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Islamic History ( 25 Dec 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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The lesson of Karbala: Hussain salvaged the New, Revolutionary Social Contract that Islam gave to Arabia in the 7th century

By Murtaza Razvi

Friday, 25 Dec, 2009


So what has changed since Hussain’s heroic refusal to endorse Yazid’s tyranny in 680 AD? Very little, indeed, if truth be told uncoated. Yet more than any other event in Muslim history, the spirit inherent in the tragedy of Karbala is one that defies injustice and coercion — unto death if that’s what it must take.

Repression and cruelty could not get Hussain, or indeed his survivors, to endorse the authoritarian order Yazid set out to impose. The assassination of Hussain and his companions at Karbala 61 years after the proclamation of Islam, which set a people enslaved by superstition and tribal tyranny free to bow only before one God, caused repulsion all around. It prompted a revolt in Hejaz led by Abdullah Ibn Zubair.

Yazid’s army responded by sacking Madina and laying siege to Makkah. But the flame of human dignity and independence of action, as guaranteed by the new social contract that Islam had brought to Arabia, was rekindled by the martyrs at Karbala. It consumed Yazid within three years of the atrocity, and confined his reign of terror to oblivion.

What survived in the hearts and minds of the people was Hussain’s refusal to endorse rule by terror. And that indeed is divine justice in action. Hypocrites and tyrants (kufi-o-shami) will come and go, as Iqbal says, but the perpetual reality (haqiqat-i-abadi), the spirit of defiance in the face of coercion that is Hussain, shall remain. The vanquished of yore is the hero of history and the historical victor has become synonymous with tyranny.

The new, revolutionary social contract that Islam gave to Arabia in the 7th century, and which Hussain salvaged, remains the ideal for Muslims to pursue around the world today. Though Muslims may largely continue to be ruled by autocratic regimes, their value system has not been obscured; bogus referendum and votes aside, no one, since the time of Yazid, has managed to get public endorsement of his autocratic rule.

A tyranny, in the form of the erstwhile Taliban rule in Afghanistan, may last awhile, but it must do so without the backing of the people. Closer home, ask the people of Swat who were subjected to repression and coercion by the Pakistani militants until last year, and they will tell you how blessed they feel having seen the back of their tormentors. Tyranny is called tyranny because it goes against the will of those on whom it is imposed; it cannot be justified under any pretext, garb or excuse — be it religious, secular or ideological.

Tyranny is all about self-aggrandisement and power play, and not the people it seeks to control for their own benefit. In our times, it has reared its head in varied forms, including military dictatorship by self-proclaimed messiahs, autocratic rule by elected representatives, bigotry and intolerance, extremism and, last but not least, the tele-evangelism of self-righteous preachers and anchors. It is also about whipping up mob psychology and the hysteria that causes the baying for blood of those labelled as heretics or accused of blasphemy, for instance.

What happened earlier this year to Christians in Gojra, and in 2007 to the Ahmadi community in Mandi Bahauddin, was no less than what happened on Ashura in the desert of Iraq centuries ago. The attacks by extremists on our shopping centres, vital installations, schools, mosques, imambargahs and other places of public gathering are equally repulsive. Analyst Hasan Nisar is right when he says that Muslim history is replete with shameful examples of genocide, murder and mayhem committed against fellow Muslims, not necessarily their religious adversaries. This calls for serious introspection.

Hussain had to die because he alone refused to live in denial of the fact that Yazid was establishing a tyranny, one that he would not endorse even though a majority of those around him chose to look the other way. The lesson of Karbala is to stand up to oppression and coercion at all times. The denial so prevalent in Pakistan today that no Muslim can indulge in causing the kind of death and destruction the Taliban and Al Qaeda are accused of unleashing on our cities must give way to the realisation that a bigger enemy lurks within. It must not be allowed to cow us into submission.

Intolerance, extremism and the coercion the militants seek to impose on society must be condemned, stood up against and disowned. Those who died in the desert of Iraq hundreds of years ago were innocent, just like those who die today when suicide bombers strike, killing and maiming our men, women and children. This tyranny, too, must be resisted.

Source: DAWN Media Group ©2009 DAWN Media Group. All rights reserved

Murtaza, 44, is editor of the Dawn Media Group’s in-paper magazines and a leading commentator.

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