TEHRAN (IQNA) – The aim of Imam Hussein’s (AS) uprising was to reestablish Islamic values, the faith itself and the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) as it was established through the Constitution of Medina, a Lebanese scholar said.
“It was to set the people free from corruption, subordination, and the return to the age of ignorance,” Safi Kaskas told IQNA in an interview.
Safi Kaskas is an administrator in the managerial sciences with over 40 years of broad-based experience in strategic planning, leadership and business ethics with an emphasis on strategic management in the corporate and academic worlds.
He is a co-founder of East West University, Chicago, IL; and was elected as President of its Board of Directors from 1979 – 2005. He continues to serve on its board as an ex officio.
He is Senior Researcher in Islam and Multifaith Reconciliation with George Mason University, Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution.
Mr. Kaskas translated and published the Quran into simple easy to understand English in January 2015 and published The Quran with references to the Bible in January 2016. This book has 3,000 references to the Old and the New Testaments.
The Italian translation to The Quran with references to the Bible was completed in April 2016 and was presented to Pope Francis during the same month.
He just completed compiling the first Hadith book/collection of Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH) sayings on “The Kindest of Manners”. The book will be published during this year.
Following is the full text of the interview:
IQNA: In your opinion, what was the main motivation of Imam Hussein (AS) for fighting against oppression?
Kaskas: Imam Hussein (AS) rose to fight in defiance against tyranny and oppression in Karbala in 680 AD. With just 72 valiant followers and family members, the grandson of Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) faced the military might of the Muslim empire ruled then by a despot, Yazid bin Mu‘awiya. Imam Hussein (AS) refused to legitimize Yazid’s reign through baya’a and consequently, he and his small contingent were martyred in the most brutal way. The accompanying women and children were imprisoned in Damascus.
IQNA: What do you think were the main aspects of Imam Hussein’s uprising?
Kaskas: Looking at the surface of the events, Imam Hussein’s (AS) uprising was against the corrupt and oppressive regime of Yazid. A deeper look, however, shows that it was an uprising to reestablish Islamic values, the faith itself, and the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) as it was established through the Constitution of Medina. It was to set the people free from corruption, subordination, and the return to the age of ignorance.
Imam Husain’s message to his brother Muhammad ibn Hanafiah, when he left Medina, makes his purpose very clear, he wrote: “I am not rising out of selfishness, or lust for power, nor to cause mayhem or pain. I rise looking for the correction in my grandfather’s Ummah. I see that things have changed in the society that the Prophet (PBUH) left. It is going towards the wrong direction, towards corruption. It is against the direction coveted by Islam and the Prophet (PBUH) had preached. I rise to fight against these [corruptions]”.
IQNA: Why is this historical event so influential among Muslims and even non-Muslims?
Kaskas: It is so influential because it did not take place for personal reasons. It was an uprising against tyranny, corruption and oppression. It was a fight for freedom and the reestablishment of Islamic values as supreme against the selfishness of a corrupt ruler who was basically interested in power for himself and his clan.
IQNA: What do you think was the greatest moral teaching of the uprising of Imam Hussein (AS)?
Kaskas: The essence of the Quran is freedom, and an important purpose of prophethood is to establish justice. “We sent Our Messengers with clear evidence and We sent down with them the Book and the Balance, that people may establish justice.” [Quran; 57:25]. Imam Hussein’s (AS) movement was of such nature.
He said: “I rose up to reform the Muslim community of my grandfather (PBUH).” (Bihar Al-Anvar: V.44, P. 329) He also said: “Whoever observes a ruler legalize what God has made unlawful, violating the covenant of Allah, opposing the Sunnah of the Messenger of God (PBUH), and treating the creatures of Allah sinfully and oppressively; he who does not oppose him with his speech and action, God has a right to bring him to the same fate as that of the tyrant.” (Bihar al-Anwar, v. 44, p. 381)
IQNA: How do Sunni Muslim view the events of Ashura?
Kaskas: The sacrifices of Imam Hussein on the day of Ashura shaped my life as a Muslims from an early age, when I learned about them. Imam Hussein (AS) became one of the most important examples for me to follow. I can summarize what I learned from him in a simple sentence: Every day is Ashura and every land is Karbala.
This means that every day of my life and the life of a Muslim is a day to struggle to establish the values of Islam as we learned them from the Quran and our beloved Prophet (PBUH), and every land is a land suitable to die for these values as I learned from Imam Hussein (AS). If I was living when Imam Hussein (AS) rose to defend Islam and its values, I would have been by his side, fighting the same tyrant and gladly dying for these values.
All Muslims, regardless of what they call themselves should learned from Ashura the same lessons I learned. The events are crystal clear. Imam Hussein (AS) who learned his values from his grandfather Muhammad Rasullullah (PBUH), rose to defend Islamic values against a tyrant who used Islam to establish the rule of his clan and to build a dynasty, based on selfishness and personal interest.
I have not met a Sunni Muslim who disagrees with my views except those who work for today’s tyrants or are brainwashed, and those are few. The timid celebrations of Ashura among Sunni Muslims are not due to a lack of understanding for the significance of Imam Hussein (AS) sacrifices. The main reason for this is sectarianism and lack of unity among Muslims.
Regardless of the history of the Sunni-Shia split, if we want Ashura today to become the main event in the life of Muslims, we need to reconcile our Umma and stop the sectarianism. For one Muslim to call himself Sunni and the other to call himself Shia goes against the essence of Imam Hussein’s (AS) sacrifices in Ashura. It is more important today to unify the Umma around the principals of Imam Hussein (AS) than to have sectarian celebrations in the kind of way that will continue to divide us.
We should stop teaching young Shia that every Sunni is hypocrite, and we should stop teaching young Sunnis that Shia are coming to kill them or convert them. If we don’t unite, we will be killing Imam Hussein again and again.
Oh Allah be my witness that I have delivered the message.
IQNA: What is the most important message of Imam Hussein (AS) and how can it be explained to people today?
Kaskas: The martyrdom of Imam Hussein (AS) was never an event that went unnoticed in history. The famous Islamic historian Al Tabari devoted nearly two hundred pages to the story. No other event receives as much attention from him. Hundreds of books were devoted to describe the event and to explain what happened.
Perhaps this important event that took place during one day of Muharram proved to be more significant than anyone ever thought. It has a fundamental lesson to teach humanity that the world is a transitory place, worldly success is not an end in itself, and that life to please the One who gave us life is more important than life itself. Humanity should always be aware of Imam Hussein’s (AS) martyrdom because we were created on this planet to worship God freely, and without free will and freedom to choose none of our actions has any value. That’s what Imam Hussein (AS) lost his life for, so that people throughout history comprehend that fighting for freedom, resisting oppression and combating evil are the only ways which help human beings to fulfill their primary purpose here on earth.
The essence of what happened was perfectly understood by Sayyida Zaynab (SA), an icon and a role model to all women, who was with Imam Hussein (AS) and became a prisoner of Yazid’s army. She very courageously stood up and faced Yazid and condemned him to his face. When Yazid claimed he had the authority to decide the fate of the female prisoners, Sayyida Zaynab (SA) issued a scathing retort, answering “You, a commander who has authority, are vilifying unjustly and oppress with your authority.”
This comment is representative of a larger sermon attributed to Sayyida Zaynab(SA) in which she condemned Yazid and many of his actions, specifically focusing on his treatment of the household of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
IQNA: How is Ashura observed in your country?
Kaskas: The rituals associated with Ashura commemorate both a battle of righteousness against corruption and a key moment in Shia history—a moment so powerful that subsequent moments were characterized by an “overriding paradigm of persecution, exclusion, and suffering.” Indeed, both scholars and Shia Muslims themselves frequently understand Ashura to be an essential cultural paradigm for Shi‘ism. The shared narratives, meanings, and practices associated with Ashura are crucial to the construction of collective Shia identity. In Lebanon, my country of birth, Ashura commemorations have undergone a transformation in recent decades, from a ritual focused on mourning to one highlighting Islamic activism. This transformation accompanied the Lebanese Shia Islamic mobilization that began in the late 1960s. Motivated in part by the marginalized position of many Shias in Lebanon, this movement involved multiple strains and was continually catalyzed by a series of events, most notably the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon that ended in May 2000. One key aspect of the movement was an emphasis on religious reform, much of which was focused around Ashura, and especially the explicit linking of the Ashura history to a contemporary activist discourse.
Last year, the black Ashura flags were present flying over the Shia neighborhood near central Beirut. Young men were also wearing black shirt as Ashura is usually an occasion for mourning.
Last year, however, the usual processions and rituals of self-flagellation, slapping on the chest, and the cuts on the forehead and the back to allow blood to flow by which Shia worshipers remember the violent death of Imam Hussein (AS) didn’t take place. COVID, prevented any gathering to take place.
It is the highest Shia religious authorities in Lebanon and their political representatives Hezbollah and Amal who issued these instructions. In these times of pandemic, it is also impossible to make a pilgrimage to the holy Shia city of Karbala in Iraq.
Ashura is the tenth day of the month of Muharram, and in Lebanon, Shia commemorations are done for all 10 days leading up to the day Imam Hussein (AS) was martyred. It is a particularly intense period of grief and mourning.
Mourners, of both sexes, traditionally congregate at a mosque for sorrowful, poetic lamentations performed in memory of the martyrdom, grieving to the tune of beating drums and chants of “Ya Hussein (AS).” Also, scholars will give sermons on the themes of Imam Hussein’s (AS) personality and position in Islam, and the history of his uprising.
In Lebanon, the imam of the mosque will retell the story of the Battle of Karbala so that the audience is reminded of the anguish and sorrow that was endured by Imam Hussein (AS) and his family.
Interview by Mohammad Hassan Goodarzi