The Present and Thoughts on the Future
The rites of remembrance for al-Husayn are not in the most favourable situation. Competent men who specialise in them preach from the pulpit and not ignorant parasites as used to happen frequently. They are now one of the greatest Islamic cultural institutions in goodness and blessing through the active part they undertake in awakening religious consciousness and spreading Islamic culture. They help reveal the treasures of our intellectual achievement and our civilisation. They provide true Islamic guidance amid the profusion of foreign intellectual, religious and social pressures on our inheritance and on our civilisation. These pressures represent a real intellectual attack which the West and the East together with those seduced by them are carrying out against the Arab and Islamic world.
If it is true that we recognise that the social, political and civilisational developments which have taken place in the modern period, and especially in the last few decades, and which have participated in developing and directing the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn towards a positive response to the demands of this stage of confrontation which the Muslims now experience as a result of the challenges of imperialism and its intellectual on- slaught-if it is true that we recognise all that-then it is also true that we recognise the many noble efforts which have been made in order to give direction and bring harmony by those who act out of a conscious study of the needs of the age and of the way to respond to those needs. If it had not been for these sincere efforts, the general changes in life would not have borne fruit in the improvement in the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn.
No one who is concerned with studying this problem can ignore the efforts of the late Sayyid Muhsin al-Amin who, by his pen and his personal conduct, actively participated in development of the rites af remembrance for al-Husayn in numerous ways.
No one who studies this subject can ignore the influence of his books, al-Majalis al-Saniyya fi Manaqib wa Masa 'ib al-'Itra al-Nabawiyya, Iqna ' al-La 'im, Lawa'ij al-Ashjan fi Maqtal al- .Husayn and Risalat al-Tanzih fi A'mal al-Shabih.
Because of his efforts for the sake of this, he was exposed to defamation and violent attacks by many circles who used to consider any attempt at change as a threat to the continuation of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn and the other rituals associated with al-Husayn. Some of these circles went far beyond the method of scholarly dialogue in their criticism and opposition.
However the changes have imposed themselves on everyone.
If the ideas of Sayyid Muhsin al-Amin and those who agreed with him had not succeeded in connection with some of these theatrical manifestations like striking swords against heads, theatrical processions of beating in the streets and public squares, beating the shoulders and backs with chains ... However, they did in fact succeed in forming a critical attitude towards the situation in which the rites of remembrance then were. They shared in developing them greatly in content. In the same way they encouraged men with ideas about the future among the Shi'a to direct their attention towards the negative aspects of the festive manifestations and to suggest a framework to replace them. 45
In addition to the efforts of the late Sayyid Muhsin al-Amin, cultural and learned societies and institutions in Iran and Iraq also shared in the success of the operation of new developments which we now witness.
The first in Iraq to call for new developments in the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn in accordance with the spirit of the age was the Society of the Publishing Club at Najaf. It leader was the late Shaykh Muhammad al-Rida al-Muzaffar and our brother Sayyid Muhammad Taqi al-Hakim. Both men and their colleagues among the scholars of religious science and literature had a clear vision of the problem and the means of solving it with what would be in accord with the new changes.
Among the aims of the Society of the Publishing Club was the foundation of a college to graduate preachers of the pulpit of al-Husayn who understood the changes, were aware of the circumstances of the times and were able to face them with a deep and unshakeable cultural basis, knowledge and objectivity, not with superstition and bewilderment as used to happen on many occasions.
However, in Najaf the call for changes was met by a ferocity of opposition which went beyond anything which could have been expected and raised sharp negative reactions in some circles. Yet those who made the call remained firm despite the fact that they were unable to realise their ambition to found a college to graduate preachers of the pulpit of al-Husayn. They worked to spread the idea which met with acceptance and welcome in many quarters. One of the good results of this idea was the production of a number of outstanding preachers in the field of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn who have fortunately been well-received by the ordinary people and have achieved great benefit. Their number has much increased in recent years. Thanks be to God.
After that the Society for the Publishing Club founded the College of Jurisprudence and made this great aim as one of its aims which would bring scientific and cultural change. A group of preachers, who specialise in the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn, who are conscious of the problems of the times and completely conversant with the tools and conditions of their work, have graduated from it.
It is something which makes me feel honoured and gives me great happiness that I-through the opportunities given to me- participated, with my colleagues on the teaching staff of the College of Jurisprudence, in a small part in that operation of bringing about new developments.
So much for the present ...
As for the future with regard to the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn in particular and for the rituals associated with al-Husayn in general, we consider that, before mentioning some observations, we should turn our attention to one of the realities of history and civilisation with respect to all the institutions associated with civilisation and especially with respect to the social and cultural institutions among the former.
This reality is the fact that the social and cultural institution does not have an aim in itself. It is not an objective. Rather it is a means which has been created to participate in enriching mankind, ennobling his inner world and helping him to be in harmony with his external situation which is bursting with changes, through preserving for him his spiritual and cultural personality. Since these are the functions of the social and cultural institution, it does not operate alone in the context of mankind in this age, nor does it conduct itself alone with the man of its society. In every age, and in this age especially, this man is exposed to the influence of other social and cultural institutions, some external and some internal. The other social and cultural institutions have social and cultural visions, and from there visions of civilisation which are not Islamic. These other institutions use the most modern means of information and influence and most efficacious techniques of persuasion to spread their attitudes and vision in the hearts and minds of people as a way of responding to the changes of the period by means of establishing their dreams of civilisation and by helping that through creating these changes.
For this reason a social and cultural institution which has an Islamic religious content must consciously understand the changes of its times. Through its consciousness, it must be flexible in order to respond to these changes by starting out from its own intellectual rules. This is because of the fact that, through its consciousness and its flexibility, it will have the ability to counteract what does not conform with its vision, namely the ideas and attitudes which other social and cultural institutions propagate. In this way it will be able to correct them, to challenge them and to overcome them, or, at least, remain firm in the face of the challenges of those institutions. Then it will not lose its own people who will respond positively to the calls and requirements of the situation.
A social and cultural institution which has an Islamic religious content must use the developing means of its time in order to be more effective and influential among the people whom it is addressing and with whom it is working, in order to be equal in ability with the other institutions which are competing with it, and in order to enable its activities to cover the whole area of its people.
This is accomplished through preserving the quality of character in the circumstances of the response to the requirements of the new situation. The requirements of the new situation should not prevail over the quality of character so that the institution forsakes its true nature and its leaders abandon the essence of their mission.
However, when a social and cultural institution becomes too rigid in preserving its old structure and traditional shape without paying attention to the changes which are taking place around it in life and in the people, using the slogan that it is afraid of losing its supports and it is concerned about the quality of sanctity in them-when a social and cultural institution does that-it faces one of two fates: Either it will gradually weaken until it dies because it has lost its own traditional people as they die without acquiring new people because the new generations will not put up with the vision and aspirations of the institution; or the institution will live on but will lose its quality of structure and mission and change into something under the name of 'folklore'. At such a time it will lose the tools of intellectual structure and practical direction in relation to the people. It will only become a thing of amusement which attracts people in order to entertain them and it will never have any part in guiding and directing them.
Let us not think this odd. Many of the phenomena which are now termed 'folklore' in every nation are the remnants of cultural institutions which became moribund and did not interact with the changes during their times; they are the fragments of practices which, in the past, had a cultural significance which built and guided. When they lost their connection with life and aspirations of the people, they became something for the entertainment of life after having been something serious in it.
Starting from this basic reality in the course of history and civilisation, we must face the challenges of the future with regard to the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn with aspirations which will respond positively to these challenges and overcome them. We must adopt the attitude of careful consideration which we mentioned earlier, through the fact that adopting the logic of the new situation and responding positively to its requirements must be accompanied by a care for the quality of the character which preserves the religious sanctity and the spiritual and educational benefits of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn.
Within this understanding, we should observe the following matters:
1. The justification for the evidence of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn must be preserved in them. This is the history of the revolution of Imam al-Husayn. This history cannot be removed from the rites of remembrance under the slogan of a new situation and the need to deal with pressing social and cultural problems. Indeed the revolution of al-Husayn must enjoy an appropriate share of the time devoted to the rites of remembrance. In this connection, we should observe:
a. That the revolution of al-Husayn comes within the scope of historical reality through mentioning its historical circumstances, causes and results without exaggerations, in an artistic language which is understandable to simple man, and far away from theatrical techniques, by putting it forward in terms of a psychological influence which arises as a result of an intellectual sympathy, not as the result of a fanatical emotionalism.
b. That complete sessions be devoted to studying the circumstances of the supporters of al-Husayn. The neglect of these noble martyrs who are constantly put in the background is one of the strangest phenomena in the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn. Mentioning them should not only come incidentally in order to complete the special characteristics of the picture surrounding the Imam. Moreover the history of their participation in the revolution of al-Husayn is rich in possibilities which could make the life story of every one of them or the life stories of every group of them a starting point for many educational and guidance ideas. Among the books about the death of al-Husayn, in their profusion, al- Muntakhab of Shaykh Fakhr al-din al-Turayhi is alone in including some sessions devoted to the memory of these martyrs. We alluded to that in the last section on the ziyara and in our discussion of the second of the stages of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn.
c. That the role of women at Karbala' be shown in a clearer way than what happens at present. What happens now is characterised by two phenomena: (i) Attention is only focussed on some of the women-Zaynab, Sakina and al-Rabab; the others are completely ignored or are only mentioned incidentally. (ii) The presence of women at the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn is a purely emotional presence; the discussion of women at Karbala ' is now directed to serve an emotional purpose, not an educational one.
What we hope for is that the discussion of the role of women at Karbala' will include every possibility of obtaining historical information about the women who lived through the battle, whether they were 'Alid women or not. Concern in the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn about the role of women at Karbala ' would turn attention towards the educational factors involved in their attitudes and reactions towards the events and their acceptance of the tragic end in the martyrdom of their husbands, brothers, sons and fathers.
We realise that the material for this discussion of women at Karbala' will need far-reaching historical research, which it has not been given up to now, in order to collect all the reports connected with this subject and other aspects of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn. It is a study which ought to have been done centuries ago in respect to an institution which has lasted for more than thirteen centuries. Since it was not done in the past, it must be done now by those scholars who are concerned with the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn. It would be possible for a select group of the preachers of the pulpit for al-Husayn, whom we know to be worthy of undertaking such research, to share in this task.
2. It is necessary to preserve the level of the people at the rites of remembrance as they develop in harmony with the changes in the times through the development of a kind of rites of remembrance which answers the aspirations of the educated.
It is to be feared that what happens now will lead to a kind of rites of remembrance which deals with intellectual, social and historical problems in a refined style which the illiterate and semi-illiterate, and even those who have mastered simple writing, will not be able to understand. This is one of the things which may lead these people to stop attending the rites of remembrance or will keep the circle of the rites of remembrance in its second stage.
What leads to this fear is that gifted preachers who have been given good opportunities to become proficient in their profession may strive to attain a standard which would make their people among the cultured and educated group in terms of good education. This would cause them to neglect the vast majority of the people who attend the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn. The ordinary preachers who have not been given the opportunities given to their colleagues will be limited to the kind of rites of remembrance which would still bear many of the characteristics of the second stage of the rites of remembrance. This is something which would cause the educated not to attend their sessions and limit their people to the uneducated group which was exposed to the influences of the second stage of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn and deprive them of the benefits of the rites of remembrance in their third stage.
For this reason we hope for a framework which will answer the needs of the educated and serve the ordinary people who attend the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn as well.
3. What happens now, as in the past, is that the Shi'ite religious groups in Iraq, Iran and elsewhere put forward preachers to the pulpit of al-Husayn from among the men who prefer to follow that path rather than pursue academic attainment in the field of the studies of jurisprudence and the principles of religion.
This is what usually happens. There are rare cases when a preacher of the pulpit of al-Husayn who began his life in this field comes under the influence of a preacher of eminence in this connection.
At all events the group of men of religious guidance is growing in a random fashion without planning and without programmes which will respond to the needs and the nature of the people so that what we mentioned in the second section of these observations may happen.
It will be impossible to overcome present and future difficulties without relying on planning and a proper programme. That will not be achieved without setting up an academic institution with two stages, secondary and higher, which will lay down academic programme suitable for the needs of the people generally. Then there should be special programme which will embrace the cultured groups in which one human environment is distinguished from another where those preachers specialise who practise their profession in a specific environment. For example, there may be some general basic academic programme in which all students in the institution will participate and there may be special additional programme for preachers who are likely to practise their profession in the Gulf. Such a programme would involve the special characteristics of Muslim culture in the Gulf. The same is the case with regard to Iraq, Iran, the Indian sub-continent and elsewhere.
Since the experiment of the Society of the Publishing Club met obstacles which prevented that experiment from seeing the light of day, perhaps circumstances are now more favourable in other countries to undertake this experiment.
Perhaps one of the things which will make it possible to get a clear view of the problems which face the pulpit of al-Husayn and its occupants, would be to summon the leading men in the field of preaching from the pulpit of al-Husayn in every country to a general conference. There they could study together the problems of their profession, the ways to solve them and the methods which would guarantee the development of new preaching techniques from the pulpit of al-Husayn.
Possibly that should be preceded by local conferences of the leading preachers from the pulpit of al-Husayn. There they could study together the problems of their own special environment. Some of them could prepare studies on these problems, suggestions which could deal with the subject and the methods of solution. Later all could be summoned to a general conference which would lay down a comprehensive plan
4. The rites of remembrance for al-Husayn held for women have remained in the same condition as they were in earliest times, as we observed at the beginning of our study of the stages of the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn. Perhaps they have even declined and fallen behind what they were like when they began, when we observe the language and the prevailing nature of slapping in these rites of remembrance.
At this time, this situation has led to the fact that educated women and girls have stopped coming to these women's rites of remembrance because they do not find any benefit or advantage in them. In some respects this is true. If we make the exception of the benefit derived from remembering the tragedies of the Holy Family and renewing our emotional relationship with them, they do not have any other benefits. They do not offer any historical and cultural or Islamic religious advantages or anything else connected with religious culture. In the same way the fact that educated women have stopped coming to them because of their shallowness and the manner of their practices, has made them limited to illiterate women and their like. This is what their people are losing continually and with speed in the countries where the education of girls is growing. If the position of the women's rites of remembrance remains like this, a time will come when they will die out and no longer have any existence among the other rituals associated with al-Husayn.
In order for the women's rites of remembrance to develop, we hope for two changes:
a. A group of educated women should be urged to embark on this task, that is, learning the appropriate poetry, the history of the revolution or al-Husayn and a suitable amount of general history together with Islamic and Qur 'anic culture which will enable them to undertake the preaching from the women's pulpit of al-Husayn. In this way the women's rites of remembrance for al-Husayn will be made appropriate and capable of attracting educated women and their like.
b. Women should participate in attending the men's rites of remembrance for al-Husayn. The pulpit of al-Husayn should not keep its spiritual and guiding benefits exclusively for men alone. The participation of women in these rites of remembrance would extend the area of their influence and provide a large group of women with religious and cultural benefits which had not been available to them in their own special rites of remembrance.
It does not seem to us that there is anything to prevent the participation of women with men in unified rites of remembrance apart from the mixing of the sexes.
This is a matter which could be overcome by a simple change in the buildings of the commemoration halls for al-Husayn and the public halls in which the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn are held. Thereby the mixing of the sexes would be prevented and the participation of women in the rites of remembrance achieved. The means of broadcasting and the spread of modern electric power make something of this kind easy.
These are the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn in their growth and circumstances, in the stages which they have passed through during more than thirteen centuries from the second half of the Islamic era until the end of the fourteenth century of that era. They underwent changes during these stages until they settled in their last stage.
These are our observations about the future which we are confident that if these are achieved, they will make the rites of remembrance for al-Husayn one of the greatest religious and cultural institutions in effectiveness and power to build man and society through ideas and consciousness. Thanks be to God, Lord of the Universe.
45. In lectures, radio and television interviews and newspaper articles, we suggested that there be a change in actions like striking heads with swords on the Day of 'Ashura in the month of Muharram. This takes place in Iraq and elsewhere. We suggested that this action should be replaced by founding blood banks in the name of al-Husayn where those desiring to shed their blood as an act of consolation could give it to the sick, the wounded and the needy.
Adapted from the book: "The Revolution of al-Husayn (a.s.)" by: "Shaykh Muhammad Mahdi Shams al-Din"
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