Borhras and reform
Dawoodi Bohras - Borhras and reform

Karbala and its relevance to Dawoodi Bohras: 1

The month of Moharram is of great signification in Islamic history. We Dawoodi Bohras being a sect of Muslims and more so as a sub-sect of Shia Muslims used to observe the first ten days of Moharram with great solemnity, but not anymore.

For the past 25 years we have been “celebrating” instead of “commemorating” Moharram, calling it “Ashra Mubarak” like Idd Mubarak.

Aerial view of the shrines of Imam Husain (left) and his half-brother Abbas Almadar (right) in Karbala, Iraq. Image © Google Earth

Our Dawoodi Bohra community which has lived in peace and harmony for more than 800 years has been in great turmoil for last 100 years or so. There is a gradual deviation in our faith and practices. There is also slow degeneration of our culture. One priestly princely family and a small coterie around it is prospering economically, whereas a large section of our community is struggling to make two ends meet. It is because we as “slaves” are ruled and subjected by Sultan and Shahzadas who are functioning on the pattern of Umayyads claiming to be the true followers of Islam and Ahle-bayt.

The tragedy of Karbala is the most significant chapter in annals of Islamic history. Its proper understanding will help us fight fearlessly against injustice and tyranny now prevailing in our community. It is not possible to learn any lesson and derive benefits from the tragedy of Karbala if one remains ignorant of the circumstances responsible for this great tragedy.

Unfortunately our Vaizeen and Zakireen spend all their time and energy in exaggerated description of how each martyr of Karbala suffered the thirst and hunger, how each one was killed and by whom. They do not bother to enlighten us why this tragedy happened and what were the factors responsible for it. More important is to know the reasons why so many people of the House of the Holy Prophet had to sacrifice their lives in Karbala.

What follows is based on books (English version) by Maulana Shibli Naumani, Maulana Abul-Aala Maudidi, Taha Husan and Khuwaja Hasan Nizami.

Unlike the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) and Hazrat Ali (AS) Imam Husain and his companions in Karbala were not confronting non-Muslims (Kuffar, unbelievers); they were confronting Muslims, same Muslims who would join them in prayers and stand behind Imam Husain as he led the prayer. These very Muslims when mislead and incited by their tyrant rulers did not deter from carrying out the most atrocious orders to cut off the heads and trample the bodies of the members of the House of their Prophet.

The recorded Islamic history shows that the ground for this tragedy was laid down in the beginning of Islam itself. At the advent of Islam in Mecca the uncivilized tribal society was emerging as an international trade and finance center. This change was causing sharp social contradictions. At such time Islam came as a radical revolution to restructure the society with imposition of ethics and morality, social and economic justice, laid great emphasis on equitable distribution of wealth and equal rights.

Islam came as a liberative religion to Arabs and non-Arabs. The Kuffar (unbelievers) of Mecca had powerful vested interests in maintaining the exploitive system then prevailing and hence they opposed Islam with all the might at their command. They wanted uninterrupted and unchallenged accumulation of wealth to enjoy all comforts of life at the cost of underprivileged class. They felt great danger in Islam which advocated fair distribution of their wealth among poor and needy and treat them as equal.

The tribal chief Abu Sufian and his associates became great enemy of the Prophet Mohammad. They even plotted to kill him. But when failed they embraced Islam. But their hearts did not change. Their ambition to exploit and rule people did not change. Soon after the demise of the Holy Prophet, controversies of succession, share in power by different tribes, clans and regional groups erupted. The 30 years period of Caliphate was full of turmoil, violence and civil wars. Out of four rightful Caliphs three were killed and thousand of lives were lost in this period.

Again in this period conquests brought huge amount of wealth and also created new power equations.

The period of the third Caliph Hazrat Usman was a defining moment. There were several reasons of people’s dislike of and opposition to Hazrat Usman. The few relevant ones can be listed as follows:

  1. He favoured his relatives and distributed huge wealth from public treasury among them. He gave away fifteen thousand Dirham to Marwan-bin-Al-Hakam his secretary and fifty thousand dirham to Abdulla-bin-Saad, his nephew. He distributed money so generously among his near and dear ones that he was called “Usman Gani” (the Generous Usman).
  2. He made selfish and evil-minded man, Marwan-bin-Al-Hakim his secretary.
  3. He appointed his nephew, Abdullah-bin-Saad, governor (Amil) of Egypt knowing fully well that he was a murderer, arrogant and mischief-maker, who created mischief which ultimately caused Hazrat Usman’s death.
  4. He prayed four rakats of qasar namaz at Mana while going for Hajj which was contrary to the practice of the Holy Prophet.
  5. He lost the Mohre-Nabuwwat (a ring of the Holy Prophet which had his seal on it, to be put on official documents).
  6. He gave absolute free hand to Syrian governor, Muawia son of a father like Abu-Sufian who was staunch enemy of the Holy Prophet and mother like Hind, who went in the battlefield of Badar removed the heart of Hazrat Hamza from his dead body and chewed it up. Going against the basic principle of simplicity of Islam Muawia built splendid palaces, his own army and started a life of luxury and rolled back to a life of Jahiliyah that existed before the advent of Islam. He made people’s life miserable.
  7. One of the Prophet’s most trusted companions, Hazrat Abuzar-Gaffari was very critical of Muawia’s un-Islamic lifestyle. He used to recite certain chapters of Qura’n openly in Amir Muawia’s court and used to warn Muawia in public about his wrong-doings. Hazrat Usman made a grave mistake and called him back. He then sent Hazrat Abuzar-Gaffari to a deserted place where he died in utter poverty. Thus the people in Arabia in general got disgusted with Hazrat Usman’s policies. People from Egypt, Kufa, Basara etc. started agitating against him. He somehow pacified them by tendering a public apology.

But when the group from Egypt was returning from Medina they met a person who was carrying a letter with Hazrat Usman’s seal to the governor of Egypt stating that when these rebellions return to Egypt punish them severely and kill them. The furious Egyptians came back to Medina to get an explanation from the Caliph and then Hazrat Usman realized that the Mohre-Nubuwat was stolen by non other than his cunning and mischievous secretary Marwan and a forged letter was sent by Marwan. The people were further enraged when they found that Caliph was not able to protect his seal. So ultimately he was killed most brutally.

The fourth caliph Hazrat Ali-bin-Abi-Talib did his best to protect Islam from the deviators. But the governor of Syria, Muawia by then had become so arrogant that he refused to accept Hazrat Ali as caliph and claimed caliphate for himself. He engaged Hazrat Ali in war in the most troubled time. After the martyrdom of Hazrat Ali, he became Amir by entering into a treaty with Imam Hasan.

He succeeded in attracting large number of people by threat, persuasion and favour. He used all those tactics of terror and appeasement which a usurper uses to legitimize his rule and to eliminate the challenges. Amir Muawia spent extravagant amount from public collections in establishing his empire and decorating his palaces and darbars. Then he most proudly invited the people to Damascus in order to impress them by show of his superiority of resources. Amir Mavia was not only extravagant but he appointed his governors who also were extravagant, greedy and dictators. Finally as Maulana Maudidi says Amir Muawia converted Khilafat (Caliphate) into Mulukiyat (Monarchy), abrogating the revolutionary mission of Islam. Syria and Damascus were far away from Islamic center in Medina and closer to the Roman Empire. So Muawia followed the Roman imperial ways.

Furthermore Amir Muawia had promised in the treaty with Imam Hasan that after him the next caliph will be appointed by the Muslim umma as per Islamic tradition by consultation (Shura). But once in absolute power Amir Muawia disregarded and betrayed his promise. He appointed his debauch son Yazid as his successor in order to retain caliphate in Umayyad dynasty. Thus Amir Muawia obliterated the system of consultation and democracy that Islam had established. Amir Muawia had deviated from Islamic practices in many ways but this came as great shock to the true followers of Islam.

Though out of fear the majority the Muslim public had bowed down before the orders of Amir Muawia and had given oath of allegiance to Yazid but few like Husain ibne Ali, Abdullah ibne Umar (son of the second caliph), Abdullah ibne Zubair and Abdur Rehman bin Abu Bakar refused accept Yazid as the new caliph.

Imam Husain was brought up in the care and company of the Holy Prophet, his daughter Fatima and Ali bin Abi Talib had lived Islam every moment of his life. He had actively participated in the battlefields in the early days of Islam as an Islamic revolutionary.

Yazid, on the other hand, was born and brought up as a prince in palaces full of luxuries and comforts of life. He was young deviant and inexperienced man who had not participated in the struggle of Islam nor had faced any hardship. He had a number of slaves and servants around him who used to obey his orders. Over protection made him obstinate, arrogant and rash. He had no Islamic education and guidance. Yazid only learned to command and demand absolute submission. The historians without exception attest that he spent most of his life in drinking, gambling, hunting and womanizing. Yazid was not serious in attending Islamic prayers and often made fun of Islamic teachings in his speeches.

The coronation of such a bad character as Caliph of the Islamic state opened up floodgates of corruption, and led the Muslim umma away from Islamic Shari’ah.

Imam Husain was regarded very highly due to his upbringing with the Holy Prophet, Fatima and Ali and because of his high religious and social morals. His personality was of extraordinary importance in the Arab and non-Arab society of his time. The oath of loyalty (bay’at) by Husain was a must for Yazid to legitimize his appointment as Caliph of the Islamic state. Therefore Yazid used all means to pressurize Imam Husain to give the pledge. But Imam Husain could not support the evil tyranny and religious social and economical corruption by pledging loyalty to a debauch ruler.

This resulted into the revolt against tyranny by the members of the house of the Holy Prophet and tragedy of Karbala. The factors responsible for the tragedy of Karbala have many similarities with the prevailing situation in our Dawoodi Bohra Community which will be discussed in the next part.