An InvitationThe significance of Imam Husayn's (as) struggle is not limited just to the Shia, or even for that matter, just to Muslims.
The struggle, the cause, and the principle that Imam Husayn (as) invited to was for all people, of all ages, and of all times.
Imam Husayn (as) did not limit his invitation to men. His caravan included women, including his own sister, Zainab (as), and his own wife, the wife of the late-Imam Hasan (as), and the wives and mothers of his companions.
Imam Husayn (as) did not limit his invitation to adults. His caravan included not only his own children, including an infant, six month old Ali Asghar, a four year old Sakina, but also the children of his own brother Imam Hasan (as), who had been left in his care, and the children of his sister Zainab (as).
Imam Husayn (as) did not limit his invitation to the young and able. His caravan included the aged Zahir, Burair, John, and Majmaul. John, the liberated slave of the sahaba Abu Dharr al Ghifari (ra) is recorded to have been 90 years old at the time.
Imam Husayn (as) did not limit his invitation to the chiefs or the slaves. His caravan included the chiefs of many tribes and clans, such as Zohair al Qaine. Before the confrontation began, Imam Husayn (as) had set free all his slaves and urged them to escape and save their lives. Between 10 and 15 of the martyrs were liberated slaves, who preferred death over life.
Imam Husayn (as) did not limit his invitation to even his own partisans. His caravan included even men from his enemy's forces who defected to the Imam's side, welcoming certain death. One of the commanders of the enemy, Hurr, who had himself prevented Imam Husayn (as) from entering Kufa and from accessing water, realized the truth and along with nearly 30 men joined the Imam's side on the night before the final battle. Hurr, much like his name, chose to die 'free.'
Imam Husayn (as) did not limit his invitation to Muslims either. His caravan included some Christians, such as the recently wedded Wahab ibn abi Wahab and his wife and mother. It is irrelevant whether they were Muslims or Christians by the time the battle at Karbala ended, but both Wahab and wife gave their lives for this cause. In India, there are even some Hindus who claim that one of their ancestors was martyred along with the Imam (as).
What is this cause that the Imam invited everyone to? What is this cause that others have sought be part of and place themselves in? Were not the idols of the Kaaba destroyed during the time of the Prophet (saww)? Had not Islam come to primacy in all of Arabia, and quickly spreading throughout other lands?
The cause of Imam Husayn was against a greater danger: the idolatry of the taghut (tyrant), and the idolatry of the nafs (inner base desires or weaknesses).
The tyrants, who place themselves as gods above the people, whether the tyrants be in the clothes of unbelievers, like firaun (pharaoh), or in the clothes of muslims, like Yazid, were idols of a different form. The tyrants who subjugated people to their whims and their agendas, and deny the people their fundamental rights to justice and freedom.
An even greater danger than the tyrants, was and is the idolatry of our own nafs and its' weaknesses. Not only the base desires of tyrants, who take themselves to be gods and become oppressors (from their own homes to positions of leadership), but the base desires of the people who allow the tyrants to oppress them. Whether they allow this due to their weakness for the luxuries, consumerisms, and distractions offered by the tyrants, or due to their weakness in being afraid of resisting (in all the multiple forms) and putting at risk their property, wealth, family, lives, time, security, passivity or whatever they may cherish above the truth of their times.
This being the danger, what did Imam Husayn (as) accomplish?
The shahada of Karbala is in the blood of Imam Husayn (as), his family, and his companions.
The shahada of Karbala is in the words of Bibi Zainab (as), Imam Zayn al-Abideen (as), and the other survivors and witnesses.
The shahada of Karbala is in the love in our hearts, and the knowledge in our minds.
This shahada is a call to awakening. A call to resistance. A call to resistance against the tyrants over the people, the tyrant within our souls, and the weakness of our souls that prevents us from doing so. The supreme form of this resistance, as demonstrated by Imam Husayn (as) and his caravan, layed down their lives, the lives of their families, their wealth, and their own souls.
The shahada at Karbala awakened the Muslim ummah from its slumber. For the next 12 years, the Ummayyads were confronted with one rebellion after another. From then till now and till the Rise, the religious people realize that their faith cannot be manifested solely by sitting quietly in the corners of the masjid, or even by circling the Kaaba, while their bodies and souls are enslaved to oppressors and their own nufus.
Imam Husayn (as) was forced to leave Medina because Yazid offered him two choices, through his governor: Give allegiance to Yazid, or surrender. Obviously Imam Husayn (as) could not accept either. But after Karbala, Yazid did not have the courage to ask Bibi Zainab or Imam Zayn al-Abideen (as) the same question. The situation was now different. In fact, none of the subsequent Ummayyad or Abbasid rulers had the courage to ask the same thing from the Imams of the Ahlul-Bayt (as). This and other changes in the administrations allowed the later Imams (as) to tailor the movement according to the needs of the times.
When news of Karbala reached Medina, and the people were shocked and asked why Imam Husayn (as) and his people were killed, a delegation was sent to Damascus to inquire about the situation. When the delegation returned, the leader of the delegation, Abdullah ibn Hanzalah (also known as Ghasil al-Malaikah) said "Whether you rise up or not, I will make an uprising even if I have to do it alone with my sons." Abdullah did rise up, along with his eight sons, and was martyred near Harrah. Similarly, there were the movements of Al-Mukhtar, the Tawwabun, Abdullah ibn-Zubayr, Zayd bin Ali and others against the Ummayyads, each with varying degrees of sincerity.
It is this spirit and activity that we must inherit today. As it is said "Everyday is Ashura, Everyday is Karbala": the meaning of this is that the tyrants in the lands, and in our souls are still present. Indeed, today there are thousands of Yazids.
While there were always be central figures who will embody this invitation, the perfection of which is our Imam Mahdi (as) - May Allah hasten his rise, the movement is of the people.
The martyr is remembered through the relaying of the messenger.
The messenger is heard through the blood of the martyr.
The warrior shows depth of seriousness with an infant in arms.
The child shows expanse of courage with a sword too heavy to carry.
The elder is reignited through the passion of the youth.
The youth is steadied through the patience of the elder.
The invitation extended to us by Imam Husayn (as) is to offer resistance against the unjust and oppressive system(s), that exist physically in our lands, mentally within our minds, and spiritually within our souls. The invitation is to attend to all this simultaneously, rather than one at the expense of the other. The invitation is to be present with the whole of our beings and selves.
This is not a call for a mere overthrow.
This is not a call for a mere inner purification.
This is a call for revolution.