Prior to the Iranian revolution there were many religious sessions held in which the young Muslims of that era would study the meaning of Ashurah and the principles that underlie the concept of Islamic revolution. Ashurah is a culture, or way of life in Islam that refines the Muslim’s worship and dedication to God alone. It inculcates within the Muslim a willingness to fight against all odds to remove any illegitimate authority, who has, or seeks to usurp the right of the legitimate Islamic authority in a Muslim land. This, since an unloved and/or ungodly authority does not, and cannot function to the benefit of a believing people. The undesirable types of government function for the aggrandizement of human beings, who like the wicked Pharaoh of Moses’ time, says to the people through his actions, even if not through his words, that he is their god. The people, like Pavlov’s dog, are taught to worship these men as they should only worship God, ! and to fear them as they should only fear God, and to sacrifice their lives for them, even though the Muslim has been commanded by God through covenant, to live and die for the pleasure of the One God alone, without partners, associates, or rivals, since their lives belong only to God, and they have no right to risk, or surrender such life, except to advance the cause of God.
The Ashurah culture is the embodiment of “living” monotheism, since by any measure it is the activism of the righteous and faithful believer who understands that belief in One God means more than to simply understand, or to accept the logic of a single creator. Belief in One God for the monotheist who has embraced the culture of Ashurah, is the recognition of God as an entity that has along with inimitable power, rights to worship that no human being, or other entity, has, or shares with God. They are perhaps the fellowship mentioned in the Qur’an where it says, ” Oh you who believe if any of you turn back from this faith, soon will God produce a people who He will love as they love Him-lowly with the believers, mighty against the rejecters, fighting in the way of God, and never afraid of the reproaches of such as find fault. That is the Grace of God, which he will bestow upon whom he pleases. And God encompasses all, and He knows all things! . Your real friends are God, His prophets, and the fellowship of the believers. Those who establish regular prayer, and regular charity, and they bow down sincerely in worship to God. As to those who turn for friendship to God, His prophets, and the fellowship of believers, it is the fellowship of God that must certainly triumph” (5:57-59).
Monotheist realize that those bound by covenant to God, can not allow others to be mislead unknowingly into false worship, and especially not through the use of fear, and deceit, the same fear and deceit that Satan used to get our father Adam, and our mother Eve from the garden. Satan appealed to their vanity and desire for immortality which manifest in some as the fear of death, offering them eternal life. He deceived them suggesting to them that they could have a kingdom as an outcome of their disobedience to God, that would be eternal, while claiming also that he was their sincere advisor, to be believed over and above God, “was not the covenant taken from them, that they would not ascribe to God anything but the truth” (7:169). The monotheist knows that there is no compulsion in religion, and just as monotheist reject the idea that people can or should be forced to worship God, we also reject the idea that mankind should be forced or compelled to ! worship human beings, and to reject, or be tricked into worshipping other than God. ” Let there be no compulsion in religion (belief). Truth stands out clear from falsehood. Whoever rejects evil and believes in God has grasped the most trustworthy handhold that never breaks. And God hears and knows all things” (Holy Qur’an 2:256). When there is no equivalent opportunity, or freedom in a society through which to balance the propaganda and tactics of a corrupted government, a government that is hindering the free and open path to the worship of the One God, obscuring the path to God through subterfuge and demagoguery, the people of One God are bound by their covenant and Kalima, “laa ilahaa illah Allah” (there is no God accept God), to rise up against this influence, and to restore the freedom of choice, speech and worship to people who have been so enslaved. This was the work of prophets, and those who follow their example. The Qur’an proves this saying: ! ” And why should you not fight in the cause of God, on behalf of those who, being weak are ill-treated and oppressed. Men and women and children crying, ” Our Lord rescue us from this town whose leaders are oppressors, and raise us up one from thee, one who will protect, and raise from us, one from thee who will help” (4:75).
The Ashurah culture developed over the years, as many of the faithful, young and old, year after year commemorate the sacrifice of Imam Hussein ibn Ali, the grandson of the prophet Muhammad (saws), who along with 72 faithful men, journeyed from Saudi Arabia to Karbala in what is now Iraq, to face a tyrant who had obscured the word of God with nationalist and racist rhetoric, and who had oppressed, tortured and killed the people to instill fear in them, and to make them worship him as they should have only worshipped God, to the extent that they gave up their lives for him, even though he had not created any life. They sought his pleasure rather than God’s. All of this threatened to confuse and mislead the world as to the truth about God, His prophets, God’s real message, His kingdom, His people, and His way. Their violations of God’s laws caused the law to be seen as extreme and corrupt, and the authority of God’s word to be questioned, and to be hidd! en, and they caused people to curse and hate God, and Islam, since they carried out atrocities and injustices in His name. Hussein met him in the battlefield and was massacred by this tyrant and his army. The story of Karbala brings tears to the eyes of anyone who listens and envisions the savagery that was employed by that army against a few men who had come to the battlefield knowing that they would die, yet fearing none other than the One true God, unsheathed their swords in rebellion against the false god, against the golden calf, and in defense of the people’s opportunity for salvation that exists only in the grace and mercy of the One God. These men chose to struggle in the cause of God, not in the cause of men. The Qur’an describes this cause as freeing mankind from the shackles of ignorance and the fear of false gods and tyrants who seek to prevent access to true knowledge, and who hinder mankind’s freedom of choice, to worship God as He has commanded mankind to wors! hip Him, frightening the people, and diverting worship to themselves. ” Why should you be divided into two parties about the hypocrites? God hath upset them for their evil deeds. Would you guide those whom God has thrown out of the way, never shall thou find the way. They but wish that you should reject faith, as they do, and thus be on the same footing as them. But take not friends from among their ranks until they flee in the way of God away from what is forbidden” (Holy Qur’an 4:88).
Following the Iranian revolution, due to the fear of the secular Muslim governments that the Muslims throughout the region would rise up, the culture of Ashurah came under a rhetorical attack in the Muslim world. It was differentiated from Islam and called extremism, and the revolution was characterized as terrorism, and its adherents were looked upon as sectarian. It was tagged a “Shia” phenomenon aimed at revenge against what they called “Sunni” Islam. Contrary to popular belief it was not Zionist, or the United States who first deemed Islamic movement “terrorist,” it was the Arab media. Governments and their henchmen created hatred for this culture, and fear of this culture that caused anyone who spoke the language of Ashurah, or who adapted the lifestyle of Hussein to be hated and deemed threatening to peace and stability in the region and the entire world. They justified the torture and killing of pious men and women by claiming that they ! were fighting “terrorism,” when they were actually attempting to destroy Islamic movement, thinking that by so doing they would destroy Ashurah. As these same interests undermined the culture of Ashurah, they propped up Arab nationalism in its place, and set out with the unknowing assistance of the Western powers to promote Arabism among Muslims East and West, and to spread the message of Arab nationalism, and racial and religious supremacy, rather than piety, in the place of the universal Islamic message of monotheism (One God), and God’s mercy and salvation for all of mankind. The result is that Muslim people to a great extent have forgotten Ashurah culture, and now worship golden calves, or governments, and personalities. They sacrifice their lives for men, and for the “honor” of men, while using God’s name to rally people to unjust causes like mass murder, and campaigns of hatred and destruction, and call it “jihad” when it is actually “har! b” or war. Jihad is an Islamic description of the struggle to attain purity and salvation, while harb is the proper Arabic word denoting violent conflict between two opposing groups fighting for worldly spoils, such as honor, and pride, wealth and power.
Many of the non-Muslims who oppose regime change say the US has no right to dictate to the Iraqi people who their leaders should be. They say that the people must choose their own government even though they know the people have no way to choose. So what they are actually saying is that no one has the right to tell Saddam Hussein what to do, and they are wrong about that. So far as he bids to rule a Muslim people, the people have a right to tell him what to do. If the Muslim people of Iraq are being prevented from telling their government what to do, someone must either free them, or speak to their government on their behalf. Who would that “someone” be? ” Or who answers the distressed one when he calls upon Him, and removes the evil?” (27:62) The Arab governments have said nothing to chasten Saddam Hussein because there is nothing they can say, since they are guilty like Hussein. They didn’t ask him to accept exile, and to wage his personal war throu! gh the international courts and allow his people to live, and to be spared war, because they have no legitimate voice with which to appeal to him. When is the last time the OIC (Organization of Islamic Conference) took a dictatorial Arab or any other so-called Muslim regime out to the shed and chastised them for the ill-treatment of their people, or their deviation from Islam? To these governments stability probably means that they stay in power, no matter what, and so this is their mantra, “preserve stability” and “no one can tell them what to do.” While to the people, “stability” might mean non-violet change, while it could never be understood to mean more of the same. Where did the idea arise that no one has a “right” to tell leaders in the Muslim world what to do? The anti-war Muslims say that to attack Iraq is to attack Islam, but where is Islam in Iraq? They charge the US with lying and imperialism, while nationalists are also imperialists, liars and invaders, having f! ought alongside the British to destroy the remnant of caliphate, and to colonize and secularize the Muslim lands.
Without doubt, the United States would probably not be welcomed as a governing entity by the people of Iraq, due to the history of Zionism in the region and the perception that the United States is controlled by Zionists. The real irony in all of this is that the hated and feared culture of “Ashurah,” a culture that grew from devoted obsessing with God and righteousness, is now missing in Iraq, yet Ashurah might be the one truly justifiable catalyst to freedom for a people whose religious traditions have been preserved in the sacred soil of Karbala, though masked by the nationalist rhetoric that is now as repulsive to almost everyone in the world, as it was so long ago to Imam Hussein, and the 72 noble men who followed him.
The writer is the Founder and President of the National Association of Muslim American Women and host a weekly internet radio program at IBN.Net, named “A Civilizational Dialogue.” (1-2 PM each Wednesday). The author is also head of the International Assoc. for Muslim Women and Children, an accredited NGO with the UN Division on the Rights of the Palestinians.