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The Special Edition: Lessons of Ashura

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After the passing of the esteemed Prophet of Islam (PBUH), the distancing from the Prophet’s successor, the separation of the Quran from the Prophet’s lineage, a shift towards materialism, the fading of values, the abandonment of encouraging good and forbidding wrong led the Islamic community to deviate. The lessons of Ashura reveal why such things happened.

It reached a point where the high value of sacrifice and devotion in the path of Allah was replaced by worldly worship. The virtuous individuals and faces approved by the Prophet (PBUH) were ousted from the social stage, while those disapproved by the Prophet infiltrated the highest levels of the caliphate and governance.

The lesson from Ashura is to familiarize ourselves with the causes and factors of regression, combat the threats of the enemy, safeguard our values, preserve the achievements of the revolution, and counteract foreign cultural invasions. We must take this lesson from Ashura, that every revolution is susceptible to pitfalls and danger, and it is the duty of all members of society to recognize these dangers and avoid them. Because, if we do not take advantage of the lessons of Ashura, the possibility of history repeating itself exists.

Conceptualization of Lessons and Morals

Taking lessons from the uprising of Ashura means emulating the speech and behavior of those involved in Ashura in our individual and societal lives. In the Ashura movement, we encounter heroes and role models who, through their speeches and actions, created a monumental event. This event can serve as a suitable and efficient model not only for Shia and Muslims but for all people worldwide.

Moral: The term “moral” or “عبره” derives from the root “crossing” or “passing from one thing to another.” Tears are referred to as “عبره” because they pass through the eye. In dream interpretation, this term is used because it transfers the person from the outward to the inward. Similarly, events that provide humans with lessons are called “morals,” because they guide the human to a series of general teachings. Therefore, learning a moral means going from the present to the past, examining the past, and drawing lessons from it. Drawing morals from the event of Ashura means constantly studying it, comparing one’s society to it, to understand one’s current state, what threatens it, and what is necessary for it.

With this statement, there is no fundamental difference between a lesson and a moral; because drawing a moral is another type of lesson, but a lesson obtained through drawing a moral. In taking lessons, we see the peak points and virtues, and we introduce them as examples and paradigms. However, in drawing morals, we don’t just look at virtues and positive models, but also the vices, ugliness, and dishonor, and from them, we learn in a different way. According to Shaheed Motahhari, the event of Ashura has two sides: bright and luminous, dark and black. The white page has heroes like Imam Hussain (PBUH) and the moon of Banu Hashim, and the dark page has villains like Yazid, Ibn Ziyad, and Omar Sa’d. In discussing morals, attention is also paid to the dark and black page and their crimes.

Ashura: Both a Lesson and a Moral

The event of Ashura is thought-provoking and contemplative in two ways. The first aspect pertains to the lessons of Ashura. Ashura carries messages and lessons. Ashura teaches us that sacrifice is necessary for faith. It instructs us that in the path of the Quran, we must transcend all else. It shows that in the battlefield of truth and falsehood, the small and the large, the female and the male, the old and the young, the noble and the humble, the leader and the follower, they all stand together. It demonstrates that the enemy’s front, despite all its apparent capabilities, is highly vulnerable.

These are the lessons of Ashura. Indeed, these lessons alone are enough to elevate a nation from humiliation to honor. These teachings can defeat the front of disbelief and arrogance. They are life-giving lessons.

The second aspect is the “morals of Ashura.” Beyond being a lesson, Ashura presents a scene for introspection and moral learning. One should look at this scene to draw moral lessons. What does that mean? It means to compare oneself with that situation and understand what state one is in, what threatens them, and what is necessary for them. This is called a “moral lesson.” If you passed a road and saw a car that had capsized or collided, suffered damage, and its passengers were harmed, you would stop and look. You do this to draw a moral lesson, to understand what speed, what movement, and what driving behavior led to this outcome. This too is another type of lesson, but it’s a lesson derived through drawing morals.

The Lessons of Ashura

Ashura carries profound messages and teachings. Ashura educates us to safeguard our faith, sacrifices must be made. It instructs us that on the path of the Quran, we must transcend all things. It reveals that in the battlefield of truth and falsehood the female and the male, the old and the young, the noble and the humble, the leader and the follower, all stand together. It teaches us that the enemy’s front, despite all its outward strengths, is highly vulnerable. (Just as the Umayyad front was damaged in Kufa, in Sham, and in Medina by the caravan of Ashura’s prisoners, ultimately leading to the annihilation of the Sufyani front.) It demonstrates that in the endeavor of defending one’s faith, above all, insight is needed for individuals. Those without insight are deceived. Those without insight find themselves on the side of falsehood, often unknowingly. Just as there were those in Ibn Ziyad’s front who were not wicked or sinful, but they were bereft of insight.

These are the lessons of Ashura. Indeed, these lessons alone are enough to uplift a nation from disgrace to dignity. These teachings can shatter the front of disbelief and arrogance. They are lessons that give life.

Insight

One of the intellectual and practical attributes of the companions of the Master of Martyrs (AS) in the Ashura uprising was their ‘insight’ and discernment. In the religious culture and texts of wisdom, reference is made to the “People of Insights,” denoting those possessing clarity of vision, an awakened heart, and a deep understanding of truth and falsehood, the Imam and the divine proof, the path and plan, friend and foe, believer and hypocrite. Those with insight have a clear inner eye, not just their physical sight. With awareness and vigilance, they step forward, their actions and positions rooted in faith, religious foundations, and their struggle reflecting their moral commitments. They are not opportunistic or worldly, nor are their actions borne out of tribal prejudices and ignorance, or instigated by the deceptive propaganda of the false faction or power abuse.

The people of insight see their path as clear, unambiguous, and righteous, they are certain of the falsehood of their enemy, and neither temptations nor threats can make them sell themselves or abandon their faith and struggle. Their swords and struggle have a foundation of belief. As Imam Ali (AS) said, “They carried their insights on their swords.” Such defenders with conscious hearts, both fought alongside Imam Ali (AS) against Muawiya and supported Imam Mujtaba (AS) in all circumstances, and in Ashura, they sacrificed their lives for their Imam and in defense of the Quran.

Allegiance: The Soul of the Hussaini Movement

One of the profound lessons of Ashura is the embrace of spiritual leadership; the quality of allegiance and devotion shown by the companions of Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) is unparalleled in any historical period. This is as noteworthy as the widespread avoidance of spiritual leadership during the era of Imam Hussain, a significant contemplative subject and valuable lesson for our present society. Firstly, it is vital to understand the manifestations of devotion during Ashura and to acquire the necessary discernment to behave like a true Muslim towards our temporal spiritual leader. Secondly, we need to meticulously observe instances of leadership evasion and comprehend the destiny of those who took that path. This lesson will prevent us from faltering when tested on our loyalty in this era.

Upon reflection on the history of Islam, we find that the peak of the issue of loyalty occurred during the incident of Karbala. The lesson that can, and indeed should, be taken from Ashura is this: just as the martyrs of Karbala were devoted to their spiritual leadership, so too should we be committed to ours.

Reflections on Ashura

The first insight that turns our attention inward is observing what happened a mere fifty years after the passing of the Prophet (peace be upon him). The Islamic community had reached a point where someone like Imam Hussain (peace be upon him) felt compelled to sacrifice so much for the salvation of society. The fact that Hussain bin Ali (peace be upon him) confronted such a situation in the heartland of Islam, in Medina and Mecca, where no recourse seemed possible other than tremendous, bloody sacrifice, is thought-provoking.

What conditions prevailed that Hussain bin Ali felt that Islam could only survive through his sacrifice, or else be lost? How did an individual like Yazid come to rule over Islamic society? We need to examine what malady befell the Islamic community that led to Yazid’s ascendancy. What transpired that 20 years after the martyrdom of Amir al-Mu’minin Imam Ali (peace be upon him) in the very city he governed, the heads of Amir al-Mu’minin’s sons were impaled on spears and paraded around that city?

Regression and Distortion of Values

What happened in the fifty years after the Prophet’s passing? How did the Islamic community regress from that state to this? The foundation laid by the Prophet was not one that would collapse so swiftly. Therefore, in the initial phase after the Prophet’s departure, everything except the issue of ‘succession’ remained as it was. However, this state didn’t last. As time passed, the Islamic community gradually slipped towards decay and emptiness.

When standards were lost, when values weakened when appearances grew hollow when greed and materialism overtook individuals who had lived nobly and spent years unconcerned with worldly trappings and had managed to raise the great flag of Islam high, then someone like this becomes the leader in the world of culture and Islamic divine knowledge; someone who is a recent convert and whatever he understands, he pronounces, not what Islam has stated; at that time, some even prefer his words over the sayings of experienced Muslims!

The Shortcomings of the Elite

The elites are those who act out of understanding and conscious decision-making; they know a path and follow it. Elites are those who, when they take action, take a stand, and the path they choose is based on thought and analysis. They understand, decide, and act.

The movement of the elite brings along the movement of the masses. A timely action can save history; sometimes a misplaced action resulting from fear, weakness, worldliness, and greed for survival, can plunge history into a maze of misguidance. If the elite, at their time, discerned and performed what was necessary, history would be saved, and Hussain bin Ali would not have been driven to Karbala. When the elite supporters of truth in a society, or their decisive majority, become so self-absorbed that their own world becomes important to them, from fear of losing their lives, property, and positions, from fear of becoming ostracized and alone, they are ready to accept the illegitimate rule.

Worldliness

“But there came after them successors who neglected prayer and pursued desires; so they are going to meet evil.” (19:59).

Two main factors are responsible for this widespread misguidance and deviation: first, distancing oneself from the remembrance of Allah, exemplified by prayer. Forgetting Allah and spirituality; divorcing the account of spirituality from life; disregarding remembrance, supplication, and seeking help from the Most High Allah; neglecting reliance on Allah and divine calculations in life.

The second is, “And pursued [instead] their desires”; chasing worldly desires, pursuing whims, and in one word: worldliness. Thinking about amassing wealth, gathering property, and indulging in worldly pleasures. Considering these as fundamental and forgetting about ideals. This is a major and critical problem. We may also fall victim to this predicament. If, in the Islamic society, the idealistic state fades or weakens; if everyone is concerned with getting their share of the spoils, not falling behind others in worldly gains; if they think, “others are gathering wealth, let’s go and amass wealth too, and in short, we should prioritize our interests over the interests of society”, it’s clear we would succumb to this problem.

Lessons of Ashura from the Viewpoint of Imam and Leadership

Imam Khomeini said, “I want the Muslim nations to follow the pure Imams, peace be upon them, and the political, social, economic, and systematic guidelines of these great mentors in a comprehensive and heartfelt way, and to cherish and spread the love, aspiration, and sacrifice of the noble ones. They should avoid deviant views and not lend an ear to the whisperings of those who oppose the truth and religion. They should know that any deviation will lead to the downfall of the Islamic rules, teachings, and the divine justice government. And they should never be neglectful of the Friday prayer congregation, the announcer of the political prayer, which is one of the greatest blessings of the Divine Right on the Islamic Republic of Iran. And they should never neglect the rituals of commemorating the pure Imams, the fragrance of the oppressed Sayyid, the joy of the martyrs, His Holiness Aba Abdullah al-Hussain – may the blessings of Allah and the prophets and angels and the righteous be upon his great revolutionary soul. And they should know what the Imams’ instructions are for the promotion of this historical Islamic fervor and what curses and invectives are for the oppressors of the household of the Prophet.”

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