21st of Ramadan: Anniversary of Hazrat Ali's Martyrdom
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Excerpt from Dr. Ali Shariati's famous speech, On the Plight of the Oppressed People, on this day, the 21st of Ramadhan, the day of Imam Ali's martyrdom.
In his speech, Dr. Ali Shariati talks to the graves of those slaves who did not have any control over their lives and who were killed while building the “great” pyramids for the false glory of the kings of the time. Shariati expresses his deep pain for all the people who were oppressed throughout history, under one form of oppression or another, and even after their death, when they were erased from the pages of history altogether. Shariati sees Imam Ali as one such person, who faced the oppression, yet who stood up for justice and truth and ultimately sacrificed his life for this cause.
“My friend, I am living thousands of years after you. Witnessing all the suffering of my friends, I began to feel that the “gods” hated the slaves. Religion seemed to reinforce the slavery system. Even people more intelligent than us, like Aristotle, theorized that, by nature, some people were born to be slaves and others to be rulers. I began to believe that I was born and destined to slavery.
Amidst all of this hopelessness, I learned that a man had descended down from the mountains saying, “I have been commissioned by God.” I trembled thinking that it possibly involved a new deception or new method of cruelty. He stated, “I have been commissioned by God who has promised to have mercy on slaves and those who are weak on earth.” Surprise! I still could not believe it. How could it be true? God was speaking with slaves, giving them good news of being saved, and prosperous, and being heirs of the earth.
I had doubts, thinking that he was also one of those prophets of China, India, and etc. His name was Mohammed, I was told that he was an orphan who was a shepherd behind those mountains. I was so surprised. Why did God choose His prophet from among shepherds ? I was also informed that his predecessors were prophets; all were chosen from among shepherds. He was the last in that series. With joy and astonishment, I became speechless and trembled. Has God chosen His prophet from among our class ?
I began to follow him because I saw my friends around him. Some of those who became leaders of his followers were: Bilal, a slave and son of a slave whose parents were from Abyssinia, Salman, a homeless person from Persia owned as a slave, Abu-Zar the poverty stricken and anonymous fellow from the desert, and lastly, Salim, the slave of the wife of Khudhaifa and an unimportant black alien.
I believed in the prophet Mohammed since his palace was no more than just a few rooms constructed of clay. He was among the workers who carried the loads and built the rooms. His court was made of wood and palm-tree leaves. This was everything he had. This was his palace.
I fled from Persia and the ruling system of the Mobedans who pushed us as slaves into war to protect their power and rule from their enemies. I escaped and came to the Prophet’s country to live with the slaves, the homeless, the helpless, and with him. But when he died, “his eyelids under the heaviness of death, curtained our shining sun.” Once more, the situation began to deteriorate.
My friend, again in his name, magnificent temples rose toward the sky. Swords engraved with the Quranic verses on holy war were pointed toward us. His representatives stepped into our homes and took our youth as slaves for the chieftains of their tribes, sold our mothers in distant markets, killed our men in the name of struggle in the way of God, and looted our belongings in the name of charity.
In despair, I could do nothing! A power came into being which, with an appearance of monotheism, really hid idols in the worship-palaces of God! Tricky fires (a fire was holy in pre-Islamic Persia) were glowing. In the name of God’s vicegerency and successorship of the prophets, the faces of the Pharoahs and those of the false saints joined hands. They began to strike at us in the name of law. Again, it was the yoke of slavery around our necks which promoted the construction of the Great Mosque of Damascus. The great contests to build splendid mosques, magnificent palaces, beautiful houses for the Caliphs in Damascus and the enactment of a thousand and one nights in Baghdad were all done at the expense of our blood and lives; but, this time it was pursued in the name of God! We thought there was no way to safety. Slavery and sacrifice were our unchangeable destinies!
Who was that man called Mohammad? Was his mission deceitful? Or are he (the prophet) and we being sacrificed in the system, a system in which we are decaying in prisons; witnessing the looting and destruction of our possessions and families, and being massacred ? ? ?
I do not know where to go! Where should I go? Should I go to the Mobedans (clergymen of Persia)? How could I return to those temples which were built to enslave me? Should I join those who claim to be examples of our national freedom but in essence are attempting to gain their inhuman privileges of the past? The mosques are no better than those temples!
I saw the swords which were engraved with verses on holy war. I saw the places for worship. I saw those who prayed. I saw the saintly faces who spoke in the name of spiritual leadership, the Caliphs, and the perservation of the Prophet’s traditions. Nevertheless, collectively, they took us into SLAVERY! They, long before my time, put someone to the sword in a mosque. He was Ali, the son-in-law of that man of God (the prophet Mohammad). He was killed in a place where God was worshipped. He before me, and his family long before mine, were, like the suffering slaves of history, all destroyed. In the name of “charity,” his house was looted before ours. The Quran long before it was used as an instrument to rob and exploit us, was raised on the swords to defeat Ali!
How strange! Five thousand years later, I found a man who spoke of God, not for the masters but for the slaves. He prayed but not to reach “Nirvana” nor to deceive people nor to unite with God (like the Persians). He prayed for the welfare and prosperity of mankind. I found a man for the whole world. He was a man of justice, one who was strong and disciplined enough to make his older brother the first subject. He was a man whose wife, the daughter of the prophet Mohammed, worked and suffered deprivation and starvation, during her lifetime as we did. I found a man whose children were the heirs of the red flag which throughout history belonged to our class.
My friend, I have sought refuge in this house which is built of clay due to my fears of the temples, pompous palaces that you know and were sacrificed for by formidable powers. The companions of the prophet are busy. The house is alone. His wife is dying while he is in the garden of Bani Najjar, working and telling God all about our misery. Fearing the terrifying temples, palaces and treasuries that have accumulated through our labor and blood, I have taken refuge in this house to mourn the sacrifices which were made!
My friend, all those who remained loyal to Ali belonged to our suffering class. He did not adopt his beautiful sermons (recorded in Nahjul-Balagha) in order to make excuses for our deprivation nor the excesses of those who seek power. They were adopted to educate and save us. He did not draw his sword to defend himself, his family, his race, nor to defend big powers. It was done to rescue us at all stages. He thinks better than Socrates, not for the sake of demonstrating mortal virtues of the noble classes in which slaves have no share, but for the sake of values which we possess. He was not an heir of the Pharoahs or those of similar class. He symbolized thoughts and considerations, not in closed libraries, schools, and academic centers like those who acquire knowledge, as an end in itself, living in the world of theories while remaining indifferent to the starving and suffering classes. His thoughts fly high and far. Simultaneously, his abstract thoughts and heart are transferred into sympathy at the sadness of an orphan’s face. Concurrently, because he realizes God’s greatness, while praying he does not pay attention to any suffering inflicted on his body by a daggar. However, because of oppression of a Jewish woman, he cries loud saying, “if a person dies because of this disgrace he should not be blamed!” He has excellent abilities to express himself, but never in the manner of one like Shahanama (a poet who praised kings) who makes no mention of our class except once in all of his sixty-thousand couplets.
My friend, at this time and in this community, we desperately need him. He is unlike the thinkers, philosophers and others who are either men of thoughts without action and struggle, or men of action without thoughts, wisdom, and piety. If we imagine someone beside him having all these qualities, perhaps he might not possess the tenderness of feeling, love and pure spirit. Perchance he might lack strong faith in God. He is a man whose essence is extended through all humanitarian dimensions. Like you and I, he works as a laborer. The same hands that recorded the glorious lines of divine guidance merge deep into the soil, tilling and fertilizing salty lands. He works for no one! While he makes water gush forth from the ground, his family looks at his work with joy. Before he and his wife rest, he declares, “good news for my heirs who will not have even one drop from this water as their share.” My friend, he has made it a charity for you and me.
We need him. We need leadership like him. The civilizations, educational systems, and religions have made human beings into animals interested only in financial security or selfish and heartless worshippers or men of thought and reason who lack feeling, love and inspiration as well as knowledge, wisdom, and logic. But he is a man who combines all these dimensions in his persons. He is a leader of the working class and those who suffer. He is the expressing power who struggles for the well-being of the community. Sincerity, loyalty, patience, steadfastness, and the concepts of revolution and justice were the main features of his daily messages to the masses.
My friend, I live in a society where I face a system which controls half of the universe, maybe all of it. Mankind is being driven into a new stronghold of slavery. Although we are not in physical slavery, we are truely destined with a fate worse than yours! Our thoughts, hearts, and will powers are enslaved. In the name of sociology, education, art, sexual freedom, financial freedom, love of exploitation, and love of individuals, faith in goals, faith in humanitarian responsibilities and belief in one’s own school of thought are entirely taken away from within our hearts! The system has converted us into empty pots which accommodate whatever is poured inside them!
Now, we in the name of party, blood, land, and system against system, undergo divisions so that each of us can be easily taken into service. His followers that is, the followers of his school of thought, are pushed to fight against one another. Why, under a global influence should they consider each other as enemies? One leaves his hands open in prayer while the other folds them together. One prostrates on a piece of clay while the other on a carpet. Fortunately less differentation is made now! Our thinkers are driven into exile; they have become guardians.
My friend, knowing that you were a slave, you could identify your master. You could endure the whip-lashed on your body. Why, how, and who made you slaves? We are facing the same destiny as yours, but unable to know why it exists. Who is making us slaves of this century? From where are we being invaded? Why are we submissive to misleading thoughts? Why are we engaged in worldly worships? Like animals, we have become victims of exploitation, even more so than your era and race!
We work for the systems, powers, machines and palaces which are maintained through our efforts. Riches are accumulated through our hard labor but our share is such a small portion; therefore, we are obliged to work the following day. We are more deprived than you! Cruelty and discrimination are more severe than that of your time!
My friend, Ali sacrificed his life for these considerations: School of Thought, Unity and Justice. It was evident in his twenty-three years of struggles and sacrifices to establish faith in the hearts of barbaric parties. It was evident in his twenty-five years of silence and endurance in order to preserve Islamic unity and save it from the dangers of the Roman and Persian empires. It was evident in his five years of work and suffering to achieve justice, using his sword to destroy hatred and liberate man. Though he was not able to achieve this, he managed to impart to us the meaning of the leadership of mankind and religion. He placed his life and the life of his family on these three slogans: School of Thought, Unity and Justice!”
For Ali Ibne Abi Talib's Sermons, Letters and Sayings, click http://www.nahjulbalagha.org/