SYMBOLS and symbolism are regarded as essential parts of Islam. In the Holy Quran, the value of symbols has been made abundantly clear to us.

For example, in ayat 158 of Surah al-Baqarah, Safa and Marwah — the two hills within the precincts of the haram in Makkah, between which pilgrims run while performing the sai — are mentioned as “among the symbols of Allah. …”

Elsewhere in Surah al-Haj (ayat 32), honouring the “symbols of Allah” is linked to the “piety of hearts”.

These verses from the Holy Quran indicate that the Almighty honours and preserves all that is done in His name, with pure intent to please Him alone.

Imam Husain is a point of unity for all who believe in a just order in this world.
Thus it is not the hills of Safa and Marwah that the Creator has owned, but the actions of Bibi Hajirah, the wife of the Prophet Ibrahim, who ran between the hills in search of water for her infant son Ismail and herself.

Many such symbols and events are mentioned in the Quran to serve as reminders to man in order to guide him towards righteousness and to warn him against wickedness. Hence within the Holy Book are guidelines meant to lead mankind towards the light till the Day of Judgement.

In light of the Quranic prescriptions, after the completion of the Holy Book’s revelation, in Islamic history perhaps the single biggest ‘symbol of Allah’ meant to guide mankind towards morality and righteousness, is 61AH’s battle of Karbala, where the Holy Prophet’s (PBUH) grandson, Imam Husain bin Ali, took the field against the Umayyad forces.

There are several dimensions to the stand taken by Imam Husain. For one, the egalitarian nature of Islamic society as moulded by the Blessed Prophet had been transformed into an Arab-centric empire under the Umayyads, with the erstwhile Makkan aristocracy at the top of the socio-political ladder.

Secondly, Yazid, the Umayyad ruler at the time of Imam Husain’s stand, was an amoral individual who had thrown ethics and scruples to the wind under his tyrannical regime. Hence it was incumbent upon Imam Husain, as he was the Prophet’s grandson, to raise his voice against the distortion of Islamic values that was observed in society.

Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, Imam Husain rose against the regime of the day for the sake of Allah alone, and not for any personal glory. Hence it is quite painful to hear some individuals term Karbala as a battle between ‘two princes’, vying for worldly power.

For Imam Husain, worldly power was worth nothing and, in fact, his only interest was in preserving the faith and raising his voice against oppression and injustice. For it must be remebered that a war over a kingdom is not fought with a band of less than 100 souls, as was the case with Imam Husain’s party, which contained elderly companions, his young children and kinsmen, as well as womenfolk.

Karbala was a test of love, and Imam Husain and his party passed this test with aplomb.

This is no mere emotional statement; it is a fact that has been corroborated by sages and mystics over the centuries. Khawaja Moinuddin Hasan Chishty, in a state of emphatic bliss, has declared in his rubaiy that Imam Husain is the foundation of faith. Shah Abdul Latif Bhitai, in his Risalo, has offered us a similar insight into the stirring ‘Sur Kedaro’ when he says:

“Brave expert warriors came on Karbala’s plain/

The earth trembled, there was commotion in heaven/

No ordinary war was this, but a display of divine love.”

Allama Iqbal has also referred to Husain as ‘imam-i-ashiqan’ in Rumuz-i-Bekhudi.

Imam Husain is a figure who is revered by Muslims regardless of their sect as well as by believers of other faiths who look at the events without prejudice. Rather than divide people, he is a point of unity for all people who believe in a moral, just order guided by the light of divine love.

For what virtues were evident in the Umayyad camp, other than loyalty to a tyrannical ruler who held sway over an unjust order?

The Syrian hordes’ values can be judged by the fact that they set fire to the Husaini camp after Imam Husain’s martyrdom, took the granddaughters of the Holy Prophet as prisoners of war and led Imam Zain al-Abideen, who was Imam Husain’s only surviving son, in handcuffs and chains across the unforgiving expanse of Iraq and Syria to the Umayyad court in Damascus.

Perhaps it is because Imam Husain symbolises devotion and divine love that the forces propagating hate are so opposed to the remembrance of his martyrdom.

The writer is a member of staff.