The Jurisprudence of Ashura (Part 2)

In the previous article, we made some prefunctory remarks regarding the challenges of extracting jurisprudential discussions from the tragedy of Karbalā. We also explained how the question of whether fiqhī implications can be drawn out of ‘Āshūrā’ is intimately tied with one’s viewpoint regarding the underlying motives of Imam Ḥusayn’s (as) uprising. We furthermore elaborated five viewpoints of scholars who negate the presence of any fiqhī connotations in Imam Ḥusayn’s uprising. In this article,[1] we will aim to clarify which viewpoints regarding Imam Ḥusayn’s motives in Karbalā lend themselves towards the possibility of jurisprudential analysis and discussion. With reference to the works of various Shī’ah jurists, we shall subsequently elaborate the pertinent discussions of fiqh relevant to ‘Āshūrā.

As we discussed in the previous article, if the motives of Imam Ḥusayn are seen as selfish, clandestine, mystical, intercessory, or evasive, the jurisprudence of ‘Āshūrā’ in this setting becomes meaningless.  It is only when one attempts to rationalize the uprising of Imam Ḥusayn (as) that a discussion regarding the jurisprudence of ‘Āshūrā’ becomes relevant. Within the Shī’ī paradigm, the impetus for rationalizing Imam Ḥusayn’s movement stems from three factors:

  1. From a polemical perspective, it provides a mechanism by which to answer the critics (whose views we mentioned in the previous article), who believe that Imam Ḥusayn (as) was politically unsavvy and made errors. If we claim the strategic movements of the Imam are not amenable to any sort of rational analysis, it becomes difficult to adequately address these contentions.
  2. Believing that Imam Ḥusayn (as) acted with clearly analyzable goals in mind allows one the potential to derive relevant lessons and guidance from his conduct (al-sīrah). If we are to claim that the actions of the infallibles are completely suprarational and have no governing rules, the question of emulating their example is undermined.
  3. It provides a legitimate precedent for the emergence of Shī’ah political movements. If Imam Ḥusayn’s (as) actions in Karbalā can be interpreted within a rational paradigm to legitimize efforts towards political mobilization, this shall in turn provide further clout towards establishing a religious government.

When we look in the history of early Shī’ism, we find that this attempt at rationalizing ‘Āshūrā’ was not at all mainstream; in fact, the focus of our scholars was nearly all directed towards assimilating and recounting the lamentation narrative. Hence, the question of fiqh as it pertains to ‘Āshūrā’ was entirely alien. Hence, we find that al-Ṣadūq’s (d. 380 AH) al-Muqni’, al-Mufīd’s (d. 413 AH) al-Muqni’ah, and al-Ṭūsī’s (d. 460 AH) al-Nihāyah do not at all mention Imam Ḥusayn’s uprising as an issue from which any jurisprudential principles may be gleaned. It was not until the fifth century AH that attempts at rationalizing Imam Ḥusayn’s (as) movement entered the arena, and even in this context the discussion was primarily theological polemics, such as in the writings of al-Mufīd and Sharīf al-Murtaḍā (d. 436 AH), which we will discuss later on.

Generally speaking, it appears that the exigency to rationalize Imam Ḥusayn’s (as) uprising emerged specifically within the last approximately 150 years, in coincidence with the appearance of Twelver Shī’ah political movements. In contrast to the Zaydīs, Imāmī Shī’ites traditionally believed in the principle of dissimulation in their interaction with oppressive governments, especially during the occultation period, and did not support armed uprisings. The Tobacco Fatwa of 1890, the Persian Constitutional Revolution of 1907, and the Iranian Revolution of 1979 constituted key milestones in the reinvisioning of Twelver Shī’ah political authority, and therefore rationalizing a precedent for these political maneuverings in the uprising of Imam Ḥusayn (as) became more salient.

In the wake of this newfound interest in the political agenda of Imam Ḥusayn (as), new rationalist viewpoints regarding his motives emerged, which we will summarize below. As the reader will duly notice, all these scholars are relatively recent, either contemporary or recently deceased within the past roughly two centuries. As we did in our previous article, we have extracted key excerpts from a handful of scholars under each viewpoint, although an entire monograph to elucidate all the nuances, supporting evidence, and critiques for each of these theories is outside the scope of this article.[2]

2. Those Who Believe That There Are Fiqhī Implications of Imam Ḥusayn’s Movement

Underneath this heading, we can classify the scholars who rationalize the motives of Imam Ḥusayn’s (as) uprising under three broad categories: 1) to establish a political order and government; 2) to revive Islam and spiritually resurrect the dying Muslim nation; and 3) a combination of several simultaneous or successive motivations.

A. The Political Viewpoint

The advocates of this theory believed that Imam Ḥusayn’s (as) goal from the very inception of his mission was to topple the Umayyad government and establish a religious government of his own, based on Islamic values and justice. It was for this very reason of political mobilization that he had exchanged letters with the leaders of Kūfah and sent his cousin Muslim ibn ‘Aqīl to affirm the veracity of their allegiances to him. He embarked with his family and a great deal of wealth from Madīnah with exactly this aim of political revolution in mind. To emphasize this point, they reference various statements cited in the maqātil literature that note the Imam was seeking justice, desiring to enjoin good and forbid evil, and revive the example of his father and grandfather. These scholars therefore believe there is a very explicit historical precedent in seeking political enfranchisement within the paragon of Imam Ḥusayn (as).

Therefore, we find that Shaykh ‘Alī ibn ‘Abdillāh al-Baḥrānī al-Sitrī (d. 1319 AH) states:

وكان يطلب الخلافة لأنها ميراث جده ومنصب أبيه حتى صار من نكثهم ما صاروا وقتل شهيدا ومضى حميدا صلوات الله عليه ويجري العلم بذلك عند العلماء مجرى العلم بشهادته فالحسين طالب للخلافة بغير شك ولا ريب وكان يطلبها للتوصل بها إلى القدرة على إحياء السنة وإماتة البدعة وإقامة الحق ونشر العدل وتأمين السبل وأخذ الحقوق وإقامة الحدود وإنفاذ الأحكام وهذه هي الحكومة الشرعية التي هي مقام النبي ولهذا الغرض بعينه طلبها أبوه أمير المؤمنين وقاتل عليها لما وجد الناصر أهل الجمل وأهل صفين وغيرهم

“He (Imam Ḥusayn) sought the Caliphate because it was his grandfather’s legacy and the official position of his father, until the point that treachery issued forth from them and he was murdered as a martyr and passed away with nobility (may God’s blessings be upon him). The scholars recognize this fact just as they recognize that he had foreknowledge about his martyrdom. Al-Ḥusayn sought the Caliphate without any doubt and he did this because it was how he could revive the Sunnah, uproot innovation, establish justice, spread equity, guarantee safe passage, enact the rights (of people), execute the penal codes, and implement religious edicts. This is the religious government that is the station of the Holy Prophet, and it was exactly this that his father Amīr al-Mu’minīn sought and fought over—when he secured helpers—against the people of Jamal, Ṣiffīn, and others.”[3]

We also find these similar sentiments echoed in the writings of the forerunner of the Iranian Revolution, Sayyid Rūhollāh Khomeinī (d. 1409 AH), when he states:

باید همان طوری که سیدالشهدا -سلام الله علیه- تمام حیثیت خودش، جان خودش را و بچه‌هایش را، همه چیز را در صورتی که می‌دانست قضیه اینطور می‌شود، کسی که فرمایشات ایشان را از وقتی که از مدینه بیرون آمدند و به مکه آمدند و از مکه آمدند بیرون حرفهای ایشان را می‌شنود همه را، می‌بیند که ایشان متوجه بوده است که چه دارد می‌کند، این‌جور نبود که آمده است ببیند که، بلکه آمده بود حکومت هم می‌خواست بگیرد، اصلاً برای این معنا آمده بود و این یک فخری است و آنهایی که خیال می‌کنند که حضرت سیدالشهدا برای حکومت نیامده، خیر؛ اینها برای حکومت آمدند، برای اینکه باید حکومت دستِ مثل سیدالشهدا باشد، مثل کسانی که شیعه سیدالشهدا هستند باشد؛ اصل قیام انبیا از اول تا آخر این بوده است

“What should be done is exactly what the Master of the Martyrs (as) did: he leveraged all his means, his life, his children, everything—all while knowing what would transpire. Anyone who takes heed of his statements—from the time that he left Madīnah towards Makkah, then departed Makkah [towards Kūfah]—shall appreciate that he knew exactly what he was doing. It is not the case that he was uprising and then would see what [would happen]; rather he was uprising precisely to take over the government. This is exactly why he did it and this is a truly honorable thing. [As for] those who imagine that the Master of the Martyrs (as) did not rise for the government—this is not true. They rose for establishing a government. As such, it is imperative that the government be in the hands of people like the Master of the Martyrs (as), those who are his Shī’ah. Indeed, this had been the core purpose of the mission of all the Prophets, from the first to the last of them.”[4]

In the political philosophy of Sayyid Khomeinī, we see a few key crystallized elements emerging from his interpretation on the stance of Imam Ḥusayn (as):

  1. Imam Ḥusayn’s movement was through-and-through a political one from its very inception and was aimed at fulfilling the obligation of establishing a just Islamic government.
  2. The foreknowledge of Imam Ḥusayn regarding his martyrdom did not impede him from proceeding with his political vision. Rather, the Imam moved forward with full cognizance of his fate.
  3. The expediencies of Islam cannot be overlooked or foregone; even if one should lose property or life, it is religiously mandatory to pursue them.
  4. The uprising of Imam Ḥusayn (as) in establishing a government was in line with the goal of all Prophets and should be seen as worthy of emulation for Muslims.

A common objection regarding the political theory is that Imam Ḥusayn (as) apparently proceeded with his mission despite knowing that it would actualize his own death. This is supported by a large body of narrations that note the Imam was informed previously of his martyrdom by the Holy Prophet (saw). In turn, one of the key principles within Sayyid Khomeinī’s view is that the Imam moved forward with his political aspirations despite his full knowledge about his eventual martyrdom. This was because this was an incumbent religious duty that could not be relinquished, even in the case of personal risk.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, another Iranian scholar Shaykh Nematullāh Sāleḥi Najafābādī (d. 1426 AH) controversially argued that Imam Ḥusayn (as) had no foreknowledge at all that he would be martyred, although his entire initiative was politically driven from its inception with the goal of establishing a religious government.[5] As he states in his own words:

سال ها بود وقتي مي شنيدم كه مي گفتند: «امام حسين عليه السلام به اين قصد حركت كرد كه خونش ريخته شود و خانواده اش اسير گردند» بر خود مي لرزيدم و ناراحت مي شدم و با خود مي گفتم: امامي كه بايد خون مقدّس و پر حرارتش در رگ هايش بجوشد و به اجتماع انساني حرارت بدهد، حركت بدهد، نور ببخشد، پشتوانه اسلام و مسلمانان باشد، چرا آن حضرت مي خواست اين خون پاك و پر حرارت، روي خاك بريزد و جهان اسلامي از چنين رهبر عظيمي محروم گردد

“For years I have been hearing it repeated, “Imam Ḥusayn (as) mobilized intending that his blood should be shed and that his family should be taken as captives.” All the while, I had been uneasily shuddering and saying to myself, “Could it be that an Imam, whose sacred blood flows within his veins with such fervor, and who exists to mobilize human society, afford them spiritual insight, and support Muslims and Islam—why would this leader want his pure and fervent blood to be shed, such that the Islamic world would be deprived of his superlative leadership?”[6]

In gist, Najafābādī reconciles the aforementioned objection latent in the political theory in an entirely different way: by challenging the proposition that Imam Ḥusayn (as) knew of his demise. In turn, he entirely denied the narrations that stated Imam Ḥusayn’s death had been prophesied as post-hoc fabrications for the interests of affirming theological claims. Of course, the thesis of Najafābādī generated a massive outcry in Iran and resulted in over a dozen rebuttals, including from the likes of Shahīd Muṭahharī, Sayyid Muḥammad Ḥusayn Ṭabāṭabā’ī, and Shaykh Lotfollāh Ṣāfī Golpāygānī.[7]

B. The Resurrective Viewpoint

The second theory to rationalize Imam Ḥusayn’s (as) stance, adopted by several Shī’ah luminaries, holds that Imam Ḥusayn sacrificed his life for the sake of Islam because this was the only means left to revive the deadened state of the Muslim ummah. This is evinced by the fact that a mere twenty years after the martyrdom of Imam ‘Alī (as), moral decadence had reared its ugly head: the Umayyad dynasty was intent on consolidating its hegemony and destroying Islam from its very core. Therefore, Imam Ḥusayn (as) saw his martyrdom as a necessary sacrifice to allow the ummah to awaken from their slumber and resurrect the public conscience. Of course, within a mere century of Karbalā, the stronghold of the Umayyads—once regarded as completely impenetrable—had disintegrated in the wake of several revolts after Imam Ḥusayn’s (as) martyrdom.

This theory is unique in that it seeks to reconcile the maximum number of historical texts regarding Imam Ḥusayn’s motives into a single overarching theory; however, it may be somewhat limited in its political implications from a jurisprudential standpoint, since it does not advocate for political establishment strictly being one of Imam Ḥusayn’s underlying goals. Instead, it affirms the legitimacy of sacrificing oneself and one’s family for the greater public good.

Among the pioneering voices of this theory was Sayyid Muḥammad Bāqir al-Ṣadr (d. 1400 AH):

الحسین علیه السلام کان أعز الناس جاها وأمنعهم جانبا ومن أكثرهم مالا وأوسعهم حياة كل الدنيا كانت متوفرة للحسين وكل المسلمين كانوا يحوطون الحسين عليه السلام بكل تجليل وتقديس وتكريم لم يكن بحاجة إلى جاه وإلى مال وإلى تكريم لم يكن يعيش أي ظلم من بني أمية كان خلفاء بني أمية يجاملونه ويدارونه ويخشونه ويخافونه لكنه بالرغم من هذا تحرك ولم يتحرك أولئك الذين التهبت السياط فوق ظهورهم تحرك لكي يحس أولئك الذين التهبت السياط فوق ظهورهم بأنهم لا بد أن يتحركوا وقد حاول الإمام الحسين واستطاع أن يشعر الأمة باستمرار أنه يتحرك وهو يعلم أنه مقتول يتحرك وهو يعلم أنه يستشهد لكي يجعل الأمة تعيش هذه الأسطورة أسطورة أن شخصا يتقدم نحو الموت وهو ثابت الجأش قوي القلب واضح اليقين في أن هذا الطريق يريده الله ورسوله إذن فالموت ليس خطرا إذا كان هذا الموت هو طريق إنقاذ المسلمين هو طريق تخليص الأمة من مؤامرة الجبابرة والطواغيت

“Al-Ḥusayn (as) was the most revered of repute, the most fortified in stature, and one of the wealthiest and most magnanimous among his people. Indeed, the whole world was at his disposal; all Muslims treated him with the highest affection, esteem, and honor such that he had absolutely no need to seek additional repute, wealth, or status. He could have easily lived a life free of all oppression from the Umayyads, as their caliphs were wont to compliment, flatter, and pay reverence to him. However, despite all of this, he mobilized himself—all the while those whose very backs were inflamed from the oppressive whips of the Umayyads did not mobilize. He mobilized to teach them that they must muster the courage to mobilize. Imam Ḥusayn (as) endeavored and was able to make the Muslim nation realize that he was mobilizing while he knew that he would be slaughtered—he was mobilizing with full recognition of his inevitable martyrdom. He did this so that the nation could live in the wake of this saga: that a man approached his death while firm in resolve, resolute of heart, unflinching in his conviction that this was the path that God and his Messenger desired for him. Indeed, death is not at all perilous when it is the means through which Muslims are liberated and through which the nation is unfettered from the clutches of tyrants and ingrates.”[8]

In this same light, Sayyid al-Ṣadr sought to explain the various actions of the Imams in his theory of “various roles but a singular purpose” (tanawwu’ al-adwār wa waḥdat al-hadaf) for the Imams of Ahl al-Bayt (as). This theory suggests that the reason different members of the Ahl al-Bayt acted differently was strictly because of the exigencies of Islam in each of their respective eras, and not due to differences in their objectives.[9]

One of the students of Sayyid al-Khū’ī, Shaykh Muḥammad Jawād Mughniyyah (d. 1400 AH), similarly states:

و بقدر ما بلغ الحسين من الحق، ان صح التعبير بلغ يزيد من الباطل، و كما عبر الحسين باستشهاده عن مكانته من الحق فقد عبر يزيد بضراوته عن منزلته من الباطل. لقد بلغ الحنق و الغيظ بيزيد ان فعل بالحسين و أهله ما فعل، لا لشيء الا عداوة للحق، و هذا ما أراد الحسين ان يعلنه للملأ، و يخبر به الاجيال، فسأل يزيد قائلا: و يحكم أتطلبوني بقتيل منكم قتلته؟! أو بمال لكم استهلكته؟! أو بقصاص جراحة؟ أجل، انهم يطلبونه باكثر من ذلك، يطلبونه بما طلبه النمرود من ابراهيم الخليل. و بما طلبه فرعون من موسي الكليم، و بما طلبه ابو سفيان من محمد الحبيب، و ما طلبه معاوية من علي المرتضي، انهم يطلبون ان لا يوجد شي ء علي الكرة يقال له دين و ايمان و عدالة و انسانية، و يأبي الحسين الا الدين، لانه لا شي ء اعظم من الدين عند الحسين، انه اعظم من الارواح و من الانبياء و الاوصياء، فكم من نبي قدم نفسه فداء للدين؟! و كم من امام استشهد من أجل حمايته و صياتنه؟! ان عظمة الدين لا يساويها شيء لانها من عظمة الله الذي ليس كمثله شيء.

“To the same extent that we can say that al-Ḥusayn had reached [the pinnacle] of truth, Yazīd had reached [the pinnacle] of falsehood. Just as al-Ḥusayn displayed through his martyrdom his position of truth, Yazīd through his viciousness did the same with respect to falsehood. Jealousy and rancor was such in Yazīd that he did what he did to Ḥusayn and his family—for absolutely no reason except his hatred for truth. This is what Ḥusayn wanted to make clear to his society and for all posterity, and as such he asks Yazīd: “Woe be to you do you chase me in retribution for someone I killed among you? Or because of money of yours that I have devoured? Or to retaliate for a wound I inflicted?” Nay, rather they sought after him for something far graver: for the same reason that Nimrod sought after Abraham, and Pharaoh sought after Moses, Abū Sufyān sought after the beloved Prophet Muḥammad, and Mu’āwiayh sought after ‘Alī al-Murtaḍā. They sought after him to ensure that there would be nothing on Earth called religion, faith, justice, or humanity. Meanwhile, Ḥusayn refused anything except religion because there is nothing greater than religion in the eyes of Ḥusayn. It is more dear to him than the angels, the Prophets, and their vicegerents. For how many a Prophet sacrificed himself as a ransom for the sake of religion?! How many an Imam was martyred due to his protection and steadfastness in safeguarding it?! Indeed, the stature of religion is such that nothing can be compared to it, because it stems from the stature of God which is peerless.”[10]

A famous Iranian intellectual, Dr. Ali Sharīatī  (1395 AH), was also an advocate for this theory, where he states:

شهادت حسینی کشته شدن مردی است که خود برای کشته شدن خویش قیام کرده است امام حسین علیه السلام از مقوله دیگری است; او نیامده است که دشمن را با زور شمشیر بشکند و خود پیروز شود، و بعد موفق نشده و یا در یک تصادف یا ترور توسط وحشی، کشته شده باشد . این طور نیست، او در حالی که می توانسته است در خانه اش بنشیند و زنده بماند، به پا خاسته و آگاهانه به استقبال مردن تافته و در آن لحظه، مرگ و نفی خویشتن را انتخاب کرده است…البته شهادت حسینی شرایط ویژه خود را می طلبد . وقتی ظلم، انحطاط و انحراف همه گیر می شود و ارزشهای والای اسلامی مسخ می گردد و موعظه ها برگوش های سنگین کارگر نمی افتد; حسین با همه دانایی به عدم توانایی خود در پیروزی ظاهری بر دشمن، علنا به پیشواز مرگ می رود و با انتخاب شهادت، بزرگ ترین کاری را که می شد کرد، انجام می دهد

‘The Ḥusaynī martyrdom is the martyrdom of a man who himself uprose to be martyred. Imam Ḥusayn is in a different world altogether; it was not the case that he rose to be victorious over his enemy through military might but failed. It was not the case that he was suddenly gruesomely betrayed and then killed. It is not like this—he was capable of sitting in his home and saving himself, but he stood up and moved towards death, choosing to negate his own life for a higher purpose. Of course, Ḥusaynī martyrdom has its own special conditions: when oppression, decadence, and deviance has become so pervasive, when Islam’s values have been completely distorted, and when exhortation no longer avails. It was in this moment that with full cognizance about his own inability to achieve mundane victory over his enemies, Ḥusayn openly received death in choosing martyrdom—certainly he enacted the biggest sacrifice that was possible to make.”[11]

Of note, Sharīatī’s particular theory of Imam Ḥusayn’s uprising had a notable Marxist slant in that he envisioned the Imam as standing up to the Umayyad bourgeoisie of his era which had weaponized the trinity of gold, power, and fabrication (zar-o-zūr-o-tazwīr). His thesis therefore came under heavy fire from ḥawzawīs such as Shahīd Mutahharī.

C. The Combinatorial Viewpoint

The subscribers to this theory believe that Imam Ḥusayn (as) had several underlying goals for his uprising; some believe that these were gradually changed during Imam Ḥusayn’s journey while others believe they were simultaneously at play from the very time he was still in Madīnah. One of the first pioneers of this combinatorial theory was Shahīd Murtazā Mutahhari (d. 1399 AH), who proposed in his famous work Ḥamāse-ye-Ḥusaynī that there were three separate motives to Imam Ḥusayn’s uprising: 1) his refusal to give legitimacy to Yazīd’s tyrannical government by giving him allegiance, and it was this factor which caused Imam Ḥusayn (as) to leave Madīnah; 2) political aspirations which were fueled by the Kūfans’ invitation to the Imam to uprise, and these letters began to pour in about 40 days after Imam Ḥusayn (as) had left Madīnah; and 3) the prerogative of enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, which was the primary motive from the very beginning of his journey.[12] The previously mentioned Ṣālehī Najafābādī also came later to adopt a combinatorial viewpoint, although this was highly critiqued.[13]

This theory of Shahīd Mutahharī has enjoyed wide endorsement by many intellectual historians, although they have differed in the manner in which they weigh these three motives; for instance, we find that Shaykh Mahdī Pīshvā’ī (d. 1442 AH) has stated:

 بی شک عامل اجابت دعوت مردم کوفه ارزشی بسیار دارد ، زیرا حضرت در پاسخ مردمی که از اطاعت یزید سرپیچی نموده واو را برای رهبری خود دعوت کرده بودند آمادگی خود را اعلام کرد ، واگر اوضاع وشرایط مساعد بود ، اقدام به تشکیل حکومت اسلامی می نمود. اما خودداری حضرت از بیعت یزید ارزش بیش تری دارد ؛ زیرا امام بارها اعلام کرده بود که به هر قیمت ودر برابر هرگونه فشاری ، با یزید بیعت نخواهد کرد واین امر ، ایستادگی ومقاومت حضرت را در برابر زور وفشار نشان می دهد ، ولی بیش ترین ارزش را عامل سوم یعنی امر به معروف ونهی از منکر دارد ، زیرا در این جا اقدام حضرت نه جنبه عکس العمل ودفاع داشت ونه جنبه همکاری وتعاون واجابت دعوت ، بلکه جنبه تهاجم واعتراض داشت. اگر دعوت مردم کوفه عامل اساسی بود ، وقتی که خبر رسید که زمینه کوفه منتفی شده است ، طبعاً امام دست از سخنان ومواضع خود بر می داشت واز ادامه سفر به سوی عراق صرف نظر می کرد ، امّا می بینیم داغ ترین خطبه های امام حسین عليه‌السلام وشورانگیزترین وپرهیجان ترین سخنان او بعد از ماجرای شهادت حضرت مسلم است. از این جا روشن می گردد که امام حسین عليه‌السلام تا چه اندازه روی عامل امر به معروف ونهی از منکر تکیه داشت وتا چه حد نسبت به حکومت فاسد یزید مهاجم ومعترض بود

“Without doubt, the factor of accepting the invitation of the Kūfans had a significant impact, because in response to these individuals who refused to obey Yazīd and sought alternative leadership, Imam Ḥusayn clearly identified himself as prepared to take up their offer. If the conditions had been favorable, he would certainly have aimed to establish an Islamic government. However, the factor of restraining himself from paying allegiance to Yazīd was even more powerful, because the Imam announced several times that no matter what pressures were exerted upon him he would not relent to Yazīd. This perseverance and spirit of resistance in Ḥusayn despite pressure is palpable. However, the most significant factor was enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, because it was neither reactionary to the call for allegiance nor cooperative with the plea of the Kūfans; rather it reflects an offensive impetus. If the call of the Kūfans had been the primary driving factor, then when the news reached that Kūfah was no longer suitable, the Imam would have curbed his words and stances and would have ceased journeying towards Iraq. However, we instead see that the most fervent, mighty, and powerful sermons of the Imam were delivered only after the martyrdom of Muslim. From this, it becomes clear how motivated the Imam was in enjoining the good and forbidding the evil, and to what extent he was openly against and hostile towards the corrupt regime of Yazīd.”[14]

Meanwhile, another historian, ‘Ali al-Shāwī (b. 1387 AH) has adopted the viewpoint that the Imam’s refusal to give bay’ah to Yazīd and the prerogative of wanting to seek reform in the ummah were two simultaneous primary motives of the Imam that are inextricable from one another and should be weighed equally.[15]

There are also other scholars who have contended that Imam Ḥusayn’s goals were not simultaneous, but rather his strategy changed in tandem with the political milieu. Thus, we find that Shaykh Ḥaidar Ḥobbollāh (b. 1392 AH) states the following:

فالخروج من المدينة كان بهدف تجنّب تقديم البيعة ليزيد الذي رآه الحسين لا يملك أدنى مقوّمات الإمامة، ولهذا خرج الحسين بسرعةٍ من المدينة مع أهل بيته خلال ثلاثة أيام على أبعد تقدير بعد وصول خبر وفاة معاوية ومطالبة يزيد بأخذ البيعة من الوجوه والأعيان، في تلك اللحظة لم يكن هناك قرار حرب ولا ثورة ولا انتحار ولا مشروع سياسي محدّد غير رفض البيعة، كانت مكّة المكان الأنسب لدرس الخيارات الممكنة وكانت اللحظة مناسبة أيضاً، لحظة قرب موسم الحج. وبخروجه المريب من المدينة ورفضه البيعة تواترت الأخبار إلى حواضر العالم الإسلامي، وقرّر وجوه الكوفة التواصل معه ليصله سفراؤهم ورسائلهم وهو في مكّة ملقين عليه الحجّة وهو يتعامل مع منطق الأشياء الطبيعي، هنا ظهر الخيار الاستراتيجي الجديد، وهو التوجّه نحو الكوفة لقيادة حركة سياسية انفصاليّة إذا صحّ التعبير، وما عزّز هذا القرار كان تتالي الأخبار بخطّة الاغتيال التي تستهدف الحسين في الحرم، الأمر الذي اضطرّه للخروج باكراً قبيل الحجّ، متجهاً نحو الشمال منتظراً أخبار سفيره مسلم بن عقيل لتحسم الخيارات بشكل نهائي، وبعد مجيء الرسول بأخبار مطمئنة حسم خيار الاستقرار في الكوفة، واستمرّ السير، وفي أواسط الطريق أو أواخره جاءت الأخبار المعاكسة، في لحظة لم توفّر للحسين خيارات جديدة مفتوحة، فلم تكن العودة إلى المدينة أو مكّة أو غيرهما بمجديةٍ، فقد وقع الخذلان، وفي مسيره نحو الشمال جاءه الحرّ الرياحي، وحال بينه وبين دخول الكوفة، فتحرّكت القافلة شمالاً دون هدف محدّد، وكان الاستقرار في كربلاء، ولمّا لم تتوفّر أي خيارات تفاوضيّة عدا خنوعه للذلّ وإقراره بخلافة غير شرعية، قرّر الخيار الاستراتيجي الثالث، وهو الشهادة، ليكون مشعلاً للرفض والإباء، وليكتب بدمه الزاكي معاني العزة والكرامة وقيم التضحية والتفاني في سبيل المبادئ العليا

“His (Imam Ḥusayn’s) departing from Madīnah was with the goal of wanting to avoid giving allegiance to Yazīd, whom Imam Ḥusayn saw as not bearing even the minimum requirements for leadership. Therefore, Ḥusayn swiftly left Madīnah with his family within at most three days after the news of Mu’āwiyah’s demise had reached there and Yazīd had issued his demand for allegiance. At that point, he had made no decision to enact war, revolution, self-sacrifice, nor any specific political agenda except denial to give bay’ah. Makkah was the most suitable place to study his possible options and it was also the right time given it aligned with the Ḥajj season. The news of his fleeing Madīnah and his refusal to pledge allegiance had by then already reached far and wide across the Muslim world. Due to this, the chiefs of Kūfah decided to reach out to him through their letters and ambassadors and cast their proposal to him for leadership. He therefore acted in accordance with the natural order of things and a new strategy then came to light: to make a push towards Kūfah to spearhead a political splinter movement. What further buttressed this plan was the burgeoning news that there was a plan to assassinate Ḥusayn while he was performing the pilgrimage. This forced him to leave early before completing the Ḥajj and he moved to the north while he awaited the news of his ambassador Muslim ibn ‘Aqīl before planning to consolidate his final decisions. When the message came that the conditions were favorable, he became intent on settling in Kūfah and he continued to traverse towards it. However, towards the middle or end of his journey, contrary news about Kūfah reached him while there was no remaining option open for him. It was futile to return to Makkah, Madīnah, or anywhere else as he had already been betrayed. While he continued journeying to the north, Hūrr al-Riyāḥī intercepted his entrance into Kūfah and therefore his caravan proceeded north without any clear destination. The final stopping point came to be Karbalā, and when it became clear that there was no potential to negotiate except his humiliation and his relenting to an illegitimate regime, he decided on his third strategy—which was martyrdom—to ignite the flame of revolt and refusal. As such, he penned with his holy blood the true meaning of honor, nobility, and self-sacrifice for a higher cause.”[16]

Each of the rational viewpoints we clarified above lend themselves to a differing degree of jurisprudential discussion. In the political viewpoint, the question of establishing a religious government through potential armed revolt poses itself. As for the resurrective viewpoint, the jurisprudential questions revolve more around the religious legitimacy of sacrificing oneself for a higher cause. In the combinatorial viewpoint, both or neither of these questions may be asked depending on the specific iteration of this theory that one adopts.  In the next article, we will begin to delve more specifically into the manner in which Imam Ḥusayn’s (as) uprising has been envisioned and discussed by Shī’ah scholars throughout history, specifically with reference to jurisprudence.


[1] We have compiled this discussion based on several Arabic and Persian sources, which we list here in order of importance for advanced readers to review:

  1. Negāh beh ‘Āshūrā dar Fiqh-e-Shī’ah by Rasūl Ja’fariyān (
  2. ‘Āshūrā dar Fiqh by Sayyid Ḍiyā Murtaḍawī (
  3. Al-Ḥarakah al-Ḥusayniyyah wa al-Ta’ṣīl al-Fiqhī li Shar’iyyāh al-Thawrah by Dr. Ḥaidar Ḥobbollāh (
  4. Naẓrah al-Fiqh ilā Ḥādithah ‘Āshūrā’ by Dr. Mohammad Soroush Maḥallātī (
  5. Fiqh ‘Āshūrā’ by Al-Sayyid Muṣṭafā al-Ḥusayniyān (
  6. Karbalā az Riwāyat tā Dirāyat: Negāhi-ye-Mujaddad beh Āshūrā ve Fiqh (

[2] In his 500-page tome ‘Āshūrā Pezhūhī, Shaykh Muḥammad Sihhatī Sardrūdī has endeavored to do exactly this, assimilating the viewpoints of various Shī’ah and Sunnī thinkers about the motives of Imam Ḥusayn (as) in Karbalā. Advanced readers are recommended to review this book for more information.

[3] Qāmi’ah Ahl al-Bāṭil bi Daf’ Shubuhāt al-Mujādil page 96

[4] Saḥifeh-ye-Imam-e-Khomeini volume 21 page 3

[5] Najafābādī cites the writings of early theologians such as Sharīf al-Murtaḍā to claim precedent for his views; he has of course been severely critiqued for this by theological historians such as Hassan Ansari, as al-Murtaḍā’s work is simply apologetic to substantiate infallibility to the non-Shī’ah and employs an argument style of obligating the opponent (ilzām al-khaṣm).

[6] Shahīd-e-Jāvīd, page 8

[7] In turn, the prolific Najafābādī wrote counter-rebuttal of his critics, which he gathered in a book he entitled ‘Aṣā-ye-Mūsā and accused them of religious extremism (al-ghuluww). For more details regarding the intellectual ideas of Najafābādī, we recommend advanced readers read Shaykh Ḥaidar Ḥobbollāh’s discussion about him here:

[8] This is a transcript excerpt from a speech given by al-Ṣadr entitled “Mawqif al-Imam al-Ḥusayn min Ṭams Ma’ālim al-Naẓariyyah al-Islāmiyyah wa Tamyī’ al-Ummah”

[9] Sayyid Khameneī is another scholar who also has adopted and expanded this theory in his book translated into English as “A 250 Year Old Person.”

[10] Al-Ḥusayn wa Baṭalah Karbalā, pages 17-18

[11] Ḥusayn Wārith-e-Ādam, pages 222-223

[12] Al-Malḥamah Al-Ḥusayniyyah volume 2 pages 227-256

[13] Per Najafābādī in his Shahīd-e-Jāvīd, the three motives of Imam Ḥusayn were in chronological order: 1) desiring to establish a political order, 2) an amicable truce, and 3) martyrdom.

[14] Sīreh-ye-Pīshvāyān, page 183

[15] Ma’a Rakb al-Ḥusayn, volume 1, page 366

[16] Further details can be found here: