Lessons from Imam Hussein (A.S) In the Eyes of Non-Muslims: Part One - Interfaith Dialogue

It is difficult for me to speak about the martyrdom of Imam Hussein (A.S), the event of Karbala or about the meaning of Martyrdom in Islam thought, because it evokes in me the highest feelings of sorrow and grief. I cannot examine this topic as a Historian, reciting the historical events which led to the tragedy, nor can I wear the lens of a Psychiatrist and try to imagine how these men and woman felt 61 years A.H, nor can I illustrate the blood-stained field from the inks of a Poet. I cannot, because I've failed to fully grasp the supreme lessons from the Imam and his Companions.

My current intellectual capabilities don't permit me to perform such assignment. I can only examine, and my weapons are only science and logic. 

For over 1375 years, Muslims have continuously commemorated the tragedy of Karbala. Yearly, on the tenth of Muharram, millions flood the streets, solidifying their stands, expressing their grief and chanting their pledges. The hundreds of thousands of visitors, lovers of Imam Hussein that walk hundred of miles, fly thousands of miles to gather around the Mosque in Karbala, surely embrace with this personality feelings a sincere attachment. However, the followers of Ahl al Bayt have cocooned Imam Hussein and kept him to themselves and hesitated to share this foundation, this bed-rock of Islamic creed. How often do our scholars, intellectuals and speakers stress on the importance of Karbala as being "the school of lessons", however fail on numerous occasions to fully paint the canvas while standing on the platforms and so the picture remains obscure to the audience. Some of our Majalis are becoming stagnant, and awkwardly enough many have transformed this period of extreme mourning and grief into a promotion for hemic flagellation rituals. Yet we've always claimed that Imam Hussein is for all religions, for all mankind, for humanity, but most of our Hussayniyat or Mosques are of one colour during our Majalis, but outside the doors of this gathering, Non-Muslims for centuries have been and will continue to be flabbergasted with this figure we remember on Muharram. And so I intend to examine how and why Imam Hussein and Karbala should be used to initiate inter-faith dialogue with other schools inside and outside Islam (Part One). In a second post (Part Two), I will try to review how Imam Hussein was perceived by Non-Muslims and the lessons they've gained. This later part will take sometime before I post it due to the needed time for compilation.

One is often confounded, how is it possible that for centuries, this particular story is still alive, more it is vivid? I ask: was Imam Hussein intended to be for Muslims only? No. The Prophet (pbuh) wanted to show from a young age, that Imam Hussein (A.S) is for all religions by putting him, his brother Imam Hassan, Imam Ali and Fatima (A.S) in front at Mubahala. The Prophet (pbuh), chose Imam Hussein and his family, to symbolize that they are the symbol of purity, the most entitled to carry the message of Islam, to preserve the Quran and it's teaching. The most eligible for interfaith dialogue. 

It is our obligation in the 21st century, that we benefit of Muharram, invite other faiths for dialogue, introduce them to the Message of Islam and to the Revolution of Imam Hussein (although some scholars and free thinkers differ in this term). However, there are numerous prerequisites before we initiate such dialogue, the first begins with a self awareness. I will briefly explain the term self awareness, as this is a subset of a wider issue which requires further analyses and is outside of this topic. One cannot give what he does not posses. A simple proposition, that is the basis of many fundamental theories in natural and human science. Likewise in order to be able to present and invite others to apply this "school" that we claim is founded by the Imam, his Companions and the event of Karbala, we must proof that we followers of the Imam have truly submitted to his teachings. This latter has not occurred yet and is a major reason that our elders only relate to the Imam Hussein (A.S) as a martyr, and to Zaynab (A.S) as the oppressed who stood against the oppressor in his castle in Damascus. Hence much of our understanding of the Imam and his Companions among our elders and our youth is relatively superficial. Not much effort is being done to properly educate them, and the reasons are diverse, among them is the absence of my second prerequisite before initiating the inter-faith dialogue: we've isolated Karbala from the timeline of the Prophet (pbuh) and his descendants, and because of this isolation - we've neglected the remaining Imam's. Truly there is no day like the day of Karbala, but the martyrdom of Imam of Hussein is an incident that was bound to occur if we observe the life and the school of this sacred chain, the lineage of the Household of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). 

Imam Ali (A.S) has a beautiful quote, in his famous sermon to Malik al Ashtar in Egypt, that the men are of two kind, either your brothers in faith or equal in humanity. If we ponder on this binary equilibrium, we deduce that what should unite us, in parallel with our common faith, is our humanity, our self awareness that we have common denominators and our goal is to establish dialogue on this fundamental basis. Every human being throughout his life will ask him/herself four ultimate questions: the first is a metaphysical question (is their a higher force or a God ?), a cosmological question (what is this universe we live in ?), a psychological question (what is my role in this world?) and finally an ethical question (how should I behave with others ?) [Sayed Ammar Nakshawani]. The virtue of the tragedy in Karabala is that Imam Hussain and his Companions (A.S) combined all four questions and answers in one dimension. If Hussain sheds tears because he is saddened that his enemies will be burned in hell, than how merciful is the God that Hussain worships? If Hussain sets on a journey of hundreds of kilometres, but joining him is his family, even the six month old baby, to defend the religion of his grandfather, than how superb, downright and marvellous is his message... surely it is of a higher order.


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