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Gary Carl Johnson

What is Shia?

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Shi'ism began with a reference made for the first time to the partisans of Ali (shi'ah-i ' Ali), the first leader of the Household of the Prophet, during the lifetime of the Prophet himself. The course of the first manifestation and the later growth of Islam during the twenty-three years of prophecy brought about many conditions which necessitated the appearance of a group such as the Shi'ites among the companions of the Prophet.

The Holy Prophet during the first days of his prophecy, when according to the text of the Quran he was commanded to invite his closer relatives to come to his religion, told them clearly that whoever would be the first to accept his invitation would become his successor and inheritor. Ali was the first to step forth and embrace Islam. The Prophet accepted Ali's submission to the faith and thus fulfilled his promise.

From the Shi'ite point of view it appears as unlikely that the leader of a movement, during the first days of his activity, should introduce to strangers one of his associates as his successor and deputy but not introduce him to his completely loyal and devout aides and friends. Nor does it appear likely that such a leader should accept someone as his deputy and successor and introduce him to others as such, but then throughout his life and religious call deprive his deputy of his duties as deputy, disregard the respect due to his position as successor, and refuse to make any distinctions between him and others.

The Prophet, according to many unquestioned and completely authenticated hadiths, both Sunni and Shi'ite, clearly asserted that Ali was preserved from error and sin in his actions and sayings. Whatever he said and did was in perfect conformity with the teachings of religion and he was the most knowledgeable of men in matters pertaining to the Islamic sciences and injunctions.

During the period of prophecy Ali performed valuable services and made remarkable sacrifices. When the infidels of Mecca decided to kill the Prophet and surrounded his house, the Holy Prophet decided to emigrate to Medina. He said to Ali, "Will you sleep in my bed at night so that they will think that I am asleep and I will be secure from being pursued by them?" Ali accepted this dangerous assignment with open arms. This has been recounted in different histories and collections of hadith. (The emigration from Mecca to Medina marks the date of origin of the Islamic calendar, known as the hijrah.) Ali also served by fighting in the battles of Badr, Uhud, Khaybar, Khandaq, and Hunayn in which the victories achieved with his aid were such that if Ali had not been present the enemy would most likely have uprooted Islam and the Muslims, as is recounted in the usual histories, lives of the Prophet, and collections of hadith.

For Shi'ites, the central evidence of Ali's legitimacy as successor to the Prophet is the event of Ghadir Khumm when the Prophet chose Ali to the "general guardianship" (walayat-i 'ammah) of the people and made Ali, like himself, their "guardian" (wali).

It is obvious that because of such distinctive services and recognition, because of Ali's special virtues which were acclaimed by all, and because of the great love the Prophet showed for him, some of the companions of the Prophet who knew Ali well, and who were champions of virtue and truth, came to love him. They assembled around Ali and followed him to such an extent that many others began to consider their love for him excessive and a few perhaps also became jealous of him. Besides all these elements, we see in many sayings of the Prophet reference to the "shi'ah of Ali" and the "shi'ah of the Household of the Prophet."


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What is philosophy of mourning?

There is no doubt that the tragedy of Kerbala, when ascribed to the killers, is a criminal and terrible act. However when ascribed to Husain (A) himself, it represents a conscious confrontation and a courageous resistance for a sacred cause. The whole nation had failed to stand up to Yazid. They had succumbed to his will, and deviation and regression towards the pre-Islamic ways were increasing. Passiveness by Husain (A) in this situation would have meant the end of Islam as we know it. Thus Husain (A) took upon himself the responsibility of the whole nation. The greatest tragedy was that one who stood up for the noblest of causes, the defense of Islam, was cut down in so cruel a manner. It is for this reason that the sacrifice of Husain (A) is commemorated annually throughout the Muslim world. Our sorrow never abates as we relive the tragedy. The commemoration of Ashura on the 10th of Muharram every year serves to remind us of the sacrifices of the family of the Prophet (S). It also makes us aware of the people, then and now, who tried to destroy Islam and the family of the Prophet (pbuh) and all that they stood for - as well as those who watched, listened and did nothing.

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Why did Imam Husein take his family with him to Karbala?

The holy uprising of Imam Husain (a.s.) has two dimensions: 1. Martyrdom. 2. Accomplishing a Mission.

The primary role of the women can be seen in the second dimension. Of course the women did have a role in upbringing and encouraging the warriors that participated in the battle, but their main role was in delivering a message.

All of the actions of Imam Husain (a.s.) were done for a reason and calculated, and even though he was aware of the dangers of travelling, he still took his family members with him to Kufa, saying: “Verily, Allah wishes to see them as captives.”[Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 44, p. 314]

So, by doing this the Imam (a.s.) wanted them to be his propagators in the different cities and in the heart of the enemy’s land. The women of Karbala, and in particular Seyidah Zainab (a.s.) were very influential in continuing with the uprising of Imam Husain (a.s.) and were able to change the stance of many people in opposing the Bani Umayah government. They counter-attacked the anti-Shi’a propaganda, and exposed the corruption and evil doings of the Yazid government.

The following details can assist in further understanding the important role the women of Karbala had in the uprising:

1. Delivering a Message: The history of Islam shows us many examples of primary roles women had in the Mission of spreading Islam. Events where a female was there hand in hand with the male. Seyidah Khadijah (a.s.) was beside the Prophet (s.a.w.), Fatimah al-Zahraa (a.s.) was with Imam Ali (a.s.), and both these women had many responsibilities and duties. In the uprising of Imam Husain (a.s.) it was Seyidah Zainab (a.s.) who continued with this legacy and played a major role in the revolution.The uprising of Imam Husain (a.s.) was fighting and martyrdom all the way till the afternoon of ‘Ashura, and it was him that led this battle. After him, the role of Imam al-Sajjad (a.s.) and Seyyidah Zainab (a.s.) commenced.The amount of widespread propaganda against Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) from the time of Mu’awiyah, and in particular in the area of Shaam, had a great influence on how the people felt towards Bani Hashim, and if the uprising had stopped there on that afternoon, the message would not have continued and made the universal impact it has achieved. The advertising and propagation and publicising that the captives had during their captivation did not allow the enemies to continue on with their atrocities, and they corrected the views and ideology of the masses of people.

2. The Propaganda of the Enemy losing its effect: Shaam at that time was under the power of the likes of Khalid ibn Walid and Mu’awiyah ibn Abi Sufyan. The people of this land had not heard anything from the teachings of the Prophet (s.a.w.) and had very filtered and limited information about Islam. People had thought that Islam was represented through Bani Ummayah, and they were forced to accept Muawiyah as the Caliph. Mu’awiyah ruled Syria for up to 42 years, and this explains what kind of environment its people grew up in. The government was not shy in holding back their outward animosity and hatred towards the Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) and their followers.
 Seyidah Zainab (a.s.) stood in front of all of this after Karbala and exposed their corruptions, religious, social and political. Their plots and schemes were not able to survive and their claws of power were losing grip.

3. Exposing the essence of the tyrant rulers: Another reason for the presence of the Imam’s (a.s.) family was to show the face of the bloodthirsty, inhumane, and merciless person Yazid and his government. An effective element that made people accept the Message of Imam Husain (a.s.) and let the uprising have its effect was that people saw how oppressed they were. The human being by nature opposes oppression and stands against tyranny, and people came to see the reality when they witnessed the atrocities http://committed.In the event of Karbala, true oppression occurred, along with the sacrifice that Imam Husain (a.s.) and the other martyrs made. The women and children who were without weapons were attacked, they were hit, their jewellery was snatched from them, their tents were burnt, a six month infant was killed, and all were thirsty for water in the plains of Karbala.

The global message of Imam Husain (a.s.) was successful because of the many dimensions it had, and a very effective aspect of this uprising is the presence of the women of Ahlul Bayt (a.s.) at Karbala.

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