|Gaza: Our current Karbala||
“Every day is Ashura, every land is Karbala” -- Shia tradition.
During the first ten days of the Islamic month of Muharram, Shia Muslims commemorate the heroic stand of Imam Hussein (AS) and his 72 companions against the overwhelming forces of the Umayyad Caliph Yazid ibn Muawiyah in the year 61 AH (approximately October 11-20, 680 CE) on the plains of Karbala, Iraq. The Imam (AS) was forced into confronting the unjust Umayyads because their corruption had so permeated the Muslim Ummah that by 60 AH, it was clearly impossible to eradicate it in any other way.
The Imam’s courageous sacrifice not only saved Islam, the religion of his grandfather Prophet Muhammad (S), but also brought hope and inspiration to oppressed people everywhere, and set an example for opposing injustice for all generations. It is no wonder that in the intervening 1300 years, Karbala has become an icon conceptualizing the struggle of the just against the mighty forces of the unjust everywhere.
Throughout the ages, Allah had sent messengers to confront the unjust power elite and establish a just social order, as Moses (AS) confronted Pharaoh in ancient Egypt, and Jesus (AS) confronted the commercial establishment that had taken over the Jerusalem temple. Likewise, Allah had given the Prophet of Islam (S) the mission of uprooting the established power structure in Mecca and replacing it with a just social order.
Mecca was a great capital of commerce in its day with caravans arriving from India, China, Yemen, Syria and Egypt, and the profits from the lucrative trading flowed to the wealthy Meccans, who lived a life of comfort and convenience, each owning numerous slaves, while the masses lived under harsh conditions in abysmal poverty. Al-Abbas ibn Abdul Muttalib, Abu Jahl, Abu Sufyan and the other wealthy Meccans were well aware of the economic threat posed by the Prophet Muhammed (S) and Islam, and therefore used every possible means including armed force to eliminate him (S) and the religion.
After Imam Ali’s (AS) assassination by the sword of ibn Muljim who Muawiyah ibn Abu Sufyan had bribed, he consolidated the seat of Umayyad power in Damascus. He reinstated the unjust policies of his predecessors, sent imperial forces to conquer and subdue Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and the Hijaz, and reinforced the tyrannical Umayyad dynasty by appointing his wine-imbibing son, Yazid, to be his successor.
Seeking revenge for Umayyad deaths in the Battle of Badr, Yazid demanded that Imam Hussein (AS) swear allegiance to him and when the Imam (AS) refused, accused him of inciting a rebellion and dispatched forces to kill him. So, the Imam (AS) left Medina for Mecca, performed the rites of Umrah (minor pilgrimage), and then left for Kufa, Iraq on the eighth day of the Islamic month of Dhul Hijja in the year 60 AH, by invitation of the Muslims of Kufa to be their spiritual leader. Arriving on the plains of Karbala on the second of Muharram, the Imam (AS) and his companions, numbering only a few hundred persons at most, set up camp and pitched their tents near the Euphrates River.
By the fourth of Muharram, the Imam’s camp was surrounded by battalions from the huge army of Ibn Ziyad, Yazid’s governor in Kufa, which by the tenth numbered 140,000 mercenaries from Syria, Iraq, Iran and other countries. Ibn Ziyad then ordered his commander, Umar ibn Sa’d, to cut off the camp’s access to water from the Euphrates, but had to entice him with promises of riches and threats of removal from command to force him to comply with the immoral order. This act was of sufficient depravity to drive 30 soldiers from Yazid’s army to the camp of Imam Hussein (AS). Water supplies were exhausted by the sixth of Muharram, so none was left in the camp through Ashura.
The confrontation between Imam Hussein (AS) and Yazid’s army reached its climax on Ashura, the tenth day of Muharram when the Shias in Kufa who had invited the Imam (AS) reneged, leaving him with a choice of surrendering to Ibn Ziyad and living a few more years in humiliation, or mounting a resistance against him and martyrdom. Choosing the latter, the Imam (AS) was martyred on the day of Ashura along at least 72 loyal companions who remained with him. This selfless sacrifice destabilized the Umayyad regime and insured the continuation of Islam. To emphasize the complete moral debauchery of the unjust Umayyads, the Imam’s infant son, Ali Asghar, was martyred when a crazed enemy archer shot an arrow that pierced his throat.
Briefly, such is the history of Karbala, but how can we apply its concepts to the present? The forces of injustice and oppression represented by the Umayyads, and the forces of justice and resistance represented by Imam Hussein (AS) have their counterparts in all ages, and today is no exception. If we look for a ruthless nation, which, like the Umayyads of old, wants to maintain its imperial dominance by any means lawful or not, we immediately think of the United States. If we look for a smaller unscrupulous nation, which, like the local Umayyad governor Ibn Ziyad, wants to maintain its regional supremacy at any cost, we immediately think of the Zionist regime. Finally, if we look for a small nation, which, like the companions of Imam Hussein (AS), is resisting the oppression of these present-day Umayyads, we think of the besieged people of Gaza.
Because of its petroleum dependent economy, the United States, wants to dominate the energy-rich Middle East, so just as Yazid appointed Ibn Ziyad, it has appointed the Zionist regime as its local governor to suppress any pockets of resistance. And just like Imam Hussein (AS), the leaders of Gaza want to establish a just social order, and are resisting the oppression imposed by the Ibn Ziyads in Tel Aviv who are backed by the Umayyads in Washington. A just society, of course, would upset the imperial applecart, so Hamas, and hence all the people of Gaza, are being brutally suppressed.
And the Zionist attacks are vicious: as of the time of writing, 1350 targets in Gaza have been struck by Zionist military forces resulting in at least 111 deaths, most of whom are civilians. The Zionists initiated the violence in Gaza by killing an 11-year-old boy on November 8 then escalated it by killing a Hamas commander on November 14. The air strikes are continuing as I write these words along with the casualties.
As this modern day Yazid, the United States, allows its local Ibn Ziyad, the Zionist regime, to unleash its destructive power against the resistance fighters of Hussein, the oppressed people of Gaza, the story of Karbala once again unfolds before our eyes: the small force of the just valiantly fighting against the huge oppressive armies of the unjust. We can even see geographical similarities between Gaza and Karbala: the besieged Gazans are trapped in a small enclave between the U.S-financed Zionist forces and the Mediterranean Sea, just as Imam Hussein (AS) and his small band were trapped between Yazid’s massive army and the Euphrates River. No, it is no coincidence that Gaza has become our current Karbala in this sacred month of Muharram.
We Shia put a great deal of energy into our mourning ceremonies and it is right for us to do so, for the story of Imam Hussein (AS) and Karbala must never be forgotten. But we must divert a portion of the energy expended in chest beating and self-flagellation into confronting and engaging the present day Yazid, the U.S., and its Ibn Ziyad, the Zionist regime. These rituals express our grief over abandoning Imam Hussein (AS) then, so we must not turn our backs on him now as his present day followers, the oppressed people of Gaza, are being slaughtered by the warplanes of this modern day Ibn Ziyad.
Shia Islam is inherently against tyranny, oppression and wrongdoing, so as a minimum, pick up a pen and write a letter, make a phone call, or send an email to a government official. Join a protest demonstration or better yet, organize one. In any event, this Ashura, do something for Gaza… don’t abandon Imam Hussein (AS) again.
“I would rather sacrifice my life than succumb to the threats of a tyrant.” -- Imam Hussein (AS) on the day of Ashura.
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