Imam Hussain (as) & Basic Human Dignity
by: Sayyid Muhammad Rizvi | Source: The Warith Magazine - April 2019

In the desert of Karbala, Imam Hussain bin Ali (as) was given an ultimatum: to either pledge his allegiance to Yazid bin Muawiyah or lose his life. Imam Hussain (as) decisively chose an honourable death over a life of disgrace under the tyrant, Yazid. He said, 'By Allah, I will not give my hand [in allegiance] and surrender like a disgraced person nor will I surrender like the surrendering of a slave.'. At another point, he said, 'Verily, the bastard son of a bastard [Ubaydullah ibn Ziyad] has placed me between a rock and a hard place: between drawing the sword and disgrace, whilst disgrace is indeed, far from us.'

Prior to the Battle of Karbala, Yazid's army blocked Imam Hussain's (as) caravan from all access to the nearby Alqama River. Finally, after three days of thirst, on the tenth of Mu?arram, 61 AH (10 October 680 CE), Imam Hussain (as), his family, and his followers (just over a 100 people) faced Yazid's army of at least 30,000 soldiers in a challenging day of battle. During the brutal and uneven conflict, Imam al-Husayn (as) and his followers opted to die courageously, rather than give in to Yazid's demand for allegiance. No male member from Imam Hussain's (as) friends or family in Karbala, except his son Imam Ali Zayn al-Abidin (as), was spared; even Imam Hussain's (as) six month old infant son was killed. This tragic day has since been known in Muslim history as the day of Ashura.

For the past fourteen centuries, Imam Hussain's (as) stand on the day of Ashura has served as an inspiration for people from various walks of life. One aspect of his movement was his call to uphold basic human values of justice, truth, and the freedom to make ethical choices. Through the nobility and moral integrity of his actions leading up to, and on the day of Ashura, Imam al-Husayn (as) underscored the importance of preserving one's own dignity and the dignity of one's enemies, even in a state of war.

In more recent times, unparalleled advances in science and technology, have enabled human beings to perpetuate crimes of indignity and injustice on an unprecedented scale. In spite of the establishment of the Geneva Convention that stipulates stringent conditions for the humane treatment of enemies and prisoners of war, individuals and societies continue to violate the principles of human dignity. Examples of widespread violation of basic rights to dignity, security, food, shelter, and personal freedom, are found all around the globe, perpetuated by people from varying economic, religious and ideological contexts and backgrounds. In times of war, respect for the life, security and dignity of civilian women and children, is often disregarded. During the conflicts of the past century, Christian Americans in Vietnam, Shinto Japanese in China, Buddhists in Burma, Taliban Muslims in Afghanistan, ISIS soldiers in Iraq and Syria, Christian Serbians in Yugoslavia, and the Hutus in Rwanda, all attacked the noncombatant women and children of their enemies. Women and children caught in the crossfire of conflict, have been looted, injured, killed, raped and made homeless refugees.

In the darkness of the amoral state of contemporary international affairs, the noble example of Imam al-Husayn (as) in battle, shines more brightly than ever before.

After his companions and the male members of his family had been killed, Imam Hussain (as) faced his enemy alone. The son of 'the Lion of God' was feared by Yazid's army and they refused to fight him in one-to-one combat. Eventually, Umar ibn Sad, the commander-inchief of Yazid's army, said to his soldiers: 'Woe to you! Do you know whom you are fighting? This is the son of the one who killed the brave warriors of the Arabs. Attack him from all sides.' Hearing this command, a group of four thousand archers surrounded Imam Hussain (as).

As he was being pierced by arrows from all sides, Imam Hussain (as) noticed that a group of Yazid's soldiers were moving towards the tents of his women and children. Bleeding, wounded and whilst a barrage of arrows continued to strike him, Imam Hussain (as) turned to his enemies and sharply rebuked them. His eloquent appeal to moral conscience and integrity finds universal resonance today, across all cultural, geographic and religious divides:

'O Followers of the family of Abu Sufyan! Woe to you! If you do not have a religion nor do you fear the Day of Judgement, then at least be free and honourable in your worldly matters! Preclude your lowly and ignorant soldiers from [attacking] my women and my family because they are not combatants.'

When Umar ibn Sad questioned, 'What do you mean, O son of Fatima?' Imam Hussain (as) replied, 'I am the one fighting you and you are fighting me, and the women have nothing to do with this. So, stop your people from targeting my family as long I am alive.'

In his memorable speech above, Imam al-Husayn (as) called upon all people in a state of war and strife to act in accordance with their moral conscience. He advised that in the absence of a faith that motivates people to act honourably and justly, people should be guided by their innate compassion and humanity.

I wish that Imam Hussain's (as) wise statement, 'If you do not have a religion nor do you fear the Day of Judgement, then at the least be free and honourable in your worldly matters,' could be cast in stone and displayed in the main assembly hall of the United Nations Organization. It would serve as a profound point of reflection to guide humanity through the conflicts and complexities of all eras.