A Living Model -- Imam Husayn Day
"Living Islam – East & West"
every aspect of life there is an outer form and an inner meaning.
They are always connected but not always in the right balance. If
the form is not joined with the meaning, then the balance in
existence has been disrupted. If we do not live according to what we
say and teach, our lives will become barren. If the true message
of Islam is not adhered to, in both its form and meaning, then it is
a distorted message and will end up being yet another religion which
is far removed from its source. Thus has the Islamic heritage become
diluted and sloppily tolerant. Muslims have become easy-going,
open-minded, or injudiciously understanding. The result is that our
children are out of place and in the wrong place, at the wrong time,
doing the wrong thing and we blame them or blame others for our
Those Muslims who have inherited the legacy of the
Ahl al-Bayt (the
family of the Prophet) by birth must yet earn the reward of this
legacy by practicing the form of this great heritage.
Of little value is that which is inherited. It is often destructive
rather than constructive. It is very fortunate that we have certain
occasions to remember, to reactivate, and to relive, so that we
become unified, as members of that mystical caravan from time
immemorial -- that began with the birth of Adam -- which raises man to
the ultimate potential in this experience of life.
Let us look at the
Qur`an, that we may share the recognition of the
responsibility that is upon our shoulders.
Only Allah is your Protector and Guardian and His Messenger and
those who believe, those who keep up prayers and pay the poor-rate
while they bow.
And whoever takes Allah and His Messenger and
those who believe for a guardian, then surely the party of Allah are
they that shall be triumphant. (5:55-56)
Most of us know the specific, historical reason for the revelation
of this verse. Imam 'Ali was in the bowing position of the prayer in
the Prophet's Mosque in Medina. A man came in asking for
a voluntary contribution of alms. The Imam, while bowing, lifted
his hand for the man to take the ring off his finger. Now there
is a question here that we all have to settle. How could a man
like Imam 'Ali be aware of the fact that there was a beggar, a
man seeking material help in the mosque when we have a tradition that his state was so undistracted in prayer that his
companions pulled an arrow from his leg? Shaykh al-Tusi described in
Kitab at-Shafi the meaning of how these two qualities were combined in 'Ali. In short, he was the greatest of believers in his
prayer, yet he was fully aware of what was going on.
We are here in this life in order to follow the caravan led by
the blessed Prophet, and by Imam 'Ali, and Imam Hasan, and Imam
Husayn, and the nine other Imams. We are here in order to be in
Karbala. Not once a year, or once a month, or once a week, or once a
day but beyond time, to be in that state.
If we want to belong to the party of Allah, to the party of the
Prophet's House, there are several conditions for it, not like most
other parties which one can join one day and from which one can
withdraw one's allegiance the next. This party is based on behavior, the science of how to be. It is concerned with being-ness. We are brought into this world in order to learn
conduct ourselves, how to be in glorification of Allah, how to be in
Islam which is submission, unquestioning and total submission. This
the meaning of tawhid.
Imam 'Ali was a man of
tawhid. He was a man who was in
this world and did not belong to it, a man who was cognizant
of its totality. It was he who said,
"You think you are a small
universe and within you is folded up the entire cosmos." He was
in a state of prayer and yet was aware of who was in front of
him. This is the state of a man in total abandonment, in pure,
absolute consciousness, unified with the entire creation of reality.
This man was one about whom it was said: "He gives drink and drinks
and yet is not distracted by his drunkenness." This drunkenness was
due to joyfulness, this drunkenness was abandonment in Allah.
About this state Imam 'Ali said:
"His joy in that state does not
distract him from his beloved; nor is he distracted by the cup; nor
is he distracted by life, by troubles, by goals, or by doing
righteous deeds." His drunkenness of his joyfulness was under his
control because he was a fully awakened being. He was in the state
of completeness. He was the perfect man. He is the man whom we try
to emulate, the dust of whose footsteps we seek to follow.
The culture of the family of the Prophet is a complete model, an
entire reality. If we want to know aspects of the overall reality
then we have no other option but to take to the path that has been
trodden by those who have achieved knowledge of that reality. That
is the only logical thing that any man with sense and respect for
himself would do. As charity starts at home, it must begin with the
individual. Entering that party, to be as though he were amongst the
Family of the Prophet, to be in fearful awareness, aware of death at
all times. One must be willing to face the next life joyfully,
knowing that we have done our best and that there is nothing left
except to see the face of Allah without any distraction as is
invariably the case in this life.
The affliction of Imam Husayn is the affliction of each one of us,
except that in our case, since we are not completely dedicated to
the path of Allah, we do not see it as sharply as in the case of
Karbala. We are all at all times confronted with tests and
Do men think that they will be left alone on saying, We believe, and
not be tried? (29:2)
The purpose of this test is to enable us to sort out that part of us
that must be left behind, to be destroyed, that is to say, the lower
aspect of the self. Thus, the higher aspects will become habit, and
a way of life. Our affliction is, therefore, positive, that we may
evolve and move higher and higher into that ultimate
realm that leaves us at the final point of tawhid. Here one sees
nothing other than the blessedness that comes from the Creator
even though, when an affliction is experienced, we may not like it.
A man of submission sees nothing other than goodness in his
life which comes to him from his Creator. If he dislikes anything
he sees it as deriving from himself or as a result of his own
ignorance. Therefore, he is content at all times with his knowledge
and behaves outwardly as correctly as possible, balancing between justice and peace.
We have all begun from the point of absolute peace, non-existence. We have come from the unknown, from a point that we
cannot remember or describe, but the truth is that it was remembered
in the knowledge of Allah.
There surely came over man a period of time when
he was a thing not worth mentioning.
Everyone of us is a part of the one and only jigsaw puzzle. The
entire creation is entire because of all that it contains, and we
are an aspect of it.
So trial and affliction,
fitna, is for our own benefit, for our own
training, because it helps us to evolve, and if it happens in a
revolutionary way, then that evolution is faster. If we are afflicted
and every door is closed, as was the case for Imam Husayn in
Karbala, then we should praise and thank Allah for we truly
must depend upon Him. At such a time we are given the opportunity to say and to act upon
"There is no power nor strength
except with Allah the Most High, the Mighty." We cannot turn
anywhere. We cannot depend on our family, neighbors, or
Year after year we are given
opportunities to reach the point
of Karbala experientially so that we can go beyond the description of the moment. Not everyday is Karbala nor every moment,
rather Karbala is beyond time. We are already with the eternal
martyr who turns the name of destruction upside down and causes it
to mean everlastingness.
The affliction of Imam Husayn is our affliction. His affliction has
always afflicted mankind. The outward condition of his affliction was a result of man's apathy and complacency. The Muslims
reverted to their old social habits of nomadic life. In nomadic life
there was a hereditary leadership, but ultimately it was based
on the ability of the best man to raid and fight, to be cunning,
and to exhibit the highest level of courage and adventurousness.
Also, compassion and generosity were qualities considered important.
The way of Muhammad elevated that culture into a much
higher form, into the only fitting way for a man to exist in this
life. Everybody was given the opportunity to worship. A man in
a state of tawhid (unification with Allah) does not even recognize
that he lives in jihad, that is to say, fighting in the way of Allah.
He does not wait for someone to come and give him the answers. He is
in a state of inner, constant revolution. He is attached to the
world. He is free and yet constrained by his Creator. He is
leashed by a leash which gives him his freedom: the freedom
of no choice. He does not have to wonder or think. It is not a
process of thought that is in time -- that is electromagnetically,
chemically and otherwise biologically constricted. It is spontaneous, innate, and instinctive. It is by Allah, from Allah, to Allah,
because he is a man of Allah.
An enlightened member of the Prophet's family, in our time,
once remarked that the birth of Imam Husayn was not on his
birthday, which was the 3rd of Sha'ban in the 3rd year after
Hijrah, when Islamic culture was at its pinnacle. Rather it was
really the 10th of Muharram in the 61st year after the Hijrah,
because that was when he was born to live forever.
Imam Husayn was a man who had no option. He sought peace as we all
do, but he had no option in what he did. He already knew in his
heart what was going to happen, but yet, as a human
being like all of us, he had to go through the forms still thinking
that something might happen, that somehow the hearts of the
brutes he was confronting might turn. He lived every moment in that
moment. He did not abandon any possibility. He followed the entire
model to the fullest extremity until he realized the
truth of the prophecy and the truth of his destiny. By his blood
the ever-blossoming tree of Islam is able to grow in our hearts.
That is the model of Karbala. To know that model we must
strive and go through it, and the master of that journey is the
Prophet Muhammad. This is a state that we can, at all times, attain.
Nothing ever changes. The pattern merely repeats itself
and continues, until man is finally evolved to such a degree that he
is ready for the final justice of the Imam al-Mahdi. After his
appearance mankind will experience complete peace on this earth.
Until that time we are in the process of evolving to a situation
where everybody will live the justice that is inherent in his heart.
Each of us is first and foremost the judge of himself, not judging
others until he corrects himself.
The Prophet Muhammad said:
"Injustices are of three types: one type
is that from which we will never be forgiven and it is association
with Allah." The
Qur`an says about this:
Surely Allah does not forgive that anything should be associated
with Him, and forgives what is besides that to whomsoever He
pleases; and whoever associates anything with Allah, he devises
indeed a great sin.
If we worship or adore anything other than Allah, depend on
anything other than Allah, wish anything other than the knowledge of
Allah, then we have associated with Allah. The Prophet, describing
association with Allah in a most profound and graphic way, said:
"The creeping of association with Allah into my community is more
hidden than the creeping of the black ant on a massive rock in the
dark night." The meaning is that there are aspects of association,
some gross, some much more subtle. Muslims tend to think that when
they have eliminated the gross aspects there is nothing more to look
Imam 'Ali, in a tradition regarding nature of what is decreed,
quotes the Qur`an:
No evil befalls the earth nor your own souls, but it is in a book
(decreed) before We bring it into existence; surely that is easy to
So that you may not grieve for what has escaped you, nor be exultant
at what He has given you; and Allah does not love any arrogant
afflicts us, in the earth or in ourselves, it is already
in the Book, in the Eternal Book, the Book of Reality. It was
there in the absolute, total decree before it was created. It was
decreed in the sense that laws that govern this cosmos eventually
will result in what you and I will experience -- not decree in
a superstitious sense. We are both free and chained. We are
chained to the laws that govern existence and we are free to act
within these constraints. The interaction of the two is what results
in the dynamism of life. The Imam said this affliction was already
there -- it was already in the Book and we should not be sorry
for what has happened. This world is a theatre, a facade. The
test in this world is not to look back. Thus, the man of faith has
all of his energies preserved. He is not sorry for what has happened for he has done his best.
The Prophet in response to being told about an occurrence,
regardless of how distorted it was, would say not to look back
upon it, do not feel sorry about it. Clean your heart and live in
the present. That is the only contact point you have with Allah
who is beyond time: now, now, now. The smaller that now is,
the less it is in time.
Ignorance of how Allah's decree works is well explained in
the following Qur`anic verse:
And among men is he who says: We believe in
Allah; but when he is persecuted in (the way of)
Allah he thinks the persecution of men to be as the chastisement of
Allah; and if there comes assistance from your Lord, they would most certainly
say: Surely we were with you. What! Is not Allah the best Knower of
what is in the breasts of mankind.
Affliction is from the injustice of mankind. Man has the option
as Allah's deputy on earth to handle or mishandle his representation so that he brings about justice or injustice. So, if we are
afflicted by injustice it is our own doing. We have abused our
authority, and we have not recognized that authority of Allah.
We have not kept within the bounds of Allah, nor have we been
in fearful awareness. The Prophet was asked on one occasion,
"Who are the people of the (Prophet's) house?" He responded,
"He who is in fearful awareness embraces that party."
The affliction of Karbala was the injustice of man upon man.
All over the world people are constantly remembering events
that help us to move more and more towards tawhid (unity), and
one of the most remarkable of them all is the reactivation of
Islam by the blood of the master Imam Husayn. Entry into his
magnificent companionship can only be obtained by unifying
the outer law of Islam with the inner reality. One must be a
man of Allah inwardly and the most kind, gentle, understanding,
compassionate, patient, and courageous man outwardly, willing to lay
down one's life at any moment. When a person's will
unifies with the will of God, then he enters into fighting in the
way of Allah, the path of Imam Husayn. Then he is with the
Imam at all times. His love of the Imam is transformed into the
love of Allah, an uncompromising, absolute love born of total