the public's "Gum-e-Hussein" is what drives them to recall the act of Imam Hussein but not to his categorical imperative.
It also appears to me that it was indeed the Islamic Revolution in Iran that brought this distinction out on the surface in our own era --- but not from the lips of Qom trained ullema who have become professional pulpit occupiers worldwide, earning their livelihood in the name of the miseries of Ahlul Bayt. The "Gum-e-Hussein" the turbans have preached for centuries, and continue to rehearse today, is the public's variety. For it is the public that pays for their keep.
From homes to religious centers, a paid turban, whether trained in a seminary or self-taught with diligent practice, brings the devotees to tears as their fast path to Heaven, and charges a hefty fees for that service. This has become the de facto public face of Shiadom.
The wide chasm between the Imam's own "Gum-e-Hussein" and the public's "Gum-e-Hussein" cannot be more unbridgeable under the present system of ritualized, superstitious, fast-path driven, Shiadom. This serves the interests of the control systems of tyranny just fine.
Jawad Naqvi is the first exception I have seen to the typical Qom and Iraq trained religious scholars, khatibs, alims, and various and sundry Hujjatul Islams and Ayatollahs. And because of this exceptional find, I have spent hundreds of hours, literally, going through Jawad Naqvi's remarkable collection of speeches archived on his website,, to extract the gems, and to leave aside the shells.
This signal to noise ratio filtering is the prerequisite for intelligently parsing all narratives of history, as well as of current affairs, for every student of truth, be it a lowly student like myself, or the Grand scholar of the universe as captured in imposing titles like “Ayatollah Uzma”, “Grand Mufti”, etc.
What I personally think about this entire "ma'ajjra" is what Jawad Naqvi, evidently a fount of knowledge and understanding on this subject, explains in great lucidity as the "Gum-e-Hussein", Imam Hussein's own “gum” from Imam Hussein's own words, to unravel the entire “ma'ajjra” of Karbala. Jawad Naqvi points out some very interesting sociological questions and its import to our own times. Specifically, the principal point: the same sociological and psychological principles that characterized the role of the elites in making the public mind that eventually led to the acceptance of, or acquiescence to, a ruler like Yazid coming to power (which led to Karbala), whenever and wherever these principles shall exist, will beget the same conditions, the same “banality of evil”. It is virtually the timeless sociological law of civilizations. None can be soundly skeptical about that perceptive observation, for it is arguably a demonstrated truism. We see it around us even today.
I hold the same general view as exposited by Jawad Naqvi on this “ma'ajjra”. I just wish I had the depth of his knowledge and the depth of his eloquence to similarly express it in English directly from the books and sources that Jawad Naqvi has quoted the words, speeches, and conversations of the pious Imam from. That is necessary because these words of Imam Hussein themselves need a careful epistemological scrutiny. Where did these words of Imam Hussein come from, who compiled or documented them, what is its etiology, etc. We just assume these words to be Imam's own for now to understand its universal import – for the import is indeed empirical. In other words, for the stubborn academic or sectarian mind inclined to be easily misdirected by self-importance, just ignore its authorship and focus on what these words are in fact propounding. Return to the question of authorship later. Thus, given my limitations of not having direct access to the source material, I bring to you Jawad Naqvi in Urdu, for what its worth, to make up your own mind on this singular mystery of Muslim history:
Hamasa-e-Karbala 1438 Muharram-ul Haram: Qayam-e-Imam Hussain Ka Makki Marhala (the Meccan stage of Imam Hussein's stance), Khawas ka Kirdar (the role of Meccan elite),
Direct links to Jawad Naqvi's ten+ arduously long video lectures in Urdu (with thanks to the scholar for making the bold effort), and, when time permits, the English transcripts (of pertinent sections), for your convenience:
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In shared "Gum-e-Hussein" of the captain of “safinah-tun-nijaat” for all mankind,
as-salamu 'alayka ya Sayed-us-Shuhada
Yours sincerely,
Zahir Ebrahim | Project

[1] As some may already be familiar, I have had some principled difference of opinion on a couple of fundamental matters with Jawad Naqvi. Specifically, why he persistently chooses to ignore the title “Sir” as he makes “Sir” Allama Iqbal out to be the “alamabardar” of “deen-e-shabbiri” (the flag bearer of the religion of Hussein). From his silence to my letter of inquiry in my report: The Rise of Revolutionary Islam in Pakistan – A Report on Behavior Control, I have unfortunately concluded that Hujjatul Islam Allama Syed Jawad Naqvi, either carefully lies by omission when convenient or necessary to push his ideological doctrines through; or he is victim of both: data availability bias and confirmation bias, which permits him to weave his narrative to unwittingly only state what is consistent with his own theology. That is arguably not the hallmark of a student of truth (one who seeks truth in all matters regardless of what it is), but that of an ideological doctrinaire (one who expounds his own “truth”, his own beliefs, his own ideology). There is a marked difference between the two. The former when presented with a fact or analysis that goes against his presupposition or instincts, easily accepts the new fact. The latter discards that fact as inconvenient, or denies it, or minimizes it, or rationalizes it away as inconsequential. Secondly, Jawad Naqvi has never responded to my critical analysis of the entire concept of Taqlid, and Vilayat-i Faqih, in which I have tried to understand the matter directly from my meagre study of the Holy Qur'an, and asked the world of Islam scholars to find the flaw in it so that either I, a humble student of reality and not its master, may come to the right understanding of reality and stop being mistaken, or they change their mind. Since both cannot be true when they are opposites. See Preface: Hijacking The Holy Qur'an And Its Religion Islam. Obviously, no “khawas” is really interested in putting an ordinary fellow of the “awam” straight. I cast aside those differences of opinion for this topic. I find Jawad Naqvi's clear, lucid, and analytical deconstruction of this history both interesting and perceptive. It opens the door to further study for the curious minds. And it also opens the door to changing one's own perception of the “ma'ajjra” of Karbala for both Muslims and non Muslims.

First published October 06, 2016 | Last updated Sunday, October 30, 2016 06:00 pm 4795

Open Letter: The ma'ajjra of Karbala - What is it all about 1377 years later? By Zahir Ebrahim 11/11