Karbala Tragedy in the View of Christian Scholar

In a TV speech, Irish Christian scholar Chris Hewer talks about the lessons all human beings can get from the events of Karbala and Imam Hussein (AS) uprising against the tyranny of Yazid.

The 680 AD Battle of Karbala in which Imam Hussein (AS) and his faithful companions sacrificed their lives for the sake of the truth and justice, has been a source of inspiration throughout history.

In a TV speech, Irish Christian scholar Chris Hewer talks about the lessons all human beings can get from the events of Karbala and Imam Hussein (AS) uprising against the tyranny of Yazid.

If we are to understand the meaning of Karbala, we need to take it out of an Iraqi context, out of a Shia context, out of a Muslim context, and to see it as a piece profoundly of human drama.

As a community, we have a history. We didn’t just start with our own generation. And we can look back into how other human beings lived the human project. We can take examples from them. We can also take warnings from them.

These are the circumstances that led these people to do these terrible things. This is the person who in this situation responded in this wonderful and noble way.

I, as a Christian, would also want to take my own lessons in remembering the events of Karbala.

To understand the importance of Imam Hussein, we need to go back to the time of the Prophet himself. Because the Prophet designates his successor as Ali to lead the community. And so we start to establish a principle of God deciding who should be the leader of the community. Everybody accepts that Yazid is a very bad example of Muslim life, let alone of Muslim leadership. He openly disobeyed the command of God. He openly disobeyed the Sharia. It is a crisis of leadership and a crisis of deciding how are you going to respond when injustice and tyranny is facing you.

Now, we have here a Hadith of Prophet Muhammad which enables us to get a sense of importance of this. He says on one occasion the greatest Jihad is to speak the word of truth into the face of a tyrant. This is the highest challenge to any human being. To actually face down a tyrant and not give in.

So this is what’s going on in the mind of Hussein in Medina with his community, and he knows that in a very short period of time he is going to be faced with the demand to make an oath of allegiance to Yazid, who(m) he knows to be a totally unworthy person to lead the community.

Something dramatic has happened in the Muslim community at this stage. We’re not even yet fifty years after the death of the prophet, and we are about to see the prophet’s own grandson being massacred.

The night before the battle, Imam Hussein gathers together his people and says to them: Look! tomorrow we are going to be attacked. Please, it’s me they want. Go away. Leave. And they respond: We won’t go. We’ll stay. We will die with you. And now we see another huge human dimension of the question: What do you do if you are the supporter of an upright, honest, just person who is facing injustice? Do you stand with him even at the cost of your own life? Or do you run to save yourself?

Hussein dies in the desert. His followers are killed with him. These are, in the terms of the world, pretty insignificant acorns.

And yet it reminds us that God’s acorns grow into mighty oak trees. Because here we are 2000 years after the time of Jesus, 1400 years after the time of Hussein, and we remember them and they are examples to us still and their names live on in the lives of their followers in ways that they could not possibly have imagined.

And it reminds us then in our life of faith what matters is not the impact that we have, how can we measure it, but how faithful are we to what God calls us to do and to plant in the trust that the acorn that we plant today however small it may be, in God’s good grace and in God’s good time can grow into a mighty oak.

This is the life of faith. We do not ask to see results now.

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