Sayedah Zainab’s sermon
The News, December 28, 2009
“It is quite sufficient that Allah is your Judge and Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon his progeny, is your opponent and Jibraeel as the supporter (of Muhammad). All those who instigated you to do what you did and all those who put you in charge due to which you are a playing havoc with the lives of Muslims will know for certain how evil the end of the oppressors is and which of you shall have the worst place and will be the least protected.”
(An excerpt from the sermon of Sayedah Zainab bint-e-Imam Ali, the fourth caliph of Islam.)
Almost 1,400 years after the epic battle in Karbala led to the martyrdom of Imam Hussain, the grandson of prophet Mohammad and son of Imam Ali and Sayedah Bibi Fatima, the daughter of Prophet Mohammad, the words spoken by Sayedah Zainab still hold true.
In a world which has seen mounting conflict for years, including that in Iraq — where Imam Hussain’s passionate followers will come together in one of the largest annual congregations anywhere, to mark the day of his martyrdom on the 10th day of Muharram-ul-Haram, “Ashura” — Sayedah Zainab’s sermon carries profound significance.
For Imam Ali’s daughter taken as prisoner along with other women and children, after the battle in Karbala, her sermon in the Damascus court of Yazeed ibn-e Muawiya, the self-proclaimed caliph of the Omayyad Dynasty, marked her towering moment.
Surrounded by the prisoners of Karbala, including her close family members along with the well-wishers of the household of Prophet Mohammad, Sayedah Zainab pulled together unprecedented courage, seldom seen before or after her moment of grief. Indeed, she turned her grief into triumph by her courage and skill of oratory, inherited from her father, her mother and her grandfather.
For Muslims of today, Sayedah Zainab’s sermon carries great significance as a personal example to be emulated, but more importantly as a guiding principle for their lives.
Across Pakistan, in the midst of the bloodletting of the past year and a fast growing practice of Muslims killing Muslims in the name of Islam, Sayedah Zainab’s words provide much food for thought. While some may seek to dominate others through their blatant violence, there must be acknowledgement of the futility of tyranny.
More broadly for the Islamic world, seeking inspiration from Sayedah Zainab’s eloquent words must be built upon at least three guiding principles.
First and foremost, tyranny can endure for a while, even a long while, but not indefinitely. Nowhere is there a clearer demonstration of this view than in the palace once occupied by Yazeed in Damascus, where pilgrims who visit it in large numbers seek not to remember the perpetrators of the crime in Karbala but, indeed, to pay homage and respect to Sayedah Zainab. Among the most widely practiced rituals inside that towering complex, the place where Sayedah Zainab delivered her sermon, is a must stop for visitors.
Sayedah Zainab’s place of burial in Damascus has itself become a frequent destination for pilgrims. Many use their pilgrimage to remind themselves of the endurance of Sayedah Zainab’s words for all time to come.
Second, there is an equally powerful reminder for Muslims in witnessing a real-life example of the fate that must be the final outcome of empires built on tyranny. In Damascus, there is simply no evidence of a final resting place for Yazeed, his close family members or, indeed, any of his followers.
For a king who ruled through the power of the sword and claimed to be the justified ruler of his time, Yazeed’s fate is indeed no different from the fate of those before and after him who ruled through the strength of their weapons, hoping to retain their legacy for times to come.
For Muslims in today’s world, be it for those fighting Israeli occupation of Palestine or elsewhere facing occupying forces, such as in Iraq, the underlying lesson is clear. Occupation through excessive military force is capable of bringing a military victory in the short term, but the long-term sustainability of such occupations must always remain in doubt.
Finally, events leading to the tragic battle of Karbala, carry an all-too-powerful message as well. The build-up to the epic battle began when Yazeed’s accession to the throne of the Muslim empire was quickly followed by demands for Imam Hussain to formally commit his loyalty, or “bayat,” to the new ruler.
For historians, a baffling question must remain: would the course of events have been different if Yazeed had abstained from formally seeking the loyalty of Imam Hussain?
Whatever the answer, Sayedah Zainab’s prediction of the fate of oppressors would have remained unchanged, underlining the fundamental principal that empires built upon tyranny will neither establish a living legacy nor last for long in historical terms.
The writer is an Islamabad-based journalist who writes on political and economic affairs. His email address is: firstname.lastname@example.org
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