The Philosophy of Karbala and Majalis
The purpose of Karbala was to instill a spiritual revolution in mankind and bring about the spiritual virtue of humility.
Bismillāhir Rahmānir Rahīm, As-salāmu ʿAlaykum wa rahmatullāhi wa barakātuh. Peace be upon you brothers and sisters.
Welcome back to the Muslim Converts Channel! In this lesson, we’re going to look at the philosophy and lessons we can learn from the tragedy of Karbala. We are also going to look at how we can apply these lessons to our daily lives.
The themes we will be looking at are humility and friendship. We will also be looking at the modern commemoration of Karbala and its significance.
BODY OF TEXT
Philosophy of Karbala and the Goal of Imam al-Husayn’s Martyrdom
We have lots of different accounts as to what the goal or philosophy of Imam al-Husayn’s (as) sacrifice was. But who is better to ask than his own son, an Imam himself, who witnessed the event?
Imam Zain al-Abidin, also known as Imam as-Sajjad (as), was one the longest serving Imāms. His Imāmah spanned 34 years in total. By virtue of his direct relationship with Allah (swt) and his own father Imam al-Husayn (as), as well as his presence during the tragic event of Karbala, Imam al-Sajjad (as) was the best candidate for conveying the goal of Imām al-Ḥusayn’s (as) martyrdom.
The following are quick pointers on why Imām al-Sajjād (as) is the best source available on the tragedy of Karbala:
- He was a divinely appointed Imām and son of Imam al-Husayn.
- He received divine knowledge from Allah directly as well as from his father
- He witnessed the entire tragedy of Karbala.
- No man had the courage to deliver the message of Karbala at the time but him.
- Imam al-Sajjad: delivered this message in the following ways:
- (al-Sahifah al-Sajadiyah) (pronounced al-Ṣaḥīfah al-Sajjādīyah)
- Interactions with people
Our fourth Imām’s compendium of supplications, al-Ṣaḥīfah al-Sajjādīyah, is one of the best and most credible sources available to us delineating the true message of Karbala. Perhaps one of the most poignant stories of Imām as-Sajjād (as) tragic life was the initial phase of his captivity. The Imām was deprived of food, ridiculed and dragged around even after seeing his family slaughtered.
Humayd ibn Muslim was an individual tasked by Yazīd’s army to guard over Imām al-Sajjād and the remaining members of the Ahl al-Bayt (as). Despite his harsh treatment, Ḥumayd expected anger from the Imām. But instead, he saw him humbly looking down and crying whilst reciting the following supplication to Allah (swt):
Let good flow out of my hands upon mankind and dissolve it not by having them feel indebted. Give me the highest of moral dispositions and protect me from haughtiness. (supplication #20 in al-Ṣaḥīfah al-Sajjādīyah)
Imām al-Sajjād (as) was not concerned with revenge or destroying Yazid. He knew that by destroying one Yazīd at that moment, three more would replace him. Instead, he was concerned with the moral improvement and spiritual self-building of humankind. Any crime that takes place in this world is rooted in a deficiency somewhere in one’s akhlāq or moral disposition.
Fakhr, or haughtiness, is a moral shortcoming in which one feels superior to others by perceiving them to be his or her inferiors. Fakhr is dangerous because it is the first step to a sense of entitlement through which one justifies his or her own misdeeds.
Imām as-Sajjād, having experienced the tragedy of Karbala, is teaching us that even in the darkest of moments we should strive for the greater good, not seek rewards from people and above all, maintain inner humility.
Imām as-Sajjād thus teaches us that the purpose of Karbala and Imām al-Ḥusain’s (as) mission was to impart on humankind the importance of maintaining integrity, proper spiritual and moral disposition even in the darkest of times.
In other words, just because things go bad, even when they are as bad as Imam al-Sajjad’s case where he witnessed the murder of his entire family, one should not lose one’s morals, temperament and good upbringing. Improvement in akhlāq or one’s moral and ethical life should be our goal in life. Without good akhlāq, we cannot reach spiritual perfection.
Philosophy of Majalis
One of the most distinct practices in the Shia world are the majalis of Imam al-Husayn (as) during the Islamic month of Muharram where the tragedy of Karbala occurred. The word majalis comes from the word majlis. Majlis is a place of sitting or gathering or more specifically in this case, a religious gathering where Muslims come together to commemorate the death of Imam al-Husayn (as) and the overall tragedy of Karbala.
The Majalis have a number of prominent features. They include the following:
- Poetry recited in honor of Imam al-Husayn (as) and his family
- Chest beating in order to demonstrate grief at that tragedy
- Imam al-Husayn (as) blood drives where Muslims donate blood
- Food offered to the community after commemoration processions
- Husayn Day Peace Walks where Muslims walk through the streets in order to mark the tragedy of Karbala and promote peace vis-à-vis the injustices that happen in the world.
The Majalis are therefore a practice to keep the memory of Karbala alive in the minds of Muslims. They are a reminder of the sacrifices the Imam made in order to save the moral message of the Prophet Muhammad (s). This moral and spiritual message is:
- Seeking the greater good, even if it be against our selves
- Maintaining inner humility and not having fakhr.
What is inner humility? Inner humility is not only getting rid of the illusion that we are superior to others, but it is also a deep sense of selflessness, love of others and wanting to serve them. In this sense, it is less about thinking less about yourself and thinking more about others.
It is no wonder that God only descends to humble hearts and not hearts that are full of pride. As salt is needed for all kinds of food, so is humility for spiritual virtues.
Until Next Time, Thank you for watching. As-salāmu ʿAlaykum wa rahmatullāhi wa barakātuh
spiritual ethics, Godly and moral disposition
Majalis (sing. Majlis)
gatherings that commemorate the various tragedies that befell the Ahl al-Bayt (as), especially Imam al-Husayn (as).
What was the goal of Imam al-Husayn’s (as) sacrifice at Karbala?
To instill humility and moral behavior in humankind
Who is the best source to tell us about the goal of Karbala?
Imam al-Sajjad (as)
What is the best source for Imam al-Sajjad’s message?
What was the primary purpose of Imam al-Husayn (as) fighting in Karbala?
To get rid of haughtiness and pride in human beings
salvation in Islam
Imam Zayn al-Abidin
Philosophy of Karbala
Goal of Karbala
Humayd ibn Muslim
Philosophy of Majalis
Excellence of Muharram & Imam-e-Hussain by Shakir Ali Noorie
Karbala and Beyond by Yasin al-Jibouri